Category Archives: Annotated Games

Blockading To Defend When Things Get Tough

In a recent tournament game that I painfully lost, I had a terrible losing position, but my opponent suddenly changed the nature of the game by allowing me to set up a blockade that should have enabled me to draw. I played carelessly and threw away the draw. I thought it would be instructive to show how powerful the concept of blockade is. In this game, the blockade was worth even more than the Pawn down and if I had been more careful, I could have maintained the blockade in the center and still had attacking chances of my own on the King side.

In the position below, my opponent had a winning advantage largely due to doubled Rooks on an open e-file, but then initiated a trade of Knights in which he blocked his own open file by recapturing with a Pawn to e4. Granted, this had its points: creation of a passed Pawn with Rooks behind it can be very powerful given the threat of advancing the Pawn further. But in this particular position, I had enough time to place my Bishop on e3 setting up a blockade, and if I had just made sure to leave it there, I could have continued a decent King side attack as compensation. Note in particular that Black’s extra Pawn, the d-Pawn is backward on a half-open file, and therefore if it can be prevented from advancing, the extra Pawn should not suffice to win in a simplified ending given enough piece activity. Here, tactics based on my good piece activity were enough that I could even have tried for more, if I had maneuvered my other Rook to the King side more efficiently.

Franklin Chen

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Adventures with 1…e5 (1)

So, as I explained last week, I’ve decided to play more positively and make some changes to my opening repertoire. In particular, I’m switching from c5 to e5 in reply to e4. You might think c5 is the more aggressive choice, but not in my case. I preferred the relatively stodgy Kalashnikov Sicilian, but in most cases my opponents preferred to avoid the main lines, as generally tends to happen at club level. As I teach 1.. e5 to my pupils I know rather more about it than I do about 1.. c5, but in the past I’ve been scared of the tactics.

Since 2001 my only competitive games have been played for my club, Richmond, in the Thames Valley League. I currently play about 20 games a year. I’ve never in my life played a FIDE rated game but if I had a rating it would be somewhere in the region of 1900. The season started with two matches between our A and B teams, which are both in Division 1 of the league. My first black of the season was in the second of these matches when I found myself playing on board 2 for Richmond B against Jochem Snuverink, who has a FIDE rating of 2341. Playing an opponent about 450 points stronger than me would at least give me the chance to learn something.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

So he’s going Italian rather than Spanish. My main choices are Bc5 and Nf6, against both of which White has sharp options where Black has to know the theory. I guess I could play defensively with Be7 if I didn’t want a theoretical battle. Of course, whatever Black chooses, White has the option of playing for a closed position with d3.

3.. Nf6

3.. Bc5 is probably the theoretically stronger move but Black has to be prepared to counter both the Evans Gambit (4. b4) and 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4. Both absolutely fine as long as you can remember the analysis. 3.. Nf6 is more fun for Black to play, though.

4. Ng5 d5

Black’s alternative here is 4.. Bc5, the scary Traxler (or Wilkes-Barre) variation. 5. Nxf7 is totally wild and unplayable for either side unless you know the theory. 5. Bxf7+ Ke7 may not give Black quite enough play for the pawn, although things are never so easy in practice.

5. exd5 Nd4

This is the next big decision for Black. The obvious recapture 5.. Nxd5 gives White a pleasant choice. The famous Fried Liver Attack with 6. Nxf7 is very popular and successful in junior chess. An alternative preferred by some authorities is 6. d4, when 6.. Nxd4 7. c3 b5 is a fairly recent try for Black. I would have said that Nxd5 was no longer played at higher levels but it was tried in Shirov-Sulskis (Tromso Olympiad 2014) when Black, who seemed unaware of ancient theory, lost quickly. I would have thought Shirov was the last person you should play 5.. Nxd5 against, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

5.. Na5 is, and has been for a couple of hundred years or so, the main line. I’ll return to this in a later post.

5.. b5 is the Ulvestad Variation, which usually transposes into my choice, the Fritz Variation. This was very popular for many years at Richmond Junior Club and scores well in practice (54% for Black on BigBase 2014), so it was a natural choice for me.

6. c3

Generally accepted to be the best move. A trap which I’ve used successfully online (and in games against small children at Richmond Junior Club) on several occasions goes 6. d6? Qxd6 7. Nxf7? Qc6 8. Nxh8? Qxg2 9. Rf1 Qxe4+ 10. Be2 Nf3#

6.. b5
7. Bf1

Looks strange, but again considered the best move here.

7.. Nxd5
8. cxd4 Qxg5
9. Bxb5+ Kd8

This is the main line of the Fritz variation. White now has an important decision: Qf3 or O-O.

