Thursday, March 26, 2009

A real win. Hurrah!

So I got paired with the highest rated player in the tournament (~1950). I have beaten this guy before, so I was actually looking forward to it. I had white, and I knew that this player's openings were very weak. This guy relies upon creativity to win, but I was fairly sure that I could get a position I was familiar with. Against d4, you're basically going to play some sort of d4-d5 opening, a dutch, or some variation of a fianchetto with delayed central breaks. I was perfectly happy to play any of those (no Latvian gambits against d4). He played an offbeat, extremely slow variation of the Slav which ended up looking a lot like a Cambridge Springs. Here's the game:


I was very pleased with this game because I didn't make any careless moves. 100% safety checking, which I've often struggled with in the past. It's easy to get too caught up in one specific idea and look past your opponent's play, but in this game I didn't do that. In fact, I saw several strong ideas for him that he didn't even end up playing (such as ...g5, which would have been strong on several different moves).

I also think my opening study is really starting to bear fruit. Even when I don't get a variation I've specifically studied, I almost always end up in recognizable positions with clear strategic themes. In many cases these positions have recurring tactical ideas as well, so I find myself getting caught off guard by canned tactics very rarely. I think consistently getting familiar positions is a definitely a function of acquiring a critical mass of opening (and concurrently, early middlegame) knowledge. This game is a good example. Not a single move of his surprised me, because the ideas of this position are so consistent. After he played Bb4, I knew that Qa5 and Ne4 were coming, with the other knight coming to f6 via d7. It was totally thematic, and it was the only plan that made a lot of sense. I was also ready (from a strategic sense) if he played Be7 and dxc4, with a Caro/Slav type of position. Regardless of what anyone says, I'm really glad I studied all those openings.

Speaking of opening study, if you haven't ever read Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis, then by all means go buy it. I've found that book to be essential in my own career, one of the few that I keep going back to over and over. It's an older book, but I think Soltis's discussion of planning based upon pawn structure is the best treatment I've seen of that crucial subject. On a related note, I have just ordered Sokolov's Chess Middlegame Planning from Amazon. It's similar to Soltis's book, with an emphasis on newer 'standard' structures, in this case more dependent upon specific openings. It's a little more of a specialist volume, covering a variety of modern Nimzo-Indian and English typical pawn structures (though not only those, that just seems to be where the emphasis lies). I can't wait to get it. Some of the doubled c-pawn Czech Benoniesque closed centers you get out of the f3 and Rubinstein variations of the Nimzo are very hard to handle, and I am anxious to see what a player as strong as Ivan Sokolov has to say about them. I realize that's a very technical sentence above, so here's a game to illustrate what I'm talking about:


All annotations are mine, by the way. No plagiarism. Navarra handled that beautifully, but it didn't hurt that his opponent made some significant strategic mistakes (what the hell was ...a5 about?). Anyway, looking forward to that Sokolov book. I'll let you know if it's as cool as I'm hoping.

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