Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sometimes I Hate Computers

Wednesday night I played in a match in the Chicago Industrial Chess League where I thought I had successfully refuted my opponent's novel opening strategy. As I played, I was thinking about the instructional value of the game and the interesting post I would write for this blog. When I got home and ran the game through Fritz, I was sadly surprised to find that there was a big hole in my refutation. Moreover, the cute little tactic I found to reach an ending with an extra pawn was much less impressive given that I didn't find the fairly obvious tactic to win a bishop and rip the game wide open.

I decided to post the game anyway figuring its instructional value is the warning not to be overly confident that you have seen all there is to see in a position.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Prospect Upsets Buffalo Grove's by Virtue of Correct Priorities

Prospect dealt Buffalo Grove its second defeat of the season yesterday after several BG players including top board Matt Wilber inexplicably decided to compete for the school's math team in Libertyville rather than its chess team in Mount Prospect. Prospect's mathletes were not forced to make such a choice as its math competition was just a couple of miles away at Hersey, although I am confident that they would have made the right choice had they been forced to do so.

1st Board: The Sicilian Dragon

As I pointed out last week, players usually have to balance the need to thwart their opponent's plans with their desire to pursue their own. Sometimes, however, when the players castle on opposite sides of the board and race to attack their opponent's king, neither side can afford the time for defensive moves. Such games often end with one of the players being checkmated in spectacular fashion. Few openings lead to such games as frequently as the Sicilian Dragon that BG's Andrey Puzanov played against Prospect's Robert Moskwa on 1st Board.

I have always loved the Dragon, and though I no longer play it in tournaments, I still resort to it regularly when playing on the internet. When White plays the Yugoslav Attack, as Robert did, Black needs to remember a couple points: (1) If both sides advance their pawns, White has the advantage so Black needs to attack with his pieces, and (2) Black must be prepared to sacrifice the exchange with ...Rxc3 in order to create weaknesses that his pieces can exploit. Unfortunately, Andrey's pawn storm proved too slow.

2nd Board: When to Agree to a Draw

Most high school players never resign no matter how hopeless their position. On one hand, I can appreciate the logic. Even if there is no rational expectation of winning, there is nothing to lose by playing the game out on the outside chance that an opponent will blunder and allow a stalemate.

On the other hand, there are situations in which playing a game out is a mistake. Sometimes, a position is so evenly balanced that neither player can reasonably expect to create winning chances without taking unnecessary risks. In such cases, the reasonable course is to agree a draw rather than giving one’s opponent the opportunity to win. On 2nd Board, Prospect’s Mike Zwolenik blundered a pawn in the opening but got it back when BG’s Ryan McGonagle missed a tactic in the middle game. In the resulting ending, both players had very solid positions that were evenly balanced. An agreed draw would have been a very reasonable outcome. Instead, Ryan tried to create imbalances which gave Mike the chance to win.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Format

I am experimenting with a new template for the blog due to the new javascript playable board that I am using. By widening the column for the post, I can put the board and comments side by side making it easier to follow the comments and the game on the board at the same time. Comments and questions are welcome.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Playing Serious Chess

When I got to high school, I looked forward to joining the chess club. I had grown up playing against my older brothers and I thought that I was a pretty decent player. In my first couple visits, however, I was crushed in every game I played. I didn’t go back for the rest of my freshman year.

During the summer before my sophomore year, America’s Bobby Fischer beat Russia’s Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship. For one brief shining moment, chess was cool and hip. A friend of mine got interested in the game and we spent the summer playing chess and following the match. In the fall, we both joined the chess club and eventually worked our way up to 3rd and 4th boards.

I think a lot of the players who come to Prospect High School's chess club are like I was. They have played the game casually for a few years and they have a decent eye for tactics, but they have never thought about most of the things that serious players need to think about. They don’t think about controlling the center developing all their pieces or getting their king to safety. Other than obvious direct threats, they don’t worry about what their opponent is trying to do to them. Perhaps more importantly, they only think hard about some of their moves. Most of the time, they just make the first move that comes into their heads.

I want to say up front that there is absolutely no reason that anyone should take chess more seriously. As far as I am concerned, all chess is good chess. If someone just wants to push the pieces around, that’s fine. That’s the kind of attitude I have towards golf. However, like me, some of these players might find that they might enjoy chess more if they took it a little more seriously and they enjoy out thinking their opponents.

I wanted to get that all out in the open before I take a look at a couple of the games from the lower boards in Prospect’s match against Rolling Meadows because I cannot help but point out a lot of poor moves. I hope the players won’t take anything I say as a character judgment. I just want to point out the kind of things that they might want to think about if they would like to improve their play.

One of the most important things that the serious player does is to work hard on every move. In many games and sports, it is possible to come back after a lapse in concentration because every point is independent, however, in chess a single oversight can so ruin a position, that chances of recovery are almost non-existent. I often find that casual players are capable of solving a complicated problem when they think it through, but too often they play the first move that occurs to them only to be surprised by their opponent’s response. Serious players think about their opponent’s threats and potential responses on every move.

Respecting Pawns.

One thing I have been noticing a lot this year is a lack of respect for pawns. Most high school games are decided by one of the players overlooking a tactic and dropping a piece so it may be natural to think that pawns don’t matter much. However, in addition to having the potential to become queens, pawns control space, protect the king, and restrict the movements of an opponent’s pieces. They should always be treated with respect.

Neither Prospect’s Tom Hanley nor Meadows’ Daniel Rabbotini showed much respect for pawns in their game on 6th board. It was Tom’s first game in a match and he can feel good about the 3.5 points he got for a draw that provided Prospect’s margin of victory. On the other hand, had he been a little more parsimonious with his pawns, he could have brought home the full point. On the other hand, had Daniel realized the potential of his pawns he might have scored the win.

