A few lessons from the 4NCL

A few months ago I wrote a post on an issue brought up by Sam Collins. I think this was an excellent chance to discuss something real. I would be very happy to answer more questions on specific areas of chess training, strategy and so on. Don’t be shy to send me games by email. Please put Jacob’s training tips in the subject matter, so I know what to expect.

This weekend we all played in the 4NCL. I am retired from serious chess, but obviously this does not prohibit me from playing chess at all. I just don’t have to care a lot about the results.

But let us dive straight into the chess. There are some basic lessons to learn from a few of the games.

The first game is annotated by John and shows a perfect example of Forcing Thinking, where you think the game will have to go in a specific direction, but it just does not.

John Shaw – Andrew McClement

1.e4 c5 2.f4 Nc6
3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 Qxd5 5.Nc3 Qd8 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.0–0 Nf6 8.Ne5 Nd4 9.Nxd7 Nxd7 10.Bc4 e6 11.b3 Be7 12.Bb2 0–0 13.Ne2 Nxe2+ 14.Qxe2 Bf6 15.Bxf6 Nxf6
Black offered a draw. It is equal, but I like to play to the death. This is partly because my strongest phase is the endgame, but I also dislike premature draws – just play the game.
16.Rae1 Qd4+ 17.Qe3 Qxe3+ 18.Rxe3
With rooks on the e- and f-files, a bishop on c4 and a pawn on f4, there can only be one threat: f4-f5!

As Andrew explained in the post mortem, he saw the threat, but thought: “I attack d2, White defends it, then I stop f4-f5 with …g6.” I often make the same error: treating a threat as though it is a check and cannot be ignored.

18…g6= was safe and solid.
My threat’s bigger than your threat.
Also unpleasant is 19…exf5 20.Re7
20.fxe6 Rxc2?
Played quickly, but a losing mistake. There is a Bobby Fischer quote that goes something like: “It’s never the first mistake you make that kills you. It’s the second mistake that happens because you were thinking about the first mistake.” 20…fxe6 would limit the damage. After 21.Bxe6+ White meets either king move with g2-g4 with a promising initiative, but the fight continues.
The new e-pawn wins the game. The pressure on f7 makes the knight more of a spectator than a defender.
21…Re8 loses to most sensible moves. For example: 22.Bb5 or 22.Rd1 or 22.Bd3 Rxa2 23.Rxf6 gxf6 24.Bb5. The only one to avoid is 22.Rxf6? Rxc4!.
22.Rxf6 gxf6 23.e8Q+ Rxe8 24.Rxe8+ Kg7 25.a4 Rb2 26.Rb8

The second topic is from my first round loss…

Basically it is bad decision making, based on the thinking that I should make a move, rather than solving the problem first. This is what can happen when you have not played for a while; you lose the feeling for the critical moments. Luckily it does not take long to recapture it and I did well on the Sunday.

Alex Longson – Jacob Aagaard

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 d5 3.d3 dxe4 4.dxe4 e5 5.Nf3 Nd7 6.g3 Ngf6 7.Bg2 Bc5 8.0–0 0–0 9.Nbd2 Re8 10.Nc4 b5 11.Na5 c6 12.Bd2 b4!?
12…Qc7! was probably better, but I had not fully understood what was coming.
13.Nb3?! a5! would give Black the initiative, though I had not fully realised this.

This is the critical moment and I should have sensed it with the quick conclusions I made.

After 13…bxa3? 14.b4 my position was just worse. I got desperate at some point, believed I could confuse matters with a pawn sacrifice and just lost a pawn. Being rusty was very apparent.

But what is interesting for this blog is that I did understand that this would be worse for me. I saw other ideas such as 13…Qxa5 14.axb4 Bxf2+, which I really did not like.

The line I saw was 13…Qxa5 14.axb4 Qb6 15.bxc5 Qxb2, which felt like the right way to play. But then I saw 16.Ba5, where the queen is in trouble it seems.

I quickly concluded that things had gone wrong and took on a3. But actually the position is pretty balanced after 16…Rb8!.

I will talk more about this specific problem in Thinking Inside the Box, but basically I had found a problem to solve and instead I bended, deciding to play something else, and deservedly got humped.

Finally, there is a simple guideline to remember. When a very strong player offers you a draw and you have a lot of checks, it is worth going all in, even if you cannot calculate the position convincingly.

