Sunday, December 20, 2009

Winter Storm Crimps ACIS Notes

The "Blizzard of 2009" put a big crimp in my ACIS activities this weekend. For example, I wanted to respond to Phaedrus' comments on my ACIS-Notes-002, but a snow storm that left way over a foot (~35cm) of snow had me shoveling for over four hours... Ugh. I think Blunderprone had a similar fate...

Next weekend...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ACIS Notes 002 -- Strong and Weak Squares

I am still making my way through Grooten's Chess Strategy for Club Players. In Chapter 9, Strong and Weak Squares, there is another idea that startled me concerning strong squares. The idea is to use a strong square not only for an outpost (like a Knight on d5), but also to use it like conveyor belt to bring more pieces through that strong square and into the game. I have already been introduced to a related notion of echanging. When you exchange, you give your opponent the opportunity to bring their pieces forward. Here we will see White using a square to cycle his pieces through a strong square, and not necessarily as a result of exchanges. Also, while exploring these ideas, I try to make special note as to the reasoning behind which pieces you want to keep, and which pieces you want to exchange. Please comment if you think I am incorrect, since I need to learn what is correct.

Below is a position from Grooten-Hazewindus, Eindhoven 1982 (Chapter 9, p.137, Grooten):

We start by noticing White's control of d5 and e4, Black's isolated pawn on e5, and the opposing bishops, White on e4, Black on f5. According to Nimzowitsch, in order to control a pawn, you must first blockade. The owner of the pawn wants to advance it, and to do that you need control of the square in front of it, thus Black wants to keep the light Bishop, and White will want to exchange it. In addition to the Bishop struggle over e4, White's Knight on d5 is very strong.

1...Qc5 2. Nc3 is a dual purpose maneuver: (1) for the White Bishop to attack b7; (2) for the Knight to control d5. This allows another White piece to occupy d5. 2...Rc7 3. Rd5 Qc4 4. Re1. The White Rook moves to d5 with tempo, and the second White Rook comes up to relieve the White Queen. At first, this looked like a lot of meandering, until I played it through a few times and was able to "see" the masterful maneuvering (not that I would be able to create this myself yet - but then again, that is the purpose of ACIS, to improve...). 4...Kh8 5. Qd2 Be6 6. Rd8 Qc5 7. Rd1 Note how all of White's heavy pieces are lined up on the d-file in a formidable battery. The pressure is a bit much for Black, but there are not many choices. Here the alternatives that Fritz11 found:

  1. (0.57): 7...Rcf7 8.Rxf8+ Bxf8 9.Bd5 Bxd5 10.Nxd5 Kg8 
  2. (0.64): 7...b6 8.Rxf8+ Qxf8 9.Bd5 Rd7 10.Qe2 Qe7 
  3. (0.68): 7...Bf6 8.Rxf8+ Qxf8 9.Bd5 Bf5 10.a3 Bg7 

7...Rf7 8. Rxf8 Qxf8 (Fritz likes ...Bxf8 better) 9. Qe3 (keep the pressure on, and the White Bishop on e4 to prevent ...e4, thus freeing the Black Bishop). 9...b6 10. Bd5 (Qe2 prevents ...e4) and here we see the third White piece cycling through the d5 strong point. Before I read Grooten's explanation, I would have never understood all the "meandering". Now I can see that it is "maneuvering", and not just to shuffle pieces. The movements are designed to double attack, or threaten double attack and put the opponent on the defensive, gradually weakening his position and making it more passive. The d5 conveyor belt is a great way to get pieces in the enemy camp safely, while tying up Black in defense. 10...Bxd5 11. Rxd5 (piece number four on d5) 11...e4. At this point Black has a choice. To leave the pawn on e4 where it will remain weak and eventually fall, or try to get some activity for his Bishop. 12. Nxe4 Re7 13. b3 h6 14. Qd3 Qf4 15. Rd8+ Kh7 16. Qd5 h5 17. Ng5+ Kh6 18. Nf3 Rc7. Black tries to stir things up, but White maintains an iron grip on the center, and soon it proves to much for Black. 19. g3 Qc1+ 20. Kg2 Rc5 21. Qe4 (1-0).

The next game is from the same chapter on Stong and Weak Squares, Botvinnik-Szilagyi, Amsterdam 1966:

The action starts with 15. Be2. Despite White's Bishop as being "bad" it can certainly be active, since Black has no opposing Bishop. The best diagonal for pressure on the Black King will be a2-f7, and therefore White wants to place this Bishop on c4. Here Fritz suggests 15...a5, ...a6 and ...Bc7, which mobilizes Black's Queen-side, and attacks White's Queen-side. Also I believe that Black will want to keep his c-pawn glued to c6 in order to oppose the White pawn on e4, over control of the d5 square. 15...c5. I believe Szilagyi is motivated to attack White's Queen-side, but ...a5 is probably better, because with the text move, Black blocks his own Bishop.

