04 February 2016

A Dubious Line

A French Miniature

Blitz may serve as training for testing ideas that arise in the course of study. As noted yesterday, I have been going through all of the French Defense, Steinitz variation games ever published in Chess Informant. One line that caught my eye leads to an imbalance of three pawns for a knight. In a blitz game this afternoon. I gave it a go.

Unfortunately, my opponent missed the critical line. Instead of taking my knight and letting me have three pawns, he gave me a one pawn advantage. My pieces came to life and created concrete tactical problems for my opponent. I won a miniature instead of gaining the experience sought.

Internet Opponent (1805) -- Stripes,J (1799) [C11]
Online Blitz, 04.02.2016

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Qb6?!

When I played this move over-the-board several years ago, I usually was made to suffer.

8.Na4 Qa5+ 9.c3 cxd4 10.b4

My opponent used 23 seconds on this move. That is a lot in a three minute blitz game.


White to move

Recently, I have looked at more than two dozen games in Chess Informant with this line. White scores better than average, but the positions are interesting and double-edged, so I thought I would try it in a blitz game. My move took nine seconds, but had been a plan in the back of my head when I played 7...Qb6.


Immediately. my opponent failed to find the correct reply.

11.cxb4 Bxb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.Nxd2 b5 14.Nb2 Nc5 15.Bd3 0–0 16.0–0 Qb6 17.Rf3 Bb7 18.Kh1 f5 19.Nb3! Nxb3 20.axb3 Rac8 21.Qe2 a6 22.Rg1 Rc3 23.g4! fxg4 24.Rxg4 Rc1+ 25.Kg2 Bc8 1–0 Kortschnoj,V -- Gurgenidze,B, USSR 1967, Informant 4/224.

11.Nxd4 Nc6 and Black has the edge.


11...Nc6–+ is better. My move is the second choice of Stockfish 7. The rest of my moves match the computer's first choice--evidence that the lines are forcing and replete with elementary tactics.


12.cxb4 Bxb4+ 13.Kf2 Black has a better game.

12...Nc6–+ 13.Qb3

13.Rc1 Ba3 (13...Qxa2 14.Nd3)


13...Ba6 is Stockfish's top choice for the first half minute of analysis. My choice moves to the top when it reaches a search depth of 22 ply.

14.Nxd4 a6

I considered 14...Ba6.

15.Nc6 Qc7 16.Nb4

16.Nd4 seems a little better.

16...Nc5 17.Qc2 Ne4 

White to move


18.Rc1 After the game, in the effort to understand how matters collapsed for my opponent, I thought that Rc1 might hold. Then I found the nasty pin.

18.Rc1 is the engine's top choice. 18...Qxc3+ 19.Qxc3 Nxc3 20.N2d3 (20.Rxc3 is far worse 20...Bxb4–+ and this pin is too much for White.) 20...Ne4–+ White has nothing for the two pawns; Black has no problems.

18.a3 is worth considering.

18...Bxb4 White resigns 0–1

My opponent's novelty did not lose immediately, but it made his position vastly more difficult.

03 February 2016

A Batch of Games

I was lucky to get a draw against an underrated youth player in late summer 2014 in the Spokane Falls Open. Happily, this same event went much better for me the following summer (see "Winning an Open"). Against the youth player, we reached this position after a couple of minutes and then I started to rush matters and handed him a long-term initiative through inaccurate play. In the end, he did not see his winning chances and fought hard for a draw while I sought an elusive win. Eventually, kings were all that remained on the board.

Black to move

This position is a typical position in ECO C11*, the Steinitz variation of the French Defense. My game against the underrated youth was not the first time that I had steered too close to the ditch in this variation.

Weaknesses become strengths when training is guided by deliberate practice (see "Hanging Pieces"). When Chess Informant's Paramount Database arrived, I browsed through some its features. Of immediate interest was a list of the openings that had in excess of 500 published games through the first 123 volumes of Informant. There have been 588 games in C 11!

Naturally, I set out to quickly run through all of them. Some days I have raced through thirty games. Other days, I am too busy with other things to look at any from this set. A few times, I have forgotten which game I left off with and have gone through a batch that I had seen a few days prior.

When I have finished all 588 games and pick up any of my opening monographs on the French Defense, the reference games for the Steinitz variation shall be familiar. This morning I am on Nijboer -- Visser, Hoogeveen 2002, Informant 86/284. It is game 392 in the list of 588.

*ECO Code is a trademark of Chess Informant.

29 January 2016

Mamedyarov -- Caruana, Tata Steel 2016

Can Fabiano Caruana catch Carlsen?

With three rounds to play, Fabiano Caruana stands one-half point behind Magnus Carlsen in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. In today's games, Carlsen has White against Hou Yifan. She opted for a Petroff Defense, which often functions well as a drawing weapon. Caruana has the Black pieces against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and played the Sicilian Defense. Mamedyarov opted for the Alapin variation.

When I awoke this morning, the games had been going for nearly two hours. My morning begins with making coffee, feeding dogs, and creating the beginning of this blog post. Once I am caught up with the action in the Netherlands, I will attempt to follow the games live and record my observations here through frequent updates.

Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar (2747) -- Caruana,Fabiano (2787) [B22]
78th Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee (11), 29.01.2016

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.Nf3 e6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 d6

White to move


The fourth most popular move with just over 300 games in my database. Mamedyarov asks Caruana, "just how deep is your preparation in this line that is new to both of us?"

7.Bc4 leads in popularity.


A few dozen reference games. Only one with a player above 2600.

8.dxe5 Nb4

Sam Shankland has played this move.

9.Be4 Qxd1+ 10.Kxd1 Nd7

Reference Game:
Fruebing,Thomas (2187) -- Shankland,Samuel L (2539) [B22]
Dresden ZMD op 20th Dresden (1), 06.08.2011
10...N8a6 11.a3 Nc5 12.Nc3 Nxe4 13.Nxe4 Nd5 14.Nd4 Bd7 15.Bg5 h6 16.Bh4 Rc8 17.Rc1 Rxc1+ 18.Kxc1 Nf4 19.Bg3 Nd3+ 20.Kc2 Nc5 21.Nc3 Be7 22.b4 Na4 23.Ne4 0–0 24.Rc1 Nb6 25.Nc5 Bxc5 26.bxc5 Rc8 27.Kb3 Nd5 28.Kb2 Bc6 29.Kb3 Kf8 30.a4 a6 31.h4 Ke7 32.Bh2 h5 33.g3 Kd7 34.Bg1 Kc7 35.f4 Ne7 36.Rc3 Rd8 37.Bf2 Be4 38.Rc1 Nc6 39.Kc3 Rd5 40.Nxc6 Rd3+ 41.Kc4 Kxc6 42.Rb1 Ra3 43.Rb6+ Kc7 44.Rd6 Rxa4+ 45.Kb3 Ra1 46.Bd4 Rb1+ 47.Bb2 Bd5+ 48.Kc2 Be4+ 49.Kb3 a5 50.Ka2 a4 51.Rd4 Re1 52.Bc3 Re2+ 53.Rd2 Bd5+ 54.Kb2 Re3 55.f5 a3+ 56.Kc2 Be4+ 57.Kb3 a2 0–1

White to move

There are still four games in my database with this position.

11.Bd2N a5 12.a3 Nc5 13.axb4 Nxe4

Black has created a minor piece imbalance.

14.Be1 b6 15.Nc3 Nxc3+ 16.Bxc3

White could undouble his pawns, but that would give Black a passed pawn and White's c-pawn would be backwards. The doubled b-pawns have strength.

16...a4 17.Nd2 Bb7 18.f3 Bd5 19.Kc1

Black to move

19...b5 20.b3 a3

Caruana has a passed pawn, but any hopes it cherishes of promotion are in the distant future.

21.Kb1 Be7 22.Ka2

The king blockades the passer, freeing White's rook for action.

22...O-O 23.Rac1

Black to move

Caruana has a achieved a middlegame with dynamic prospects to create winning chances.

I was looking at 23...Ra4 to pile on the b4 pawn, but 24...Bxb4 25.Bxb4 Rxb4 drops the a-pawn. Bad ideas are the curse of the class player. On the other hand, keeping the a-pawn on the board ties down one of Black's rooks. What else can he do?

23...Rfc8 24.Nb1 Bg5

Attack the rook. That's what Black can do.

25.Bd2 Rxc1!

Mamedyarov was ahead a few minutes on the clock until the amount of time that he spent on this position. While he thought, I looked at some tactical threats that Black might have in mind. Once I concluded that they did not work, they were played rapidly on the board.


Black to move


That's the move I was looking at!

27.Kxb3 a2 28.Na3

When I found this move, I concluded that Black's combination failed. Somehow I overlooked that White's bishop on d2 was now undefended and that losing the a-pawn did not eliminate all of Black's winning chances. There are other vulnerable pawns in White's position. On the other hand, Black must watch his back rank.

28...Bxd2 29.Ra1 Bf4 30.h3 Bxe5 31.Rxa2 Rb8

White to move


Nxb5 is threatened.


Black can block a check, so the pawn is safe for now. With most of White's pawns on light squares, the bishop has few targets. But the crucial pawn is on a dark square. The pawns for both players on the kingside are mobile. In this position, the bishop is still a better piece that the knight.

Black is one pawn ahead.

33.Rc6 Be7 34.Rc7 Bf8

34...Bd6 might lead to a repetition, but one repetition gets closer to the time control.

35.Ra7 g6

Black's king gets some air.


Black to move

Black cannot keep the b-pawn.


But, an active rook is essential in this endgame and White has other pawns that can be threatened. Will Black be forced to give up the bishop to stop White's b-pawn?

Hou and Carlsen are still playing, but the commentators think that it is headed to a draw.

37.Rxb5 Rd2 38.Rb8

Black to move


This move may have been necessary. If 38...Rxg2 39.Rxf8 Kxf8 40.b5 and White's pawn will promote.

