Play Like a Patzer; Think Like an Expert

The 2016-2017 Albany Chess Club Championship came to a close on Wednesday, February 1. The runaway victor was, once again, Jeremy Berman. Congratulations Jeremy!

This year a trophy was offered to Second Place as well, providing the rest of us something to vie for beyond “mere” rating points.

I’ve been playing rated, competitive chess for over twenty years, starting when I was in high-school. My first rated games were in a scholastic trophy tournament, run by the ubiquitous CCA Tournament Director, Steve Immitt. That started a 500+ games journey through the D-A rating classes.

In my youth I played every tournament I could possibly get to: a 12-round US Open in Virginia; consecutive World Opens in Philadelphia; multiple team championships in Parsippany; too many NYS Championships in Saratoga; random CCA tournaments all over New England; all-night tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan; and countless games cutting my teeth at the Vassar-Chadwick Chess Club, in Poughkeepsie, NY, my hometown. I had some decent wins, but mostly mediocre results. As an under-employed student, I got caught up in trying to win money over rating points, stunted my chess growth, and saw a high-school rating peak of 1770 foolishly brought down to the 1600’s. So I walked away from the game to focus on life.

And I did. But I missed the game. Even more so, I missed the carefree days of youth, when the young conscience is free of those pesky adulthood burdens – careers, bills, marriage. It’s not easy justifying playing chess as an adult. “How can you take time away from what’s important in life to play a game?” – is how the responsible-adult rationale goes. So now, I’m down to less than ten rated games a year. But I know this all-work-no-play attitude ultimately can’t compete with Caissa, my first love. If you’re reading this blog, then you too have been seduced by her. She’s my lifelong affair; no matter how determined I’ve been to leave her – and I’ve tried – she enchants me back. 

I decided to commit to playing in the Albany Chess Club Championship. But I quickly regretted that decision. I lost my first game. A close, contentious battle with Jeremy Berman, being ultimately decided on one move: if I make the right move, I gain a solid positional advantage; if I play incorrectly, then I’m saddled with a losing disadvantage. I missed the strongest move, and didn’t recover. I say there’s no luck in chess – just weak moves. He who makes the final weak move loses the win.

My first round opponent (Berman) and last round opponent (Dean Howard) were the only players rated higher than me entering the tournament. So sandwiched between those two games, I’d be playing rating-roulette: anything can happen in these late-evening midweek battles. My starting rating: 1998. Two points away from achieving the Grandmaster-equivalent-for-club players, the elusive rank of National Expert. So after that loss, I began the tournament instantly down 12 points. But I slogged my way through the next ten games (dropping a game to Gordon Magat, who simply outplayed me), and entered the last round 9-2, to Dean Howard’s 9.5-1.5. I’m now up eight rating points: sitting unofficially at 2006. The battle is on not just for Second Place, but also to secure my rating. I need a win to earn Second Place, but would also be happy with a rating-saving draw. A loss would be horrific. Twelve games, around 36 hours of intense chess, all for naught rating-wise. A loss would mean zero rating points gained, and a fitful night of chess-loser-regret tossing-and-turning. The reward from five months of laborious chess-work is earned or lost with this one game.

In prepared openings, it takes two to stay on course, and only one to go off trail. I always joked I’d make it to Expert without knowing any opening theory. Every game is a new adventure – I ignorantly blaze my own path, and quite often enter thorny thickets. One can say this is the hallmark of a chess swindler – frequently fighting back from losing positions.

My game with Dean predictably soon had me in the briar patch, and we arrived at the following position.

Playing for equality, I decided to trade down. I should have exchanged queens first. Instead, after a good think, I play 16. Nc5. Which immediately turned into 16. Nc5??

WHAT DID I JUST DO!!!??

Only now, AFTER I played the move, did it become clear: he can simply take my knight, and my planned recapture of 17. Rxc5 utterly fails to black simply moving his queen to c7 or e7. If I play 17. QxQ first, after 17… RxQ, I’m basically forced to play 18. RxR, and then black recaptures with the knight, solidly protecting the hanging bishop. There is no recourse. I’M LOST! JUST. LIKE. THAT. Of course, Dean takes the knight. 16…Bxc5.

I saved my worst move of the tournament for my last game. Quite possibly the worst blunder I’ve made in three hundred rating points. Completely unforced. No tricks. No tactics. No traps. No zaps. A wholly unnecessary move with zero advantage gained, and no saving grace. I’m down material and position, with no counter-play. This is resignable. Just put your hand out; abscond; soothe your sorrows with Wendy’s; go home and kick the dog.

Now I’m staring at the board, suffering through the five stages of grief. Is this REALLY over? I’m searching and analyzing the position. There’s nothing. My clock is ticking down. Ahh, ok. Forget it. I’m done. I’m going to resign. I’m not going to sit here and play hope-chess, where one hopes their opponent sinks to their level. I’ll spare myself the humiliation.

But Dean isn’t at the board. He’s walking around. Predicament: how do you resign with no opponent? So I sit there and keep studying the position, accept it’s hopeless, and have a full-on internal dialogue, that goes something like this:

What just happened? I made a horrible move. Why? Because I’m an idiot. Ok, but you ARE rated around 2000, which means you’re a good chess player. True, relatively speaking, I am a good player. I just made a bad move. So if I’m a good player, and I’m capable of making a bad move, then logic says my opponent, who is also a good player, is also capable of making a bad move. Good point. Wait. This is just like the Superbowl from a few days ago. The Patriots are a good football team – had the best record in the league, but they played a horrible first half. Then the second half, they played great, and the Falcons played weak. So just because the Patriots played a weak half first, doesn’t mean they are the weaker team. The Patriots were down 28-3. Down 25 points. In the third quarter. That’s a loss. But somehow, they came back. They didn’t give up. They didn’t quit. They waited for their opponent to make weak moves.

