The French Defense has her ways

Round 3

6…cxd4  Perhaps it’s telling that the #1 move in the DB is 6…c4, by almost 2 to 1.

7….Be7  This move has a 23% success rate.  I even saw him about to move and just assumed it was going to be 7….Ne7, mistakenly wrote that down, and was pleasantly surprised when I looked up at the board.

8….f6?!  I feel it a compliment that after the game, he pointed to this move as not so good, to think a mistake could be made so early in the game.  Let me digress about this Alex, I haven’t played him in a long-time, and he has old-world charm, in suit and tie, a throwback.  I often think he’d fit in with the past masters of the 19th century.  8…f6 is playable, but he needs to take on e5, and then play …Nf6.

11.Na4  11.exf6 Nf6, 12.Bf4 is much stronger.  I thought about play exf6 on each move, but I was not wanting to waste time yet in an elusive hunt for the best move, since that is best done at home, as I’m doing right now.

12.Bf4  Houdini says 12.Be3 is more accurate.  I get lucky in this game, as my opponent played what I wanted him to play 12…f5, rather than …g5.  I got away with one here, but I shouldn’t try to do that so much.  Even after ….g5, Be3 is best by Houdini and Stockfish.

16…Qb6.  I felt this was risky, though understandable that he was looking for complications.  I saw his coming attack, rather quickly, and felt he should be playing 16…Nge7 instead, working on completing development.

17.b5  Not the best move.  Right here, I thought that I should continue to develop my position, but wasn’t confident precisely how I should do it, so I got loose and headed for the complications too soon, exactly what I was trying not to do, but lacked the impulse control not to.  17.Bd2, a move I had definitely considered, is much better, as is 17.Qa1 with idea of Rb1 and pawn pushes at the right time.  I was trying to keep it positional and not go into tactical too soon, but oh well, it’s even a big part of my style at this point.

17…Nxd4.  This is what I wanted him to do, or else I would not have spent so long on this move.  I felt his best was 17…axb5, 18.Bb5 Nge7, 19.Bg5, but even here White is close to +2.  He was right, in this line, not to take on b5 first, else after Bxb5 my queen will be able to recapture on d4.

18….Qxc5, best, but still +1.8 for White.  I had missed this obvious capture when analyzing, looking only at 18…NxNf3, 19.Qxf3, but I felt confident that the move played in the game should still be losing for him.  Notice that psychologically I am much more comfortable here, with Black attacking with his only developed pieces, rather than both sides cooly completing development.

21.Qe2  I was jumping to play 21.Qb1, and certainly would have done so in a blitz game without a thought, but wasn’t finding the right line OTB.  21.Qb1 Ka8, 22.Qb6(I was planning on playing) Rb8, 23.Qc7 (threatening 24.Nc6!) Rb7, 24.Qd8+ is the move I missed, but noticed it instantly once I got to this position with Houdini Rb8, 25.QxBd7.  If 23…Ne7, then 24.Nc2 threatens Black’s queen and mate on a7.

24.Nd4??  In time-pressure, I was getting a case of nerves, thinking it wasn’t hurting to repeat, but here 24….Qa4 would be +=, whereas he quickly repeated, instantly in fact 24….Qa3??  I was looking at 24.Ra1 Qb2, 25.Bb7+ KxB, 26.Qa6+ Kc7 (and now looking at 27.Qa7+, when I should be trying to get the Ra1 onto this square with check), 27.Qd6+ Kb7, 28.Ra7+! Kc8, 29.Qc7 mate.

29.Rb1  29.Rc1+ is an easy winner, but I missed this being in time-pressure, under 5 minutes.

33….Rd8.  I knew it was over when I saw this move, not even trying to create counter-play with 33…Rb1+.

My live rating is approx. 1822 after this game (but perhaps a few points lower than that).  This is nothing permanent of course, as my result in the last round could drop this by as much as 60 points with the tournament performance boost up or down in effect.

A Positional Test

….that’s what I always think of when playing Black against the Catalan.  The Catalan is a bold attempt by White to try to win on technique, and the better technical player stands a fair chance of winning.

