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Archive for May, 2010

First win in a team4545league game

I was in a strange mood yesterday. The chess exam book (see previous blog entry) has shown me all my weak areas and I was eager to do something to correct them. The scheduledTeam4545League game came at a bad moment. Even worse, our team captain has lost his game and I needed to win to tie the match.

My opponent was Manders, from his previous games I could see that he would play the Petroff or the French. As preparation I quickly reviewed the first moves of my opening repertoire and I looked at Signalman’s game against him.

Let’s start! You can replay the whole game here.

As expected it was indeed a French game but for whatever reason I couldn’t exactly remember the moves anymore. The first 5 moves were right, then I played 6. Ng3.

This gives Black a permanent space advantage. The correct move was 6. cxd4.

The game went on and suddenly Black started to attack on the queen side:

9…b5. What a nasty move. If White captures he will lose the bishop to Qa5+, Qxb5. Slowly my position turned into a positional mess. The pawn on d3 is a great target and when it falls Black’s bishop on g7 will become a monster.

The next critical moment came after move 12:

What should White play? My plan was to play a3, b4 to take away the squares from Black’s knight. This will seriously weaken the light squares but I calculated that my light bishop will be able to defend them. Paul mentioned after the game that he doesn’t like the plan. Weakening the c3 square is really bad and I should have done something else, maybe 13. a4 or the calm Rc1, slowly improving my pieces.

The good thing was that I had a plan, a real plan. 14. Ba2 was bad though as it allowed the strong 14…b4. I forgot to think about the moves that my opponent can do.

Position after 15… Rc8

The tension increases. Black has a lot of pressure on the queen side while 3 of my minor pieces are hanging around on the king side! There wasn’t much I could do here. b4-b3 would have trapped my light bishop permanently so it wasn’t too difficult to find 16. Bc4. I didn’t like axb4 as proposed by Paul. The b-pawn would quickly become a liability and I saw no easy way how to defend it.

Position after 18…Qa6

What to do? After dismissing axb4 earlier, I reconsidered it now or as response to 19. Bxb4 Nxb4 20. axb4. I still didn’t like it, I need to evaluate the position more deeply to understand what is better here. I had to protect the pawn on d3 at all costs so the queen could go to b3 or e2. After 19. Qb3 I feared Na5, however, this would simply lose the b4 pawn! I didn’t saw it during the game, I should have calculated the variation to the end. Instead I played 19. Qe2, cramping my position even more. My knight on g3 had nothing to do and no chance to enter the game soon.

The game continued 19…bxa3 and I continued with the really bad 20. bxa3. Again, this was my fear to not be left with a pawn on the b-file. 20. Rxa3 was called for, challenging Black a little bit. So far my defensive play allowed him to force his plans on me.

Position after 22…Rb3

Paul mentioned that I was positionally lost. I will lose the a-pawn, Black will get a passed a-pawn and has access to the open b+c file. Well, to have any chance at all I had to protect the d3 pawn and to prepare some counter play. How to do this? 23. Ne1. The knight looks so bad on e1 but it allows me to play f4 soon and to start an attack on the king side.

Position after 26. f5

Black stumbles! Instead of 25. gxf4 he played 25…Kh7 which allowed the strong 26. f5. Suddenly four pieces are pointing to Black’s king, potentially allowing some kind of mate attack or a nasty pawn fork after f6. The game continued with 26. Ng8 and I played 27. Qg4 with a discovered attack at the rook on c8. I didn’t expect that my opponent misses it, my plan was to simply increase the pressure and open the f-file for the rook. Calm defense with Rc7 would have saved the day, instead Black played 27…a5?? and after 28. fxg6 fxg6 29. Qxc8 Nce7 he gave up.

Conclusion: The best position is worth nothing if you give your opponent counter play. It’s easy to blunder in a tactical position, even with enough time on the clock. I need to check the evaluation of the position if White is left with an isolated b-pawn. While trying to avoid it I played 2 bad moves that turned the game from equal to better for Black. Another lesson is that I should have turned to the king side much earlier. This would have forced Black to spread his forces.

