Friday, October 22, 2010

Prospect Moves to 3-0

Prospect avenged last year's loss to Schaumburg by a score of 48-20. From a coach's standpoint, I think the match produced a number of teachable moments.

Wehmeir v. Royce, 3rd Board

There are many positions in which a passed h-pawn or a-pawn is less desirable than a central pawn, but this is not one of them. Knights have a very difficult time handling pawns on the edge of the board by themselves because the opposing king is capable of controlling the squares that the knight needs. Consider the following position:

White has a substantial material advantage, but the game is only a draw, If White had a bishop, the win would be easy because the bishop could control a square in front of the Black pawn from a distance, but the knight can only control the squares in front of the pawn from squares that the Black king can reach in one move. After 1.Nc1+ Kb2, the White knight can not reach any of the defensive squares it needs, so White must play 2.Nd3+ when either b4 or c1 will be available to the knight. It may like Black can even make some progress with 2...Kc2 3.Nb4+ Kb3 4.Nd3, but if Black tries to advance the pawn with 4...a2??, White has 5.Na1+ forking the king and pawn. If Black had a central pawn, the White knight could find a square that the Black king could not reach in a single move, but with the a-pawn White will never get the chance to advance his own pawns.

In Wehmeir v. Royce, White's a-pawn is not so far advanced as to make the game a draw because Black has time to bring his king over to help. However, if Black makes the mistake of leaving his knight to stop the a-pawn alone while using his king to attack the pawns on the other side of the board, Black could find himself in the kind of position we saw in the first diagram. White's best chance here is 31.Kc3! Ne6 32.Kc4.

Instead White played 31.c3? Nc5 which merely drove the Black knight where it wanted to go. Even worse the pawn on c3 prevents the White king from getting up to where it can support the advance of the a-pawn. If 32.Kb3 Na5+ and Black controls all the squares that the White king needs to advance.

Hanley v. Dixit, 5th Board

Every tactic is founded on the idea of forcing your opponent to do two things at the same time in the hopes that only one of the threats can be met. However, no matter how dangerous an opponent’s threats might be, they can be ignored if a more dangerous counter-threat can be found. Even if one of your opponent’s threats is checkmate on the next move, he must deal with a check to his king before he can deliver the final blow.

In Hanley v. Dixit , on Black’s 8th his double attack threatened two pieces and White dealt with one of the threats by delivering check. However, on Black’s 10th and 18th moves, his double attack threatened a piece and a checkmate. On both those occasions, White failed to find the check that would have allowed him to escape unscathed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Prospect Beats Rolling Meadows

In its second match of the year, Prospect beat Rolling Meadows 45-23. On 2nd Board, Arun Nair lost a tough game to Rolling Meadows' Anthony Leone as a result of failing to show proper respect for his opponent's passed pawn.

In this position, Black could simply swap his d-pawn for White's passed d-pawn with 22...Qxb4 23.Bxd5. Even stronger is to round it up with 22...Rb8 23.Qd2 Qxb4 24.Qxb4 Rxb4, although White still can still capture the d-pawn due to Black's vulnerability on the 8th rank, 25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Rd1 Rb5 27.e4. Instead, Arun played 22...e4? in hopes of picking up the b-pawn without giving up one of his own. Unfortunately, White played 23.b5! and Black has missed his chance. To complicate matters, Black has weakened his d-pawn and restricted his knight's mobility.

I am very impressed by White's last few moves. I frequently see inexperienced players advance a passed pawn too quickly, but Anthony has improved the position of his pieces so that they can support the pawn when it does advance deep into enemy territory. Black's has a couple reasonable choices here. He can try to maintain the blockade with 30...Rb8 or he can exchange queens with 30....Qxc6. The latter choice allows the pawn to advance, but it removes the pawn's strongest supporter and offers Black the chance to bring his king over to aid in the defense.

Arun is a naturally aggressive player, however, and was unable to adjust himself to the defensive task of blocking the pawn. He chose to keep his queen with 30...Qd8?, but this allowed the pawn to get another square closer to promotion with 31.b6. The game had a few more twists and turns, but White was eventually able to promote the b-pawn because Black kept trying to find ways to win rather than ways to draw.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Season Opener (2)

Monson v. Morgan 5th Board

Freshman Mike Monson’s game against Palatine’s Adam Morgan is perhaps the best played game on 5th Board that I have ever seen. Mike outplayed Adam in the opening to win a pawn, but Adam didn’t panic. Rather than take risky chances to turn the game around, he simply found strong moves that made Mike’s job as difficult as possible. Eventually, Mike’s inability to find a way forward led him to make his fatal mistake.

As often as not, when the advantage shifts from one player to the other on 5th Board, it is because one of them has blundered away material through some gross tactical oversight. What made this game so interesting is how the momentum changed as the result of subtle strategic points.

Diagram 1.

Here White saw the chance to win a second pawn and played 18.e5. Black cannot play 18…dxe5?? due to 19. Qxd8. The strategic error here is being too eager to convert a positional advantage into a material one (or in this case a bigger material one). At present, Black's pieces are all tangled up defending the weak pawn on d6. His knight is stuck on e8 which traps the rook on f8. White could activate his other rook with 18.Rhe1 or expand on the kingside with 18.h4 and Black would be hard pressed to respond. Unfortunately, 18.e5 was also a tactical mistake due to 18...Qg5+ 19. Kb1 Qxe5. After 20.Qxe5 dxe5 21.Bxb7, Mike is still up a pawn, but Black's pieces are no longer tied down to defending the glaring weakness on d6.

