30 March 2015

Annotated Game #145: Imbalance and attack

The following sixth-round tournament game revolved around the strategic imbalance between Black's queenside pressure and White's central/kingside dominance.  Out of the opening, Black had a small plus and the initiative, but a relatively complicated unforced sequence starting on move 16 led to me winning a pawn and establishing the structural imbalance.  During the game I was worried about Black mobilizing his queenside majority (including an advanced passed c-pawn), but my central pawn roller and kingside attack - helped by an opened h-file - were decisive, developing too quickly for Black to develop any counterplay.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2013.01.21"] [EventRounds "7"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4 A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with . ..Bb4} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 {here Black could opt for a Nimzo-Indian structure with ...Bb4, but I felt (correctly) that he would go instead for a QGD one.} d5 4. e3 {thanks to analyzing my own games, my past weakness in QGD structures prompted me to come up with the following solid approach.} Be7 5. b3 c5 6. Bb2 Nc6 7. cxd5 exd5 8. d4 {my opponent appeared surprised by this. He likely thought that if I was going to play d4, I would have done so earlier. Here it is necessary to stop the advance of the Black d-pawn and it exerts control over e5.} b6 $146 {this prevents White from getting a classic IQP structure versus Black after dxc5, but also has its drawbacks, namely leaving the Nc6 unprotected by a pawn.} (8... O-O {is normally played here.} 9. Be2 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Bc5 $11) 9. Bb5 Bb7 10. Ne5 {the engine considers this a bit hasty, preferring to develop with O-O or Rc1.} Qc7 11. Qf3 {at the time, I felt this was a key benefit of being able to get in Ne5. White's queen is well-placed to pressure d5 and has an open field on the kingside.} O-O 12. Nxc6 {my intent here was to exchange off two pairs of minor pieces and then take on c5, followed by pressuring the Black c- and d-pawns as much as possible. However, I did not carry the plan through, due to a lack of confidence. The engine assesses it as the best choice.} (12. Nxd5 $2 {trying to grab the pawn fails to} Nxd5 13. Qxd5 Nxd4 $1) 12... Bxc6 13. O-O (13. Bxc6 Qxc6 14. dxc5 bxc5 $11) 13... Bb7 {Black now avoids the bishop exchange.} 14. Rac1 a6 $15 { by this point Black has a small positional plus and the initiative.} 15. Bd3 c4 {Black mobilizes his queenside pawn majority, but neither he nor I saw the full consequences of this decision immediately.} 16. Ne2 {I had planned this move when retreating the bishop to d3. I was relying on the c-file pin to help me resolve the situation; Black does me a favor and immediately goes wrong.} ( 16. Bb1 $15 {is a simpler way to handle the threat.}) 16... Qd6 $2 {leaving the Bb7 undefended, although there is a partial tactical justification for this.} (16... b5 {is the straightforward way to play, reinforcing c4.} 17. Ng3 Bd6 18. bxc4 bxc4 $15) 17. bxc4 $14 {only afterwards did I see that Black could in fact retake with the d-pawn. The resulting sequence creates a huge strategic imabalance, however, ultimately to White's favor.} (17. Bxc4 { is the simpler and more effective move. For example} dxc4 18. Qxb7 cxb3 19. axb3 Rfb8 20. Qc7 $16) 17... dxc4 {with White's bishop now hanging as well, Black at first appears OK, but I can now gain a clear advantage.} 18. Bxh7+ { this is good for White, although taking on b7 is even better, according to the engine. I felt that the open h-file was even more important than the material.} (18. Qxb7 cxd3 19. Nf4 $16 {and now Black's d-pawn will eventually fall.}) 18... Kxh7 19. Qxb7 {we now have an interesting imbalance with the pawn structure. White dominates in the center and has an extra pawn, but Black's queenside majority has a lot of potential if mobilized and the c-pawn is more advanced. Komodo 8 assesses that Black has partial compensation for the pawn after an immediate ...b5, consolidating the structure.} Rfb8 $6 {this simply drives White's queen to a better square.} (19... b5 20. Ng3 (20. Qf3 Qd5 $14) 20... g6 21. Qf3 $14) 20. Qf3 $16 b5 21. e4 {I felt a strategic imperative to mobilize my central forces and attack both in the center and on the kingside, as the queenside is already effectively lost.} (21. Nf4 $5 {might be a good preparatory move for e4, getting the knight into play.}) 21... Qb4 $2 {Black had to avoid the pawn fork on e5, but this leads to ruin. During the game, of course, this was not immediately clear, but I felt that Black had over-committed to the queenside and that my attack would come first.} (21... Qe6 22. Ng3 Qg4 $16) 22. Bc3 $18 {this appeared to be a bit of a surprise to my opponent, although it seems to be a logical move. Perhaps he saw that he could then win the a-pawn; by this point, however, the material lost is not important. Black's queen gets walled off from the action and White's attack rolls forward.} Qa3 23. e5 {I keep up the forcing play, gaining tempi and not allowing Black breathing room.} Nd7 $2 {a simple blunder that essentially decides the game immediately, although Black's life would have been very difficult in any case. Black's king is far too exposed and Black's pieces are too far away to help defend it.} (23... b4 {praying for a miracle} 24. exf6 Bxf6 25. Nf4 $18 {and now if} bxc3 26. Rxc3 Qe7 27. Nd5) (23... Ng8 24. Qf5+ Kh8 25. Qxf7 $18) 24. Qf5+ {I immediately spotted the queen fork.} Kg8 25. Qxd7 {with the extra material in hand, I no longer had to worry as much about the outcome, although I continued to play carefully.} Rd8 (25... Bg5 {hardly improves anything, notes the engine.} 26. Rc2 Bh6 27. e6 $18) 26. Qg4 Qxa2 { perhaps Black thought I would try to trap the queen after this, but it has an out on d3.} 27. e6 {the biggest threat is now d5 with a mate threat to g7.} Rd5 {this blocks the pawn advance for the moment, but just loses differently.} 28. exf7+ Kf8 29. Nf4 {bringing the knight into the attack with tempo. Now there is no way out for Black, as White has too many ways to break through.} Rd6 30. d5 Bf6 31. Bb4 Kxf7 32. Bxd6 Re8 33. Qg6+ (33. Qg6+ Kg8 34. Qxe8+ Kh7 35. Qg6+ Kh8 36. Rce1 Qxf2+ 37. Rxf2 Be5 38. Bxe5 a5 39. Qxg7#) 1-0

