04 December 2016

Commentary: 2016 Russian Women's Team Championship Round 1 (Lagno - Goryachkina)

The following commentary game (Lagno - Goryachkina, from May's Russian Women's Team Championship) is the first of the last series on this blog of such games in 2016.  It features what can be a very annoying White choice against the Caro-Kann (by transposition).  Original ChessBase report and commentary can be found here.

For me the game has several standout lessons for training purposes:
  • The trickiness of the variation and Black's need to carefully consider how to neutralize White's early pressure.  Goryachkina's innovative choices in the opening (7...g6 and 8...Qd6) required careful calculation up front but paid off in the end.  8...Nb6 also looks like a fine choice for Black, with full compensation for the pawn sacrifice.
  • Black's potential piece activity was evident as of move 11 and by move 20 she was completely dominating her opponent positionally.  All of White's pieces had retreated from Black territory, while Black's knights had established outposts on the other side of the board.  This high level of fluidity in the position was possible due to the lack of central control by White and her underdevelopment, particularly evident regarding the d-pawn and the blocked-in dark-square bishop.
  • Black's ability to accurately and fully calculate for the entire game was impressive, including in the above-mentioned sequence after 8...Qd6, but also at turning points such as move 21.  Seeing moves such as 21...Nf4 and their consequences ahead of time is what master-level chess is about.
  • Finding winning moves rather than necessarily "best" moves.  Black's move 23 is a case in point, where the engine evaluation is much stronger after 23...e4, but Black goes with a more humanly understandable path (23...Nc5), playing ...e4 anyway two moves later.

Lagno, Kateryna (2529) - Goryachkina, Aleksandra (2485)

Result: 0-1
Site: Sochi RUS
Date: 2016.05.01
[...] 1.c4 c6 2.e4 now we have a Caro-Kann 2...d5 virtually the only response that makes sense after 1...c6, although I suppose one could transpose eventually into a Modern Defense or the like without ...d5. 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5 this keeps the opening in its own unique variation.
4.d4 is another transpositional alternative, this time to the Panov-Botvinnik Attack.
4...¤f6
4...£xd5 is the main alternative, but White scores 68 percent in the database afterwards. The Black queen will inevitably lose time relocating from d5.
5.¤c3 ¤xd5 6.¤f3 ¤c6 7.¥b5 all natural developing moves by White so far. 7...g6 although not used very often, this variation scores far better than its more classical counterparts, ...Nxc3 and ...e6. 8.£a4 £d6 an interesting choice that requires careful evaluation of the next sequence.
8...¤b6!? is almost always played here. 9.¥xc6+ bxc6 10.£xc6+ ¥d7 11.£e4 ¥g7 almost all of the database games from this point end in a draw, with Black's compensation for the pawn including the two (outstanding) bishops, play against the isolated d-pawn, and good avenues for the rooks.
(8...¥d7??9.¤xd5+⁠−) 9.¤e4 now we are in new opening territory. 9...£e6 10.¤fg5 £d7 11.¤c5 £c7 at the end of the forcing sequence, White has kicked around the Black queen, but Black is not really behind in development, as she will have an easy time getting her bishops out, compared to the Bc1. White's minor pieces are all forward deployed, but not working together particularly well. Komodo assesses the position as equal, but White is the one who can misstep more easily here. 12.O-O
12.£d4!? is the engine's recommendation. 12...¤f6 13.£c4 e6
12...¥g7³ Black is now starting to look more dangerous, as the Bg7 is now a monster on the long diagonal and White has no real threats. 13.¥c4 £d8 the best way of maintaining the tension in the center, not afraid of the following sequence. 14.¤xb7 ¥xb7 15.£b5 O-O a cold-bloodedly correct move. 16.£xb7 ¤db4 eyeing the c2 square and restricting the White queen. 17.£b5 ¦b8 18.£a4 ¤e5 for the cost of the sacrificed b-pawn, Black has far more piece activity, while for White the Bc1 and Ra1 are not playing. 19.¥e2 this is too passive.
19.d3!? would give back material in order to get the Bc1 and Rf1 into the game. 19...¤bxd3 20.¦d1 ¤xc4 21.£xc4 ¤e5³
19...¤ed3ยต (19...¤bd3!? also looks good.) 20.¤f3 it is remarkable to compare this position with the one on move 11, as all of White's pieces have retreated while Black's have advanced, and now White is behind in development. 20...e5 Black has an excellent position, but it's not clear exactly what plan is best. Dominating the c-file looks good, while taking the b2 pawn at this point does not. In the game, Goryachkina with this move chose to occupy the enter with the e-pawn. She must have also calculated the next sequence as part of it, perhaps even playing the text move to encourage her opponent to challenge the Nb4. (20...¦c8!?) (20...¤xb2?!21.¥xb2 ¥xb2 22.¦ab1 ¤d5 23.£xa7) 21.a3?! White must have been feeling a little desperate by this point.
21.¥xd3 would have helped White gain some maneuvering room and eliminated one of the two forward-deployed knights, at the cost of a pawn. 21...¤xd3 22.¤e1 ¤xb2³
21...¤f4 a forced move for Black in response, creating a counter-threat against the Be2 while the Nb4 is hanging. 22.¥d1 ¤bd3 now the Nb4 has a place to go and Black is even more dominant. White has no good moves available, although the engine suggests Ne1 as the best defense. 23.g3 ¤c5 a "good enough" type of move that preserves Black's advantage.
23...e4 is what the engine prefers. It would take advantage of the e-pawn's position and launch a decisive attack. For example 24.gxf4 exf3 25.¥xf3 ¦e8 and the f-pawn will eventually fall while Black remains dominant positionally. However, this requires a number of moves to fully unfold and in practical terms it does not look easy to clearly evaluate the situation at the board.
24.£c4 ¤fd3 25.¥c2 e4!−⁠+ now the pawn advances to good effect, sacrificing itself to achieve Black's complete piece dominance. 26.¥xd3 ¤xd3 27.£xe4 ¦e8 28.£a4 this immediately lets Black's queen into d5, but White has severe problems in any case.
28.£c4 ¦c8 29.£b3 ¦e4 and now the rook can transfer to the c-file and pressure the trapped Bc1.
28...£d5 29.¤h4 (29.¢g2 ¦e1−⁠+) (29.£d1 ¥xb2 30.¥xb2 ¤xb2 31.£c2 ¦ec8 32.£b1 £xf3−⁠+) 29...¤xf2 and Black can follow up with ...Re1 and/or ...Bd4 to end the game.
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03 December 2016

An improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit?

As part of my current improvement plan, I'm (slowly) working my way through Mastering Opening Strategy by GM Johan Hellsten.  One of the exercise games (#43) in the chapter "The Nature of Development" intriguingly reminded me of an improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit.  For those not familiar with it, it is an audacious variation of the Budapest Gambit that, unfortunately, is also not quite sound.  Below are a couple of the critical lines stemming from the initial gambit, where Black, instead of 3...Ng4 as in the Budapest, plays 3...Ne4 (evaluations by Komodo 10):

Fajarowicz Gambit


[...] 1.d4 ¤f6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 ¤e4 4.a3
4.¤f3 ¥b4+ 5.¤bd2 d6 6.exd6 £xd6 7.a3 ¥xd2+ 8.¤xd2 ¤c5 9.¤f3 £xd1+ 10.¢xd1 ¤b3 11.¦a2 ¥e6 12.e4 ¤c5²
4...¤c6 5.¤f3 d6 6.£c2 d5 7.e3 ¥g4 8.cxd5 £xd5 9.¥c4 £a5+ 10.b4 ¥xb4+ 11.axb4 £xa1 12.£xe4 ¥xf3 13.gxf3 £xe5±
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While the Fajarowicz is a fun gambit for Black to study - I went through Tim Harding's book The Fighting Fajarowicz with great interest - ultimately it doesn't work out as well as Black would like, unless White cooperates by not playing the main lines with 4. Nf3 or 4. a3.  It's not necessarily a loser for Black, but with some rather simple White play, Black's otherwise fascinating tactical possibilities and initiative can be neutralized, which are really the only reasons to play the gambit.  I have to give Harding a lot of credit for not over-selling Black's prospects and providing valuable, candid analysis in the book.  Harding also took another look at the opening after the book was published, if you are interested in his commentary.  (Of course he's not the only writer on the Fajarowicz, you can look up others. The short version would be the Wikipedia article, the long version the Budapest Fajarowicz (A51) webliography posted at the Kenilworthian blog.)

