Sunday, August 31, 2008

Breaking Point

The Ford Memorial 2008 has started so I thought I took the time to relook at my past games. I've so far been involved in only 2 competitions - the Ryde-Eastwood club championships and the NSW Grade Matches.

While I was busy poring through my old games, I'd notice particular annotations I made on my scoresheets. In between some of the variations were personal comments I injected to relive the mood of the game at that time.

I notice one particular oddity. Players around my level (including myself) have a propensity to collapse at the critical moments especially under sustained pressure to the verge of breaking point.

This appears to be a far more common weakness than I realise.

Be it due to time-trouble or mental fatigue, the psychological warfare being engaged in the end tends to prove too much and mistakes inevitably started to show.

I also noticed that when faced against higher rated opponents, they steel themselves a lot better in the face of an onslaught.

But why then are so few chess books being written on the psychological aspects and mental training of chess?

Perhaps all along, we've not been 100% correct in our chess education during our formative years. One should not just solely concentrate on improving the calculative and combinatorial abilities. Instead toughening your mental strength should also be a core part of a person's training.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not All Booked Up

In this day and age, it gets progressively harder to get better at chess if you do not 'book up'. When I mean 'book up', I mean learning not just your major opening lines but also knowing them well enough to know the nuances, strategies and plans that comes with the opening.

'Seasoned' opponents knows how to find every nook and cranny to exploit every new nuance in your opening in an attempt to gain an advantage if you do not know your openings back to front.

I'm still learning the King's Indian Defence, and admit that I've got a long way to go before I can truly say that it is part of my repertoire.

How do people learn new openings?

I cannot say for others, but I've always been interested in mainline opening knowledge.

So when and how did I start playing the KID then?

I can't pinpoint the exact moment which this took place (idea of learning another opening) but it's probably around like 2 months ago. At that time, the Nimzo-Indian/QID was part of my original repertoire but I felt that I needed to understand how to handle the dark squares of the royal game. In addition, I wanted to learn how to handle dynamic positions. I felt the KID 'seemed' like a good defense that gave plenty of scope for attacking ideas.

That was what got me started on the KID.

When I first started to learn this opening, I was very intimidated by the amount of theory of this opening.

I've only started examining the main Classical lines with e5, Nc6, Nd7 and thought it was very strange to lock up the center position. Fortunately or rather, unfortunately, the Bayonet Attack does not hold the same terror it did (which originally forced Kasparov to give up the KID) once Black players knew how to equalise.

I've yet to fully understand the nuances of this defence, really. I'm currently reading through Gallagher's Starting Out: The King's Indian by Everyman but the progress has been slow and painful. I keep losing to Steven despite numerous tries against it. Oh well.... that only shows I've not fully understood how to play it yet.

I still have not decided what to play against 1. e4 but of late, I've been looking at 1. e5 as a solid response and am looking to play the Ruy Lopez as Black if given the chance.

I'm not a good move memorizer so anything beyond like 6 or 7 moves and I start to lose my way and tend to go out of book.

So how do you acquire your opening knowledge/repertoire?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ghosts And Fallability

While playing games be it, OTB or over the internet, I noticed a few 'ghosts' cropping up in my gameplay.

One of these flaws was that I have a tendency to not play the best moves after getting in a few nice moves. In other words, after making a series of good moves, I followed it up with an impulsive move which usually leads to the start of my downfall.

I will highlight this in this game here (see 1st diagram).

White has a slight edge here having a passed pawn and more active pieces. With correct play, White should be able to convert this.

But I was disturbed by the doubling of the Rooks on the h-file. I definitely do not want Black to play Bxf3 leading to a doubling of my pawn structure and even worse, allowing Black to crash through the Kingside which has become porous (with 1... Bxf3 2. gxf3 Rxh3) - my Queen had gone on a temporary excursion to wipe Black's a pawn off the board - hence the awkward position.

I looked first at 1. Re3. Not bad, this protects the Knight and indirectly the h3 pawn as well. It also provides some cover for my King should it decide to go to the e-file.

