Friday, June 22, 2007

Evan Ju Wins Cadet Championship

Fifteen-year-old NM Evan Ju won the prestigious Cadet (under-16) Championship in Tampa, Florida, yesterday, finishing with an impressive 7/10 score (with no draws! - see the crosstable). You may recall that Evan became the youngest ever NJ State Champion in September when he won the NJ Open. More information and games can be found at The USCF blog and The Scholastic Chess Gateway.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Urusov Gambit Update

I have annotated ten relatively recent games featuring the Urusov Gambit. I had been meaning to offer a Urusov Gambit Update like that for a while, and was finally prompted to action by Steve Doyle and Pete Tamburro's very nice column in The Sunday Star-Ledger (June 17, 2007) which annotated the game Svensson-Tolksdorf, Correspndence 1973-1974 and made positive mention of my Urusov Gambit website. The game they chose, while a typically attractive Urusov blow-out, struck me as rather out-dated, especially since its formerly main line with 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qxd4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Nc6 7.Bg5 Be7 8.Qh4 d6 9.O-O-O Be6 10.Bd3?! is convincingly refuted by the simple 10....Ng4! as I discuss on my site. Fortunately, White has other choices at move 10 -- though Black does not have better than 9...Be6 in my view. Doyle and Tamburro suggest 9...h6 10.Bxf6(?) Bxf6 as being better for Black, which it is, of course; but White hardly need oblige by exchanging at f6 since there is no threat on his Bishop with the h-pawn pinned. White should therefore play 9...h6?! 10.Rhe1! with a strong attack.
In any event, Svensson-Tolksdorf is no longer important to "theory," if traditional theory is really keeping track. After all, the Urusov, while very popular at the amateur and club level, is not played by GMs and therefore not likely to receive extensive "book" coverage. For instance, Nunn's Chess Openings, which I have handy, offers only a single line of text and seven brief footnotes (less than a sixth of a page in a 544 page volume). As my extensive analysis suggests, a bit more might be written, though the absence of GM games is inhibiting. There are, however, plenty of interesting games, many by masters (2200+) and even some by titled players. French IM Luc Bergez has added it to his repertoire, and I have annotated a few of his games. But, as my notes suggest, even strong players are not the best guides to the "theory" of the line. The Urusov remains very much an unexplored territory, and therefore fertile ground for the adventurous gambiteer.
Related Links

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Death or Deception?

Justin Horton offers up "Late News" about the mysterious end to one of his correspondence tournaments at the always excellent blog for the Streatham & Brixton Chess Club. The story has a wonderful hook and a rather unexpected ending which I'm sure you'll enjoy.... (Thank you to Tom Chivers for correcting my previous version).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Google "Street View" of Springfield Chess Club

I was just playing around with Google's "Street View" feature, hoping to find the Kenilworth Chess Club pictured there. But it seems that Google's ubiquitous photo trucks, which have famously captured nude sunbathers and nose-pickers all around the country, have not yet found their way down Kenilworth Boulevard. But they have gone down Route 22, which means they have captured images of the Springfield Barnes & Noble (see above--larger image here) where the Checkmate Chess Club of Springfield, NJ, meets on Sundays from 7:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Kenilworth Centennial Celebration

"To Kenilworth, girl," said the Countess, boldly and freely. "I will see these revels--these princely revels--the preparation for which makes the land ring from side to side." ---Sir Walter Scott, Kenilworth (1821)

Kenilworth, New Jersey, has been celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, the highlight of which is the Grand Centennial Parade and festivities on Saturday, June 16. The parade itself starts at noon from Lenape Park, proceeding along Kenilworth Boulevard to N. 23rd Street and the celebrations follow. According to the town's website, the parade will feature "more than 700 participants -- including the Union County Police and Fire, Pipes and Drums Band; Deidre Shea School of Irish Dance; Karate World; the New Jersey Antique Automobile Association Car Club; Galloping Hill Cruisers; Garden State Early Ford V8 Club of America; Shriners String Band; Mummer's All Star Band; The Colonial Muskateers Fife & Drum Corps...."