Having somewhat regretfully put away the Fajarowicz as a possible weapon in my opening repertoire, I was surprised and a little fascinated by the following game from Hellsten's book.  It is classified as ECO E37 - Nimzo-Indian Classical, Noa Variation.

Bareev, Evgeny (2675) - Ivanchuk, Vassily (2695)

Result: 0-1
Site: Novgorod
Date: 1994
[...] 1.d4 ¤f6 2.c4 e6 3.¤c3 ¥b4 4.£c2 d5 5.a3 ¥xc3+ 6.£xc3 ¤e4 7.£c2 c5 8.dxc5 ¤c6 9.¤f3 £a5+ 10.¤d2 ¤d4 11.£d3 e5 12.b4 £a4 13.¦a2 ¤xd2 14.¦xd2 ¥f5 15.£e3 O-O-O 16.g4 £c2 17.¦xd4 exd4 18.£d2 £xd2+ 19.¥xd2 ¥e4 20.f3 ¥g6 21.cxd5 ¦xd5 22.¥g2 f6 23.¢f2 h5 24.¥f4 ¥c2 25.h4 ¦e8 26.¦c1 ¥a4 27.gxh5 ¦xh5 28.¥g3 ¦e3 29.¦c4 ¦d5 30.¥d6 ¦c3 31.f4 ¦xd6
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The key gambit characteristics for Black arise from his 6th and 7th move choices. With the first, the "Fajarowicz" knight appears on e4 and with the second, Black looks to undermine the White center for quick development.  If you look at the position on move 8, it seems like a classic Fajarowicz structure, with the benefit of White not having any minor pieces developed (just the Queen on c2, which has already been kicked once from c3).  By move 14, the thematic ...Bf5 tactical motif in the Fajarowicz has appeared, with the idea that Black's minor pieces are playing in the center, targeting key squares in White's camp and White's queen.  Could it be that this Nimzo-Indian variation is actually an improved version of the Fajarowicz?  Something to think about for both Fajarowicz fans and players who want a rock-solid opening that still has gambit possibilities.

It's fascinating to see some of these ideas for Black appear across different openings and at high levels, which reinforces several different training ideas for improving players:
  • Studying and annotating master games
  • Varying your opening study and looking outside your current repertoire for ideas
  • Studying everything - nothing you do is wasted time, if you approach the material with a critical eye and look to better understand chess principles and patterns. I doubt I'll ever actually play the Fajarowicz, but having studied the opening I can now recognize key themes about development advantages resulting from gambits, along with particular tactical ideas for Black in related structures. 

27 November 2016

Analyzing master games for training

Having wrapped up the last set of my own tournament game analysis with Annotated Game #165, I'll soon be switching to another series of master-level games for my weekly analysis training.  Alternating analyzing your own games and examining relevant master games I feel has been a helpful practice that has added depth and balance to my training program.  Annotating contemporary master-level play I've found to add dimension to a training program in several ways:
  • The overall level of play is greater, but there are still key turning points in each game that can be identified for "lessons learned", including tactical oversights and game-changing strategic decisions (good or bad). These turning points are usually more worthy of individual study than those in amateur games, since at the Class level evaluations can often fluctuate throughout the game.
  • Seeing how even top-level masters can overlook tactics (and analyzing why) offers a psychological boost for amateur players. Often we improving players despair of never achieving perfect play; there is no such thing, however, so it's best to aspire to play well, rather than to hope to never make a mistake - either by blundering, or not seeing positive opportunities on the board.
  • Finding recent "model games" in your opening repertoire can provide great insight into both opening schemes and successful middlegame planning. One of my consistent weaknesses has been the middlegame transition; often I know I have a good position out of the opening, but finding a concrete plan to further improve it is difficult, in the absence of any obvious weaknesses in my opponent's camp. I have established a separate "Model Games" database for these types of games and can also review the database of annotated master games ("commentary games") from this blog (download link in the sidebar).
I've been rather selective regarding the master games I choose, partly because there's no point in accumulating a large backlog of games which I'll never actually get around to analyzing. Other important aspects involved in selecting games are the relevance of the game and how understandable it is; often these elements are closely related.
  • Relevance: I don't limit myself to analyzing master games that fall exactly within my opening repertoire, but I do want the games to provide concrete insights related to my knowledge base and play that needs improving. Usually that means having structures and positional themes that I understand reasonably well. Sometimes it may be a particular tactic or strategic theme that catches my interest when looking at the game for the first time.
  • Understandable: basically this means that in a roughly two-hour period, with an engine for assistance in evaluating positions and the tactics available, I should be able to understand the game's overall trajectory, including why the players made particular key moves (most moves, in fact). Naturally I do much better in understanding the opening and middlegame phases that are derived from my own opening repertoire and tournament experience. I'll only consciously avoid selecting very technical or specialized games such as Sicilian Dragons or Berlin Defenses, which require a lot of depth to understand many move choices. (Not that I won't go over such games on news sites etc., but I won't select them for master game analysis purposes.)
In practice, I find that I can get a lot of mileage out of games up to around the 2500-2600 level that fall within my general opening knowledge.  This means, for example, I really enjoy looking at the U.S. Chess Championship each year (both open and women's sections).  On the flip side, it's rare that I would select a current World Championship game or the like at the 2700+ level, since that's too bleeding edge for me.  Looking at the current Carlsen-Karjakin match, though, I'm comforted by the fact that many commentators and sometimes the players themselves are also having a hard time understanding the games.


