25 April 2016

Annotated Game #156: It's never too late to equalize (redux)

This next game has a similar theme to Annotated Game #153.  One of the valuable outcomes of analyzing your own games is seeing patterns in your play that you had not been aware of before, and hopefully improving your performance as a result.  We've previous seen an example of this in Annotated Game #63: Third Time's the Charm (?)

Here in this fourth-round tournament game we see (similar to other recent games) how I was struggling out of an unfamiliar opening and gave my opponent the initiative and a significant edge.  However, I didn't give up and kept searching for active counterplay, using an exchange sacrifice on move 19 to sabotage my opponent's initiative.  On moves 28 and 31 I again employ these principles and achieve equality - only to overlook the best way I could have made it concrete.  After move 35 White is winning and that becomes obviously so after the endgame is reached, although I struggle on for a while down the exchange.

One of the other themes to emerge from these game analyses is that against Class competition, it's likely that your opponent will make enough mistakes to eventually let you back in the game, if the situation is sufficiently complicated and if you have sufficient potential for activating your pieces and creating threats.  Conversely, I think it's a good lesson for when you have the advantage, in that it's important to keep your opponent shut down and their pieces out of the game as much as possible.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "139"] {B25: Closed Sicilian: 3 g3, lines without early Be3} 1. f4 {the first time I've faced a Bird's Opening in tournament play.} c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. g3 {this reverse Leningrad Dutch setup is called the "Polar Bear" in the U.S.} g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O d6 6. e4 Nf6 (6... e6 {is more common here, although the text move scores over 50 percent in the database.}) 7. d3 Bg4 (7... O-O {is uniformly the choice of top players here. No need to commit the bishop early.}) 8. Nc3 ( 8. h3 {is more challenging and would essentially force Black to exchange on f3, otherwise the bishop moves would be lost tempi. Creating a target on h3 would not be enough compensation in the opening.}) 8... O-O (8... Nd4 $5 {looking to exchange off minor pieces appears to be a good idea. Example:} 9. Be3 O-O 10. Qd2 Nxf3+ 11. Bxf3 Bxf3 12. Rxf3 Ng4 13. Nd1 d5 14. e5 d4 15. Bf2 Qd5 16. Qe2 f6 17. h3 Nxf2 18. Nxf2 fxe5 19. Qe4 Qxe4 20. Nxe4 exf4 21. gxf4 e5 22. Raf1 exf4 23. Rxf4 Rxf4 24. Rxf4 Be5 25. Rf2 Rc8 26. b3 b5 27. Re2 c4 28. bxc4 bxc4 29. Nd2 cxd3 30. cxd3 Rc1+ 31. Kf2 Bf6 32. Re8+ Kf7 33. Ra8 Rc7 34. Kf3 Ke6 35. Nc4 Kd5 36. Rf8 Bg5 37. Kg4 Be7 38. Rh8 Bf6 39. Rf8 Be7 40. Rh8 h5+ 41. Kf3 Bh4 42. Rf8 Re7 43. Rf4 Bg5 44. Rf8 Re6 45. Rb8 Rf6+ 46. Ke2 Kc5 47. Rc8+ Kb5 48. Rb8+ Kc6 49. Na5+ Kd6 50. Nc4+ Kc7 51. Ra8 Kb7 52. Rg8 Ka6 53. Ne5 Kb5 54. Rxg6 Rxg6 55. Nxg6 Kb4 56. Ne5 Kc3 57. Nc6 a6 58. a4 Bh4 59. a5 Bf6 60. Nb8 Be7 61. h4 Bb4 62. Nd7 Bxa5 63. Nf6 Kc2 64. Nxh5 Bd2 65. Ng7 Bf4 66. Ne6 Be5 67. Nc5 a5 68. h5 Kc3 69. Kd1 Bf4 70. Ke2 Bh6 71. Ne4+ Kb3 72. Nd2+ Kb4 73. Kd1 Kc3 74. Ne4+ Kxd3 75. Nf6 a4 76. Ng4 a3 77. Nxh6 a2 {0-1 (77) Trifunovic,M (2320) -Arsovic,Z (2440) Niksic 1996}) 9. Ne2 Qc8 {I thought here about where to best put the queen. With the text move, the d7 square is available for the knight, but the queen blocks the rooks from the c-file.