Central Pawn Control

Here is an interesting position from the game Botvinnik – Kan Leningrad 1939

One of the reasons that I find it interesting is that if you asked me to evaluate this just a few years ago I’d have looked at White’s pawn structure and instantly said Black must be better.

However, while in most endgames White would clearly be losing, there’s a long way to go until the endgame in this position.

In fact, as Botvinnik himself points out in hit notes to this game, the doubled pawns have one serious advantage, which is that White wants to play e4 to absolutely solidify his grip on d5, and when he does he won’t be giving up the d4 square in his own camp as the pawn on c3 nicely guards it.

The grip on d5 means that one natural plan would be to reroute the knight to d5, and in fact Isaac Lipnitsky discusses this in his excellent Soviet classic Questions of Modern Chess Theory.

It is worth noting, however, that just because that can be a plan, it shouldn’t automatically be the plan you use.  I’ll leave it to the reader to purchase a copy of this excellent book for themselves to learn why in this game that plan doesn’t make sense.

In the meantime here is the entire game:

Of course sometimes it does make perfect sense to plant a knight on d5 in these structures.

Here is an example of when that plan works quite nicely.

The moral to the story is that central control can be a wonderful thing to have, but that it’s a multifaceted beast with no canned solution.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

GM’s Want More

Yesterday a couple of friends and I were analyzing Gawain Jones’ first round game at the London Chess Classic Open event.

This was the position after White’s 10th move.

So we’re calculating 10…Nxc3 and every line we’re looking at leads to advantage for Black.

Yet GM’s always look to maximize the position.  So Gawain played 10…Nd6, which is clearly better.

The lesson here is one as old as the game itself.  When you see a good move, look for a better one.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Cardinal Sin

Last Sunday in my fourth game of the Sevan Muradian Memorial I committed two cardinal sins at the end of the game.

First, here was the position.  I have just played 27…Qe3+

My opponent, who has about 11 minutes left (time control was G/90+30 sec) looks up and says “Draw?” and I shake his hand.  The two sins?  First of all, I should insist he play a move and then I should have spent as much of the 34 minutes that I had left deciding whether to accept or not.

As it turns out, Black is completely winning – at least according to the engine.  The win is simple if White plays 28.Rdc2 as Black plays 28…Qe1+ 29.Rc1 Rb1+ – I’ll leave you work through the lines.

If White plays 28.Rcc2 then the win isn’t quite that easy.  In fact, neither myself nor my opponent found it in analysis and we went over the game for close to an hour afterwards.  Nevertheless, there is a win there.  The sin isn’t that I didn’t find it, the sin is that I didn’t look.

So why didn’t I look?  Why didn’t I get into the mindset of fighting til the last breath to bring home the point?  Simple, because I had put myself in the mindset of needing to survive.

Let’s look at the position after my 21st move.

Here I’m in some pretty serious trouble.  White can play c4 and then my knight is running out of squares.  Instead, White blunders away his e pawn two moves later by playing 23.Rd2 in this position.

Now the emotional rollercoaster of chess is in full force.  It’s been even – no, I’m losing, – no, I’m winning!

A couple of moves later I’ve given back the pawn I’m up and here we are in the critical position.

So now I’m trying to find a win but not seeing anything direct.  The downside here is that I’m having a truly difficult time keeping the thread of this game.  The position has been sharp enough that the thought of making a slip and losing is creeping in, although I’m fighting to hold it at bay.

And now I’m looking at the above position, and I realize that I can take on c3 and pretty much guarantee myself the opportunity for the perpetual since if White doesn’t recapture he’s going to wind up in pretty deep.

So I go for it.  And my opponent offers me the draw.  But instead of insisting that he offer it properly and then evaluate for a long time I jump at the chance.

I’m not mad I didn’t see the win.  I’m mad I didn’t look.

This seems to be a matter of pure psychology, so therefore it should be correctable, although it may require quite a lot of work.

Here is the entire game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

An Important Endgame Stalemate Theme

This is an important position to remember in rook vs pawn endings.

This position generally arises when there is a pawn on g7 which would be promoted on the next move if not captured.

The reason that this is such an important position has to do with transitions.

Take this position for example.

This is the game Comas Fabrego – Piket 1998.  Here White has just played 67.Kf5 attacking Black’s rook.  The key here is that Black needs to play 67…Re8.  This will tactically protect the pawn on f6 as after 68.Kxf6 Kf3 the first white pawn will fall, following shortly by the second.

