Sunday, June 26, 2016

Keep calm and carry on: Correspondence 2016

Recently, I played a very interesting correspondence game that I would like to share with everybody. In this game, my opponent was fighting at a material disadvantage, but he defended well and nearly turned the tables.

Through this game, I hope you can see why you should not resign so early even when you are down in material. So long as you keep calm, carry on, and defend accurately, your opponent still has chances to slip and turn the tide back in your favour!

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Correspondence Chess 2016

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. e5 c5
4. c3 Nc6
5. Bb5

5. Nf3 Qb6 is the most common continuation; White controls the centre with a pawn chain which Black prepares to undermine.

5... Qb6
6. Qe2?

Losing a pawn. Better was 6. Bxc6+ bxc6

6... cxd4
7. c4!?

A good attempt to complicate the position; If Black captures the pawn it will bring White's queen to c4 creating potential threats.

7... a6
8. Bxc6+ bxc6

Capturing towards the centre.

9. b3 Bc5
10. Nf3 d3
11. Qd2? (D)

Position after 11. Qd2

This only loses more material. The most straightforward line was 11. Qxd3 Bxf2+ 12. Kf1 Ne7 but even here Black has the better position as White's king is stuck in the open.

11... Bb4
12. Nc3 d4!
13. Bb2 dxc3
14. Bxc3 Bxc3
15. Qxc3

Black is up in material but he must catch up in development.

15... Bb7
16. O-O Ne7
17. Rfd1 O-O

A better line was to check the c5 push with 17... c5 18. Rxd3 Bxf3 19. Rxf3 O-O where Black has caught up in development and simplified his position. Now if White tries to contest the d-file: 20. Rd1 Rad8 21. Rdd3 Rxd3 22. Rxd3 Rd8 Black simplifies the position even further, and the endgame should not be much of a problem for him.

18. c5

Taking control over d6 but weakening d5.

18... Qc7
19. Rxd3 Nd5!

A perfect outpost for the knight, which also cuts off White's rooks from the d-file.

20. Qb2 (D)

Position after 20. Qb2

Let's do a short analysis. Black has closed up the centre, depriving White of the d-file and the potential outpost on d6. Now, he needs to find a way to get his light-squared bishop into the game and convert his material advantage. Thus, he prepares to put his bishop on a6, controlling the f1-a6 diagonal and subsequently try to exploit the semi-open b-file for a breakthrough.

20... a5
21. Rd2 Ba6

Another way to attempt an invasion is 21... a4 22. b4 a3 23. Qb3 Rfb8 24. Rad1 Ba6 attacking the backward b-pawn.

22. Qc2 h6
23. Rad1 Rab8
24. a3!

White defends accurately, slowing down Black's queenside operations.

24... Rb7
25. h3 Rfb8
26. Nd4! Bb5
27. Nf3 Nf4

Black's plan is to return some material with ... Be2, in exchange for opening the b-file for an attack on b3.

28. Nd4 (D)

Position after 28. Nd4

28... Kf8?

Weakening the h7 square. Black was probably worried that after 28... Qxe5 29. Nxb5 he cannot recapture on b5 due to mating threats on h8 (see variation). However, he missed the saving threat 29... Qg5! (29... cxb5 $2 30. Rd8+ Rxd8 31. Rxd8#) 30. g3 Rxb5 where Black regains material, continues to defend d8, and has strong threats against White's kingside.

29. a4 Bxa4?!

Giving up his extra material to open up the file.

30. bxa4 Ng6??

Allowing White to unleash a strong tactic.

Black was trying to prevent 30... Nd5 31. Qh7 followed by Qh8+ winning the kingside pawns. However, 30... g6 was the only defense: 31. Qe4 Nd5 followed by ... Rb2

31. Nxe6+! fxe6
32. Qxg6 Qf7

Once again the power of the d-file and White's central pawns ensures Black cannot regain the pawn: 32... Qxe5? 33. Rd8+ Rxd8 34. Rxd8+ Ke7 35. Re8+ Kd7 36. Qf7#

33. Rd8+ Rxd8
34. Rxd8+ Ke7
35. Qd3 Rb1+

Forced, otherwise 36. Qe6+ is crushing.

36. Qxb1 Kxd8
37. Qb8+ Kd7
38. Qd6+

Now White is totally winning.

38... Ke8
39. Qxc6+ Kf8
40. Qd6+ Kg8
41. c6 Qf4 (D)

Position after 41... Qf4

Last gasp attempt to save the game...

42. c7??

Which works! White's blunder opens the way to a perpetual. Instead, if after 42. Qxe6+ Kh7 43. g4 Black can resign.

