22 March 2014

Annotated Game #119: A slashing victory in the English

This fourth-round tournament game was played against an obviously aggressive opponent.  As early as his second move (2...f5) it was clear that he would be looking for a kingside attack as soon as possible.  Although I was more cautious and solid, my focus on play in the center and on development gave me a good game without allowing my opponent any significant threats; he did miss the idea of playing ...Ne4 at some point, however, which would have given him better play.

The position around move 14 illustrates the importance of positional factors and ease of play, especially at the Class level.  White does not have a significant advantage, but the advantages he does have (the two bishops, open diagonals, more queenside space) make the game much easier to play.  All it takes for Black to lose is one bad idea - the slow transfer of his queen to the kingside - and White is able to shift to tactical play, taking advantage of Black's light-square weaknesses to slash open the position.  Black in response stakes everything on an unprepared kingside attack, which fizzles when I carefully calculate to a safe (and winning) position.

While my opening play here was not necessarily optimal, it got me to a comfortable middlegame position with latent threats and easy play.  After that, it was simply a matter of recognizing opportunities in the position and keeping mentally focused.  Overall, this was a good example of how your positional advantages can be turned into concrete ones, after your opponent ignores them and simply tries to execute his own plan.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A21"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "53"] {A1: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 {an aggressive move by Black, although he can get away with it in the English. Perhaps it is better to be less committal this early, however, since White as of move 2 now knows what Black's overall strategy will be (kingside expansion/attack).} 3. e3 { this is a slower, more solid option for White.} (3. d4 {scores the best (over 60 percent in the database) and immediately attacks Black's central pawn duo. However, at this point in my career I didn't even consider transposing to a queen pawn opening in this manner.}) 3... Nf6 4. d4 Bb4 $146 {a novel and somewhat dubious gambit offer, although accepting it would not give White a major plus.} (4... e4 {is a standard idea to try and cramp White's game, being the most played option in this position.}) 5. Qb3 {the gambit is declined. The idea is to drive off or get rid of the Bb4 and also eye the a2-g8 diagonal. However, this is a rather committal move for the queen, which becomes vulnerable to harrassment.} (5. dxe5 Ne4 {I had seen this idea, reminiscent of the Budapest Defense, and was worried about the threat of a queen sortie to h4, although this in fact does not do anything useful for Black.} 6. Bd2 (6. Nge2 Qh4 7. g3 $16) 6... Nxc3 (6... Qh4 $4 {here even drops a piece to} 7. Nxe4) 7. Bxc3 Bxc3+ 8. bxc3) (5. Bd2 {is a simple and solid way to decline the pawn.}) 5... exd4 $11 {the best move for Black, breaking up White's center.} 6. Qxb4 dxc3 (6... Na6 {it seems better to harrass the queen and develop a piece rather than immediately allow her a good outpost on c3. The knight could then go to c5 later, the benefit of developing to a6 rather than c6.}) 7. Qxc3 { White now has a comfortable and easy position to play, with great diagonals available aimed at Black's kingside.} O-O 8. Bd3 d6 9. Nf3 (9. b3 {immediately would be more flexible, reserving placement of the knight.}) (9. Ne2 {would be a better square for the knight, as f4 looks like an excellent outpost.}) 9... Nc6 10. a3 (10. b4 {could also be played immediately.}) 10... a5 11. b3 { although Black stopped the b4 advance, White is still happy to get his bishop to b2 eventually.} Qe7 (11... Ne4 {is an idea for Black that would at least temporarily disrupt White's setup.}) 12. O-O Ne5 $6 {this results in White having additional pressure against Black's center and on the long diagonal. Again ...Ne4 was possible, as well as the simple developing move ...Bd7.} 13. Nxe5 dxe5 14. Bb2 {White's two bishops and the battery on the long diagonal look very nice.} Re8 15. b4 {White intends c5, perceptively notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} b6 16. Rfd1 {an essential preparatory move, activating the rook.} Qf7 $6 {this exacerbates Black's vulnerability on the a2-g8 diagonal. Black intends to transfer his queen to the kingside, but this is too slow of a plan, given White's imminent threats.} (16... e4 17. Be2 Be6 $14) 17. c5 $16 {this point of this move is to open the c4 and b5 squares to possible occupation by the bishop. Tactics are now in the air, given Black's vulnerabilities and White's well-placed pieces.} Qh5 $2 (17... Kh8 $142 $14 { is the best option Black has, says Houdini.}) 18. Bb5 {and now Black's light-square weakness and lack of development is fatal for him, as White has too many active threats. Worth noting is the important role of the Rd1 in dominating the d-file.} Ne4 $2 {played after a good deal of thought, my opponent was evidently relying on his next move to put me away. While it doesn't work, it's at least a good practical try in a losing position.} (18... axb4 19. Qxb4 Bb7 (19... Rf8 20. cxb6 {with the threat of winning the Rf8 after Bc4+}) 20. Bxe8 Rxe8 $18) 19. Bxe8 {I spent enough time calculating here to make sure that this was safe.} Qe2 {played relatively quickly, indicating that my opponent had intended to reach this position.} 20. Qe1 {I had found this defense and thought it the only move for White. It is a sure win, although Houdini finds a more spectacular one by threatening mate in turn.} ( 20. Qxe5 Qxf2+ 21. Kh1 Qxb2 {necessary to stop the mate threats.} 22. Qxb2) 20... Qxb2 21. Bc6 {I had calculated this far on move 19, seeing that Black could not avoid the multiple threats to the Ra8 and Bc8, with Rd8+ availabile as a follow-up.} axb4 (21... Ra7 22. Bxe4 fxe4 23. Rd8+ Kf7 24. Rxc8) (21... Rb8 22. Rd8+ Kf7 23. cxb6 cxb6 24. Bxe4 fxe4 25. Qc1 $18) 22. Bxa8 Ba6 23. Bxe4 {this was focused on eliminating any possible counterplay by Black, who could now resign, although he plays on for a few more moves.} fxe4 24. axb4 Bd3 25. Qd2 Qb3 26. Qa2 Qxa2 27. Rxa2 1-0