39.Nc4 Rxg2 40.b5 Rg1 41.Rxf8! Kxf8 42.b6

Black to move

Uh-oh. Caruana is in trouble. How will he stop that pawn? Caruana will be fighting for a draw. Meanwhile, Carlsen continues to force Hou to play chess. That game is not drawn yet.

The commentators are convinced that Black must play 42...Rd1. It seems to me that 42...Rg5 might be worth considering. In any case, Caruana is using a lot of time to think. His tournament hangs in the balance. If he cannot draw this game, Carlsen will be out of reach.

After a little more than 30 minutes:


White's king and knight will work together to try and prevent the rook's exchange for the pawn.

43.Kb4 Rg1

Now Mamedyarov is thinking. Watching the live video feed, I see Wei Yi stop by to look at the game, Then Carlsen came by. This game is drawing some interest. It is a significant game for the final standings, and it is also an interesting ending.


White keeps the rook off b1. Now what can Black do?

44...Rd1 45.b7 Rxd2 46.b8Q+

Black to move

White must win this ending. Or, can Black construct a fortress?

46...Kg7 47.Qe5+ Kg8 48.Qb8+ Kg7 49.Qe5+ Kg8 50.Qb8+ 1/2-1/2

I am surprised at this draw. But perhaps Black could have created a fortress with his king on g7 and the rook shuffling among d5, f5, and h5. On the other hand, in such a position White would checkmate with king on e7 and queen on f8. The fortress might not be possible.

Carlsen won his game. Caruana falls a full point behind the leader.

27 January 2016

Tata Steel Chess 2016, Round Ten

Caruana Closes the Gap!

I like blogging Grandmaster games while watching them live on the internet, but it can be exhausting. This morning, I considered blogging Navara -- Mamedyarov in this manner. They are playing in the Tata Steel Masters that is holding today's round in the Railway Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands. After the first six moves, the players reached a position that I had in one of my most memorable games (see "Pawn Wars").

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.c3 a6 5.Ba4 d6 6.d4 Bd7

White to move

I was playing for a draw because I was tired from the prior round and inadequate sleep the night before, because I was playing the highest rated player in my city, and because I did not feel that I understood the position very well after 3...g6. Also, with a draw, I would finish in a tie for second place in the tournament. After liquidation of most of the pieces, my opponent and I brought our rooks to the open file and repositioned our knights. We repeated the position once, and then my opponent struck with a pawn break that we both thought should favor him. We were wrong. I won the game and finished in second place alone. That tournament pushed my rating over 1900 for the first time.

David Navara castled here and the game was drawn after a short fight that concluded in a rook endgame with two pawns each. I am sure that the game would have been instructive to follow live.

The game of the day, however, must be Caruana -- Wei. When the round began, Fabiano Caruana trailed Magnus Carlsen by one point. Carlsen drew his game against Anish Giri and Caruana beat Wei Yi.

The Tata Steel Masters shares an exciting feature with the K-12 section of the youth tournament that I ran on Saturday. In the youth tournament, three players finished with 4.0/5. The second seed beat the first, but lost to a newcomer. The first seed beat the newcomer. In Tata Steel, Navara beat Caruana, but lost to Wei, who then lost to Caruana.

Caruana's win brought him one-half point closer to Carlsen with three rounds remaining. Caruana faces Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Loek Van Wely, and Evgeny Toashevsky. Carlsen has yet to play Hou Yifan, Wesley So, and Ding Liren. Perhaps Caruana's remaining games are slightly easier, especially as Tomashevsky seems out of form.

I wrote most of these annotations without reference to the commentary before watching the two minute postgame interview with Caruana. After watching that video, I added two quotes to my annotations. Most of my variations seem worse for Black than in the game. I have not checked any part of the game or variations with an engine.

Caruana,Fabiano (2787) -- Wei ,Yi (2706) [C83]
78th Tata Steel GpA Utrecht (10), 27.01.2016

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Nxe4
It is logical for Black to take an unprotected pawn, with the idea that while White is recapturing it Black gets a stake in the center. The chief disadvantage is that Black's position becomes a trifle loose. Nick DeFirmian, Modern Chess Openings, 13th ed. (1990), 27. 
5...Be7 is the most popular move. Wei's choice was slightly more popular in the nineteenth century, and was a favorite of Victor Korchnoi in the 1960s and 1970s.

6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3

9.Nbd2 is second most popular. The effort to gain the two bishops with  9...Na5 runs aground to  10.Nxe4 Nxb3 11.axb3 dxe4 12.Ng5 Qxd1 (12...Bd5 13.Qe2 and Black is losing a pawn; 12...Bd7?? 13.Qd5+-) 13.Rxd1 Bf5 when Black's other weaknesses more than compensate for the two bishops.

9...Be7 10.Bc2

"A rare move." Caruana

10.Nbd2 is played vastly more often; 10.Re1 is also popular.


This sharp move appears in sixteen games in my database. White has done well.



Black to move


Wei spend over 40 minutes on this move.

