Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book review: Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy reprise

I have finally completely finished Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy. My earlier review is still valid, but I have a few warnings about the conclusion.

His conclusion implies that studying middlegame strategy books is a waste of time, and that memorization of openings, games and endings is the way to improve. That may be true for master strength players, who already have a good (or intuitive grasp) of middle game features, but as long as Watson's admonition not to take "principles" too seriously is followed, I think these books are good for class players. Especially, Silman's treatment of them. His focus on "imbalances" rather than "principles" sets the right tone, and he often deals with the good and bad of features.

As I have said before, I think the memorization of opening lines is a waste of time for class players. Watson points out that is what Grandmasters spend much of their time memorizing openings, implying that would be good for the rest of us. This is just nonsense. There is no point to spending time memorizing lines, when basic ideas like on what files to place rooks are still a mystery. (This is currently one of my struggles. I get open/half-open files, files that are likely to become open/half-open, and opposite the enemy queen, but why in some lines it's Rac1 and in others its Rfc1 is puzzling me)

Watson does not really touch endgames in this book. He mentions them in passing, and implies memorizing endings is useful. I agree to a point. For winning games, again I like Silman's method (his book Complete Endgame Course, which I highly recommend). But memorizing rare endgames can teach one much about chess that will help in other areas. The B+N checkmate for instance should help with seeing knight moves, even though Silman does not include it in the book, because it is so rare (twice in tournament games for me in my life, once on each side)

Watson's book is important, and a good read, but wait till you are knocking on the door to expert to read it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Chance to Prepare Like a Grandmaster

In the next round of the Twin Cities Chess League, I am scheduled to play George Binger on Nov 18 2011. He is an Expert with a bit of history. He played Aleksander Wojtkiewicz in 1999 in Reno. That game is a treatment of the finachetto variation of the KID, that I have only seen once before when  IM Sean Nagel destroyed me in the June 2011 Rochester Summer Open: The Kavalek Defense (ECO E62). George Binger has another Kavalek defense game out on the web. Though both of Binger's E62 published games were losses for him, it is still a good opening for an above 2000 player against a class player, so I hope he is still playing it. I am going to take this opportunity to prepare against it anyway. After all, I may play IM Nagel again. I found Binger's games on the internet on 11/6 and started my preparation and this blog post subsequently. I will outline my preparation then finish and post after the game with the results. This is likely to be a mega post, or maybe I will cut it up into several, when I am done.

I do not recommend spending this kind of time to prepare an opening in normal circumstances. This is a special case. I know who my opponent will be, and I have published games (though a decade old) to work from. I do not think this is a good idea even in this case, really, because the games are too old, but I want to do it. It is a chance to play pretend.

There is a chapter on the Kavalek Defense in Wojo's Weapons vol 2. This book covers the fianchetto variation of the KID from a white perspective. I had not started this book, because I have done a lot of work on the KID before, and I have larger holes in my repertoire to fill in the symmetrical English. So, this chapter will form the backbone on which I will construct my preparation.

The Fianchetto Variation:

KID fianchetto variation after 6.O-O or various other move orders
I began though with the chapter on the fianchetto variation from Starting Out: The King's Indian by Gallagher. Most likely, if Binger has abandoned the Kavalek defense, he is still playing the King's Indian, and I will choose the fianchetto variation. Gallagher's other KID book Play the King's Indian focuses on the black side of the Gallagher attack (6...Nbd7 7.Nc3 e5 8.e4 exd4) and the perhaps more precise (6...Nbd7 7.Nc3 e5 8.e4 8...a6), which can easily slip into the Gallagher attack, but is not as committal as 8...exd4. ST:TKI also focuses on these, but has two games plus a bit on the Panno variation (6...Nc6 7.Nc3 a6). All of these focus on attacking the c4-pawn, which is weaker than if the white light square bishop was on e2, and the danger to white along the a1-h8 diagonal if he plays b2-b3 to support the c4-pawn, or the weakness of f3 if the bishop returns to f1. White can easily misstep and lose a pawn, the exchange, or a whole piece, but if white can weather the storm, he should have at least a slight advantage going into an endgame.