Round 4

5…0-0  If you wait this long without taking on c4, then they call anything after this the Closed Catalan.  It’s safer, as Black, to wait before making any captures, although there are many sharp ways for Black to play the Catalan.

7.Nbd2  If 7.Na3, then 7…BxNa3!, with the idea of keeping the extra pawn for as long as possible, is strongest and equal.

7…c5  I chickened out here, and knew this move was sorta weak after I played it.  7…b5! where 8.Ne5 can be met by 8…Nd5, and Black already has a slight edge.

10…h6  Played after a record 40 minute think!  I afforded myself this luxury as I was strangely half an hour up on the clock at this point.  10…Qe7 is the only move in the DB, played nine times.  I considered playing 10…Qe7, but thought 11.Bg5 would be annoying, but Black can equalize in that case with 11…e5.

I wanted to play 10…Nd4, but this fails to 11.NxN QxN, 12.Be3 winning the bishop, so I wanted to play 10…b6 to defend the Bc5, but this is a little ridiculous once you realize that White is basically going to play 11.Rfd1 to stop this anyway.  I went so far as to calculate 10…b6, 11.Ne5 (11.Rfd1 is an exchange sac, around +.6 according to Houdini)…Nd4, 12.Qd3 Nd5, but now 13.e3 and 13.Be3 are both +1 for White, which I didn’t know, but there was an awful lot to have to be sure of, so I eventually called it off.

12.Bf4  Houdini likes 12.Be3 e5!? +.3 as best.  I was more worried about 12.Nce5, but failed to see that after 12…NxN, 13.NxN Bxf2+, 14.Kxf2 Qc5+ comes 14…Qc5xNe5 (this capture part I missed) – my guess is that he saw it.

13…f6?!  This move is a little ridiculous at face value.  I play 13…f6 to control e5, because I don’t want to get attacked, but this Be5 is doing nothing and is practically stopping his attack, so why push it away and create weaknesses when I haven’t even finished development?  Of course, I had some wild-eyed ideas of playing …Be6, but it took me a while to realize that wasn’t feasible.

15…Rb8?  I also considered 15…Rd8, but not until after I moved did I realize that I had just dropped my e6 pawn.  Luckily, he didn’t see it, so I hurriedly played …Rd8 on my next move.

16….Rd8 (…Kh8 was an alternative).  After playing this move, I realized to my horror, upon his long reflection, that I had missed 17.Nc6?? Luckily, we both saw that this would only get his queen trapped.

17.Nf5.  Never saw this, and my initial reaction was to take it, but I saw the line where I could drop a piece 17…exNf5, 18.Bxd5+ Be6?? (…Kh8), 19.Ne3! and now the Bc5 will drop.  I have to credit the times I’ve practiced tactics on chesstempo to be able to recognize and calculate this.  Funny, it turns out that the tactics ability helps on defense, spotting and side-stepping my opponent’s tactics, more than offensively, since I never had such a position of my own to attack from.

18.Nf5e3, calling off the hounds.  18.Nc4-d6! will win the e6 pawn again after the 18…BxNd6, 19.BxNd5! intermezzo.  I felt that when I played 17…Qf8, that I was creating a “chesstempo” position for him, but I never saw the shot OTB, so after spending time decided to play it.

19….BxNe3  Apparently 19…RxRd1, 20.RxR c5 was best, but at this point I realized that it was time to try and draw the game.

26…Qe8  Somehow, I missed 26…Qd6 (because I was looking to play this), and I even wanted to play the better 26…Qd8, but was feeling that time-pressure panic set it.  We were both down to two minutes, and Mark accepted my draw proposal once he went under a minute, but it’s not to late to mess this up and lose for Black.

In the quick post-mortem (Alex was driving and wanted to go), we looked at 27.Bd5 Rc8, 28.Rc7 RxR, 29.QxR Qc8?, 30.Qxb6 (I had missed that after 30…Bh3, simply 31.Qc6 or 31.Bc6 wins).  So I guess I proved that I can drop a pawn at blitz speed, but did figure out that 29…Qd8! is the accurate, equal move, and also noticed that I had 29…Be6 at my disposal before I got out of there.  Oddly enough, after 29…Bh3! first, then 30.RxRc8 (or 30.Qc2, and then I can force this sequence by trading rooks on c7) QxRc8 would force the trade off queens, leaving an equal position with only bishops.

