16 January 2018

Diagonals

Black to move


From a blitz game.

13 January 2018

Beware the Horse

Where should the queen move?

White to move


This position caught my interest. It appears in "The Art of Unequal Exchange" by Ivan Ivanisevic in Chess Informant 134, which I received last week. This article is quite interesting and offers study material that promises to improve my game, as well as helping me develop some materials for teaching young players.

25 December 2017

Holiday Cheer

I usually play a game or two of online blitz on holidays. These days are devoted to family time, but there are always a few moments when everyone else is sleeping or otherwise occupied, so I sneak in a game of chess. This morning, the investment of a knight gave me a nice position in a classical French.

White to move

My bishop is prepared to come to d7 with tempo, then the other rook can join the fray and all of my pieces will be aiming at White's royal family while his pawn storm is less threatening than the skiff of snow that fell on my deck overnight.

20.Nc3??

20.Qa3 seemed necessary.

20...Bd7 21.Qa3 Rfb8

My opponent realized the hopelessness of his position and wished me Happy Holidays!


23 December 2017

Zugzwang

Several of my students have seen this position this past week. None have succeeded. It is one that I use from Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual.

White to move

25 November 2017

Activity

For the past three months, I have been too busy with other matters to create articles for Chess Skills. I have studied no chess. My chess activities have been limited to coaching and a few games of online blitz most days. Things should get back to normal in December.

I had White and the move from this position against a FIDE Master on Thanksgiving morning. It was my third victory against a titled player in one week. The position will be useful for my elementary students.

White to move

02 September 2017

Thompson -- Morphy, New York 1857

Paul Morphy's first opponent at the First American Chess Congress was James Thompson. He had been born in England and emigrated to the United States as a child. After completing his education, he established himself in business in New York City, where he came to be known as a formidable chess player. In 1853, Thompson won the first tournament among members of the New York Chess Club. He represented New York in several correspondence matches with other cities.*

Morphy beat Thompson 3-0. The games offer useful lessons concerning opening principles, as Morphy easily gained better mobility and coordination of his pieces. Two of the games featured endgames where Morphy demonstrated how to convert a small advantage. In the third game, which I present here, a tactical error in the middlegame cost White a pawn. In the endgame Morphy's bishop proved far stronger than Thompson's knight. Having an extra pawn made the game easier.

Morphy won this game in the middlegame, but had to demonstrate proper endgame technique to complete the victory.

Thompson,James -- Morphy,Paul [C54]
USA–01.Kongress New York (1.3), 08.10.1857

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3

This move is superior to 5.d4. I tend to play the inferior move (see "Materialism").

5...d6 6.h3

I have my doubts about the merits of this move (see "Wasting Time" for Phillip Sergeant's criticism and Macon Shibut's rejoinder regarding the frequency that Morphy's opponents played this move).

6...Be6

6...a6 seems the top choice today. With Morphy's move, White has a problem: How should he resolve the tension between the bishops along the diagonal leading to f7?

White to move

7.Bb3

I might prefer 7.Bxe6 fxe6. Black's control of the central squares with his pawns more than compensates for any apparent weakness on the kingside. However, White's prospects might be better than in the game. The combination of the unnecessary prophylactic 6.h3 and this retreat of the bishop puts White two tempi behind. Soon, Black seizes the initiative.

Here we have a position that is typical of Morphy's games against all but his strongest opponents, and even a few games against his strongest. A few moves into the game, Morphy has all of his minor pieces mobilized. Many of his opponents, on the other hand, have fallen behind.

7...d5

Morphy seizes the opportunity to take the initiative.

8.exd5 Bxd5 9.0–0 0–0 10.Bg5

Black to move

Thompson is ever alert to tactical possibilities. He threatens to force a weakening of the pawns in front of Black's king.

10...Bxb3 11.axb3 h6 12.Bh4 g5 13.Bg3 e4

Thompson's tactical threats have forced Morphy to play this move. However, Black's position is superior due to White's difficulty bringing the b1 knight into the game. This positional weakness will prove decisive.

White to move

14.Ne5 Nxe5 15.Bxe5 exd3 16.Bxf6

16.Nd2 might be better than exchanging the only active piece in order to immediately regain the pawn.

16...Qxf6 17.Qxd3

Black to move

Now, Morphy mobilizes his rooks with further gain of tempi. Meanwhile, White's queenside knight and rook remain spectators to the action.

17...Rad8 18.Qc2 Rfe8 19.b4 Bb6 20.Na3

20.Nd2 is now impossible in the light of 20...Re2.

20...Qf4

Morphy prevents Nc4, and also prepares a battery along the diagonal leading to h2.

21.Rad1 c6 22.Rd3?

White's position was slightly worse. Now, it is lost. However, Black must strike vigorously, or White's will equalize.

