29 May 2019

Annotated Game #209: Missing the big idea

This next OTB tournament started off rather weakly - perhaps not a surprise, as it had been about two months since I had previously played seriously. The game has two notable lessons for me:
  • First, the opening mistake on move 9. It has been a tendency for me to want to "punish" opponents who deviate from book moves in the opening. In this game, I am too eager to give up the two bishops for an essentially meaningless doubling of Black's c-pawns. As a result, he has far better piece activity and I struggle to complete my development, getting unnecessarily cramped in the process.
  • Second, missing the key positional and tactical idea of pushing e3-e4. This possibility recurs a number of times and is symptomatic of a mental tendency to sometimes consider pawn structures as fixed and focus only on piece play. It becomes amusing how many times this move would have been the best, if only I had seen it.
Another useful lesson is to never give up. Despite some serious problems and pressure on my king, I was in fact given multiple ways by my higher-rated opponent to get back to at least equality. In other words, don't panic, and you may actually be able to save yourself when defending.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "66"] {[%mdl 8192] A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Bd6 8. d4 exd4 {here I thought for some time. The early capture on d4 gives White more options than the usual ...Bd7.} 9. Bxc6+ $6 $146 {unfortunately, this is not the best option, probably why it is not in the database. The idea was to inflict a permanent structural weakness on Black, in the form of doubled c-pawns, but as we'll see his piece activity and the two bishops are more important.} (9. cxd4 $5 {scores over 60 percent in the database. There is no need for White to deviate from the main ideas of the line.} O-O 10. O-O $14) 9... bxc6 10. Qxd4 $6 {I played this thinking the centralized queen would be useful and that the 4-3 kingside majority pawn structure would be a small advantage, with the two Black c-pawns bottled up by my single pawn.} (10. exd4 $5 {may be best at this point, but Black still will have the initiative, for example:} Ba6 11. Qa4 Bb5 12. Qb3 Qc8 13. Be3 Rb8 14. c4 Ba6 15. Qd3 Qe6 16. Rc1 Rb4 17. Nd2 $15) 10... O-O $17 {Komodo already assesses Black as significantly better here. Let's see why...} 11. O-O c5 {gaining influence over d4 with tempo.} 12. Qa4 Bd7 13. Qc2 Qf6 {now Black's advantage is more visibly clear. Both his bishops point at the kingside, along with the queen, and my Nf3 is now a target. Meanwhile, I'm underdeveloped, being well aware of the poor scope of the Bc1 and its future development problems.} 14. Re1 (14. e4 {is Komodo's recommendation, a somewhat drastic but necessary pawn sacrifice to get the bishop developed.} Rae8 15. e5 Bxe5 16. Bg5 $17) 14... Bg4 {it is the right idea to attack the Nf3, but this is not the best square.} (14... Bc6 $5 $17) 15. Nd2 $15 {now my defensive idea of redirecting the knight to f1 actually works.} Qh6 16. Nf1 Qf6 {White has a cramped position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. That said, I've managed to weather the initial Black threats and would be at least close to equality here, if I had recognized the plan of activating the bishop via the e4 pawn advance. Another way of looking at this is to recognize the advantage of mobilizing the extra kingside pawn in the center.} 17. Rb1 {this is also not a bad choice, developing the rook on the open file and looking to free the c-pawn, which could not advance due to the hanging rook.} (17. e4 $5) 17... Rab8 (17... Qg6 18. Rb2 $15) 18. Bb2 $6 {this is strategically a bad choice and locks me into an inferior position.} (18. Rxb8 {in a cramped position, the rule is to exchange pieces, thereby freeing up extra space for the remaining ones. Black cannot in fact take advantage of his rook being on the b-file, something I was too worried about at the time.