Jonathan Rowson (2573) – Daniel Bisby (2313)

Both players have previously missed wins and with his last move, 49.c7? White is once again in a lost position. He found this a good moment to offer a draw. Black spent half of his remaining twelve minutes before accepting it. I think this is a result of the game having been really intense more than anything; but probably he also held the triple British Champion in a bit too high regard. Black wins rather easily with checks all the way:
49…Qxg2+ 50.Kd3 Qf3+ 51.Be3
Or 51.Kc2 Qxe4+ 52.Kb3 Qd3+ 53.Kb4 Be1+ and so on.
51…Qd1+ 52.Kc3 Be1+ 53.Kb2 Rh2+ 54.Bd2
54.Ka3 Qa1+ 55.Kb3 Qa2 mate.

If you have just seen this far, there would be no point in taking the draw. Never ever will Black lose this position.
55.Nxd2 Qxd2+ 56.Kb3 Qd3+ 57.Kb2 Qc3+ 58.Ka2 Qc4+ 59.Ka3 Bb4+ 60.Qxb4 Qxc7
Black wins with his extra piece.

Finally I really liked this game, though there was a difference between the performances of the two players on the day.

Lorin D’Costa  – Matthias Gantner

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Nc6 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Nd5 Bc5 6.e3 0–0 7.Ne2 Re8 8.0–0 a5 9.f4 exf4 10.Nexf4 Nxd5 11.cxd5 Nb4 12.a3 Na6 13.b3 Bf8 14.Bb2 d6 15.Qc2

White has a slight advantage after the opening, but Black needs to be careful. His kingside is awfully weak.
This looks natural, but ignores White’s supremacy on the kingside entirely.
15…Qg5!? and Black is just a bit worse.
16.Be4! h6
16…g6 is killed off with either 17.Nxg6 or 17.Nh5.
17.Bh7+ Kh8 18.Nh5!
Attacking f7. 18.Bg6!? also looks attractive, but after 18…fxg6 19.Nxg6+ Kg8 20.Qc3! Re7!
This opens up for a great stroke, though it is not necessary for winning the game.
18…Qg5 19.Rxf7 Qxh5 20.Rxd7 is simply a pawn up for White. Still this was all Black had.

Attacking the unprotected pawn on h6. The black king is in big trouble.
There is no defence.
20.Rxh6 f6
The only way to prevent immediate mate.
20…Bxh5 21.Bg8+ Kxg8 22.Qh7#

I saw the position at this point and knew instantly that I would put it on the blog.
21…Bxh5 22.Bg8+ Kxg8 23.Qh7+ Kf7 24.Rxf6+! leads to mate as well.
22.Bg8+! gxh6 23.Bxf6+
Mate on h7 follows.

8 thoughts on “A few lessons from the 4NCL”

  1. Wow sleep most of the day that must be nice
    Silly me I went to work all day, obviously I must not have put enough effort into my games at the weekend 😛

  2. Btw. In the line with 16.Ba5, maybe 16.Qc4! is stronger and Black actually is in trouble. This is not the point I wanted to make in the article, so I left it out. Maybe …b4 was wrong. I have no idea. I want to stay with the simple truths.

  3. @Jacob Aagaard
    Interesting column and game! What struck me especially is your comment that you chose a move which you knew was bad, because you bended with respect to another variation. I would like to share a similar experience I had in two of my own national league games, only it went the other way around, i.e., I chose for unclear/dubious complications against my (lack of) intuition. In the most recent one (played some weeks ago) I was white against a 2300 opponent:

    1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nc6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.d5 Ne5 6.Bf4 Ng6 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Bxc4 a6 (I had prepared the pawn sacrifice 8…Nxe4 at home. It is very dangerous for black, so he played after some thought a move which I hadn’t looked at at home) 8…a6 9.Nbd2 Ne5 (this came as a surprise to me. I had mostly looked at 9…e5 which would have transposed to known territory). 10.Be2 Nxf3+ 11.Nxf3 e6 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Bxf3 exd5 14.e5 Ne4 15.Bxe4 (the computer prefers 15.0-0 +/=) 15…dxe4 16.Qb3?! (I had seen black’s reply, but I hadn’t calculated deeply enough to see that this is very dangerous for white. The originally planned 16.Qa4 and 17.Qxe4 gives white a riskfree edge, since I have a kingside pawn majority supported by centralised heavy pieces, which should give me good attacking chances. Still I chose for the more risky route. I should have remembered Nunn’s advice ‘don’t analyse unnecessary tactics’ – I’m still wondering why I didn’t just play the safe move.). 16…Qd3! 17.Qxb7 Rd8 18.Bg5? (a horrible move played without much deep thought, giving away all the dark squares around my king to my opponent. I could still have bailed out with 18.Qc6+ with a draw. The computer suggests 18.a3 with a slight plus for white. This is a clear case of bending to me; I stopped calculating after black’s 21st move, but in reality that position is already more or less lost for white. Black’s king is much safer than white’s). 18…Be7! 19.Bxe7 Kxe7 20.Qxc7+ Rd7 21.Qc5+ Ke6 22.Qe3? (22.h4 is relatively best). 22…Rc8 23.Qxd3 exd3 (with a won position for black. He finishes it off in an instructive manner) 24.f4 Rc2 25.0-0 Rxb2 26.a4 d2 27.Rad1 Rd4 28.a5 Kf5 29.Rf2 Ke4 30.Rf3 Rd3 31.Rf2 Kd4 32.Kf1 Kc3 33.Ke2 Rb4 34.Rf3 Re4+ 35.Kf2 Kc2 36.Rxd3 Kxd3 37.Ra1 Rxf4+ 38.Kg3 Rc4 0-1.

    The other game I played last season as black against an opponent with 2186 rating:

    1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qa5 7.Bd2 Qa4 8.Qg4 Kf8 9.c4 Nc6 10.Nf3 (an interesting move, which strangely enough isn’t mentioned by Watson nor by Moskalenko.) 10…Qxc2 (the most principled, and also the computer’s first choice). 11.dxc5 Qb2 (A risky move. Best seems 11…f6, e.g., 12.Qf4 Nxe5 13.cxd5 exd5 14.Nxe5 Qb2 15.Rd1 Qxe5+ 16.Be2 Bd7 17.Qb4 Bc6 18.Bf4 Qe4 when I prefer black) 12.Rd1 Nge7 13.Be2 Qxa3 14.0-0 Qxc5 15.Be3 Qa5 16.Rd2?! (A strange move which came as a complete surprise to me. The computer prefers 16.Ra1 with a slight plus for white) 16…Nf5 17.Qf4?! (Again a surprise) 17…h6! (The computer gives an evaluation of 0.0 here) 18.h4? (According to the computer best is 18.Rdd1 g5 19.Qg4 Nxe3 20.fxe3 Qc3 21.Qh5 Qxe3+ 22.Rf2 Nd8 23.Rd3 Qf4 24.Rd4 Qe3 =. After 18.h4 we have reached a critical position. I thought for almost half an hour before playing a very bad move, which I knew was very risky. I couldn’t calculate until a clear position – bending! – but played it anyway, overlooking white’s strong 22nd move. I should evidently have looked for another candidate move instead.) 18…d4?? (A suicidal move, going against all principles of sound play – no matter what Hendriks says :-). It is of course of the utmost importance to keep the position closed. Therefore 18…Nce7! was best, with an advantage to black after e.g. 19.h4 Kg8. I feel I should have played this move purely based on general considerations, without calculation. Instead I calculated a very risky variation – just as in the previous game: don’t analyse unnecessary tactics) 19.Nxd4 g5 20.hxg5 hxg5 21.Qxg5 Nxe3 22.Nxc6! (overlooked on my 18th move…) 22…Qxd2 23.Qe7+ Kg7 24.Qf6+ Kh7 25.Qxf7+ Kh6 26.Qf6+ Kh7 27.Ne7 1-0. A nice finish!

    While it seems clear which mistakes I made in these particular games, I have the following question Jacob: what is in your opinion the best way to train to change this habit of choosing for complications even though you have the feeling it’s kind of suicidal? Which of your books is/are best suited to work on this?

    Sorry for this long post, but you kind of invited the readers to no be shy :-). Besides, it is on topic for a change :-).

  4. I understand (with the benefit of hindsight :-)) that my post above is probably not very interesting and too long, but I was just wondering if anyone has any hints regarding my question on the best way to train the flaw I mentioned. Or is it too obvious? I’m doubting if it’s best to start with studying Positional Play in order to learn to rely more on my intuition, or to start with Calculation in order to improve my calculation skills, or both, or something else? Given my limited time I would like to focus on the area which gives the highest return (apart from studying openings, that is :-)).

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