The Kavalek Defense:
Kavalek Defense after 6...c6 7.Nc3 Qa5
In my game against Sean Nagel, I played the silly 8.Bd2 not realizing that black's ideas here focus on attacking the d4 pawn and the rest of the a1-h8 diagonal by exchanging or pinning the Nf3. The main line goes 8.e4 Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 which George Binger faced in his game against Wojo. 10.Qxf3 is an alternate main line that George Binger faced in 1997 in another game.
Kavalek Defense main line after 8.e4 Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3
Here in Wojo-Binger, Binger played the best move for black, 10...Nfd7 opening up pressure on the d4 pawn and the a1-h8 diagonal. Wojo replied with the tricky 11.Rb1 c5 12.d5 and Binger took the apparent pawn sacrifice with 12...Bxc3 13.bxc3 Qxa2 14.Bh6 Re8 not realizing that 15.Rxb7 Nb6 does not really trap the rook.
Wojo-Binger after move 15...Nb6
16.Qa1!? Qxc4? 17.Rxb6 because the a7-pawn is pinned 17...axb6 18.Qxa8 Qxc3 and white is up a piece for two pawns, has the two bishops and will be able to pick up the b-pawn. After a few more moves Binger decided that that was enough against a grandmaster. 16...Qxa1 would have preserved the position and likely gone into a drawish endgame (at least I could not find a winning line for white). Wojo was extremely good at such positions, so he would have had good chances to win the game. I on the other hand, have a hard time finding a winning idea for that endgame.

  1. Where would Binger improve on this game?
  2. How should white reply to each of these improvements?
  3. Does white have a better move earlier?
  4. Is 9.h3 a waste of time as black wants to remove the Nf3 anyway?
Improvements for black and responses/avoidances:

16...Qxa1 leads to a drawish endgame. 17.Rxa1 Nbd7 18.Raxa7 Rxa7 19.Rxa7 Ra8 20.Rb7 Rb8 and either white repeats with Ra7, or goes into an endgame, which is totally wrong for the two bishops. Two bishops against knights want an open center and mobile pawns on both flanks. Because both knights can focus on one square, they can overpower either bishop. Eventually the position will open up and the bishops come into their own, but I think white will be fighting for a draw, then. 16.Bg4 is better than 16.Qa1
A drawish endgame after 16...Qxa1

15...Nf6 16.Qa1 gives a better version of the game, because if black plays the best 16...Qxa1, white retains at least one rook in the endgame.

15...Ne5 is much better than trying to trap the rook with 15...Nb6 (probably because it hinders 16.Bg4). White should reply 16. Be2 and things get complicated from there.
after 15...Ne5 26.Be2
The main ideas revolve around mating threats and the restricted nature of black's pieces.

The black King is lonely, the Rb7 threatens the 7th rank and can sacrifice itself on e7 to open up the f6 square (16...Nxc4? 17.Bxc4 Qxc4 18.Qf3 {threatens  19.Rxe7 Rxe7 20.Qf6 and the mate threat forces Qxc3 and loss of black's Queen}).

Black has trouble developing the Nb8 without losing it (16...Na6 17.f4 Nxc4 Qd3) 17(16...Nbd7 17.f4 {wins a piece, but black gets counterplay, may be black's best choice, but hard to see})

Trying to trap the rook with (16...Qa6 17.Qb1 Nbd7 18.f4 Nb6 19.Rxb6 axb6 20.fxe5 dxe5{results in nominally equal material, but white has a dangerous Kingside initiative} 21.Bg4 Red8 22.Qd3 Qa4 23.Qf3)

13...Qxc3 taking the other pawn leads to trouble, also. 14.Bg5 f6 15.Bh6 Re8 16.Rxb7 
and black's Queen is offside while white attacks on the kingside with the help of the rook on the 7th rank. White threatens Bg4 and if black plays 16...Ne5 then 17.Be2, and the Rb7-b3 can drive the black queen away if needed. 

12...Qb4 helps white, because 13.a3 chases the queen away.

12...a6 and 12...Na6 are less committal moves that work better for black. This may be the trickiest area for white to maintain an edge. If black opens the center (...e6), then the bishops should begin to exert their influence, while if the center remains closed, white should be able to advance pawns on the kingside.

11...a6 allows 12.b4 which leads to 12...Qd8 13.Be3 b5 14.Be2 bxc4 15.Bxc4 (Hansen-Mortensen Taastrup 1998)

11...Na6 hinders b2-b4, but12.a3 c5 13.d5 is much like 12...Na6, but white has possibly wasted a move with 12.a3.

