Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sometimes Different is Good!

So have you ever asked yourself the question "Which is better? Playing one opening all the time, or playing different openings?"

I have been asked this question in person many times, and have seen this asked in a number of garden varieties on chess.com. Well, after 22 years of tournament play, almost 2800 games, and having played just about every "normal" opening known to man king except the White side of the London System, this article has the answer for you.


My First Twenty Years

Once upon a time, when I first became a full time tournament player in 1997, I had played the King's Indian Attack via 1.Nf3 as White, and the Pirc and King's Indian as Black. In essence, regardless of what my opponent did, I had the same pawn structure no matter what. This comes after a year and a half of playing the Queen's Gambit as White and the French and Queen's Gambit Declined as Black back in college, but didn't play in tournaments at that time. At first, it appeared to work. I had great results. However, it was quickly realized, after about six months, that I was beginning to get very laxidaisical with my play in the opening phase of the game, and played a number of really bad moves as I wasn't paying much attention to deviations. It was soon realized that while this "lazy" approach worked at first, it was stunting my growth because every position was the same. It wasn't forcing me to think for myself, and to remain alert when my opponent did something unusual.

After it was quickly realized that I needed some diversity in my game, I went back to playing the French Defense against 1.e4, went back to 1.d4 with White, and tried different openings against 1.d4 as Black, including the Grunfeld, Leningrad Dutch, and Nimzo-Indian Defense, mainly looking for something that I deemed playable. This worked out better than the lazy approach above in that I didn't play the exact same position every game with both colors, but there still was this problem of playing moves out of habit rather than thinking things through, which should be done, even in the opening.

So by late 1999, I head to the other extreme. I am playing every opening under the sun. I might play a single opening for two months, then change to something else for a month, then something else for another two months, and then change it again. The only thing that remained consistent was that I rarely went more then a few months without playing the French Defense as Black against 1.e4 up until 2007, and then really didn't play it again but with rare exception until 2014. It seemed to be the only real comfort zone for me. But by playing everything and jumping from the solid Slav Defense to the wild Modern Defense to the complicated Nimzo-Indian Defense to the aggressive King's Indian Defense to the somewhat dry Queen's Gambit Accepted to the Benko Gambit to the aggressive Grunfeld to this to that to this to that was just as bad as playing a single opening. The problem in this case was that while you are exposed to many different positions, you haven't played any of them enough times to actually understand them. You become a "Jack of all trades" when it comes to openings, and good at nothing! Sadly, I kept this approach up until late 2016.


So What Happened in Late 2016?

If anyone saw my library of books, you would see about 350 books, and probably 80 to 90 percent of them are opening books. Being of the thought that opening theory changes while forks, skewers, rook endgames, and many other items don't change, that the right answer was the study openings via books that use the complete game system, thinking that would solve the problem. It was then that I realized that what I thought I knew, I didn't. That changed the last two years, and taking a different approach to my studying, while my rating has not gone up in the last two years, which I attribute to growing pains while focusing more on the middle game and end game, many of my losses since late 2016 I was able to nail exactly what I did. Sure, every now and then, I'm still at a loss as to what happened, but a good 60 to 70 percent of my losses now I know PRECISELY what I did.

So what does this have to do with opening selection and whether or not to expand beyond one opening? If you understand positional strategy, the answer would come to you naturally. You don't want to play the exact same thing over and over again as you start playing moves out of habit rather than analyzing the position every time. You also don't want to try to play everything under the sun. The answer is that you want to play something in between. Most specifically, it is best to have two first moves as White that lead to diverse positions, and at least two openings against 1.e4 and 1.d4. That said, and this is where understanding the middle game comes into play, you don't want to just randomly pick two defenses to e4 (or d4). For example, against 1.d4, saying "I'm going to play the, uh, Queen's Gambit Declined and the, uh, Grunfeld Defense" is not wise. The ideas behind the resulting middle games are like oil and water. One is based on a light-square defense and looking to keep control of the e4-square while the other is about allowing White the big center and then trying to either break it up, or else forcing White to advance a pawn to weaken certain squares.


And so this means what?

This means that you should not only have multiple openings in your repertoire, but they should be openings with similar ideas. For example, let's take a look at the Grunfeld Defense. What can be said about the Grunfeld Defense? White gets a big center. Black looks to chip away at it. White does nothing to prevent White from taking the center. After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3, White has pawns on both e4 and d4, and controls all the central squares. Black's thought is that he will hit the center with a move like ...c5 (very common in the Grunfeld), and try to chip away at White's center before White is ready as he spent the time building the big center while Black has kept a compact position and is trying to quickly develop his pieces and castle. Ok, so great, you have the Grunfeld. So what other opening should you play against 1.d4? The answer is that it's not random. You are comfortable with the hypermodern strategy and the idea of allowing White to over-extend himself. Which other openings lead to a space disadvantage for Black, but on the basis of chipping away at it and trying to prove White's over-extension to be weak? Breaking moves like ...c5 or ...e5 after White has committed to c4, d4, and e4, which makes the d4-square weak since the c-pawn and e-pawn have both passed the spot to guard d4? Would that be the Slav Defense? No, of course not! But what about the King's Indian Defense or Benoni Defense? They diversify your game enough to force you to concentrate on the position, but are similar enough to where the ideas are ideas that you are already familiar with from having played the Grunfeld.

Well, in my own situation, after having studied openings like the King's Indian Defense for a long time, I came to the conclusion that these hypermodern positions were causing me more problems than good, and a number of lines lead to major areas of discomfort. For example, I don't like Black after 13.Rc1 in the Mar Del Plata Variation of the King's Indian Defense. So I have since taken a more restrained approach. As a long time French player, Black's strong point is the d5-pawn. What does it do? It controls e4! Against 1.d4 I have played the Queen's Gambit Declined of late. What does it do? Controls e4! Ok, so you have an opening against 1.e4 and 1.d4. Time to expand. So again, I will ask the question. Which QP opening has many similar ideas to the Queen's Gambit Declined? The Queen's Gambit Declined sees a light-square complex by Black with a willingness to sacrifice the scope of his light-squared Bishop in order to prevent the move e4 by White and maintain a solid position. What else does the Queen's Gambit and offshoots of the Queen's Gambit Declined, like the Catalan, have as a common middlegame idea? The Isolated Queen Pawn! So we have the dynamic IQP structure as a frequent occurrence. We have the idea of controlling e4. What other Queen Pawn opening has these same ideas? Possibly the Nimzo-Indian? After 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4, what is the point behind 3...Bb4? To stop e4 by White! After 4.e3 O-O 5.Nf3 d5 6.Bd3 c5, there are a number of different move orders here, but very common is for Black to take on c4 once the Bishop has been developed (a common QGD idea as well) where White recaptures with a piece, and Black will play ...cxd4 at some point and White will usually recapture with the pawn to control e5 and what do we have now? An IQP position. Trade Knights on c3 and you have an isloated pawn couplet. Another common structure in both openings. This is a prime example of finding two openings that mesh.

The game that we are going to look at will be a Nimzo-Indian, but we are going to look at it from the perspective of how it is similar to the Queen's Gambit Declined.


Tuesday Night Action 48, Round 2
W: Advaith Karthik (1970)
B: Patrick McCartney (2067)
Nimzo-Indian Defense

1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nge2 cxd4 7.exd4 d5 8.O-O O-O 9.Bg5 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Be7



So notice that we have many similarities to the Queen's Gambit Declined here. White gets his frequent Isolated Queen Pawn. Black has his Bad Bishop on c8. Black held on to control of e4 until the trade on d4, where White no longer has a pawn on the e-file to claim the center, etc. Yet, there are a few slight differences. The most alarming is probably the Knights. The White Knight is usually on f3 instead of e2 in lines of the QGD where White does not exchange on d5, and the Black Knight on c6 is usually on d7 in most lines of the QGD. So Black has to think about what differences might occur from this position compared to the QGD. The idea of blocking the IQP is still the same. The best blocker is the Knight. White should attack on the Kingside, especially if the Black Knight on f6 is moved to d5 to block the isolated Pawn. Black wants to reach an endgame and get pieces off the board, typical of the goal when opposing the IQP. A space advantage has less value with fewer pieces on the board, and an isolated pawn becomes weaker the closer you are to an endgame. The Knight being on c6 instead of d7 is actually a plus, as we will see in the game.

11.a3 Nd5

Using the idea that the g5-Bishop is hanging to block the pawn. Once White trades Bishops, the other Knight will back up the first one, allowing a Knight to block the IQP until White wants to trade a second set of minor pieces, which benefits Black.

12.Bxe7 Ncxe7 13.Qd3 b6

Opening a path for Black's problem piece.

14.Nxd5 Nxd5 15.Bxd5 Qxd5 16.Nf4 Qg5

Gaining a tempo on the Knight and not allowing White to advance the d-pawn to eliminate the weakness.

17.Qf3 Ba6

Better than the passive 17...Rb8 or the unnecessary 17...Bb7 18.Qxb7 Qxf4 where White invades on the 7th rank.

