Modern Advantages

Currently I’m reading Jan Timman’s latest book The Longest Game in preparation for a review.

I’ve long spoken about certain modern advantages about buying books that exist today, but didn’t 30 years ago when I first was playing in tournaments. Chief among them the fact that back in the late 80’s you’d see a book title in a catalog, and maybe a two-line description and that’s what you needed to use to decide whether or not to buy something.

These days you can go online and read excerpts along with finding numerous reviews, etc. This is why it’s generally agreed that we’re in a Golden Age for chess books.

However, there’s a huge advantage these days in the reading of chess books which I’d like to talk about a little today.

30 years ago books were the primary source of learning and improvement. Today they are just the springboard.

Let’s take a look at this position from the second game of the first K-K match.

Here Kasparov plays 8.Nh4 about which Timman says “The critical move, which had been introduced into practice by Polugaevsky in 1980. Before that, 8.Nd4 had been the usual move. However, in that case, Black can return the pawn by 8…Nc6 (Korchnoi’s 8…Bc6 is also possible, intending 9.Nxc6 dxc6) 9.cxd5 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 c5 11.Qd2 d6 with a playable Benoni position.”

This is the final position from that note above:

I sat there looking at that and asking myself “But why 11.Qd2 in that position?  Why block in the c1 bishop like that?” And that takes us to the point I want to make today.

Back in the times in which this game was played, when a club player would see a note like that from a GM commentating on a game it didn’t matter if we understood it or not. If you couldn’t reason out the idea behind the move then you just had to move on. You were also limited to the idea fed to you by the annotator of the game. Whatever they decided to mention as alternatives is what you got to look at. The end.

These days we’re not so hampered.  I simply opened ChessBase and put in the moves to take us to this position before 11.Qd2

Here I’m able to do a number of things. First, I run Stockfish 10 which tells me after a depth of 36 that 11.Qd2 is 0.64, 11.Qd3 is 0.60, and 11.Qd1 is 0.60.  OK, so this shows that there’s nothing inherently wrong with putting the queen on d2. My instinct of “but the bishop” is a knee jerk one, but in this day and age I can learn why.

So I go to the reference tab in my database. I can see that in the 8.5 million games in my database this position was reached 19 times and that there have been four moves played. 11.Qd3 has been played twelve times (last played in 1980), 11.Qd2 five times (last played in 1980), and 11.dxc6 (in 1978) and 11.Qd1 (in 1966) once each.

So now we can look at the games in the 11.Qd2 line. Of the five, four are GM games with one taking place between amateurs. If we disregard the amateur game and look at the four games we see that interestingly, Yuri Balashov was white in three of them, with the aforementioned Korchnoi having white in the other game. The players of the black bits were Timman, Inkiov, Furman, and Karpov.

Since Timman mentions Korchnoi, and since it’s the stem game,  let’s look at that game first.

Now let’s look at the four Balashov Whites in chronological order:

So in looking through those games it becomes easy to see that the idea for White was simply to play b3 and then develop the bishop that way. Therefore the queen being on d2 was not a detriment at all.

It’s also interesting to see that Korchnoi’s plan of b3-a4-Rb1-Ba3-b4 was determined to be inferior by Balashov who then developed the bishop to b2 instead. The engine agrees with the analysis as well.

I’m often amused at the view espoused by some that books are somehow outdated due to the fact that we have so many technological tools at our disposal. To me, books are enhanced rather than downgraded by these advances of the modern age.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Tough Game, Good Lesson

I played a game tonight where first I built up a good position:

Here I found the nice move 19.Nd5. I probably could have played it a move or two earlier as well.

Then I wind up with this position:

Here I play 28.e5? I completely missed that 28.Rxf6 is resigns as the rook can’t be taken since it leads to mate. 28…gxf6 29.Qxf6+ Qg7 30.Qxd8+ Qg8 31.Qxg8#

Naturally I saw it during the game after I didn’t play it.

This weighed very heavy on my mind, but I was able to do something which I haven’t always been able to do in the past and continue to grind and try to convert.

I missed a few other winning ideas along the way, but played until this position was reached:

So the result certainly didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but the fact that I continued to press instead of offering a draw out of disgust seems to me like a good sign.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Don’t Ignore the Center Larsen – Spassky 0-1

When they think of Bent Larsen, most American’s probably think “Isn’t he that guy who lost to Fischer 6-0?”

