Practical Advice for Open Tournaments

Wed, 2015-07-29 07:31 -- IM Max Illingworth
[Event "Zalakaros op 34th"]
[Site "Zalakaros"]
[Date "2015.05.21"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Boruchovsky, Avital"]
[Black "Kovalenko, Igor"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E06"]
[WhiteElo "2517"]
[BlackElo "2650"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "86"]
[EventDate "2015.05.14"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "HUN"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.05.29"]

{For this blog post I'll be focusing on how to win open tournaments, using the
example of the newest 2700+ player (on live FIDE ratings) who recently won
three major open tournaments: Ukranian-born Igor Kovalenko of Latvia. Our
first game was the key one of the Zalakaros Open in Hungary, where Israel's
Avital Boruchovsky was in the lead thanks to some powerful attacking chess and
opening preparation, but Kovalenko managed to grab the sole lead with this win,
and soon first place.} 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Be7 5. d4 O-O 6. O-O
c6 7. b3 b6 8. Qc2 Nbd7 {We'll notice from the game selection that Kovalenko
doesn't follow opening fashion and finds his own ways to get fighting
positions. This variation is considered a bit passive for Black by theory, but
avoids the opponent's preparation and forces him into a more strategic battle,
which wasn't to White's liking.} 9. Nc3 {White decides to go for it with a
quick e4, but it was better to remain flexible with} (9. Rd1 $142 {so ...Ba6
can be met with Nbd2 and ...Bb7 can then be met with Nc3. We'll appreciate the
significance of this in the game.}) 9... Ba6 $1 {Now defending c4 is an
awkward task and White will have to sacrifice it.} 10. Bb2 (10. cxd5 cxd5 {is
already better for Black as the a6-bishop outshines the g2 prelate.}) 10... Rc8
11. e4 $6 {White plays in his usual aggressive style, but it is not
appropriate for this quieter position.} (11. Rfd1 {was preferable, intending
the thematic} dxc4 12. Ne5 $1 {(unleashing the strong Catalan bishop)} Nxe5 13.
dxe5 Nd5 14. Ne4 $14 {with fantastic compensation for the pawn as d6 is quite
weak and} cxb3 $2 15. axb3 {will soon regain the pawn.}) 11... dxc4 12. Rfd1
Qc7 {A practical move to prepare ...e5 and also give White a chance to go
wrong. We don't always have to force their decisions to induce mistakes;
there's also a case for giving them enough rope to hang themselves, especially
when it is clear they are bent on attacking.} (12... b5 $5 {is also possible.})
13. e5 $2 {White overplays his hand - how can you give the knight such a
beautiful outpost?} (13. Nd2 e5 14. Nxc4 exd4 15. Rxd4 Rfd8 16. Ne2 Bc5 {was
fine for Black in 1/2-1/2 (56) Topalov,V (2752)-Leko,P (2737) London 2012, but
sometimes in chess one has to be objective and accept that with correct play
Black is not worse.}) 13... Nd5 14. bxc4 Bxc4 15. Ne4 b5 $17 {The result of
White's reckless play is that he is a pawn down for nothing. But having gone
all out, his only chance is to continue attacking.} 16. Neg5 (16. a3 {gives
Black time to take the initiative in the centre with} c5) 16... g6 17. Qe4 $5 {
Continuing the attack is the only serious try to swindle and so it's not fair
to criticise this move on the basis that the engine doesn't like it.} Kg7 18.
h4 N7b6 {Funnily enough} (18... h6 19. Nh3 N7b6 $19 {occurred in another game
- also won by Black.}) 19. h5 Na4 {Kovalenko decides that the best form of
defence is to counterattack :)} 20. Bc1 {Accelerating the loss, but} (20. Qc2
Nxb2 21. Qxb2 Qd8 {would also seal White's fate, it would just be slower and
more painful.}) 20... Nac3 21. Qh4 Ne2+ {Being practical, although technically}
(21... h6 22. hxg6 Rh8 $1 {would force White's resignation as he loses
material for nothing.}) 22. Kh2 Nxc1 23. h6+ Kg8 24. Rdxc1 Bd3 25. Bf1 Bxf1 26.
Rxf1 c5 $19 {Black is home once this break is in. The White pieces cannot
organise for a kingside attack.} 27. Qg4 c4 28. Ne4 c3 29. Rfc1 a5 30. Nfd2 a4
31. a3 Qb6 32. Nf1 Kh8 33. Qd1 Rc4 34. Ne3 Rxd4 35. Qf3 Qb8 36. Nxd5 Rxd5 37.
