The 2010 Wrekin Chess Congress was held in Telford on the weekend of 9th and 10th of January, and a very well run and enjoyable tournament it was too! There was a good turnout despite the bad weather we were experiencing at the time.
As usual with five round (Swiss system) tournaments, when commuting, I only played four rounds – I play morning and afternoon rounds on both Saturday and Sunday, taking a half point bye either Friday or Saturday evening, depending on the timetable.
I am keen to look at two games at least from this event, starting with this one in which I played an opponent graded 160 ECF (1930 FIDE) and miraculously escapes with a draw. However I seemed to develop quite a good attack early in the game, and that is what I want to look at. That is, I want to know how – if at all – I could have pressed home the attack and won.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 c6 5.e3 Bf5 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Ne5 0-0 8.g4 Be6 9.h4
Black has opted for a Grunfeld type structure, and white has responded by adopting a Barry Attack formation. This looks promising for white because black has not adopted the most testing approach, having preferred to play …c6 rather than …c5. Also black not attempted to delay kingside castling.
9…Nfd7 10.h5 Nxe5 11.Bxe5 f6 12.Bf4 g5 13.Bg3 Na6 14.Qd2 c5 15.h6 Bh8 16.0-0-0 Rc8 17.f4 Bf7 18.fxg5 fxg5 19.e4 e6 20.e5 Bg6 21.Nb5 Nb4 22.a3 Nxc2 23.Nd6 Nxd4 24.Qe3 Qb6 25.Rdf1 Rxf1+ 26.Rxf1 Rd8 27.Bd3 Qb3 28.Nf5 exf5 29.Qxg5 Ne6 30.Qe7 Qxd3 31.Qxe6+ Bf7 32.Qxf5 Qxf5 33.gxf5 Re8 34.Re1 Bh5 35.f6 Bxf6 36.exf6 Rxe1+ 37.Bxe1 Kf7 38.Bd2 Kxf6 39.Kc2 Ke5 40.Bg5 d4 41.Be7 c4 42.Bf8 Ke4 43.Kd2 Kd5 44.Bg7 Kc5 45.Bf6 b5 46.Be7+ Kd5 47.Bf6 Bg6 48.Bg7 Ke4 49.Bf6 Kd5 50.Bg7 a5 51.Bf6 b4 52.axb4 axb4 53.Bg7 c3+ 54.bxc3 bxc3+ 55.Kc1 Kc4 56.Bf6 Kd3 57.Bg7 Ke3 58.Bf6 Kd3 59.Be5 Ke4 60.Bf6 Kd5 61.Bg7 Kc4 62.Bf6 draw agreed!
See the diagram for the final position. Black has a clearly won game. However, we were both very short of time and I offered the draw having somehow convinced myself that white can hold it! Rubbish of course, but in my experience after a long game and when short of time, players do sometimes get a bit confused. Anyway I guess my opponent much have been in the same kind of state because he accepted my offer of a draw.
Some time ago I wrote an article giving five tips that (in my experience) will help players of about Elo 1400 (ECF 100) improve their play to around Elo 1720 (140). I then almost immediately had to write a follow-up because it was quickly pointed out I had somehow missed out the most important method – that is, analyse your own games which now occupies the number one slot!
I’ve been thinking about this, and – a year and a half later – I’m writing my list again. In addition to the obvious point that you need to play regularly, here are my top five how to improve at chess tips:
- Analyse your games. Do this with the help of players stronger than yourself. Also using chess programmes such as Fritz can offer lots of surprises regarding just how many tactics you missed during the game!
- Learn about openings but concentrate on the ideas behind them, and don’t waste your time on learning wrote theory. Learning all the grandmaster theory moves is just a waste of time: your opponents may play technically inferior moves, but that won’t help you because you won’t know how to take advantage. Having said that, playing over the theory is a good thing if you use it just to help you understand the ideas
- Spend time studying simple tactics and improving your tactical ability. Being a tactical opportunist – even just using just short (say three move) combinations - will pick up a lot of points. Also, learn to consturct attacks against the enemy king – weaker players tend to have a poorly developed sense of danger
- Learn about endgames. This is where I am lacking in practicing what I preach, although I’m now working on rectifying my lack of endgame knowledge (but it’s a slow process)
- Learn to use your time. I’ve often watched the strong players and noted time and time again how they use all their time; they do not rush. I used to like having a time advantage even if it was only a few minutes, but now I understand that this is folly: paying attention to your position is much more important!