I have planned not to play in round 4 but my captain put me at board 2 and I am paired against Salvatore. Black again, this time against 1. d4 – sounds like fun!

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Finished “Chess exam”

I have completed the Chess Exam and Training Guide by Igor Khmelnitsky, actually I did nothing else last week because I was eager to know which areas need improvement. My calculated FIDE rating was 1458, which puts me into the C-class. I can’t compare it to my "real" rating as I am not ELO rated yet but it seems to reflect accurately my strength on ICC.

Personally I thought that my rating should be higher and that ICC is simply lagging behind. Well, obviously this is not true and I have to accept that I belong to the 1500er bunch. It was very interesting to see what my weaknesses are and I have a clear plan now how to correct them. Tactics was more or less obvious, I need to work harder with CT-Art in future to improve that skill. Endgame was also obvious although the test acknowledged that my understanding of standard positions is okay, e.g. I know when a position is drawn or not. This helps with the transition from the middlegame to the endgame.

As a surprise came the fact that my understanding of chess strategy is poor. I know the basic principles but I have never applied them actively to my game, at least not all of them. Without proper planning I was unable to outplay my opponents and my current rating shows this. In the "Chess exam" book it looked very easy and now I understand what Silman means when he talks about fantasy positions. Using simple strategic principles as a guideline helps a lot to make steady progress until the advantage can be converted into a win.

I will revise my trainings plan in the next days. Some of the tasks are too advanced and I will focus on the basics first before I move on. It’s also necessary to play more games so that I can review if I have understood the lessons correctly. The brand new 45 45 pool on ICC seems to be ideal for that purpose.

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Round 2 was no big success for the chessmasters, we lost the match 1:3 against Niobium. Looking at the games, the result could have been the other way round as well so there is hope for the return match in round 5.

In round 3 we play against Asesinos de los Reyes II and our chances are good. I have no clue what my opponent will play. He seems to prefer Blitz, playing relatively fast and only rarely making mistakes. This will be another interesting battle and the big question is if natural talent to make good, aggressive moves can be overcome by systematic and slow thinking. My game is scheduled for next Tuesday, which gives me some time for preparation.

Meanwhile my copy of the Chess Exam and Training Guide has arrived.

I am really excited and will take the exam as soon as possible.

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T45 TeamLeague round 2

It’s only over when it’s over. The captain of the chessmasters decided not to play in round 2 of the T45 TeamLeague so I faced the highest rated player. As expected we played a Benoni and I was soon 1 pawn up and later another. The first critical moment was reached in this position:

Is it safe to capture the pawn on d4?

After some calculation I saw nothing wrong. White can attack the queen in the next moves but there is nothing to fear.

After a lot of exchanges I was able to win another pawn and reached the following wonderful position:

My opponent later told me that he almost resigned. Rightly he played on as I had no clue how to win such an ending! An obvious strategy is to exchange rooks and queens because then it’s a rather easy win for Black. Unfortunately White decided not to trade queens and after a couple of weak moves from my side I played:

42…b4??

This allowed my opponent to deliver many checks, snap the a-pawn and threatened to promote his own a-pawn. The last point turned out to be decisive because I was not able to exchange queens anymore and suffered badly.

Here is the link to the whole game.

After the game I took out the endgame manual to see how endings with queen + pawns need to be played. It’s not so difficult and the inside that I gained after this loss will be useful in future games. I should have kept the f-pawn on f7 and put the queen on the a1-h8 diagonale. This will prevent all checks. Now just slowly push the a+b pawns and it’s over.

I hope I can play again next round. These slow games are great to get better at chess and I am slowly getting more confident in my own play.

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On Monday was my first game in the Team4545League (TL). I was paired against Invicta-Knight, whose TL rating (1671) is higher than his ICC rating. My main goal was to play slowly and to avoid blunders. I had Black and played, as usual, the Scandinavian.