} Rxb8 19. e4 {again this idea} Be6 20. Ng3 {and Black has a slight edge at best.}) 18... c4 $17 {I in fact foresaw this move, which fixes the c-pawn and crams me even further, but lacked the vision to see the alternatives to avoid it. Now my opponent just squeezes my position.} 19. Ng3 Rfe8 (19... Qe5 20. f3 Bd7 21. Kh1 $17) 20. Qa4 {trying to generate some counterplay, but Black's a-pawn is under no real threat, since the simple ...Ra8 would then win the a2 pawn.} Bxg3 (20... Qg6 $5 21. e4 Bc5 $17) 21. hxg3 $15 {this exchange helped me, because of the exchanging rule while cramped, and also because Black no longer has the two bishops.} Bf5 {the obvious follow-up.} 22. Rbc1 {this is demonstrably inferior to the alternative (e4), but I still had a blind spot regarding the possibility of playing that move. Naturally my opponent ignores the hanging bishop and does not fall for the one-move trap of taking on b2.} (22. e4 { is again the best idea here.} Rxe4 23. Qxa7 Ree8 24. Rxe8+ Rxe8 25. Qa4 $15) 22... Bd3 $15 {here I was hoping that Black would go for the hanging Bb2, in which case I would win by taking the Re8. It's normally a bad sign when you start hoping at the chessboard. Instead, Black positioned his bishop on a dominating central square in my territory.} 23. Ba3 h5 {seeing some of the possible threats against my king, now I started panicking.} 24. Bc5 $2 { this is too slow and does not sufficiently address my opponent's threats.} (24. Qd7 $5 {is one active idea, although I still have problems.} Qe5 $17) (24. e4 { again is probably best, which is really the story of this game for White.} Bxe4 25. Qxc4 $11) 24... h4 $17 25. Bd4 {this was the original idea of the bishop maneuver, but by now I could see that it was not going to be enough to save me. } Qf5 $2 {this move is a reminder that one should never give up. Of course, the only good response to it is e4, a move which I was totally incapable of seeing at any point in this game.} (25... Qg6 26. e4 hxg3 27. fxg3 Qxg3 28. e5 $19) 26. gxh4 $4 {should have been the losing move.} (26. e4 $1 Qh5 (26... Bxe4 27. f3 $11) (26... Rxe4 27. Qxa7 $11) 27. gxh4 c5 28. Qa5 $11 {although this is not an easy idea to spot.}) 26... Qg4 $2 {but Black again tries to give me a way out.} (26... c5 27. e4 Bxe4 $19) (26... Re4 $19) 27. f3 $4 {I refuse to find the best move again.} (27. e4 $5 Rxe4 28. f3 Rxe1+ 29. Rxe1 Qxh4 30. Re8+ Kh7 31. Rxb8 Qe1+ 32. Kh2 Qh4+ 33. Kg1 Qe1+ 34. Kh2 Qh4+ 35. Kg1 $11) (27. Qa5 {is also possible and equal, the principal idea being a transfer to g5.}) 27... Qxh4 $2 (27... Qg3 {and Black has triumphed} 28. Qd7 Re6 $19) 28. e4 $17 { finally, the best move!!} Re6 {I was starting to get low on time here and continued panicking over my opponent's king threats, which are not insoluble.} 29. Bf2 {I played this with a sense of desperation, but it's in fact best.} Qh5 $6 (29... Qh6 $5) 30. Qxa7 $11 {I played this with a sense of desperation, to be active. It should in fact give me equality.} Rb2 31. Be3 $4 {now I cracked under the pressure rather than calmly defending. I was focused on preventing what I thought was an inevitable mate if the rook came to the h-file.} (31. Qxc7 {is really the only good move. I thought that the h-file attack was unstoppable, but there is a defensive maneuver allowing me to force a queen trade to my benefit.} Kh7 (31... Rh6 {during the game, I couldn't see past this threat.} 32. Qc8+ $1 Kh7 33. Qf5+ Qxf5 34. exf5 $14) 32. Qf4 $11 { threatening Qf5+, and now if} Rf6 33. Qh4 {and I still force the queen trade.}) 31... Rg6 {Black finally finishes me off, with g2 and f3 both poised to fall.} 32. Qa8+ Kh7 33. Bf2 Rh6 {now this truly is mate.} (33... Rh6 34. Qg8+ Kxg8 35. Bh4 Qxh4 36. Re2 Rxe2 37. a3 Qh1#) 0-1

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