King Safety.

Another thing that distinguishes the serious player from the casual player is attention to king safety. The serious player takes precautions to protect his king from attack. This usually involves castling; however, castling alone is not enough. The serious player takes care to maintain the pawn cover for his castled king and brings pieces to help in the defense when necessary.

On 7th board, Prospect’s Alex Esau dropped a knight when he overlooked a tactic that many stronger players have missed. After that he castled, however, he castled to the side of the board where his opponent had more space and more pieces. This might not have been fatal though if he hadn’t invited in his opponent’s major pieces by opening the pawn cover in front of his king.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Whose Plans Matter?

To pursue your own plans or thwart your opponent's plans: that is the difficult question that comes up time and time again. Sometimes players ignore each others plans completely when they castle on opposite sides of the board and launch attacks against each other's kings because everything depends on who breaks through first. More commonly, however, the players must solve the problems their opponents are creating as well as create problems for their opponents to solve.

Before sending me his score from his game against Tom Chung in the Prospect-Rolling Meadows match, Robert Moskva wrote down what he was thinking at several points during the game. I found this very helpful as I usually have to guess at what might have been going through a player's mind. In the opening, Robert spent too much time defending against possibilities that were not very dangerous, but in the ending, he did a very good job of assessing which threats were worth worrying about.

My comments are in blue italics.

1.e4 c5 2.Bc4
This is a perfectly logical developing move, but it is rarely seen at the master level. In most cases, White would rather wait to see how Black develops before he decides where he wants this bishop. 2...Nc6 (2...e6 is more popular, but i wanted to play a solid, well thought-out game) My choice would have been 2...e6, but I like the thinking behind this move. Black isn't sure exactly how he wants to deploy his pawns, but he knows that he's going to want the knight here so he defers the decision about his pawns for a move. "Knights before bishops" is sometimes cited as a principle of opening development (although I don't think it qualifies as much more than a rule of thumb). I think the point is that the bishops have a lot more possible destinations, each of which requires a pawn move. Knights really only have two, so developing a knight first leaves more flexibility.

3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.0-0 e6
(blocked my bishop, but it shortens opponents bishop diagonal and I'm planning to play d5 at one point) Interesting thing about the blocked bishop: other than the Classical Variation of the Caro-Kann, I cannot think of any mainline openings in which Black's light squared bishop ventures out to f5 or g4. I'm not really sure why this is so. 6.d3 Be7 7.d4? (? because he wasted 2 moves for the same idea) 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4

Now we have reached an Open Sicilian where White has an advantage in space and easy development. As compensation Black has a very solid compact position, an extra central pawn, and the possibility of counterplay on the c-file. If White wants to make something of his advantages, he is almost obligated to launch an attack against the Black king. Black usually expands on the queen-side, often targeting White's pawns. Sicilian endgames tend to be good for Black. Timing can be crucial in the middle game though, so the fact that White spent two moves to get the pawn to d4 is a serious drawback.
8...0-0 9.Nf3?! By bringing the knight back to f3, White is signaling peaceful intentions. It would be hard for him to get an attack going without advancing his f-pawn. 9...h6 (Once again, he makes an odd move order, but I played h6 in order to stop any funky bishop or knight g5 stuff followed by maybe bxe6 and then Nxe6. So in a way, I'm proving his light square bishop a bit more useless) This is a bit too much precaution for my tastes. I don't think that Bg5 is that dangerous when Black has already played ...e6, ...Be7, and ...0-0. There is a little tactic Black should know about that sometimes wins a pawn against Bg5. 9...a6 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bh4 Nxe4!? 12.Bxe7 Nxc3 13.Bxd8 Nxd1. As far as Ng5 goes, if White had been thinking about Nxe6, he would have left the knight on d4. 10.Bb5 a6 11.Ba4

(I had to make a tough choice,did I want to win the pawn or not? I chose not to because my pawns would be very extended and my position would be slightly awkward, and from what I have realized I have a reputation for blowing good positions, so I played more solidly trying to prevent e5) Having played the Sicilian for years, I can say unequivocally that Black must be careful about trying to pick off the e-pawn this way. However, I would have gone for it for based on the following logic: (1) Black has developed reasonably in the usual Sicilian fashion; (2) White has lost time by using two moves to get his pawn to d4, moving his knight back to f3, and moving his light squared bishop three times. (3) If the Sicilian Defense is sound (which it undoubtedly is), Black should be able to take advantage of White's dilly-dallying. After 11...b5 12Bb3 b4 13 Ne2 Nxe4, Black's position is dominating.

It is not possible to calculate every possible line or visualize every possible position, particularly in shorter time controls. Therefore, a player has to factor in his assessment of the relative development when choosing between thwarting plans or pursuing. If he is confident that he has done a better job developing than his opponent, then the chances are that his own threats will be more dangerous and he shouldn't let them slip away.

12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Re1 d5 ( I finally allow the pawn push but in exchange He now has to worry about the pawn a little and the only truly open side for play is the queen side, which I have the advantage in) An accurate assessment and quite typical of the Open Sicilian. 14.e5 Nd7 15.b3 Bb7 16.Bb2 c5 (Now I decided I was defensively solid, so I'm trying to win his pawn/storm him with my pieces) I think Robert was defensively solid several moves ago and that he has let his opponent get more solid in the meantime. 17.Nb1 Nb6!?(Better was 17...Rfb8, should've kept some pressure on e5) I like the rook move, but I think this is fine, too. I don't think that pressure against e5 would really do much for Black as White has it more than adequately protected. 18.Nd2 c4?! A good idea but it gives White a lovely square for a knight or a bishop on d4. I think Black could have increased the pressure with 18...a5 or 18...Rc8. 19.Bd4 Rac8 Why not the other rook? 20.Qe2 cxb3(20....Nd7 21. c3)21.Bxb6?(why give it up?)Qxb6 22.cxb3 Rc2 (I should've tried to open up my light-squared bishop with a5! but I got to excited with my position) Robert may be right about this. His neglect of that bishop was a problem in this game, but it is hard to resist the temptation of putting a rook on your opponent's second rank. 23.Rec1 Rfc8 24.Qe1 Qc7?!(24...Rxc1 25.Rxc1 Bc5! and black is clearly winning) I am always reluctant to use phrases like "clearly winning" when analyzing games between high school players, but Black certainly would have had a strong position. 25.Rxc2 qxc2 26.Ne1 Qxd1 27. Rxd1 Bg4?!

