21 January 2019

Annotated Game #206: Don't forget your own preparation

In this last-round tournament game, my problems (as Black, in a main line Slav) can be initially traced to forgetting my own preparation.  On move 7 I start believing (incorrectly) that my opponent has played a significant deviation from theory (and therefore could be "punished" for it).  So on move 8 I make a dubious choice.  The line isn't necessarily losing - in the notes you can see that GM Bent Larsen even played it (although he lost that game...) - but it gives my opponent a free positional plus, in a rather imbalanced position (White king in the center, but with a defensive pawn mass and half-open g-file to compensate).  Unfortunately ratings fear and loathing also seemed to play a part in my decision-making process, to no good end.

Despite the favorable position, my opponent shortly gives back the advantage with the loosening 13. f4?! and I aggressively follow up, achieving a tactically winning position by move 19.  At this point a calculation error on my part leads to a "safe" choice, which instead of consolidating the winning advantage takes me into a rook and minor piece endgame, only giving me a pawn for my troubles.  My opponent plays well after this and my own game deteriorates rapidly, in part no doubt due to the psychological letdown, but also due to my failure to recognize the importance of rook activity (the key to success in rook endgames).

Looking back on this tournament, it was generally a disappointment, despite it being the first one where I defeated a Master (and even if only due to a tactical oversight, in Annotated Game #199).  My performance continued to plateau in the middle of the Class B rating range and the quality of my play was generally not satisfactory, being too variable.  Essentially I was both unable to properly convert advantages (as in this game) and made too many poor decisions that overlooked the strength of my opponents' replies.

