Author Archive

Winning with Evans Gambit preparation.

Everybody on the Brooklyn64 blog has been too busy with their real lives to blog, so nothing new appeared here for few weeks. Actually, the last post featured my game from the Fide Monday tournament at the Marshall Chess Club , and it will be the game from another round of the very same tournament, played earlier today (if you read between the lies well, you will understand that in between posts my games weren’t that good and I had a bye).

morphy

Great Paul Morphy, one of the mightiest practicioners of the Evans Gambit.

So anyway, this was the 5th round and before this game I had a 2/4 score. I was paired against an opponent with a rating about 70 points higher than mine and I had White pieces. If you look at this game, you will see a few things- White won in 27 moves, and had a big advantage somewhere by move 20. Move 12.Qxa5 is the last move seen in the databases before. There is one thing you will not see recorded in the game below- clock times: White spent less than 20 minutes on all of his moves, while Black took almost the entire 2 hours given to play it (by move 12, at the end of theory, White had spent about 6 minutes, Black about an hour). And that probably is the most important factor here, because White is not winning by the time of 12.Qxa5- the position is playable for both sides- White seems to have an initiative and advantage in development, Black didn’t castle, his king is on f7, his pieces are still on the back rank, but he is up a pawn. So you could say this falls into a typical gambit scenario- it’s an unbalanced position and either side could win it. But when you take the time factor in- advantage of an hour by move 12 (with no extra time added later, after 40 moves), then this is very important. So how did White gain this advantage of an hour, you may ask? It’s simple- he knew all the theoretical moves leading to the position after 12.Qxa5 and Black had to figure them out over the board. This is what you study openings for- to surprise your opponent, not the other way around. If you are past the beginner level, where you should spend time on something else, you should look at the openings you play and narrow down your repertoire. Find the line that works for you (and it’s also good, it doesn’t make sense to play any rubbish), learn it, understand it,  memorize it. Yes, memorize it- spend your time on it so you will not have to spend it over the board. “Learning ideas of the openings” is not enough, it’s too vague and very often you need something concrete. You’re not Magnus Carlsen who will play a non-opening and beat anybody. You can be an ..e5 player and know you will get your Ruy Lopez setup and nothing will happen to you, but what about all the sharp King Gambits, Scotch lines, or the Evans Gambit like here? You really want to be double-checking if your ideas are correct over the board in these sharp lines you’re forced to play? Study openings so you will have middlegames which are good and playable, and you will have time to think there , not in the opening. In no way do I want to criticize my opponent in this game for burning all his time- he was a gentleman and explained he had only returned to chess recently after a long break. Besides being able to see that the preparation worked out, I was glad to see that I maintained the initiative and didn’t make his defensive tasks much easier. 15.Bb2 may be not best, but it’s a sneaky, unpleasant move for Black- the bishop will uncoil on the long diagonal sooner rather than later and become really dangerous. Especially given the clock situation where it’s unclear for Black how to react to this, it’s really an unpleasant position with the clock ticking. My move 23.Qxc3 is obviously crushing, but it would have been nicer to find Qe5 there, which makes Qe7 impossible. Enjoy the game.

Simon

 