10...e5 and 10...Nbd7 kind of lead to the same place. After 11.Be3, the best move for black is the other. White should sustain an edge after 12.d5 cxd5 13.cxd5 where the action will take place on the queenside and the likely fight over the c-file will result in a liquidation of the rooks. White's bishops controlling the f1-a6 and g1-h7 diagonals should make this hard for white to lose.
Idea position after 10...Nbd7 or 10...e5 from Stohl-Martinovic Germany 1997

Better moves for white:
Instead of 16.Qa1, Houdini likes 16.Bg4 Qa6 17.Rc7+-. The rook is safe, pressures the 7th rank, and black has a tangled queenside. White has a deep attacking threat in 17.Be6 fxe6 18.Qg4

10.Qxf3 is an alternative, with which Johnson,L beat Binger in 1997. It has a lot to recommend it: the Bg2 remains safe, the h3-pawn is defended, and the queen is off the back rank, so Rfd1 is easily played to defend d4.

9.h3 is not a waste of time.
h3 is a useful move for white in many KID variations. Here, it will prevent the Nf6 from opening up the long diagonal with ...Ng4, which would make a white Be3 uncomfortable, or with a mate threat if ...Qh5 has happened. With h3 in place, black must interfere with his own development (...Nfd7, ...Ne8) to open up the long diagonal. It also does not allow black to delay the exchange on f3 for a more opportune time.

What about George Binger's other games?
In the late 1990s for which I have published games, Binger played the Sicilian Dragondorf and the KID. He likes a kingside fianchetto and queenside pressure. He played a King's Indian Attack as white versus a French Defense. I would guess he favored tactical games.

My Game with George Binger
was not a Kavalek Defense. He played the KID, and I played the fianchetto variation, but he chose the Panno.  My preparation fantasy was fun, but in the end not productive. I did play over a couple of games of the Panno variation, but I have not really prepared for it. I think he was definitely better coming out of the opening. After 43 hard fighting moves, we agreed to a draw. I may decide to make a post about the game, after I study it during the coming week.

So I still have to get past move 10 in any memorized opening preparation during a tournament game.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tal v Lisitsin 1956 The Most Instructive Games of Chess #2

Life Master A.J. Goldsby (a believer in the hard sell from his writing style) recommends memorizing grandmaster games as a training tool (tip 18). I do not believe in memorization alone as a good thing. I specifically recommend against memorizing opening lines for class players (except for traps to avoid in your openings). I firmly belive your opening study time should be spent concentrating on understanding the whys behind the moves played, while studying verbosely annotated complete games. But studying a grandmaster game so completely that you memorize it seems like a good idea to me.

I have already started a project of trying to analyze the games from Chernev's The Most Instructive Games Ever Played. The second game is a Sicilian Dragon that is similar to some lines of the Pirc that I play. So I think I will combine the two ideas. I will try to memorize Tal v Lisitsin by study and analysis.

Here is my analysis (with Fritz's help) of Tal v Lisitsin:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tactics update, Steps Method

Tactics problems update:

I have done a week of Chess Tempo problems in blitz mode. Chess Tempo gives more time for the blitz problems than Chess Tactics Server, so I am faced with harder problems than I am looking for. From a free solution standpoint, Chess Tactics Server looks like a better choice for me to get the problems I want. Chess Tempo's interface is better for going back and looking at the problems for lessons. I think if you are willing to pay for a Chess Tempo membership, then you can customize criteria for a problem set to get the right kind of problems. I am going to get a Chess Tempo membership to help develop a week long chess camp on tactics for advanced scholastic players sometime before next summer, so I will try for a maximum images tactics sets on Chess Tempo, when I do that. Till then, I will go back to the Chess Tactics Server.

Teaching: Steps Method Course: Step One

It has been over 40 years since I learned to play chess. I have no memory of any chess learning before I read Fine's Chess the Easy Way in 5th or 6th grade. Though Fine has a short coverage of the rules at the start of the book, the rest is coverage of tactics, strategy, endgames, and opening theory. I actually have no conscious knowledge of  Chess the Easy Way, though I know it had a profound effect on my ability to play. Before I read the book, my father won most of our chess games, afterwards he never even got close to drawing.

So with no knowledge of learning to play chess, I have decided to buy the Steps Method course to help me teach chess better.

I have read through the teaching philosophy section of step one, and skimmed the rest of step one's lessons. This is a very well thought out and practiced progression for teaching the rules of chess. Much of the discussion of children's learning process reminds me of the materials I read on Maria Montessori's method while my children were in primary school.  I think the steps method might be improved by consideration of Montessori methods. Particularly conscious application of the Montessori Spiral of Learning and explicit instruction to the teacher of this concept.
I want to think more about this, but I am sure that chess instruction can benefit from this concept.