17 March 2014

Reloader tactic: Candidates 2014 - Round 2

I could not pass up the chance to highlight the following reloader tactic, which I think is an outstanding example of the concept, in this game from Round 2 of the ongoing Candidates tournament.  Conceptually, one can see that the Black queen has very few squares and is nearly trapped; it just requires understanding how to trap it, which in this case means moving a knight to e4 - twice in a row.  Also another useful example in a broader sense of the importance of CCT, in this case the threat being to trap the queen, regardless of the fact that the first knight can be taken.

Video analysis of the game by Kingcrusher

15 March 2014

Annotated Game #118: A slip in the Slav; or, the case of the missing pawn capture

Two main features of this third-round tournament game stand out for me.  First is the seeming slip of 6...b4? which is a creatively bad pawn sacrifice in the opening.  Even though my opponent did not directly punish it, the decision led to problems in the initial phase of the game.  Second is the mutual blindness of myself and my opponent, lasting for a large chunk of the game, over the possibility of Black's pawn capture (bxa3) on the queenside.  At a number of points it would have given me a significant, perhaps decisive, advantage.  It is an interesting example of the importance of not dismissing CCT options, especially obvious ones.  I can say that this was primarily a thinking process failure on my part, since I failed to re-examine the possibilities in the position as the game went on, after dismissing the idea to begin with.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D15"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2012.01.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] {D15: Slav Defence: 4 Nc3 a6 and gambit lines after 4 Nc3 dxc4} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. e3 b5 6. a3 {a quite passive move.} (6. Ne5 { is an aggressive try, for example:} Bb7 7. a4 a6 8. b3 cxb3 9. Qxb3 e6 10. axb5 axb5 11. Rxa8 Bxa8 12. Nxb5 cxb5 13. Bxb5+ Nfd7 14. O-O Bd5 15. Qa4 f6 16. Nxd7 Nxd7 17. Bd2 Bd6 18. Rc1 Ke7 19. Qa7 Bxh2+ 20. Kxh2 Qb8+ {Ricardi,P (2470) -Ginzburg,M (2400) Buenos Aires 1994 1-0}) (6. a4 {is standard here, though.} b4 {and Black plays ...a5 after the Nc3 retreats.}) 6... b4 $146 {Black scores extremely well from this position with just about any other reasonable move. Here my newfound creativity, based on examining the standard idea of ...b4 regardless of White played, was unsound.} (6... Bb7 7. g3 e6 8. Bg2 a6 9. O-O Be7 10. b3 cxb3 11. Qxb3 Nbd7 12. a4 O-O 13. axb5 cxb5 14. Ba3 Rc8 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 16. Ne2 Nb6 17. Kh1 Nc4 18. Rfc1 Bxf3 19. Bxf3 Nd2 20. Qd3 Nxf3 21. e4 { Le,T-Nguyen Thi Hanh (1969) Da Lat VIE 2011 0-1 (39)}) (6... Bf5 7. Nh4 Bg6 8. Be2 e6 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. Bf3 Nd5 11. e4 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Nd7 13. Bf4 Qa5 14. Qc1 Be7 15. h3 Rc8 16. Bd1 g5 17. Bd2 c5 18. Qb2 cxd4 19. cxd4 c3 20. Qa2 cxd2+ 21. Kf1 {Kovalenko,S (2300)-Zubashev,V Kharkov 2004 0-1}) (6... g6 7. e4 $11) 7. Na2 {White decides not to take the pawn on offer, trusting too much that Black knew what he was doing.