Thursday, January 8, 2009

Exchanging Habits

You ask, exchanging habits? How do you exchange a habit? Ah yes, of course; remember, this is a blog about chess! And in chess, there is this concept called exchanging. You know, exchanging pieces on the board to improve your position or swap out a bad piece for your opponents good piece etc., etc..

Well, I have a bad habit of exchanging for the sake of exchanging. I don't know why; maybe just to help me simplify things on the board, especially when the position is sharp or overly complicated and I just don't feel like thinking. Yea...pretty lame and down right lazy for a chess player. That's why it's a bad habit!

Anyway, I've been studying and working to improve my play over the last couple of months and my highest priority is to rid myself of this bad habit!

Now, if you have been reading my blog, you know that I have been away from over the board play for over three months. So, you could say I'm a little rusty. Competitive chess always adds an unknown element of excitement and when you don't play for a while, that unknown element plays against your psyche.

Last Tuesday, I returned to play chess at my local club: Metrowest Chess Club. This month's tournament is a 4 round Swiss -- MCC New Years Swiss. For round 1, I am paired up against James Williams and the game that follows is an interesting one for three reasons:

1) It illustrates my improved understanding of positional play and opening theory.

2) The game also demonstrates a strategic concept I recently studied and blogged about; Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop

3) Finally, in classical fashion illustrates my habitual nature to exchange pieces for the sake of exchanging!

White: Smith,Warner (1471)
Black: Williams,James (1557)
[B76] Sicilian: Yugoslav Attack
MCC New Years Swiss Natick MA

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Qd2

White's plan is quite simple and true to the Yugoslav Attack; castle queen side and begin a king side attack. Moreover, White's queen is positioned to help alleviate Black of his strongly placed bishop along the a1 - h8 diagonal.

Black has no intention or desire to trade off his dark colored bishop. First priority to ensure this; move the king's rook out of harms way.

9.Bc4 Nc6 10.h4
White begins the traditional pawn trek down the h-file in hopes of sacrificing his pawn for an enlightened half-open h-file!

I give this move a point of interest because it is "telling" in how Black plans to play out his game. He doesn't want any complications in the center; he wants a simple and non-controversial position here. So he simply decides to take the knights off the board. Traditionally, Black plays ...e5 followed up by ...Nc4 forcing White to exchange his light colored bishop. But, Black can't do that here as his Queen's rook is not yet positioned to support such endeavors.

White's only move. If [11.Qxd4 Ng4!] and White loses his prized dark colored bishop.

11...a6 12.0–0–0 Qa5
Black is wanting to put some pressure on White's queen side; specifically focusing on White's weak a-pawn and temporarily assigning a status of "inactive" to White's knight with a pin against the queen. But Black doesn't have any real help here to give legitimacy to an attack. He must still develop his light colored bishop and Queen's rook to give this move any merit for concern.

I spent some time thinking about this move, and in retrospect, it's not the most accurate move to make here. I wanted to play 13. h5, but for unfounded fears, I did not want Black pushing his g-pawn; temporarily blocking access along the c1 - h6 diagonal. Yes, I know, pushing the g-pawn would have strained Black's king side position and White could then play to win the g-pawn with 14. Be3. As I said, my fears were unfounded.

This move is in line with Black's play thus far. Black is looking to keep his play in the center and establish dominance there. But before he can do so, he must first take the venom out of White's pieces in the middle board. Obviously, Black wants the exchange and is prepared to weaken his king side position to do so. Moreover, knowing White's intention to push h5, Black prepares an escape route via f7 for his royal monarch.

14.Bxe6 fxe6 15.h5 e5?
My eyes lit up when I saw this move! Black, in his attempt to keep play in the center, closes off the important a1–h8 diagonal and renders his strong bishop to an inactive piece. White's strategy is to keep Black's bishop inactive. We have the perfect Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop in the making here.

16.Be3 Kf7 17.hxg6+ hxg6

White's strategic plans are just about complete. I've castled queen side, I've attacked and opened up Black's king-side and with one more move 18. g5! I can put a nail in the coffin for Black's bishop. White's position is much stronger here and if I were to exercise good judgement and stick to the game plan, a win should be forthcoming!

If I could add a second "?" mark here I would. For all intents and purposes, this move is a positional blunder! White should focus on his newest strategic development: Good Bishop v Bad Bishop. Black's king side is weak, and can only strengthen itself with the help of White's inaccurate play on that side of the board. The most accurate move here would be to get the queen out of harms way, adding flexibility to my position and unleashing the knight. 18. Qd3, would prepare for immediate play in the center and enable me to bring my active bishop to d2.

Black takes full advantage of White's inaccurate play and with one sweeping move solidifies his king side position. At this point, Black is on his knees begging me to exchange my good bishop with his inactive bishop.

Ah the irony...suddenly, I am on auto-pilot and not taking the time to think things out. I'm still caught up on my original strategic plan: King side attack with the intent of removing Black's dark colored bishop. I have totally ignored recent developments due to that "unknown element" of competitive chess and a very strong desire to EXCHANGE pieces. So as habitual as a lighter is to a smoker, I oblige Black's plea to exchange my bishop for his very bad bishop; in two lazy moves, all of White's positional advantage is vanquished!

If I'm going to play with the bishop on the king side, much better would have been to support my bishop with 19. g5 and create some tension on that side of the board. This move would still leave Black with a bad bishop, forcing his hand to make the bishop exchange, thus granting White some tempo.

19...Kxg7 20.Rh2
Another inaccurate move on my part. Anger with my recent play has effected my judgement going forward. Here I am adamant on achieving dominance along the h-file and will exchange every piece I own to get it! With unclear thought, I'm thinking of doubling up my rooks and jamming the h-file down Black's throat. At this point, Black is in the driver's seat.

However, it will be Black who jams the h-file and it's not going to be his throat he's jamming!

21.Qxh2 Rh8 22.Qg2 Qc5
A very good move by Black. Now that I have no active bishop patrolling the center diagonals, Black's queen begins a smooth territorial invasion into White territory.

Better 23. Kb1. Now if Black's queen decides to visit 23...Qe3, White can reply 24. g5 Nd7 25. Nd5!

I saw this move coming, but once again, I'm playing for the h-file.

24.Kb1 Rxh1+ 25.Qxh1
Haha! I stake my claim along the h-file!

Doh!! OK, so now our positions have equalized. White is still in the game. Just need to concentrate.

I can only explain this as not taking the time to analyze the position. Best is 26. Qg2. Protecting the back rank and my backward pawn on the f-file. Then follow up with a4 to prevent any back rank mate ideas.

26...Qh3! 27.a4??
Bad...very bad. Total loss of concentration. My thoughts from the previous move are on auto-pilot. With intention to play a4 to prevent a cheap back rank mate, I overlook my opponent's play. This move loses for White.

Black is winning! White's energy dissipates and the desire to carry on play lies in lost hopes.

28.g5 Nxe4 29.Nxe4 Qxe4 30.Qh2 Qf5 31.Qh6+ Kg8 32.Qh4 e4 33.Kc1 Qf3 34.Qh6 Qh5!
White resigns. 0–1