An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sacrifice on April Fool’s day

image Black to move
r4rk1/pbq2pp1/7p/1B6/3pP3/6b1/PPP1Q1P1/R1B2R1K b - - 0 22

This game was a decisive one in a BC CYCC (Canadian youth championship) qualifier of 2000, played on April 1st. Playing with the Black pieces, I missed a very nice way to wrap up this game. What strikes you about this position? Material is even, but White’s queenside is still undeveloped. White’s king is weak, and those dark squares will be really hard to cover up. If only I could transfer a heavy piece to the kingside, that would be decisive, but the e4 pawn is on the way, and Rae8-e4-h4 also seems not possible yet because e8 is covered. If …a6, then Bd3 and e4 is better protected.

22… Rae8!! I really wish it had occurred to me to play this move, since if White accepts the sacrifice, he really has no chance of defending.
23. Bxe8?! Rxe8 Arguably – the bishop was a more valuable piece than any one Black’s rooks.

image  White to  move. There is no defence: all Black pieces are in the game – he had no use for both rooks in this attack anyway.

23. Bd3 f5 is more resilient, but Black now Black is attacking for free, and also should win:

image  White to move. Black wins here as well.

The blog is really turning into the listing of my missed opportunities in 10 year old games. A real sign that my playing strength has not changed much since then (but computers got a hell lot stronger and now show me all these tricks that I did not realize at the time …)

Game in the viewer:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The End of the Soviet Chess School

Flipping through “Learning from the Champions” by L.B. Hansen, I came across his comments about Kramnik losing the 2008 World Championship to Anand and Russia not winning the Chess Olympiad in 2008 the third time in a row. The author seemed to correlate the recent lack of successes from the Russian players to the fact that the methodology of serious preparation and methodical study of various aspects of the game advocated by the Soviet Chess school is somewhat out of date. Hansen claims that calculated risk and specific preparation are the new extra components that are often the decisive factors. He does have a point that the old methods are no longer bullet proof, even thought I am not sure if using the Olympiad serves his argument well. In 2004 the winner was Ukraine, and 2006 and 2008 – Armenia. Both nations were parts of former USSR (Soviet Chess School had impact outside of Russia). However, world champion now is Anand, and highest rated player until recently was Topalov, and now is Carlsen. Topalov speaks Russian very well, but none of these 3 players ever lived in the USSR.

What happened? I think the recent decade and the rise of a Norwegian super player show one thing: the Internet and computers happened. Any player has access to so much chess information and strong opposition that the concept of a “school” no longer plays such an important role, in the sense that living in Moscow does not give too many advantages over living in a small town. Hansen emphasises concrete approach, but that’s what Soviet chess school has been all about – concrete preparation. In my opinion there was nothing wrong with the Soviet Chess school as far as the ideas behind how you should study chess are concerned, it’s just that computers have taken it all to the next level. While Botvinnik made a study of a pawn structure, such as French Winawer, and Botvinnik Variation in the Slav defence, Alexandra Kosteniuk now prepares a novelty around move 30 that a computer came up with – check out her video with an example. In this position, Alexandra's computer gave here a little hint during preparation, and 3 moves after it was played over the board, it was all over:
image  Black to move r5k1/pbpn2pp/1p1pp1r1/5p2/2PP1P2/P2BPN1q/1P2Q2P/R1B2R1K b - - 0 18
Here are the things that computers allow you, and facilitate specific preparation without the need for a coach:
1) determine at least a rough evaluation of a concrete position, something that could take days before the mid 90s. The position may or may not be in the database, either way you have much better ability to get to its objective evaluation
2) store results of analysis and quickly retrieve it later, right before the game against the opponent who is likely to play it
3) play a ton of games against strong opposition without living in major city
4) practice a particular position against computer (even though it won't smoke cigarettes in your face, like Ragozin did for Botvinnik)

It is interesting that Kasparov, who always advocated the scientific approach to preparation, became even more stronger around 1999 –2001 when computer engines became very strong. Specific preparation with computers and calculated risk based on engine analysis were the exact logical extension of what Botvinnik came up with in the 30s, in his brochure about how he prepared for the match against Flohr. Some people would even claim that “Soviet Chess School” never existed. When I told this to a master from Saint Petersburg a few years ago, he laughed at me and asked: “Ok, then what kind of chess school existed? Maybe a Cuban chess school?”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BC Active Championship 2010 – poisoned pawns and blunders

