Saturday, December 25, 2010

(Caro-) KANN! Part 1: The Wrath of Caro-Kann

Nothing infuriates me more than playing a few good moves into the Caro-Kann only to mix up ideas from one variation and mess up. Then I spend the next 10 or 15 moves trying like hell to break out of the “Wrath of (caro-)Kan” ( Star trek reference).

George Marco, in 1907 wrote about this opening in his book on the Karlsbad Tournament. Since it was written close to when these two did their analysis, it provides a fresh reference. Of the Caro-Kann he says the following:

"This opening was first analyzed in the eighth decade of the past century by the
Viennese master Marcus Kann, and was first introduced into master play at a
local Vienna master tournament. Kann scored many fine wins with this opening.
See, for example, his brilliant success against Mieses in the Hamburg Congress
Book (1885), page 235. Later, in the 1880s, the Berlin master Horatio Caro
delved into the study of this opening, without however achieving any notable new
results. The opening has nevertheless been given the compromise appellation
'Caro-Kann,' which has been accepted and retained by the entire chess world.
Only in recent times has a northern German chess literature arisen that has
excised the name of the dead Viennese master in favor of the Berliner, and the
name 'Caro's Opening' has appeared. This 'innovation' will not prove fortunate,
for the historical truth will not suffer to be suppressed but will always retain
its rights. If one wishes to drop the compromise designation, the name 'Kann's
Opening' is the only correct way of speaking."

At the turn of the last century, this opening was still evolving. It wasn’t until the 1950’s and 1960’s when the likes of Petrosian, Smyslov and Flohr really started to explore the theoretical side of this opening.
Let’s break it down from a pawn structure perspective. This post will take a cursory tour of the various pawn formations as a result of the Caro-Kann
The Caro-Kann challenge’s White’s 1.e4 open game repertoire by forcing him into a d-pawn like positional closed game. 1…c6 is purely meant to support the advance of Black’s d-pawn to d5. This is why I chose this as Black since most of my White preparation is centered around understanding the positional side of the 1.d4 game. Like most d4 games however, the problem for Black is what to do with that damned C8 bishop.

Classical and Main Line:

Enter the Main line 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 ( or Ne2) 3… dxe4 4. Nxe4 Black has two real choices. In the classical variation, the c8 Bishop gets deployed immediately to 4…Bf5. The second plays 4..Nd7 is played simply to support the advance of Ngf6.

In the classical variation 4…Bf5, white has a target and goes after the Bishop while developing. 5. Ng3 Bg6 with either 6.Ne2 intending to play Nf4 or Nf3 followed by an h-pawn push keeps black occupied with several Bishop moves and weakening pawn moves on the King side to save it.
In the classical and the4…Nd7 variations, Black’s pawn structure usually leaves him with pawns on a7 b7 c6 e6 f7 g7 and h8 where White has pawns on a2 b2 c2 d4 f2 g2 and h2

The Caro formation

This is a very slow paced game allowing for much maneuvering.

White will want an outpost on e5. He enjoys a kingside space advantage and, if allowed, a d4-d5 break will undoubtedly lead to the possibility of queenside majority in the endgame (typically after the exchange of White's d pawn for Black's c pawn). In some cases White will agressively target the e6 square with Bc4 and Nf4 with the intent of opening up Black’s Kingside.
Black needs to go after the weakness of White’s d4 pawn. It’s important for Black to play one of the lever moves like c6-c5 and e6-e5. The latter break is usually preferable, but harder for Black to achieve. Black will play The King’s Bishop to e7 or d6. One of the knights can act as a Blockade on d5. If given the opportunity to exchange light squared bishops, Black needs to embrace that idea.

Advanced Variation:

White advances e2-e4-e5 early in order to create a cramping pawn chain. My recent nemesis has been 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 and I’ve been attempting an early 3…c5 in response. The problem is that in the advanced e5 pawn formation I am much better playing the Bishop out to Bf5 before playing c5.

White will usually get a kingside mating attack going , with f2-f4-f5 break.

Important for Black is getting the QB active and that is why Bf5 is preferred. Black needs to hammer on White’s d4-e5 pawn center with f7-f6 and c6-c5 before White can build up an attack.
Due to White's kingside space advantage and development advantage, Black must generate counterplay or be mated. I’ve fallen prey to the sparkling Greek gift sacrifice on h7. That’s why attacking the head of the pawn chain with f7-f6 is seen as frequently as attacking its base, because it is harder for white to defend the head of the chain than in the d5 chain. In response to exf6, Black accepts a backward e6 pawn in exchange for freeing his position (the b8-h2 diagonal and the semi-open f-file making d6 a better spot for the f8 Bishop) and the possibility of a further e6-e5 break. If White exchanges with d4xc5 it is called the Wedge formation. White gets an outpost on d4 and the possibility of exploiting the dark squares while Black gets an overextended e5 pawn to work on.

The Exchange Variation:

White exchanges the e-pawn for Black’s d-pawn. Black is allowed to keep a central pawn majority and the struggle is centered around the challenge of allowing Black to realize any advantage in the middle game as it does become an asset in the end game. The pawn formation usually resembles a minority pawn formation with colors reversed.

White can take advantage of the half-open e-file and outpost on e5 which gives prospects of a King's-side attack.

Even if Black had the majority there, defending this can be problematic as the advance of e5 will be difficult or impossible. Black must counter with either a minority attack or a direct assault in the center. It goes without saying that Black can think about spending a moment to exchange the bad Bc8. I like playing the Qc7 early as it challenges e5 before White has a chance to develop a Bishop on f4. In most cases I get e5 in and then play an IQP position with some initiative.

The Panov Variation:

In the Panov variation, white plays an early c4 to put pressure on Black’s d5 square. Typically this plays into an IQP for white with some specific advantages. Isolated pawns are generally weak, but central pawns are strong. The critical isolated Queen's pawn (IQP) gives White some strength and space. White can avoid exchanges and has hopes of a King's side attack based on a N on e5 and a B on the b1-h7 diagonal. Black can consolidate and pile up on the d4 pawn, seeking exchanges and an advantageous endgame.

White can chose not to exchange on d5 and instead advance the c-pawn c2-c4-c5 and thus a “Panov formation” results.
This allows White to exploit the dark squares, and gain queenside majority in the endgame, with an advanced pawn. Black can do best with an e4 outpost, and a kingside attack. Going after White's overextended pawn, e6-e5 and b7-b5 breaks becomes thematic for middle game play.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It’s the most Blunderful time of the year.

How much “chess knowledge” did I lose over three months? I decided to answer that question by going back to the club as my part time teaching gig winds down ( in addition to full time demanding job and other life distractions that younger players may not necessarily relate to).

Let me set the stage first. I spent last summer building up some opening tabias by way of understanding White’s perspective to pawn structures forming from d4. What this meant was, not necessarily studying the opening by memorizing lines and move order but trying to get a “big picture” perspective and understand what the themes are like. My White pieces were not doing so well as I liked 1.d4 but felt overwhelmed at the many replies Black would reply. I needed to break away from rote memorization habits and replace it with more of a pattern recognition and assimilate the correct strategy based on pawn structure. Pure memorization of move orders taxes my already feeble short term memory. I’m better off relying on long term memory recall of schemas and themes and derive move orders based on understanding and experience…in theory.

So how did I hold out? My first game out of the gate was actually at a one day event the weekend of Thanksgiving at the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial. I was playing a strong Class A player from Maine, who I’ve played YEARS ago when I actually lived in Maine. The rating disparage was roughly 250 points and I had Black. The best laid plans for my pawn structure understanding had a BIG GAPING HOLE because I always meant to do the same cogitation for the black pieces but, life got in the way.

