An unexamined life is not worth living.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

ChessBase Light 2009 – Prepare against opponent

ChessBase Light 2009, which came out recently, is not really fundamentally different from ChessBase Light 2007, but has a couple of nice features. One of such features is a helper menu to create a temporary tree and list of reference games – just for your opponent, and just for the colour that you care about. So if I was to play Kevin Spraggett in the next game as White, I would come to the players tab, pick Kevin’s name, and choose “Prepare against Black”.


That would give me a list of games (a short one, because I use a really small database), and show the likely options I have to face against 1.c4


I can see that he has not played 1…e5 for 25 years, so I should really focus on 1…Nf6. Similar functionality had existed in ChessBase Light 2007, but it was not really as convenient. This is a truly time saving feature if you are preparing against a specific opponent, their opening repertoire varies over time, and you’re trying to figure out what move they are most likely to play against you in the forthcoming game. The download is free, try it yourself!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Solving tactics – looking for the right move

Finding combinations during your chess games is not easy, but it is a skill you can develop with a lot of practice. The more you solve – the better you get at it. Keep in mind that if you solve puzzles in a book – you know there is a combination in a given position. Half of the problem is already solved (you may be searching for a black cat in a dark room, but at least you can be certain that the cat IS in the room), but still, you must have the right thought process to actually deduce the tactical idea and exact move order. Here are some examples (from my archives) of how to direct your thinking while solving puzzles. It is WHITE TO MOVE IN ALL POSITIONS:
Alekhine – Ricondo, Santander, 1945

the knight on f6 is a weak point in Black's position, so White undermines him by deflecting the g7 pawn 1.Nh6+ gxh6 [1...Kh8 2.Nxf7+ Kg8 3.Nxd8] 2.Bxf6 Qd7 3.Qg3+ Bg7 4.Qxg7# 1-0

Bellin - Fries Nielsen, Kopenhagen, 1989

here it is not entirely clear which of Black's pieces is overloaded. As always, our search for combinations starts with looking at captures and checks. A check is 1.Rf8, but then after 1...Bxf8 our queen is attacked, nothing seems to work yet. What we can notice though is that if the queen was not attacked, we could try capturing on d5 with the knight, because the e6 pawn is pinned. This should hint us that the right move order is: 1.Nxd5! exd5 2.Rxf8+ Bxf8 3.Qxf6 1-0

Nenaschew – Muchametow. Nowosibirsk, 1989


The Black king seems to be in danger, but Black also has an evil intention to deliver a mate on g2. Thus we must consider all checks - no time for Rxa6. There are three checks - Rg7+, Qh6+, and Qg5. Once we see all them, we can start too look into each, verifying if one of them works. Inspection of these candidate moves leads to solution: 1.Qg5+ fxg5 2.Rxa6+ 1-0

Mariotti - Pantschenko Las Palmas, 1978


The Black king is weak, there are potentially 3 White pieces attacking him, only the queen on f6 is protecting him yet. This suggests that we possibly can sacrifice one piece to deflect the queen and hope to checkmate the king with remaining too. We also might see that a check from h8 would be really embarrassing for Black, as after Kg6 follows Bh5x. Only problem - queen covers up h8 from f6. Thus if we could make the queen abandon f6, we are done. Not too hard to accomplish! 1.Rb6 Qxb6 2.Qh8+ Kg6 3.Bh5# 1-0

Polugajewski – Szilagyi, Moskau, 1960


This is already a bit tricky - this combination although simple is somewhat non-trivial. It contains a quiet move! If we could only get the rook to h3 the game is over. But 1.Rd3 is met by Rxd3. But we can deflect the rook from the 'd' file: 1.Bf8+ Rxf8 2.Rd3 1-0

Romanishin – Gdansky. Polanica Zdroj, 1992


Here our dream is to get the queen either to the 'h' file or to the a1-h8 diagonal. Another deflection: 1.Nxd6! Bxd6 2.Qf6 Qxd5+ 3.Kh2 1-0

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Endgame by Smyslov - video

I have been experimenting a bit more with different ways of capturing chess videos, so here is a new attempt. I already discussed the same position in a separate blog post. The final position may be the most important position you need to understand about endgames with bishops of opposite colours.

For this video, I used CamStudio, free screen recording software for Windows.