I think that most masters would prefer to have the two bishops in this ending, particularly with pawns on both sides of the board. The key to exploiting the bishops is opening lines for them. I would have liked to see 27...a5 to get the light squared bishop into the action or 27...f6 to open things a little on the king-side.

28.Nef3 Rc2 29.Nxg5 hxg5
Robert is stuck with a "bad" bishop because his pawns restrict its movements. 30.a3 Bc6? Robert finally tries to get his bishop into the game, but this allows White to get his knight to a more active square. 30...Rc3 would have kept the knight tied down defending the b-pawn. 31.Nf3 Rc3 32.Nxg5 Nxb3 33.Rc1 g6??

(All the advantage I had was lost, simply 33..Rxa3 and I'm fine, I just did the move for extra precaution on the back row, but in exchange white got a great knight) I think that "??" is unduly harsh, although 33...Rxa3 was certainly stronger.) 34.f3 Be8 35.Rc8 Kf8 36. Nh7+ Ke7 37.Nf6 Bb5 (It was essential that I play my defense in pin-point accuracy, and I'm glad to say that I did) "Pin-point" might be a little too strong, but I really do like the way Robert keeps his wits about him with a White rook and knight deep in his territory. 38.Rc7+ Kd8 This is a key point. Black's only chance to make progress is by giving up the f-pawn. If he plays 38...Kf8, White can force a repetition with 39.Rc8+ Ke7 because 39...Kg7 would give White nasty mating threats after 40.g4. 39.Rxf7 Rxa3 40.Rg6 Bd3(Seems like this move allows the deadly-looking Rd7+, but it is a harmless check and his position would end up the same in any way, I wasn't bothered by his possible little advantage, I was happy with my past a-pawn) After being unduly cautious earlier in the game, Robert does a very good job of figuring out which threats are really worth worrying about in the endgame. 41.Kf2 a5 42. Ra7 a4 43.Ra8+ By this point White is in serious time-trouble and he succumbs to the natural temptation to deliver some checks. It is a serious mistake, however, because it lets the Black king off the back rank and allows it to support the a-pawn. This is one of the most common errors that inexperienced players make in endgames, i.e., checking the opposing king and driving it where it wants to go rather than confining it. 43...Kc7! (important to play the kind here contrary to 43...Ke7 because that allows a bit of chance for a draw, while the more crazy looking 43...Kc7! maintains my advantage) 44.Ne8+ Again pushing the Black king where he wanted to go anyway. Inexperienced players tend to think "Always check because it might be mate." Stronger players know that checking is frequently a mistake and should not be done without good reason. 44...Kb7 45.Ra5 Bc2?(d4!) It would have been good. 46.Nd6+ Kb6 47.Ra8 Ra2 48.Rg8? a3 49. Ke2??(I'm guessing it was time trouble, but this blunder cost white the game) After 49.Ke3 Rb2, White is still losing because he is going to be forced to give up his rook to stop the a-pawn, but this does make Black's life easier.49...Ba4+!(Just a bit better than Bf5+ and less riskier by far) Actually, it is quite a bit better. 50.Ke3 Rxg2? This gives White a chance to prolong the game. 50...Re2+! 51.Kxe2 a2 would have been quicker. 51.Nc8+?? Once again, an impulsive check in time trouble. After 51.Ra8! Bd1 52.Rxa3 Rxh2, Black would be up a pawn but would have a lot of work left to do. Now there is no way for White to get to the a-pawn. 51...Ka5 52.Ne7 a2 53Ra8+ Kb4 54..Rb8+ Ka3!(Now all is lost. The earlier ...Ba4+ was a very useful move; it safeguards the king) and it shields the pawn. 55. Ra8 a1/Q 56.Kf4 Qd4#.

Crossposted at Bill Brock's Chicago Chess Blog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Weakest Squares: f2 & f7.

In the starting position, the weakest square on the board for White is f2 and the weakest square for Black is f7. These squares are vulnerable because they are only protected by the kings. The Fool's Mate (1.f3? e5 2.g4?? Qh4#) and the Scholar's Mate (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.Qh5?! 3.Nf6?? Qxf7#) exploit this weakness. In fact, in any game that gets decided in the first ten moves, the odds are pretty good that something bad happened on f2 or f7.

What this means is that players should keep a watchful eye on these squares, particularly before castling. If you start to see your opponent's pieces aiming at your vulnerable square, take the time to make sure that you can handle the threats.

Martin v. Kawalek,

On 4th Board in the Rolling Meadows match, the trouble that Prospect's Nick Martin found himself in can be directly traced to his neglect of the f2 square. While Black's king was neatly tucked away after castling, White's king was under fire for the entire game. Meadows' Matt Kawalek missed several opportunities to shorten White's resistance, but he had so many threats against White's exposed king that the result was almost inevitable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Prospect Beats Rolling Meadows

Prospect squeaked by Rolling Meadows today by a score of 36.5-31.5. Prospect won the top three boards but Rolling Meadows dominated on boards 3-8. Were it not for a draw on 6th Board the match would have gone the other way. I won't be able to get to the games for a few days so I figured that I would pontificate upon a couple of notation rules that came up in the match.

