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.
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.
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.
Friday I was hanging around the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of St. Louis with my friend Glenn Panner when the opportunity to schedule a game against one of the local kids came up.
One of the Junior SPICE members, Ben, was sitting at a rating of 1995. His mother was trying to find a game for him in hopes that he could get over 2000 and get that pressure off of him.
I agreed to play him Saturday night at the club when nothing else was going on. The conditions were perfect since the club has amazing lighting and we were playing with an elegant wood set on one of the beautiful chess tables the club has. (Side note – I once looked up those tables and they cost almost $5000 each…though I’m sure if you buy them in bulk as the club does you probably get a discount!)
The agreed time control was G/90+30 and Ben and I wound up having the entire second floor of the club to ourselves. The only spectators were a friend of Ben who came to look at the game and WGM Anna Sharevich who took a look at the position and then went back downstairs to give her evaluation to Ben’s mother who was curious. Anna’s eval…totally even.
The only other interruption was equal parts amusing and annoying. The closing ceremony for the Sinquefield Cup was taking place across the street at the same time and one of the guys from the tech crew came upstairs at one point to lower a needed cable to someone below. He opened the window and then got into a relatively loud discussion with whomever he was lowering the cable to. I don’t know what an “S loop” is, but it was something he clearly didn’t think was a good idea to have!
Luckily this only went on for a minute or two and didn’t seem to disturb Ben too much. It happened pretty much equally on my time vs. his.
As for the game itself, it was a hard fought battle until I blundered the exchange although the reason I did so is instructive in and of itself.
Here is the game in it’s entirety. Thanks to Ben and his mother Stephanie for the opportunity to play this exciting game! Also, congratulations to Ben who it looks like will be an expert once this is rated!
Here is the game that I played Thursday. I felt like the game was slightly better for me, but then I fell into a perpetual trap by my opponent.
The question when you fall into these sorts of things is “why?” Answering that question is where improvement comes from.
With the exception of a handful of times, “you should have seen that” just doesn’t hold water. There is a reason people don’t see things.
It’s easy to say “you study tactics, therefore you have no excuse” but the truth goes so much deeper than that. Especially as all tactics are not created equally.
In this case I think it’s quite interesting and the answer seems to be that I still assume that all re-captures are just automatic.
Interestingly this is related to an issue I was having around five years ago when I was 1600 or so and had a tendency to miss in between moves all the time. I was able to fix that with careful work, so now it would seem that I need to do that with this problem as well.
Here is another interesting position I was just looking at:
Here White has won a pawn out of the opening, but it looks like Black can now get it back with 14…Nxb6.
Instead, however, Black plays 14…Bd6.
In looking a bit deeper it turns out that after 14…Nxb6 White not only regains the pawn with 15.Bf4 Rc8 16.Rxb7, but now once Black retreats the knight with 16…Nd7 White turns up the heat with 17.Bc4 and although there is still a lot of play left in the position this seems pretty clearly a strategically won position. Black has gone from down a pawn to down a pawn with a terrible position.
The lesson here is to always double check that “free” pawn.
Here is the entire game:
For anyone wondering, the answer is yes. This “R Huebner” is in fact German legend Robert Huebner. He continues to play on a semi-regular basis even into his late 60’s. Mostly just a game or so every month or two, but nevertheless, kudos to him!
Every so often on chess.com I’ll read a post in the forums where someone is trying to claim that the bishop pair is meaningless.
Here is an excellent example of the bishop pair in action. Look at this position through the eyes of, let’s say, an advanced novice (we’ll say rated around 1000) and the first thing that you probably see is that White is up a pawn and has “shattered” Black’s kingside pawns.
Yet Black makes the most of the bishop pair to steer this game to a draw. Here is the entire game. The position above is after Black’s 23rd move.
I’m sure there are thousands of flashier examples, but this one seems quite pragmatic.