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Archive for March, 2010

Time out: remember to have fun!

Posted by pablito15 on March 16, 2010

Chess is a game of ups and downs, we will all have moments of great pride and also a feeling of disappointment unique to chess. There’s nothing quite like that odd mixture of exhaustion and desperation that comes after putting everything into two hours of calculation, then blundering. That is why it’s important to savour the good moments, to remember to have fun, and also remember that after a bad result hopefully a good one is just around the corner.

The reason I bring it up is that, every so often we have a game that reinvigorates us, and I’ve been lucky enough to play two such games recently. They are both correspondence games, one against Andreas & one against Mr. Carl Gorka (surely an FM in waiting) whose blog you can see listed on the right there. Both games stray from the theory a little, which is probably why they’re fun!

Game #1: Paul V Andreas
Evans Gambit
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Be7 6. d4 Na5 7. Be2 exd4 8. Qxd4 Nf6 9. e5 Nc6 10. Qh4 Nd5 11. Qg3 g6 12. 0-0 Nb6 13. c4 d6: and we have arrived at your standard Evans gambit position with white to play:

14. Bh6?!

I tried something a little different, though in keeping with the themes of the opening: 14. Bh6?!
preventing castling. (Rd1 is normal) Andreas refuted it well; Be6! I followed up with: 15. c5? :

15. c5?   (Making too many assumptions about dxc5)
Another poor move, but one nice thing about the Evans is that white has the luxury of making some
average moves and staying in the game, black does not!

… dxc5 16. Bb5!? (realising that Rd1 was not as strong as I thought) Qd7?!:

16. Qd7?! or “How to commit Evans Gambit Suicide, Step 1” by Andreas! 😉

When I first saw this move I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt (it does set up QS castling after all). The continuation makes it clear why this move, though not weak in itself, makes things tricky for black.

17.  Nc3 Bc4?

17. Bc4?
Looks logical, black is two pawns up and looks to liquify any danger in the position. It is however
the third time the bishop has moved before castling and the “chess logic” so prized by the
old masters who played the evans brings black down in a blaze!
White to play & “win” (“win” at GM level- he’ll end up at least a couple of pawns up with
a great position against perfect defense) in all variations:

18. e6!! A “clearance sac” for the ages, made possible by the position of black’s queen.

(The correct continuation for black was 0-0-0, when the game is won. If black castles in the Evans, it’s all over!)

…Bxe6 19. Ne5!  Qd6??

19. Qd6?? Again bringing the poor queen into a narrow valley about to be hit with artillery!!

What a position!! e5-e6 catches a few unfamiliar players by surprise, the only problem is you either need to be Morphy, or be on “correspondence time control” to get the winning sequences right!

20. Rd1!

(logically better than Ne4, as if black puts a piece between the Queen & Rook [which he must], white can bring the knight to e4 anyway, when he will have to two pieces into the middle with tempo) The game hasn’t finished yet, but being too excited about it (and also being pretty sure it is essentially finished) I’m posting this anyway! :->

The game finished; 20… Nd5 21. Ne4 Qd1

22. Nxc3     1-0

Andreas is right not to continue after bxc3, Bxc3+ when the beauty of the h6 bishop & cramped King position comes into play: black can play either Bd7 which is followed by Rxd5, or give up the Queen.

Other games with the Evans gambit:

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1018648 Kasparov – Anand, 1-0 (1995)

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1043992 Fischer – Fine, 1-0 (1963)

Black fails to castle in both 😉

To sum up, particularly between 15 & 1800 chess is tough on the ego, you’ve reached a stage when you know a great deal about the principles of time, space, pawn structure, are capable of some brilliant sequences, but can still lose to anyone. The road to improvement is surely to assume your mistakes, not blame tiredness noise your pet iguana hungry at home ruining your concentration, learn from them, and work hard for the next one!

16. Qd7?! or “How to commit Evans Gambit Suicide, Step 1” by Andreas! 😉

When I first saw this move I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt,the continuation

makes it clear why this move, though not weak in itself, makes things tricky for black.

