Monday, March 13, 2017

Pawn breakthroughs

Parents often ask me at youth-tournaments where they can find a coach for their child. They like to get a more individual coaching for their ambitious children and most chessclubs can't offer that. The easiest must be googling the internet as skype permits you to bridge any distance. You can find a long list of coaches at The Belgian FM Hans Renette is among them.

However paying courses don't guarantee necessarily better quality. A curriculum, certificate,.. won't tell you everything. At the Amercian IM and coach Jeremy Silman gives us some tips. A grandmaster is an overkill for a beginner. After a few courses you must get an idea if it is interesting or not for yourself. Dare to swap coaches if you are not satisfied (anymore) of the courses. Be realistic about the objectives.

I am not a coach but I do give some courses to a small group of elite-players in KMSK. In my lessons we look at the themes of the stepmethod but I adopt my own interpretation. Some of my students are very ambitious so it is real challenge for me to offer them something interesting. At the start I had my doubts to be able to show them something new but it quickly became clear there was not need for such dark thoughts. Practically 100% was new for them. Some of my students have more than 2000 ratingpoints so I hadn't expected that.

One of the themes I discussed during the last months was pawn breakthroughs which pops up in the book of step 5. Spending a couple of hours preparing my lesson I managed to create quite an interesting addition to what the book tells us. I started with a curious pawn endgame which immediately tested the calculating powers of my students. Everybody in the group was familiar with the 3 against 3 pawns exercise but not with the problem shown below.
[Event "4 pawns"] [Date "2016"] [Round "?"] [White "?"] [Black "?"] [Result "1-0"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/4pppp/8/4PPPP/k7/8/K7 w - - 0 1"] [PlyCount "11"] {(Most players know the pawn endgame of 3 against 3. This is more difficult.)} 1. h5 gxh5 2. e5 f5 (2... hxg4 3. exf6 g3 4. f7 g2 5. f8=Q) 3. gxf5 h4 4. f6 h3 5. f7 h2 6. f8=Q 1-0
I had to help them a bit before they found the right unique solution. Anybody understood immediately my advice. In pawn breakthroughs you can't gamble but you must be prepared to calculate accurately variations.

A second exercise introduced my students to a completely different segment of pawn breakthroughs. In the step-book nothing is mentioned about it but piece-sacrifices often precede pawn breakthroughts. This time I wanted to check who follows the current chess events. I consider this something natural for ambitious students but only 1 of them was able to vaguely remember the next position which popped up in a recent high-class game played at the London Chess Classic 2016.
[Event "London Chess Classic 2016"] [Site "London"] [Date "2016.12.10"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2779"] [BlackElo "2804"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r3k1/1p3ppp/8/P1n2P2/4B1P1/2B4P/KPP1R3/3r4 b - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "8"] 29... Re8 {(A serious mistake especially for a 2800 player.)} 30. Bf3 Rxe2 31. Bxe2 Rc1 32. Bf3 Rxc2 33. Bxb7 {(I guess black must have missed this piece-sacrifice.)} (33. Bxb7 Nxb7 34. a6 Re2 35. axb7 Re8 36. Be5 $18) 1-0
Sometimes I hear the remark that toplevel-chess is very different from amateur-chess. Well to counter this I also showed 2 examples from by own practice against the type of opponents my students can also expect. The first one is a fragment from a game which already was used in my article correspondence chess.
[Event "Open Plancoet 5de ronde"] [Date "2003"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Gicquel, F."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2274"] [BlackElo "2139"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "5rk1/1pr1p1b1/p3p2p/Pn2P1p1/R2P2P1/1N2B2P/1P3P2/RK6 w - - 0 28"] [PlyCount "15"] 28. Nd2 {(White has more than one way to win the game but this one I like.)} Rfc8 29. Ka2 Rc1 30. Rxc1 {(Black infiltrates but I had well calculated in advance that white is much quicker.)} Rxc1 31. Rc4 Rh1 32. Rc8 Kf7 33. Rb8 Rxh3 34. Rxb7 Rh4 {(I assume black missed my piece-sacrifice but the position is anyway beyond salvation.)} 35. Rxb5 1-0
Not easy was the verdict to see the theme in this position. The second example on the other hand was much easier to solve. Another fragment of the same game was shown in foods and drinks part 2.
[Event "Open Gent 2de ronde"] [Date "2016"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Barbier, Wiebke"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C41"] [WhiteElo "2314"] [BlackElo "2037"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r2k1/6p1/1ppNRn1p/p7/P1P2r2/1P3P1P/6P1/3R2K1 b - - 0 26"] [PlyCount "14"] 26... b5 {(Black is desperately seeking counter-play but this allows a pawn breakthrough.)} 27. axb5 cxb5 28. c5 Rf5 29. Rc1 Rd5 30. c6 {(I had found this piece sacrifice a couple of moves earlier. It is not difficult as my students also saw the idea immediately.)} R5xd6 31. Rxd6 Rc8 32. c7 Ne8 33. Rd8 1-0
This convinced my students of the importance to know that piece-sacrifices often precede pawn breakthroughs. I assume this course lasted more than an hour. My students are asked to search for the solutions which takes each time at least a couple of minutes. The rest of the time I easily fill by talking about all kind of other aspects like current chess events, Fenexcelsior, ....

I won't claim this is a perfect lesson. I have just started teaching so I still need to learn myself how to explain something in the most optimal and didactic way. Anyway I haven't heard any complaints yet although I assume the many interruptions this year due to interclub and tournaments are not so pleasant. My free lessons are held Sunday mornings from 10.15 til 12 at the sporthal den Boemel in Mechelen. Everybody is welcome if you are member of the club (or agrees to become one) at the condition of some minimum level of strength.


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