Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Practicality of Endgame Studies

You may have noticed that from time to time I mention that solving studies was something I was encouraged to do when I first started taking chess lessons.

In fact, if you read my "other" blog at then you will see me talk about them even more often.

The reason that studies were suggested to me are as a form of calculation exercise.  But the truth is that there is a lot more to them than just that.  The truth is that studies can be very practical.

The reason that studies can be very practical is that often times the study is based on one aspect of the position that if you could change it would lead to a win.

Let's take a look at this study by Alois Watawa that appears in Mark Dvoretsky and Oleg Pervakov's excellent book Studies for Practical Players

This is a study that I just finished solving.  It's White to play and win.

The reason that I find this to be practical is that while this position isn't that likely to occur in a game, the idea itself is.

If you would like to take a crack at solving the study first please do so.  Then continue reading below once you have worked this

When I began looking at this position the first thing that became immediately obvious was that Black's king can't move.  With that in mind it's a simple deduction that if White can give check it's going to be mate.

So how can White give check.  The obvious way is along the h file.  Of course the problem is how to move Black's rook off the h file?  I couldn't figure out a way in which to do so.  The Black rook can shuffle endlessly between h6, h7, and h8 and there is no way for White to attack all of those squares simultaneously with just a rook.  And clearly the White king can't run around to help since Black's h pawn would promote.

So the next evolution in my thinking was that if there was a way to give a check from the White side of the board on the h file then that might win as well.  The issue is that I couldn't find a way to get the White king out of the way and even if I could there is no way to then insert the rook so that it can capture the pawn while being guarded by the king in order to deliver mate.

Then I realized that White could play Ra1 - Rg1 - Rg3 and if Black captures the rook with the f pawn then fxg3 by White is checkmate.  Ah, but there is a problem...After 1.Ra1 Black can simply play 1...Re7 (or d7, c7, or b7 for that matter) and then after 2.Rg1 Black plays 2...Re2.  Now if 3.Rg3 then Black wins with 3...Rxf2+ picking up the White rook when the king steps away from the check.

Seeing all of that you now see that if there was a way to prevent Black from swinging his rook over to the e/d/c/b file then White would have a vital tempo needed for the Ra1 - Rg1 - Rg3 plan.

Which makes the solution suddenly obvious...1.Ra8.  This forces 1...Rh6 to prevent 2.Rh8+ leading to mate.  Now White plays 2.Ra1 and with the pawn on g6 blocking his rook Black has no defense.

The idea being that while this position isn't likely to occur over the board, the idea of winning a vital tempo will.  And that is something that has a practical application OTB.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Time to Find the Next Gear

A little over two years ago I went over 1700 for the first time.  However, I clearly wasn't ready for it as I almost immediately fell back below.

I then crashed all the way down to 1560 in August of last year due to a crisis of confidence.  However, I have gained 220 points since that time and feel poised to continue to gain.

At this point I have played two games, both in the final rounds of tournaments, in which a win would have put me over 1800.  I didn't succeed in either game, but I don't believe it's due to a mental block, I just think that you're not going to win every game, and both of them happened to fall into that category.

However, I am also a pretty serious student of human nature, and if there's one thing that human nature tells us it's that if you give something enough of a chance to become a hurdle it will.

Therefore I need to find the next gear.  I need to fight hard with every ounce of my being to have a solid result that will propel me past 1800 so that I can get that monkey off my back.  Once I do so I will be able to stop worrying about it and hopefully I will be able to just focus on improving...meaning that the rating will improve on it's own as a natural result of my actions.

To that end I have been studying like made.  Tons of tactics.  Tons of Alekhine's games.  Tons of annotated games in general.

I should also take heed from the games in Chennai and switch some focus to endgames.  Look at game four earlier today...Vishy was able to save the game because he knew that R+P vs R+2P was a draw with pawns on the same side of the board.  Magnus was able to keep the game going longer because he knew that by keeping a pair of rooks on the board he increased his winning chances.

Just knowing those things told those guys what to play for in the late middle game and as they transitioned into the endgame.

So it's time for me to find that next gear and get this show on the road...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review of The Hague-Moscow 1948 by Max Euwe

What a pleasure it was to learn that this book was finally available in English! 

For anyone who may not be aware of the history, in 1948 a Match/Tournament was held to fill the void left by the death of Alexander Alekhine in 1946.  Held under the auspices of FIDE for the first time the idea was to not only crown a new champion, but also to set up a regular cycle of title defenses. 

Prior to FIDE stepping in to take over the process the world champion himself would decide how often the title would be defended and against whom.  That process led to the ridiculous dry spell from 1937 when Alekhine regained his title from Max Euwe, to 1946 when Alekhine died of no title matches taking place.

FIDE stepped in to ensure that there would now be a regular championship cycle beginning with this event.

This book is published by Russell Enterprises and is 240 pages, using Figurine Algebraic Notation.  The sections of the book include a Foreword by Hans Ree, articles about the lead up to the tournament, and games comprising the prior meetings between the contestants.