} (7. axb4 e6 8. Bxc4 Bxb4 $16 {and although material is equal, White now has a lead in development, superior piece activity, and only one weak isolated pawn versus two for Black.}) 7... a5 8. Bxc4 e6 9. O-O Nbd7 {Black is behind in development, says Houdini via the Fritz interface.} 10. b3 {this allows Black to immediately equalize.} (10. Bd2 {would have both developed a piece and forced a resolution of the queenside pawn structure.} bxa3 11. bxa3 Bxa3) 10... Be7 11. Qc2 Bb7 {defending the c-pawn and moving to a future potentially useful diagonal.} 12. Bb2 {better to do this after the pawns are exchanged.} (12. axb4 axb4 13. Bb2 O-O $11) 12... O-O {here I didn't even consider the pawn capture as a candidate move, thinking it was more important to move along with development.} (12... bxa3 {is simple and annoying for White.} 13. Bc1 $15 {Black's weak a3 pawn will eventually fall, but in the meantime it's at least helped retard White's development and restricted his dark-square bishop.}) 13. Nc1 {White needs to get the knight back in the game.} c5 {this pawn break is eventually needed in all variations.} 14. Qe2 Rc8 { played on the general principle of activating your rooks in the middlegame. However, this rook could be useful on the a-file and did not need to move.} ( 14... cxd4 15. Nxd4 Nb6 16. axb4 (16. Bd3 bxa3 17. Bxa3 Bxa3 18. Rxa3 e5 $15) 16... Nxc4 17. bxc4 axb4 {for example would give Black the two bishops and somewhat better prospects for his pieces.}) 15. Nd3 cxd4 16. Bxd4 $6 (16. axb4 dxe3 17. bxa5 exf2+ 18. Nxf2 Bd5 $11) (16. Nxd4 {also works fine for White.}) 16... Nb6 $6 (16... bxa3 $17 {continues to be resolutely ignored by Black, who could obtain a significant advantage.}) 17. Nde5 (17. axb4 Nxc4 18. bxc4 axb4 $11) 17... Nxc4 18. Nxc4 Ba6 {the double pin (against queen and rook) here is annoying but not decisive.} (18... a4 {with a pawn sacrifice is a better version of the idea, the point being if} 19. bxa4 $2 {then} (19. axb4 axb3 20. Na5 $11) 19... Ba6 {comes with much more bite against the underprotected knight.} 20. Rfc1 bxa3 21. Nfe5 Qd5 $19) 19. Rac1 $2 {White is obviously concerned about protecting the Nc4 sufficiently, but this is a mistake.} (19. Rfd1 {is an improved rook development, lining up against Black's queen and moving away one of the pieces behind the pinned knight.}) 19... Qd5 $6 { here I wanted to get the queen into the action and had more desire to attack than calculate.} (19... a4 {now interestingly is much stronger for Black, due to the White rook having moved off the key a-file.} 20. axb4 axb3 21. Rfd1 Bxb4 22. Nfe5 Qd5 23. Ba1 Bxc4 24. Nxc4 Qb5 $19) (19... bxa3 {is simple and very good for Black.}) 20. Nfe5 {both White and Black continue to ignore the queenside pawn threats.} (20. Rfd1) 20... Qe4 21. Qb2 {moving one piece out of the pin, but this still allows Black to grab the a3 pawn if he wants.} (21. axb4 Bxb4 22. Rfd1 $11) 21... Rfd8 (21... bxa3 22. Qa1 Qh4 $17) 22. Rfe1 (22. axb4 Bxb4 23. Bb6 Re8 {and White has a space advantage plus threats to the a5 pawn, although Black is not without resources. For example:} 24. Ra1 Qf5 25. Rfc1 Ng4 26. Nxg4 Qxg4 27. Bxa5 Bxc4 28. bxc4 Bxa5 29. Rxa5 Rxc4 $11) 22... Nd7 {in my first quick review of the game, I blamed this move for the loss. In fact, it's just fine, although at first glance it denudes Black's kingside of defenders and loses the g7 pawn.