Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Term 3 Tactics Challenge: Part 2

Just some really good puzzles that I found on's Tactics Trainer.

Have fun!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lifting the curse: Carlsen vs Nakamura, Bilbao Masters 2016 Round 1

The Bilbao Masters 2016 is currently underway, with Carlsen leading as of Round 6. However, the game that attracted the most attention so far was Carlsen - Nakamura from Round 1. With a dismal score of 12 losses, 18 draws and 0 wins against the World Champion, Nakamura would fight hard to lift the curse and score his first win against Carlsen in classic time control. And this time, he delivered as promised!

In the following game, Carlsen got a promising position with a strong kingside attack. However, he ended up miscalculating a sacrifice and got into a worse endgame. And unlike so many previous games against the Norwegian, Nakamura was able to convert his advantage and finally break the spell.

The game has been discussed in detail by several chess analysts, and I will adopt some of their ideas in here.

Dat feeling (Image from Bilbao official website)

Carlsen, Magnus vs Nakamura, Hikaru
Bilbao Masters 2016

1. e4 c5
2. Ne2 d6
3. Nbc3 a6
4. g3 g6
5. Bg2 Bg7

From a Najdorf the game has transposed into a variation of the Sicilian Dragon.

6. d4 cxd4
7. Nxd4 Nf6
8. O-O O-O
9. b3 Nc6
10. Nxc6

An interesting move. Normally, exchanging on c6 is bad because it gives Black greater control over d5. However, Carlsen has something else in mind.

10... bxc6
11. Bb2 Qa5

The threat is Nxe4 followed by Bxc3/Bxb2

12. Na4!

Now we see why White exchanged on c6. Black is left with a isolated a6 pawn, and a weak b6 sqaure which White can exploit with his knight. Also, White threatens to push e5, releasing his light-squared bishop.

12... Bg4
13. Qe1 Qh5!? (D)

Position after 13... Qh5

A risky decision; Nakamura's queen can potentially get trapped. Still, it was better than trading queens: 13... Qxe1? 14. Rfxe1 With the queens off the board, the threat of 15. e5! is very strong.

14. f3

Carlsen wastes no time in exploiting this.

14... Bh3
15. g4 Qh6
16. Rd1

Trying to win the pawn doesn't work: 16. Bc1? g5 17. Bxg5 Qxg5 18. Bxh3 Nh5! 19. Bg2 Bxa1 20. Qxa1 Nf4 Black is up in material instead.

16... g5

Defending against Bc1.

17. Bc1 (D)

Position after 17. Bc1

White could also try 17. Nb6 Rad8 (17... Rab8? 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd7) 18. Bd4 with better placed pieces than Black.

17... Bxg2
18. Kxg2 Qg6
19. h4

Black must take, otherwise 20. h5 simply drives the queen out of the game.

19... gxh4
20. Qxh4

Carlsen has committed his pawns and pieces to the kingside. While he makes the position look dangerous for Black, he also exposes his king to any counterattack...

20... d5

Which Nakamura promptly launches.

21. g5?!

Sacrificing a pawn to go all out on the kingside. It was better to take care of the centre first: 21. exd5 cxd5 22. Qg5 Qxc2+ 23. Rd2 Qg6 24. Qxg6 hxg6 25. Nb6 $1 Rad8 26. g5 White will win back the pawn and get a good endgame.

21... dxe4
22. f4?! (D)

Position after 22. f4

The plan was to push 23. f5. However, Carlsen overlooked a strong response:

23... e6!

Nakamura makes the defense look simple. All of a sudden, Carlsen is left a pawn down without compensation.

23. c4 Rfd8
24. Rde1

To prevent ...e3 and ... Qe4+

24... Ne8

The idea is to get to d6 controlling f5 and e4.

25. Nc5 Nd6
26. Qf2 f5 (D)

Position after 26... f5

Now White's attack is no more, while Black is ready to counterattack in the centre. The threat of ... e5 weakening g5 is in the air.

27. Bb2 Nf7
28. Bxg7

When defending, exchange pieces to weaken the opponent's firepower.

28... Kxg7
29. Qg3 Rd6
30. Rd1 Rad8

Pure and simple. Nakamura uses the d-file to invade the enemy camp.

31. Rxd6 Rxd6
32. Qc3+ Kg8

Black's king is much safer than White's, which was exposed during the botched attack.

33. Rf2 Qh5

The threat is 34... Rd1.

34. Qh3 Qd1
35. Qe3 e5!
36. Qg3 (D)

Position after 36. Qg3

36. fxe5 Rg6 The pawn falls, and together with it the kingside.

36... Rg6
37. Kh2 exf4
38. Qxf4 Qh5+
39. Kg1 Qd1+

A couple of checks to reach the next time control, where Nakamura can spend more time calculating the attack.

40. Kh2 Qh5+
41. Kg1 Nxg5
42. Qb8+ Kg7
43. Qe5+ Kh6
44. Qf4 Qd1+
45. Kh2 Qd4!

Controlling the long diagonal; now the Black king will be safe on those squares.

46. b4 Kg7

Unpinning the knight and preparing to tuck the king to h8.

47. Qc7+ Kh8
48. Qc8+ Rg8
49. Qxf5 Nf3+
50. Kh3 Qd5 (D)

Position after 50... Qd5

With mate on the g-file to follow. It was still possible to botch the game with 50... Qxf2?? 51. Qf6+ with perpetual to follow!

