14 October 2012

Annotated Game #67: Queen's Pawn Opening or Caro-Kann?

This sixth-round tournament game is of generally higher quality than I played in the previous rounds.  White chooses an unchallenging sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical, reached from a rather unusual third-move transposition.  After a double queen pawn opening appears, White's 2. Nc3!? perhaps could have been met more creatively by Black, but after 2...c6 I wanted to see how well my opponent could play either a Caro-Kann (what we ended up with) or a Slav-type structure where the Nc3 would not seem well-placed.  At the board, I had figured that 2. Nc3 implied my opponent would follow up with e4 and was correct.

Black is in fact the first to get into real trouble, with the premature ...c5 pawn break.  This is a repeated conceptual error of mine (as in Annotated Game #62) and a major learning point from the game.  Black's subsequent lack of development and poor protection for his king in the center gave White a real opportunity to put more pressure on.  However, by move 15, Black manages to fully equalize and passes the danger zone.  Now White decides to play too optimistically for a win, disdaining an initial queen trade and then finally being forced into one under less favorable circumstances.  The next turning point comes when Black pressures the isolated d-pawn and White fails to protect it adequately due to a tactical pawn break.  An interesting point of technique by the move 24 variation, in which White voluntarily gives up the d-pawn in order to shatter Black's pawn structure and achieve a level ending.

Despite Black's winning the d-pawn, he soon fritters away his advantage, being overly concerned about White's rook play on the g-file.  After rooks are exchanged off into a drawish knight and pawn ending, White  for some reason essentially deactivates his own pieces, allowing Black to centralize his king and obtain passed d- and a-pawns, giving him a won game...if only Black had pushed his passed pawns.  Black fails to advance one to gain a crucial tempo, then White forces the draw.

