07 April 2014

Annotated Game #120: Breaking the pattern

In the tournament I've been analyzing (Annotated Games 116-119), by the fifth round I had a 2-2 score and White had won every game.  I resolved as Black in this game to break that pattern and successfully did so.  My opponent opened with a transposition to Sokolsky's Opening (featuring an early b4, in this case on the second move) - not an opening to be sneered at, but it shouldn't be feared either.

This was the first time I had faced the opening in a serious game and to meet it I relied on a piece of advice I had read at some point earlier in my career, which was to play a Queen's Indian Defense setup against it.  This is not an attempt to "punish" the opening by challenging it directly; rather, the idea is to give Black a solid setup and achieve an easy equality without creating any obvious weaknesses.  (I took a similar overall approach when playing against 1. b3 more recently - see Annotated Game #106 - although with a different defense.)  The strategy worked, as White left his kingside bare and allowed me to play a (first) classic bishop sacrifice.  In the late middlegame I even was able to use some ideas from the Dutch Stonewall to seal the victory.  (This is an example of how effective it can be to "cross-train" openings, a topic I hope to treat at greater length.)

In terms of my opening preparation, I was pleased that this game justified my decision to briefly examine the opening, determine a strategy against it, then move on and concentrate on more popular setups.  I believe that facing offbeat openings with healthy respect is definitely the way to go, rather than believing you can beat somebody in the opening phase in their pet line, simply by applying some general principles and playing aggressively.  Flank openings without obvious targets to go after, such as in this game, can become passive and ultimately succumb to a more traditional approach of central play, in this case combined with a kingside attack.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "58"] {A00: Irregular Openings} 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. b4 e6 3. a3 Be7 4. Bb2 O-O 5. e3 b6 { going into a Queen's Indian-type setup, which scores 50 percent in the database (from a small number of games).} 6. Bc4 $146 {now out of the database. Lining the bishop up against Black's strong pawn formation does not seem productive. Other moves played here include d4 and c4.} d5 {the obvious retort. } 7. Bb3 {getting out of the way of the c-pawn, which would allow for the c4 break.} Ba6 {with the idea of making White work in order to be able to castle and controlling the c4 square again. It is too easily blocked or chased from its post, however.} (7... Bb7 {probably makes more sense, though; see next note.}) 8. Nc3 (8. d3 {would essentially neutralize the Ba6, preparing both for castling kingside and to push c4 in the future.}) 8... Nbd7 {a solid approach.} (8... c5 $5 {would immediately gain space.} 9. b5 Bb7) 9. b5 { an aggressive, committal move. Although this makes the Ba6 retreat, White is beginning to look a little overextended on the queenside.} Bb7 $15 {while the long diagonal is currently blocked, the bishop will have excellent prospects once the d5 pawn is advanced or exchanged.} 10. d4 {blocking the Bb2's path is counterproductive for White.} Rc8 (10... c5 {is also a good option here.} 11. bxc6 Bxc6 12. O-O b5 {gaining space on the queenside and keeping the rook on the a-file for possible action there.}) 11. O-O c5 12. bxc6 Bxc6 {this is a somewhat awkward placement for the bishop, but I had thought it would be even worse for the rook. Houdini considers the rook option to be better, interestingly.} (12... Rxc6 {I had originally thought fruitless, due to} 13. Ba4 {but Houdini likes simply retreating the rook here.