03 March 2012

Annotated Game #34: Importance of the Initiative

This game, the last in the tournament, features some instructive strategic errors and missed tactics.  After Black plays 6...Na6, he fails to follow up with the logical redeployment to c7, although White unintentionally makes the knight useful by trying to carry out an accelerated pawn push to b4.  White carries out a suspect operation of exchanging dark-square bishop for knight, after which Black has a slight positional plus and the easier game strategically, with play on the kingside.  Similar to the knight development, Black begins moving towards this logical setup with 17...Kg7, but then simply hands White the initiative and allows a strong knight outpost to be established on c5.

Although White gets his wish of focusing on queenside play, where he has some long-term prospects for an advantage, he also neglects Black's threats and unwisely weakens his king position, redeploying his fianchettoed bishop.  White's lack of a real plan shows in his move 28 blunder, which would allow an excellent tactical shot by Black, which (luckily for White) is a possibility ignored by both players.  Black continues to cede the initiative and loses to a tactic that employs a seventh-rank pin.

The role of the initiative struck me the most about this game, as psychology is the primary explanatory factor for both sides' performance in the middlegame.  Aside from the tactical missed opportunity by Black and White's ability to spot the winning one eventually, the middlegame maneuvers were not forced and White had no real prospect of making progress without Black's acquiescence.  If Black had followed up on what he started on move 17, he would have instead had the initiative and likely whatever winning chances there were in the position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2002.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 c6 {first deviation from a normal King's Indian setup} 6. O-O Na6 {a handful of games in the database feature this move. Normally the idea is to play Nc7 at some point, or alternatively hop into b4. The latter seems unlikely to be fruitful, however, as White can cover the square with a pawn.} 7. Rb1 {looking for accelerated play on the queenside. In light of Black's previous move, however, a better strategy would be to develop normally and leave the knight stranded doing nothing useful. The rook also proves misplaced on move 9.} (7. d3 {would be a more normal English setup}) 7... d5 {now out of the database} 8. cxd5 {no reason to let Black have a free hand in the center} cxd5 9. d4 Bf5 10. Ra1 Nb4 11. Bg5 (11. Bf4 {seems superior, seizing an excellent diagonal.}) 11... h6 12. Bxf6 {carrying through White's positionally suspect plan for exchanging bishop for knight.} Bxf6 13. a3 {Houdini prefers more active developing options, such as Qb3 or Ne5. The text move simply forces the knight to a better long-term square for it.} Nc6 14. e3 e6 {Taking stock, the game is level, with a slight plus to Black due to his superior light-square bishop. White has far to go to generate something meaningful on the queenside, his only real strategic option. } 15. Rc1 Rc8 16. b4 a6 {Secures b5, notes Fritz.} 17. Re1 Kg7 {this would normally be an indication that Black is seeking play down the h-file, with the king moving out of the way so he can play Rh8. However, Black doesn't follow up on this.} 18. Na4 b6 {although this prophylactically covers c5, Black is now reacting to White, who has something of an initiative with his queenside play.} (18... a5 {is preferred by the engines} 19. b5 Ne7 20. Rxc8 Nxc8 21. Ne5 $11) 19. Bf1 {this was the reason for White's move 17, redeploying the bishop. However, this leaves his king position significantly weakened (namely f3).} ( 19. Qe2 {would instead develop the queen to a useful square as well as forcing Black to make a positional concession with either a5, b5 or Nb8.}) 19... b5 { allowing White a strong outpost on c5.} 20. Nc5 $14 Nb8 (20... Qd6 {would be more active play.} 21. Nxa6 Nxd4 22. Nxd4 Qxa6) 21. a4 {White finds the correct idea to break through on the queenside.} Qb6 22. axb5 axb5 23. Qe2 Bg4 24. h3 Bxf3 $14 {forced} 25. Qxf3 Rfd8 26. Qe2 Nc6 27. Ra1 Ra8 (27... e5 $142 { the engines correctly identify the need for Black to generate counterplay in the center.} 28. Ra6 Qb8 29. Qxb5 Qxb5 30. Bxb5 Nxb4 31. Ra7 Ra8 32. Rea1 Rxa7 33. Rxa7 Rb8 34. dxe5 Bxe5 35. Nd7 {and White has a positional plus due to the weak d-pawn, but it's probably not decisive.}) (27... Nxb4 {fails after} 28. Reb1 Nc6 29. Rxb5) 28. f4 $4 {this misguided attempt to cover e5 gives Black a winning tactical shot, something both of us missed during the game.} ({Houdini finds White to have a big advantage after the straightforward} 28. Rxa8 Rxa8 29. Rb1 {with Black tied down to defending the b5-pawn as best he can while White also prepares to break through on the a-file.}) 28... Rxa1 $6 {this is sufficient for an advantage, but misses the win.} (28... Nxd4 {and Black has it in the bag, says Fritz.} 29. Qd3 (29. exd4 Bxd4+ 30. Kh1 Rxa1) 29... Nf3+ 30. Kf2 Nxe1 31. Rxe1) 29. Rxa1 $17 Nxb4 $2 {Black has let it slip away} (29... Nxd4 {still works, if not as well as before.} 30. Qd1 Nf5 $17 31. Ra6 Qb8 32. Kf2 {and Black is a clear pawn to the good.}) 30. Rb1 (30. Qd2 Nc6 31. Ra6 Qc7 32. Bxb5 {is a more effective method of recapturing the pawn, using the fact that the queen is tied to defending the Nc6.}) 30... Nc6 (30... Na6 31. Qxb5 Qxb5 32. Bxb5 Nxc5 33. dxc5 $14) 31. Rxb5 $14 Qa7 $2 {this removes the queen from the action, allowing a nasty tactical follow-up.} (31... Qc7 32. Rb7 Qd6 $14 {and e6 is protected.}) 32. Rb7 $18 Qa8 $6 {cannot solve the problems of the position, notes Fritz.} (32... Nxd4 {although the engines find this line limiting Black's material losses, it's difficult to find this sort of thing over the board. Black is still losing, in any case.} 33. Rxa7 Nxe2+ 34. Bxe2) 33. Nxe6+ Kg8 34. Nxd8 Bxd8 35. Qb5 {and the rest is easy for White, being the exchange and a pawn up while dominating the position.} Qa3 36. Kf2 {the engines say go ahead and take the Nc6, but I saw no reason to give Black even a hope of counterplay.} Qa2+ 37. Be2 Qc2 38. Qxd5 Be7 39. Rxe7 $1 {Eliminates the defender e7, trumpets Fritz, who gave the move the exclamation point. Houdini is less impressed and things Rc8 winning the knight is better. The text move simplifies down and gives White an easy and clear win, however.} Nxe7 {Deflection from d8} 40. Qd8+ {A double attack} Kg7 41. Qxe7 Qf5 42. g4 Qd5 43. Qe5+ {with the queens off, Black will inevitably fall.} (43. Qe5+ Qxe5 44. fxe5 $18) 1-0


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