Aside from the lesson of the premature ...c5 break, my main takeaway from this game is the value of piece activity in the endgame and some practical experience in analyzing N+P endgames.  The opening transposition is also worth some consideration.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "104"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 c6 {Perhaps this isn't the best way to exploit White's second move, but I thought my opponent might well play e4 and was happy to play a Caro-Kann.} 3. e4 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. c3 {a move that does almost nothing for White, other than avoid book lines.} Nf6 7. Bd3 {standard development for White, otherwise Black's Bg6 is a dominating piece.} Bxd3 {the standard reply for Black. Although the exchange isn't forced, White exchanging on g6 can weaken the pawn shield on the kingside and give White some chances later on the h-file.} 8. Qxd3 e6 (8... g6 {is an interesting possibility, as this game shows.} 9. Bf4 Bg7 10. O-O-O O-O 11. h4 Qa5 12. Kb1 Nbd7 13. Bd2 Qb6 14. h5 e5 15. h6 Bh8 16. Nf5 Rfe8 17. Nh4 exd4 18. cxd4 Nd5 19. Ngf3 Nc5 20. Qc2 Ne4 21. Be3 Nec3+ 22. Ka1 Nxd1 23. Rxd1 Nxe3 24. fxe3 Rxe3 25. Qf2 Rae8 26. Ne5 {0-1 (26) Chidi,L-Yilmaz,G (2030) Manila 1992}) 9. Nf3 c5 $146 {a very premature pawn break. Black should have continued with his development.} 10. O-O (10. Bg5 {immediately would have upped the pressure on Black.} cxd4 11. Bxf6 {and Black is in a difficult situation with his king in the center White's potential to exploit the d-file. For example} Qxf6 12. Qb5+ Nd7 13. O-O dxc3 14. Rfd1) 10... cxd4 11. Bg5 (11. Rd1 Nc6 12. Qe2 Be7 $14) 11... Be7 {a safe choice.} (11... dxc3 {is the engines' recommendation, although this would require calm nerves from Black.} 12. Qxc3 (12. Qxd8+ Kxd8 {and the endgame is assessed as being in Black's favor, with the Black king not being in enough danger to offset White's material advantage.} 13. Rad1+ Ke8 14. Ne4 Nbd7) 12... Nd5 13. Qd3 $11) 12. Rad1 (12. Nxd4 Nc6 $11) 12... O-O {Black is behind in development, notes Fritz. } 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Qe4 Nc6 15. cxd4 (15. Nh5 {is preferred by the engines, using White's slight advantage in development to play more actively, although Black is in no danger.} Rb8 {is probably the simplest way to defend.}) 15... Qd5 {Black has finally achieved equality and would be happy to exchange down at this point.} 16. Qg4 {White is unwilling to head for a draw, but this gives Black better chances for a win.} g6 {Consolidates f5+h5, as Fritz notes. The threat was Nh5 attacking the now-unprotected (due to the g-file pin) Bf6.} 17. b3 Rac8 $15 {Black's counterplay now begins to appear, as he has threats down the c-file and his knight has a good square on b4 waiting for it.} 18. h4 h5 { the correct response, Black must prevent the h-pawn from advancing further. His dark-square bishop is unopposed and can easily handle the defensive duties on the kingside.} 19. Qf4 Bg7 20. Ne4 Rfd8 {The pressure on the isolated pawn grows, comments Fritz.} (20... Nxd4 $2 {doesn't work because of} 21. Nxd4 e5 22. Qf3 $18 {setting up a discovered attack on the Qd5 with Nf6+, should Black recapture with exd5.}) 21. Nf6+ {forcing the exchange of Black's dark-square defender. However, with almost all the minor pieces gone, White cannot break through.} Bxf6 22. Qxf6 Qf5 {safely forces the trade of queens.} 23. Qxf5 gxf5 {Black prefers to keep a lock on d5, so captures with the g-pawn. Houdini has the same balanced/slight advantage to Black evaluation for this and for exf5, although the pawn structures are rather different.} 24. Rfe1 (24. d5 Rxd5 25. Rxd5 exd5 {would be the more sophisticated way to play for White. With Black's pawn structure shattered, it is unlikely he can make any real progress in the endgame.}) 24... Rd5 {Black seizes the chance to blockade the isolated pawn.} 25. Re3 {the problem with this rook placement soon becomes apparent.} (25. Rd2 Kg7 $15) 25... Rcd8 $17 26. Red3 e5 {now the Rd3 is revealed as underprotected. } 27. Ne1 (27. R3d2 e4 28. Ng5 Rxd4 29. Rxd4 Rxd4 30. Rxd4 Nxd4 {looks like a better practical try for White, as Black is going to have trouble trying to win this N+P endgame.}) 27... Rxd4 28. Rg3+ Rg4 {any king move would have been better than this, maintaining the pressure on the d-file. I was overly concerned about White following up with Rg5, which is not a real threat.} ( 28... Kf8 $5 29. Rxd4 Rxd4 30. Rg5 {actually ends up losing the Ne1 because of the pin.} Rd1 31. Kf1 Nd4 32. Rxh5 Rc1 33. f3 Nc2) 29. Rxd8+ $15 Nxd8 {things now look rather drawish, as the 4v3 majority on the kingside isn't enough, especially with the weak pawn structure.} 30. Rd3 Rd4 {either Ne6 or Nc6 would have been better, centralizing the knight. With the rook exchange, Black has little prospect of playing for a win.} 31. Rxd4 $11 exd4 {here is where both sides start to demonstrate that they don't know how to play a N+P endgame very well.} 32. Nd3 (32. Kf1 {would activate the king more quickly and keep the next knight move flexible.} Ne6 $11) 32... f6 (32... Ne6 33. Kf1 $15 Kg7) 33. f4 $6 {unnecessarily weakens and fixes White's pawn structure, handing the e4 and g4 squares to Black.} (33. Nf4 $5 $11) 33... Kf7 $15 34. Kf2 a5 {there was no particular need to start moving the queenside pawns. Better to get the knight into the game.} (34... Ne6 $5) 35. a4 $6 b6 (35... Ne6 36. b4 axb4 37. Nxb4 Nxf4 {would be a more straightforward way for Black to pursue an advantage.}) 36. Ke2 Ke6 (36... Ne6 {is again ignored by Black.}) 37. b4 $2 ( 37. Nb2 $5 $17) 37... Kd5 $19 {the centralized king will be very powerful and White can do little about it. Black has a technically won game.} 38. bxa5 bxa5 39. Nf2 Ne6 40. Kf3 {White has managed to essentially neutralize his own activity.} Nc5 41. Nh1 (41. Ke2 {the only chance to get some counterplay} Kc4 42. Kd1 $19) 41... Nxa4 {Black has two separated passed pawns on the queenside and White's pieces are out of the fight. Game over...unfortunately not, for Black.} 42. Ng3 Nb2 43. Nxh5 Ke6 $2 {Black throws the win away. Pushing either passed pawn would do it.} (43... a4 44. Nxf6+ Ke6 $19 45. Ne8 a3 46. Ng7+ Kd5 47. Nxf5 a2 {and Black will comfortably win the queening race.}) (43... d3 44. Ke3 a4 45. Kd2 Kd4 46. Ng3 Nc4+ 47. Ke1 a3 48. Nxf5+ Kc3) 44. Ng7+ $11 Kf7 45. Nxf5 d3 46. Ke3 a4 47. Nd4 a3 48. g4 Nd1+ (48... a2 49. Nb3 $11) 49. Kxd3 Nf2+ 50. Kc3 Nxg4 51. Kb3 Kg6 52. Kxa3 Ne3 1/2-1/2

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