Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Bishops

Apologies in advance if I offend someone's religious sensibilities. I speak as a lay person, but the topic at hand will lead me to venture into saying things I probably know nothing about.

The election of a new pope took place this past week amid much media ballyhoo. With the resignation/abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio met with the rest of the conclave in Vatican City on Tuesday (3/12) and emerged the next day as Pope Francis in honor of 13th Century's Saint Francis of Assisi. So far he seems to be developing a reputation as a humble man who pays his hotel bill himself instead of getting an assistant to do it.

Coincidentally, I had been seeing some monastic themes in my media consumption lately. One was the animated movie The Secret of Kells. The other was Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Having enjoyed the movie, I decided to read the book. The movie touches on it a bit, but the book more strongly emphasizes the historical divisions in the Catholic Church including factions of papal loyalists, Benedictine monks, and Franciscan monks. It seems strange to note that Francis and Benedict are now the names of the two most recent popes.

One interesting fact about the conclave that I never noticed until this one was the role of colored smoke as indication of how the conclave was going: black for discord, white for concord. So here's at least one place where I'm in over my head, but my understanding of what I read at Wikipedia is that a bishop is a full-fledged priest who has the power to ordain other priests and bishops. Bishops are often like governors or mayors of large cities in terms of their regional reach of authority. Some 80 bishops in the world are elevated to the level of cardinal who are like a cabinet of advisors to the pope and who have the power to elect the pope when necessary.

I have already gone over the end of my game in my previous post. My opponent is also my friend who has had the upper hand in our chess series (6-1 in his favor with no draws). I had spent most of my study time in the prior week on the Panov-Botvinnik Attack as it is a transpositional possibility. But he chose d4 and the King's Indian became our battleground. I had gone over a game between Kramnik and Nakamura, hoping that I could get some early strategic concession in the Bayonet Attack. But my opponent surprised me by playing the Petrosian Variation. 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.d5
I followed up with my usual attempt to slow down White's queenside buildup by playing 7...a5 but I was on my own after he played 8.Bg5.
The pin annoys since Black's counterplay almost always starts with Nf6-moves and f7-f5. I figured on a queen move to probably e8 while watching out for Nc3-b5xc7. Nb8-a6 would be able to hold c7 for a while. So my plan was to break the pin in a methodical fashion. 8...h6 9.Bh4 Na6 10.Nd2 Qe8 11.b3 Bd7 12.a3 Nh7 13.f3 f5 14.O-O
At least I've got him nervous enough to castle. Sometimes White has so much safety that he can afford to delay castling. I once had a demoralizing game in which I was in a King's Indian type game pushing pawns in front of my king attacking nothing because my opponent was castled queenside, but I was so cramped on the queenside that I couldn't counter his attack there. So now I have the address of the enemy king. From the above diagram, my short-term strategy was to pressure e4 and probably open the f-file with fxe4. Part of the e4 pressure involved Na6-c5, but I still had to be careful of Nc3-b5. Also, in the ensuing lines, I thought about the problem of b3-b4 if I had a knight on c5 and saw that my minimally developing move 11...Bd7 was now a lucky happenstance in the position since it created some tactical counterthrusts on b5 and a4. 14...Nf6 14.Rb1 Nc5 15.b4 axb4 16.axb4 Na4
At this point I felt like I had almost an equal game. My queenside is still not great, but I expected counterplay on the f-file. And my pieces seemed to have some initiative starting with 17.Nxa4 Bxa4 18.Qc1 g5
Even though my bishop on a4 had threatened the enemy queen, it looked awkward on a4 and could have been even more so if I allowed b4-b5. But I began to think ahead to the careers of two other bishops: the one that had pinned me at h4 and the King's Indian problem bishop at g7. Without scope for Bg7, I would always be worse, so I began to envision opening the f-file, advancing my h- and g-pawns, and moving Bg7-h6 where it would have some prospects. With the coming exchange on e4, I didn't want my opponent to play the zwischenzug Bxf6 and then retake Nxe4 with a strong knight hitting d6 as well as squares near my king. So I opted to push White's bishop back first. 20.Bf2 fxe4 21.fxe4 Bd7 22.Ra1
White has currently has trouble getting to my weaknesses and I am not in the business of helping my opponent, so I spent some time trying to be as obstructive as possible and I figured the best way to do it was leave the rooks facing each other and try to push my attack. 22...Qg6 23.Ra3 g4 24.Qa1 Rab8.
Keeping to my strategy of being obstructive. It will be a while before he can get two pieces pointing at b7.