However, there is a lot more to Bent than that footnote would suggest.  He was clearly the second best player in the West for many years behind only Fischer.

In fact, in 1970 during the first “USSR vs The Rest of the World” match, the captain of the World Team, former world champion Max Euwe, had decided that he would use Elo ratings to determine board order.

Bent Larsen would not accept this as Fischer had been inactive for some time at this point and he himself had had several successes leading up to this event.

In a gesture that surprised many, Fischer agreed and stepped down to play Tigran Petrosian on Board Two while Larsen faced world champion Boris Spassky on Board One.

After a draw in their first game, Larsen sat down to the board for Game Two and promptly committed a cardinal sin in the chess world by completely ignoring the center in the second game. This allowed Spassky to create the following miniature.

Take this as a lesson…ignore the center at your own peril!

And yes, these days the Nimzo-Larsen attack (1.b3 or 1.Nf3 2.b3) is often used by strong players, but these days the theory and understanding are quite far advanced compared to where they were when Bent was pioneering this setup.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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I Need to Work On My Fighting Spirit

Last weekend I played in the 54th Northeastern Open. This tournament means a lot to me since it was the first one I played back in 2011 when I returned to chess after a 19 year absence.

That year I went 5-0 and won the Reserve Section.  Since then I have tried to play it.

In the first round I was paired up about 350 points, and overall I played a very bad game.

Yet if I gave you these two positions:

and said “find the best move for White” the odds are that  you would find the moves 24.h4! in the first position and 33.Nxe8! in the second.  Why?  Because you would be in puzzle mode.

However, when those positions appear on the board after several hours of defending they’re easy to miss.  Or at least they were for me.  This tells me that I need to work very hard on my fighting spirit.

Here is the entire game:

I hope to have my other games from this event up soon.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Son of Sorrow Indeed! Akobian-Lie 1-0

So I was reading through a bit of an older book on Benoni structures and it got me looking at some games.

For those who aren’t aware, Benoni means “Son of Sorrow” in Hebrew. I believe it’s typically spelled Ben-oni when used in that context though I can’t claim my knowledge of Jewish names or traditions is useful enough to know if I am correct.  Perhaps someone will care to educate me in the comments?

In any case, I was curious to see some modern games in the Modern Benoni.  However, as it turns out, the opening is rarely played at the 2500+ level these days.

I did, however, find this game that Var played the White side of in the PRO Chess League during its inaugural season.

I don’t know much about the Benoni, but I do know that Black should always take decisions involving exchanging off the d  pawn very seriously.

Here’s a position where it’s Black to move:

Black, already in an unpleasant position, plays 20…dxe5 and is suddenly struggling mightily after 21.Nxe5 Bxe5 22.Rxe5 Qf6 23.Rae1 Nd6

Now this is one of those positions that I find to be quite interesting because the engine will tell you that there are a few moves better than 24.b3.  Not just slightly better, but +3 better.

However, Var calmly plays 24.b3 here, which appears designed to keep the knight off c4.

Now after 24…Nf5 25.Bg5 Qd6 this position is reached:

Var then crashes through with the very nice 26.Rxf5 gxf5 27.Be7 Qg6

And now the coup-de-grace is 28.d6 rather than just picking the exchange back up. Though playing 28.Bxf8 is also totally winning. In this position Black resigned.

Here is the entire game, which is quite nice.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Something Josh Said

Although I don’t do it nearly often enough, I do occasionally work with GM Josh Friedel.

One thing he said to me during a lesson when I asked about the difference between two lines of an opening variation is that he used to do a question and answer session with himself to ask why a move was played or what the difference is with that move and another.

So take this position:

Here it’s Black’s move and White has just played 9.b4.  Black’s main reply is 9…a4.  It took me a while to figure out why.  It’s simple, really.  Black is just preventing White from playing a4 and solidifying the pawn on b5.

I’m guessing that to many people reading this blog that kind of observation happens all the time and you don’t even have to think about it.

But for me, this is a big breakthrough.

Hopefully this is the first of many steps towards me truly understanding the openings I play or want to play.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

What An Amazing Resource!

I was just looking at a game between David Anton Guijarro and Jonathan Hawkins from the 4NCL in 2017.

The Hawk has been in a bit of trouble, but has clawed his way out to reach this position:

Here he moves 23…Ne3

White replies with 24.Bxe3 and the game continues, but he missed a really interesting shot.

