Saturday, April 28, 2007

Let's go back to the Sicilian Defense.
The Paulsen System, a Chessbase DVD, arrived at my doorstep the other day. The author is Norbert Sommerbauer. This DVD deals excusively with the Kan Variation ( 4...a6 ) and the Taimanov Variation ( 4... Nc6 ), the latter being more complicated than the former, in my opinion. So, guess what? I am sticking with the Kan Variation! Just at the very beginning of this work, in its overview of the opening, I came upon a very interesting move order. This move order appealed to me specially because I also use the French Defense. In fact, according to Sommerbauer, the Paulsen System is also referred to as the Franco-Sicilian Defense mainly due to 2... e6. Here is the move order: 1. e4 e6 2. d4 c5. Your opponent thought he was getting a French Defense, but that is not a sure thing. You've got one foot in the French and the other in the Sicilian! Neat.

Okay, I picked this up at Susan Polgar's blog where it received a lot of responses. There wasn't any claim of authorship so the best I can do is to cite the source. Maybe, one day, you'd find this very study in the galaxy of chess endgame studies.
Anyway, white to move and ? What do you think? He's got two extra pawns. The queening square of the B pawn is the same color as the bishop. Can you convert this into a win?
I tried it out and it has been quite a brain-teaser!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sofia Rules

There is the impression that the ground-breaking Sofia Rules have made Mtel 05 & Mtel06 into paradigms of fighting chess. On May 9, 2007, the next installment of this tournament will begin in Sofia, Bulgaria. Under the Sofia Rules, a player cannot offer a draw to his opponent directly. Hey, that is progress already. If applied at our level, that proviso alone will eliminate repetitive draw offers by our opponents. The rules state that draw offers must be made through the tournament director who will study the position and come to a determination. If the TD does not see any semblance to a theoretical draw, he orders both players to play on. Are we looking at the future of chess here? Maybe, but not exactly!

Obviously, this arrangement will work best in small tournaments. Numerous TDs must be available if the Sofia Rules are applied in any of the big-money, huge-attendance tournaments like the World Open, Foxwoods, and so on. Maybe the Sofia rules were not truly meant for those kinds of tournaments. Maybe, they were meant for small, master tournaments where draws for convenience are more often seen. Yep, I am talking about those draws that disappoint both online and in-person spectators who expect blood from their gladiators. Those draws are more akin to an early cop-out than a gentlemen's agreement. No such thing in Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Football, Rugby, Cricket, and so on. Tie games are fighting games in their cases.

Anyway, why involve a third party in the process? Just to be critical, I think that involving a third party in the process can open a different can of worms with accusations of favoritism and incompetence. I think it is best to employ a system that runs on auto-pilot by threat of a low score. Somewhere in the worldwide web, I saw a suggestion that changing the scoring system will do the trick. Not a bad idea at all.

The idea is to change the scoring to three points for a win and one point for a draw. In effect, a draw will amount to a third of the whole pie. It's something to think about. For those of you who still prefer one point as our 100% standard, then perhaps a draw should be scored .25 of a point. For me, the grand daddy of them all is to not count the draws. Yep, one point for a win and no points for a draw. I think I like this last one the best. Who would want to play a standard 3-hr game for nothing? You have to do something! I, do, realize that the Sofia Rules were not meant to eliminate draws, but to encourage players to play aggressively. I guess the underlying theme is pretty obvious---to degrade a draw enough that players would avoid it.

Now, there's your auto-pilot system!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Bergen County Closed Chess Tournament 2007, held at the Dumont ChessMates in Dumont, New Jersey, might finally come to a close. Its 5th and last round has been postponed four times albeit reasons are understandable. I am quite anxious to get this tournament done for two reasons: (1) I am one of the two leaders with 3.5 points after four rounds (2) postponements bring angst, and the sooner we have a conclusion the better. In case you are wondering, the term " closed " only means that you must be a member of the club to compete in the tournament. Anyway, we played Round Four on March 26th. Round Five on April 2nd was postponed to April 9th due to the beginning of a Jewish holiday. As it turned out, many of our members also observed the last day of the Jewish holiday so play was moved to April 16th. Now, nature intervened with a terrible storm that left many parts of New Jersey flooded. So, Round Five for April 16th needed to be moved to the following monday, the 23rd, but the high school in which the club meets is closed on that day. Finally, we come to April 30th.