Writing Your Move Before You Make It

Many players like to write down their move before making it on the board. After concentrating on a position for many minutes, the act of writing down the move breaks their focus and enables them to take a fresh look before they make the move on the board. Sometimes this enables them to spot something that they missed before. The problem is that if they realize that the move they wrote is a blunder, they will erase it or scratch it out and make a different move. Some people claim that this is "making notes" rather than simply taking notation.

I am not personally persuaded by the arguments against writing a move first, but the fact of the matter is that these arguments seem to be carrying the day. The United States Chess Federation has ruled that a move must be recorded after it is made. The Illinois High School Association seems to be moving in that direction. So my advice to all players is to get used to writing down your move after you make it. You never know whether both your opponent and the steward might happen to be anal retentive.

Taking Notation in Time Trouble

When a player has less than five minutes on his clock, IHSA rules allow him to quit taking notation or to ask one of his teammates to take notation. Should he do so, his opponent is also permitted to cease taking notation or turn the responsibility over to a teammate even if he still has twenty minutes on his clock.

I advise the player with more time on his clock not to take advantage of this provision.

The biggest mistake that a player with a large time advantage can make is to move as quickly as his opponent. If a player has twenty minutes while his opponent has two, the best way to get his opponent to use up those two minutes is by using part of the extra time to come up with a move that forces his opponent to think. Moving quickly wastes the time advantage.

I have seen several games in which a player with plenty of time on his clock turned over notation to a teammate because his opponent had done so in time trouble only to begin moving as quickly as his opponent. On several occasions, the player with the time advantage blundered and lost. Had he continued to take notation, I cannot help but think that he would have been forced to play somewhat more slowly and might have come up with a better move.

The game on 1st Board in today's match was very even all the way to the endgame, however, Prospect's Robert Moskva had a considerable time advantage. After Rolling Meadows' Tom Chung turned over score keeping to a teammate, Robert continued to keep his own score and played the ending very deliberately and accurately enabling him to win. I do not know that he would have played less carefully if he had quit taking notation, but I have seen it happen several times.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Schaumburg Beats Prospect 46-22

Playing While Behind

I remember a match at state a few years back where several Prospect players had poor positions out of the opening, but in which their opponents had a lot of work to do yet. Thinking that the games would be going on for awhile I decided to take a look at some of the matches that were taking place in the ropes. When I returned to the table ten minutes later I found half the Prospect players packing up their boards. It turned out that they had played quickly, gone for the first cheap trap they saw and then watched their positions fall apart when their opponents didn't take the bait.

Despite the loss to Schaumburg, I was gratified to see three of the games featured Prospect players handling poor positions very well. On 1st Board, Robert Moskwa actually did go in for a dubious tactic against Ben Wu after dropping a pawn, which lead to the loss of a rook for a bishop. After that, however, he settled down and played patient defense. As his opponent was a bit too careless with his pawns, Robert gradually regained enough material to draw. On 2nd Board, an oversight allowed Andrew Joo to develop a dangerous attack against Arun Nair, however, Arun played patiently and turned the game around when his opponent over-extended. On 4th Board, Alex Burke dropped a piece in the opening to Kanish Thakkar and fought back to equality, but failed to come up with the right plan in the endgame.

Question: Should black (a) trade his rook for the two Black knights, or (b) penetrate White's position with the rook and pick off some White pawns? See move 47 of Thakkar v. Burck for the answer.

Playing While Ahead

Among stronger players it is not uncommon to see a player resign upon losing a piece as happened in a game of mine that I posted recently. This is sometimes puzzling to high school players who tend to play most games out to checkmate. Stronger players, on the other hand, know that their opponent knows how to play defensively when ahead on material. The stronger player knows that if the position on the board doesn't promise them any chances to recover, their opponent is unlikely to take any risks that provide them with such chances.

The key to playing with a big material advantage is to think defense first.
“Think defense first” simply means that the more you are ahead, the more likely it is that any reasonable plan of yours will win so long as you do not let your opponent win back material or generate an enormous attack. Therefore, HIS moves become MORE IMPORTANT than yours!
NM Dan Heisman

Consider this position from Jaris v. Esau on 7th Board where Black is ahead by a rook and a pawn. This is more than enough material to checkmate White if Black can simply trade off all the other pieces. Black's question to himself should be "What bad thing might happen to me that would let White back into the game."

I hope that most players would see that White has a rook and a queen lined up against the Black king who is feeling rather lonely with most of his pieces on the other side of the board. If Black cans successfully parry the threats against his king, the win should come easily.

As so often happens, however, Black continued to play in the aggressive (and somewhat reckless) manner that he had used to achieve the material advantage in the first place. Although he responded to direct threats when he saw them, he did not think defensively. Here is a typical example from later in the game.

Black played 24...Nxg2+?! winning another pawn. However, Black doesn't need another pawn to win and the knight has nothing to do on g2. In fact, it was still sitting on that square when the game ended thirty-three moves later. I would have much preferred 24...Nc4+. Even though the knight is not stopping any immediate threats, it is well placed to prevent any later trouble that might develop.

Good players adjust their style to the dictates of the position. Having a big advantage dictates playing more defensively.

Monday, November 16, 2009

1. e4 or 1. d4?

I generally encourage players who are new to competitive chess to worry less about specific opening variations and more about general principles like development, central control, and king safety. However, it is very difficult to avoid questions about specific variations and the most basic of these is "1.e4 or 1.d4?" While I am a firm believer in "play what you like," I think there are good reasons why less experienced players might find they like 1.e4 better.

1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6.

