Saturday, January 24, 2015

Looking beyond the basic pawn structures : Advanced D5 chain

One of the revelations I had at the Boston Chess Congress was that I could get to the middle game in most of my openings going on previous training and some rust removal.  In a couple of games where I played against the King Indian’s defense and a Nimzo-Indian, I reached a nice d5 pawn structure, giving me some space and some play. But I had no clue as to what that play should be and ended up playing to conservative and allowed my opponent to attack.

A few years ago, I was looking at pawn structures to help me understand the openings. You can see these as they are linked on my side bar. This was really helpful in understanding the ideas behind certain openings where these certain pawn structures show up.  This, I believe helps me with openings as I have a basic understanding of roughly where I want my pieces given certain structures.  Thus I no longer fret openings  and usually get a playable position.

With some pawn structures, I know more advanced ideas beyond “getting to a playable middle game”.   I know the basic concepts for handling  Isolated Queen Pawns whether I own it or attacking against my opponent’s.  I also have a comfortable footing with the Carlsbad pawn and know enough when I can get into a minority attack or launch a central attack.  But these only make up a small portion of the openings.  What I felt I needed to get a grip on was what to do when I reach an advanced d5 pawn chain.

Pawn Chains Basics to advanced concepts

I decided to dust off Andrew Soltis’ work on Pawn structure chess  and explore a little deeper on the advanced d5 chain.  He gives great praise to his predecessor, Aaron Nimzovitch. In My System, he has a chapter dedicated to Pawn chains and attacking the base. Andrew Soltis modernizes this in his 1995 work on Pawn structures.

My focus for this post falls on the chapter he calls Chain Reactions.  The goal for both sides is to break the chains. For white this means getting c4-c5 in to attack the base at d6. For black, it’s advancing f7-f5, g5 followed by f4 if allowed. Queenside versus Kingside attack boils down to who can get there first.

Here is a game showing what happens when Black doesn’t get counter play in. This  is  Rubenstein Variation of the NI. Later, I will look at a a Samisch Variation of the KID … This is why I liked the book these are opening variations I typically play:

 Botvinnik-Kholmov Moscow 1947

Move 15 is the critical position. Andy points out that Black has made a major giving up the Bishop pair without any compensation. The passive defense on the King side limits any counter attacks.  White plays 15 c5 and opens up the c-file to focus the root of the attack on c7. Go ahead and play the game, I will wait.

Samisch- KID position with Black getting coutner play on the King side.

(Position after 11…Nh5)  

It’s a race for who can score first. White can’t ignore the threat of f7-f5. 12. B4 does grab initiative for white and he can continue to build the pressure on the c-file with rooks to c2 and c1.  Balance this with threats of Black advancing a boa-constrictor of f5 g5 f4 etc.

The target for Black is the White king.  If white sees this coming and is castled on the kingside… side stepping to Kf1-e1-d2 is not uncalled for.  Positional games can allow for “slow” maneuvers if there are no forced moves.

What I gather so far:
As I see it, as White, in an advanced d5 chain, my goal is to open up the c-file by attacking the base on d6.  Build up a battery on the c-file supplemented by minor pieces to get my rooks to the 7th.  Got it, great!

Black *should* try to counter on the Kingside like any good little KID player by prepare a pawn advance to cramp up the white kingside.  Black will try to first break on e4 with f5 and open up the chain. If white has too many reinforcements on e4, then f3 is the next spot.
What to do if both are “going for it”?

Good question. Here I wanted to be careful of the platitudes that come from books like My system and Pawn structure chess.  There are no silver bullets and at some point you have to get a “feel” for how its played.  Generically, white can get a counterstrategy against Black’s king side advance with g2-g4 at some point so he can continue with the c4-c5 thrust to have the c-file action.  But by then Black may have counter measures of his own limiting  the effectiveness of White’s Queen side attack.

It’s all about Balance and knowing when to shift gears. White may find that exf5 needs to be played giving up the chain. If Black recaptures with a  pawn white will either try to fix that pawn with f4 or it now becomes a new target for attack.  If black uses  a piece to  captures on f5, white now has e4 as an outpost.  Nothing is easy. Mikhail Botvinnik always says “ One always captures on f5 with a pawn on f5 in such positions.

In this example, the critical position in on move 13 for black where playing e4 looked good but gives up strategic outposts.  The correct move is 13…exf4.

Where to go from here.

I went through complete illustrative games from this book and decided to see if this was true in my openings reference book with reference games for Samisch-KID.  I have to look at these games closer as the modern approach seems to tackle these chains differently than what was brought up in Nimzovitch’s time, or Zurich 1953  and the references made in Andy’s 1995 Pawn structure.  I see other ideas by white like going after the Fianchetto Bishop of the KID with an early h2-h4!  Other games showed opening the d-file with early Q exchanges that made absolutely no sense to me.

