Trust Your Guts: How Studying GM Games Can Help You Play Rapid Chess

img_5014
Getting a head start on homework at Coffee Tree Roasters in Shadyside. Believe it or not, I bumped into a Chess^Summit reader there just last week!

November is an interesting month for chess in Pittsburgh. Outside of the traditional Chess League fixture, there are traditionally only two other weekend tournament options in the city: the Gateway Open, and the G/15 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships, both of which feature time controls of thirty minutes or fewer.

Admittedly, I’ve never been as strong of a rapid player as I have a long time control player, but at a time when I’m still getting over the board experience in my new repertoire, I’ve come to embrace these opportunities as practical tests for myself, even if it comes at the expense of a few rating points.

On paper, this past weekend seemed to be quite of a wash for me, underperforming at the Gateway Open with 2/4, 6.5/10 in it’s corresponding blitz tournament (in which I had a humorous split with fellow Chess^Summit author Beilin to tie for second), and then a routine win against a 1500-rated player in the Pittsburgh Chess League. That being said, I got to play a bunch of new lines for both colors, including a close fight against a 2350+ rated FIDE Master.

img_1364
Grabbing dinner at a nearby deli with Beilin after the Gateway Open, while managing to catch the 4th quarter of Pitt upsetting #2 Clemson in football! Somehow my life still has time for sports…

For today’s article, I had a choice between two topics based on my games from this weekend. The first thing that caught my eye was two wins I notched over 1500 rated players, not because of my ability to overwhelm them with my positional or tactical knowledge, but because they failed to adhere to basic opening principles. Both of the games were effectively over within fifteen moves, and without much effort on my part. I’ve covered opening fundamentals quite a bit already on Chess^Summit, and I encourage you to take advantage of our Free Game Analysis feature on the site if you want more information on such topics.

I thought that for today I’d address a much more compelling topic, which is how I apply ideas that I’ve seen in chess literature and various Grandmaster games and use them in my games, especially in rapid time controls where there isn’t much time to calculate every single line.

By the second round of the Gateway Open, my tournament position was already critical, having been humbled in the first round by a lower rated player. Paired with White against an up-and-coming expert from the area, I knew I had to make the most of this game to make up for lost ground. Needless to say, I wound up surprising myself with my quality of play, using many different positional ideas to get a win.

I’ve formatted this article like a test to make this a more interesting read for you, but also because I do expect my approach to this game will be much different than many of yours. If you feel like different plans could have been employed, feel free to comment below – I’m curious to see what you all think! That being said, let’s start!

The Test

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-05-35

My opponent has just played the move 10…a6 with the idea of playing …b7-b5, trying to lock up the position and create equality. With White to move, what would you do?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-09-18

Black made a waiting move with 11…Re8, giving White time to improve the position. What move would you make?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-12-54

Black just played 16…Qd6, getting the queen to a better square. Black has the bishop pair, but White has the more active pieces. How can White keep his grip on the position?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-16-32

Black retreated the bishop to e7 with his last move, and is ready to kick the knight on c5 with …b7-b6 and finally get his bishop on c8 off the back rank. What must White play?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-18-24

Black is more tied up than ever before after 22…Bd8 was played to stop the a4 knight from reaching b6. How can White take advantage of Black’s lack of coordination?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-20-34

With less than five minutes left, I took on e8 and converted a win out of the endgame. However, there is a much prettier way to win here! Can you find the line that wins on the spot?

The Answers

Hopefully you didn’t find any of these too hard, and perhaps you even figured out the move I played based on the following position I presented. Now that you’ve had a chance to look at each position, let’s compare notes! I’ve attached sources to my in-game inspiration where applicable.

In this position, Stockfish rates twenty four different moves as equal or slightly better for White, and it turns out my choice, 11. a4 is one of them! I don’t know if I would play this move every time I were to reach this position, but it is logical. This stops the immediate advance of …b7-b5 and I intend to fix the Black queenside structure. This idea of using the rook pawn as a positional resource is fairly well-known, with players like Magnus Carlsen regularly employing it in their openings. This is an idea I’ve covered a bunch on Chess^Summit over the past year, but if you’d like a more recent example, IM Anna Rudolf’s recap on Leuven for chess24 shows this idea in action from Carlsen-Anand, where Magnus was able to use his space advantage on both sides of the board. If you have the time I encourage you to watch it – I’ve attached it below for your convenience:

It turns out this wasn’t the hardest part of the game though, the fun was just beginning!