We begin a discussion in the Advanced Caro-Kann and I stutter out a 3…c5 turning it into a slow French minus a tempo, except I’m not that fluent in French. Let me digress for a moment, for me, learning an opening is a lot like learning a language. I’ve always struggled with languages as the nuances and conjugations always tripped me up. Add to that, a requirement for full immersion into the culture is really needed to practive. Likewise, an Opening requires both the Theory and Practice. At best I get sporadic chances to play typical lines but here with the Caro-Kann turned French, I am having trouble finding familiar words per se.

I invert my basic tabia understanding of d4 pawn structures and attempt to look at this from Black’s perspectives. By Move 7 I am behind development and cramped and already faced with a critical position. Do I develop or can I take better advantage of the open d8-a5 diagonal? To make a long story short ( and the Game is below), I didn’t know how to defend my Q-side and allowed him to walk all over me… he dominated the conversation in the opening. In the middle game he has a powerful knight outpost on my d6. I try to counter with a king side pawn push. I get a lucky break as my opponent decides to exchange his other knight for the marauding pawns. But I blow it in the end as I missed a mating threat.

Overall, I managed to withstand an inferior opening mistake by recalling some principles of positional play based on the pawn structures. I am alarmed at how I tend to under estimate my opponent’s ability to come in my Q-side and tend to get into trouble as black whether I play the C-K or Slav. Is it a Blind spot or am I missing the right “conjugation”.

Tactically, I am weak as evident in the game when I missed White’s mating threat. I realize that its not necessarily that I missed the pattern, rather, I didn’t bother to look because I felt I had a better attack blinded by material and what could HE POSSIBLY DO? Well, it starts with a check and soon my material gain is unraveling . With my material gain, I lost tempo which my well experienced opponent utilized by previously lifting a rook and going after two weaknesses on my part, the center and an exposed king.

Given my 3 month short sabbatical from chess playing, its encouraging to know that doing an examination of the various d-pawn structures stayed with me much better than remembering the actual variations to the 10th or more move because once I recognize a basic pawn theme, I can come up with some of the right moves. Where I am weak most is on the Black side and in particular understanding the nuances on the Q-side enough to recognize a threat. This has plagued me my entire career as the pendulum swings. I’ve been through periods where I was overly cautious and played too timidly. Other times, I would completely ignore a b4 attack and not respect the threat. There’s a balance in there and I need to find it. Here, doing a serious deliberation on the Black pawn structures in my game will help register the correct subtleties associated with the various positional ideas of a Slavic pawn structure with pawns on d6 and e6.

Good tidings to all.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chess Improvement and the HYPER-busy man.

While my chess board gently weeps, I am reminded of how similar chess improvement can be to keeping up with your musical instrument. I play bass guitar ( and some 6 string as well). I find that after I lift this beautiful curved instrument out of its coffin after several months have passed, I play the familiar riffs and songs that were most engrained in my motor muscles of my fingers. I know how to “play” the guitar. I still recall the fingering for some of “the old standards” but the rust does show. I may have to create new calluses on my finger tips if I plan on “getting back into it”. But if I don’t set goals, I’ll pick her up, play it for an afternoon and put her back in the “coffin”. But recently, I’ve been playing it more and finding opportunities to play with others. I’m teaching my daughter as well and I have musical interests I am now pursuing. I need goals to stay motivated.

Chess is very similar. I pull the 32 pieces out of my rucksack and look at the familiar friendship I have had. Since it’s been several months since my last serious game, I play the familiar riffs in the form of tactical exercises or reviewing old familiar games. As I spar with silicon, I pull out my tried and true openings not daring to venture out of the comfort of my rote recall. I’ve offered to teach the neighbor girls who are just getting into scholastic chess. If I want to get back “into it” I need to form the calluses again by stretching beyond the comfort of rote memory.

My part time classes I teach are starting to wind down and I want to “join the band” again during the break. Like playing an instrument, playing chess regularly with the same people gives you a chance to tighten up your repertoire and build those calluses and get out of the comfortable rut.

Having been out of the tournaments for a little while gives me a chance to see how much I’ve lost. Right before I took a break, I had recently done a study in d-pawn openings. I want to see how much has stuck in terms of understanding the concepts. Sure, some of the ideas will have to be relearned, but I am also hoping some of the other misinterpretations and thought processes will be obvious and more made more clear. I am approaching this with new eyes.

So, given that I am still busy with life, jobs, my guitar and stuff, how do set goals for the next couple months and feel like I am going in the right direction?

I am going to make the best use of my previous encounter with Dan Heisman when I posted here :

My intent is that I need to keep this simple yet challenging enough to pull me out of the comfortable rote zone.

1) Thought Process: I need to keep the thought process simple and follow the AST method. ( Activity, Safety and Time management). I plan on playing practice games and look at where I failed in these simple ideas.

2) Criticality Assessment: This is the holy grail for me. The best way to do this is to play Blitz games and review my mistakes and understand them. This will also help me identify when I need to spend time on critical moves. I can check my openings with the book but I want to develop a sense on where I need to spend time on critical positions in these openings. Going over annotated games ( a lot of games) will form a good foundation. So I will probably blog about this study.

3) Tactics: need I say more.

I may dust myself off and play in the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial … I haven’t missed it for a couple years and my chess pieces are gently weeping.

Though my time machine may be under construction, I may have found the right flux capacitor and soon will have a MAJOR announcement that will rock the chess world after the new year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Larry Evans: 1932-2010, America’s Chess Teacher

It’s been a while since I posted due to a serious reprioritization of life challenges. However, Today’s news rocked my foundations and I felt compelled to do a quick Blunderpost on this GM who was very influential in my chess career. Sorry, no game's reflected upon, just admiration for an influential chess teacher.

I first heard of GM Evans during the days of Fischer vs Spassky, when he acted as Fischer’s Second. However, his contributions and milestones in the world of chess spans the decades of when this game was being dominated by Russians in the late 1940’s and Early fifties through present day. That is up until yesterday, November 15, 2010, when he passed away after surgical complications.

Arthur Bisguier and Larry Evans were both tied for first place in 1949 in the U.S. Junior Championships. He went to win his first U.S Championship in 1951 ahead of Sam Reshevsky. The following year, FIDE awarded him with the title of IM and later in 1957 he became GM Larry Evans. By the time I had heard of him in 1972, he had 3 national Championships under his belt and four U.S. Open Championships tying with Walter Browne in 1971 ( another up and comer). He Won the Lone Pine 1971 that same year.

So you see , his resume was very full nationally as well as internationally where he represented the U.S. in several Chess Olympiads winning gold and silver medals for his play.

I knew him through his books. One of my first books I had was Chess Catechism, a tongue in cheek look at the lighter side of the game. I liked it because it removed any stuffy images one might have around chess players. He had a sense of humor. I also had the landmark “ How to Open a Chess Game” where he co-authored with seven other GMs of the 1970’s.

I found out that Larry’s first books were published before he turned 18 with the two books; David Bornstein’s Best Games of Chess, 1944-1949 and the Vienna International Tournament of 1922. He has written over 50 books in a career that spans 6 decades!

As you may recall, when I was doing my series on Lone Pine 1975, I tried to reach Larry. I did through a third party who informed me to read the book. That’s Ok by me, I understand the busy life and finding balance these days. May he rest in peace.

Not sure when I’ll come up for air again. I am still in need of a new flux capacitor for my broken time machine. It’s going to take a little time to rebuild.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Putting chess on the shelf


Its been a good run at Blunderprone, but due to a busy schedule and a needed major shift in priorities, I have to put this on the shelf indefinitely. I honestly don't know when I'll make it back blogging about chess, it's rich history, the methods we adult improvement seekers attempt and overall camaraderie in this rich community of chess enthusiasts. I have a lot going on and I need to make a new time machine before I can continue my magical history tours again.
Check back now and again, as I will post some updates when I come up for air.
Thanks to all for your loyalty, support and contributions that helped make this one hell of a great site.
George Duval ( aka BlunderProne)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lone Pine 1975: Guðmundur Sigurjónsson Icelandic chess Grandmaster.

