Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September 2017 Tactical Training

4 more simple puzzles to finish off the month of September:






Have fun!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

NUS IFG 2017 Post-Mortem: Part 1

One more tournament done and dusted. The International Chess category of NUS Inter-Faculty Games 2017 was held on 10 September, and while I had no interest in the final rankings, I was more concerned over what could be learned from the games I played. And no matter what result each games ended with, they provided instructive lessons that I will like to share with y'all.

Playing hall before the first round

Games 1 and 2: Mad about squares

After a few moves into my first game, it became apparent that my opponent was a beginner, who fed me a free piece on the tenth move. But early in the opening, I made a major inaccuracy, which weakened the squares around my king. Thank goodness the other side was not able to exploit this weakness; a more seasoned veteran would have punished me badly for this mistake!

A close shave, and a good lesson on the dangers of creating weak squares around the king!

Game 2 was when the day's struggle really began.

Position after 12. Nh4

The position resembles a reverse King's Indian; the centre is closed but Black has the spatial advantage rather than White! With their last move (12. Nh4), White prepared an f2-f4 advance, reminiscent of Black's classic f5 pawn break in the King's Indian. How should I, as Black, respond?

A glance at the pawn structure reveals a pressing problem for both sides: The bishops risk being shut out of the game. For Black this can be solved with … Bc8 and … Ng4 finding new diagonals, while the White clerics find a better future on c1 and h3. Another point worth noting is that the dark squares—especially e3—in White's position will be weakened if White pushes f4. Thus, if Black can threaten to swing a knight onto e3, it might discourage White from getting in f4.

Thus, Black should consider … Bc8 relocating their pieces to the kingside, where the heat of the action is most likely to take place. This should be followed up with … Ng4, preparing to occupy e3 should White insist on advancing f4. In essence, this would escalate into a battle of squares, similar to Game 1.

So, did I play Bc8? No… during the game, I was so "mesmerized" by the prospect of White getting in f4 that I didn't even look at the e3 square. Instead I decided upon a half-hearted attempt to mimic White's plans with 12... Nh5, preparing my own pawn push f5. But this gave my adversary the initiative after 13. Qd1 Bxh4 14. Qxh5 followed by 15. f4, and White struck first. While the game was still playable after that, a terrible blunder soon sealed my fate, and spoiled what could have been a very interesting game.

What can we learn from Games 1 and 2? While chess is a battle of pieces, one should not forget about the squares. Along with the pawn structure, they form the terrain through which pieces seek anchor points and offensive/defensive pathways. A weak square near a king can be deadly, for it can be used as an invasion point for enemy pieces.

To summarize in a flamboyant manner, I paraphrase a famous quote from “Red Cliff”: With a strong understanding of squares, all 64 squares on the board will become soldiers at your command.



Game 3: Beware the pawn centre!

Back to the White pieces, and a tumble down the ranking table after my team's whitewash in Round 2. Funnily enough, I found myself in a "King"s Indian-ish" position again, with one difference: My pawn centre was not locked up, but instead given the freedom to advance anytime!

"It is of the greatest importance to strive for the mobility of our pawn mass, for a mobile mass can in its lust to expand, exercise a crushing effect"
-Aaron Nimzowitsch, My System

Soon, I was teaching my opponent a lesson on how dangerous an unfettered pawn centre can become:

The lesson from this game is a reminder on why a pawn centre should be blockaded, especially in King's Indian positions. Their desire to expand and wreck unparalleled destruction must not be underestimated!

"I came in like a wrecking ball..."

With that I wrap up the first half of IFG 2017; in Part 2, I will go through my next 3 games.

To be continued…

Links:
Part 2: https://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/10/nus-ifg-2017-post-mortem-part-2.html

Sources:
http://www.listal.com/viewimage/7604726
https://cinematicfanatic.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/indiana-jones-raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1981/

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Post-NST Tactical Presents 2017

Although NST is over, learning is never over!






Have fun!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Strategy and the Mastery of Imbalances: Part 2

In Part 1, we were introduced to the different imbalances that can occur in a game. Today, we will see how these concepts are employed to analyze critical positions, leading to the formulation of viable plans.

To recap the strategic imbalances discussed so far:

  • Material
  • Development
  • King safety
  • Centre and Space
  • Open files and diagonals
  • Piece activity
  • Pawn structure

Before coming up with a plan, use these ideas to do a breakdown of the imbalances on both sides, before deciding how to make use of those imbalances where you have the advantage.

Take a look at our first position:

Anand, Viswanathan vs Karpov, Anatoly
FIDE World Championship 1998
Position after 11... Nce7

The position's imbalances can be deconstructed:

White:

  • More central space
  • More active pieces, especially when you consider Black’s trapped light-squared bishop
  • A slight edge in development (rook occupying the e-file)

Black:

  • Better pawn structure: White has an isolated pawn that is being blockaded
  • A strong square on d5, where the knights can be centralized

Imagine you are playing as White. There are no immediate threats on the board, so tactics are out of the question. How then, shall you formulate a plan? Of course you want to capitalize on your centre space, developmental lead, and better pieces, and shift the battle away from your isolated pawn weakness.

Having a lead in development and more active pieces are dynamic factors; they are temporary and can vanish if not exploited (e.g. the opponent can improve the position of his pieces if given enough time). With that in mind, White should mobilize his active pieces for an attack on the enemy king as soon as possible, before the opponent catches up in development.