Again, a lot of right moves here, and I chose the crazy looking 12. Qb1. Why was that? I already knew I wanted my rook on f1 to go to c1 and play on the open file, so I needed to use this free move to put my queen on a better square. After some thought, I placed her on b1, thanks to an idea I got while reading on of Greg Serper’s articles for chess.com in which he discussed a particularly famous Karpov-Kasparov game. While Black still has a light squared bishop, its boxed in and will have a hard time contesting the b1-h7 diagonal. Even though I don’t know how exactly this will help me get an advantage, the appeal of this pattern drew me to this move!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-16-59-06Flash forward a bit and to 16…Qd6, I immediately responded with 17. f4!, employing the Bird Bind technique. This is the first “priyome” mentioned in Andrew Soltis’ 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets, and I’m sure that any Dutch Stonewall players out there are fairly familiar with it. If you want to see it in action, here’s a link to a 1992 game where the Bird Bind destroyed Black! This has the added caveat that the Black queen on d6 is no longer pointed at my king, and …e6-e5 is nearly impossible. Black would love to play …f7-f6 to support this push, but then my move 12. Qb1 pays off because it can land on g6 with an attack (not to mention the h4 bishop is trapped)!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-08-51This move carries out the precedent I set with 11. a4. By playing 19. a5!, I fix Black’s pawns stopping the natural …b7-b6 push to kick the knight on c5 and getting the c8 bishop to b7 so the Black rooks can contest the c-file. Black once again is hard-pressed to find a plan, and especially with the short time controls, it made his position that much more unbearable. I quickly followed this with b2-b4 and kept my grip on the position.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-12-44Could you find the stinger 23. Nxf7!!, winning on the spot? A combination of the Bird Bind and light squared dominance made this possible, thanks to various mating threats. I’ll attach a link after the answer to the next problem, so you can play through all of the critical variations that ensue.

Everything leading up to this point hasn’t been original, but also hasn’t been from opening preparation – this win happened because I study a lot of Grandmaster games, regardless of opening, and I hope the take away is the same for you too!

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-17-16-54If I could only have found this move 29. e4! – the simple mating threats are too much to handle, and in fact, with best play, White is mating in all variations! Of course the time trouble made me too materialistic, and after taking on e8, I had to convert my endgame advantage which was not as exciting.

As you can see, all of these ideas played into each other, and made the game much more easy to play considering the thirty minute time control. To come full circle, this is how this part of the game played out in whole!

img_1363
After finishing my Calc midterm last Friday, I won’t have another test between now and finals! Time to buckle down and get back to calculating!

How do you find these mini-positional lessons? My best advice is to work through a collection of Grandamster games, and study how that particular player handles different kinds of positions. There are also plenty of articles out there that can be of great help – Greg Serper’s column on chess.com, various Youtube videos from the St. Louis Chess Club, or of course, even here on Chess^Summit where you can even ask the authors questions about each position dierctly!

Next week’s G/15 State Championship should be an interesting test for me, and hopefully I’ll have more moments like these – unfortunately, I won’t be notating those games, but I promise I’ll have something big in store for my next article!

Pedal to the Medal: Chess, chess, chess!

img_4919
Taking a break from my studies to celebrate my friend’s 20th birthday! Hard to imagine that will be me in a few short weeks!

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to push through a wave of exams. Lost in my studies of calculus, theoretical mathematics, and ancient artwork and architecture, chess had to take a backseat for two weeks. What do I mean by backseat? *Zero* chess. So when my last class on Friday let out for Fall Break, I think you can imagine how excited I was to start getting back to the chessboard.

img_4925
Hillman Library seems to have been hiding one of the best chess study rooms on campus from me, of course with a TV in the room…

As I mentioned in my last post, I now have less than two weeks until the Ira Lee Middle Pennsylvania State Chess Championships, which looks to be my premier event for this semester.

Luckily for me, my exam stretch ended right before a three-day weekend so I’ve had some time to thoroughly push myself without the immediate stress of exams. Surprisingly, my focus on opening preparation has been minimal.

Given how my recent matches with Beilin have transpired, I’ve decided that calculation is the single most important attribute I can work on right now. Between Saturday and Sunday, I’ve put in fifteen long hours into tactical exercises, endgame studies, and grandmaster game analysis. Extreme is probably the right word here, but I felt it important to jump back into form quickly this weekend so I can make the most of my shorter, daily training sessions once classes start again next week.

img_4926
… so I can watch the Russian Chess Championships!

Aside from feeling completely exhausted, I can say pushing myself in this way has certainly gotten me back into feeling ready for tournament chess again.

So what will today’s article be about? This is just the second time since the relaunch of Chess^Summit that I don’t have a game of my own to share, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to discuss. Originally, I was leaning towards adding another edition to my Endgame Essentials series, thinking that Ian Nepomniachtchi’s win over Kramnik in the recent Tal Memorial would be a good start.

That changed as I was studying today while listening to the broadcast of the first round of the Russian Chess Championships (not live of course! I do try to get sleep…). There were many interesting games – Svidler beating the European Champion Ernesto Inarkiev, Alexandra Kosteniuk winning an extremely complicated endgame, but a five-hour clash between Vladimir Fedoseev and Nikita Vitiugov caught my attention. Pitted against a Caro-Kann, Fedoseev quickly gained space, held on, and ground out a win in 83 moves – though most of the pieces were left on the board upon Vitiugov’s resignation! Throughout the broadcast, commentator GM Evgeny Miroshnichenko would get to this game, say “positional masterpiece” and just move on – Fedoseev made it seem that simple!