Opening preparation – surprise your opponent

One of the most serious books on openings is "Opening preparation" by Dvoretsky and Yusupov. The authors talk more about the methods of studying openings rather than particular variations. A very important idea expressed by Dvoretsky is that openings can be conventionally split into two groups: those that lead to sharp positions where precise knowledge is required and those where understanding is more crucial. He related this to which openings a give player should study in view of how good his memory is. I think however, that appreciating the difference between sharp and calm systems can also be very useful for preparing for a particular game (a topic covered by Yusupov in great detail too)
During the 2002 Canadian Junior Championship I was helping a bit Lucas and Noam Davies to prepare for their games. Usually this consisted of a brief discussion of what the opponents play, and I did not go very far beyond some general advice.
However, before round 8 there were several free hours (because of the schedule) and this gave me and Noam a chance to look at the bulletin a bit more attentively. His future opponent, M. Strub had been playing the Petroff defence - an opening where on the top level grandmasters have found enough resources in Black's position to fight for dynamic balance. However, the value of every move is rather high, and if Black commits an inaccuracy, White's lead in development may prove overwhelming.
This made me look at the game S. Lipnowski - M. Strub with particular attention. I found the line in the NCO and to look for the first divergence from theory. What I saw was rather shocking: Black played a 13…c6 which had a 1 move refutation. The position was also in the spirit of my student: White develops a strong initiative; no subtle positional judgement is involved; with very careful defence Black can only get a very bad position, otherwise he is immediately lost. NCO stopped after 14. Bh6!!+/-, but I could see the tactical idea even without using a Fritz engine.
Why am I telling you all this? My point is that this is more or less an ideal example of opening preparation that is 100% effective, which does not happen very often. We only had to spend about half an hour to establish the precise main line: so basically Noam knew what is going to happened for another several moves, while for M. Strub this was quite a new position.
The only doubt that I had about our finding was that this was so easy for our opponent to establish after his game against Lipnowski. Mr. Strub just had to look into the NCO, or any other opening encyclopaedia after he played his game against Sam. So we also quickly checked what is going to happen if Black avoided the blunder and also tried to outline an approximate character of play in that case. It (an open position) also would quite fit Noam's style, so there was not much point in going many moves deep in that direction (after all, Black would have many ways of diverging).
I was quite surprised (and pleased) that Black fell into the trap and got quickly punished. Below is the game:
PS. (This report was originally written in 2002, but little has really changed in how one prepares for a specific opponent before the game during a tournament).
Davies,Noam (1670) - Strub,Michael (1719) [C42]
Cdn Junior Winnipeg, Manitoba (7), 05.01.2002
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.c4 Nb4 9.cxd5 [9.Be2 0-0 10.Nc3 is a more popular continuation] 9...Nxd3 10.Qxd3 Qxd5 11.Re1
  many of Black's moves are forced - this simplifies the preparation 11...Bf5 12.Nc3 Nxc3 13.Qxc3 c6?
14.Bh6!!+/- Here our analysis started, because the only source of theory we had was NCO which concluded the variation with 14.Bh6 14...gxh6 [14...Rg8 Databases also proved handy, we found that apparently this move was the best and were somewhat prepared against it too. But Strub (as I expected) chose a more "natural" response...] 15.Re5 Qd7 16.Rae1 Be6 17.d5!
image 17… cxd5 18.Rxe6 fxe6 19.Qxh8+ Bf8 20.Qf6
image here our analysis more or less ended: White is winning at least one pawn and the future of the Black king is grim. Not surprisingly during the game it took Noam around 10 minutes to get to this position. I would say this is a nearly optimal time to spend to get to a known position, while making sure that none of analysis is false and this is indeed the position that we were looking at. 20...Be7 21.Rxe6 [21.Qxh6?! 0-0-0] 21...Rc8 22.Re1 Kd8 23.Qh8+ [As I was glancing at the position I thought it was better not let the Black king escape from the center (which Qh8 allows), and started to get nervous that my student might let things slip out his hands. Fortunately this did not occur. 23.Qxh6!? seemed more precise to me] 23...Kc7 24.Qxh7 Bb4 25.Rc1+ Kd6 [25...Kb8 - Michael missed this move, after which White is of course still winning..] 26.Qxh6+ Ke7 27.Qg7+ Kd6? [27...Ke8] 28.Qe5# 1-0
Replay the game in the viewer:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chess Tactics: Promotion to a knight

image White to move

Ok, the post title gives it out, but this was not meant to be a difficult one anyway.

Magerramov – Kolesnikov, 1987.

1. exf7!! Rxg3 2. f8=N#

A rare case (from practical play rather than composed study) where promoting a pawn to a knight serves such a useful purpose.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Opening preparation – gaining advantage on the clock

When I play tournament games, I usually record the time I spent on critical moments of the game. Having the record of how much time I spent on individual moves helps later to understand why I made certain mistakes. Going through a set of my scoresheets from the past few years, I also realized that in a majority of games that I lost – I was behind on the clock after the opening. I may have come out of the opening with a decent position, but usually spending more time in the opening than your opponent puts your into an unfavourable psychological situation. The other player realizes that he is more familiar than you with a position, or is merely more confident in himself. Overcoming that type of disadvantage is difficult, and usually leads to mistakes later in the game and losses. Moral of the story –

  1. If the position allows, sometimes instead of spending lots of time trying to find the absolutely best move early in the game – it is more prudent to confidently play good moves. You will need that time and energy later in the game. Once are behind your opponent on the clock, it takes extra effort to catch up.
  2. Keep track of how much time you spend on every move. That can help to understand your strengths and weaknesses better when you analyze those games after the tournament, and give clues how to improve time management in your chess games.
  3. In your opening preparation – ask yourself the question: if a given position arises during a tournament game – will you be able to easily remember the correct moves and find them on your own, or the position is too complicated, and it will take you a lot of time to play correct moves.


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