28 December 2015

Commentary: Gibraltar 2015, Round 2 (Nakamura - Harika)

Following the previous commentary from round 1 with GM Hikaru Nakamura playing a highly imbalanced Dutch Defense, we now see him using the flip side of the strategic coin as White in an English Opening.  It is instructive to see how he utilizes waiting moves in this round 2 game that have a similarly provocative motive - see particularly moves 11, 16 and 19.  He appears to be deliberately waiting for Harika to create weaknesses in her position, which he then can exploit in an immediate and concrete way.  Black's attempt at counterplay, with a knight sacrifice and a kingside attack, falls prey to precise calculation by Nakamura, who ends up with a dominant passed pawn and eventually a mate.

This back-to-back examination of two of Nakamura's games also helps illustrate how "playing style" is largely an illusion with strong players, who can use both sharp and quiet modes of play to great effect, whatever they feel is best suited for  confronting their opponent's weaknesses.

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2015"] [Site "Caleta ENG"] [Date "2015.01.28"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Harika, Dronavalli"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E14"] [WhiteElo "2776"] [BlackElo "2496"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2015.01.27"] 1. Nf3 {While this is often the first move of a Reti Opening, it's also a good way to be noncommital at the start of the game.} Nf6 {Black obviously thinks the same way.} 2. c4 e6 {this is now technically an English Opening and is classified as such, even though White eventually plays d4.} 3. b3 {an offbeat but perfectly fine and successful (57 percent) opening approach.} d5 {Black decides to adopt a QGD structure, a solid approach.} 4. Bb2 Be7 5. e3 {the double fianchetto with g3-Bg2 is also popular.} O-O 6. d4 {Nakamura plays this with the idea of subsequently developing the light-square bishop to d3, rather than the more conventional e2.} b6 {now Black is going for a QGD-Tartakower formation by fianchettoing his light-square bishop.} 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. O-O c5 9. Nbd2 (9. Qe2 {is an interesting alternative, freeing up d1 for the rook and forming a battery on the f1-a6 diagonal.}) (9. Nc3 {used to be played more often, but at top levels not so much recently.}) 9... Nc6 10. Rc1 Rc8 { interestingly, up until this point Nakamura is following (intentionally or not) a successful game of his opponent's (as White) from 2013. Now, as Black, Harika varies from what her opponent did previously, but she still ends up losing.} (10... cxd4 {is considered equal by the engine.} 11. exd4 Nh5 12. g3 g6 13. Qe2 Nf6 14. Rfd1 a5 15. a3 Re8 16. Nf1 Bf8 17. Ne3 Bh6 18. Ne5 dxc4 19. Bxc4 Qd6 $2 20. Bb5 Rac8 21. Bxc6 Bxc6 22. Rxc6 Rxc6 23. Qf3 Bxe3 24. fxe3 Rc2 25. Qxf6 Re7 26. d5 Rxb2 27. Nc4 Qc5 28. d6 Qh5 29. Nxb2 {1-0 (29) Harika,D (2475)-Khotenashvili,B (2514) Tashkent 2013}) 11. a3 {taking the b4 square away from the Nc6. Nakamura has an equal position and appears not to want to hurry with any major plans, but rather see in what direction his opponent wishes to go.} Re8 {following a similar plan as in the game cited above.} 12. Re1 Bf8 {this is a logical follow-up and presumably aimed at defending the kingside, but the bishop is obviously less active than it could be elsewhere, for example on d6. Unlike the above game cited with Harika as White, here she never plays the freeing ...g6, which is necessary to activate the bishop.} 13. dxc5 bxc5 14. cxd5 exd5 15. Qc2 h6 (15... g6 {is possible here, and probably preferable. It blunts the b1-h7 Q+B battery that White has established, while giving the Bf8 an outlet. Perhaps Black did not like the looks of opening the long diagonal to White's Bb2.}) 16. Qb1 {this prudently removes the queen from the c-file while preserving the battery on the diagonal. It also serves as another waiting move for Nakamura, which works to his advantage.} (16. Bf5 { is a more conventional approach.}) 16... Nd7 {this does not appear strategically consistent with the idea of maintaining a strong kingside defensive presence.} 17. Bh7+ Kh8 18. Bf5 {the advantage of this sequence, beyond simply moving to f5 directly, is that Black's king is slightly more vulnerable and her g-pawn is pinned, creating some tactical ideas for White.} Rb8 {moving away so the Nd7 is freed from the pin on the diagonal.} 19. Qa1 { very hypermodern of Nakamura and an idea associated with the Reti Opening. The queen in the corner exerts pressure on the center and against Black's king.} Qe7 $6 {one gets the impression that Black did not know how to proceed in this type of position. White now immediately takes advantage of this slip.} 20. b4 { threatening to continue with b5, which would be very awkward for the Nc6. Again the idea is to dominate the center through indirect means, in this case chasing away a piece defending e5.} cxb4 21. axb4 a6 {the logical follow-up, preventing b5. However, now White has other useful things he can do.} 22. Nb3 { the exchanges have given White a potential strong outpost on c5. Black's d-pawn is also now isolated and White has the square in front of it (d4) blockaded, making the pawn weak.} Nde5 (22... Nb6 $5 {would more directly address Black's d-pawn weakness.}) 23. Nxe5 Nxe5 24. Nc5 {after the piece exchange White's position is improved, with the strong c5 outpost occupied; note also how Black's Bf8 is doing nothing constructive. Here perhaps Nakamura expected the symmetrical ...Nc4 from Black, occupying her own outpost and cutting off the c-file. However, Harika goes wrong with her next move.} Nf3+ $2 {this sacrifice must be either the result of miscalculation or desperation on Black's part.} 25. gxf3 Qg5+ 26. Bg4 h5 27. Nxb7 Rxb7 28. Qxa6 {the key move from White's perspective. Black must lose a tempo due to the threat and White can simplify into a favorable position after making some counterthreats.} hxg4 (28... Rxb4 29. Bc3 Rc4 30. h4 Qxh4 31. Bd7 Rd8 32. Bb5 $18) 29. f4 {another key move for White, keeping the tension of multiple threats.} (29. Qxb7 $4 gxf3+ 30. Kf1 Qg2#) 29... Qe7 $18 {so White emerges from the sequence with an extra (passed) pawn and a winning game.} 30. b5 {passed pawns must be pushed!} Qd7 31. b6 Bb4 32. Red1 Re6 33. Bd4 {note again how Black's dark-square bishop is not doing anything constructive and how its White counterpart is helping dominate the game.} Rh6 $2 {this attempt to generate some threats on the h-file in fact leads to quick victory for White, as the rook partially blocks an outlet for the cornered Kh8.} (33... Bd6 {would allow resistance for a while longer.}) 34. Qa8+ Kh7 35. Rc8 Kg6 36. Rg8 Rh7 37. Qc8 {almost anything wins at this point. A queen exchange would lead to an easy (for a GM) endgame win, so Nakamura does not mind that possibility.} Qe7 {this leads to a quicker, merciful end.} (37... Qxc8 38. Rxc8 Ba5 39. Ra1 Bxb6 40. Ra6 f6 41. Rxb6 Rxb6 42. Bxb6 $18 {the extra bishop and Black's doomed d-pawn ensure a White victory.}) 38. Qxg4+ {and mate follows.} 1-0

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