zondag 29 maart 2009

Answering Caquetio, Tanc and Polly

Before I return to the core of my subject of my last post, I will first take the time to answer to the analysis that I received in the comment section of this blog. I asked my readers to give their suggestions for white in this position.

The position is taken from the game Andersson - Vaganian, Skelleftea 1989.

The Caquetio Knight said:
1.Qd2! Putting pressure on the d6 pawn.
Plan white: Rfd1 increasing the pressure on d6, b3 protecting c4, f3 protecting e4 if necessary. Look out for the appropriate moment to play Nd5 or exchange the dark bishop on h6.
Plan black: black’s counter play is on the Q-side with a6, b5 and the bishop looking down the long diagonal and on the long run the breaking move f7-f5. But the rook belongs than behind the lever pawn. For now if he plays 1…Rd8? 2.Rfd1 Ne5 3. b3 and black is in trouble cause f4! is in the air.
1…Nd4! 2.b3 (2.Bxd4? cxd4 3.Nd5 d3!) f5!

Tanc (happyhippo) came up with the following analysis:
a. The key to the position is to note that Black's 2 most active pieces are his g7 bishop and e6 Knight. The Queen is strangely offside at b8.
b. Black has a Knight that is likely to come to e5.
c. Black's other Knight is also coming to d4 soon so I need to find a way to counteract it. If I allow these 2 Knights a chance to come into the center, White's position would be difficult.
d. On the White side, the b2 pawn is weak.
e. Black is very unlikely to trade the strong Bishop on g7 for the Knight on c3 else it just opens up the dark squares around his King and that is suicidal.

I first thought about the move f4 then f5. to pry the position on Black's kingside open. But then I run into the problem of Black responding with Nd4. This is a monstrous Knight and needs to be removed. How do I do it? I cannot shuffle my Rook nor move my Queen to attack the d4 square once Black put his Knight there.

With this in mind, it seems tempi is critical here. How about Rc2? I now protect the b-pawn.
The move looks good. I'm also threatening to play Nb5 next attacking the d pawn so it looks like Black is forced to play a6 on the next move to stop to defend this crucial pawn. Afterwhich Black will surely play Nd4 on the next move and Rd2 Black's Knight is now threatening to overwhelm the position with Ne5 and those 2 Knights will be a handful to deal with.

So after 1 Rc2 Nd4 2 f4 (to stop Ne5). This is probably what I would play.

Polly agrees more or less with Cauqetio
Hippo: I'm not overly afraid of the knight coming into d4 though it does stop the idea of piling on the d6 pawn. Perhaps Bg4 pinning the knight on e6. It might provoke f5, though I think that's a lousy move for black.

It's funny looking position with the knight on e6. It looks like a Maroczy bind type position, though as Black I would not have been so eager to get rid of my e pawn. I can't even imagine the move sequence that had black capturing on e6. Having played the Black side of the Maroczy I know that one needs a lot of patience to get a break for Black. I've also reached the White side by transposing against players of play c5 against my English.

I like Qd2 because it not only gives White a chance to put a rook on d1, but also gives the possibility of Bh6 trying to trade Black's dark squared bishop.

Nd5 also looks appealing just out of general principle

This is paraphrased (to avoid copyright issues) what Aagaard has to say about this position:
He points out whites completed development and think it is hard to say what the best position is for the queen, so it would be best to leave her where she is. He feels that the rook on c1 needs to be improved, and that b2 needs protection. Blacks position is in his eyes in a bit of trouble, though the knight on e6 and the bishop are well placed. He might consider a6 followed by b5, but he also has to take care of his weaknes on d6.

The only way for black to defend this weakness is by utilizing the control over d4. So white should attack down the d-file with Rc1-c2-d2.

He gives the game continuation with the following analysis.

15 Rc2! threatening 16 Nb5! 15 ... a6 16 Rd2 Nd4 17 Bxd4 cxd4 18 Rxd4! Bxd4 19 Qxd4 leading to the following position.

Here, according to Aagaard, white is slightly better, and brings under the readrs attention the white threats Nd5 and Bg4.

When I tried to solve the position, my thoughts were about the same as those of Caquetio and Polly. I saw the apparently strong outpost on d5 as a significant feature, and realized that the pawn on b2 needed to be defended before the knight could be played. So in my opinion playing Qd2 (which also connected the rooks) seemed to be more than obvious.

After reading Aagaards analysis I do however agree with his judgment, and must confess that Rc2 is way stronger, so cheers for Tanc (happyhippo) who also thought this was the move to be played). The key to this position is the exchange sac. This is what I had missed, and what really gives a bite to Rc2.

Though Andersson gets the credits for finding this exchange sac, I think Aagaard also deserves some credit for his explanation. However I believe that this position is a very bad choice for an exercise. Even Temposchlucker, who seems to like this book, agrees with me. In my next post I will try to make clear why this position is not suitable as an exercise for self improvement, which at the same time is my answer to Temposchluckers comment.

vrijdag 27 maart 2009

Looking closer at "Excelling at positional chess" 1

Please look at this position.