But I’m not the Patriots and this isn’t football. But okay, I’ll let myself make ONE move, then I’ll resign. What move gives my opponent the best opportunity to make a weak move? I exchange queens. 17. QxQ. Dean comes back to the board.

He makes his move. 17…Bxf2+. WHAT THE??? UNBELIEVABLE! I’M BACK IN IT! JUST. LIKE. THAT. I felt like the Patriots.

Forget the pawn. I KNEW I’d get it back. Suddenly it’s a game. And just like the Superbowl after regulation, it was a tie score, stopped one move before bare kings. Draw.

But really a win-win.

Dean earned Second Place in the ACCC, and I finally, on game 543 of my chess life, became a National Expert.

LESSONS FOR THE NOVICE

1) No one has ever won or drawn by resigning. If it’s a draw, then the game will play to a draw. The endgame experience gained playing until the very end is worth the effort. If you make a blunder, don’t give up. Weak moves can be contagious.

2) Stay at the board. Think on your opponent’s time. We’re not grandmasters, calculating while we wander the aisles. The more you look, the more the board reveals. In post-game analysis, I’m always amazed to see what I missed. “How did I not see that??” Also, you never know when your opponent will prematurely resign.

3) Study tactics. I use chesstempo.com. Solving tactics puzzles is the most efficient way to study. You can make Expert without knowing deep opening theory. Patzers love openings. Makes them sound like a chess player. They’ll show you all the sidelines. Then they’ll drop a piece to a tactic.

The Austrian Attack in the Pirc

The board 1 game from last Thursday’s Schenectady A – Capital Region CDCL match was a Pirc Defense. For the last thirty years I have used the Pirc as my primary answer to 1 e4. At the Wednesday Albany Club meeting a young man asked me what I thought about the Pirc during some skittles play, and David Finnerman asked a similar question of me after his game ended. Not needing too much persuasion to write about the Pirc, it seemed the Sells – Finnerman game would a convenient platform where what little I have learned about this opening could be presented.

Let me first say I am far from an expert on this opening. There excellent books on the market about the Pirc where you can find true expert opinions about this opening. The one work that made the subject most clear for me is Alburt’s and Chernin’s Pirc Alert! It is still in print I believe. If you want to use the Pirc this is a valuable resource for players up 2200.

There is one caveat that is true for Pirc Alert!, and it applies to every other opening book I have read: The conclusions and recommendations are on many points only opinions of the authors. In this case true they are GM’s, but you will see in the illustrative games some very good players may not always agree with the ideas. In today’s article we will touch on the different opinions about the 5th move for Black. These differences are not mine, rather it is in large part what other Grandmasters seem to believe based on their games. I tend to give greater weight to what a GM plays as opposed to what he writes.

Most of the illustrative games are the work of World Champions before, during or shortly after their reigns. There is not enough space even on a blog to exhaust the supply of interesting Pirc Defense games. My goal will be achieved if this article inspires some to dig into the databases and discover more of the possibilities of this opening.

The game trundled on for some more moves in Finnerman’s effort to win the game and tie the match. The extra effort was not rewarded and the draw agreed. White understood exactly what was required to hold the position. This was the last game to finish in the match. Both players gave their all in a game of significance for both teams.}

The Illustrative games below set out some of the critical issues in the Pirc Defense, Austrian Attack. Which choice to prefer: 5…, c5; or 5…, 0-0? If 5…, c5; what to do about 6 Bb5+, and 7 e5? When using the Pirc, players of the Black pieces should be aware of Seirawan’s innovation in the 5…, c5; line. For the players of the White pieces avoidance of Yasser’s forced draw requires a willingness explore really tough chess.

Game 1 – The future World Champion demonstrates 5…, 0-0; can give Black chances to win.

Game 2 – A couple of years before things did not work out quite so well for him.

Game 3 – Using 5…, 0-0; was not confined to just Anand.

Game 4 – Seirawan shook up things in the Pirc when he sprung his innovation on the world. After Yasser demonstrated it, all was obvious. Beforehand that was not so.

Game 5 – Now we are getting into an area where theory gets deep. Playing here without familiarity with theory is very difficult’

Game 6 – A little history. Fischer’s Pirc was a big surprise to us onlookers in the 1972 match with Spassky

Game 7 – Spassky’s subsequent use of the Pirc against a tough opponent, along with the Fischer game started me thinking about this opening. I thought my then usual French Defense to 1. e4, was too predictable. My classical bias was strong, and it took another six or seven years before I switched.

Game 8 – The Pirc continues to appear in the games of the best players. Here is an example from not so long ago:

After that lengthy trip through the above collection of Pirc Defenses, Austrian Attacks how can it be summed up? Both 5…, 0-0; and 5…, c5; have their adherents at the highest levels of chess. With 5…, c5; Black aims for a transposition into a decent position from the Dragon Sicilian. If you mean to use 5…, c5; booking up on the Dragon-type middle games is time well spent. If you want to use 5…, 0-0; required is a certain amount of steely determination to wait for your chance to strike back in the center as David did in this game.

In the 5…, c5; line there are critical variations involving 6 Bb5+, and 7 e5. These are most difficult to workout over the board as I found in my own games. The difficulty seems to be because of a need to calculate precisely in positions that are rather different from what is seen in other more classical openings. Very accurate calculation in unusual positions is demanding.

To illustrate this point: A researcher, a Russian I believe, did an experiment with titled chess players. They were given a very brief look at two sets of chess positions; one set was of positions culled from actual games, the other were constructed positions with the pieces randomly placed. The subjects were then tested to see how accurate was their recall of the test positions. The positions from actual games were recalled in far greater accuracy than were the random positions. This experiment confirms that one of skills good players have is pattern recognition. The researcher further concluded that good players compare the position before them to the stock of positions from their experience and likely reach decisions, in part at least, through the comparison: this move worked elsewhere before, let’s see if it will work here?

