Thursday, 21 November 2013

A recent game in the Pribyl/Czech System

I had quite a nice win as White against the Pribyl System (or Czech Defence) recently.  There were a few minor mistakes but that's to be expected in club-level chess, and I was quite pleased with how I played on the whole.  I have to admit that I knew no theory past move 3, but I stumbled into a fairly mainstream response which has been used by some grandmasters (although most players prefer 5.Bd3 to 5.Bd2 according to the database).  Yes, it goes to show that I don't always play gambits, although admittedly I did leave my b2-pawn hanging for a couple of moves.

Meanwhile, there was some good bloodthirsty chess in Game 9 of the Anand-Carlsen match with both players pressing strongly for a win, but sadly Anand's aggressive play was abruptly cut short by a large blunder on move 28.  I found a good analysis of the game at the ChessBase website.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Albin Counter-Gambit

The Albin Counter-Gambit is used against the Queen's Gambit and begins with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5, intending 3.dxe5 d4 whereupon the d4-pawn has a significant cramping effect on White's position.  It can be seen as a sounder relative of the Englund Gambit (1.d4 e5) because White has weakened the b4 and d4-squares by playing c2-c4. 

Unlike with the previously-discussed Englund Gambit, I find it difficult to answer the question, "Is the Albin Counter-Gambit sound?", since objectively Black falls a little short of full compensation for the pawn, but on the other hand, 2...e5 is probably only marginally worse theoretically than 2...e6, 2...c6 or 2...dxc4, while often giving Black greater counterplay.

The format for the Albin Counter-Gambit coverage and the updated Englund Gambit coverage now features a brief discussion of the main lines and ideas, a 4-part series giving games and analysis and an index of variations, to make it easier to determine which games correspond to which variations.

In the Albin, I focus on White's attempts to get in an early e2-e3, with the aim of swapping off Black's d4-pawn, and then on the three most critical lines: (4.Nf3 Nc6) 5.g3, 5.a3 and 5.Nbd2.  I have chosen to give some coverage to all of Black's main approaches (...Be6, ...Bf5, ...Bg4 and ...Nge7) in each case, as theoretically some of the lines following 5.a3 and 5.Nbd2 are looking quite dicey and it is worth having alternatives to fall back upon.  This coverage might need a bit of expansion in the future as I realise that after 4.Nf3 Nc6 I haven't mentioned White's minor fifth-move options (e.g. the rare 5.Bf4 was covered by Tim McGrew in A Fistful of Novelties)

My overall assessments haven't changed much though- the approaches with ...Nge7, favoured by Alexander Morozevich, are generally soundest but there are certain White responses that make it hard for Black to generate much counterplay, while the approaches with ...Be6/f5/g4 give Black counterplay but are less likely to come close to fully equalising.  I find the approaches with ...Bf5 the most fun, as there are various tactics for White to watch for on c2 and d3 and they lead to some good kingside attacks if White goes g2-g3, although I have tried out some of the ...Nge7 lines as well.  

In the meantime, the Anand-Carlsen match has sprung into life and seen Carlsen pull out two of his typical endgame wins from equal or slightly better positions.  While I would like Carlsen to win the match as I consider him to be the better player, I'd like to see Anand at least win one game, as per my original prediction (+3 -1 =8) and I think he still has a chance of pulling that off, though his chances of winning the match are now pretty low.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Anand-Carlsen- The Beginning

While I continue working on updates to my site (currently updating my coverage of the Albin Counter-Gambit and the Englund Gambit, both gambits based on meeting d4 with an early ...e5, of which the Albin is the more reliable) and again tinkering with the format, as I get more experienced with the pros and cons of PGN and HTML editing) I'll take another look at the Anand-Carlsen match.  Against my original prediction, it's opened with two rather cagey draws.

The official site offers game replays and computer engine analysis outputs so I'll link to the site for the benefit of those who would like to replay the games.

Game 1 was a pretty uneventful draw, but for me, the bigger disappointment was Game 2.  The following position was reached after 14 moves:
This is the sort of opposite-sides castling position that excites me at the club level as it often leads to rival attacks, but unfortunately, a series of piece trades followed and a quick draw resulted.  The computer analysis at the official site indicates a few junctures where either side could have attacked more (16...a5 followed by 17...a4, 18.Qd4 for instance).  Certainly when I castle queenside I often find myself having to reckon with the advance of that a-pawn.

