Thursday, November 30, 2006

Knowing The Last Resort

Definition: a fortress is a position down in material but safe because it cannot be attacked without giving material back.

(Black to move and not to win)

A very beautiful chess lesson yesterday. Kramnik has been forced to give the Exchange for a very dangerous distant passer. Then he quietly built a fortress that cannot be broken. The interesting thing is that computers are still far from being able to understand such a concept. Stefan Meyer-Kahlen, author of Shredder and member of the Kramnik team, says that there are just too many fortresses, an nearly infinite number of them, just impossible to store them all in a database. It seems that computers just cannot separate a fortress from a non-fortress.

White puts his King on the safe place g2 and moves his Bishop, always looking at f2.

GM Arthur Jussupov said that the only winning try of Black is 1.-g5 in order to push a pawn to g4, then come with his King to e4. His only chance to win is this blunder of White: letting Black sac the Exchange back at e3, leading to a pawn endgame lost for White.

But Deep Fritz does not understand this at all. He played h5, devaluating his remaining pawns.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Butterfly Effect

It has been very interesting to listen the grandmaster talk while Kramnik was playing Fritz. One subject has been the non-linearity of chess. This means that the rules of chaos theory apply. The flap of a butterfly wing may cause a hurricane.

It is very important to be aware of this fact. There is no such thing as a quiet strategic position. In any moment, things may change and the board is burning. Even Kramnik is a schoolboy and has to learn his lesson.

I would say that there are two types of chess positions: those with open tactical motifs (usually called «tactical positions») and those with hidden tactics (usually called «quiet positions»).

And very important: In any type of position, the tactic sense must be a hundred percent tuned.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Emperor's New Strategy

(A fairy tale, original idea by Hans Christian Andersen)

Once upon a time there was an emperor. He was known for his wonderful strategies. He spent lots of money on them, and at his court he hired only the best strategy makers. He liked to present himself to the crowd, wearing his newest strategy, and he enjoyed the hails and praises from the grandmasters and from the crowd.

One day, two strategy makers showed up at the court. Nobody had seen them before. They boasted they could make a strategy unseen before. A strategy that allowed patzers be distinguished from masters. Only masters would be able to see it. The emperor was excited and hired the strategy makers.

They supposed to work hard, and when the strategy was finished, the emperor took it on and presented himself to the grandmasters and to the crowd:

«Wonderful, look at this», said the first grandmaster. «Knight on the rim, his future is dim». «Knight-on-rim, fu-ture-dim», chanted the crowd. The emperor raised his hand, and the crowd got silent on the spot.

«White ist strategically lost», said the second grandmaster. «Black has a queenside majority and will win with a distant passer.» «Dis-tant-pas-ser, ...», chanted the crowd.

«No, even better», said the third grandmaster. «As the white pawn is hanging, Black even gets two connected passers, and I cannot see how the white pawn can be saved.» «Not-be-saved, ...», chanted the crowd.

«Even in such a wonderful strategy, tactics play a role, sometimes», said a very old and wise grandmaster. «Because of his weak back rank, White is forced to swap queens, and this is a prerequisite of the black strategy.» «Queen-must-go, ...», chanted the crowd. Again the emperor raised his hand, and the crowd was silent on the spot.

Then a little girl said: «But he gets checkmated!» Only the people next to her could hear it. But the word spread as rapid as a bush fire: «He is checkmate. He is checkmate. He is checkmate...»

Everybody on court looked for the two strategy makers in order to hang them. But they had taken their money and disappeared. Nobody has ever seen them again.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Strategy Lessons

I great opportunity is watching the Kramnik-Fritz match live in the internet, broadcast by Spiegel online, with live comments of grandmasters. Great, great. Kramnik, of course, avoids tactical positions, so there is much strategic talk there. And also endgame talk, because Kramnik is very strong in endgame and will try to beat Fritz there. Next broadcast is today, 3 p.m. CET.

Wow, it was not only strategy, but tactics, tactics, tactics. Kramnik overlooked a mate in one. Deep Fritz won with a move of CTS 1300 level. Incredible! This tells me that I should, while looking at strategy and endgames, NEVER stop my CTS training. Never, never ...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Avoiding Patzer Draws

A grandmaster draw is negotiated after move 17 or so in a well-known theoretical «even» position. A patzer draw is negotiated after move 35 or so as soon as the endgame is reached and no side has a material advantage.

This is because many patzers are bad endgamers and often are in zeitnot or tired or do not like to risk anything.

A wonderful opportunity to build an anti-strategy: Avoid patzer draws and play the endgame, even if it is an «even» position. Of course, I (patzer) must be better in endgame than my opponent (patzer). Psychologically it is my advantage to continue, if my opponent thinks that it is time for a draw. He will feel uneasy, maybe even upset, and this will cause him to play inaccurately.

I am reading a book by Edmar Mednis «Gewinne das Endspiel», translated from «Practical Endgames». It has a big section of annotated Karpov endgames, many of them won from minute positional advantages.

