Tuesday, August 8, 2017

National Day Presents 2017: Test your Trivia!

In case you're too bored during your National Day Holidays, here are 15 questions (+1 bonus puzzle) to test your trivia. How well do you know your chess history?

Image from http://thehoneycombers.com

Q1: Which year did Kasparov first defeat Karpov to emerge as the World Champion?

(a)    1984
(b)    1985
(c)    1986
(d)    1987

Q2: What was Kasparov’s age at the mentioned year in Q1?

(a)    20
(b)    21
(c)    22
(d)    23

Q3: Fischer had a 20 consecutive win streak in 1971. Which player put an end to that streak?

(a)    Tigran Petrosian
(b)    Boris Spassky
(c)    Mark Taimanov
(d)    Bent Larsen

Q4: How many years was Emanuel Lasker World Champion for?

(a)    24
(b)    25
(c)    26
(d)    27

Q5: “Always put the rook behind the pawn… Except when it is incorrect to do so”. Who is credited for this famous saying?

(a)    Aaron Nimzowitsch
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Siegbert Tarrasch
(d)    Saveilly Tatakower

Q6: How about this one? “The tactician must know what to do whenever something needs doing; the strategist must know what to do when nothing needs doing.”

(a)    Aaron Nimzowitsch
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Siegbert Tarrasch
(d)    Saveilly Tatakower

Q7: Which event did the following position originate from?

White to move

(a)    Botvinnik vs Capablanca, AVRO 1938
(b)    Carlsen vs Karjakin, World Chess Championship 2016
(c)    Anand vs Caruana, Sinquefeld Cup 2017
(d)    Fischer vs Taimanov, Candidates Match 1971

Q8: What was White’s move in the above position?

Q9: Who is the famous chess master in the following photo?

Image from Wikipedia

(a)    Joseph Henry Blackburne
(b)    Wilhelm Steinitz
(c)    Johannes Zukertort
(d)    Paul Morphy

Q10: Mikhail Botvinnik held the title of World Champion from most of 1948 to 1963. But his reign was interrupted briefly by two other grandmasters. Who were they?

(a)    Robert Fischer and Bent Larsen
(b)    Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky
(c)    Alexander Alekhine and Anatoly Karpov
(d)    Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal

Q11: In 2017, Teimour Radjabov won his first major tournament in more than a decade. What was this tournament?

(a)    Sinquefeld Cup 2017
(b)    Geneva Grand Prix 2017
(c)    TATA Steel Chess 207
(d)    FIDE World Cup 2017

Q12: Who is the oldest living former world champion at the time of writing?

(a)    Tigran Petrosian
(b)    Anatoly Karpov
(c)    Boris Spassky
(d)    Garry Kasparov

Q13: Boris Gelfand currently plays for Israel. But which country was he born in?

(a)    France
(b)    Soviet Union
(c)    Poland
(d)    Hungary

Q14: What was unique about the World Chess Championship 2007?

(a)    It was tied all the way till the Armageddon game
(b)    It was suspended halfway without any result
(c)    The winner won the match by a large margin of 3 points
(d)    It was a double round-robin tournament, rather than the usual match format

Q15: Which of the following is usually classified as a strategic rather than a tactical concept?

(a)    Passed Pawn
(b)    Interference
(c)    X-Ray
(d)    Skewer

Q16: Bonus Question: White to move and win

Enjoy your holidays!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Positional Sacrifice

Many of us are happy to give up material if it means an unstoppable attack. How about sacrificing for the position? That’s where many players hesitate. For some reason it is particularly painful for us to part with a pawn or the exchange for some long-term positional gain.

That’s because by nature, we humans prefer immediate results. By sacrificing something that has been drilled into beginners as one of the most important assets of the game, of course we want something good to justify it. An unstoppable mate or an irresistible king hunt looks tangible enough. But something more abstract, like superior piece activity or a passed pawn, doesn’t look convincing enough to amateurs. So when it comes to sacrificing for the position, the verdict stands: We can’t do it!

Just take the leap, they said

Obviously we have to remove this rigor mortis, if we want to win more games. In his classic work “How to Reassess Your Chess (4th Edition)”, Jeremy Silman takes the bull by the horns by removing material advantage from its holy seat, and placing it alongside other positional factors known as “imbalances”. He explains the way to overcome this mental reluctance to part with material as follows:

“(The player) has to train himself to view each imbalance as something wonderful, and he has to view material as just another imbalance to be collected or rejected, depending on the nature of the individual position.”

