Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Little Theory First Thing in the Morning...

First thing for me, anyway, because I'm a bum. It's 11, and all I've done today is buy frozen pizzas. That's what I get for staying out late playing really, really atrocious blitz chess at the Boca Ale House. A couple of lines came up whose theory I couldn't recall, and since I went to the trouble of looking them up and saving them to my desktop, here they are:

Semi-Slav 9.exf6_.pgn

Wild shit there. Why do I play this line? My style is really (to steal a Korchnoi phrase) aggressive positional, not crazy tactics. For some reason though, I really like the Semi-Slav. Frankly, it's pretty unlikely anyone ever plays this much theory against me. I've had exactly one OTB game in the Botvinnik, and my opponent lost to a canned tactic really early, move 15 or so I think. Besides, I get almost all 1.e4 anyway.

This next game was a line I looked at in connection with still another obscure line, the From's Gambit. I like the From's, which is a gambit defense to the rare Bird's opening, but obviously don't get to play it that often. The problem with the From's gambit (1.f4 e5!? by the way) is that white can play 2.e4, transposing into a King's Gambit. So I need some King's Gambit theory. I watched an ICC video on the Falkbeer (1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5!?) and was thinking of playing it, until I saw the following games:

Falkbeer Gambit.pgn

I'll probably just keep declining the King's Gambit. It's really not worth the trouble to learn a good 'accepted' system unless I go back to playing 1...e5.

Still no interviews. Job hunting is probably the most depressing thing in the world. Google 'learned helplessness' for more info. Peace.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Two Out of Three ain't Bad

That's two out of three losses since I came to Florida coming against a master. The same master, in fact. I suppose that's not so bad for an ~1800 player, though my recent loss was much more painful than my previous loss. I had nothing in the first game, and lost pretty handily. This game was much more competitive, but I failed to take advantage of my chances. Didn't even look for them. Horrible. As I discuss in the game annotations, what bothers me is not missing tactics but rather not realizing the richness of the position and therefore not even looking for them. That's a bigger problem I think. Every game has critical positions and if you cannot recognize them and know when you need to look deeply then you will never be very good at chess, no matter how many chess puzzle books you run through. It's worth nothing that my master opponent spent A LOT of time on four or five of his critical moves, whereas I did not. That was probably the difference in the game. This is not to say Jeff wouldn't have beaten me anyway, but if I had lost because of a miscalculation or poor evaluation of a position I don't think I'd feel so bad. Not looking at all is a more serious problem than not understanding an obscure line in the Budapest. At least I have something to work on. Here's the game:

Rampley-Haskel 2.pgn

A very disappointing game for me. Still gained quite a few rating points for the tournament, drawing two experts and losing to a master. I think my performance rating was right around 2000, which is pretty good for me. Overall I'm happy with the progress of my play.

I've also been doing a bit of theoretical work. Ever looked at the Czech Benoni? It's offbeat, but it isn't so easy for white to prove an advantage. Black just has to be VERY patient. Here's a little analysis I put together, based mostly upon material from ChessPublishing.com. If you're at all interested in theory, then this site is a great investment and I highly recommend it. By the way, if you don't have a good defense to 1.d4 and you don't care for theory, this might not be a bad choice. I hate playing against it, for what it's worth.

Czech Benoni.pgn

I'll be playing in the premier section of the BRCC tournament again next month. My performance justifies it, and I'd rather get better than win $50 or whatever the prizes are in the U2000 section. Also, if you have any questions about any theoretical line after 1.d4 or in the Classical Sicilian, by the way, feel free to ask. I'm always happy to share analysis. Peace.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What's the Deal With Drawing Experts?

I seem to be awfully good at it for an ~1800ish player. This is the second game in a row in which I've screwed up an ending that I should have won and given up a draw. The only difference (and it is significant) is that unlike my previous effort I was pretty close to lost several times in this one. At the very least, I was much worse for several moves until a tactic came out of the blue to save me. That old saw of Steinitz's about tactics only arising when you have a positional advantage is BS. Sometimes your opponent just makes a mistake, maybe not an obvious one, and you win material. Of course, if one were particularly intent upon being an annoying sophist, then it could certainly be pointed out that once an opponent has made a mistake then you are automatically in a better position, but this is circular reasoning. In that sense, then Steinitz's statement is a meaningless tautology; not meaningless in the formal sense, just useless.