I'll continue the fundamental practice of looking deeper into my own games for lessons, but I also plan to resume providing Commentary games at the Master level, based on matches of particular interest and relevance.  The ongoing 2019 Tata Steel tournament has provided some excellent recent examples, plus I have a number of other ones I've been saving for personal analysis over the past year or two.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "85"] {[%mdl 8256] D16: Slav Defence: 5 a4: Lines with 5...Bg4 and 5...Na6} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Na6 {the relatively rare Lasker Variation in the mainline Slav. Its main benefit is that it avoids a lot of theory.} 6. e4 Bg4 7. Be3 {normally the c4 pawn is immediately recaptured here, but the move order is not in fact important. However, I erroneously thought my opponent was deviating, contributing to the poor decision on move 8.} e6 8. Bxc4 Bb4 $6 {here I forget my opening preparation and play the wrong piece to b4, being excessively optimistic about my prospects, with vague notions of following up with ...Qa5. I have to think that the ratings difference contributed to this faulty mindset. Now White gets an immediate advantage, with the Na6 out of play and better central control.} (8... Nb4 {is standard and the main idea behind Black's 5th move.}) 9. Qd3 Bxf3 {the best reaction, although the doubled pawns aren't really detrimental to White, who can also think about using the half-open g-file.} 10. gxf3 {simply looking at the state of piece development shows White's advantage, with Black's minor pieces scattered and not cooperating well.} Qa5 (10... Nc7 11. Rg1 Nh5 12. Ke2 g6 13. d5 Bd6 14. dxc6 bxc6 15. Qd4 O-O 16. Rgd1 Bxh2 17. Qxd8 Rfxd8 18. Rxd8+ Rxd8 19. Bxa7 Be5 20. a5 Nf4+ 21. Kf1 Rd2 22. Nd1 Na8 23. Be3 Rd7 24. a6 Kf8 25. Nc3 {Polugaevsky,L (2625)-Larsen,B (2620) Riga 1979 1-0 (39)}) 11. Rg1 g6 {I thought for a while here and decided that blunting White's pressure on the g-file first was important.} ({The immediate} 11... O-O {is favored by Komodo.} ) 12. Ke2 {a natural move, connecting the rooks. White's king is also currently well-protected by his pawn mass.} (12. Kf1 $5 O-O $14 13. Ne2 { would alternatively allow White to bring the knight into action.}) 12... O-O 13. f4 $6 {over-ambitious, as it drops White's king safety and allows my queen to get in the game, instead of languishing on a5.} (13. Na2 $5) 13... Qh5+ $15 {immediately taking advantage of the open h5-d1 diagonal.} 14. Kd2 (14. Kf1 Rad8 15. e5 $15) 14... Nc5 {I thought for some time here as well, deciding to take advantage of the tactical possibilities offered by White's K+Q lined up on the d-file.} (14... Qxh2 $6 {is too greedy, opening up Black's kingside to the White rooks.} 15. e5 Nd5 16. Rh1 Qg2 17. Qe2 $14 {with the threat of Rag1 coming.}) (14... Rad8 {is more direct.}) 15. dxc5 {this is in fact the best choice.} (15. Qe2 $2 Ncxe4+ 16. Kc2 Qxe2+ 17. Bxe2 Nd6 $19 {is probably the simplest path to victory, with Black now a pawn up and White's structure shattered heading into the endgame.}) 15... Rad8 16. Bd4 Bxc5 17. Ne2 $2 { a reasonable-looking defensive move, but it should lose.} (17. Bxf6 {would hold out} Rxd3+ 18. Bxd3 Bxf2 19. Rgf1 Qxh2 20. Ne2 $11 {and the engine considers the position equal. Black no longer can make progress against White's king and my opponent has equivalent material. I'd still prefer playing my position, though.}) 17... Bxd4 $19 18. Nxd4 c5 19. Rg5 Rxd4 $2 {I thought that this lead to a "safe" win, but it is in fact a major calculation error. Any Black queen move that threatens f4 wins, as it would result in a fork of the Kd2 and Rg5.} (19... Qxh2 {is the most straightforward.} 20. Rxc5 Qxf4+ 21. Qe3 (21. Kc2 Qxf2+ $19) (21. Ke1 Nxe4 $19) 21... Nxe4+ 22. Ke2 Qxe3+ 23. Kxe3 Nxc5 $19 {is probably the simplest winning continuation.}) (19... Qh4 20. Rxc5 Qxf4+ {etc.}) 20. Qxd4 cxd4 21. Rxh5 Nxh5 $17 {so instead of winning major material, I'm a just pawn up in a R+B vs. R+N endgame.} 22. f5 e5 {reinforcing d4.} (22... Kg7 {is a safer choice, getting off the g8-h2 diagonal.}) 23. Bd5 Nf4 {this visually looks good, centralizing the knight, but is inaccurate. Either activating the rook - rook activity being paramount in endgames - or breaking up White's pawn formation would be better.} (23... Rd8 $5 24. fxg6 hxg6 25. Rc1 Rd7 $17) (23... Rc8 {is also good.}) (23... gxf5 24. Rg1+ Kh8 25. exf5 Nf6 $17) 24. Rc1 (24. fxg6 hxg6 25. Rc1 Nxd5 26. exd5 Rd8 27. Rc7 Rxd5 28. b4 $15 (28. Rxb7 $6 Ra5)) 24... Nxd5 {betraying a lack of imagination. Better would be to undermine the bishop's pawn support first.} (24... gxf5 $5) 25. exd5 $15 {now we have a pure rook endgame and White's rook is better, giving him some compensation for the pawn.} Rd8 26. f6 {I missed this idea and started to feel a lot of pressure. This was unnecessary, however, as I could have immediately acted to free the king with an h-pawn move.} Kf8 $2 {Black is ruining his position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (26... h5 27. Rc7 {at the time, this looked too scary, but it works out in the end for Black. } Rxd5 28. Rc8+ Kh7 29. Rc7 Rd6 30. Rxf7+ Kh6 {and the f6 pawn is doomed.}) 27. Rc7 $18 {White is now winning.} Ke8 {I understood at this point I was in big trouble.} 28. Re7+ {the correct continuation.} (28. Rxb7 $2 {is what I was hoping for.} Rd7 29. Rb8+ Rd8 30. Rxd8+ Kxd8 31. Kd3 $16) 28... Kf8 29. Rxb7 a6 30. d6 $1 {a great move, using my back-rank problems to freeze the Rd8.} Ke8 { everything loses at this point.} 31. Re7+ Kf8 32. Ra7 {still winning, but not optimal.} (32. d7 $18 {would clinch things for White now, as I'm frozen and White can march his king forward.}) 32... Ke8 33. Rxa6 $6 Kd7 $2 (33... Rb8 { again, the principle of rook activity dominates.} 34. Kc2 Kd7 $14) 34. b4 $18 { now White is back on track.} Ke6 35. b5 Rxd6 $2 {desperation.} (35... Rb8 36. Kd3 $18) 36. b6 Kxf6 37. a5 e4 38. Ra7 Rd5 39. b7 Rb5 40. Ra6+ Kg5 (40... Kg7 41. Rb6 Rxa5 42. b8=Q e3+ 43. fxe3 Ra2+ 44. Kd3 Ra3+ 45. Kxd4 Ra4+ 46. Kd3 Ra3+ 47. Ke2 Ra2+ 48. Kf3 Ra5 49. Qd8 Rf5+ 50. Kg3 Kh6 51. Kg4 Kg7 52. Rb8 h5+ 53. Kg3 h4+ 54. Kg4 Rh5 55. Qd4+ Re5 56. Qxe5+ f6 57. Qe7+ Kh6 58. Rh8#) 41. Rb6 e3+ 42. fxe3 dxe3+ 43. Kxe3 (43. Kxe3 Re5+ 44. Kd4 $18) 1-0


  1. I think the calculation mistake 19...Rxd4? is more significant than forgetting your preparation in this game. You still achieved an acceptable position out of the opening.

    1. Quite agree, as I would have won otherwise. The improper initial mindset no doubt did not help the process, with a bias toward quick and sloppy thinking.

      I would like to think that I wouldn't make the same mistakes today, but it's useful to have some ugly reminders to reinforce the ideas involved.