} 23. Nxd7 Rxd7 24. Bxg7 $2 Bxc4 {this is the good idea for continuing the attack, although psychologically at this point I felt I was under heavy pressure to justify the loss of the g-pawn and did not play optimally.} (24... bxa3 $1) 25. Rxc4 (25. bxc4 $5 bxa3 26. Qa1 Rxc4 $17) 25... Rxc4 26. bxc4 Qg4 $2 {blindness to the queenside pawn capture continues. This is the final turning point in the game, as psychologically I become negative about my remaining chances.} (26... bxa3 27. Qa1 Rd2 $19) 27. Bd4 $14 {I had spotted this defense earlier but could not see anything better for Black.} h5 {an attempt at an attack, played out of feelings of desperation.} ( 27... e5 {I had seen this as a possibility but could not see the most effective continuation, so rejected it.} 28. h3 (28. Bxe5 Rd1 $11) 28... Qe6 29. Bxe5 bxa3 30. Qb5 $14 {and Black has decent if not full compensation for the pawn, as his passed a-pawn is more advanced, with another one behind it.}) 28. h3 $16 Qh4 29. Rc1 {White plans c5, notes Houdini.} (29. axb4 {is an improved version of the idea.} Bxb4 30. Rc1 $16) 29... f6 $2 {this loses more quickly, but I had been concerned about the threat of Bh8 followed by Qg7.} ( 29... e5 30. Bxe5 bxa3 $16 {puts up a bit more resistance}) (29... bxa3 { is no good because of} 30. Qb8+ Rd8 (30... Bf8 31. c5 $18) 31. Qe5 $18) 30. c5 $18 Kf7 31. c6 Rd8 32. c7 Rc8 33. Qe2 Bd6 34. Bb6 (34. Qd3 {is subtle but very effective, lining up against the hanging Bd6.} Qg5 35. Bc5 Rxc7 36. Qxd6 $18) 34... Qe4 35. Qa6 Rg8 {my opponent had obviously missed this mate threat, by his reaction. This is defense by swindle threat.} 36. Qf1 (36. Kf1 {is what the computer recommends, but it is psychologically difficult for a human under pressure to play.} Qxg2+ 37. Ke2 $18 Bg3 38. Rf1 {and White holds, with Black having to lose material to stop the pawn promotion.}) 36... Qb7 (36... b3 { immediately is what Houdini prefers, but I was under some time pressure and wanted to have a lock on c8 first.} 37. f3 Qb7 38. Qd3 $16) 37. Bxa5 (37. g3 $5 {would remove the mate threat on g2.} Qxb6 38. c8=Q Rxc8 39. Rxc8 $18) 37... b3 $16 38. Rb1 Bxc7 {this unnecessarily loses a pawn.} (38... Qd5) 39. Bxc7 Qxc7 40. Rxb3 $18 {now it's hard to see White being unable to win, with the position simplified.} Qc6 {with the idea of keeping the threat against g2 active.} 41. Rb5 (41. a4 Rg5 42. Rb5 Rg8 $18) 41... Qe4 $2 {this misses a very useful deflection tactic:} (41... Rxg2+ 42. Qxg2 Qxb5 $16 {and this is now, in practical terms, a difficult endgame for White to win at the Class level.}) 42. a4 $18 Rd8 {by this point it was late in the evening and I had stopped checking for my opponent's threats, missing his next move.} (42... Qc6 43. f3 Rc8 44. a5 $18) 43. Qe2 {now the h-pawn will fall to White's queen and Black's position along with it. I could have resigned here.} f5 44. Qxh5+ Kf6 45. Qh6+ Ke7 46. Qg7+ (46. Qg7+ Ke8 47. Rb7 Qxb7 48. Qxb7 $18) 1-0

