Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Want The Certificate

A couple of my friends who are masters have flaunted their master certificates on Facebook or in a blog post. I want one. I covet one. It reminds me of three conversations in my favorite chess movie. ***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER MOVIE***

- - -

BRUCE PANDOLFINI: I want to show you something else. This is very rare. It says, "Master Chess Certificate...awarded to..." and there's a blank here for a name... "for highest achievement on this day of blank, nineteen hundred and blank." Careful with it. It's a mysterious and powerful thing. It's only been given out...I don't know...a few times in history. And then only to those who achieve a lot of master class points. Then there's a big ceremony and so on.
JOSH WAITZKIN: How do you get master class points?
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: You earn them. You just earned ten for that knight to c8. Ten...master...class...points.

- - -

BRUCE PANDOLFINI: It's white's move. Can we expect it any time soon?
JOSH WAITZKIN: How many points is it worth?
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: To make the opening move?
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: Forget the points.
JOSH WAITZKIN: How much is it worth if I do it?
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: Do it for its own sake. Do it for the love of the game.
JOSH WAITZKIN: I want to know how close I am to getting the certificate.
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: Forget the certificate.
JOSH WAITZKIN: But I want to know.
JOSH WAITZKIN: What do you mean you don't know?
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: I don't care. It's...white's...move.
JOSH WAITZKIN: I want the certificate.
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: [sighs] You want the certificate. You have to have the certificate. [gets briefcase] You won't move until you get the certificate. [opens it] You win. [gives him copy of certificate] Here's your certificate.
JOSH WAITZKIN: [takes it]
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: Fill it out. It doesn't mean anything. It's just a piece of paper. It's a xerox of a piece of paper. Do you want another one? [gives Josh another copy] Do you want 10? [gives Josh few more copies] Do you want 20? [continues stacking them on chess board one-by-one] 30? I've got a whole briefcase full of them. They mean nothing.
BONNIE WAITZKIN: [entering the room]
BRUCE PANDOLFINI: They mean nothing.
BONNIE WAITZKIN: Get out of my house.

- - -

BRUCE PANDOLFINI: I have something for you. It says, "This is to certify that Josh Waitzkin, on this day, has in the eyes of his teacher...attained the rank of Grandmaster."

- - -

So I decided to make myself a certificate. I googled "chess certificate" and found a suitable image to modify. The customized picture serves as the opening picture of this article. If you'd like to make your own certificate, just download the picture, add it to the background in your favorite word processor and then get to work on making up verbiage that sounds certificate-y. For my choices, I found an English Towne font to write medieval calligraphy letters. In the center of the certificate, I reproduced the club championship bracket for the year that I won the chess club championship. Printing was a bit of a disappointment because the printers within my reach don't print to the edge of the paper. Printed on 8.5 x 11" cardstock, the certificate serves as a tangible reminder of my road to the club championship.

Now if I could just pump my rating up about 67 points, I could get the certificate from the USCF that says "Master".

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Practical Rook Endgames 07: Frontal Defense in Norway

According to some records I found on the internet, when David Letterman played a slow game of chess with Garry Kasparov in 1989, after the 14th move on November 21, David declared, "There just isn't enough televised chess." While I would love to see our beloved game get the love it deserves from the general public, I understand that watching people sit at a board thinking for 95% of the time and moving small pieces for 5% of the time would not make for very exciting entertainment.

In this internet age, when YouTube has essentially made cable TV obsolete in my household, I recently discovered a wonderful guilty pleasure of watching the first leg of the Grand Chess Tour 2015 at the Norway Supertournament. The big story through the first four and five rounds was the tragedies following Norway's favorite son of chess and current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. In round 1, Magnus worked to get a completely winning position by move 60 only to let his flag fall when he didn't realize that more time was not added for reaching move 60. After round 1, their fortunes diverged so much that by the end of round 4, Topalov was alone at the top, sitting on 3.5/4 while Carlsen's name was at the bottom of the standings alone at 0.5/4. This weekend, I watched the coverage of round 4 and 5 which was quite fun. European commentators New In Chess' Editor-in-Chief Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and German Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson have provided very insightful commentary on the games, rotating through the five boards on a regular basis, and interviewing players afterward.

