Let me start by echoing a popular sentiment: I dislike playing Black against the Colle and London setups. You know what I’m talking about: some White players play the exact same set-up every single game, getting a fairly dry, sterile position. You know, a snoozefest.
In particular, I dislike when I get ‘tricked’ into playing d5 against said lines. White has a normal, weakness free position, and if he doesn’t do anything silly the position will remain even, the pawn structure symmetrical and very little winning chances for the second player. I can be against a much lower-rated player and find it hard to win just because White’s position is so solid and his play so unambitious. I can play very well and yet never have more than a draw, and that feels like it happens far too often.
This game is a good example. Most of the game I play very well. I’m better out of the opening, I’m better as Queens come off and I’m better in the endgame. The entire time, though, I have only slight winning chances, and in the end, when I might have won after my opponent slipped up, I made one imprecise move and lost all winning chances.
In most GM games, if one side loses a piece, he then resigns. In most tactical puzzles, if you win a piece the puzzle ends. In a real game, though, your opponent might play on. That’s perfectly in his or her right, and that can lead to some practical difficulties.
I have seen many amateurs, myself included, struggle when up material, even a whole piece. Somehow, even though you know you should be winning, it doesn’t feel that way. Things aren’t so simple. If you know the general strategy of simplifying into the ending, though, then things can become very simple.
That’s what happened in today’s game. I won a piece very early on, and then spent the rest of the game single-mindedly focused on the endgame. In the end, it was a pretty easy win. Let’s take a look. Continue reading →
In some ways, the game today is fairly simple. It’s ten moves and Black hangs a piece. GG.
This is true, but it isn’t the whole story. Black didn’t hang his piece randomly. He had a plan, and his first few moves were standard, and he played a standard central break. Things seemed fine on the surface, but if you look deeper, Black’s position was actually terrible. Why? Because Black didn’t follow opening principles. He moves a piece twice in the opening, and though it looked harmless, it basically brought him swift defeat.
For 25 moves, I played near perfect. I had a good position, then a better position, and then the tactics worked and I had a winning position. Then I had a less winning position, then merely a drawn position … and then I managed to lose a King and Pawn endgame despite being up a pawn. It’s pretty incredible, really. Seriously, how do you lose this?
If you ask most players their favourite way to win, most would respond with tactics and sacrifices, something like a mythical Queen sacrifice that leads to a brilliant forced mate. To play like Morphy, art on the chess board. I won’t lie, I’m one of those people … but a close second is what I call the python, where you suffocate your opponent to death, where they simply have no moves left. Sometimes, this can be even more beautiful than a dashing sacrifice, or at least I think so.
Normally, such a python strategy happens when one side has a lack of space, and then they get slowly squeezed to death. This game is odd in that it quickly opens up, both sides flying across the board … and yet, suddenly Black finds himself with no play, nothing to do and no hope of getting out. The python had him firm, and the result may be my favourite game of 2015.
If you talk to some chess players, you will find some refuse to play the French or the Slav as Black because of the exchange variations, which lead to symmetrical pawn structures and are notoriously drawish.
First off, yes, these positions ARE more drawish than most openings, but that doesn’t apply to most amateurs. If you’re under 1700 or so, the draw is practically non-existent. Here’s what does happen regardless of rating: the pawn structure is symmetrical, piece development is generally symmetrical and the game is pretty colourless. Not the most fun chess positions.
As I approach expert level, I’ve become keenly aware of the drawish tendencies of these positions. It’s very hard to win a game without any imbalances, and that’s true regardless of how much I may out-rate my opponent. In this game, I reach such a position and do my best to give myself winning chances in a dead-equal position. Continue reading →
My opponent in this game is Gringo, long-time blog reader. He offered a challenge, I accepted and the result is what you see here. I can’t play against everyone who comments, but I’ll do my best, and I promise to analyze each game. Best to do it now, because once I become a GM I’ll be charging money for this.
I’m joking. Maybe.
In this blog, I’ve said repeatedly that the opening doesn’t matter and you don’t need to study it. That’s true… and yet I won this game in 17 moves because of my opening. What gives? Some openings work much better at amateur level than professional level. Most gambits, for instance, and systems like the Alekhine or Pirc score significantly better by those under 2000 rating.
I think the inverse is also true. That is, there are some openings that masters play and do well with that are nonetheless not suitable for amateurs. Any opening that leads to a solid but passive position is inherently dangerous at lower levels. That’s basically what happened here. Gringo got a normal QGD position, but he doesn’t have the requisite skills to play it properly. I don’t think I have those skills. I think the QGD is a terrible opening, but anyway, let’s take a look. Continue reading →
Let me start by saying this: I was in a bad mood, chess-wise, during this game, and so I was going to attack his King no matter what. Today, we get to see an attacking game. Is this the best strategy? No, but sometimes you need to play chess for fun as well as improvement.
The game itself is surprisingly sound, all things considered. The attack isn’t unfounded, and I still improve my position in my normal positional way. What’s important in this game, I feel, is how I thought on each move. That is, once the attack started, I was analyzing potential threats and sacrifices every move, several ply deep. I didn’t stop until I found what worked, and then I dove it.
This analysis, then, will share exactly how I think during an attack. It’s short and sweet, so let’s have a look. Continue reading →
The game I’m about to share isn’t especially interesting. My opponent made a silly mistake, losing a pawn, then a sillier mistake, losing a piece. That’s about it.
Rather than trying to explain advanced strategy or positional nuances behind unforced blunders, I have instead annotated this game for beginners. It has lots of commentary, few variations and a constant stream of what I’m thinking on most moves as well as my goals. I hope it’s useful for you improving players.
There’s a familiar phrase, “Pressure makes diamonds.” And it’s true. You take some ugly rocks, put them under intense pressure for millions of years and boom, you’ve got some pretty diamonds. At the same time, as I tell people whenever I can, “Yeah, pressure makes diamonds, but it also makes balloons pop.”
What can I say, I’m a cynical optimist.
Coming back to chess, I have a long-standing theme on this blog: most amateur games are decided by blunders. You can win a heck of a lot of games just by looking for enemy mistakes. Now, if you just sit there and do nothing, your opponent might blunder, but he or she probably won’t. Just like anything else, blunders can be created.
Of course, you can’t physically force your opponent to blunder, but you can make it much more likely. If you are under pressure, you start thinking different, you start to worry, you start feeling the danger, and then blunders follow almost automatically. In today’s game, I do exactly this, making a single attacking thrust and then having my opponent contort into a ball out of fear.