10 March 2014

A stress-free Slav Defense?

I found fascinating the idea presented in this Chess Improver post, which highlights a little-known and analyzed main line variation (5...a5) for Black.

In general, it's something of a Holy Grail for opening study to find sidelines - especially as early as move 5 - that are easy to learn and give good results, allowing you to avoid lots of complex theory to have to understand and memorize.  Even if such lines aren't technically the best, if they're sound and give you a good, easily playable position heading into the middlegame, then it's still a net plus for your chess study and practice; you can then spend your time and energy on other weaknesses in your game (and there always will be more weaknesses than you can comfortably tackle, at the amateur level).

In this particular case it's clear you still have to understand what's going on in the resulting position, but with relatively simple play it seems that Black can do well.  Perhaps I'll try it out the line myself later on.

08 March 2014

Annotated Game #117: A fight in the Dutch

In this second-round tournament game I had an extended fight against my opponent's Dutch setup, which eventually became a type of Stonewall.  For a long time his queenside pieces were shut out of the action and I had all the chances, but a few careless moves and my neglect of the center allowed Black to seize the initiative in the later part of the game.  As often happens at the Class level though, my opponent overextended his attack and then missed a key defensive tactic which left me with a winning position.

The notes with the game are extensive, but for improvement purposes I want to highlight the defensive resource I found on move 36 as a concrete example of how my training and studies have helped my game.  I correctly anticipated my opponent's threat and calculated the sequence, most importantly not prematurely ruling out the tactic, which immediately returns the sacrificed piece.  Before I would not have considered a broad enough spectrum of options, I believe, having previously been too closed-minded about tactical possibilities and my thinking process.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "79"] [EventDate "2012.01.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] {A10: English Opening: Unusual Replies for Black} 1. c4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 b6 {first time I've seen a queenside fianchetto this early in a Dutch Defense style game.} 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. O-O e6 {a major decision point in the opening. Examples of the two other main choices:} (5... c5 6. d4 e6 7. d5 Qc8 8. Nc3 Be7 9. e4 O-O 10. e5 Ne8 11. Re1 g6 12. Bh6 Ng7 13. Qd2 Re8 14. Ng5 a6 15. Rad1 Ra7 16. Bf3 Bf8 17. Bg2 Ba8 18. b3 Qb7 19. a4 Qc8 20. h4 {Balinov,I (2454)-Kummer, H (2335) Vienna 2006 1-0 (33)}) (5... g6 6. b4 Bg7 7. Bb2 O-O 8. Qb3 h6 9. Nc3 e6 10. d4 d6 11. Rfd1 Qe7 12. c5 Bxf3 13. Bxf3 d5 14. Nxd5 exd5 15. Bxd5+ Nxd5 16. Qxd5+ Kh7 17. Qxa8 Qxe2 18. Bc3 Nd7 19. Qg2 Nf6 20. d5 {Antoli Royo,J (2410)-Sierra Aguerri,J (2068) Zaragoza ESP 2011 1-0}) 6. b3 {I like the a1-h8 highway into Black's camp, which is currently there for the taking.} Na6 { now out of the database. This doesn't do much for Black's development.} (6... Be7 {is the logical follow-up to e6.}) 7. Bb2 (7. Nc3 {would postpone committing the dark-square bishop.}) 7... Bd6 {apparently played with the idea of contesting e5, this blocks the d-pawn and puts the bishop on a less useful diagonal than it would find after Be7. I'm assuming my opponent was planning to retreat it along the diagonal and then play ...d5, as occurred in the game, but this is a very slow plan and the negatives outweigh the positives for opening development.} 8. Nc3 c6 $6 $14 {although this takes away b5 from White and opens a retreat to b8/c7 for the bishop, the fact that it buries the Bb7 means it's a net plus for White's position.} (8... O-O) 9. a3 {takes away the b4 square from Black's pieces, without any nasty side effects.} Rc8 {by this point, I am wondering why Black is delaying castling, as keeping the king in the center does not gain him anything and can only help White.} 10. b4 { gaining queenside space and taking away the c5 square from the Na6.} (10. d3 { immediately does more for White, taking away the central e4 square from Black and preparing to push the e-pawn, which would open the game to White's advantage. For example} O-O 11. e4 fxe4 (11... Bb8 12. exf5 exf5 13. Nd4 $16) 12. dxe4 Bb8 13. e5 Ng4 14. Qe2 $16 {and after following with Rad1, White dominates the center and the d-file and can shift his forces easily to the center and kingside, while Black's two bishops and the Na6 are not doing much.} ) 10... Bb8 {Black's plan is now obviously to follow up with ...d5.} (10... O-O ) 11. d3 (11. e4 {is the more direct way to take the battle to Black.