I’m back. I’ve turned the time machine back to this tournament so I can finish what I started. I searched hard for more biographical information for this Icelandic GM but all I could find was this short wiki blurb:

Guðmundur Sigurjónsson (September 25, 1947 Reykjavik) is an Icelandic chess Grandmaster.

He became International Master in 1970, grandmaster in 1975 and has won the Icelandic Chess Championship three times (1965, 1968 and 1972).[1] Played for Iceland in the Chess Olympiads of 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986.[2] His tournament successes included 1st at Reykjavik 1970, =1st at Sant Feliu de Guíxols 1974, =2nd at Hastings 1974-75, =1st at Orense 1976, =2nd at Cienfuegos 1976 and =1st at Brighton 1982.

In the November 2009 FIDE list, he has an Elo rating of 2463, making him Iceland's number 10

Let’s dive into his games at Lone Pine. I’m highlighting three Sicilians. In Round 3, he plays into the veteran Svetozar Gligoric’s Najdorf variation of the Sicilian Defense. He keeps a steady hand with the typical themes of castling King side, and advancing pawns on the Queen side. Gligoric seemed to play a little less energetically and allowed Gudnubdur a chance to build up pressure on the d-file and in particular, the d5/d6 squares where black has a backward pawn.

By move 15, Black has a couple of weakness on b6 and d6. White also has good chances to occupy d5 as well. In light of this, Gligoric does an exchange sacrifice with his rook for the White’s threatening knight. The Icelandic GM simplifies the game in a series of exchanges as there was no real compensation for the exchange.
The next game I wish to highlight is the one in round 5 against Panno’s Sheveningen variation. As a side note from an amateur chess historian, the Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian, first was debuted by Max Euwe against Maroczy in the town of Scheveningen in 1923.
The general themes of this variation are as follows:
This is a variation of an Open Sicilian where Black gets an extra central pawn. The e6-d6 form a barrier so that Black can focus on counterplay on the Q-side along the c-file. Moving the a- and b-pawns to a6 and b5.
White gets a bit of a space advantage. He also usually gets play on the Kingside.

In the actual game a central exchange on e4 plants a passed pawn on e4 for Black while giving White some control over the d-file. With most of the minor pieces traded off, the middle game struggles with both sides having awkward bishops behind their own pawns on the same color. White’s advantage lies in an outpost rook on d6. Panno makes the poor choice of exchanging his active rook for White’s bad bishop with a weak threat to follow. The game quickly turns bad for Black after.

In round 6, Larry Evans deploys a Najdorf which Sigurjonsson responds with 6.f4 this time. Larry plays some interesting variations with a king side fianchetto and a move like Nc5 making for a pseudo-dragon variation. Black gets into some space trouble in the middle game but manages to hold the position. White gets a couple of strong shots in on the d-file and begins the process of simplification. Once the major pieces are off the board, a draw is eminent.

He finishes with 6 points ( 4 wins 4 draws and only 2 losses). He earned his GM title in the same year following his performance at Hastings and at Lone Pine.

It looks like he drops out of international chess altogether after 1986. I could not find out more on what this Icelandic Grandmaster is up to these days.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I’ve seen the future of chess improvement.

Most often, you have read here about my time machine traveling back in time to visit the famous chess tournaments over the past couple of hundred years. Since this IS a time machine, while I was at the world open, I dialed the Delorian to peer into the immediate future of chess improvement. I thought I’d enlighten you all with the vision that was presented to me just a short while ago.

First of all, imagine a clock that is as durable as a chronos, easier to set and doesn’t look like a something made from someone’s garage. That’s right, the future holds bright for a new line of products starting with a smart clock : An entrepreneur was looking for someone to partner with that could do some electronic wizardry. I had a pretty decent book of spells with me. That meant a partnership began. I’ll only tease you with that this will be a clock that will make a TD’s life much easier especially at a large scholastic event to make sure all the clocks are set right. And, it will look cool.

Speaking of a smarter chess experience, the biggest vision came from someone I once featured here recently, Andres Hortillosa, an author of chess improvement. He’s working on an interactive learning experience at Play Smart Chess . He demo’d an iPad with his software running on it. In his own words:

“Can you imagine reading your favorite chess book in a form where you get to see an interactive chess board in place of a diagram? How will the tool impact and deepen your learning experience? … Our application will allow you to replay the moves leading to every position of concern even right from the opening. “ A. Hortillosa

Here are some screen shots on an iPhone:

“In summary, we are changing the way chess knowledge is delivered, acquired and consumed.”- A. Hortillosa

I’ll be vacationing and taking a blogging break. Mull these ideas over while I’m gone. When I come back, I plan on picking up where I left off at Lone Pines. See you when I get back!

Monday, July 05, 2010

There’s Always a Silver Lining

Because I was sucking wind so bad in my section ( 4 losses in a row) I was sitting at a table that was either kids under twelve or grumpy old codgers trying desperately to salvage some dignity after a rather humiliating performance in the first 5 rounds. I was fortunate enough to discover my opponent was of the older type. It just so happened that Dan Heisman was coaching several of these adults and one of the kids around me. After I finally broke a perfectly good losing streak, I struck up a conversation with Howard Stern’s coach.

Dan Heisman is a very personable and approachable NM. Since he was in a waiting mode for his students he offered to go over a game of my choice and give me a free lesson! He covered a lot of ground and I did my best to jot down everything he had to say so I could share it with you. I’ll talk about some of the general advice he gave me and finish with some analysis on one of by Badness games.

Activity Safety and Time Management (A.S.T)

Dan’s first bit of advice had to do with making sure my pieces were active . “ Think of it like being a manager. You’ve got four of your who already moved once. The rooks haven’t moved yet. They are like new employees, you need to spend time with them.” Unless there is an obvious tactic, your first priority is to get your pieces active.

Safety is another consideration that needs to be adhered to. Counting techniques can eliminate most one move blunders. Knowing which side of the board your opponent is coming after you helps in determining which side to castle sometimes.

Time management was a strong topic Mr. Heisman drilled in me. Though I don’t have some problems with this, he pointed out the difference between what he called Micro Time Management versus Macro Time management. Micro time management is knowing when you can get away with making moves with less time versus using your time for critical positions. He advocates making the most out of the clock during each move. Most of my time management technique falls under the macro heading where I basically lump my playing into targeted time limits in 5 move increments. This discussion lead to the following topic.

Criticality Assessment:

What? This is knowing when a position is critical. “But isn’t this the Holy Grail for us patzers?” I asked. “How does one develop this skill?”

According to DH, the best to do this is to (1) PLAY BLITZ games and (2) Play over lots of annotated games. Now, he did say that just playing Blitz alone doesn’t do any justice unless you go over your mistakes. However, you develop a sense on when to spend your time on critical moves and decrease the time you spend on non-critical moves. Check your openings with the book after 3-4 games and see where you need to make improvements and go back for more. Sooner or later you will develop a sense for when critical positions come up. These are worth spending the time on.

Going over annotated games is the other half of this. In his words, “ After you play over hundreds of annotated games, you will have this voice in the back of your head as if it were your father telling you sage advice you never wanted to listen to when you were young. Only this time, you should listen.” He mentioned that its not a matter of memorization of the games, rather, with good annotations ( the verbose kind for us Class players), you get a better understanding of positions.


