Sunday, 8 December 2019

Grand Chess Tour 2019 Finals - LIVE

Great commentators
Yesterday´s victory over MVL by Ding was interesting, indeed.
Let´s see how today´s 25min-games end!

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

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?! 👦