22 July 2019

Annotated Game #216: Starting the breakthrough

This first-round tournament game, a win as Black against an Expert, started my breakthrough in performance from Class B to Class A (see "The Long Journey to Class A"). I had to get up on a Saturday morning and force myself to drive to the tournament, which afterwards I was glad I did. I'd been playing pretty regularly for the previous four months (one tournament / month) but had rather meh results. I was not looking forward to another mediocre tournament. However, diligence appeared to pay off and my game was elevated enough to produce better results over the board.

We reach an interesting and unbalanced position in the main line Slav (with the 5...Na6!? Lasker variation) by move 10, with my opponent deliberately inviting doubled f-pawns in exchange for potential play down the g-file. At 300+ rating points above me, I could tell he was clearly looking to create winning chances in an imbalanced position. The next several moves were critical and both of us missed chances to improve on the game score. A key idea was fighting against White's idea of f4-f5 to crack open my position, which at first didn't work. After my dubious 16th move then it did, as analysis shows, however neither I nor my opponent saw this.

By move 19 I've sufficiently protected the critical f5 square and the strategic nature of the game shifts, as White runs out of ideas and I take over the initiative. I exercise the simplest (and most effective) plan of building pressure down the d-file, which was largely risk-free, although there are some interesting possibilities in the variations. I was particularly pleased to see my two knights clearly better than my opponents' two bishops, which is a rarity in the Slav.

The winning blow comes as my opponent, under pressure, tries to cover his weak f-pawn, but fails to see a naked knight sacrifice that delivers check, picking up the exchange and a dominating position for Black. After that the win was just technical, although White held out until mate; as I mentioned in an earlier post, this seems to be much more the norm these days. It was slightly ridiculous, although there was perhaps a glimmer of hope on his part that I'd overlook a mate.