Posted in My games! | Leave a Comment »

A bit more on our program

Posted by pablito15 on March 12, 2010

So as I say, I’ve recently teamed up with Andreas, an enthusiastic Austrian player of around 1700 strength, we’ve made a weekly schedule covering most aspects of chess from tactical to end-game, and it is proving not only motivating & fun to have a partner waiting to discuss & exchange annotations on certain chapters/themes/games at certain dates but it’s the most focussed I’ve been on improving my chess in a long time. A brief run down on what we’re currently doing:

  • Bent Larsen’s: “Good move guide: Section II: Find a plan“, for this we are going through the 50 exercises, and after, creating a pgn mini-test with 10 positions analogous to those in the 50 that taught us the most.  The idea is to reinforce the themes & provide a test/exercise for our partner.
  • Wednesday night: Fixed opening game. 20+5. Each week Andreas or I pick an opening, prepare for it as we please and play as many games with it as time permits. This week we played a 4. c3 Italian game, which I prepared for by annotating ancient and modern master games. This gave me a considerable advantage in the first game (Andreas studied only the “opening lines” due to time constraints) where I took him by surprise down the c-file. You can see our annotations of the game as an appendix, just copy them into Fritz/Rybka. I’ve also created a brief visual summary of our errors in the game:

Which doesn’t show much after one game, but eventually will give us a practical idea of average moves we’re making.

  • 1 chapter of Bernd Rosen’s Chess End-Game Training per week, which is not a very instructive text, but we use it for it’s 15 test positions per chapter, which we learn about first using a different manual of our choice. I use Mueller/Lamprecht, Andreas uses Silman. The Rosen certainly could not be studied alone. For each aspect of our program we have a shared googlemail excel spreadsheet which we udpate accordingly:
  • 115 tactical problems per week. We try to use some of the same texts but Andreas prefers the C.T Art format whereas I find non-moving images more usefu!l (as you can see I have been a little more focussed on tactics recently!)
  • One chapter of Andrew Soltis’ Pawn Structure Chess monthly; a book that has taught me more about chess in one chapter than any other text I have ever studied. We have both been inspired & have been enjoying reading this text by one of Chess’ best pedagouges.
  • And we also try to annotate one game of our partner’s monthly.

Here’s our game from wednesday, I won’t show the second one, as I was soundly beaten- you may find that on some kind of Andreas’ motivated blog…!

