19 April 2014

Annotated Game #122: Best Game Ever

This final-round tournament game was the best result ever in my chess career, as it featured the defeat of a 2100+ player.  It also pulled together in one game many of the core elements of my training and improvement program:
  • My play was blunder-free, which was the result of consistently following the simplified thought process.
  • Despite the over 400-point ratings gap, I rejected ratings fear and loathing and simply played to the best of my ability.  My opponent, on the other hand, appeared to be playing my rating and not the board, as he passed up multiple drawing lines from inferior positions.
  • Similarly, I was able to have the mental toughness necessary not to offer a draw in a better position simply because of the ratings differential, which was a strong temptation at various points.
  • I was able to spot key tactics on different occasions by keeping in mind the importance of CCT (checks, captures, threats) regardless of whether they appeared possible at first glance.
The game was an interesting one right from the start, as my opponent went into the aggressive Bellon Gambit against the English.  I had seen a mention of it previously, but the extent of my knowledge was limited to the fact that declining it with 5. d3 was the best option.  (This is one of those rare cases where declining a gambit is the only path to an advantage, rather than accepting it.)  For those interested in the theory - which I did not follow during the game - there are a series of excellent articles on ChessCafe.com that I found afterwards.

It struck me as obvious from the start that my opponent was rather contemptuous of my rating, although he was polite enough personally.  The choice of such an aggressive and not fully sound gambit line is consistent with that assessment, as he was clearly seeking to create an imbalanced game and exploit anything I did to stumble along the way.  He did not seem to expect me to decline the gambit, as he had to do some thinking after that occurred.  Nevertheless, he got most of what he wanted out of the opening, which is designed to give Black an advantage in the center by allowing him to occupy d5 with a pawn.

Despite some uncomfortable moments, I managed to equalize and by move 18 had a clear strategic target in my opponent's hanging pawns structure.  Some relatively weak play by my opponent, apparently again motivated by a desire to avoid drawing lines, allowed me to establish a bind in the center and eventually find a tactical shot that won the key c-pawn.  Subsequent play gave me the initiative and a positional advantage, but nothing decisive until I found another, more devastating tactical follow-up.  After that it still was not easy, as my opponent fought hard and sacrificed additional material to threaten a mate in one - which he never was able to execute, as my calculated attack came first.