18 March 2015

So who actually trains chess?

Not that many people, according to a recent, somewhat provocative and perceptive Streatham & Brixton chess blog.

I have to admit that upon first impression, I considered the post to be in the tiresome naysayer category regarding adult chess improvement.  That said, I further have to admit that they're probably right, at least in terms of the average tournament chessplayer.  I recently attended a chess event where it was apparent that serious training was not really part of anyone's agenda, including the idea of systematically learning from your mistakes (or even just learning).  Nothing wrong with just enjoying things, of course, and perhaps sometimes wishing you were better.  But as Mark Twain said, "Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

I've posted several times before on the general topic and continue to consider the time/energy factor as paramount in explaining rating advancement (the visible aspect of improving your playing strength).  The strong, rapidly advancing tween and teen (or younger) players typically sink several hours a day into systematically organized studies, often with professional-level coaches who guide their progress, for a period of years.  Adults with jobs and other responsibilities (again, typically) simply don't have that kind of time or energy. (Even if you believe Michael de la Maza's story of how he advanced rapidly, that was in the context of an extended spell of unemployment and nothing else to do.)  In addition, the fact that kids can learn more rapidly than adults due to their brains' neural structures (i.e. their greater plasiticity) is certainly a benefit for them, but is too often cited as a cop-out for adult learning.

For those of us with a mix of responsibilities and other life interests, I think the best we can shoot for is to designate around an average of 30 minutes - 1 hour per day for mindful study, surge around tournament time or when we have more time, energy and motivation available, and take meaningful breaks from chess when necessary to clear our heads.  This all should be doable, although it still takes discipline and commitment.

16 March 2015

Annotated Game #144: Who deserves to win?

This fifth-round tournament game saw my opponent apply a great deal of sustained pressure and he clearly felt as if he missed a win.  To my benefit, he kept playing for winning chances past the point where he had any real threats and ended up in a losing endgame.  I was then able to finish him off shortly after the time control using two tactical maneuvers, which I credit my tactics training for allowing me to find and have the confidence to employ.