 That means that while material advantage is important, you shouldn’t place it on a pedestal and lose sight of all other positional imbalances. Rather, it should be weighed alongside other factors such as the centre, pawn structure and piece activity, and treated equally.

Here is a simple example of how material can be given up for a huge positional advantage, again taken from Silman’s book:

White to move

White enjoys more space, and would love to put a piece on that inviting e6 square. But the only access point, the e-file, is contested by both sides, and Black has no intention of giving it up! So if White tries something like 1. Rxe7 Rxe7 2. Re1 Rxe1 Black trades off the rooks and White can never exploit his spatial advantage.

But now, armed with the knowledge that material is just an imbalance like any other positional factor, you might not take long to find the positional sacrifice:

1. Re6!!

And the reason for giving up the material becomes clear: After 1… Bxe6 2. dxe6, Black’s position is totally hopeless! True, he may be an exchange up, but if we analyze the imbalances of both sides we see a very different picture:

Position after 2. dxe6

  1. Up an exchange

  1. Enormous central space, giving White’s pieces far more activity as compared to Black’s
  2. A strong, protected passed pawn
  3. Weak enemy pawns on d6 and f6 to attack
  4. An outpost on d5 for the knight
  5. Uncontested light-squares along the h1-a8 diagonal that can be used as an invasion route for the light-squared bishop.
  6. Superior minor pieces compared to Black’s rooks: Without any open files, the Black rooks are in fact worse off than any of White’s pieces!

From the assessment of the imbalances it is not difficult to tell that White is winning despite his material deficit. After something like Nd5 and Re1, the weight of White’s forces will crush Black underfoot.

A less extreme example can be seen in the following game, between Petrosian and Spassky in the 1969 World Championship. I must digress for a bit to talk about Tigran Petrosian, who was remembered not only for his impenetrable defensive style, but also his fondness for giving up the exchange to get a superior position. So if there is any role model to look for while studying the idea of the positional sacrifice… look no further than Iron Tigran!

Iron Tigran, the master of positional play

Spassky, Boris vs Petrosian, Tigran V
World Chess Championship 1969 (Round 11)
Position after 30. Nd2

Black has a position similar to our first example: More space on the queenside, and control over the c-file. But Petrosian is unable to use the c-file to invade Spassky’s position, since all the invasion points have been covered by White. 30… Rc7 followed by Rac8 doubling rooks on the file comes to mind, but White can simply reply Rdc1 and Rac1 trading off all the rooks, resulting in a drawish, closed position. Is there a way for Black to push forth his agenda of advancing on the queenside? Turns out there is, and if we remember what White did in our first example, the candidate move here shouldn’t be hard to find:

30… Rc4!

If White accepts the sacrifice with 31. Nxc4 dxc4, we see that Black gets excellent compensation after laying out the imbalances:

  1. Up an exchange

  1. Two strong, protected passed pawns on the queenside
  2. An open diagonal for his light-squared bishop
  3. A backward e3 pawn to attack

This isn’t as clear as the first example where Black was totally cramped up, but the monster passed pawns on the queenside are more than enough to make White think twice about grabbing the material. Spassky wisely declined the sacrifice, instead finding other ways to keep the game complicated:

No article on the positional sacrifice would be complete without Petrosian’s classical defence sacrifice example. The next position is a famous one that some of you might find familiar, but such masterpieces never get too old to be shared:

Position after 25. Rfe1

Things are going badly for Black: White threatens Bf3 followed by d5, setting the central pawn mass in motion and wreaking havoc in Black's camp. If only Black could get his knight to d5 via e7, but moves like … Ra7 or ... Red7 don't work because of the pawn advance e6. This means Petrosian must find a move that can help set up a blockade on both d5 AND e6, which seems impossible unless some concessions can be made...

We have seen two fine works of art by Petrosian, but I cannot resist showing another one. I will cap off this article with another of his masterpieces, where he sacrificed the exchange to set loose a rampaging pawn army, eventually overrunning the enemy with its numbers:

Through these games we can see how material, at the end of the day, is just another positional imbalance. Weighed against other positional elements it definitely carries more advantage, but one must be prepared to let it go when you see an even better opportunity coming your way.

