Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The initiative

Older players will likely still remember the time when we could beat the best engines available. I never experienced that myself. I started to play regularly chess at the age of 14 and while I quickly improved, I never could catch up in the 90ties with the engines. From 2000 onward only topgrandmasters could still challenge a computer but around 2006 this also ended. After that the engines kept on improving at a steady pace. For an amateur it became increasingly difficult to detect the differences between the engines. Nowadays I see many chessplayers don't search anymore for the best engine and are satisfied with an engine of which they know that it can beat any human in the world.

It is indeed irrelevant to have the best of the best for just a blunder-check. Only a few will also try to discover the little nuances in a game. Today the top-engines have become so strong that they can find in the most complex positions very quickly the right track and beside can not only maintain an initiative stubbornly but also increase it methodically. Last summer I had multiple favorable positions in the Open Brasschaat of which I had no clue about what I should do. A first example is against the 15 year-old Marie Dgebuadze. After a small mistake of Marie I obtained a very nice position but then I didn't push through. The engine demonstrates with accurate play that I hesitated too long which allowed Marie to neutralize my initiative.
[Event "Open Brasschaat 2de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Dgebuadze, M."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r5/3rq1pk/1p2p2p/2p1Pp2/p1Pn1PP1/P2RQ2P/1P4B1/3R2K1 b - - 0 32"] [ECO "A90"] [WhiteElo "1890"] [BlackElo "2269"] [PlyCount "8"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [CurrentPosition "2r5/3rq1pk/1p2p2p/2p1Pp2/p1Pn1PP1/P2RQ2P/1P4B1/3R2K1 b - - 0 32"] 32... g6? {(I choose for solidity but hereby I miss an opportunity. After fxg4 there is a hole on e4 and the h-line opens but white can't profit from it. Contrary black will be able to infiltrate via Qh4 and set up a dangerous attack on the f-file by doubling the rooks.)} (32... fxg4! 33. Qe4+ Kh8 34. hxg4 Rf8 35. Rf1 Qh4 36. f5 Rdf7 37. Re3 exf5 38. gxf5 {[%eval -123,41]}) 33. Qf2? {(The right plan but the wrong sequence.)} (33. gxf5! gxf5 34. Qf2 Rg8 35. Kh2 Qd8 36. Rg1 h5 37. Bf1 =) 33... Rdd8? {(It is more complicated but again fxg4 is very strong. )} (33... fxg4! 34. hxg4 Rf8 35. Be4 Qd8 36. Kh1 Rdf7 37. f5 exf5 38. gxf5 Rxf5 39. Bxf5) 34. Rg3? {(Also white doesn't play again the right move-order so first gxf5 is necessary.)} 34... Rc7? {(Indeed I don't dare to play fxg4 and I don't get any new chance afterwards.)} (34... fxg4! 35. Rxg4 (35. hxg4 Rf8 {(This menaces Rxf4 with a double attack of the knight on e2.)} 36. Re1 Rf7 37. Be4 Rcf8) 35... Nf5 36. Re1 Rd4 37. Be4 Rxc4) 35. gxf5 gxf5 36. Kh2 {(White is first on the g-file. A draw became inevitable which occurred 10 moves later by a perpetual check.)} 1/2-1/2