Today, in the Norway Round 5 video coverage, a possible endgame popped up in the video feed at time index 03:57:30. The scenario never showed, but I was tickled that it was exactly what I had been studying lately. I was also tickled that both GM Gustafsson and GM Yasser Seirawan struggled to correctly evaluate the following endgame:

White to move and draw

1.Kd3! Re6 White breaks for a Philidor and Black cuts him off.

White to move and draw. Rule of Five says Draw. Shredder says Draw.

The Rule of Five has pawn on 3rd plus 2 cutoff files equals 5 which is not more than 5, meaning draw. Shredder says draw, but only if White plays an only move here. Gustafsson thought this was probably a draw. Seirawan thought it was probably losing. If you read my Practical Rook Endgames 04, you should correctly guess the one drawing move. 2.Ra1! Now Black can play many moves that lead to a draw, but the most testing is probably the one that makes the Rule of Five point in his favor. 2...g5. Now the Rule of Five says 4th rank plus 2 cutoff files equals 6 > 5 should be winning. However, this is a knight pawn and the Rule of Five probably doesn't apply because Black's King doesn't have a wide avenue to walk serpentine down the board toward a rook checking from f1, g1, and h1. The pawn behind can be skewered on one of the Rg1+ moves.

White to move and draw. Rule of Five says Win. Shredder says Draw.

Now, the drawing line is narrow, but doable. White uses the Frontal Defense and never lets the g-pawn get closer. 3.Rf1+! Kg4 4.Rg1+! Kh4 5.Rh1!+ Kg3 6.Rg1+! Kf4 7.Rf1+! and the Black King can't make progress. In the video, Gustafsson analyzed 3.Rf1+! Kg6 4.Rg1! Re8.

Here, Seirawan suggested 5.Kd2? but again, students of the Frontal Defense know that staying on the third and fourth ranks are the best bets for a draw. Gustafsson ignored Yasser's Kd2 and played 5.Kd4!.

Black to move, White to draw. Gustafsson and Shredder say Draw.

Gustafsson then proclaims the position a draw and goes on to admit that "I pretend like I don't, but I have read some endgame books in the old days." ten Geuzandam then asks Gustafsson what his favorite endgame book was. When he named Keres' Practical Chess Endings and Shereshevsky's Endgame Strategy, I was delighted to find both on my bookshelf.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Science versus Art

"What is chess do you think? Those who play for fun or not at all, dismiss it as a game. The ones who devote their lives to it, for the most part, insist it’s a science. It’s neither. Bobby Fischer got underneath it like no one before him and found at its center…art." - Searching for Bobby Fischer (movie)

I alluded to a debate that sprung up after I had won my most recent game. I was proud that I had produced a near-flawless game with an interesting pawn sac and exchange sac. The problem? I had memorized the first 17 moves in home preparation including the moves for the pawn sac and the exchange sac. At home I had delighted in how the evaluations given by Stockfish continued to tilt in White's favor and I had studiously tried to understand the many, many side variations that a potential opponent could try to complicate with. In my game, I still had to find 16 good moves after my 17 memorized moves. I had studied hard, played the right moves, used my brain to create technically sound moves over the board, and had gotten the win.

A friend who is also an expert seemed muted in his praise, basically stating that computer analysis distorts chess and that at least for him, playing chess with so much emphasis on preparation and results instead of creativity was likely not fun. Partly out of annoyance that my win was not being celebrated as the pure and good thing that I felt it deserved, I launched into a screed about how chess has a rich culture of named strategies (Minority Attack, Marshall Attack, Yugoslav Attack, Greek Bishop Sacrifice), and now openings deeply analyzed with computers, but this is the game we have chosen. To deprecate opening study is to stunt your own growth in a discipline that requires it of you. I attribute, perhaps wrongly, my recent ascent from a floored expert now to a middling expert as a result of my opening study system. At the very least, it serves as an enthusiasm engine so that I don't get into a weird love-hate cycle where I want to quit chess.

As part of his argument, my friend showed a game where he came up with several interesting moves over the board. Agreed, they were interesting concepts backed up by tactical bon mots, but I wanted to push back. To further my argument, I said, "But you can only create that move once. After the first time, it is knowledge, not creation." I went over the moves of Caruana-Carlsen from the Norway Chess supertournament. I'm certain that Caruana is a theoretician and his win in an endgame arising from the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense was pleasing to replay. When a grandmaster catches another in a prepared opening variation, should we reject that as "not chess"?