Well, if Karpov can win «even» endgames against grandmasters, I hope that I can win «even» endgames against patzers. I look forward to my next endgame. I'll play it out, be it even nor not.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Endgame Trend

On average of the past two years, 20 percent of the moves in my slow games were endgame moves.

In my four latest games, 41 percent of the moves were endgame moves.

In my last game, 64 percent of the moves were endgame moves!

Is this a trend or mere coincidence? Anyway, I think it is worthwile to learn more about endgames. I do not know exactly how and what, but I have some books about endgames, and surely I should take them and blow the dust from their cover.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bad Psychology

In my last club game I had won two pawns in the early middlegame. It looked like an easy win, but then I blundered back a pawn. Then we came to this position:

(Black to move and win)

Of course I looked at 38.-Rd3+ but then I calculated that after 39.Rxd3 exd3 40.Kf3 the King is in the square of the pawn. Quiescence error! I stopped here because I did not want to give my pawn «for nothing». I still was somewhat angry with myself because I had given one pawn for nothing earlier in the game. I overlooked the paralyzing tactic 40.-f4 and the poor King cannot make a move and just has to wait for g5 hxg hxg followed by g4, and d3 is a young queen.

Well it was a win anyway, not so elegant, but who cares. A point is a point. Since my queen loss at the tournament I have not lost one of five slow games. At CTS my new record is 206 solved in a row.

See the game here ...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bishop Pair Strategy

This position was reached in an unrated 120 min clubgame, I was White, attacking a French defense.

(White to move)

Let's evaluate the position. 1. Material is equal, but White has the advantage of the bishop pair, worth about 0.5 pawn units. 2. No threats. 3. Both Kings safe for the moment, but Black has some deficit due to f6. 4. White has a semi-open b-file but cannot take profit at the moment. 5. Black has the better pawn structure, White has holes queenside. 6. Highly dynamic center with small space advantage of White. 7. Piece activity is a bit better for White.

Conclusion: White is better. The place of action is the center. One of his big trumps is his bishop pair. White should trade pawns in order to open diagonals for his bishops. The bishop pair must be brought to its full power. A second goal of pawn trading is to destroy the intact pawn structure of Black, diminishing one of his strengths and creating weak squares.

All this is in favour of a pawn trade move. dxc5 seems best because it does not activate the sleeping bishop c8. After dxc5 bxc5 Be3 Black already has a problem with a weak pawn. A second option is exf6 but this may be double-edged due to the open g-file.

And what did I play? 13. Bf4 ? misses all strategic goals, I just played my usual anti-french scheme of keeping the center closed as long as possible. See the game here ...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pawns Pointing The Way

Strategy can be so simple! Just look at this position from my last game of the tournament. I was White:

(White played 14. b4? - see the game here ...)

A simple rule of thumb says that you must attack where your pawns point. Hence White must attack kingside, Black queenside. Of course there are exceptions. More precisely, the rule says that you must attack on your dominant wing. Normally this is where more space is, that is why there are very few exceptions from the pawn pointing rule.

With a closed center the attack must be a wing pawn assault. Why? Just because normally you cannot win without invading with your rooks, therefore you must open files. The closed center works as a shield for the king, allowing king pawns to be detached for the assault.

A good plan for White is for example g3, h4, Kg2, Rh1, g4, h5. Black in turn must try, within six moves, to destroy the center or circumvent it queenside and go for the white king. White must be careful to stop this counter-attack with minimal forces and without stopping the kingside assault.

Did I hear anyone say that this strategic stuff is more complicated than the forks, pins and skewers stuff in tactics? It is not. Of course the precise moves in such a plan require tactical skills. But the plan in itself is very simple and easy to understand.

Now why did I play such a silly move as 14. b4? Of course I had the kingside attack plan in mind. But then I had too much respect for 13.-b5, and thought I must stop this pawn immediately. But now my advanced queenside pawns were easy targets, and it was Black to launch his attack first. I have violated a general rule here: Never advance pawns on the attacking side of the opponent.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Better Have a Plan

In some recent posts and comments in the Knights Errant blogosphere I have read anti-strategic opinions. I do not know if I got it right, but it sounded like «just bring out your pieces quickly, move them around until your opponent blunders, then use a tactic and win.»

I strongly disagree, based upon my own experience. I just cannot count the cases where I did not understand a position and got into troubles, either in position or in time or both, and it was my turn to blunder and run into a tactic of my opponent.

Just two examples. In the sixth round of my past tournament I had a distinctive plan with a kingside wing attack. My opponent did not find the right plan, i.e. to use minimal required forces to stop the attack and to launch a counter-attack in the center or at the opposite wing. This is the normal strategy in such situations and it could have been successful because White stood better in the center and on the queenside wing. Of course the game was decided by tactics. But I think it was more than a happy coincidence that I won. I had an active plan, not the best one probably. He had no active counter-plan but just defended passively. It was a tactical win, right. But strategy played an important role.

Now my seventh round loss. This is one of the examples mentioned above. Wrong strategy, based upon non-understanding of the position. Then a confuse middlegame, both sides moving pieces around without a plan. Then a tactic emerges. But my opponent is careful. Pawn loss here. Pawn regain there. Equal endgame. Throwing it away, violating a golden principle of using rooks in the endgame.

The reason why strategy is important for tacticians, also on the class player level, is very simple: It allows to force a better position rather than wait until it happens to arise by chance. All tactics come from better positions. Therefore, with the help of a good strategy, the tactician will find more opportunities to win.

Conclusion for my future training: I'll continue to use CTS, and I'll try learning to read positions and find appropriate plans, using Karpov's book which in turn is based upon Steinitz and Capablanca.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Read Your Position

Tempo's admiration for Karpov made me read again one of his books, «Stellungsbeurteilung und Plan» (positional evaluation and plan). I had read it years ago, but I think I did not make much profit from it because of my tactical weakness. Now I have begun to read it again and to replay his annotated games. Great, great.

Yesterday we had a blitz turney at our club. I am bad at blitz and normally score below 50%. Yesterday I made 4/7. After the turney I played 6 blitz games with a pal. I won all. And it was kind of a slow walk.

What has changed? Well, I just used some focus on reading the position as Karpov recommends in his book. And then make a plan to exploit it. In most of the won games I managed to make a continuous plan and to get a position that remained constant for some moves so that I was able to stay with my plan for several moves. So my time I had invested in earlier moves was not wasted due to a sudden change. And more: It allowed me to use the time of my opponent.

Karpov evaluates a position according to seven criteria. They are not new, of course, every beginner should know them. But the art of position reading is to take the right conclusions and to build a good plan. The seven criteria, by the way, are all connected to tactics in some way. Without tactics, there can be no sound positional play:
  1. Material: Every imbalance in material must be the result of a tactic. Either one side has missed a tactic or has used a tactic to sacrifice material.
  2. Threats: This is pure tactics.
  3. Safety of the Kings: This is the main issue of all tactics.
  4. Control of open lines and diagonals: This element plays a major role in many tactical operations: pins, skewers and more.
  5. Pawn structure, strong and weak squares: Most pieces that play a role in tactics operate from strong squares and exploit weak squares.
  6. Center and space: Again a main tactical element.
  7. Development and positon of pieces: Plays a major role in tactics such as piece trapping, removal of the guard and more.
In conclusion: Tactics is the beginning and the end of positional evaluation. Even Karpov who is labeled as exponent of a so-called positional school is a great tactician. What makes him different is just that he uses his skill more for prevention and takes less risk than others.

My long-term plan now is to learn more from Karpov and then try to use his position reading and plan making for the annotation of my own games. What I admire most is how clearly Karpov explains the big plan of a game: First build a strong position. Then exploit your strengths and prevent your opponent to exploit your weaknesses. Open lines as soon as your major pieces are ready. Invade, set up pressure. Force the opponent to passive defending moves, weakening his position. Realize your advantage. It is clear that tactics is required here. Without tactics the advantage would just evaporate, for example if the opponent manages to trade his bad pieces against your good pieces.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My Biggest Swindle Ever

In my fifth round I started with a terrible blunder in the opening. I cannot be proud of this game even though I won at last. It is only because my opponent helped. First he let me come back into the game, and then it was his turn to blunder a piece.

The game is quite wild and entertaining, presenting this nice list of tactical motifs, in order of appearance:
  • Gambit of center pawn
  • Bishop sac on f7 (a big blunder)
  • Center pawn sac
  • Rook fork
  • Relative pin of Knight on rank
  • Absolute pin of Knight on file
  • Absolute pin of Knight on diagonal
  • Relative pin of pawn on file
  • Absolute pin of Bishop on rank (only in a sideline)
  • Relative pin of Knight on diagonal
  • Discovered check winning the Exchange
  • Removal of the Guard (guard swap, only in a sideline)

Lesson to be learned: Once again opening tactics, use more time and count the pieces! And a second one: Never give up as long as you have counterplay! You even may win!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Knight-on-the-Rim Check

The second lesson I had to learn at my tournament is about knights on the rim. Their future is not necessarily dim, but it has to be checked very carefully. I did not, and threw away a game that was equal up to this moment against a higher rated opponent.

Here is my loss against this 200+ Elo lady ...

I try to figure out what conditions must be met to play a knight on the rim. The first one is a path to a better square where the knight stands well, so being on the rim is just a short episode. This was not the case in my game. The second condition is a strong threat that puts the opponent in danger and/or forces him to weaken his position. This was not the case in my game. It was a lame threat that could easily be met, allowing my opponent to improve rather than weaken his position. The third condition is making sure that the knight has a safe retreat from the rim. This was most important in my game and was definitely not the case. It even lost the game.