When a Pirc game goes off into the rather un-classical situations of the 5…, c5 6 Bb5+ Bd7 7 e5 Ng4 8 e6, line, the room for error expands. With the Pirc not being a first choice opening for most, and the Austrian Attack positions rarer since it is not White’s only option, many, if not most players, do not have an extensive store of previous positions to draw upon. Right from the beginning of the game, Black, if he is well prepared, welcomes the incisive response of the Austrian. Black can play for a win. That is not something the more classical openings offer.

When 5…, 0-0; is Black’s choice the positions are not quite so strange. At a casual glance it often appears White is very dominant in the center. Black then needs to be very alert to find the right moment to hit back in the center. Iron nerve and self-confidence are essential for Black not to lose heart

As theory has advanced over the years White has developed and improved many alternatives to the Austrian: 4 Nf3, 4 f3, 4 Bg5, and so on. By not taking up so wide a center with 4 f4, White can keep the game more usual looking and avoid the fantasy Black seeks. If Black means to use the Pirc, he has to be ready to face these options also.

A Reversal of Fortunes

Last week’s upset win in the League by the Capital Region team over the strong Albany A team was full of ups and downs. One very interesting game was the first ever meeting of David Feinnerman, captain and founder of the Cap Region team and Jeremy Berman the newly crowned Champion of Albany. This was the played on board 1. The game appeared to be running in Berman’s favor in a fashion typical for him; a steady application of positional principles leading to an advantage. What added spice to the contest was Finnerman has a similar approach to chess. Although in David’s case, he tends to enter the tactical exploitation of the positional build-up earlier than does Jeremy. The clash of two players who prefer the positional side of the game may be not so flashy as are the more tactical match-ups, but it has great potential for teaching us, and, as always, tactics may breakout anywhere along the line.

A most remarkable reversal of fortunes. Both players showed, notwithstanding their preference for the positional side of chess, they are not afraid to explore the very concrete tactical aspects of the game. It was most entertaining.

Illustrative Game:

In broad terms the illustrative GM game and our contest under the microscope today are similar. In both White played on the Q-side and Black the K-side in the beginning. This was logical and dictated by the early moves of the opening. In the middle game is where our local guys veered away from the GM example. Leaving aside the outcomes, comparing the two games for consistency and logic is a useful exercise for the developing player. This should not be done to unduly praise the Grandmasters or to be critical of Finnerman and Berman. The lesson to be obtained is: GM’s pursue the logic of their opening layout of forces deep into the middle game, and club level players often will deviate from that tempted by the siren song of tactics. The titled players have the refined judgment to see when a tactical temptation is so good as to justify such excursions. We, the ordinary players, are not so able to make those calls with accuracy and consistency. If you dream of breaking 2200, this is something to think about.

More soon.

News of the Capital District Chess League and a Game

Last week the board of Directors of the Eastern New York Chess Association met in Clifton Park to make official a change in leadership. Michael Mockler is the new President replacing Phillip Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson, after many years of carrying the burden of managing the ENYCA, has moved on to new employment requiring much travel making the change necessary. The sincere thanks of our local chess community has to given to Mr. Ferguson. His efforts kept a central clearing house for local chess news available after the demise of the chess column written by Bill Townsend. Mr. Ferguson also worked with Father John McManus and the Make the Right Move organization to bring in scholastic players. Ferguson and McManus are responsible for much or all of the growth in the number of chess players in the area. It was a job well done by Phil!

Mr. Ferguson will not be completely out of loop with ENYCA. He is on the board of Directors as Past President along with Michael Mocker, President, Bill Little, Vice President, and Alan Le Cours, Secretary. Phil’s parting gift to the ENYCA can be seen on the website, a new set of photographs at the head of each web page. They make the site pretty spiffy I think.

On Wednesday May 7th , the Albany B team hosted the Capital Region team. The Capital Region team was put together a few years ago by its captain and first board David Finnerman. When David came on the chess scene, four years ago I think, the teams in the CDCL were pretty well set in their lineups. Mr. Finnerman wanted to play in the League. Someone, Bill Townsend I believe, suggested David recruit a team of his own from the ranks of other players who did quite have the ratings to make the established teams. So was born the Capital Region Area Players team, or as they laughingly call themselves, the CRAP team.

While the Cap Region team has yet to win the League title, there is no reason to suppose such is beyond their reach. With three Class A players, Finnerman, Jones and Lack, along with the rapidly improving Jason Denham, the Cap Region guys have won matches in years passed and probably well do so this year. Unfortunately, Wednesday night was not a win for the Cap Region guys.

The Albany B team has been the hard luck entrant in the CDCL for a number of years. This season looks to be a different story. They have added Peter Michelman and David Sterner to their roster. Michelman is a long time OTB Expert and a strong correspondence Master. Last year he play for the Geezers. Right after the last Geezers match of the season Peter was in a terrible automobile accident. An uninsured motorist hit him head-on I was told. After many months of recuperation Mr. Michelman is able to play once more. All of us attending the Wednesday night match were most happy to see him among us again. Sterner is a solid Class A player recently relocated to the Capital District from Washington, DC. With these additions the Albany B team will be able to give any team in the league problems.

