09 April 2017

Annotated Game #170: It's the little moves that matter

The next tournament I played in featured some rather big swings in momentum.  After my usual "warm-up" game to get the rust out after an extended period of not playing (the game below), I won the next three games and then lost the last two.  This result really pointed out the importance of energy management and psychological factors in improving my tournament performances.

The main theme for this game is the importance of "little moves" - ones that don't look like they do much (if anything) on the board, but can have big strategic or tactical impact.  The first one was a strategic one on move 9, while the other two were crucial tactics, including what should have been a game-winning combination.  Another theme is that of the swindle, as after the combination fail I have to fight hard and cunningly to get to a (largely undeserved) draw.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A14"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "91"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 e6 {an unusual and rather inflexible way of heading for a Semi-Slav type setup.} 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. O-O Nbd7 6. b3 Be7 {I've seen more games with the ...Bd6 but both are equal choices for the bishop.} 7. Bb2 { the bishop serves to both restrain ...d4 and to pressure the beautiful long a1-h8 diagonal.} O-O 8. d3 {here I thought for a while and eventually opted for the database favorite. This retains flexibility for White in the center - keeping the Bb2 unblocked - while giving the Nb1 the option of developing to d2.} dxc4 {this is rarely played, as it gives up Black's best, well-supported central pawn (the whole reason for the Semi-Slav pawn formation in the first place).} 9. dxc4 {I opted for the central pawn recapture to maintain the pawn structure symmetry, thinking that Black might somehow be able to do something with an open b-file later on. This isn't a bad move, but most players (and Komodo) prefer recapturing towards the center with the b-pawn. Among other things that leaves the d3 pawn controlling e4. A "little move" that matters.} Qb6 {done to clear the d8 square for a rook, but this is less effective a maneuver without the rooks connected on the back rank. The locked-in Bc8 is doing nothing for Black except get in the way.} 10. Qc2 Rd8 11. Nc3 { developing my last minor piece and connecting the rooks, which will allow me to challenge on the d-file.} Nf8 $6 {I was a little puzzled by this knight maneuver, which seems a bit of a time-waster.} 12. Rad1 $14 {I now have a pleasant game and am ahead in development.} Ng6 13. Rxd8+ Qxd8 14. Rd1 { although I have the d-file, which is nice, the piece exchange did help ease Black's cramped game a bit.} Qc7 {although the idea of seizing the d-file was easy to find, now I thought for a while about a suitable plan. The Nc3 isn't doing a whole lot and has limited prospects, so I thought exchanging it for the Nf6 and opening the long diagonal again would be a good idea.} 15. Ne4 { the (rather obvious) threat with this move is exchanging twice on f6 and doubling Black's f-pawns. Komodo prefers a more sophisticated version of the idea of occupying e4 with a knight, first playing Nd2.} Nd7 $6 {another surprising retreat, as I had expected an exchange on e4 (indeed best per the engine). I understood the importance of the d-file, but failed to find the best idea, which would be to use the un-exchanged Ne4 to move to an even better outpost on d6.} 16. Qd2 {the idea was to increase pressure on the d-file, which could further hinder the development of the Bc8, and also to support a possible knight hop to d6.} (16. c5 $1 {would prepare Nd6 and throttle Black.}) 16... Nge5 17. Nxe5 $1 {here I had another long think and came up with a nice-looking combination that doesn't quite work as played. This move however is indeed winning.} Nxe5 18. Bxe5 Qxe5 19. Qd8+ $1 $18 { a nice-looking back-rank tactic.} Bf8 {however, now I wasn't able to find the correct forcing path, due to a lack of creative thinking. As played in the game, the try to win a piece ends up leaving me down two pawns.} 20. Nd6 $6 { this actually can work out OK for White, but there is an immediate win. I was too fixated on trying to win the Bc8 and did not see the potential for also threatening f7.} (20. Qe8 $1 {a "little move" with the threat of Rd8 to follow, doubling up on the 8th rank and winning.}) 20... Qxe2 21. Nxc8 $2 {this is the right idea (or one of them) in the position, but wrong sequencing. I understood by this point that I would be down multiple pawns afterwards, but didn't see anything better.} (21. Rf1 {another quiet, little move that is the best.} Qe5 (21... Qxa2 $2 22. Qe8) 22. Nxc8 Qb8 23. Ne7+ Kh8 24. Qd7 $16) 21... Rxc8 {this is the problem, the rook sacrifices itself with a deflection tactic and the Rd1 is now hanging. I was not patient and analytic enough to see that simply removing the Rd1 from being en prise (as given in the above variation) would be enough to make the tactic succeed.} 22. Qxc8 Qxd1+ $17 23. Bf1 Qa1 24. Qxb7 (24. a4 {again, patience would have been a virtue here.}) 24... Qxa2 25. Qxc6 $6 {this gives Black an outside passed pawn on the a-file.} Qxb3 {now it's looking pretty ugly for me, although not hopeless, given the complexity of queen endings. I try to avoid trading queens at all costs, keep up threats to the a-pawn, and freeze the Black bishop on the back rank, while maintaining my c-pawn and advancing it.} 26. Qa8 Qb6 27. Bd3 {with the threat of Bxh7, getting a pawn back by a deflection tactic against the Bf8.} Qb3 $2 28. c5 $2 { now I thought here for a while and chose to go for another risky, poorly-calculated "combination", thinking that I could queen the c-pawn if given a head start.} (28. Bxh7+ $1 {the original idea is still the best.} Kxh7 29. Qxf8 $11 {I mis-evaluted this position, which the engine gives as completely equal. Black's king is too exposed and the f-pawn is weak.}) 28... Qxd3 $19 29. c6 Qd1+ 30. Kg2 Qd5+ 31. f3 g6 {my original idea hinged on being able to queen on c8 after sacrificing the queen for the Bf8, but now I see this will not be possible.} 32. Qc8 {the only hope, I felt, of still trying to queen the pawn. Now we are in swindle territory.} Kg7 33. c7 Bd6 34. Qd8 { temporarily staving off disaster by pinning the bishop.} Qd2+ 35. Kh3 Qh6+ 36. Kg2 Bxc7 {Black has nothing better. We are now back to the two-pawn material deficit situation.} 37. Qxc7 {while Black is still comfortably winning, there's a big difference both psychologically and materially with the bishop off the board.} Qd2+ 38. Kh3 Qd4 39. f4 {with the idea of freezing the e-pawn advance.} h5 40. Qa5 {with the idea of keeping an eye on the a-pawn and on e5.} Kg8 41. Qc7 $2 {now White's idea should be to keep the queen on the a-file to prevent Black's queen from doing the same and advancing the pawn.} Kg7 42. Qa5 Qd1 43. Qe5+ Kh7 44. Qc7 {making sure to keep the queen as active as possible, threatening the f-pawn as well as the a-pawn.} Qg4+ 45. Kg2 Qe2+ 46. Kh3 { at this point, with less time on her clock, my opponent decides to stop trying to convert the queen ending and offered a draw, which I accepted.} 1/2-1/2

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