During the game I generally shared the perception of White having had all the chances.  White certainly held the initiative for a long period, but with careful defense I was able to neutralize all of his threats; analysis shows that White after his move 14 never had a real advantage.  My own negative perception of the game stemmed largely from some poor choices I made in the opening, essentially boxing in my own pieces unnecessarily (particularly the queen and the poor bishop on c8).  In the end, however, it was the reality on the board that determined the winner.  This is a good general lesson for when you are the defender in a game; simply because you are on the defense does not mean your game is bad, and you should not miss a chance to strike a winning counterblow.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B14"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2013.01.20"] [EventRounds "7"] {B14: Caro-Kann: Panov-Botvinnik Attack with 5...e6 and 5...g6} 1. e4 c6 2. c4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Bf4 {a new move to me. Normally development continues with Nf3 first, with perhaps Bg5 to follow.} Bd6 { challenging the bishop directly seemed the best option at the time.} (6... Bb4 {is what is played the majority of the time in the database.} 7. Bd3 dxc4 8. Bxc4 O-O 9. Nge2 a6 10. a3 Be7 11. Qd3 b5 12. Qf3 Ra7 13. Bd3 Rd7 14. Rd1 Bb7 15. Qh3 Nc6 16. O-O g6 17. Be5 Nxe5 18. dxe5 Nd5 19. Nxd5 Bxd5 20. Nd4 Bc4 21. Qf3 {Mateo,R (2484)-San Segundo Carrillo,P (2542) Donostia 2008 0-1 (31)}) 7. Bg3 {this surprised me a bit, but it seems like a principled retreat.} O-O $11 {a perfectly reasonable move, but now out of the database. Black has equalized without any trouble.} 8. Nf3 Bxg3 {perhaps premature and certainly giving White the idea of the kingside attack down the h-file. I was concerned about White dominating the e5 square after an eventual Ne5.} (8... Nc6 {simple development should be fine here.}) 9. hxg3 Nbd7 $6 {this is too slow and an unnecessary way to develop the knight. Nc6 would have left the d7 square open and also allowed the knight to be transferred via e7 to g6 for defense.} 10. Qc2 Re8 11. Ne5 {White now dominates the e5 square and Black cannot take immediately due to the threat to h7.} g6 $6 {the wrong way to defend h7.} ( 11... h6 12. Be2 $11) 12. O-O-O dxc4 {I played this with the idea that it would help free Black's game by opening the c-file. However, White's bishop goes to a useful square and his rooks are connected, giving him a slight plus.} (12... a6 {is a superior way of executing the plan, taking away the b5 square first and also preparing ...b5 as an advance. For example} 13. Bd3 dxc4 14. Nxc4 (14. Bxc4 b5 15. Bd3 Bb7 $15) 14... Qc7 $11) 13. Bxc4 Qe7 {with the idea of moving it to g7 for defense and some potentially useful pressure on the long diagonal. However, it effectively boxes the queen in and does nothing to pressure White.} (13... a6 14. Bd3 Qc7 $14) 14. Rh6 $6 {this allowed me to get in the following sequence, which rids me of the problem of the Ne5.} (14. Qd2 { looks good for White, with a much better diagonal for the queen to use to generate threats.}) 14... Nxe5 $11 15. dxe5 Ng4 {the points of the sequence.} 16. Rh4 Nxe5 {White has full compensation for the pawn with superior development and potential threats on the h-file, but this is still a great improvement for Black, who at least has some material on his side now.} 17. Rdh1 {here I considered moving the f-pawn, which would have defended h7 with the queen. The engine supports moving the h-pawn, however.} h5 18. Be2 { threatening to sacrifice on h5 for the breakthrough.} f5 {played after some intense thought. The f5 pawn now blocks the White queen's access.} 19. Kb1 { a prudent move that takes the king away from the potential check on g5, although White currently could play f4 in response, forking the queen and knight.} Qg7 {necessary to protect the g6 pawn and h8 in some variations.} ( 19... Bd7 20. f4 Nf7 21. g4 $11) 20. f4 {this would have been a bit more effective earlier. Played now, I felt this let me off the hook, to a large extent, allowing the next knight move. Advancing pawns always leave weaknesses behind them.} (20. f3 $5 $11) 20... Ng4 {White now has no prospect of forcing his way through.