Then.... I looked at 1. Rxe4, sacrificing an exchange with Rook for Bishop and pawn after 1. Rxe4 dxe4 2. Qxe4. The more I looked at it, the better it seemed. First, I had broken up Black's pawn control of the center. The Knight is excellently posted on f3, protecting all the necessary squares of h4, g5 and e5. The Queen on e4 stops all tricks of Black pushing the g-pawn.

So the exchange sacrifice went ahead.

1. Rxe4 dxe4
2. Qxe4 Re8 (see 2nd diagram)

Hmmmm.... what now? Black realises that there is no way through on the h-file but decides to plant his Rook on e8 (?).

I half expected Black to contest the d-file with 2... Rd8 instead after which 3. Re1 (wisely avoiding the trade but having to give up the d-file). At some point Black cannot wait to trade off the Queens so that Black's Rook can be dominant.

I needed temporary control of the d-file but I needed to do something better. So I hitched upon a move that encompasses 2 different ideas.

So I played 3. Qg4 (see 3rd diagram)

Attacks the undefended Rook but mo
re importantly, it allows my Rook to invade the 7th rank at d7 and attack the c-pawn and the Black Queen - a double attack and the c-pawn will fall.

3.... Rh6
4. h4! Rb6
5. b3 Ra8 (see 4th diagram)

In this position, I played

6. hxg5.

A mistake. See? Mistakes are now starting to creep into my play. I was concerned with

6. Nxg5 Rg6 (a Rook pin)

It is so unnatural to allow a pin unto yourself and I thought it was an uncomfortable pin that might cause me problems later. However, I failed to see that

7. Rd7 any Black Queen move
8. h5! and e6! are very strong replies and there was nothing to be afraid of.

6.... Rxa2
7. Rd7 Qe8

8. g3 (forced) Re6
9. Rxc7 Qd8? (see 5th diagram)

I had a chance to clarify things with 10. Qxe6! Qxc7 11. Qh6+ and achieve a winning endgame with such a pawn majority.

And now my ghosts are starting to haunt me.

10. Rxc5?? (see last diagram) A blunder of humongous proportions!

What I saw was that Black didn't seem to have anything after 10.... Qd3+ but there was something critical I missed.

Can you see how Black can win in this position?

My opponent didn't see it either and lost in a few moves later.

Answer can be found by highlighting between the brackets.
[ 10. .... Qd3+ 11. Kg2 Qe3!! and the White Rook on c5 is lost 12. Qd4 does not work because of Rxf2+ and the Knight is lost and the Queens are coming off in the next move.]

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chessbase's Anand DVDs

Ok, I admit it. I have a soft spot for the current undisputed world champion Viswanathan Anand.

The Indian super-grandmaster is hard to dislike. No one can deny that Anand has been a good ambassador of the royal game and his conduct OTB has always been above reproach.

I have always had a liking for Anand's rather direct and unpretentious play.

And guess what Chessbase decides to do?

Viswanathan Anand: My Career Vol. 1

Viswanathan Anand: My Career Vol. 2

Which means I have a good idea of where the money for my Christmas presents are going.... much to the dismay of my wife.

And yes, I hate Chessbase. They're evil. ;)

Speaking of Anand, I do wish he releases an update to his book: Vishy Anand, My Best Games.

The period spanning 2000 onwards (where the book stopped) has been very scant on details while Anand has won quite a number of tournaments since then, sometimes with incredible play.

Take for example, this Tal-style lesson in the art of sacrificing material he gave to young Sergey Karjakin at the Corus Wijk aan Zee tournament in 2006 or this killer Knight lesson to Magnus Carlsen at Linares-Morelia 2007.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Openings You Dread

As a player who is taking up the King's Indian Defence vs 1. d4, I was surprised to learn from chess forums that some 1. d4 White players really dislike the typical KID player.

After some digging, I found that it is because a typical KID player is one who plays not for the material of the pieces but plays for the initiative, which usually results in unclear, dynamic play and sometimes absolute chaos can result on the board if White chooses to take on Black tic for tac.

What of Kramnik's infamous Bayonet Attack? Sadly, that line has gone out of fashion as Black players started to devise counter-plans to achieve equality (partly in due to the modern 7.... Na6 variation), taking the whole sting out of a queenside attack.