However, it's understandable that neither player wants to take many risks at this early stage and World Championship matches have often got off to a cagey start in the past so hopefully this is just one of those situations and the match will flare up within a few more games.

Mayhem in the Morra- White's sacrificial play rebounds

I had a game in the Morra Gambit (1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3) by transposition that didn't turn out too well, but I got quite a good position out of the opening.  (I plan to get around to giving the Morra some discussion at my Gambiteer's Guild site eventually, but we might be talking a year or more later, depending on my progress with covering other variations.)

The game, with light annotations:

It's frustrating when you get to play one of your pet lines, emerge with a good position out of the opening and then screw up, but at least then you can't blame your loss on the opening!  As it happens, the whole game up to move 13, as observed in my notes, is covered in Marc Esserman's book Mayhem in the Morra (a book well worth getting if you are interested in this gambit, as he carries across a lot of enthusiasm for the opening as well as extensive coverage of the various lines).

Englund Gambit

I'm continuing to tinker around with the format of the articles as I get more to grips with the pros and cons of PGN/HTML editing.  The next "big" update will be on the Albin Counter-Gambit, which I've been using frequently with Black over the past couple of years, with reasonable results and some exciting games.

However, the latest update to my site has been on the Englund Gambit (1.d4 e5).  This is Black's only way to get a gambit on the board by force after 1.d4, but the downside is that it is not as reliable as the Albin or Budapest Gambits because White has not weakened the b4 and d4-squares with c2-c4.

I played the Englund Gambit with 1.d4 e5 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7 quite a lot in casual games between 2004 and 2008, but have largely abandoned it since, partly because of the strength of 8.Nd5 in the main line and partly because I began to find the Albin and related lines (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nc6!?) more attractive as well as being sounder.  The line is still playable at club level in my opinion, since there is only one particularly troublesome line for Black and in practice, White is unlikely to both get that far and know what he/she is doing, but it does arguably amount to "hope chess" in the sense that you're relying on your opponent not being booked up on the refutation.  I tried it out in one serious match game, which I won, though ironically it was me who ended up the pawn ahead and facing an attack:

Having looked through the different lines of the Englund Gambit, perhaps the best practical tries for Black after 1.d4 e5 are the Zilbermints Gambit (2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nge7) and Soller Gambit (3...f6), which are the lines that Stefan Bücker examined in Kaissiber 5 in some detail.  They concede a greater-than-usual advantage to White with best play but I don't know of an outright refutation.  That said, my occasional experiments with the 3...Nge7 variation in casual games have typically been unconvincing, and I typically felt that I was playing an inferior version of the Albin Counter-Gambit lines with ...Nge7.  3...f6 should not give Black enough for the pawn, since Black is playing a Blackmar-Diemer Gambit a tempo down, but a scan through the databases suggests that in rapid games, the BDG can be dangerous even after losing a tempo.  In slow games I have rather more doubts about 3...f6, however.

If White does not play 2.dxe5 and 3.Nf3 then White gets no more than a normal edge, and sometimes less (e.g. after 2.d5?! White is the one struggling to equalise).  One area where I differ from established theory is that I believe that 1.d4 e5 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.f4?! should be met by 3...d6!, rather than 3...f6?! 4.Nf3! fxe5 5.fxe5 which is probably as good for White as 3.Nf3.

I have to say, though, that if I was to take White against someone like Lev Zilbermints (I've seen quite a few of his short, sharp kingside attacks in the Soller Gambit in particular) then I would be strongly tempted by 1.d4 e5 2.e4!?, where it's often White who gets to be the gambiteer, making it a good psychological tactic.

Monday, 4 November 2013

The "draw problem"

While I get some more articles prepared at my site, another quick blog on a chess-related issue that interests me: draws at grandmaster level.  ChessBase has a two-part series on draws:

Having read various recent issues of Chess Monthly, it does seem to me that the problem of uneventful draws and players striving not to lose has declined at the grandmaster level over the past 5-10 yearss or so.