Nd6 f6 38. Rxc3 fxe5 39. Nf7+ Kg8 40. Qg4 Qb6 41. Ng5 Bxg5 42. Qxg5 Qxf2+ 43.
Kh3 e4 {A very convincing win by our subject.} 0-1 
[Event "Albena op-A"]
[Site "Albena"]
[Date "2015.06.25"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Kovalenko, Igor"]
[Black "Wen, Yang"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A41"]
[WhiteElo "2657"]
[BlackElo "2592"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "2015.06.17"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "BUL"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.07.03"]

{Our next game deals with the subject of how to play in the key last-round
game with first place at stake. In this case, Kovalenko was trailing China's
Wen Yang by half a point, and in such a must-win situation many would try to
make the game as sharp as possible, but Kovalenko demonstrates that the softer
approach of seeking a complex, strategic middlegame can be more effective as
it generally avoids early simplifications.} 1. d4 d6 {A slightly surprising
choice given that we already know Kovalenko tends to avoid memory battles in
the opening.} 2. e4 Nf6 3. Bd3 g6 (3... e5 4. c3 d5 5. dxe5 Nxe4 6. Nf3 Nc6 7.
O-O Bg4 8. Nbd2 Nc5 9. Be2 {is a little better for White on account of his
space advantage.}) 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. Re1 {As usual Kovalenko goes his
own way early in the game.} (6. c3 {is a more frequent move order in this
'Geller System'.}) 6... Nc6 7. h3 e5 8. c3 {Now it is up to Black to find a
good strategy, although honestly I think White is a bit better in this line.}
Bd7 (8... h6 9. Na3 Nh5 {is a common plan, but I prefer White's central
approach after} 10. Be3 {; note that the structure with} Nf4 11. Bxf4 exf4 12.
Nc4 $14 {is fantastic for White as the b2-c3-d4 chain makes the g7-bishop very
bad, and Black does not have a good pawn break.}) 9. Na3 (9. d5 $6 Ne7 10. c4 {
gives Black the KID play he wants after} Ne8 11. Nc3 f5 $11) 9... h6 10. Nc2
Nh5 11. b4 $1 {A prescient move, going for queenside play while keeping the
central tension (a good policy in general for prompting mistakes from the
opponent).} a6 12. a4 Re8 {Black's moves are all natural, yet somehow he never
manages to fully harmonise his pieces or open the position for them - hence
why I'm critical of Black's opening choice.} 13. Bd2 ({or} 13. Be3) 13... Kh7
$6 {Honestly I don't see how this improves Black's position, if anything it
just makes f7 a weakness and lines up the king against the bishop which can
hardly be good.} (13... Qf6 14. b5 axb5 15. axb5 Na5 16. Nb4 $36 {intending
Nd5 is also very good for White though so it's not easy to come up with a
great suggestion.}) 14. b5 axb5 15. axb5 Na5 16. Ra3 {The White queenside
initiative persists, as do Black's prospectless kingside pieces.} b6 $6 {This
weakens too many squares and I would play} (16... c6 17. bxc6 bxc6 $14 {when
Black's position is worse due to the misplaced a5-knight, but not busted.}) 17.
Nb4 {Kovalenko has a very classical approach to chess and it shows in this
game - with every move he improves his position steadily and he has followed a
very consistent queenside plan starting with Na3-c2.} Nf6 18. Qc2 c5 19. bxc6
Nxc6 20. Nxc6 Bxc6 21. Rxa8 Qxa8 22. d5 Bd7 23. Qb2 $16 {The b6-pawn and
d6-pawns are very weak, and all it takes is bringing a knight to c4 to
eviscerate them.} Qb7 (23... b5 24. Ra1 Qc8 25. Qb4 {doesn't change a lot.})
24. Ra1 Rb8 25. Qb4 (25. Be3 $5) 25... Qc7 26. Be3 Be8 27. Nd2 $1 {As
mentioned before, Nc4 will soon kill Black.} Nd7 ({Else} 27... b5 28. Ra7 Qd8
29. Nb1 {and Na3 will promptly collect the b5-pawn, with a decisive advantage.}
) 28. Bb5 $1 f5 29. Bxd7 Qxd7 30. Nc4 fxe4 31. Qxd6 Qb7 32. Nxb6 {Black
resigned; not so much because he's down a pawn, but siimply c4-c5-c6 will
finish him off. Clearly Black did not play at his best, but at the same time
it's hard not to be impressed by the strategic depth of Kovalenko's decision
making. He rightly sensed that his opponent would not like this sort of
manoeuvring battle.} 1-0 
[Event "Warsaw Najdorf Memorial op-A 13th"]