Vladimir Fedoseev, source: ChessBase

So I decided to cover this game in today’s post for a number of reasons. First, being a Caro, I figured it would be nice to contribute to the discussion my Chess^Summit colleague Beilin has started with many of his own posts. Secondly, I admire Fedoseev’s patience in this game. Once it was clear Vitiugov was stuck to his own defenses, the Russian Grandmaster even took the luxury of taking a long walk with his king, just to ensure it’s safety before looking for ways to convert the point. If you like positional chess at all, you will really like this game too! Lastly, since this game lacks a lot of flashy tactics and dynamic play, I’m worried that this game might disappear after the initial round report, and perhaps just be a footnote for theory. But I’ll let you be the judge of how much this game should be appreciated!

Picking the 7-time Russian Champion and recent Candidate Peter Svidler is not exactly a courageous choice, but if Polborta can get past Tomashevsky, he will be well on his way.

Given that as I write this only a single round has finished in the Russsian Chess Championships, I so far like Svidler’s chances to win the tournament, already having defeated Ernesto Inarkiev, but also still fresh off of appearances at the Sinquefield Cup and Tal Memorial. Dmitry Jakovenko should be a strong dark horse, but I haven’t heard much about strong performances from him since he shared first in the final leg of the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansysk nearly two years ago. Alexander Riazantsev was impressive in his win too, but I would like to seem him play Svidler or Tomashevsky before I pass any judgment on his play – his win over Bocharov seemed to derive more his opponent’s inability to handle the early middlegame. With all twelve contestants rated over 2600, this should be an interesting tournament to watch unfold, and likely even the most exciting event until November.

img_4830
Snapshot from a game with Pitt Chess Club regular, Joe, who’s been featured here on Chess^Summit! Oh, and yes, that is checkmate…

When I come out with my next post, I will have just finished my final round at the Pennsylvania Chess Championships. Hopefully, I can bring back some good news and make up for some of my late summer performances. With exams out of the way, I can look forward to going back to a regular schedule – physical exercise, tactics, opening preparation – needless to say, I’m quite excited! And maybe, just maybe, I can really start thinking about reaching master again…

Positional Domination: Hou Yifan Breaks the Ice!

It feels like a long countdown until this weekend’s G/75 Pennsylvania State Chess Championships and Pittsburgh Chess League matches, so I’ve been killing time doing opening research and watching ongoing Grandmaster games.

With Gibraltar over, there aren’t exactly many high profile games to watch, but there is the Bicontinental Match-up (South America and Antartica) between Women’s World Championship Candidate Hou Yifan and Cristobal Henriquez Villagra, an up-and-coming player from Chile.

The first round ended in a draw, where Hou Yifan was unable to convert a small advantage. For today’s post, we will be looking at the second game, one which Hou Yifan won in just 25 moves!

Hou Yifan is a player easy to overlook, but after today’s post, I think you’ll see just strong she really is. Let’s take a look:

Hou Yifan – Henriquez Villagra (Match Bicontinental de Ajedrez, 2016)

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 a6

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.39.02
The starting position for today’s discussion. Villagra, who eliminated Gelfand from last year’s World Cup, will set-up a hedgehog defense with the Black pieces.

6.g3 Qc7 7.Bg2

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.48.51
For those of you unfamiliar with the English, you should know that there is a lot of overlap with ideas from the Maroczy bind. One of the advantages of choosing the English move order is that the light squared bishop isn’t necessarily bad as it would be on e2 in a Maroczy Bind. Here against the Hedgehog structures, having this bishop is extremely useful, as it limits Black’s ability to queenside fianchetto, and is able to control the d5 square.

7…Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.e4

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.54.32
Here White achieves the famous bind structure with pawns on e4 and c4. Hou Yifan hopes to claim her space in the center of the board while Villagra will wait for potential weaknesses to come.

9…d6 10.Be3 Nbd7

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.03.21
A critical decision, and perhaps the beginning of Villagra’s trouble. The thematic square for the knight is c6, where it may be able to trade for the d4 knight, giving Black space and flexibility. Remember, when you are cramped, it’s advantageous to trade pieces!

11.Rc1 Ne5

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.42.30
An active looking move, but in reality, Black’s hand was somewhat forced here. Black would love to get his c8 bishop to b7, but 11…b6 would lose on the spot to 12. e5! winning the rook on a8 by discovery. Should Black try to avoid this line by playing the well-known Hedgehog idea, 11… Ra7, 12. Ndb5! is better for White after 12… axb5 13. Nxb5 Qa5 14. Nxa7 and Black will not receive two minor pieces for the rook since the knight is protected from the bishop on e3.

12.b3 Bd7

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.00.56
Black realizes that getting the bishop to b7 will simply take too much time, and chooses to route it to d7. Villagra can get this bishop to c6 and on the long diagonal, but as you may notice, Black is somewhat cramped.

13.h3

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.42.47
Taking away the g4 square from each of Black’s knights before pushing f2-f4. While Hou Yifan has easy moves, improving her structure, it is already not so clear how Villagra is going to reroute his pieces to organize an attack. The Chilean’s next move is really telling as to Black’s struggles in this position.