18.Rfd8 Rad8 19.Rac1 Rd7 20.Qe3 Bb7 21.Qe5



So since move 10, Black has achieved almost exactly what he wanted. Again, against the IQP, you want to eliminate the minor pieces. Black has gotten rid of three sets of minor pieces. If the heavy pieces can be eliminated, all the better, but the main goal is the minor pieces. He has threats against the White King that is tying the Knight down to the f4-square. Now we have what is the final critical position of the game. The Black Queen is under attack. What should Black do? Should he trade Queens on e5? Should he keep the Queens on the board and move away? Or does he protect the Queen?

21...h6!

The only move that gives Black a significant advantage. There is no reason to take the Queen on e5 and straighten out White's pawns unless there is an immediate tactical threat that either wins material for Black or else gains control of a critical square, like maybe an intrusion point on the second rank. Neither applies here, and so taking the Queen gives Black nothing. Also, there is no reason to try to hold on to the queen. Going to g4 just puts the queen in a vulnerable spot and White will soon be able to gain another tempo, and there is clearly no reason to go passive with the Queen to a square like e7. There are a couple of added bonuses to the pawn move. It opens up a flight square for the Black king, and so there are no back rank threats. In addition, if White trades queens on g5, then the knight will be forced to move to a passive square, as well as a light square, which gives the bishop the opportunity to trade itself for the last White minor piece.

22.Qxg5 hxg5 23.Ne2 Rfd8 24.Rc2 Ba6

This is going to remove the last set of minor pieces. White should maybe think about moving his knight and surrendering the d-pawn without trading the minor pieces as there is no real way to hold on to the pawn anyway.

25.Rcd2 Bxe2 26.Rxe2 Rxd4 27.Rxd4 Rxd4

Often times a pawn is not enough in a single rook endgame, but this one is pretty elementary as White has nothing for the pawn, and it's the Black rook that's about to become active.

28.f3 Kh7 29.Kf2 Kg6 30.Ke3 Rd5 31.Rc2 a5 32.a4 b5 33.b3 b4 34.Rd2 Rc5

Black was not quite ready to trade. If the Black King were one square closer to the action, he would trade here. Keep that in mind a few moves from now.

35.Rd6 Kf6 36.Rd2 Rc3+ 37.Rd3 Rc2 38.Rd2

What was this we said about the King being a square closer? Now we snap the rook!

38...Rxd2! 39.Kxd2 Ke5 40.Kd3 Kd5 41.g4 e5 42.Ke3 g6 43.Kd3 f5 44.Kd3 f5 44.Ke3 fxg4 45.fxg4 e4 0-1

The position is completely winning for Black and so White Resigned.


So what have we learned from the article and the game?
  • By playing multiple openings, we are forcing ourselves to always assess the position and look for the main features in the position and not just play moves out of habit because of the differences in the position.
  • By playing multiple openings, we become less predictable against local players that we play against regularly.
  • By selecting a second opening with many similarities to the other opening we play, many of the middle game ideas are the same, or at least similar. We saw here that many of the ideas in the lines of the Queen's Gambit Declined where White gets an IQP (usually lines where Black breaks with ...c5 rather than ...e5) also applied here. The blockade on the square in front of the IQP. The desire to trade minor pieces. Etc. Also, having the same problem piece, the light-squared bishop, allows us to use the ideas from the QGD to resolve our problem piece here. The control of e4 early on. So on and so forth. With all of these similarities, we are not having to re-invent the wheel. This conserves a lot of time on the clock.
  • Re-iterating the first bullet, despite all the similarities, there were just enough differences, namely the location of the White king's knight and the Black queen's knight, to force ourselves to reassess the position, which will help us in catching errors and/or traps in the opening by White, which will save you a lot of points. By not giving away free points to your opponent due to an opening blunder, he is forced to execute a higher quantity of accurate moves to win or draw, which in turn gives him more room to error and increases your own odds at the full point.
  • Lastly, on the flip side, do not try to play every opening under the sun, and do not try to match together openings that are so far apart like night and day. It results in you basically starting all over from square one. Having the ability to use ideas from another opening and applying it to the second opening you decide to learn cuts down tremendously on the necessary work while at the same time expands your knowledge of analyzing middle game structures and decision making at the board.


Til next time, good luck in your games.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Why Memorizing Openings Is Bad - Part 2

A couple of days prior, in Part 1 of this article, we saw a game in the Slav Defense where White deviated from the "main line" on move 8 with a sideline that was by no means "bad", but possibly not the "ultimate best move" for White. We saw immediately after the deviation that Black showed a complete lack of understanding of the opening and rather than continuing with the idea that his plan dictates, which White's move did nothing to stop, he proceeds to play not only a different move and completely drive off course from what his opening line dictated, but he actually proceeded to play a bad move that lead to a very bad version of another variation available to Black, and had he actually known the various opening ideas rather than memorized a limited number of lines, this would never have happened.

Well, now we are going to look at another game where once again, White will deviate from the "main line" on the 8th move, and here we will see Black proceed to do what White did in the previous game, where the use of comparison to similar systems will lead Black to a playable position. We will be looking at the game in full, and White does end up winning this game, but this only happened because of mistakes made later in the game. There are actually a number of errors made in this game, but Black made the final mistake and White ultimately won, but the main point of this article is to illustrate the correct way to deal with sidelines, as Black does here, rather than the wrong way, which is what we saw in Part 1. So without further ado, let's see the right way to handle early deviations.


Tuesday Night Action 47, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2069)
B: Mark Biernacki (2152)
King's Indian Defense, Gligoric Variation

1.d4 g6 2.e4 d6 3.c4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 Na6 7.Be3 e5



Via a slightly different move order than usual, but we are in a direct transposition to the Gligoric Variation of the King's Indian Defense, normally reached via 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 and now Black has a number of options, including 7...Ng4, 7...Nc6, 7...exd4, and the 7th move that would directly transpose to the game here, 7...Na6.

Well, after 7...Na6, the "main line" is by far 8.O-O, played 5 times as often as the move that White played in the game.

8.d5

So after 8.O-O, the main line runs 8...Ng4 9.Bg5 Qe8 (unlike in the 7...Ng4 line where 8.Bg5 is normally answered by 8...f6) 10.dxe5 dxe5 11.h3 where Black now have two legitimate choices played about equally as often, namely 11...f6 and 11...h6.

However, that is not what we have here. One must look at the consequences of what was actually played, and possibly compare it to other lines. One reason why 8.d5 might not be as popular is that if we compare this position to the Petrosian Variation of the King's Indian Defense.



This is the starting position of the Petrosian Variation, which is normally reached after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.d5. Here, it is Black to move, and one thing to recognize here is that Black has two main options along with some minor sidelines that aren't very good, but they are only not good if White actually knows what to do against them! Those two moves are 7...a5 and 7...Na6. Well, if you are a King's Indian player that plays 7...a5 against the Petrosian Variation, and you never bothered to look at all at the 7...Na6 variation, then you are out of luck, and you just wound up in the same situation as the Slav player back in part 1, where if he at least knew of the ideas of the Bishop Sacrifice line of the Slav, even if he never wants to actually play it straight up, he would at least have known how bad his move was. But here, after 7...Na6, White's best move is usually thought to be 8.Bg5, trying to slow down Black's Kingside attack, which is normally the entire idea behind the Petrosian Variation compared to the Mar Del Plata, that Black's dreams of a Kingside Pawn storm are put to bed. But just like how Black has committed to the 7...Na6 line, White has just as well committed to the 8.Be3 response, which again is not bad, but not thought of as being as strong as 8.Bg5. Against it, Black can play either 8...Ng4 9.Bg5 f6 (here ...f6 is right and not ...Qe8 in the similar line mentioned above where the difference is that White has committed to castling) or 8...Nc5, as played in the game.

So not only do we have a comparison of lines, but we actually have a direct transposition. If all Black did was memorize a single "main line" of the Gligoric, and a single "main line" against the Petrosian where that line happened to be the 7...a5 line, and a single "main line" against all other variations individually and not compare them with other lines that are similar, once again Black would be lost in a shuffle and not have any understanding of what he was doing. But in this game, Black recognizes that were are actually in a direct transposition to a sideline of the Petrosian Variation and no longer in a Gligoric King's Indian (I labelled it as a Gligoric King's Indian up top so as not to confuse people by the 7.Be3 move).

9.Nd2 a5

A very common idea in the Petrosian King's Indian. Black is looking to secure his outpost on c5 for the Knight by not allowing the move b4 by White. If White ever wants to play the move b4, it is going to take a long time to do it. If White ever plays the move a3, then Black can play a4 and put a permanent end to White's hopes of playing b4 as Black can take en passant. So, therefore, White would have to play b3 first, then a3, then make sure his Rook on a1 is guarded or moved, which either ties down the Queen or forces White to abandon the a-file, and only then play the move b4 to chase the Knight away after an exchange of a-pawns.