} fxe4 12. Ng5 O-O 13. Ncxe4 $16) 11... d5 {Black appears to still be deliberately avoiding castling, most likely with the idea of eventually using the rook on the h-file as part of an attack on White's king. Incidentally, Black now has a Stonewall formation, but with his queenside pieces looking uncoordinated and cramped.} 12. e3 {the idea being to prevent an ...f4 push by Black, although this is not a real threat.} (12. cxd5 {begins a forcing sequence which I hadn't considered during the game.} cxd5 (12... exd5 13. Bh3 $16) 13. Qa4+ { the Black bishop cannot interpose on c6 because of the hanging Na6} Qd7 14. Qxd7+ Kxd7 15. Nb5 $16 {with easy play for White.}) 12... Rc7 $6 {Black temporarily takes away the last remaining square for the Na6 and blocks the Bb8, although the rook will transfer itself on the next move.} 13. Qb3 { I choose to keep the tension in the queenside and center, also developing the queen to a useful square. However, with Black's king uncastled, his queenside pieces in each other's way, and a weakness on e6, this would also have been a good time for me to open the center up.} (13. Nd4 $5) (13. cxd5) 13... Rd7 14. Rad1 (14. Rac1 {would target the weaker c-file.}) 14... c5 $2 {the advancing pawn gives up key squares to White without a fight.} (14... O-O $5 $14 { and Black is still in the game, says Houdini via the Fritz interface.}) 15. b5 Nc7 16. Ne2 $16 {opens up the long diagonal for the Bb2 and eyes d4 and f4.} ( 16. Ne5 $1 {takes more direct advantage of Black's weaknesses. One possible continuation is} Re7 17. d4 cxd4 18. Rxd4 O-O 19. Nc6 Bxc6 20. bxc6 dxc4 21. Qxc4 Qc8 22. a4 Rfe8 23. Ba3 Rf7 24. Rfd1 $18) 16... dxc4 17. dxc4 Rxd1 $2 { this gives up the d-file, a dangerous choice.} (17... Bxf3 $5 {exchanging off White's excellent attacking piece would be preferable.} 18. Bxf3 O-O $16) 18. Rxd1 $18 Qe7 19. Nf4 (19. Ne5 $5 {instead would immediately give White a dominant central knight.} Bxg2 20. Kxg2 O-O 21. Nc6 $18 Qe8 22. Bxf6 gxf6 ( 22... Rxf6 $2 23. Rd8) 23. Rd3 Na8 24. Qd1 $18) 19... Na8 {buries the knight in the corner, but at least lets the Bb8 be of some use.} 20. Nd3 {played with the idea of avoiding the bishop for knight exchange on f4 and obtaining a lock on e5.} O-O {it makes sense to castle now, but why not earlier?} 21. Nde5 { similar to how it seems that in the post-game analysis it's revealed that you always move the wrong rook, here it's the wrong knight.} (21. Nfe5 Bxg2 22. Kxg2 Qb7+ 23. Nc6 {gives White a more dominating central position.}) 21... Bd6 (21... Rd8 {now that the rook is available for battle after castling, it should be put in play.}) 22. Nd2 $6 {this passive retreat simply dissipates a large chunk of White's advantage.} (22. Qd3 Bc7 (22... Rd8 $2 23. Ng5 Bxg2 24. Kxg2 {with knight fork threats on f7 and c6.}) 23. Ng5 Bxg2 24. Kxg2 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 $18) 22... Bxg2 23. Kxg2 Bxe5 24. Bxe5 {if this is contrasted with the position in the above variation, it's then easy to see that here White's pieces are not nearly as well placed.} Qb7+ 25. f3 Ng4 {this one-move threat (due to the pin on the f3 pawn) was seen coming. Although it looks threatening, the Ng4 is actually doing very little and will quickly be evicted.} 26. Bb2 Re8 27. h3 Nf6 (27... Nh6 28. e4 $14) 28. Kf2 {White decides to move out of the pin before proceeding further.} (28. Bxf6 gxf6 $16 {was a possibility and is preferred by Houdini, but I didn't see how White could effectively exploit Black's pawn structure weaknesses.}) 28... e5 (28... Qf7 {would have shored up Black's kingside.}) 29. Nb1 $6 {this is too slow and allows Black to equalize.} (29. Qc2 {retains the advantage by bringing the queen back into play along the key b1-h7 diagonal.} Qc8 30. g4 fxg4 31. hxg4 $16) 29... Qe7 30. Nc3 $11 { now although the engine rates the position as equal, it's Black who is gaining the initiative and placing his pieces so that they can cooperate and target the center.} Nc7 31. Ne2 Rf8 32. Rd2 (32. Kg2 {moves out of the line of fire.}) 32... g5 {an ambitious move, if not completely justified.} (32... Nce8 33. Qd1) (32... Qe6 33. Qc3 e4 34. f4) 33. Qd1 {I was set on the idea of doubling on the d-file, which however is well-defended, missing the better idea of setting up a battery on the a1-h8 diagonal.} (33. Qc3 $14) 33... Qf7 $2 {a cheap threat against c4 that is swiftly punished. My opponent evidently believed that his follow-on move would be devastating, but it doesn't work.} (33... g4 $15 {would generate more pressure, although White could hold with} 34. Ng1) 34. Bxe5 $16 Ne4+ $4 {a game-losing miscalculation by my opponent.} (34... Nce8 $16 ) 35. fxe4 $18 fxe4+ 36. Nf4 $1 {evidently this was missed by Black.} gxf4 37. gxf4 {the extra protected passed pawn and ability to penetrate Black's position mean that White will win.} Ne6 38. Rd7 Qf5 39. Qg4+ Qxg4 40. hxg4 { and my opponent flagged in a losing position, not finding any good alternatives.} (40. hxg4 Rf7 41. Rxf7 Kxf7 42. f5 $18) 1-0

