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.
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
6.g3 Qc7 7.Bg2
7…Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.e4
9…d6 10.Be3 Nbd7
14.Qd2 Rfc8 15.f4 Nc6 16.Qf2 Bd8 17.Rfd1
20.Nd2 Qb4 21.a3 Qxa3
22.cxd5 exd5 23.Ra1!
23…Qf8 24.Nxd5 Be6 25.Nc4 1-0
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Bb4
10…Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qb6 12.Ba3!
13.Qxc4 Qa5 14.Qb3 b6 +-
16.fxe4 Qh5 17.Qc4
18…Nxe5 19.dxe5 Nd5 20.Bxd5 Rxd5 21.Bd6
21…Re8 22.e4 1-0
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Kukk – Eljanov (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)
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
20. Rxc8 Rxc8
21. Rc1 b5 22. b4
22…Rxc1+ 23. Bxc1 Qc8
24. Nb3 Ne4
25. f3 Ng3 26. Bf4 Nh5 27. Bd2 f6
28. Ng4 Qc4!
29. Nf2 Ng3
30. Nc5 Nef5 31. Qxc4 bxc4 32. Nxa6 Nxd4
33. Nd1 Nde2+ 34. Kf2 d4 0-1
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.
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.
As you may recall from Sunday’s video against the Dutch, we left with two critical questions:
1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?
2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?
While Black folded rather easily (until I missed a simple win), I thought this game was a good starting point for today’s article, which asks us not one, but two critical theoretical questions about one of Black’s most common responses to 1. d4. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, you can catch up here:
ChessBase’s online database gives us a really nice breakdown of White’s second move options, and as you may notice 2. Nc3 is not all that uncommon.
In fact, it scores rather well, 58% in 2163 games. While this line has received special attention from top grandmasters Alexander Grischuk, Santosh Vidit, and Erwin L’ami, it has been played several times by the famous theoretician Boris Gelfand, though he hasn’t brandished it since 2014.
While I will discuss both the positives and negatives of 2. Nc3 against the Dutch, please do note that most of its appearances in the Mega Database are from blitz tournaments – meaning that it may be used more as an element of surprise than an actual attacking weapon at the highest level. Let’s take a look at what can go wrong when Black doesn’t know how to handle 2. Nc3.
Jobava – Sandipan (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2014)
1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5
4. e3 e6 5. h4
5…Be7 6. Nh3 O-O 7. Qd2 Ne4
8. Nxe4 dxe4?! 9. O-O-O Nd7 10. Nf4 Nf6 11. Bc4
11…Qd6 12. Qa5!
12…h6 13. Qxf5 +-
13…Nd5 14. Qxe4 Bxg5 15. Nxd5 1-0
And on just the 15th move, Chanda Sandipan submits his resignation. Though 15… Bd8 could avoid immediate material loss, Black would find that his weaknesses on the light squares are just too much to bear after 16. Nc3 and 17. Bd3. With an undeveloped army, Black would face a kingside pawn storm with absolutely no counterplay. So what did this game tell us about the Veresov-like lines against the Dutch?
1) If Black cannot resolve the problems of his light squared bishop, it becomes extremely difficult to play for a win.
2) When White castles queenside, “textbook” Stonewall ideas aren’t effective.
Sure, this was a blitz game, and black wasn’t offering the best resistance, but these elements dictated the pace of the game. If Black wants to really maximize his chances, he needs to find a way to bust open the center. Let’s take a look at an antidote here from Vassily Ivanchuk.
Gelfand – Ivanchuk (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2012)
What changed? Well, Black definitely took some initiative with 5… c5. While reaching the Stonewall position helps limit White’s light squared bishop, it was critical that Black take advantage of White lacking a pawn on c4. Just like some Veresov lines, White really lacks any dynamic play because he doesn’t have a way to contest the center. Through further research, most Super-GM success with 2. Nc3 against the Dutch is against lower rated players, so perhaps it’s just a weapon to catch a lower rated player off-guard or out of preparation.
So that answers the first question – when it comes to dynamic play, the straight-forward 2. c4 is favored. Look no further than last week’s post for proof!
Now, the h-pawn march against the Leningrad. What can Black do? Well first, let’s see the idea played in it’s true form, played by the sixth best player in the world, Hikaru Nakamura.
