13 August 2016

Commentary: 2016 U.S. Championship, Round 8 (Yu - Melekhina)

I selected this next commentary game both based on its excitement factor and it being a Symmetrical English (not two qualities you often see together).  A standard imbalanced position follows after Black's (FM Alisa Melekhina) 5...e5, which can lead to a slow maneuvering game.  In this case, however, White (Jennifer Yu, also the winner of the previous commentary game) chose to pursue a non-standard and perhaps somewhat risky kingside strategy starting on move 12, rather than focusing on the usual queenside and central play revolving around d5.

Melekhina reacted well and picked up the gauntlet by castling on opposite sides, but her apparently safe-looking move 14 became the root of later problems by opening the f-file.  Yu then took advantage of her opponent moving her bishops away from protecting key squares not once, but twice, then found some creative tactical resources to win.  An excellent and informative struggle between two fine players (although this was not Melekhina's tournament).

(You can also see the original US Championship round 8 reportage at ChessBase here, although it seems that the commentator was working from an incorrect scoresheet when referring to this game.)

[Event "ch-USA w 2016"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2016.04.22"] [Round "8.6"] [White "Yu, Jennifer R"] [Black "Melekhina, Alisa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2157"] [BlackElo "2205"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2016.04.14"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. Nf3 e5 {breaking the symmetry and establishing a central pawn presence.} 6. O-O Nge7 {the idea here is not to block the f-pawn's advance later.} 7. Ne1 {White's idea is to redeploy the knight via c2. This is slow, but the opening is largely about maneuver rather than attack.} d6 8. Nc2 {from here the knight can support the b4 advance or move to e3 to increase domination of the d5 square.} h5 $5 {this move scores well in the database - although see the next annotation - but is not often played. There is only one game listed in 2015 with it, for example.} (8... Be6 {is the more conventional choice, along with castling.}) 9. d3 {both Komodo and the database indicate that the reaction h4 should be avoided. In the small sample (19) of games available, it has been played roughly half of the time and scores badly at 25 percent. That said, White appears to be OK in the line, although it allows some additional attacking ideas for Black, as in the following game:} (9. h4 g5 10. hxg5 h4 11. Ne3 hxg3 12. fxg3 Be6 13. Ncd5 Qd7 14. Nf6+ Bxf6 15. Rxf6 Rg8 16. Nd5 O-O-O 17. d3 Nf5 18. Rxf5 Bxf5 19. Nf6 Qc7 20. Qf1 Be6 21. Nxg8 Rxg8 22. Bd2 Nd4 23. Qf2 Bg4 24. Bd5 Nxe2+ 25. Kg2 Nd4 26. Qxf7 Qxf7 27. Bxf7 Bf3+ 28. Kf2 Rh8 29. Re1 Rh2+ 30. Ke3 Bh1 31. Rxh1 Re2# { 0-1 (31) Markos,J (2327)-Navara,D (2433) Pardubice 2000}) 9... h4 {the most logical follow-up. If Black is going to advance the h-pawn, she should go all in.} 10. Ne3 {most played here, although the engine evaluates that first proceeding with standard play centered around the b-file is fine.} (10. a3 a5 11. Rb1 a4 12. Bg5 f6 13. Bd2 h3 14. Bh1 O-O 15. Ne3 {is one possibility.}) 10... Be6 {this gets the bishop out, but Black did not need to develop it this early, as it is doing fine on its original square for now. It does nothing to impede White's next move.} 11. Ned5 f6 {this seems a little premature and commital.} (11... h3 $5 {is the engine's choice, which would avoid White's later gxh4.}) 12. Qe1 {Yu here is signaling a shift in commitment to a kingside strategy, placing her queen on the e1-h4 diagonal and preparing her next move.