13…Qa5

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.08.21
Rather than improving the position, Black must spend a tempo to evade a tactic – that’s right!
Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.10.38
So if Black makes the most positionally improving move, White can force Black into a well known Hedgehog dilemma with 14. f4 Nc6 15. Nxc6 Bxc6 16. Nd5!
Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.12.19
I actually made this observation before checking with an engine, and the computers seem to see the moves merit. Black’s problems on the b6 square make recapturing the knight compulsory, after which, Black must not only give up the bishop pair but have a strategically ruined endgame.
Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.16.09
Black’s isolated pawn on d6 blocks in his dark squared bishop, and White’s pure control of space is enough for White to push for a win. Seeing this (or other similar lines), VIllagra chose 13… Qa5.

14.Qd2 Rfc8 15.f4 Nc6 16.Qf2 Bd8 17.Rfd1

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.43.08
Black’s moved the c6 knight three times, the queen twice, and the d8 bishop twice. Meanwhile, White has optimized all of her pieces, acquiring a major space advantage. Only a pair of pawns have been traded, and because of it, Black is cramped and has little oxygen.

17…Ne8?

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.22.06
Here Black really needed to trade on d4, but was afraid of 17… Nxd4 18. Bxd4 following with e4-e5, opening up the position. The Chilean wanted to be able to keep the position somewhat closed with d6-d5, but Black is beyond the point of having choices.

18.Nf3! Nb8

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.43.19
Black’s backwards play these last few moves have been strictly tied to playing …d6-d5. This move puts some pressure on the c-file, but Black’s lack of development makes the threat anything but lethal. One principle to know here is that if you are better developed than your opponent, it’s in your best interest to open up the position. Here the former Women’s World Champion pushes through with a central break.

19.e5 d5

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.43.31
And Black finally gets his break! But it’s this same move that actually ends the game for Black.

20.Nd2 Qb4 21.a3 Qxa3

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 21.28.25
Dragging the queen offsides while solidifying the queenside. Without the queen on a5, Black will even fewer ways to defend the collapsing center.

22.cxd5 exd5 23.Ra1!

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.43.48
And now Black’s queen must retreat all the way to f8 to avoid the wrath of the c3 knight. With the exception of the light-squared bishop, Black has placed all of his pieces on the back rank.

23…Qf8 24.Nxd5 Be6 25.Nc4 1-0

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 20.43.59

Black threw in the towel here, as there’s no easy way to defend against f4-f5 and Nb6 threats. Complete positional domination from the Chinese Grandmaster as she dispatched her opponent while making it look easy! There are two games left in the match, and it’ll be one of the last opportunities to watch Hou Yifan before the Women’s World Championship in March when she takes on the reigning champion, Mariya Muzychuk.

Navigating the Maze: Games of Gibraltar

I’ve spent the last few days watching the Gibraltar Open, and now that it’s come to a close, I wanted to share some of the more interesting and instructive moments of the tournament.

Sebastien Maze, of France, proved to be one of the Cinderella stories of the tournament with a score of 7/10. We first look at his game against Ni Hua.

The first game I wanted to show was from round 9, Ni Hua–Maze, where a massive space advantage against a Berlin failed to materialize and then came crashing down to allow the Frenchman to convert the won endgame. If you’re unfamiliar with the Berlin, I highly recommend you check out my comprehensive post on the opening here.

Ni Hua – Maze (Tradewise Gibraltar, 2016)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.h3 Ke8 10.Nc3 Be6 11.g4

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.30.55
A more aggressive try than both the Vachier-Lagrave–Giri and Karjakin–Radjabov games we analyzed earlier. Here White gains space with tempo, punishing the knight on f5 for its awkward placement before Maze has the opportunity to insert the thematic …h7-h5.

11…Ne7 12.Nd4 Bd7 13.f4

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.33.54
Wasting no time gaining space on the kingside. Needing a win, Ni Hua takes the risk of hyper-extending, with the hopes of just cramping Black while optimizing his pieces.

13…h5!

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.35.28
Statically worse, Maze takes dynamic measures to change the nature of this position. With the goal of opening the h-file, the Frenchman hopes to activate his kingside rook to attack White’s pawns. Should White blunder here with 15. g5? the f5 square becomes a permanent outpost for Black, so Ni Hua must concede the trade.

14.f5 hxg4 15.hxg4 Rh4 16.Rf4

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.39.01
Here is the critical position. Visually, White looks much better, sitting pretty with his space advantage. Meanwhile, Maze has to solve his issues of development while fending off any of White’s tactical opportunities, such has e5-e6 ideas. Clearly Black’s opening has failed, right? Think again. As I mentioned before, Black is only statically worse. If he can find dynamic opportunities, Maze can liquidate White’s kingside pawn mass and reach a better endgame. Already, Black can consider both …g7-g6 and …g7-g5, trying to create a square for his knight on g6. With White’s light squared bishop gone, moving the f-pawn would be a major concession. If Maze can make this pawn move then he’s moving in the right direction.