This position occurs in countless tournament and match games every year between chess at every skill level from woodpusher to International Grandmaster. White has several good options that give Black immediate problems to solve. He can play 3.Bb5 (the Ruy Lopez) threatening to remove the knight that guards Black's e-pawn. He can play 3.Bc4 (the Italian Game) targeting the weak f7 square. After both these moves White is ready to castle. Another popular move is 3.d4 (the Scotch Game) which attacks Black's e-pawn a second time and opens up the game for active piece play.

The positions that arise after 1.e4 e5 are known as the "Open Games" as there is often an early liquidation of the center and open lines for pieces. This is certainly not always the case, however. Some lines in the Ruy Lopez can go twenty moves without a single piece being exchanged. Still, in many lines the players have the option of opening up the position.

1.d4 d5 2. Nc3 Nf6

This position is seen with some frequency on the lower boards in high school matches, however, it becomes much rarer as players become stronger and it is almost never seen in games between masters. Although it looks very similar to the first position, the dynamics are completely different. Unlike the first position, Black's central pawn is defended more times than it is attacked and it is very difficult for White to increase the pressure. White cannot play 3.e4 without losing a pawn. He can prepare e4 with 3.f3 or 3.e3 and 4.Bd3, but the former approach makes king side castling less secure and the latter is time consuming.

The positions after 1.d4 d5 are known as "the Closed Games." There are generally fewer direct threats than in the Open Games and the players have more flexibility in development. There are also less opportunities to open up the game by liquidating the center. This can be frustrating for less experienced who may find themselves slipping into a passive position in which they are unable to come up with a plan.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6

This is the Queen's Gambit and it is the way 1.d4 d5 is often handled at the top levels. Chess masters don't play Nc3 without first putting pressure on the Black center with c4. Even so, White still finds it difficult to open the game by forcing the liquidation of the center and White is still four moves away from castling.

The Closed Games are in no way inferior to the Open Games, however, the center tends to remain static until the players have completed their development. Even then, the players often leave the center intact while they expand on one of the wings. This can be disconcerting for the player who is just moving into competitive chess from casual play where they are used to coming to blows much more quickly. I would never want to discourage a player who wanted to try these openings, but it is important to understand how they differ. I might suggest that they start out with something like the Torre Attack rather than the main lines of the Queen's Gambit.

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 4.e3 Be7 5.Bd3 0-0 6.Nbd2 b6 7.c3 c5.

The Torre Attack is a very sound way to play the Closed Games. Although I have never played it myself, I have faced it several times without particularly good results. White's plan is to leave the central pawn structure intact while he expands on the king side with moves like Ne5 and f4. He plays c3 to fix the pawns in place rather than creating tension with c4. The White knight goes to d2 rather than c3 with the intention of occupying f3 after the other knight moves forward. White's plan is not terribly subtle but it can be very dangerous even for a strong player as can be seen in Rozentalis v. Schneider, Stockholm 1990.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Return to Competitive Chess

Find the winning move for Black.

Morris v. Hart

Last night I played my first serious game of chess in over a year in a Chicago Industrial Chess League match. I had the Black pieces and my opponent had just played 21. Nd4 a little too quickly. I didn't feel like I had handled the game particularly well up until this point, but I spotted the tactic here. Click on the game link to see the solution.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Barrington Thumps Prospect

Prospect has been one of the few teams in the MSL that has found a way to beat Barrington in the last few years, but they had no such luck yesterday, losing 63-5. Nevertheless, Prospect had reason to be hopeful. Caleb Royse won on 8th Board in his first match and freshman Robert Moskwa playing in only his third match gave last year's top individual player at State, Zach Kasiurak, everything he could handle on first board.

Moskwa v. Kasiurak 1st Board,

After debuting two weeks ago on 5th Board against Elk Grove and playing 3rd Board against Conant last week, with Mike Zwolenik sidelined by the flu, Robert Moskwa moved up to 1st Board against Barrington's expert rated Zach Kasiurak.

Earlier in the week I had played a practice game against Robert in which I employed the Kan variation of the Sicilian because I knew that is what Zach had played against Prospect's Mike Pozsgay three years ago. However, I don't know the Kan system very well and I did not feel like I could give Robert much insight. So when Robert asked me to play a practice game before Barrington arrived on Thursday I played my usual Najdorf.

Our practice game went 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5.

At this point, Robert played 7.Nf3. This is a perfectly reasonable move and at one time it was thought by some strong players to be superior to the more popular 7.Nb3. However, in the Open Sicilian variations with 2.Nf3 and 3.d4, White obtains a lead in development and space against a Black position that is solid and flexible and I think that he has to be willing to undertake a king side attack in order to exploit those advantages. I wasn't sure I should tell Robert this because I did not want him to be second guessing his judgment before such a big game but I did and I am glad.

As luck would have it, Zach decided to play the Najdorf rather than the Kan system and Robert put him under intense pressure for the first fourteen moves of the game. On his fifteenth move, Robert allowed Zach some breathing room and Zach methodically built his initiative until Robert missed a tactic and dropped a piece on his twenty-ninth move. Robert did not let it rattle him though and he took advantage of a couple of inaccurate moves to get some dangerously advanced pawns that made Zach's job extremely difficult.

At this point, Zach put on one of the most impressive displays of blitz play I have ever witnessed. With just a few seconds left on his clock, Zach forced Robert to give up a rook for a bishop. Then with a single second left on his clock, Zach unrelentingly harassed Robert's king until the advanced pawns dropped and the win became a simple matter of exploiting the extra material.

Bakol v. Burke 4th Board

Last week I talked about the problems that sometimes occur when a player chooses an opening that doesn’t fit his particular temperament. Aggressive players should play openings that offer attacking chances. Players who like endgames should play openings that offer the opportunity for early exchanges. Cautious players should choose openings that the type of positions that will make them happy.