Photo from the ChessBase India coverage of Game 8 of the 2016 World Championship.

13 November 2016

Annotated Game #165: Don't play the opening on automatic

This final-round tournament game shows the danger of playing the opening phase on "automatic", in other words following a standard development scheme regardless of what your opponent does.  In this case, it was my opponent that committed this sin, choosing an interesting modern Dutch Defense hybrid setup in response to my English Opening; however, he failed to see a key positional difference (White pawn on d3 instead of d4) and early on made a strategic error with the placement of his dark-square bishop, allowing me to establish a fantastic and ultimately decisive bishop on the long diagonal.  The other thematic error made was 13...e5; it is normally an excellent idea to make this advance of the e-pawn in the Dutch, but only when you can properly support it.  Here a tactical refutation left me a pawn up and with a lasting initiative on the kingside.

This game displays a significantly higher level of play from me than in the previous one; no major mistakes occurred on my part and as noted below, I was careful to check tactics and be patient in assembling my final kingside attack, not allowing my opponent an opening for counterplay.  Of course this is easier to do when you have a solid positional and small material advantage coming out of the opening phase, but my overall mental effort was certainly at a better level this time around.

ChessAdmin - Class B

Result: 1-0

[...] 1.c4 b6 2.¤f3 ¥b7 3.¤c3 e6 4.g3 f5 transposing to a Dutch Defense structure with an accelerated queenside fianchetto. 5.d3 this keeps things in English Opening territory, instead of transposing to a full Dutch by playing d4. The main difference is that White controls e4 with a pawn, but gives up influence over e5 and c5. 5...¤f6 6.¥g2 ¥b4 continuing to pursue hybrid/modern ideas in the Dutch. Here I don't believe that the bishop sortie to b4 has much bite. The usual idea (with a White pawn on d4) is to increase Black's control of e4 by pinning or exchanging the Nc3. 7.O-O O-O 8.¥d2² I thought for a while here about the best placement of the bishop and whether I should immediately play a3. I decided that in the event of a bishop for knight exchange on c3, I would like to have the bishop on the long diagonal. Of course there was no guarantee this would happen, but it turned out to be a big factor in the game. The engine also considers White to have a small plus by this point, I would say largely due to the misplacement of the Bb4, which will either have to retreat or be exchanged favorably for White. 8...d6 now there's no going back for the Bb4. 9.a3 ¥xc3 10.¥xc3 a beautiful long diagonal for the bishop, which will influence the course of the rest of the game. 10...£e8 a standard Dutch move, indicating support along the e-file for an eventual ...e5 push, along with placing the queen on the e8-h5 diagonal with a possible kingside transfer. 11.b4 in part this was a waiting move, but I also wanted to seize some extra queenside space and contest c5. 11...¤bd7 getting my opponent's last piece developed and supporting either ...c5 or ...e5. Around here I had mentally noted that pushing ...e5 would not work tactically, as can be seen shortly in the game. 12.£b3 I considered this another good point of playing b4, the ability to follow up by developing the queen to the a2-g8 diagonal. However Black can now in fact play ...e5, as shown by the engine, although it looks counterintuitive to open the diagonal in response.
12.¦e1 immediately is better, setting up the tactic to follow if ...e5 is pushed.
12...¢h8 moving the king off the diagonal to take away potential tactical ideas involving a discovered attack following c4-c5. However, this also puts the king in the corner, gives it fewer escape squares, and creates tactics for White involving the pin of the g7-pawn.