} Rc8 {with the plan of pushing a6 and b5. For example} 14. Rc1 a6 15. Bxd7 Nxd7 16. Ne5 b5 {and Black is looking very strong on the queenside, with no counterplay from White.}) 13. Ne2 {but then my opponent lets my light-squared bishop achieve freedom anyway.} (13. Qe2 Bb7 14. Rac1 a6) 13... Bb5 14. Re1 Ne4 {another drawback to my opponent's 13th move, allowing Black to occupy e4 unchallenged.} 15. Nd2 Ndf6 { this funneling through of the knights to e4 and f6 happens to be a typical idea of the Dutch Stonewall, and is well applied here.} 16. Ng3 (16. f3 { would be the analagous White move in the Stonewall.}) 16... Nxd2 {necessary to prevent the double exchange on e4.} 17. Qxd2 Bd6 {the bishop moves to a diagonal with attacking potential. Note the comparison with its White counterpart, walled off on b2.} 18. Rac1 $6 {ignoring the storm clouds gathering on the kingside.} (18. f3 {is a computer-like defensive move found by Houdini. However, my opponent seemed to dislike thinking about defense and preferred to focus on his queenside plans.} Bc4 $15) 18... Qe7 $17 {another preparatory move, the idea being to connect the rooks and keep the queen on the d8-h4 diagonal for possible use on the kingside.} (18... Bxg3 {is preferred by Houdini.} 19. hxg3 Ne4 20. Qd1 f5 {Black is clearly superior, although there is no knockout yet. The rook lift idea (...Rf6) in this Stonewall-type formation is a strong one, however.}) 19. Ne2 $4 {leaving the kingside wide open.} Ne4 $19 20. Qd1 Bxh2+ $1 {the first time that I've played this type of bishop sacrifice and following a long calculation.} 21. Kxh2 Qh4+ (21... Nxf2 {I did not consider at this stage, only the on the next move.} 22. Qd2 Qh4+ 23. Kg1 Ng4 24. c4 Qh2+ 25. Kf1 dxc4 {and White starts to lose material or be mated, for example} 26. Ba2 c3 27. Qd1 Qh1#) 22. Kg1 Qxf2+ ({ I also looked hard at} 22... Nxf2 {; Houdini considers them equal.}) 23. Kh2 f5 {this is also the first rook lift that I've planned and executed. A good idea, but not the best one in the position.} (23... Qh4+ {I also examined, but could not see a concrete way to advantage.} 24. Kg1 Nf2 $19 25. g3 Qf6 {I wasn't able to see anything concrete for Black past this point. Houdini however demonstrates that White can't avoid losing major material or being mated.} 26. Qd2 Ne4 27. Rf1 (27. Qd1 Qf2+ 28. Kh1 Bxe2 {with the mate threat of Nxg3 being decisive.}) 27... Qxf1+ 28. Rxf1 Nxd2 $19) 24. Nf4 {the best defensive move. White's queen can now come to f3 or h5.} g5 {the best attacking idea, also borrowed from the Dutch Stonewall, which the game now closely resembles (except for White's bishops doing nothing on the queenside).} (24... Rf6 { I had considered, but thought that White had sufficient resources to counter Black's threats.} 25. Qf3 Rh6+ 26. Nh3 Qxf3 27. gxf3 Ng5 28. Kg2 Nxh3 29. Rh1 Ng5 30. Rxh6 gxh6 {and Black looks to have a won endgame, although it would not be the easiest to convert.}) 25. Nxe6 $4 {Taking the wrong pawn. I had calculated that this wouldn't work, but I nevertheless thought that my aggressive opponent might go for it.} (25. Nxd5 Qh4+ 26. Kg1 g4 {taking away the f3 square from the White queen and renewing the attack, whle the Nd5 still hangs.} (26... exd5 $2 27. Bxd5+ Kg7 28. Bxe4 Qxe4 $11) 27. Ne7+ Kf7 28. Nxf5 ( 28. Nxc8 Qf2+ 29. Kh1 Ng3+ 30. Kh2 Ne2 31. Qxe2 (31. Rxe2 $4 Qh4+ 32. Kg1 g3) 31... Bxe2 32. Rxe2 Qxe2 $19) 28... Qf2+ 29. Kh1 Qxf5 $19) (25. Qf3) 25... Qh4+ 26. Kg1 Rf6 {Black is now unstoppable on the h-file.} 27. Bxd5 {my opponent apparently saw the nice tactics now available for White, but Black's come first.} Qf2+ 28. Kh2 Rh6+ 29. Qh5 Rxh5# {my opponent clearly saw the mate after the 27th move, but was apparently one of those players who doesn't resign, regardless of the position.} 0-1

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