Up until this point, the game has been rather even. Fritz likes White here with an edge of about +=0.6 for White. Perhaps my ploy with Rb8 created enough doubt that the White attack was worth pursuing. Aside from that, I can't explain why my opponent began playing rather defensively, which played into my hands. His defensive moves seem suboptimal in that pieces went to squares that were less and less active. 25.Re1 h5 26.Bd3 This cuts off the defense of the third rank by the Ra3. But that is what happens when you're cramped. Your pieces trip over each other. 26...Bh6
Black's problem bishop finally gains activity as I had planned. Already, Bxd2 is threatened, but exchanges are not always good to jump at and the choice to exchange or not is one of the finer points of chess. The Bh6 is technically the bad bishop, but such classifications are not always black and white. In an endgame, it would probably be bad to keep it, but here, you'll see it gets even better. 27.Nf1 This was the apparent purpose of Re1, heading toward f5. I had been thinking that White could exchange rooks on the f-file and then offer a second rook exchange on the a-file and then have his queen harass my king from the side. 27...Bg5 28.Ne3 h4 29.c5?
This is the beginning of the bad variations for White. Until this point, Black has been getting a better game, but at this point, Fritz jumps from equal with 25.Nf5 to about -1.0. 29...Nh5? Here 29...g3! attacking White's castled position was correct, followed by 30.hxg3 Bxe3! 31.Rxe3 (or 31.Bxe3? hxg3 and White has to sac about 5 points to stave off mate.) 31...Ng4! 32.Re2 Nxf2 33.Rxf2 Rxf2 34.Kxf2 Rf8+. 30.Nf5 g3! 31.hxg3 hxg3 32.Bxg3 Bxf5?. I got confused here and forgot that one of my lines included 32...Nxg3 which should have forced 33.Nxg3. I had been thinking of getting my bishop to d2 and couldn't with the threat of Ne7+, but 32...Nxg3 33.Nxg3 Bd2 would have been what I was after. Note how if White's bishop had not been at f2, White could have chosen to block the pawns with 31.h3. In a sense, the bishop was betraying his own side. Fritz likes White better by +0.97 here since White has the extra pawn and the White rooks seem to be bolstering the defense. 33.exf5 Qh6 34.Bc2 Bd2
I thought that Rb1 was coming, but White surprised me with 35.Re4 I saw my opportunity to get my pawn back, double rooks, and help defend against frontal king checks, so I went for 35...Rxf5 36.Bh2? The bishop seems little more than a tall pawn in the corner.
Now Fritz prefers Black again. 36...Rbf8 Not having two rooks on a8 any more, I expected White to press with 37.cxd6 cxd6 38.Ra8, but I could have gained a winning position if I had found 38...Be3+ from that position. 37.Rh3 Qg5 38.Qd1 I'm playing offensively and my opponent is playing defensively. We both show our discomfort with these roles. For the ending phase of the game, I refer you to my other post. But note how my bishop was almost the hero of the whole game (39...Be3!) despite a slow start behind my pawn chain and how his bishop almost became the scapegoat (42...Rxh2+!) despite a fast start in the pinning variation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Order of Operations

Since today is Pi Day (3/14), I thought I'd do a math-themed post. I was intrigued recently by a problem that showed up on Facebook. And then I read this Slate article about the problem with some added value of research into math's symbolology. When I first saw the problem, "6 ÷ 2(1+2) = ?", I arrived at the answer 1. But then I checked my work and decided that I had made an incorrect assumption about the proper order of operations and then arrived at the answer 9.

