26 February 2017

Annotated Game #166: Even short draws have lessons

Having finished off the 2016 master-level commentary games, I'll turn back now to looking at my tournament games.  At first glance this 19-move draw seems pretty worthless, but in fact analyzing it really gave me some insights into some key mechanics of the Classical Caro-Kann setup, especially how Black should coordinate the pieces - note the uselessness and even the liability that the Bd6 proved to be here - and think prophylactically (11...b5!?).  The opening itself veers out of book early on (moves 6-7), something I did not handle very well.  My opponent was rated significantly below me, but played well and I had the worst of a position with no prospects, so the draw was probably the best outcome.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "38"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Bc4 e6 8. O-O Nbd7 {a solid move, but it allows White to establish the Bf4.} (8... Bd6) 9. Bf4 Nb6 {not a good decision. I waste time in the opening by driving my opponent's bishop to a better square, while moving the same piece twice.} (9... Be7 10. Re1 O-O 11. Nh4 Qb6 12. Nxg6 hxg6 13. Bb3 Rfd8 14. c3 c5 15. Ne2 e5 16. dxe5 Nxe5 17. Qc2 Nd3 18. Red1 c4 19. Be3 cxb3 20. axb3 Qb5 21. Nd4 Rxd4 22. Bxd4 Nf4 23. Rxa7 Rxa7 24. Bxa7 { Djacic,N-Maric,A (2407) Cetinje 2009 0-1 (34)}) 10. Bd3 {White has an active position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.} Nbd5 $146 {hitting the bishop and centralizing the knight, but I am still under-developed. Again, White's bishop is driven to a better square as well.} (10... Bd6 11. Be5 O-O $11) 11. Be5 Bd6 {a little late with the idea and not really helpful for me. Unfortunately, taking with the bishop on e5 would simply give White a strong e5 pawn and kick the Nf6, gaining a tempo. With the dark-square bishop gone, I also would have more trouble covering the dark squares on defense. The bishop is actually something of a liability on d6 for me, as the Qd8 is tied to its defense.} (11... b5 {is the engine's recommendation of a prophylactic move, to help preserve the Nd5 on its square. Whenever Black puts a knight on d5 in this variation, if White can advance a pawn to c4 to kick it off the square, it's not very well placed.} 12. h4 $14) (11... Nd7 $5 {might be a better version of the idea to exchange the Be5.}) 12. Re1 (12. c4 {would give White the initiative.} Ne7 13. Bxg6 hxg6 14. Qb3 Rb8 $14) 12... O-O {removing the king from the e-file, very important for tactical reasons as well as developmental.} 13. Qd2 {my opponent continues to play decent but somewhat slow moves.} b5 {here I recognize the importance of defending the Nd5 outpost and implement the prophylactic idea (a bit late).} (13... Be7 {is also an option, acknowledging that the trade on e5 will not happen with the bishop and allowing ...Nd7.}) 14. a4 (14. c3 Be7 $11) 14... a6 (14... b4 {is a superior continuation, gaining space.} 15. c4 bxc3 16. bxc3 Be7 $11 {and now if} 17. c4 Bb4 $15 (17... Nb4 {also works.})) 15. h3 {presumably done to prevent ...Ng4.} (15. axb5 {is probably the most challenging way to continue, but after a series of piece exchanges White will not have enough material to push an attack.} cxb5 {forced.} (15... axb5 $2 16. Rxa8 Qxa8 17. Bxd6 $18) 16. Bxd6 Qxd6 17. Ne5 Bxd3 18. Qxd3 $11) 15... Re8 (15... Qc7 $5 16. Bxd6 Qxd6 17. c3) 16. Ne4 {this allows for simplification into a drawish position.} Nxe4 17. Bxe4 Bxe4 18. Rxe4 Nf6 {this seemed the obvious move at the time, although it would allow White to try to create something on the h-file with Rh4.} (18... f6 { is forcing with the Bd6 and also takes away the g5 square from White's knight.} 19. Bxd6 Qxd6 20. Rae1 {White can try to pressure the e-pawn but without prospects for success.} Re7 $11 {is the safe response, leaving e8 open for the other rook.}) 19. Ree1 (19. Rh4 Qe7 $11) 19... h6 {I correctly evaluated the position here as having no winning prospect for myself, with any chances on my opponent's side, so accepted a draw.} (19... Be7) 1/2-1/2

