Puzzling through My Game

This time around I want to try something different.

I’ll give you a crazy game I played recently, against FM Matthew Larson, in the form of puzzles, and you try to solve them. Take it as some kind of test with no time limit and no restrictions – just no peeking. I ought to warn you in advance. First of all, these positions are not easy – both my opponent and I are guilty of messing many of these up. Don’t expect to find the answer by looking at the next diagram!!

Even answering only a few questions correctly is great – both my 2400+ opponent and I are guilty of messing some of these up…

Anyway, let the games begin!

Puzzle 1

Larson1

What should black do in this Benoniesque position?

Puzzle 2

Larson2

How should white exchange the DSBs?

Puzzle 3

Larson3

White’s initiative is brewing. How should black counter it?

Puzzle 4

Larson4

What is white’s best move?

Puzzle 5

Larson5

Again, how to counter that initiative?

Puzzle 6

Larson6

How best to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 7

Larson7

Again, how to parry white’s attack?

Puzzle 8

Larson8

Black has two pieces, but there are coordination and king safety problems. How to solve them?

Puzzle 9

Larson9

The last move before the time control. What should black do?

Puzzle 10

Larson10

Should white play 49.h4?

Puzzle 11

Larson11

Black to play and win!

Puzzle 12

Larson12

Can white hold this?

Puzzle 13

Larson13

Black to play and win!

Now here’s the game starting from the first position… The game contained so many interesting moments, I couldn’t pass the opportunity. And there’s no way I’d be able to describe it in my “conventional” way of highlighting a couple critical moments when in reality there are 13!

If you got a feel for the middlegame position and solved numbers 3-5 correctly, kudos! If you solved puzzles 11-13 correctly and figured out this seemingly simple endgame, another kudos! And if you solved puzzle 7 (which is the hardest IMHO), more power to you! If you feel like it, let me know how you did on the test by replying to this post.

I hope you enjoyed it! Until next time…

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Chess^Summit Merchandise on Sale Now!

2017 was a big year for us. Three years of free, instructional, and relatable Chess^Summit content. New authors from across the United States, and new adventures around the globe.

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Wow – we’ve come a long ways since 2014. In just over three years, Chess^Summit has been a resource for over 30,000 chess players and enthusiasts – that’s simply incredible.

In 2018, we’re hoping to do bigger and better things, which is why we’ve decided to start early by doing something we’ve never done before: offering you premium Chess^Summit merchandise. If you enjoy reading Chess^Summit articles or watching our Youtube videos, this is the best (and easiest!) way to show your support for the work our team does.

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Analyze This

Mikhail Botvinnik, legendary world champion and a pioneer of computer chess, once said “chess is the art of analysis.” Indeed, anyone who plays the game long enough will see that it is a sempiternal exercise in examination and re-examination. By examining one’s own games and those of other players and masters, you can begin to see patterns or discover better moves. Quality analysis and the ability to analyze are essential for any player to grow and become a strong competitor. And now with incredible advancements in technology and the seemingly endless amount of options and platforms to find digital chess analysis, there is an unprecedented amount of information available. So, considering all the information above, where do you start?

