Tuesday, 15 October 2019

When is the middlegame over and the ending starting?

Currently, I am working with a DVD series on "Winning Endgame Strategies" (Kuljasevic), Soltis famous "Grandmaster Series - Endings" as well as Shereshevsky`s "Endgame Strategy".   All of these experts hardly care about any theoretical lines. (Hardly; of course, there are a few standard rook endings to know. But that´s it. It is, by no means, about the 20, 50 or even 100 most important endgame techniques or something alike.) For them, it is all about plans and schematic thinking.

However, one question that strikes me: When is the endgame beginning?

According to Soltis - referencing to Belavenets, as soon as the queens have left the board. Whereas Romanovski´s definition depends upon the king: as soon as the king assumes an active role, he calls it an endgame. Glenn Flear (Practical Endgame Play - Beyond the Basics) defines it as the final phase of the game, where significant simplification marked the end of the middlegame. Many experts argue that it is about "reduced material being left on the board"...
Mednis tried it the other way around and approached it from the negative: Endgame starts, when it is not anymore about better development or space advantage (but about pawn structures).

Of course, each of the above definitions can be falsified easily. Nevertheless, none is completely wrong. No doubt, it is not clear cut and it doesn´t matter how many more (past and present) experts one consults, it remains somewhat fuzzy and foggy. It simply "depends"...👦

Its recognition, though, seems vital! And there is one thing they all agree - and even Wikipedia "knows" it: Middlegame and endgame show different characteristics and require different strategies! E.g.:
  • The king becomes (much) more active.
  • It is no longer about better development.
  • It is no longer about "more space".
  • Wing pawns gain in value.
  • Piece value in general changes (as opposed to the middlegame); especially pawns.
  • The better side shall trade pieces but not pawns (whereas in the in middlegame it is rather vice versa).
  • Initiative becomes vital.
  • It is hardly about precise calculation, but about decent plans --> schematic thinking.

Honestly, I never really thought about this (and definitely not the way indicated by the above bullet points). For me, endgames were always about deep and accurate calculations - something I am bad at; about pawn races and rooks to be placed on the right square.
Hence, better finish things off before the endgame or accept a draw, if in doubt.  Right?!
No, not anymore - thanks to the authors mentioned above!

"Studying the opening is just memorizing moves and hoping for traps, but studying the endgame is chess." – Joshua Waitzkin

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Finding Plans

The following imbalanced position is a really nice one. The pawn-structure(s) as well as the exchange make it somewhat difficult to judge and evaluate. Especially the knight on b4 and the bishop on b1 have a rather strange, yet almost fascinating "love-hate relationship": The position of the knight assures that the bishop can´t move, while at the same time he is unable to move due to the bishop. Likewise, the bishop is both (passively) trapped and (actively) trapping! 
Yes, White exerts a vital pressure on f7, but Black can cope, whereas White cannot really reinforce this pressure. Even worse, as soon as White releases the pressure on the f-file, Black´s queen might enter the c-file.
White to move - but what/why/where/how?
Personally, I believe that the above position is amongst the most difficult ones I ever posted. Some within this blog require(d) accurate calculation and maybe, to be fair, a level of precise calculation I neither was nor will be able to bring to the board during a tournament match. Please check this link to see a pretty recent example of mine. (Even now, I struggle to calculate it all through to the end.)... But calculation, however, is one thing, finding a decent continuation, a plan, a totally different one!

So let´s get back to the above position.
Remember the once upon a time introduced concept of Wu Wei? (Of all the things I wrote within this blog, this concept is one of the rare things I never forgot and never had to remind myself of...) 👦
Well, sometimes it is not that much about what I can do to improve my position, but to first recognize that the other side is absolutely tied down and immobile! Whenever I see a Wu Wei position, the first thing coming into my mind is a king march. But within the above position, where could the king go to and, even more important, why? Not only couldn´t I answer these questions, but even after knowing the right plan, I have no clue how to make sure to come up with something similar in any of my future matches...😯

Let me try to get to the solution by asking some questions. (BTW: I was very tempted to try some sort of Socratic dialogue here, like Soltis does so well in his book "Grandmaster Secrets - Endings". But this would have made this post way too long...)

Which of White´s pieces is tied most and where would be a better post for it?
What is hindering that piece to move?
What could be done to overcome this hindrance?

And now giving a more concrete hint: Would it favour White to get the above mention "love-hate related" pair off the board?

If you got the point that a trade of knight versus bishop is good for White - ok (not too difficult).
If these questions guided you towards the bishop being better placed on g4 - pretty good (since at least I was stuck thinking that spotting g6 and h7 is aboslutely ok for the bishop; it is, but the lack of imagination is the point here).
NOW try to link the Wu Wei concept and the king march with the plan to either trade knight versus bishop or allow the bishop to get to g4. While at the same time not allowing Black´s queen to enter via the c-file.
If you are now able to see the White king on d2 and the rook an c3 - excellent!
(Then it is only a small step to start with Rf3, so that the king can start its crawl and the rook can land on c3.)

