Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grabbing material

Sacrificing pieces is something very common in our games. Gambits remain very popular at amateur-chess but even in top-games we see little respect for material. A couple of days ago Kramnik played a brilliant game filled with sacrifices against the strong German grandmaster Matthias Bluebaum see e.g. here. Or what to think about the Chinese grandmaster Wei Yi beating a week earlier the Russian top-grandmaster Vladimir Malakhov with an ingenious exchange-sacrifice see e.g. the newsreport at

Technically and psychologically the task of the defense is difficult so it often pays to sacrifice material even if it is not fully correct. A theme which is closely related to this is grabbing material. I don't speak just about answering gambits offered by the opponent but rather when you discover that pressure/ initiative can be converted into a material-gain. Will you choose to get the dividends by grabbing the material? Or will you wait and hope for more by playing double or nothing?

An initiative is often temporarily. If you don't succeed to transform it into something tangible like material or structure then you risk staying empty handed. However a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush isn't always so unambiguous in chess. I experienced this a couple of months ago. The game against Frederic Verduyn was already covered in the article chesspub but this time I only look at the phase where I decided to pick up a pawn.
[Event "Interclub KBSK - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Verduyn, F."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A84"] [WhiteElo "2200"] [BlackElo "2304"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r2rk1/p2q2pp/1p1pp3/3n1p2/P1nP4/2PN2P1/Q2BPP1P/2R1R1K1 b - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "12"] [CurrentPosition "2r2rk1/p2q2pp/1p1pp3/3n1p2/P1nP4/2PN2P1/Q2BPP1P/2R1R1K1 b - - 0 19"] 19...Nxd2?! { (This very concrete decision was rightly questioned. I wanted to avoid any new tricks with Nc5 and didn't see how to improve my position any further. Nevertheless a more quiet approach with Qf7 promises more although it remains hard to control the position for black.) } 20.Qxd2 Qxa4 21.e4 fxe4 22.Rxe4 Rfe8 23.Qe1 Qd7 24.c4 Nf6 25.Re2 { ( Black is a pawn up but white in the meantime was able to get his pieces activated. In the end the game was drawn.) } *

In hindsight it was probably more clever to not go for the pawn and just maintain the positional-advantage. However there are no guarantees here because if you don't understand how the advantage should be nurtured then it can quickly go downhill.

Another example of this theme popped up in my most recent interclub-game against David Roos. Also that game was already published here see scholar's-mate. I zoom at move 18 when I decided to grab an exchange.
[Event "Interclub Zottegem - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Roos, D."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C23"] [WhiteElo "2100"] [BlackElo "2299"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4r1k/1pp3bp/p1nqn1p1/3pPb2/1P6/2PP2QP/P1BNN1P1/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 18"] [PlyCount "9"] [CurrentPosition "r4r1k/1pp3bp/p1nqn1p1/3pPb2/1P6/2PP2QP/P1BNN1P1/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 18"] 18...Qxe5?! { (I presumed that Bxe5 was stronger but I could not calculate everything so chose for simplicity sake to grab the exchange.) } ( 18...Bxe5! { (Probably my clock also played a role as we were both running out of time.) } 19.Qe3 { (Objectively the best if we trust the engines. However I was only afraid of Qe1 and Qh4 in the game.) } 19...d4 { (A human player would not allow such simple refutation. It shows again how different we play compared to the engines.) } 20.Nc4 Bh2+ 21.Kh1 dxe3 22.Nxd6 Bxd6 23.Bxe3 g5 $19 ) 19.Qxe5 Nxe5 { (D3 hangs so white decides to give up the exchange.) } 20.Rxf5 gxf5 21.d4 Ng6 22.Ng3?! { (Pity as after Nf3 it was still a very serious challenge to win with black. I guess the strange blunder can probably best explained by the difficulty of the position, a lack of time and insufficient concentration.) } 22...Nxd4 0-1
In the end it probably didn't matter much. Fact is that after winning the exchange that the win is not easy if white doesn't blunder. Waiting with picking up the material looks more efficient and is also practically much stronger.