My conclusions of this game are that I need to seriously consider my chances for grabbing initiative: 7…b5! and 10…Qe7 come to mind.  Also, I need to improve at pruning out useless variations such as looking at 10…b6.  Clock-management will also be key going forward.  I feel I am playing at a higher level these days than say last year, but it’s slowly starting to come around.  I think the biggest thing that I did last year was to try and improve my blindfold/calculation, but it’s taken a while for that to kick in in terms of fitting it into the rest of my game.  If it helps me most of the time on defense then that is fine, as chess is mostly about defending!  Every move in chess is like a scientific research-paper where you have to defend your hypothesis.








The Unfathomable Position

I spent 37 minutes on a single position.  No, I wasn’t looking for a move, and no I didn’t think my position was worse, I was simply comparing strategies roughly eight moves deep in a handful of different lines.  I know from experience that if I take a lot of time in a position, objectively the position warrants a deep investigation even if it’s foolhardy to do this OTB.  I had no idea.  I analyzed it again before I plugged in the engine, and this one is like staring into the Milky-Way.  I’ve heard of IMs and GMs talking about a position being like this, but this is the first time that I’ve ever experienced the feeling OTB.

Round 2

14…Ne4!  I didn’t think this was a strong move until he played it.  This is where I spent the 37 minutes.  My initial reaction was the move I played, realizing he doesn’t lose a piece.  It seemed about five minutes into my think I wanted to play 15.Bf3, but thought that without deep analysis it could just be a “coffee-house” move.  Now, I think that unless you are playing postal-chess, any move in this position could seem like a coffee-house move.

Later into my think, I almost played 15.Bh2, reached toward the board a second-time (the first time was for 15.Bf3), but ultimately played the move one would have thought all along, but that’s because I had finally come up with a strategy to make it playable.  I probably looked at close to ten moves/continuations actually, in all.  Trying to look ahead in any of these lines is like staring into the heavens.  Of course, when you replay it, the game continuation looks like a no-brainer, and may have been the best chance for an advantage after all.  After 15.Bf3, 15…Bg5! and 15…NxNc3 are both strong.

20.Rxe6?  20.c5! is winning, though it’s only initially +1.  Here is where the time wasted earlier really cost me.  Now I blundered my b2 pawn, didn’t even see I was dropping it, but 21.c5! is still += for White.

After the game Daniel (Expert), thought that I might be winning with 28.Qf7?? and wanted to know what the computer thought about it, but he is on the right track as 28.Rf7 Rg8 is 0.0 equal.

During the game, I wasn’t worried about him playing RxBg3, as I demonstrated in the post-mortem successfully, but was worried about his a-pawn promoting, which caused me to rashly play 29.Be5?? because I though that if defended passively that he would promote his pawn.  Even 29.Bf4 holds as the importance of the h-pawn is apparently sort of an illusion here.  I missed his mate threat, and resigned before the mating was actually played.



The English Opening

I’d never played 1.c4 in a rated tournament before.  Well, to be honest, I played it one time the other day, since I was planning on playing it OTB the next day.  I don’t ever remember playing 1.c4 even online before that, so if I have it must be astronomically rare.  I studied absolutely nothing but my one online game before playing this, and the English Opening actually has tons of different lines.  Nevertheless, now I can say I’ve played it!

Round 3

Magnus Carlsen’s Games

One impression I get from Magnus’ games is to adopt a Bobby Fischer saying about Alekhine “If you’ve seen one Magnus Carlsen game, you’ve seen ’em all.”  Another impression I get is Magnus will to win.

Magnus will vary his opening lines greatly, perhaps more than anyone, and yet know the theory or some idea in every unsharp line he plays.  Once Magnus opponent is worn down in some equal to += position, then he still has loads of energy to conjure something up.  Here’s a good example:

Carlsen vs Onishuk 2007

29.b4!  Sacking a pawn is the only way to make progress – getting the king involved is only equal.

32…f5??  Here it is Black’s turn to counter-sac with 32…Re7, giving up two knights for rook, or pinning the knight if 33.NxBb4.