So don’t be afraid to make that positional sacrifice; even if it doesn’t work, at least you have overcome your mental block and learned much from it!

“How to Re-assess your Chess: 4th Edition” by Jeremy Silman

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 2: The Discovered Attack

Today we will resume our tactical training with 4 (simple) puzzles revolving around the Discovered Attack Tactical Motif:

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Knight to Remember: Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The Geneva Grand Prix 2017 has come to a close not long ago, with Teimour Radjabov scoring his first tournament victory in nearly 10 years. Today, we will look at one of the highlights of the tournament: Rising Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, outplayed veteran GM Levon Aronian after a few inaccuracies from the latter.

Aronian (left) vs Harikrishna, Geneva Grand Prix 2017

The game, which took the form of a reverse Sicilian, was equal until Aronian (as White) decided to try and win a pawn... unknowingly giving Harikrishna a huge positional advantage. This allowed the Indian to centralize his pieces, and suddenly Black's knight was wrecking havoc in the kingside.

"Bishops are stronger than knights, they said"

Aronian, Levon vs Harikrishna, Pentala
Geneva Grand Prix 2017 (Round 6)

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Nf3 Nc6
4. g3 d5
5. cxd5 Nxd5
6. Bg2 Nb6
7. O-O Be7
8. d3 O-O
9. Be3 Be6
10. Rc1 f5

The position resembles what is called a Reverse Sicilian: Instead of White, Black is the one who is preparing for a kingside advance.

11. a3

While White counterattacks on the other wing.

11... Kh8 12. b4 a6
13. Re1 Qe8 (D)

Position after 13... Qe8

Preparing ... Qg6 letting the queen join in the subsequent attack.

14. Qd2 Bd6
15. Bxb6

Aronian must have sensed the impending danger to his kingside, and decides to liquidate some of his opponent's firepower, and damage the enemy pawn structure at the same time.

15... cxb6
16. d4 exd4
17. Nxd4 Rd8
18. Nxe6 Qxe6
19. Qa2

So far White has succeeded in trading off most of the pieces. If he can exchange into the endgame, he will have the advantage due to his better pawn structure.

19... Qh6

Obviously, Harikrishna doesn't want any of that! He rejects the trade and continues with the kingside attack.

20. f4

Restraining Black's dark-squared bishop, and preventing any unwanted opening of the f-file.

20... a5 (D)

Position after 20... a5

21. b5?

This looks like a winning move, pinning the knight to the hanging b7 pawn. But it gives Harikrishna a huge positional gift: Previously, his dark-squared bishop was staring into a wall of pawns on both wings, but with this pawn advance his bishop now has access to the queenside. After something like ... Bc5 this also opens the file for his rook. Simply put, a seemingly harmless pawn move has allowed Black to greatly improve the position of his pieces!

Aronian was probably worried that after 21. bxa5 bxa5 any advantage that he might have in the endgame would be lost, since Black undoubles his pawns. But he might have seen that 21. Nb5! solves his problems as well; in fact, it helps to push the battle further into the endgame after 21... axb4 22. Nxd6 Qxd6 23. axb4 Qxb4 24. Qb1! After which one of Black's queenside pawns will fall. The resultant endgame is about equal.

21... Bc5+
22. e3? (D)

Position after 22. e3

Allowing a neat tactic that activates Black's knight. But even after 22. Kh1 Bf2 23. bxc6 Bxg3 24. h3 bxc6 25. Red1 Bxf4 Black has 3 pawns for a piece, but his queen-bishop duo are generating huge problems on the kingside.

22... Ne5!

Threatening a fork on d3 as well as Ng4 piling pressure on the kingside.

23. Rcd1

Black cannot capture: 23. fxe5? Bxe3+ loses the rooks.

23... Ng4
24. h3 Nxe3

The potential discovered attack is threatening. But even deadlier is 24... Bxe3+! 25. Kf1 Nh2+ 26. Ke2 Bxf4 driving White's king into the centre. Black now threatens moves like ... Re8 or ... Qxf4 after the exchange.

25. Rxd8

White trades to the best of his ability to slow down the attack. But it isn't enough.

25... Rxd8
26. Kh2 g5! (D)

Position after 26... g5

Blowing open the kingside cover. 26... Ng4+ looks tempting, but after 27. Kh1 Nf2+ 28. Kh2 Black isn't making progress.

