Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Game in the Star Ledger Column

I was pleased to find my game Goeller - Brandreth, US Amateur Team Championship East (previously annotated in these pages) in today's Star Ledger chess column by Pete Tamburro and Steve Doyle.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hillside Library Seeks Chess Instructor

The Director at the Hillside Public Library is in search of a volunteer chess instructor or club manager to offer a chess program this summer. She writes: "Due to limited funds, we are looking for a volunteer, but the schedule could be as often or as infrequent as necessary and we can schedule evenings as well. I can offer you some very interested, responsive kids and great appreciation from the community!" If you are interested in helping out, contact:

Miriam Bein, Director
Hillside Public Library
Liberty & Hillside Avenues
Hillside NJ 07205
voice 973-923-4413 x408
fax 973-923-0506

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Near Upsets at USATE 2009

Higgins (2054) - DeFirmian (2584)
White to play.

I have posted three annotated games that were "Near Upsets at USATE 2009." The games feature confrontations between masters and amateurs where the amateurs could have won if only they had not missed the winning move or plan. I found these games while going through the file of 599 Games recently posted at the NJoyChess website (which I will probably return to in the near future to annotate other games of interest.)

Each year at the World Amateur Teams / US Amateur Team East they give out awards for the biggest ratings upset of each round. It's a shame that they can't give some consolation prize to the players of "Near Upsets" -- the ones that got away. The most interesting in that regard was Derrick Higgins vs. GM Nick DeFirmian, where the Expert player missed two chances to bring down a GM in a fascinating line of the Najdorf Sicilian (see diagram above for the first critical position). Based on the way he played, I predict that Dr. Higgins will have other chances in the future. But I'm sure he is still kicking himself over this one.

My intention is not to embarrass the amateurs who, like Rahul Swaminathan (see below) missed a chance to force mate against a strong master -- nor to embarrass the masters who almost got mated. My view is that upsets and near upsets serve to remind us of just how complex chess can be, so that even amateur players can have moments of near-brilliance where they almost see through the thicket to victory. Unfortunately, no one ever tells you during over-the-board play that it's "your turn to play and win" as they do in chess puzzle books -- or in the diagram below. Instead, in the midst of the thicket and with time ticking away on the clock we have to hope that we can sometimes see our way to the clearing ahead. And that may be why we continue to play, despite so many set-backs and failed attempts: we know that it is possible for even us amateurs to compose a masterpiece. The near-upset reminds us of what could have been, and convinces us that it is possible next time.

Braylovsky (2441) - Swaminathan (2053)
Black to play and mate in 4.
(Bonus: guess what Black did instead)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Repertoire Renovations

Somebody once said that each time you change your opening repertoire you "grow" as a chessplayer. Well, I should be a grandmaster by now for all the growing I've done over the years. As I put the finishing touches on my latest opening system, which may be my most coherent to date, I begin to wonder if I'm really growing so much as settling into a new approach to the game.

I think I've had dozens of repertoires over the years. The last one I wrote about in these pages was my Knightmare Repertoire (built around mirror systems with e4, Nc3, and Nf3 as White and e5, Nc6, and Nf6 as Black), which bears some connection to my current approach. I also documented my Caveman or Left Hook Repertoire for White (which included the Urusov Gambit, Two Knights with d4, Steinitz-Sveshnikov Attack, Evans Gambit, Modern Horowitz Max Lange, Anti-Petroff with d4, Left Hook Grand Prix, Left Hook Austrian, Wing Gambit French, Caveman Caro-Kann, and Saemisch Attack vs. the Alekhine) and various unusual systems as Black (including a universal 1...Nc6 system and an early d6 system that included the Philidor, Panther, and Janowski Indian or Janowski's Brother). Along the way I've also flirted with various completely different ideas, including the d-pawn repertoire built around the Barry Attack and Colle-Zukertort as laid out by Aaron Summerscale in A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire and recently updated by Richard Palliser in Starting Out: D-pawn Attacks.

I really don't know how other players go about constructing their repertoires, and it might make for a good interview question -- or a question for readers. How do you go about it? Steve Giddins once devoted an entire book to the subject (How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire). Perhaps most players simply pick up one of the many books on the market offering a ready-made repertoire and read it carefully from cover to cover. While I love repertoire books, I rarely find myself adopting more than one or two lines from any of them. Most book repertoires are simply not coherent enough for my taste. Perhaps some players work with coaches to create a coherent system, or perhaps they just let things fall into place over time, with new acquisitions coming on organically along the way.

It's my desire for coherence that drives my changes, and I am rather dogmatic in my approach. I want to have a coherent system, and so a change in any opening line will inevitably trigger a cascade of adjustments throughout my repertoire. The Knightmare Repertoire came about because I found myself playing the Tango (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5) and the Berlin Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6), and soon it just seemed natural to adopt the Four Knights, the Two Knights French, and so on down the line until I was playing practically every system where you move your two Knights and your e-pawn in the first three or four moves. A similar process created the Caveman repertoire for White, which arose out of my desire to develop a dark square attacking formation (generally centered around an e5 advance).