The author of the Slate article seems to prefer 9. I don't really wish to belabor the point but the left-right rule seems simpler than one incorporating the association of the 2 with the term inside the parentheses. However, I could imagine some inconsistent words coming out of my mouth if an expression were written "6 / 2x". Ultimately, ambiguity should probably be stamped out by the poser of the question by using parentheses.

In my most recent game, I missed several wins and wound up with a draw. I saw winning moves, but my analysis had faulty second or third or even fourth moves. Sometimes they were even moves I had seen before, but I somehow missed changing the move orders into a winning operation. I chalk it up to general tactical atrophy combined with the fatigue of a 5-hour game and clock anxiety since I had used up 140 of my 150 minutes and queens were still on the board.

I'm playing Black and I have an almost fantastic position with all my forces trained on the enemy king, but my own king is rather insecure. White's last move was 38.Qa1-d1, threatening both Rxh5 and Rg4 and if my queen leaves the c1-h6 diagonal, Qxd2 is also a possibility. I had been thinking of trading 2 rooks for a queen, but materially, that didn't exactly make sense and I didn't see any berserker queen follow-up.

But then I realized that the threat of Rf1+ might be better than the execution and what the position really cried out for was 38...Rf2!

My opponent sank into a big think because of the not-so-subtle threat of Qxg2#, while 39.Rg4 fails to 39...Rf1+ and the queen gobbles the rook at the end of the exchanges on f1. I'm not sure if 39.Rg4? Rf1+ 40.Qxf1 Rxf1+ 41.Kxf1 Qxg4 qualifies as a zwischenzug, since it seems to be a two-move exchange before grabbing g4. White's move was 39.g3.

 This move stops combinations on g2, but it also cuts off the Rh3 from defending e3. I saw this and thought what could be better than threatening a discovery with 39...Be3? But I analyzed 40.Rxe3 Qxe3?! 41.Qg4+ Ng7 42.Bh7+ and I thought I was losing control. But I overlooked my ace in the hole, the zwischenzug. 39...Be3! 40.Rxe3 Rf1+ 41.Qxf1 Qxe3+ 42.Kg2 Rxf1 43.Kxf1 Qc1+ 44.Kg2 Qxc2+ and Black wins easily.

Instead I decided to cut off the white queen's threats on g4 and h5, and also try to sac on g3, so I made the move 39...R2-f3?! White played 40.R3-h4 reviving the threat of Rg4.


With my queen landing on e3 with check, I no longer feared Rxe3 and Qg4, so I checked with 40...Be3+. White played 41.Kg2 fairly quickly and I went back to 41...Rf2+ thinking that I had him with either a discovery against Kg1 or a fork against Kh1 starting with Rf1+. But he surprised me with 42.Kh3.


Here I should have taken a breath, but it was difficult to stay calm. I still had about 9 minutes on my clock and I was sure I was overlooking all kinds of killer moves for myself and my opponent. I saw 42...Rxh2+ 43.Kxh2 Qxg3+ 44.Kh1 but couldn't find a follow-up and thought that the dangers against my king were mounting. In fact 43...Qxg3+ 44.Kh1 is a losing continuation for Black. I settled for 42...Nf4+ 43.Rexf4 R8xf4 44.Rh5 Qg7 45.Rh7 Qg5 46.Rh5 Qg7 1/2-1/2.

But Black had much, much better from the above diagram. After the game, neither of us knew exactly what went wrong, but Fritz showed me that the win was in my grasp with a mate in 5. Add all the missed wins before that and I was kicking myself most of the week. I set up my analysis board at the position above where the continuation taunted me all week.

44...Rxh2+ 45.Kxh2 Rf2+ 46.Kh1 Nxg3+ 47.Kg1 Ne2++ 48.Kh1 Qg2#.

Small consolation was that I clinched first place in my round robin. I also rationalized that perhaps I had gotten a gift of a win from a drawn position in my previous game, so my score evened out.

Sometimes a draw can feel like a loss when you miss a beautiful killer combination.