Thrilling play in the Classical King’s Indian

Usually at this time (Monday evening, 11 PM) I’m about to finish my games at the Marshall Chess Club in the Fide Monday tournament that I regularly play in. And if it’s a second round, like it was today, more often than not, history shows that it’s a sour loss as I’m paired against a higher-rated opponent. Neither of this happened today- I’ve been at home for almost 2 hours already, and I won my game. What’s a bit funny about it is that I played an opening that before the round I actually had not wanted to play- King’s Indian Defense.  It is one of my main responses to 1.d4 but I had other plans for tonight; with the opening move order used by my opponent however, I decided to transpose to the KID.Gligoric People who know me well are aware that I am addicted to this opening- it’s risky to play it and can require a lot of memorization in some lines, but all attempts to drag me away from it have been futile; I fell in love with this opening many years ago and a cause of big part of that is the book by Serbian grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric ” King’s Indian Defence- Mar del Plata variation”, about the line he first played in 1953,which has become a mainstay in the chess opening theory ever since- a lot of very strong players (including World Champions Tal, Fischer, Kasparov among many others) and amateurs alike have used it as a non-compromise weapon. So this is what it happened to be the opening in my game tonight, and I was actually a bit anxious seeing my opponent play his opening moves very fast, automatically…so I wondered-  how much more of this sharp theory he had memorized than me? Somewhere around moves 13-14 I had to make sure I remembered the move order, but he kept playing without thinking ! We reached the position after 20.Nf2 and I knew it had to be OK for me, despite being down a pawn, but I needed to continue the game in the right direction, because it’s a complicated position and I’m down a pawn against a higher-rated opponent who seems to have seen and memorized this position.LuxRudowski1 I could develop the bishop with Bd7, but I decided it was more important to continue my kingside attack, so I chose 20..Ng6, which would help to advance the h-pawn and bring my knights closer to the holes near his king. White of course has his own play on the queenside , which may be very dangerous for me. Because it’s a race on the opposite sides of the board, slowing down may be fatal- it’s too early after such a complicated game to formulate an exact verdict, but it seems to me that his move 21.Kh1 is just that slowing factor that gives me some valuable tempi in my kingside attack. Well, you can check for yourself how it ended- no heavy commentary from me this time as the game finished just few hours ago- obviously White didn’t play the best defensive moves (28.Nxf4 looks pretty suicidal for example), but still I’m glad that I was able to get the right plan going in a complicated position, complete with an accurate calculation. Perhaps King’s Indian Defense could become your exciting chess adventure, too.

Simon

Puzzle-book move!

I’ve been annotating a high-level Sicilian game for a new post for a while now, but I got jealous seeing everyone else’s winning games being blogged about in the meantime, while I had a disastrous score in my recent games, so I couldn’t show anything- neither the annotated game was ready nor my own game was available…that is, until last week, when I finally won a game in the Commercial Chess League, and it was quite a nice one, especially the finish of it- it’s Black to play and force a win!

AlbanoRudowskiDiscoveredAttack

The thing with all these puzzles is, they may be not that hard when someone tells you that this actually is a puzzle and you’re winning and you have to find that one move in a given position. But during the game there’s nobody standing right by you to tell you that! So it is often possible to miss these chances, especially when the moves aren’t obvious , ‘natural’ reactions (captures etc.), or moves contradicting your common sense which works 99% of the time. So I was glad to spot the winning move here and was stunned for a second- could it really work? After a minute or two I decided it was winning because of the geometry of all the open lines. What helped me was that I had actually been looking at lots of tactics with my students prior to this game, so it was easier ‘to see the light’ .Solving tactics daily helps, listen to your chess doctor! If you’re not seeing it yet, check the game below- no annotations today, just a plain game to replay.

Simon

Game analysis: D.Swiercz- M.Vachier-Lagrave, Gibraltar 2013

The first time I saw this game, on the day it was played- a month ago- I knew I wanted to write about it. But then, upon closer look, I realized that I barely knew what really happened there- it is just very complicated and difficult to understand, especially in the middlegame, especially for me. So I thought that I should write about something else- but none of my own butchered games from 2013 are worth it yet, and the interesting GM games that drew my attention have been commented elsewhere already. And last week I learned from a Polish chess website that D. Swiercz won the prize for the best game of the tournament at Gibraltar for this game ( I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere else, but I would trust their source). So I decided to return to my original idea of writing about it.

To anyone following the major tournaments the two players should need no introduction (and if they do, there’s always Google and Wikipedia!), I’ll just briefly say here that the player with White pieces here is Dariusz Swiercz- a Polish chess prodigy, who in his career has won World Champion titles for the under-18 and under-20 (while himself only 17 years old) age groups already. Maxim Vachier-Lagrave is a Super-GM, the strongest French player, among his many successes the most recent one is the first place at the European Rapid Chess championship.