The Kenilworth Chess Club will be staffing an information table with multiple chess sets in the parking lot across from the VFW Hall on 21st Street (half a block south of the Boulevard), likely beginning shortly before 2:00 p.m. We will offer free lessons and a simultanous exhibition. there will also be lots of chances for skittles play and speed games. Please come out to support the club. See The Chess Coroner for contact info and volunteer details, or just drop by to say "hello."

Michael David Wojcio, our former club president and Kenilworth Chess Club historian, will certainly be in attendance: his father, Michael Peter Wojcio, has been selected Grand Marshall of the event! He must be very proud of his father, who is the oldest life-long resident of the borough and nearly the same age.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Chess Narratives" Exercise

Black to play after 15.Qb3.
What's Black's best move and why?

In Chess for Zebras (reviewed here last year), Jonathan Rowson talks about how chessplayers try to make sense of the middlegame with what he calls "chess narratives":

I think of chess narratives as the background 'noise' that permeate our thoughts during play and this 'noise' is often sufficiently loud that it operates as the context of our thoughts. For instance, if you probe the advice 'counter an attack on the wing with play in the centre' for a few seconds, you can imagine someone telling a story about the game, with that as the basis of the plot. Narratives are the guiding stories that give us a sense of what we are trying to do and why. ... While nobody is immune to these narratives, very few use them to guide themselves towards correct moves. Many players get lost in these stories, trapped by their own narrative, and completely lose track of the objective state of affairs on the board... (46).
The best narrative offers a good reading of the position that fits well with specific calculations so that, as Rowson puts it, "your assessment and your variations make sense of each other." A bad narrative, though, is really a self-deceptive invention (what Rowson calls "fabulation") that is imposed on the facts with little close inspection of the specific lines that might support it. Like "The Lazy Detective," the fabulist cares less about the truth than in confirming what he already knows based on his ideological biases. More often than not, however, the truth will come out and the fabulist will fall--though a skilled fabulist will then be able to explain away his failure without acknowledging the truth (rather like George Bush discussing Iraq).
In my game with John Moldovan (The Chess Coroner) from the KCC Summer Tournament (which began this week--though you can join at any time), I struggled to find the right narrative at a critical juncture. I think I made a more accurate choice than I usually do, but not necessarily the best. Let's see if you can do better....
Which of the following chess narratives best fits the position diagrammed above and leads to the best choice of plan?
a) 15...Qh5
Narrative: Black has a tremendous lead in development, of at least three or four tempi, which justifies sacrificing at least a pawn to gain an attack. White's King is also practically denuded of defenders, while Black's forces are ready to leap to the kingside, supported by the pawn at e4. Even his Rook is ready to swing over to support the Queen and Knight. Black can target both the h2 and g2 squares, but the most promising idea is to use the Queen and Rook together in a full frontal battering-ram assault on g2. The basic idea begins 15...Qh5! 16.Qxb2 (if 16.h3 then 16...Rg5! 17.Kh1 Rg6! followed by ...Qg5 to batter down the door) 16...Ng4! 17.h3 Rg5!! and all of Black's forces are launching themselves at White's helpless King. Not only that, but Black gets to finish things off beautifully after the natural 18.hxg4 Qxg4! 19.g3 Rh5!! and there is no defense.
b) 15...Qd6
Narrative: Yes, Black's lead in development dictates that he attack the enemy King, but the best target of attack is h2. The idea is 15...Qd6 16.Ba3 (who can resist pinning the Rook to the Queen?) 16...Ng4! 17.g3 Qh6! 18.h4 and now Black can attack by 18...Rf5! followed by ...Ne5-f3+ and ...Nxh4 to blast open the weakened White King position. Meanwhile, White's forces stand helplessly by on the queenside. He's dead meat.
c) 15...Qxb3
Narrative: When I play chess, I always ask myself, "What would Capablanca do?" Sure, there are chances of attack on the kingside, but that all seems very speculative to me and seems to risk losing Black's real advantage, which consists of his control of the c-file, his queenside pawn majority, and his better minor piece. The best way to capitalize on these positional pluses is not to throw away material (by allowing Qxb2) seeking an attack, but to simplify into a winning endgame by exchanging Queens. After 15...Qxb3 16.axb3 a6 I will double Rooks on the c-file, play my Knight to d5, pawn to f5, and march my King to the center. He has almost no counterplay and will likely be forced to exchange Rooks on the c-file, leaving me with a winning endgame due to my superior minor piece and queenside pawn majority.
d) 15...Qc6
Narrative: Black's advantage consists of control of the c-file, plain and simple. I intend to triple my heavy pieces on that file and lord it over my opponent with 15...Qc6 16.Bb2 Rec8.
e) 15...Qd7
Narrative: Black needs to avoid the exchange of Queens lest he risk losing too much attacking force to exploit his lead in development. After all, a lot of pieces have been exchanged, and if Black is going to organize an attack he will need attackers. Meanwhile, Black also needs to restrain White's backward d-pawn, which he can do by 15...Qd7. This is the most versatile Queen move: it avoids the exchange of Queens, stays on the d-file to restrain the weakling at d2, defends the b-pawn, and even eyes White's kingside. I will follow up with ...Rd5, ...b6, ...Rd3, ...Rc8, and ...h6 to create an invulnerable position while squeezing White till he coughs up a pawn.
See my notes to the game for the answer (or what I think is the right answer anyway). I include the PGN file if you want to do your own computer analysis to confirm it.