[Site "Warsaw"]
[Date "2015.07.14"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Zhigalko, Andrey"]
[Black "Kovalenko, Igor"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D35"]
[WhiteElo "2574"]
[BlackElo "2682"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "80"]
[EventDate "2015.07.10"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "POL"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.07.24"]

{Now we turn to probably the best result of Kovalenko's career: he recently
won the Najdorf Memorial in Poland with an emphatic 8/9, gaining 20 rating
points to break 2700! I've singled out two games that were particularly
instrumental to this result. In the first we can learn an important lesson -
the key to successfully playing for a win is not much to pick the right
opening as to have the right attitude - namely, looking for ways to put
pressure on our opponents and force them to make difficult decisions.} 1. c4 e6
2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 c6 {It's been remarkably difficult for
White to prove anything whatsoever in the Exchange Variation of late.} 6. e3 (
6. Qc2 Be7 7. e3 Nbd7 8. Bd3 h6 9. Bh4 Nh5 10. Bxe7 Qxe7 {is extremely
reputable for Black as evidenced by recent GM praxis.}) 6... Bf5 7. Bd3 $5 {
Angling for a fight as in the main line} (7. Qf3 Bg6 8. Bxf6 Qxf6 9. Qxf6 gxf6
$11 {Black's bishop pair offsets his bad structure which is not easy to attack
in such a closed position. With good preparation, Black will have few problems
holding a draw.}) 7... Bxd3 8. Qxd3 Nbd7 9. Nge2 Be7 10. O-O O-O 11. f3 {Black
obviously has a better version of the old main line QGD where there are
bishops on d3 and c8 and White's queen on c2 - Black exchanged his bad bishop
for White's good one.} Re8 12. Rae1 {It's much too early for} (12. e4 $2 dxe4
13. fxe4 Nxe4 $1) 12... b5 $5 {Who said you can't play for a win from a solid
position?} (12... Nf8 {is the typical QGD manoeuvre, but it makes less sense
when the light-squared bishops are gone.}) 13. Ng3 {It's quite thematic to
jump to f5 before playing e4 in such positions, to provoke some concession
from Black.} Qb6 (13... g6 {is playable, but gives White what he wants to some
extent.}) 14. Nf5 Bf8 15. e4 {A very consistent move, but given that the
centre is soon liquidated, maybe the more patient} (15. Rc1 {was better, when
Black has to be a bit careful about his c6-pawn. Probably best is} Rac8 16. Ne2
c5 17. dxc5 Bxc5 {when the e3-pawn is weak as well as d5, so Black shouldnt be
more than a tad worse.}) 15... c5 $1 {Maximising the tension like this is
better than} (15... g6 16. Nh6+ Bxh6 17. Bxh6 dxe4 18. fxe4 Ng4 19. Be3 $14 {
when White's centre is quite strong.}) 16. Qxb5 (16. Nxd5 Nxd5 17. exd5 f6 18.
Bf4 Ne5 $1 $11 {followed by ...c4 is a lovely trick that keeps Black in good
stead.}) 16... dxe4 17. Qxb6 axb6 $11 {The endgame is equal, but watch how
Black manages to keep up nominal pressure and outplay his opponent.} 18. d5
exf3 19. gxf3 $6 {White is still OK after this, but there's no reason to
worsen the structure.} (19. Rxe8 Rxe8 20. Rxf3 {was better, to not
self-inflict further pawn weaknesses.}) 19... h6 $5 {Forcing White to make a
decision, and he makes a passive one.} 20. Bc1 $2 (20. Rxe8 Rxe8 21. Bd2 $11 {
holds things together nicely for White, though the game goes on after} b5 $1
22. Nxb5 Nxd5 {.}) 20... Ne5 $15 {Suddenly White can't avoid being served an
octopus on d3.} 21. Rd1 c4 22. Be3 Nfd7 $6 {There was no need to slow up the
pace as} (22... Nd3 23. Bxb6 $6 (23. Bd4) 23... Re5 $1 24. Ne3 Nxb2 25. Rd2 Na4
26. Nxa4 Rxa4 $17 {would be very much in Black's favour as White will lose
either the d5-pawn or a2-pawn.}) 23. d6 $2 {Advancing the pawn doesn't achieve
much when it was already blockaded.} (23. Bd4 Nd3 24. Rd2 {was fine for White.}
) 23... Nd3 $17 {Now Black is over White like a rash.} 24. b3 (24. Rd2 $2 Re5 {
nabs a piece.}) 24... Kh7 $2 {I wonder if both players were in mutual time
pressure by this stage.} (24... Re5 $1 25. bxc4 Rxf5 26. Rxd3 Ne5 27. Rd5 Nxc4
$17 {winning a pawn isn't so difficult to calculate.}) 25. bxc4 Nb2 26. Rd5 $6