22 February 2017

Commentary: 2016 London Classic Round 4 (Topalov - Nakamura)

(The original ChessBase article including this game can be found at https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-rd-4)

This next commentary game between two Super-GMs (Veselin Topolov and Hikaru Nakamura, from the 2016 London Classic in December) is a great contemporary example of the 3...c5 variation in the Advance Caro-Kann.  It is the only real gambit continuation in the Caro-Kann defense and is a legitimate alternative to 3...Bf5, which however is much more popular (and theoretical).  Here both sides are spoiling for a fight, as shown especially by Black's 9th move and White's 11th move choices.  Topalov gets the worst of it, however, overextending his queenside which is undermined with the key 11...a5, which has a number of unpleasant consequences for White.  Topalov throws caution to the winds with a queen sac on move 18, going "all in" on his aggressive idea, but Nakamura then capably quashes White's counterplay and essentially cruises to victory.  A model game to study for Caro-Kann players and in general, as it contains some important thematic ideas in the opening, along with a slew of middlegame tactics and a virtuoso demonstration of the power of the queen when she is mobile and her opposition is uncoordinated.
[Event "8th London Classic 2016"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2016.12.12"] [Round "?"] [White "Topalov, V."] [Black "Nakamura, Hi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2779"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "106"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. dxc5 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {the standard reaction after Nf3 in this version of the Advance variation. The ability to pin the Nf3 is one of the benefits of playing 3...c5 rather than ...Bf5.} 6. c3 {this deters . ..Qa5 and prepares the b-pawn advance.} (6. Bb5 {is the main move here.}) 6... e6 7. b4 a6 {preventing ...Bb5, but slowing development.} (7... Nge7 $5) 8. Nbd2 Nxe5 {this is an earlier and an easier recovery of the pawn than is normal for Black in the variation. White in this line has chosen to emphasize queenside play instead.} 9. Qa4+ Nd7 {now out of the database. This move choice preserves the queens on the board and indicates that Nakamura wants a middlegame fight.} (9... Qd7 {had been tried twice before in the database, both times resulting in a loss. Most recently:} 10. Qxd7+ Nxd7 11. Bb2 Bxf3 12. Nxf3 Be7 13. Be2 Bf6 14. O-O Ne7 15. Rab1 O-O 16. c4 a5 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. a3 axb4 19. axb4 Ra2 20. Rfe1 Ne5 21. cxd5 Nxf3+ 22. Bxf3 Nxd5 23. Bxd5 exd5 24. Re7 Rb8 25. g3 Rd2 26. Rd7 Rd4 27. Rd6 Rc8 28. Rxf6 Rc6 29. Rd6 Rd2 30. Kg2 Kf8 31. Kf3 Rd4 32. Rd8+ Kg7 33. Rb2 Rf6+ 34. Kg2 b6 35. cxb6 Rxb6 36. b5 Rd1 37. Kf3 Kf6 38. Ke2 Rd4 39. Rb3 Ke7 40. Ra8 Re4+ 41. Kf3 Ree6 42. Ra7+ Kf6 43. Kg2 Kg6 44. Ra4 h6 45. Rd4 Red6 46. Kf3 Kf6 47. Ke3 Rd8 48. Rf4+ Ke5 49. Rxf7 d4+ 50. Kd3 Rd5 51. Re7+ Kf5 52. Re4 Rdxb5 53. Rxb5+ Rxb5 54. Rxd4 {1-0 (54) Nevednichy,V (2554)-Zelcic,R (2548) Tromsoe 2014}) 10. Ne5 Ngf6 {Nakamura is not concerned about the knight for bishop trade on g4 and continues with development.} 11. c4 $6 {while active-looking, the main problem with this move is that it leaves White's queenside pawns overextended, which Nakamura takes advantage of with his next move. Presumably Topalov was looking to exchange on d5 at some point and get rid of his doubled pawns.} (11. Nxg4 {is a more obvious follow-up, obtaining the two bishops, although it doesn't offer much for White beyond equality. Topalov is obviously trying for more, which requires the knight to stay on e5.} Nxg4 12. Be2 Qh4 $5 (12... Nge5 $11) 13. Bxg4 Qxg4 $11) 11... a5 {now White cannot take on a5 or advance the b-pawn without losing the c5 pawn.} 12. Nb3 (12. cxd5 axb4 13. Qb5 Bxc5 $15) 12... axb4 {this capture is made even more annoying for White because the Queen is tied to the pin of the Nd7, which otherwise could take the hanging Ne5, so recapturing on b4 is not possible.} 13. Qb5 {the only move.