} 10. c3 Bh3 {while this exchanges off the White bishop on the long diagonal, there was not necessarily an immediate need to do this.} 11. Bd2 Bxg2 12. Kxg2 Rd8 13. h3 {Secures g4, notes the engine.} h5 {here I thought a long time about the various possibilities and made a strategically incorrect decision. While the engine shows this as still equal, the restraint of the g4-g5 push at this point is not crucial and the pawn on h5 becomes both a target for sacrifices and weakens the squares around the king. In broader terms, Black needs to be thinking about his own counterplay on the queenside at this point, not playing on the kingside where White is stronger.} (13... c4 $5) 14. Nh4 Kh7 $6 { waste of a tempo, giving the initiative fully to White.} (14... c4 $5 {again would be beneficial for Black.} 15. Be3 (15. f5 cxd3 16. Nd4 Ne5 $15) 15... e6 $15) 15. f5 $14 Ne5 {not a bad idea in general, as seen in the above variation, but not enough to shore up Black's defenses here.} (15... d5 $5 {should be considered, reacting in the center and attacking the e4 square. White still has the upper hand, however.} 16. exd5 Nxd5 17. fxg6+ fxg6 18. c4 $16) 16. Bg5 $16 {now it just gets uglier for Black.} Qc6 (16... Bh6 $5 {is a good practical defensive try.} 17. fxg6+ fxg6 18. Bxh6 Kxh6 $16) 17. Nf4 $18 { by this point the engine shows Black down almost the equivalent of a piece.} d5 $2 {again, not a bad general idea, just too late to make a difference.} (17... Qe8 18. Qe2 Rac8 $18) 18. Bxf6 exf6 19. Nxd5 $2 {this is an unnecessary diversion from White's breakthrough attack on the kingside.} (19. fxg6+ { and it becomes clear that White will call all the shots, says Komodo via the Fritz interface.} fxg6 20. Nhxg6 Nxg6 21. Qxh5+ Kg8 22. Qxg6 $18) 19... Rxd5 $16 {I'm pleased that I spotted this, admittedly desperate, chance at counterplay.} 20. exd5 Qxd5+ {White is the exchange up but at least my position is no longer critical, even if my long-term prospects are worse.} 21. Kh2 Rd8 (21... Re8 $5 {might be better, considering that the added pressure on the d-pawn is essentially meaningless after the game continuation.}) 22. d4 { the best move. White is unafraid to give back a pawn in order to improve his position and simplify down on material, at which point his being up the exchange becomes more meaningful.} cxd4 23. Qxd4 Qa5 (23... Qxd4 24. cxd4 Rxd4 25. Rad1 $16) 24. Qf2 g5 25. Nf3 Nd3 26. Qc2 g4 $6 {I thought for a while here and moved the incorrect pawn. It looked more obvious to kick the Nf3 and I did not seriously look at moving the h-pawn, which is possible tactically.} (26... h4 27. gxh4 gxh4 28. Rad1 $16 (28. Nxh4 Qc7+ 29. Kh1 Bh6 $16 {and Black has more counterplay due to the active bishop and the potential to use the open g-file for his rook.})) 27. Rad1 $18 {the correct response and one that I did not consider, given the obvious threat to the Nf3. A more sophisticated concept was employed here by my opponent, that of exchanging pieces at a distance (the Nf3 for the Nd3).} Bh6 $2 {desperation, but my opponent again does not go for my throat as he should have.