Friday, September 28, 2012

Opening Principles

Prospect opened the 2012-2013 season yesterday with a 44.5-23.5 victory over Rolling Meadows

Our fifth board asked me to comment on his opening play so I'll start with some basic opening principles.  The three main goals in the opening are (1) activating forces, i.e., development, (2) controlling the center, and (3) finding a safe place for the king, usually by castling.   As important as it is for a player to achieve these goals, he should never forget that his opponent has the exact same goals and he should always be on the lookout for moves that hinder his opponent in achieving his goals.

The game began 1.e4 d5.

This is known as the Scandanavian Defense.  It is not terribly popular among masters, but it is a sound response to 1.e4.  White then played 2.Nc3?!.

This move does two good things: (1) it develops a piece and (2) it protects the pawn on e4.  It has one big drawback though:  the White knight is not secure on c3.  This gives Black the opportunity to play a move that not only furthers his own opening goals, but also hinders White's, 2...d4!  drives away the White knight and gives Black more space in the center.  A perfectly natural sequence might be 2...d4 3.Nce2 Nc6 4.Nf3 e5.

Although White has moved two knights and Black has only moved one, I would assess Black's development as better at this point because he has good spots immediately available for all his minor pieces whereas neither of White's bishops can move yet.   The point to remember is that a move that achieves an opening goal may be good, but one that achieves that goal while hindering the opposition from achieving his goal is even better.  A move that doesn't achieve any opening goals may even be good if it forces the opposition to use several moves to achieve his.

Instead of 2...d4!, Black played 2...Nf6?!, which suffers the same drawbacks as 2.Nc3.

However, White did not take advantage of the opportunity to gain time and space with 3.e5 and instead played.  3.Bd3?

This is a move that I hate to see, a player using his bishop to protect one of his central pawns before the other central pawn had moved.  The reasons I hate this are because it has a bishop doing a job that could be just as well done by a pawn and it hinders the development of the other bishop.  There is rarely a good reason to develop a bishop this way.  In this particular position, it's not a terrible blunder, but it's awkward.  A reasonable response might have been 3...dxe4 4.Bxe4 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 Nc6.

The players are equally developed and have about the same control of the center but Black has the two bishops in an open position which is a slight advantage.  Instead, the game went 3...e5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.0-0 Bc5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.Be4 Be6.

At this point, I would call the position fairly even.  Black has followed sound opening principles in his development, but he has neglected the opportunity to hinder his opponent's pursuit of his opening goals.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Knights in the Endgame

Knight v. Pawns

A basic idea in an ending with a knight against pawns is that the player with the knight looks for opportunities to force the pawns to move onto squares where they are vulnerable to forks.   Here is an example from a game I played last Saturday in Evanston.  White can draw this position but my opponent only had about a minute left on his clock and those forky things that knights do can be very difficult to visualize when time is running low.

 My opponent played 51.Ka6?? which allowed me to win by driving the e-pawn forward with  51...Nd3! 52. e6 Nc5+ 53. Ka7 Nxe6 and Black had no trouble rounding up the last two pawns.  However, White could still have drawn 51.a4! Ne6 52. b4 Nc7 53. b5+ Kc5 54. Kb7 Ne6 55. Ka6 Nc7+.

Black can do nothing because his king must guard the pawn and his knight has to keep the White king off a6 lest he trade off Black's last pawn by playing a5.

Here's a tricky one from the 1956 Candidates Tournament.  Black has little chance to save his own pawns, but if he can win either the White g-pawn or h-pawn and sacrifice the knight for the other one, his king can blockade the a-pawns.  I stared at it for about an hour recently without coming up with the correct drawing plan for Black, but I don't feel so bad as Efim Geller didn't come up with the right move against Tigran Petrosian either and lost after 51...Nb6 52.a5 Na8.

The correct plan is 51... Nc5+! 52. Kf7 Kb7 53. Kxg7 Ne4 54. Kxh7 Nd2!.

Black is threatening to win one of the pawns with 55...Nf1 and none of White's pawn moves are satisfactory.  If 55.g4 Nf3 56.h3 Ng5+.  If 55.h4 Ne4 56.g4 Nf6+.  If 55.h3 Ne4 56.g4 Ng5+.

Knights v. Bishops

An interesting thing about the three round Evanston tournament is that I got two positions in which I had knight, rook, and five pawns with the Black pieces against White's bishop, rook and five pawns.  The results were exactly opposite, however, which may have something to do with the fact that one of my opponents was rated 2200 and the other was rated 1739.

In the first round, I had the kind of position that a knight loves.  White's bishop is confined by the Black knight and his own pawns.  Nevertheless it took some imagination to convert the advantage.   Here I played 32...h4! 33. Rxe5 h3+ 34.Kg3 (If 34.Kg1 Nf3+ wins the rook) 34...Rxf1 and the first position in the post was eventually reached.

In the third round, I had the kind of position that the knight loathes.  Here the bishop has complete freedom of movement and the Black pawns on light squares are easy targets.  After 36.Rd5 b4 37.Ra5 bxa3 38.bxa3, White can pick off the a-pawn at his leisure.