21 September 2013

Annotated Game #104: Queenside? check. Center? check. Kingside? fail

This round 4 game from a Slow Chess League tournament shows the swift punishment that can occur when the kingside is neglected, regardless of what else is happening on the board.  The English Four Knights opening allowed me (White) to establish strong central pressure and at the same time restrain Black effectively on the queenside.  However, my plan to establish a battery against Black's king to increase the pressure was too slow and an ill-advised queen maneuver allowed Black to quickly marshal what looked like a crushing attack.

Despite feeling a certain amount of despair at my predicament, I was determined to actively defend and not allow Black to achieve an easily winning position.  After a harrowing sequence, I emerged down two pawns but having avoided the mate threats.  Continuing to play as actively as possible and make threats with my queen in the initial queen and minor piece endgame, I was able to catch Black in a tactic and suddenly I had the only piece left on the board, a mighty dark-square bishop, which combined with my king was enough to sweep up all the Black pawns and force the queening of the last White one.

While the outcome was eventually positive, next time a bit of prophylaxis on the kingside would not hurt...

[Event "Slow Swiss #8"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.09.12"] [Round "4"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "Yamaduta"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A28"] [WhiteElo "1504"] [BlackElo "1504"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "137"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 Be7 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 Ne5 {this unusual move seemed to me to be most likely a prelude to ...c5, to kick the Nd4, but it never actually occurred in the game. The Ne5 looks nicely centralized, but it doesn't seem to do enough to warrant the tempo loss of moving the piece twice.} (6... Bb4 7. Nxc6 Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 dxc6 9. Qc2 Qe7 10. f3 Be6 11. Rb1 b6 12. Qa4 Bd7 13. Be2 c5 14. Qc2 O-O 15. O-O Bc6 16. e4 Rad8 17. Bg5 h6 18. Bh4 g5 19. Bf2 {1/2-1/2 (19) Gulko, B (2560)-Ivanov,A (2555) St Martin 1992}) (6... O-O {followed by ...d5 is the main line and was used most famously by Karpov.}) 7. Be2 {White continues with standard development, as occurs in the main line.} (7. Nc2 {was played in the only master-level game in the database. The idea is to regroup White's pieces to exploit an eventual f4 advance.} d6 8. e4 O-O 9. Be2 c6 10. O-O Re8 11. Kh1 Qc7 12. f4 Ned7 13. Bf3 Bf8 14. Re1 a5 15. b3 Nc5 16. Ba3 Ne6 17. Qd2 Nd7 18. Rad1 Nec5 19. g3 Rb8 20. Kg2 Ra8 21. h4 Rb8 {Suba,M (2487)-Voos,G Mallorca 2000 1-0 (36)}) 7... O-O 8. O-O d6 9. b3 {fortifying c4 and getting the bishop to the long diagonal.} b6 $6 {this weakens the light square complex on the queenside and I was not too concerned about the bishop on the long diagonal, believing that I could exchange it off via an eventual Bf3. Houdini points out the tactical exploitation I could have made of the light square weakness; unfortunately, I was not even considering the possibility of an f4 push (which otherwise would be antipositional). The vulnerability of the Ne5 combined with the light square weakness is what makes the tactic work.} 10. Bb2 (10. f4 Ng6 11. Bf3 {and Black loses material.}) 10... Bb7 {White can proceed in a number of ways here. I chose to retreat the knight to block the long diagonal and then develop with Qc2.} 11. Nf3 Ng6 12. Qc2 {with this move, Black no longer controls e4 and White can connect the rooks.} d5 $6 {this gives White a big target and pressure on the d-file, I assume my opponent missed the pin idea and assumed the pawn would be immediately exchanged.} 13. Rfd1 c6 14. e4 { I thought for some time here and figured that increasing the pressure on d5 was best. Houdini is less impressed with the idea, preferring to use the tempo to begin shifting pieces to more effective squares. A problem with the text move is that it further boxes in the light-squared bishop.} (14. Bd3 $5 { this at first seems to obscure the pin, but in reality it makes it more dangerous, as the threat is Bxg6 with a discovered attack on the d-file, for example after .. .dxc4.} Re8 15. Rac1 Bd6 16. cxd5 cxd5 17. Bf5 $14 {is one possible continuation, leaving Black with the isolated queen's pawn.}) 14... Rc8 {I had thought that Black would do best to immediately move his queen away from the pin, but evidently he wanted to develop his rook and then have potential counterthreats on the c-file.} 15. Rd2 {not a very creative approach, albeit consistent, aiming to double rooks and further increase the pressure.} ( 15. Bd3 dxc4 16. bxc4 Qc7 17. e5 $14 {is an interesting idea from Houdini. I had given some thought during the game about the idea of the e5 thrust, but didn't find a way to make it meaningful. Here the Q+B battery adds some significance to the move.} Nd7 18. Bf5 {here the bishop is much more powerful than in the game continuation.}) 15... Qc7 16. Rad1 Rfd8 17. Qb1 $6 {the idea was to enable the exchanges on d5 without exposing the queen to tactics along the c-file. However, this was unnecessary and it potentially gives away the initiative to Black.