} Be7 14. c6 { this looks a bit scary at first, but Black emerges unscathed from the sequence rather better.} (14. cxd5 {doesn't seem to work any better for White, as after} O-O 15. Nxg4 (15. d6 Nxe5 $17) 15... Nxg4 {White either must accept the loss of the c5-pawn or allow Black to go into a dangerous-looking sequence with} 16. h3 Nxf2 (16... Nge5 {is the safe alternative}) 17. Kxf2 Bf6 18. Rb1 Rxa2+) 14... bxc6 $15 15. Nxc6 Qc7 {and the b-pawn is tactically protected. White does not have sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn and has no good choices at this point.} (15... Qb6 $6 {looks tempting, directly protecting the b-pawn, but is worse for Black after} 16. Be3 Qxb5 17. cxb5 $14 {and now the advanced b-pawn White has acquired is a strength rather than a liability.}) 16. f3 (16. Nxb4 $2 Rb8 {winning material.}) 16... Bf5 {so the bishop ends up on f5 after all, and is nicely placed there.} 17. Nxe7 Rb8 {a key intermediate move, preserving the b-pawn.} 18. Nxf5 $2 {now Topalov goes "all in" with the material sacrifice, which has some shock value but favors Black.} (18. Qa5 { this more solid alternative must have looked unappetizing to Topalov after} Qe5+ 19. Kf2 Kxe7 $15) 18... Rxb5 19. Nxg7+ Ke7 $17 {Black does not have to be in a rush to trap the knight with ...Kf8.} 20. cxb5 Nc5 {this allows time for White to seize the long diagonal.} (20... Qe5+ $1 21. Be2 Nc5 22. Rb1 Nd3+ 23. Kf1 Nxc1 24. Rxc1 Nd7 $17) 21. Bb2 Nxb3 22. axb3 $11 Qf4 23. Be2 {although White must be desperate to activate his pieces, this gives Black time to do the same, getting his rook into play very effectively.} (23. Ra7+ $5 Nd7 24. Nf5+ {now the bishop's presence on b2 is a saving grace for White.} exf5 25. Rxd7+ Kxd7 26. Bxh8 $11) 23... Rc8 24. Rd1 Qg5 {this looks quite threatening to both the Ng7 and g2 pawn, but moving the rook to c2 immediately appears stronger. The Ng7 is dead anyway and the Rc2 creates new threats.} 25. b6 $6 ( 25. O-O Qxg7 26. Bd4 {and Black may have a slight edge, but no immediate threats.}) 25... Rc2 26. Bxf6+ Qxf6 27. Nh5 {a nice try at extracting the knight, but now the Black queen and rook combine well in making new, decisive threats.} (27. b7 Qc3+ 28. Kf1 Qc7 {and the b-pawn is indefensible.}) 27... Qc3+ 28. Kf1 Qe3 $19 {now the power of the queen is demonstrated. Black will pick up both of White's defenseless queenside pawns, while the rook on the second rank helps paralyze White's pieces. Note how poorly they coordinate and the fact that the Rh1 is completely out of play, with the Nh5 not much better.} 29. Re1 Qxb6 {an easy path to victory, as White is essentially helpless.} ( 29... d4 $5 {is the engine's preference, ramming through the passed pawn and picking up the Be2. For example} 30. b7 d3 31. Ng3 dxe2+ 32. Nxe2 Qb6 $19) 30. Nf4 Qe3 31. g3 Qxb3 {Topalov now tries to put up a fight and activate his pieces, but it's too late. Just seeing the passed d- and b-pawns makes it rather obvious.} 32. Kg2 Kf8 33. Kh3 Qb2 34. Rb1 Qf6 35. Rhe1 (35. Rxb4 Qh6+ 36. Kg2 e5 $19 {and White loses a piece.}) 35... e5 {again, Nakamura chooses a straightforward winning path.} (35... Qf5+ {would allow Black to play a tactical trick using the h7-b1 diagonal.} 36. Kg2 e5 37. Nxd5 Rxe2+ 38. Rxe2 Qxb1 $19) 36. Nxd5 Qe6+ 37. Kg2 Qxd5 38. Rxb4 Qd2 39. Rb8+ {getting out of the queen fork} Kg7 40. Kf1 Qh6 41. Kg2 (41. Rb4 $5) 41... e4 {the correct break, opening White's position further.} 42. Rb3 Qe6 {White's king remains the more vulnerable one, due to Black's mobility and Q+R combination.} 43. Re3 exf3+ 44. Kxf3 Qh3 45. Rd1 (45. Rh1 $2 Qf5+ 46. Kg2 Qd5+ 47. Kg1 Rc1+ 48. Bf1 Rxf1+ 49. Kxf1 Qxh1+) 45... Qh5+ {a strong intermediate check that heightens the impact of the capture on h2, with tempo.} 46. Kf2 (46. g4 $2 {is no help} Qh3+) 46... Qxh2+ 47. Kf3 Rc6 {a strong redeployment of the rook. Black again has time to spare, with a lack of any White counterplay.} 48. Rd4 Rg6 49. g4 Rf6+ 50. Ke4 Qh1+ 51. Kd3 Qb1+ {note how White's two rooks actually hinder rather than help him, in the face of the queen's mobility.} 52. Kd2 Qb2+ 53. Kd3 Rc6 {and White loses material.} 0-1