} (12. Rb1 $5 {would continue with queenside and central play.}) 12... Qd7 13. f4 O-O-O {Melekhina notes the strategic shift and castles on the opposite wing, making White's threat of expansion on the kingside less urgent.} 14. fxe5 fxe5 $6 {this looks like a logical and "clean" move visually, but immediately gives White some advantage to play with, including the open f-file and the initiative. From here on out, the game gets wilder.} (14... Bxd5 $5 { with the idea of exchanging material and reducing potential White threats.} 15. Nxd5 Nxe5 16. gxh4 Nxd5 17. Bxd5 f5 $11) 15. gxh4 {ugly-looking but effective. Black has some compensation for the pawn, due to the weak doubled h-pawns, but White does an admirable job of covering the weaknesses and playing actively.} Bh3 $2 {it turns out that Black needs to worry more about her white-square weaknesses, especially on f7, with the absence of this bishop. White has a number of ways to take advantage of this.} (15... Bxd5 {is still a good idea, but leaves White in better shape compared with the above variation:} 16. Nxd5 Nxd5 17. Bxd5 Nd4 18. Bg5 $14) 16. Bg5 (16. Rf7 $1 {and Black has some unsolvable problems related to the 7th rank and king position, for example} Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Bh6 18. Bxh6 Rxh6 19. Nxe7+ Nxe7 20. Nd5 Re8 21. Qa5 $18) 16... Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Rdf8 18. h3 {White evidently was concerned about ...Qg4+ here, although the engine shows that is not necessary.} (18. Nxe7+ Nxe7 19. Rxf8+ Rxf8 20. Bxe7 Qxe7 21. Nd5 $16 {and Black no longer has any real compensation for the pawn.}) 18... Nf5 $11 {a good consolidating move by Black. With this and the previous rook move, she has shut down threats along the f-file. White can also no longer trade down material, as in the previous variation.} 19. Ne4 {centralizing the knight and recognizing that the e4 square is superior to b5 for it now.} Bh6 $6 {continuing with the theme of moving bishops away from controlling key squares, in this case f6. This time White takes advantage of it better.} (19... Ncd4) 20. Nef6 $16 Qe6 21. e4 {White has regained the initiative and revived the utility of the f-file.} Nxh4+ {a piece sacrifice based on an interesting tactical idea for Black.} (21... Nfd4 $16 {is the safer choice.}) 22. Bxh4 Bg5 $2 {unfortunately for Black, this bishop move doesn't work. Yu spots the refutation, which is not obvious. Two white pieces are hanging (the Bh4 and the Nf6) and the Bh4 can't move without allowing ... Qxh3. However, White finds a creative solution by giving back the piece.} ( 22... Bf4 {is the only good continuation here, with the threat of ...g5 and ... Qxh3.} 23. Rxf4 exf4 24. Nxf4 Qe5 25. Nxg6 Rhg8 26. Nxg8 Rxg8 27. Kh1 Rxg6 28. Qf2 $16 {still works out fine for White, however.}) 23. Nc7 $1 Kxc7 24. Nd5+ { The Nf6 escapes with tempo, thanks to the sacrifice of its brother.} Kd7 { now Black has problems with hanging pieces instead and loses at minimum the exchange.} 25. Rxf8 Bxh4 (25... Rxf8 26. Bxg5 $18) (25... Rxh4 26. Qg3 Rh5 27. Raf1 $18) 26. Qf1 (26. Rxh8 {might be simpler, with two rooks vs. queen in a position where the rooks will dominate.} Bxe1 27. Rxe1 $18) 26... Rh5 (26... Rxf8 27. Qxf8 Be7 28. Qg7 $18 {and Black cannot stop the rook transfer to f1 and then f6 or f7.}) 27. Qf7+ Qxf7 28. Rxf7+ Ne7 29. Raf1 {an illustration of the importance of the open f-file in the game, along with the weak 7th rank. Black's fate is now sealed.} Rh8 30. Rg7 Re8 31. Rh7 Bg5 32. h4 Bf4 33. Nf6+ 1-0

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