It is white to move, and this is the first exercise in Aagaards book "Excelling at positional chess". What move would you play?

dinsdag 17 maart 2009

Space and capacity

BDK's planning exercise and the follow up made me grab Michael Stean's classic "Simple chess" again. I especially felt the urge to read what Stean had to say about space and the advantage it is to suppose to offer. And again I was impressed by the clarity of his explanation. This a small part of his treatise of this subject:

Space is not an easily definable or recognizable concept. The visual impression you obtain by glancing at a position and estimating who seems to have the lion's share can be misleading. The following is nearer to the truth. Any given pawnstructure has a certain capacity for accomodating pieces efficiently. Exceed this capacity and the pieces get in each other's way, and so reduce their mutual activity. This problem of overpopulation is easy to sense when playing a position, it "feels" cramped. To take an example, compare the next two positions.

They do, of course represent the same position, but with two pairs of minor pieces less in the second case. In the first diagram black is terribly congested. There is no way he is ever going to be allowed to play b7-b5, while alternative methods of seeking some breathingspace by (after due preparation) ... e7-e6, or ... f7-f5 would compromise his pawnstructure considerably. White on the other hand can build up at leisure for an eventual e4-e5, safe in the knowledge that as long as he avoids any piece exchange, his adversary will never be able to free his game.

The second diagram is quite a contrast. The size of blacks forces is here well within the positions "capacity". As a result there are no spatial problems at all and black can very quickly seize the initiative by ... a7-a6 and ... b7-b5 or even by ... b7-b5 as a pawn sacrifice, e.g. 1 ... b7-b5 2 cxb5 a7-a6 3 bxa6 Rxa6 with tremendous pressure.
We see from this pair of positions that blacks structure is very good, but his capacity is small. Visually white has a spatial advantage in both cases, but in the second the eye flatters to deceive. In fact he is grossly overextended. A vast empire requires an army of equal proportions to defend it.

I have nothing to add to this, besides a glance at the position BDK gave us in his planning exercise.

Indeed, white has space? But why should this be an advantage, considering the explanation given above? It seems to me that blacks forces are will within the capacity of his pawnstructure

zaterdag 14 maart 2009


Temposchlucker asked me: I assume you have tried to play blindfold chess. What's your experience?

I have to confess that I did try a lot of methods to improve my visualization and calculation. And amongst those was also playing blindfold chess. I was not very good at it. I managed to play blindfold without playing illegal moves, but it was not something that came naturally.

The way I played was that I would reconstruct the complete move sequence from the first move onwards, to rebuild the chunk I wanted to analyze. When I had done this (I did this fairly quickly) I was able to analyze the position a bit.

As far as I can remember I never felt that I improved. Not in playing blindfold, nor in regular OTB games. The only thing that made me better in visualization is the platform technique that Tisdall described in "improve your chess". Not that it made my visualization and calculation deeper or faster, but mainly because it made it more effective and efficient.

donderdag 12 maart 2009

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

This is the material I have worked with the last year. The workbook is almost completely worn out. I accompanied me during a year on every train ride to and from the office. There never was a book that forced me to work as hard and continuously as this one!

The workbook without its cover.

The torn and worn out cover.

My notebook.

My notes.

My notes in closeup.

maandag 9 maart 2009

Patterns, patterns and patterns!

In my last post I made it clear that I believe that I am relatively good for a player of my strength in pattern recognition, and that I am relatively weak in visualization and calculation. This is something I see confirmed in the post mortems with players with ratings comparable to mine, or sometimes even significantly lower rated players. They have seen more variations, calculated deeper and I more often than not think that I can see that they calculate a lot faster.

I once was fortunate enough to witness a post mortem between Timman (at that moment ranked third in the world) and Kasparov. Kasparov won that game in which the following unusual ending ocurred:

In this position it was White (Timman) to move. Kasparov (with the black pieces) won this game even though almost everbody thought it was a draw. During the post mortem it was stunning to see the difference between kasparov and Timman. Kasparov gave one variation after another in an amazing speed. Immediately rebuffing almost every suggestion Timman made to improve upon the game.

Witnessing this I strongly felt that Kasparov brains just worked much faster than Timmans, and that the only thing that could compensate Timman for this disadvantage was maybe experience and knowledge (read patterns). Unfortunately for his Dutch fans however, Timman never could prove that his experience and knowledge were superior to Kasparovs, and after this match he never again was able to seriously challenge Kasparov again.

Nevertheless, Timman of course was a world class player. So it is possible to be good at chess, even if your main strength is not calculation and/or visualization. And I think that this explains my progress from a steady 1900 player to a steady 2000+ player. The period in which I accomplished this, is the period in which I mainly concentrated on improving my pattern recognition. I started to calculate less, but the variations I calculated were much more relevant than before.

And up to this day I still think that the road for improvement for me is to work on my pattern recognition. I do step 6 of the stepsmethod now for almost a year. I have nearly completed the workbook. My succes rate is about 75%. There is hardly a solution in the book that is deeper than 11 ply, and neither will you find solutions with more than 3 to 4 variations. As long as I keep missing 25% of the patterns within this horizon, there seems to be little reason for me to try to improve my abbility to look deeper.

And besides, before I started to concentrate on pattern recognition, I have tried a lot to improve my visualization and calculation skills. It did not improve my rating, and neither did I have any other indication that it brought me significant gains. But maybe this is caused by the fact that I did not use an effective method. So for now I focus on patterns. The question remains however what to do when I have finished step 6.