I have long been a fan of the history of chess and the world championships, but this tournament has always remained somewhat shrouded in mystery.  Mostly because there was little available in the way of annotated games that were published in English.  I had purchased Gligoric's book on the world championships simply to get the game scores a few years ago.

So it was with a high level of anticipation that I sat down to read this book.  It did not disappoint!

After Alekhine's death there was some talk of simply reinstating the title to the prior world champ, Dr. Max Euwe of the Netherlands.  In fact, Euwe was fond of saying that he was world champion twice...the first time from 1935-37 when he held the title he had won from Alekhine, and the second time for one day in 1948 prior to the decision being made to hold this match/tournament rather than simply restoring the title to Dr. Euwe.

One thing that seems to have been mostly lost with the passage of time is the knowledge that while there were five contestants (Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Max Euwe, and Sammy Reshevsky) who played in this event, there were originally six who were slated, with the final spot being given to the American, Rueben Fine. 

However, by that time Dr. Fine had made the decision to pursue psychology rather than to continue as a professional chess player.  At that point FIDE considered adding Miguel Najdorf in the final slot, but ultimately decided to run the event with five players, meaning that everyone would get extra rest days since each playing day one of the contestants would have a bye.

Naturally the majority of chess aficionados recall that Botvinnik won the title rather handily.  Sadly, however, the event was not completely above board.  In the years afterwards it came to light that the Soviet authorities pressured Paul Keres to throw games to Botvinnik.  There is much debate on the extent of the pressure, with varying opinions on whether or not it actually took place, but it seems to me that based on what I've read from Soviet GM's (i.e. David Bronstein in Secret Notes) that there was at least some coercion to this effect.

That being said, the tournament was designed to be split between two cities, with the first ten rounds taking place in The Hague and the final fifteen in Moscow.  (Keeping in mind that in order for five contestants to play twenty games each five additional rounds were needed due to the byes.)

Sadly for the Dutch fans, their hero Euwe got out of the gates slow, and slowed down further from there.  After the first ten rounds Euwe had managed only 1.5 points.  Botvinnik meanwhile had opened a two point lead which he never relinquished.

The detail level of the annotations of the games varies greatly, with some games being only lightly annotated whilst some are covered with a far greater level of detail.

There is a writeup at the beginning of each round which describes the state of the tournament and related events, followed by the games for that round.  The ECO codes are given for each game along with the name of the opening, and there is an index in the back of the book by both name and code, making cross referencing a breeze.  Furthermore, in an ingenious move the games are separately indexed between the prior meetings leading up to the tournament and the tournament itself.  I found this to be a very nice feature.

Dr. Euwe annotations are very much geared for improvement at the club level as they are more wordy than they are variational.  The focus is on clear explanations which can be understood by all readers.  However, when the situation warrants, detailed variations are given.

Overall I give this book a very solid four out of five stars.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Plan for November

This November will be different than the last two since I returned to playing.  In both 2011 and 2012 I (more or less) took the better part of a month off.  In 2011 it was December.  Last year it was November.  Granted, in both of those months I had some activity, but it was minimal compared with how much I had been playing.

My intent with the time off both years was to give myself a bit of a break and to spend more time studying with the intention of solidifying the results of the prior year.

This year I have no intention of taking a month off.  In fact, I might look to play a bit more.

With that in mind, I give you the plan for November, and it's the simplest plan to date:

Have Fun

Yep, that's it.  Have fun.  Read what I want to read, study what I want to study, and just enjoy myself.

I think that the monthly plans I have devised, while they had a good intent behind them, haven't served me all that well.  If for no other reason than I typically do what I want to do and ignore the things I don't want to do.

So this month I'm just opening the floodgates.  Let's just kick back and have ourselves a good time.

I do want to reach my goal of 1800 by years end.  It's well within reach since I'm essentially one OK result away (just hit a new peak of 1786) so I just need to focus on being consistent with my results and I should make it.

If I do, then I'll work on the next goal.  If I don't then I'll work on a new timeline for this one.

So with that in mind, I'm ready to get this month started!

Recap for October

October's plan was relatively simple.  I wanted to continue to learn the Taimanov Sicilian, and I wanted to analyze my own games.

I didn't work on the Sicilian at all.  I did some minor opening tuneups but nothing major.  Although I do want to become much stronger in the opening, I am starting to realize that improving the other areas of my game is more important and that by focusing on them openings will improve naturally.

As for analyzing my own games, that it something that I continue to do.  I am not perfect about it, but I do analyze the vast majority of them, so it's at least a start.  I want to get to a point where I can truly lose myself in the analysis of my games.  To become so immersed in the variational possibilities that I can get ever closer to learning how to seek the truth of the position.

So all in all I would say that October was a semi-success as far as sticking to the plan, but a smashing success in terms of performance.  I did set another all time peak rating by hitting 1786.

So far 2011 has been a relative success.  I started the year rated just under 1700 and have increased my rating this year in a slow but steady arc.  There haven't been many peaks or valleys, just a gradual increase.  The good news is that this shows that my play is getting much more consistent.