Note that this is an updated version of an old article. The original has moved here.
It’s time I got this blog going again. I had a look this afternoon and realised I haven’t written anything here for ten months now! I’ve played several tournament games since then.
I wanted to look at this game particularly because I misplayed the opening. However, looking at it now, I see I didn’t come out of the opening too badly - I just played abysmally in middle game, and didn’t get as far as the end game. I can’t help thinking my opponent got the full point without having to do anything. Looking at white’s middle game moves, I don’t see any evidence of a plan until the moment I handed him the game.
With that in mind, is it useful to analyse this game here? I’m going to anyway. I don’t think it hurts to relive the bad moves - even if it’s hard to understand how you made them.
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nc6
No, this isn’t one of my bad moves! I’ve been playing this unusual variation of the French Defence for a while now. It avoids the heavily analysed lines of the Winawer and Classical variations. Black obstructs the c-pawn so the natural …c7-c5 centre break isn’t possible for a while. However, black still has the …f7.
4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bxe7 Qxe7 8.Bd3 f5
This is where I didn’t know the theory. The established continuations are:
- The adventurous 8…Qb4
- First taking on c3 with 8…Nxc3, and following up with the normal French break 9…f7-f6
Having said that, I’m not sure the move I played is too bad. It certainly didn’t loose me this game.
9.exf6 Nxf6 10.0-0 0-0 11.Re1 a6 12.Qd2 Bd7 13.Re2 Kh8 14.a3
Why didn’t I play …Nb4 on any of my last three moves? That would make …c7-c5 possible and also get rid of white’s light squared bishop.
I need to get this article finished, so I’ll now just give the rest of the moves without comment. I hope to look further at this game in future articles.
14…Qd6 15.Qg5 Rae8 16.Rae1 Ng8 17.Qg3 Qxg3 18.hxg3 Nh6 19.Ne5 Nxe5 20.Rxe5 Ng4 21.R5e2 Nf6 22.Nd1 c6 23.f3 Bc8 24.Nf2 Kg8 25.Nh3 Re7 26.Nf4 Rfe8 27.g4 g5 28.Nh5 Nxh5 29.gxh5 Kg7 30.Re5 Kf6 31.f4 gxf4 32.Rf1 Kg7 33.Rxf4 Rf8 34.Rg5+ Kh6 35.Rxf8 Kxg5 36.Rxc8 1-0
In my previous article I left it where I (as black) had just played 24…g5?! I said I didn’t think it worked for me and there was a simple plan of 24…Rb8 that was much better. Well, having looked a little closer I’m no longer sure that 24…g5?! is as bad as I used to think; however, I still think 24…Rb8 was the right move to play because it is a promising plan involving no risk to black.
We start from the first diagrammed position.
Here I have just played 24…g5?!
Now the obvious threat is to play 25…g4 forking white’s queen and rook, so white can’t just ignore this. My thinking was that after (say) 25.Qg2 g4 26.Bf2 Kh8 27.Rh5 (see second diagram)
white’s rook is trapped and must drop off sooner or later. Note that there are other lines in which the white rook ends up on h5, and I thought the same applied in all of them. The question is, how is black to actually round up and capture the rook, when it on h5? I now think black actually can’t achieve this.
I (as black) need to find a way to attack the rook, and it seems I have two pieces that can do this: my queen and my light squared bishop. However, white can just play Ng3 defending the rook, and it’s no good attacking it with the queen! Also, my light squared bishop is defending my pawn on f5, and even if I bring my queen’s rook over to defend it, white can again play Nc3; this means the moment my light squared bishop leaves its current diagonal, white can just take my f5 pawn with his rook. In addition, white also has the resource Bh4, exchanging off my dark squared bishop to allow the white rook onto h4.
Conclusion: the tactics behind my …g5 thrust do not work!
It’s been a while since I posted and article on this blog, mainly due to having been on holiday for a while. In this article I want to pick up from the last article The Resilient French - Returning to the Game. In this article I looked at the game up to the exchange of knights on c3 which resulted in the position in the first diagram.
