Sunday, June 29, 2008

Some More Unpleasantries

In a lot of these games, as I look over them, I remember feeling that I had reached reasonable middlegame/late opening positions, but then had only a weak sense (or no real sense) of how to proceed in the position. Maybe this classes as something to do with strategic assessment in complex positions. I find it hard to accurately evaluate threats and to judge potential plans.

1700 player—Joshua

1.c4 e5
2.g3 Nf6
3.Bg2 c6
4.e3 d5
5.cxd5 cxd5
6.d4 e4
7.f3 Bf5
My opponent here is playing a rather untheoretical English, and I'm not sure if a c6+d5 pawn structure was the best idea against it. Hard to say. Then, I don't really know if it would have been better to exchange e for f.
8.Nc3 Nc6
9.Nge2 Be7
Once the kings are castled, tension will build against the black center, and I needed to have some kind of a better sense of where my pieces could go to support it. Maybe I had to have the e-file clear so I could play Re8? If I just play something like exf3 here on move 9, my opponent plays 10.Bxf3 followed by Qb3 and/or Nf4 to gang up on d4. But maybe there's something tactical here. Perhaps I can really irritate him by playing 10...Nb4 11.0-0 Nc2 12.Rb1... maybe I can get a repetition... I'm not really buying it. BTW, if he swung over Qa4+ at some point to snag the Nb4, I think I can just play Qd7. Okay, maybe 9... exf3 10.Bxf3 Bb4 That seems more useful than Be7, but what about 11.a3? Maybe just 11...Bxc3 12.Nxc3. I don't think that bxc3 is good for him because of how it blocks out his bishop, though it might have potential to give him a menacing center. Then 12...0-0 and maybe I'm good. Hmmm
10.0-0 0-0
11.fxe4 Bxe4
12.Nxe4 Nxe4
13.Nc3Here, having left the center to the whims of chance, I find myself in trouble. Because I have the Be7 instead of having played that bishop elsewhere, I can't support my strongpoint on e4. It's precisely the kind of strategic mess I have a tendancy to get myself into because I will play through an opening with only a rudimentary sense of structures, and then find that my pieces are somehow not coordinating appropriately. Here, if 13...Nxc3 14.bxc3 the difference from the previous position I looked at with bxc3 is that black has no fast ability to pressurize the backward e-pawn. That means that white will be able to push it and liquidize it probably, giving him a monopoly on the center and a passed pawn to shove up my gut. I have to look at this more to determine if it's truly fatal, but at the time, I thought it was losing for me. I played
13...Re8, hoping that the threat of Bg5 would be helpful, but...
14.Nxe4 dxe4
15.Bxe4 Bg5
And I was out of ideas and facing an ugly defense. I managed to scrounge a draw, but he should have won.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Composting the Old Rot

That's how I'm thinking about it. I've been doing a lot of gardening lately, and it seems to me that the pile of old games I've played, some of them successful, many of them blighted, are fertile material to support a new crop of experiences if I will only turn them over a bit and lay them out.

Here's a 2007 win that I think I never blogged. It came near the end when I was writing a lot and increasingly strained for time, but it was a good experience.

1600 player-Joshua
1.d4 Nf6
2.c4 e6
3.Nc3 Bb4
4.Bg5 c5

It makes sense to me to mark this move dubious because I don't see how an f3-e4 structure will work with the bishop on g5 here. It's possible that it's just a later move that makes it all go wrong, but I think that white's plan is kind of flawed. The point is that after a potential cxd4, Qxd4, if Bxc3, Qxc3, any time white plays e4, Nxe4 will be in the air as a possibility. Hence, f3-e4 would make sense if, and maybe only if white had also played d4-d5.So I played 5...h6
6.Bh4 cxd4
7.Qxd4 Nc6
And even now I could have played Ne4!?, though I think it's not much better than equal at this point—still not what white would be looking for. Anyway, instead,
8... b6 and now
9.e4? Nxe4And white's in trouble.
10.Bxd8 Nxd2
11.Bh4 Nxf1
12.Kxf1 Bxc3
13.bxc3 Ba6And here I mopped up.

Alright, and here's another fertile disaster I had in 2007. This game is from a duel of many games played against one particular master, in all of which I had black... it wasn't really a duel, more like me just getting smooshed over and over and over.This is one of those organic kinds of positions without a lot of theory where I always thought that black should just play hedgehog-type moves and keep it chill and white's space advantage would eventually melt. I read somewhere once that black should not play d5, but should play for e5 in this kind of position, so that's usually how I would coordinate my pieces in this variation, but it seldom works, I find. This is the kind of position for me where I think that a little more opening theory knowledge would be helpful, as it would encourage me to have a more useful plan instead of just shuffling about until I get squashed.
10.Nbd2 a6
btw, I think a6 looks kind of lame, but I lost a game once in this structure by letting my opponent (another master who suckered me in this line) play Ba6 and trade off the light-squared bishops and then crucify me on the queenside light squares. So I was learning... but maybe not learning the right lessons.
11.Ng5 Nbd7
12.Nge4 Nxe4
13.Nxe4 e5So, I've gotten in my e5 push, and it looks like I might get to play f5 too and have some play.
And now I was suddenly stumped. It looks like f5 is not on the table, and my e5 pawn is pinned, which shows that I might have been kind of hasty. Maybe I needed to play Re8 and Bf8 first? Yeah, I think I need to look this up. Instead, I played
14... g6?!
15.f4 Bf6
16.Ne4 Bxe4
17.Bxe4Probably I'm close to lost now. I played 17...Ra7 to avoid losing the a-pawn, but that badly misplaces the rook, and the position just keeps getting worse.
18.fxe5 dxe5
And now the e5-pawn (the advance of which was my entire plan in this bloody line!) is a major weakness, and I have to play the miserably groveling,
19...Re8 just to avoid losing it.
20.Bc6 Re6
21.d5 Re7
22.Qf2 Bg7
23.Be3Now I'm losing material. From here it was short and awful.
24.Rad1 f5 Ahhh, my groveling advance. The plan is going so well...
25.d6 Re8
This game was bad enough, but taking into account that it was just one of a whole series of such disasters in this line, I think that's time for me to reexamine my approach to the position. It's tough to play against the these Colle/Trompowsky/Torre/Stonewall type positions, because as the player of the black pieces, you know that if you don't do something active, the white player is going to slowly suffocate you. (I find that there are simpler plans against the London). Maybe I should look up some theory and games and try to build a broader repertoire of potential ideas against these lines so that I can meet them more flexibly. Certainly my, play b6, d6, and strive for e5 idea is not flying most of the time...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Loss