The results of the Albany B – Capital Region match were:

Albany B – Capital Region
1 Michelman 1-0 Finnerman
2 Sterner 1-0 Jones
3 Alowitz ½-½ Lack
4 Axel-Lute 0-1 Denham

It was a narrow win for Albany B. The last game to finish, Michelman-Finnerman could have gone to any result as it ended up in a time scramble. Here is a board by board rundown of the games:

Board 1: Michelman 1-0 Finnerman. In my mind I predicted this would be the last game to finish. The participants like to use all of the time allotted in their games. The opening was a KID, Samisch Variation, very positional and pretty much even until time began to shorten. A detailed analysis is done later in this post. Down to the final moves almost any outcome was possible. Mr. Finnerman had the bigger problem with time remaining. In a difficult Knight and pawns ending Mr. Michelman saw just a bit farther and more clearly to take the full point.

Board 2: Jones 0-1 Sterner. This was an English/KID opening. A positional debut if there ever was one. Just as the opening was coming to an end both sides threw their center pawns forward making an end to positional maneuvering and begin the tactical ballgame. A slip on move 22 gave Mr. Jones opportunity for a combination that should have resulted in a solid advantage. Joe’s follow-up was wrong and David equalized. An oversight on move 34 cost Mr. Jones the Exchange. The resulting Bishop versus Rook ending with all pawns on one side of the board might have been defended for a great many moves, but with rapidly dwindling minutes on the clock, Mr. Jones did the gentlemanly thing and resigned.

Board 3: Alowitz ½-½ Lack. The opening was the French defense. I thought Jonathan Lack had the better of it out of the opening; White’s pawns were a mess. Mr. Alowitz proved to be made of stern stuff defending dynamically down to a minor piece ending where a draw was agreed.

Board 4: Denham 1-0 Axel-Lute. This was the difficult Benoni Defense. After a dozen year layoff, Paul Axel-Lute recently returned to serious chess. Up against Jason Denham, a most rapidly improving player, the complications of the Benoni were too much for Paul to solve. By move 21 Mr. Axel-Lute was down a piece and a pawn, and the game was over by move 24.

The Albany B team won the match 2½-1½. It will be no surprise if they win a couple of more matches this season. The Capital Region team made a fight of it. Had Finnerman found the correct moves at the end of his game with Michelman the match would been drawn.

Earlier in May, on the 4th , RPI defeated the Schenectady A team. Like the other Schenectady team, the Geezers, the A team is not quite as strong as it has been in recent years. Expert Philip Sells is playing first board for Schenectady A and came through with a win against La Comb. After that result things went badly for Schenectady: Adamec lost to Tran Gao, Calderon could only draw with Furtado and Andrew Feist defeated Bill Townsend. I could not be present for this match and do not have any games from it.

In conversation with Brian Furtado after our game finished he told me RPI had played Albany A also. There the RPI team did not do so well. They lost ½-3½, with Jeff La Comb getting the draw. I do not have the lineups for either side in that match.

On Thursday May 8th the Geezers played RPI. RPI was the home team even though the match was played at Schenectady. The Geezers won to make thier record so far for the year: two matches won and one match drawn. The results by board were:

RPI – Geezers
1 La Comb ½ – ½ Mockler
2 Furtado 0-1 Little
3 Feist 1-0 Phillips
4 Forfeit 0-1 Chu

Board 1: La Comb ½-½ Mockler. This was a positional battle I did not expect to see in a game by Mockler. Michael usually likes a hairy, messy game with lots of tactics. Mr. La Comb began with 1 Nc3, and got into the Torre Attack. A quick clearing in the center after 11 e4, gave Black some control of the open d-file. White moved quickly to prevent this from becoming an asset for Black, and all the major pieces were traded on the d-file. The resulting Bishop versus Knight ending with pawns on both sides of the board, White had the Bishop, did not offer much for either side. The Black Knight had strong points from which he could make threats and cover possible entry squares of the White King on the Q-side. The draw was agreed on move 35. Black may have had some chances to keep trying for victory at the end of the game, but they were slight. At this point in the match I had won my game with Furtado. That win and the forfeit win from the 4th board made a draw in the 1st board game the clincher for a match victory. Mr. Mockler put aside personnel ambition and agreed the draw secure the match point for the Geezers.

Board 2: Little 1-0 Furtado. One more 3 Bb5, Sicilian for me. I have been working on this anti-Open Sicilian line for many years. Sometimes it works well for me, and on other occasions not so good. Recently a couple of opening books came to hand: Bologan’s, The Rossolimo Sicilian, and Neil McDonald’s, The Sicilian Bb5. They inspired another run at 3 Bb5, for me. In this game the opening worked out well. Once again my transition from the opening to the middle game was not quite the best. I chose a risky line to get a passed d-pawn. The play was just tricky enough that Brian missed the shot that would have exposed my gamble. From that point forward I was feeling, without justification, pretty confident. My d-pawn advanced, and Mr. Furtado did not find the best way to resist. I got to wrap the game up with a pleasing sequence that cost Black the Exchange at the least, and left the charging d-pawn still advancing to Queen. We were the first game to finish. That was useful to Michael Mockler in his game. He knew a draw sealed the win for the Geezers.

Board 3: Feist 1-0 Phillips. Mr. Phillips played his usual Philidor/Modern Defense. It did not turn out well for him. I had to leave the club rooms before the game was over. When I departed I thought John’s position was busted. As always Mr. Phillips fought long and hard at a cost to him on the clock. In the final moments of the game Phillips had some drawing chances, but without time to think the several passed pawns Mr. Feist had proved to be too much. The surprising Mr. Feist, a 1400 player, now has taken wins from two Class A players, Phillips this week and Bill Townsend last week. It will be interesting to see how well Andrew Feist does in his remaining games. A successful 3rd or 4th board can be a huge help for a team. Richard Chu , the Schenectady President, kindly provided the info on the Feist-Phillips game.