Dan didn’t have a good thing to say about CT-ART 3.0. “ How many times in your games do you get to sacrifice a queen?” He suggests John Bain’s book where there are more “removal of the guard” and gradual basic tactics. They may seem simple but getting to the point of really KNOWING these like your multiplication table gives you an opportunity to see the these kind of tactics when they come up in your games. Even if tactical shots only occur in 5% of your games, you are best to know them cold. It works the other way as well. Being able to see tactics coming at you will also save you from tripping up.

Now, on to my Badness game that he graced me with for analysis:

I had white, my opponent played a Benko Gambit. First off, he says “ You play 1.d4 2.c4? You know you need to know the tabias of 10 openings with that.” Of which I had about 7 (kind of sort of) under my belt given the latest series of posts ( QGA, QGD, Benoni, KID, NI, Grunfeld, and Dutch). The Benko-Gambit was not one of them and I gave it my best shot but underestimated the fact that Black has all his energy on the Queenside. With my passive moves and positional missteps, White was playing a totally defensive game.

Editor's notes 7-6-2010: Dan corrected me in that he is an NM and was coaching several of the adults around me and only one of the kids.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Let The Games Begin!!!

The 38th Annual World Open is underway!! There are 4 front runners in the open section: Francisco Vallejo Pons, P Harikrishna, Sandipan Chanda, and Luke McShane all have 2 points after the first couple of rounds in the 7-day event. More GMs are expected to come as the layered schedules unfold.

My games begin tonight as I play in the 5-day schedule. Come find me if you are here or wish me luck ( or at least not to blunder).

I'll try to keep you posted on the road from an Class B player's perspective.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pawn Formations Part 6: Dealing with that Darn Dutch Defense

Now that I got your attention with the lead in photo. I search google images for Elias Stein (1748-1812), the Dutch Chess Master who recommended 1…f4 as the best response to 1.d4. This picture came up in the first page of searches oddly enough. No relation whatsoever to Mr. Stein… but it sure was different, no?

Elias Stein was around during the days of Francois Philidor and probably frequented the Café de la Regence in Paris. He wrote that “ If the opponent opens by pushing the queen’s pawn two squares, you cannot do better than to push the king’s bishop pawn two squares.”

Other than 1..d5, it’s an alternative that immediate contests White’s quest to dominate both central squares. I like the line that immediately plays 2.g3 but even the flexible 2.c4 can transpose. After Black plays 2…Nf6 3. C4 brings us to the main line of all the major branches. It’s Black’s third move that determines the course. If he begins the finachetto with 3…g6 it follows a Leningrad Dutch. If 3…e6 is played we are going down the classical Dutch which unfolds into other realms ( like the Stonewall).

The reason I like the 2.g3 line is that with 1..f5, Black concedes his c8-Bishop’s best square to challenge the center. White playing for immediate control of the long diagonal challenges the light squares.

The critical Line so far: 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 and now 3…g6 for Black enters the Leningrad Dutch. Black plays a type of King’s Indian with the f5 push. The challenge is the weakness on e6. White actually has some flexibility with the fourth move. 4.c4 is theprinciple move but will sometimes hold off and develop the King’s knight and castle first before bringing this pawn forward. 4. Nh3 is a valid line with the intent of going to f4 blocking Black’s f-pawn. The general theme is to build pressure on e4, nothing unusual in this d4- games. However, with the King side finachetto, White can really delay the e2-e4 push and take his time to develop towards the Queen side. Getting the Queen bishop on the other long diagonal is the best way to contest the Black pieces.
With 3…e6, again 4.c4 is the principle line but can delay it until after the Kingside is developed. Though, playing 4.c4 is my choice as I would rather face the Stonewall variation (4…d4) with the option of exchanging cxd5. If Black plays 4…d6 we enter the main line of the Classical Dutch. There are similar themes with building pressure for e4. In the classical line, White can play to gain space on the Queen side. In the Stonewall, with 4…d5 5.cxd5, this sets up similar themes of minority attacks for White. With the pawn on f5 however, White has a little more of a hard time mustering up a king side attack as in the QGD-Exchange variation.

It just so happened that I was barely prepared to play this opening this past week at the club. I lost due to a strategy error. For some reason I was fearless and allowed my opponent to gain a nice outposted knight on c4.

I know, go ahead and beat me up… I already did. I did walk away with my class A player remarking that I played the strongest continuation to his variation of the Dutch that he decided he was not going to play it again at the Club because of it! So there, even when I lose, I inflict some level of intimidation. Go figure. I’ve been working on improving my strategy all week at using the mentor tools. Good stuff.

Bring on the World:

I am hitting the road this week and heading to the World open. If you are there look for me in the U1800 section. This will be my year to win… right? ( Everyone says that) I just hope to have a strong performance and play some decent chess. I am looking forward to this. If you are there and in my section, be prepared and read my blog… I want a good challenge or I will OWN you!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pawn Formations Part 5: QGA, Some hair brained Ideas

The line I am looking at against the Queen’s Gambit accepted is the Classical variation with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4. e3

For the most part, Black will not try to defend the pawn on c4 and , instead, play 4…e6. If Black plays to support the pawn with 4…b5 White responds with 5.a4 c6 6.b3 and he can prepare to occupy the center with e4.

Occupying the center with e4 seems to be the main theme throughout this opening. If given the chance this usually gives white a strong center. Black’s sharpest responses are those that challenge the center starting with …c5 and pushing White to an IQP. White can usually enter these IQP positions with an initiative.

Following the main line classical, 4…e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. 0-0 ( I looked at the Furman Variation with 6.Qd2 which plans for dxc5 without prompting the queen exchange on d1 but Black can easily find the correct play). 6..a6 is the typical response. Black can play 6…Nc6 but its not as flexible because in some variation the b8 knight is better off on d7.

After 6…a6 I was faced with several choices as White on how to proceed. A lot of White’s choices allows Black the b5 pawn advance ( Nc3, Qe2 for instance) and a preventive move with the Bishop to Bb3 ( still supports the strong diagonal) or Bd3 to support the advance of e4 still doesn’t stop the advance of Black’s Queen side pawns. 7.e4 intends to advance to e5 but Black can still muster a counter attack on the Queenside. That is why I will look at the old main line 7.a4 as it puts a stake on b5 and slows Black’s Queenside advance.

White will play Qc2, Rfd1 and Nc3 to complete development and support e4. Black will play to exchange on d4 and put his energy on that square more so than on e5. White can get control of e5 and the center .

Atypical continuation is as follows.

7. a4 Nc6 8. Qe2cxd4 9. Rd1 Be7 10. exd4 O-O 11. Nc3 Nb4 12. Ne5 Bd7 13. Bg5 Rc8 14. Bb3 Be8

By Move 15, White enters an IQP with an initiative on the Kingside while Black position is solid.

Here is a game by Kramnik using this 7.a4 line:

My next post will be the last in this series of Pawn formations. I am looking at White’s themes against the Dutch. Hope you all enjoy this.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pawn Formations part 4: Carlsbad Formation (QGD-Exchange)

Test Driving the formations:
Before I get into a discussion of the pawn formations of the Exchange variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, I would like to tell you about my recent experience over the board. I decided to test drive my opening preparation at the Somerville Open this past weekend. First and foremost, when I say “opening preparation”, I am not advocating rote memorization. Since I play 1.d4, I expect to play closed positional games. This means understanding typical positions that come out of my openings. Fundamental to understanding the position, is the pawn structure. Knowing the essence of the pawn structure helps guide me to a more positive experience in the middle game.

