29 April 2014

Commentary: Women's Grand Prix Khanty-Mansiysk 2014 - Round 1

Round 1 of the recent FIDE Women's Grand Prix tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk had two instructive games in the English Opening that caught my eye:

1)  Zhao Xue - Kateryna Lagno shows that all is not as it seems when evaluating positions visually.  The board picture at the end of move 9 looks favorable to White at first glance, but although she has more pieces developed and centralized, they are in fact not cooperating and vulnerable to disruption.  By the end of move 12 Black clearly has momentum and with 13...Bg4 it looks like she could have kept up the initiative.  Instead, after a non-threatening knight development, White is able to break the trend with 14. Ng5 and then capitalize on Black's inaccurate response.  This game is an excellent illustration of how quickly chances can shift in a game after seemingly innocuous move choices.

[Event "4th WGP 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"] [Date "2014.04.09"] [Round "1.3"] [White "Zhao, Xue"] [Black "Lagno, Kateryna"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D94"] [WhiteElo "2552"] [BlackElo "2543"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2014.04.09"] 1. Nf3 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 {surprisingly, Black scores over 56 percent from this very unassuming position.} 4. e3 {opting for central play, rather than fianchettoing the bishop.} Nf6 5. d4 O-O 6. Be2 cxd4 7. Nxd4 d5 {Black's score is now over 61 percent in the database, with this Grunfeld-type setup.} 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bxc4 a6 {White's score from here is now abysmal, with close to 75 percent for Black. A case of the visual impression of the board not conforming to its reality. White's pieces look more developed, but Black will remedy that shortly and has much more harmonious development. Meanwhile, White in reality is not very coordinated and the dark-square bishop is a problem.} 10. a4 Qc7 11. Ba2 $146 (11. Qb3 {scores best here, although still at a poor 36 percent.}) (11. Qe2 $5) 11... Rd8 12. Bd2 {White is looking quite awkward.} e5 13. Nf3 Nc6 (13... Bg4 $15 {looks like the logical follow-up. Among other things it threatens Bxf3, after which White would have to capture with the g-pawn, due to the otherwise hanging Bd2. Black in this variation develops a piece strongly and has the initiative.}) 14. Ng5 $11 {while the threat is easily parried, it does cause Black to reverse her development and disrupts her initiative.} Rf8 15. Rc1 {White looks OK now, with the position being equal. Her pieces are now more active and doing useful things, other than getting in each others' way.} e4 $6 (15... h6 {chasing the knight and freeing up the Rf8 looks like a good plan here.}) 16. Ngxe4 Nxe4 17. Nxe4 Bxb2 {Lagno must have mis-evaluated this position when playing her 15th move, not seeing White's follow-up threats.} 18. Qc2 {a subtle but strong move.} Bg7 19. Bb4 $1 { White's active bishops now dominate and slice Black's position up, thanks to the pin on the Nc6.} Rd8 {now the pendulum has swung back in White's favor, with Black's pieces under pressure and uncoordinated.} 20. Ng5 {now Black really could use that pawn on h6.} Bf5 {Black appears desperate for counterplay.} 21. e4 Qf4 22. Nxf7 Rd4 23. Bd6 {White has multiple ways to win.} (23. exf5 Nxb4 24. Ng5+ Kh8 25. Qc8+ Rxc8 26. Rxc8+ Bf8 27. Rxf8+ Kg7 28. Ne6+ Kh6 29. Nxf4 Rxf4 $18) 23... Bxe4 (23... Qxe4 24. Ng5+) (23... Rxd6 24. Nxd6+ Kh8 25. Nf7+ Kg8 26. exf5) 24. Qb3 Qf6 (24... Bd5 25. Qxd5 Rxd5 26. Bxf4 Rd4 27. Rc4 Rf8 28. Ng5 Kh8 29. Be3 $18) 25. Qxb7 Re8 26. Ng5+ Kh8 27. Nxe4 Rdxe4 28. Qxc6 {White converts her advantage into material gain. Black has no counterplay and White's bishops continue to dominate, landing the final blow on move 30.} h5 29. a5 Qg5 30. Bf7 1-0

2)  Hou Yifan - Tatiana Kosintseva starts off with a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) setup, which I think is a good choice against the English.  However, similar to the first game, there is a certain amount of drift in the opening - this time on Black's part - and White seizes the opportunity on move 12 to take the initiative with a knight maneuver.  Hou's decision to exchange the fianchettoed bishop on the long diagonal is instructive and perhaps was not expected by Black.  However, in return for giving up the valuable bishop, the knight becomes even stronger and Black's d5 pawn becomes a target.  Other instructive points include the "indirect exchanges" of pieces that occur twice and Hou's rook endgame play, which repeatedly sees her exchange off material for positional advantage and more material.  This sort of play is very characteristic of master games and the ideas involved might not even occur to Class players, so the example is well worth reviewing.