} (27... Qa6 28. c4 Nb4 29. Qb3 Rxd1 30. Rxd1 $18) (27... gxf3 28. Rxd3 Re8 29. Rfxf3 $18) 28. Nd4 $6 {having rightly ignored the hanging Nf3 the previous move, my opponent reverses course and does not follow up with the logical continuation.} (28. Rxd3 {and White has it in the bag, comments the engine.} gxf3 29. Rxd8 Qxd8 30. Qf2 $18 { the endgame is dead lost for Black.}) 28... Ne5 $16 {I am again granted a good deal of positional compensation for the exchange. The Ne5 is in an excellent position and cannot easily be dislodged.} 29. Qb3 Qc7 {this ignored White's obvious follow-up.} (29... Rd7 {and now} 30. Nb5 Re7 {is significantly better for Black than the game continuation.}) 30. Nb5 Rxd1 31. Qxd1 $6 (31. Rxd1 $5 { maintains an advantage.} Qc6 32. Nd4 Qc7 $14) 31... Qb6 $11 {after fighting for so long, I'm able to regain equality, putting my piece activity to good use. The Nb5 is skewered against the b-pawn.} 32. Qe2 Nf3+ {the centralized knight again proves its worth.} 33. Kg2 Qc6 (33... Nd2 34. hxg4 (34. Rd1 Qc6+ { leads to a perpetual.}) 34... Nxf1 35. Kxf1 $11) 34. Kf2 (34. Nxa7 {is OK for White, since unfortunately I have no discovered checks with the knight that help my situation. My opponent probably did not want to risk it, however.} Qc5 (34... Nd4+ $4 35. Nxc6 Nxe2 36. Re1 {and the Ne2 has no squares left.}) 35. Nb5 Nd2 $11) 34... Qc5+ {"patzer sees check, patzer gives check" - sigh. Here I miss a key to the position, the threat of creating an outside passed h-pawn.} (34... Nd2 $5 {must definitely be considered} 35. Nd4 (35. Rd1 $4 gxh3 $19) ( 35. hxg4 Nxf1 $15) 35... Qd5 36. hxg4 Nxf1 37. Qxf1 hxg4 $11) 35. Nd4 $16 { the moment of danger for White is now past.} Nxd4 36. cxd4 Qxd4+ 37. Kg2 Qd5+ 38. Kh2 Qxa2 39. hxg4 hxg4 40. Rf2 {up to now, part of an obvious sequence. I thought that I had some practical chances to draw, but now I give up too much to my opponent.} Qd5 $6 {worrying about protecting the b-pawn, but losing the g-pawn and giving White too much scope with his pieces in the process.} (40... Qa4 41. Qe7 Kg7 42. Re2 $14 (42. Qxb7 $2 {is something that I thought was obviously good for White, but I did not calculate further.} Be3 43. Rg2 Qe8 { and now the White king is threatened on the h-file.} 44. Kh1 Bb6 45. Qd5 Qe1+ 46. Kh2 Qc1 47. Qd2 Qc8 48. Kh1 Qxf5 $15 {and Black is having all the fun in the position.})) 41. Qxg4 $16 {really the final turning point in the game, after this my resistance is increasingly futile.} b5 42. Qf3 Qc5 43. Kg2 a5 44. Qc3 Qxc3 $2 (44... Qb6 $5 $16 {would have kept the queens on the board, my only real chance for trying to hold a draw. I was tired by this point, however, and put too much faith in the bishop's ability to combat the White rook.}) 45. bxc3 $18 b4 46. cxb4 axb4 47. Rc2 Bf8 48. Rc7 Kg7 49. Kf3 Kg8 50. g4 {my opponent has an ideal situation, knowing that he has all the time he needs to maneuver his king into the position, while mine is trapped and the bishop is also tied to protecting the b-pawn.} Kg7 51. Ke4 Bd6 52. Rb7 Bc5 53. Kd5 Bf8 54. Rb8 Be7 55. Re8 Bf8 56. Kc6 Kg8 57. Kd7 Kg7 58. Rc8 Kg8 59. Rc6 Kg7 60. Ke8 {this position is fully resignable.} b3 61. Rb6 Bc5 62. Rxb3 Kh6 63. Rc3 Bd4 64. Rc4 Be5 65. Kxf7 Kg5 66. Ra4 Bc3 67. Ke6 Be5 68. Ra8 Kxg4 69. Rg8+ Kh5 70. Rg6 {now all White has to do is exchange the rook for bishop and pawn, into a winning K+P endgame.} 1-0