I cannot be too hard on Mike here. Even masters have a hard time deciding when to convert a positional advantage into a material advantage. Too early and the weaker side’s position is unnecessarily eased. Too late and the opportunity may slip away.

Diagram 2.

Here White played 26.a3 in order to create a sheltered spot for his king. The strategic problem here is the failure to make a transition from middle game to end game. In the endgame, the danger of a sudden checkmate is much less and the king becomes a powerful piece. White should be trying to activate and centralize his king, rather than protect it. Just as important, White's a, b, and c-pawns are only opposed by Black's a-pawn. They are much more valuable advancing as offensive units than they are as defensive units shielding the king. 26.c4 would get White's passed pawn moving as well as providing the White king a route towards the center.

Diagram 3.

Here White missed a chance to take firm control of the position with 29.Bd5. After 29...Re7 30.c4, Black has to figure out both how he is going to stop White's pawn as well as how he is going to extricate his knight. Instead, White played 29.Re2, but after 29…Rd7, the Black knight is more firmly established. I think White’s problem here is that the Black knight on d2 looks much more dangerous than it really is. White becomes fixated on ejecting it when he would be better off ignoring and advancing his own pawns. I have to admit though, that the knight looked pretty dangerous to me as I watched from the sidelines (although 29.Bd5 looked good).

I think this is a point that White might have recognized with a few minutes thought, but in a sixty minute game, a player has to allocate such long “thinks”. Sometimes it is obvious that a game has reached a crucial point where extra time is warranted, but it is hard to identify any particular feature in this position that might have suggested to White that an extra investment of time might pay dividends.

Diagram 4.

Here White played 31.c3, which really isn’t a bad move if his plan is to bring the bishop to c2 where it can target the Black pawns. However, since Mike’s plan was to bring his king over to oust the knight, 31.b3 would have been better.

Diagram 5.

Adam has given a very good demonstration of how to play when behind. Too often the player who is down tries to turn the game around quickly. Playing solid defense is preferable. Every move in which you can prevent your opponent from making progress is a victory in itself, especially if you can improve your own position. The cumulative effect of such moves is to cause your opponent to question whether his position is as good as he thought it was and whether he can actually figure out how to win it. This can create a feeling of panic that leads to mistakes.

Compare this position to the second Diagram. In seven moves, Black has created two very dangerous looking central pawns and White seems to have made no progress at all. Interestingly, White is still in good shape. If he simply brings his king over with 34.Kb2, he will have sufficient defensive capacity to stop the Black pawns and he can start advancing his own. However, feeling the game slipping away, White lashed out with 34.f3?? whereupon his position quickly fell apart.

When the advantage switches from one player to another on 5th Board, it is usually because one of the players has lost material through some unprovoked tactical oversight. This game is fascinating in the way the momentum shifted as the result of subtle strategic points. When the tactical oversight occurred, it was the result of Black's patient play over many moves.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prospect Wins Season Opener

Prospect won their first match of the year against Palatine, 42-26. Prospect swept the top four boards and Palatine swept the bottom four. As I have in the past, I will try to analyze games from the matches that illustrate tactical and strategic points that I have seen arise regularly in high school games.

Medrano v. Gunawan 8th Board.

Games on the lowest boards are frequently decided by unprovoked blunders. One of the players overlooks the fact that his queen is under attack or fails to see that he is vulnerable to a back rank mate. Just as frequently, however, the blunder does not simply materialize out of this air. Often one of the players has achieved an advantage in space or development that that leaves his opponent without any good choices. When a player says "I lost because I missed a tactic on the 20th move," the truth is often that they lost because they failed to develop their pieces and fight for the center on the 5th to 15th moves.

Palatine junior Cyntia Madrano's win over Prospect freshman Adrian Gunawan is a good illustration of this principle. Cyntia took control of the center and developed her pieces actively. Playing in his first match, Adrian played somewhat passively and found himself in a cramped position with his pieces undeveloped. When Cyntia's attack came, Adrian overlooked some tactics, but none of his choices were very attractive.

Piotrowski v. Jian, 7th Board.

Nick Piotrowski's game against Harry Jian was decided by unprovoked blunders. Neither player had an advantage in either space or development, however, they overlooked tactics that should have been within their skill set. In such cases, the player to make the last mistake will be the loser and in this game it was Nick.

My best guess is that the blunders were mostly the result of the players playing to quickly. A player should not make his move on the board until he has taken the time to figure out his opponent's strongest response to the move he intends to play. If he is unsure of his opponent's best move, he should probably think some more. Sometimes of course, his opponent will come up with a tactic that he hadn't anticipated, but if he has taken the time to think about the position, that tactic is much more likely to become part of his own skill set in the future.

I hope that no one will take offense when I point out mistakes. Mistakes are part of the game and everyone makes them. I can assure every player in the conference that I can give examples of blunders in my own games that are just as bad as anything I have seen in the Mid-Suburban Conference. The primary difference is that I don't make them quite as frequently.