11...Bxf3 wrecks White's kingside pawns 12.gxf3 Nc5 13.f4 Qd7 14.Qf3 Rd8 15.Rd1 f5 16.Be3 Qe6 17.Nd2 0–0 18.Nb3 Na4 19.Rab1 Rd7 20.Kh1 g6 21.Bd3 Bh4 22.Bf1 Rdd8 23.Bg2 Ne7 24.Nd4 Qf7 25.Qe2 g5 26.Rg1 c5 27.Nf3 Ng6 28.fxg5 f4 29.Bd2 Qf5 30.b3 Nb6 31.Rbe1 Rfe8 32.Bf1 d4 33.cxd4 cxd4 34.Ba5 Qe6 35.Rg4 Rd5 36.Qd2 Nd7 37.Nxh4 Ndxe5 38.Bg2 1–0 Polgar,J (2540) -- Huebner,R (2620), Munich 1991.

12.g4 Bg6 13.Nd4!N

Caruana's novelty appears to create problems for Black that are more difficult to solve than the loss of a pawn. The bishop on g6 may be vulnerable to a pawn storm, for instance. It is instructive that White's king seems impervious to attack even with all of the kingside pawns marching forward.Caruana has still been playing extremely fast, spending only a few seconds per move. According to the move times at ChessBase News, his longest move time up to this point was 35 seconds for 9.c3.

13.Bb3 wins a pawn 13...Na5 14.Bxd5 c6 15.Bxe4 Bxe4 16.Qxd8+ Rxd8 17.Nbd2 Bd5 18.Re1 h5 19.Ne4 hxg4 20.hxg4 Nc4 21.Kg2 Be6 22.b3 Nb6 23.Be3 Nd5 24.Kg3 f6 25.Bc5 f5 26.Nd6+ Bxd6 27.exd6 Kd7 28.Ne5+ Kc8 29.Nxc6 f4+ 30.Kg2 Ne3+ 31.Kg1 Bd5 32.Ne7+ Kd7 33.fxe3 Rh1+ 34.Kf2 Rh2+ 35.Kf1 Bf3 36.Ng6 Be4 37.Ne5+ 1–0 Fischer,R -- Olafsson,F, Havana 1966.


13...Nxe5 14.f4
13...Nxd4 14.cxd4

14.f4 Nxd4 15.cxd4

Black to move


This move seems forced.

15...h6 16.f5 Bh7 17.Bxe4 dxe4 18.d5.
15...f6?? 16.f5 Bf7 17.e6+-.

16.Be3 0–0 

16...fxg4 17.hxg4.


Black to move


The critical error, according to Caruana.

17...Nxc3 18.bxc3 may give Black better chances than in the game. White has more space and a passed pawn on the e-file.

18.Bxe4! dxe4

The e-pawns are both passed!

18...fxe4 19.f5 Be8.

19.d5 b4

19...cxd5 20.Qxd5+ Qxd5 21.Nxd5 Bd8.

20.dxc6 Qxd1

20...Qxc6 21.Qd5+ Qxd5 22.Nxd5 Bd8.

21.Nxd1 Rfd8 22.Rc1 Rd3

White to move

23.Bc5 Bd8

23...Bxc5+ 24.Rxc5.

24.e6 Rc8

24...Bc7 25.Nf2 Rf3.

25.e7 Ba5 26.gxf5 Be8


27.Nf2 Rd5 28.Nxe4 Bxc6 29.Bxb4 Bxb4

White to move

30.Rxc6! Re8

30...Rxc6 31.e8Q+ Bf8 32.Qxc6.

31.f6 Rd4

31...gxf6 32.Nxf6+ Kf7 33.Nxd5 Bxe7 34.Rc7.

32.Re6 1–0

Standings after ten rounds.

26 January 2016

Smashing the Berlin Defense

Tata Steel 2016, Round 9

The Berlin Wall variation of the Spanish (or Ruy Lopez) has been popular since Vladimir Kramnik employed it in his World Championship match against Garry Kasparov in 2000. Most games in this line have ended in draws, but not often quick draws. After the queens come off, the game reaches an immediate endgame, or perhaps a queenless middlegame, depending on how one defines the endgame. Black has a queenside pawn majority with doubled c-pawns. White has a slight lead in development.

The Berlin is rich in positional subtleties. If both contestants play accurately, the game will end in a draw. Small errors lead to decisive results.

This afternoon I won a blitz game from the Black side. My opponent created a phalanx of center pawns, but that gave me 3-2 on the queenside and 2-1 on the kingside. When my queenside pawn majority lured his king that direction, a breakthrough on the kingside led to a pawn promotion.

In the Tata Steel Chess Tournament this year, there have been no Berlin Walls and few Berlin Defense games. Then today, a novelty was played in relatively new line against the Berlin that keeps the queens on the board. This novelty was played in two games. Fabiano Caruana played it first against Sergey Karjakin. Karjakin played accurately and the game was drawn when it was clear that all the pawns would be consumed.

Wei Yi, who claimed the novelty was opening preparation, played the novelty a few minutes after Caruana. His opponent, David Navara, did not play Karjakin's move and was swiftly punished.