10.Qc2 c6

Another stereotype in the King's Indian that those that merely memorize would say is that Black should storm the Kingside, move his Knight from f6, and play ...f5. Black correctly recognizes here that we are not in a Mar Del Plata, and that we are also not in any line where White has committed his King to the Kingside. That is a very important factor in the King's Indian Defense. If you storm your Kingside pawns, and White King is not there, all you are doing is opening up your own King. If the White King is in the center or the Queenside, he will gladly welcome a stripping open of the Kingside, unlike if his own King is there, then White wants nothing to do with opening up the Kingside as Black has a space advantage on that side in the Mar Del Plata, and so all opening that side will do is help Black. Recognizing these factors and understanding the ideas behind the opening is far more crucial than memorizing reams of lines. The only things that need to be memorized are tactical blunders and to specifically avoid them. Things like playing X on move 14 of such-and-such an opening is bad because of this and that, leading to the loss of a pawn or the fatal weakening of a square. This is where memorization is important, where you actually understand why it is important to memorize that line, rather than just trying to be a walking encyclopedia.

11.h4

And low and behold, White tries to use the fact that he has not castled to start trying to soften Black's Kingside. Isn't Black glad he hasn't just opened his King up?

11...h5

Played to avoid the move h5 by White, which is the correct idea. But notice how playing f5 any time soon now would be a bad idea, and so Black proceeds to go after White's center and Queenside rather than trying to pawn storm the Kingside.

12.Nb3?

This is actually an error by White. Better is 12.f3 with a small advantage for White, but nothing that Black can't handle.



12...Na6

Black misses his chance at an advantage. After 12...Ncxe4! 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Bf5 15.Qf3, the Queen is misplaced, and after 15...a4!, Black is better after either 16.Nd2? a3 or the lesser evil for White which is 16.Bg5 Qb6 (White is OK after 16...f6 17.Bd2 axb3 18.Qxb3) 17.Nd2 a3 18.bxa3 e4 19.Qb3 Qxb3 20.Nxb3 Bc3+ 21.Bd2 Bxa1 22.Nxa1 Rxa3 23.Nc2 Rxa2 24.Ne3 Bc8.

13.f3

Better late than never!

13...a4 14.Nc1 a3 15.b3 Qa5 16.Qd2 cxd5 17.Nxd5

White could also opt to not trade Knights and Queens and play 17.cxd5, but it just felt like after 17...Bd7 and an eventual placement of a Black Rook on c8 that all the play is on the Queenside and in Black's favor. Here it is a matter of taste more than anything else, but I felt White would be better off with the pressure off of his King given that his King is in the center, which is a better spot for the King in an endgame, not in a position with a bunch of pieces still on the board.

17...Qxd2+ 18.Kxd2 Nxd5 19.cxd5



So let's take a look at the current position with Black to move:
  • The material is equal - Both sides have both their Rooks, both their Bishops, a Knight, and seven Pawns
  • Both sides have one minor piece impeding the connection of their Rooks. For White, it's the Knight on c1. For Black, it's the Bishop on c8.
  • Both sides have a good Bishop (the light-squared one for Black and the dark-squared one for White) and a bad Bishop (the dark-squared one for Black and the light-squared one for White).
  • White does have to watch for potential sacrifices on b3 if the a-pawn becomes unstoppable. Not an immediate threat by any means, but just something White has to be on the lookout for.

Overall, White is slightly better because his good Bishop has more scope than Black's and his bad Bishop is less bad than Black's, and White also threatens a positional idea here, which will cost Black time if he sees it.

19...Kh7?!

Black's idea is simple. He wants to play ...Bh6 and get rid of his bad Bishop. That said, the position is still closed in the center. Sure, both sides would love to get rid of their Bad Bishop, but for what is the question. Sure, it wouldn't be the end of the world if White was to trade light-squared Bishops. Same for Black trading dark-squared Bishops. But in this closed position, which piece do you really want? Let's just say that Black should probably have done something to hold on to his, like maybe 19...Nc7, with a playable position.

20.Bxa6!

White not only gets rid of his Bad Bishop, but with all the White pawns on light squares, it's not like the Black counterpart has the greatest of futures. But that Knight? White couldn't ask for a better thing than that Knight for his Bad Bishop. This is a very favorable trade for White and his advantage at this point is significant.

20...bxa6 21.Nd3 a5 22.Rhc1 Bd7 23.Rc7 Bb5 24.Rac1

At this point, gaining domination over the c-file is more important than preserving the Knight. If all minor pieces were traded off, White would be the side of choice 100 times out of 100.

24...Bh6 25.Rb7 Rab8 26.Rcc7 Bxe3+ 27.Kxe3 Kg7



28.g3

Here is where White starts playing a little too conservative. Yes, White is still completely winning, and there is nothing specifically "wrong" with the move 28.g3, but why not put Black out of his misery? After 28.Rxf7+ Rxf7 29.Rxb8, White is just winning. For some reason, I was fearing intrusion on the c-file or some eventual sacrifice on b3 when the a-pawn can't be stopped, but this was just a case of White seeing ghosts as none of that is going to happen here in this position.

28...Ba6 29.Ra7 Rb6 30.Rc6

Eventually, White does have to worry about the potential sacrifice on b3, particularly after the other Rook gets to b8, and so White puts an end to that idea once and for all. Black has no other choice than to trade Rooks here, and White will net a pawn when all is said and done.

30...Rxc6 31.dxc6 Bb5 32.Rxa5 Bxc6 33.Rxa3 Rc8 34.Nb4 Bb5 35.Nd5 Rc2

So suddenly, Black threatens mate. The good news for White is, while there is only one move, that move is still winning for him!

36.f4 exf4+



There are three ways to capture the Pawn. One wins, the other two draw. What's the right recapture for White?

37.Nxf4??

White did not play the right one. The winning line is 37.Kxf4!! Rf2+ 38.Ke3 and White is winning. 38...Re2+ or 38...Rg2 is answered by 39.Kf3 and other moves, like 38...Rb2, White simply moves his Rook with a move like 39.Ra7 and the Queenside passers are too much for Black.

37...Rc3+ 38.Kd4

This is White's only try if he wants to play for a win as he has no hiding place on the Kingside as the h3-square is light, which Black can attack with ...Bf1.

38...Rxg3 39.Ra7 Rf3??

The losing move, and this time, White doesn't look back. There were several ways to draw:
  1. 39...Kf8 40.Ra8+ Kg7 41.Ra7 is a simple repetition and White has nothing better.
  2. 39...Rg4 40.Ne6+ (40.a4 doesn't work here - 40...Bxa4! 41.Nxh5+ [Or 41.Ne6+ Kf6!!] 41.gxh5 42.bxa4 Rxh4 is no good for White) 40...Kf6 41.Nd8 Be8 is also equal.

40.a4! Bf1

The difference here is that after 40...Bxa4?, White has 41.Ne6+ and if 41...Kf6 here, then not 42.Nd8, but rather, 42.Ng5!!, which attacks the Rook with tempo and there is no time for the Bishop to cover the f-pawn.

41.Ne6+ Kh8 42.Nd8

With the Bishop not able to go to e8, this works, but even stronger was 42.Ng5!

42...Rd3+ 43.Kc4

White walks right into a discovery, but notice that there are no good discoveries for Black to play as he has no way to attack any of the White pieces with his Rook. The rest of the game is a matter of technique.

43...Rh3+ 44.Kb4 Rxh4 45.Nxf7+

All of the tactics work in White's favor here. His pawn capture is with check, Black's was not. The next move will be a discovered check, capturing a second pawn, and conveniently it covers White's e-pawn in the process. In the meantime, Black can't stop the Queenside Pawns. Black could safely resign here.

45...Kg7 46.Nxd6+ Kg8 47.a5 Rf4 48.a6 h4 49.Ra8+ Kg7 50.a7 h3 51.Rg8+ Kxg8 52.a8=Q+ Kg7 53.Qa7+ Kh6 54.Qe3 Kg5 55.Nf7+ Kg4 56.Ne5+ Kg5 57.Nxg6 1-0

Black had enough and threw in the towel.


So what we saw here may have been a very flawed game, particularly White's 12th and 37th moves along with Black's 19th and 39th moves, the last one being the straw that broke the Camel's back for Black. But what we did see here was common sense play by Black in the late opening and early middle game phases in response to a sideline played by White on the 8th move. Notice how many of Black's moves came via comparison to other lines of the King's Indian Defense, and technically, the game directly transposed from one line, the Gligoric Variation, into a completely different line, the Petrosian Variation, and how having the knowledge of various lines of the opening, even if they are lines that you may not normally play yourself, can be vital to getting out of the opening alive. In this case, playing the 7...Na6 line against the Gligoric Variation would specifically require you to know what to do in the 7...Na6 line of the Petrosian Variation, even if your normal line of play is the 7...a5 line, because of White's ability to play 8.d5 instead of 8.O-O. Nothing says that the main line is forced in all lines for White (or Black for that matter). If all you know are limited lines of an opening, and all you do is memorize them, you will easily end up lost before you've even played 10 moves in a chess game. By understanding the specifically ideas behind each of the lines, and by at least being familiar with the specific lines that you may not necessarily play, you can avoid the trap door of being clueless what to do when your opponent sidesteps the main line and either plays a sideline or even worse, transposes into a completely different variation.