For me, the main issue is that chess has a large "drawing margin" and that when you reach a very high standard, you run into the following problem.  I quote from Michael Goeller's review of the book "Beating Grandmasters More Regularly" at

C]hess is one of the most drawish of sports, and trying to complicate matters, especially with Black, can easily lead to disaster against opponents who are willing to set up a solid position and just wait. I have literally chosen to lose games rather than acquiesce to a draw against such players, because I could not bring myself to accept that my superior knowledge and understanding were insufficient to yield enough winning chances when facing them. Therefore, I would often consciously take excessive risks and lose. Being uncompromising is, in general, a disadvantage in chess, as having the "serve" ...of the white pieces is too hard to overcome. Had I realized this fact at the beginning,I would have probably played chess only as an amateur, and chosen a
different sport to make a professional career.

Such a statement makes you feel good to play as an amateur, where there will always be winning chances in every game you play even if they tend to exist for both sides!
The above issue represents the main reason why I don't have an ambition to reach GM level and play professionally- for me chess is a hobby and, while I'd quite like to break the 2000 Elo barrier, my main ambition is simply to have fun and to give something to the chess community for the benefit of fellow amateurs.  A lot of people assume that playing chess is about maximising results and that the goal is always maximum improvement, but I don't go along with that.

I don't think there's a lot that can be done about the above issue of drawishness at the highest levels of chess.  Magnus Carlsen, who I discussed in my last article, was known as a developing player to have a bold, attacking style and a strong willingness to trade material for activity (e.g. see Carlsen-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee 2004 at which is in keeping with the theme of the opening systems discussed in this blog, but when he reached a high grandmaster standard he realised that it is often hard to make those sort of attacks work at that level and the associated openings are vulnerable to being neutralised by deep computer-assisted opening preparation, so he chose to become more subtle and positionally-based in his ways of generating winning chances.

For now, though, I think chess is in pretty good health, because grandmaster chess is still capable of producing some excitement, and less than 1% of players are grandmasters- for the other 99+% of us, games will typically feature numerous winning chances for both sides.  There is a risk that computers could end up "solving" chess in the way that they have with draughts/checkers (i.e. being able to prove a draw against best play), which would be likely to cause a problem at grandmaster level, but it is unlikely that amateurs would even come close to remembering any of the "solutions".

Friday, 1 November 2013

Carlsen vs. Anand World Championship match

A quick diversion from the main theme of this blog, as many chess fans are wondering about how the Anand-Carlsen match will pan out.

Like many others, I don't think Anand really has much of a chance.  I remember the Kasparov-Anand match from 1995, when Kasparov was uncharacteristically tentative and prematurely agreed to a lot of draws, before finally coming undone in Game 9, thanks to a powerful exchange sacrifice on d5 which he was probably unwise to accept. But then Kasparov bounced back immediately, with a fine attacking win in Game 10, and Anand subsequently collapsed.

Anand has better match play experience but I don't think his all-round game is quite as strong as it was in 1995, while I doubt that Carlsen will be particularly afraid of Anand. If Anand wins their first decisive game I reckon he will succumb to a similar comeback.

Carlsen, like Kasparov, is known for occasionally using 19th-century openings, including a fair number of King's Gambits in his blitz games (and even won with 1.a4 on one occasion), but I doubt that he will use any in the upcoming world championship match.  Most likely, he will use slightly-offbeat lines in closed games which may be marginally sub-optimal theoretically, but provide strategic and relatively uncharted middlegame positions that give him scope to positionally outplay Anand.  In keeping with the modern trend at grandmaster level, I expect to see a lot of 1.d4 and some of 1.c4 and/or 1.Nf3 and we may well see no more than a couple of games starting with 1.e4.

My prediction is that Carlsen will win 3 of the 12 games, Anand will win 1, and there will be 8 draws, giving a scoreline of 7-5 in favour of Carlsen.  I also think that the match will be worth watching, as Carlsen's general approach is resistant to computer-assisted preparation and is unlikely to result in many uneventful draws, regardless of how Anand chooses to combat it.