Wei,Yi (2706) -- Navara,David (2730) [C65]
78th Tata Steel GpA Wijk aan Zee NED (9.3), 26.01.2016

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3

I saw this move in Hou -- So in round two and immediately became excited, recalling that I had seen an article in Chess Informant 126 concerning the d3 Spanish. I checked the journal that morning, however, and discovered the article focused on 6.d3 after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7. Here, it is a little different. Even so, the intent may be similar.
[I]t's a very practical move for White as it assures easy development and stability in the centre. Thus many sharp lines, including the popular Marshall Attack are avoided.
Emanuel Berg, "Mirroring, The d3 Ruy Lopez: A Test of Patience," Chess Informant 126 (2015), 75.
Against the Berlin, it avoids the Berlin Wall. The move was played as early as 1836 but is a distant second in popularity to 4.O-O.

4...Bc5 5.Bxc6

This move first appears in my database in a game played in 1982. There are 567 games with more than 200 played in 2014 and 2015.

5...dxc6 6.Nbd2

Wei mentioned Anand while discussing this line. According to my database. Anand played this move in 2012 and again in 2013 against Kramnik. He won the second game and then drew Magnus Carlsen when he played it in their World Championship.

6...0–0 7.Nc4

Six games 2009-2011 and then quite a few more in 2012. Anand played it in his win against Kramnik.


White to move


8.O-O has been played at least 26 times. As near as I can discover from my database, 8.Qe2 was first played in 2010. There are three games that reached this position in my database, two from 2015. After Black's next move, however, a fourth game joins the selection, Anand -- Giri, Grand Slam Masters 2015.

8...Re8 9.Bd2 Bd6 10.h4N

The novelty played in two games today!


Karjakin played 10...Nf8, which Wei said in his postgame interview was the correct move.

11.h5 h6

This sensible looking move creates a weakness that might be exploitable by a pawn storm. As White planned to castle queenside anyway, it might be deemed an error.

12.0–0–0 Nb8

Black's knight maneuver is too slow. Even relative beginners can observe that White has a significant lead in development having completed the essential opening tasks of mobilizing minor pieces, advancing the center pawns, lifting the queen from the back rank and castling to connect the rooks. In addition, Wei has already thrust forward one of his kingside pawns.

With opposite side castling, both players should storm the castled kings with pawns. Black, however is not prepared to support his pawn storm, while White's pieces are well-coordinated. White, thus, has a substantial strategic advantage, but how will he break through tactically?

White to move 

13.Rdg1 Nc6 14.g4 f6 15.g5 fxg5 

White to move


It is much easier to sacrifice a piece when part of the opponent's forces remain in the bleachers. Black's queenside cannot be mobilized in time to protect the king. In this position, the knight sacrifice appears the only way to continue the attack. The attack is coming fast. Even White's other knight--the piece furthest from the action--is mobilized for the assault on Black's king.


A zwischenzug before capturing the knight.

17.Qd1 hxg5

The computer prefers 17...b5

18.Bxg5 Be7 19.Be3

Yasser Seirawan asked whether 19.Bh6 could be played here. Wei thought it might be as good, but Stockfish 7 finds Wei's move vastly superior to 19.Bh6.


White to move

20.h6 Re7 

20...g5 was considered during the commentary and again in Wei's postgame analysis. A possible continuation might be 21.Bxg5 Bxg5+ 22.f4 Ne6 23.fxg5 Nxg5 24.Qh5+-.


21.Qh5 is strong.

21...Rxg7 22.Qh5 Be6

White to move


I would probably take a more direct approach if I had such a nice position.

23.Qh8+ Kf7 24.Rxg7+ Bxg7 25.Nxe5+ Bxe5 These moves would have been easy to calculate, but White is ahead two pieces and there is not a checkmate in sight. Even so, with some time to think, it should be possible to see that White can win the bishop with a small tactical maneuver. 26.Rh7+ Kg6 27.Rh6+ Kf7 28.Qxe5 when White has two pawns for the knight. In addition, Black's king remains vulnerable to attack and his rook is still sitting in the stands watching the battle.

Wei's practical decision to exchange pieces into an endgame with a decisive material advantage is good enough.


23...Qe8 leads to a similar position. 24.Bxg7 Qxh5 25.Bxf6+

This discovery and the same move in the position reached in the game offers an instructive lesson for my young students. 25...Kf7 26.Rxh5 Ne2 27.Kd2 Nxg1 28.Bxe5 Nf3+ 29.Ke3 Kg6 30.Rh1 and White is ahead two pawns, but at least Black's rook can come out to play.

24.Bxg7 Bxh5 

White to move

25.Bxf6+ Kf8 26.Bxd8 Ne2+ 27.Kb1 Nxg1 28.Bxc7 1–0

This game will be my lesson of the week for my advanced students. My beginning students this afternoon saw the two instructive positions that Navara offered in his postgame analysis of Sunday's win (see "Navara -- Caruana, Tata Steel 2016").

24 January 2016

Navara -- Caruana, Tata Steel 2016

At the Tata Steel Masters Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, David Navara assisted Magnus Carlsen today. After an opening novelty, Navara maintained pressure against Fabiano Caruana throughout the game. Caruana had several opportunities to maintain equality, but his position proved difficult to play and Navara won a nice ending.