While my play was hardly perfect, having missed some opportunities along the way, it was sufficient to the task.  I was especially heartened by my ability to find the necessary tactical opportunities and correctly calculate them, along with my ability to cope with the pressure of an intense 50+ move game.  I would not have been able to play this game without the benefits of the training program and the insights offered by my studies, since beginning this blog.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Expert"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A22"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "115"] {A22: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3 Nf6} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 e4 4. Ng5 b5 {the Bellon Gambit. Other moves do not sufficiently justify Black's audacious previous move.} 5. d3 {declining the gambit nets White a 68 percent score in the database.} (5. cxb5 {is the gambit accepted, in which Black gets a strong center as compensation for the pawn.} d5 6. d3 h6 7. Nh3 $11) 5... exd3 (5... bxc4 6. dxe4 {and White is doing well, with the Nxf7 sacrifice a main theme if Black tries to kick the knight with ...h6.}) 6. Qxd3 {Since my theoretical knowledge had run out on move 5, I decided to proceed with the safe-looking queen recapture.} (6. cxb5 {is the professionals' answer. It looks a bit strange to take the pawn now rather than earlier, but in this variation Black cannot establish a strong central presence. For example} h6 7. Nf3 dxe2 8. Bxe2 Bc5 9. O-O $14) 6... bxc4 7. Qxc4 d5 {Black is now able to establish himself in the center.} 8. Qb3 {I thought for a while before playing this. There did not seem to be an obviously optimal square for the queen, so I decided to stay on the a2-g8 diagonal.} (8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Qb3 {is an improved version of the idea. The Bd7 is actually a drawback for Black, since it blocks the queen on the d-file and no longer protects b7.} h6 10. Nf3 Be6 11. Nd4 Bc5 12. e3 $11) 8... h6 9. Nf3 Be7 $146 {my opponent likely did not even consider the more active posting for the bishop on d6, which is possible tactically and occurred in the following game:} (9... Bd6 10. g3 (10. Nxd5 $2 Nxd5 11. Qxd5 Bb4+) 10... O-O 11. Bg2 Na6 12. O-O Rb8 13. Qa4 Rb4 14. Qd1 c6 15. a3 Rb7 16. b4 Re8 17. Qd3 Nb8 18. b5 Ne4 19. bxc6 Rb3 20. Bd2 Nxc3 21. Bxc3 Nxc6 22. Nd2 Ne5 23. Qd4 Rb5 24. a4 {Svarc,R (2166)-Pribyl,J (2035) Czechia 2006 1-0 (51)}) 10. Bf4 O-O 11. e3 {White is still a little uncomfortable with the king in the center, but is close to solving his opening problems.} Na6 {heading for the c5 outpost.} 12. Be2 (12. Qa4 {would be a creative way of combating Black's plan.} Nc5 $6 (12... Ne4) 13. Qc6) 12... Nc5 13. Qc2 Ne6 {my opponent thought that this was a poor move, driving the bishop to a good square. Houdini considers it the best square for the knight, however and it gains a tempo by hitting the Bf4.} 14. Be5 c6 {he also considered c5 best here.} (14... c5 {however is evaluated as weakening Black's position by the engine.} 15. O-O Bb7 16. Rad1 { and White has good prospects of targeting the hanging c/d pawns.}) 15. O-O Bd6 {he believed (as did I) that the subsequent bishop trade was bad for Black, as it highlights his dark-square weakness. On the other hand, it removes a strong central piece for White, thereby increasing Black's own control there.} 16. Rac1 Ng4 {this seems unnecessary.} (16... Bxe5 {would seem to be the logical follow-up for Black.} 17. Nxe5 Qd6 18. Nf3 $11) 17. Bg3 {my opponent seemed surprised by the retreat. This is not a bad move, as after the exchange it gives White's king access to h2 and further controls f4 and h4.} (17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. h3 {would be very similar, with a slightly less compromised pawn structure in front of the king.}) 17... Bxg3 18. hxg3 {by this point White has emerged from the opening in good shape and with some clear strategic objectives, namely targeting the hanging c/d pawns. Black by contrast has no obvious weaknesses to attack and his pieces are not well coordinated.} Qd6 $6 {this does nothing to help solve Black's problems. He is slightly underdeveloped and needs to get his bishop and rooks into the game. The queen visually looks well-posted on d6, but in fact it is not doing much there and it would have been better to reserve judgment on its development.} (18... Bd7 {looks best, reinforcing the weak c-pawn and connecting Black's pieces on the back rank.}) ( 18... Rb8) 19. Na4 {necessary to freeze the c-pawn in place.} Bd7 20. Nc5 $14 { physically blockading the hanging pawn on the c-file, which Black cannot break with exchanges. The knight likes it on c5, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Rfc8 21. Rfd1 Rab8 22. b3 {Black has no threats and White has maneuvered his forces to neutralize the hanging pawns.} Be8 $6 {Black prevents an exchange on d7, but this loses a valuable tempo and severely reduces the piece's scope.} (22... Nf6) 23. Nd4 Nf6 {this misses a tactical opportunity for White, although I overlook it as well.