Admittedly, I am also in it for the art. Why else would I adopt Gufeld's Search for the Mona Lisa as shorthand for one of my chess quests? But I include the science and knowledge and computer tools of chess as integral parts of my pursuit. I'm trying to be a Renaissance Man like Leonardo Da Vinci. It's not science versus art, but science AND art.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Practical Rook Endgames 06: Frontal and Long Side Defenses

I have thrown around the frontal and long side defense terms enough that it's appropriate to address them formally. Both of these defenses are for a lone rook to draw versus rook plus pawn when Philidor has gone awry.

For the frontal defense:

  • Attacking pawn has not yet reached its fifth rank
  • Defending king is cut off by the attacking rook on the long side of the board
  • Defending king is not cut off so much that the pawn can easily get to its fifth rank (Rule of Five may help here)
  • Defending king can quickly attack a rook on the second rank or one on the fifth rank (e.g. King is on 3rd or 4th rank)
  • Defending rook is in front of the pawn with checking distance (3 ranks between rook and pawn)

Frontal Defense: White can draw with either side to move

With White to move, probably safest is just to shuffle Kd4 and Kd3. Decreasing checking distance just a tiny bit with 1.Rf2?? will lose to Kg5! and the Black King will advance on the White Rook until it reaches f3 and escorts its pawn to f4, making a classic Lucena position. Failing to defend the fifth rank allows the rook to briefly defend the pawn laterally. 1.Kd2?? Kg5! 2.Rg1+ Kh4! 3.Rf1 Re5! 4.Kd3 {one step out of position} Kg3! 5.Ke4 Ra5! {spread offense} 6.Rg1+ Kf2 7.Rg5 Ra4+ 8.Kd3 Ra3+ and Black gets Lucena. If White goes too far north with Kd5, Black cuts off another file with Rd8+. With Black to move, if the king ventures out, White checks it while it protects the f-pawn; if the king is not protecting the f-pawn, White attacks the pawn. e.g. 1...Kg5 2.Rg1+! Kh4 3.Rf1! Kg4 4.Rg1+! Kh3 5.Rf1! Kg4 6.Rg1+=. The pawn must never be allowed to get any closer, else Lucena happens. If the Black Rook shuffles 1.Re7, the White King shuffles Kd4 or Kd3. If the Black Rook tries to get into the Spread Offense e.g. 1...Re5 2.Kd4 Ra5 Ke3 should lapse into a Philidor. In a previous post, I blogged about how this frontal defense resembles the Space Invaders video game.

For the long side defense:

  • Attacking pawn could be as far advanced as its seventh rank, so this defense works later than the frontal defense
  • Defending king is cut off by the attacking rook on the short side of the board
  • Defending rook has at least three clear files between it and the pawn (sufficient checking distance)

Long Side Defense: White can draw with Black to move

Black is in check, but he will find no shelter. If the Black King approaches the White Rook, the White Rook can get position behind the dangerous passer. e.g. 1...Kd1 2.Ra1+! Kc2 3.Ra2+! Kd3 3.Ra3+! Kc4 4.Re3 draws. The White King can take a stroll up to d7, but he will not find any respite from the checks. 1...Kd1 2.Ra1+! Kc2 3.Ra2+! Kd3 4.Ra3+! Kd4 5.Ra4+! Kd5 6.Ra5+! Kd6 7.Ra6+! Kd7 8.Ra7+! Kc8!? 9.Re7! draws. If White skewers the rook with 9.Ra8+ Kb7 10.Rxf8 e1=Q+ he loses. The Black King has to allow either White Rook to the e-file or get checked all the way back to d1.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Endgame Caveat #7: Two Rules Don't Substitute for Actual Calculation

I have had a lot of good luck lately. I played two three-game matches against average rating 2112 players and beat each player by a convincing score of 2.5-0.5 for a 6-game performance rating of 2379. My second-to-last tournament game was a peculiar one, especially the ending. Both of us thought that I had won and I accepted his resignation with relief. But when I went home and had Stockfish show me the unseen, it revealed that my opponent resigned in a drawn position.