The strengthening of Albany B, Uncle Sam of Troy and Capital Region teams by their recent recruits may see the final standings shaken up compared to the last few years. Albany A has to be considered the favorite for the trophy this year. The best information I have at hand is the Albany A team has not lost or drawn a match so far this year. The Schenectady A team and the Geezers are weaker than they have been in recent years. The lost match to RPI may well have put the title out of reach for the A team this year. Given the traditionally weaker teams have upped their strength, it is not yet certain the drawn result against Uncle Sam has harmed the Geezers chances for a shot at the title.

Here is the critical first board game from the Albany B – Capital Region match:

Michelman, Peter – Finnerman, David [E81]
CDCL Match Albany B – Capital Region, Guilderland, NY, 07.05.2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 Bg7 4.e4 0–0 5.Nc3 d6

Mich Finn 1

A very popular position in Grandmaster practice. Here is how a couple of strong British GM’s handled the position:
(Editorial Note: click on any move in the following Illustrative game to see a chess board and to play through the moves.)

Here is how other strong GM’s played the line:
(Editorial Note: click on any move in the following Illustrative game to see a chess board and to play through the moves.)

Take note of the similarities of the pawn formations in both illustrative games, and the role of the d-pawn in the Jussupow – Hort contest. Making comparisons to our game offers insights about typical tactics and maneuvers in this opening.

6.Bg5 c5 7.d5 Nbd7 8.Nh3 Qa5 9.Nf2 Ne5

Deep Rybka says the game is equal here. While watching I had my doubts about the Knight on e5. Black has to keep d7 free lest f2-f4 discomforts the Ne5, and that will require Black to be very careful in how he develops his pieces.

10.Bd2 a6 11.Be2 Qc7 12.0–0,..

Mich Finn 2

Several months away from serious chess may be the reason Mr. Michelman does not go for 12 f4!? The idea is: drive the Knight to d7 and advance the g-pawn. This notion is to push both Black Knights to the back rank and angle for opening the f-file. With accurate play Black can hold, and there is certainly danger for both sides.

12…, h5

Controlling g4 so if f3-f4 the Knight can step in there.

13.a4 b6 14.h3,..

Preparing f3-f4.

14…, Rb8

I don’t see what this move does for Black. There is no real threat of .., b6-b5; and d7 still has to be kept clear for the Ne5. Maybe 14…, Ned7; to take the sting out of f3-f4 is an idea.

15.f4 Ned7 16.Nd3 Bb7

If there was some idea of making use of a push of the b-pawn, putting the Bishop here seems to say Black has given up on it.

17.f5 Ne5?

Mich Finn 3

Volunteering to block the long diagonal. This can’t be right. Possibly 17…, Nh7; hoping to trade off some Rooks if the f-file is opened is better.

18.Nxe5 dxe5 19.fxg6 fxg6 20.Qc1?!,..

Mich Finn 4

The best positional idea is: 20 a5!, intending to wreck the Black pawns some more. If 20…, bxa5 21 Qa4 Ba8 22 Bc1 Rfc8 23 Qxa5, and Black has four isolated pawns to care for. After: 23…, Bb7 24 Be3 Nd7 25 Qxc7 Rxc7; White has two weaknesses to play against: the shattered Q-side pawns and the f-file. The great Masters all extol this kind of situation for putting maximum pressure on the opponent. White instead bets on K-side play.

20…, Kh7 21.Bg5 Rf7 22.Qe3 Rbf8 23.Qg3 Qd6 24.Qh4?,..

Mich Finn 5

Clearly better is 24 a5, devaluing the Black Q-side now that he has rushed his pieces to the other side of the board.

24…, Bc8 25.Rf3,..

This is less promising than is: 25 g4 Rh8 26 Be3 Kg8 27 g5, and White has made progress. It is not yet a winning position, but after: 27…, Nd7 28 a5 bxa5 29 Rxf7 Kxf7 30 Rf1+ Ke8 31 Na4, holding onto the pawn on c5 is difficult because White can use pressure against c5 to help breakthrough on the K-side: 31…, Rf8 32 Qe1 Qc7 33 Rxf8 Bxf8 34 Qf2, and c5 remains a sore spot for Black. If 34…, e6? 35 dxe6 Nb8 36 Qf6 Qg7 37 e7, and White is winning.

25…, Bh6 26.Bxh6 Kxh6 27.Raf1 g5

Mich Finn 6

Boldly played by Black. The game is very near even now. The time needed for Black to navigate the difficult waters just passed through brought Mr. Finnerman to the edge of time trouble. He had less than 10 minutes for the rest of the game. In a reversal of expectations, Mr. Michelman had about 30 minutes remaining. It isn’t often we see Peter ahead on the clock at the halfway point of a game. He is notorious for falling into desperate time trouble, but not today.

28.Qe1 g4!?

This move is not so reckless as a first glance may suggest. All of the Black pieces are near at hand. Maybe the Black Queen’s activity could be better, but otherwise his pieces are working on the K-side. For White, his Knight is somewhat removed from the scene of action and the Bishop has a Rook in its way. The slight disorganization of the White army and looming time trouble makes vigorous action necessary. Dawdling will only allow White to solve his coordination problems. Trying to stand pat against someone as strong and creative as Mr. Michelman, while short of time, is a receipt for disaster.

29.hxg4 Bxg4 30.R3f2 Qd7 31.Bxg4 Qxg4

Very nicely played by Black. His Queen is very actively posted, and all he used was about two minutes off the clock. The game is even.

32.Qe2 Rg8?

Mich Finn 7

After playing very accurately and achieving an even game, this hasty moves throws the game away. Much better is: 32…, Qxe2; and shifting the Rooks to the g-file to free the pinned Knight on f6.

33.Qxg4 Rxg4 34.Re2?,..

Mich Finn 8

Uncharacteristically, Mr. Michelman misses the tactical killer: 34 d6!