My current system began much the same way. I had been building up an Open Game system with 1.e4 e5 as Black when I started playing lines with a kingside fianchetto, especially the Three Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6). Meanwhile, I was struggling to find a good line against the Italian Game that did not involve too much study or any gambits, and just around that time I happened to annotate the game Weeramantry-Bisguier, USATE 2008 which suggested that a kingside fianchetto might work more universally than I had imagined possible. I decided to see how far I could take the idea and started researching other lines where Black plays an early g6 advance in the Open Games, including the Smyslov Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6). I started playing it in blitz and really enjoyed the types of positions I was getting in those lines, which reminded me of my most positive experiences with the King's Indian Defense. I had given up the KID years ago when it just seemed too difficult to keep up with the theory. But maybe a modified King's Indian system was possible, one that did not involve too much study? As I studied the Open Games with g6, the KID seemed inevitable -- and a natural addition since some KID lines could arise via the Open Games (such as by 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4, which heads toward an interesting line that could arise via the Classical KID).

With the KID and the Open Games with g6 on board, I soon found myself looking at other lines with a kingside fianchetto, such as the Glek System of the Four Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3), the Vienna with g3 (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6/Nc6 3.g3), the Closed Sicilian or an Open system with g3 (depending on Black's set-up), and an anti-Pirc system with g3. It all seemed so natural.

Of course, there were some complications. For one thing, in order to avoid taking on the whole King's Indian, I decided it made sense to keep the Tango against any line where White did not commit to Nf3. That way I could avoid the Four Pawns Attack, the Saemisch, and a whole host of other White systems. Keeping the Tango also allowed me to focus generally on lines where Black plays an ...e5 advance, as in the Classical and the Fianchetto (with Nbd7 and e5). And the Tango made sense because I was also drawn to the Two Knights French and Two Knights Caro-Kann, which were practically like reversed Tango systems in some lines (especially where Black plays a d4 advance).

There were many other adjustments, of course, too numerous to mention -- and I am still trying to work out all the transposition tricks and marginal lines. Here is the broad outline of what I have so far and what books I've been looking at to help me organize my study (suggestions for additional lines and useful books or articles are most welcome):


Smyslov Variation of the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6)
Italian Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 g6 or 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 g6!?)
Three Knights and Scotch (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 or 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 g6)
Center Game (1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 g6!?)
Tango (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6)
King's Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6)
English (1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6)


Paulsen-Mieses Vienna or Glek Four Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6/Nc6 3.g3 or 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.g3)
Closed Sicilian or Open with g3 (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3)
Two Knights French (1.e4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3)
Two Knights Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3)
Alekhine (1.e4 Nf6 2.Nc3)
Pirc (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.g3)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Garden State Chess League, Round One

Stoyko - HueckelStoyko - Hueckel
White to move.

On Tuesday, March 3, 2009 I played for one of the Kenilworth teams in the Garden State Chess League. I have annotated and posted the games of the top two boards online. Matches are held once per month at the West Orange Chess Club (unless arranged otherwise by the teams involved). We met Staten Island for the first match with team members Steve Stoyko, myself, Max Sherer, and Mike Wojcio (who was surprised to find that young Max had surpassed his 1600+ rating). Teams are restricted to an average rating of 1900 on the four boards, but our average rating of 1872 actually was higher than the rating of their first board. That's not to say it was a walk in the park...

Steve's game was a marvelous exhibition of the power of "simple chess," as he slowly exploited small advantages to win material. In the diagram above, Steve has exploited the weakening b6 advance to gain control of the c-file and now wins material by 22. Nxb6! Nxb4 23. Qxc8+ Qxc8 24. Nxc8 Nxa2 25. Nxe7+ Kf8 26. Nc6! Now White is up a pawn and wins the weak a6 pawn -- after which he will target the isolated d-pawn with a very simple win. Steve made it all look like a simple counting exercise, which I guess it basically was for him.

In my own game, I played a bit too recklessly (as usual) and my opponent missed a chance to gain an edge (see diagram below).

Sealey - GoellerSealey - Goeller
White to move can gain the edge.

In the position depicted above, we both missed the idea of sacrificing the Exchange after 18. Qe7! Ne5? (better is 18...Bf5 +=) 19. Rxe5! dxe5 20. d6 cxd6 21. Bd5 which would be deadly. Instead, he played the overly defensive 18.Be4?! Ne5 19.f3 (see diagram below).

Sealey - GoellerSealey - Goeller
Black to move.

Now Black is on top. I was expecting to be able to play 19... Nxc4?! but it turns out White's ok after 20. Bxf4! gxf4 21. Qxc4 and Black has nothing since 21... Bxh3? just does not work. But I found a way to make it work by first playing 19...Qg3! (with the threat of 20...Bxh3) when Black is winning after the natural 20. Kh1? Nxc4! because 21. Bxf4? Rxf4 22. Qxc4 Bxh3!! now works, e.g.: 23. gxh3? Rh4! etc. Instead he played 20.Kf1 but was still worse and eventually lost after 20...b6 (20...Qh2 is also good, of course) followed by Ba6, Rae8, and doubling Rooks on the e-file behind my Knight with just an overwhelming position that eventually led to forced mate.

Afterwards, I asked Steve what he thought of my game, but he was not impressed. He had recognized White's strong counterplay ideas, of course, and seemed to suggest I would not get away with stuff like that against stronger opposition. I had to agree. I will try to play more "simple chess" from here on out.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

USATE 2009 Crosstables

The final USCF crosstable for the "World Team 2009" (a.k.a. US Amateur Team East or USATE 2009) is finally up. And NJoyChess has the Wall Chart PDF, Team Chart, and previously mentioned Prize List.