12 May 2014

Commentary: 2014 U.S. Championship - Round 2

This game from round 2 of the ongoing U.S. Championship (Women's section) is one of the more interesting Hedgehog-type games I've seen.  The opening normally requires a good deal of maneuvering from both sides, with White enjoying a small space advantage early on, but Black being very solid and hard to make progress against.  While the English is a common way to reach this formation, it's also possible via the Sicilian, for example.

Black, the now-famous teenage player Ashritha Eswaran, I think erred in selecting to transpose into this opening against GM Irina Krush.  These types of positional battles are bound to favor the more experienced and prepared side, which in this case must be White.  Eswaran in fact goes astray with an innocuous looking move (15...a6) - something that is easy to do in the Hedgehog - that leads to a loss of a pawn, thanks to an overloaded queen and White's chance to reposition her pieces with tempo.  Krush then relentlessly applies pressure until her opponent cracks.  A valuable game to study, from both sides.

[Event "ch-USA w 2014"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2014.05.09"] [Round "2.1"] [White "Krush, Irina"] [Black "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2489"] [BlackElo "1979"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2014.05.08"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 {Black decides to head for a Hedgehog formation.} 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O Be7 {the standard Hedgehog position in the English.} 7. Re1 {this postpones d4 in order to support an e4 push.} O-O 8. e4 d6 {the key part of the Hedgehog pawn structure. Black's pawns along the 6th rank act as a barrier against any White initiatives. The d-pawn needs to be guarded well, however, as the d-file will be opened by White.} 9. d4 cxd4 { otherwise White gains a true space advantage after the d5 advance.} 10. Nxd4 Nfd7 11. Be3 Ne5 {while centralized, the knight is going to be vulnerable to the f4 push, which later turns out to be decisive.} 12. b3 Nbc6 13. h3 $146 { a prophylactic move against the harrassing ...Ng4} (13. f4 {was played immediately in the following game:} Nxd4 14. Bxd4 Nc6 15. Bf2 Rc8 16. Rc1 Qc7 17. Qd2 Qb8 18. g4 Rfd8 19. g5 Bf8 20. f5 Ne5 21. Qe2 g6 22. f6 h6 23. gxh6 Nd7 24. Rf1 Re8 25. Bg3 Rc5 26. Rcd1 Rh5 27. Nb5 Ne5 28. Bf4 a6 29. Nd4 Qd8 30. Nf3 Qc7 31. Nxe5 dxe5 32. Be3 Bxh6 33. Bxh6 Rxh6 34. Qe3 Rh8 35. Rf3 Rd8 36. Rxd8+ Qxd8 37. Qd3 Qd4+ 38. Qxd4 exd4 39. b4 Rh4 40. Ra3 e5 41. c5 bxc5 42. bxc5 Rf4 43. Rf3 Rg4 44. Rg3 Rf4 45. Rf3 Rg4 46. Rg3 Rf4 47. Rf3 {1/2-1/2 (47) Knott,S (2387)-Sarakauskiene,Z (2158) Liverpool 2006}) 13... Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Bf6 { the threat here seems a bit cheap, while withdrawing support from d6.} 15. Qd2 a6 $2 {The Qd8 is now forced to cover both d6 and b6, something which White can take advantage of. Remarkably, Black is essentially busted out of the opening at this point.} (15... Be7 {would be rather humbling, but would limit White's advantage.}) 16. Rad1 Be7 17. f4 {kicking the knight with tempo and allowing the queen into the f2 square.} Nc6 18. Qf2 {Black now has no good options regarding the fatally weak b-pawn.} Qb8 {this further reinforces the e5 square, but otherwise buries the queen.} (18... b5 19. cxb5 axb5 20. Nxb5 Nb4 21. a4 d5 22. exd5 Bxd5 $16) 19. Bxb6 Bd8 20. Re2 {White now has the obvious follow-up plan of doubling rooks on the d-file.} Ne7 21. Red2 Bxb6 22. Qxb6 Nc8 23. Qe3 $18 {White is a clear pawn to the good and holds all the positional trumps, including well-developed pieces and a space advantage. Houdini evalutes the position as more than 2 pawns in White's favor.} Bc6 24. Ne2 Ra7 25. Nd4 Ba8 26. Nf3 (26. f5) 26... f6 27. Nd4 {it's unclear whether White was simply repeating moves here in order to help with the time control, or had some other purpose. In any case, the follow-up break of f5 is the key and could have been played earlier.} Re7 28. f5 e5 {attempting to play in a more closed fashion, but giving away the e6 square to make an outstanding outpost for the knight.} (28... exf5 29. Nxf5 Re5 30. Nxd6 Nxd6 31. Rxd6 { also looks good for White, however.}) 29. Ne6 Rfe8 30. c5 {White keeps up the pressure.} Qa7 31. b4 Bc6 {attempting to blockade the pawns' progress.} 32. Kh2 {White chooses safety first, getting the king off the a7-g1 diagonal before moving forward with her breakthrough.} dxc5 33. bxc5 Bd7 34. Bf1 {White needs to get this bishop into the game and can ignore the buildup against e6 for tactical reasons.} Bxe6 35. fxe6 {and the pawn is tactically defended, due to the skewer on the a2-g8 diagonal.} Rc7 $2 {this loses quickly, due to allowing the penetration on the 8th rank to have greater effect, but Black had no counterplay in any case.} (35... Qb7) 36. Rd8 Kf8 (36... Rxd8 37. Rxd8#) 37. Rxe8+ Kxe8 38. Qd2 {mate is now inevitable.} Ke7 39. Qd8+ 1-0

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