10. O-O

10. Qf3 is the more popular option here (144 games on BigBase 2014 compared with 70 for O-O) but Stockfish considers Black to be fine after 10.. exd4 (much better than the more usual Bb7, which would probably transpose to my game) 11. O-O Rb8 or 11. Bc6 Nf4! 12. Bxa8 Bg4 when Black, despite being a rook down, appears to stand better.

Jochem’s choice seems to be a definite improvement, leading to an advantage for White in all variations.

10.. Bb7

10.. Rb8 11. Bc6 exd4 (or 10.. exd4 transposing) is probably a better try for Black, but, with his king in the centre, it’s still good for White.

11. Qf3 exd4

11.. Rb8 12. dxe5 Ne3 13. Qh3 Qxg2+ 14. Qxg2 Nxg2 15. d4 is another try, but leaves White with an extra pawn.

12. d3 Qf6
13. Qg4 Qd6

In this position Black has chosen Qe5 five times and Bc8 three times. Everything seems to favour White, though.

14. Na3 c6
15. Ba4 Nf6

The losing move. 15.. Nb6 was a better try, but still pretty unpleasant for Black. Now Stockfish chooses Qh4, planning to follow up with moves like Nc4, Re1 and Bg5 when it can’t find a good defence for Black. Jochem’s move is also good enough to win.

16. Qg5 h6
17. Qa5+ Qc7
18. Nc4 c5
19. Bd2 Nd5

Leading to a quick loss, but after 19.. Qxa5 20. Bxa5+ Kc8 21. b4! White opens up the c-file for an attack on the black king.

20. Qb5 Qe7

The computer move Ke7 was the only way to play on.

21. Rae1 1-0

So it looks from this game that the Fritz Variation, while offering good chances against an unprepared opponent, is pretty much unplayable for Black as long as White knows the theory.

Richard James

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Opening Blunders, Part One

This article will be a collection of short games in which either my opponent or I blundered early in the games.

All three of these chess games were played on ICC against a computer program called BethO. I have a bad habit of playing late at night or early in the morning making me too tired to play well. It is even worse when I am trying to eat or otherwise distracted while I am playing chess. This program tends to play goofy openings very quickly and I often fall into the trap of playing too quickly to match the speed of this program. Then, it will bite me with a move that I did not look for! Sometimes, when I am really tired, I will fall for the same trap more than once!

In this first game as White, I tried to play the Botvinnik System, but I messed up the move order when I got surprised by Black’s early Queen development and very aggressive play. On Black’s sixth move it put a Knight on d4 and I decided to develop normally. That turned out to be the beginning of the end for me. The White Knight on c3 is pinned to the White King by the Black Queen. I should have played either 7.Bd2 or 7.Qa4 to break that pin. Instead, I tried to castle out of the pin because I missed Black’s next two moves.

In the second chess game, I played an English: Bremen, reverse dragon and once again, I blundered early in the game. As White, my 18th move was weak because I traded my fianchettoed Bishop for a Knight and that left the light squares around my King weak. I also put the Black Queen on that diagonal. With the Black Queen on c6 my Knight on c3 was pinned to my unprotected Queen while that Knight was en prise. I could not save that Knight and thus I resigned two moves later.

Here is another chess game in which I blundered early against BethO while playing the White side of the English Opening. Once again, I played the Botvinnik System as White. This time, I played my more usual move order. Once again, Black puts its Knight on d4. Black also forfeits the right to castle by moving both of its rooks and then its King. This leaves the Black King in the Center. This should have altered my plan to attack on the Kingside and instead I should have opened up the Center. By move number 15 White has a special advantage across the board. Allowing the Black Rook to get to e3 was a mistake as was not protecting the White pawn on d3. It was bad enough that I gave away my pawn on d3 , but then I gave away the one on g3 too!  After that I resigned.

Mike Serovey

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The Danger Of A King Out Of Play In The Endgame

In a hard-fought game my student played that ended in a draw, when we were looking at it, I observed that his opponent missed a win at one single critical moment. This was a result of an accumulation of positionally questionable decisions that, although in themselves still led to defensible positions, led to a single blunder that could have been punished.

Three mistakes

Allowing an outside passed Pawn

The first unnecessary concession was made in the late middlegame when Black captured a piece on a5 allowing a recapture with a Pawn bxa5 resulting in White getting an outside passed Pawn. Granted, this being a Rook Pawn made it not as useful, but still created unnecessary danger.