24 April 2016

Magnus Carlsen vs. Muhammad Ali

The matchup isn't a direct one, of course, but over the weekend I saw the new(*) Porsche commercial that features alternating sequences of Ali and Carlsen warming up and then fighting matches...against themselves.  The marketing point is that only a champion can defeat another champion - there are also dueling Porsches intercut - and that there's nothing better than a Porsche.  The commercial ran during coverage of the Stuttgart Open tennis tournament (sponsored by Porsche), which is another parallel of chess vs. tennis.

It's always interesting to see how chess sometimes surfaces in popular culture, in this case in the luxury market.  It's also cheering as a chess aficionado to see Carlsen up there with Ali as a contemporary icon of what a world champion can be.

(*) the original version of the commercial, from December, also featured Maria Sharapova, but she got dropped after the drug test issue surfaced.  Honestly I like the newer version better, it's punchier with the intercuts and from the standpoint of total percentage of screen time has relatively more chess content. ;)

17 April 2016

Annotated Game #155: Wrong side of a Stonewall

The following third-round game had me on the "wrong" side (White) of a Stonewall.  Of course I was fine on principle in the opening, but it's often tough to play against defenses that you yourself use.  In this case, the game becomes quite sharp in the early middlegame and Black takes over the initiative.  Instead of finding some interesting tactical options (especially on move 18, with a deflection possibility), I play some "obvious moves" (as in Annotated Game #149) and get in trouble in the complications.  Despite some desperation-type pressure from my end, my opponent consolidated in time trouble to the point where the win was obvious, so I resigned.  Not my best effort, but it was a useful learning experience in dealing with an unfamiliar opening setup (Semi-Slav versus the English, which morphed into a Stonewall).

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "68"] {D4: Semi-Slav: 5 e3} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. e3 c6 {this is the first time I've encountered a Semi-Slav type setup against the English.} 5. b3 Nbd7 6. Be2 {this may be a premature development of the bishop.} Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. d4 {this move puts the game firmly in Semi-Slav territory (although not for long). Alternate approaches may be better. Here's one from Mikhail Tal:} (8. Qc2 Re8 9. Bb2 e5 10. cxd5 Nxd5 11. Ne4 Bc7 12. a3 a5 13. Bc4 Nf8 14. Ng3 Bg4 15. Ne1 Ng6 16. h3 Be6 17. Nf3 Nf6 18. Bxe6 Rxe6 19. Rad1 Re8 20. e4 Nd7 21. d4 exd4 22. Nxd4 Bxg3 23. fxg3 Qb6 24. Kh2 Qc5 25. Qe2 Nde5 26. Nf5 Rad8 27. Rxd8 Rxd8 28. Rd1 Qf8 29. Bd4 Rd7 30. Bc3 Rxd1 31. Qxd1 h6 32. h4 f6 33. h5 Ne7 34. Nh4 Qb8 35. Bxe5 Qxe5 36. Qd7 Kf8 37. Ng6+ Nxg6 38. hxg6 Qh5+ 39. Kg1 Qxg6 40. Qxb7 Qxe4 41. Qa8+ {1/2-1/2 (41) Tal,M (2560)-Bagirov,V (2505) Riga 1981}) 8... Qe7 9. Bb2 Ne4 10. Qc2 f5 {now we have a classic Stonewall Dutch formation for Black.} 11. Nxe4 {starting a somewhat complex sequence. I had to think here for a while and also again on move 14 to make sure that I had it right.} fxe4 12. Ne5 {the only move that doesn't give Black a positional edge.} Qg5 { the counter-threat by Black, which requires White to further support the Ne5. Exchanging on d7 is possible, but just benefits Black by freeing up the Bc8 and connecting his rooks.} 13. Qc3 Rf5 {increasing the pressure again on Black's side.} 14. f4 exf3 15. Rxf3 (15. Nxf3 $5 {is the other major option. I thought that the text move seemed to keep the balance more easily.}) 15... Nxe5 16. dxe5 Rxe5 17. Rg3 {an obvious move with an obvious threat that I made quickly. I should have considered other options as well, since there's no urgency to play the text move. For example, Black's Re5 is awkwardly placed and is a target for White's bishops.} (17. Bd3 $5 {starts a wild line:} Rxe3 18. Bxh7+ Kh8 19. Rxe3 Bc5 20. Rae1 d4 21. Qd3 dxe3 22. Be4 $14) (17. c5 { is a safer version of the idea.} Bc7 18. Bd3 {and Black's Re5 is trapped and will have to give itself up for the exchange, although this is not losing.}) 17... Qe7 18. Rf1 {another "obvious" move played when there was a not-so-obvious good alternative.} (18. Ba3 {deflection tactic.} Bxa3 19. Qxe5 Bd6 20. Qg5 Qxg5 21. Rxg5 $11) 18... Rg5 {Black now effectively takes over the initiative. His pieces are well placed to make threats on the kingside, while mine are not coordinating as well.} 19. Rxg5 Qxg5 20. Bh5 {I did well to find this move, although I followed up on it poorly, essentially overestimating my threats and underestimating Black's.} Bxh2+ 21. Kh1 $4 (21. Kxh2 {I dismissed this move since I thought it just lost a pawn, but it keeps the position equal due to White's threats on the f-file and against the g7 square.} Qxh5+ 22. Kg1 Qg5 23. Qb4 Qxe3+ 24. Rf2 $11) 21... Bg3 $19 {only now did I see the problem of the mate threat.} 22. Bf7+ {the best practical chance for White, although I am already lost by this point. However, my opponent was running very low on time in the first time control, so I played on and tried to complicate matters as much as possible.} Kh8 23. Kg1 Bd7 24. Be8 Rxe8 25. Rf7 e5 26. Rxd7 Qf5 { the game is effectively over, due to Black's mate threats. Under time pressure, however, he decides to pick up the material and just play safely.} 27. Qd2 Qxd7 (27... Rf8 28. Qe1 Bxe1 29. Bxe5 Bf2+ 30. Kh1 Qh5+ 31. Bh2 Qd1+ 32. Bg1 Qxg1#) 28. e4 d4 29. Qd3 Qg4 30. Ba3 Bf4 31. Kf1 Be3 32. Qe2 Qf4+ 33. Qf3 Qxf3+ 34. gxf3 h5 {at this point Black could easily make random moves to reach the time control successfully, so I resigned.} 0-1