Now, at this point, we see what separates me from a really strong player. My fist instinct (actually just a blind following of a rule of thumb) is to say "open the position up, I have the 'two bishops'!". Botvinnik on the other hand says "hey I have the light squares, we can close thing s up for a while then I will penetrate my opponent's position along the light squares...". That is a defining difference between me a strong players (hopefully not for long) in that a strong player will think of advantages along a whole color complex, and for me I'm just starting to see that such a thing exists.

Back to the game, 16. b5 Ne8 17. Nc4 (entombing Black's dark Bishop) 17...Nd6 18. Bg5. This move would make no sense to me, if I didn't understand Botvinnik's strategy of total domination of the light squares. So now Black has a choice - (a) allow a further weakening of light squares with ...f6, or take the Bishop and allow further disruption deep inside his territory with Nxd6, threatening Nxc8. 17...f6 18. Be3 Nxc4 This activates another "change of the guard" or conveyor belt as we saw in the previous example. The Knight is traded away, but now the White Bishop can come in with force, and together with the Queen invade along the light squares, which was Botvinnik's plan from his 15th move. 20. Bxc4+ Kh8 21. a5 Bc7 Here Botvinnik decides to trade off the Rooks, and start the invasion on the light squares. 22. Rfd1 Nf8 23. Qa2 The Rooks are ready to be traded, and the Bishop-Queen battery is established. 23...Rxd1+ 24. Rxd1 Rd8 (through this whole exchange of Rooks, Fritz slightly favors keeping them on the board with ...b6) 25. Rxd8 Bxd8 26. a6 (more light square domination, and locking in Back's dark Bishop) 26...b6 27. Kg2 Qd7 28. Qe2 (this begins maneuvering to change the Bishop-Queen battery into a Queen-Bishop battery without allowing a Queen exchange) 28...Ng6 (essentially a 'pass') 29. Bb3 Ne7 30. Qc4 Done! 30...h6 (more weakening, but what else?) 31. Qf7 Kh7 32. Bc4 Qd6 Here it is worth noting the difference between methodical following of a plan, and catching the occasional opportunity. At this point, there is a King-side attack opportunity, starting with 33. g4, threatening 34. Bxh6 see below.

  1. (8.23): 33.g4 f5 34.exf5 Qf6 35.Qe8 Bc7 
  2. (2.85): 33.Kh2 Bc7 34.g4 Kh8 35.Be6 Qd8 
  3. (2.71): 33.h4 Bc7 34.Be6 Qd8 35.g4 Bd6 

Botvinnik stuck with his guns, and played 33. h4. 33...Qd1, trying to get some action to no avail. 34. Qe8 f5 35. exf5 Nxf5 36. Bg8+ Kh8 Black resigned here, in the face of 37. Bf7+ Kh7 38. Qg8# (1-0).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

ACIS -- Google Group started
It's restricted to ACIS members, go to the group and ask to join if you want to contribute. You will be asked for your ACIS blog URL, motivation to contribute, etc.

This group was started by Blunderprone and myself. It is for the hard core ACIS members who want to have a place to store links to resources (like wikis and Exeter CC, etc.), as well as kibbitz on discussion groups to help you prepare to make your own blog posts.

Remember, the ACIS method is yours. You are tailoring general ideas into a method that works for you...

ACIS Notes 001 -- Passed Pawns

Valery Frenlakh used to tell me "chess is a game of squares, not pieces!" Unfortunately all the good things he told me sunk long after I was done taking lessons from him. He also used to tell me "make copies of positions you need to remember!". Now it seems, that is a major cornerstone to the ACIS "tailored" method started by Blunderprone.

So I will log my ACIS journey in the form of notes. These notes will be of any topic, in chronological order of discovery or reflection, on my part. As I
mentioned earlier I have an index in a Word file. If the notes are interesting to people, I could publish the index.

Back to "chess is a game of squares, not pieces!"...

I am reading
Herman Grootens "Chess Strategy for Club Players", and I have to say, the material is similar to Aron Nimzowitsch's My System, but somehow, much more readable. I'm actually able to plow through it and get reinforcement, and sometimes surprise out of the concepts. In Chapter 6 "Passed Pawns" (a Nimzowitsch favorite) I came across something that startled me. I always knew Aron said "passed pawns must be pushed", but how do you create passed pawns? And what about the fact that creating a passed pawn (an advantage for you), can sometimes allow an advantage of a different sort for your opponent.

Consider the case of the "small center" out of the Semi-Tarrasch. A schematic of the position is
here (diagram C4 from Exeter CC).

The basic point is the potential for a passed pawn in the center for White, balanced against the wing pawn majority for Black. What was never obvious to me (at all!) is how these imbalances of pawn structure affect choices of what pieces to keep on the board - and the choice of what pieces to keep on the board influence their placement. For example, in the diagram on the left, I've always wondered, "where should I put my Rooks?".

My typical response would be to observe: (a) the open c-file, and then; (b) possible potential passed pawn in the center, means; (c) put my a-Rook on c1 and f-Rook on d1.