King out of play

The second unnecessary concession was moving the King from g8 to h7, out of the main action. It was best to moving the King toward the center and toward the Queenside, with the goals of safeguarding the Pawn chain from c6 as well as, more critically, aiming toward White’s a-Pawn, either to capture it or at least prevent it from Queening. Granted, Black had a plan to get the King to f4, but it is slow. In fact, it ended up working in the game, but only because White did not act more quickly and decisively to try to Queen the a-Pawn.

Creating another outside Pawn for the opponent

The final concession, which in this case was a big blunder, was to accept White’s sneaky offer of a Queen trade, resulting in transforming White’s c-Pawn into an “outside” b-Pawn that could have been used as a Pawn break to lead the way for White’s King to invade the Queen side and successfully Queen the a-Pawn. A calculation shows that Black’s attempt to also Queen a passed Pawn is too late, because White’s active King can get to Black’s King side Pawns in time to ensure that after White gives up the Rook in turn, the resulting King and Pawn ending is an easy win because Black’s King ends up out of play and White can just push a passed Pawn to victory.

Lessons

The main lessons to learn are that even in a drawable position, it is wise to keep the draw simple by not giving a passed Pawn to the opponent, not giving a Pawn break to the opponent, and keeping one’s King ready to prevent Queening of a passed Pawn if it does exist.

Franklin Chen

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Another Comedy of Errors

This is a game that I played back in July of 1990. This is one of four chess games that I played against Rick Christopher back then. I won three of those games and lost one of them. This game is one of my wins.

Rick was a player that I didn’t take seriously because I was rated much higher than he was and because he never wore shoes to any chess tournaments that I can remember, not even in the winter! In this game I got a little lazy and did not see some of my opportunities to win more quickly and Rick (White) missed some opportunities to equalize. I basically waited for Rick to blunder and then won the endgame after he did blunder. This strategy does work against weaker players, but it is better for my game play overall to force errors.

Mike Serovey

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Anticipating The Endgame As Part Of Understanding The Opening

The 2014 World Chess Championship rematch between Carlsen and Anand kicked off with Carlsen playing the Grünfeld as Black, an interesting choice since he does not usually play this opening, and in fact Anand is the one who prepared the Grünfeld as Black in 2013. The game proceeded along a path in which Anand as White lost an opening initiative and got into some trouble but held an unpleasant endgame.

Since detailed commentary from many strong players is already available and will continue to be provided as the match progresses, so why should I write out it here at The Chess Improver? My goal here is to describe the big picture that players of many levels can relate to and hopefully apply to their own play.

The goal of the Grünfeld Defense opening

Black’s goal in playing the Grünfeld Defense is to try to destroy White’s center, by targeting White’s Pawn on d4. The asymmetrical Pawn structure that arises when White’s c-Pawn is exchanged with Black’s d-Pawn gives Black possible chances to contain White’s d-Pawn and counterattack with a Queen side Pawn majority.

White has a choice of goals in return, and has to make a decision. (Take note if you are following the match, because we may see the Grünfeld pop up again with players making different decisions.) The three basic choices are to:

  • Grab the big center with e4, advance with d5 eventually, possibly make a passed d-Pawn for the endgame.
  • Forget the endgame, go all out with an attack on Black’s King based on h4, h5, etc.
  • Forget the big center, protect the d4 Pawn with e3, block in Black’s Bishop on g7, and try to make headway on the Queenside.

What happened in this game

What actually happened was Anand played as though aiming for one of the first two, but was inconsistent in followup. He got the center and then played as though to attack Black’s King: Qd2, allowing his Knight on f3 to be captured by Black’s Bishop permanently messing up White’s Pawn structure (doubled f-Pawns, isolated h-Pawn), castling Queen side. But he never did attack Black’s King after all, and the Pawn on d5 didn’t get any further.

So Black’s defense, based on destroying White’s Pawn structure and surviving any attack, with the aim of reaching a superior endgame, worked out. Anand had to be careful to hold the draw in face of his isolated and weak f and h Pawns.

The main thing I want to point out is that it was not automatically bad for White to allow the weakened Pawn structure. Before the endgame, there is the middlegame. It is a valid, aggressive idea for White to decide not to try to win the endgame, but instead the middlegame. It just didn’t work out in this particular game.

Franklin Chen

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Amateur Versus Master: Game Twelve

My opponent is this game is a Senior Master and is the only 2400 rated player that I have faced in Over the Board chess. Gary has won the State of Florida Chess Championship at least once and has also run the state championship as the senior tournament director for that event at least once. The state championship several years ago was the last time that I saw Gary in person. Gary is a year or two older than I am and he also has some chronic health problems. Gary has managed to keep is USCF chess rating over 2400 points for about 40 years now.

