Sunday, October 28, 2012

Basic Lessons in the Italian Game: 3rd Board v. BG

It seems like I have written this post several times, but of course, there are always new players who haven't seen it.  1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 is generally known as the Italian Game (although some consider the Italian Game to start only when Black replies 3...Bc5).  It is a very sound means of development that can lead to a a number of very exciting variations like the Evans Gambit and the Fried Liver Attack as well as a couple of more sedate continuations.  One of the weakest replies is 3...h6?! which I have seen played many times in my years of coaching high school chess.

The main problem with this move is that it doesn't develop a piece and lack of development can be fatal in many of the sharp lines in this opening.  In addition to being a non-developing move, it is a non-developing move that blocks a threat that doesn't need to be blocked.  The reason 3...h6 gets played is that Black is afraid of 3...Nf6 4.Ng5, however after the mainline moves 4...d5 5.exd5 Na5!?, Black's position is considered perfectly playable.

Black has sacrificed a pawn, but he has very active piece play as compensation.

Of course, sacrificing a pawn so early in the game as Black is not to everyone's taste.  (It's not to mine!)  Hence, Black's other main move 3...Bc5.  Note that 4.Ng5?? loses to 4...Qxg5.  If White delays the knight sortie with 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Ng5, Black simply replies 5...0-0.

Now Black is ahead in development.  So what should White do if Black wastes a move with 3...h6?  The best way to take advantage of a lead in development is to open the position up and attack. 4.d4 exd4 5.0-0 Bc5 6.c3!? looks like fun to me.

On 3rd Board in the Buffalo Grove match, White played the perfectly reasonable 4.c3 d6 5.d4 and Black played 5...Be7.  White replied with the disappointing 6.d5?!

This move is disappointing for both tactical and strategic reasons.  The tactical reason is that White could have won the f7 pawn with either 6.Qb3 or 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Qb3.  The strategic problem with the move is that by closing the center White will have a much harder time exploiting his lead in development.

The other question to ask is "What's the rush?"  Even if closing the center is desirable, there is no need to do it now because Black sure isn't going to want to prevent it by exchanging pawns.  For example, after 6.0-0 exd4 7.cxd4, White has an absolutely lovely position with dominant central pawns and c3 available for his knight.

There was no reason for White to release the tension so soon.  By maintaining his lead in development, he could have kept Black guessing about his intentions.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Some Games from the Buffalo Grove Match

Prospect Edges Buffalo Grove

In its tightest match of the year, Prospect beat Buffalo Grove 35.5-32.5.  As in the Schaumburg match, the lower boards saved the day.  Playing in his first match since the soccer season ended, Robert Moskwa won on 1st Board, but Buffalo Grove won on 2nd, 3rd and 4th.  Prospect squeaked by with wins on 5th, 6th, and 7th, and a draw on 8th.

There were many good lessons to be learned. 

Lesson 1:  Gambit Play

I have no objection to players trying out sharp gambits as long as they are prepared for the fact that they may find themselves behind by a lot of material if they don't find the right continuation. On 3rd Board, Prospect's Marc Graff decided to venture the Traxler Gambit against Buffalo Grove's Anna Shabayev.  The Traxler arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc5 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5!? and is considered reasonably sound but it is very complex and since Black may be called upon to sacrifice as much as a rook, he better find the best moves over the board.

5.Bxf7+!?, where White is content to grab a pawn and misplace Black's king, is generally considered to be the strongest reply to the Traxler, but Anna played 5.Nxf7 which is considered to give Black the better chances.  One of the mistakes that players sometimes make when trying to learn a new opening is concentrating too much on the moves for the other side that the books say are strongest.  Since players often don't play the strongest moves, it is important to know why the weaker moves are considered the weaker moves and how to take advantage of them.  Marc responded correctly with 5...Bxf2+, but after 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1, he slipped up with 7...Qf6?

7...Qf6? threatens mate on f2, but the problem is that this is the only thing that the move does.  When you've sacrificed a bishop and you've got a rook hanging, you need to find moves that multitask.  In this case 7...Qh4 is the strongest move.  Besides threatening mate, it protects the Black knight on e4.   After 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nxh8, Black's strongest is 9...Nd4!

Positions like this are why the Traxler is seen more often in correspondence chess than it is in over-the-board play.  After 7...Qf6?, White played 8.Qe2 and Black was unable to generate any more threats and simply found himself down two pieces.  He eventually managed to get one of them back and fought on gamely for 63 moves but in the end the material he sacrificed in the opening was the difference.