} 21. Bxg4 fxg4 (21... hxg4 $4 {obviously bad to re-open the h-file, for example} 22. Qd2 b5 23. Qd6 $18 {threatening Qe5 to exchange off the defending Qg7 and penetrating with the rooks on the h-file.}) 22. Qb3 Qf7 { breaking the pin.} 23. Nb5 Qf5+ (23... Rd8 {would be better played immediately, defending against the fork threat.} 24. Ka1 e5 25. Qxf7+ Kxf7 26. fxe5 Rd2 27. Rf1+ Ke7 $19 {with a significant endgame advantage.}) 24. Ka1 $11 Rd8 { protecting against the knight forks on c7 and d6} 25. Nc7 Rb8 {here White could have forced a draw by repetition, but was frustrated by his previous inability to break through and kept playing for winning chances.} 26. Re1 $2 { the added pressure on e6 is illusory, due to White's back-rank problem.} (26. Na6 Ra8 27. Nc7 Rd3 $11) 26... Bd7 {this holds equality, but the engine finds a better and more dynamic way of playing, forcing an exchange of queens into a winning endgame (see below variation). Black's undeveloped queenside is painful and at the time I was focused on getting the piece into play.} (26... Qd3 {and Black has the better game.} 27. Rhh1 (27. Qxd3 $2 Rxd3 28. Rhh1 Rxg3 29. Rd1 Rxg2 30. Rd8+ Kf7 $19 {and Black's kingside pawns are winners.}) 27... Qxb3 28. axb3 Kf7 $17) 27. Re5 {White continues to make a series of one-move threats, which however are easily parried.} Qf7 28. Rh1 (28. Nxe6 $2 {does not work out well for White:} Re8 29. Nc5 Qxb3 30. axb3 Rxe5 31. fxe5 Bc6 {and Black will win back either the g- or e-pawns, with a winning endgame.}) 28... Bc6 {this was not played to threaten the g2 pawn per se, but rather to free Black's game, untangle his pieces and get the bishop into the fight.} 29. Qxe6 $2 {the possibilities for capturing on e6 were complex. My opponent chose the wrong way to do it, leading to the loss.} (29. Nxe6 $5 {would be equal.} Rd6 30. f5 Bxg2 31. Rc1 gxf5 32. Rc7 Rc6 $1 $11) 29... Rd2 $17 {a key move to activate Black's rooks and raise some threats in White's backyard. White no longer has any good choices.} 30. Rhe1 (30. f5 {is inferior, but might have given my opponent the best practical chances.} Qxe6 31. fxe6 Rc8 32. e7 Rxc7 33. e8=Q+ Bxe8 34. Rxe8+ Kg7 {is for example winning for Black, but I might have gone wrong somewhere in the sequence.}) 30... Rbd8 {threatening the back-rank mate on d1.} 31. Qxf7+ {exchanging the queens allows Black to simplify into a winning position more easily, although White had no other real threats left.} Kxf7 $19 32. Re7+ Kf8 {played carefully by me. Now Ne6 does not work due to Kxe7 and White has no useful discovered checks afterwards with the knight.} (32... Kf6 {is no doubt what my opponent was hoping for.} 33. R1e6+ Kf5 34. Rf7#) 33. Kb1 Rd1+ 34. Kc2 {White realizes that exchanging rooks means the end of any counterplay and the probable loss of the g2 pawn. However, Black is now able to accomplish this anyway, on better terms for him.} R8d2+ 35. Kc3 Rd3+ (35... Rxg2 {can in fact be played immediately.} 36. Rxd1 Rxg3+ 37. Kd4 Kxe7 $19) 36. Kb4 (36. Kc4 Rxe1 37. Rxe1 Rxg3 38. Ne6+ Kg8 $19) 36... Rxe1 37. Rxe1 Rxg3 {I now pick up this extra pawn and the g2 pawn is still doomed, leaving me with a simple winning strategy of advancing the kingside pawns..} 38. Ne6+ Kg8 39. Ng5 Rxg2 40. Re6 {even if White takes the g6 pawn, Black can simply run the h-pawn in to victory, as the queening square is controlled by the Bc6.} Rxb2+ 41. Ka3 (41. Kc3 {does not improve anything} Rxa2 42. Rxg6+ Kf8 $19) 41... Rxa2+ $1 {I spot this tactic after some thought, having made time control and under less pressure. The point is that after Kxa2, the Re6 is lost due to the bishop fork on d5 and White's knight cannot stop the kingside pawns by itself.} 42. Kb4 {White avoids the sequence, but ends up quickly lost anyway.} (42. Kxa2 Bd5+ 43. Kb1 Bxe6 44. Nxe6 h4 $19) 42... Ra4+ 43. Kc5 Rxf4 44. Rxg6+ Kh8 {this next sequence required some careful calculation, but it helped knowing that the knight and rook by themselves (i.e. with no obstructions in the path of the Black king) cannot mate.} (44... Kf8 $4 45. Ne6+) 45. Rh6+ Kg7 46. Rxh5 Kg6 {recognizing the possibility of this king fork during my earlier calculations is a direct result of my tactics training.} 47. Ne6 {and my opponent resigned shortly after making the move, seeing that the situation was hopeless.} 0-1