The openings that I find most annoying are the ones that are designed to specifically suck all the life out of a position such as the Exchange Variation in the French Defense or the Exchange Variation in the King’s Indian Defense. Such positions often involve symmetrical pawn structures and an early exchange of queens. The players who choose these positions must be willing to play patient defensive chess in the hopes that their opponent will become frustrated and overreach in an effort to generate winning chances.

On 4th Board, Prospect’s Alex Burke reached such a position as Black when he played 1.e4 d6 2.d4 e5 3.dxe5 dxe5 4.Qxd8+ Kxd8.

I am not sure whether this opening has a name or not, but I have come across it a number of times while playing blitz on the internet. Black has given up the right to castle without gaining any offsetting advantage. However, it is very difficult for White to take advantage of Black's passive play. With the queens gone, king safety is not that big a problem for Black. The symmetrical pawn structure leaves White without any obvious targets. Black will be hard pressed to find any active plans of his own, but his position is solid enough to parry White's threats.

It takes a certain temperament to play this type of position well. Black must be willing to play defensively with the sole purpose of denying White any targets. He must patiently wait for White's frustration to build the point where he will take unwise risks in order to create active play. Unfortunately, it seems that it was Alex who became frustrated. He initiated an unwise exchange that gave White the open lines and targets that he wanted.

Royse v. Katz, 8th Board

Prospect's only win came on 8th Board where Caleb Royse made his debut against Nate Katz. It was a solid if unspectacular win that was remarkably free of the kind of wildly illogical moves that one often encounters on the lower boards. Still, the forty-nine move game was over long before any of the other games indicating that Caleb may have been making the first move that popped into his head when better moves were available. The good news is that the first move that popped into his head was generally pretty reasonable holding out the promise the if he uses his time more wisely, he will recognize those better moves when he sees them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Art of Trading

As a general rule, the player who is ahead material wants to exchange pieces while the player who is behind wants to exchange pawns.

Consider the following position in which Black has lost a knight in exchange for a pawn early in the opening.

Ideally, White would love to trade off all the pieces to reach a position like the following.

White would send his king to one side of the board and his knight to the other side of the board and the Black king would be unable to defend his pawns on both sides.

Black, on the other hand, would like to trade off pawns, followed by trading off pieces, to reach the following position.

Black is still down on material, but White cannot checkmate with a knight alone.

If Black were down by a rook, simply trading off the pawns would not be enough to draw as White could checkmate with the king and the rook, however, Black's chances of coming back are better if he does not have to worry about White queening a pawn.

Even when it is in a player's interest to trade pieces, it may not be in his interest to initiate the trade. It is always important to consider what the position is going to look like after the exchange.

QUESTION: Which of the following positions is better for White?

Pos. 1

Pos. 2

If you said Pos. 1, you would be correct. In both positions, White is ahead by three pawns. However, in Pos. 1, White's rook is sitting on an open file threatening to win another pawn while in Pos. 2, it sits inactively in the corner.

Pos. 2 resulted from White's decision to initiate a rook exchange with 26. Rxe8?! in Martin v. Brahmbhatt on 4th Board.

While White is happy to trade rooks with his three pawn advantage, 26. Rae1 would have left him with greater control of the position.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hanging Tough and Letting Up

In the two games I posted from the Prospect-Conant match, players almost got away with some poor opening moves when their opponents failed to pursue their advantage with sufficient vigor. I thought I would take this opportunity to share a game of mine in which the highest rated player I have ever beaten achieved a dominating position against me but let me slip away when he hesitated to make the crucial breakthrough.

Onyekwere v. Hart

The game is from the second round of the 2006 U.S. Open that was held in Oakbrook, Illinois. I had the black pieces against Chickyere Onyekwere who I later found out was the champion of Nigeria. His rating at the time was 2272 while mine was 1969. The time control for the game was forty moves in two hours followed by sudden death in one hour. Due to my opponent’s rating, the tournament provided us with electronic score keeping devices so that the game was broadcast live on the internet.

I played the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian Defense which is a sharp opening that is popular at the highest levels of the game. I really didn’t have any business playing it against a player of Onyekwere’s caliber as I hadn’t kept up on the latest innovations. Not surprisingly, my opponent played a move that had recently become fashionable for which I was unprepared. I quickly found myself on the defensive and the following position was reached after I played 14...Ne8

Any time you find yourself retreating your pieces to the back rank against a master, you can be sure that you are in trouble. At this point, my opponent sank deep into thought for fifty-seven minutes. The move that scared me most was 15. f5, after which, I was pretty sure my position would be ripped open and my king subjected to a withering attack. However, after nearly an hour of thought, my opponent played the relatively sedate 15. a3.

When we looked at the game afterward, Onyekwere showed me all the variations he had thought about during those fifty-seven minutes. He spent most of his time considering 15. f5 and sure enough, bad things seemed to happen to me in almost every variation. However, he could not quite see all the variations through to an easily won position and he was concerned that I might come up with an unforeseen defensive resource. Moreover, he felt that his position was still very strong and that there would be future opportunities to storm my position. As a result he played a waiting move.

Onyekwere’s delay turned out to be fatal. Although his position was still commanding, his passivity allowed me to improve my defenses even if only slightly. As a result, while he continued to have attacking possibilities, they would never be quite as attractive as 15.f5 and having passed that up, he couldn’t bring himself to settle for less. More importantly, having invested so much time on his 15th move, he didn't have the time to test the later possibilities. As he kept trying to press his attack, he failed to notice that I was generating threats against his king and I finally managed to turn the game around with 26…Qc7.

After pressing the attack for so long and being low on time, Onyekwere was unable to adjust himself to the need to play defensively and he failed to counter my threats.