It is THIS combination of concepts and plans why I consider the above being one of the most difficult positions I ever posted.

For completeness sake: After Rc3, Black had to start shifting his queen on the 8th rank. This allowed White to launch a decisive attack on the h-file - via the move g4. (So, yes, White diverted from his original plan of getting his bishop to g4. But, hey, changing plans is part of the game.) At the right time, White shifted his rook to the h-file and finally was able to apply some tactics by hammering his bishop into g6: where neither a re-take with the h- nor f-pawn saved the day for Black. (And yes, the plan to control the c-file - without some fancy idea about where the bishop would be better placed - would have reached the target, too. )

Day 2 / part II

....and here we go: Earlier today I was happily announcing the concept of Wu Wei, and only a few hours afterwards I am NOT able to really apply it (Kasparov versus Vallejo Pons /2004) - white to move:

This is what I would call a Wu Wei position: White has any time in the world to regroup his pieces. There is no need at all for any hasty/brutal attacking gestures! Qc1! Who sees the plan behind it?

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Creating Weaknesses

I started a DVD-session on "endgame strategies". The following is a nice example of how to play for a win. Within the below position, the white pieces are to be prefered, for sure. But actually wouldn´t really know how to advance things.
The pawn on b7 is a weakness, no doubt. But it seems hard to put yet more pressure on this square. So how appraoch this position? I tried to make tactics on c6 work, but there are simply none to it! To cut it short, Ivanchuk saw his knight on b5 and his bishop on c4. (While I didn´t. Manoveuvering the knight to g5 is fine for me, I might have done this, too. But without the proper plan to direct the bishop towards c4, the move of the knight becomes useless.)
Only a few moves from now black is simply destroyed: f7 cannot be protected and any advance of this pawn simply weakens g6 and h5 too horribly... (Within the game, f6 was played. After the knight went back to f4, the rook entered the scene via e4 to e6. End of story.)

So the key (for me personally) here is to (i) have a plan (not just move pieces) and (ii) identify a second weakness.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Pawn + Rook versus Rook - classics

When was the last time you had to have a look at Lucena + Philidor in order not to confuse one with the other or simply not forget about them at all? Well, actually I can manage to forget about this really fast - as indicated before!
But do you also remember how to successfully defend about g- or b-pawns in the "rook versus rook plus pawn"-endings? Or to put it the other way round: Is the below position a draw; regardless who is to move?
To cut it short - with a pawn on g or b, simply retreat with both king and rook to the 8th rank!  Place your king on the file of the pawn and if forced to move the king due to check by the rook, move to the corner. (It is vital to move to the corner!) A double g/b-pawn, however, wins.

Interestingly, the following position is a dead-draw:
The black king is perfectly placed, there is exactly ZERO change for white to win. All black has to do is move is rook (and never ever take the g-pawn)!  If the second pawn is on the f-file, it is won.

Just one last scenario (so next time I prepare, I can simply consult this posts):
While the above one is a draw with black to move. There are some interesting variating set-ups - most with two files between the black rook and the white king... The thing to remember here is to end the sequence with tactics:
White just played d7 to win. See it?! 👦

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Nice finish (and nice animation)

...wouldn´t need the sound, though... I am not a "French"-player, but I like when both sides seem to follow their plan somewhat ignoring the other one´s (reminding me on King´s Indian Defense battles).

Nevertheless, I had to look twice before being sure about Leko´s intention after black resigned:

Picking things up again

Due to rather drastical - but absolutely desireable - change within my work-life, I wasn´t able to focus on chess at all. Actually, for the first time in many years I even had to skip quite a series of tournaments which I normally would have attended. This "transition phase" will continue until May next year - only then I will have "transformed" into my new profession. Hence, it will not be truely active chess phase prior to that date and only then can I yet pick up my journey again to elevate my chess towards higher levels...

Nevertheless, I am still working with CRT 4.0 to keep up with tactical issues. It seems like this allows me to keep my current level of 2100 - last week I won against a 2183 FM. (BTW - many former IMs recommend solving tactic puzzles as one of the most important means to increase one strenght!)

Today, I spent quite some time in the afternoon to read and evaluate some of the newsletter articles I get from TheChessWorld.com. My inbox showed some 75 emails which I finally took the time to go through. Ever heardt about the site TheChessWorld? Actually, I am a frequent consumer of the content (and products) offered there. Besides some really helpful insights into some of the openings I am confronted with at the board, they also offer articles that I find rather helpful - not always, let´s be fair, but every now and then.