  • 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. e5 d5 7. Bb5 Ne4 8. cxd4
    Bb6 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Bxc6 bxc6 11. Be3 Bf5 {A nice diagonal for the bishop.
    After Bg4 white has Qa4 with some tactical chances. NxN is also interesting,
    “blocking” the black weakness at c6.} 12. O-O Qe7 13. Rc1 Qb4 {Not a bad move.
    Whatever black does it must be active, as after white plays Nd2 followed by f3
    he will have a total domination on the c-file.^13 ^10 ^13 ^10 Andreas: The
    queen move had no real plan behind it, which is bad. Playing on the queen side
    seems to be Black’s best option though.} 14. Na4 $1 {In tune with the white
    strategy.^13 ^10 ^13 ^10 Andreas: annoying move for Black but the exchange
    knight-bishop cannot be avoided.} Ba5 $2 {Most likely played to try something
    along the dark squares, however a3 is coming so that will be quickly finished.
    Obviously there is no threat of NxB realigning the pawns.^13 ^10 ^13 ^10
    Andreas: right. I should have thought about a different plan. Actually the
    exchange wouldn’t be too bad because the pawns will be undoubled.} (14… Bg4 {
    Andreas. Trying to create some tactics based on the overloaded queen.}) (14…
    h6 {Rybka. Nice idea!} 15. Rxc6 Bd7) 15. a3 Qb5 (15… Qe7) 16. b4 Bb6 17. Nc3
    $2 {Played to simplify the position, I thought this was a strong move. It
    bring’s the rook to the third rank where it can (a) be doubled (b) switch to a
    KS attack. Also a nice black piece is removed from the board. Perhaps the
    reason it is weak is that on a4, after black plays a5, the knight can take the
    bishop, followed by Queen to e1 where white hopes that he will end up with a
    pawn on the closed b-file and black with a backward pawn on the open c-file.} (
    17. h3 a5 {10 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} 18. Nxb6 {6 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00}
    cxb6 19. Qe1 (19. Qe1 {7 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} Bd7 {3 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:
    00:00} 20. Nd2 {15 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} axb4 {2 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00}
    21. Nxe4 {2 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} dxe4 22. Qxb4)) 17… Nxc3 18. Rxc3 a5 $1
    {Very strong move- I felt losing after this. You had some excellent tactics
    based on Ra1 when the Queen is pinned due to the black queen also attacking f1.
    After simply doubling rooks on the a-file black has excellent practical
    chances.^13 ^10 ^13 ^10 Andreas: This is a nice freeing move. I have to open
    the position to make use of my bishop pair.} 19. bxa5 {With which piece should
    Black capture???} Rxa5 (19… Bxa5 20. Rc5) (19… Qxa5 20. Rb3 Qa4) 20. Qc1 (
    20. Nh4) (20. Bd2) 20… Bd7 $2 {A bit of a let-off. Again the tactical shot:
    Ra8, Rxc6, Rxa3, and now Ra1 is coming & black generally will have an
    excellent position with rooks storming down the a-file.^13 ^10 ^13 ^10 Andreas:
    holding on to the pawn. I completely missed the dynamic of my pieces so I
    should have looked for a stronger, more active move. And always remember: try
    to avoid backward moves…} (20… Rfa8 $1 {[%t bLon] Proceed with the plan:
    double the rooks and put pressure on White.}) (20… Ra4 {Rybka. Hard to find
    move.}) 21. e6 {“Clearance sac” as in the evans gambit- I like this
    manouver!^13 ^10 ^13 ^10 Andreas: yeah, but is the move good??? White gives up
    all hopes to win a pawn and opens the position. I don’t know if the
    “clearance” is in White’s favour!} (21. Bh6 $1 gxh6 22. Nh4 {29 [%clko -0:00:
    00] 0:00:00} Bxd4 23. Rg3+ Kh8 24. Qxh6 {2 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} Rg8 25.
    Qf6+) 21… Bxe6 22. Ne5 c5 $2 {The position is still in black’s favour but c5
    was perhaps a miscalculation.^13 ^10 ^13 ^10 Andreas: right, I didn’t
    calculate the move to the end and I agree that this is almost a blunder.} (
    22… Raa8 {I have to move the rook anyway after Nxc6 so this might have been
    an idea.}) 23. dxc5 (23. Bh6 {Rybka. Going for nasty tactics. Paul, you can
    see that all strategical ideas are worth nothing when it comes to tactics. :-)}
    ) 23… Ba7 24. Qc2 (24. Bh6 $1 {If you have the rook on the third rank, you
    should be aware of moves like this!}) 24… c6 $2 {“Securing” the position but
    there was no danger around.} (24… Rb8 {The better idea! Pile up with queen
    and rook to create some threats.}) 25. Rb1 Qa6 26. Bd4 (26. Bh6) 26… f6 $1
    27. Nd3 Bf5 {Two attacking moves in a row. Black is better again.} 28. Qd2 {A
    pawn up, black may have a winning position after simplification & the doubling
    rooks.} Rxa3 (28… Bxd3) 29. Nb4 {Andreas: completely missed the knight move.}
    Qa4 $4 {Missing the tactical threat.} (29… Bxb1 30. Nxa6 Rxa6 {Almost even
    material wise. I should look at the piece value better next time.}) 30. Rxa3 $1
    Qxa3 31. Ra1 Qb3 {Andreas: and it’s basically over.} 32. Nxc6 Bb8 33. Ne7+ Kh8
    34. Nxf5 Bc7 35. Qe3 (35. Nxg7 $3 Kxg7 36. Qg5+ Kh8 37. Bxf6+ Rxf6 38. Qxf6+)
    35… Qb4 36. h4 (36. Qe7 $1 {“ah i’ll play it next move!” I think as I notice
    it.}) 36… Rb8 37. Qe7 $4 {White is saved by the x-ray defense.} Be5 (37…
    Qb1+ {1 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} 38. Qe1 {11 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00} Qxf5 {
    1 [%clko -0:00:00] 0:00:00}) 38. Qxg7# {2010 Summary: A good contrast of our
    differing styles, with you playing for strong diagonals with Bf5 & Ba5 coming
    naturally to you, and moves like Nc3 trying to “improve the relative position
    with tempo” coming naturally to me. I got myself into some real trouble
    against a5 and you had an active & strong position. Perhaps moves like Rb1-Qa6
    let the initiative slip a little to me, whereas agressive moves like
    threatening a1 would probably have seen me blunder. A nice game & a nice
    exercise. I think we’re both learning something about our play from doing it,
    and improving too. How do you feel about the two games? Enough or would you
    like to play more c3. Italians?} 1-0