I have often thought that if Onyekwere had been playing another master, he would have played 15. f5 after about twenty minutes of thought. He knew that it was the right time to launch his assault and he knew that 15. f5 was the most promising continuation. Against another master, I think he would have accepted the possibility that his opponent might come up with an unexpected move, however, against a player he out rated by 300 points, he wasn’t willing to launch the attack without being absolutely sure that it would succeed. Against another master, he would have been afraid to let such an opportunity slip away, but against me, he expected that better chances would come.

As we went over the game, Onyekwere’s frustration over letting the game get away was obvious, but he was very gracious nonetheless. One of the most enjoyable parts of the evening was getting home and finding e-mails from three friends who had watched the game on-line. One of them congratulated me on my cool defensive play and I admitted that I just been hanging on for dear life.

Based on this game, I would offer the following advice to MSL players the next time they come up against a very strong opponent as they might in a match with Barrington or Buffalo Grove or at State:

(1) Don't be intimidated by your opponent's rating. Even the strongest players can go astray against determined resistance.

(2) Don’t change your playing style. Don’t be more aggressive or more passive

(3) Don’t change your openings. Your opponent may well know more about your favorite opening than you do, but he probably knows more about other openings as well. Playing the opening you are familiar with gives you the best chance of finding good moves.

(4) When you get in trouble against a strong opponent (or any opponent for that matter), work as hard as you can to find the best defensive moves that you can. As much as you might want to turn the game around in a single move, it may be enough just to keep your opponent from making progress. The pressure will build on him when the win does not come as easily as he thinks it should.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prospect v. Conant: To Thine Own Self Be True

Prospect beat Conant 51-17 with Conant winning on 1st and 8th boards and Prospect capturing all the middle boards.

Yoon v. Zwolenik 1st Board

In working with high school players, I have noticed that they are not always the best judges of what types of positions they handle well. For example, I have known players who would choose openings that tend to lead to sharp attacking positions, however, at the crucial moment when it came time to throw caution to the winds and break open the position, they instinctively sought a sedate move. I think that such a disconnect between preferences and instincts was at work on 1st Board.

Playing the Black pieces, Prospect's Mike Zwolenik allowed Conant's Jiwon Yoon to play the legendary "Fried Liver Attack" (Yes, that's really what it's called) in which White sacrifices a knight in order to force the Black king out into the center of the board where it is subject to a withering attack. If Black survives the attack, he has an extra knight and an easily won endgame. That's a very big if though. It is not a position that I would have any desire to play as Black, but Mike has told me that he likes it. The board looked like this after White's tenth move.

Mike has two choices: (1) Grab the White rook with 10...Nxa1 whereupon White will capture the knight on d5 leaving the Black king all alone in the middle of the board with only the e-pawn to hide behind; or (2) shore up the center with 10...c6 allowing Black to capture the knight on c2. He chose to shore up his center. Discussing the position out in the hall with Prospect coach Don Barrett, I sympathized with Mike's reluctance to part with his only centralized piece while he believed that giving up the knight to pick up the rook was worth the risk. As I look at the game more closely however, I am persuaded that Mr. Barrett was correct. I think that Black could have survived White's attack and that the extra material would have paid off in the long run.

I certainly cannot fault Mike's choice on a practical level as the position is very complicated and he had to rely on instinct to some extent because there isn't enough time to calculate out all the possibilities. On the other hand a person who "likes" to play the Black side of the Fried Liver should be a person who is willing to take his chances on his king's ability to survive a drafty without its death of cold in order to gain a material advantage. The fact that Mike wasn't inclined to do so suggests to me that he might not be as comfortable with a variation like this as he thinks he is.

As it turned out White still had a very nasty attack and Mike found several very accurate moves to stay in the game although he eventually succumbed to the pressure. Even if he had survived the attack though, material would have been even and a draw might have been the result. On the other hand, if he had survived the attack after grabbing the rook, he would have had enough extra material to win.

Meyers v. Itskovich

The game on 5th Board between Prospect's Pat Meyers and Conant's Peter Itskovich provided an interesting contrast between a player who disregarded opening principles and one who adhered to those same principles a little too dogmatically. "Don't make too many pawn moves," "Don't bring out the queen early," and "Develop knights before bishops," are all useful principles, however, all opening principles implicitly include the caveat "without a good reason." The most common good reason is to either win material or prevent the loss of material, but acquiring dominant control of the center and a substantial advantage in space can be good reasons, too.

Openings like this are not all that uncommon on the lower boards of high school matches. The failure to fight for the center may make serious players cringe, but it does not lose automatically. Moreover, just because Black ignores accepted opening theory doesn't mean that he doesn't have some tactical skills that may make White's life miserable if he doesn't take the position seriously. As the game turned out, White did was not as aggressive as he might have been and Black came out of the opening with a tenable position. However, when Black cooperated in opening the position, White was able to take advantage

Three Keys to Improvement

There aren't more than a handful of the players in the Mid-Suburban League who wouldn't see their results improve significantly simply by concentrating on these three principles.

1. Take almost all your time for the game without getting into
unnecessary time trouble; i.e. avoid playing much too fast or too slow. For the overwhelming majority of high school players, playing too fast is a much bigger problem than playing too slow. You are much better off getting into time trouble occasionally than finishing every game with a half your time left on the clock. The bad moves induced by time trouble will be more than offset by the good moves you will find in by playing more slowly.

2. Keep your pieces safe and, win your opponent’s unsafe pieces. Check every move to see whether your pieces and your opponent's pieces are protected. Check every move for basic tactics like forks, pins, skewers, removing the guard, and discovered attacks. Never try to see three moves ahead if you haven't carefully checked one move ahead.