Dariusz_Swiercz_May_2011MaximVL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The game was played in the 4th round of the very strong Gibraltar Masters tournament, both players had won all of their previous 3 games, so Swiercz remained at 100% after this win. His winning pace plummeted in the later rounds however- he scored only 2.5 points of the remaining 6 games. For Maxime, it was the only loss of the tournament until the tiebreaks for the first place, where he was edged out by Nigel Short; his tournament score after the regular 10 rounds was an impressive 8 points out of 10 games.

So what’s so fascinating about this game, you may ask? Well, if I was the Black player here, with my turn to play at move 18:

Swiercz-MVL

I would think that my plan is to put the following on my to-do list:

– play b4 to kick the White knight out of the c3 square, so it won’t defend d5

-follow-up with d5, the Sicilian break, getting rid of the backward d6 pawn. If White plays exd5, we’ll bring another knight to the center on d5 (since the White knight won’t be controlling d5 anymore), and from there the White queen will be attacked, that has to be good

-play your rook from f8 to e8 so the White queen on the e-file will be blocked by the strong central pawn on e5

-once the c3 knight is pushed away by b4, the c2 square can be attacked by a heavy Black piece placed on the c-file. Our knight from d4 is already attacking that square, and the king is the only defender. Losing c2 seems to be very dangerous for White.

 

In the game, Black did all of the above, ending up a pawn up at the end of this plan, so let’s see the position now, after White’s response to Black’s capture on c2:

Swiercz-MVL2

What’s going on here?! Black has executed his plan, but now he is the one who is in trouble! It’s his move to play , and he is in trouble- there is no way to save a piece, they’re all under fire all of a sudden. The hidden resource White had was his last move before reaching this position- 25.Bf3!. Black’s played 25..Nc3 check here, lost a piece, and the game as a result of this, later. It is very hard to understand how all of this was so possible, Black didn’t seem to be running into any risk while this combination was in progress, in fact in the live video commentary by strong players (GM Williams& IM Krush), which you can see here , the commentators have as much trouble with comprehending the evaluation of the situation on the board as with pronouncing Polish player’s surname.

 

 

 

I put the game with my comments and variations below- I’d be curious to hear your opinions. Hope you enjoy it and till the next post.

Simon

Studying games of the classics to change one’s own amateur assumptions.

Hi guys, it’s Simon, back from a few weeks’ hiatus, I missed writing a lot. I thought about a few different subjects for this post, but after one of my online games this week I decided to discuss a position which comes up in my own games pretty regularly:

twoknightsNh3

 

It’s a position from the Two Knights opening. The last move was 9.Nh3. Now, looking at this position, how many 1800s (and lower) players with Black pieces do you know who will resist their urge to take at h3 and claim they have a huge, probably close to winning, advantage , because of White’s kingside pawns being disrupted? Most of the people I play against take the knight without a second thought. But White’s seemingly vulnerable position has hidden powerful attacking resources- it’s not so much the extra pawn at the moment, but White will boldly castle, put his bishop on f3 and g2, move the king to h1 and the rook to the open file at g1. Then, if Black castles kingside as well, he has to be watchful for all the pins along the g-file, with Bxh6 being an obvious threat. And it’s not of the least importance that White keeps the bishop pair, whereas Black’s knight is clearly misplaced and will take a few moves to return to the game. I don’t mean to claim that White has a huge advantage, I’m far from being dogmatic in my opinions, I’d just say that this is a perfectly playable position for White where he can actually develop a strong attack rather than be attacked. Why am I even talking about this? Because most of the ‘B’ class or lower players will take. Perhaps they should study some classics. I did not write the theory of this. It was first played by Steinitz and later Fischer used it too. Would Mr. “I believe in good moves” play this on move 9 if Bxh3 was giving Black an advantage? In fact, in today’s computer era it’s a move that still comes up in grandmaster chess, but in those games Black actually resists taking the knight on h3, which in fact may be White’s main problem- he has to solve how to bring it back to play. So if you’re looking for alternatives to Ruy Lopez , Two Knights may be an option for you. Just study some classic games.

PS. A bit of shameless self-promotion- just recently I started a website where I can be contacted for chess classes that I offer. So if you’re interested, please check it out here.

