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

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