Now, I’ll cut to the chase. I tied for first place in my section. Had I won my last game, I would have cleared first place altogether. I was able to play both the Samisch and the Rubinstein with favorable results. I discovered some minor tweaks that are needed in these lines as well as my Black repertoire. My tactics were sharp as I do a daily dose of 25 puzzles. The endgame is where I will need to put some polish before the World Open in 2 weeks. So look out.

Back to our regularly scheduled program on the QGD-Exchanged variation:

To address the traditional QGD player, I decided on the exchange variation as it immediately sets up the Carlsbad Pawn formation ( After, 1.d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 with e3 to follow):

In this formation, White has a choice of plans: to prepare the advance e2-e4 (usually by f3), or to play the minority attack. White has weaknesses on c4, and sometimes e4. Black will try to use the e4 post and create a King side attack.

Characteristic of a minority attack is to advance the queenside pawns followed by pieces to create structural weaknesses for Black. When White advances his b-pawn to b4, this leaves a distinctive hole on c4 begging for a Black Knight to come and perch. Black would then strive to: a) exchange the light-squared bishops, and b) attempt to place a Knight on c4 via b6 or d6 (or both). White would, of course, try to counter those plans. Black, by playing a6 to prevent b5, has some problems as well. It weakens the square b6 directly and c5 indirectl, given that if black proceeds with b6 (to strengthen c5), then the a6-pawn could come under assault.
For a good tutorial on Minority Attack basics I recommending reading this Blog post :

Though I seem to have the opportunity to play the minority attack on occasion, I find the lines developing the Nge2 to be more favorable to pawn formations I’ve been studying and prepares for the supporting move of f3 to allow e3-e4. With the following continuation after 5.Bg5, c6 ( here Black can choose the natural Be7), 6.Qc2 Be7 7.e3, Nbd7 8.Bd3 0-0 9. Nge2.

This allows for a choice of castling long and launching an all out attack in the center. I am looking into several games with this line.

Here is a game by Alekhine who was one of the first practitioners of this variation:

With the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, I am still deciding my best approach on this. I hope to cover this next time.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Pawn Formations Part 3: The Grunfeld

Ernst Grunfeld introduce this defense against none other than Alexander Alekhine in Vienna in 1922. Oddly enough, Grunfeld was known more for his classical style ( Tarrasch-Steinitz school of chess) which tended to stay on the side of avoiding complex variations. Thus, when he deployed this defense against 1.d4, he challenged one of the Hypermodern proponents from the start.

Hat tip to RC_Wood from for providing this game with annotations.

In the game, Alekhine takes on the exchange variation throwing everything including an early h4 pawn march. You see an early Bg5 which was later developed by Taimanov. He throws in a Bb5+ line made popular in the 1990’s. Alekhine’s folly seemed to be in not playing e4 early.

The main line for the Grunfeld Defense’s Exchange Variation follows: 1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 ( to immediately challenge e4) 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7

The position above reaches the main branching lines of either the Modern 7.Nf3 or the classical 7.Bc4. Other minor variations include 7.Bb5+ 7. Be3 7.Bg5, 7Qa5+ . This post will focus mainly on the Classical variation with 7.Bc4.

In my repertoire, with Rubinstein variation against the Nimzo-Indian and the Samisch against the KID, picking the classical in the exchange variation of the Grunfeld made the most sense since similar themes arise. The King knight typically goes to e2 but this time with the eye on f4, Castling King side is the only option, and the Queen Bishop will also go to e3 but can be played to g5 ( Taimanov variation).

The Queen rook will want most likely be used to support the c-file as Black will attack on the Queen side. White will have the initiative on the b-file in the end game but the weakness is centered around the c3 pawn. The pawn move to f3 comes about if the Black bishop moves to g4 or to prevent it in some cases.

After White plays 7.Bc4, Black has three main replies following the choices of either continuing with development or put pressure on d4. On 7…0-0, this keeps the development rush going, White plays Ne2 this is the main line continuation. The minor line with 7…b6 is a little slow and White can begin an attack on the Kingside with h4. 7…c5 makes a direct attack on the d4 square and white needs to support this with Ne2 followed by Be3 as Balck can build up forces on this immediately.

With the main line following 7..0-0 8.Ne2, Black needs to keep the pressure on d4 and white needs to respond according. Black has three main choices, 8…Qd7, 8…b6 or 8…Nc6. With the last one being the most energetic, White needs to keep the pressure balanced. Following 8…Nc6 9.0-0 is important 9…e5 10. Be3 Qe7 11.f3 Rd8 12.Rc1 gets us to a typical position in the grunfeld with dynamics on both sides:

White needs to be cautious of not advancing the pawn to d5 too soon as Black will attack the Bishop with …Na5 where typically the bishop goes to the more aggressive square of d5. The Bishop is on a good diagonal ( a2-g8) for a king side attack if he can muster the troops.

If Black plays 8..b6, White can immediately begin a King side assault with h4. If Black follows with Nc6 , white will play Bd5 almost immediately if he can. If Black plays the 8…Qd7 first, white has time to castle. After 8…Qd7 9.0-0 b6 then white can actually begin an assault with the e4-e5 push. With the Bishop on c4 ( a2-g8 diagonal), the troops will rally to Nf4, Qg4 h4 and h5 if allowed, making for a strong attack.

Similarities and differences within the repertoire so far:

It helps limit the breadth of opening variations to study if you can find similarities with certain groups. With the Samisch, Rubinstein and Grunfeld variations I reviewed in this past three posts, the similarities can be seen in early piece placement and d5-e4 pawn chain formations. But I have to caution about following “rote” systems of piece placements as the three variations covered are all very dynamic openings not meant for “safe” piece placement until you reach the middle game. Rather, knowing the nuances is critical and will help broaden my understanding of this complex game.

For instance, look at White’s King Bishop in all three opening variations. In the Grunfeld Exchange mainline, there is no doubt that the best placement for the King’s bishop is on c4 which is created after cxd5. This can not be achieved in either NI-Rubinstein or KID-Samish. In fact, the King’s Bishop becomes more of an awkward piece with Ne2 played early delaying the development of the king side.

Another factor to consider is when Black plays b6. The Fischer variation of the Rubinstein in the Nimzo-Indian is the most critical challenge ( in my opinion) and white needs to play energetically to save the king side. In the Grunfeld, this is more innocuous which usually allows white to grab some King side attacking initiative.

The last point I will bring up is White’s advance of the d-pawn to d5. We see this as a space grabbing move for the KID and NI variations discussed. This closes the center allowing for some careful piece maneuvering. The Black pawn on d6 could become an endgame liability so the middle game requires the right balance of piece migration and wing attacks. However, once the d-pawn is removed like in the Grunfeld, the position is not as closed. Both bishops are present for both sides. Quick precision and initiative take precedent over positional maneuvering.

I’m fired up! Next post I will look at the QGD orthodox and QGA.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pawn formations Part 2: Rubinstein vs Nimzovich

A study on the pawn formations common to the Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense:

Akiba Rubinstein was a good endgame tactician in the times of hypermodernism in chess. He approached the hypermodern defenses with a sense of winning the endgame early on in the opening. He had a solid grasp of pawn formations. He stepped up to the challenge of the potentially weakened hypermodern pawn center brought on by the likes of Nimzovich and Reti. He knew that a well supported pawn center gave him the mobility he needed while Black conceded the breaking pawn moves to “release” the latent forces. The levers and breaking moves had a tendency to create targets in the endgame ( like d6 being backward) if he created a solid support system for his central position. Thus, the Rubinstein variation was exercised by this creative tactician against the Nimzo-Indian defense.

I actually tried to find an early game of Rubinstein versus Nimzovitch playing their signature lines. The closest I could come to this was a game played in 1928 in Berlin.

