Thinking Your Way to Chess Mastery

Thinking Your Way to Chess Mastery

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  • Strategy

This article is a companion for my Chess.Com video lecture. 

We will use this game to understand the key steps to improvement:

Update: on May 22, 2010, I posted the solutions in this article (right next to the questions).

  • Inspect
  • Infer
  • Double-Check
  • Decide!

Inference (finding the candidate moves from the gathered factors in the Inspection) often means drawing upon experience.  I will provide a core bibliography so you can bootstrap your high-level experience with fantastic authors.

Here is the game we will cover in the first segment.  I always try to pick games with theoretical importance in the opening so this article can be safely cross-listed in both Openings and Strategy.  Clearly this cutting-edge Najdorf English Attack fits the bill.


In the first video segment (coming shortly) we focus on the Inspection phase.
Here is a recap of the first video's questions for you if you want to get a head-start.  They all pertain to the McShane-Chuchelov game given above.
Update 5/22/10:  Solutions posted along with questions.
Question 1.  
How does black's choice in the game of 6...e5 compare to 6...e6?  What kind of players would prefer 6....e5 and what kind would prefer 6....e6?  Base your answer on an inspection of the position after each move.
Solution:  6....e5 donates the square d5 to white.  It is not yet a weakness because black can cover it enough times, and conceivably even go for the ...d6-d5 liberation later if white is not careful.  It establishes more central control than 6...e6.  However 6...e6 retains different options.  By keeping a "small center" typical of Scheveningens, black retains the option of both ...d5 and ....e5 later if white is not careful.  In particular, if white has pawns on e4 and f4, the move ...e5 can isolate white's pawn on e4.  The move ...e6 though lets white play later with the option of e4-e5 himself gaining space.  Kasparov favored ....e6 in various Karpov-Kasparov WC games. There is even the possibility of bringing the a-rook to e8 later, moving the knight from f6, and playing f7-f5 in certain situations to block white.  Modern players are split between the two moves; they are of equal value.    e6... more flexible.  e5... greater stake in the center.  Both can become very sharp.
Comments on reader answers. 
Writser writes, "It seems to me that e5 is a move more suited for a player that wants to counterattack in a wild position, while e6 leads to a quieter position, perhaps preferred by more positional players."  I would disagree.  Both moves can be very sharp especially in opposite castling scenarios. No rest for the weary! 
Elindauer writes, "e5 leaves a hole at d5, but has the upside of giving black more space and a better hold on the center.  The light square bishop in particular is freed with e5.  e6 keeps the pawn structure in tact, but at the cost of leaving black with very little space.  Play e5 if you like more wide open games and prefer to attack, play e6 if you prefer defensive maneuvering in tight spaces."
Well, in the ...e6 lines, the white square bishop gets out with b7-b5 and Bb7.  No issues there.  I would not call ...e6 defensive.  I'd call it counter-attacking.  Blak waits for the right timing and picks the right pawn break.  He in fact can't just passively sit around or he'll be steamrollered.  He needs to plan ahead and strive for aggressive counter-attack.  Check out the game Kosteniuk-Ehlvest for examples on this theme.  The e5 player must be careful not to donate d5 for a launch point for white pieces. This means he must be vigilant to keep it covered and also seek a moment for a later d6-d5 move, liberating his position.  Or, b7-b5-b4 pawn moves, to get the N/c3 away from d5 control.
Question 2.
Infer plans for white after 6....e5 and 6....e6.   What is your opinion of the relative strength of each move?
It's too early to call one or the other superior.  For white, after ...e5, he can play his Knight to b3 and then proceed with f3 and g4 (and castle long, the English attack, as in the game).  In some lines (not with WB on e3 already) white can quietly play it to f3 and castle short.  In those lines, b2-b3 and Bb2 often happens.  In this game, the  B is on e3 already so Nb3 is the move.
f2-f3 is not mandatory by any means and f2-f4 later usually leads to a situation of a backward d-pawn for black vs. a weak e4 pawn for white after e5xf4.  Svidler has experimented recently with f2-f4 (after Qd2 and O-O-O).
Question 3.   Inspect the position after McShane's Bf1-d3 move.  Who do you think has the best chances at this point?  Infer black's ideas based on the inspection.
Inspection:  Bd3 seems like a wasted move because when the N for black arrives on c4, the bishop most likely will have to take it.  Nevertheless, white is just trying to clear the back rank so his rooks can operate more effectively behind his pawns.  Black has committed no obvious errors and has no structural weaknesses so he should be OK.  Chances are approximately equal.  Black ha a latent attack on the b-file and white has latent chances by expanding on the kingside.  In either sector, the defensive side should be able to organize effective resistance.
Question 4.   Ditto after Chuchelov's ....b5xc4, except this time infer ideas for white.  Is black's play along the newly opened b-file dangerous (choose and justify no, maybe, only if white is careless, definitely, etc.)? 
Black's play along the b-file can become quite dangerous.  White must rush to minimize black's attacking chances; this means Nb3-c5 is important to get rid of the latent power of black's bishop pair.  Alternatives are too passive.  White's idea is to get rid of the bishop pair then strive to open king-side lanes which hitting the newly weak pawn which arrives after Nc5xe6 fxe6.
Toxicraider writes, "4a. First of all I’d like to say I don’t like the move 14…bxc4 I would rather 14…Bxc4 to keep those bishops looking sharp with a rook on c8."
He is partially right, Bxc4 is of equal worth (not worse than bxc4).  Black is operating with the trick 14...Bxc4 15. Bg5 Ng4!!.  On the other hand, bxc4 is very tempting to open a highway right to the WK.  In the game, Chuchelov only went wrong later.  If 14...Bxc4, black will play with ....b5-b4 to keep the balance.  It's just a different course of the game - both moves are of equal merit. 

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