An unexamined life is not worth living.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pawn Structure Chess – when your Opponent Surprises you

DDT3000 – sgilroy, ICC 2011, 20 minutes per game
image Black to move.
Here I expected 25…b5-b4, fighting for ‘d4’ square in the typical fashion for the Spanish game. But my opponent surprised me with a different pawn move, as he instead chose to fight for ‘d3’.
25…c4 I thought “Oh no, I’d better stop Ne6-c5-d3”, so I played
26. Bxe6
image Black to move. Which recapture is best? My opponent surprised me again, and I must admit, I was so shocked that I blundered immediately and resigned within a couple of moves. Several positional considerations need to be considered:

  • Black is eyeing f3 with his queen and knight, but for now it is well guarded
  • White may later transfer his knight to ‘d5’ via ‘e3’ so ‘d5’ needs to be covered
  • Black’s rooks currently don’t control any open or semi-open files, but they obviously would like to!

How would you recapture on e6?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chess Grandmaster Audio Interviews in Russian

Russian website is one of the most informative and up-to-date Russian chess resources on the web, and it has a few audio interviews of grandmasters. Unfortunately I have not been able to find an audio podcast feed for these interviews, but with a little Google Reader search trick, I can download them almost as easily. Khalifman, Shipov, Karjakin, Vasjukov – this is a feast for a Russian Speaking chess fan.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kasparov vs. Karpov 1988-2009 – Tactics

Here are some more positions to add to my book review of Kasparov vs. Karpov 1988-2009.

Kasparov – Karpov, 1990, game 20
image  White to move. The concentration of White pieces on the kingside leads to a mating attack.

Karpov - Kasparov, 1990, game 11
image Black to move. Black is down the exchange, and the knight is attacked, so retreat is not an option. How can Black force a draw?

Kasparov – Karpov, Valencia 2009, rapid game 3
image White to move. The last brilliancy we see from Garry Kasparov?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kasparov vs. Karpov 1988-2009 – Book review

This book wraps up the series about all the games between two perennial opponents – Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. The last volume is probably as exciting as the previous ones, if not the most exciting one. It has more tournament games than the previous ones, and includes the 1990 Match in New York/Lyons, about which I already have read/reviewed another book – Five Crowns.


Each book in the series has several brilliant games that have become classic, those to remember the struggle between the big K’s by.
1984 – the 27 game was Karpov’s endgame masterpiece, but the fact that the match lasted 48 games is most remarkable.
1985 match – the 16th game in Kasparov Gambit, and the 24th game – arguably the most “decisive” game in history.
1986 match had the 16th game with the crazy Spanish Attack as well as the “study like” 22 game.
The match in 1987 in Seville is probably most remembered by the last two games where Karpov and Kasparov exchanged wins and Kasparov got to keep the crown.

What games stand out in this 1988-2009 volume? In the 1990 match Karpov was playing aggressively as Black, but in this entire match, Black did not win a single game, so this strategy somewhat backfired. Among the better games are two wins by Kasparov in the Spanish Zaitsev Variation – games 2 and 20, and Karpov’s nice positional suffocation of Kasparov’s Grunfeld Defence in Game 17.
Among their tournament games, there were a couple of gems as well:

Kasparov – Karpov, Amsterdam 1988 was a mad clash where Kasparov sacrificed a couple of pieces and managed to outplay Karpov in time trouble
image Black to move. In severe time trouble Karpov overlooked the most decisive way to end the game.

Karpov – Kasparov, Linares 1993 was the famous “Fischer chess” game, where all of Karpov’s pieces ended up on the first rank!image Black to move. White had just attacked the rook with 22. Nc1. Does the rook have to retreat?

While in matches the record between K and K was very close, in tournaments Kasparov has scored 7-1 in decisive games. I can think of a couple of reasons for this:
- the tournament games were played later in their careers when Kasparov was in his prime, and Karpov rather on a decline, relative to his prime years
- Kasparov was more of a tournament player, so by the time K and K met, Karpov would often need to win to catch up with Kasparov, so he’d play more sharply than he would in matches.