My opponent had been close to winning at several points in the game. Disappointment when his expectation changed from win to a draw contributed to the downward trend and helped cause him to misevaluate. Also, my 58th move was probably surprising enough to be a psychological blow. Ultimately, laziness on both our parts caused us to misapply the endgame rules of thumb and blind us to the truth of the position. As I stated in the first Endgame Caveat, this series is not meant to teach dogmatic rules, but mostly show how caveats, or exceptions, make these rules hazardous.

After 56...h4-h3

Having sacced my own rook for one of White's passers at c7, I have been trying to for the last 6 moves to create enough trouble with my f- and h-pawns to at least draw. To that end, my Black King has been trying to muscle the White King away from blockading a pawn by staying toward the center on the f-file. Now I have two pawns on the 6th rank. The endgame after the rook sacrifices for the h-pawn and the White King captures the f-pawn seems to be drawn unless White can capture the f-pawn and get a 4-step lead on the Black King. Two rules of thumb are coming into play. #1) It is often said that "Two connected pawns on the sixth rank beat a lone rook." I am hoping that with my king's help, two disconnected pawns on the sixth or seventh can beat the rook. #2) The Rule of the Square, which is probably the first endgame rule taught to beginners, seems to indicate that the f-pawn is currently outside the White King's range of stoppability. White played 57.Re8. After the game, my opponent thought that 57.Re4+ was a better try for a win, but concrete evaluation says no: 57...Kg3 58.Ke3! f2 59.Rf4! h2! 60.Rf8! h1=Q 61.Rg8+! Kh2 62.Rh8+ Kg1 63.Rxh1+ Kxh1 64.Kxf2=.

After 57.Re1-e8

During the game, I thought that 57.Re7 would have been better for White, but checking distance again becomes crucial, so the attempt to gain an advantage with Rxa7 loses because of insufficient checking distance in the main variations below. I am still trying not to let the White King into the blockade, so I felt that 57...h2! was the right move and it is. 57...f2 looks like it might be a viable alternative, but f2 actually loses to 58.Rf8+! Kg3 59.Ke3 h2 60.Rg8+ Kh3 61.Kxf2 and whether Black promotes to queen or knight, White's Rook will triumph. Allowing the White King to get closer to the f-pawn is anathema.

After 57...h2

Even though White has committed to checking from the back, guarding the queening squares is still a drawing option. e.g. 58.Re1 f2 59.Rf1 Kf3 60.Kd3! Kg2 61.Ke2 h1=Q 62.Rxh1 Kxh1 63.Kxf2=. His next move was 58.Rf8+.

Instead of making an automatic Kg3 move, I stopped to examine my options. My opponent was probably counting on 58...Kg3 59.Ke3 h1=Q 60.Rg8+ Kh2 61.Rh8+ Kg1 62.Rxh1+ Kxh1 63.Kxf3 which is a drawn endgame. Once I knew that, I felt that as long as it wasn't losing, 58...Kg5! was going to be my move.

After 58...Kg5!

I'm adding the exclam to Kg5 because of its psychological shock value. The move is neither singularly necessary to maintain the evaluation, nor is it winning in an objective sense, but for intangibles, it was enough of a bluff to help me tremendously. The Rook can kill the f-pawn now, but the h-pawn safely queens. It looks as if two advanced pawns DO beat a rook. 59.Rg8+

White's last move was actually necessary to save the draw. It looks as if it is helping Black get his King to attack the White Rook, but the reason Rg8+ was necessary was to put the Black King on a skewerable square and indirectly defend against a queening f-pawn. Notice that if White had moved his Rook to e7 on move 57, this crucial skewer possibility would be gone and White would be lost. Continuing the idea of not being skewered against the h-pawn, I played 59...Kf6. At some point here or in previous moves, I had grabbed my captured Black Queen from his side of the board, ready to queen my pawn. This also may have added to the psychological pressure.

Here my opponent offered his hand and resigned??? Out of sheer stubbornness and not giving up, he might have just played on and then the additional moves may have revealed his drawing path. The exclams show all moves are necessary for both sides to draw: 60.Rh8! f2! 61.Ke3! Kg7! 62.Kxf2! Kxh8! 63.Kg2! and the game is drawn. If Black queens either pawn, the Rook can kill the new queen where it stands and be in position to blockade the other pawn, meaning White wins. White had to let his Rook die on h8 to buy time for his King to catch both pawns. In contradiction to the two Rules, the White King should have caught the f-pawn even though it was outside the square and two pawns shouldn't have beaten the rook even though they might have both gotten to the seventh rank. Here are diagrams of the drawing variation:

After 60.Rh8!