I know at my club, some 1. d4 players absolutely dread the Nimzo-Indian Defence because the darn thing is so hard to crack and right from the 3rd move, Black is threatening to unbalance the game with 4... Bxc3. If you throw in the Rubinstein, the Saemisch, the Leningrad, Romanishin then suddenly the Nimzo-Indian starts to look really really daunting.

As for 1. e4 players, some players dread the French Defence, it's rock solid and allows Black a transition to the middlegame. White sometimes play the f4 variation to stifle Black and attempt to put Black out of his misery but there's still plenty of play on both sides. The Winawer and the MacCutcheon variations offer Black plenty of counter play as well.

How about the Najdorf Sicilian? Bucket loads of theory and play is governed by move memorisation that it's downright scary.

Using computers for openings is next to impossible. A dated study done by Chessbase shows that computers are strange beasts when it comes to openings (hence the need for opening books) - see inset.

What openings do I dread? Well.... none at the moment. I play all kinds of openings so I'm not that disturbed by the different types of opening play.

Do you have an opening that you absolutely hate facing?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Me And You And My Game Smells Like Poo

Dedicating this song to all the patzers like me our there....

(Singing to the tune of Lobo's "Me And You A Dog Named Boo")

I remember till this day
I became a targeted prey
How my pieces got stuck
After twenty moves
Wifey did ask me not to go;
'Cause my game is gonna blow
Oh, how I wish I never learn this game

Me and you and my game smells like poo
Pieces living and dying by my hand
Me and you and my game smells like poo
How I luv being "Patzer-man"

I can still recall
How quickly my pieces fall
And the ev'ning I got caught by a simple skewer
These chess players really made me work
Then caught me with a Knight fork
Another reverse pin and
I'm dead meat again


Me and you and my game smells like poo

Pieces living and dying by my hand
Me and you and my game smells like poo
How I luv being "Patzer-man"

I'll never forget the day,
I got mowed down in early gameplay
The lights of the playing hall
Totally unsettling my brain
Though it's only been a month or so
My fears and doubts continues to grow
Want to get away and back to my wife again

Me and you and my game smells like poo
Pieces living and dying by my hand
Me and you and my game smells like poo
How I luv being "Patzer-man"


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Insufficient Firepower

One of the worst things to possibly happen in an aerial fighter dogfight (see inset diagram of a F22's HUD) is when your enemy is in range of your guns on your super duper F22 Strike Fighter. You've done everything right so far, you've skilfully manoeuvred your state-of-the-art fighter to the desired position, and your finger is poised on the trigger, waiting to lay waste to your enemy with your 1 gazillion rounds/min minigun and you found out that you're out of ammunition.


Have you ever had that happen to you before in chess? You're in good company.

Many a time, I got caught launching an attack but not having the required firepower to back it up.

The worst possible thing is that you've committed so much forces towards the attack, your opponent's king is out in the open, surely there must be a way to finish him?

Take a look at this blitz game I just played tonight.

I was White and was hanging by a thread.... this opening arrived out of a King's Indian via a different move order.

Black had sacrificed a piece and my king is catching pneumonia if I don't do something soon. My Rook on e3 is pinned and Black just played Bg4. The Bishop on g4 is of course taboo (unless I wanted to be mated really really fast) and cannot be captured.

What now? What should I do as White?

Practical defense is at much a valuable skill as an offensive attack. I find the best advice one can give is: do not panic!

First I need to bring my last inactive piece to the kingside. But where do I place it?

My plan was to do Rb1->Rf1->Rf2 and the White King can now slip out via the f1 square.

24. .... Bg4
25. Rf1 e5
26. Ne2 (Planning to get rid of the bishop on d4) Rh3?? (Woohoo! Now I can alleviate my position see 2nd diagram)
27. Nxd4 Rxe3
28. Qxe3 cxd4
29. Qg3 Be2
30. Rc1 d3 (see 3rd diagram - from here on, Black is lost)
31. Qe3 (protecting d2 and guarding the c1-h6 diagonal) Qd8
32. Re1 d2
33. Qxd2 Qb6+
34. Kg2 Bxc4
Black resigns 1-0

I still can't believe I survived that!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Calculating Sacrifices

My opponent and I reached this unusual middlegame from the Classical Sicilian. Black's King is left all alone. And this usually signifies an attack. Black had just played Bb7 (see 1st diagram). So it is White to move.