10 April 2016

Annotated Game #154: For the want of a pawn...

This second-round tournament game is a good illustration of the importance of the d-pawn (and the d4 square) in French Opening-style pawn structures.  My opponent as White neglected this key aspect and I was able to take advantage of it, winning the d-pawn relatively early on.  Some significant improvements for Black came out in the analysis afterwards, so it was worth looking at in order to tweak my game, for example on move 13.  The strategic endgame errors my opponent made are also typical, primarily involving simplifying down into less complex (but worse) positions.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class E"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "110"] {B12: Caro-Kann: Advance Variation} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {Black has achieved a standard setup against the Advance variation played by White, with his bishop outside the pawn chain. This is the basic idea of the 3...c5 variation.} 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Nge7 {this was my first real think in the game. It's a standard way to develop the knight, but Black has other possibilities.} (7... Bxf3) (7... Qb6) 8. h3 $6 {this essentially forces an inferior continuation for White.} (8. Nbd2 $5 $11 {should not be overlooked}) 8... Bxf3 9. Bxf3 Nf5 {not a bad move, but not the most effective continuation. I should have looked more deeply into the cxd4 option and its various effects.} (9... cxd4 10. cxd4 Qb6 11. Be3 Nf5 12. Nc3 (12. Bg4 Nxe3 13. fxe3 Qxb2 $17) 12... Ncxd4 13. Qa4+ Qc6 $17) 10. Be3 (10. Bg4 $5 $11 {is the reason why Black should have taken earlier on d4. Now White can trade off the knight and inflict some pawn structure damage.}) 10... Qb6 {again, capturing immediately on d4 would be better, although the text move is fine.} 11. Qd2 {now Black is going to be a clear pawn ahead with no compensation.} (11. Nd2 Be7 $15) 11... cxd4 $17 12. cxd4 Ncxd4 {Black does not have to worry about the pin on the Nd4, since it can be dissolved two ways (...Nxf3+ or ...Nxe3).} 13. Bg4 (13. Bxd4 Nxd4 14. Bd1 Rc8 $17) 13... Bc5 (13... Nxe3 $5 {is significantly better, saddling White with additional weaknesses and giving Black additional significant threats, notably to both the weak e5 and e3 pawns. I had focused exclusively on the text move in my thinking.} 14. fxe3 (14. Qxe3 $2 Nc2 15. Qxb6 axb6 $19) 14... Nc6 $19) 14. Bxf5 (14. Bf4 O-O $17) 14... Nxf5 15. Bxc5 Qxc5 {I had focused on this position when originally calculating the sequence. Black has an extra central protected passed pawn and the e5 pawn is weak.} 16. Qd3 {this seems to be too slow. White could have used the tempo to try to develop his pieces quicker.} (16. Rc1 Qd4 $17) 16... O-O 17. Nd2 {evidently the idea behind White's queen move, clearing the d2 square for the knight.} Rac8 18. Rac1 (18. Nf3 Rc7 $17) 18... Qd4 {here I also strongly considered the queen for double rook trade, which I think would be more clearly winning, although the text move also leads to a significant advantage.} (18... Qxc1 $5 19. Rxc1 Rxc1+ 20. Kh2 Rfc8 $19 {looks good for Black, as the rooks control the only open file and should be able to parry any White threats by the queen.} ) 19. Qxd4 Nxd4 $19 20. Rxc8 $6 {I was happy to see this, giving me uncontested control of the c-file.} (20. Kh2 $5) 20... Rxc8 21. Nf3 {a common endgame error by Class players - simplifying down material only magnifies your opponent's advantages, in this case the protected passed d-pawn. The doubled f-pawns also do nothing for White.