If you enjoy this little "test," then I suggest you pick up the marvelous book Test Your Positional Play by Robert Bellin and Pietro Ponzetto which basically presents 30 exercises along these lines.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"Ready to Improve?"

In today's New York Times chess column, Dylan Loeb McClain interviews GM John Fedorowicz and IM Danny Kopec, who offer some useful tips for those looking to improve at chess this summer. I especially like Fedorowicz's advice, which includes playing a lot of games, choosing and studying an opening repertoire that suits your style, and reading endgame books and game collections of the greats. Interestingly, he does not think studying books on tactics (or, presumably, CT-ART) as important as playing, and Kopec does not mention tactical study either.

Fedorowicz's disregard for the "study tactics, tactics, and more tactics" mantra of chess improvement gurus reminded me of a recent conversation I had with two-time NJ Open champ Tommy Bartell on the subject. I was trying to think of some books on tactics to recommend to a developing player at the club, and out of curiosity turned to Tommy, who was seated nearby, and asked what books he'd recommend. I was surprised when the only ones he could think of were the "1001..." series by Fred Reinfeld. "Well, what did you look at when you were a kid?" I asked. "I never really read books on tactics," he said, adding "I just learned by playing."

Hearing this young, 2400+ FM say he thought playing was more vital to his understanding of tactics than book study, I felt a little surprised. So when I read Fedorowicz saying more or less the same thing, I began to ask some more questions. Do strong players invest any time in tactical training or do they just play a lot? And if they just play a lot, is that better than study? And if it is better than study, why might that be?

One idea comes to mind watching a recent video at the excellent Chess Vibes blog that show Jonathan Rowson discussing his book Chess for Zebras, where, for instance, he discusses how the traditional way of determining the relative value of the pieces (by assigning point values, beginning with one point for a pawn) is both wrong and not how GMs really think.

Why don't GMs think that way? Maybe because they learned these things intuitively by playing a lot of games rather than "by the book." And, as Rowson argues in Chess for Zebras, one of the things that keeps developing players from improving often is the settled beliefs and habits of mind they have developed -- often from reading chess books.... So maybe the best advice is to leave most of those books alone -- except, perhaps, for the game collections of the greats, where you are likely to pick up a thing or two about how to think without being subjected to a lot of theory.... I'm still puzzling over this one, but in many ways it does fit with my view that there is chess knowledge and chess practice and the two are often unrelated. Perhaps the secret to success at chess is to just get plenty of practice.