Black to move

Surprisingly few chess players have found the correct plan for Black when I have posted this position online.

22...Bxf2+ 23.Kh1

23.Rxf2 loses instantly. 23...Re1 24.Rf1 Rxf1#.

23.Qxf2 loses the exchange. 23...Qxf2+ 24.Rxf2 Re1+ 25.Kh2 Rxd3

23...Rxd3 24.Qxd3 Re3

White to move

Black's checkmate threat is quite serious.

25.Qd8+ Kg7 26.Qd4+

26.Qd7 Bg3!

26...Qxd4 27.cxd4 Re2 28.Nc4 Re1 29.Rxe1 Bxe1

White to move

White managed to fend off the checkmate threats and enter a minor piece ending down a mere pawn. However, Black's bishop will prove vastly superior to White's knight.

30.Na5 Bxb4 31.Nxb7

This moment in the game can be useful for provoking a discussion of schematic thinking.

31...Kf6 32.Nd8 c5 33.Nc6 Ke6 34.dxc5 Bxc5 35.g4

It is hard to criticize White's effort to hinder Black's pawn majority on the kingside in this manner, but the problems on the queenside prove fatal. The knight is helpless to manage workloads on both sides of the board and the king alone cannot battle Black's forces.

Black to move

35...Kd5 36.Nd8 f6

Reducing a vulnerability that could permit White back into the game.

37.Kg2 a5 38.Kf3 a4 39.Ke2 Bd4

Only now does Morphy attack the unprotected pawn after preventing its advance.

White to move

40.Kd3 Bxb2 41.Nf7 Be5 42.Kc2 Kc4 43.Nd8 a3 44.Nb7 a2 45.Na5+ Kb4 46.Nb3 Ka3 0–1

The final position offers a nice illustration of zugzwang.


*The biographical sketch of Thompson in Charles A. Gilberg, The Fifth American Chess Congress (1881), 77-80 provides these details. The Congress was held in 1880. The book contains a detailed history of the first four congresses, as well as the games of the fifth.

11 August 2017

Critical Moments

How do you analyze a chess game?

I do several things, but the first step--whether my own game or one played by others--is identifying the critical moments in the game. When did the loser reach a technically lost position?

Today was the last day of my tenth annual youth chess camp. The students spent the week--fifteen hours--solving exercises in a workbook (available on Amazon), playing tournament games, discussing games and parts of games with me and with each other. Throughout the week, I stressed a learning process that extends well beyond the week of camp: work on endgames, then tactics and planning, then openings, then study whole games. When they arrived this morning, I had two positions on the two demo boards. We talked about the endgame first. Then we talked about the middlegame.

Black to move

With two legal moves, Black chose the one that loses.

White to move

White turned an advantage into a lost game by moving the queen to the wrong square.

The whole game with annotations at the critical moments is offered below.

Stripes,J. (1911) -- Internet Opponent (1892) [A43]
Chess.com, 10.08.2017

1.d4 e6 2.c4 c5 3.Nf3 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.g3 Qc7 6.Qc2 b6 7.Bg2 Bb7 8.e4 Nc6 9.Be3 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Nf6 11.0–0 Bc5 12.Bxc5 bxc5 13.Nc3 h5 14.Rad1 h4 15.Qe2 hxg3 16.fxg3 Ke7 17.e5 Nh5 18.Ne4 Bxe4 19.Qxe4 Rag8 20.Rd6 f5 21.Qh4+ [21.Qd3] 21...g5 22.Qh3 Nf4 23.Qxh8 Ne2+ 24.Kf2 Rxh8 25.Kxe2 Rxh2 26.Kf2 g4 27.Rfd1 a5 28.Kg1 Rh8 29.b3 Rd8 30.Bc6 dxc6 31.Rxd8 Qxd8 32.Rxd8 Kxd8 33.Kf2 [33.a4 Ke7 34.Kf2 Kf7 35.Ke2 Kg6 36.Kd3 Kg5 37.Ke3 f4+ 38.gxf4+ Kf5 39.Kf2] 33...Kc7 34.Ke3 Kb6 35.Kf4 a4 36.Ke3 Ka5 37.bxa4 Kxa4 38.Kf4 Ka3 39.Kg5 Kb4 40.Kf6 Kxc4 [40...f4 41.gxf4 g3] 41.Kxe6 Kd4 42.Kxf5 c4 43.e6 c3 44.e7 c2 45.e8Q c1Q 46.Qd7+ [46.Qe4+ Kc5] 46...Ke3 47.Qe6+ Kf3 48.Qe4+ Kxg3 [48...Kf2 49.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 50.Kxf4 c5] 49.Qxg4+ Kf2 50.Qf4+ Qxf4+ 51.Kxf4 Ke2 52.Ke4 Kd2 53.a4 Kc3 54.a5 Kb4 55.a6 c5 56.a7 c4 57.a8Q c3 58.Kd3 c2 59.Kxc2 1–0

After these two positions, we looked at Fischer -- Stein 1967, which they have in their book. Following that presentation, the students worked in groups studying other great games. Then, they played the last round of their tournament. During the last fifteen minutes, we went through the whole game from which I had extracted the two positions that we began with nearly three hours earlier.