08 March 2015

Annotated Game #143: Playing against your own defense is hard

In this fourth-round tournament game, I faced my own defense and did poorly in the opening as a result.  Not because the defense itself is overpowering, but because I was not well prepared to play against it either technically or emotionally.  I believe this is something common to chessplayers, especially amateurs, when we over-identify with a particular opening setup and invest it with emotional qualities.  Professionals often can play both sides of their favorite openings with virtuosity; for example, in the modern era Kramnik is often cited in this context.

As the game progressed, I managed to achieve equality via a strategic piece exchange, but then made another classic amateur error, that of assuming opening play was "safe" and moves made on principle would be sufficient, rather than always closely examining possible tactics and falsifying my moves.  This is a lesson that I have been presented with multiple times and need to take to heart for the future.

The other major lesson I take away from this game is to play out every endgame and not to give up on them.  Despite my opponent being a pawn up for most of the game, I was savvy enough to reach drawing positions, but let myself be affected by the accumulated pressure and repeated threats, eventually losing as a result.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "118"] [EventDate "2013.01.20"] [EventRounds "7"] {D13: Slav Defence: Exchange variation without ...Bf5} 1. c4 c6 {I dislike playing against my own defenses and did not have a good opening line against it.} 2. Nf3 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 Nc6 6. d4 (6. d3 {would be more in the spirit of White's play so far and significantly more solid.}) 6... Bf5 7. O-O e6 {by this point, Black has three pieces developed to White's two, along with a better-supported pawn center. Clearly the opening is a failure for White.} 8. a3 {I was worried about the various threats revolving around the b4 square, most immediately Nc6-b4-c2.} Be7 9. Nh4 $146 {this is a standard type of maneuver to exchange off the powerful light-square bishop, now that e6 has been played.} Bg6 $11 (9... Be4 10. Nc3 $15) 10. Nxg6 hxg6 { White has the pair of bishops, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface. This is the factor that gives White equality.} 11. Nc3 O-O 12. Bg5 $6 {the result of thinking only positionally in an unfamiliar opening; I failed to falsify the move, believing everything was safe. The advantage of "book" lines is that they are (or should be) free of tactical worries and surprises. Here the d4 pawn is not adequately protected and the bishop move also leaves b2 unprotected, leading to Black's next move.} (12. b4 Qb6 $11) 12... Qb6 $15 13. Bxf6 {after a long think, I decide that the inadvertent pawn sacrifice means that White should attempt to get compensation via a kingside attack, calculating the sequence until move 17.} gxf6 14. e3 Qxb2 15. Na4 (15. Qd3 $5 $15) 15... Qb5 16. Rb1 Qa6 $17 17. h4 {Black's forces are more oriented toward the queenside and White can press an attack using the h-file. However, White's resources are also limited and take time to bring into play.} b6 {Consolidates c5, notes the engine.} 18. Kh2 {this idea, involving bringing the rook to h1, is too slow.} (18. Re1 $5 {might be a viable alternative}) (18. h5 $5) 18... Kg7 19. Rh1 Rh8 20. Bf1 {the bishop was doing nothing on g2 and can now be redeployed with tempo.} Qb7 21. Qd3 {defending the a3 pawn. Tactically this was not completely necessary, as the following variation shows.} (21. Nc3 Na5 ( 21... Bxa3 22. Qa4 Be7 23. Ba6 Qd7 24. Kg2 $15) 22. a4 $17) 21... Bd6 (21... g5 {is more to the point, with White's king still on the h-file.}) 22. Kg2 { White needed to play this anyway, so Black's pin on g3 and threat to capture the h4 pawn was irrelevant. The bishop might be better suited to defense on e7, although it's difficult to tell; the move also clears the square for the knight.} Ne7 (22... Na5 $5 $17 {heading for c4.}) 23. Be2 Rac8 24. Nc3 { I turn my attention to reactivating the other minor piece. By this point my position is looking in better shape, although with little compensation for the loss of the pawn.} f5 25. Nb5 Bb8 26. a4 {by this point I didn't see any real chance of a kingside breakthrough, so turned my strategy back to the queenside. White has a space advantage and perhaps can generate some pressure there.} (26. Nc3 {is an interesting idea from the engine. The point is that the a6-f1 diagonal is opened up and White would do well to place his queen or bishop on a6 in order to target c8. This idea will resurface later in the game.}) 26... Ng8 27. Qa3 Nf6 28. Nd6 {this was the point of the Qa3 maneuver for me, although it turns out to be a bad idea.} (28. a5 $5) 28... Bxd6 29. Qxd6 Qc7 { forcing White to exchange of queens, otherwise Black penetrates on the c-file. However, this is reasonably good for White.} (29... Ne4 $5 {is what Black should play.} 30. Qb4 Rc2 $17) 30. Qxc7 $15 Rxc7 31. Ba6 {the key move in this position, as Black is now stymied on the c-file and cannot push the queenside pawns. White may have a draw here.} Re8 32. Rhc1 {the obvious rook move, but perhaps not the best. "It's always the wrong rook"} Ree7 33. Kf1 $6 { essentially the losing move. Psychologically this came at a moment of relief and I did not feel that Black had any obvious threats.} (33. f3 {would have been a prophylactic move. I had briefly considered this, but ruled it out based on a vague consideration of potential future weaknesses on the third rank.}) (33. Bd3 $5) 33... Ne4 $17 {now the knight fork threat on d2 and various alternate forking possibilities (for example on c3) dominate the game and White is forced to make concessions.} 34. Ke1 Kf8 35. a5 {I saw that a Black breakthrough on the c-file would be inevitable once the king makes it over to protect c7, so I decided to give Black two rook pawns in the hopes that they could be contained in the later endgame. This also keeps White's rook more active.} (35. Bd3 Rxc1+ 36. Rxc1 Ke8 37. a5 {is another variation of the idea, perhaps better, due to the bishop placement.}) 35... bxa5 36. Rb8+ $2 {in this case, ignoring the chance to pick up the rook pawn is the wrong move. I was too focused on the c-file.} (36. Ra1 $5 $17 {has some apparent merit, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface.}) 36... Kg7 $19 37. Rc8 {this was the idea behind the rook check. It works out all right in practice, but Black could have significantly improved.} (37. Rd1 $19) 37... Rxc1+ {this is what I had expected.} (37... Rxc8 {and Black is on the road to success, states the engine.} 38. Rxc8 a4 39. Rc1 a3 40. Bd3 Rb7 41. Ra1 Rb3 42. Bc2 Rc3 $19) 38. Rxc1 $17 {I had seen this far when playing a5 and was reasonably content with the position. Black does not give up his will to win, however, and starts pushing on the kingside.} f6 (38... a4 39. Ra1 $17) 39. Bd3 {done with the intent of trading off the dominant knight. I did not see how Black could make real progress on the kingside afterwards.} Kh6 40. Bxe4 (40. Ra1 $5 g5 $15) 40... fxe4 $15 {we now enter a rook endgame where I should have some drawing chances.} 41. Ra1 $2 {this would have been the right move earlier. Unfortunately, now that circumstances have changed, Black has threats on the kingside.} g5 $17 42. hxg5+ (42. Rxa5 gxh4 43. gxh4 $19 {White cannot protect the h-pawn and Black will eventually be able to create another passed pawn.}) 42... Kxg5 $19 43. Kf1 e5 $2 {weakening the position} (43... Kg4 {should be winning.} 44. Kg2 a6 $19 {as if} 45. Rxa5 Ra7 46. Ra2 a5) 44. Rxa5 $11 Rd7 $15 45. Kg2 {played due to fears of Black's king penetrating decisively into g2.} ( 45. dxe5 {helps White's cause.} fxe5 46. Ke1 $11) (45. Ke1 {or Ke2 should also hold.}) 45... exd4 46. exd4 $11 f5 47. Rc5 $6 {this simply removes the threat on the a-pawn. White should instead centralize his king.} (47. f3 Kg6 $11) (47. Kf1) 47... f4 $15 48. gxf4+ Kxf4 49. Rc8 {Here I felt I had run out of good options.} (49. Rc6 $5) 49... e3 50. Rf8+ $2 {this loses.} (50. Re8 $11 { this seems obvious in retrospect, cutting off the king and eliminating the advanced pawn.}) 50... Ke4 $19 {now the game is essentially over.} 51. Re8+ Kxd4 52. fxe3+ Kc4 $2 {this gives White some hope.} (52... Kd3 53. Kf2 Rf7+ 54. Ke1 Rf3 $19) 53. e4 $2 {I still stubbornly refuse to centralize my king, hoping that Black will somehow miss the winning move.} (53. Kf2 $15 {is a viable option}) 53... d4 $19 {now Black is back on track for the win.} 54. Rc8+ Kd3 55. e5 Re7 56. Ra8 Ke2 57. Kg3 d3 58. Rb8 d2 59. Rb2 Ke1 (59... Ke1 60. Rb1+ d1=Q 61. Rxd1+ Kxd1 62. Kf4 a5 63. Kf5 a4 64. Kf6 Rxe5 65. Kxe5 a3 66. Kd5 a2 67. Ke4 Kc2 68. Kf4 a1=Q 69. Kf5 Qa6 70. Kg5 Qe6 71. Kf4 Kd3 72. Kf3 Qe4+ 73. Kg3 Ke2 74. Kh2 Qg4 75. Kh1 Kf3 76. Kh2 Qg2#) 0-1

02 March 2015

Annotated Game #142: Out of book on move 2 (!)

This third-round tournament game was notable for throwing me out of book on move 2, which is about as quick as possible in a serious game (short of White playing 1. h4 or the like).  In reaction, I chose a solid setup, which while good enough did not challenge White as much as it should have.  My opponent's provocative play starting on move 7 essentially provoked me into seizing a positional advantage, although I did not make the best of it.

The remainder of the game proved to be a seesaw back and forth; my main error was in giving too much credence to White's ephemeral kingside attack.  The unusual material balance that White (correctly) chose (3 minor pieces vs. queen) finally lent some real initiative to him on the kingside, but I spotted a key tactical sacrifice on the d-file that opened the position to my counterplay and should have led to a Black win, although the situation was complicated.  In the end, I was satisified with the draw, while if I had better understood the rook endgame we ended up in, I could have pressed for a win.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "94"] [EventDate "2013.01.19"] [EventRounds "7"] {A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 {last book move (!) says Fritz, although there are a few database games with White's next.} 2. Qc2 {a first for me to see. I suspect my opponent of being a "system" player who plays these moves regardless of what Black does.} d5 {played in two of the four database games.} 3. b3 {now we're completely out of the database.} (3. d3 Nf6 4. e4 dxe4 5. dxe4 e5 6. Nc3 Bd6 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bh4 Qe7 9. Be2 O-O 10. Nf3 Nbd7 11. h3 a5 12. g4 Nc5 13. g5 hxg5 14. Bxg5 Ne6 15. h4 Nd4 16. Qd3 Bc5 17. O-O-O Rd8 18. Nxd4 Rxd4 19. Qf3 Rxd1+ 20. Bxd1 Qe6 21. Rg1 Nh7 22. Na4 Nxg5 23. hxg5 Bd4 24. c5 Qh3 25. Rg3 Qf1 26. g6 Be6 27. gxf7+ Bxf7 28. Qg4 g6 29. Nb6 Rd8 30. Rg1 Qxf2 31. Rg2 Bxb2+ 32. Kb1 Rxd1+ 33. Qxd1 Qxg2 34. Qd8+ Kg7 35. Nd7 Qf2 36. a4 Bd4 37. Qf8+ Kh7 38. Kc1 Be3+ 39. Kb1 Bh6 40. Nf6+ Qxf6 {0-1 (40) Kuba,S (2300)-Buldrova,M (2138) Czechia 2000}) 3... Nf6 4. Bb2 Bg4 {this looks a little strange, but I wanted to get the bishop outside of the pawn chain before playing ...e6.} (4... d4 $5 {is the more straightforward way of exploiting White's setup in order to get a strong center. This possibility of playing such an early pawn advance did not occur to me during the game, as I was focusing on piece development.}) 5. Nc3 {White continues to play in "system" fashion, evidently developing his entire queenside first before turning to the kingside.} e6 {deliberately playing conservatively against the unorthodox White development scheme. I figured that if I chose a solid setup that I was familiar with and achieved easy equality, I could then go from there, rather than trying to directly refute White's play.} 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. e4 $6 {despite my conservative play up to this point, White's weakening move now provokes me into seizing an advantage.} (7. e3 $5 Bxf3 8. gxf3 Ne5 9. Be2 $11 { in this variation, the important difference is that the e3 pawn covers d4.}) 7... Bxf3 $17 8. gxf3 d4 (8... Ne5 $1 {is even better, as pointed out by the engines. It generates multiple threats, including to f3 and by lending support to a d-pawn advance. For example} 9. Be2 $2 (9. exd5 Nxf3+ $17) 9... d4 10. Na4 d3 11. Qb1 Nfd7 12. f4 dxe2 13. Bxe5 Nxe5 14. fxe5 Qd4 15. Kxe2 Rd8 $19) 9. Ne2 $15 c5 {at this point I thought that the opening looked like a bust for White, although it is far from being a disaster.} 10. h4 g6 {only around this point did I start looking at tactics involving ...Ne5, given the vulnerability on f3 and the pawn fork possibility on d3. I did not see anything concrete, so chose a different path.} (10... Ne5 $17 {is still best, according to the engine. The knight is certainly far better placed there than on d7, even without any specific tactical gains.}) 11. f4 {White now contends for the e5 square.} Bh6 { the point of the previous move. This pressures the pawn on f4 and also targets d2 behind it. I was unsure if this was wise, or perhaps a more conventional development with ...Bd6 or the defensive ...Bg7 would have been better. The engine validates my choice, however.} 12. Bh3 $6 (12. e5 {seems to make the most sense.}) 12... O-O {I recognized that this was may not have been the best decision, although I didn't want to leave my king in the center.} (12... Nh5 { could have been played immediately.} 13. O-O-O Nxf4 14. Nxf4 Bxf4 15. h5 Qf6 $17) 13. O-O-O {my opponent evidently had similar instincts regarding king safety.} (13. e5 Nh5 14. Qe4 Qc7 $17) 13... Nh5 $17 14. Rdg1 {here I began to worry about my own king safety and the appearance of a White attack, which however is not real.} Bxf4 {this is not in fact bad, although the knight capture is a little more effective and less complicated.} (14... Nxf4 15. Nxf4 Bxf4 16. h5 {looks menacing along the g-file, but Black has several options to neutralize any threats.} Ne5 (16... g5 $5) (16... Qb6) 17. hxg6 hxg6 {followed by ...Kg7}) 15. Bg4 {I completely missed this move, which threatens to capture on h5 with a pin on the g-pawn, and went into panic mode. As a result, I went back to the ...Ne5 tactic from earlier, rather than calmly defending.} Ne5 ( 15... Ndf6 $5 16. Bxh5 Nxh5 17. Nxf4 Nxf4 $17 {and now if} 18. h5 $2 Ne2+) 16. Bxh5 $11 d3 17. Nxf4 {I was definitely not expecting this.} dxc2 18. Bxe5 { now White's play makes sense. Material is roughly even, but I felt White had some advantage with his pieces swarming over Black's king position. White has the initiative while Black certainly has the more difficult position to play and I quickly go wrong.} Re8 $6 {played to give the king an escape square.} ( 18... b5 {a difficult move to find. The basic idea is to play ...Qa5 and generate counterplay by attacking the a-pawn, but without this move White is able to play a4 in response.} 19. Bg4 Qa5 20. Kb2 Qxd2 $11) 19. Kxc2 $16 Kf8 { at this point the asymmetrical material balance in fact favors White significantly, as Black's heavy pieces have no outlet for their energies, while White's pieces are all actively placed.} 20. Bg4 {Black has a cramped position, notes the engine via the Fritz interface.} Qa5 {I believed that I could not simply play defense, but had to activate the queen. Correct idea, but should have been implemented earlier.} 21. h5 {White continues to be fully offensive-minded, although he likely intended to set a trap with the a-pawn as well. I of course immediately stumble into it.} Qxa2+ $4 (21... Rad8 22. Rd1 Qxa2+ 23. Bb2 $16 {and now the queen cannot be trapped due to ...Rxd2+}) 22. Bb2 $18 {only after this, I noticed that Black's queen could be trapped after Ra1. I could have retreated, but this would seem to have given the initiative completely over to White.} Rad8 {I spot the idea of the rook sacrifice on d2.} (22... Qa5 $2 23. hxg6 $18) 23. d4 $2 {a simple error by White, who continued to play as aggressively as possible.} (23. d3 $18) 23... Rxd4 $15 {now I have the open d-file and counterplay.} 24. hxg6 hxg6 (24... Red8 {was the other option, but I was not able to see how it worked.} 25. Rd1 (25. g7+ Kg8 $19) 25... Rd2+ 26. Rxd2 Rxd2+ 27. Kxd2 Qxb2+ 28. Ke3 Qxb3+ 29. Nd3 hxg6 $17) 25. Rh8+ $2 (25. Rd1 Red8 26. Rh8+ Ke7 27. Rxd8 Rxd8 28. Nd3 $11) 25... Ke7 $19 26. Rh7 {somewhat surprising, although probably best. I saw no good alternative to going ahead with the rook sac on d2.} (26. Rxe8+ Kxe8 27. Ng2 a5 $19) 26... Rd2+ $1 27. Kxd2 Qxb2+ 28. Ke3 Qxb3+ 29. Ke2 Qxc4+ 30. Kf3 Qc3+ (30... g5 { and Black wins, notes Houdini. I was too focused on piece play to spot this idea, however.} 31. Ng2 Qc3+ 32. Ne3 Rh8 $19) 31. Kg2 $11 {in contrast with the previous variation, White now has this square to hide his king.} Kf6 { in American football, this would be known as "stepping up in the pocket". The king moves forward into his protective pawn shield, although is still surrounded and in danger.} 32. Rgh1 (32. Rd1 $5 {might be a viable alternative} Qe5 33. Rd7 $15) 32... Qe5 $17 {continuing to try to pose as many problems as possible for White.} 33. Kf3 $2 (33. R1h3 Qxf4 34. Rf3 Qxf3+ 35. Kxf3 $17 { and Black's three connected passed pawns are definitely worth a bishop.}) 33... Rd8 $19 {as with the queen earlier, the rook needs to get in the game. I saw the sacrifice on f7 but did not want to wait passively for White to assault the king position.} 34. R1h6 Rd4 35. Rxf7+ {necessary, otherwise Black breaks through by taking on e4.} (35. Nh5+ {does not improve anything} Kg5 36. Kg2 Kxg4 37. Nf6+ Qxf6 $19) 35... Kxf7 {also necessary.} (35... Kg5 36. Rxg6+ Kh4 37. Ng2#) 36. Bxe6+ Qxe6 $2 (36... Ke8 {ends the debate, states Houdini. I was too afraid of a possible mate at this point, however, being short on time.} 37. Bd5 Rd2 38. Rxg6 Qc3+ 39. Kg2 Qd4 $19) 37. Nxe6 $17 Kxe6 38. Rxg6+ Kf7 { and we now have a much more conventional position, for the first time in this game.} 39. Rh6 Kg7 40. Re6 Rd7 41. Re8 $2 Rc7 $6 (41... b5 $1 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 42. Ke2 b4 $19) 42. Ke3 (42. Rb8 a6 $15) 42... c4 {finally I play a good idea.} 43. Kd2 Kf7 $11 {however, I cannot figure out how to best follow up and successfully mobilize the queenside pawns while stopping White's kingside pawns, so I head for the draw.} (43... Rd7+ 44. Kc3 b5 45. Rb8 a6 $17) 44. Rh8 Kf6 45. f4 Kg7 46. Rd8 b5 $15 47. Rb8 a6 1/2-1/2