Well, that was a pointless digression.

In this game my opponent played well enough, though he seemed out of theory and on his own pretty quick. I've been playing the black side of a lot of Boleslavskys and English Attacks against my Classical Sicilian. This is probably because the Classical isn't that well studied by most players (unless they were theory hounds in the 90s), and so they revert to safe setups when faced with an unexpected move. I use the Nc6 before d6 move order, and I bet they all expect a Sveshnikov. I always smile when they stop banging out instant moves after ...d6 hits the board. Not one Richter Rauzer yet OTB. This game was a Boleslavsky as well, with Nb3 instead of the more challening Nf3. Here it is:


I played the following game tonight (4-22) in the first round of the April/May SFCC tournament. Being in the upper half of the draw, I got to player a much lower rated opponent. I drew him the first game I played in Florida, but this game was much more of a route. His opening play was timid, and he gave up a piece early. It's so funny how consistency in the level of one's play is such a hallmark of rating. I've seen John (my opponent) play very well and beat players of ~1900 strength, but then he plays games like this. I really think the main thing that has led to my recent gain of strength has been consistency both from move to move and from game to game more so than any great leap in ability. Something to think about. The game:


I got a new book this week, 'Imagination in Chess' by Pata Gaprindashvili. Forgive any possible spelling errors of his name, I don't have the book handy. I bought this book as a tactical puzzle book, but it defied my expectations. Firstly, it is HARD. I can't emphasize that enough...HARD. These puzzles are in many cases beyond me. It's not so much because the solutions are complex, but rather because these are not typical tactical puzzles. Unlike most puzzle collections, the solutions often consist of moves that do not appear forcing but are in fact very strong. Quiet moves that put your opponent in a sort of middlegame zugzwang. Also, the goal is not in every case winning material. Sometimes you are merely searching for a way to get to a much better position.

I guess what I'm getting at is that this is not really a tactics book, but an advanced version of those 'find the best move' volumes that all chess publishers seem fond of releasing. While the introductory commentary to the chapters is interesting, it's nothing that revolutionary. The puzzles are the meat of this book (it contains 700+ or varying difficulty), and meaty it is. If you're strong, stronger than me especially, then this might be worth your time. For me, 3-5 a day could easily take 30-45 minutes and I still don't know if I'd get them right. I'd say the intended audience for this book is probably the same group that actually uses Dvoretsky's works. The puzzles are in many cases really beautiful, but if you're under 1800 don't bother. CT-ART it ain't.

Those are the games and thought from last week. The final round of the April BRCC tournament is this Friday, and I think I may have to play a master. Well and good. Maybe I'll draw him too. Due white, after all. No job yet, thanks for asking. Peace.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Game and Some Book Reviews

Two games in this one, both white piece draws against higher rated players. The first was played a few Fridays back in Boca Raton. My opponent was a young, strong expert. After a theoretical opening, I got a huge advantage that I subsequently pissed away via a series of slight (and not so slight if I'm being honest) inaccuracies. The opening was an f3 Nimzo, which I have studied but not had many opportunities to play OTB. Not so many 1800s seem to play the Nimzo, probably because of the wealth of options white has against it. Also, you have to learn either the QGD or QID as well, and since so many people start out playing the QGD they probably don't bother to learn the Nimzo despite its excellent reputation.

I have vacillated a bit about what to play against the Nimzo. The f3 variation has been a favorite of mine after examining several games in which Shirov rolled some super GMs, but I have dabbled in the Qc2 and Rubinstein as well. The biggest issue for white is that black can often seize the initiative, and while white may have more space black is often calling the shots, while white is primarily reacting. Like all broad statements in chess you can certainly find many examples in Nimzo-Indian praxis that indicate otherwise, but overall my opinion is that black has the initiative. Believing that to be the case, I've settled on a variation where white at least gets a pawn for his trouble, even if it's hard to hold. In addition, the open position favors his bishop pair unlike in the Rubinstein, where the center can often be semi-closed. The fact that Anand played it against Kramnik only boslters my belief that there's something there for white, even if it's hard to prove. This game is a good example of what white gets if black doesn't play with great activity, though I did screw up the ending horribly to let him off with a draw.


So the ending is an embarassement, but you must admit that white's domination in the middlegame was absolute.