} Nxf3+ 22. gxf3 {at this point the endgame is completely winning for Black, so I concentrated on making sure that I would be safe and maintain the advantage, rather than on winning in the most rapid way.} g6 {cautiously giving the king an escape square off the back rank, while also dominating the f5 square. While not the absolute best move - probably that would be an immediate ...Rc2 - the text move keeps the win firmly in hand while lessening the number of things that I have to worry about. This is what Dan Heisman refers to as the "go to sleep" principle in the endgame.} 23. b3 f6 {the idea here is to eliminate the e-pawn and open the f-file, although White could have defended against the ideas.} (23... Rc2 $5) 24. exf6 {allowing me to execute my idea.} (24. f4 $5) 24... Kf7 25. Re1 Kxf6 {now the Black king is more centralized and White's weak f-pawns are isolated.} 26. Re2 e5 27. Rd2 Rd8 28. Kg2 {White now commits his king to the kingside, rather than to stopping Black's central passed pawn. He had no good options here, but this makes my task easier in the center.} d4 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 29. Rd3 Kf5 30. Kg3 Rc8 (30... e4 {is also possible.} 31. fxe4+ (31. Rd2 d3) 31... Kxe4 32. Rd2 d3 $19 {and now Black's king can't be stopped from going to c3 and clearing the way for the pawn to queen.}) 31. a4 $6 {this just weakens White's queenside pawns.} Rc3 32. Rd2 Rxb3 33. Rc2 e4 $6 {this is unnecessarily complicated and opens up the king to checks from the side.} (33... Rb4 { is better in consolidating the position.} 34. a5 d3 35. Ra2 Rd4 $19) 34. Kg2 { White misses his chance to harass my king and put up some more active resistance.} (34. Rc5+ Ke6 35. Kf4 e3 $19) 34... Rxf3 35. a5 (35. Rc5+ { is now not as effective.} Ke6 36. Rc7 d3 $19) 35... Rc3 36. Rb2 Rc7 37. Rb5+ Ke6 38. Rb4 Rd7 39. Kf1 Kf5 40. Rb5+ (40. Ke1 {desperation} d3 41. Rc4 $19) 40... Kf4 41. Ke2 e3 (41... d3+ {is more to the point.} 42. Kd1 Rc7 {and now the f-pawn will fall if White keeps the king on the d-file.}) 42. fxe3+ dxe3 43. Rb3 Rd2+ 44. Ke1 Ra2 (44... b6 {makes it even easier for Black} 45. axb6 axb6 46. Rxb6 $19) 45. Rxb7 Rxa5 46. Rxh7 Rh5 {this seemed obvious at the time but it allows White to take the outside passed a-pawn, which is less advantageous trade.} (46... Ra1+ 47. Ke2 Ra2+ 48. Ke1 a5 $19) 47. Rxa7 Rxh3 48. Rf7+ Ke5 49. Ke2 g5 $2 {with Black's two passed pawns only two files apart, this gives White good defensive chances.} (49... Ke4 {is the only move that preserves the advantage, in fact.} 50. Re7+ Kf4 51. Rf7+ Kg4 52. Re7 $19 g5 { now the pawn advance comes with a guaranteed win.}) 50. Re7+ $2 (50. Kd3 $11 { and White is still in the game, even equal according to the engine. The White king and rook combine well to shut off Black's king from making meaningful progress. For example} Ke6 51. Rf8 {and Black has no way to advance the e-pawn without losing it.}) 50... Kf5 51. Rxe3 $2 {immediately loses the king and pawn endgame.} (51. Rf7+ Kg4 $19) 51... Rxe3+ 52. Kxe3 Kg4 53. Kf2 Kh3 54. Kg1 Kg3 55. Kh1 Kf2 (55... Kf2 56. Kh2 g4 57. Kh1 Kg3 58. Kg1 Kh3 59. Kf2 g3+ 60. Kf1 Kh2 61. Ke2 g2 62. Kd3 g1=Q 63. Kc4 Qg5 64. Kb4 Kg2 65. Kc4 Kf3 66. Kb4 Ke3 67. Kc4 Qa5 68. Kb3 Kd3 69. Kb2 Qb4+ 70. Ka2 Kc3 71. Ka1 Qb2#) 0-1

06 April 2016

Annotated Game #153: It's never too late to equalize

After the previous, rather lackluster tournament, I played in the open section of my next tournament.  Normally I stick to my class section in tournaments, believing that if I can't play well against my peers or lower-rated players, but can occasionally get lucky against higher-rated players, then I'm not really improving.  However it's also good to stretch yourself against a wider range of competition periodically.

