An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Memorizing Chess Openings

During Canadian Chess Championship in 2002, I had a pretty odd incident related to memorizing opening variations. In round 4 game I forgot my preparation literally on the next move after we entered the line I had prepared. I lost that game without putting up much resistance. In round 8 game, however, I without any particular effort played to 33rd move from my opening preparation and got a winning position, later managing to convert my advantage. How could this have possibly happened to the same player, in the same tournament?

In reality both examples had little to do with my memory being bad on one day, and good on another, but rather with how familiar I was with the ideas of each line. The line I chose in round 4 was prepared for that particular game; it was a suspicious sideline, and Black had to play carefully after violating some basic opening principles. Round 8, on the other hand, followed a line that I had played a lot with both colours in the past, and before the game I simply refreshed my memory and looked up the particulars. That being said, my round 8 opponent had also been well familiar with that line; he lost partially because he had been anticipating me to play other lines, and did not refresh this particular variation in his mind before our game. Below are the actual examples.

Glinert – Jiganchine, Richmond, 2002, Round 4 (Replay the game in the viewer, or watch a youtube video with full analysis)
Black to move
In the Panov attack, Black ventured with a very rare Qa8 and Rd8, to which White responded in a logical way with Bd2 and Ne5. I had planned to play along Krogius,N-Kortchnoi,V/Tbilisi 1966 where Kortchnoi continued with 12… Nf6, defending his kingside, and opening up the d file. I had been looking at that game several hours before the clocks were started! Instead I played 12… Nxe5?!, and lost because of difficulties getting Bc8 into the game.

Jiganchine – Sokourinski, Richmond 2002, Round 8 (Replay the fully annotated game)
image  White to move
We are in the end of a somewhat forced opening/endgame variation – also in the Panov attack. Black had just finally regained a pawn with 32… Kxf3?!, but the cost is too high: his king is cut-off, and White threatens to transfer the king to d4. With the prepared (just before the game) 33. b4! White frees up the king from guarding b2, and has excellent chances to win the game.

I’d also summarize as to main reasons I think chess players have a hard time forgetting their chess openings (I am sure you can think up a few more)

  1. Not familiarizing themselves with ideas, but rather trying to remember individual moves – that just never works, at least not for me!
  2. Getting confused by move orders. You can even remember the ideas, but playing them in a wrong order is pretty common
  3. Confusing similar variations. Often I remember that a particular move has to be played, but it actually applies to a different position with similar characteristics
  4. A non-forced nature of the opening. Glinert-Jiganchine is a concrete position, but the threats have not materialized just yet.
  5. Broad variety of options. In Jiganchine-Sokourinski, we got to move 33 by grabbing each other’s pawns and pieces pretty much non-stop along a narrow path. It is way harder to remember the correct path when the lines branch off in various directions

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blitz sacrifice - exploiting the long diagonal

Here is a quick snapshot from my blitz game today. After my opponent and myself exchanged a few blunders, I found a neat shot in this position:

DDT3000 – pmg, 3 minutes per game, ICC, 2010
image White to move, Black just played Qb6-d8.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Play like Karpov – tactics and strategy

Karpov – Giorgadze, 1983.
Anatoly Karpov found a great way to wrap up the game. Watch the embedded YouTube video to see the answer.

image White to move

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An overlooked counter attack from a Botvinnik game

In a classic, but underestimated training game Botvinnik – Ragozin, the following position arose after White’s 28. Re1-e3.

image Black to move. Can Black capture on c3?

The threat is to attack on the ‘h’ file, and in particular – to trap Black’s queen with Re3-h3-h7. In his notes, Botvinnik did not dwell too much on this position, but the capture on ‘c3’ is very thematic throughout this game, so I felt curious to check what happens if Black bravely ignores White’s idea, and carries on with his counter attack! Let me share some analysis.

Yes he can!! Yes he can take on c3. In fact, it would have led to a forced draw, and given that in the game Black went down after 28… Ng8 pretty fast, making a draw against the strongest player in the world was probably a great option (1947 was the only year in the twentieth century without a world chess champion). Play would continue:
29 . Rh3 Rxd4
Black carried out his plan of destroying the White center. Just two moves ago there were two White pawns on c3 and d4, now there are two Black rooks
30. Rh7 Rg4!!

When your opponent attacks your queen, you should hang your rook as well!! This is what you get when you analyse a game with a computer, but in reality this is a very harmonious development of Black’s ideas – he destroyed White's center so that his pieces could get some freedom, and now they have it - big time. White’s queen is guarding the knight, which is guarding the White rook, so if either one of them gets distracted, White’s whole plot falls through. He does have enough resources to get a draw though.
31. Nd7+ Ke8
32. Qxg4  Rc1+ 
(Bad was 32... Qxh7?? 33. Nf6+)
33. Bf1 Qa1!
34. Qe2 Nd5!
Black is down a full rook for only a couple of pawns!!
35. Ne5 Nc3
36. Rh8+ Ke7
now White has to scramble for a draw:
37. Nxg6+! fxg6
38. Rh7+ Kf8
39. Rh8+ Ke7
40. Rh7+
image draw by perpetual check

In the game Botvinnik won with a nice sacrifice, but I think this draw would have been a much more exciting finish to this game. This is probably one of the more interesting discoveries I ever made while analysing a grandmaster game from a book. Perhaps that’s because I had rarely analysed games from printed books with the help of a computer…

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