Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial Tournament

( A Preview of the Tournament report that will be published in the next issue of Chess Horizons.)

Two days before Massachusetts’s first prominent chess hero’s 139th birthday, 57 players gathered on December 3, 2011 in Leominster at the Veteran’s Center to play in the 2011 Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial. Why this is not listed as a Heritage event under USCF guidelines ( Tournaments Held for at least 25 years) is beyond me since I looked back on MACA’s tournament history for this event dates back to 1991 . Any records before that are archived with USCF.
In the world wide web, I have a chess blog ( and mirrored here at that is heavy on the historical perspective of chess, it’s players and major events. When asked to do the tournament report for this event, I was honored and could not resist tying in a little colloquial historical perspective to this event.

Harry Nelson Pillsbury

Born on December 5th, 1872, he was only 22 when he went to Hastings in 1895 and turned the European chess world on its head as he won the event. He learned to play chess in 1888 at the age of 15. His first chess teacher was Addison Smith, a member of the Boston Chess Club who lived in Somerville.

He moved to Philadelphia by the time he started taking this game seriously at age 17 years old. Pillsbury creativity and resourcefulness started to show up in 1890. Pillsbury played a series of Evans Gambits with the veteran Baltimore expert, H.N. Stone. He was one of the inventors of the Stone-Ware defense in the Evans. Our Somerville native smashed him 5-2.

Like Fisher, his knowledge of openings showed his resourcefulness to garnish older variations with his own added twists. This was especially seen at Hastings 1895 where he played a couple Evans Gambits against Schiffers and Bird. He played a variation not seen in Europe since the days of Kieseritzky and Mayet ( 50 years earlier). Having trained with this variation from local American players H.N Stone and Addison Smith, he had an advantage over his European contemporaries.

Though our event held in 2011, didn’t attract the European power houses of the day, we did have local GM Alexander Ivanov and two prominent local IM’s David Vigorito and Igor Foygel among the notable players in attendance in the open section. It was a quick draw in the final round of the 21 player open section that ended with GM Ivanov and IM Vigorito tied for first place with 3.5 points. Masters Vadim Martirosov and Avraam PIsmennyy followed with a 3.0 score. I was hard pressed to collect any score sheets from these games as IM David Vigorito commented that he stopped recording the last 15 moves of one of his games because of the time control.

One game I collected was from a friend and fellow blogger on Although local Expert, Robert King had not finished with any prize money, his final score of 2.5 points came after 1 win and 3 draws, one being against IM Foygel in Round 3. Below is the game he annotated. It appears, that IM Foygel has the spirit of Pillsbury as he plays an older line of the Benoni ( 3…e5) against Mr. King, transposing it to an old Indian defense.

The Under 1900 section had the largest attendance with 27 players. This was my rust breaker event as I had personal matters taking priority over my chess board. Lately, with life in all its complications, the only time I get to play chess is on a one day event. I used to loath such events because of the G60 time controls and how I needed all the time in the world against a much younger opponent brought up on bullet and lightning internet chess. But I have acclimated since my love for the game versus my time for the game are on two separate and seemingly opposing axis’s.

Given the G60 time control, it comes as no surprise then that an eleven year old, Nithin Kavi, was undefeated and won first place in the U1900 section. Yours truly came in a clear second, playing only the last three rounds. My last round game was a raucous Central variation of the Slav defense where Black chose to play a minor piece exchange for 3 pawns. Here is that game with my annotations.

The Under 1500 section had a total of 9 players and a three-way tie for first place from the Granite State as James Benway, Robert B Walton Jr, and Anson O’young all from New Hampshire, finished with 3 points each. I didn’t get a chance to collect any of these games from that section.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Playing 5.f3 against the Benko against an Expert

I mentioned back in June how I was searching for a new way to handle the Benko Gambit and essayed an alternative that played 5.f3. Not preparing for this since June, I was able to play a decent and fun game against an opponent who was a strong class A/ Expert hovering around 2000 USCF.

My long term mnemonic recalled the dialog of not allowing Black’s queen Bishop to head to a6 with the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 and instead play 5.f3 to immediately reinforce e4. What I forgot was that playing 6.e4 is the strongest line following 5…e6. Here I mixed ideas up and decided to “spike” Black’s position with 6.d6!?

I remember watching a video on pawn formations with advanced d-chains and the cramping effect d6 could have if allowed. So I went for it. It created a series of forced moves and an early Q exchange as I scrambled to equalize development.

The middle game quickly transposed to an endgame. Before that could happen I wanted to make sure he couldn’t castle and allow my kind to get to the Queenside before he could. I entered into an endgame with a pawn deficit and N versus Bishop. I had a plan to blockade with my King and knight, get my pawns and pieces on dark squares and keep him busy.

It almost worked… but I fell for an exchange and ended up losing a drawn endgame.