} (23... Nxd4 24. Rxd4 Nf6) 24. Nf5 { a good move, and what I had focused on with the Nd4 idea, but there was a better one that allowed the win of the c-pawn.} (24. Ncxe6 fxe6 25. Ba6 Rd8 ( 25... Rc7 26. Nb5) 26. Nxc6 Bxc6 27. Qxc6 Rb6 28. Qxd6 Rdxd6 29. Rc8+ Kf7 30. Bd3 $16) 24... Qf8 25. Ba6 Rc7 26. Be2 Rb6 {here I would have taken a draw by repetition, not seeing a concrete way of converting my positional bind. Given Black's problems, he should have allowed it to occur and acknowledged as much afterwards. White doesn't seem like he can make any more progress, but Black has nothing and is in a worse position.} (26... Rcc8 27. Ba6 {etc.}) 27. Nd4 { having chased the queen from her central post, the knight returns to its, pressuring e6 and c6.} Ng5 (27... Bd7 28. Ndxe6 Bxe6 {would free the bishop from its e8 prison.}) 28. a3 Nge4 29. b4 {gaining space and solidifying control of c5.} g6 {this prevents the knight from returning to f5, but also weakens the kingside pawn structure. This eventually becomes a fatal flaw.} 30. Na4 {here I was again unsure how to make meaningful progress, so looked at a possible repetition of moves.} (30. Nxe4 Nxe4 31. Bf3 Re7 (31... Nf6 32. Nb3) 32. Bxe4 Rxe4 33. Rd3 $16 {would have been a rather simple and effective line of play, simply looking to line up against the c-pawn after Rc3.}) 30... Rb8 $14 31. Nc5 Re7 $2 {another chance at repetition spurned; Black apparently missed the next tactic, being too focused on trying to create his own threats.} (31... Nxc5 $5 {would prompt a series of exchanges.}) 32. Nxc6 $1 $16 {with the rook on e7, White now has the fork and Black must capture the knight with the bishop, which however will be undefended.} Bxc6 33. Nxe4 Nxe4 (33... dxe4 34. Qxc6 Kg7 35. Qc5 $16) 34. Qxc6 a5 {an interesting way to make threats and attempt to win back the pawn, but White has an extra tempo with his own threats.} (34... Qg7 35. Rd4 Qe5 36. Qxd5 Nxg3 37. Bf3 $18) 35. Rxd5 {a good move, but not the best.} (35. bxa5 {would have given White a clear advantage} Rb2 36. Re1 $18 {and White can easily hold the kingside while Black must contend with the advanced passed a-pawn.}) 35... axb4 $14 36. axb4 Rxb4 37. Rcd1 (37. Bc4 {may have been a more useful move, activating the bishop and creating some latent tactical possibilities along the a2-g8 diagonal and against the Ne4.}) 37... Rb8 {Black correctly withdraws the hanging rook to a safer square. At this point, White is a pawn up, has the initiative and will have a favorable BvN situation in the endgame, but it's unclear if this will be enough to win; likely not.} 38. R5d4 Re6 $6 {this simply drives the queen to a better square. Less obviously, it also creates tactical targets for White. } (38... Rc8 39. Qxc8 Qxc8 40. Rd8+ Re8 41. Rxc8 Rxc8 42. Bf3 {and the endgame is on.}) 39. Qc2 $16 Nf6 $2 {dealing with the obvious threat to the knight, but missing the deeper tactical threats.} (39... Rc8 {Black has to make counter-threats rather than withdrawing the knight.} 40. Rc4 Rce8 $16) 40. Bc4 $1 $18 {the bishop dominates the diagonal, slicing through both the rook and the pawn.} Rc8 41. Qd3 Rxc4 {there is no better alternative, as otherwise Black has the Re6 taken or is faced with Qxg6 due to the pin on f7.} 42. Qxc4 Kg7 43. Rd8 {White is now the exchange and a pawn up, with a dominant position, but Black is not going to go quietly and I still have a lot of work to do, there not being an obvious path to victory. This phase of the game was just as intense, if not more so, than the previous ones.} Qe7 44. Qc3 {I felt pinning the knight was a good start.} Re5 45. Qc8 {not the optimal place for the queen, as White will not be able to make anything out of the domination of the 8th rank.} (45. Qb2 Rc5 46. R8d5 {taking advantage of the pinned Nf6} Rc6 47. Rd7 $18) 45... h5 46. R1d6 (46. Qc3 {seems even better}) 46... Rxe3 {this quickly loses, although it temporarily looks scary for White. Once I had correctly calculated the variations, I knew I had won.} (46... Rb5 {was afterwards suggested by my opponent and is also Houdini's preference.} 47. Qa6 Rb1+ 48. Rd1 $18 (48. Kh2 $4 Ng4+ 49. Kh3 Rh1#)) 47. fxe3 Qxe3+ 48. Kf1 $18 {the winning move, otherwise Black gets a perpetual.} (48. Kh2 Ng4+ 49. Kh3 Nf2+ 50. Kh2 Ng4+) 48... Ne4 {a scary position, but now White's attack comes and cannot be stopped.} 49. Rg8+ Kh6 50. Rh8+ (50. Qf8+ {I also looked at, but could not see the mate the engine finds, which is rather wild.} Kg5 51. Rd5+ Kg4 52. Qc8+ f5 53. Qxf5+ Kxg3 54. Qh3+ Kf4 55. Qh4#) 50... Kg5 51. Rd5+ f5 (51... Kf6 52. Qd8+ Kg7 53. Qf8+ Kf6 54. Rd6+ Nxd6 55. Qxd6+ {and White is a rook up with Black no longer having any possible counterplay.}) 52. Rxf5+ $1 {I was now able to calculate that I had a mate, even if not the quickest one possible.} gxf5 53. Rg8+ Kf6 54. Qd8+ Ke6 55. Re8+ Kf7 56. Qe7+ Kg6 57. Qe6+ (57. Rg8+ Kh6 58. Qg7#) 57... Kh7 (57... Nf6 {is not the saving move} 58. Rg8+ Kh7 59. Qf7+ Kh6 60. Qg6#) 58. Qg8+ (58. Qg8+ Kh6 59. Re6+ Nf6 60. Rxf6#) 1-0

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