As painful as this loss was for Black, it is no reason to give up on the Traxler.   With more preparation and more practice games, it can still be a dangerous weapon.

Lesson 2:  Sometimes Threatening a Queen with a Knight is Not So Scary.  

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your threat dictates your opponent's reply only to be surprised to find that he can create threats that out weigh yours.  Prospect's 5th and 8th Boards learned that the hard way.

On 8th Board, Prospect's Brad Thomson thought he had given Buffalo Grove's Cory Moy something to worry about by attacking his queen with 21.Ne5 only to find his own queen under attack after 21...Bxb5 and it was White who a piece.

On 5th Board, Mike Morikado forked White's king and rook with 26...Nd2, but soon found that he was the one losing material after 27.Qd3+ Kh8 28.Rc4!

No matter how threatening your move may seem, unless it's a check, there is always a possibility that your opponent can ignore it because he has counter threats of his own that are stronger.  Make sure you have considered all your opponents checks and captures.

Lesson 3: A Neat Tactic

My favorite move of the match came on 5th Board where Mike Morikado, who despite losing a knight, managed to parlay his extra pawns into the following winning position.  Unfortunately, he only had a minute left on his clock.

According to the computer, Black's strongest moves are 59...a3 and 59...e3, but both moves leave White with two pieces on the board which means two pieces that Black has to watch, increasing the possibility of an oversight.  59...Rc1+!! cleans up the position beautifully however.  If 60.Nxc1 dxc1=Q+ and the queen will have no trouble escorting home the a-pawn or e-pawn or both.  After 60.Kg2 d1=Q 61.Rxd1 Rxd1, Black had no trouble forcing White to give up his knight for the a-pawn after which Black simply brought his king up to wipe out the rest of White's pawns.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Student Leaves Teacher in the Dust

After 1st Board Robert Moskwa upped his rating to 2017 over my 2011 two weeks ago, I decided that I had to play in the Midwest Class in order to see if I could put myself back ahead.  For a brief moment Friday night, I had some hope when Robert only managed a draw in the first round with 2137 rated Vijay Raghavan while I beat 2134 rated Robert O'Donnell. Had we stopped then, I would have had the edge by a couple of points.  Alas, we played Saturday and I lost twice while Robert won twice.  On Sunday, I managed to redeem myself with a couple of wins while Robert picked up a win and a draw.

End result:  Robert Moskwa goes 4-1 to tie for 1st in the Expert Section and ups his rating to 2048; Vincent Hart goes 3-2 to tie for 8th and ups his rating to 2016.

Interesting side note for those those of us who get frustrated losing to the youngsters.  Ninety-seven year  old (That's right 97!) Erik Karklins went 3.5-1.5 to tie for 3rd beating Matthew Stevens 11, Alex Bian 12, and Troy Zimmerman 16.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Prospect Beats Schaumburg

In a tightly fought match, Prospect beat Schaumburg 37-31, losing on 1st and 2nd Board, but coming through on the lower boards.

A key issue in two of the games was king safety.  On 2nd Board, Prospect's Ekrem Genc made the risky decision to try to open up the game by advancing the pawns in front of his own king, whereupon he found himself subject to withering attack by Thomas Plaxco's rooks.  On 4th Board, Schaumburg's Elliot Krueger made a similarly risky choice to castle on the queen side where his pawn protection was already compromised and he suffered a similar fate at the hands of
Mike Murakado.

On 3rd Board, Schaumburg's Seijji Hamada thought he saw a chance to win a pawn by temporarily sacrificing a bishop.  Unfortunately, he overlooked Mark Graff's check which prevented him from playing the tactic that would get him his bishop back.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Student Overtakes Coach

Cross posted at Chicago Chess Blog.

I knew it would happen eventually and this weekend Robert Moskwa upped his rating to 2017 to overtake my 2011 by going 5-1 at the North Shore Chess Center G60 tournament including a final round win over 2086 rated 7th grader Alex Bian.  The turning point came in the following position.

Playing the White pieces, Alex made the perfectly understandable decision to give his king a little breathing room with 22.h3?!  Unfortunately, this gave Black the opportunity to take the intiative with 22...Rf2 whereupon White allowed Black to activate his bishop with tempo wiht 23.Qd3? Bf5.  Ten moves later, White found himself in the following untenable position.

Technically material is even, but Black's active pieces and connected passed pawns give him an overwhelming position.  The funny thing about bishops of opposite colors is that they are extremely drawish when there are no other pieces on the board, but when you add rooks, they can become a huge advantage for the player with the initiative, almost as if he was playing with an extra piece since he can attack on squares that his opponent cannot adequately defend.