28 April 2013

Annotated Game #92: Subtle Symmetry

The following sixth-round tournament game featured the Symmetrical English, a rare guest at the chessboard at the Class level.  Black players rarely know the ideas behind it, but then again White has no real possibilities for tactics early on and many White players are also unlikely to know how to play it properly.  What usually happens, as in this game, is that White gets a small positional edge but then lacks the requisite skills to follow up on it in the middlegame and endgame.  Learning how to play more subtly as White in these types of positions will be a necessary part of achieving mastery.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A39"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "61"] {A39: Symmetrical English vs ...g6:4 Bg2 Bg 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 0-0 0-0 7 d4} 1. c4 c5 {the Symmetrical English is a rare beast at the Class level.} 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O Nf6 6. Nc3 {the Symmetrical Four Knights variation.} O-O 7. d4 {the best try for an advantage.} cxd4 8. Nxd4 a6 {Black can play almost anything here, but exchanging on d4 is the most popular. The text move takes away the b5 square from White, but does little to help Black's development, so is a little passive.} 9. Nxc6 {White similarly has a wide range of choices here, with Nc2 played most often.} bxc6 10. Bf4 {Houdini's first choice, although not often played in the database.} Nh5 11. Bd2 {a passive retreat.} ( 11. Bg5 {would be a stronger follow-up.}) 11... Qc7 12. Qc1 {following what was essentially the only plan I knew in these types of positions, to exchange off the fianchettoed bishop.} Bb7 13. Bh6 Rad8 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15. Rd1 (15. Qe3 { would be more accurate here, getting the queen out earlier to an excellent central square and generating pressure down the e-fiile, while also connecting White's rooks.}) 15... f5 16. Bf3 {this might have been a good idea earlier, say on move 13, but now Black simply moves the knight to a better square.} (16. c5 {looks like a good alternative, gaining queenside space and fixing the Black c-pawn.}) 16... Nf6 {Black now has a similar kingside structure to the Leningrad Dutch.} 17. Qe3 Rfe8 (17... d6 {would be the more elegant way of protecting e7, also preparing the ...e5 push to gain space in the center. This is a major theme in the Leningrad Dutch.}) 18. Na4 d6 {Black now plays this anyway, to cover c5.} 19. Qb6 Qxb6 20. Nxb6 e5 21. e3 d5 {Black could simply play ...e4 here without opening lines for White, as happens in the game.} 22. cxd5 cxd5 23. Rac1 Re7 24. Rc5 {a rather obvious move that does not in fact challenge Black.} (24. Na4 {is what the engines give as the best chance to keep playing for an advantage, although things are still balanced.}) 24... e4 { while not losing, this allows White more of a free hand on the queenside than necessary.} (24... Rd6 $5 25. Na4 Bc6) (24... d4 25. Bxb7 Rxb7 26. Rc6 $11) 25. Be2 $14 {the engines give White a small positional plus here.} Rd6 26. Nc8 (26. Na4 {again would try to exploit White's positional plus and in any case would allow White to transfer the knight to a much better square (to c3 or c5 if the rook clears it).}) 26... Bxc8 27. Rxc8 Rb7 28. b3 Kf7 29. Rdc1 {the point of White's play, dominating the c-file.} Rbb6 {here I failed to find a way to practically use White's positional advantage.} 30. Kg2 (30. R1c7+ Rd7 31. h3 Ke7 32. Rc6 Rd6 33. Rxb6 Rxb6 34. Rc5 {is one possible continuation, as White attempts to exploit the 2v1 queenside pawns and the bishop's queenside reach to target the a-pawn.}) 30... Ke6 (30... g5 $11 {would instead help give Black counterplay on the kingside.}) 31. R8c2 $11 {White gives up trying to find a winning advantage and offers a draw.} 1/2-1/2

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