This first-round game was played against a strong Expert.  He really had very little work to do to gain an advantage, since I failed to challenge his early opening deviations and instead went with a standard English setup versus his King's Indian-like formation, which however was a couple tempi ahead of normal lines.  Black therefore easily equalized and was able to pursue a clear strategy, while instead I effectively tied myself in knots and had a strategically busted position my move 14.  While disappointing to see, this is a valuable lesson in not simply playing by rote in the opening or going with a "comfortable" setup if it's not the right one.

The post title, however, comes from the fact that despite his strategic squeeze of my position, my opponent made a huge misjudgment in trading off a key pair of minor pieces and in fact allowed me to equalize on move 30, after much suffering.  However, I failed to spot the key tactic that would have made that concrete, instead playing the key move one tempo too late.  This is a recurring theme I've noticed in my games, in which I battle valiantly for an extended period, inducing an error (although not obvious) from my opponent which I then fail to take advantage of.  I think this is partly due to mental tiredness, so along with not giving up I'll have to work on keeping a steady level of energy up.  I believe the best way to do this will be simply to play more tournament games and get myself used to the sustained effort more, rather than taking a number of months off in between tournaments (not always by choice, mind you).

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Expert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A21"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "64"] {A1: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. d3 {this fails to challenge Black's setup (unlike d4, played either immediately or eventually after fianchettoing the light-square bishop).} (3. d4 exd4 4. Qxd4 Nc6 5. Qe3+ Qe7 6. Nd5 Qxe3 7. Bxe3 Kd8 8. O-O-O Ne5 9. Bf4 Ng4 10. Bxc7+ Ke8 11. Bg3 Kf7 12. Nf3 Bc5 13. e3 a5 14. Bd3 g6 15. Ne5+ {1-0 (15) Banas,J (2279)-Castven,S (1906) Novi Sad 2015}) 3... Nf6 4. Bg5 g6 {the text move weakens the kingside unnecessarily at this point, which is probably why it's not in the database.} ( 4... Be7) 5. Nf3 d6 6. g3 Bg7 7. Bg2 O-O 8. O-O {by this point White has a standard setup versus a KID-style defense. Black however is a tempo or two ahead on the kingside, having played the early ...f5, so he has fully equalized.} h6 9. Bxf6 {this accelerates the development of the Black queen to an effective square.} (9. Bd2) 9... Qxf6 {Black also now has the pair of bishops. White normally exchanges on f6 if he wants to save time, but in this case it does not work out well.} 10. Nd5 {the knight goes to a nice square, but the gains from this move are limited.} (10. Qb3 {is an interesting idea. The queen blocks the advance of the b-pawn, but it is well-placed to support the center and exerts pressure on the b-file and the a2-g8 diagonal.}) 10... Qf7 11. Rb1 {the idea being to get the rook off the long diagonal, so b4 can be played.} c6 {this is the obvious problem of the knight move. Black now bolsters the long diagonal and exerts control over d5 while gaining back the tempo.} 12. Nc3 Be6 13. Qc2 d5 $15 {by this point it's pretty clear that Black has a superior setup and his pieces are all working together well. White cannot say the same.} 14. b3 {I thought for a long time here, given Black's various threats.} (14. cxd5 cxd5 15. d4 e4 16. Ne5 Bxe5 17. dxe5 $15 {is the best line the engine can offer for White, which is still rather depressing.}) 14... d4 {this retains an advantage for Black, but does not appear quite as effective as the other pawn push.} (14... e4 15. Ne1 $17 {and White is even more cramped.} (15. Nd2 {is just as bad, maybe worse, in terms of useful squares for the knight.})) 15. Na4 $15 Nd7 16. Nd2 {now White has control of e4 and the bishop is open on the long diagonal, which is something (if not a lot).