More than a month has passed since Round Four, and an email messaged went around saying that some participants---due to the long delay---might have availability problems. Our erstwhile president declared that the pairings will be mended to accommodate those who have a problem unless you are in contention for a prize. Those who are will have to play no matter what or they will be forfeited. Ah, it is not easy running a chess club! Anyway, I don't want to win my last round via forfeit because I will lose in the tiebreak. I have figured out the standings to mean that a draw secures me 2nd place if the other leader wins. There is a chance that I could win the tournament if I win my last round and the other leader loses to his opponent. If we both win, then we have a tie. Again, the strategy is simple as it always has been---win every game!

Sicilian Defense
Grand Prix Variation
I've come to this position in my recent attempt to familiarize myself with the black side of the Sicilian Defense. Here's a typical position in the Sicilian where black and white attack on opposite sides of the board. White had just played 24. f5, obviously seeking complications via f6 and also hanging the g pawn in exchange for an open g file.
As theory dictates, black must play aggressively in the queenside especially in this case where white castled long. So, I battered white's position with 24... b5. Just what the doctor ordered! Play went on 25. g4 b4. I considered 25... bc 26. dc immediately opening the b file but it also means that the bishop on e4 can aid in the defense of the queenside. Play continued with 26. ab cb and now the threat of 27... b3 trapping the knight is very real.
I forgot who said it first, but one principle in chess is that when you continually apply pressure on your opponent he will make a mistake somewhere along the line. No pressure, no mistake. Keep creating problems for your opponent to solve, and he will ultimately crack. Such is the case with 27. na1? This is just an outright blunder, a lapse in judgment that was probably triggered by the threat of b3. White's defense collapsed like a house of cards after 27... qa1+ 28. kd2 qb2+ 29. kd1 ba4#.
Going back a few moves to the beginning of black's attack in the queenside, Fritz4 suggested that after 24... b5, white could have played 25. bd5 re1 26. qe1 qe1 27. ne1 bg3 with a fighting chance left to him in the kingside.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kan Variation
Sicilian Defense
I was toying around for an alternative to the French Defense which I have used with mixed results. I read somewhere that Morozevich is the only grandmaster at the top level who still uses the French. Certainly, the c8 bishop is problem for black in the French. Anyway, here is a position that arises in the Kan variation of the Sicilian Defense. The moves are 1. e4 c5 2. nf3 e6 3. d4 cd 4. nd4 a6 and you get the position above. It is said that a6 is a waste of tempo but it is well worth it since it takes away the b5 square from both white knights. Furthermore, the e6 pawn takes away the d5 and f5 squares from the same knights. Pretty nifty. However, there is always a flip side to anything. If you look at black's pawn structure, you'll find holes. There is the d6 square and also the b6 square. In some cases, black decides to fianchetto his king's bishop via g6. That means that the f6 and h6 squares are also weak. There you go, white's strategy is to make something from these weak squares while black does his magic on the queenside. Just a thought.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Path to Tactical Strength
Rustam Kasimdzhanov

If you are like me, you already have several books on the middlegame. And, if you are really like me, then you have only gone partway and left a bookmark where you were last. That was sometime ago! Don't all chess addicts have an extensive collection of chessbooks and chess pieces? Well, it looks like I am also building a similar cache of chess DVDs in my study and Kasimdzhanov's work on the middlegame is the latest addition. Unlike chessbooks, chess DVDs are easier to finish. What is it all about?