Analysis Position

Mich Finn 9

Now if: a) 34…, Kg6 35 Nd5 exd6 36 Rxf6+ Rxf6 37 Rxf6+ Kg5 38 Rxd6 Rxe4 39 Nxb6, the extra piece and the slaughter of the Black Q-side pawns will win for White, or b) 34…, Rf4 35 Rxf4 exf4 36 e5, is likewise winning after: 36…, e6 37 Rxf4 Kg6 38 Rxf6+ Rxf6 39 exf6 Kxf6 40 Ne4+, securing the dangerous passed e-pawn forever, or finally c) 34…,Rgg7 35 Nd5 Kg5 36 Rf5+ Kh4 37 dxe7, with an overwhelming position for White.

The text move hands back to Black some advantage.

I suppose rust is to be expected when a player is forced away from serious chess for the better part of a year. The uninitiated likely think long bed rest should not have an effect on chess skills, can’t the player practice while he is lying there? Not true. My own experience is when you are unwell trying to work seriously on chess is far from your mind. Maintaining your focus in calculation requires a surprising amount of energy considering from the outside you are not doing anything much except sitting and thinking. Illness or injury, recovery uses up a body’s reserves leaving little to expend on chess.

34…, Kg6 35.a5,..

Peter goes about trying to win the game again. For the aspiring players, it is worth noting re-winning a previously won game is a not so rare occurrence. It happens often in local level chess. The less successful among us miss a win and seem to often go into a “death-spiral” completely losing the thread. Our more successful colleagues reorient themselves quickly, survey the opportunities across the whole board and go on to try again. That is the case here. Earlier Mr. Michelman elected not to break up Black’s Q-side (move 20). The possibility of doing so was hanging around in the background ever since. Now seems to be the moment use this resource.

35…, Nd7 36.Rxf7 Kxf7 37.axb6 Nxb6 38.b3,..

Unfortunately, the late attempt on the Q-side objectively is not enough to win the game for White. Finnerman’s extreme time trouble, at this point he had only 88 seconds left on his clock. David used 51 of those precious seconds to find:

38…, Rf4?

Mich Finn 10

Logical. Black does not want the White King to come closer to the center. The problem is Black would be better served by attacking along the 3rd rank with 38…, Rg3. Then, 39 Rf2+ Kg5 40 Rf3 Rxf3 41 gxf3 a5; gets Black to a reasonably decent position; his passed h-pawn is a worry for White, and the weaknesses at f3, c4 and a5 make it unlikely the White Knight can be drafted away from the Q-side to help out on the other side of the board. This possible position is even.

39.Rf2 Nd7 40.g3 Rf6 41.Na4 Kg6 42.Kg2 Kg5 43.Rxf6 exf6 44.Kf3 f5?

Mich Finn 11

Over the last half-dozen moves White has been somewhat better than Black but nowhere near a clear win. Now down to well under 30 seconds on the clock Mr. Finnerman continues to strive for a win. It has to be a decision fired by intuition. Mr. Michelman was himself down to only a few minutes on his clock. It was enough time for Peter to count out this following forcing sequence. Black could have stood pat with 44…, a5; and asked White to demonstrate how he plans to breakthrough.

45.exf5 Kxf5 46.Nb2 e4+ 47.Ke3 Nf6 48.Na4 Kg4 49.Nxc5 Kxg3 50.d6 h4 51.d7,..

Another more complex path is: 51 Ne4+! Nxe4 52 d7! h3 53 d8(Q) Nf2 54 Qd6+ Kg2 55 Qg6+ Kg1 56 Qf5, with a winning position for White. This line somewhat harder to visualize than the way Mr. Michelman finished the game.

51…, Nxd7 52.Nxd7 h3 53.Nf6 h2 54.Nxe4+ Kg2 55.Nf2 1-0

And the Knight arrives in the nick of time. Even with just a minute left on his clock, there is no doubt Michelman will Queen the c-pawn and execute a mate against the bare Black King, and so, Mr. Finnerman resigned here.

This was a good fight well worthy of a first board battle. I’d be proud to have had either side in this contest.

More soon.

The Saratoga Title is Decided

The Saratoga Staunton Chess Club Championship finished Sunday February 16th . Jonathan Feinberg won the title once more. This victory was not as clear cut as his win last year. Both Feinberg and Gary Farrell ended up with 9½-2½ points in the double round-robin event this year. Tie breaks gave Feinberg the trophy primarily because he defeated Gary 1½-½ in their head-to-head encounters. Farrell and Feinberg outclassed the rest of the field finishing 2½ points ahead of third place. Below is the cross table of the final standings.

Fein Finn 1a

 

Mr. Feinberg crafted his victory by going undefeated. The only surprise blip in his performance was giving up a draw to David Connors. Jonathan turned in a strong 5-1 score for the second half to win the event on tie breaks. Mr. Farrell clearly took the lead in the first half of the tournament going 5-1. Had he been able to turn one of his second half draws into a win, first place would have been his. Your humble correspondent was fortunate to get third. Loses to Farrell, Finnerman and Gausewitz seemed, at the time, to indicate a lower finish. Second half wins by Feinberg over Finnerman and Gausewitz allowed me third place. Finnerman and Gausewitz were unable to overcome first half losses to Joshua Kuperman in the battle for third. David Connors finished in 6th , but he can take pride in double victories over Kuperman, a player at least one full rating class above him and a draw with the tournament winner. David should gain some ratings points from his efforts. Mr. Kuperman came last, but his sparkling win over David Finnerman, earlier reported on in this blog, ought to be some consolation. It was a brilliant attack that any one would be happy to have authored.