} (17. e5 {here also, the idea of the pawn thrust could be useful.} Ng4 18. cxd5 cxd5 19. Nxd5 Qxc2 20. Nxe7+ Kf8 21. Rxc2 Rxc2 22. Rxd8+ Kxe7 23. Rd2 $14) (17. exd5 cxd5 18. cxd5 Bb4 19. Rd4 (19. Bc4 {would also be OK, with the idea of disrupting the c-file pressure.}) 19... Bxc3 20. Rc4) 17... Bc5 (17... Bb4 {I thought would have been more to the point, exploiting the inaccurate queen move.} 18. exd5 (18. a3 $2 {leads to problems for White.} Bxc3 19. Bxc3 Nxe4 20. Rc2 dxc4 21. Bxc4 c5 $17 {and now Black is a pawn up with the Bb7 a real monster.}) 18... cxd5 19. Qc2 {and White has accomplished little, other than handing the initiative to Black.}) 18. exd5 cxd5 19. cxd5 a6 {preventing Nb5, which is what I had in mind.} 20. a4 {employing some prophylaxis and taking control of the b5 square, as I was concerned about Black playing ... b5-b4 otherwise.} Qf4 {this seemed rather cheeky at the time (and objectively is so), but I react poorly and manage to ignore all of Black's threats in favor of following my own short-term plan of creating a Q+B battery.} (20... Bb4 $5) 21. Qa1 $2 (21. Bc4 {what a difference a tempo makes, as this played immediately would give White a fine game by shoring up d5, blocking tactics down the c-file against the Nc3, and laterally protecting f2 via the Rd2. The tempo wasted by the text move nearly sinks me.}) (21. h3 { is what I thought would have been the simplest way to prevent Black's next sequence, but in fact Black has other tactical resources. In practical terms, though, it would be difficult for someone to see the following sequence.} Bxf2+ 22. Kxf2 Rxc3 23. Bxc3 Ne4+ 24. Kg1 Nxc3 25. Qc2 Nxd1 26. Qxd1 Qd6 $15) 21... Ng4 22. Bc4 $2 {now this move should lose. As soon as I played it, I saw Black's next coming and despair started to set in.} (22. Rd4 {to my credit, I had in fact considered this exchange sacrifice as a defensive resource. Had I seen Black's 22nd move in the game, I probably would have played it.} Bxd4 23. Rxd4 Qf5 24. h3 Nf6 25. Bd3 Qd7 26. Qd1 {and White is OK.}) 22... Nh4 $1 $19 23. Ne4 {I thought for some time here and this seemed the best practical chance for the defense. Houdini agrees (although it's still losing).} Nxf3+ 24. gxf3 Qxh2+ 25. Kf1 Qh3+ {now Black fails to bring more pieces into the attack, which is what allows White to escape.} (25... Re8) 26. Kg1 Qxf3 27. Nxc5 Bxd5 $2 {this gives White an out by allowing him to eliminate the bishop. I took it too quickly in the game, however, not considering the intermediate move Houdini points out.} (27... Rxc5 $19 {and now Black can sacrifice on d5 to eventually deflect the Rd2 (a necessary defender of f2), which wins.} 28. Be5 Rcxd5 29. Bxd5 Rxd5 30. Rxd5 Qxf2+ $19) 28. Bxd5 (28. Ne4 Qxe4 29. Rxd5 Rxd5 30. Bxd5 Qf4 31. Bd4 {and the best Black can do is a perpetual check.} Qh2+ 32. Kf1 Rc2 33. Bg2 Qf4 34. Kg1 Qh2+) 28... Rxd5 29. Ne4 {a recurring active more for the defense.} Rxd2 30. Rxd2 {White remains tied to the defense of the f2 pawn.} Qxe4 31. Qd1 {White is still losing, down two pawns and with an open king position, but is no longer in imminent danger of being mated. Black now has to think about his own king position due to the back rank.} Re8 (31... h5 { immediately is what Houdini recommends, which would rid Black of his bank-rank weakness and see him start to leverage his kingside pawn majority.}) 32. Rd8 h5 33. Rxe8+ Qxe8 34. Qd4 {White's strategy here is to play as actively as possible with his queen and continue making threats, to try and keep Black from consolidating his advantage.} Qe1+ $6 (34... f6 {permanently blocks the mate threat.} 35. Qd5+ (35. Qxb6 $2 Qe1+ 36. Kg2 Qe4+ 37. Kg1 Qb1+ 38. Kg2 Qxb2 ) 35... Kh8 $19) 35. Kg2 $15 {White's king still looks precarious, but Black can do nothing further against it and now must deal with White's threats.} Nf6 36. Qd8+ Qe8 $2 {Black misses the next tactic, which turns the tables and gives White a winning game.} 37. Bxf6 Qxd8 38. Bxd8 $18 {in the bishop ending, White's strategy is to restrain the Black pawn majority, then penetrate and destroy it with the king, using the bishop for the necessary extra tempi to put Black in zugzwang.} b5 39. Kg3 g6 40. axb5 axb5 41. Kf4 Kg7 42. Kg5 { the Bd8 dominates the d8-h4 diagonal and effectively shackles Black's position, preventing him from driving away the king.} f5 43. Bb6 Kf7 44. b4 {White is in no hurry and places the pawn on a dark square, so it can be defended in the future by the bishop if necessary.} Kg7 45. Bd4+ Kf7 46. Bc5 Kg7 47. Bb6 { the bishop is moved for a tempo gain, forcing Black to allow White's king to penetrate.} Kf7 48. Kh6 h4 49. Bc7 {ensuring that the h-pawn has no future.} h3 50. Kg5 Kg7 51. Kh4 Kf6 52. Kxh3 g5 53. Kg3 g4 54. f3 {this will allow the liquidation of all kingside pawns, making White's task easier.} Ke6 55. fxg4 fxg4 56. Kxg4 Kd5 57. Bd8 Kd6 58. Kf4 Kd5 59. Be7 {with the White pawn immune from attack, White can repeat the zugzwang trick again, as Black's king cannot protect his b-pawn forever.} Kc6 60. Ke4 Kb6 61. Kd5 Ka6 62. Kc6 Ka7 63. Kxb5 Kb7 64. Bh4 {with the bishop present to provide a tempo to allow White to gain the opposition, it is an easy win.} Kb8 65. Kb6 Ka8 {playing for a stalemate chance.} 66. b5 Kb8 67. Bg5 Ka8 68. Kc7 Ka7 69. b6+ 1-0