So the next time that you decide to play a certain opening, don't just think that you can figure out one response to each of the main lines and call it a day. You need to spend the time to fully understand WHY it is the main line, what the consequences are of your opponent playing different lines than the main line, and at least be familiar with the other variations of the opening you play, even if it's not your specific line of choice. Nothing says you have to actually play those other lines. For example, in the Slav Defense, against the Central Variation, you can play 6...Nbd7 one-hundred percent of the time, and never play 6...e6 and the Bishop Sacrifice, but at least make yourself familiar with it so that when your opponent does something quirky or unusual, you don't walk right into something that is specifically meant to be avoided. The same can be said for almost any opening. A Nimzo-Indian player that plays 4...b6 or 4...c5 against 4.e3 should probably also know something about the 4...O-O line even if he never plays 4...O-O because many ideas and lines can overlap. The same can be said for a French player that plays 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 knowing something about the Winawer, a Najdorf player that normally plays 6...e5 against the English Attack knowing something about 6...e6 as well as many other lines lead to similar positions, etc. Studying an opening is not as simple as picking and choosing two or three lines and calling it a day. Fully understanding it to the point of understanding key strengths, weaknesses, and transpositional posibilities are just as important as knowing the specific line or lines that you yourself prefer to play.

This concludes this two part article on Why Memorizing Openings Is Bad. Till next time, hope everyone involved in the NC Closed plays well next weekend.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Fall 2018 CCCSA GM/IM Norm Invitational - Preview!

Author: Grant Oen, CCCSA Assistant Director

CCCSA's Eight Norm Tournament!



This Thanksgiving's GM/IM Norm Invitational will be the 8th in our series of norm invitational tournaments - we have hosted 5 of these events in 2018 alone!


These norm tournaments offer great opportunities for players to earn FIDE norms and titles - 20 norms and 10 titles have been earned at these events.  The format is a 9 game round robin (all-play-all) played at a FIDE time control of 90 minutes with 30 second increment.  The tournament lasts from Wednesday, November 21 through Sunday, November 25.


The tournament will take place at the Charlotte Chess Center's new location, and will have two 10-player sections, one for GM norms, and one for IM norms.  All norm hunters can earn their respective norms by earning a score of at least 6.5 out of 9.  There will also be a 6-round Junior Invitational tournament for players rated over 1900.


The 20 invited players include 3 GMs, 9 IMs, 6 FMs, and 2 NMs.  These players represent 8 federations (Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, India, Lithuania, Mexico, Spain, and the USA) and 9 states (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia).



Here are the players:


GM Section (GM norm = 6.5/9), Avg Rating 2445 FIDE, 2534 USCF



GM Tanguy Ringoir (Belgium, FIDE 2527, USCF 2604)

  • Wins over GMs Georgiev, Ganguly, Vaganian, Lenic, Najer, Durarbayli
  • Fourth highest rated player in Belgium
  • 2018 Maryland Blitz Champion and Maryland Action Champion
  • Represented Belgium at the 2012 and 2014 Chess Olympiads
  • Two time Belgian national champion
  • UMBC chess team member, represented UMBC at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship and National Final Four of College Chess
  • Earned his 3 GM norms in 3 different countries: Belgium, Spain, USA
  • Has 13 wins, 31 draws, and only 1 loss in previous CCCSA GM Norm Invitationals
  • This is GM Ringoir's 6th CCCSA Norm Invitational



GM Angel Arribas Lopez (Spain, FIDE 2480, USCF 2565)

  • Wins over GMs Smeets, Granda Zuniga, Fedorchuk, Fier, Landa, Dragun, Korneev, Ipatov, Anton Guijarro
  • 34th highest rated player in Spain
  • =1st at 2017 Philadelphia Open, =2nd at 2017 US Open
  • UT Dallas chess team member, represented UTD at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship and Texas Collegiate Superfinal
  • This is GM Arribas Lopez's 2nd CCCSA Norm Invitational






GM David Berczes (Hungary, FIDE 2480, USCF 2551)

  • Wins over GMs Le Quang Liem, Najer, Kuzubov, Robson, Baramidze, Fier, Macieja
  • 32nd highest rated player in Hungary
  • 5th place at the 2014 Millionaire Chess Open
  • Represented Hungary at the 2004 and 2006 World Youth U16 Chess Olympiads
  • UT Dallas chess team member, represented UTD at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship and National Final Four of College Chess
  • This is GM Berczes' 1st CCCSA Norm Invitational



IM Nicolas Checa (New York, FIDE 2495, USCF 2601)

  • Wins over GMs Smirin, Akobian, Sevian, Baryshpolets, Erenburg, Becerra, Macieja, Belous
  • Top rated 16-year old in the country, #3 quick rating under age 21 in the US, #4 blitz rating under age 21 in the US
  • Two GM norms and previous 2500+ FIDE rating, needs 1 more norm for GM title
  • 2018 New York State High School Champion
  • 2nd place, 2017 North American Junior U20 Championship
  • 2017 SuperNationals Blitz Co-Champion
  • Represented USA at the 2017 Match of the Millennials
  • This is IM Checa's 3rd CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his final GM norm and the GM title


IM Kassa Korley (Denmark, FIDE 2453, USCF 2547)


  • Kassa's Youtube Chess Channel
  • CCCSA Interview
  • Wins over GMs Ganguly, Timman, Dreev, Zherebukh, Shabalov, Bosiocic, Stripunsky, Mikhalevski
  • 12th highest rated player in Denmark
  • 1 GM norm, from Summer 2018 CCCSA Norm Invitational
  • Former Member, Carolina Cobras' US Chess League team
  • 2015 CCCSA Southeastern FIDE Champion
  • Earned all 3 IM norms in 3 weeks in the summer of 2014
  • This is IM Korley's 6th CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his second GM norm




IM Kevin Wang (Maryland, FIDE 2442, USCF 2527)
  • Wins over GMs Corrales, Jimenez, Pap, Friedel, Praggnanandhaa, Panchanathan, Gulko, Azarov
  • University of Chicago chess team member, represented U Chicago at Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship
  • Represented Maryland at the US Chess Denker Tournament of High School Champions
  • Represented USA at the World Youth Championship
  • Earned his final IM norm and rating at the Winter 2017 CCCSA Norm Invitational
  • This is IM Wang's 4th CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his first GM norm


IM Alexander Katz (New Jersey, FIDE 2419, USCF 2536)

  • Wins over GMs Kacheishvili, Belous, Jayaram, Kudrin, Jayaram, Ivanov, Smith
  • MIT student
  • Represented New Jersey at the US Chess Denker Tournament of High School Champions
  • 2014 North American Youth U18 Champion
  • This is IM Katz's 2nd CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his first GM norm



IM Brandon Jacobson (New Jersey, FIDE 2414, USCF 2536)


  • Wins over GM Hess, Khacheishvili, Khamrakulov, Gorovets, Nestorovic, Rohde, Boros
  • Top rated 14 year old in the US, #2 quick rating under age 16 in the US, #5 rated player under 16 in North and South America
  • 2016 US Chess Barber K-8 National Champion
  • Silver Medal, 2017 North American Youth U16 Championship (FM title)
  • Bronze Medal, 2014 North American Youth U12 Championship (CM Title)
  • Earned his first IM norm at Summer 2018 CCCSA IM Norm Invitational
  • Earned all 3 IM norms in one month (June 2018)
  • This is IM Jacobson's 5th CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his first GM norm


IM Joel Banawa (New York, FIDE 2388, USCF 2493)

  • Wins over GMs Sevian, Chirila, Jayaram, Leon Hoyos, Molner, Ruifeng Li, Sevillano
  • Two time Southern California State Champion and 2014 Arizona State Champion
  • This is IM Banawa's 2nd CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his first GM norm







IM-elect Tianqi Wang (Charlotte, North Carolina, FIDE 2354, USCF 2442)

  • CCCSA Instructor, CCCSA Interview
  • Wins over GMs Durarbayli, Benjamin, Kostronias, Barbosa, Shabalov, Perelshteyn
  • 4th highest rated player in North Carolina
  • Two time North Carolina State Champion
  • Represented North Carolina at US Chess Denker Tournament of High School Champions
  • Former member, Carolina Cobras US Chess League Team
  • Has won every major tournament in North Carolina, including the NC Open, NC Closed, NC K-12 Scholastic Championships
  • 3 IM norms, needs 2400 rating for IM title
  • Earned his first and third IM norms at CCCSA Norm Invitationals
  • This is NM Wang's 6th CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 for his first GM norm or 4.5/9 for his fourth IM norm




IM Section (IM norm = 6.5/9), Avg Rating 2311 FIDE, 2397 USCF


IM Titas Stremavicius (Lithuania, FIDE 2465, USCF 2508)

  • Wins over GMs Smirin, Sulskis, Arribas Lopez, Khachiyan, Kadric, Pichot
  • Fourth highest rated player in Lithuania
  • Represented Lithuania at the 2018 Chess Olympiad, where he earned his second GM norm
  • UT Dallas chess team member, represented UT Dallas at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship and Texas Collegiate SuperFinal
  • Earned 4 IM norms in 4 different countries: Lithuania, Latvia, Spain, and France
  • This is IM Stremavicius' 3rd CCCSA Norm Invitational



IM Rohan Ahuja (India, FIDE 2388, USCF 2454)