60...f2! 61.Ke3!


62.Kxf2! Kxh8! 63.Kg2!

So the game ended in a study-like draw, but my opponent resigned in a drawable position. I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten an extra half point before from someone resigning a drawn position. I have resigned before in a drawn position, so maybe this is the karmic payback. Luck has a bizarre way of distributing points and leading us on strange left turns.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Practical Rook Endgames 05: The Emperor is Coming

JERJERROD: Welcome, Lord Vader. This is an unexpected pleasure. We are honored by your presence.
VADER: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I am here to put you back on schedule.
JERJERROD: I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast they can.
VADER: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.
JERJERROD: I tell you that this station will be operational as planned.
VADER: [stops and holds up his finger at Jerjerrod] The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation.
JERJERROD: But he asks the impossible! I need more men!
VADER: Then perhaps you can tell him yourself when he arrives.
JERJERROD: [alarmed] The Emperor's coming here?
VADER: That is correct, Commander, and he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.
JERJERROD: We shall double our efforts.
VADER: I hope so, Commander, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.

I have milked this one game for several blog posts on rook endgames. This should be the fourth and last installment from this one game. When the rooks and pawns endgame first appeared on the board, there were several key variations that both sides overlooked.

After 45.dxe6

Black will shortly have a +2 pawns advantage. The a- and c-pawns are almost free to roam, but I never could find time to put a rook behind one without both becoming hampered by either a White Rook appearing on a8 and/or a White King blockading on the c-file. One thing that I never appreciated during the game is that the f-pawn is also rather dangerous. If the Black King can get to the g-file (short side of the pawn), it can help the pawn to queen. The rook on b2 helps block out the White King.45...Kxe6

After 45...Kxe6

White comes up with a fighting move. 46.f5+

When behind, the defending side seeks to trade pawns. if 46...Kxf5 47.Rxf7+ reduces White's worries to the a- and c-pawns on one side of the board. In fact, Shredder tablebases show draw for the position after 47.Rxf7+. A rook and bishop pawn on one side of the board with the defending king able to blockade seems to be a draw. However, Black has options. I rejected the best move because I didn't see far enough. 46...Kf6! avoids pawn exchanges. 47.Rh6+ might allow the White Rook to swing behind the a-pawn, but my f-pawn is no longer attacked. But I was discouraged from this variation when I saw that 47...Kxf5 48.Rh5+ skewers my c-pawn.

After 48.Rh5+

What I failed to appreciate was that having destroyed young Skywalker's good nature with 47...Kxf5, I can afford to sacrifice the Death Star if my emperor finishes bringing Luke over to the Dark Side. 48...Kg4

49.Rxc5 f5 50.Rxa5 f4+ 51.Kd3 f3 52.Ra8 f2

Luke is about to become a Sith

Going back to the game, instead I tried to find time to finish the Death Star (my a- and c-pawns).

White comes up with a fighting move. 46.f5+

46...Ke7 47.Rh8 a4 48.Rc8 Rb5 49.Ra8 Rb3+ 50.Ke4 a4 51.Ra6 c4 52.Kd4 c3

In the postmortem, my opponent cited this position as one in which he might have drawn. My opponent's hypothetical drawing attempt starts with 53.f6+ At the time, I thought that the Black King had to stay with the f-pawn. My initial analysis was 53...Ke8, but the Black King is vulnerable to back rank mate if he tries to get to g6 via f8. It turns out that if the Black King switches focus onto the Rebel Fleet (White Rook), Black might be able to win anyway 53...Kd8 54.Kd3 Now neither pawn seems close to queening and Darth Vader (Black Rook) can't seem to get the Death Star on track. The Rebellion's plan to disable the shields with Kc2 is coming, but suprisingly, Black can wait and give the Black King time to get in a better position.