In my most recent rated game I managed to overcome my materialistic demons. I ignored one material gain after the other (including even a piece) and scored my most convincing win ever against Robert Schuermans. I am pretty happy about that as I had to win with black to become club-champion of Deurne.
[Event "Klubkampioenschap Deurne r9"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Schuermans, R."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C36"] [WhiteElo "2145"] [BlackElo "2299"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2k1rbr1/ppp2p1p/2n1qB2/8/2bP4/2P5/PP3RPP/R2QN1K1 b - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "19"] [CurrentPosition "2k1rbr1/ppp2p1p/2n1qB2/8/2bP4/2P5/PP3RPP/R2QN1K1 b - - 0 19"] 19...Bh6 20.Nc2 Rg6 21.Bh4 Qe4 { (I could take the pawn on a2 but I prefer not to lose time.) } 22.Qh5 Bd3 23.Bg3 f5 { (Of course grabbing the piece at c2 wins. However I noticed correctly that f5 is also playable and besides much harder to counter when you have not much time left on the clock.) } 24.Rf4 { (White collapses but the position is anyway beyond repair.) } ( 24.Qd1 Be2 25.Qb1 f4 26.Bh4 Rg4 27.g3 Rxh4 28.gxh4 Rg8+ 29.Rg2 Qxg2# { (I had calculated this line during the game.) } ) 24...Bxf4 25.Re1 Be2 26.Rxe2 Qxe2 27.Qxf5+ Kb8 28.Qxf4 Rxg3 { (This exchange-sacrifice was not necessary but I knew that this would force resignation. This victory was my best ever against Robert.) } 0-1

At the end of the game I was up so much material that I could afford to sacrifice an exchange to force resignation. Beside Robert had no time left anymore while I still had a half hour. In the game we see all the advantages of waiting to grab material and adding systematically pressure.

The opponent loses a lot of time to find solutions for the ever growing problems. Often we see that there is much more material to collect. Practically this strategy is very efficient but in practice it is not so frequently used in comparison to gambits. Psychologically there exists today wrongly a large difference of perception between sacrificing material and not grabbing material for the same less visible advantages.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Pawn structures

Each of my students has its own repertoire. In my lessons I don't try to persuade them to learn other openings. I only made 1 exception when we discussed the theme "material and time". Using a very interesting and unknown idea in the mainline of the Evans-gambit I tried to stimulate my students to get less attached to material and focus more at keeping the initiative.

So normally I don't teach about openings. There are enough good opening-books in which you can study something quickly which is sufficient for playing a nice game as clubplayer. Besides specializing into an opening is very time-consuming and it makes no sense without using the best engines (see studying openings part 2).

Nevertheless it is good not to restrict yourself solely to looking at games within your own repertoire. Not seldom an idea of another opening can be used in your own openings. Many openings have similar pawn-structures so same ideas can pop up. The American grandmaster Grigory Serper wrote recently 2 inspiring articles how to study master chess games and more lessons from master games. Another big step forwards is Chess structures A grandmaster guide written by the Chilean grandmaster Mauricio Flores Rios and published in 2015.
In 22 chapters the author described the most important pawn-structures and the standard-plans connected to them. Maurio tells us in the introduction that he missed this book when growing up as player to grandmaster. So he found it about time to change this. It is no bragging as I read at chessexpress.blogspot that also other players were for many years searching for such type of book.