 

Reflections on the Empire City Open tournament.

To end 2012 with a bang, I decided to play in  the Empire City Open tournament…I missed OTB chess a bit, having not played for almost a month because of all the December holidays. I finished in the shared second place in the U1900 group with 5 points out of 6 rounds (4 wins and two draws). My goal was to take the first place as I was one of the highest rated players in the group- 7th seed by rating, but two draws came along and I had to accept the second place. Still, it’s a very good result, and this performance is much better than my previous scores at other tournaments in the same rating group earlier this past year (where I also did pretty well). I think it will be useful to share my loose thoughts on how to approach this kind of event and what to do to (almost) win it. My advice may be less useful for players in rating sections other than the 1600-1900 rating group that I played in. There are several issues which I think are important and I’m going to list them below.

1. King safety. 

This may sound trivial to some but I cannot stress enough how important it is. The goal of this game is to get your opponent’s king and to not let them get yours. You should start thinking about this right in the opening- which side do I castle on, what kind of pawn formation will I have in front of my king, which pieces (Nf3, Nc3, something else? )will be protecting the castle that my king lives in ? You have to be serious about it. Once you have a fianchetto formation in front of your king, will you be risking too much of your safety by pushing your h-pawn one square ahead? Are there any nasty back rank mates on the horizon that your opponent is waiting to catch you off-guard with? You have to be super-vigilant about this, because if you want to win your game, you have to not lose it first. Check if your opponent has been equally careful about this- are there any weak squares around their king? Can you prevent them from castling? Can you provoke them to push the pawns in front of their king ? It may seem like I’m spending so much time writing about such an elementary issue that every player has heard of hundred of times, yet I see players failing to take care of their king again and again. These are the positions from my 3 different games with White pieces from this tournament:

                                                                                                                I’d take White over Black in any of these positions looking at kings placement only. I scored 2.5/3 out of these games. Another good aspect of having your king safe is just one less thing to worry about during your game- you can focus on calculating your attacks on the exposed king of your opponent, not the other way around. So keep your king safe, it will make your game easier.

2. Play for a win at all costs.

If you want to win a 6-round tournament, you can’t expect to achieve it with a score of less than 5 points. I scored 5 points out of 6 games and it only earned me a shared second place. So you cannot give points away, you cannot be lazy and agree to draws, your attitude should be to push for a win in every situation. If you have a theoretically drawn rook endgame, play it for an extra hour, there is always a chance your opponent will slip, it’s very easy to do. If you see no way through other than sacrificing material to get a winning chance, you should seriously consider doing that. Players at this level are not computers and most of them don’t defend correctly. In my 3rd round I had already had a draw from the second round when I got this position with Black to play:

 Black is not worse, but he has very little to do- his queen can’t move, neither can his rook from f6, the rook from f8 can move along the back rank but it doesn’t lead anywhere, there aren’t many squares the knight from e7 can go to either. My opponent would have been content with a draw here, but I couldn’t afford that. I decided to risk with 30..Nh5 31.g4 fxg4 32.hxg4 Nxf4 33.exf4 Rxf4 sacrificing my knight for a couple of pawns. There is no direct win in sight and it’s a purely intuitive sacrifice, counting on opening the lines towards the king and pinning the g2 bishop with my heavy pieces along the g-file. I didn’t see a win here, but saw no other way to win. It took a long time for my opponent to make a mistake under pressure of the attack, but he finally did it. I won in another 60 moves. By the way, it’s interesting to see that the point 1- king safety- is relevant here as well- White pawns in front of the king have been pushed ahead and are easy to break with the attacking knight, while the Black ones at g7 and h7 provide excellent security for the king, while the knight from e7 will go to g8 in case of a check from the back rank.

3.Opening preparation.