This position was reaches after the moves:
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 a6? 4.a3 Nc6 5.Be3 Nf6 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 f5 8.Nge2 Be7 9.0-0 0-0 10.f3 Nxc3 11.bxc3
I then went on to discuss how, at the board in the game, I was concerned about c3-c4 levering against my centre. However it seemed that actually I didn’t need to worry about it because I could play …Na5 and if white played cxd5 I could recapture with the queen (maybe even getting some pressure by playing …b5 and …Bb7 at some point).
In the first diagrammed position I actually played 11…Bg5!? to free my position. A similar theme has been discussed in previous articles - i.e. I analysed whether or not I could play this move instead of exchanging knights, and the answer turned out to be it wasn’t really a good idea. However here I think the idea is OK - whether it is necessary or not is another thing; I suspect I could have just got on with activity on the queen’s side, by simply playing 11…Na5 and the usual sort of plan, for example: 11…Na5 12.Qe1 b5 13.Nf4 Nc4.
However 11…Bg5!? is what I played, and my opponent’s reply bewildered and please me: 12.f4?! This, as far as I can see just gives white a bad bishop. In passing I think there is an irony here, because in the French Defence black accepts that the light squared bishop will be bad, at least in the classical sense (although in some variations black tries to exchange the light squared bishop off quite early on). The difference is that, although black’s light squared bishop lacks mobility, it does an important job and therefore isn’t really a bad piece! The important job is, of course, defending the pawn on e6 and therefore playing an important strategic role in black’s game! By contrast, in the first diagrammed position, white’s dark squared bishop doesn’t seem to have a job to do.
The game continued:
white signals the intention to play for a hack attack…
13…Bd7 14.Rh3 b5 15.Nc1 g6
White has cleared a path for the queen with 15.Nc1 - albeit at the cost of blocking in the queen’s rook, and needing to spend a move freeing it. Therefore I deemed it necessary to spend time preparing a defence. We now have the second diagrammed position.
I think 15…g6 was a setback for white; I think the next few moves will back up that statement. The queen can not get to h5 anymore and I can’t see a way for the hack attack to proceed - at least no way that gives me anything to worry about.
The game continued:
16.g4 Na5 17.Qf3 c6
See the third diagram.
I remember sitting at the board and coming to the conclusion I had to play 17…c6. After white played 17.Qf3 I saw the threat of gxf5, which would force me to take back with my g-pawn - taking back with my e-pawn would leave my d-pawn hanging - and taking back with my g-pawn is something I did not want to do; having said that I think this is something I need to come back and look at later, because white’s king would be exposed as well as mine, so unless white actually has a way to win it could prove double edged! Anyway, at the board I decided I wanted to keep my king covered and so defended my d-pawn. At first it bothered me that I couldn’t play the freeing …c5 break, but then I started to feel quite happy: I don’t have to worry about doing anything quickly, and if this is the best white can come up with, well, surely I have reason to feel happy with my position. I decided I would simply defend against white’s attack, and then try to work out a plan for counterplay. The game continued:
18.Ne2 Nc4 19.Bxc4 bxc4 20.Kh1 Rf7 21.gxf5 exf5 22.Bf2 Be6 23.Bg3 Qf8 24.a4
This gives the fourth diagrammed position:
I have no idea what white’s bad bishop is doing on g3 - surely it would be better on e3 where it doesn’t obstruct the g-file.
In this (fourth diagrammed) position I actually went in for chaotic tactics with 24…g5? I think this was actually a bad idea - i.e. the tactics don’t work for me, but one of my reasons for looking at this game was to try to get to the truth about this.
Objectively though, I think white’s attack has run out of steam and I could have just played 24…Rb8! as white can’t oppose this rook’s infiltration. For example: 24…Rb8 25.Bh4 Bxh4 26.Rxh4 Rb2 27.Ng1 Rxc2 is just one possible line.
Anyway, I’m going to leave it there for now. This leaves the same at a point where I’m ready to look at the tactics after 24…g5. As I say, this was certainly now called for. Also I don’t think the tactics work, but it will be fun finding out the truth!
First, thanks to Tim and Alan for their comments on the line previously analysed. Looking at it now I believe Tim is right and I was right to play 10…Nxc3 - although the play I followed it with was poor, although my opponent let me off the hook.