  • Wins over GMs Xu Jun, Semcesen, Batsiashvili, Kraai, Pain
  • 95th highest rated player in India
  • Three time Goa state champion (India)
  • Three time bronze medalist at the FIDE Continental ASEAN Youth Championships
  • UMBC chess team member, represented UMBC at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship
  • This is IM Ahuja's 2nd CCCSA Norm Invitational




IM Roberto Martin del Campo (Mexico, FIDE 2309, USCF 2412)

  • CCCSA Interview
  • Wins over GMs Becerra, Kudrin, Adly, Sisniega, Kudrin, Browne, Agdestein, Zapata, Dmitry Gurevich
  • Two draws with former World Champion GM Vishy Anand from the 1985 and 1987 FIDE World U20 Championships
  • Represented Mexico at 3 Olympiads, earning a Gold Medal in 1990
  • This is IM Del Campo's 7th CCCSA Norm Invitational




IM-elect Gauri Shankar (India, FIDE 2364, USCF 2439)


  • CCCSA Interview
  • Wins over GMs Lenderman, Barbosa, Amanov, Mitkov, Dmitry Gurevich
  • Eighth highest rated player in Illinois
  • 2000 Indian Under 7 National Champion
  • Three-time British Junior Champion
  • 2003 US K-12 G/10 and G/15 National Champion
  • 2006 US Junior Open National Champion
  • Earned 5 IM norms, the last one from the Spring 2017 CCCSA GM Norm Invitational
  • This is FM Shankar's 8th CCCSA Norm Invitational (he has played every invitational), and he will need 6.5/9 to earn his 6th IM norm



FM Andy Huang (Virginia, FIDE 2320, USCF 2347)

  • Wins over IMs Niemann, Enkhbat, Meyer, Santarius, Bonin
  • Fifth highest rated 14 year old in the US
  • 2018 US Chess Barber K-8 National Champion
  • Represented USA at the World Youth Championship
  • Attended CCCSA's 2017 Elite Chess Camp
  • This is FM Huang's 1st CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 to earn his 1st IM norm



NM Benjamin Moon (Georgia, FIDE 2277, USCF 2412)

  • CCCSA Interview
  • Wins over GMs Ipatov and Zapata, IMs Patel, Del Campo, Young, Cox, Ghatti
  • US Chess Senior Master, Life Master, Qualifies for FIDE Master title
  • Board 1, 2018 US Amateur Team National Champions
  • Former US Chess K-3 and K-6 Champion
  • Represented Georgia at the US Chess Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions
  • Fourth highest rated player in Georgia
  • #41 player under 21 in the US
  • This is NM Moon's 5th CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 to earn his 1st IM norm



FM Nikhil Kumar (Florida, FIDE 2277, USCF 2356)

  • CCCSA Interview
  • Wins over GMs Preotu, Paragua, Arribas Lopez, Sambuev, Glek, Rohde
  • #4 fourteen year old in the US
  • 2016 FIDE World Cadet U12 Chess Champion
  • 1 IM norm
  • This is FM Kumar's 2nd CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 to earn his 2nd IM norm





FM Aaron Jacobson (New York, FIDE 2256, USCF 2359)
  • Wins over GMs Ringoir, Kacheishvili, Khamrakulov, Rohde, Smith
  • #7 Quick rating under 21 in the US
  • USCF Original Life Master and Senior Master (2400+), FIDE Master
  • This is FM Jacobson's 2nd CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 to earn his 1st IM norm








FM Sahil Sinha (Virginia, FIDE 2233, USCF 2343)

  • Wins over IMs Balakrishnan, Enkhbat, Kavutskiy, Brodsky, Young, Tate
  • #16 eighteen year old in the US
  • This is FM Sinha's 3rd CCCSA Norm Invitational, and he will need 6.5/9 to earn his 1st IM norm





FM Aravind Kumar (New Jersey, FIDE 2217, USCF 2342)

  • Wins over IMs Ippolito, Sturt, Jacobson, Brodsky, Yedidia, Coleman, Sarkar, Ruiz, Niemann, Larson, Costigan, Vovsha
  • #11 sixteen year old in the US
  • Represented USA at the World Youth Championship
  • Gold medal, 2011 North American Youth U10 Championship (CM title)
  • Gold medal, 2012 Pan-American Youth U10 Championship (FM title)



We hope that you come by the Charlotte Chess Center to watch the event!  Daily spectator passes are $10, but all CCCSA members can come for free!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why Memorizing Openings Is Bad - Part 1

In this article and the next one that I publish, we will be looking at a couple of games where either a sideline or a "non-book move" is played fairly early on. Those of you that have been following my French Connection series will recall in Volume 9 (click here to go to it) that I talked about two garbage lines against the French Defense and the importance of having a clear understanding of the French in order to successfully defeat the garbage that was played, and that sheer memorization of all the main lines in the French would do you absolutely no good there, and it emphasized the importance of understanding the nuts and bolts of the opening. The importance of understanding all of the positional nuances and and things like strong points and weaknesses and being able to compare such items in the main lines to other sidelines and garbage lines.

Well, what we will be seeing here and in the next article will be two games where the main line was not played. Actually, in both cases, it was move 8 by White where the main line was avoided. Here, we will be looking at a line of the Slav Defense where White plays a side line on move 8 while the next article will feature a King's Indian Defense where White also deviates on move 8. The game I am going to cover here is more recent than the other one, but the reason I am covering this one first is that this one has a more obvious explanation behind what it was that Black did that was wrong. This will show why it is critical to know the other variations of the defense you are playing, even if you decide never to actually play them. The game that will be shown in the next article won't feature any blatant errors by Black in the opening moves unlike this game, and Black's mistakes are far more subtle in that game, and so rather than covering them chronologically, I decided to cover this one first as the concepts are far simpler to grasp and understand.

So with that said, let's take a look at the game played.


Tuesday Night Action 48, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2057)
B: Michael Kliber (2024)
Slav Defense

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5



What we see here is the starting point of one of the two main lines of the Slav Defense, known as the Central Variation. The other main line is the Dutch Variation, which is 6.e3. Then there is a fairly popular "sideline" (there's that word again!) in 6.Nh4, chasing after the Bishop pair early on at the cost of development. As you can see, a sideline is a sideline for a reason. In the case of 6.Nh4, it's White lag in development.

But anyway, Black has a couple of options here, and I want to delve into the line that Black did not play. The most popular response in this position today is indeed the move that was played in the game, but that was not the case some 20 years ago. Back 20 years ago, all the rage was in the Bishop Sacrifice line, which runs 6...e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.e4, which leads to the following position:



Now it is well known that 8...Bg6 is just outright bad here where Black's opening strategy has completely failed and he has nothing more than a cramped and prospectless position. This is why Black sacrifices a piece in this line, and it's always the Bishop, never the Knight. After 8...Bxe4! 9.fxe4 Nxe4 10.Bd2 Qxd4 11.Nxe4 Qxe4+ 12.Qe2 Bxd2+ 13.Kxd2 with a playable position for both sides. White has an extra piece while Black has three pawns. This position has been played numerous times, and was once upon a time the most popular and ultimate main line of the Central Variation. Its popularity has waned, and there is no need to go deeper in the theory of this line, but the important thing to get out of it is that this option for Black is clearly superior to playing 8...Bg6. We will see in a matter of moments why understanding this is so important despite the game not being played with this specific line.

6...Nbd7

This move has taken over as the main response to 6.Ne5.

7.Nxc4 Qc7

This is one of two lines Black can play. The other is 7...Nb6 8.Ne5 e6 (8...Nbd7? 9.Qb3! with advantage) 9.f3 Nfd7 10.a5 Nxe5 11.axb6 Nd7 12.e4 and now 12...Bg6 is correct as we have a completely different position that is not cramped for Black and he doesn't have the Knight on f6 to capture a second time on e4, and so here the retreat is correct when 13.bxa7 leads to a roughly level game.

8.f3!?

After the game, Black gave this speel about how White was supposed to play 8.g3 and how after 8...e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Bg2 f6 12.O-O Nc5 13.Ne3 Be6 14.b4 Rd8, we have this exciting position that is playable for both sides and White has options here where supposedly 15.Qb1 can lead to a very slight edge for White. Sure, this is main line theory, and all is well and good, but do you understand it? Do you have any idea why these moves are superior to the sidelines? If you don't, what good does this do you?

8...e6?

And already we see that Black simply doesn't "get it". Why did he play 7...Qc7 in the first place? To play 8...e5. So why did he not play 8...e5 here? Why 8...e6? That's something you will have to ask the player that played Black, but Black is at least "OK" after 8...e5 9.e4 dxe4. Neither side is specifically "better" here, but White threw out a sideline (8.f3 is a legitimate line - it's just not the ultimate "main line"), and Black responds with a clear sign that his prep was memorized and not understood.

9.e4!



Now let's look at this diagram compared to the one in the analysis of the Bishop Sacrifice line. Black's Bishop is not developed and not pinning the White Knight to the King, and so White has an extra piece controlling e4. Black's Queen is not on the semi-open file, pressuring d4, like she was in the Bishop Sacrifice line, and so White's center is completely intact. All of this makes the piece sacrifice impossible, and so White is going to gain a tempo on top of it while Black retreats his Bishop to g6, and we are going to see that Black will be virtually down a Bishop until it is too late, and by the time this Bishop is active and doing anything, Black will LITERALLY be down a Bishop! If Black had understood the Bishop Sacrifice line, even if he never decided to actually play it, he would have known how bad 8...e6 really was. It looked like such an innocent move, but it has already lead to a complete disaster for Black, not just a "slightly inferior" position compared to 8...e5, but again, a complete disaster.