I continue to reflect on my experiences from 2007. This example comes from one of the more frustrating games I had that year. I was white, and had had a very memorable game against a prominent master up until the endgame, which I was continuing to win, but we were in a time scramble.Here, black to move played 36...Rf8 and I completely neglected to look for problems. I was down to a few minutes, and was very very nervous - as one is wont to be when beating a hotshot master.
37.a7 Rf4
and now my heart stopped. It looked to me like I was losing all of a sudden and there was nothing I could do about it. All I could find was
38.Qf3?? Rh4+
39.Qh3 Rxh3+
40.gxh3 Qxh3+
41.Kg1 Qg3+
43.Kh2 Qa8
and I'm toast because the black king can catch the c-pawn.
If I had been a little tactically sharper though... and maybe if there had been a little more time, I would have found the saving move,
after which follows
38... Rh4+
39.Qh2 Rxh2
40.Kxh2 Qf4+
and black runs out of checks and cannot stop the a-pawn.
I guess it remains anyone's guess whether I could have then won the won game with the little bit of time I had, but the point is that I blundered and missed a critical ONLY move in a time scramble. Looks to me like more weak tactics.

After a Looooong Break

Apologies to my steady readership. It's been a long winter/spring of non-chess life. I've been writing a book over the past year, and during the heavy writing season (when I'm not focusing on funding the project) it's really hard to find any time for chess. Of late though I've been following the chess world a bit more, and I've been considering how to make a comeback.

When last I was blogging, as some of you may remember, I had been going through a rough stretch in my play. Slumps have been very rare creatures (Thankfully) in my praxis, but last year's was an unpleasant one, and it seems to me that the first thing to do as I consider how to reapproach the tournament scene is to reflect on what went wrong last year and to try to learn from it. I envision a series of postings analyzing some of the uglier experiences.

I started 2007 with a rating of 1880 USCF. I reached a peak for the year of 1904, and finished on the boomerang low note of 1842, though this was something of a rebound from my nadir at 1806. I won 18 games, including a scalp of a master, drew 20 games, and lost 17, for close to a 50 percent performance. Kind of mediocre.

I think I'll start with a couple of examples of blunderitis which seemed to creap into my play last year after a several year absence.

Here's a position that I think typifies some of my less successful play from 2007. I was white, playing in a position where I was under some pressure and rather uncomfortable. Something that I thnk came up a number of times in 2007 that was interesting was a tendency in my play to seek "advantages" based on principles, rather than assessing positions concretely. Here, for example, I think that I sought this structure, with my opponent having split q-side pawns, and myself with hanging pawns, because I thought that the isolated c-pawn would be weak. I hadn't thought about the fact that my opponent could simply push c7-c5 at an auspicious moment to clear away the weakness—hadn't thought about it until I got to the structure, that is.

Here now, I was struggling with the problem of how to relieve the pressure on the Nf3. Now I think that Ncd2 was probably the easiest way, though I'm still uncomfortable with the consequences of a c5 push by black. Basically, I think that white is struggling a little all around, but I played the ridiculous 21.Qf1??, thinking that I would move the knight and welcome an exchange of bishops - perhaps also fantasizing that my opponent would not play c5. This seems to me to be the kind of a blunder that happens when you're so caught up in trying to solve a problem on the board that you begin to lose sight of the position. Even so, though, it's kind of an amazing blunder for me.

Here's another example of a position in which I blundered. I had the black pieces, and was playing an uptempo game in 30. At the time, I remember thinking that my opponent had gone wrong in the opening and that I would be better, when in fact, I now think that the position is rather unclear. In any case, white has just played Nxd5, capturing my knight, and I need to respond. I had calculated 9...Nxd4 10.Qd1 Nxf3+ 11.Bxf3 Bxd2+ 12.Qxd2 exd5, and had somehow overlooked the simple fact that white can now recapture on d5, threatening b7 as well as c4. The pressure is kind of irritating in that position, but the game is certainly fully playable. After some thought, however, realizing that I was using too much time given the control, I reached out and played 9...exd5?? 10.Bxb4 when, of course, black is in a lot of trouble, down a piece for pawns. I think this blunder was sort of an inversion of moves problem, but still, a pretty significant disaster.

So, what can I learn from these two examples? I think that I was lacking a certain fluidity with my tactics. I wasn't necessarily seeing the board badly all the time, but I was not sufficiently comfortable with my visualizing of the relationships between the pieces to ensure that I would not occasionally blunder terribly. Obviously, blundering like this is a series cause of fast losses...