I couldn't achieve more than a draw at the end. However int he second example it went even more sore. If you check the rating of the 25 year-old Yago De Cuyper then you find out that I should win easily as +500 difference is a massive gap. Nevertheless during the game this wasn't the case at all. Again I get the upper-hand in the middlegame but also here I hesitate which allows my opponent to counter-attack. I was shocked especially when the engine showed me how a few moves were needed to convert my initiative into a clear advantage.
[Event "Open Brasschaat 6de ronde"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "De Cuyper, Y."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "6r1/1b2qk1p/pp1bpn2/3p1p2/1P1P1Np1/PNRBPPP1/2Q2KP1/8 b - - 0 29"] [ECO "A80"] [WhiteElo "1770"] [BlackElo "2269"] [PlyCount "28"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [CurrentPosition "6r1/1b2qk1p/pp1bpn2/3p1p2/1P1P1Np1/PNRBPPP1/2Q2KP1/8 b - - 0 29"] 29... Rd8? {( I feared a4 with a5 next. I counter this threat but due to it I miss a brilliant combination. It also didn't help me that I only had 10 minutes remaining on my clock.)} (29... gxf3! 30. gxf3 h5 31. Bf1! (31. a4 h4 32. gxh4 Ne4+ 33. fxe4 Qxh4+ 34. Kf1 Bxf4 35. exf4 Qh1+ 36. Ke2 Rg2+ 37. Kf3 Qh3#) 31... Ne8 32. Nc1 h4 33. Ncd3 hxg3+ 34. Kg1) 30. Nc1 Kg8 31. Nce2 Kh8?! {(I lose track of the right plan completley. My king isn't safer at all on h8 instead of f7.)} (31... Kf7! 32. Qb1 {( Qc1 is also of course a possible route to h1.)} 32... Rh8 33. Qh1 h5 34. Qh4) 32. Qc1 Re8 33. Qh1 Qf7 34. Bb1?! {(First Rc1 to switch immediately to the h-file is stronger.)} 34... gxf3?! {(This exchange only solves the problem of the double g-pawn and on top frees the h3 square for white.)} (34... Rc8! 35. Qh6!? Rxc3 36. Nxc3 Bc8! 37. Bd3 Kg8 38. Qg5+!? Qg7 39. Qxg7+ Kxg7 40. Na4 b5 41. Nc5 Kf7 42. Bc2 {[%eval 55,45]}) 35. gxf3 Rg8?! {(I didn't realize yet how bad my position was otherwise I would've tried to pull the breaks with Rc8.)} 36. Nd3 Qe8 37. Qh4 Qg6?! {(I panic with less than 2 minutes on the clock remaining. The position became already very difficult for me.)} (37... Nd7! 38. g4 fxg4! 39. Nc5 Rg7 40. Nxb7 Be7 41. Qh6 Nf8 42. Rc7 Bh4+ 43. Qxh4) 38. Nef4 Qg7 39. Rc1 Qg5 40. Qxg5 Rxg5 41. Ne5 Rg7 42. Nxe6 Re7 43. Bxf5 {(White is 2 pawns up and also has the attack. My position is completely lost and I considered for several minutes resignation. How it is possible against somebody 500 points rated lower? How I won from this position is a miracle but not relevant for this article.)} 0-1

It was a miracle that I still won the final position but this has no relation with the initiative so would only digress us. More interesting is to check if there are some symptoms in my game which explain these failures. Why can't I maintain the initiative against these "weaker" players?

The question was raised to me if I don't practice sufficiently tactics. I did miss some hidden motives which caused me to not consider some moves. On the other hand at I maintain for some time already a 3100 rating which puts me at the top of the Belgian players so I don't think I am worse in tactics than others. I also got the advice to study more Dutch games so I get acquainted to common combinations in this opening. I have more than 20 years experience with the Dutch so I think that I can consider myself an expert in the Dutch. Therefore I do dare to claim that the examples shown are not standard at all.

No in both examples I hesitated to push my pawns on the king-side as there are always risks connected to it. I couldn't properly evaluate it so I chose to wait. Very often the apple falls from the tree by itself or you get a better and easier opportunity. In above games it didn't happen this time so I spoiled the advantage.