42... Qc1+!
43. Kh2 Qf4+
44. g3

44. Kg1 Qc1+ is still perpetual.

44... Qxf2+
45. Kh1 Qf1+
46. Kh2 Qf2+
47. Kh1 Qf1+
48. Kh2 Qf2+ (D)

Position after 48... Qf2+

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Even when at a disadvantage, you should not resign so early! Continue fighting and complicate the position as much as possible, so that your opponent has chances to make mistakes.
  2. Tactics, tactics, tactics! Once again lack of calculation is what led to the various mistakes in this game.
  3. Placing pieces on an outpost on the open file is a good way to deny enemy rooks access to the file.

Monday, June 20, 2016

June Holiday Puzzles 2016: Part 3

Because once again, puzzles never get boring.

Have fun! (:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The bishop's prison: Vaisser vs Vachier-Lagrave, French Championships 2007

Many players regard the bishop as slightly better than the knight these days due to its long range powers. Fischer was known for his unparalleled mastery of the bishops, and he gave the bishop a value of 3.25 over 3 for the knight.

But bishops have their own shortcomings too. A well known one is their weakness in closed positions, where their long range powers are limited by the presence of pawns. In extreme cases, a bishop can even be fenced in totally by an enemy pawn chain, cutting it off from the rest of the game.

The following game is an example of how to play against a trapped bishop, between French GMs Anatoli Vassier and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Vassier, Anatoli - Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
French Championships 2007

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 d5
4. cxd5 Nxd5
5. e4 Nxc3
6. bxc3 Bg7
7. Bc4 c5
8. Ne2 Nc6
9. Be3 O-O
10. O-O Bd7

In the Gruenfeld Defense, Black lets White build a pawn centre before attacking it with pawns and pieces. Note the tension on the e4 square.

11. Rb1 Qc7
12. Bf4 Qc8
13. Rc1 a6
14. a3 b5
15. Bd5 e6
16. Ba2? (D)

Position after 16. Ba2

Giving Black a chance to trap the bishop. Better was 16. Bxc6 Bxc6 17. Qc2 (17. d5? Rd8 18. d6 Bxe4 The passed pawn is not well supported and can be picked off with ... Bf8 and ... Qc6) 17... Rd8 18. dxc5 Qb7 19. f3 followed by Be3. Black is slightly better because of his pawn structure but White is still very much in the game.

16... e5!

Discouraging White from pushing in the centre. Black does not want to play 16... c4 immediately, because after 17. d5 exd5 18. exd5 White's passed pawn is good compensation for his bishop. Notice in this variation the Black bishop is not on c6 to watch over the centre.

17. Bxe5 Nxe5
18. dxe5 c4! (D)

Position after 18... c4

Black is a pawn down, but he has managed to bury White's bishop on a2.

19. f4 Bg4

Preparing to eliminate the f2 knight, White's only active minor piece.

20. Rf2 Rd8
21. Qe1 Bxe2
22. Qxe2 Qc5 (D)

Position after 22... Qc5

Black prepares to invade via the dark squares.

23. a4

Attempting to break the blockade.

23... Qa3

23... bxa4? 24. Bxc4 gets the bishop out of its prison.

24. Qc2 Bf8

Getting the bishop into the game. The threat is Bc5 pinning the rook.

25. Kh1 Bc5
26. Re2 Rd3
27. axb5

This only helps Black by opening the a-file, but White has no better alternative.

27. Rd2 Rad8 all of Black's pieces are committed to the attack.

27... axb5
28.ng3 Rad8
29. Kg2 Be3
30. Rce1 Qa8 (D)

Position after 30... Qa8

Rd2 is inevitable.

31. Rxe3 Rd2+
32. R3e2 Rxc2
33. Rxc2 Rd1
34. Ree2 Qa7
35. Rb2 Kg7
36. Kh3

36. Rxb5 Qg1+ 37. Kf3 (37. Kh3 Qf1+ -+) 37... Qf1+ 38. Rf2 Rd3+ -+

36... Qd7+
37. Kg2 Qd3
38. Kf2 Qxc3
39. Rxb5 Qd4+
40. Kf3 Qd3+
41. Kf2 Rd2 (D)

Position after 41... Rd2

By using a pawn chain to imprison the enemy bishop, Black was effectively fighting a piece up throughout the game. Great play by Vachier-Lagrave!


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

June Holiday Puzzles 2016: Part 2

If those 4 puzzles last week weren't enough, here's 3 more for you to enjoy!

Well... looks like it's about time we start learning out bishop + knight checkmate?