The variation takes on more of a classical but by move 5, you start to see the signature moves of his variation. Perhaps he played a move order variation to throw any preparation by Nimzovitch. It’s an interesting game that has a knight sacrifice on move 36 targeting the weakened d6 square after a middle game scrum over the center and pawns.

The true Rubinstein variation begins on move 4 of the Nimo-Indian following 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3. Black has several real choices 4… Nc6, 4…d5, 4…0-0, 4…c5, 4…b6. Before I get into a cursory discussion of these branches, I want to point out the starting pawn formation:

For White, e4 is weak and supporting it will become a theme for the next several moves. White does enjoy more space to place the pieces but Black tends to get a jump on development given the minimal pawn moves. Black’s choices from above can be broken into three categories, 1) Stay ahead of development, 2) Target e4 or 3) Attack the center.

In the category of developmental lead, 4…Nc6 and 4…0-0 follow that idea. 4…Nc6 is most assertive as it prepares the advance of e5 for Black. Best for White is to support e4 directly with 5.Bd3, e5 6. Ne2 ( intent is twofold, supports knight on c3 as well as holding g3 as a place to support e4.) 6…d5 ( thrash on the center) 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.e4 Nb6 9.d5 and you now have the d5-pawn chain with similar themes from my previous post. The exception is that White enters this with initiative. Black will have to play energetically to make the break moves of c6 or f5. Position after 9.d5:

If Black castles on move 4, White can play 5.Nf3, 5.Bd3 or 5. Ne2. I like the last two as the Nf3 move is more like the classical variation. If Ne2 is played first, the light squared Bishop can fianchetto and white can grab some advantage. Remember, a characteristic move by Rubinstein, was playing a3 at the right moment which gave him initiative. With either Bd3 or Ne2, Black will attack the center with either c5 or d5. With 5.Ne2, white can immediately put the question to the Bishop with 6.e3 and then recapture on d5 right away without worrying too much on c3. With 5.Bd3 first, Black needs to challenge the center while white sets up Ne2 before playing a3. After 5.Bd3 d5 6.Ne2 dxc4, 7.Bxc4 e5 Black plays aggressively towards the center.

White can castle and either prepare for a good IQP position if Black captures on d4 or continue with a3 followed by d5 and achieve the d5-pawn chain game again.

If Black chooses to attack the center with 4…c5 right away, we can assume that Black will postpone castling in favor of immediate action in the center. White can use the same three choices as above with similar results preparing for either an IQP (if Bd3 first)with active pieces or perhaps an opposing pawn majority on the queenside (if Ne2 first).

The IQP has the following ideas:
Themes for White: d4-d5 break, sacrifice of the isolani, outpost on e5, kingside attack.
Themes for Black: Blockading the isolani, trading pieces for a favorable endgame.

The isolani leads to lively play revolving around the d5 square. If Black can clamp down on the pawn, her positional strengths and threat of exchanges give her the advantage. If not, the threat of the d4-d5 break is ever present, and the isolani can sometimes be sacrificed to unleash the potential of White's pieces, enabling White to whip up a whirlwind attack.

The other pawn formation is one with a pawn majority on the queenside with a space advantage.

The idea is to bring the expansive pawn forward enough to occupy Black’s pieces and then swing over to a king side attack. Black’s best hope is to muster up a minority attack against the mass before White can conjure up a king side attack.

If Black chooses to attack e4 with 4…d5, White transposes to a favorable position of the Samisch variation with 5.a3 Bxc3 6.bxc3 with a nice pawn center supported by c3 and e3. The open b-file is becomes a conduit for major pieces and a freer came for white.

This leaves the Fischer variation with 4…b6 with the intent of controlling the e4 square and further support of the advance of c5. This is probably one of the more aggressive responses to the Rubinstein variation. Here move order is critical. Moving the Bishop too soon forces the knight to play to f3 instead of the thematic Nge2 because of the weakness on g2. Making 5.Nge2 the best response. Here Black MUST play Ba6 otherwise white will be able to set up a strong pawn center after 6.a3 and 7.d5

This post is already too long. Next post I will cover the Grunfeld pawn formations. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I’ll have a Benoni Samisch on a light Rye.

Indian Pawn formations Part 1:

Playing the Queen’s Gambit as white opens the door to lots of responses from Black. The more popular defenses I encounter at the club against 1.d4 are the King’s Indian, the Benoni, Grunfeld and Nimzo-Indian. As a continuation from my last post I thought I’d split this into two parts and take a look at Benoni and King’s Indian pawn formations because I think they are related.

A look at the Pawn structure after the first couple of moves reveals the hypermodern theme of daring white an expanded pawn center. Black immediately takes a stance on slowing the advance of white’s e4 with the Nf6 move. The concept of these first few moves is all centered around control of e4 and d4. White wishes to accomplish this with pawns while Black will use indirect methods.

For the King’s Indian Defense,

both King side minor pieces are influencing the central squares while White gets a chance to get c4 d4 and e4 filled with pawns and a Nc3 for support. This opening shows up in 1922 by Reti with a Win against Samisch. Yates and Euwe popularized it as well in that decade where it showed up in Karlsbad, Leeds and Liverpool. At first, this defense was suspect because a lot of these earlier games seemed to give White a considerable amount of freedom.

I mention this historic introduction because this is Black’s first challenge in the pawn formation. How does he compensate for a slightly cramped position? If black holds back too long on either …c5 or …e5 to open the position, White will be able to enjoy the space advantage. Thus, after white grabs the center with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 Black’s first objective is to deal with the center. The two choices are then either to castle or to begin playing pawns in the center with the supporting …d6.
The Modern games have …d6 favored over 0-0 since it opens the possibilities for a Bg4 and a place for Blsck’s Q-Knight to go in support of the center and the e5 push.

After d5 or 0-0, White has several options including the Main line with 5Nf3, the Fianchetto variation 5.g3 or the one I like 5.f3, the Samisch variation.

Black Follows with 0-0 or immediately with e5 and white advances to d5. At some point the following Pawn structure is reached after about 7 moves:

Right away, if this were an endgame, White’s King is positioned to march over to the Queenside and advance the troops. The essence of this pawn formation is that of the d5-pawn chain:

Themes for White: Massive queenside space advantage, c2-c4-c5 break (optionally prepared with b2-b4), prophylaxis with g2-g4 (after f2-f3), f2-f4 break.

Themes for Black: kingside attack, f7-f5 break, g7-g5-g4 break (after f2-f3), c7-c6 break, prophylaxis with c6-c5 or c7-c5 transposing to a Full Benoni formation.

The theme is a race for a breakthrough on opposite flanks - Black must try to whip up a kingside attack before White's heavy pieces penetrate with devastating effect on the c file. Opposite side castling is common with a pawn push by white on the King side. The position was thought to strongly favour White until a seminal game (Taimanov-Najdorf 1953) where Black introduced the maneuver Rf8-f7 (After f5 is played of course), Bg7-f8 ( to keep the watch on the weak d6 base for Black), Rf7-g7 as a strong defense agaisnt the marauding white pawns and pieces. Play is much slower with tempo being of little value and featuring piece maneuvering by both sides, Black focusing on the c7-c6 break and White often trying to play on the kingside with the f4 break.

Understanding this makes looking at a variation for the Benoni a little easier. Historically, the “Sorrow Child” was named as such from the studies of a Jewish Scholar, Aaron Reinganum who suffered from depression and sought relief on the chess board. Black’s pawn on d6 becomes rather sad if not handled correctly.

The benoni was originally thought to be a newer upgrade to the King’s Indian since it advanced one of the freeing moves right away. White wants to support the e4 advance with 4.Nc3. Black will fianchetto and have similar aspirations for King side attacks, timely and freeing central pawn breaks, while avoiding cramped positions.