Vasily Smyslov has been credited with the assertion, "I will make 40 good moves and if you are able to do the same, the game will end in a draw." After winning the World Championship, Magnus Carlsen stated that his plan had been to make "40 to 50 good moves in every game" ("Magnus Carlsen: My goal was to play 40 to 50 good moves in every game").

Emanuel Lasker made a strong impression upon me with his annotations to his loss against Harry Nelson Pillsbury in Nuremburg, 1896. He was honest about his own mistakes. Also, in the critical middlegame position, he noted that he had presented a problem to Pillsbury.
Black wants to set White a task. The situation merits attention. Black has a pawn plus, an immediate danger is not apparent. If White does not threaten, Black fortifies his position.
Lasker's Manual of Chess (1947), 247.
Mulling over this statement, I developed the understanding that a chess player's job was to set problems for the opponent. If all of these problems are solved well, the game should be equal and the result may end in a draw. Navara managed to set problems for Caruana. The first problem resulted from an error, but Caruana missed his chance for an advantage. Then, Navara's pressure led to further inaccuracies and a difficult position. Even the, perhaps Caruana could have held until a critical error in a difficult position. Once he had a clear adantage, Navara demonstrated precise technique.

Navara,David (2730) -- Caruana,Fabiano (2787) [E39]
Tata Steel Masters Wijk aan Zee (7), 24.01.2016

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 0–0 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6 7.g3 Nxc5 8.Bg2 Nce4 9.0–0 Nxc3 10.bxc3 Be7 11.e4 d6 12.e5 dxe5 13.Nxe5 Qc7 14.Qe2 Nd7 15.Bf4 Nxe5 16.Bxe5 Bd6 17.Rfe1 Rb8 18.Rad1 Bxe5 19.Qxe5 Qxe5 20.Rxe5 b6 21.c5 f6 22.cxb6 axb6

White to move


23.Re4 e5 24.Rb4 Be6 25.Rd6 Kf7 26.Ra4 Ke7 27.Rc6 Bd7 28.Ra7 Ra8 29.Rcc7 Rxa7 30.Rxa7 Kd6 31.Rb7 b5 32.Bf1 Rc8 33.Bxb5 Bxb5 34.Rxb5 Rxc3 35.Rb7 g5 36.Rb6+ Ke7 37.Ra6 f5 38.h4 ½–½ Ankit,R (2494) -- Khademalsharieh,S (2378), Doha QAT 2014.

23...Kf7 24.f4

"I miscalculated." Navara

I found Navara's postgame commentary interesting. It is available on Livestream for those who missed the broadcast. He describes his feelings during the game (annoyed with Caruana's inaccuracies), lines that he calculated for both players, and several fantasy positions that could be included in instructional collections for beginners. Yasser Seirawan conducted the interview.

24...e5 25.fxe5?

25.Bd5+ is still equal 25...Kg6 26.Be4+ f5 27.Bc6 e4 28.Rd6+ Kf7 (28...Kh5 29.Bb5).

25...Bg4 26.e6+ Kg6

26...Bxe6 27.Rde1 Rfe8?

Analysis diagram
After 27...Rfe8?
28.Rxe6 Rxe6 29.Bd5+- a line for the tactics books for beginners, according to Navara.


Black to move


"Maybe that was too ambitious?" Seirawan
"Yes." Navara

27...Kh6 28.Rde1 Bxe2 29.Rxe2 Rbc8 30.Bd5 Rc7 (30...Rxc3? is not possible (Navara) 31.e7 Re8 32.Bf7) 31.c4 and perhaps White has compensation for the exchange. Black at least would be the one pressing for advantage.


28.Rd6? Rf6 Navara and Black is better.

28...Bxe2 29.Rd6+ Kg5

29...Rf6 30.Rd8 Bb5 31.Bd5 "Black is completely dominated." Navara

Stockfish 7 thinks the position is equal after 31...Rb7 32.Bxb7 Kf7 33.Rd5 Bc6 34.Bxc6 Rxc6 35.Rxf5+ Kxe7.

30.exf8R Rxf8 31.Bd5 Rf6 32.Rd7 Kh6 33.Kf2

This position should be equal

33...Bb5 34.Rc7

Black to move


34...f4 "looked logical to me." Navara 35.g4 Bd3 (35...g5 36.Be4).

35.c4 Be8 36.Rc8 Bd7

36...Ba4 "still fine" Navara 37.Ke3 Kg5 38.Rc7 (38.Kd4 Rh6 "My pawns become weak." Navara) 38...Rd7 39.Rxd7 Bxd7 should be a draw. Black can exchange bishop for queenside pawns and f-pawn for White's g-pawn and White's bishop is on the wrong color squares.


Navara had been happy to make a draw up until this point, but now felt that had some chances. Objectively, the position may be equal, but Black's position is unpleasant. Neither player's errors so far have been fatal

Black to move

37...Kg6 38.Ke3 Kf6 39.Kd4 

39.Rf8+ Ke5 40.Rf7 Be6= Navara.


White's pieces seem a little more active

40.Rg8 Rg6 41.Ke5

"I hoped to put Black into zugzwang. It's not so easy for him to make a useful move."