The other game I have is from last night (Wednesday), played in the final round in Margate. It had been a bad day. I was trying unsuccessfully to do last minute taxes, and since everyone else in the US was too the site was running very slowly. I spent 8 hours on it, getting kicked off the disconnected, waiting for the site to process forms, etc, all the while playing really bad ICC chess duing the load times. I was in a shitty mood when I got to the club. So of course I had to play a Benko.

I hate playing against the Benko gambit. My results aren't horrible and I feel that I understand white's aims in the opening more than in many others I play, but white's strategy is very hard for me to stomach. Take your pawn, hold for 25 or 30 moves until black's activity is gone, and then hopefully win in the ending. I've done it successfully several times, but it requires a lot of patience and vigilance which I didn't have last night. I ended up fudging the move order and allowing a knight into c4, after which point only an endgame blunder by my opponent allowed me to draw. It was dispiriting to say the least.

It is funny how critical one piece on the right square can be. The system I play, the Fianchetto Benko, is designed to do one thing and that is prevent a knight from getting to c4. I had never allowed it to happen before, and I will never let it happen again after last night. God, that sucked. You can see for yourself.


Terrible. I was not pleased with this game at all. I was lucky to draw.

And now, a book review or two.

Winning Chess Middlegames, Ivan Sokolov

Great book, if you play d4 or c4. Not so much if you play e4. This book is similar to Soltis's classic 'Pawn Structure Chess', with an emphasis on pawn structures arising from more modern variations, primarily in from the Nimzo-Indian and English openings. Sokolov's annotations are excellent and at times dry and witty as he questions whether or not certain moves or variations are as good as their reputations. The book functions well as a games collection too, with many coming from Sokolov's own praxis (wins and losses). The author's tone is not removed and pedagogical, but very engaging. As you might expect, Sokolov's own games are discussed with added verve. By the way, for those who don't know, Sokolov was one of the best players (consistent top 10) of the 90s, so when he chooses to write a book it's worth getting.

Fighting the Anti-Sicilians and The Bb5 Sicilian, byRichard Palliser

Recently got these two because I wasn't happy with my anti-Sicilian repertoire. For those who don't know, anti-Sicilians are any but open Sicilians. I was unhappy with the repertoire I built using Rogozenko's book on the subject because I always seemed to end up passive (though equal, in deference to Rogozenko). Since I hate playing without the initiative, I wanted a more active approach and so I checked these two volumes out. The two books are very different, but I have found both useful.

FtAS is organized in a tree of variations format, which I usually don't care for but in this case appreciate because there are many variations to cover. The lines are active and fighting, though as such I feel that black takes a little more risk than he otherwise might. d5 against the Alapin with Nc6 and Bg4 to follow is one example. The Nf6 lines are dull IMO, but safer. Another example is Palliser's choice of Nf6 against the Closed rather than Nge7. I will probably try it out, but as I usually end up playing a pseudo-Swedish English against the Closed anyway I don't know if it will make it into my permanent repertoire. Palliser's style is easy and clear, and the book reads well despite its variation tree format.

tBb5S is organized by complete games which I prefer, though the best setup is the Hybrid system with games and an MCO like table ala the incomparable Mihail Marin in 'Beat the Open Games'. In any case, the games are modern and topical and the coverage seems thorough. If you have little experience in anti-Siclians, then these are both good books to start with as I feel they're more accessible and promote more active systems than Rogozenko's classic.

I'll try not to go so long without a blog posting in the future. Still no job, due to recession. Peace.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Well, Once Again, Chess has Pissed me Off.

Or more accurately, I have pissed myself off. I played a game against a player somewhat stronger than me, and I had the chance to become significantly better early in the game. All it would have cost me was measly pawn. I saw the line, I liked it, but I didn't play it. Why? I hadn't looked at it before. It certainly looked better, but the position would have been very strange. So I didn't go in for it. Pathetic. I was soon worse, and lost shortly thereafter with little fanfare. This cannot happen again. I am usually less experienced than my opponents, and if I start forgoing lines because I haven't looked at them then I'm going to forgo a lot of good lines. I have to have more faith in my judgement. Here's the game:


So as you can see, Paul did make an error (a difficult to see error, for what it's worth) on move 11. I just didn't have the balls to take advantage of it. In the words of the sage Charles Barkley, "Turruble. Just Turruble. Knucklehead."