Bottom line

I can get behind the basic ideas of breaking the chains with opening c-file to get rooks on the 7th for White or Black’s counter attack on the king side with pawns to choke him… if he’s there.  I am starting to get the nuances of counter play with g4 and maybe making a stand-off on the f5 square in case its attack versus attack. But one thing is for sure, beware my next passive opponent if I am granted an advanced d5 chain… I’m going for the point. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Games I played ( Boston Chess Congress 2015)

For me, an adult with a full life outside of chess, there never seems to be enough time to prepare for a tournament, let alone any rust that forms after any long hiatus. I set aside the “poverty mind” , and signed up to play in a section higher than a comfort zone. This placed me 2nd from the bottom of the list. I knew I was going to take some lumps but I approached it as a learning experience  for the following:

1.      See what I recall from my past training
2.      Test the recent training with the Chess Notes methods
3.      Walk away with new directions to study
4.      Have fun

Before I get into each of the games, I thought I’d summarize the experience. First and foremost, I have the utmost respect for the tournament directors, Chris Bird and Bob Messenger. They kept the pace and their cool with the largest turn out to date for this annual event.  I won my first two rounds against players 200 points higher than I was. I was saying to myself “ when is the rust going to start showing?” but alas, it showed in the third round of the day as the time limit converged with the rest of the 3 day players as I entered into the 2-day schedule.  My morning round 4 the following day allowed me a great position in the KID but I couldn’t put a plan together if my life depended on it and gave the initiative away.  By round 5 my stamina was failing and I settled for a draw.

Round 1:

I had done a tremendous amount of recent work on the Slav defense  in preparation for this event. This was my weakest area and thus I spent the most time bringing it up.  The chess notes seemed to actually help as I felt a sense of comfort and familiarity with the position through to move 9. I had some clear plans and ideas.  I was granted a great outpost for my knight and I pounced on a tactic winning me material in the middle game. 

( I'm having trouble getting the embedded code from to display the games here at blogspot. You may be better just going to my blog for these: )

Round 2:

This was bit more of a straightforward QGD with a Carlsbad pawn structure. There was nothing recent in my studies that I covered on this. I was able to conjure up from my long term memory  the ideas around this pawn structure. I think the reason why this was an easier recall, was that a while back I studied these pawn structures quite regularly, went over games that had this pawn structure, and encountered them quite regularly and successfully.  This felt like putting on an old glove.  I knew about minority attacks, IQPs and center pawn pushes for these structures. 

Round 3:

I played the black pieces against an Advanced  Caro-Kann. I’ve struggled with this variation in the past. I simply hadn’t prepared well for this.  I managed to  hang on against a queen side attack I could have easily prevented had I played it correctly.  But being the third game of the day and getting bleary eyed, after the attack I castled because I was more anxious about leaving my king in the center than looking at the piece mobility of my opponent. It allowed the attack to shift to the kingside. White having more mobility I couldn’t swing my pieces over in time. Then I blundered a piece and resigned immediately after.  This is where the rust of an old dog started to show.

Round 4:
Oddly enough, I realized the loss in round 3 broke my momentum.  I had the white pieces as I walked into a King’s Indian defense.  I got an advanced pawn center, one I used to be familiar with but struggled in the past to have solid results ( unlike the QGD).  Part of my timid play could be partially a result of my “fighting spirit” partially broken from the round 3 loss. However, I’ve struggled with fully understanding  this pawn structure, it’s nuances and proper plans for white and what to watch out for from Black. In this game, I found myself playing more passive, not knowing what to do with the space advantage. Is this because I am too “at home” in the cocoon of a cramped position as black? 

Round 5:
I was familiar with the first few stumps of the Rubinstein variation of the Nimzo-Indian to get to a playable middle game.  But I struggled again with coming up with a plan. I could see my opponent was having the same issues. So when he offered a draw, I didn’t want to blow it. With tired eyes, I accepted and shook his hand. 


Every single one of my opponents was higher rated.  That meant finishing with a 2.5 score gained me almost 60 rating points.  Not bad for a getting back into the game.  I think there is some merit doing the chess notes for securing chunks in early positional understanding BUT… and this is a big BUT… I really need to be more disciplined on following up with the drilling with these notes in order for them to be effective.   I am giving myself until February  to see whether the hand written notes  is going to continue or if I go back to making my drills in a database.  On one hand I feel like I get a deeper understanding of the subject I am studying if I do this by hand and not assisted with the computer.  However, I am more likely to do drills (which reinforces the ideas)  using a computer. I may compromise and do initial studies with the “Cornell” chess notes methods with the intent of creating drill diagrams in a database I can take with me on my tablet.

Another thing that came out is how I really need to improve my ability  or, more so, my comfort level with playing the White pieces of an Indian defense where I can get more space.  It’s back to reviewing Zurich 1953. 