24.Rxf4 Nxd1 25.Rxf8+ Rxf8 26.Bd4

You can see that the Black knight appears to be a goner.

26…Qh3 27.a3 Qf1 28.Qxf1 Rxf1 29.Kc2

And now Black has nothing better to do that play 29…Nxb2 30.Kxb2 Rf7

Here Black would suffer and be ground down.

In this position:

Black can “save” the knight with 29…Nf2, but now the knight interferes with the rook making it back and White’s pawns are even deadlier after 30.Nxa7 Ne4 31.c6 Rf7 32.b4

There’s no way to stop White from just rolling down the board.

Here is the entire game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Caissa Giveth, and Caissa Taketh Away

One of the many fascinating aspects of chess is that even top players get it very wrong quite often.

Take this position for instance:

The game is Karjakin-Topalov from the 2017 Gashimov Memorial (i.e. Shamkir)

Here it’s Black to move, and to me it seems clear that White has a staggering lead in development, and would love to put a rooks on the open files.

Black then plays 14…Bd7, which seems to just encourage the pin after 15.Rd1 (leaving the other rook to come to the c file or double on the d file depending on the situation. In fact, Stockfish gives this an advantage of 1.31 for White.

Instead, Sergey plays 15.Qg4 and after 15…Bc6 16.Rad1 Qc7 Black has made some progress and White’s advantage is much less than only a few moves earlier as Black is much closer to completing development.

Note that White’s not actually threatening the g pawn since after 17.Qxg7 Rg8 18.Qf6 (18.Qxh7 loses the knight on f3 after 18…Bxf3 since the g pawn is pinned) 18…Nf5 19.Ng5 h6 White is in trouble.

Now back to the game position of:

Here White plays 17.Ng5 and Black immediately goes wrong by accepting the pawn sac with 17…Qxe5.

This is a good training position. Ask yourself how White can gain a big advantage here.

Here is the complete game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Which Pawn to Take With?

Every so often I’ll come across a position which shows me how much my chess understanding has changed over the years.

Today I was looking at this one:

The game is Vishnu-Adly from the first round of the 2017 Sharjah Masters. White has just captured Black’s knight on d5, so barring any useful intermezzo’s, which don’t exist in this position, Black needs to figure out which pawn to recapture with.

I spent only a few seconds here, and my decision was that the pawn it made the most sense to capture with was the e pawn. The reason that I can tell that my thought process is changing is that a couple of years ago it would have gone like this:

“If I capture with the e pawn I’ll have a backward pawn on c6 along with three pawn islands. But if I capture with the c pawn then I’ll only have two pawn islands and I’ll have a protected passed pawn in the center!” Then, after maybe 15 seconds I’d have made up my mind and any additional time spent calculating would just be used to tell myself I was right.

Now I looked at this position and my thoughts go something like: “I can capture with the c pawn and I’ll avoid having a backward pawn on c6 that’s likely to come under fire from my opponents bishops, but I’ll also be giving up the b5 square. White could play the tempo move Bb5+ and since I can’t go to e7 and block my bishop in I’d have to move to d8 and my king is awfully loose. Not to mention the fact that I’d just be giving my opponent a queenside pawn majority for free. I’ll just live with the potentially weak pawn on c6 rather than the long term consequences of taking with the c pawn. Besides, now I’ll have that queenside pawn majority.”

Both the game continuation and the engine show me to be correct. The top three moves for Black are:

  1. 13…exd5 (0.00) for all the reasons I stated above and perhaps some that stronger players can point out that I missed
  2. 13…Bg4+ (1.44) which just drops a pawn after 14.f3 exd5 15.Bxd5 cxd5 16.fxg4 – think about this for a second…the second best move in the position hangs a pawn!
  3. 13…cxd5 (3.37) which dooms Black after 14.Bb5+ Kd8 15.Rhc1 and now White will simply control the c file, and along with the lead in development have a massive advantage.

Here’s the final position from option three above:

Black won’t be able to keep the White rook from getting to the c file so he can double. This is the kind of game where you have to suffer for hours until you lose, and yet only a couple of years ago I’d have cheerfully entered it and never understood what went wrong.

Here is the full game:

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Wainscott-Beckwith 1-0

Last Thursday at the club I played a game which went exactly the way you would expect, but that has some interesting ideas nonetheless.

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If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter.  Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.