Posted in Details on the Program | 3 Comments »

First thoughts on chess improvement

Posted by pablito15 on March 11, 2010

Leaving aside the infinite why of chess improvement, let’s jump straight into the how. Today, more “self-help” style books, noisomely telling you “what they are going to do for you” or “what is going to happen” after you’ve read them, than books that will genuinely help you improve your chess, appear on the market. Let’s be clear, one does not improve at chess by reading 200 pages of text in a 300 page Moskalenko book, chess improvement is example & test based, and there is no substitute for hard work– you will gain more from studying 500 tactical problems than all the 200 page Neil McDonald talk-fests in the world.

There have been many famous quotes on chess in it’s long history, “pawns are the soul of chess” (Philidor), “chess is 99% tactics” (Teichmann), “modern chess is far too concerned with things like pawn structure- forget it! Checkmate wins the game.” (Nigel Short during his ’93 World Title match with Garri Kasparov, much to the horror of spectating GM’s!) However the one I find most accurate is from that adonis of a teacher Andrew Soltis: “chess is 99% calculation”.

Calculation of what exactly? It is equally true to say that one cannot usefully annotate a game, or calculate properly until after one understands things like pawn structure strengths and weaknesses (and a plethora of other concepts that lie pushing and pulling like currents under the placid surface of this game). In any case, that is the simplification  I will put to you: Chess is primarily a game of calculation, and to calculate we need not only spatial ability/mental muscles (which come from hard work and nothing else!) but also the base understandings of the game in order to know what will be positive and negative for us.

Back on topic: Towards this end, with my training partner Andreas we have developed a training plan based on example & test based teaching, that require you to first study a position, calculate as best you can, offer a move, and then read the brilliantly instructive explanations of these hand picked positions. This is not only building our mental muscles, but improving our understanding of the game too. We have hit on several excellent books we feel are improving not just our ability but also our enjoyment of chess too. The two principle books we are using are:

  • Bent Larsen’s: Good move guide (1982)
  • Andrew Soltis’: Pawn Structure chess (1976)

Any serious player with a penchant for chess study should pick up Larsen’s book and work through the examples. He has a section with 100 mid-strength tactics, 50 invaluable (to any level) “find the plan” positions with instructive conclusions, a “find the master move” section with games, and a “practical end game” section- as I said what is invaluable in it is that it asks you to work rather than read. It is a no-nonsense book.

There are two types of genuine improvement in chess. Improvement of your “base strength” with things like tactics study, end game study, pawn structure study/knowledge. This is knowledge that doesn’t go away and doesn’t lie- before one hopes to understand any opening book, or even remember the moves properly, one must have a decent “base strength”, as this is what helps us understand the opening moves! It should be the primary focus in chess improvement as everything flows on from your end game, pawn structure and tactical understandings. And secondly, improvement of your “practical chances” via the annotated study of games in your chosen opening. This will not “improve your chess” as much as pure study of those basic chess materials, but may help you win some games anyway.

So my first message on chess improvement is this: ask yourself if you really want to work hard, or quit pretending now!

Posted in General thoughts on chess learning | 2 Comments »