Did I even get to any endgames that required special attention? No, I was already lost in one N+R vs N+R ending.  I will prioritize my next round of studies on game studies mentioned above. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Attempting Deliberate Practice

I was away over the holiday and became ill, this slowed down my enthusiasm to train for the upcoming tournament on the  weekend of January 10th and 11th.  Despite these life obstacles, I still managed to continue my quest of creating more Cornell Chess Notes to drill with.  Since that post, several readers had responded that there aren’t any “silver bullets” to training and how I must explore other means.  I appreciate the well wishes and passionate discussions. Please, rest assure, I am way to ADD to use only one training method.  In this post I will let you know what other deliberate training methods I used.

As for the Cornell Chess Notes:

I focused on my weakest opening structures as black to really “fill the pages”.  I knew the nuances of move orders in the Slav  have tripped me up in the past where I “think” I recognize a pattern which requires a certain piece positioned ( like Black’s QB) only to find out the move order calls for a different strategy.  I made several opening patterns around the first several move choices for the Slav so I could drill on White’s and Black’s plans. I chose about 5 complete games to walk down this trail.  The positions from the branches  all became “notes fodder”.  

I was studying endgame strategies and wanted to create drills to remember key concepts more than move orders. I have only a few key positions for rook and minor piece endgames with dynamics for each side that require understanding.  Writing the ideas seems to help underscore an important concept but, without any drills to refresh in the memory, I can see how this will escape through my sieve.

I wanted to create some positional strategy drills. I tried combining using the strategy lessons along with the Cornell Chess notes methods. This created several drills with the starting position of the lesson and 4 or 5 bullets of strategy from the lesson for single page summary.
It goes without saying that IF I DON’T DRILL myself of the positions regularly, I will not retain ANYTHING from these notes. Being sick as I was, I had a hard enough time sticking to a regular regimen.

Playing against an Engine:

To help with the opening and game retention, I would play my opening to practice against ANY chess engine I had available depending on if I was in an airport, on my tablet, phone or at my desktop. I managed to set up an opening line to practice. I used my notes as a guide at first and would continue to play against the computer until I could do favorably well through to move 10 or 12.

I’ve yet to do this with the endgame positions I studied. I think it would be a great way to drill and experience the consequences first hand when I make the wrong choice. Not sure I’ll have much time between now and the event but this will become a part of my regular training routine. Likewise, the strategy positions I created would be great exercises to review.

Using the Lessons:

I decided to use the interactive lessons on to augment the deliberate training  for positional strategies. My weakest part in the game is transitions in general. This can be transitions from opening to middle game or from middle to endgame. Thus my focus on positional strategy lessons over at 

The problem with these “canned” lessons is that they are never tailored to typical positions of the repertoire I tend to play. Some were relevant but others were not.  Yes, the advantage of getting a real coach for this type of training can be the value add… but I am cheap and I was sick and on vacation trying not to infest relatives.

I played over annotated games from my repertoire and created similar “strategy” notes for the drills. I found these just as effective as the stuff for strategic goals  and much more relevant to my games. 

Deliberate Practice with a Database.

One of the articles I mentioned in a previous post about studies with amateurs versus experts indicated that one of the common themes of the experts was their training with a database. Again, because of the travel, I had a multi-path approach to this. On my PC I have Chess Opening Wizzard and have built up a huge database on my repertoire. I couldn’t travel with this. So I imported PGN’s to various applications for my phone and tablet with marginal success.

One tool I found moderately helpful was Perfect Chess Trainer on my Android.  The opening database was limited but it contained enough of a games database that I still could get move statistics through to move 12 in most lines. It also allowed me to get through a line and “play against the computer” from that node.   

The games database allowed me to import PGNs of annotated games. This helps in my positional strategy studies as well.

Whether openings training or positional training, on hard stumps, my intent was to create handwritten notes  to help with the learning process.  I’ll be honest here, with all the travel, getting sick and distractions, this became more of a passive activity. At best I would create a separate PGN of a position and save it in the database to review later and mark up as Cornell Chess Notes.  

No Perfect system: 

I never said I had a perfect system. I love experimenting on myself to see what works.  As much as I like the Cornell chess notes for learning, I am having trouble disciplining myself to follow up with the drilling that is required.  This is where some folks were mentioning the benefits of the modern age and all, yes… I agree. The question I have to ask myself is whether it is better to risk a less qualitative approach to note taking ( making digital diagrams purely with  a database) with an improved chance of following through with drills versus the method I described in the previous post with a less convenient  implementation to drill.

With anything new, it’s always good to try it for 30 days as much as possible before throwing it out.  This would give the new method more of a chance of sinking in as a vice or habit. For the sake of the old “college try” I shall continue.