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If you are newer to the game, the best analysis would be a one on one with a coach or an experienced player. While having a computer program analyze your game has many advantages, it is a bit too much information for someone new to the game and will not help you develop the same way a human can. Much like a soccer coach watching video after a game and going over it with their team, a trained and experienced eye can spot mistakes or opportunities you may otherwise overlook. For instance, when I first started playing my coach noted that I was very inconsistent with developing my minor pieces early in the game. By doing this I was giving away tempi and crippling my attack. This observation would not be noted if I simply used a computer to show blunders and best moves. The best way I can put it is that a human can give you a unique perspective and develop you into a well-rounded player, a computer will build upon this foundation and present other opportunities.
Another way that a coach can help your development is by analyzing well-known games or educational ones with you. My coach recommended analyzing some of Jose Capablanca’s games, games that exemplified what topic or idea he was trying to share with me at that time. I analyzed these games on my own, playing them out on a board then on a computer with and without an analysis engine running. Lastly, my coach and I went over a game together. This comprehensive, well-rounded analysis not only improved my understanding of some core concepts my coach was trying to teach through the game, but also helped my board memory, gave me some new ideas in certain situations, and boosted my confidence in my ability to analyze games. This exercise helped establish a foundation I still use today and will continue to use throughout my career.
Once you have learned how to analyze a game, you could and really should analyze any games you find interesting whether they be yours or someone else’s. First, play through the game a few times on your own to see the flow. Look for any ideas that jump out at you or anything you find noteworthy. This part of the game is a bit of homework, so you really must keep a notebook handy. A fun exercise is to guess the move then compare your decision to that of the other player. When you do this, ask “why was that move picked?” “why that move instead of this one?” “how would I respond to that move?”. This type of methodical and deliberate examination and study will develop your awareness and your understanding even further.
A very popular and tremendously productive way to analyze your play is with an engine. From top level players like Vishy Anand to club players, this is a common practice and in today’s competitive environment, an absolute necessity. The number of engines out there and the millions of games recorded is staggering. Do you want to see what your favorite player’s most successful opening is? It’s there. What percentage of games with the c4 “English” opening, on average, end with a win for white? That information is there too. Computer analysis can be a double-edged sword for the inexperienced or unguided, however. Without a sound understanding of the games fundamentals and mechanics, you can easily fall down a rabbit hole and be quickly misdirected. Personally, I suggest holding off on computer analysis until it is recommended to you by your coach or a trusted, experienced player. Used in conjunction with coaching and guidance, this technology is indeed a very powerful analytical tool that will certainly bring your play to the next level.
So where should you begin? To get started, pick a game, any game. This game can be one of your own or just one your find interesting. I strongly recommend you play through it a few times on a board, preferably one with algebraic coordinates to make following or adjusting notation easier. The reason I recommend a board is the distinct view and feel you gain. You can walk around the board or view it from angles that you cannot from a static 2d board. It may sound silly, but I gain much perspective this way and find it notably more productive than just playing on my laptop. If available, walk through the match a few times with another player or a coach. This can bring up some dialogue or showcase ideas you may not have reached on your own. For as much time as we spend buried in our phones, books, or computers, chess is after all a social game and one that generates conversation.

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Once you have played through the match a few times from both sides of the board, either create or load up a PGN of the game.

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I use chess.com and its powerful Stockfish engine to analyze games. This one tool offers so much information it is without equal on many levels. 1. You can see what advantage is to whom with a basic black and white bar, essentially a tug of war. 2. You can see what moves are most commonly played and what their outcomes are. You can explore other options for certain situations or identify blunders. In the example below, I have highlighted these features on move 7 of a recent game. I am playing as black here. You can see I have a 1.64 advantage (shows as -1.64 when you are playing as black). You can also see a few moves and what advantage they would gain or leave.

analysis1
I hope you now see the options available to you and feel inspired to dive in and analyze this beautiful game. There has truly never been a better time to be a chess player with all the resources and powerful tools available, many for free. A great option I truly cannot recommend enough is a high-quality analysis right here on Chess^Summit. Our dedicated and skilled team will give you an expert analysis to help you develop absolutely free.

https://chesssummit.com/category/free-game-analysis/

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2017’s Game of the Year?

This past week, the chess world witnessed what many believe to be a once-in-a…well…year event.  In this past match of the Chinese League, a huge 12-team event that takes place over the course of about nine months, Ding Liren was paired as black against Jinshi Bai (2585).  When this game started, no one could ever expect what was in store; yet, when it ended, many were debating whether it could take the title of Game of the Year for 2017.  Without further ado, let’s take a look.  Note:  My comments are located within the game viewer.

Jinshi Bai – Ding Liren, Chinese League, 2017

Simple a stunning performance by Ding Liren, and the king hunt at the end was nothing short of flawless.  This was made possible from the start with Black’s early d5 lunge, which set the tone for the rest of the game in terms of counterplay.  Of course, that pawn ended up making its way all the way to b2 before being taken.  The critical point was when Black sacrificed his queen in order to keep play on the open d-file and queenside.  If White had blocked with 17. Rd2, the game may have ended differently, but the text move essentially guaranteed a middlegame king hunt, something we see so rarely these days due to long and safe opening preparation.  After that move, Ding Liren played the rest of the game perfectly, with every move after 17. … Rxd8 being the engine’s top choice.

After playing through this game for the first time, I was immediately reminded of another “game of the year” caliber game from just two years ago between Wei Yi and Lazaro Bruzon Batista.  As the reaction to that game told us back then, both of these games were masterpieces of attacking.

While the chess world continues to sit in awe, Ding Liren now turns his attention to Magnus Carlsen when the two begin a mini rapid and blitz match in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, at the time of this article’s posting, I will be in New York City for a day trip.  Thanks for reading, good luck in your future games, and I’ll see you next time.

How Much Fun is Enough?

In a more casual setting at a local G/45 tournament last weekend, I took the opportunity to play some stranger openings that I don’t attempt in more serious play. Unfortunately, I took this a little too far when I barely managed to draw a 1192 (he was playing quite well for his rating, but still). In fairness, I wasn’t the only one (a fellow master lost to a 1377 who wasn’t scared off by an unsound Scandinavian gambit), and this incident was not really because of the opening (which began with 1. g3 h5!? 2. e4 h4). Ultimately, everything seems to come down to how one plays regular chess.