16…Rd8 17.Be3 Bc8 18.Re4 g6! 19.Rf1

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.46.16
Already, Ni Hua is finding that it’s not so easy to convert his space advantage. Even with all of his pieces on great squares, its not so easy to see what the next course of action is.

19…Rh3!

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.49.04
With the pawn on g4 adequately protected, Black offers White tactical problems. Threatening to take two minor pieces for a rook, Ni Hua realized that he was in trouble and went all in with 20. e6 on the next move. But to illustrate some of the problems, let’s check out some lines.
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.53.27
The most aggressive move also presents problems for White. After 20. Bg5, Black can play 20… gxf5 and should White err with 21. gxf5?? Rg3+ will win immediately for Black. To recapture on f5, White would have to play 21. Bxe7, but giving up the bishop pair in an endgame bound position is not ideal.
Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 13.57.19
Should White decide to get his bishop out of the way, for instance, 20. Bc1, Black can sacrifice an exchange to get an attack on the king with 20… gxf5 21. gxf5 Rxd4 22. Rxd4 Nxf5 23. Rdf4 Bc5+ and Black will have to give up an exchange to stay in the game.

20.e6?!

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.01.50
An interesting try to avoid the lines mentioned above, but unfortunately for Ni Hua, Maze’s earlier move 18… g6 was already enough to liquidate to an endgame slightly better for Black.

20…Rxe3!

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.04.01
Following through on his threat, and with the next few moves forced, Black will end the line up a pawn.

21.exf7+ Kxf7 22.Rxe3 Rxd4 23.fxg6+ Kg8

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.06.30
It seems like Ni Hua can force the coronation of one of his pawns, but it’s Maze that sees a move further. One of the reasons why I like this game is that its hard to see where White went wrong, yet after 19… Rh3, it became clear that something wasn’t quite right for White. I’m no expert on the Berlin, but I would say that White’s hyper-extension instead of more principled play was enough to derail this game from equality.

24.Rxf8+ Kxf8 25.g7+ Kf7 26.Rxe7+

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.09.40
Ni Hua will get his wish, but…

26…Kxe7 27.g8=Q Rxg4+

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.10.23
… Maze achieves his goal, a bishop v knight endgame, and a pawn up! Maze went on to convert the endgame, reaching a 7/9 mark to be tied for first going into the last round.

In this next endgame, we saw a draw cost both sides an opportunity to make the playoffs with Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier–Lagrave. In the end, it was Pentala Harikrishna that was unable to convert his position of strength to a birth in the play-off.

Despite missing out on an opportunity to play for frist, Harikrishna’s performance leaves him less than 6 rating points lower than the best player from India, Vishy Anand.

Harikrishna – Li Chao (Tradewise Gibraltar, 2016)

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.19.12
Here Li Chao offered Harikrishna a queen swap on c6, believing that the resulting rook and opposite colored bishop endgame was a draw. Though it may be tenable, White still has enough resources to play for the initiative. Both of Black’s pieces are limited in mobility defending the e7- pawn and White’s king can march to the action undisturbed.

45.Qxc6 bxc6 46.f4!

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.22.50
Good technical play! Harikrishna intends to push the f-pawn to f5 limiting the f7-bishop and then plans to bring in the king. Unfortunately, Li Chao can’t do much more than sit around, as playing …f6-f5 himself will create an unbreakable box for his bishop. Black is paralyzed.

46…Kh7 47.f5 g6 48.Kf2

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.25.05
Without concern for the f5-pawn! If White had taken on g6, he gives Black an easy route to the center of the board via g6-f5-e6 with good drawing chances. However, a Black pawn on f5 would constrain Black as White advances his king.

48…gxf5 49.Ke3 Kg7 50.Kf4 Bg6

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.27.27
I think this position really illustrates Black’s dilemma as space becomes a big concern here. It’s up to White now to find the win.

51.Rd4 Rg8 52.Rd6

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.28.52
I started to lose sight of what Harikrishna’s idea was since his last move seemed intended to capture on a4. After looking at this position with an engine, my computer showed that with accurate play, Black can hold a fortress as the advantage is only visual. That being said, Harikrishna really needed to make a second weakness here, and pushing the b-pawn up the board seems to me the best chance, regardless of the outcome. If you think White has a simple win here, I encourage you to play this position against an engine! Black’s ready to turn off the lights with …Bg6-e8, and it’s not clear if there’s enough power for white to generate a win.

52…Be8 53.Kxf5 Bg6+ 54.Ke6 Bf7+ 55.Kd7 Be8+ 56.Kd8

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.36.33
Harikrishna’s gotten his king to the back rank, but with no light square control, the e-pawn will never promote.

56…Kf7 57.Bc5 Rxg2 58.Bd4 Rg6 59.Bc3 c5 60.Rd5 Rg8 61.Rxh5 Bb5+

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 14.35.04
And with White having to surrender his e7 pawn, the final position is drawn. The players made a couple more moves and shook hands when it was clear neither side would falter.