01 March 2014

Annotated Game #116: Back to School

My chess career has, like most people's, seen its ups and downs.  The latest "up" phase in terms of activity was marked by the start of this blog, although my opportunities to play in serious tournaments have still been limited.  With this annotated game, I return to analyzing my over-the-board (OTB) tournament games, which I will do in a series for each tournament.  As I continue playing in the Slow Chess League online, in between series of OTB tournament analysis, I intend to post more recent games worthy of review.

As you might expect after another long break in tournament play, my first round game felt like I was going "back to school" and was marked by some practical issues that I failed to solve.  One of these strategic issues was the fact that I gave my opponent easy play against me, primarily by entering into sequences that resulted in positional features with obvious plans, such as White's 2-to-1 queenside majority.  However, at minimum I did not blunder until the very end (missing a nice deflection tactic by my opponent) and played a reasonably solid game throughout.  This was my first tournament game since starting the blog, so I had hoped for a better result, but had to content myself with more of a learning experience.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2012.01.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] {B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 {a sideline that's rarely seen at the professional level, although it's not a bad move in itself and is likely to transpose to another variation.} d5 3. exd5 {the database games are evenly split between this and Nc3, which transposes into the Two Knights variation.} cxd5 4. d4 (4. Ne5 {is what the top players in the database play, including Morozevich and Navara, who play their second move obviously in order to get away from book lines. Some shock value, certainly. One possible sequence goes} Nc6 5. d4 e6 6. Bb5 Bd7 7. Bxc6 Bxc6 8. O-O Nf6 9. Bg5 Be7 {(from Garcia Jimenez-Topalov, 2008; 0-1 in 36 moves)}) 4... Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 {we are now in Two Knights' variation territory.} 6. Bd3 Bg4 { Black scores well here, close to 60 percent. The symmetrical pawn structure and ability to get the light-square bishop outside the pawn chain before playing ...e6 mean that Black has solved his opening problems.} 7. Be2 { if White had been concerned about the pin, Be2 should have been played the previous move, as this loses a tempo.} e6 8. O-O Be7 {the bishop could also go to d6, it seems more a matter of taste than anything else.} 9. h3 Bxf3 { this exchange on f3 is typical of the Two Knights variation, and I preferred not to lose time retreating the bishop and to eliminate the better of White's two knights. Keeping the bishop on is perfectly fine, however, and may be better if Black is serious about playing for an advantage.} 10. Bxf3 {White now has the bishop pair, of course, but I thought Black's strong central pawn formation limited the light-square bishop's scope.} O-O 11. Re1 Rc8 (11... Bb4 {would take advantage of the pin created on the Re1 and get the bishop into the game, rather than have it doing relatively little on e7.}) 12. Be3 $6 { while this initially looks solid, adding a defender to d4, it's certainly not the best square for the bishop, which can be targeted by a knight on c4.} (12. Ne2 {is Houdini's preference, with the idea of swinging the knight over to more promising ground on the kingside.} Qb6 13. c3 Bd6 {and it's an even game.} ) 12... a6 {the idea was to take away the b5 square from the knight. ...Bb4 is now even more effective and would complicate the knight redeployment.