For those who want strong opponents, the Saratoga Club is recommended. They meet in a church just off Exit 14 of the Northway. The specific address can be found under Clubs on this site. It is about a 40 minute drive from the Albany-Schenectady area. They meet Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. It is worth a drive up for some good chess. Gary Farrell advised the Saratoga Club plans to start another tournament now that the Championship is complete beginning next week.

Feinberg, Jonathan – Finnerman, David [E71]
Saratoga Championship 2013–14 Saratoga Springs, NY, 16.02.2014

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.e4 d6 4.d4 Bg7 5.h3 0–0 6.Bg5 c5 7.d5 Qa5

Fein Finn 1

I was not entirely sure that 5 h3, was theory while watching this game. It turns out the move has a good pedigree. Versus the 6…,c5; 7…, Qa5; line, 5 h3, may make that whole concept less appealing for Black. In the database White wins far more often than not from this position. If Black plays well he can get a draw, and that is hardly Black’s aim in taking up the King’s Indian Defense. Playing for two results; a draw or a loss, is not the rational for the KID. The design of the KID in modern times has been to play for three results; a win, a draw, or a loss. It is that devil-take-the- hindmost intention that makes the KID real weapon for the adventurous spirit.

Here are some Grandmaster games with 7…, Qa5:

This selection of illustrative games definitely shows there problems for both sides to solve, but to restate the earlier comment, database statistics are favorable for White after 5 h3, and 7…, Qa5.

Somewhat more controlled for Black is 7…, e6; immediately. Play likely continues: 8 Bd3 exd5 9 exd5 Re8+ 10 Nge2 h6 11 Be3 Nbd7; and it has been my experience that White is just OK here. Black, on the other hand, is very nearly equal, and he has good chances if White makes some mistakes.

8.Bd2?!,..

Handing Black a tempo unnecessarily. The natural move is 8 Qd2, with equality. I suspect Mr. Feinberg thought to muddy up the position some with his 8th move.

8…, e6 9.Bd3 a6?

The effort to make things unclear pays off. The natural continuation is 9…, exd5 10 Nxd5 Qd8; and 11 Qc2, or 11 Nxf6, leaving Black fairly comfortable notwithstanding the backward d-pawn. Opening the e-file before White has the chance to castle is a typical idea for Black in this kind of position.

In Zurich, 1953 Averbach – Gligorich famously showed how Black can defend a d-pawn on an open file in the KID by indirect tactical means. It is a game worth studying if the KID is one of your openings as Black. It is possible in this game Black was not familiar with the Averbach – Gligorich game and its important ideas, so he looked elsewhere for a plan. At the club level your opponents will very often jump at the chance to pressure a backward d-pawn. Winning that “button” can be made costly for White if you know Gligorich’s ideas.

There is one additional problem with advancing the a-pawn; it weakens b6 if the b-pawn can not be pushed to b5 before White positively prevents such a move. This idea becomes Mr. Feinberg’s organizing thought for the middle game.

10.Nf3 Qc7 11.0–0 exd5 12.exd5,..

White has been able to put his Knight on f3 and a Bishop on d3. Had the e-file been opened sooner it is not easy for White to place those minor pieces this way.

12…, Nbd7 13.a4,..

There are a number of reasonable moves for White here. Two of the more popular are: a) 13 Re1, what might be called the development approach in which White may even think about giving up his prized center wedge for a passer on the b-file, and b) 13 Qa4, where White wants to clamp down on the Q-side, and he is willing to enter into complications if Black is in the mood to sacrifice. These are not by any means the only options.

With the text White expands on the Q-side with less risk than putting his Queen out there. Given the opportunity, White will push the a-pawn to a5 to take control of b6.

13…, Ne5?!

I have some doubts about the usefulness of this move. By making it here Black agrees to letting White have a protected passed pawn on d5. That is not necessarily the end of the world for Black if he can successfully reposition his other Knight to d6 and everything else is equal. However, everything else is not equal; White is prepared to push the a-pawn to a5, there isn’t a readily available attacking sequence for Black on the K-side. Very possibly the best for Black is 13…, b6; halting for the time being White’s Q-side advance.

14.Nxe5 dxe5 15.a5!,..

Fein Finn 2

This precise and principled move fits Feinberg’s style. This move grabs vital space on the Q-side. This is the normal order of things in the KID. The guiding notion for Black in the KID is to accept that sort of deficit and to seek compensation by attacking the White King on the opposite side of the board.

I was impressed with Jonathan’s positional play throughout the tournament. In every game he strived to maneuver for a positional advantage. The rest of us attempted the same but often became distracted from positional goals by tactical temptations. Mr. Feinberg tried, and most often succeeded, in carrying out his positional scheme that led directly a very favorable situation. His games had a connecting logic that make them very useful if you are teaching someone positional play. As National Master Van Riper said of Jonathan: “His style can put you to sleep” if tactics are your cup of tea. It has to be admitted Feinberg’s approach to chess has served him well. He has maintained a solid Expert rating for these many years while many of the rest of us have not done so. Solid positional play leads to more victories than does seeking to solve every problem with tactical play.

15…, Ne8 16.Na4 Bd7

This is an interesting decision. Black wants to bring his Rook on a8 to the center, a laudable goal. Very, very often Black leaves the Bc8 and the Ra8 sitting while he presses forward on the K-side.

17.Nb6 Rd8 18.Rb1 Nd6?

Fein Finn 3

This was Black’s last chance to start something on the K-side with 18…, f5?! I don’t believe this activity would amount to much for Black. It does, however, conform to the received wisdom that Black has to seek space and action on the K-side to offset the natural advantages White enjoys on the other side of the board. By deciding to take up the d-pawn blockade with the Knight, Black, maybe unwittingly, makes the game about piece play, and not about completing strategic struggles on opposite sides of the board. The general problem with that is his pieces are not well coordinated. This situation gives White chance to tactically exploit his careful positional buildup on the Q-side.