I expect that the book is most interesting for players between 2000 - 2300 elo. In that segment you should build up a more serious repertoire so the knowledge of the different pawn-structures becomes valuable. But also for higher rated players there is still something to learn. I agree with the review at New in Chess from the strong British grandmaster Matthew Sadler that the chapter about the Hedghog from white's perspective is very informative. I already scored some good results from having learned the attacking-scheme with Qc1 see below online blitzgame.
[Event "Rated game, 3 min"] [Site "Main Playing Hall"] [Date "2016.09.28"] [White "Deurne21"] [Black "Naderghanbari"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B41"] [WhiteElo "2197"] [BlackElo "1933"] [PlyCount "51"] [EventDate "2016.12.13"] [SourceTitle ""] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. c4 Qc7 6. Nc3 Nf6 7. a3 b6 8. Be3 Bb7 9. f3 Be7 10. Qd2 O-O 11. Be2 d6 12. O-O Nbd7 13. b4 Rac8 14. Rac1 Qb8 15. Rc2 Bd8 16. Kh1 Bc7 17. Bg1 Rfd8 18. Rb1 Qa8 19. Na4 Nf8 20. Qc1 {(An idea which I picked up from the book Chess Structures A Grandmaster Guide.)} h6 21. c5 dxc5 22. bxc5 b5 23. c6 Bxc6 24. Nxc6 bxa4 25. Nxd8 Rxd8 26. Rxc7 1-0
So we can detect in our openings many connections. Strong players will often be able to adopt ideas in an opening which they saw from another opening. However it is not always that simple. A couple of years ago I met with white a Caro Cann. Black only 1700 elo knew the standard pawn-sacrifice of this pawn-structure and got a good game.
[Event "Klubkampioenschap Deurne r9"] [Date "2013"] [White "Brabo"] [Black "Francois, P."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "1730"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r3k2r/ppqnbpp1/2p1pn1p/7P/2PP4/3Q1NN1/PP1B1PP1/2KRR3 b kq - 0 16"] [PlyCount "58"] 16... b5 17. cxb5 cxb5 18. Kb1 O-O 19. Ne5 $146 {(An interesting novelty but it does not impact the evaluation of the variation.)} (19. Nf5 $5 exf5 20. Rxe7 Ne4 $6 { (I mainly looked at this move but Qd6 is also playable and probably even better.)} 21. Rc1 $6 {(Qxb5 looks risky after Rac8 but seems anyway possible and black has rather little compensation for the gambit.)} Qd8 (21... Qd6 22. Bb4 $132) 22. Bb4 a5 $6 {(Ndc5 seems to work and is somewhat stronger.)} 23. Qxb5 axb4 24. Rxd7 $14 {(I had calculated this at the board but due to 20... Qd6 I chose anyway to play 19. Ne5 instead of 19. Nf5.)}) 19... Nd5 20. f4 Rfc8 21. Rc1 $5 {(Here and the next move I looked for a long time at Nxf7 which leads to approximate equality.)} Qb7 22. f5 Nxe5 23. dxe5 Bb4 24. fxe6 fxe6 25. Ne4 Qe7 $6 {(Black is willing to sacrifice again the b-pawn but this time there is not so much compensation. Rxc1 would keep the position closer to equal.)} (25... Rxc1 $1 26. Rxc1 Bxd2 27. Nd6 Qb6 28. Qxd2 b4 29. Qe2 Qe3 30. Qxe3 Nxe3 31. Nc8 $11) 26. Bxb4 Nxb4 27. Rxc8 $6 {(The less pieces on the board, the less chances black can succeed with his dangerous attack. However losing the control of the c-file is here more important. Therefore stronger was immediately going for the b-pawn.)} (27. Qxb5 $1 Nd5 28. Qa6 $5 Rd8 29. a3 $5 Rab8 30. Ka1 $5 Nf4 $1 31. Rc3 $14) 27... Rxc8 28. Qxb5 $6 {(I miss a line in my calculations as now white gets into troubles. Stronger was Qd6.)} Qc7 29. Nc3 Rb8 $2 {(After the game Pascal sent me a mail about that he missed here a strong move. I fully support his view.)} (29... Nd5 $1 30. Rc1 {(Qb3 is an option but no fun either.)} Qxe5 {(I only took Nxc3 into account and completely missed that my e-pawn drops. Beside black has also first Rb8 and only next to capture e5 as white can not play Qe2 due to Nxc3.)} 31. Qd7 Nxc3 32. Rxc3 Qe1 33. Kc2 Qe2 34. Kc1 Rf8 35. Rf3 Rb8 36. b3 Qxg2 37. Qxe6 Kh8 38. Rc3 Qh1 39. Kb2 Qxh5 40. Qe7 Qh2 41. Rc2 Qg1 $15 {(White has some drawing chances but black can put pressure.)}) 30. Qe2 Qb7 31. Rd1 Rf8 $2 {(This gives a pawn away which ends the game. Qf7 offers stiff resistance. )} 32. Qc4 Qe7 33. a3 Nd5 34. Nxd5 exd5 35. Qxd5 Kh8 36. e6 Re8 37. Re1 Rd8 38. Qe4 Rd6 39. g3 Rb6 40. Ka2 Qf6 41. Re2 Qe7 42. Qf5 Kg8 43. Ka1 Rd6 44. Qg6 Qf8 45. e7 1-0
Only recently I discovered while analyzing one of my games that I could have played the same type of pawn-sacrifice but in a completely different opening: the Ilyin-Geneveky variation. The move I played wasn't bad but for sure b5 was more critical. The resulting position is very sharp especially for white.
[Event "Interclub Chesspirant - Deurne"] [Date "2017"] [White "Verhelst, J."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A85"] [WhiteElo "2083"] [BlackElo "2304"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rn3rk1/pbppq1pp/1p2pn2/5p2/2PP4/2BBPN2/PPQ2PPP/2KR3R b - - 0 10"] [PlyCount "23"] 10... b5 $5 {(I played in the game Ne4. However I like the move of the engines more. It reminds me of a similar idea in the Caro Cann.)} 11. cxb5 $6 {(C5 is recommended but is no fun of course to play.)} (11. d5 $6 bxc4 12. Bxf6 cxd3 13. Qxc7 gxf6 14. Qxb7 Nc6 15. Kb1 Rab8 $1 16. Qc7 $15) 11... a6 12. a3 axb5 13. Bxb5 Rc8 14. Kb1 $5 Be4 15. Bd3 Na6 $1 16. Ne5 c5 17. Qe2 d6 $1 18. Nc4 Rcb8 19. Bxe4 Nxe4 20. Be1 d5 21. f3 dxc4 $15 *
I never thought about this concept in the game. In the meanwhile I did apply the same theme already successfully a couple of times in similar positions of the Ilyin-Geneveky variation online.

It is often necessary to learn long strings of moves to survive an opening. However not less important are knowing the big schemes of the most common pawn-structures. Many players have no clue what they need to play after the opening. " Chess Structures" won't offer always an answer of course but it is today the best medicine to improve the chances by spending little time.