The move order 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e5 is the old Benoni. While the Modern plays 3…e6. With either move, White tends to play 4.Nc3 followed by 5.e4 if Black doesn’t capture d5 first. So after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nb3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6, I like to stick with the Samisch theme and look at the line with 7.f3 we now reach a similar pawn structure:

The same ideas from the d5-pawn chain are relevant here too. Black’s weakness on d6 is pronounced. The breaking move f7-f5 is important. White will continue to advance f3-f4 and push e4-e5 if needed. Castling Q-side is common for White and then after sliding the king over to the b-file, action on the c-file with the major pieces is not uncommon. Black needs to wait on the king side attack and redirect efforts to queenside.

In the Samisch, White will play the g1 knight to e2, the pawn on f3 prevents Black from intruding on g4 with a Knight or a Bishop. Bishops on e3 and d3 ( though in the benoni formation if the Bishop can go to c4 that might actually be stronger) with the Queen on d2 creating a battery on the c1-h6 diagonal are typical as this sets up a nice advance of pawns on the kingside ( h2-h4, g2-g4, h4-h5 etc)

Here is a recent game I played at the club. It’s not perfect play but you can see I was able to be flexible with the understanding of the d5-pawn chain formation and actually gained a pawn at one point. The game ended in a draw as my concentration was distracted by outside influences part way through the game.

Next post, pawn formations from the Grunfeld will be discussed along with the Nimzo-Indian. With the Black’s pawn on d5, I elected a different approach.

I hope this information is helpful considering its from the understanding of an amateur such as myself. This is how I process the information overload of too many variations. I try to find themes I can identify through the pawns.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Historical Perspective on the study of Pawn formations

In one of the comments to my last post lamenting the problems of trying to understand the openings beyond rote memorization, the concept of pawn structures came up. I find this is most essential today in navigating the waters of opening theory. In my process of discovery, I find that openings usually tend to follow a theme depending on the pawn structure. The side who doesn’t follow suit with the theme usually finds trouble early in the game. As I review the responses to 1.d4, I am trying to put into perspective how this may have evolved.

I look back in the days before Harry Nelson Pillsbury came on the scene. The romantic age of chess where swashbuckling gambits viewed pawns as more of an annoyance that gets in the way of carefully calculated sacrificial tactics. Pawn formation was not really considered since most of the games were open to allow the maximum piece play.

Howard Staunton penned The Chess Player’s Handbook in 1847. The mention of pawns is in Chapter VI under general rules. He goes on to mention that “..young players commonly overlook the pawns or deem them scarcely worthy of regard, and are amazed to learn that the combinations of these simple elements are among the most refined and arduous studies of the game.” His underscoring of the importance is critical in this handbook. He follows it with the first general advice around central pawns and cautionary advice about the struggle of maintaining both e- and d-pawns in the center. Most of the advice is given as cautionary and displays what I think is a timid approach. He emphasizes the weakness of moving the King’s knight pawn.

A few years later, at the dawn of the classical age of chess, Steinitz expand’s on Staunton’s ideas in his book, The Modern Chess Instructor. Prior to this, in 1862, at the London Congress, it was determined that when a pawn advances to the 8th rank, it no longer was held as a “dummy piece” until the right piece was captured to replace it. It was allowed to become any piece immediately. In the chapter of Relative piece values and Principles of play, he elaborates more on the importance of the central pawn phalanx. He goes on to describe a strategy for symmetrical e-pawn openings where both sides castle and how important it is to open the g-file. He also elaborates on the role of each of the pawns.

The positional ideas that Steinitz penned and later Tarrasch supported became the mainstay but many felt that chess was becoming stagnant as more and more draws were becoming commonplace at the top events. Here we saw the King pawn games move to Queen pawn positional games. Themes around isolated Queen pawns, the minority attack, the Wyvill and Karlsbad pawn formations and other closed systems were being realized and studied.

Enter, Pillsbury and Lasker at the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. They turned the dogmatic classical axioms upside down by attacking the Kingside with bishop sacrifices and attacking with Queens and minor pieces. They showed just how vulnerable an exposed king side could be if the defending forces were cut off by a closed pawn formation with pawns on e6 and d5. In essence, they demonstrated that positional play could account for material loss if given initiative and an exposed King.

This gave rise to the hypermodern defenses meant to thwart the Pillsbury attack and the Lasker Bishops. It evolved from the same roots of having a strong pawn center but challenged the idea of allowing the White pieces to over extend. They drew on the timid nature of Staunton’s warnings by allowing white to occupy the center with pawns. Having an indirect influence on the center showed later that when they broke through, the subtle positional elements proved important.

Nimzovich’s My System, has chapters dedicated on Pawn centers, Pawn chains, passed pawns, IQPs doubled pawns and more about pawn structure and weak squares. This was the first real manual relating positional elements with pawn structures. Weak squares created by pawn movement were first introduced by Steinitz. Nimzovitch takes it even further and talks about how to handle weaknesses created by pawns from both a defending and attacking perspective.

Later, we get Hans Kmoch’s landmark book on Pawn Power in Chess. Kmoch in 1959 builds on the same ideas of Staunton, Steinitz, Tarrasch, and Nimzovitch and breaks it down even further. He introduces terms like “lever” and Pawn cross as he dissects many variants and the interactions with each of the pieces. This is following the Modern Classical period highlighted with the Russian chess schools and the large opening theory that evolved 30 years after the hypermodern school debuted. The importance now shifts to the pieces and their interactions with the pawns.

Andy Soltis, recently wrote a book on Pawn Structure Chess and classifies the major pawn formations into 16 categories. He essays that understanding the schema of the pawn formations is the key to understanding the positional elements of the openings and prepares the player to handle subtle nuances and move order variations without having to study reams of opening lines.

In my next post, I will dig a little deeper on a few of these pawn schemas as they relate to my openings. In the meantime I suggest you look at this wiki link as it provides a nice synopsis of Andy’s ideas:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Memory is the first to go.

My experiment last weekend at the Mass game 60 was a bit alarming in realizing how QUICKLY I lose my memorized opening lines. Now, before you all jump on me about opening preparation and how it shouldn’t be a case of memorization and all, sit down. I realize this and part of the reason why I do the history tour and review game collections from old tournaments is to learn this game from whole games. The way I process information requires me to find neural pathways into long term memory through experiential exercises that challenge more than rote memory. Getting into the narrative story of a match, the emotional build up of the opening struggle followed with a middle game melee seems to be seeping ever so slowly in this thick skull of an old dog learning new tricks.

The problem I have is that it’s very hard to “unlearn” my old ways of learning openings via rote memorization. It’s a process I have to work on. What happens is that when I have a lapse in chess activity, the first thing that goes is the rote memorization of the openings. In particular, WHEN I PLAY WHITE 1.d4, the number of lines to stay on top of is insurmountable. How do I approach this from a practical perspective when there are so many similarities yet nuances making a Benoni like a King’s Indian except that it’s not and I am not an expert.
When I played against IM Igor Foygel, I knew it was going to be a cat and mouse game. Right on move 4 I was lost. 1.d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3.d5 e5 was the move order for a Czech Benoni ( modern Benoni plays 3…e6). I know this now because AFTER the game I looked it up. During the game, all I could remember was that after 2…c5 White needs to advance the d-pawn to maintain the edge. That was it.

I didn’t know what followed. How do I maintain an edge with advancing the d-pawn? Building a strong pawn center but I can’t get my pawn to e4 because of his Nf6. I couldn’t recall that White’s plan is to build a center and maneuver for a king side attack while watching for Black’s breaking moves on the c- and f-files. Instead, I fell prey to creating false weaknesses and eliminating pieces in an effort to get to a playable middle game.