What can a chess player learn from the series? I paid special attention to the following:

  • The differences in style between Kasparov and Karpov are striking. In more than half of the games you can see Kasparov sacrificing something (usually a pawn) to activate his pieces, and Karpov – accepting the offered material. This is simply amazing! Both players achieved great results with their styles.
  • Insights into opening preparation for each game show the development of opening theory – Kasparov shows what he prepared for each game, and how theory developed since then
  • Time spent on each move. This adds to the reader’s understanding of what players saw, why they made blunders, what moments they considered critical in the development of each game.

The book also covers a few aspects of “chess politics”, the scandal during 1988 USSR championship, GMA, negotiations between FIDE and PCA during 1990’s and overall development of chess history during the covered years.

On a personal note, I read this volume in Russian, and to me this made for a much more pleasant experience, as while the translation in the English editions (which is all I have for the previous two volumes) is usually good, small imperfections still make me wish for seeing Kasparov’s original Russian text.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kramnik – Carlsen - annotated by Seirawan

Yasser Seirawan has annotated Magnus Carlsen’s victory over Vladimir Kramnik from the currently played Amber Chess Tournament.

Kramnik – Carlsen, 2011

image Black to move. How can he fight for control over d5 to get a desired pawn structure?

Seirawan explains very nicely the positional goals of both sides as Kramnik is planning to play against the ‘d5’ outpost and wants to occupy it with a piece. It backfired as Carlsen fought to complete his development and control d5 with pieces as well. It struck me that such positional ideas that seem to be more common in Sicilian defence (for example – in Sveshnikov Variation that Kramnik himself plays) – can just as easily occur in closed openings.

Watch the video below to see it yourself:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Getting Things Done – Studying Chess

Personal chess improvement has always been an ongoing project for me, but often without well-defined goals and somewhat obscure objectives. Just like any a complex project, it needs some structure, planning, motivation, and ability to track progress. I believe this applies to both professional chess players and to amateurs, who only have a few hours a week to dedicate to chess improvement. No one can reach perfection in chess, so everyone’s time is limited, making success dependent on how effectively we study the game.

What happens often is that while going over your game, you realize – “oh yeah, I played badly in this rook endgame, I’d better study some related endgame theory”. Another day, during a blitz game online, your opponent throws a rare variation of Scandinavian defence at you, and you realize that you had never even considered this line in your opening preparation. Again, that creates another “TODO” item that may linger in your mind for a while, but most likely won’t materialize into action on your part. I’ve heard chess players often make regretful remarks during post-mortem sessions about what they “should have, could have, would have” studied. Things we want to do to improve our chess are of broad variety, here are some more examples:

  • Studying a particular opening variation
  • Reading a specific book that received good reviews
  • Watching an interesting chess video with player interviews
  • Trying out new training software, such as Peshka
  • Studying games of a particular player – such as Botvinnik
  • Playing practice games in a particular opening
  • Preparing for a particular tournament
  • Preparing against a particular opponent, whom you often face in tournaments
  • Improving your time management
  • Practicing tactics
  • etc

What is a good way to keep track of this kind of lingering thoughts, ideas, and make sure your best intentions for self improvement are fulfilled with some meaningful actions? Turns out chess is not a very different from any other areas that “knowledge workers” are involved in – areas where defining “What To Do?” is almost as important then the action act of “Doing”. I believe that the system known as “Getting Things Done”, advocated by David Allen should apply almost ideally to studying chess.

image  Here are some of the principles of Getting Things Done approach:

  • Have a system to keep track of things you need “To Do”, rather than keeping them in your head and worry about forgetting individual items
  • Do regular weekly reviews of tasks, act upon them depending on your available time and energy
  • Focus on tasks based on the physical contexts you are in – near computer, in transit, etc
  • Manage multiple projects within the same system – chess can be one of your “projects”, and you can have multiple projects dedicated to chess improvement
  • Define short term and long term goals and objectives
    • Life Time – Becoming a GM
    • Long Term – 3-5 years - Becoming an IM
    • Short term – 6 months - Improving your openings for Black

While this system is good for anything we do in life, it is not easy to consistently follow, as I discovered myself. However personal chess study strikes me as something where this “Getting Things Done” approach could be particularly effective.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Importance of Staying Focused in Chess

This video goes over a promising position that I lost due to relaxing prematurely. That kind of attitude always gets punished – especially in sharp positions with rapid time controls.

Replay the game in the viewer:

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