With a series of miscalculations, Carlsen went from a promising attack to a losing defense in just a couple of moves. And this time, Nakamura kept his calm and finally scored his first classical win against the World Champion!


Friday, July 15, 2016

Term 3 Tactical Challenge: Part 1

Just because the holidays are over doesn't mean no more puzzles! Here's 4 more for everyone:

Have fun!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Queenstown Club 2016 Round 5

The next game we are going to analyze was played in Round 5 of my recent tournament. While it is relatively short, we can still learn from it the importance of identifying threats against you, especially when the activity takes place on opposite wings.

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Queenstown Club 2016 Round 5

1. c4 Nf6
2. Nc3 e6
3. d4 Bb4
4. Qc2 d5
5. e3 O-O
6. Bd3 Nbd7
7. Nge2 b6
8. O-O dxc4
9. Bxc4 Bb7
10. e4 e5
11. d5

11. dxe5 Nxe5 White must lose tempo retreating the bishop.

11... Bc5 (D)

Position after 11... Bc5

12. a3?

Preparing to push b4 chasing the bishop and expanding on the queenside. However, White underestimates a potential threat on the other side of the board...

Most players would reply 12. h3 but after c6 (12... Bd4?! 13. Nxd4 exd4 14. Nb5 winning the pawn.) 13. dxc6 Bxc6 The e4 pawn is under significant pressure from Black's light-squared bishop. The best defense here would be to develop with threat: 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bh4 c6 14. Rad1 (D)

Position after 14. Rad1

With the bishop developed, White can connect his rooks and maintain pressure on the d-file.

12... Ng4!

Taking aim at f2. In the process of realizing his plans on the queenside, White has left few defenders on the other wing.

13. Ng3

Defending f5. 13. h3? Nxf2 14. Rxf2 Bxf2+ 15. Kxf2 f5! Opening the f-file. White will have an exposed king and a weakness on d5.

13... Qh4! (D)

Position after 13... Qh4

This was what White missed. Now he must give up a pawn to survive.

14. h3 Qxg3
15. hxg4 Qxg4
16. Be3

White relieves the pressure against his king at the cost of ruining his pawn structure.

16... Bxe3
17. fxe3 Nf6
18. Rf5 Bc8
19. Rf3 (D)

Position after 19. Rf3

Black is up in material with a better pawn structure. The game was eventually won after a few more mistakes by White.

So what can we learn from this game?

  1. When White brought his pieces to the queenside, he stripped the other wing of defending pieces. Thus, the best way for Black to respond was a counterattack on the kingside.
  2. Tactics is not just about looking for threats against your opponent; you need to be aware of threats against you!
  3. Development with threat is an effective way to save tempo.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Pinning an uncastled king: Queenstown Club 2016

In today's article, we will examine the power of pins and how they can be used against an uncastled king. The following game was taken from my recent tourney at Queenstown, where I was able to exploit my opponent's lag in development to tie down his king and win material.

Checkerbaord 5 vs Opponent
Queenstown Club 2016 Round 4

1. c4 Nf6
2. Nc3 e6
3. d4 d5
4. e3 Be7
5. Nf3 Nbd7
6. Be2 dxc4
7. Bxc4 b6
8. O-O Bb7
9. b3 c5!? (D)

Position after 9... c5

Hitting the centre and opening the long diagonal for the bishop.

10. d5

10. dxc5 only helps Black, with Nxc5 aiming for e5.

10... exd5

Black must take: 10... O-O? 11. d6 loses the bishop.

11. Nxd5 Nxd5
12. Bxd5 Bxd5
13. Qxd5 Nf6? (D)

Position after 13... Nf6

Neglecting development. This gives White an opportunity to attack the uncastled king.

It was important to castle asap: 13... O-O 14. Bb2 Nf6 15. Qb7 Qd7 16. Qxd7 Nxd7 17. Rfd1 White is slightly better in the resulting endgame but Black still has excellent chances to fight back.

Returning to the position after 13... Nf6:

14. Qc6+! Nd7
15. Ne5

Keeping the king in the centre.

15. Rd1 looks strong too but after 15... Rc8 16. Qa4 Bf6 the attack on White's rook buys Black some time: 17. Rb1 Qc7 preparing ... Qc6 trading into the endgame. Notice here White cannot play Ne5.

15... Rc8
16. Qa4! (D)

Position after 16. Qa4

With this move White achieves 2 goals: Keeping the pressure on d7, and exploiting a new weakness on a7.
16. Qd5? Nxe5 17. Qxe5 O-O Black equalizes.

16... Bf6!

When defending, trade off pieces to relieve the pressure.

17. Bb2

Bringing another piece into the attack.

17... Bxe5
18. Bxe5

After the exchange Black's knight is still pinned, while the rook cannot use c7 to protect the knight. White's threat is now Rad1 winning the knight.

18... O-O

This loses material, but at least it gets the king to safety. Other moves are no better: 18... f6 19. Bd6 {with Qxa7 and Rad1 to follow.

19. Rad1!

Black can no longer protect the knight. To maintain some chances of counterplay, he sacrifices his queen for the rook and bishop.

19... Nxe5
20. Rxd8 Rcxd8
21. Qxa7 (D)

Position after 21. Qxa7

Black has simplified into a queen vs rook + minor piece endgame. However, White's queen is well placed to attack his opponent's weak pawns, and he eventually went on to win.

From this game, we can learn about the importance of early castling; having your king attacked while it is stuck in the centre is certainly not a nice feeling!