29 December 2012

Annotated Game #77: Playing for a draw means losing in the end

If I had to pick one game to best illustrate what my core weaknesses were, this is it.  Playing a significantly higher-rated opponent in the third round of the tournament, I deliberately chose a strategy of trying to exchange down to a drawn position.  In the process, I passed up multiple active choices that could have given White a positional edge and the initiative.  My opponent, no fool, took advantage of my passivity and the positional crush that he executes against me is well played and an object lesson on how to use a space advantage.

In addition to the early decision to play for a draw, this game provides an excellent example of other major errors in my thinking.  In the opening phase, I was limited in my conception of how to play a flank opening, mentally not even considering the move e4 because it would have meant advancing a central pawn (horrors!), although this would have been advantageous at several points.  In the middlegame, I relied on the idea of piece exchanges (starting on move 10) to reach a draw. Exchanges can have far-reaching implications for the rest of the game, among other things determining which side's remaining pieces become more effective, so simply exchanging is hardly a recipe for a draw.  Finally, White's repeated pawn advances created major weaknesses that Black could exploit, showing how I failed to understand their long-term implications.

It's because of games like these that I saw a serious need to improve my mental toughness and stop worrying about ratings.  My attitude was completely wrong from the start here.  It's one thing to aim for a draw later in the game in an even (or worse) position, quite another to ignore any ideas of winning at the start of the middlegame.  Playing for a draw can often lead to losing in the end.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c6 {indicating that Black will go into a Slav-type setup. This also invites a transposition from White into a standard d4 opening.} 3. Nf3 {an independent line.} d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 {the recapture with the pawn is much more popular and also scores much better for Black.} 5. g3 {a rather cautious and unchallenging move. Developing the bishop to g2 may also be problematic, depending on how strongly Black guards d5, as it may have relatively little scope for action.} (5. e4 { would be the way to exploit the knight's position, which in the following game example allows White to set up a pawn duo in the center.} Nf6 6. d4 Bg4 7. Be2 e6 8. O-O Be7 9. Qb3 Qb6 10. Be3 Qxb3 11. axb3 a6 12. h3 Bh5 13. g4 Bg6 14. Nd2 Bb4 15. Bf3 Nbd7 16. Bg2 Ng8 17. f4 f6 18. Nc4 Ne7 19. Ra4 Bxc3 20. Nd6+ Kd8 21. bxc3 Kc7 22. e5 Nb6 23. Ra2 Nec8 24. f5 exf5 25. gxf5 Bh5 26. c4 {1-0 (26) Gonzalez Menendez,I (2293)-Chans Farina,J (2033) Trevias 2004}) 5... Nd7 6. Bg2 N7f6 {Black reinforces d5.} 7. O-O Bf5 $146 {now out of the database, with the standard Slav-type development for the bishop.} 8. d3 {releases the Bc1 and threatens e4. However, at the time I avoided e4 due to the idea that it would block the Bg2. This is an example of rigid thinking.} e6 {Controls d5} 9. Qb3 { developing the queen to good effect.} (9. e4 {is even better.} Nxc3 {is forced} 10. bxc3 Bg4 11. Rb1 {and White will have excellent play on the queenside, while Black is behind in development and has no counterplay.}) 9... Qb6 10. Nxd5 {White is following the simple strategy of exchanging down at every opportunity in order to achieve a level position. My opponent was around 150 rating points higher, which was the main factor behind this. White now achieves his goal of equality, in the process giving away some positional advantages.} (10. e4 $5 Nxc3 11. bxc3 Qxb3 12. axb3 $14) 10... exd5 $11 (10... Nxd5 $2 {and now the pawn fork would work, since there is nothing for the Nd5 to capture.} 11. e4 Qxb3 12. axb3 $18) (10... cxd5 {would be inferior after} 11. Qa4+ Qc6 (11... Nd7 $6 12. Ne5) 12. Qxc6+ bxc6 {and the weak c-pawn will be an excellent target for White on the half-open file.}) 11. Qxb6 axb6 12. Be3 b5 13. a3 {Consolidates b4, notes Fritz.} Bd6 14. Nd4 Bg4 15. Bf3 (15. h3 $5) 15... O-O (15... Be5 $5 {was an interesting possibility.} 16. Rab1 Bxd4 17. Bxd4 (17. Bxg4 $2 {loses a piece}) 17... Bxf3 18. exf3 {and White's pawn structure is ugly, but it doesn't look like Black has good prospects for breaking through.}) 16. Bxg4 $11 Nxg4 17. Bd2 {White has an equal game, but it is passive and Black has any initiative in the position.} Rfe8 18. h3 (18. Bc3 {would significantly improve the bishop's position.}) 18... Nf6 19. e3 Nd7 20. Nf5 Bf8 21. d4 Nf6 22. f3 {White's pawn advances have created weaknesses and blocked the Nf5's retreat, which my opponent now captializes on.} g6 23. Nh4 Nd7 24. Ng2 Nb6 {Black continues to maneuver to probe White's weaknesses, as the knight is heading for the excellent c4 outpost.} 25. Kf2 Nc4 {the knight cannot be ejected by b3, due to the hanging a-pawn.} 26. Bc3 Bh6 27. f4 $6 { this negates the positive aspect of the previous f3 advance, which could have supported a future e4 push. The e-pawn is now completely backward.} (27. Rae1 { would have been fine, as the queenside is now locked up and the rook should be redeployed to reinforce e3.}) 27... Bf8 $15 28. Kf3 {looking to support a future e4 push, if White has the time to execute it.} b6 (28... Re4 {followed by ...Rae8 would be the most direct way of taking advantage of White's weakness on the e-file.}) 29. Rab1 {there doesn't seem to be much point to this.} (29. Rae1) 29... c5 {Black follows a plan of mobilizing his queenside pawns, but White is relatively strong there, in contrast with the e-file.} 30. Rf2 {White anticipates the need to reinforce b2, as Black could now penetrate with Ra2 following a pawn exchange on b4.} Nd6 (30... b4 31. axb4 cxb4 32. Be1 {and White awkwardly holds on.}) 31. Re2 {continuing the passive defense.} (31. dxc5 $5 {would instead give White some breathing room.} bxc5 32. Rd2 Ne4 33. Rd3 (33. Rxd5 $6 Rxa3) 33... c4 34. Rxd5 Nxc3 35. bxc3 Rxa3 36. Rdxb5 Rxc3 { and White should be able to stop the c-pawn after} 37. Rb8) 31... Ne4 $15 32. Rc1 Ra4 33. dxc5 bxc5 {Black's pawn trio looks very menacing and White's pieces lack space to maneuver.} (33... Nxc3 $6 34. Rxc3 bxc5 35. Rd2 $11) 34. Be5 {this simply wastes time, but White has no good options.} f6 35. Bc3 Rc4 { Black pulls the noose tighter, now pinning the Bc3.} 36. Rec2 {this hurries the process of Black's victory, but White is getting slowly crushed anyway.} ( 36. Rcc2 Nxc3 37. Rxc3 Rxc3 38. bxc3 Ra8 {and Black will be able to pick up White's weak queenside pawns.} 39. Rb2 Rxa3 40. Rxb5 Rxc3) 36... d4 37. exd4 cxd4 38. b3 $4 {terrible, but what else could White do to save the game? comments Fritz.} (38. Ba5 {would prolong things, although not by much.} Ra4 39. Rc8 Rxc8 40. Rxc8 Nd6 41. Ra8 Nc4) 38... Rxc3+ $19 39. Rxc3 dxc3 {a piece down with no compensation, White resigns.} 0-1

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