Instead Black plays 67…Ra6 and White saves the draw by knowing the position we started out with.  Please feel free to try to work out the idea yourself as a training exercise.

Here is the complete game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Been in the Bunker for a While

It’s been a while I posted here.  This isn’t because I’ve lost interest in chess and improving, it’s because I’ve been busy with many chess-related projects which have taken some time away from being able to blog.

For those who subscribe to American Chess Magazine, you may have noticed that I am now an Associate Editor there.  My first piece ran in the most recent issue (a profile of the Webster University team) and I spent a lot of time finishing up my second piece, which will run in the next issue.

I am also working for the first time as editor on an upcoming chess book.  That hasn’t taken a ton of time yet, but it will over the coming weeks.

Playing wise I’m finally back on the upswing.  I seem to have this pattern which repeats where I gain a ton of points, drop 150, then go 100+ past the prior high water mark before repeating.  If that’s the case here, then hopefully this will be the surge that eventually takes me over 1900.

I also plan on setting up a plan to get to 2000.  I’ve been researching the process of learning itself so that I can hopefully put together a training plan in a proper way.

One thing which I have been doing for a week or so now is I saw this class by IM Danny Rensch where he gave the tip that if a student has a plan, like say “Today I’m going to do 30 minutes of tactics and then 30 minutes on rook endings” that he recommends you develop the discipline to finish what you have planned before allowing yourself to move on to the next thing.

As an example, let’s say you’re working on the 30 minutes of tactics and you get several in a row wrong and you’re frustrated and want to say “forget this” and move on to the endgames.  Under Rensch’s methodology this isn’t allowed.  You have to develop the discipline to finish the first thing before you can move on to the next.

What’s interesting with this philosophy is that it drove home the point to me that I waffle a lot in my study.  I start out intending to do one thing, then wind up doing many things that weren’t on the list originally.  This really made me see how unorganized my study has been.

I think that perhaps the issue I’ve been having of late is that it’s easier to get away with unfocused study up to a point.  Since you need to learn approximately five times less to go from 1500-1600 than you do to go from 1800-1900 it’s easier to get there even while more or less drifting through study sessions.

So far I’ve had sessions that consisted of:

30 minutes of tactics, followed by playing through an annotated game in a line I play.

30 minutes of tactics, followed by playing through the Game of the Century

30 minutes of tactics followed by playing through an annotated game in the most recent New in Chess.

120 minutes of tactics

30 minutes of tactics followed by 60 minutes on rook endings.

As you can see, I’m still working heavily on tactics in my study routine.  It’s interesting because I’ve been focusing on this heavily for the past couple of years, but this week I realized that I like to only do a handful and then just move on to something else in an unfocused way.

That’s not going to work to get to Expert.  And clearly Expert is the next main step on the road to master.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

The Turnaround Begins

Thursday I played a rated training game against NM Rithwik Mathur.  I had agreed to play the White side of a line that he was wanting to test.

I found a few moves I was particularly proud of, especially 20.c4 and I also made things harder than they needed to be (sacking the exchange back instead of finding 40.R3e4) but overall I felt like the game was fairly well played on my part.

I do think that Rithwik missed two winning ideas.  One was 52…a2 which I saw at the board, and the other was 53…Rg2 which was pointed out by NM Bill Williams after the game.

Either way, I think that this game represents the first game in what will hopefully be a turnaround for me.

Here’s the game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

An Instructive Position

I was looking at the game Petrosian – Olafsson from the first round of the Candidates Tournament in 1959.

This position was reached with White to move:

My first instinct was to put the knight on d2.  After all, who wants to put a piece on the bank rank intentionally when they don’t have to.

But then I looked at this position much closer.  I asked myself why I would want to put the knight on d2 other than “it’s not the bank rank.”

Superficially it looks like the e4 pawn is being pressured, but there’s nothing to that in truth since White can’t bring enough pressure for that to mean anything.

So then I asked myself what future does the knight have on d2 and what future would it have on e1?

On e1 the knight can easily go to c2-e3 and play a role.  On d2…not much.

What makes the position so interesting to me is understanding that even just a month or two ago if I had this position in a game I would have instantly put the knight on d2.

I’m hopeful that this is a sign that my positional play is in fact improving in the manner I’d like it to.

Here is the entire game.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Room for Improvement

My last two tournaments have not been great.  I’ve managed to lose three games to improving juniors.