54...Kc8 55.Kc2 Kb7 56.Ra4 Rb2+ 57.Kxc3 Rf2

And now if 58.Rxa3 Rf3+ 59.Kb2 Rxa3 60.Kxa3

Black can win this pawn ending. If White avoids the rook exchange, from two diagrams ago with 58.Kb3 The Death Star moves closer to the Rebel Base 58...a2 and the Emperor can eventually return to f6, which will be too much pressure for the Rebellion.

An extra Bishop Pawn and Rook Pawn on opposite sides of the board should generally be a win.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Practical Rook Endgames 04: The Corner Draw and the Exceptional Win

Continuing with the endgame of the previous two Practical Rook Endgames, analysis showed two interesting turns that might have been. When the basic RPvR endgame first showed on the board, my opponent had a draw with best play, but it was extremely hard for a human to find. One one hand, the practicality of this lesson could be questioned, but the underlying subtleties are valuable for a complete understanding of this deceptively difficult endgame.

After 56.Rxa3

56...Rd6!= Not knowing the Rule of Five, I felt that cutting off the king as far away from my pawn seemed correct.

After 56...Rd6, White to find one move and draw

If White offers a rook trade so that the White King can blockade the pawn, one can calculate that Black wins. 57.Rd3?

57...Rxd3 58.Kxd3

58...Kf6! 59.Ke4 Kg5! 60.Kf3 Kf5 and with the opposition, Black can queen his pawn in for the win.

After 56...Rd6, White to find one move and draw

So how can White draw? Shredder tablebases are invaluable for finding hidden gems in these endgames. The title of this post gives the answer away. 57.Ra1!! draws. Why should this be? Checking distance is critical for frontal draws, which is the correct defense to fight the king and pawn. Since the rook trade loses, White might as well get checking distance. It turns out that in a way similar to zugzwang, Black cannot improve his position because. 57...f5 58.Rd1 draws! 58...Rxd1 59.Kxd1 Kf6 60.Ke2 Kg5 61.Kf3 and White gains the opposition. Black can also try tricking White with 57...Rd8. Now 58.Rd1? loses to 58...Rxd1 59.Kxd1 just like the variation above when Black walks his king in front of his pawn to win the opposition. Only waiting moves like Kc3, Rb1, Re1, Rf1, Rg1, and Rh1 hold the draw using the frontal check defense. The White Rook stays at f1 and checks the Black King whenever it is on the g- or e-file, back to threaten the pawn when the king goes to the h-file. If Black tries to stabilize the pawn using the spread offense or the screen pass, White needs to know that his king belongs between c3 and c4, as this fake rush is crucial to defeating both strategies. 58.Rf1 Ke6 59.Re1+! Kf6 60.Kc3!=.

In the actual game, my opponent played 57.Re3+

...leading to tablebase wins. Surprisingly, Black can play a version of the spread offense with his pawn on the third rank. This time, the pawn seems like a quarterback with almost no pass pressure, and the rook and the king are downfield receivers. 57...Kf6! 58.Rf3+ Kg6! In the actual game, we continued 59.Rf1 f5 60.Kc3 Kg5 61.Rg1+ Kh4 to arrive at the starting position for Practical Rook Endgames 02 and 03. But here I want to explore the mysteries of 59.Rg3+ Kh5 60.Rf3 f6

After 60...f6

According to the Rule of Five, Black does not have the conditions to win this endgame (pawn on 3rd + 2 cutoff files = 5 which is not greater than 5). However, the tablebases beg to differ. Black gets his checking distance 61.Rf1 Kg4 62.Rg1+ Kf3! 63.Rf1+ Ke2 64.Rf5 Ke3 65.Rf1 Rd2+ 66.Kc3 Rf2

Black should win since he controls all the queening squares and can establish the Lucena in short order. It's probably time to discard the Rule of Five as a useful endgame rule.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mona Lisa with One Mole

In 2008, I blogged about playing a Mona Lisa game, a work of art. Back then, I had found three ugly moves that had marred my creation. My most recent game got closer to perfection.

Before the game began, another club member came to ask my opponent about a game he had won this year involving a quick opening crush. He had prepared the line many years ago and had finally gotten to use it. It wasn't my intent to unsettle him before our game, but my opponent brought up the ending of the last game. So I told him that he had resigned in a drawn position. Perhaps that played a factor in our game; perhaps not.