That disaster left me a chance to redeem myself against the only sane high-rated player left in the field, NM Franklin Chen. However, I was intrigued by his assumption that I would play the Closed Sicilian as White, and wanted to switch things up a little. But Franklin turned out to be a step ahead, surprising my 1. e4 with 1…e6.

Psychologically, that was not acceptable, and Franklin knows his openings very well, so I had to think up a good alternative to 2. d4. I ultimately settled on 2. Qe2!?.

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Li – Chen: after 2. Qe2

I’ve only seen one game in this line, but from what I understand the point is to hinder …d5, as Black would much rather take back with the e-pawn. In the only game that I’ve seen, the game continued 2…Be7 3. b3 d5 4. Bb2 Bf6 (4…Nf6 5. exd5 exd5 6. Bxf6 gxf6 leaves Black with riddled pawns) 5. e5 with a lot of space for White.

2…c5

So Black decided to go back to a “closed” Sicilian after all, and after a few moves it’s clear I lost the opening battle (at least psychologically). Qe2 makes White’s development a bit smoother after g3/Bg2/O-O/etc. but that didn’t look very interesting. I tried to play for d4.

3. b3?! Nc6 4. Nf3 e5

I usually don’t think very highly of locking up the dark squares like this, but it’s so hard for White to play d4 here that it makes a lot of sense. Again, I still tried to stick to d4.

5. Nf3 d6 6. h3 g6 7. Na3?

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Li – Chen: after 7. Na3

Consistent at least, but admittedly way too slow (still going for Na3-c2/d4). However, …f5 is coming.

7…Bg7 8. c3 Nge7 9. Rd1

White is almost ready to play d4, but Black can play 9…f5!, threatening …fxe4 followed by …d5 with a big advantage. This can be done over the next few moves, but ultimately Black delays it too long.

9…O-O 10. Bg2 a6 11. O-O b5?! 12. Nc2 Bb7?

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Li – Chen: after 12…Bb7

This was Black’s last chance to get ahead with …f5, and with the d4 push, White is equal again.

13. d4 exd4 14. cxd4 Re8 15. Qd3 f5?!

Would have been a great idea little earlier, but now this looks rather suspect. Since Black’s bishop isn’t defending the weak light squares on the kingside, White has a lot of potential Ng5/Bd5/similar ideas.

16. Ng5

Threatening the devastating Ne6/Nxg7; relatively best, in hindsight, is 16…Bf6.

16…Nc8?

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Li – Chen: after 16…Nc8

Since this was a pretty fast game, I totally missed this, which is bad because White’s knight is nearly trapped; even if it moves (e.g. 17. h4 h6 18. Nh3) Black wins the e4-pawn because of the Bb7’s indirect attack on the e4-pawn. Of course, Black’s kingside is not held together very well, so simply sacrificing the knight and opening the f/g-files gives White (at least) decent compensation. I decided to sac the knight and hope for the best. It turns out that this is very sound.

17. f4! h6

Probably not objectively best, but it’s reasonable for Black to make White prove the attack at this point. Bailing out with 17…fxe4 leads to 18. Bxe4 Nb4 19. Nxb4 Bxe4 20. Nxe4 cxb4 where 21. f5 is unlikely to end well for Black.

18. exf5 hxg5 19. fxg5 Qxg5

Otherwise, it’s virtually impossible to defend g6 after 20. f6.

20. h4!

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Li – Chen: after 20. h4

A few other moves work too, but this, which I first saw after 19. fxg5, looks the simplest. If Black tries to hold onto g6 (as in the game), White just storms ahead with the f-pawn. Otherwise, f5-f6 followed by Qxg6+ is game over.

Black chose to just give up the e8 rook, but this leaves White up the Exchange with a still massive attack, so the rest of the game was relatively straightforward.

20…Qg4 21. f6 N8e7 22. f7+ Kh7 23. fxe8=Q Rxe8 24. Rf4 Qd7 25. Rf7 Kg8 26. Raf1 Nd8

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Rxg7+ have been rather tempting for a while, but allowing Black to block the a1-h8 diagonal complicated matters a little. With that option gone, White mates in a few moves.

27. Rxg7+ Kxg7 28. dxc5+ Kg8 29. Qc3 Nf6 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Qg7+ Ke6 32. Qf6#

The Counterattack

Defense is a very important aspect of chess and even more so at the higher level of chess. Just because something went wrong or things look scary doesn’t mean a chess player should collapse. In this article, I’ll be talking about a key part of defense, counterattacks.