While it was not a clean game, I felt reasonably good about it afterwards, both in (finally) finding a way to stymie my opponent's pressure, and then in seeing the winning tactic (25...Nc3!!) - the double exclamation points being awarded by Komodo via the Fritz interface. It's nice to see the engine give positive feedback, now and again.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "82"] {[%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 Lasker Variation of the main line Slav. Rare to see in tournament practice, but easy to learn.} 6. e4 { the most aggressive response.} Bg4 {along with the queen knight's placement on a6, the bishop being played to g4 rather than f5 is the major alternative feature to the usual Black setup in the Slav. Here it's of necessity, given the pawn on e4.} 7. Bxc4 e6 8. Bg5 {there are only two games in my database with this move. The obvious threat is e4-e5 now that the Nf6 is now pinned.} Be7 $146 {the natural move, to unpin the knight, but Komodo prefers a more active approach.} (8... Bxf3 9. Qxf3 (9. gxf3 Nb4 $5 10. e5 {and now} h6 { threatens the bishop and allows Black to break the pin one way or another.}) 9... Qxd4 $11) (8... Qa5 $5 {was played in the only master-level game.} 9. e5 Ne4 10. Bxa6 bxa6 11. Qd3 Nxg5 12. Nxg5 Bf5 13. Qf3 Rc8 14. Nxf7 Kxf7 15. g4 g6 16. gxf5 gxf5 17. Rg1 Ke7 18. Kf1 Qb4 19. Rg3 Kd7 20. d5 Kc7 21. dxe6 Qc4+ 22. Kg1 Qxe6 23. Ne2 Qxe5 24. Rd1 Qe4 25. Nd4 Qxf3 26. Rxf3 Rg8+ 27. Kf1 Rg6 28. Nxf5 Rb8 29. b3 Rb4 30. Ne3 Bd6 31. Rf7+ Kb8 32. Nc4 Bc7 33. Rdd7 {1-0 (33) Rodewis,T (2268)-Mudelsee,M (2295) Germany 2002}) (8... Nb4 {is also possible, a standard theme in this variation, since per above e5 can be met by ...h6.}) 9. Qd2 {reinforcing the bishop's position and clearing the way for a possible queenside castling. This is also a clear invitation to take on f3, which I decided to do after some thought, as there is nothing better.} Bxf3 10. gxf3 { now White has the pair of bishops and a half-open g-file to use, in compensation for his ruined kingside pawn structure. My opponent was evidently interested in taking an aggressive posture.} Nb4 {getting the knight on the rim into play. The whole point of its development to a6 is for it to hop into b4 when a good opportunity presents itself.} 11. Be3 {removing the bishop from a square where it is underprotected, as well as shoring up d4.} a5 {the engines tend not to like this move in the Lasker Variation, although it seems logical to me to reinforce the b4 outpost in a more permanent way. One drawback is that ...Qa5 is no longer possible. Another is that supporting ... b5 with the a-pawn is also ruled out.} (11... O-O $5 {Komodo has no fear of castling into an attack. I did not want to do it at this point, though, believing that it would give White a too obvious and easy plan to follow.} 12. O-O-O Kh8 13. Rhg1 a6 {with the idea of ...b5 to follow is an alternate way to play.}) 12. Rg1 {the obvious place for the rook.} g6 {after some thought, I decided that the dark-square holes created would be offset by the peace of mind of not having to constantly worry about defending down the g-file.} (12... Nh5 {I also considered playing immediately here, since the knight can't be effectively challenged by White and it helps cover f4.}) 13. f4 $6 $11 { this is not helpful for White's attacking potential, since it blocks the c1-h6 diagonal and renders my dark-square weakness less accessible to my opponent.} Nh5 {I thought for a while here and was focused primarily on blunting White's pressure. Now if f4-f5, for example, I was considering ...Ng7 in response. However, the knight is generally better on f6 and its placement on h5 causes potential problems later.} (13... Qc7 {is a more useful developing move, clearing d8 for the rook and getting on a more productive diagonal.}) (13... O-O $5 {makes more sense now, even if White has some temporary pressure. The f-pawn advance does not prove truly threatening.} 14. f5 $6 exf5 15. exf5 Nfd5 {blocking the a2-g8 diagonal. Black will now be happy with any of the exchanges White could make.}) 14. O-O-O {not a surprise, since there's no better place for his king to go, and it brings the other rook into play.} (14. f5 $6 {is in fact premature.} exf5 (14... Ng7 $2 {at this point is bad for Black after} 15. fxe6 fxe6 $16 {since White's pawn structure is significantly better and my knight is in an awkward spot. White possesses a significant space advantage, while Black is cramped and the pieces are not cooperating well.}) 15. exf5 Ng7 {now the knight move is good again.} 16. fxg6 hxg6 (16... fxg6 $2 {leaves Black's king position too airy.}) 17. O-O-O Kf8 $11) 14... Qc7 {getting my queen away from the d-file pressure and preparing queenside castling.} 15. Kb1 {an normal precautionary move. At the time, I felt that it helped ease the pressure on me.} (15. f5 $5 {I was still worried about.} exf5 { the only good move} 16. exf5 Bf6 $14) 15... O-O-O {at this point I felt like the immediate danger had passed, and I could now start looking for counterplay. } 16. Qe2 (16. Be2 Nf6 $11) 16... Bd6 $6 {an example of where move sequence matters. I should have gotten the king to a less exposed square first.} (16... Kb8 $5 $11 {would be the simplest way to equalize.}) (16... Nxf4 {snatches a pawn but gives White good play for it.