Hopefully by now you see the extreme emphasis that I am putting on making sure that you understand the opening you are playing and not just memorizing it! Again, I refer back to The French Connection Volume 9 referenced and link provided above, where a clear explanation of what is going on and the reasoning behind all of Black's moves and the ability to compare and contrast to various main lines lead to successful execution by Black in both games. Now you are seeing what happens when you don't have this basic understanding, albeit with a different opening this time.

With White already having a significant advantage after 9 moves, for the rest of this article the emphasis will be on how to execute in a superior position.

9...Bg6 10.Be2

It makes no sense for White to get fancy here. Complete development and get castled. The best way to execute against a player that is "virtually" down a piece is to get all of your pieces in the game so that in the area of the board that matters, Black really will be down a piece. Given that White wants to keep the Black Bishop on g6 hemmed in, he won't move his e4- or f3-pawns, and White's play will clearly be on the Queenside.

10...Bb4

It's too late for pins like this one. White's ready to castle already and the damage is done in the center. Black should instead do everything he can to get the Bishop back in the game, and this starts with 10...e5. He still has to be able to move the Knight on f6, find a way to cover e6 so that he can advance the f-pawn, and then get the Bishop out via f7. This sounds like a four-move affair, but it really isn't and it will take a lot of prep to be able to execute. The first move, 10...e5, can be played right now and is indeed Black's best option in a bad position, but it's still going to be a while before all four moves can be executed, and in the mean time, White would be hitting hard on the light squares and doing what he can to control e6 to make that pawn advance a problem for Black. But without such an attempt by Black at activity, White can continue on his merry way, completing his development.

11.O-O O-O 12.Be3 Rfe8 13.Rc1 a6?

This move serves no purpose. Black getting in ...b5 without major consequences is a complete pipe dream. Black should gain some space and protect the Bishop with 13...a5, which we will see him play a mere two moves later, admitting that this move was a complete waste.



So now here is a critical concept that many amateurs find themselves walking right into a trap door. Normally, when you have a lead in development, you think it is time to blow open the position, and the move 14.d5 is one of those moves that just looks really tempting for White, especially with a White Rook on the same file as the Black Queen, potentially leading to explosive tactics that will go his way. The problem with that logic is the fact that Black is not BEHIND in development. He has just as many pieces developed as White does. The difference is that his pieces are POORLY PLACED! If White were to blow open the position, all it would do is bring pieces like the lousy Bishop on g6 back to life! So White should not be tempted into such a bad move like 14.d5. If Black's Knight were still on b8, and Black's Bishop were still on c8, with the Rook buried in there on a8, only then are you looking to blow open the position for positional reasons. Otherwise, there must be concrete tactics to make this move valid.

So now that we have knocked out the idea of 14.d5, what should White do? Well, there are still pieces in White's camp that can be improved. The Bishop on e3 might look attractive, but it is really doing nothing. In addition, while ...b5 is bad for Black at the moment, White cannot consider his Knight on c4 completely stable, and he will want to be able to use the Knight in an attack at some point. However, the very moment that White moves his Knight on c4, the Bishop on e3 will be loose, and there could be potential tactics for Black given his Rook on e8, such as ...f5, which if White takes on f5, he will have problems on the e-file, and if he doesn't, the Bishop on g6 might become a "Born-Again Bishop". Therefore, the Bishop on e3 should be re-located. In addition, the Queen should get off of d1 as the f1-Rook belongs there since White is looking at a Queenside attack, leaving the Kingside as it is and doing little other than keeping it intact. So we want to re-route the e3-Bishop, move the Queen, and get our other Rook to d1. Once we do that, then we can start looking at going for the kill. It is not time for any kill yet, and so again, I want to re-iterate that 14.d5 is not a good move here.

14.Bf2

The Bishop is headed to g3 to combine with the Knight to dominate the weak d6-square.

14...Qd8 15.Qb3

If we are looking to relocate the Queen, not being 100% sure specifically where to, why not gain a tempo while we are at it?

15...a5

Basically admitting his error on move 13.

16.Rfd1 Qe7

Once again, Black did not like having his Queen be on the same file as the White Rook, but there is a major problem with the move Black just played, and 16...Qb8 was to be preferred.



White has a move here that leads to a winning position. He does not win any material, or at least not yet, but it's a positional idea that wins for White. Do you see the move?

17.Na2!!

Often times, moves that involve either retreating or bringing a Knight to the edge of the board, let alone both in this case, can be very hard to spot. However, Black's last move blocked the Bishop's escape. Prior to now, any Na2 move could be answered by ...Be7 or ...Bf8 and the Knight would just look silly on a2. But now, with the Black Queen blocking the way, Black has no way to avoid having to part with the Bishop for the White Knight, and this is just the piece that White wanted eliminated. He has the light-squared blockade hemming in the Bishop on g6 and making the Knight on f6 somewhat ineffective as well, and so that leaves the dark squares for the White pieces, and for White to have an uncontested Dark-Squared Bishop is fatal to Black, and he is complete busted at this point.

17...c5 18.Nxb4 cxb4

Sadly, Black has to take this way and can't at least open up his Rook on a8 as 18...axb4 19.dxc5 Nxc5 20.Qxb4 nets White a pawn.

Now, in addition to White having total domination on the dark squares, he also has a clean 5-on-4 Kingside majority while Black has a crippled majority on the Queenside, yet a third feature on the board that is adventageous for White (to go along with the out of play Bishop on g6 and the dark-square domination).

19.Bg3 Nh5 20.Bd6 Qg5



21.Qe3!

When you have a winning position, there is no need to always think that you have to go after the King. This move takes the life completely out of Black's position. The a8-Rook, e8-Rook, d7-Knight, and g6-Bishop are virtually doing nothing. The Queen on b3 was not ideally placed at this point as she did her job on b3, getting Black to hem in his own Bishop with pawn moves and the Queen move to e7. Now there are better things for the White Queen to do, and here, it is to trade itself off for what amounts to be the only Black piece that is actually doing something. Black was getting ready to play something like 21...Nf4, forcing White to either give back his dominant dark-squared Bishop, or else play passively and doing something like placing the Light-Squared Bishop on f1 to stop the mate threat. White wants nothing to do with such shenanigans that give Black even a glimmer of hope of coming back to life. This move is a cease and desist order on Black.

21...Qxe3+

This move was forced, which is once again, unfortunate for Black! 21...Qf6 22.g4 traps the Knight while if Black plays 21...Qd8, now is the time to release the Bishop with 22.e5! as the Bishop still has no life and no real entry points into the White position, and the problem is now shifted to the Black Knight on h5 which is about to be trapped, and so Black was forced to trade Queens, and it gets the White Knight out of the way so that the raking Bishops and Rook can intrude into Black's position while he STILL has that lifeless Bishop on g6.

22.Nxe3 Nb6

This move is no good, but it's hard to recommend anything better as the pin after 23.Bb5 is just as unpleasant for Black.

23.Bb5 f5

Black finally gets around to getting his Bishop out of the cage, but it's too little, too late, for any of this to work.

24.Bc7!

White has absolutely no interest in trading his dominant Bishop on b5 for the passive Rook on a8. You might be asking yourself "Aren't you taking the Rook on e8?", but you have to think of the resulting position. If you take on e8, Black is going to take back with the Rook, and what you have is basically a position where you just yank the b5-Bishop and a8-Rook off the board and there is your resulting position, and so what you really did was give up the beautiful Bishop on b5 for the piece of junk on a8. The move played in the game is better, where Black can tie himself up even further with a move like 24...Nc8, or else drop a full piece rather than an exchange.

24...Re7

Black decided to hold on to the Rook and jettison the Knight. The problem here is, White still maintains his raking Bishops, and now he's up a full piece as well.

25.Bxb6 fxe4 26.Rc7

Eliminating all useful Black pieces and not worrying about pawn recaptures at this point.

26...Rxc7 27.Bxc7 exf3 28.gxf3

Only now does White take back, mainly to avoid any annoying tactics, but even here it wasn't completely necessary, but pretty much no matter what White does here outside of something completely off the wall stupid, he will win this game.

28...Nf6 29.d5

Being up material, White is out to get more stuff off the board! Black can't afford to let White advance the pawn to d6. Therefore, the capture is forced.

29...exd5 30.Nxd5 Bc2

All this move does is allow White to force the Knights and the Rooks off the board.

31.Nxf6+ gxf6 32.Rd8+ 1-0

Black threw in the towel as after the Rook trade, the a5-Pawn is going to be the next to fall and the endgame with the extra Bishop is a cake walk for White.