5P: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. By the time you have reached this rating level, you have most likely developed your own opening repertoire. Work on it, it really greatly helps your confidence to be able to play the first 10 moves in  two minutes without thinking( but knowing what you’re doing, of course) while having your opponent spend 20 minutes on as many moves. When you know the book moves and the main variations that you know are good, you will recognize inferior moves on the spot and then you can stop and think how you want to deal with them. You should know at least the first 10 moves or so in every variation of your repertoire, White or Black (Black perhaps probably deeper than White, because with White there is a broader range of Black’s responses that you have to deal with). Few weeks before the tournament, think about your openings and write down on a piece of paper which ones you need to work on- what have you been recently having problems with ? Before this tournament, I worked out my lines in the Alehkine, Caro-Kann, French and its subvariations, Scandinavian as White and refreshed my main line Accelerated Dragon and Grunfeld lines as Black. None of these openings appeared on the board during the tournament, but I had a pleasant feeling that I was never caught off-guard in the opening because I played book moves in every single one of them. I’m not saying that all of your study time should be spent on finding novelties in the Najdorf from the last Ukrainian Junior Championship, but be accurate within the variations that you have as your own- for example if you play Two Knights variation against the Caro-Kann don’t play secondary stuff like 5.d3 after 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bh5 , etc, etc.

4.Endgames. I’m terrible at endgames and need to work on them the most. I hate when the game reaches that stage and I don’t understand anything. Yet it does happen all the time- all of my games at this tournament went beyond 40 moves and two out of my six games reached R+p vs R+p endgames. And this is where the half-point differences between wins or draws or draws or losses are decided. If I knew anything about the endgame, in this position with White to play:

 I would have considered playing the best move Kc2, understanding that it’s OK to give up the d4 pawn, because the Black rook will not be allowed back into the 3rd rank to attack my queenside pawns which are much more important here. Instead I played the automatic Rg4 and was forced to give up the g-pawn soon and later even got into a lot of trouble having to fight for a draw. So I clearly have to work hard on the endgame if I want to get that extra half-point and I would recommend the same to all of the players rated less than 2000.

 

 

5.Tactics. I don’t need to explain to anybody that it’s necessary to be tactically sharp at all times in these games. There will be positions on the board with opportunities for you that may not happen again in a given game, so you don’t want to miss these. They don’t have to be hair-raising positions from Tal’s games, most of the time these will be seemingly simple positions which you will not find in a puzzle book, but accuracy will make a difference between better and worse result. In my 2nd round game in the following position I was White:

I had just sacrificed an exchange and needed to make time control, but the pressure of the clock cannot be the reason to playing the wrong move. I played 30.Qxe4 without thinking- this is the key problem- not thinking about what you’re doing, in every position you have to stay focused and think about the move alternatives. I didn’t think about the alternatives here- his pawn wants to take my queen,but it’s my move so I’ll take the pawn first! This is not taking everything the position has into consideration. My opponent’s rooks are not connected, neither of them has protection, his king is on the d-file- if my pawn from d4 magically disappeared, I could check it with my rook from d1 , etc. I did not think  about anything like that. If I did, maybe I would have found a move which gives me an advantage- 30.Qb3.

 

To stay sharp, you have to have time assigned in your training to regular sessions of solving tactical examples from puzzle books/ software and going over grandmaster games and asking yourself why a certain move was or wasn’t played. In a week (at least) before tournament you have to increase the number of puzzles you do every day and the time you spend on them, to get used to having to deal with positions. I’m in strong favor of solving the positions by setting them up on a real board instead of having them on the computer screen- you will be playing your games on the board, not the computer, get used to that. Set the position as you found it in the book, stare at it for how long you need to (without moving the pieces), choose the move to play, write it down, set the next position, and so on. At the end of the session check the answers. Also, when you study grandmaster games, whether it’s for tactics or for anything else, doing it on a computer screen is an easy but yet again, inefficient way to do it. Think about it- all the technology is being made for us because we are lazy and we want to get everything easily. But studying chess is meant to be hard, there’s no escape from this. Scrolling over the moves with your mouse you will miss the point of the half of them if not more. Play them on the real board, move pieces from one square to another and think why, like you will during your tournament game. And one more thing- I’ve heard lots of times people talking how playing blitz improves their tactical ability. Maybe it works for Nakamura, but for the U1900 mortals this only develops bad habits- playing too much blitz will make you move too fast in your slow game (or move too slow, relying on your blitz skills to save you in the end, but why put yourself under pressure deliberately?). And in a blitz game you really don’t see all of the complexity of the position, 3 or 5 minutes that you have to spend for the entire blitz game will be easily spent on a single move in a serious game, so its training value is really questionable. Instead of playing a 5min blitz game, which takes 10 mins of your time, you could spend it on solving 2 puzzles from the book and this will be time better spent. If you have to play online, play slower games- at least 20 mins, and then have them saved to your database where you should analyze and annotate them immediately after you have played them.

