Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An American Hero

Photo courtesy of Johannes Fischer

Hikaru Nakamura, The premier United States Chess Champion, contemplates his next move against the opposition. Players come and go in the USA chess scene, but Nakamura seems to possess a certain staying power, especially across the broad spectrum of chess competition that he calls home. From anywhere to being one of the top players on ICC in bullet chess, to the Chess960 World Championship, Hikaru has shown a desire to compete with the best of the best at all various incarnations of the game we call Chess.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

B-Method Self-Examination

First, let me say that I make no claims to the accuracy of the following analysis of this game. The goal of this article is to articulate and demonstrate 'how' to use the "B-Method" during play. I make many assumptions during this analysis, and the plan I undertook during the game could easily be the incorrect plan given the specifics of the position. However, I do hope that it serves as a fairly clear example of how to implement the "B-Method" in your games.

This game was played from May to July 2009 on an email server, so it serves as a good training ground for using the "B-Method", as I am able to make notes into Chessbase as I ponder my moves over the course of the game. The opponent will remain anonymous, and I will pick the game up at move 27. As is required for using the B-Method, this game is considered from only one side - Black's perspective.

Ok, let's begin this exercise with a quick review of the B-Method Squares Strategy.
Essentially, you, as the player of the pieces from whose perspective the position is being evaluated from, in this case, BLACK, have the task of answering, at first, the three vital questions posed by the B-Method:

The Strategy Question (SQ) - the central square from which your strategy focuses from - the specific area you are defending.

The Direction Question (DQ) - Which direction are your pieces cooperating in from your selected Strategy. You generally look at the influence of your pieces here - Pawns, Knights and Bishops primarily.

The Color Question (CQ) - which color squares should you be trying to play actively on? It stands to reason that you can answer this question best by what color squares your opponents' pieces defend the least.

These three questions give you a basis from which to understand which of your opponents' pieces are in conflict with the given strategy chosen -that is, what pieces you need to Put to Question (PQ) to advance the strategy. This should lead you to develop a list of Candidate Moves (CM) - moves that advance the strategy, and analysis and calculation should give you the 'best' move as the Game Move (GM).

SQ: Strategy Question: e5-Strategy. Black has chosen the e5-Strategy as he is defending the e5-area from attack. As a pawn sits on e5, this would also be considered a "Pawn Strategy" from e5. In B-Method shorthand: +S(e5...)

DQ: Direction Question: f4. Here it is important to note what squares your pieces cooperate on. In this position, the Bb7 and the Knight maneuvers Qf5 and Nf4 all place the black pieces in position to attack in the f4 direction. +S(e5>f4,...)

CQ: Color Question: White squares. Black Bb7 and Nd5-f4/Qf5 cooperate on the white squares. It's important to note here, generally speaking, with bishops of opposite colors you would want a strategy that takes advantage of your own bishops' color. +S(e5>f4, wsq)

PQ: Put to Question: Which white pieces defend the white squares that we are attacking? These squares are namely e4, f3, e2, g2 and d3. the White pieces that defend those squares are Pg2, Nf3(to e1), and Qh4. Those are the pieces we want to 'put to question', i.e., attack and divert or trade off. Also note that the white Bishop is essentially invisible to our white-squared strategy. +S(e5>f4, wsq), >> Nf3,Qh4,Pg2

CM: Candidate Move: Queen is threatened, so a queen move is indicated.
CM1: Qf5 attack the light-squares e4/f3/d3 and it cooperates with Bb7 and Nd5-f4.

GM: Game Move: Qf5

27...Qf5 28.Bc5

This time, more briefly:

SQ: e5-Strategy (same)
DQ: f4 (same)
CQ: wsq: (f3, g2,e4,e2,d3); Nd5/Bb7/Qf4 work on wsq; Pg2/Nf3/Qh4 defend wsq;
CM: Nf4

28...Nf4 29.Ne1

SQ: e5-Strategy (same)

DQ: f4. Black wants to control/occupy f4,g3,h2 and attack e4,f3,g2. Black's pieces cooperate against g2,f3,e4,d3. Therefore, pursue the e5-strategy towards f4. +S(e5>f4...)

CQ: What color do the white pieces cooperate on?
The Black pieces cooperate on Black squares: Qh4, Bc5 - this shows white-squared weaknesses. The White pieces cooperate on White squares: - wsq: Nf4,Qf5,Bb7; Therefore, Black should strive to attack the white squares and aim for a white-squared initiative.

PQ: Black should look to those pieces that are defending the white squares (Ne1,Pg2) and seek moves which tangle them up in play ('Put to Question'). These are your candidate moves.

CM: Candidate Moves
CM1: Ba6: threatens Ne2+ winning the exchange; easily parried by Kh1.
CM2: Be4: threat Bxc2 winning exchange;Red8: occupation of the open file. this seems to froce the Rook to b2, a better square to meet a minority attack by black on the queenside and supports the push b4.
CM3: Rac8: Rook to open file and pinning the Bc5 to Rc2; This may induce white to play b4, weakening his Q-side pawns by the mere fact of their advancement, making them susceptible to a minority attack on the Queenside.

All three lines are analyzed. Your responsibility is to select the move that meets the needs of the position the best.

GM: Rac8 - I chose this move because it brings the out-of-play Ra8 into the game and adds pressure along the c-file.

29...Rac8 30. b4

As you can imagine, if the pawn structures do not change, in general, your strategy would probably stay the same. But always be on the lookout for an improvement in target-setting and strategy!

SQ: e5
DQ: f4 direction
CQ: Black pieces coop on wsq; White pieces coop on bsq; +S(e5>f4,wsq); Pg2 (weak), attack(e4,d3);
CM1: Be4:attack Rc2, square d3.
CM2: Ba6: threaten Ne2+, winning exchange.
CM3: a5: minority attack on queenside.

