12 October 2013

Commentary: Tashkent FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2013, Round 9 (Xue - Lagno)

This next commentary is from round 9 of the women's FIDE Grand Prix in Tashkent.  The game caught my eye because of the unusual exchange sacrifice offered by White (but never accepted) and some of the thematic moves and "little tactics" that led Zhao Xue to win this game in the Symmetrical English against Kateryna Lagno.  Well worth the time to analyze.

[Event "FIDE WGP Tashkent"] [Site "Tashkent UZB"] [Date "2013.09.28"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Zhao, Xue"] [Black "Lagno, Kateryna"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2579"] [BlackElo "2532"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2013.09.18"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5 {Black heads for a Symmetrical English variation. Other possibilities here would include a KID or Gruenfeld-type setup.} 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 Nc6 5. Bg2 e6 6. O-O {White chooses the most common move, which is a solid line; d4 here would lead to a more active line with a pawn sacrifice. Interestingly, White only scores about 47 percent with the text move.} Nge7 7. a3 {both prophylactic against ...Nb4 and prepares an eventual b4 push. With this variation, a less frequently played one, White scores over 51 percent.} d5 {Black decides to commit in the center, rather than the more popular O-O.} 8. d3 O-O (8... dxc4 9. dxc4 Qxd1 10. Rxd1 Bxc3 11. bxc3 {is something a Class player might prefer, exchanging off as many pieces as possible with Black and inflicting doubled c-pawns on White. In concrete terms, however, White is left with the two bishops and the dark-square one is a monster, with Black's dark-square weaknesses beckoning. Play could continue} h6 12. Bf4 b6 13. Bd6 Bb7 14. Ne5 {and Black is already under significant pressure.}) 9. Bg5 { a thematic idea, designed to provoke a weakening Black pawn advance.} h6 10. cxd5 exd5 (10... hxg5 11. dxc6 Nxc6 {looks fine for White.}) 11. Bxe7 {the decision to exchange the dark-square bishop involves a tradeoff of time (in this case gained by avoiding a retreat) versus the two bishops, which Black now gains.} Nxe7 12. Rc1 Bd7 {this doesn't seem to be the best placement for the bishop. Playing it to e6 or eventually to b7 would keep it more active.} 13. b4 cxb4 {Black chooses to enter an IQP structure in exchange for greater piece activity.} 14. axb4 Qb6 $11 (14... a5 $15 {is what Houdini prefers here, immediately looking to create a passed pawn.} 15. bxa5 Qxa5) 15. Qb3 a5 16. Nxd5 {this tactical option was not possible in the previous variation, where the queen was on a5 instead of the more vulnerable b6 square.} Nxd5 17. Qxd5 Bc6 (17... Qe6 $5) 18. bxa5 $14 {another tactical follow-up exploiting the location of the Qb6.} Qxf2+ 19. Kxf2 Bxd5 {White is a pawn up here, with the passed d-pawn. Black has some compensation in terms of the two bishops and White's potentially weaker pawns.} 20. Rc5 Rfd8 21. Rb1 Bf8 22. Rcb5 Bc6 23. Ne5 {an excellent idea from Zhao and confirmed by Houdini. The exchange sacrifice is dangerous for Black to take.} Rdc8 (23... Bxb5 24. Rxb5 {the b-pawn will now fall as well.} Rac8 25. Rxb7 $16) 24. d4 $16 {passed pawns must be pushed!} Bg7 {based on the game continuation, this seems to be a loss of time, as the bishop will move back after a few moves.} (24... Bxb5 {the exchange sacrifice is still good for White, but at least Black would get rid of one of the powerful rooks on the queenside.} 25. Rxb5 Ra6 26. Bxb7 Rf6+ 27. Bf3) 25. Bxc6 bxc6 26. Rc5 {White takes advantage of the absence of the Bf8.} Ra6 27. Nf3 {choosing to consolidate rather than play more aggressively with something like Rb7.} Bf8 28. Rb6 {what masters call a "little tactic".} Rca8 ( 28... Bxc5 29. Rxa6 Bd6 $18 {and now it will be much easier for White to try and push through the passed a-pawn, whose queening square cannot be covered by the bishop.}) 29. Rcxc6 Rxa5 {although material is still even after the tactic, now nothing stands in the way of the d-pawn.} 30. Rb7 Ra2 31. Rcb6 Re8 32. Rb2 Raa8 33. Rc2 Bd6 {again a bishop move appears to lose time, as it could have moved directly to g7 instead of taking three tempi to do it per the game continuation. The idea appears to be that the bishop covers the e5 square, which it could also do from g7.} 34. Rd7 Ra6 35. Rb2 Bf8 36. Ne5 Bg7 {the f-pawn is protected tactically.} 37. Nf3 {given the lack of progress, one must think that White (and perhaps Black too) was looking to make a series of safe moves in order to save some time on the clock.} (37. Nxf7 $2 Rf6+) 37... Rae6 38. Rc2 Re4 39. Rd2 Bf8 $2 {this bishop is now truly a drag on Black's play. White immediately seizes the opportunity on e5, left uncovered by the bishop.} (39... g5 $5 {Houdini thinks that Black's best option is to try to generate counterplay on the kingside.}) 40. Ne5 $18 Bc5 {a desperation move.} (40... Bg7 $2 {no longer helps, now that Black's Re4 is cut off from assistance and vulnerable.} 41. Kf3 {and Black loses material.}) 41. Nxf7 (41. dxc5 {is also winning for White.} R4xe5 42. c6 Rc5 43. c7) 41... Bxd4+ 42. R2xd4 (42. R7xd4 $2 {White has no need to abandon the knight, as the e-pawn can be lost without damaging her winning prospects.} Kxf7 43. Rxe4 Rxe4 $14) 42... Rxe2+ 43. Kg1 { and now White is a full piece up and her king cannot be trapped.} 1-0

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