28 August 2018

Annotated Game #193: How strategic errors can snowball

This final-round tournament game illustrates a curious phenomenon, namely how small strategic errors you make tend to "snowball" - gathering weight as time goes on, until your game is crushed by them.  I believe this is because strategic errors reflect an incorrect mindset on the part of the player, and/or a fatally flawed understanding of the position.  Relatively small errors early on are clues that you are thinking wrongly about the position.  Later this often leads to incorrect plans and, consistent with that, more significant errors.

Below, we can see that a rather pleasant position for White around move 7 starts losing momentum after move 10.  I have the (flawed) idea of setting up a Hedgehog-type position, but succeed instead in playing too passively and not seizing enough space to properly develop and maneuver my pieces.  My opponent does a good job of playing natural moves that improve his position on the queenside, until I (too early) become desperate for a solution, which rapidly sends my game downhill.  Moral of the story: seek to understand the position's requirements, especially for your pieces' activity, rather than trying to impose an arbitrary strategy onto the board.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "62"] {[%mdl 8192] A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5 A16: English Opening: 1.. .Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 {with this move, Black is essentially playing an English Four Knights variation with his e-pawn on e6 rather than e5. This is solid but unambitious.} 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 {I saw no benefit to allowing d5-d4, and the exchange gives White a target on the long diagonal.} Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 $146 7. bxc3 $14 (7. dxc3 {going directly into the endgame is level, but unnecessary for White, who has a nice positional plus based on the Bg2.}) 7... Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. Rb1 {immediately positioning the rook on the half-open file and pressuring b7.} Rb8 10. d3 {although this isn't a bad move, I would say that I strategically start to lose momentum here. I shouldn't be afraid to play d4, with more central control over c5 and e5. Controlling the c4 and e4 squares doesn't do as much for me. I was thinking (a little too vaguely) about setting up a Hedgehog structure for White, but what results isn't that.} (10. d4 e5 {if Black challenges in the center, then exchanging off would be to White's advantage, so I could just improve my pieces further. For example} 11. Qd3 h6 {otherwise Ng5 is a strong follow-up move} 12. Rd1 $14) 10... b6 11. Be3 $11 {now I have problems with cramped space and developing my pieces to useful squares.} (11. Bb2 $5 {would be a little more active.}) 11... Bb7 12. Qc2 h6 {Secures g5} 13. Rb2 {by now it's clear I lack a viable strategy. Going for doubled rooks on the b-file is next to useless.} Qd7 14. Rfb1 Ne7 15. a4 {my plan, such as it is, is to try and crack open the queenside with my a-pawn. However, Black can avoid any problems by simply ignoring the pawn, so it's a rather bad plan.} c5 {this actually gives the a-pawn advance a bit more bite. Now Black cannot play b6-b5 in response, for example.} (15... e5 16. a5 f5 $11) 16. a5 Nd5 17. Bd2 $6 { continuing to make even more passive moves. I was worried about ...Nxe3, but failed to calculate that Black could not ignore the pawn capture on b6 first.} (17. axb6 axb6 {now the doubled rooks have a purpose in life on the b-file} 18. Bd2 Bc7 $11) 17... bxa5 $11 {the correct decision. The a-pawns of course are weak, but Black is temporarily a pawn ahead and having a passed a-pawn is compensation.} 18. e4 {the engine points out that it's better to go after the a-file immediately, but at least I'm thinking a bit more actively now. However, not calculating consequences and alternatives results in a weaker game.} (18. Ra1 Bc7 19. Qc1 {avoiding a potential future attack from a knight landing on b4.} Rfe8 20. c4 $11) 18... Nb6 19. Rb5 a4 $15 {with Black's extra a-pawn now protected, he has a small edge, although the battle still revolves around his weak queenside pawn structure.} 20. Be3 {this delays the rook move and allows Black to start making threats.} (20. Ra5 $5) 20... Bc6 21. Bxc5 $4 {this was just desperation, also based on flawed calculation.} (21. Ra5 $15 {this is the best bet to save the position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.}) 21... Bxb5 $19 22. Bxd6 Qxd6 23. Rxb5 {now I'm just a full exchange down with no compensation, plus Black's a-pawns have fewer defenders in front of them.} Rfc8 24. Rh5 {now I really start getting desperate and hope to get something going on the kingside with my rook.} Qa3 {my opponent correctly ignores it.} 25. c4 Qb3 26. Qd2 a3 27. Bf1 {note how useless this once-promising bishop turned out to be.} Qb2 (27... Nxc4 {is a cute tactic:} 28. dxc4 Qxf3 $19) 28. Qf4 a2 29. Ne5 {one last gasp before resigning.} Rb7 30. Rxh6 gxh6 31. Qxh6 Qxe5 0-1

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