I played 4. dxe6 which allowed the Master to open up the f-file. During the post mortem, he asked me why I captured. I told him it was my intent to create a weakness. His words of wisdom “ Don’t create a weakness unless you can take advantage of it right away. Every Weakness is only good if you can use it.” Also, in hindsight, the choice between development versus creating weaknesses in the opening is now clear. Especially when I am taken out of “book”, basic principles should apply. Better to develop Nc3.

Here’s the game in all its ugliness.

Playing white is a problem for a patzer like me. I used to use an opening system to get by this hurdle but found it to be tiring against stronger players who know how to play sharply around them. I buckled down and decided to learn Queen’s gambits after I studied the games of Harry Nelson Pillsbury a couple years ago. But the problem with this is that in practice I have to deal with all the Indian defenses, orthodox defenses, move order variations, slav defenses and the friggin Dutch. It’s too late to switch gears before the World Open in July unless I wuss out and resort back to my London System.

The good news is that I play the Slav and after studying the New York 1924 Games, I learned the Rubinstein Variation of the Nimzo-Indian. The Kings Indian Defense of the Zurich 1953 studies have yet to make practical “head room” in my noggin. It’s overwhelming to think of all the variations I should be prepared for when I play a Queen’s pawn game. At one point or another, I “prepared” for the Dutch, Benoni, and other Indian defenses. Unforetunately, it only made it to the scratch pad memory of my internal processor. This gets reset every time I learn a new thing or take a break from “serious” play.

Igor says, “ Don’t worry about studying openings at your level. Just play chess. Look at book AFTER the game. Then you will learn.”

Yes master. Thank you Master.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The amateur’s scramble mind

(Have this playing while you read this... it will make more sense)

More than two months had passed since I really had any serious chess study. Like a lot of folks, life things took priority over my passion for this game. I knew I was in trouble when back in March, my rating was in a freefall, rapidly heading to my floor. THANK GOD for floors.

With the World Open looming in 2 months, and tied of life beginning to ebb, I thought I’d tip my toe into Caissa’s Ocean of Chess at the Mass Game 60 open tournament. Going into this event I knew I was not going to be playing my top game. This being a “quick” tournament and an All for one open section, meant some hard humbling lessons were waiting for me. I really wanted to practice controlling my thought process and went in with full intention of jotting down my ideas and thought process during the games. What ended up happening was an abomination of any real thought process. Like a vehicle that sits in the yard too long, the rust on this machine made the engine freeze.

Because life is full for me, the only time I had to prepare for the event was 2 evenings prior juggling schedules with after work appointments to take kids to and making sure everyone is happy. Add to this, a weekend at church where I had an obligation to uphold for this weekend. No problem, I was planning on a Bye for both Saturday and Sunday Morning to address this.

Let me digress a moment, more important than chess is when I make a commitment to someone or some fellowship. This was an important weekend for some of the youth at our church and I dutifully showed up for the rehearsal on Saturday… then extended myself even further and offered to accompany our youth minister with my bass guitar to augment the songs they were going to sing. This was a last minute decision three of us made and meant learning 3 songs before Sunday morning. So off I went to play chess on Saturday.

The first round, I had a confidence builder to ease me into the weekend chess event. The second round I played I was paired against IM Igor Foygel. That was a lesson … I will share in a subsequent post. Right now, I am decompressing. My last round on Saturday, I was paired against a strong class A kid. I almost got a draw but blew the position ( again, another lesson for a later post).

I rush home, pull off the web the three songs I need to learn. I had the chord charts from the team, struggled with those as my ear was hearing a different chord when I played the video of the original to try and play along with. Now, if any of you are musicians out there, repetition is a common theme. I must have played Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game, The Beatle’s Let it be, and Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah several times that I had this sound track for bed time.

Sunday morning came too early. I woke up, rushed out the door and headed to church with my acoustic Bass guitar. On the passenger’s seat was my chess set. First things first, there was one last practice with the team before the service. Then it was show time where we pulled it off with out a hitch. The youth loved it. We did a good service to show them how important they were to the community. My heart was full to see many smiles and hearing hope for the future of humanity.

With the many smiles, the service did go into overtime. My window was closing to make round 6 without my clock starting. I politely excused myself and made a mad dash.

Today was the first day that we hit over 80-degrees since winter. I needed to get out of church clothes and into summer chess attire. My clock had elapsed 13 minutes when I moved my black pawn to c6 to stop time. As luck has it, I was paired with a kid who took this as an opportunity to play speed chess. I rattled off an exchange C-K with my 4…Qc7 move meant for the unprepared. It served only as a speed bump.

Remember how I mentioned my intent was to focus on thought process. Enter, blunderprone post frantic weekend rush. What follows is the inner narrative stream of unconciousness:

“ Man, I can’t believe we pulled that off. I am so glad that worked out… Hallelujuh… ha ha, yeah that really went over well. I can’t see my clock, sh*t, I still have my sunglasses on. Well, I can see he moved e4, here we go ( shakes hands) sorry to make you wait ( snaps c6 and hits the clock)”

At this point I started to replace my sunglasses with my regular glasses and the kid already was making sure his clock didn’t dip below a minute. “ OK, I can see my clock now, 47 minutes… no problem, I can do this.”
We rifle through the next few moves. I am playing by memory, he is playing for speed. “ OK, I see this is going down the exchange C-K. Everything is good so far.” I get to play the Qc7 move hoping the kid slows down. NOT A CHANCE. I rattle off the next few moves and worked the time deficit down to 11 minutes. We get to a point where we both castle and I start leaving “book”.

“ OK, here we go, Positional evaluation… and go” … to fill the void, my mind does funny things. The refrain from Lenard Cohen’s song starts coming up in my head… over and over. “ … the forth the fifth, the minor fall the major lift….shut up!” I am having a hard time concentrating. “OK I see it… um… I can win a pawn in the center… Hallelujah… I said shut up… Let it be… NO damn it!” The kid missed my fourteenth move as he got up to do jumping jacks or something to take care of the ants in his pants. He comes back and asks “ Where did you move?”

OK, I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual at that moment, so in a typical grumpy old patzer voice I chortled “ You figure it out.”

I look for a remedy to squelch the singing voices in my head. I fumble for my iPod shuffle, I get some soothing Bella Fleck and the flectones ( Nice bass work by Victor Wooten BTW) and it goes into some soothing Neko Case. I’m a pawn ahead and in my groove. Rodrigo Y Gabriella strum a nice Spanish flavored guitar instrumental as I flow through a series of exchanges. I’m down to Bishops of Opposite colors and an extra pawn, the kid extends his hand “draw?”

I grimace, “No” and continued to play now annoyed by the ants marching in this kid. Up and down, up and down. I was turning into this curmudgeon as I was surrounded by all these kids. When they here one of there “kind” announce a draw to an old fart like me, its like chumming the waters for sharks. They start circling. He did this a couple more times until I had to tell him to stop.

Cake queues up on my iPod, I just blew my chance to get two connected pawns by hastily making a capture with the wrong pawn. Time to shut the music off, I’ll take my chances with the random Leonard Cohen verses circling in my head. Instead, I hear Joni Mitchells voice singing The Circle Game… because I was thinking of circles… and how I should have done at least one tactical circle prior to this event.

I blow my chance for the win. The pawns are now even… I see a clear draw at this point with opposite colored bishops ( sigh) “ Draw?” I offer.

“No” He says smugly “ I have a clear win.”

Ok, I deserved that. He wants me to play this out. I did manage to prove my point and draw the game with this kid at 400 points lower than my rating.

So, I wasn’t quite ready to get back into the arena. I had a couple of really good lessons and that was really what I was looking for. I hope the voices in my head stop singing by the time the World Open comes around.