By the way I am definitely not the only one having this problem. Recently I was at the other side of the board sitting. The Belgian FM Roel Hamblok got a winning initiative in the interclub against me with a clever game-preparation but it wasn't trivial to convert it into a win. White hesitated to sacrifice any material and just chose normal developing moves which allowed me to fight back in the game.
[Event "Chesspirant - Deurne"] [Site "?"] [Date "2019.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Hamblok, R."] [Black "Brabo"] [Result "0-1"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1k1r1b1r/p1pq2p1/1pn1bp2/1B1p1p1p/NP1P4/P3P3/2P1NPPP/R2QK2R w KQ - 0 12"] [ECO "A80"] [WhiteElo "2290"] [BlackElo "2301"] [PlyCount "23"] [EventDate "2010.04.20"] [CurrentPosition "1k1r1b1r/p1pq2p1/1pn1bp2/1B1p1p1p/NP1P4/P3P3/2P1NPPP/R2QK2R w KQ - 0 12"] 12. Qd3?! {(After the game Roel told me that he made good usage of my blog. Not only had he read that I would probably play this line but he also learned to work with Leela. However to win this won position isn't easy as you need to sacrifice a piece on c5 for some long-term attack which isn't every-bodies cup of tea.)} (12. Nc5! bxc5 13. bxc5 Ka8 14. c4 Rb8 15. Qa4 Rxb5 16. cxb5 +- {(Material is only equal. However Leela and Stockfish consider the attack of white decisive but I don't find it so simple yet.)}) 12... Qd6 13. Nc5 Bc8 14. O-O {(Too slow. More powerful are c4 or first Na6.)} (14. Na6+!? Ka8 15. c4 dxc4 16. Qxc4 Bxa6 17. Bxa6 Nb8 18. Rc1) 14... Ne7? {(Of course I realized that my position wasn't good and I had to do something urgently against the threats around my king. Ne7 is a standard move in this line but the engine sees it differently and better as often.)} (14... Ka8! 15. Na6 Nb8 16. Nxb8 Kxb8 17. c4 dxc4 18. Bxc4) 15. Rab1? {(White hesitates again but I admit that the complications after Na6+ aren't easy.)} (15. Na6+! Ka8!? (15... Kb7!? 16. a4 c6 17. c4 cxb5!? 18. c5 Qd7 19. Rfc1 Ka8 20. cxb6 Bxa6 21. Rc7 Qxc7 22. bxc7 Rd6 23. axb5 +- {[%eval 257,17]}) 16. c4 dxc4!? (16... c6!? 17. c5 Qd7 18. cxb6 cxb5 19. Nc7+ Kb7 20. Rfc1 axb6 21. a4 Kb8 22. a5 +- {[%eval 248,16]}) 17. Bxc4 h4!? 18. Rfd1! h3!? 19. g3 c6 20. b5! +-) 15... Ka8 16. Na4?! {(The engine still recommends Rb2 with some small advantage but I don't think any human can discover such moves.)} 16... h4 17. h3?! {(Roel has lost all his advantage and now needs to be careful himself. C4 is more energetic.)} 17... g5 18. Ba6 Qc6?! {(The refined Qd7 is stronger.)} (18... Qd7! 19. Nac3!? Bxa6 20. Qxa6 Rg8! 21. Kh1 Bh6) 19. Bxc8 Nxc8 20. b5? {(White needs to advance the a-pawn as quickly as possible and this is only possible by first moving the knight.)} 20... Qe6 21. Rfc1?! {(White wants to push the c-pawn but fails. Again Nb2 is the best chance still with the idea of a4.)} 21... Nd6 22. Nb2 Nc4 23. Nxc4 {(White offered a draw as he realized his advantage disappeared. However meanwhile I figured out that I could start to hope for more so I declined and continued the game.)} 0-1

I earlier warned in my article sacrificing for the dangers of it. You often are left empty handed when the attack doesn't win immediately. Correct sacrifices demand a high degree of precision to make them work. So I understand perfectly why Roel preferred to slowly build up his position instead of making some gambles. It did however let the initiative fade away.

The volatile character of an initiative only leaves a window of opportunity open for a limited time. Between 2300 and 2800 there is a big gap of playing strength. How you manage an initiative is definitely a key-element of it. Some books learn players to think out of the box and to look beyond the risks but likely talent has the final word.


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