{Now White's pawns fall off like ripe fruit.} (26. Rd4 g6 {must be what White
disliked, but he has} (26... Re5 27. Bc1) 27. Bc1 $1 Na4 28. Nxa4 Rxa4 29. Ne7
Rxa2 30. Rd2 {, although Black retains winning chances after} Ra4 $1 {as
White's pawns are a little overextended.}) 26... Nxc4 ({or} 26... g6 27. Ne7
Bxe7 28. dxe7 Rxe7) 27. Bf4 g6 28. Ne7 g5 $5 (28... Bxe7 29. dxe7 Rxe7 {won a
pawn, but Black goes for even more.}) 29. Rd4 $1 Nb2 $6 (29... Na5 30. Bd2 Bg7
{would be more unpleasant to meet} 31. Re4 {with} Nb7 $17 {when d6 is a big
problem.}) 30. Bd2 Bg7 31. Re4 Nd3 {The only chance to set problems.} 32. Ned5
Re5 33. Rb1 $2 {After clawing back to equality, White lets up again.} (33. h4
$1 {to simplify the pawns was called for, when I'm fairly confident White will
hold his draw.}) 33... Rxe4 34. fxe4 N3e5 $1 {Threatening both ...Nf3 and ...
Nc4. The undefended d2-bishop and d6-pawn should have sent White's alarm bells
ringing.} 35. Rf1 Ra5 $2 (35... Nc4 {just won a pawn because of} 36. Rxf7 $6
Nde5 37. Rf2 $2 Nxd2 38. Rxd2 Nf3+ $19) 36. Ne7 $2 (36. Be3 {was the simplest
way to maintain the balance. Black has no big threats.}) 36... g4 $6 (36... Nc4
$1 {still worked, based on} 37. Rxf7 Nde5 {once again.}) 37. Ncd5 {Going
active like this just doesn't work, although Black was already in the driver's
seat.} Rxa2 38. Bf4 Nf3+ 39. Kh1 Be5 ({or} 39... h5) 40. Ne3 $2 {Playing for
tricks that don't work.} (40. Bxe5 Ndxe5 41. Nf6+ Kg7 42. Nxg4 {is what White
overlooked, though after} h5 43. Nf2 Kf6 {White is still a long way from a
draw as the mating ideas with the rook and knight tie up all his pieces.})
40... h5 0-1 
[Event "Warsaw Najdorf Memorial op-A 13th"]
[Site "Warsaw"]
[Date "2015.07.16"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Efimenko, Zahar"]
[Black "Kovalenko, Igor"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C67"]
[WhiteElo "2652"]
[BlackElo "2682"]
[Annotator "Illingworth,Max"]
[PlyCount "92"]
[EventDate "2015.07.10"]
[EventRounds "9"]
[EventCountry "POL"]
[Source "Chessbase"]
[SourceDate "2015.07.24"]

{Already we can tell that Kovalenko has a much more positional style, but he
also has the important practical skill of knowing when to change the nature of
the position. Even strong players can struggle to quickly adapt to a position
of a completely different nature to before and Kovalenko takes full advantage
of overly routine play by White in this game.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6
4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Be7 $5 {Once again we see Kovalenko putting his spin on a
main line opening.} (5... Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 {is the
Berlin endgame which I have analysed many times on this blog.}) 6. Qe2 Nd6 7.
Bxc6 bxc6 8. dxe5 Nf5 {Objectively White must be a little better as Black
wasted a lot of time with his knight and White also has a space advantage.
However, Black's long-term advantage of the bishop pair gives him good
possibilities to play for a win.} 9. Qe4 (9. c4 $1 O-O 10. Nc3 {is a bit
better for White as ...c5 allows Nd5 and otherwise ...d6/...f6 favours White
as the opening of the position generally benefits the side ahead in
development over the possessor of the bishop pair.}) 9... g6 10. b3 O-O 11. Bb2
Rb8 12. Nbd2 {There's nothing terribly wrong with White's setup, but he is
playing a bit too routinely and this will prove to be White's undoing. I think
Kovalenko accurately assessed his opponent as more of a 'controller' than a
'transformer' - by this I mean someone who likes to sit on their positional
advantages over transforming them into other advantages (such as an initiative)
. Of course, both skills are essential for quality chess.} c5 {Usually Black
plays ...Bb7 immediately, but Kovalenko has a deeper idea in mind.} 13. Rad1
Rb6 $1 {A great move, still preparing ...Bb7 but also activating the rook and
clearing the way for a ...Qa8/...Bb7 battery.} 14. Nc4 Bb7 15. Qd3 Ra6 16. a4 (
{I think Efimenko had underestimated Black's activity after} 16. Qxd7 Qa8 17.