6.Time management- play smart, play slow.  

Time control you get in these tournaments is 2 hours for the first 40 moves and an extra hour after you have made these 40 moves and the game is still going, plus there is a 5 second delay on each move. This is the slowest of all the different time controls I’ve had in my games, and for old and slow guys like me, this is a blessing. I’d work hard to hopefully get an advantage by move 30, then will make the 10 moves to reach time control, and then will be rewarded with an extra hour to finish the game off. In my opinion, in general you should not move fast in this type of game, with an exception of an opening when you’re still in your theory, and in situations where there is just one sensible move (e.g. recapture) to be made. Other than that, don’t rush, you have plenty of time, be in charge of the clock instead of the clock being in charge of you. Let’s say that you have made your first 10 theoretical moves in 5 minutes. The time on your clock has decreased by only 4% but the number of moves you have to make to reach move 40 is now smaller by 25% already. This means that starting from move 11, which reaches a position which you have never seen before, you can spend more time on thinking. And don’t hesitate to do that, there are positions where you just don’t see a plan or have hard time calculating all of the variations. Calm down, you have time, stop looking at the board, look away focusing on calming yourself down and then return your sight and thoughts to the board. I had this situation a few times during this tournament when I would stare at the position for 5 minutes and couldn’t decide what was really going on, so I would turn my eyes toward the ceiling and focus on breathing for the next 2-3 minutes. Just think about the air coming in and out, nothing else. Then look at the board again, and often you’ll see things you didn’t before. In my experience if I had 3mins remaining for each move till making time control, that was a safe enough cushion to have. In one game I had less than an hour remaining before reaching move 20, but I understood that this was necessary because the positions in it were very sharp and making one mistake would have detrimental effects. I took my time and by the time I played move 40, I was 3 pawns up. You may be used to playing fast games too much where people with better positions would often lose because of their low time on the clock- there is much less of it here, where your opponent will usually have enough time to finish you off once you gave them an opportunity, so the real emphasis should be put on playing the best moves possible. So, when it seems that your opponent is approaching time trouble, let’s say it’s move 30 and they have less than 10 mins, don’t fool yourself that you can win the game on the clock by making moves fast- they have played a good number of games like this in their life before and probably play bullet games on the internet like everyone else, they are aware of their clock, but of you’re not aware of everything in the position and rush the moves, once you are past move 40 you will be punished for making the position easy for them. Ignore their seemingly difficult situation on the clock and focus on making the board situation difficult for them instead. Also, I think you should repeat the position to get closer to time control whenever possible- if you are at move 20 and make two moves that don’t change your position but you don’t spend any time on them, you just cut the number of required moves by 10% and your time remains the same. An important psychological moment may arise right after move 40- you have just been given an extra hour, that’s a lot of time, don’t rush, you’re not under pressure anymore, go stretch your legs, get a snack, there is still a long game ahead of you, you don’t want to blow it up by rushing with moves that will have consequences you’ll never be able to deal with.

7. Non-chess stuff that may be not important that you think it is.

We all heard about things that help you play better- drinking a lot of coffee or orange juice, sleeping a lot before the games, eating salmon or wearing your hockey team’s jersey to the game. Hard to say whether any of these things matter, but if they do for you, take care of them ahead of time so you won’t have to think about them when you’ll have to be focused on playing. So a week before the tournament make a list of foods to eat, yoga exercises to make, inspirational movies to watch, clothes to wear etc. so when you win you can tell everyone how important it was on your way to the win. Good luck and have fun playing chess in 2013!