62.Kc7 Kxe7 63.Rf5 Be8 64.Rxf6 a3 65.Ra6 axb2 66.Bxb2 Rg6 67.Rxg6 1/2-1/2

I missed the Nakamura–MVL match-up for first prize, but after four draws, Nakamura won the armageddon game with the Black pieces to win Gibraltar for the second consecutive year. This year featured a strong section, and the tournament becomes more interesting with each year as the organizers find new players to invite – I’ll be curious to see who plays next year!

This Saturday, I will be playing Grandmaster Alexander Shabalov in a simultaneous exhibition at the Pittsburgh Chess Club – so make sure to look out for the “Grandmaster Eats Me Alive” video that will come out Sunday, I’m looking forward to seeing how the reigning US Open Champion will plow through my repertoire!

Five for Five: Winning with the Bishop Pair

This past Sunday marked a landmark win for me, as I managed to continue my perfect record in the Pittsburgh Chess League, getting my fifth win in five games. Getting a result not only meant helping my team, the Univesity of Pittsburgh, beat Carnegie Mellon University 3-1, but also meant extending my unbeaten streak in four-board team events to eleven games (8 wins, 3 draws).

I thought that this game was rather instructive, as the result was a direct reflection of the positional imbalances that occurred during the game, a pair of bishops against the pair of knights. Let’s have a look:

Steincamp – Puranik (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2016)

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 c6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg2 Bg4

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 09.50.14
One of the advantages of playing …c7-c6 before …e7-e6 is that Black has the option of developing his light squared bishop to a more active square.

5.O-O Bxf3?

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 09.52.34
It’s only move 5, but Black has already made a critical mistake! With this move, Black gives away the bishop pair for no compensation. While Black’s pawn chain from b7-d5 seems to blunt my bishop, attacking b7 will eventually force Black to concede the diagonal.

6.Bxf3 e5

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 09.55.29
Black grabs the center here with this move, with the hopes that a space advantage will outweigh the bishop pair. However, I have a nice resource – can you find it?

7.d4!

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 09.57.16
It was critical that I play this move first. 7. d3 is too passive, and 7. Qb3 is easily met by 7… Qb6. This move forces a transposition to one of two common openings:
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 09.59.29
Should Black choose to capture on d4, we have a reversed Main Line Alapin where White has the Bishop pair and an advantage in any endgames. For example 7… exd4 8. Qxd4 dxc4 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Bg5 Nbd7 11. Rc1 and my activity will offer me fair winning chances.

7…e4

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.02.02
My expert opponent chose this move, which transposes into a Main Line Reversed French, with a few critical distinctions. 1) My pawn is on e2, not e3, so I don’t have the familiar “bad French bishop”, 2) without his light squared bishop, my opponent will find it difficult to defend both b7 and d5, and 3) already behind in tempi, Black has still yet to castle, which makes f2-f3 powerful if timed correctly.

8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Bb4

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.06.17
In an effort to stop f2-f3 with …Bxc3, Black offers his second bishop. While this solves a short term problem, Black surrenders a lot of attacking potential without his dark square control.

10.Qb3

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.05.42
This move forces Black to give away his bishop, and when he does, I will recapture with the b-pawn for two reasons. 1) To allow my bishop to develop via a3, and 2) to make a half open file targeting Black’s weakness. If the b7 pawn moves or falls, Black’s position will crumble.

10…Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qb6 12.Ba3!

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.10.10
This move stops Black from castling kingside. It was important to not trade queens on b6, as Black could recapture with the knight and then head to c4 with some counterplay.

12…dxc4?

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.11.44
This move not only opens the position but drastically weakens Black’s e4 pawn. By opening the diagonal for my queen, the f7 pawn can also become a weakness in some lines. Black had to try 12… Qxb3 13. axb3 dxc4 14. bxc4 Nb6 but Black still has the long term disadvantage. During the game, I found 15. Bc5 to win the a-pawn, but my friend found 15. Rfb1 which is stronger, cleaning Black’s queenside majority.

13.Qxc4 Qa5 14.Qb3 b6 +-

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.15.03
In my mind, this move gave me the win. This not only weakens the diagonal but also means Black’s king won’t be safe on the queenside. Knowing this, I deemed it appropriate to go on an all-out assault on the monarch.

15.f3!

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.16.48
A thematic move in the French, and the winning move here. I calculated a bunch of winning lines here tactically, but I could have also just relied on pure intuition, for example:
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.18.21
15… Nd5 is not Black’s best move, but it highlights the issues with his position the most after 16. fxe4 Ne3 17. Qxf7+ with mate soon to follow.
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.19.57
This move only postpones Black’s problems as 16. c4 will pick up the pawn as 16… Qd2 fails to 17. Rad1 Qxe2 18. Rde1 Qd2 19. Rxe3+ Kd8 and Black is clearly much worse.
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.22.14
15… exf3 with the idea that if 16. exf3 0-0-0 is a bold one, although it offers Black some chances to get play on the e-file. That’s why I had prepared 16. Bxf3 so 16… 0-0-0 fails to 17. Bxc6, and I still have a massive pawn center after e2-e4.

15…O-O-O

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.26.15
Black just decided to give up the pawn for the sake of king safety, but my bishop’s view from g2 is quite nice.