Counterattacks counter attacks (well, duh…). They follow the saying “the best defense is a good offense” which is obviously overgeneralized for picky people like chess players. However, counterattacks can be a handy defense when you think “normal” measures won’t do the trick. First, I should talk about defending against attacks in general.

Rule 1 of defense: Don’t panic (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference intended)

Don’t let your brain freeze up just because you’re under attack. You need to be able to calculate and think straight. You need to trust yourself. Do not overestimate your opponent’s chances. The fact that he is attacking doesn’t mean that there is any real danger.

Rule 2 of defense: Don’t panic

Really, don’t. Ok, now that we’ve covered that, there a couple things I should add.

Rule 3: Don’t go passive

Don’t curl up into a ball to survive an attack, metaphorically speaking. Try to defend against the attack actively. Feel free to counterattack. Of course, sometimes you need to be passive, but unnecessary passivity can be fatal. This is basically the point of this article.

Rule 4: Don’t be afraid to bail out

There’s nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of “My opponent’s attack is dangerous, and I’ll give back some material to get into a worse endgame that I may be able to hold.” That’s totally fine! But that does not mean that you should bail out against every little wimpy attack.

Dumb example: if your opponent is “attacking” you with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, that kind of thinking could be used to play 2… Nf6 3.Qxe5+ Qe7 so that you get the queens off and “defend a pawn down endgame”. No, no, no! You should have a concrete reason for bailing out, not just “I’m scared”.

Onto some examples…

Playing with fire

In the following game, I was under fire. Instead of calling the fire department, I started my own little blaze. Though what I did was not objectively correct, it was practical…

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Aldama, Dionisio (2517 USCF) World Open 2016

Aldama 1

I had just won a piece, but black has serious compensation… he has two pawns, the white king is shaky, and white is a bit tied up with the pin on the d-file. However, black is not immediately threatening Red8 because of Qe3, counterattacking the white knight, and Nxf3 would fail to Qf4. However, black has ideas of sacrificing even more material with ideas of Rxd6 Qxd6 and Qf5 and harassing the white king.

Asking my silicon friend what it thinks about this position was quite entertaining… it gives white a little edge (maybe 0.4 or 0.5), though its top moves include the awe-inspiring 25.Rab1! (there’s actually a point behind it). Anyway, I decided to play with fire myself by going 25.Nxf7!? Rxf7 26.Re1!

Aldama 2

I’m not interested in taking the exchange, since black just gets free play. Instead, I’m pinning black up, and I’m considering going f4 or Nc4. Unfortunately, objectively, this entire thing is a draw 😢.

The game went 26… Ree7 (unpinning on the e-file) 27.f4 c4 28.Nxc4

Aldama 4

Here is where IM Aldama went wrong by playing 28… Bxc4?. After 29.Bxc4 Nxc4 30.Qd8+ white grabs the exchange, and black doesn’t have sufficient compensation. White is just much better, and I went on to win.

The correct move was 28… Nxc4!. After 29.Qd8+ Kh7 30.Rxe7 c5 31.Bxc4

Aldama 3

Black has enough to make a perpetual check. There are two ways: 31… Bb7+ 32.Rxb7 Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Qe3+, or the fancier 31… Bxc4 32.Re8 Rf8! 33.Rxf8 Qe4+, with the same perpetual check.

What’s the moral of the story there? Instead of curling into a ball, I started a counterattack myself and managed to bamboozle my opponent. I went for an active choice instead of a passive choice because I felt it was right. What I did wasn’t objectively correct, but it did the trick in practice. It was a weird and complicated position, but hey, who said that chess is easy?

My ultimate counterattack

This game goes into my all-time records. After an unusual opening, I won a piece, but had no development. You’ll see for yourself…

Brodsky, David (2449 USCF) – Jacobson, Brandon (2392 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2017

Brandon 4

Yeah, I had a point… White is a piece up, but his kingside is undeveloped. How to develop it? Err, ehm, eh… [insert coughing noise]. The details are unclear.

Black’s best continuation is 15… Rhe8! 16.e3 Na2. After 17.Ra1 Nxc3 18.Qg4+, it looks like black is just losing his queen because the mate on d1 is prevented. However, black has 18… Bd7!, and if 19.Qc4+ black goes back with 19… Bc6. That is just a repetition, and white can go 19.Rxa5 Bxg4, though he technically doesn’t have any advantage in the endgame.