Evaluations in Time-Pressure

….I’m sensing that this is one of the toughest things to do once you become a strong enough player, and I feel that this will always be the case, if not more so as my rating climbs.  If evaluations of positions are based on process of elimination, then this implies a process that takes a lot of clock-time.

Round 2

Paul wanted to play 17.Nxh7!!, and succeeded with winning the post-mortems, although he didn’t play it because for him he felt there was too much to verify before playing it.

After 18.Nh3, I sensed it was my turn to attack, and arriving early in time-pressure, this was part of the problem.  I wasn’t nearly as nervous as Paul, perhaps because I was under the weather all day and I could hear my breath rate far, far slower than his, but his nervous energy prevailed, whereas I felt the lethargy you feel when your body was fighting something and relaxing.  Anyway, the problem is that I though Black stood a lot better, though it was only equal or tiny bit of pull for Black.

20.Bg2!  Once he played this, I noticed that I had missed the possibility of 21.Be4+, so I reluctantly closed the center.

24.f3!  Here, I could not believe that this position should be equal, which it would be after the best move 24…exf3, 25.Qxf3 (which we both saw was forced, and I saw deep into this line), so I played the second best move 24…Rcf8 to get some tactical chances as we both approached time-pressure, me with over 2 minutes, and him with 9 minutes.

26.Rf1?  Unfortunately, my idea was to follow-up 26.Rxe4 with …Bf5?, 27.Nf2 BxR, 28.NxBe4 forking rook and queen, which Houdini says is at least +1.

26…..RxRf1+!  After sizing up the possibilities, intuition told me this move was best.  After the game, I was miffed that I had lost my way from here, but it was clearly time-pressure affecting my ability to find and choose the right ideas.

27…Qf6?!  A clear-headed decision would have been to play 27…e3 (which I considered), followed by 28…Rfe8, which I didn’t have the common-sense under-the-gun to see the obviousness of this plan.

28…Ne7?  Both me and Paul had seen 28….Nxd4, he said he thought it was nothing, and I thought it looked okay, but a little “out there”.  This was the first time that I noticed I could trade a piece for two pawns, and likely keep the pawn I was about to lose, but I still wasn’t so sure.  It turns out that 28…Nxd4! would have been the best path for equality, and it’s equal there.

32…e3!  Probably the best chance, from a psychological point of view.

33.Nd1? (Ne4!)  It worked!  However, now I played 33…Bc6?, with two seconds on my clock, and just shook my head because I knew that whatever the real move was I hadn’t found it in time.

This is where it gets a little strange.  I had spent quite a bit of time examining 32…Nf4?? and concluded it must just be a blunder.  So on this move, because Paul took so long, I was curious about 33…Nf4!!, seeing that I at least get to keep my pawn, have two connected pawns for the knight, saw that he could blockade the two pawns and thought to myself “He must be able to win the base pawn somehow down the road, but I like how his knight is out of play.”  It turns out that he would have to sack his knight for the two pawns, but would then be a pawn up.  This was my last chance to stay in the game, but in extreme time-pressure it was just too much for me to follow the logic of this line that far, and then to determine whether it was better than the alternatives.

I flagged as I played my last move, but I got a sense of satisfaction out of taking Paul down to 9 seconds on his clock as well, two moves before I flagged.  It’s very rare that I can bring Paul down anywhere close to being under a minute with me, and see him get flustered like that.  We both had a lot to look at in this game, and it’s too bad with a game like this that there is not a second time-control, as there would have been in most classical chess-games.  However, at least from a creative point-of-view, this was a very satisfying game to have played at these time-controls.

After the game, Paul tried 53.Qe2, and I said that was best, and then pointed out that White is simply winning after 53…Qh1+, 54.Ke3 Qc1+, 55.Kf2!




Bravery in Chess

… is often like delayed gratification; you get rewarded somewhere later on down the line.  In our game tonight, Daniel was brave for facing a line I was perhaps more familiar with, but then again he is one of the bravest players I know.

Round 1

4…Nc6  I play this move here, as I do not yet want to determine where I want to place the dark-square bishop, on …e7 or …b4 for example.