What I learned:

  1. 1) 5.f3 against the Benko ( Volga) Gambit is fun. I reviewed a few of Max Dlugy’s games (Dlugy Versus Lev Albert 1986; Dlugy vs Zofia Polgar, 1987 and Dlugy versus Gurevich in 1988) realized that following up with 6.e4 is the critical line. Nakamura versus Vachier in 2008 also shows up on the data base.
  2. 2) Though the spike line is interesting and sort of in tune with a d-pawn chain, the game really is about e4 and setting up a tactical king side attack.
  3. 3) Develop with a vengeance
  4. 4) Big Endgame lesson with N Vs B:

a. Had the right approach in blocking with the opposite color of his Bishop

b. Wrong Passed pawn ( Queening square wrong color)

c. K and knight can hold against the extra bishop. If opposite King waltzes toward other pawns, knight can block passed pawn while king defends.

d. Don’t exchange pieces when down a pawn.

Game Mnemonics learned:

On all of the games mentioned in 1 above, Allowing Black to get his Queen bishop to b7 ( a8-h1 diagonal) comes at a price to Black with a weakened queenside and a brick pawn fortress at e4 f3 and g2. White gets lots of space on the Queen side. The games are less about subtle maneuvering, which I attempted, and more about sharp tactics with a space advantage. I am going to spend some time going over these games in more detail for my own sake. I hope next time I encounter the Benko, I can explore a little deeper beyond the 6.e4 line.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Taking off the Rust at the Pillsbury Memorial.

Lately, with life in all its complications, the only time I get to play chess is on a one day event. I used to loath such events because of the G60 time controls and how I needed all the time in the world against a much younger opponent brought up on bullet and lightning internet chess. But I have acclimated since my love for the game versus my time for the game are on two separate and seemingly opposing axis’s. Time for two or three day events doesn’t fit in well with my busy schedule during school season as I teach part time.

That’s why the mnemonic memory training is important. With a little effort, I can now recall the basic tabias of my repertoire as well as some key middle game ideas based on the themes from pawn structures. This way, during a G60 gamer, I am not wasting time doubting my short term memory’s recall of move orders during the opening. I visualize a tabia I would like to reach, and prepare for the first branch away from that. Then when I am faced with the first branch, the ideas behind the pawn formations are handy to finding candidate moves. Its very efficient and maximizes my time for complex middle game positions. I found I had on average a 10 minute surplus over my opponent going into the middle game which afforded me the opportunity to complicate things on his time.

Now, where the rust was show was my tactical calculations and depth of analysis during the games. The following two games are embarrassments that I managed to get lucky. The first two games won’t go in for publication when I do the report. My last round game might.

The first game is an advanced C-K I played as Black against a teenager. He played a passive line that allowed me to free up the position. I took an unnecessary risk move 17…Nxd4. What I saw was the potential for pinning his knight ( after he recaptures) and winning back the piece with interest. Where my rust came in was that I missed the fact that White covered a key square (c5) as long as the knight on e4 remained. On a side note, IM Igor Foygel, walked by my game right when I made that move and winced. By the time he circled back around, my opponent didn’t play the strongest continuation and I was able to get what I had intended , my ROI of the material. Igor had that look of surprise. Two days later, he asked me “ Did you plan 17…Nxd4 ?” I knew I was busted, I remarked that I had chose the complicated line to take off some rust as I miscalculated White’s best move. Then he told me how some masters choose difficult lines on purpose in the first round to “wake up”. I like Igor, he’s a nice guy and very much encouraging for even us mortals.

The following round, the teenager’s dad was seeking to avenge his son’s demise at the hands of Blunderprone! Let me just comment that even at a USCF rating of 1890, he was 16 years out of practice in events. I had White and took him into a Botvinik line ( 6Bg5) of the Saemish variation of the KID with ease. This is a pawn structure I seem to be really comfortable with. Though I missed a subtle weakness on Black’s early e5 advance and could have played for a significant advantage had I played dxe4. But the long term memory KNEW the nuances of the more positional game of an advanced d-pawn chain formation over an open center with more tactical requirements. I think I chose correctly given the G60 event, and better recall of positional ideas of this variation. Black then proceeded to not challenge the Bishop on g5 and made a slow plan to advance f5. This allowed for White to complete development, castle long, and open the game up on the kingside. By this time I had a growing time surplus of 20 minutes and decided to complicate the game. Here I allowed myself to experiment with the idea of a temporal advantage ( two more pieces developed than my opponent) and sacrifice a couple pawns for a power play with pieces. One pawn opened up the King side for my pieces and the other deflected his strongest defending piece. He resigned after I snared his rook.