Do you know what I was thinking?

1. Bxf7! was the sacrifice to open up the area around the Black King.

The question is: Do you think the sacrifice 1. Bxf7 works?

Calculate the lines after 1.... Kxf7.

Once you're ready, I'll go into the following thought processes that goes into my dysfunctional brain.

So please bear with me. :)

First of all, why 1. Bxf7? White has a positional advantage in that it has more active pieces and the pieces control a lot of squares on the board. True, I can play the slow way of squeezing my opponent to death with moves likes 1. a4, even h4 to break up the Black pawns and cramped Black further in.

Why sacrifice unnecessarily?

I believe that for a patzer player like myself, it is important to learn to see tactics and combinations where they occur. Rather than being afraid of playing bold moves, one should actively seek out good moves because that is the way a player can improve.

Anyway, back to the subject.

Does 1. Bxf7 work? Let's work it out.

What can Black reply with?

Looking at this, I calculated a few replies by Black. But I'll just explain one for the sake of brevity.

1..... Kxf7 is the natural response

2. Ng5+ (the natural followup, bringing another piece into the attack) Kg8 ( 2.... Kg7 or Kf8 runs into the horrible twin fork between King and Queen with Ne6+)
3. Ne6 (stifling the e7-pawn, effectively cutting off communication between Black Queen and King - see 2nd picture) Qd7 (forced)
4. Qd4 (Black is now forced to give up his Queen to prevent mate on g7)


I have actually calculated other lines as well including the replies
1 .... Rf8, 1.... Bxe4 but that discussion will take far too long for this post.

Instead, I'll leave you with a final puzzle after

1.... Rf8
2. Ng5 Bc8
3. Bd5 Nc6
4. Bxc6 (see 3rd diagram)

Now what happens if Black plays 4.... Qxc6?

Can you spot the mating pattern by White? Answers can be found by highlighting between the brackets. :)

[5. Rxe7+ leads to

..... 5. Kg8 leads to 6. Qc3 and mate on next move with 7. Qg7#
..... 5. Kh6 6. Rxh7#
..... 5. Kh8 6. Qd3+ Kg8 7. Qg7#
..... 5. Kf6 6. Rae1 and Black is going to be mated in the next few moves unable to stop mating threats with say Qd4+/Qf4+/Nh7+.]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ford Memorial Signup

Last night, I turned up at the chess club at Manly-Warringah RSL with Steven. We got in a couple of 10 minute blitz games before the club's official/unofficial 15 minutes blitz games started.

I've also confirmed my participation in the Ford Memorial at North Sydney RSL which starts on August 26th and have paid Norman Greenwood the entry fees. Steven is participating as well and we've made plans to travel there after my work (I work in North Sydney so it's good that I can give him a lift to there and back to his home as well).

I found out how seriously out of shape I was when Tze Weng asked me to play for their blitz games. My first game was a drawn endgame. My second game was horrible. I was playing vs James Burt and lost my Queen due to a simple fork. My third and fourth game got on progessively better but it was nothing to shout about. Martin van Elmpt left his Knight en prise under time pressure while Jozsef Gonda also suffered a similar fate unfortunately.

I hope my performance at Ford memorial will be much better.

Les Mikolajczyk also emailed me informing Ryde Eastwood club members that the Fischer-like rapid competition's time format will be shortened to 20min+10sec increment to allow players to have 3 games a night. I lost against Ted Wong last week so I plan to play better tomorrow night.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Muddling Through Sacrifices

While working through "Perfect Your Chess", I decided to take a break and play a couple of online games on FICS.

I arrived at the following position. It's Black to play.

Black is under a bit of pressure. I find that going through the tactics book is starting to have some effect on my game.

I break down my line of thought as follows:

White has an extremely dangerous b-passed pawn and the only open file is the a-file and guarded by White's rook. If Black does not do something now, the White Knight on f1 becomes active and together with the b-passed pawn, Black will forced to be on the back foot for a long time.

Now have a look at White's pawn chain, the pawn chain while residing on dark squares, the Bishop lacks scope and dreadfully out of place and attacking the base of the pawn chain with the bishop takes too many moves.