05 February 2017

Book completed - Play the Dutch

Image result for play the dutch

I recently completed Play the Dutch by GM Neil McDonald (Everyman Chess, 2010), which per the book's subtitle is "an opening repertoire for Black based on the Leningrad Variation".  It is also a direct follow-up to his Starting Out: The Dutch Defence which provides an orientation to all of the main Dutch variations (Stonewall, Classical and Leningrad).  The "Play the..." series of books are intended to be more focused and intermediate versions of the "Starting Out..." openings series from Everyman.

In this case, McDonald offers his preferred repertoire, although not too narrowly, for example discussing two of the three main options in the main line Leningrad (7...c6 and 7...Nc6) and offering some refinements on the Anti-Dutch sidelines in the earlier book.  Here's the table of contents, for reference:

Gambit Lines and Early Oddities
White Plays 2 Nc3
White Plays 2 Bg5
White Avoids an early g2-g3 against a Leningrad Set-up
Sidelines in the Leningrad Variation
The Main Line Leningrad: 7 Nc3 c6
The Main Line Leningrad: 7 Nc3 Nc6
The Dutch versus 1 Nf3 and 1 c4

Some general observations:
  • The book is very reader-friendly, both in terms of writing style and visual presentation.  To do serious work with it you'll of course need a board and/or database program to review the material, but it can be followed along with only moderate effort on a first read-through.
  • The Leningrad Dutch is a tactics-heavy and sometimes tricky opening, one in which the theory of individual lines (or even whole variations) can change relatively rapidly based on new games and ideas.  This book should not be used for the latest theory, but that's not its intent: it's designed more to present key ideas, themes and specific reasoning behind the highlighted lines, at an intermediate rather than advanced level.  It does this the best of all of the Leningrad Dutch books I have looked at.
  • If you have a coach familiar with the Leningrad, then this book is probably redundant, but for those of us without coaches, it can be quite helpful in getting to the next level of understanding about the opening and its middlegame ideas, something which McDonald emphasizes in the complete annotated games that the book is built around.  He makes the effort to highlight similar plans and themes across games (including things like the ...f4 thrust and the utility of ...Nf6-h5 in attacking situations), which will be very important to achieving practical success using the opening.
  • The book should greatly assist the reader in delving further into Leningrad ideas and exploring lines, but does not offer a 100% concrete, fully tested repertoire.  I don't think this is a bad thing, as long as you realize that the book is a good resource, rather than meant to be used as your gospel and only opening resource.  (Probably a good attitude to have about any openings book.)
  • The main line treatment with 7...Nc6 is welcome, but it's also limited to Black's response 8...Na5 (after 8. d5 is played).  So the other main alternative 8...Ne5 is completely ignored (unlike in the Starting Out book), which means if you are a Black player, you really should take a look at it as well as 8...Na5, given some (known) difficulties there.  GM Viktor Moskalenko's related observations and analysis in The Diamond Dutch are very useful in understanding the trade-offs between the two lines.