27. fxg5 Qxg5
28. Qe6

28. Nd5 might have been better, centralizing the knight and keeping watch over f4.

28... f4
29. Ne4 Qg7
30. g4 Nc2

White would love to swap off another pair of minor pieces on c6, but Black's monster knight gives him no breathing space to do so!

31. Rf1 Nd4
32. Qf6

At last, Aronian has found a way to trade queens and slow down the attack. Unfortunately, Harikrishna can afford to do this since he is a pawn up and has a firm advantage in the resultant endgame.

32... Qxf6
33. Nxf6 Bxa3
34. Bxb7 Bd6

And the passed a-pawn, supported by Black's minor pieces, will decide matters.

35. h4 a4
36. g5 a3
37. Kh3 Be5
38. Kg4 Nc2 (D)

Position after 38... Nc2

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Sometimes, going for a small material advantage is not always good especially if it gives the opponent a major positional advantage.
  2. When defending, exchange pieces to slow down the opponent's attack.
  3. Always seek to centralize your pieces so as to maximize their potential!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Term 3 Tactics Part 1: The Pin

Today we shall go back to some basics, and look at 4 puzzles revolving around the tactical Pin motif.

Have fun!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Dominating the Two Bishops

For today's article, we will look at one of my friendly games that I played some time ago at the weekly Singapore Chess Meetup. Organized every Wednesday evening (6.30pm to 9.30pm) at Asia Square Tower 1, the Singapore Chess Meetup involves several players of varying strengths pitting their skills against each other in friendly games. A very good place to train and make new friends!

I found this game particularly instructive in the art of play against the bishop pair. Normally, we are taught that the two bishops are a powerful weapon in an open game. But in a closed position, their long-range advantage is restricted, as we had seen in my earlier Bishop Pair article series.

"Close those damn gates before them sniping bishops get us!"

Checkerboard 5 vs NN
Friendly Chess Game, Singapore Chess Meetup 2017

1. d4 Nf6
2. f4 g6
3. e3 Bg7
4. c3 d6
5. Nf3 O-O
6. Bd3 Nfd7
7. O-O e5
8. Bd2 f5?!

Exposing Black's king. This hands White the a2-g9 diagonal for free.

9. Bc4+ Kh8
10. Ng5 Qe7
11. Ne6 Nb6!

Black's only good move.

12. Nxf8 Nxc4
13. Nxg6+ hxg6
14. Rf3!? (D)

Position after 14. Rf3

With the h-file opened, I began to consider a kingside attack. But on hindsight it was not a very good plan: Only two of my pieces-- the queen and kingside rook-- were operational on that wing, while the other pieces needed some disentangling before they could be safely developed. But a bad plan is better than no plan, so the rook lift spelled the opening shots of the attack.

14. h3 followed by g4 was considered, but opening up my kingside for Black's light-squared bishop and queen (e.g. a possible ... Qh4) wasn't something which I desired.

14... Nxd2?

Alas, my opponent helps me with what was otherwise a poor attack. Why give up a good knight for a bad bishop, at the same time allowing me to develop my b1 knight for free?

14... Be6 developing normally was perfectly fine: 15. Rh3+ Kg8 16. Qf3 c6 followed by Bd5 taking over the centre. White still has to spend tempo bringing his dark-squared bishop to h4 before he can develop the b1 knight.

15. Nxd2 Be6
16. Rh3+ Kg8
17. Qf3 e4

Grabbing space and defending b7, but it closes the centre, which isn't very favourable to Black's bishop pair. Again,} 17... c6 followed by ... Bd5 could have been considered.

18. Qg3 Qf6
19. Rh4 Kf8

Despite the open h-file, there isn't a clear way for White to break through on the kingside: Al the invasion squares along the h-file have been covered! Moreover Black's king has smelt the danger and is preparing to evacuate the area.

20. Qf2

I decided to try another form of attack: Push h3 and g4 to open up the f-file, before bringing in the other rook with Rf1.

20. Qh3 If White persisted along the h-file, the result would have been something like 20... g5 21. Rh7 g4 22. Qh5 Bf7 23. Qg5 Nd7 Black solidifies the position, and the h7 rook is in danger of becoming trapped.

20... Nd7
21. Kf1

Since pushing the pawns exposes the White king, it had to be brought to safer waters as well.