It began as a Caro-Kann Panov-Botvinnik Attack as had our previous six encounters with me playing White.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3

Caro-Kann Panov-Botvinnik Attack

I expected 5...g6 because my opponent had gotten a good game from game 1 of this match. But I was also prepared for 5...Nc6 which had shown up in three previous encounters.

5...Nc6 6.Bg5 dxc4?!

Moderate surprise. This was the first time he played this. Funny enough, a club member had sent me an email about this variation in the previous week. I hadn't let on to anyone that I had booked up on this variation. It was only logical that if I was going to play 6.Bg5, I had to know how to refute an attempt to grab the pawn at d4.

7.Bxc4 Qxd4 8.Qxd4 Nxd4 9.0-0-0 e5 10.f4 Bg4 11.Nf3 Nxf3 12.gxf3 Bxf3 13.fxe5 Bxh1 14.exf6 Rc8

Believe it or not, I was still in my opening preparation up to this point. Black has captured the h1 rook in an effort to distract the d-rook to an inactive square at h1. White is down a pawn and the exchange but the fleeting compensation is that Black's King is uncastled. So White makes sure that the Black King stays uncastled.

15.Re1+ Kd7 16.Rd1+ Ke8 with an almost identical position to the diagram above except Black can't castle any more. The fine point of this maneuver is that if 15.Bd3 immediately, Black can give back the exchange 15...Rxc3+ 16.bxc3 Bc6 with few endgame problems and a pawn in the bank. I had actually studied this position earlier that day and booked the next move as the last one in my preparation. 17.Bd3!

Two previous games I found at were Grischuk-Bareev 2004 1-0 and Jakovenko-L'Ami 2007 0-1. I dare say 17.Bd3! might be a theoretical novelty. Black has a bishop hanging. If he preserves it, White's second threat is 18.Re1+ Kd7 19.Bf5+ skewering the Rc8. 17...Bd5?.

This seems to preserve the bishop and prevent the Bf5+ idea. Unfortunately, White still has great initiative. In some lines, the pin on the Nc3 and a rook sac followed by Ba3+ figure into the calculations, so White reopens the threat on the bishop with a useful move. Best was probably 17...Bf3 18.Re1+ Kd7 18.Bf5+ Kc7 20.Bf4+ Bd6 21.Re7+ Kc6 with complicated play.

The game continued 18.Kb1! Bf3 19.Re1+! Kd7 20.Bf5+! Kc7 21.Bf4+! Bd6?. I had been trying to win the Rc8 for free without giving up a minor piece. I expected 21...Kd8 {fxg7 is no longer a discovery} 22.Rd3 Rxc3+ retaining substantial initiative for the pawn.


My opponent winced. 22...Kb6 23.Nxd6 Rc6 24.fxg7 Rg8 25.Rg1

This seemed quite logical and simple. Just hammer away at g8 until more pieces fall. However, in postgame analysis, the computer showed me a fantastic idea beginning with 25.Re8!?

and if 25...Rxg7 26.Be3+ initiates mate in 12.

The actual game continued 25...Bh5 26.Bxh7 Bg6+

Here is the mole, the blemish on my Mona Lisa. I spent a long time checking that 27.Bxg6 Rxg7 is okay because 28.Be3+ stabilizes my rook from the pin and also Black's King will have difficulty finding safety from the minor pieces. I only noticed that 27.Rxg6 was probably stronger as I was capturing 27.Bxg6?! fxg6 28.Rxg6

Most of the smoke has cleared. The knight and bishop dominate the center of the board. The rook and the pawn are well placed. I just have to make sure no swindles happen.

28...Kc5 29.h4! Kd4 30.h5 Rc5 31.h6 Rh5 32.Kc2 To stop any mischief like Kd3 and Rh1#. At this point, I really admired how my minor pieces prevented moves like Rc8+ and Rh2+. 32...a6 33.Rf6

Black resigned. The win with Rf8 is easy. White might even come out with a queen that lives; Black would likely have no pieces left.

I was euphoric for a week following this powerful win. Plus it didn't hurt that my rating climbed to its peak at 2133. The only downer was when a fellow friend questioned whether winning with this much preparation wasn't stifling creativity with being too results oriented. My retort involved an implication that laziness about learning openings could cause long-term stagnation.