1. e4 {0:45:39} 1… d5 {0:45:34} 2. exd5 {0:46:24} 2… Nf6 {0:46:17} 3. d4 {0:47:07} 3… Bg4 {0:46:59} 4. f3 {0:46:57} 4… Bf5 {0:47:39} 5. Bd3 {0:47:23 Not in my preparation.} 5… Bxd3 {0:47:30} 6. Qxd3 {0:48:08} 6… Qxd5 {0:47:33} (6… Nxd5 {Is an idea but Black wants to castle queen side and the knight move doesn’t do anything to get closer to this.} 7. Ne2 Nc6 8. O-O e6) 7. Nc3 {0:48:25} 7… Qd7 {0:45:03} 8. Bf4 {0:48:12}

White has the threat Nb5 and then Nxc7. I hesitated to play Nc6, the normal developing move, but actually there is nothing to fear. I could simply move the rook to c8 and Rybka even came up with Nd5 and White has no attack.

8… e6 {0:41:00} 9. Nge2 {0:48:03} 9… Be7 {0:37:32}

Where to put the bishop? e7 is very solid and after my recent games with risky piece placement I opted for this choice.

10. Qb5

This attack doesn’t work but c6 has now the big drawback that the knight doesn’t get into the game.

10… c6 {0:36:31} 11. Qd3 {0:47:02} 11… O-O

Usually I try to castle queen-side in the Scandinavian and then start a pawn storm. Here however it would take too long to bring the knight on b8 into play. Fortunately White’s pieces are also not placed in the best way.

12. h4

An unexpected move!

12… Bd6

Well, I could have played the bishop to d6 earlier if I wanted to. Now the idea is that with the upcoming pawn storm it’s better to get rid of the last bishop.

13. g4 {0:45:29} 13… Nd5 {0:31:33}

Great square for the knight. If White exchanges knights, I can play cxd5 and then Nc6. 13…Bxf4 does not look so good, after 14. Nxf4 White has a lot of pressure in the center. Black could only do something with the e-file, putting the rooks there and trying to rip it open.

Rybka says: it’s good for Black. Qc7 will free the d7 square for the knight on b8 and Nd5 is also possible later.

14. Bxd6 {0:41:12} 14… Qxd6 {0:31:48} 15. O-O-O {0:41:48} 15… Nd7 {0:30:05}

Okay, the knight is now in the game. The position looks like a typical Caro-Slav formation (see chapter 1 in Soltis’ “Pawn Structures”), very funny to reach it from a Scandinavian.

16. Ne4 {0:39:29} 16… Qe7 {0:29:01} (16… Qc7 {might have been an option to start some attack on the queen side.}) 17. g5 {0:32:01}

White’s pawns get closer.

17…f5 {0:24:49}

Counter attack. If White captures the pawn en-passant, the semi-open file will be useful for me. If he doesn’t capture, the king side will be blocked soon.

Rybka comes up with 17… a5, simply ignoring the pawns on the king side and going for a pawn storm herself. Interesting choice.

18. gxf6 {0:31:52} 18… N7xf6 {0:24:57} 19. c4 {0:27:25} 19… Nxe4 {0:22:41}

19… Nb4 was a good alternative, I considered this move but thought that after Qb3 the knight has to go away. This is not the case, the queen is protecting the knight!

20. fxe4 {0:26:12} 20… Nf4 {0:22:26} 21. Qf3 {0:21:20} 21…Nxe2+ {0:17:13}

21… e5 Rybka: keeping up the tension and trying to get to the white king. Sooner or later I should have planned to break open the center or to attack on the queen side.

22. Qxe2 {0:22:05} 22… Rf4 {0:16:51} 23. h5 {0:22:39} 23…Raf8 {0:17:19} 24. Rdf1 {0:23:12}

24… Qg5 {0:16:47}

Now that’s what I call a nice position. Black will win the h-pawn, resulting in two passed connected pawns.

25. Kc2 {0:18:16} 25… Rxf1 {0:17:24} 26. Rxf1 {0:19:01} 26… Rxf1 {0:18:05} 27. Qxf1 {0:19:45} 27… Qxh5 {0:18:48} 28. Qf4 {0:20:26}

A critical position has been reached. White threatens to play Qb8+ and will then be able to capture some pawns. I was scared by the counter chances and decided to play it safe and take the draw a little bit later. The Chessmasters were leading in the match and my endgame technique needs more training. If our team was behind I would have played on.

