Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Round 8 of 2016 US Tak Open

With the Swiss stage complete, we have our line-up for the next stage of the tournament - the final double elimination. I want to offer a sincere congratulation for all of you who participated, regardless of whether you moved on or not. If you have managed to make it to the next stage, well done! I'm excited to see this play out. For the everyone else, I have seen a lot of improvement in play from everyone and some great matches. I want to compliment all of you for raising the bar and level of play and providing a challenge and I hope to see you continue to play the game, give feedback on the current tournament, and participate in future tournaments.

This week, I decided to explore the game between Ally and Turing. These are fairly experienced players, who are exploring the meta and tend to be quite intentional about what plays they make. So, in reviewing their game, I was hoping to find what moves lead to Turing's eventual loss. In my high-level overview, I've noted a few places where I play slightly differently, or I would explore a different line than the ones Turing and Ally chose. You can follow this commentary, as usual, at the following link and in the viewer below (https://goo.gl/Cu1bTa):

For a lot of the highlights, and variations, some of my plays are more experimental. There is, however, one set of moves and position in particular, where I think Turing's plays made a significant impact on the game and contributed negatively to his position as black.

Let us, then, take a look at the position in question, the end of white's 7th move:

[6. ... e1' 7. 1d3-1]
At this point, we can see that white has just directly countered an attempt by black to grab tempo. In making such a move, black should ideally have been aiming to promote black's position and further viability. So, it's a bit surprising that Turing decides to play Sd3. Having forced white to respond to black's tak threat, black should now take the opportunity to build his potential in other areas, particularly in the spaces freed up by white. In this respect, playing e3 makes sense. But, playing a wall I think is too defensive, and doesn't take advantage of the opportunity black created with this tak force.

So, why play a wall at d3 in the first place? I would hypothesize that Turing (black) was reacting to the current position. White has a lot of strong threats, both west-east across the 2-rank and north-south, along the d-file. So, there is a strong impulse to play a wall to create strong defenses to help combat against white's positional strength. What, if however, as I postulate, white were to actually play a flat here? Could it be enough to give black a fighting chance? Let's play this out, playing d3 here:

[7. ... d3]
The main locations to play a flat are at d3 and e3, giving black some entry into 3-rank. While Tako prefers e3, I want to keep things as similar as possible,  and following some of the moves similarly.

From here, White probably responds the same, playing 8.e3'. Notably, white has an interesting decision between b2' and e3', but I'd like to show how this similar line develops with a flat, rather than a wall.

In response, black has to respond to white's strong tak threat, but black can simply play 8. ... e4, a direct counter:

[8. e3' e4]
White again has some interesting options and can play b2 to shift black's focus, but I'd like to imagine that white plays 9. d4'. This immediately re-taks, and increases white's influence in the center, connectivity with c4, and even has a shape that is really close to tinuë, if black isn't careful.

In response, black is forced to play 9. ... e4-. Any other response would probably yield tinuë. Note how this also actually has a bit of a road across the 3-rank: 

[9. d4' e4-]

I could continue to play this out, but what's notable is that black has some viable options. White is still slightly ahead in terms of tempo and flats, but black can defend against any real immediate threats. And if white does make an error, then black can fill in space or develop his own tempo to wrest control. (in particular, if it were black's move, he would want to play either a3' or b3', pressing his tempo).

On the whole, I think that Turing's wall play is justified. There's a lot to be worried about with white's position. But, I think there's still a lot of value and interesting play that can come from contesting more actively, through the use of flats. I would, however, recognize that it requires a certain amount of finesse and skill as black to be aware of white's available tempo, threats, and responses that dance around tak, tinuë, and actually give black a fighting chance.

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