The most important thing I can tell you is that this is not about the middlegame. If you are expecting lessons on open files and diagonals, backward pawns and weak squares, flank attacks and the 7th rank, you will be disappointed. As I went through episode after episode, a famous book came into mind. The book is Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster. In essence, these two works are the same although Kotov dealt extensively with planning while Kasimdzhanov does not. This is not to say that Kasimdzhanov is at fault. It might have been Chessbase's decision to categorize this work as " middlegame. " For all we know, Kasimdzhanov had no other intention but to elucidate the thought processes in assessing a position. This work is about analysis, and not the middlegame per se.

Kasimdzhanov draws from his collection of games to exemplify what I call the birth of tactics. Tactics is the straw that stirs this drink. Once, there were no tactics, then there was! How did that happen? Well, that's what Kasimdzhanov does very well. He explores a certain line of analysis, shows you the sub-variations, picks up an attacking theme and employs it for a winning combination. Kasimdzhanov shows us that not all lines lay a golden egg, but almost all lines bear fruit. It's just a matter of recognizing and building on the nuances of a position by means of logical deduction. Is this ground-breaking work? No. However, you do learn that organizing your analysis is essential to finding your way through the maze of possibilities. Kasindzhanov's examples go from the relatively simple to the complex.

You might wonder about the clarity of speech especially if you have not heard the author speak. I wondered, too. You will appreciate Kasimdzhanov's clear delivery coupled with a coldly logical demeanor that is more akin to a mathematics professor than a grandmaster. His voice does break at times which I, frankly, found comical.
Forgive me but I cannot resist making a personal comment about Kasimdzhanov's sartorial taste. Could someone in his circle please tell the good grandmaster not to wear a printed jacket with a printed tie on a printed shirt! Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Foxwoods Chess Open 2007

Well, I got to participate in my first Foxwoods Chess Open and I can't say anything bad about it. The people at Continental Chess always put on a well-run tournament. The entry fee for this one was $227 via credit card. It's very steep, but the advertised 1st prize for U1800 was $5,000. I dont think that this was the case in reality because Jennifer Shehade of Chess Life claimed that the first prize winner---a young lady name Ginsburg---received only $1,000 of the $4,000 pot because her rating in the latest rating supplement was significantly higher than 1800. I reckon that is part of the anti-sandbagging rules laid down by the organizers. That means that the runners up got more money! Hey, nevertheless, congrats to her who scored 6.5 points out of a possible seven.

As for yours truly, I scored a miserable two wins, two draws and two loses. I didnt stay for the last round since after my second loss ( Round 6 ) I knew I was just playing for pride. It's a 2.5 hour drive from Bergen County, New Jersey each way if the Cross Bronx Expressway doesnt cost you an hour in traffic by itself. The CBE must be the most miserable highway in NYC. Heck, I almost got killed on it in the early 1980s.

Back to the tournament, the playing hall was actually the grand ballroom of the Grand Pequat Tower. It is on the same level as the gambling rooms but none of the noise seeped into the playing hall. Food was expensive. Figure around $10-$12 for an entree that would normally cost $6-$7 outside. I know, I know, it's a casino! Buffet breakfast at the Two Trees Inn was $12. That's where I had a room and it is serviced by a 24-hr shuttle bus. Really, it's not a long walk to the casinos. As advertised, it takes only a 15-min walk, and I think that is about right. The inn has gotten some bad reviews at Tripadvisor.Com, but I disagree with them. I slept in a clean room and the shuttle bus didnt keep me up nor wake me from my sleep. The walls could be thicker though since I could hear people talk or cough in the adjacent rooms.

Funny, at one time during play, I heard a cat meowing. It was fairly distinct and players started looking around. I swear it was a cat, and not a prankster. Perhaps, an onlooker carried a cat in a travel bag. The meowing brought some momentary relief from that heavy, stressful ambiance that pervades the competition hall. Another light moment in the tournament occurred when the serenity of the playing hall was broken by a very young person's, " check, check! " We had a good laugh at his youthful intensity!

Don't you hate it when someone bangs the pieces on the board? This dude with dark glasses, arms folded, and a smug look on his face tried to intimidate his opponent with this kind of behaviour. Sure, he had a winning position but no need for such antics especially if your opponent is a bespectacled, studious-looking, 8-yr old Asian kid! What an ass.