Black to move


Caruana played correctly, according to Navara.

41...h5 initiates another line that Navara offered for the beginner's books. 42.Rh8 Rg5 43.Bf3 Be8?? (43...f4+)

Analysis diagram
After 43...Be8??
44.Rxe8+ Kxe8 45.Kf4+-


Navara considered 42.Rh8 Rh5 43.h4 Rh6 44.Rg8 Rg6 45.h5 Offering Black a chance to go wrong. Rg5 (45...Rxg3?? 46.h6 Re3+ 47.Kf4 Rh3 48.Rxg7+ Kd6 49.Rxh7+-).


42...h5? 43.Bf3 Be8 44.Rxe8+ Kxe8 45.Kf4 Rg4+ (45...Rg6 46.Bxh5) 46.Bxg4 fxg4 47.Kg5+-.

43.Rh8 Rh6 44.h4 Be6 45.Ra8 Bd7 46.Rh8 Be6 47.a4

Black to move


47...Bxd5 48.cxd5 Rh5 49.Kf4 Rh6 50.Kxf5 and White has a promising rook ending.

48.Ra8 Rg6 49.Ra7

Black to move


Finally, Caruana makes a significant error.

49...Kd8 50.h5 Rh6 51.Bf3 g5 seems equal.


50.Bc6 Rd3 "should be fine for Black." Navara.

50...bxa5 51.c5 Kd8

51...Rg6 52.c6 Rd6 53.cxd7 Rxd7 54.Rxa5+- (54.Rxd7+= wrong bishop).


Preventing the rook's return to g6.

52...f4 53.Kd6 Bc8 

53...Rd3 54.Rxd7++-


Black to move


54...Rd3 55.Rxg7 (55.c7+ Ke8 56.Ra8 Rxd5+ 57.Kxd5 Kd7) 55...Rxd5+ 56.Kxd5+-.

55.Bf7 1–0

Checkmate is coming.

Chess is a game. Even a top player forced to play for several hours in an unpleasant position may eventually crack and give the game to the other player.

23 January 2016

Caruana -- Ding, Tata Steel 2016

After six rounds, three players shared the lead. Two play each other in round seven. Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, and Ding Liren shared first place with 4/6. In round seven, Caruana -- Ding was an important game.

Caruana won the game!

I was not able to follow this game live due to responsibilities as the tournament director for a youth chess tournament. Hence, I did not even know the result until the end of a long day.

I will annotate this game during the off day, Monday 25 January and then update this post.

22 January 2016

Carlsen -- Tomashevsky, Tata Steel 2016

A London Model Game

Magnus Carlsen does not have an ambitious opening repertoire. Rather, he consistently reaches a playable middlegame outside of any deep opening preparation of his opponent and then plays chess until there are no resources left in the position. Today, he employed the London System against Evgeny Tomashevsky and won an instructive game.

This position merits inclusion in middlegame collections, such as can be found in books like GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2001)by Rashid Ziyatdinov, and Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book (2000).

White to move

All of the pieces remain on the board and chess engines regard the position as approximately equal. Nonetheless, according the the World Chess Champion, Black has already committed the error that will give him a very uncomfortable game. The novelty was played by White on move 11 and this position is after Black's move 12.

This morning I opted not to blog while watching the games live, deviating from my practice through the first five rounds of this year's Tata Steel Chess Tournament. I watched as many games as I could and watched most of the game commentary. My inclination had been to blog Hou Yifan's game against Wei Yi. Hou has been playing well in this tournament (Wei Yi's game against Carlsen was my focus in round three). That game would have been an excellent choice. She seemed to get an adavnatge and was pressing, but Wei found some clever defensive resources. That game was the last one to finish. As the games began and I made coffee, fed the dogs, and turned on my computers, I also grew interested in Wesley So's battle with Fabiano Caruana. They played the Italian Opening and all the bishops left the board by move 12. As several of my students routinely play this opening, that game could prove instructive for their lessons.

There were several other exciting games that the commentators moved among. Today, IM Robert Ris joined Yasser Seirawan as co-host; Ris conducted the postgame interviews. He seemed particularly excited about Carlsen's game, mentioning that the London System is something that he recommends to his students. In the fantasy variations that he and Seirawan played out on the analysis board, there were many instructive checkmate combinations, including one with White's knight on h8 to cover f7 while a queen and rook battery on the h-file do the rest.

After the broadcast concluded, I watched two videos on Chess.com: Maxim Dlugy, "Best Blitz Openings: The London System," and Eugene Perelshteyn, "Gems from the 2012 US Championship -- Part 2." Armed with quick analyses of two of Gata Kamsky's nice wins with the London System, I played a couple of games of blitz. I was able to use the London system as White twice and once as Black, going 3-0 in these games.

Here, then, is Carlen's inspiring win.