 

Critical moments.

Hello to all the readers of this blog, this is a new contributor Simon. We have known each other with Greg for a while now from plenty of games at the blitz meetup at the Tea Lounge  that I organize and from the tournaments at the Marshall that he directs and I play in. It’s been one of my favorite blogs for a long time, which makes me even happier to be one of the writers of. I will follow the general formula here of “thinking out loud” on all things chess, whether it’s a super-GM tournament kibitzing, online blitz madness, chess literature reviews or reflection on hopeless positions from my own games (will try to spare you these). I hope you enjoy my writing and appreciate all the comments.

For today’s article I chose to focus on the critical game of my favorite tournament of the year, London Chess Classic, which finished last week. It’s just a wonderful event to follow online, with a streaming live video commentary of all the games. Maybe it’s a good spoken English that does it for me? Or the British humor perhaps? And the games themselves somehow are always very entertaining (with Sofia rules encouraging players to fight).  As every chess player not living under the rock knows by now, Magnus Carlsen won it yet again, and by doing so, his live rating has reached a stratospheric 2861 level, which beats Garry Kasparov’s old record.

carlsen,magnus,winner,lcc,2012

How does he do it ? One of the factors may be what Magnus said with a smile during one of the interviews in London: “I pride myself to be an unforgiving player”. He said it with a smile on his face, but he was serious. Playing against him even the slightest inaccuracy will put a strong grandmaster in trouble. We’ll see it in our featured game. In the final tournament standings Magnus was ahead just two points (or half a point in traditional scoring) of Vladimir Kramnik, who also had a fantastic tournament, elevating his rating over 2800 again. Upon closer look, you will find that this small difference between numbers one and two in the final standings was made in their games against Michael Adams (who himself had a very good tournament, finishing in the 3rd shared place). They both had Black pieces against Adams, they both even started with 1.e4 e5, but Kramnik drew and Carlsen won. So that was  the critical game. The thing is, Carlsen was for a long time worse in that game, but he managed to capitalize on Adams’ inaccuracies and win. We start with this position:

22

 

 

White is up a pawn, but he gives it up by playing 29.Nf3. Instead, Nc6 would have maintained his advantage and he shouldn’t be in any danger of losing. It is impressive to observe Carlsen’s technique, how he goes from a worse position to a winning one. One may argue that these were the mistakes of his opponent which allowed him to do that, but this is where he is so efficient like no one else- over the course of the next 11 moves needed to make the time control he just “improves his pieces” (these chess cliches really mean something, just compare the position of his queen to the one from the previous diagram) and it’s White to play with 3 seconds left on the clock:

23

 

 

Now, it’s very easy to understand that White didn’t want to play the computer move 40.Nd2, putting himself in a pin along the second rank, but this was his best defence here. Instead, 40.e4 loses a pawn (it’s a good tactical exercise- try to visualize the sequence that follows before checking the game below). What really is amazing for me to watch here is how Carlsen has everything under control and never loosens his grip- one thing leads to another – and he achieves a winning queen and pawn endgame where one would think there generally is a high ratio of draws, but not here- he methodically advances his queen and passed e-pawn without giving White any chance for counterplay. Finally, we come to a position where Black has to decide whether the time is right to exchange queens. Serious calculation is required- he will remain up a pawn, but is it still winning. He just has to see the pawn endgame position 14 moves ahead, including the king opposition battle dance and evaluation of the pawn race. Very exact calculation, and you’re not allowed to make a mistake because there’s no way back. So, when he’s looking at the position in the diagram on the left( Black to move), he sees its outcome 14 moves later in the diagram on the right, just like that:

     

Carlsen’s games (especially the ones from the last two years or so, since he has been winning almost everything) are full of examples like this- him being unforgiving. They are a great material to study for everyone who wants to learn the magical winning technique.

Please check the game annotations and variations below. Before writing this post, I saw commentary from the Chess Evolution weekly newsletter, which covers this endgame in much more depth than I do here- I certainly recommend it for its high quality material sent to my inbox every week.

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