GM: a5 - I chose ...a5 because it seemed the most consistent plan at this point as it removed the a-pawn from attack on a7 and will allow an eventual ...Ba6, also consistent with a white-squared strategy.

30...a5 31.a3 [ 31.bxa5? g5 32.Qxh6 ( 32.Qg3 Rxc5) 32...Rc7-+]

SQ: e5
DQ: f4 direction
CQ: Black pieces co-op on wsq; White pieces co-op on bsq; +S(e5>f4,wsq); Pg2(weak), squares e4,d3;

CM: Candidate Moves
CM1: Ba6; pressurizes white squares in white position (d3,e2); threat Ne2+.
CM2: Be4; threatens Bxc2, winning exchange.

GM: Ba6 - continues the attack on the white squares d3 and e2.

31...Ba6 32.Kh1

SQ: e5 (same)
Now here, according to my notes, I changed directions with the advance of e4. Is this correct? I cannot say for sure either way, as both strategies have their plusses and minuses, but the end result bore it out. I felt the change was warranted due to the major weakness of the d3-square in white's camp. It also illuminates the fact that you have to always be ready to change stride if the position presents itself. From a color complex point of view, it seems consistent as Black is still playing on the white squares - squares that White has the most trouble defending.
DQ: d4 direction
CQ: White squares: +S(e5>d4,wsq); Sqs: d3,e2,c2,e4;
PQ: Put to question the pieces Ne1, Rc2;
CM1: e4 - gains space, attacks f3,d3.
CM2: Ne2 - attacks Rc1

GM: ...e4

32...e4 33.Rd1

White's last move seemed to be not the best, leaving the Rc2 vulnerable, but it is a difficult position to play. He is slowly being squeezed.
SQ: e5
DQ: d4
CQ: wsq +S(e5>d4, wsq); d3,e2,c2;
PQ: targets: Rc2, Ne1,Rd1;
CM1: e3 - Now possible because Bxe3 cannot be played due to White's last move.
CM2: Red8 - Black can grip the light squares with this move followed by a4 and Nd3.

GM: ...e3 - Black chooses this move as it appears to be more to the point and results in a passed e-pawn for black.

33...e3 34.f3

SQ: e5
DQ: d4
CQ: wsq; White defend the black squares - Qh4, Bc5;
PQ: Ne1; Rd1; Pf3;
CM1: Bb5 - threaten Ba4, winning exchange.
CM2: h5 - takes the g4-square away from White's queen. White's queen is now in peril.
CM3: axb4 - this exchange is unecessary at this point and is not forcing enough.

GM: ...h5

34...h5 35.Qg3

SQ: e5
DQ: d4
CQ: wsq; White defends the black squares - Qg3, Bc5;
PQ: put to question the pieces Ne1, Rd1, Rc2;

CM1: Bb5 threat: Ba4; idea axb4, Ra8 occupy open file;

GM: Bb5

35...Bb5 36.Rb2 axb4 Black Resigns [1-0]

Black resigned at this point, probably not looking forward to more moves of tiring defense.

A simple example that was pretty clear-cut from the Black perspective. Black, in a position with Bishops of opposite color, chose to play on the wihte squares (his own bishops' color), and was able to dominate white in the center of the board. Meanwhile, White could not generate any meaningful counterplay on the black squares nor defend his white-squared weaknesses for long.

I hope this simple example gives you some idea of how powerful the Squares Strategy B-Method can be if used correctly (did I use it correctly? Only Bangiev can tell me!). Color complexes play an important role in nearly all chess games, and the B-Method has at it's core a color complex-based strategic system.

Keep on Checking!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Going Stale

I want to write today about something that I believe every non-professional chessplayer encounters occasionally, and that is "Going Stale." What does that mean?
Specifically, I'm talking about that time when you are approaching the end of a study cycle and you begin to pick up some games to try out your new-found skills in chess, whatever that may be: a new opening, endgame knowledge, middlegame strategy, etc. You soon discover, much to your horror, that you seem to be 'fighting' the board and the pieces at each step of your game. The openings you mis-play, you select offendingly bad plans in the middlegames, and you cannot even hold a Philidor's Position in a Rook Endgame. Simply Horrifying.

Why does this happen?

As you study (not 'play') chess - any aspect of it: openings, middlegame, tactics, strategy, endgames - your mind tends to 'change modes' where the importance of the 'game' slips from becoming something related to the final score to something related to execution of a specific tactic, strategy, or sequence of moves, as in an opening variation. It is as if a switch had been flipped in your mind where the focus of chess has gone from a results-oriented approach (i.e., the final score of the game) to a short-term, solve-this-position approach (i.e., specific positions). This can be illustrated with the simple idea that a position can be reached that, in 'solve' mode, you know you can achieve some short-term goal (win a pawn at the expense of position), but in 'game' mode, you may decide to take a less risky approach to the position and play a variation that offers not quite the same long-term chances, but present less risk to you short-term. I believe that the longer you 'study' without playing actual games that mean something to you (at least psychologically, rating points not withstanding), the more difficult and longer it takes to get your mind to flip the switch back to the results-oriented mode of play.

The Obvious Remedy

The obvious remedy to this avoidable situation is to play somewhat meaningful games every day, expecially study days. This way, you get the opportunity to apply anything you just studied and you keep your 'chess switch' from spending too much time in the 'wrong' position, i.e., study-mode. Time controls such as G5, G10 and G15 serve this purpose well and do not take up entire blocks of time you may have alloted to playing chess each day. It also serves the purpose of giving you immediate feedback so you can identify what areas of your game are still lacking.

To avoid "Going Stale", play frequently!