This has had the effect of dropping my rating around 40 points.  While I’m not that upset about the rating since ratings fluctuate, I am incredibly annoyed with the way I have played as I have thrown away promising positions quite often during this streak.

Yesterday I played a game which I hope is the start of a turnaround, although I still missed a huge opportunity and was lucky to get a second chance.

Here is the game.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Me and Petrosian

One of the books that I have been reading lately is Python Strategy by the ninth world champion “Iron” Tigran Petrosian.

Quality Chess published an English language edition a year or two ago and in my opinion this book is solid gold.

There are a couple of reasons for that opinion.  The first is that generally I think that anything written by a world champion is worthy of attention.  The second is the fact that this book is simply amazing.

One thing that comes through loud and clear is that Petrosian wrote this book with the very clear purpose of it being instructional.  This book was meant to inspire the future generations of Soviet Bloc players who would inevitably replace him at the top of the mountain.

Contrast this with something like Kasparov’s My Great Predecessors which is useful to strong players, but not to average players looking to understand the game better in order to improve.

Thus, annotations in Python Strategy are variational where needed to whatever depth it takes to properly detail the position, and verbose where prosaic explanations serve to better illustrate a general point about the topic at hand.

Petrosian has long been one of my favorite players.  He has been unfairly saddled with the monikor of being “boring” or “drawish” but the reality is that he was such as solid defender that he saved a ton of poor positions and therefore just didn’t lose often.  He also, much like Karpov, refused to enter needless complications in order to create winning chances.

If he gained an advantage he would nurse it until he converted it.  If he was in a level position he would simply make sure that first and foremost he was playing in as risk free a manner as possible.

In my opinion those who say that Petrosian’s was simply a draw master and pretty much the same as those who say the same about Anish Giri today.

If Petrosian were simply a draw master he never would have become world champion, the same as Giri would never have made it over 2800.

Another reason that Petrosian inspires me is that on many levels I try to model my play on his own.  I enjoy positional, maneuvering games when they arise, but I also work on my tactics and attacking abilities so that when presented with a chance I can take it.

Here is a game of Petrosian’s in which the young Armenian demolishes  the legendary Paul Keres with a piece sacrifice.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

A Fascinating Position

Here is a position from my game Thursday night.  I am White and it’s my move.

So here I see this tactical idea and I calculate 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Nxd5 cxd5 12.Qxd5 and now the rook on c8 is lost unless Black gives up the knight with 12…Nc6.  I now realize that after 13.Qxc6 my queen and Black’s queen are both on the sixth rank and – oh no – 13…Bb4+ unleashes a discovered attack on my queen would cost me the game.

So I make a different move then I realize that I missed a key aspect of the position, which is that my thirteenth move is not 13.Qxc6, but 13.Qxc6+

Since this would also pick off the rook this tells me at the time that clearly this was the way to play and that I missed something major.

So I spend the next few moves of the game annoyed for missing something “obvious” in the position.  Fast forward to today.  I start looking at the position again and something just doesn’t look quite right.

I start moving pieces around and something just isn’t adding up, but I can’t quite find it.  As I had just read a piece by Jacob Aagaard explaining that if you’re going to use an engine you need to use it in such a manner as to let yourself discover the reason certain moves are good or bad rather than just the fact that they are good or bad I turn on the engine after Black’s ninth move …b6, which gives us the position we first looked at:

The engine is insisting that this position is equal.  “Well, OK” I think…”10…Qxf6 isn’t forced.  After all, Black can play 10…gxf6.”

Nope, that position the engine shows as much better for White.  So I follow the line closely until we get to this position:

Here Black has an amazing trap in the position.  First he plays 12…0-0, then after 13.Qxa8 Nc6 14.Qb7 Rb8 the engine is screaming that 15.Qxc6 is the least bad of the options although Black will pick up the Queen after 15…Bb4+ 16.Qc3 Bxc3+ 17.bxc3:

Here White is up the equivalent of a pawn, but Black’s position is so much better than the computer shows the position to be about -1.2 in Black’s favor.

“Yeah, but why is 15.Qxc6 considered best?” I ask myself.  After all, White can save the queen with 15.Qa6.  Now we reach the most critical part of the position, this:

Black now slams shut the jaws of their trap with 15…Nb4.  Not only does this threaten the queen on a6, but at the same time it also threatens the fork 16…Nc2+

So all in all an amazing position which teaches the analyst to always keep looking for resources.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott