19 July 2014

Commentary: Plovdiv (European Women's Individual Championship) - Round 7

There have been a number of high-level international events recently, including the ongoing Dortmund tournament from which I'll select a commentary game for the next post. The following game is from round 7 of the European Women's Individual Championship held in Plovdiv.  GM Valentina Gunina dominated the event with the strength of her play and did not flag in the final rounds, as so often happens with tournament leaders.  In the below game she finds a way to win in the "Slow Slav" variation as Black, which is a crucial test of the opening at the top levels; encounters such as these are therefore well worth studying.

[Event "15th ch-EUR w 2014"] [Site "Plovdiv BUL"] [Date "2014.07.12"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Zhukova, Natalia"] [Black "Gunina, Valentina"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2451"] [BlackElo "2501"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2014.07.06"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Bg6 7. Nxg6 hxg6 { this line shows most clearly the fundamental imbalance of the opening, with Black giving up the two bishops but maintaining a solid structure.} 8. Bd3 Nbd7 9. O-O Be7 (9... Bd6 {is much more common, for example in this recent game:} 10. h3 a6 11. c5 Bc7 12. f4 Nh5 13. Qf3 f5 14. g4 Nhf6 15. g5 Ne4 16. Bxe4 dxe4 17. Qg2 e5 18. Rd1 Qe7 19. b4 exf4 20. exf4 a5 21. d5 axb4 22. d6 Qe6 23. dxc7 bxc3 24. Be3 Rc8 25. Rd6 Qf7 26. Rc1 Nf8 27. Rxc3 Ne6 28. Qb2 Rxc7 29. Ra3 O-O 30. Ra7 Re7 31. Qb3 Rd8 32. Qd1 Red7 33. Qb3 Rxd6 34. cxd6 Rd7 35. Ra8+ Nf8 36. Qa3 Qd5 37. Kg2 Kf7 38. Rb8 Ne6 39. Qa8 Qxd6 40. Rxb7 Rxb7 41. Qxb7+ Kg8 42. Qb3 Kh7 43. Kg3 Nxg5 44. a4 Nf3 45. a5 c5 46. Qa2 Qd3 47. Kf2 Nd4 48. Qd2 Qa3 49. a6 Qxa6 50. Bxd4 cxd4 51. Qxd4 Qd3 {0-1 (51) Lou Yiping (2492)-Ma Qun (2613) Jiangmen CHN 2014}) 10. h3 {a novelty in this position. In the above variation it is a necessary defensive measure. Here developing a piece with Bd2 is normally played.} O-O 11. Qc2 {now out of the database. While Black remains solid, there is no easy way to make progress. The standard lever ...c5 is the most obvious method, but its timing and combination with other measures makes the situation more complicated, given the different possibilities for transforming the pawn structure. The engine favors playing it earlier rather than later.} Rc8 (11... c5 12. cxd5 Nxd5 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. dxc5 Nxc5 $11 { Houdini considers this equal, but a human player might not like the isolated d-pawn. However, the classic isolani positional compensation is present in terms of greater activity for Black's pieces and the space advantage of the d5 pawn versus the e3 pawn.}) (11... dxc4 12. Bxc4 c5 13. dxc5 Nxc5 $11 {would be a more conservative way to implement the ...c5 lever, without the isolated pawn as a result.}) 12. Rd1 Qc7 13. Bd2 {there is a reason this variation is called the Slow Slav. Both sides need time to simply develop all their pieces and set up useful moves.} a6 14. Rac1 dxc4 15. Bxc4 c5 16. dxc5 Nxc5 {Black by this point has comfortable equality, with the two bishops looking to be a factor only in the endgame rather than the middlegame.} 17. a3 {proactively defending the b4 square from the Be7 (or a push of the Black b-pawn) and preparing her own eventual pawn advance.} b5 18. Be2 Qb8 (18... Qb6 {may be a slightly more active and flexible version of the idea.} 19. Be1 Rc7 {with the idea of doubling rooks on the c-file.}) 19. Be1 Bd6 {Black's idea evidently is to reposition the bishop, although this seems slow and perhaps not terribly effective.} 20. b4 Nce4 {White by this point is in a similar strategic position, not having any obvious ways to make progress.} 21. Bf3 Rc4 (21... Bh2+ 22. Kh1 Ng5 23. Be2 Nge4 {looks good for Black, although this line would require a lot of calculation. For example} 24. Qb3 (24. g3 $2 {the attempt to trap the bishop would open up a number of tactical threats for Black.} Bxg3 25. fxg3 Nxc3 26. Bxc3 Qxg3 27. Qd3 (27. Bf1 $2 Rxc3 28. Qxc3 Ne4 $19)) 24... Rxc3 25. Rxc3 Nxc3 26. Bxc3 Nd5 $11) 22. Qb1 {unpinning the queen} Nxc3 23. Bxc3 Rfc8 24. Bb2 (24. Qa1 {would be a more active continuation, forming a battery on the long diagonal.}) 24... Bh2+ 25. Kh1 Be5 {now Black has repositioned her bishop for free.} 26. Kg1 Bc3 (26... Bxb2 27. Qxb2 Rxc1 28. Rxc1 $11 {looks like a simpler route for Black to a draw and is perhaps objectively better. However, it becomes apparent from the game continuation that Black still is looking for winning chances.}) 27. Bxc3 Rxc3 28. Rd8+ Rxd8 29. Rxc3 {the rook positions make this position slightly more unbalanced than the previous variation.} Nd7 30. Qe4 (30. Qc2 $5 {and it's unclear what Black can do to generate any threats.}) 30... Ne5 31. g3 f5 32. Qb7 Qd6 {avoiding the queen trade.} 33. Kg2 Nc4 34. Qc6 Qe5 35. Rc2 Kh7 {Black now unbalances the game further in her attempt to generate winning chances, offering the a-pawn for an attack.} 36. Qxa6 {the correct decision, although White still has to be careful.} Nd2 $6 {perhaps Black was playing psychologically here, hoping to bait her opponent into the losing move. If so, it worked.} (36... Rd3) 37. Bc6 $2 {either Qc6 or Qb7 protecting the bishop would have consolidated the pawn advantage. At first glance, the text move appears strong and obvious, but Black finds an excellent interference tactic.} Rd5 $1 {blocking the long diagonal, which is now available for the Black queen's use as a road to White's king. The combination of knight and queen proves devastating on the attack. White can still draw, but the defense is difficult to find.} 38. Rxd2 $2 {the losing move.} (38. Bxd5 $2 {does not help, as the queen seizes the diagonal on the recapture.} Qxd5+ 39. Kg1 Nf3+ 40. Kf1 Qd1+ 41. Kg2 Ne1+ { winning.}) (38. Rc1 {is the only move and not at all obvious.} Qe4+ 39. Kg1 Nf3+ 40. Kf1 {and the best Black can do is a perpetual check.}) 38... Rxd2 39. Qxb5 Qxe3 $19 {the game is essentially over now, but White plays on in vain hope.} 40. Qf1 Qxa3 41. Qc4 Qb2 42. Qc5 Rc2 43. Qb6 Qe5 44. b5 Qe1 45. Qd4 Rd2 46. Qf4 Rd1 0-1

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