17 January 2014

Annotated Game #112: A positional squeeze by Black

This 45 45 game, played in the first round of a Slow Chess League quads section, features a strong positional squeeze by Black.  My opponent varied from his previous Nimzo-Larsen on move 4 and went into a more standard, but still rather passive, type of setup; the database shows it as a transposition into a Reti opening.  Black as a result of his space advantage easily equalizes and then starts to turn up the pressure on the queenside, while actively seeking to shut down any White counterplay.  Along those lines, the decision on move 15 to shut out White's dark-square bishop with ...e5 is a direct result of analyzing the previous encounter with my opponent (Annotated Game #106: A first Nimzo-Larsen), so that was a useful lesson learned.

By move 24 I am able to clearly seize the initiative and start making tactical threats against White's cramped position, which results in winning the exchange and achieving a dominant position.  The big guns then come into play on the open d-file and the game is effectively won after White is forced to exchange queen for rook.  However, my opponent still puts up stout resistance, hoping to take advantage of the mostly closed nature of the position, so careful endgame play is needed to seal the win.  This game was a model of play for me, as I was able to consciously stick with my thinking process for the entire time, ensuring that no blunders occurred.

[Event "DHLC Slow Chess Quads"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.01.11"] [Round "1"] [White "Yamaduta"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "1441"] [BlackElo "1448"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "134"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A06: Reti Opening:1 Nf3 d5} 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. b3 d5 3. Bb2 c6 4. e3 (4. d3 { is what my opponent played against me previously. The text move is more consistent with the standard Nimzo-Larsen ideas.}) 4... Bg4 {this seems the most effective square for the bishop, although ...Bf5 is also reasonable.} 5. Be2 e6 (5... Nbd7 {is something I considered playing immediately, although the move order is not significant if Black intends to follow with ...e6 anyway.}) 6. O-O Nbd7 {the most flexible move, deferring placement of the dark-square bishop for the moment.} 7. d3 {this move indicates that White is going for a rather passive setup; either d4 or c4 would give him more space and potential activity at this stage. As it stands, Black is given a clear space advantage.} Bd6 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. a3 $146 {White has a variety of choices here, although the variation with h3 is most popular. The text move gives Black a target (the a-pawn), which facilitated my decision to choose a queenside strategy.} (9. h3 Bh5 10. c4 Qe7 11. Nd4 Bg6 12. cxd5 exd5 13. N2f3 Ne8 14. a3 Ne5 15. Qd2 h6 16. b4 Nxf3+ 17. Nxf3 Nf6 18. Rfc1 Rfe8 19. Bd4 Nd7 20. Qc3 Ne5 21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. Nxe5 Qxe5 23. Qxe5 Rxe5 {Zant,J-Bernauer,S Germany 2003 1/2-1/2 (33)}) 9... Qe7 {a thematic move taken from my knowledge of the Dutch Stonewall, which is not too far off from the game position. Black targets a3, connects the rooks and provides additional support for a possible future e-pawn advance.} 10. Re1 a5 { the idea being to break up the a/b pawns of White and open one of the files for Black's rooks.} 11. c4 {expected, since otherwise White has few active choices.} Rfc8 {activating the rook on the queenside and positioning it to take advantage of any exchange on d5 with subsequent opening of the c-file.} 12. Qc2 {although this connects White's rooks, the lack of space is already making itself felt. The queen's presence on the c-file opposite Black's rook is also something that Black can also take advantage of immediately.} b5 13. h3 Bh5 {I decided to preserve the bishop, the most important factor being that it would now be well placed on the h7-b1 diagonal if it needed to retreat again, being opposite White's queen.} 14. e4 {I was not expecting this move and thought that the resulting pawn formation favored Black.} dxe4 15. dxe4 e5 { The pawn is overprotected and shuts out the Bb2 from the game, as well as effectively controlling d4. Its counterpart on e4 is weaker and can be pressured more effectively.} 16. Qd3 {threatening to resolve the queenside tension on b5 in White's favor by taking twice. However, this is easily dealt with, resulting in another space gain for Black.} b4 17. a4 {I thought that this was the correct decision, as after exchanging on b4, White could not further target the a-pawn and Black would gain further space. However, Black after the text move gets an excellent game and activates the knight on d7 and other pieces very effectively. Houdini therefore favors the pawn capture.} (17. axb4 Bxb4) 17... Nc5 {an excellent square for the knight, which cannot be directly challenged by any White piece.} 18. Qc2 Rd8 {with only one open file, it seemed strategically best to put as much firepower as possible on it.