Friday, April 18, 2008

Nebulous Catalan

My first game of the Club Championship Qualifier followed on the heels of my Far West Open Game 6 which made it my second Catalan Opening in a row. But here it was played with a very different middlegame. I wish I could say I understood this opening, but it’s hard to get a handle on (in other words, I’ve been too lazy to get far in my study of it). A while back I was annoyed that I couldn’t get any kind of advantage against players who played 1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5. So I decided to play for the Catalan. After all, if it's good enough for Kramnik, it must be good enough for me.

IM John Donaldson wrote in his book A Strategic Opening Repertoire that very few players below master level have a well-considered response to the Catalan Opening. Beyond the preface, I haven’t read much of this lightly annotated book. A while back I bought Everyman’s The Catalan by IM Alex Raetsky and FM Maxim Chetverik. This is a thin book, but a fairly well-organized tree of variations stemming from the Catalan. Again, I’ve mostly used this for just occasional reference rather than learning. I read Jonathan Hilton’s prize-winning series “How Wojo Won I and II” and forgot most of the substance except that Hilton talked extensively about the c5 square. Hilton recently jumped from Expert to Master after a great Foxwoods performance, so I should add to my chess mastery to do list “Write a treatise on the Catalan.”

In the late opening and early middlegame, my opponent and I floundered with his queen and my knight wandering the board with little progress. We were like the Enterprise and Reliant wandering around in the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Spock says, “Sauce for the goose, Mr. Saavik. The odds will be even.” If we’re both lost in the nebulous Catalan, neither side has much of an advantage. Eventually I enforced e2-e4, but I had probably wasted too much time to make this really strong. A brawl on the b-file resulted in all four rooks being exchanged off. My opponent missed a few equalizing continuations. I wasted a ton of clock time making sure that the bishops of same colors endgame was going to be favorable if my opponent offered a queen exchange, but of course that didn't happen. I worked my queen into his queenside and won the a-pawn. In return, he got to harass my king. I left a poisoned pawn which would allow me to force the queens off the board and he took it, entering a lost endgame.

In the bishops of same colors ending, I was dogged by time trouble and overlooked about three or four winning plans to find the lamest drawing line. I credit my opponent for hanging tough and giving me enough problems to blow the win. Seeing the missed plans are valuable, even if only to train the neural net and weaken the node that came up with the lame plan. This is why I believe in studying my own games: To find overlooked ideas and try to hang them on my Christmas tree of chess knowledge. The position had clues; why did I miss the idea?

I learned how bad my endgame technique is under time pressure. Gotta conserve time. This ending could go into a book entitled 'How not to play chess endings: An antithetical perspective on Znosko-Borovsky's classic.'

I learned that I sometimes need to be a little more practical a la Nunn’s Secrets of Practical Chess. Sometimes my analysis is too superficial, but sometimes, it’s too deep in a variation that ends up being meaningless. Nunn says Don’t Analyze Unnecessary Tactics (DAUT) and advocates bailout safety nets. Mostly it seems to be a strength that I analyze deeply when I think that the win is within my grasp. But in trying to clench victory, I must not waste so much time that the clock kills my chances.

Items to add to my training program of stamping out weaknesses:

1. Write a treatise on the Catalan like NM Jonathan Hilton.
2. Don’t Analyze Unnecessary Tactics.
3. Study bishops of same colors endings.
4. Play some blitz to remind myself of what fast endgame technique looks like.


iw said...

I have added you Blog to my links. I was wondering is you could change the link on yours to Getting to 2000 instead of my name. Thanks

ChargingKing said...

Ernie, interesting game. We might play this week. Maybe I'll test your King's Indian!

Soapstone said...

iw - I've changed your listing. Thanks for the linkback.

charging - I've got an email into another TD to see if he can figure out why SwissSys chose our pairing as best. Depending on the move order and mood, I might try for Budapest, Modern, or Benko.

Souvik Roychoudhury said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Souvik Roychoudhury said...

Saw reference to your blog in Ivan's blog....kind-a nice...will check often...

Polly said...

I don't know a thing about your tournament, but having directed and played in numerous tournaments paired with Swiss-Sys I can tell you that sometimes it comes up with crazy pairings. I've seen it do stupid things just balance or alternate colors. I have actually changed pairings that Swiss-Sys made because I felt it was putting too much weight on color instead of having players matched up against opponents of appropriate rating or score. I had a tournament where both the perfect scores had two whites and 1 black. It split the score group instead of allowing one player to have 3 whites. Only one of the players had white two in a row.

JohnnyChessman said...

I look forward to seeing your treatise on the Catalan! ;)

--Jonathan Hilton