I didnt really care much for the big name players who competed in the Open section. They seem to be the same people who compete in every big-money tournament. I tell ya, I bet most of them don't have a life! Going from one chess open to another isn't exactly being out there living your life. Anyway, this young boy named Robson slugged it out with the best. He's an FM, and someday he will have his name in lights. I think his mom is Asian and his dad is Caucasian---good combination.

I was observing IM Dave Pruess play against an FM in a bishop and pawn ending, and Mr. Pruess did not seem to take too much time thinking over his moves. It seemed like he knew exactly how to play the ending. I guess he's a gifted player and a future GM. I saw GM Anatole Lein lose to an unknown. He's moved on in years. I think he has lost much of his chess prowess, but he continues to compete which by itself is very commendable.

In one game, the clock used had both analog and digital time that did not agree and the player in time trouble called the tournament director for his judgment. Obviously, the discrepancy in time didnt become a factor until a blitzing finale loomed on the horizon. The TD decided that the players use the digital read out over the analog. The difference in time was two minutes.

There was this guy on the shuttle bus who sat next to me saturday night, after four rounds of play in the 3-day schedule, who proceeded to tell me about his game where he employed the center counter as black. He recalled all the moves of the game. The strangest thing about him is that for all his precise recollection of the game he didnt recognize that I was his opponent! I just kept quiet, and enjoyed the moment.

Of course, the Filipino players naturally gravitated towards each other. I met people there who I haven't seen in years. I reckon they have been competing regularly while I was on break. After every round, we'd circle around and lick our wounds and tell our respective war stories. Great thing about us is that we treat each like brothers even if we were just introduced. Just don't break that trust!I dont' know if it is true that one guy went from his round to an all-night poker game, got two hours sleep, and then played his next round for a win. Jeez!

April 2007
Here's a stunning upset by a relatively unknown Filipino player, playing the black side of a QGD, over GM Shipov at the Sydney International Open. First of all, Fritz4 already thinks that Bernardino has a better game especially after this continuation 21. be7 re7 22. qh6 f6 23. qg6 hg 24. qg4 qd5 25. b3 rd8 -+ ( -2.63 ).
Okay, let's pick it up from the point of no return. GM Shipov played 21. Ne5. I think somehow Shipov was banking on weakening the g6 and e6 pawns and from there launch a winning attack. Play continued 21...f6 22. bf6 bf6 23. qh6 be5 24. ed qh4 25. bg6 qg4+ 26. kfi ba6+ 27. rd3 bd3+ 28. bd3 nf5 29. bf5 ef 30. e6 qc4+ 31. kg1 re7 and white resigned. So, Bernardino still had to " run with the ball " for a while before he got his win.
Someone reported that the upset moved Bernardino to shed tears of joy.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

This one is from ICC, 5/0 game, and black had just played 16... nc6-na5. Well, I was planning to move my queen to c2 anyway so that saves me a tempo. It looked like my opponent had his eyes on c4, a nice outpost for his knight.
So, 17. qc2, nc4 followed, and i am not going to pontificate about missing the h7 pawn because this was a blitz game afterall. However, that's where things begun to unravel for black. I answered 18. bh7+ kh8 19. be4 bc5 20. bb7 qb7 21. re4 and all of a sudden black is in crisis. Black played 21... g6 to shut out my queen but after 22. bf6+ kg8 23. rh4 things looked very grim for black as mate was threatened on h8. As always, one has to thrash around before accepting the inevitable. Black shot at me with 23... bf2+ 24. kf2 qf5+ 25. nd4 and there were no more ways to delay the mate. This is just an example on how things can quickly go to pot for... any of us, actually.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bergen County


Here's a position from the first round: my opponent tried to avoid the discovered attack from the capture of the d pawn by black's c pawn by 20. qb3. At first glance, the mistake isnt obvious but after 20... qb3 21.nb3 rb8 22. nfd2 black won a piece with 22...c4