8….Qf5  Most miniatures that I have seen where Black loses features 8….Qh5, but strangely enough the most popular line here is the move 8….Qa5, which I wasn’t aware of (although my database is stuffed with games of Class players’).

9…Rxe4.  9….Nxe4 is far more common.

If 10.Nh4?, then not 10….Qf6, 11. Nd5 Qd8 =+, but 10…Qc5! is -+, according to Houdini.

11…Rd8.  If 11…Bc5??, 12.g4! wins a piece, as given by Houdini.

12.Qa4+?!  At first, I thought this was forced, but to my chagrin I finally spotted 12.Qe5, so was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t played.  Actually 12.Qc4! is best and equal, a move probably neither of us spotted.  One good feature of this move is that the queen can play to f1, if I try taking his Re4.

13.Qa5??  Here, once again, it was a while before I spotted the move 13.g4! which I showed Daniel after the game.  He simply missed this idea, and thus the move (Andy Soltis calls it “super-luft” – …g5 or …g4, for example, in his book “What it takes to become a GM” or similarly titled).  If an Expert can miss a move/idea, then it goes to show that it can probably happen to most anyone.

So, the real question is “What happens after 13.g4?”  I flippantly suggested 13…Qc5? +-, never having given it any real thought, but perhaps most surprising is that Houdini suggests 13…Qxf2+, 14.bxQ is best, but in it’s best line still only gives Black as having an =+ advantage (while up two pawns in this line!).

I actually left the table at this point, since I knew I would have to find some response to 13.g4 in a blind-folded manner, but really I just ended up getting a Snapple lemonade/tea, and then visiting the restroom, both times sneaking a peek to see whether or not the move g4 was on the board!

It had also taken me an emabarassingly long time, luckily on Daniel’s time, to notice that 14.RxB+ QxRe6, 15.Qxb5+ c6, 16.Qf1! (the move which took me so long to find) which is only =+.  Instead, I was going to play 14…fxRe6,  and after 15.g4 bxQ, 16.gxQ Houdini says it’s +2.45 in Black’s favor, even though only up the exchange and a pawn.  You can’t count on an Expert missing a move like …g4 every day; so on the one hand I was very lucky in this game, but OTH it was still a well-deserved victory, I feel.

14.Bg5!  I realized that developing the bishop would be the only way to play on, but I was kind of surprised to see it, thinking he might choose to resign here.  At this point, I spent 20 minutes on 14….Qb7, but it was just as much a breather to steady my nerves, as I realized that I could go down from the lovely advantage of a whole rook, to just a piece for two pawns!  The surprising 14…Qb4! is +4 in Black’s favor, but both 14…Qc6 and 14…Qb7, which I was deliberating over, are +3 for Black.

16…Kc8 The only move!  I wish I could say that I had seen this accurately before, but I knew I would figure it out when I got to this point, as the previous move was really about calming my nerves.

18…QxQa7.  At first I considered 18…QxNb5, and thought I would lose my queen, then considered 18…Bc5, and felt the complications needless.  Both moves were 0.0 equal!  Just goes to show it’s never too late to throw away a won position!  Daniel said he saw some perpetuals here, much to his credit.

21.Re1.  As I realized, all moves here are hopeless for White.

23…Bc5.  Scary moment, as I reached out to play this move, the tip of my index finger, to my horror, touched and rocked the light bishop (I poked it, as my fingers are more used to moving boxes lately, than chess pieces), and then I quickly grabbed the dark-squared bishop and played the intended 23…Bc5.  Neither the TD, who was watching, nor Daniel noticed, but as she said afterwards accidents don’t count.  In the past, I have knocked over the king with my arm so many times when making a move.  I really need to learn to be careful how I reach for a piece, and now I think I know why some GMs of the past like Rubinstein, or maybe even Petrosian, don’t reach out with their index finger toward a piece they would like to move, and instead grab it with other fingers!

I did miss 24.Nb3, when I played 23…Bc5, but then saw that 24.Nb3 Bxf2+ would win a piece.  So here, Daniel chose the appropriate moment to resign.  I had at least 23 minutes remaining at the game’s end, as I had 28 minutes remaining after playing 21…Rd8, and had seen the game continuation even then, and verified it mostly on Daniel’s time.