I learned the Botvinnik System from a USCF Life Master who did not know what it was called at that time. He advised against playing this system as Black, but I often get away with it and Botvinnik himself played it as Black. In this game I missed a shot at an upset victory on move number 12. Gary most likely would have found the correct line of play, but it may have rattled him anyway.

I walked into a Knight fork on move number 13 and lost the exchange of a Rook for Knight. Things went downhill for from there.

Mike Serovey

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The Art Of Attacking A Slightly Weakened King Side

In a recent tournament game, as White I ended up misplaying a Semi-Tarrasch type of early middlegame, allowing Black easy equality after committing to the e5 advance (giving up control of the d5 square) and not taking advantage of Black’s lag in development. However, I managed to win by stubbornly trying to attack a slightly weakened King side, resulting from my forcing g6 to avoid mate on h7. Even after g6, however, Black’s position was fine. But at least I had something to work with. This game is instructive because it shows how to try to make progress based on just a single possible weakness in the opponent’s position.

The story

Black made the error of trading off the dark-squared Bishops, permanently weakening f6 and h6 and d6. Again, objectively Black’s position was still solid and fine, because of his very strong Knight on d5 that guarded the f6 square anyway.

But I did some maneuvering and waiting to allow my opponent to make one inaccuracy after another, resulting in Black voluntarily moving the Knight away from d5 to b6 and my own Knight getting to a d6 outpost, thanks to Black’s missing dark Bishop.

Finally, Black made a tactical inaccuracy that allowed me to win the a7 Pawn. Even after this, objectively the position should have been an easy draw, thanks to simplification and Black’s total control over the d5 square. But Black gave up the light-squared Bishop for mine, resulting in a position in which I had still had a bind and remote chances to try for a King side attack.

It turned out that Black maneuvered poorly, making his own Rooks passive and away from his King, and finally erring with moving his Queen also away from his King, to the Queen side. This allowed me to land my Knight on f6 just in time as the King side was undefended, and through some tactics win the f7 Pawn and the game.

A long grind of a game, but I was happy that my patience was rewarded.

Franklin Chen

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Two North Americans Take on the English

My Canadian opponent and I played the English Opening to a draw. After about 20 moves it became clear to me that we were evenly matched and that I was unlikely to win.

After three moves I could have transposed into the Queen’s Gambit Declined, but I have never liked playing the White side of that opening. I also considered trying to transpose into the Catalan Opening.

Black’s fifth move took me out of the QGD and into something that I had never seen before. Black’s eighth move took me completely out of my database of games and from that point on I was on my own.

White gets his pawn back on his ninth move. Black offered to trade queens on his tenth move but White declines because he did not want to strengthen the Black Center after 11. Qxd5 cxd5.

From move number 14 on White is trying to trade down into what he believed would be a slightly better endgame for him. On move  number 18 White wins a pawn. Black does not want to trade rooks on the d file if it will give White control of that file. White also realized that if Black captures his pawn on b3 with his Bishop then White can play a Rook over to b1 and take the pawn on b7 after that Bishop moves. If White ever got a Rook on the seventh rank (Black’s second rank) then Black would have some problems defending his position.

After deciding that my extra pawn on the Kingside may not be enough to win I offered a draw and Sam accepted.

Mike Serovey

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The Common Problem Of Following A Pattern Without Understanding It

Last week, I wrote about the importance of learning and teaching through comparing similar but different situations. Again and again this theme pops up, and is easy to miss if one is not careful. It is easy to memorize a pattern without understanding its context and purpose, or more charitably, to have understood it once but getting it mixed up with another pattern during the heat of battle. What is the solution? Sometimes the solution is just to review concrete details. Sometimes the solution is to remember a higher-priority pattern that gives real force and justification to the pattern at hand.

Here’s an example I recently saw, involving the elementary Lucena position which is a win for the side with the Rook and Pawn versus Rook, if one understands the fundamental concept, which is “building a bridge” in order to block the opposing Rook’s checks and therefore ensure Pawn promotion.

Lucena position

The standard easy win for White is to

  1. Chase Black’s King further away from the Queening square by checking.
  2. Lift the Rook to the 4th rank in preparation to “build a bridge”.

However, White in eagerness to “remember” the key pattern, that of the Rook lift, failed to perform the first critical step, and the result was a draw by mistake! Building the bridge is pointless if it only results in Black’s King reaching the advanced Pawn and gobbling it up.

The solution to this mistake is to remember that the primary goal in this position is not to build the bridge. The real goal is to successfully Queen the Pawn, and getting Black’s King far away is the most important part of that, not the bridge building. The bridge building is not the goal, but the means to the larger goal. Without remember this, it is too easy to just vaguely remember one aspect of what the winning technique is, and use it outside of the larger context.

Franklin Chen

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