3. Attempt to involve all your pieces at all times.

As usual, my best advice is lifted from NM Dan Heisman's Novice Nook column at

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hopefully This Will Work for Awhile

I have switched the games to a different free webhosting service. The previously posted games are working for the moment.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Get What You Pay For

Apparently the free web hosting service that I was using to post the analysis of the games has gone rogue on me and the games cannot be accessed. My thanks to Mr. Mott at Rolling Meadows for pointing this out. I will try to straighten out the problem, but perhaps I will have to pay for a webhosting to get something reliable.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The First Rule of Endgames: Straight Back Draws

Here is the first thing every player should know about endgames: in an ending with king and pawn v. king, Straight Back Draws. Consider the following position:

POS. 1

With White to move, he draws if he drops his king straight back to e1 but loses if he drops the king back to f1 or d1. After either 1.Ke1 Kd3 2. Kd1 e2+ 3.Ke1 and 1. Kd1 Kd3 2. Ke1 e2, the following position is reached:

POS 2.

So why does it matter whether White drops straight back or not in POS 1? BECAUSE IT DETERMINES WHOSE MOVE IT IS IN POS 2! If White dropped straight back, it is Black's move and he must abandon his pawn or play 3...Ke3, which is STALEMATE. If White dropped back at an angle than it is his move and he must play 3.Kf2 to which Black responds 3...Kd2 with 4...e1=Q coming next move and checkmate soon thereafter.

While it is only that last drop back that determines whether White draws or not, I recommend that all the drop backs are handled that way. Consider the following position:
POS 3.
It does not matter whether White plays 1.Kd3, 1.Ke3, or 1.Kf3. It only matters that he drops straight back from e2 to e1 at the appointed time. However, I always feel much better when I see one of my players move 1.Ke3 because it gives me confidence that he understands STRAIGHT BACK DRAWS.
Their is an entire body of endgame theory regarding the principle of "opposition" which applies to most endings where only kings and pawns are left and the player who understands it will be able to figure out this position at the board. However, even if a player does not remember the opposition or is too low on time to figure it out, STRAIGHT BACK DRAWS will enable him to save the half point. It will also tell him whether he want to trade off rooks in a position where he has a rook and king against his opponent's pawn, rook and

Friday, October 23, 2009

Prospect Sweeps Elk Grove

After losing its first two matches, Prospect bounced back with a sweep of Elk Grove High School on October 22.

An Important Drawing Technique

Question #1: How does Black save a 1/2 point?

Answer #1: 1...Ka1!, because 2. Qxc2 is stalemate. The winning technique for White if Black had a pawn on the b, d, e, g files would be to repeatedly force the Black king in front of the Black pawn and bring White king to help. However, when Black has a c-pawn or f-pawn, Black can move into the corner because it will be stalemate if White captures the pawn.

The weaker side can also draw with an a-pawn or h-pawn if the stronger side's king is too far away. After 1...Kh1, White cannot bring up his king to help because Black will be stalemated.

These are important positions to keep in mind when deciding which pawns to exchange earlier in the game. The weaker side will want to leave himself with the pawns that give him the best chance to draw.

In Moskwa v. Rosca, Black missed the drawing possibility with the c-pawn and White got the win. However, White could have earlier avoided the exchanges that left Black with the possibility.

In Gonzalez v. Nair on 2nd Board, Black went for a quick queen side expansion. White had a choice between ignoring Black plan while completing his development and grabbing space for himself on the other side of the board or countering Black’s expansion immediately It seemed that White had a hard time making up his mind. When he did try to slow down Black's advance, he wound up giving him targets that he otherwise would not have had.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fremd Beats Prospect

After a twenty month hiatus, I am back to blogging about chess. My previous blog was Vinny's Chess Adventures which still exists. Unfortunately, Yahoo is shutting down GeoCities so the links to the games will only work for another two weeks. I still have most of the games on my computer so I may upload some of them to the new webhost if I think they have instructional value.

This week, Prospect lost to Fremd by 50.5-17.5, only managing wins on 5th and 8th boards. As was my practice in the past, I will analyze some of the games from each week's match with an eye towards illustrating basic chess principles that I hope will be helpful to high school players. I hope that no one will take any of my criticisms personally. I may say that a move is really awful, but there is no reason to be embarrassed. There are few moves so bad that I cannot show you one from one of my games that is even worse.

Question No. 1
In the starting position for the Ruy Lopez (or Spanish Game) that arises after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5, is White threatening to win a pawn with 4.Bxc6 and 5. Nxe5?

Answer No. 1
No, not yet. Although White can remove the knight that is guarding the Black pawn on e5, after 3... a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. Nxe5, Black can recover the pawn with 5...Qd4! with a double attack on the White knight and pawn.

This is a very basic opening tactic that everyone should know. As a general rule, White has to secure his own e-pawn as with 0-0 and Re1 before he can try to grab Black's. The most common move for Black is 3... a6.

Black can of course reinforce his e-pawn immediately with 3... d6 as Johnston did against Moskwa on 5th Board, although this is considered somewhat passive. Black should never, never do what White did on 1st Board, 3... Bd6?!.

There are very few moves I hate seeing in the opening as much as someone blocking one of his center pawns with his bishop. Essentially, this takes the bishop which is a very useful piece and turns it into a big pawn which is reason enough to hate this move. On top of this, it makes it much more difficult for Black to develop his other bishop. On top of this, it takes away Black's ability to open up the game with ...d5 if an appropriate opportunity should present itself. I won't say that it is never the right thing to do, but I can assure you that the situations in which blocking a center pawn with a bishop is the best move are pretty rare. Feldman v. Zwolenik bears this out.

Question No. 2

Black just captured a pawn with 31... Bxc7. What is White's best move.

Answer No. 2

32. Bxc7! Black cannot recapture with 32... Rxc7 because 33. Rb8+ leads to mate.

This game illustrates the need to keep concentrating even when behind. White had been playing down a rook for a dozen moves. One of his only hopes was that Black would be careless with his back rank, but when it came up, White still missed it in Burke v. Nanduri.