[Event "4th WGP 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"] [Date "2014.04.09"] [Round "1.6"] [White "Hou, Yifan"] [Black "Kosintseva, Tatiana"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2618"] [BlackElo "2496"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2014.04.09"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 {the QGD setup against the English can result in a number of different kinds of games. Here White is already committed to a kingside fianchetto, rather than central play.} 4. Bg2 dxc4 {this scores the best of Black's possibilities here, with around 52 percent for White. Completing the QGD setup with ...Be7 is the most popular choice, however.} 5. Qa4+ {safely recovering the pawn} Nbd7 6. Qxc4 a6 7. Qb3 {an anticipatory retreat. White from here scores close to 60 percent. This is a little more aggressive than the other major option, Qc2.} c5 {a more classical-type move.} (7... Rb8 {is the better-scoring, more modern alternative. Black gets the rook off the long diagonal and overprotects b7.}) 8. d3 (8. a4 {immediately would be aimed at restraining ...b5. White plays this a few moves later, however, as Black prefers to focus on development rather than taking the opportunity to push the b-pawn in the interim.}) 8... Be7 {the bishop often is developed instead to d6 in this line.} 9. Nc3 O-O 10. a4 Nb6 $146 {White has won the handful of previous games with this position in the database, so perhaps Black trying something new is warranted.} (10... Qc7 $5 {would pursue more standard development and makes sense to support the c-pawn, as well as putting another piece in place to influence the e5 square.}) 11. O-O Nbd5 12. Ne5 $14 {White sensibly occupies the now-undefended central square, heading for a more active location for the knight on c4. This is the point of inflection for the game, as White takes over the initiative and starts creating threats.} Qc7 13. Nc4 Bd7 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. Bxd5 {an instructive decision to give up the nice-looking bishop on the long diagonal in order to take advantage of the knight's ability to occupy b6 and target the weak d5 pawn.} exd5 16. Nb6 Rae8 ( 16... d4 {this positional exchange sacrifice is recommended by Houdini (!) - not exactly a traditional materialistic engine choice.} 17. Nxa8 Rxa8 18. Bf4 Qc6 {the point is that White has now given up her bishop on the long diagonal for nothing - the Nb6 having disappeared - and Black can try to exploit that weakness. Black also now has a slight initiative.} 19. Rfe1 Bh3 20. f3 Be6 21. Qc2 Rc8 $14) 17. Bf4 Qc6 18. Qxd5 {an indirect exchange of the Nb6 for the Bd7 - a wise choice. The knight has done its job, enabling the capture on d5, and the light-square bishop would become dangerous in this open position without a White counterpart.} Qxb6 (18... Qxd5 19. Nxd5 {would leave White with a strong knight on d5 that could easily be swapped for one of Black's two bishops, negating that potential advantage.}) 19. Qxd7 Bf6 (19... Qxb2 $2 20. Rab1 Qa2 21. Qxb7 Qxa4 22. Ra1 Qb4 23. Qxa6 $16) 20. Bd6 {another excellent choice, keeping the pressure on Black and looking to make another indirect exchange, this time of the queens.} Rd8 {forced, or Black loses the exchange.} 21. Bc7 { also forced.} Rxd7 22. Bxb6 Re8 23. Rfe1 Bxb2 {Black regains the pawn at the end of the sequence, but White still has an edge, as Black's queenside pawns are more vulnerable than White's kingside grouping.} 24. Rab1 (24. Ra2 { an alternative choice that places a rook on the second rank, with the benefit of guarding e2 and remaining fully mobile.} Bd4 25. Rb1 c4 (25... Rc8 26. Rc2 Rc6 27. e3 Bf6 28. Rxc5 Rxd3 29. Rxc6 bxc6 30. Bd4 Kf8 31. Bxf6 gxf6 32. Rb8+ Kg7 33. Ra8 $16) 26. dxc4 Bxb6 27. Rxb6 $14) 24... Ba3 25. Rb3 (25. Kf1 { would free up the Re1 from guard duty.}) 25... Bb4 26. Rc1 h6 (26... a5 { immediately would secure equality, as Black could win back her c5 pawn immediately if White took it.} 27. Bxc5 Rc7 28. Be3 Rxc1+ 29. Bxc1 Rxe2 $11) 27. e4 a5 {now, however, the e-pawn is protected and the c5 pawn can be taken.} 28. Bxc5 Rc8 29. Be3 Rdc7 30. Rxc7 Rxc7 31. d4 $14 {the engine assesses that Black has some compensation for the pawn - White still needs to activate her rook properly and Black's is definitely better - but not enough to offset the material advantage.} Rc2 32. d5 {while there is a good deal of play left, the central pawn steamroller already looks like it spells doom for Black.} Kf8 33. Rb1 {while Rd3 was also possible to activate the rook, this move will allow White to challenge on the c-file.} Ra2 34. Rc1 Rxa4 {Black has again temporarily regained her material equality, but now White has all the rook activity and can combine that well with her central steamroller.} (34... Bd6 { would put up stronger resistance.}) 35. e5 $18 Ra3 (35... b5 {moving to preserve the b-pawn does not help, as White can use the extra tempo to advance the pawn and activate her king decisively.} 36. d6 Ke8 37. Kg2 Ra3 38. Rc7 Rd3 39. Kf3 $18) 36. Rc8+ Ke7 37. Rc7+ {the rook now dominates both the only open file and the 7th rank. Nimzovich would be proud.} Ke8 38. Rxb7 Rd3 39. Rb8+ { perhaps played to make the time control, with d6 being too complicated to calculate immediately.} (39. d6) 39... Kd7 40. Rb7+ Ke8 (40... Kc8 { challenging the rook appears to give Black more chances.}) 41. d6 f6 {the only way to break up White's central duo.} 42. Rxg7 fxe5 43. Re7+ Kf8 44. Bxh6+ Kg8 45. Rg7+ Kh8 46. Ra7 Rxd6 47. Bg7+ {nicely recovering the second pawn. Black at this point is just playing on hope.} Kg8 48. Bxe5 Rd5 49. Bc7 Bc3 50. Kg2 Be1 51. h4 Rd2 52. Bb6 Ra2 53. h5 Bd2 54. g4 a4 55. Bd4 a3 56. g5 {the position is now completely hopeless. The three connected passed pawns on the kingside could beat Black's rook if necessary. (...Bxg5 does not work because of Rg7+)} 1-0

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