Saturday, April 26, 2008

My French Paradox

As White I like open games most. My performance of 54 percent after 1. e4 e5 reflects this feeling. And now the paradox: I hate to play against the French defense and I prefer Sicilian, irrespective of my quite good records of 50 percent against the French and the pathetic 38 percent against the Sicilian.

This week, I have lost a French game, and I think it is quite illustrative of why I hate this opening. But dealing with this loss, I discovered a much better way of playing it. In fact, it is the only way that fits my idea of how it should be played.

Here is the position where I began to feel uncomfortable. Black did not move Bb4 as I had expected:

diagram
White to move.

I played 4. e5 although I knew what to expect, because this always results in a very cramped position in the center, a pawn mass that is sieged by black Knights and defended by white Knights. I already knew that such an ugly move as Ne2, blocking the Bishop, and c3 is considered as good by the theory.

diagram
White to move.

And here we are. I hated this position and began to blunder, and eventually lost the game.

Instead, the move 4. Bg5 is much faster because Black is forced to counter the attack on the pinned Knight, thus the attack on the white pawn center is delayed. When Black unpins the Knight with Be7, he will not preserve his bishop pair and will be left with his bad Bishop c8. When he attacks with h6, he also loses tempo for his counter attack, and offering an attack mark for White's planned pawn assault.

diagram
White to move.

And this is a possible outcome after the stronger continuation Bishop pins Knight, Bishop unpins Knight, pawn attacks Knight, Knight withdraws, trade of dark-squared Bishops. Now, the attack h2-h4-h5-h6 is an excellent plan, because castling king-side is very dangerous for Black and if he delays castling and then castles queen-side, castles will be same side which is very safe for White.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Bad time management

I admit, I am complaining on a high level. I have won my last game as Black in the Swiss Team Championship, and our team booked a comfortable 4-2 win. Against my -150 rated opponent, winning was mandatory, and I never was in danger as the diagram below shows: From move 13, the advantage always has been on the Black side. On move 28 we arrived at this position where I had the opportunity to end the game with one move:

diagram

Black to move.

I quickly spotted Qg3 threatening mate in one, but after Ne1 the weak spot g2 is sufficiently covered and I cannot attack it further. Therefore I rejected my mating plan and concentrated on plans to retire the hanging Bishop. I used two minutes on these plans and decided to trade Bishops by Bh3-e6-a2, freeing the f-pawn for the attack f7-f5. Not a bad plan, but I made a big time management blunder here.

I had 55 minutes on my clock for 12 moves, that is, more than 15 minutes ahead of a steady time schedule. And this is a very tactical position. At least I should have identified all its motives. Playing faster than average in such a position, this must be called a time management blunder.

Do you spot the winning move? Two hints: the strong dark-squared Bishop and my Rook on the b-file play important roles in this plan.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Endgame winning the hard way

Yesterday, at our city championship, I had Black against a -150 rated opponent. I outplayed him in the middlegame but decided to go the safe way and avoid a hot double-edged battle because I had spotted a won endgame position, and here it was:

position 1
View from Black's side, Black to move.

The winning plan seems to be obvious: push my d-passer. My rooks strangle him, and I have all time in the world to push my passer and even to come along with my King if his help may be necessary. But no, I wanted to win more material fast and pushed c4 with the idea of winning his two pawns against my c-pawn. Bad idea!

position 2
View from Black's side, Black to move.

The drawback of my greediness can be seen here: His rook got counterplay and I could forget winning more material. Earlier, White has offered a draw which I rejected of course, but meanwhile I had to make myself familiar with the half point. But then new hope came because he pushed his f-pawn too far, giving my King a shelter for escape. I saw new hope for a win, giving my two distant passers and winning his two remaining pawns instead.

position 3
View from Black's side, Black to move.

At this point, seemingly even in material, my opponent asked me whether I still did not see that the game was drawn. I ignored his remark, silently looking at the position until I saw my winning plan: Moving my Rg6-b6-b3-g3, taking his last pawn that cannot be protected by his King, then pushing my rim passer to the Queen. And that's how I played it and won. After the game, I said to myself that a cat learns more about catching mice by letting the mouse slip once again instead of swallowing it on the spot. But that's post hoc reasoning. Playing best moves should be better advised.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Good position but bad plan

Yesterday I had to concede a draw to a -90 rated opponent. I did not play really badly, as Deep Shredder tells me to my surprise. But neither did my opponent, it happens that so-called weaker players have their good moments, and obviously this has been such a day.

As White, I came out of the opening (Sicilian) quite well. Such a position should be transformed to a winning game with the right plan.

position
White to move.

All is very obvious and simple. White should take the open c-file with his Rook as soon as possible and install a Knight outpost, why not on c5? The Bishop e2 is bad and should be traded for the strong Knight d5.

So I played Rfc1 in this position, of course. My opponent replied Nce7 in order to push d7-d6. Now I lost the thread and played Nfd2 with the idea of Bf3 and Ne4-d5. But this all is too complicated and too slow, and it weakens my strong point e5. It came out that my strong center pawns and his queenside wing pawns disappeared. We came to an endgame where he always had a small advantage and I saw no chance of pushing my isolated passer to the Queen. I agreed to draw by repetition.

game histogram

This diagram shows that the game never left the draw bandwidth. I have only seven of 38 drawn games where this is the case. The red line marks the situation immediately prior to the turning point of the game where I missed the conversion to a win.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Two lessons for free

I always try to think positively. After my last game, a loss against a -100 rated youngster, this has been a hard try. But only until I realized that, in my game before, despite of having undergone a lesson, I had won all those points now lost again, except one. That is, I had two lessons costing me only one point, that is, nothing.

As White, I played my usual bishop attack against the Sicilian. I am not yet very used to it and missed an important point. All opponents have avoided the double pawn on c6 so far, and I never have played against the semi-open d-file.

position
White to move.

My best plan would have been castle short first and delay pawn moves in the center, waiting for Black's response. After a6, BxN and dxc6, a good plan would have been to establish a pawn outpost on e5 and to play Nb1-c3-e4 with a strong position.

Instead, I continued c2-c3, and after some more opening moves, we came to the following position.

position
White to move.

There is some pressure on my weak d3 pawn. My Knight is hanging. In this position, any passive move is doomed to disadvantage, but I didn't like the drawish trading on f6. I retired Ne3? and lost the game at last. Instead, I could have solved all my problems by the surprising strike Ng(f)xe5! The idea is to give the weak d3 against the strong e5 pawn, along with the trade of two Knights against Knight and Bishop. This is possible because the Queen cannot protect the lone Nh5 forever (it is chased away by f2-f4), and the lone Knight can be taken by the white Queen.

I guess I would not have had the courage to play it, but I should have considered it at least. And at the very least I should have traded on f6 and make myself familiar with the idea of a draw.

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