In the position in the first diagram
I actually played 10…Nxc3. I remember making the assumption that white would take back with the knight, but instead white took back with the pawn, playing 11.bc. This does of course make perfect sense because white now has two pawns with which to lever against the black pawn centre - at least that’s what it looks like optically. Black’s centre looks solid, but against two white c-pawns it is actually quite fragile! In the game I played 11…Bg5? White played 12.f4? and I dropped the bishop back to e7, content for white to have a bad dark squared bishop. See second diagram.
You could argue that my light squared bishop is also bad, in true French Defence tradition. However, I would argue that my "bad" bishop is doing an important strategic job - i.e. it is defending the e6 pawn and hence indirectly helping to support the solid pawn centre.
Here I was expecting white to either play c3-c4 or to prepare it (although it looks like preparation would be time consuming). I the second diagrammed position white actually played 13.Rf3 which surprised me, but I now see that 13.c3-c4 could be met by 13…Na5, and if white continues 14.cd (attempting to begin the dismantling of the black centre) then 14…Qxd5, and white is poorly positioned to harass the white queen.
Having said all that, I think in line with Tim’s suggestion, I should just have played (after 10…Nxc3 11.bc) 11…Na4 immediately taking control of c4 and preventing c3-c4.
In this article I continue with the discussion that began with The Resilience of the French Defence, and that I last visited in the article The Resilient French - A Closer Look at the 10…Bg5 Variation.
Alan contributed the following:
Here’s a possible continuation: 12. Qd2 Bd7 13. Qe3 Qe7 14. Nf4 Nd8 15. Rae1 b6 16. Kh1 c5 17. Nfxd5 exd5 18. Nxd5
This gives us this position (see first diagram):
The black position is not a pretty sight! Black’s queen must move, but is very restricted for moves because of the knight on g5 that will be left hanging. Black can’t play 18…Qe6 because of the reply 19.Bc4 which looks like it wins material by force. The only move appears to be 18…Qf7 (allowing black to interpose the light squared bishop after 19.Bc4) - although black leaves the g5 knight hanging there is a counter attack against white’s d5 knight. However, after 19.Nxb6 f4 20.Qd2 Rb8 21.Nxd7 Qxd7 22.d5, white’s pawn roller will be devastating - see second diagram.
I now think this line - that is, with 10…Bg5 - is far worse for black than I did when I first stated analysing it. I was interested in it because it seemed to avoid the need for black to play 10…Nxc3, giving white two c-pawns to use as leavers against the black centre. Note that in the 10…Bg5 line it is possible black might be able to make the line playable. Following the line Alan suggests (see above) black can try either 15…c6 or 15…b5 (preparing …c5 and covering c4 so white can’t play Bc4). I think the former can be dismissed because it leaves no play at all in black’s position. However, the latter might be worth looking at - but frankly I now want to move on, so I’ll only come back and look at what happens in the 15…b5 line if black’s position after 10…Nxc3 (as played in the game) turns out to be untenable.
Thanks to Alan Griffiths for posting his comment to my The Resilient French - Just After the Opening article. To recap, Alan said:
… I don’t like 10 … Bg5 11 Bxg5 Nxg5 - the white queen goes to one of the black squares (e1, d2 and c1 all look good) and, if you play Nf7, then White can play f4 without worrying about your posting a piece on e4 while if your Knight remains on g5 you leave f4 for his knight.
I responded saying I’d look at this in my next article, and here is that article. We start from the position after:
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 a6? 4.a3 Nc6 5.Be3 Nf6 6.e5 Ne4 7.Bd3 f5 8.Nge2 Be7 9.0-0 0-0 10.f3 Bg5 11.Bxg5 Nxg5 (see first diagram).
Previously I don’t think I was clear about the circumstances under which the knight would go back to f7.
In the position in the first diagram the only ways white can attack black’s knight with pawns is by playing either f3-f4 or h2-h4. In the former case the knight just goes back to e4 and is permanently unassailable by pawns - the best white can do is exchange it off leaving me (playing black) with a protected passed pawn on e4. In the latter case, after the knight retreats, white will then have to look after the h-pawn which is already under attack from the black queen. Other moves just allow black’s knight to stay on g5. As far as I can see black simply needs to keep an eye on where the white queen moves to - e.g. if Qd2 then black can’t move the queen away from the defence of the knight without first defending the knight by other means, however just ….h7-h6 looks ok and gives the knight an alternative retreat to h7.
If the black knight has to stay on g5 for a while, then it isn’t on its most active square. However I can just get on with improving my position which is need of development.