  1. The English opening is very unfamiliar to me. 4....Be7 seems to be a move that develops a piece, but doesn't fight for or support the center. Development without playing a part in a greater plan is asking for trouble. White is showing it's intention of playing 5. d4 to build a space advantage and trade e-pawns at d4. Black should try to take the space left behind by the c-pawn and e-pawn advances. 4....d6, intending Bf5, and Nb4 to pressure on the d3 hole in white's camp. Be7 can be played later or get the bishop outside the pawn chain with Bb4 and pressure the c3 knight which hits the e4 and d5 squares.

    Do you find the e4, and d3 squares to be a problem for white in the English opening?

    14. e4 I think the issue with this is the combination of the f2 point and more holes in the white camp (long term weaknesses). As long as Yamaduta doesn't fall asleep and deals with the d-pawn pin, he should get good counterplay against the f2, d3, or d4 points. I like 14....Bc5, with the intention of Ng4. Bxd2 immediately if forced and Ng4+ followed by Ne3 forking queen and rook and/or Qc7 looks scary. Some deaper calculations would be needed to see if it is good for black, but white doesn't need the problems right now.

    25......Qh3+ I did something really similar to this in a recent game. The queen has the king tied down with nowhere to go (similar to the position I had in my game). Just to get a check on the king and win a pawn lost black the game here. Congrats on holding on and turning the tables here.

    Here is the move list.

    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bg5 Be7 8.Bc4 Qa5 9.Qd2 O-O 10.O-O-O Re8
    11.f3 d5 12.exd5 cxd5 13.Bb5 Rd8 14.h4 a6 15.Bd3 d4 16.Ne4 Qxa2 17.Qf4 Nd5 18.Qg3 Bb4 19.c3 dxc3 20.Nxc3 Bxc3
    21.bxc3 Qa3+ 22.Kd2 Qxc3+ 23.Ke2 Qb2+ 24.Rd2 Nc3+ 25.Kf2 Qb6+ 26.Be3 Ne4+ 27.fxe4 Qb8 28.e5 g6 29.h5 Qb3 30.hxg6 fxg6
    31.Qh4 Rf8+ 32.Ke2 Rf7 33.Qd8+ Kg7 34.Bh6# 1-0

    I felt I was doing fine until move 21.....Qa3+ and I let the king get out of his prison as black did here. Eventually one meaningless check after another led to a loss for me.

    1. Hello jeichmj, thanks for your comments.

      The usual stem game for 4...Be7 in the English Four Knights is Timman-Karpov (Montreal, 1979) in which Karpov wins nicely. There are improvements for White of course, but the variation is solid for Black. 4...d6 is fine but is also solid and unremarkable, since it doesn't intend to challenge in the center with ...d5. Without the knight on e5 as in the game, White doesn't have a hole on d3 and can play Bd3 if desired at some point. This particular variation doesn't revolve around pushing e4, rather focusing on other central play and as always the square d5.

    2. Thank you for your blog. I have taken your advice and annotated my own games. It has helped me both improve my play and enjoy the process of learning from my games.


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