12...e5 and now the strong e/f pawn duo more than offset the weakness on the a2-g8 diagonal. Unfortunately for White the immediate capture on e5 does not work tactically, due to the presence of the rook on f1: 13.¤xe5?!13...¥xg2 14.¤xd7 ¥xf1 15.¤xf6+ gxf6 16.¦xf1
13.¦fe1 played for tactical reasons in anticipation of Black's next move, but also for strategic reasons, in the event of the e-fiile being opened with a pawn exchange. 13...e5? Black's key error of the game. My opponent evidently was playing a standard plan by rote, without checking the tactics first. Indeed, normally successfully playing ...e5 in the Dutch is a very good thing. 14.¤xe5 this tactic works due to the fact that Black's Bb7 is hanging and that I have a kamikaze target for the Ne5. 14...¥xg2 15.¤xd7 ¤xd7 16.¢xg2± I'm now a pawn up with no real compensation for my opponent. He does get some initiative on the kingside in return, but neglects to consider in turn my threats against Black's king. 16...f4 17.£b2 pressure on the long diagonal, in various forms, plays a critical role from here to the end of the game. 17...£f7 doubling the f-file pressure, but with an important caveat, that the queen also must protect g7. 18.f3 solid, but not best.
18.gxf4! would be the best way to exploit the queen having to cover g7. 18...¤f6 19.¢h1+⁠−
18...fxg3 19.hxg3 ¦ae8 20.¦h1 I spent a while here making sure that this move would not compromise my defense. Black's previous sequence, by forcing the exchange of pawns, has now created some major potential threats for me down the half-open h-file. 20...¤e5 21.¦af1 preventing a sacrifice on f3 and also opposing the rook (which is adequately protected) to the Qf7.
21.f4!? is another alternative that looks a little easier to play for White, perhaps.
21...£e7 22.¦h4 an important rook lift idea, with a transfer to e4 being the main point of it. 22...¤g6 23.¦e4+⁠−23...£f7 the queen remains tethered to protecting g7. 24.¦xe8 I also spent a while thinking about this move, finding nothing else that worked from an attacking standpoint. Reducing material (and Black's attacking chances) seemed to be a principled continuation. 24...¦xe8 25.e4 this seals the e-file against further threats and allows the transfer of the queen along the second rank. The f-pawn is no longer seriously threatened. 25...¦e6 this represents a loss of valuable time for Black, because of my next move. I presume he was thinking of transferring it to the h-file after moving the Ng6, but this never happens. 26.f4 this seemed to surprise my opponent. Perhaps advancing the pawns in front of the king looks like it loosens the position, but the e4/f4 pawn duo is well supported and controls keys squares. Now f5 is threatened with the fork, but more importantly the Ng6 can no longer go to e5 and block the long diagonal. 26...¦e7 27.£e2 placing it on the d1-h5 diagonal for transfer to the kingside. I checked the tactics carefully on this, given that the queen faces the Re7. 27...c6 to better support a ...d5 advance. 28.£g4 showing some patience in preparing the h-file attack. This also threatened penetration of Black's position on the c8-h3 diagonal. 28...¦e8 it's interesting to see how Black has used up tempi with this rook while I am able to do more useful things with my time, in setting up an attack on Black's king. 29.¦h1 b5? too slow, underestimating White's threats against the king. Now material loss is inevitable along with ruining Black's position.
29...¢g8 would better defend, but after 30.£h5 h6 31.a4+⁠− now White can support progress with the e/f or the a/b pawns without Black being able to do much about it, leading to a winning endgame.
30.£h5 and now ...h6 is not possible due to the position of the Kh8 and pin on the g7 pawn. 30...¢g8 31.£xh7+ ¢f8 32.¦h5 another rook lift theme; this took me a while to find. 32...¤e7 33.¦g5
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