On the other hand, his isolated d-pawn is a static factor, which is unlikely to change or vanish as the game progresses. So White should avoid the trading of pieces, since his isolated pawn will stay on the board and become a more vulnerable weakness in the endgame.


In essence, White's plan should be to use his more active pieces to attack the castled enemy king as soon as possible, and avoid trading into the endgame where his isolated pawn weakness becomes vulnerable.

How about Black? He needs to improve the position of his light-squared bishop, possibly by Bd7-Bc6. But more importantly, he needs to trade off White's active pieces to blunt any upcoming attack, and enter an endgame where Black has the better pawn structure.

Effectively, Black's plan is the reverse of White's. Improve the position of his light-squared bishop, exchange pieces to reach the endgame, and target White's isolated pawn weakness.

See how both sides carry out their respective plans in the ensuring struggle:

In our next example, White seems to have a problem: Black is threatening to exchange on d3 and remove White's bishop pair.

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Online Chess Game 2017
Position after 8... Nb4

Some of us might think that the exchange will create an imbalance that helps Black, since he gets the two bishops. But although the bishop pair may be useful, they don't always work well in every position. We all know that tanks are powerful steel beasts, but put them in a muddy field and they are as good as useless.

Join the tankies, they said. Won't need to walk, they said

Similarly, the bishop pair becomes ineffective in a closed position, where the diagonals are blocked by pawns. A quick glance at Position 2 is enough to see that the closed pawn centre is not good territory for the bishops!

So White should not be afraid to exchange on d3, since his knights work well in the closed position, while Black's two bishop "advantage" gets neutralized by the myriad of pawns in the centre. The resulting imbalance is in White's favour, not Black's!

White's plan is to let Black exchange on d3, and concentrate on improving the position for his remaining pieces. He achieves this with the pawn push f4, opening up the f-file for his rooks and deploying his dark-squared bishop onto the battlefield. The game continued 9. f4 Ng4 10. h3 Nh6 11. fxe5 dxe5 (D)

Position after 11... dxe5

Break down the imbalances again:

White:
  • More central space
  • A passed pawn on d5
  • The semi-open f-file
  • A slight lead in development: Black’s bishops are undeveloped and his king is not castled
Black:
  • Potential threats on the queenside with his queen-knight duo

Not surprisingly White has the advantage, and he should use the semi-open f-file to attempt a kingside invasion. This will be made easier by his centre control, which will interfere with Black's attempts to defend. However, White must watch for any counterplay Black may try on the queenside.

The last example is one of my most cancerous favourite games. It is a good demonstration of how one can use whatever imbalances they have at hand to save a bad position, and "scam" their opponent of any wins.

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Singapore Chess Meetup 2017
Position after 21. Ra2

It is obvious that things are going badly for Black. White has total control of the h-file, and a pair of dangerous—albeit doubled—passed pawns on the b-file. If we analyze the imbalances, it isn't hard to see the advantage lies with White.

White:
  • Control of the open h-file
  • Control of the enemy 7th rank
  • Passed b-file pawns
  • Black has a hideously bad bishop on b7
Black:
  • A weak, isolated pawn on e3 to target
  • White's king is slightly exposed

As Black, I faced a dilemma. I could defend passively with Qc8 to preserve material equality. But then White would be free to carry out his plans, and after something like b6 he would use his imbalances (the h-file and passed pawns) to slowly crush me.

Or I could do something about the few imbalances I had. Namely, White's weak e3 pawn and his vulnerable king. That means bringing as many pieces as I could over to attack the enemy king. But this would mean that the poor b7 bishop would be left defenceless.

Which of these choices did I choose? Either way, I would be losing something. So rather than giving my opponent an easy, positional game, why not go all out and create as much problems for him as possible? I am already in a bad position, so I have nothing to lose anyway!

So I chose Plan B: Jettison the b7 bishop, and bring my remaining pieces over for an all-out attack against White's king.

Was my attack a sound one? No: White could have refuted it with 29. Nf1. But the numerous problems I created on the kingside made it easy for either side to slip up, and my opponent was unfortunate enough to do so.

And in case you were wondering whether this was a blitz game, it was in fact a casual game played without time control, so both of us had plenty of time to think. Now imagine what would happen in rapid time control, with both sides having limited time to think!

The lesson from this game is: When in a bad position, play as actively as possible and create problems for your opponent. After all, you have nothing to lose, and with any luck your opponent may make mistakes and get "scammed" of his win!

Wrapping up

Through these 3 examples, I hope y’all have a clearer idea of how to identify and use imbalances to your advantage. Again, the different positional factors are summarized as follows:

  • Material
  • Development
  • King safety
  • Centre and Space
  • Open files and diagonals
  • Piece activity
  • Pawn structure

It is by understanding the nature of a position that one can formulate an effective plan, and tip the scales in your favour. This is the art of chess strategy.

Links:
Part 1: https://nushsblackknights.blogspot.com/2017/08/strategy-and-mastery-of-imbalances-part.html

 Sources:
"How to Re-Assess your Chess" by Jeremy Silman
"21 Days to Supercharge your Chess" by Yury Markushin
http://www.military.com/video/combat-vehicles/combat-tanks/russians-t-90-tank-stuck-mud/3297266267001
https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-13438421-stock-footage-low-angle-shot-of-a-chess-game-a-knight-being-taken-by-a-pawn.html