} (12... Bb4 {followed by ...Na5, ...h6 (to limit the Be3's flight squares) and ...Nc4 would be an effective plan.}) 13. Ne2 Re8 {not a bad waiting move, as the rook is bound to be more useful on the e-file.} (13... Qc7 {instead would assist Black in dominating the h2-b8 diagonal, with Bd6 to follow.}) 14. c3 {shores up d4 and takes away b4 from Black's pieces.} b5 {the plan of a minority attack here doesn't necessarily seem best suited for the position, as there are no major targets in front of the pawns. However, it's something to do in order to open up lines on the queenside.} 15. Nf4 b4 16. Qa4 {this is something I had considered my opponent might do, given the undefended a6 pawn.} Qa5 (16... bxc3 17. bxc3 Qa5 18. Qxa5 Nxa5 {is superior to the game continuation, as White's queenside pawn structure is now a weakness rather than a latent threat.}) 17. Qxa5 Nxa5 18. cxb4 Bxb4 {the game is even, but now White has a queenside pawn majority, which gives her easier play.} 19. Rec1 Nc4 20. Nd3 Bd2 $6 {too aggressive and unnecessarily complicated. Essentially any bishop retreat would be fine here.} (20... a5 {is also a possibility.} 21. Nxb4 axb4 22. a4 bxa3 23. bxa3 Nxe3 24. Rxc8 Rxc8 25. fxe3 Ra8 {should lead to a draw.}) (20... Nxe3 $5 {also looks good.}) 21. Bxd2 $14 Nxd2 22. Be2 a5 23. b3 {this takes away the c4 square from Black's knight, but lets up the pressure otherwise.} (23. Ne5 {is the more active option found by Houdini.} Nde4 24. Bb5 Rf8 25. Nc6 Ra8 $14 {and White is clearly better.}) 23... Nde4 $11 24. g4 { a premature pawn thrust. Ne5 was still an option.} Nc3 25. Bf1 Nb5 $6 {I played this, as I couldn't see how White could protect the pawn. Instead, she comes up with a nice counterattacking move.} (25... Nfe4 {is preferred by Houdini and would be the more active response.} 26. Nc5 Nxc5 27. Rxc3 Ne4 28. Rcc1 Rc3 {and Black is equal.}) 26. Rc5 {I had completely missed this possibility, which was a psychological blow. Black objectively is still doing fine, however.} (26. Ne5 $5 Rxc1 27. Rxc1 Nxd4 28. f3 {and now White is threatening to win the Nf6. Houdini rates the position as a slight plus for White.}) 26... Nxd4 27. Rxa5 {at the time I judged that Black should still have sufficient compensation from his piece activity and central control to offset the two connected passed pawns on the queenside for White. Houdini agrees. That said, White has the more obvious and easier play.} Kf8 (27... Rc2 {seems good immediately.}) 28. b4 Rc2 29. Rc5 Rc8 $6 {this gives White too much play.} (29... Rd2 {maintaining the rook on the 7th rank for Black would have kept the balance in his favor.}) 30. Rxc8+ (30. a4 {would get the pawns rolling immediately.}) (30. Rxc2 Rxc2 31. a4 $14 {is also good for White.}) 30... Rxc8 $11 31. a4 Nb3 $6 {this cheap threat gains Black nothing. Instead, it was more important to mobilize the kingside pieces and get them over to stop the pawns.} (31... Ne4 32. a5 Ke7 $11) 32. Ra2 Ne4 33. a5 {White follows the correct plan of advancing the pawns to put pressure on Black.} Ke7 $2 { unfortunately, this is too slow.} (33... Nd4 {I did in fact look at, but then decided in some time pressure that it might not be enough to stop the pawns, also missing White's 37th move while calculating the text move.} 34. Rb2 Nc3 35. Kg2 Ke7 $11) 34. a6 $6 (34. b5 $1 {the pawns together are much stronger.} Nd6 35. b6 {and now Black must sacrifice material to stop the pawns.} Nxa5 36. Rxa5 $16) 34... Kd6 $4 (34... Nd4 $11 {would still save Black.}) 35. b5 $18 Kc7 {still missing White's deflection tactic on move 37.} 36. Rc2+ Kb8 37. a7+ $1 ( 37. a7+ Kxa7 (37... Kb7 38. Rxc8) 38. Rxc8 $18) 1-0