The last round, I was warmed up and played White against another minor. He played the slav, I challenged him into the central variation that puts the question to Black on giving up a Bishop for three pawns. I’ve had good success in the past with this line and its actually fun… as long as my tactical skills aren’t too rusty… so this was a big risk going into the last round. No guts no glory. Sure enough, my opponent remembered his moves right up until he was supposed to capture with the Bishop. Instead he captures with the knight. This avoided the other complications int eh main line. Black was able toe recover the 3 pawns for the knight but I was able to freeze his king in the center. I gave up a rook to gain initiative while I had the double bishops bearing on the centralized king, a centralized knight and Queen ready for action. Black was trying desperately to exchange Queens off the board, but I wanted it on my terms. I got my rook back which equalized material but gave me more active pieces going into a tricky endgame. Black suffered from cramps towards the last few moves as my boa constrictor started to squeeze in.

I am still working on the tournament report for the Pillsbury Memorial. I am collected some annotated games from some players in the top section. This will take some time. MY publication deadline is early January. I will post the article here on line. Until then, I am renewing my games studies with emphasis on expanding the mnemonic process. I will post on my first attempts next time.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How I rust proofed my training

As indicated on my last few sparse posts, chess had taken a back seat as life challenges were my utmost top priority. Not that I am completely out of the woods, there is some clearing in my forest which has allowed be to jump in on a couple of recent one day events.

Back in September, I attended a one-day event in Rhodes Island where I ended up tied for first place. Since December 5th marks the 139th birthday of a famous Massachusetts player, the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial was an event I could not miss. My score of 3.5 had me take home a clear second place winnings as well as bump my rating up over 1800 USCF for the first time in my life.

I hadn’t been studying seriously since July. I hadn’t been playing regularly since then either. So how did I manage to have a couple of good tournaments and not lose rating points? I’m not entirely sure but I think I can explain.

For years, especially if look through the archives of my blog, I struggled with inconsistent results. As with most class players, I had a fairly good base of chess knowledge. Meaning, I had some theoretical understand, tactical ability and some base of positional understanding. The problem was that I was caught up in REMEMBERING move orders for openings and positional concepts. I call it the “If he goes here I go there” stuff. This process relied heavily on my short term memory and I am like an old computer from last century with only limited access. If I had life events, most of my deep lines were popped off the stack. My long term recall was hindered as I didn’t have a good “filing system” as it was all related to lines of move orders instead of better mnemonics.

Let me elaborate a little. I am sure all of us have struggled with opening preparation from time to time. It’s probably safe to say that most of us can probably remember at least the first 4 moves in our repertoire comfortably but once the branching effects of the various responses occur, we start to fall into move order issues or place pieces on squares without much thought as to why for the sole reason that you may have recalled it being placed there in another line. For me, the problem was trying to rely on a move like “7…Nbd7” as a mnemonic.

The other aspect is that once you get thrown off your horse, while the clock is ticking, how do you evaluate the position that you got yourself into? Where my previous training was based on move order and Kotov’s “tree of analysis” , too much reliance still on short term memory which was problematic. I read reams of various methods from Nimzovitch to Silman and tigers and zebras. There was no silver bullet and I proceeded as best I could depending on which topical positional book I read recently.

Tabias and pawn formations:

About a year ago, I started to really concentrate on using a better mnemonic to recall positional ideas. I knew I could not get around SOME level of memorization for opening preparation. I made it a priority to at least get myself to the point where I could recall the main line tabias of each of my openings. What this means is following the main line to the first MAJOR branching point. It meant resisting the urge to memorize anything further.

Once I got the tabias for each of my openings, I then approached UNDERSTANGING them from the perspective of pawn formations. If you look at my side bar, I have links to some of these. I created mnemonics from the pawn formations and filed the effort into long term memory after much practice. I made it a habit of reaching an early position and saying to myself the type of pawn formation. It’s not a perfect process as some pawn formations are easier to retrieve than others due to frequency I encounter them and other aspects. But when I see an IQP position, I KNOW what I need to do. I understand the goals. When I reach an ADVANCED CENTRAL QUEEN PAWN Chain, I also know what needs to be done and the candidate moves present themselves.

This year, I want to advance my understanding this game and try to apply mnemonic training to recall complete games. Yes, entire games. I believe I can continue down this path and recall master games by naming them like Pillsbury Vs Tchigoran Hastings 1895. The mnemonic will recall the initial tabia of the opening, the fact that Pillsbury played an early Ne5 ( as white) and proceeded with a Kingside “Pillsbury attack” as Tchigoran countered with a Queenside attack. I am not there yet, but just those statements starting with the top folder and opening up the subsequent folders of the position I draw visions of the game and could actually place pieces on a board to show them. Top level players have that ability. They set the bar I wish to reach.

And now I leave you with a parody of Alice Cooper’s song “ I’m 18”

I’m 18(hundred)

Lines form from my openings

Lines form from my positions

I’ve reached 1800 but not that much faster

I’m not a novice and I’m not a master

I’m 1800 and I still want a higher rating

I’m 1800 and I wish I got “master discounts”

I’m 1800 and I am a Class A player

I’m 18 18 1800!!!

Stay tuned, I'll be doing a formal tournament report for the Pillsbury Memorial for Chess Horizons and will post here as well.