Qd3 Rxa2 $11 {when Black's bishops offer plenty for the doubled pawns,
especially as there's always the option of ...Bxf3 to wreck White's structure.}
) 16... Qa8 $5 {The fighting continuation, keeping the tension in the position.
} (16... d5 17. exd6 cxd6 {is equal, but then the rook is a bit misplaced on
a6 and also the simplification of pawns makes a draw much more likely.}) 17.
Rfe1 $6 {Bringing the final piece into play, but this does little to fight for
the initiative in the here and now.} (17. Qc3 $1 {is better, though} Bxf3 18.
Qxf3 Qxf3 19. gxf3 Rd8 {would still be fine for Black as the pawn weaknesses
cancel one another out.}) 17... Re6 $1 {I really love the rook's placement
here - now Qc3 does nothing as e6 is not threatened. Nonetheless...} 18. Qc3 $2
{As mentioned, this battery does nothing when the e5-pawn is blockaded!} (18.
Na5 {was better to eliminate Black's unopposed bishop with} Bxf3 19. Qxf3 Qxf3
20. gxf3 $11) 18... Rd8 $6 {As can sometimes happen when one tries too hard to
be practical, Black keeps the tension when he could have cashed in via.} (18...
d5 $1 19. exd6 Bf6 20. Qd3 Bxb2 21. Nxb2 Bxf3 22. Qxf3 Qxf3 23. gxf3 cxd6 $15 {
and Black has the better structure and decent winning chances.}) 19. Ne3 $1 {
A nice trick that reduces Black's edge.} Be4 (19... Bxf3 20. Nxf5 Bxd1 21.
Nxe7+ Kf8 (21... Rxe7 $4 22. e6) 22. Rxd1 Kxe7 23. Qxc5+ Ke8 24. Ba3 d6 25.
Qxc7 {with enough compensation for the exchange was White's idea.}) 20. Ng4 $2
{This is simply a tactical blunder.} (20. Nxf5 gxf5 $1 $15 {can only favour
Black as his doubled pawns give him great control control and he also has the
bishops, plus potential pressure down the half-open g-file.}) (20. Rd2 {was
probably the most circumspect.}) 20... Bxf3 21. Qxf3 Qxf3 22. gxf3 Nh4 $1 {I
think White just missed this move, winning material by force.} 23. Re3 $6 {
It's hard to play the best moves after realising you made a serious mistake.} (
23. Rd3 $2 f5 $1) (23. Kf1 $1 Nxf3 24. Re3 Nh4 25. Red3 {however might still
have held the draw as Black's structure also isn't great shakes.}) 23... h5 24.
Nf6+ Bxf6 25. exf6 Rxe3 26. fxe3 Nxf3+ 27. Kg2 Ng5 $19 {I think Black is
already winning as he's up a pawn, the knight dominates the bishop and f6 will
become a weakness once Black's king enters the game.} 28. Bc3 (28. h4 Ne6 29.
Kf3 {was probably the stiffest defence.}) 28... d5 ({or} 28... d6) 29. Ba5 Ne6
(29... Rd7 $1 {was even better, but there's more than one road to Rome by this
point.}) 30. b4 {A good try, but even the opening of the position doesn't
allow the bishop to compete with the knight as the pawn structure is too fixed.
} cxb4 31. Bxb4 c5 32. Ba5 Rd6 33. Rb1 (33. c4 d4 {is a nice passer for Black
to have!}) 33... Ra6 34. Bc3 g5 $1 {Not allowing any counterplay.} 35. a5 Kh7
36. Rb5 Kg6 {White is completely helpless; f6 will soon be picked off and then
Black will convert his material advantage.} 37. h4 (37. Be5 g4 38. h3 gxh3+ 39.
Kxh3 Ng5+ 40. Kg2 Ne4 $19) 37... d4 38. exd4 cxd4 39. Bd2 g4 40. c3 Rc6 41. Rb3
Kxf6 42. Kf1 dxc3 43. Bxc3+ Kg6 44. Bd2 Nd4 45. Rb8 Rf6+ 46. Kg2 Nf3 {A nice
win to finish the post, and I hope you have success applying these tips in
your next open tournament ;)} 0-1