} Rac8 17. c5 {the idea here is to clear the c4 square for a knight and seize the d6 hole. However, this is a slow process and White could have gotten better results from advancing the b-pawn and withdrawing the knight on the rim. } (17. Nb2 Qe7 18. b4 {this is still possible because the b7 pawn is hanging and would be taken after} Qxb4 (18... b5 19. a3) 19. Na4 Qa5 20. Rxb7) 17... Rfd8 {during the game I thought this was a strategic misjudgment, since the point of Black's setup is to seize space on the kingside and advance the pawns with the support of his heavy pieces.} (17... Qe7 $17 {would increase the pressure on c5 and better support a kingside space expansion with ...h5-h4.}) 18. a3 {is too slow. I was worried about leaving the pawn on a2 and having the B+Q battery keep pressure on it.} (18. Nc4 {I considered but ultimately rejected this line, not liking how the Na4 would be isolated after an exchange. It's still preferable to the text move, however.} Bxc4 (18... b5 $2 19. cxb6 Nxb6 20. Naxb6 axb6 21. Nxb6 $16) 19. bxc4 Nf6 $17) 18... Rc7 19. Nb2 b5 $17 { now Black can get this in without negative consequences, restricting White's game on the queenside as well as everywhere else.} 20. cxb6 axb6 21. Rfc1 h5 $6 {I was puzzled by this, since it seems to just lose time for Black, with nothing to back up the pawn advance.} (21... Nf6 22. a4 $17) 22. Qd1 {I thought for a while here, too, trying to come up with a way to free my game.} Bd5 {a strong move that continues to tighten Black's spatial grip.} 23. Nbc4 { trying to get the knight back in the game. Black does not punish this move as he should have.} (23. Bxd5 $5 Qxd5 24. b4 b5 25. Qb3 $17 {trying to trade off pieces and get some space, although White is still in a bind.}) 23... Ra7 { this just wastes time and could allow White to equalize.} (23... Bxg2 24. Kxg2 b5 {easily removing the knight from his perch} 25. Na5 Nb6 $17 {and Black is much better, with the c-pawn being tactically defended due to the threat of ... Qd5+ and the knight threatening to go to d5 and then c3.}) 24. a4 (24. Bxd5 { again would be better. The point is that Black in the game gains a tempo on this line after he chooses to exchange on g2 and then play ...Qd5+ as a follow-up.} Qxd5 25. b4 Bh6 $15) 24... Bxg2 $17 25. Kxg2 Qd5+ (25... b5 { first is better, since it avoids the below variation where White can play e4.} 26. Na3 Qd5+ 27. Kg1 Nf6 $17) 26. Kg1 b5 27. Na3 {the second best move according to the engine, but significantly worse.} (27. e4 dxe3 28. Nxe3 Qxd3 29. Rxc6 Nf8 $15) 27... Bf8 {Black is now dominating on the queenside and I have no good options. The text move, however, immediately lets the bishop into b4.} 28. Ra1 $6 (28. Nc2 Nf6 29. Ra1 $17) 28... Bb4 29. Qc2 $2 {proving that the earlier decision to play Qd1 was just a waste of time. I was at a loss as how to deal with the bind, however.} (29. Ndb1 $17 {is the engine's preferred selection, which tells you how bad the situation is.}) 29... Bxd2 $2 {throwing away the advantage, comments Komodo 8 via Fritz. This shows my opponent had a fundamental misunderstanding of the position.} (29... Nc5 $19 {maintains a winning advantage, including crushingly superior minor pieces.}) 30. Qxd2 $11 { here the engine declares the game completely level. I spotted the possibility of the queen initiating kingside threats - thanks to Black's decision to exchange on d2, which placed the queen on the c1-h6 diagonal.} Nc5 {however, now the knight's threat to b3 and the unavoidable fork dominated my thinking.} 31. Rxc5 $2 {I thought for some time here and picked the wrong desperation move, thinking it would be to my benefit to sack the exchange first, avoid the ...Nxb3 fork, and possibly line up my rook on c1 against the queen.} (31. Qg5 $1 {must be played immediately, with a counterthreat.} Nxb3 32. Rxc6 $1 { is what I missed, not seeing the deflection tactic against the Rd8 and overloaded Qd5, despite having recognized the general theme earlier when considering Qg5.} (32. Qxg6+ Rg7 33. Qxf5 Qf7 $17) 32... Qxc6 33. Qxd8+ Kg7 34. axb5 $11) 31... Qxc5 $19 32. Qg5 {too late.} Rd6 0-1