16.fxe4 Qh5 17.Qc4

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.27.24
Both attacking and defending! Black had two threats, …Nf6-g4 and …Qh5xe2. This move defends the e2 pawn, and any of Black’s mating threats are secondary to Qc4xc6+ with Ba3-d6# to follow.

17…Kb7 18.e5

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.29.21
Highlighting the inevitable problem Black would face when he chose …e5-e4. At some point this diagonal would open, and without any light square protection, Black is doomed. My opponent sacrificed a piece, but that failed to parry my plans.

18…Nxe5 19.dxe5 Nd5 20.Bxd5 Rxd5 21.Bd6

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.31.00
Cutting off the rook with two ideas, e2-e4 to expose f7 or Ra1-d1, simply to trade the rooks and go into a won ending.

21…Re8 22.e4 1-0

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.32.23
Black resigned, seeing that 22… b5 23. Rab1 will force Black to give up the rook or conceded checkmate.

While I had a lot of ideas this game, the battle only lasted 22 moves! That is the power of the pair of bishops – find ways to open the position and create static weaknesses, and at some point, your opponent will blunder under pressure.

I won’t have another tournament game until February 13th, at the Pennsylvania G/75 State Chess Championships, but this game is definitely an encouraging sign concerning the direction of my preparation.

Trading into Better Positions

Since I’ve spent most of the last week discussing opening play, I decided to discuss trades in today’s post.

A few years ago when I was a student at Castle Chess Camp, I had the pleasure of working with Grandmaster Grigory Serper. While his use of metaphors and clichés to describe chess were particularly memorable, he did leave an impression on me regarding trading. Some of you may be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s one red paperclip project, where through internet trading, he managed to trade a paperclip for an entire house.

As Serper pointed out, winning in chess is very similar. We want to checkmate our opponent, but often times our opponents aren’t so willing to cooperate. So instead, we take over small advantages and cash them into bigger ones – just like how MacDonald started with a trade for a pen, then a doorknob, and eventually down the road, a house.

Red-PaperClip_h

When looking for grandmaster games for today’s post, I decided to only select games from the recent rapid tournament, the 25th Paul Keres Memorial. We start with the third round upset of the top seed, Peter Svidler.

Svidler – Kulaots (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.11.17

In this position, either side has practical winning chances. While Kulaots has the pair of bishops, Svidler has a fair amount of compensation. Black’s pawns limit the abilities of his own light squared bishop, and White’s knight has a strong outpost on f4. While some may argue that Black has the long-term advantage because of the pair of bishops, even that’s not so clear, as Svidler has a passed pawn on a3. In order for Kulaots to prove an advantage, he needs to activate his pieces.

23…Re4!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.17.24
A critical moment! Black attacks both the pawn on d4 and the knight on f4, asking Svidler to trade on his terms. 24. Rxe4?? loses to 24… dxe4 and both knights are under attack.

24. Nh5

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.19.43
Svidler finds a tactical solution to his positional problems. Should Black try 24… Rxd4? 25. Re8+!! Qxe8 26. Nxf6 is winning. While White evaded the threat this turn, he hasn’t solved his problems yet. Svidler will have to decide if he wants to trade rooks on e4 and un-double Black’s pawns, or allow Kulaots to have a permanent weakness to attack on d4.

24…Kf7 25. Nb4 Qe8 26. g3 =+

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.23.39
White realizes that with …Kf7-g6 looming, he needed a safe square for his knight. Retreating to g3 wasn’t an option because of …f5-f4, so this move will cover the knight on f4.

26…Kg6 27. Nf4+ Bxf4

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.25.46
The first important trade. Black gives up the bishop pair, but in exchange makes another structural weakness on f4. Black will now increase the pressure on d4 and f4 until Svidler decides to take on e4, a trade that will only help Black mobilize his pawns.

28. gxf4 Qd7 29. Qd2 Qc7

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.28.11
Attacking the f4 pawn while simultaneously defending c6. While Black’s bishop is still bad, Kulaots can just target White’s weaknesses. White is so paralyzed that Svidler can’t punish Black for his bad bishop.

30. Rac1 Ra8

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.28.45
“Sometimes the threat is stronger than the execution.” Sure, Black could’ve taken on f4 with the rook, but that doesn’t actually help Kulaots. The pawn on f4 can be taken whenever, but more importantly, it’s blocking in White’s queen. Instead, Black makes the mature decision to attack White’s pawn on a3, the last remaining advantage that White had back when Svidler played 23. Re1.

31. Rc3 Bd7 32. Rxe4

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.34.14
Unable to deal with the pressure of …Ra8-d8, White makes the second trade for Black. While this closes the e-file, it resolves Black’s structure. Meanwhile, f4 and a3 are still targets.

32…fxe4 33. Rb3 h5

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.36.04
It’s still not clear if Kulaots is going to pull the upset. Without clear ways to improve his pieces, Black expands on the kingside.

34. Nc2 h4 35. Kf1 Bc8

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.37.20
Preparing to maneuver the bishop from c8 to a6. Once the bishop reaches this diagonal, it can no longer be considered bad since it is outside of the pawn chain.