19.b4!,..

This is the point of 15 a5. Black’s c-pawn will be a problem to defend, and either way taking on b4, or letting White capture on c5, the White Bishop can end up on an annoying diagonal.

19…, Rfe8 20.bxc5 Qxc5 21.Bb4 Qc7 22.c5 Nf5

Black has three squares from which to chose for this Knight. There is not much real difference between f5 or b5 as a post for the Knight. White d-pawn will still push forward.

23.Bc4 e4

I like 23…, Nd4; a little bit more than the text. It makes a more stubborn defense hoping to use the Knight and light squared Bishop to hold b5 and c6. Of course, White will likely engineer a breakthrough somewhere. The motivation behind the game move is to bring the Bg7 into action. The problem is the Black Queen is going to be shunted back to b8, a very dismal square for a Queen, and Black will have difficulties finding meaningful activity with his Queen shut away.

24.d6 Qb8

White has realized a reward for his steady positional play: The d-pawn takes away c7 and e7 from the Black pieces, f7 is not well defended, and Black’s available forces for active play are just his dark squared Bishop and the Knight.

25.Qb3 Be6 26.Bxe6!?,..

Fein Finn 4

With this move White passes on a nice shot; 26 d7 Re7 27 c6. This is very strong for White. The alternative line; 26 d7 Rf8 27 c6 bxc6 28 Qxc6, is also very good for White. Instead White proceeds more carefully maintaining his positional advantage and confident some more booty will fall into his hands.

26…, Rxe6 27.Rfe1 Nd4 28.Qc4 Nb5!?

The constant positional pressure yields material. This may well be the best course for Black; giving up the e-pawn to gain some freedom for his pieces. The White pawn on d6 is an unpleasant problem. Black wants to “play behind it” in the open spaces if he can keep the pawn from rushing to the 8th . That is not an unreasonable wish, but his Queen is in Coventry on b8, and he has keep one Rook on the back rank to be sure the d-pawn does not make a dash to Queen. This leaves Black with insufficient force to do any real damage.

29.Rxe4 Rxe4 30.Qxe4 Re8 31.Qd3 Qd8

Progress of a sort; The Queen now is doing the distant blockade of the d-pawn and a Black Rook controls the e-file. There is, however, the lust of the d-pawn to expand that is going to decide the game.

32.Bd2?,..

Fein Finn 5

I can relate to Mr. Feinberg’s decision here. Once long ago in game with Lee Battes that decided the Schenectady Championship, I passed on similarly tempting opportunity to finish things off neatly and thematically. In my case being over cautious meant drawing and sharing the title with Phil Lichtenwalner. Here 32 d7, leads to a nice tactical win that is every bit as sparkling as Kuperman’s victory over Finnerman. The line goes: 32 d7 Re6 33 Qd5 Rc6 34 Re1 Nc7 35 Re7! Nxd5 36 Re8+ Bf8 37 Rxd8 Nxb4 38 Rxf8+, and the pawn makes a Queen on d8 checking. When the Black King moves to g7, the Nb4 is lost to the Queen check on d4. Mr. Feinberg’s positional advantage is so large that caution carries no big price tag.

32…, Qf6 33.Be3 Qc3 34.Qxc3,..

Opting for simplicity. With 34 Qe4, White could craft another combination involving the pawn going to d7 and a heavy piece check on e8.

34…, Bxc3 35.Nd5 Bg7 36.Nc7 Rd8

There are many ways for Black to lose here.

37.Nxb5 axb5 38.Rxb5 Rd7 39.a6 1–0

Fein Finn 6

There is no defense. It will be mate or White will have a new Queen. This was a very nice game by Jonathan Feinberg. He never was in trouble, and he played careful chess as befit’s a game needed to take a title.

Last year David Finnerman won the Schenectady title. This year he did not do so well at Saratoga. This is not a surprise. Almost all players have their ups and downs. It would have difficult to match his excellent performance last year at Schenectady.

In this area we have a fairly large number of players capable of taking a club title, the group I call the 1950-1990 mob. David has proven he belongs in this group. A step ahead of these guys are a small number of players: Steve Taylor and Feinberg are the names that come immediately to mind. They are not easy to beat. Their accomplishment of holding the Expert title for a very long time while others rise and fall speaks to determination and maybe just a bit more talent than the rest. Congratulations to Jonathan Feinberg for winning the Saratoga Championship once again!

More soon.

The Pirc, Austrian Attack Examined Locally

As reported in my last post Schenectady A defeated the Capital Region team 3½-½. The bright spot for the Capital Region guys was David Finnerman’s draw versus the redoubtable Philip Sells on board 1. The game answered a question I have been mulling for sometime: How would Mr. Finnerman play his usual Pirc when confronted with the Austrian Attack? Continue reading “The Pirc, Austrian Attack Examined Locally”

An Update on the Candidates and a Game From the CDCL

The ongoing World Champion Candidate’s tournament has occupied my time this past week or so. It is fascinating. At first the story appeared to be how the two highest rated players, Carlsen and Aronian, would settle their battle for primacy. Aronian then slipped with a loss to Svidler in round 11. The tale then took on the aspect of another almost magical victory for the highest rated player ever – the commentators spoke of how he seemed to have a Fischer-like effect on the opponents. Continue reading “An Update on the Candidates and a Game From the CDCL”

Finnerman Wins in Schenectady

The longest running of our local club championships ended Thursday evening. David Finnerman won his game from Michael Mockler and with it his first Schenectady title. The tournament is not quite complete; there is one game to be played. Carl Adamec and Peter Henner will play to settle which of the two will finish last. That in itself is remarkable. These are two strong players. For them to be fighting it out over the last place is unexpected. Continue reading “Finnerman Wins in Schenectady”