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the BC Active Championship, which was won by Vicente Lee, second year in a row. I lost to speed chess maestros Vicente Lee and Mayo Fuentebella, but going into the last round still had a chance for the 4th place prize. After a complicated opening, my opponent cracked in mutual time pressure:
Jiganchine – Villavieja, Vancouver 2010, Round 9

image Black to move What’s wrong with taking on h6?
Loose pieces drop off, and the pawn cost Black a 100 dollars (4th prize) as his rooks became unprotected: 27 …. Qxh6?? 28. Re8+ Rxe8 29. Qxe8+ Kg7 30. Qe5+

image 1:0

Before that, I was lucky in round 5 in a similar way:
Bellanger – Jiganchine, Vancouver 2010, Round 5

image In a difficult position,  Black setup the trap with 1… Nd6.
Can White take on h4?
That cost him the game as the treacherous knights found their victim: 2. Rxh4?? Rxh4 3.Rxh4 Nef5+! and Black won.

image Black ends up with an extra piece.

And in the first round I came up with a big blunder of my own, but opponent did not take advantage of it:

Caluza – Jiganchine, Vancouver 2010, Round 1
For a bizarre reason I decided to chase away the bishop with 14…h6?

image White to move

The simplest now was 15. Bxh6! the point being that 15… gxh6?! 16 Qg4 + leaves White with an extra pawn.


Black has more resilient defence, but still would remain worse, and I had totally overlooked my hanging knight on d7 when playing h6. Another example to illustrate John Nunn's LPDO principle: Loose pieces drop off (explained in Nunn's "Secrets of Practical Chess"). In the game my opponent instead played 15. Qg4? and lost the game after some adventures. Speed chess is an odd hybrid where you have a bit of time to think about planning and strategy, but often end up winning and losing because of one move threats.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Three rook endgames, three choices, three blunders, three videos

And incidentally, in all 3 games I played the Caro-Kann defence. Anyway, around the year 2000, I wrote an article about rook endgames, one of the examples was the Charbonneau game from below, and another was the famous Tarrasch – Rubinstein. Collecting and analysing a dozen instructive positions obviously did not prevent me from making mistakes in my own games, so here is further proof. Try to figure them out yourself first. They are not trivial, but given that you only have 2 reasonable choices, there is always a good chance of getting it right.

Game 1: Charbonneau – Jiganchine, CYCC 2000, Edmonton
image Black to move. Where to keep the rook? On h1 or f3?


Game 2: Krnan-Jiganchine, Canadian Championship 2004, Toronto
image Black to move.
Should the Black king support the ‘c’ pawn (e.g. Kc7), or instead rush to stop the ‘h’ pawn (e.g. Ke7) ?

Game 3: Kostin – Jiganchine, Keres Memorial 2006, Vancouver

image  White to move. Which pawn to push?
In the game White blundered, but I returned the favour and missed my chance for a draw, which was quite instructive.

We learn from our mistakes as more than from our wins, that’s maybe why I still remember these 3 games (ok, having them in a database helps too). Each one of these 3 positions required a bit of calculation, bit of planning/visualizing, and a bit of precise endgame theory knowledge. The second game (against Krnan) was particularly upsetting because after defending for a long time, I actually hoped to make a draw, whereas in the other two games I kind of expected that I might likely lose.

PS. I finally figured out how to make the volume louder in my videos - by using ffmpeg, not by yelling into my dysfunctional microphone. For me that’s probably the biggest win out of studying these 3 endgames.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Endgame where computer engines fail

Jiganchine – Koons, 2006
image White to move.
The question is - can White sacrifice the piece with 54. h6 or does he have to play 54. Bf6.

8/6K1/8/3k3P/1p1B4/2n3P1/8/8 w - - 0 54

54. h6!! Interestingly, the winning line is too long for computer to appreciate why it wins, so some engines recommend Bf6 instead as the best try  Kxd4 55. h7 b3 56. h8=Q b2 57. Kf8+ Kd3 58. Qh7+ Kc4 59. Qf7+ Kd3 60. Qf5+ Ke3 61. g4 b1=Q 62. Qxb1 Nxb1 63. g5

image now the knight cannot catch up with the pawn and White wins:
63…Nd2 64. g6 Ne4 65. g7 Nf6 66. Kf7 Ng4 67. Kg6 +-


My opponent also did not calculate far enough (that line was only 13 moves deep), and in the original position he played 54. Bf6? After 54… Ne4!  55. h6 (55. Bb2 Nxg3 56. h6 Nf5+ 57. Kg6 Nxh6 was probably what he missed.) 55... Nxf6 56. Kxf6 b3 57. h7 b2 58. h8=Q b1=Q
image This is a draw according to tablebases, but of course with about 10-20 SD minutes remaining for each side,  it would not be so easy to play this correctly for either side. In the end I managed to salvage a draw in this tiring queen endgame.

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