36. Ke1 Ba6 37. h3?!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.39.19
Trying to complicate the position, Svidler creates another weakness on h3. Rather than trying to force his way through, Kulaots decides to limit White’s play.

37…Bc4!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.39.09
Needing to defend both a3 and h3 simultaneously, the rook must stay on the third rank, surrendering the b-file, and entering a realm of passivity.

38. Rc3 Rb8

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.41.36
With the simple threat of …Rb8-b1+, though blocking with the knight offers the best defense, from b4, it won’t be able to protect White’s kingside.

39. Nb4 f5 40. Kd1 Kf6 41. Kc1 Rg8 42. Nc2 g3 -+

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.43.11
Forcing the last trade, and this time, it’s decisive. Black will now have a passed pawn on g3 and e4 though the strength of the g-pawn alone should be enough.

43. fxg3 hxg3 44. Ne3 Bd3 45. Rb3 Ke6 46. Ng2 Bf1 47. Ne3 g2 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.45.04
A paralyzed Svidler has no way of stopping the pawn and here resigned. A great display by Kaido Kulaots!

This game was decided by three trades, the bishop for knight trade on f4, the rook trade on e4, and the opening of the floodgates on g3. Kulaots won this game by optimizing his position between each trade, paralyzing White to his structural weaknesses. Even though the f4 and d4 pawns dictated the pace for this game, Black didn’t have to win them to procure a result. Let’s move on to the next game.

2_svidler_400
Peter Svidler is a top 10 player, and will be one of a few Candidates to face Magnus Carlsen in the 2016 World Chess Championships. Expect the Russian to brush off this loss – he’s a world class player!

Kukk – Eljanov (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.50.41

Pavel Eljanov is one of my favorite players to watch, and while he didn’t perform at his full strength this tournament, he still showed how he was one of the best here.

In this position, White seems to be standing well. The knight on e5 well placed and Kukk has both of his rooks on open files while Black seems to be lingering behind in development. But Eljanov has his own ideas too. After rerouting from d7, the knight on b8 can enter the contest at any moment via c6. Furthermore, White’s bishop on b2 is passive behind the d4 pawn and will need to spend some tempi to reroute it.

18…Nc6 19. a3

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.09.39
White plays this move to take away the b4 square from White’s knight. While this may stop Black’s plans for now, Kukk has created a hanging pawns structure on the queenside, and could prove to become key weaknesses in the future.

19…Ne7

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.13.14
An odd-looking move but Eljanov intends to play …Nf6-e5, so this move allows the queen from b7 to protect the knight. Black also offers the first critical trade of the game.

20. Rxc8 Rxc8

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.16.11
With this move, Eljanov moves from paperclip to pen. Black’s resolved his development problems and has a clear plan going forward.

21. Rc1 b5 22. b4

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.18.04
By going for this structure, Kukk has completed a trade of sorts. In exchange for the c5 outpost, he’s put all of his queenside pawns on dark squares, limiting his bishop’s mobility.

22…Rxc1+ 23. Bxc1 Qc8

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.20.07
Black uses the tempo from the trade to grab the initiative. By rerouting his queen, Eljanov quickly shifts the attention to the kingside, where White has fewer active pieces.

24. Nb3 Ne4

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.22.02
With this move, Eljanov offers Kukk a choice. White can either try to play around the knight on e4 or can weaken his structure with f2-f3. Unfortunately for White, he can’t easily put a knight on c5 with Black’s knight in the center, so he chose to kick it.

25. f3 Ng3 26. Bf4 Nh5 27. Bd2 f6

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.24.22
This move highlights the awkwardness behind 25. f3. Now the knight must retreat to g4, where it will have no active options.

28. Ng4 Qc4!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.25.41
Same idea as the last game! White has a weak d4 pawn, and a trade on c4 will only strengthen Black’s growing grip on the position.

29. Nf2 Ng3

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.27.11
Constricting the movement of the king, and being prophylactic! Black wants to play …Ne7-f5, so this move also stops g2-g4.

30. Nc5 Nef5 31. Qxc4 bxc4 32. Nxa6 Nxd4

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.28.21
The decisive trade. Not only does Kukk give up a central pawn for a wing pawn, but he now faces threats like …Nd4-e2+ followed by a discovered check by moving the g3 knight. While White, like Black, has two passed pawns, they aren’t as advanced, and the White army is too passive for them to make a difference.

33. Nd1 Nde2+ 34. Kf2 d4 0-1

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 16.30.56

Here Kukk resigned, as Eljanov’s d- and c-pawns are just too much. White has no mobility, and he’ll have to give up a minor piece when Black pushes …c4-c3.

Since his performance at the World Cup, Pavel Eljanov has been invited to the currently ongoing edition of the Tata Steel in the Netherlands. Check out our post on him from last October here!

As you may have noticed, in each of these games, the winner didn’t count on tactical trumps to beat the other but rather milked small positional edges, forcing the other side to make concessions. When you identify candidate moves, it’s extremely important to know what trades will help your position or weaken your opponent’s.