08 August 2017

It's Only Blitz

I beat a National Master yesterday afternoon. It has been a couple of months since my last win against a titled player, so I was happy to get this one. It was my last game in a blitz playing session characterized by poor play, but it was a better game. Of course, I made errors, but they were less egregious than in my previous several games.

I spent a little more than an hour playing blitz, and at least that much time analyzing this one game. This game was played in less than six minutes. Did it deserve more than an hour of post-game analysis? My opponent shall remain unnamed because he left a clue on his Chess.com page that suggests he would prefer it that way.


Stripes,J (1892) -- Internet Opponent (1926) [E11]
Chess.com, 07.08.2017

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Nbd2

4.Bd2 is the most popular move. Some years ago, I bought and read partly through The Chess Advantage in Black and White (2004) by Larry Kaufman. Many of the lines that Kaufman recommends do not suit me well, but his basic idea has been an influence. He advocates "second best" moves early in the game when it reduces the amount of theory that one must learn.

I am not certain that 4.Nbd2 is second best, but it is second most popular. 4.Bd2 is played twice as often. 4.Nbd2 has a better scoring percentage for White and a slightly higher Elo performance as well. I had the impression that 4.Bd2 was the choice of top Grandmasters, but a check this morning refuted that. Garry Kasparov has played both moves. Magnus Carlsen has played both, but 4.Nbd2 more recently. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave seems to favor my choice.

I spent some time thinking about the relative merits of the choice that White makes here in the Bogo-Indian Defense. Why is 4.Bd2 more popular?

4...Qe7 5.g3 b6

The databases suggest that this move is rare, but the structure is certainly familiar.

6.Bg2 Bb7 7.0–0 0–0

Castling leads via transposition to a small batch of reference games.

8.Nb3

It is hard to believe that this move has not been played before. There must be something wrong with it. Perhaps, this move offers a clue to the popularity of 4.Bd2. The knight blocks the bishop when it stands there. It also lacks good squares that can be reached from d2. On b3, where I placed it, it interferes with queenside pawn expansion. Other moves seem worse.

Black to move

8...d5 9.a3 Bd6 10.c5!?

This brilliant pawn sacrifice was actually an oversight. I was unaware that I was down a pawn until at the end of the game, savoring my victory, I noticed that material was equal. This sacrifice creates a minor piece imbalance that sometimes favors White, but was it worth a pawn?

10...bxc5 11.dxc5 Bxc5 12.Nxc5 Qxc5 13.Be3 Qd6

13...Qe7

14.Rc1 Na6

14...Nbd7

15.Bf4 Qd7

15...Qe7

16.Ne5 Qe7 17.Nc6

Black to move

At this point of the game, I was pleased with my position. I seem to have my opponent's forces tied down.

17...Qd7 18.Qc2 Rfc8 19.b4 Nb8 20.b5 Bxc6

After this exchange, we have two bishops against two knights and only the c-pawns are blocked.

21.bxc6 Qe7

White to move

How might White squeeze Black from this position?

22.Qb3 with the idea of Qb7 seems to have some merit.

22.Bg5 threatens e4.

I did not spend much time on this position during the game, but invested about fifteen minutes with it on the deck in the evening. It might be one that could be added to the store of middlegame positions for performing Jeremy Silman's inventory of imbalances.

22.e4 dxe4 23.Bxe4 Nxe4 24.Qxe4 a5

Maybe 24...Qxa3

25.Rfd1 Qxa3

Maybe 25...Ra6

26.Bxc7! Na6

26...a4 27.Bxb8 Raxb8 28.c7 looks overwhelming for White.

26...Rxb7 27.Rd8+ Qf8 28.Rxf8+ Kxf8 and the material balance has shifted strongly in favor of White. Even so, a queen and pawn agianst a rook and bishop is not always a winning material advantage in time pressure.

27.Bd6 Nb4 28.c7 h6

White to move

29.Bxb4?

29.Be7! My target is d8. Why not make a move that contributes to this plan?

29... axb4

29...Qxb4 30.Qxa8!

30.Rc6

Black to move

30...b3

30...Qa5 is equal and takes advantage of my error a move earlier.

31.Rcd6 g6 32.Rd8+ Kg7 33.Qe5+ f6 34.R8d7+

34.R1d7+ Qe7 35.Rxe7#

34...Kg8 35.Qxe6+ 1–0

Maybe my pawn sacrifice was sound. Both players committed the sort of positional errors that one might expect in a blitz game.