What I did not consider is that (a) Black wants to exchange Rooks, and keep his minor pieces, to exploit his pawn advantage on the Queen-side; (b) White wants to exchange minor pieces, and keep his Rooks to exploit his advantage in the center (push passed pawn), and; (c) placing Rooks on an open file is practically guaranteeing that the Rook(s) will be exchanged. This is covered in detail in Chapter 6 of
Grooten's "Chess Strategy for Club Players". Once it sunk it, I was startled how I missed a pretty basic chunk of chess logic all these years:

  • What does your pawn structure tell you about your strengths and weaknesses relative to your opponent?
  • What piece play, relative to the pawn structure is warranted/advised?
  • What does this mean in terms of which pieces you want to keep vs. exchange?
  • Only then devise means to exchange/keep pieces, and post the ones you want to keep on the right (strong) squares.
  • NOTE: I know that Silman tries to drum in the "imbalance" concept, but it seems like he focuses on Knight vs. Bishop. What I totally missed was pawn structure imbalances that inform you of whether to keep major pieces on board or not, and if so don't exchange, even if it means not trying to "claim" an open file! For me (chess novice) this is revolutionary...
Below is a good example of White properly taking advantage of the "small center".

The big decision for White is on his 13th move. This is when he decides to put his f-Rook on e1. Followed by the a-Rook on d1 on his 14th move, and the thematic d-pawn push to d5 on his 15th move. This creates the much written about isolated d-pawn. Petrosian is a master of trading advantages, and he trades this passed d-pawn into a passed c-pawn on c6 on his 19th move. This passed pawn, so deep in his opponents position is defended masterfully by Kortschnoj. Petrosian takes advantage of Kortschnoj's passive position on his 27th move with 27. h4, starting a King-side attack. Petrosian induces weaknesses in Kortschnoj's King-side, and wins a few moves later with 37. Qxh5#.

The second example is where White reaches too far, and Black profits.

After Black's 17th move, we have a similar setup (d4, e4 pawns vs e6 pawn), however, White's King-side Rook is on d1, and the Queen-side Rook is still on a1. By White's 21st move, White has a connected passed pawn on d5, which is good, while Black contests the c-file with his Queen-side Rook, leaving White with an offside, passive Rook. However with 21...Nc4, Black pushes White's only active Rook off course, and with 22...Ne6 starts a multi-piece pileup on the e4 pawn. The initiative passes to Black. With 25...Rd1+ he forces an exchange of Rooks, which Black wants, and White does not. After 29. f3, we have a good Knight (Black) vs. bad Bishop (White) ending, however White does still have the protected passed pawn on d5. The challenge for White after 37. Bxa4 is that now White has to block Black's passed outside a-pawn with the Bishop. That is just enough of a distraction to turn the game in Black's favor. I may be oversimplifying a bit (maybe a lot - I'm a chess novice remember), nonetheless, from my perspective, White had no heavy pieces to convert the advantage of the protected passed d-pawn, and he left himself open to Black gaining the initiative. From there, the rest is technique (LOL - I've always wanted to say that but honestly I have no idea what that means).

ACIS Notes - Introduction

In the spirit of chunking my improvement to bite size doable pieces, I'll blog about my "ACIS Notes". Part of my (personalized) is to make notes of things to remember. The steps are:
  • Make a note in a Word file in my ACIS chess folder, in reverse chronological order, so that all I have to do is open the file, make a note and I'm done
  • In the note, I specify the original source materials that inspired me. Was it an example ina book, a complete game, position, tactic, opening sequence?
  • If the note includes a game, I find and make a blog entry in so I can grab a replayable game to insert in this blog. This takes approx 1 min after finding the game. Finding the game can be quick, or take a long time if the player has a name with a lot of different spellings (grrrr...) like "Kortchnoj", "Kortchoi", etc.
  • Then make the blog entry, embedding the playable games. This makes it easire for the readers, and it takes up less space than jamming the PGN into the text.
I am anticipating then, that my blog entries will make a good place for me to periodically review, and with my Word file being an index, I'll be able to find examples later on...

ACIS Method Observations so far...

Blunderprone's challenge for each of us to devise an improvement method is:
  • Much harder than I thought it would be, and;
  • The right thing to do
I've decided that I need to keep my improvements in bite size chunks due to generally heavy work loads. In addition I'll categorize my chunks into a prioritized list:
  • Tactics - I'm muddling through this with no clear direction
  • Positions - I need to figure out what the heck Blunderprone is suggesting we do. I agree on keeping positions (Valery used to chastise me about that), but I haven't figured out the Chessbase muscle movements yet. Maybe Blunderprone can put the position/database technique into a step-by-step single blog/document (hint).
  • Strategy - I am going through Grooten's "Club Strategy" book, and it is awesome. A lot of it is reinforcement in clear language and examples. Some topics startle and amaze me, and I will cover those in blog entries.
I'll have to figure out how to get on an even keel in all those areas, but for right now, just making progress, anywhere, will be huge.

For those (very few who read my blog) who wonder about me always complaining of not having enough time, due to heavy workload, suffice it to say I am a system engineer in an FFRDC non-profit who helps the fed gov't try to use IT/computer/software/SOA/cloud (you name it) in a reasonable way. As you can imagine, it's sort of like herding cats...