Instead, Brandon played 15… Na2? 16.b4! (this is practically forced) 16… Nxb4

Brandon 5

Black’s attack looks very promising, but white has an incredible idea that saves the day… honestly, if I were to choose a best move from my entire career, I’d probably choose this one. Now, try to solve it! Here’s how the game ended.

What’s the moral of this one? Had I lost this one, it would have probably served as a horror movie shown to beginners to illustrate the importance of development… I’m half joking, but seriously, I could have easily lost in the confusion. However, I kept a clear head and managed to launch a deadly counterattack with my 17th move.

Being under attack isn’t the end of the world, not even the end of your game. For all you know the attack may be completely benign. Don’t panic and calculate. Many attacking games are won not because the attack was fatal to start with, but because the defender made a mistake. Try not to be one of these fatalities.

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

A critical component of success in chess is not just a solid understanding and awareness of tempo, but the capability to influence and control it. Strong players seem to have an innate ability to make one seemingly brilliant move and turn the tide of the battle, much to their opponents despair. These players understand controlling the tempo of the match and making the opponent play the game on someone else’s terms will allow them to take the victory more often than not. Once you can recognize tempo as an almost tangible force in the game and better yet impact it, you will certainly see a noticeable improvement in your match results and be able to better command the game.

A tempo (plural tempi) can be in essence defined as a turn, but in the tug of war that is chess, having the tempo can mean gaining a preferable result on your turn, forcing your opponent to respond and thus giving you control and more options to sway the course of the match. Alekhine, Carlsen, and many other well known and studied attacking players exemplify this by making moves that force their opponent to reconsider their plans and fight with their backs against the ropes. These players are said to have gained the initiative, limiting their opponents options, exerting their will on the flow of the match, and forcing their opponents to play the game differently. While this may sound complicated or the culmination of tedious study of theory, it is really quite simple and can be accomplished by following a few simple rules:

Rule 1: Move with Purpose – Simply put, one must make every move count in order to dictate the flow of the game. If you are focused solely on attacking your opponent, they will evade and counter. Hollow attacks that can be countered or easily dodged offer no advantage and can ultimately be your downfall. Players who break the rule of bringing their Queen out too early are a great example of this principle in action. They may make some idle threats in the center or offer a weak check or two, but the tempo can be stolen very easily. This would give the defending player an opportunity to develop while their opponent evades to try and save their Queen. This leads to rule 2…

Rule 2: Develop Your Minor Pieces Early – While pawns are an important part of the game and gaining a favorable pawn structure creates a solid foundation to move around later in the match, the minor pieces are going to defend and attack at the same time when in the right place. Being ahead in development not only offers an advantage to tempo, but allows you to assure your King is protected by being able to castle sooner and allowing you to pressure your opponent efficiently and faster than they can pressure you. You will have more weapons at your disposal sooner, certainly an advantage in the battlefield .

Rule 3: Do Not Move the Same Piece Twice – Unless it is to gain a very good advantage or out of absolute necessity, do not move the same piece twice. If you were to move your e file pawn twice in a row for instance, you are allowing your opponent two turns to your one. My coach often says “put your pieces on their best squares and they will do the rest.” He is absolutely right and often I find if I can get the pieces where they are most effective and make smart, simple moves around them, I can gain and maintain the initiative much more effectively and often.

Rule 4: Checks Don’t Matter – This is a habit that took me a long time to break and still requires significant help from my coach to stay away from. Unless the check forces your opponent to follow a plan you have set up or creates a pin or fork, the check is not necessarily an indicator of your advantage. Caution must also be made as a check with a strong piece can create many countering opportunities for your opponent and can ultimately cause you to lose tempo or a piece. While a check may gain a psychological advantage of showing your opponent that you are clever or have keen situational awareness, this is fruitless and meaningless without a plan.

Rule 5: Look at The Situation From Both Sides of The Board – It happens to us all, tunnel vision. We focus so much on what we want to happen on the board that we may overlook the reality of what lies before us. When making a move, consider what move you would make if you were playing on the other side. Often when we focus solely on what plan we’ve created, we overlook opportunities we hand our opponents or better moves we could have and should have played.

Understanding tempo is simple, but harnessing its power and consistently possessing it, particularly amongst strong opponents, takes time and awareness. Like many other parts of the game, analysis after a match yields great results and “aha” moments. A positive habit I have picked up lately has been to say “tempo, tempo, tempo” before I make a move or when I am feeling pressured. I visualize the tempo of a game, I look at it like a level one might use when hanging a picture. Will this move send the bubble too far to one side, creating an imbalance? Once you can feel the tempo of a match and make these 5 rules of tempo part of your standard behavior, you will find you have much more control of your matches and have designed a stronger foundation to build a winning plan from.