Let me share just two things for a start:

Looking for real blasts - following the link you will find some amazing blasts by Anand. To be honest, I wasn´t too sure about the value for me personally. Only some 30min after I finished going through the material, I realized that, probably, I should open my eyes (much) more and look for game-changing sacrifices, even if I cannot really calculate things to the very end...  I know, too well, that just because "I want to", nothing will happen. But:

Today, I was reminded that prior to an important game or even tournament, I should go not only through my openings, but also have a decent look at my own posts within this blog!  YES - taking the time to review old posts is actually an advice given by more than one GM (since I keep a pretty open record of my mistakes and this is what it is all about - facing prior faults): It helps to be reminded of things that went wrong in the past and those worth to remember during the game. Hence, going through "Anand´s blasts" prior to a match may well help me to actually go for it. I saw an interview with German´s top talent Vincent Keymer yesterday where he made his point by committing that he finds winning positions so interesting because of the many creative opportunities they bring.

So, all I want is to remind myself of Anand´s blasts and Keymer´s joy in order to open my vision...  Let´s see! 👦

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Endgames - with GM Ben Finegold

Have you ever had the chance to view any of Ben´s chess videos? Never?! 😕
Well, then it is definitely time to go for one. Personally, I like his entertaining way but I know that for some he is not what they consider a good instructor. Anyway, I like his style and actually, so does my son (I once told him about a funny instructor from the Saint Louis Chess Club and before I could say his name he said "Ben Finegold". So he actually knew him before I did).

The one below is a beginner´s course on classic endgames. Even for me the bishop+knight versus king as well as the rook versus bishop endings need a refresher every now and then. Soooo, why not with Ben?!
(Apart from that, I did a refresher on a position within the Symmetrical English - based on one game I so bitterly lost last Sunday.)

Enjoy! 😉

Monday, 18 March 2019

Not Dead Yet

Actually, even during the last 10 months without and ChessMonk activity, I still managed to do my daily dose of tactics (using CRT-ART 4.0) and I am also doing quite well in the ongoing chess league. And yes, I was also spending quite some time playing online-bullet - shame on me. Nevertheless, I miss the tournaments. It finally looks like I will be able to get back into the chess circus later this year!

So after pretty tough working year, where I actually wasn´t able to play any tournaments at all and yet some professional changes soon to follow, I finally managed to go for a Blitz Team Championship yesterday. So for the first time ever we had to go for "3+2" and all in all, it went better than expected! To be honest, I want to reduce my online bullet exposure and exchange most of it for more 3+2 games...
As a side-effect, my son also joined and there is some sort of "hope" that he might get back into the game with a bit more ambition...
But of course, there´s always room for improvement and I always considered Blitz a good way to test your opening (and endgame) knowledge. So tonight I took the time to increase my understanding within a rather exotic, not 100% correct, but definitelly fun-to-play, overall playable and really agressive line within the English Opening. It is PERFECT for Blitz and I am using this "weapon" in online Blitz a lot; but I never took the time to dive into it more analytically. I destilled some key hypotheses on when to use it and when not to, which will have to be tested (theoretically and practically) during the coming days and weeks...
In addition, I found a nice idea within the Sicilian based on GM Le. Interestingly, it never made it into any book I read on "my variation" of the Sicilian. But according to the engine it is pretty sound!

Unfortunately, I cannot go into any details in order not to lay open my "secret weaponry". But I promise to reveal "time and place" next time it comes to the board in a face-to-face match!  😉

Sooo, it looks like I can finally continue working on reaching my next chess target and climb above 2100!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Yet again - not enough precision

I played Hassloch - and yet again faced my "old inless": controlling the game until reaching a won position and then allowing my opponent to escape to a draw...😕  Black to move:
I was trying to make Nd2 work, but didn´t get to the point. Actually, I didn´t have any time for working on my chess during the last 5 months or so. I am pretty convinced that I would have found the continuation Rxc3 (after Bxb7) some 6 months ago or would I have had the time for any decent training recently.  I was able to keep up the pressure for a few more moves (assuring a slight advantage of  0.6), but only to throw it all away shortly after: dead draw!

Lacking these (highly necessary) training units, I even fuck up positions like the one below (White to move):
Believe it or not, there was a clear reason why I fixed the g + h pawns - yes there was!  And by taking on e5 I could have assured the necessary edge.  But I was blind - ignoring the very reason why I fixed the pawns...😡

Not only did these full points slip through my fingers, but I also faced time trouble in 4 matches. The later, to my mind, is yet another clear indication that I need more training  and (definitely) NOT more tournaments!

Unfortunately, I will not be able to pick up my chess lessons prior to July...  (what a painful pitty!)

Will I  - FINALLY - get over 2100 in 2018?  I have my doubts. But I don´t give up: mid 2019 is my new target!