Carlsen,Magnus (2844) -- Tomashevsky,Evgeny (2728) [D02]
Tata Steel Chess Wijk aan Zee (6), 22.01.2016

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4 b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.h3

Tomashevsky faced 5.Bd3 in another loss 5...c5 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.c3 0–0 8.Qe2 Nc6 9.a3 Rc8 10.e4 d6 11.0–0 Qc7 12.h3 e5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 dxe5 15.Bh2 Rcd8 16.Nc4 b5 17.Nxe5 Bd6 18.f4 c4 19.Bc2 Rfe8 20.Rad1 Ba8 21.Bg3 Qc5+ 22.Kh2 Bf8 23.Bh4 Be7 24.Bg3 Qb6 25.Rfe1 Qe6 26.Rxd8 Rxd8 27.Nf3 Nh5 28.Nd4 Qg6 29.Qf3 1–0 Radjabov,T (2784) -- Tomashevsky,E (2738) Moscow RUS 2012.


Already, Tomashevsky is starting to burn time, using 3.5 minutes for this move.

6.Bd3 0–0

Black used 3 minutes

7.0–0 c5 8.c3 Nc6

The Russian champion used more than five and one-half minutes for this move. Carlsen's longest move time so far was 64 seconds for 5.h3.

One of Kamsky's wins continued 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 Nc6 10.a3 d5 11.Nbd2 Rc8 12.b4 Bd6 13.Ne5 Ne7 14.Qa4 a6 15.Rac1 b5 16.Qb3 Ne4 17.Qb2 f6 18.Nef3 Bxf4 19.exf4 Qd6 20.g3 g5 21.fxg5 Nxg3 22.gxf6 Rxf6 23.Rxc8+ Nxc8 24.fxg3 Qxg3+ 25.Kh1 Rh6 26.Nh2 Qxd3 27.Ndf3 Nd6 28.Qc1 Nf5 29.Qc7 Rg6 30.Rg1 Rxg1+ 31.Kxg1 Qe3+ 32.Kf1 Qd3+ 33.Kf2 Qe3+ 34.Kf1 Qd3+ 35.Kg1 Qe3+ 36.Kh1 Qf2 37.Qb8+ Kg7 38.Qxb7+ Kg6 39.Ne5+ Kg5 40.Nhf3+ 1–0 Kamsky,G (2762) -- Leko,P (2732), Beijing CHN 2012.

White to move


9.a3 has been playd by Kamsky and others.


Nearly ten minutes thinking time for Tomashevsky on this move.

10.Qe2 Bd6

This position appears in 22 games in my database. Tomashevsky used fifteen minutes for this move.


In the highest rated precedent, 11.Bxd6 was played. 11...Qxd6 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.e4 White nursed a small edge, but did not find a win in Potkin,V (2646) -- Kurnosov,I (2676), Moscow 2010 (drawn in 62 moves).


The beginning of a faulty plan.

While watching, I was thinking about 11...Bxf4 12.exf4 cxd4 13.Nxd4 (13.cxd4 Qd6 14.f5 exf5 15.Bxf5) 13...Nxd4 14.cxd4. There may be a reason that Tomashevsky rejected such ideas.

12.Rad1 Ng6

See diagram at top of article.

After the game, Carlsen suggested that this move was misguided as it gives White firm control of e5.

13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.Bxd6 Qxd6 15.Ne5

Black to move

There are probably dozens of books on my shelves that discuss the merits of such a fine knight outpost, but I usually think about Peter Romanovsky, Chess Middlegame Planning, trans. Jimmy Adams (1990).

15...g5 16.f4!

Carlsen's pawn sacrifice elicited a good deal of excitement among the broadcasters and on Twitter.

16...gxf4 17.Rf1

Black to move



Ris and Seirawan concluded that Black could not open the f-file in this manner. Stockfish 7, however, considers it among its top three choices. Later, after the knight returned to f6, this Nd7 move was criticized. Stockfish prefers it.

18.Rxf6 exd2

18...gxf6?? 19.Qg4+ Kh7 20.Rf1 e2 21.Qxe2 Ba6 22.Qh5+ Kg7 23.Rf4 Be2 24.Qh4 Bd3 25.Qxf6+ Kg8 and checkmate is a few moves away. Carlsen said that he didn't need to calculate much in considering these possibilities, as he always has a draw by repetition.

19.Rxd2 Qe7 20.Rf4 White has plenty of compensation for the pawn.

18.Qh5 Nf6

18...Nxe5 19.dxe5 Qc7 20.Rxf4 f5 21.Rh4 Qxe5 22.Ne4

Analysis Diagram
After 22.Ne4
22...Qxe4 (22...dxe4? 23.Rd7 checkmate in two) 23.Rxe4+-.

19.Qh4 Qd8 20.Rxf4 Ne4 21.Nxe4 

21.Ndf3? Qxh4 22.Rxh4 and suddenly Black is better.

Black to move


Only move

22.Rxh4 dxe4+-

And the rest is a matter of technique, as they say. Studying Carlsen's technique will help the developing player.

23.dxc5 bxc5 24.Rd7 Rab8 25.b3 

Black to move

Black is very nearly in zugzwang.

25...a5 26.Rc7 a4 27.bxa4 Ba8 28.a5 Rb7 29.Rxc5 Ra7 30.Nc4 1–0

Carlsen joins Caruana and Ding Liren in first place after six rounds.

Standings after six rounds.