So what we saw here was a case of total domination through the use of positional understanding. White played a sideline against the Slav Defense, and Black, who relied on the memorizing of the main lines, plays a horrible move on move 8 due to lack of positional understanding of what was going on in the opening. After that, White takes full advantage of the situation via the following:

  • Knowing which side to attack, namely the Queenside as he used his e4-f3-g2 pawn chain as a cage to the Black pieces on the Kingside, and so not wanting to break that cage, he executes his attack on the Queenside. The fact that a couple of pawns and no pieces were needed to tie Black down played a major role in the form of giving White a "Local Piece Superiority" on the Queenside.
  • Avoiding Temptation! This is a critical concept in chess. In this case, the move 14.d5 is the move that is screaming "Play me! Play me!" in the head of White, and White was correct not to listen to those pesky creatures and recognizing that being poorly developed is not the same as being undeveloped, and that sometimes, busting a position open might do nothing more than turn a poorly developed army into a well-developed army, and White was correct in not allowing that for Black.
  • By paying very close attention to detail and playing moves to entice Black to enclose his own Dark-Squared Bishop, White immediately attacked the Bishop on b4 with his Knight the very moment that the Bishop could not escape, and not a move sooner. Seeing as that White's barricade was a light-squared pawn chain, domination on the dark squares is just what White's position called for, and what better way to do it than to force Black to give up his Dark-Squared Bishop for a Knight!
  • Another important concept to get out of this is that when you have a winning advantage, not all winning advantages come in the form of an attack on the King. The other type of winning advantage is a technically won endgame. The only piece of Black's that had sprung to life was his Queen, and White put the kibosh on it immediately with the strong move 21.Qe3!, and with the raking Bishops, the better Knight, along with the Rooks already being on the two files that they belonged on, it was a no-brainer for White to remove the Queens off the board and use the technically won endgame as his route to victory instead of a direct attack at the Black King.

This concludes part 1 of showing why positional understanding, even in the opening, is more crucial than memorizing lines. Next time, we will cover the second half of this topic with a game where Black's mistakes are a lot more subtle, and what we will see is more along the lines of what should actually happen in a game when one side doesn't follow the main line, and the errors made in that game won't be because of the opening moves themselves, but rather later on in the game, where emphasis will be more on how to handle areas of confusion in the middle game as a result of one side playing a sideline rather than the total domination we saw here due to an immediate reaction in the opening that was outright terrible. Until then, good luck in all of your games!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Game Analysis: Balancing Attack and Defense

Do you ever wonder why many GMs always seem to find these eye-popping attacks that work, but you try to do the same thing and it blows up in your face? Was there this miracle defense that you overlooked? Was there one move that was not check that actually allowed your opponent to mate your King in a long serious of continuous checks? The next time that you think about "going for it", did you shy away from it because of your past experiences, just to find out afterwards via artificial intelligence that this one would have actually worked? Did that shying away turn a win into a draw, or even worse, a lengthy downhill plunge into a loss?

The game that we are going to look at today shows a combination of positional ideas and tactical combinations where White will gain a winning advantage after failure by Black to properly judge whether to sit back and defend or try to counter-attack White, turning a "+1" position into a "+4" position for White. This "winning position" will not be followed up with the "best move" every time, and quite frankly, there is no reason to feel like one must find the best move every time. We will see White being a little overly cautious, but not to the extent that he just gives up on the attack and allows Black to come back and draw the game. The thing to keep in mind is that the main goal is to win the game, and the key is never to give Black the opportunity to come back and equalize the position, but whether the position is +7 or +3, and whether you win the game in 8 more moves or 14 more moves is 100% irrelevant. The way to judge whether you conducted a successful attack is by determining, once you have achieved a winning position, did you ever allow the game to return to equal or "a slight advantage for White"? If not, you conducted a successful attack. If so, your attack failed, regardless of whether you ultimately won the game or not.

Let's take a look at the game where we are going to see White reach a winning position, and once it's reached, it is never given up, despite not playing the best computer move every time.

NOTE: The player playing Black is a different "Andrew Jiang", from Georgia, and not the local player form North Carolina


Washington Chess Congress, Round 4
W: Patrick McCartney (2069)
B: Andrew Jiang (1765)
Owen's Defense

1.Nf3 b6 2.e4 Bb7 3.Nc3 d6

While this is not an opening article, I will point out here that this move is not good. It severely weakens the light squares. If you think about various hypermodern defenses where Black fianchettos a Bishop rather than fighting for the center via central pawn advancement, you will notice that the first two pawns advanced are typically three files apart. This is not a coincidence! If you take the starting position of the eight pawns, and observe any two that are three squares apart, you will notice that they reside on opposite colored squares, releasing opposite colored diagonals for the two Bishops. The Knights and the Queen have multiple ways out, and the Rooks are the last pieces developed in most cases, and so the initial advancement of the pawns requires diagonals of both colors to be opened in order to properly develop all of your pieces. This is why you see the d-pawn and g-pawn advanced in the Pirc, King's Indian, Grunfeld, and Benoni lines while you see the e-pawn and b-pawn advanced early in the Nimzo-Indian, Queen's Indian, English Defense, and Owen's Defense.

The move played weakens the light squares and overloads the dark squares with pawns and does nothing to help the Dark-Squared Bishop get out.

Instead, Black should play 3...e6, intending something like ...Nf6 along with ...Be7 or ...Bb4, a lot depending on how White responds. For example, if White plays d4, the Bishop may be best placed on b4 while if White develops his Kingside first and castles, holding off on d4, then the Bishop is probably best placed on e7.

4.d4 Nf6 5.Bc4


Did White just drop a pawn?


5...e6

Already we see one problem with having played 3...d6 instead of 3...e6. Had Black played 3...e6, White's 5th move would not be possible and he'd have to defend the e4-pawn. However, here, taking the e-pawn is a tactical blunder. After 5...Nxe4?? 6.Nxe4 Bxe4 7.Bxf7+! Kxf7 8.Ng5+ and 9.Nxe4 and already White has a winning position. No material was gained, but Black is positionally busted already here!

After 5...e6, we see another problem with 3...d6. The Bishop on g7 is severely limited. It can no longer go to b4, and has to resort to the passive e7-square. This gives White a free hand at the center.

6.Qe2 Be7 7.d5 e5?!



Black should trade on d5 and then immediately castle to get out of the pin. After 7...exd5 8.exd5 O-O, White has a slight advantage due to the space advantage, but Black eliminates a White central pawn.

The other aspect of the position is a positional idea that favors White due to a tactical solution. We see that both sides have a bad Bishop. White's Light-Squared Bishop and Black's Dark-Squared Bishop. While it is going to be difficult for Black to solve his problem, which will be seen by the fact that the final position still features the bad Bishop for Black, the fact that White does not have to respond to Black's move since it doesn't involve a need to recapture, and since the Black King still sits on e8, White has a tactical way to eliminate his worst piece, and how Black responds will lead to another positional weakness for Black.

8.Bb5+ c6

This will lead to a major positional weakness for Black. Do you see what that weakness will be? Other moves don't help. If 8...Nbd7 or 8...Nfd7, White should not be quick to trade off the bad Bishop for the Knight. Instead, 9.a4 and if Black plays 9...a6 (here or later on), White should retreat the Bishop to d3. Yes, he keeps his "bad Bishop", but Black has weakened his queenside structure. He has to watch out for a6, keeping the Bishop and Rook immobile. b6 is weakened, and if he ever tries to undermine with ...c6, then the b6-square will be very weak.

9.dxc6 Bxc6 10.Bg5!

When trying to figure out Black's weakness after 8...c6, did you consider this move? White did not want to trade his Light-Squared Bishop for a Knight because the Black counterpart would be too strong, but when you consider the opponent's bad Bishop, in this case the Dark-Squared Bishop, it is often a good idea to trade your own "good" bishop for a Knight in closed positions as it leads often to the "Good Knight" (hint hint about Black's weakness achieved from his 8th move) versus Bad Bishop scenario.

10...O-O 11.Bxc6 Nxc6 12.Bxf6! Bxf6 13.Nd5

And now we see what White was after following Black's 8th move. This is the classic pipe-dream scenario in closed positions. Open up an outpost, which White did on move 9, and then trade away both of your Bishops. The Bishop that is the same color as the outpost needs to be traded for the opposing Bishop, and the Bishop on the color opposite that of the outpost needs to be traded for a Knight, leaving White a "piece up" from the aspect of being about to control the outpost, in this case, d5. Both of White's Knights can get to d5 at some point. The Black Bishop will never be able to contest the d5-square because it's the wrong color Bishop. In addition, because of the Black pawn on d6, it's a lot harder for Black to counter the d5-square with his heavy pieces. White can use the semi-open d-file. White has a significant advantage here.

13...g6 14.c3

And here is the first example of where a move does not need to match the computer's "top choice" to be classified as a good move. Does the move lower the general assessment? After Black's 13th move, the position is "+/-" (Clear advantage for White). After White's 14th move, it's still "+/-". The fact that it's a small fraction lower does not make the move bad.