28…Qe2+ {0:15:11}

28… Qe8 29. Qc7 h5 – This would have been the plan to use the advantage. I didn’t see it in the game.

29. Kc3 {0:20:59} 29… Qe1+ {0:15:28} 30. Kb3 {0:21:37} 30… Qd1+ {0:15:28} 31. Kc3 {0:21:37} 31… Qe1+ {0:16:00} 32. Kc2 {0:21:07} 32… Qe2+ {0:15:35} 33. Kc3 {0:21:15} 33… Qe1+ {0:16:11} 34. Kb3 {0:21:58} 34… Qd1+ {0:16:45} 35. Kc3 {0:22:34}

{Game drawn by mutual agreement} 1/2-1/2

Not a bad game but too tame. I need to study typical breakthroughs in the center or on the queen side to get winning chances. It’s okay to draw with Black but sooner or later I need to win such games.

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Another month, another STTourney. The good news is that I only lost 2 rating points. I was paired against Terte, rating 1999. As usual I played the Scandinavian and the first 15 moves went fine. Some moves later I was too greedy and went down in the mating attack.

STToruny May Blunder: Black played 18...Qxa2

Black played now: 18...Qxa2??

Now I played 18…Qxa2???

The main reason for the mistake was lazyness. With some care I could have noticed that my opponent had a strong attack. I simply didn’t calculate the forcing lines although this was exactly what I wanted to do. It’s okay to lose against a strong player but not in such a way.

Next time I can do better – and this will be rather sooner than later. My captain in the Team4545League paired me for the first round. I hope my opponent can agree to one of the proposed dates as I will be out of town the next days. Looking at his last games I expect that they last quite long. He is experienced but I am not so sure about his real strength. I guess the chances are more or less equal.

More news. My wednesday training with Paul was shifted to Tuesday. We agreed to play the Benko Gambit as this is one of the opening that belongs to my repertoire. I rarely have the chance to play it, most of my opponents decline it very early and we end up in a Benoni or something similar. It was an interesting game with nice midgame positions. I wasn’t able to come up with the right plan though, I wonder if I had a plan at all. After a miscalculation my fighting spirit was gone and I gave up rather easily. This should not happen, even a piece down there are chances for the opponent to err and it’s useful to fight on. Another observation: the game was roughly equal until move 20. In other games it’s the same story, the first 15-20 moves are good (or at least okay) and then I fail to find the right continuation. Sometimes the wrong pawn gets pushed, sometimes I play too passive. I need to check what’s going on, whether it’s the middlegame in general or just my concentration. Both can be improved and it’s good to stumble upon it now and not when it really counts.

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How much chess is too much?

Last Friday I forgot my Pocket PC at work. This more or less forced me to do something different because all the games and software I use for my training are stored on it. Well, why not, after all I am not addicted to chess, am I?

I enjoyed the break and this made me think about my obsession for chess. The skills you need to play the game are handy in real-life, sure, but at the end it’s only a game. When you are young, or old, you have enough time for your hobbies – when you are in your mid 30s though it’s completely different and this is a big conflict. The only way to resolve it is to come up with a strict time management and stick to it. There is a nice piece of software from Llamagraphics called Life Balance, which tries to balance all your duties and hobbies. It will quickly show you if you spend too much time on chess and not enough with your family…or if the car has been cleaned for 2 months. 🙂 It’s still up to you to change your schedule and set the priorities right, no tool or assistant will take this job away from you. And it’s hard because something needs to be sacrificed, e.g. how can I get better at chess without investing the time and work? This time won’t be available for other things…

Currently I reserve the weekends for my family. The consequence is that my chess training is limited to the 5 working days, roughly 10 hours per week, with the exception of a match in the chess league once every 4-6 weeks. (Fortunately there is a summer break now, the next season will start in fall.) Ten hours per week doesn’t sound much but a lot of things can and need to be done in that time. In addition I have ordered the "Chess Exam and Training Guide" from Igor Khmelnitsky to get a second opinion about my weaknesses.

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