Sunday, March 27, 2016

Karjakin vs Topalov, Candidates Tournament 2016

Unless you've been living in a cave, you probably know that the Candidates 2016 is currently underway in Moscow. With less than 2 rounds to go at the time of writing, the battle has reached its decisive phase, with Karjakin and Caruana leading and Anand following closely behind.

Let us take a look at the game which brought Karjakin to the top: His game against Topalov in Round 12. While it started out as a promising Sicilian Najdorf with typical opposite-wing attacks, Topalov made a seemingly normal developing move (moving his rook to occupy an open file) which turned out to be a serious mistake. Karjakin was quick to pounce on the error, and the game was essentially decided from then on.

Karjakin (left) vs Topalov (image from

GM Vachier-Lagrave has provided very detailed analysis of the game, thus I shall post it in its pure, unaltered form below:

Despite Topalov's mistake, I have to say it was still a very interesting game (:

So who shall be the one to challenge Magnus Carlsen in the World Chess Championship 2016? The tension is certainly in the air, so here's to two exciting final rounds in the Candidates 2016!


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pi Day: Solutions

The holidays are ending so let's get this done:

Position 1: Black to move and mate in 2

This one is easy, if you take into account underpromotion: 1... c1=N+ 2. Kc3 b4#


Position 2: White to move and mate in 6

I love this puzzle. Even though I have seen Philidor Legacy puzzles several times, the elegance of this combination never fails to impress me.


Position 3: White to move and draw

This one is not easy; if you can see White's entire combination from start to finish, give yourself a pat on the back. At first glance White has no way to stop the enemy pawn's promotion, while his own pawn can be easily stopped. However, it turns out whether Black's pawn can promote or not makes no difference to the outcome of the game!

Hope you enjoyed the puzzles! (:

Sources: Tactics Trainer

Monday, March 14, 2016

Happy Pi Day!

Happy 14th of March! As you begin to enjoy your one week break, let's kick off with a short series of interesting puzzles for you to try out!

Position 1: Black to move and mate in 2

Position 2: White to move and mate in 6

Here is a not so easy one:

Position 3: White to move and draw

As usual, I will go through the puzzles by the end of the week. Have fun! (:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Struggle on the c-file: Hong Bao Rapids 2016 Round 3

Today I will go through another of my games from last month's tournament. Here it shows a very interesting fight featuring the c-file, where my opponent had the upper hand but I managed to simplify into the endgame. Unfortunately, I had spent too much time in the middlegame so the resulting time trouble ensured things did not go too well for me.

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Hong Bao Rapids 2016 Round 3

1. e4 c6
2. d4 d5
3. e5 Bf5
4. Nf3 e6
5. Bd3 Bxd3
6. Qxd3 Ne7!?

I wanted to try something new here. Previously I preferred playing the classic break immediately: 6... c5 7. c3 (7. Qb5+?! Nd7 8. Qxb7 cxd4 9. Nxd4 Rb8 10. Qa6 Nxe5 followed by ... Bc5.) 7... cxd4 8. cxd4 (The weakness on d4 is a key theme in French/Caro-Kann pawn chains.) 8... Bb4+ followed by ... Nc6 catching up in development. Notice that here, White's rooks are not yet able to take control of the c-file.

7. Be3 Nd7
8. O-O Ng6

The main drawback of this line is that Black must lose tempo moving the knight twice to get his bishop into the game.

9. Nbd2 c5
10. c3 (D)

Position after 10. c3

10... cxd4?

Not the best decision: White's rooks are free to occupy the file after it is opened. Compare this to the earlier variation, where Black could open the file when White's rooks were yet to be freed.

10... Rc8 was better; 11. Rac1 Be7 (11... cxd4? 12. cxd4 Bb4 13. Qb5 Black is in trouble.) 12. dxc5 Nxc5 13. Qb5+ Qd7 with good defense for Black.

11. cxd4 Be7
12. Rac1

By this point I was regretting my earlier mistake, for Black's lag in development makes it difficult for him to fight for control of the file.

12... O-O

12... Rc8 13. Rxc8 Qxc8 14. Rc1 White is still better.

13. Rc2 Rc8
14. Rfc1 Rxc2

14... Nb6 15. Rxc8 Nxc8 16. a3 Defending b4 from the bishop so that White can play Rc3 followed by Qc2.

15. Qxc2 Nb6 (D)

Position after 15... Nb6

Best way to defend. Black cannot stop White from entering the 7th rank, but he can try to trap the enemy queen.

16. Qc7 Qc8

Threatening ... Nc4.

17. Qxc8

During the game I thought this was a mistake; surely White can easily prevent ... Nc4 with 17. b3 and gain a huge advantage? After the game I looked into the variation: 17. b3 where White appears to have an edge, but it turns out Black can defend: 17... Qa8! (D)

Position after 17... Qa8

A very counter-intuitive move, but it threatens 18... Rc8 trapping the queen, so White is forced to retreat: 18. Qc3 Rc8 19. Qb2 Rxc1+ 20. Qxc1 Qc8 21. Qxc8+ Nxc8 Equalizing in a similar way to the main line. So it turns out Black did have a way to defend, but it is difficult to spot without a keen mind for calculating variations!

Returning to the mainline after 17. Qxc8:

17... Rxc8
18. Rxc8+ Nxc8
19. Nb3 b6
20. Kf1 Kf8

In the endgame, always remember that the king is a fighting piece.

21. Ng5 h6
22. Nf3 a5 (D)

Restraining the motion of White's knights.

23. Nfd2 Nh4
24. g3 Nf5
25. Ke2 Ke8
26. Kd3 Nxe3

Why did I chose to exchange? Because recapturing with the king makes White lose tempo, while recapturing with the pawn weakens White's pawn structure.

27. Kxe3 Kd7
28. f4 Bb4
29. a3 Bxd2+

This exchange forces White's knight to retreat temporarily.

30. Nxd2 (D)

Here I have a slightly better position since my king is more active. However, I had spent too much time in the middlegame and was already in time trouble at this stage.

So what can we learn from this game?

  1. Strong tactical vision is needed when calculating variations. This not only allows you to spot tactics, it also helps save time on the clock (which I failed to do)
  2. Don't waste tempo in the opening, for it will affect your plans in the middlegame.
  3. Put your pawns on squares that restrict the motion of enemy pieces.
  4. In the endgame, the king is a powerful weapon that should be centralized early.
  5. Think twice before exchanging pieces; as far as possible exchange only when it benefits you.