White's idea is simple. It has to do with timing. Black has no good way to contest the d5-square anyway, and so White takes two key squares away from the c6-Knight, namely b4, and more importantly, d4, since it would plug up the file and stop White from using the heavy pieces to continue to control d5 and attack d6. If Black tries to play 14...Ne7, the Bishop hangs, and if it didn't hang, a move like 15.Rd1 or 15.O-O-O continues to dominate d5. The one thing White must make sure about is that Black is never able to trade on d5 in such a way that White would be forced to re-capture with the e-pawn. White can exit the outpost as long as Black can't respond with ...d5 successfully, maintaining the backwards pawn and the "cavity" on d5. If Black can trade on d5 in a way that forces White to take with the pawn, that White pawn on d5, which shields the weak d6-pawn, would be the equivalent to being a "filling" for the cavity on d5. We are here to brutally attack the Black King, not to serve as his dentist!

14...Bg7 15.h4

And now White proceeds to play the move that artificial intelligence wanted White to play the previous move. The idea is simple. The move 13...g6 created a hook for White. The fact that White has not castled serves in his best interest as the Rook on h1 will be very strong if Black allows 16.h5, and so his next move is virtually forced.

15...h5 16.Rd1

There is always the question here, 16.Rd1 or 16.O-O-O? It turns out both moves are fine. But White has to make that ultimate decision now as there is no other waiting move to get more information. The Rook needs to go to d1, and so White must decide now whether he wants the King on the Queenside or in the Center. The odds of White ever castling Kingside is very slim in this position.

16...Qd7



So here we have a critical moment. White wants to attack the weak d6 pawn. White also has to watch out for desperation counter-attacks by Black with moves like ...Qg4. In order to get at d6, White will eventually have to move the Knight, presumably to e3. White will also need to relocate his Queen as it is misplaced on e2 at the moment as there is no pressure on e4 like there was in the opening phase of the game. Which should White do first?

17.Qb5

White brings the Queen out first! To figure out whether or not this is successful versus 17.Ne3, a few things must be factored in.

First, what does 17.Qb5 do for White? Well, it continues, for now, to prevent Black from contesting d5 with the Knight as the Knight is pinning to the Queen, and so 17...Ne7 is impossible. It also brings the Queen closer to a square that is closer to the weak d6 pawn, where ultimately, the Queen will likely go to d5, or in some cases, b4 if the Knight eventually moves. Note that 17.Qd3 would immediately hit the d-pawn once the Knight moves, but it does not tie down the Black Knight like 17.Qb5 does. Also, it is hard to harass the Queen as advancing the a-pawn weakens the Queenside pawns.

On the flip side, what does moving the Queen away cost White? Does Black have anything that causes a major problem? The only move that could possibly make 17.Qb5 bad is 17...Qg4, hitting both e4 and g2. Let's say White grabs the loose Knight with 18.Qxc6. Does Black have a counter that makes this bad? Well, we can immediately rule out 18...Qxg2 as the move 19.Ke2 protects both the Knight and the Rook (via the Rook on d1). That leaves 18...Qxe4+. Can White get out of this and maintain a winning position. It turns out there are two ways for White to do it:
  1. 19.Kf1 Qc2 20.Ne7+ Kh8 21.Qxd6 Rae8 (21...Rad8 loses to 22.Qxd8 Rxd8 23.Rxd8+ and now 23...Kh7 24.Ng5+ Kh6 25.Ng8 is mate while 23...Bf8 24.Rxf8 Kg7 25.Rg8+ Kf6 26.Nd5+ Ke6 27.Rd8 and White can answer any back rank check with Ne1, giving White two Rooks and two Knights for the Queen) 22.Kg1 and now 22...Rxe7 fails to 23.Rd2 Qb1+ 24.Kh2 Qf6 25.Qxe7 while 22...Qxb2 23.Ng5 Qxa2 24.Rh3 Qc2 25.Re1 sees Black getting only two pawns for the piece.
  2. 19.Kd2 also works. After 19...Bh6+ 20.Ng5 Bxg5+ 21.hxg5 Qxg2 22.Rhg1 followed by 23.Qxd6 and White is winning.

Therefore, there is no need to allow 17...Ne7 by playing 17.Ne3 right away, and 17.Qb5 is therefore the better move here.

17...Kh8 18.Ne3 Rac8 19.Qd5

Once again, White doesn't play the top choices by artificial intelligence, but the advantage still remains for White because this move also has a specific point. Of course, the immediate 19...Ne7 drops the d-pawn, and after the game move, the f-pawn pawn is weakened, and so once again, just because it's not the top move doesn't make it a bad move as long as there is a specific point behind the move played, and we will see that White attacks both weaknesses for Black, namely d6 and f7.

19...Rfd8

Adding defense to one weakness (d6), but further weakening the other (f7).

20.Ng5 Rc7 21.Nc4



So here is a defensive test for Black. What is Black's best move here? Should he sit back and defend? Or should he try to counter-attack White's weaknesses?

21...Qg4?

This is the wrong answer. Black had to acknowledge that he is losing a pawn as the pressure is too much, and solidify his position. Theoretically, Black will still be lost, but the only way to force White to prove himself and give White any difficulty in winning the game, he needed to play 21...Bf8 22.Rh3 Qe8 23.Rf3 Rdd7 24.Rf6 Kg7 25.Nxd6 Bxd6 26.Rxd6 Rxd6 27.Qxd6 Re7 where the assessment teeters between White having a significant advantage and White winning, but White still has a lot of work to do as all he has here is an extra pawn in the form of a queenside majority and neither King is exactly safe.

The move played in the game leads to disaster.

22.Nxd6 Qxg2 23.Rf1

And here we have another example where White exercises more caution than necessary, but in no way does he allow Black to come back. As long as he doesn't overdo the defense to the point that Black is able to come back, there is no real issue in not finding the computer move that leads to all the fireworks. 23.Ngxf7+ Rxf7 24.Nxf7+ Kh7 25.Nxd8 Ne7 26.Qd3 Qxh1+ 27.Ke2 Qxh4 28.Qf3 is the line the computer gives with a +5 position for White whereas the move played only leads to a +1.9 position after 23...Rf8 24.Qc4, but in either case, White is clearly winning, and so this is not the time to think that you screwed up simply because your moves don't match that of Carlsen or artificial intelligence. The important thing is that Black is still not surviving! Of course, Black doesn't play 23...Rf8 here, and so his position will end up just as bad as it was in the computer line.

23...Kg8 24.Ngxf7 Rxf7 25.Qxf7+ Kh7 26.Qc4

Once again, White doesn't play the "computer line" of 26.Qc7 Rxd6 27.Rxd6 Qxe4+ 28.Kd2 Qf4+ 29.Kd1 Qa4+ 30.b3 Qxa2 31.Qxc6 and yes, the White King squirms around a little and White ultimately wins, but again, humans are not computers, and if you find a winning line, like what White played here, why kick yourself for not finding the computer move? Again, as long as your move continues to be winning, and not "slightly better" or "equal", there is nothing ultimately wrong with the move played.

The rest of the game is a matter of technique, and Black puts up little to no resistence.

26...Na5 27.Qe2 Bf8 28.Nf7 Rxd1+ 29.Kxd1 Bg7 30.Ng5+ Kg8 31.Kc2 Bf6 32.Nf3 Qg4 33.Rg1 Qe6 1-0

And here, Black resigned during White's 34th move. The game would likely continue 34.Rxg6+ Kf8 (34...Kf7 or 34...Kh7 drops the Queen to 35.Ng5+ while 34...Kh8 allows mate in 7 starting with 35.Qd2 or 35.Qe3) 35.Ng5 and now 35...Qc6 allows 36.Qxh5 while 35...Qxa2 allows 36.Rxf6+ Ke7 37.Rf7+ and Black must either give up his Queen or else go to a square that allows White to check with the Queen and once the Queen gets in the game, it's over for Black.


So what we saw here was a well-conducted attack by White that maybe didn't match the level of magic that Rubinstein showed in 1907 against Rotlewi or Carlsen showed in the final playoff game against Karjakin with the Queen Sacrifice, but White was able to maintain the more sensible opening play, kept the big advantage in the early middle game, and maintained a winning position throughout the second half of the game. If you are able to do this, you should consider your game a success. In the digital era, there are way too many players, especially younger players, that rely way too much on artificial intelligence. Many of them try to use artificial intelligence as their only form of studying, which typically fails, and judges most of their moves solely on whether artificial intelligence agrees or not, and if it's not the top choice given by the machine, they often think they failed, and that is not the case.

The game shown above should not be confused with games where the assessment constantly bounces back and forth from +/= to -/+ to +- to =/+ to +/- to a win for White. You win a game like that and yes, you did indeed win a game that was not played well at all, but what is often missed is this fine line in between. Not all games played fall in the category of "computer perfection" or "sloppy". There is a very wide area in between, and a large portion of that area can still be deemed a "successful attack". This game featured a successful attack by White and failed defense by Black, particularly at move 21 after the bad opening play. The difference between a GM and an Amateur is not GMs find the fireworks and amateurs don't. The games with fireworks are the ones that hit the books. For every one of those, the GMs have played and won numerous games without fireworks. The real difference is that GMs are able to execute successful attacks like this one on a consistent basis whereas an amateur will often follow up the strong play by White in this game with a complete dud, whether it be the very next game he plays, or some upcoming game in the near future.

The moral of the story is that working on your game and looking for consistency is far more important than wasting your time looking for glorified fireworks. If they pop up, great, but they are not the only good moves that can be played on the chess board.

Until next time, good luck in your tournament games.