} 19. Rad1 Rd7 20. Nh4 {heading for f5. This maneuver ends up gaining White nothing on the kingside, as Black after the exchange on e2 prevents the knight from reaching f5. The piece exchange favors White in positional terms, since his bishop was worse off and exchanges in general help the side with less space. However, the loss of tempo moving the knight back and forth, and the displacement of the Re1, help Black.} Bxe2 21. Rxe2 g6 $15 (21... Bc7 22. Nf5 Qe6 {is preferred by Houdini, with doubled rooks coming and then tactics based on the underprotected rook on d1 and the pawn on e4. For example} 23. Ree1 Rad8 24. Nf3 Nfxe4 25. Rxd7 Rxd7 $17) 22. Nhf3 {this seemed reasonable, otherwise the knight is doing nothing at all on the rim.} Rad8 {Black's dominance of the d-file is now assured.} 23. Bc1 {my opponent appears to be thinking about exploiting the dark-square weakness on the kingside, but the bishop never gets there.} Bc7 {done with both the d-file opening, unleashing the rooks, and a redeployment to the long diagonal in mind. Although material remains even, Houdini shows a nearly two-pawn advantage for Black in its evaluation.} 24. Ree1 Nd3 $19 {the initiative now clearly shifts to Black, who starts making a series of threats.} 25. Rf1 Bb6 {by this point I had already seen the idea of playing ...Nh5-g3 and forcing the win of the exchange. White allows me to carry this out now, although it would have been difficult to stop.} 26. Ng5 { now White cannot defend against the knight maneuver.} Nh5 27. h4 Ng3 {this gives Black a winning continuation, although Houdini shows that the pawn on f2 can be taken as well.} (27... Bxf2+ 28. Rxf2 Nxf2 29. Kxf2 Qc5+ 30. Ke2 Ng3+ 31. Kf3 Rd3+ 32. Kg4 Qf2) 28. Ndf3 Nxf1 29. Rxf1 f6 {I thought for a while here, since I thought it might be better to keep the pawn thrust in reserve, but decided it would be simpler to just push the knight to the rim, which can't be bad for Black.} 30. Nh3 Nxc1 {I was a little reluctant to give up the well-placed knight, but it had done its job and now in exchanging itself for the Bc1, makes its colleague the Bb6 that much stronger, being unopposed. Houdini concurs.} 31. Rxc1 Bd4 (31... Rd3 $5) 32. g4 $2 {I'm assuming my opponent did not originally take my next move into account.} Qe6 33. Nh2 { White's knights are now far away from the action in the center and awkwardly placed.} Bc3 {showing the value of a forward outpost for a bishop, as well as a knight.} 34. Kg2 {obviously intending to avoid potential back rank tactics, but now Black can take advantage of the White queen's lack of squares and win material.} Rd2 35. Qb1 Rb2 36. Qa1 Rxf2+ (36... Rxb3 {is actually best, adding insult to injury by taking the extra pawn. This is significantly better than the text move, in reality, as Black having a passed, protected b-pawn at this point would have helped end things much more quickly.}) 37. Nxf2 Bxa1 38. Rxa1 {on a strict material count, Black has a completely won game. If the position were fully closed, White could hope to hold, but Black starts opening additional lines in order to avoid that.} f5 39. Ra2 fxg4 40. Nhxg4 Rd4 { threatening to take the e4 pawn followed by Qxg4} 41. Re2 h5 {this turned out to be less useful than I thought, since the knight proves to be better placed afterwards.} 42. Nh2 Qe7 (42... Qf6 {is a much better square, but I started playing a bit conservatively here, with my clock starting to get low.}) 43. Nf3 c5 {White cannot hope to win with R+N against queen and pawns here, plus Black would have a strong protected passed pawn on d4 if the exchange occurred.} 44. Re3 Qf6 45. Nd3 Rxd3 {based on the same principle as offering the exchange earlier, although the circumstances are more favorable for White. Here I did not see another way for Black to make progress, though.} 46. Rxd3 Qf4 {the queen needs to penetrate into the White camp and start creating threats against the king and multiple pieces/pawns, rather than play defense.} 47. Rd8+ Kf7 48. Ng5+ Ke7 49. Rg8 Qxh4 50. Rxg6 {although the material balance is the same after the pawn captures, White simply cannot do anything against the Black king with an unsupported knight and rook combination. Black has to take care not to walk into any knight fork possibilities, but otherwise has a won game.} Qg4+ {around here I had a little over a minute left on the clock, so was primarily working off of the increment. Given the time limitations, I chose to play safely with queen checks and look for an opportunity to incrementally make progress, rather than calculate a win. Black does not need to rush things.} 51. Kf2 Qf4+ 52. Kg2 h4 53. Re6+ Kd7 54. Rg6 Qg3+ 55. Kf1 Qd3+ 56. Kf2 Qxb3 {not done to win the extra material per se, but to create another threat of a passed pawn, giving Black even less to worry about to secure the win.} 57. Nf7 Qc2+ 58. Ke3 Qc1+ 59. Kf2 Ke7 (59... Qf4+ {is what I should have played, immediately picking up a piece.}) 60. Nd6 Qf4+ 61. Ke2 h3 62. Nf5+ Kf7 63. Rg7+ Kf8 {the threats from the R+N are now exhausted and the end is in sight.} 64. Rh7 Qxe4+ 65. Kd2 Qxf5 66. Rh8+ Kg7 67. Rh4 Qf2+ 0-1

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