Nakamura – Barron (Toronto Open, 2009)
1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3
3…g6 4.h4 Bg7 5.h5 Nxh5 6.e4
6…fxe4 7.Rxh5 gxh5 8.Qxh5+ Kf8 9.Bh6
9…Bxh6 10.Qxh6+ Kg8 11.Qg5+ Kf7 12.Nxe4
12…Qg8 13.Qf4+ Ke8 14.Qxc7 Nc6 15.O-O-O
15…Qg6 16.Re1 Kf7 17.d5 Nb4 18.Nf3 d6??
19.Neg5+ Kg8 20.Qd8+ Kg7 21.Rxe7+ Kh6 22.Nf7+
22…Kh5 23.Re5+! dxe5 1-0
Black resigned before White could complete his masterpiece, as 24. Qh4# ends the game. Nearly a miniature from the American, and not a convincing defense in sight. So the question persists, what should Black do?
While Black has won games in this line, I can hardly see the middlegame positions being what Black desires from move 1. That’s why I’m going to suggest a different, more flexible move order for Black.
1.d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d6!
Not a brilliancy by Grandmaster-level thinking, but it turns out that this extra tempo takes White out of the line. The next move, 4. Nf3, the most common choice puts an end to the h2-h4 shenanigans since the sacrifice on h5 doesn’t work with the queen’s entry blocked.
While this move means Black must be prepared for different sidelines, it does mean that he gets more “Dutch-like” positions and can rely on intuition more than just pure calculation.
Well, that’s bad news for White – a great exchange sacrifice ‘refuted’ due to a slight move order change. In these past two weeks, I have easily been the most I’ve ever written about the Dutch. Expect a little bit of fresh air on Friday, it’s time to look at something new!
In last Sunday’s video, I tried playing 1…e5 in response to the King’s Pawn opening. Without much theoretical knowledge of the Berlin, I quickly got bogged down in a worse position and on the clock. Though I got back into the game with a sacrifice on g4, the position I reached isn’t desirable enough to want to play again. Let’s take a quick recap of what happened:
JoseBautista–leika (G/15 ICC, 2015)
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6
4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4
Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nc4?
I’ll stop here since this questionable move already deviates from the Main Line which we will be discussing. When looking for a model game, I was lucky to find the Giri–Vachier-Lagrave match up from the London Chess Classic, in which Anish outplayed Maxime in a critical tiebreak match.
Giri won the game later on move 43, in what was arguably his best game of the tournament. While the victory may have been sweet, it was short-lived, as Maxime went on to win the next two tiebreak games, sending him to the final against Magnus Carlsen.
So what does this game tell us about the Berlin? Let’s take a look at the structure after move 17.
If you’re wondering why so many Grandmasters play the Berlin, you should start here. Structurally, Black is more solid and his king, thanks to the early queen trade is already in the center. With all of his early dynamic play, White has yet to define his structure, leaving his e5 pawn seemingly hyper-extended. If we think about how Vachier-Lagrave attacked Black’s weaknesses (17. Nb5), the threat of the c7 and a7 pawns only slowed Giri’s play but didn’t cause him long term problems, so already that position is at least equal. Let’s take this position to the next level.
Since White decided to give up the bishop pair with 6. Bxc6, we must also take this into consideration. While this minor piece endgame may be arguably tenable, it is clear that again, only Black can play for a win as the bishop dominates white’s knight. So with this assessment, we can say that Black is better in most Berlin Endgames.
Here’s another game where Black proved that solidarity was more important than initiative.
Now with a material advantage, Radjabov has a win to play for in the classical Berlin Endgame. Black went on to win 23 moves later.
So what do these games tell us about playing the Berlin as Black?
The Berlin won’t win games quickly. As evidenced by both games, endgame technique and defence are two critical skills needed to play the Berlin effectively. Black didn’t get an advantage until White erred playing for an edge.
Patience in the key. Remember, the main reason why the Berlin is popular for Black is because the computer gives it a favorable evaluation with the computer. Once the queens come off the board, the game is about strategic gains for either side as White tries to compensate for losing the bishop pair.
A Berlin Endgame is a good endgame. The biggest positive from today’s article. If White can’t effectively prove his compensation, he will be tortured in an uphill positional battle.
For today’s video, I wanted to share a game I played against an expert at the Pittsburgh Chess Club last Tuesday. I find this game to be particularly instructive since Black’s pawn structure dictated the pace of the game, as his pawn on c6 weighed down his development as I proceeded to find forcing moves and assemble my pieces for an attack. Hope you all enjoy!