} 17. Qf3 g5 18. e5 f6 $11) 17. e5 $16 { I had expected this after calculating the previous move. My thinking was that the pawn advance should result in closing off White's dynamic prospects with his central pawns.} Be7 (17... Bf8 {I had also considered, but in the end I thought that being able to move along the d8-h4 diagonal was more valuable. The problem with the text move, which I did recognize at the time, was that the bishop on e7 screens the f7 pawn from the Qc7's protection. This fact could have been used much more effectively by my opponent.} 18. f5 Ng7 19. fxe6 fxe6 $16) 18. Rc1 $6 {missing the chance to break through.} (18. f5 $1 { superficially this looks like it just loses a pawn, which is probably why neither my opponent nor I seriously considered it.} exf5 {forced if I want to capture, otherwise the Nh5 hangs. I had not bothered to look at this line, just assuming that gxf5 would be possible. Now the f7 pawn is hanging and White is looking dangerous in the center, especially with what will be a protected passed pawn on e5.} 19. f4 ({or} 19. Bxf7 $16) 19... f6 20. Qf2 fxe5 21. dxe5 c5 $16) 18... Kb8 {this would be a good and standard sidestep for the king, except that the f5 idea is still possible.} (18... Ng7 {is now in fact best, as it adds a defender to f5.}) 19. Rgd1 (19. f5 $5 {again would give White an advantage.}) 19... Ng7 $11 {now I am truly out of trouble. Strategically, White has run out of ideas and the center is locked, so Black has a more comfortable game going forward. The backwards d-pawn, for example, is now an obvious weakness.} 20. f3 (20. Na2 $5 {would seek to exchange knights, a net benefit to White due to the relatively better activity of the Nb4.}) 20... Rd7 $15 {with the idea of doubling rooks on the d-file. My opponent now struggles to come up with useful moves.} 21. Ne4 {a better place than c3 for the knight.} Nf5 {targeting the backward pawn on d4, from a nice outpost on f5.} (21... Rhd8 $5 {I considered, but it would have allowed White to remove the d4 pawn weakness, which I preferred to keep on the board.} 22. Nc5 Bxc5 23. dxc5 Nd5 $15) 22. Bf2 $6 (22. Nc5 $5 {would disrupt my plans along the d-file, one way or another, although I still have an edge.}) 22... Rhd8 $17 23. Nc5 {this comes too late now, although I miss the best tactical continuation.} Bxc5 (23... Rxd4 $1 {successfully snatches the pawn, something I didn't consider at the board.} 24. Ne4 (24. Bxd4 $2 Nxd4 {and now the Nc5 is hanging, which is the main idea of the tactical sequence. White can give back the exchange or do a desperado move with the knight, but Black has a major advantage both ways.} 25. Rxd4 (25. Nxe6 Nxe2 $19) 25... Rxd4 26. Ne4 Nd5 $19) 24... R4d7 $17) 24. dxc5 Nd5 {threatening the f4 pawn. Strategically, it's also interesting to see the two Black knights versus the two White bishops. The knights can be exchanged, but not challenged by pawns, which makes life more difficult for White.} (24... Rxd1 {Komodo prefers exchanging off a pair of rooks first, to reduce White's ability to fight down the d-file. However, the subsequent winning tactic in the game would then not have been possible.} 25. Rxd1 Nd5 $17) 25. Qe4 $2 {protecting the pawn, but now the Rd1 is underprotected. I realized this and was able to take advantage of it immediately.} (25. Qe1 $11 {is the engine line, which for a human would be unlikely, seemingly just abandoning the f-pawn.} Nxf4 26. Rd6 {this is the idea, an unnatural-looking exchange sacrifice.} Nxd6 $2 {now leads to mate.} ( 26... Nd5 $11) 27. cxd6 Qc8 28. Bb6) (25. Bg3 $17 {is what I had expected.}) 25... Nc3+ $3 $19 {Komodo (via the Fritz interface) actually awarded this the two exclams, so I'll leave it in there. It's unusual to see a naked piece sacrifice like this, meaning that no initial capture is involved. This makes it harder to see as a candidate move during calculation.} 26. bxc3 Rxd1 $19 { now I'm an exchange up with no compensation for White. The open d-file means that my rook is quite valuable, as well.} 27. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 28. Kc2 Qd8 29. Bd4 { I saw this idea during calculation, but the rook retains mobility on the first rank and White's weak kingside pawns come back to haunt him.} Rh1 30. Qd3 Nxd4+ {I chose to reduce material and eliminate the two bishops factor, which I assessed would be better for my rook.} 31. cxd4 Rxh2+ 32. Kb3 Qh4 {now the queen can take advantage of the first and second rank weaknesses as well.} 33. Ba6 {hoping in desperation that I'll take the bishop and White can steal a perpetual check.} Qf2 (33... Qe1 {is the quicker win.} 34. Qe2 Rxe2 35. Bxe2 Qxe2 36. Kc3 h5 37. d5 cxd5 38. f5 gxf5 39. f4 Qa2 40. Kd3 d4 41. Kxd4 Qb3 42. c6 h4 43. cxb7 Kxb7 44. Kc5 Qb4#) (33... bxa6 34. Qxa6 Qd8 $19 {is still winning for Black, but would allow White to be more annoying with his queen.}) 34. Qb1 {hoping I'll miss a mate threat on b7.} Qxf3+ {at this point I was in "safe win" mode and did not feel like burning a lot of brain cells to try and calculate all the way to mate.} (34... Qxd4 35. Bc4 Qd2 36. Be2 Qb4+ 37. Kc2 Rxe2+ 38. Kd3 Rd2+ 39. Ke3 Qd4#) 35. Kc4 Qe2+ {picking up the bishop and squelching any chance of White getting a swindle.} 36. Kc3 Qxa6 37. Qb6 Rh3+ { at this point I saw the inevitable mate, so didn't exchange into the (totally won) endgame.} 38. Kd2 Qd3+ 39. Ke1 Re3+ 40. Kf2 Re2+ 41. Kf1 Qd1# 0-1

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