However, there is a way to regain the initiative. Looking at this position, I played

1..... Bxb5! Sacrificing the bishop.

Why is it necessary to sacrifice the bishop here?

a. The bishop is not doing anything useful
b. White's pawn chain is very hard to break down.
c. Awkward placement of White's knight on f1 and possible back rank mate tricks.
d. 2 pawns for the sacrifice
e. The black c-pawn now become a dangerous passed pawn
f. The Black king is relatively safe
g. The Black Rook now has activity with an open b-file to work on

So after 2. cxb5 Rxb5 ... play becomes considerably sharper and the initiative has been passed to the Black side and it is White who must now tread carefully.

I won't bore you with the rest of the game but suffice it to say that White was forced to give back the piece and Black won eventually after a somewhat prolonged struggle. I was quite satisfied with this game.

Of course not every sacrifice works. When going for a sacrifice, especially an exchange sacrifice, both the short term and the long term strategy and aspects of the position must be taken into account and it is here where I spent a lot of time calculating lines and other variations. I have to say that it took me a long time before I decided to sac the bishop and I wasn't 100% certain it would work but it "looked" workable.

I am still trying to understand how exchange sacrifices work and how to fathom when such a strategy works and when it does not, especially in dynamic positions. It's definitely not easy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Setec Astronomy

In the 1992 hacker movie, Sneakers, Martin Bishop (played by Robert Redford) finally realises that the name "Setec Astronomy" does not actually mean anything. It is in fact, an anagram for the phrase,"Too Many Secrets".

And this brings me to my topic for today. Greg, in an earlier post, mentioned how chess players tend to guard their opening repertoire secrets very tightly, holding things very close to their chest.

Do you openly show people your opening repertoire or do you guard your many many opening secrets (too many secrets?) tightly?

For example, in social blitz games in the club, do you or do you not divulge your opening repertoire?

Me? I play a wide variety of openings, Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, Philidor, French, Scandinavian etc. so I'm not too bothered if someone learns about it. In fact, I'm too low down on the pecking order for players to be concerned about it.

Some higher rated players get more and more secretive (that's to be expected) about their opening repertoire and rarely give away their game. That's because if future opponents learn about their repertoire, the latter can quickly look up a database to find the best continuation to play to achieve even the minimum advantage.

How then do these players guard and train their opening repertoire, if not over the board?

I can gather only a few possible solutions.

The Internet is probably one of them. Using an anonymous handle, players can play lots of online blitz games using their preferred opening repertoires, refining it, correcting errors etc.

The other alternative is to play it against a computer opponent. Fritz has a wonderful function called Opening Training that allows it to follow any opening book and will replay the moves it finds in the opening book. This is a great way to fine tune and remember your moves for your opening repertoire. The slight problem with Fritz is that it acts and thinks in a non-human way.

The last choice is to get a training partner whom you can trust. In fact, it's great to have a training partner. Both of you not only get to grips with each other's opening choice but it also helps you to prepare for that opening should you encounter it over the board.

Incidentally, if you're a geek, Sneakers is probably the best and last hacker movie to come out of Hollywood ie. a movie that actually does not insult the audience nor rely on any special effects to carry the movie. Of course, the scene of Mother (played by Dan Aykroyd) holding up an old 90s-style modem definitely shows how far the technological world has come since then. And no, Die Hard 4 does not count, it's just filler about a Mac geek and some guy standing on a flying aeroplane.

Had Too Much Fun And Relearning

Okay, while my aunt and uncle were here last week, I basically ate a lot and did very little else (chess-wise).

When I went back to chess training last night, I had realised I forgotten some of the moves required in my 1. d4 repertoire. This only shows that I've not committed the move to long term memory and that means I need to relearn all over again.


I've not touched Volokitin's tactics book for 3 days now, which means I need to spend more time reading it.

Last night, I was looking at one of the side-variations and was saying to myself, wow. This opening sure requires a lot of memory work because of the dense theory involved.

Onto NSW chess news, Manly-Warringah has been nominated to host the NSW Open in January. I wish them the best of luck.

In my club, Les has emailed all the members saying that they're starting a rapid competition (called the Bobby Fischer Cup) with Fischer time controls at 30 min + 10 sec and it's game on tonight, running for about 7 weeks.

I can't wait.