21... Ke7
22. Ke2 Rh8! (D)

Position after 22... Rh8

Black has managed to extricate his king and bring out the rest of his pieces into the defence.

23. Rxh8

Effectively admitting that White's kingside attack has failed. Now both sides face a tough endgame ahead.

23... Bxh8
24. h4

To stop Black from pushing g5.

24... Nb6
25. Kd1 Qf8
26. Qg3 Qh6
27. Qg5+ Qxg5
28. hxg5 Nc4
29. Nxc4 Bxc4 (D)

Position after 29... Bxc4

Let's take a look at the position. White has a rook and extra pawn in exchange for Black's two bishops. In an open game the bishop pair would normally be advantageous, but in a closed position like this their strength is neutralized. Moreover, White still has the open h-file to play with: He has ideas like Rh1-Rh7 invading the seventh rank or Rh6 attacking the weak g6 pawn.

Additionally, I can also consider Rg1 followed by pushing g4 to be a viable plan, since exchanging on f5 leaves Black with another weak f5 pawn that White's rook can target.

30. Kc2 a5

Since the kingside is locked up, Black tries to open up on the other wing, hoping to get some space for his two bishops.

31. b3 Bd5

31... Bd3+ might have been better: The bishop cannot be chased away without great cost to White.

32. Rg1

Preparing to advance g4.

32. Rh1 was considered, but after 32... Bg7 33. Rh7 Kf8 followed by Bg8, Black's bishop pair covers the invasion squares and White must retreat.

32... b5
33. g4 c5?!

More accurate was 33... fxg4 34. Rxg4 Be6 35. Rh4 Bg7 where Black has managed to open some diagonals for his light-squared bishop. White has no quick breakthrough, for example 36. Rh7 Bg8 37. Rh1 planning Rf1 followed by g5, but Black simply repeats with 37... Be6 38. Rh7 Bg8 practically forcing a perpetual, with neither side giving way.

34. gxf5 gxf5
35. g6 (D)

Position after 35. g6

Now White has a passed pawn, and a target to attack on f5.

36. Rg5 Kf6
37. Kb1 c4
38. Kb2 cxb3
39. axb3 a4
40. bxa4 bxa4

Black gets his own passed pawn, but White's king is there to stop it.

41. Ka3 Bb3
42. c4

The threat is to advance c5 creating a second passed pawn.

42... Bf8
43. Rg1 d5+
44. c5

It is important to keep the position closed when your enemy has the bishop pair!

44... Kg7
45. Rg5 Kf6
46. Kb2

Stepping out of the a3-f8 diagonal pin.

47. c6 Bc4

47... Bxg5? 48. c7 Nothing can stop White from making a new queen.

48. Rg1 Ba6

48... Bb5 49. c7 Bd7 was better, after something like 50. Ka3 Bf8+ 51. Kb2 Bc8 Black is surprisingly holding out well against both passed pawns.

49. Ka3 Bc8?

Dropping the a4 pawn, Black's main source of counterplay, for nothing. Again, Black could have opted for 49... Bb5 50. c7 Bd7 51. Rc1 Bf8+ 52. Kb2 Bc8 53. Rg1 with the same fortress Black erected in the previous variation.

50. Kxa4 Bf8
51. Rb1 Ke7
52. Rb8

Now, the pressure from both passed pawns become too much for Black's bishops to handle. All White needs to do is to bring his king into the battle, and the game is effectively over from this point onwards.

52... Kd8
53. Kb5 Kc7
54. Ra8 Kd8
55. Kb6 Bh6
56. Kc5 Bf8+
57. Kxd5 Kc7
58. Kc4 Be6+
59. d5 (D)

Position after 59. d5

What can we learn from this game?

  1. When your enemy has the bishop pair, try to keep the game closed to neutralize their advantage.
  2. A bad plan is better than no plan.
  3. Learn the principle of two weaknesses: In this game, Black could hold out with one enemy passed pawn on the kingside, but when White created a second one on the queenside, Black's defences swiftly collapsed.

"Closing the Gates at Hougoumont, 1815", 1903, Robert Gibb, http://waterloo200.org/200-object/closing-the-gates-at-hougoumont-1815/

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June Holiday Presents 2017: Part 2

Are you trying to escape the cruel reality that the holidays are coming to an end? Here's a good hiding place, with 4 bishop-themed puzzles to lose your mind in!

Have fun!