16 September 2019

Annotated Game #219: The usual start to a tournament

This first-round game is from the second breakthrough tournament I had to reach the Class A level. It got off to what is unfortunately something of a usual start for me, with below-average play leading to a relatively quick end. It's tempting to ascribe these kinds of first-round losses to needing to "warm up" or "shake off the rust" or other similar excuse, and I do think there is some truth to that. However, that makes it all the more important to take lessons away from these games, so that your "default" level of play can improve, even when your brain is not at peak performance.

In this game, there are several key moments and ideas to point to:
  • The choice of 4. d3. Here I was mashing together different lines of the English from my preparation (5. Rb1 is actually not bad...in a different variation) and while the opening isn't the main point of failure of the game, it gave Black a freer hand than was needed. It also led to...
  • A failure to play e3, which is typical in this types of positions, restraining Black's idea of a ...f4 push. Around moves 3-4 could have been a good time to do it, but as late as move 12 it would have given me at least a slight plus, by neutralizing Black's pawn play on the kingside.
  • Failure to find the necessary defensive thread while under pressure. I at least understood that a focus on defense was necessary once Black played 12...f4, and was following the correct path with 16. Bf3. However, on move 18 I did not calculate correctly. Seeing in analysis how the king can be a defender (18. Kg2!), especially when the opposition lacks the minor pieces to dominate squares or sacrifice to open up the position, was enlightening.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A27"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "40"] {[%mdl 8192] A27: English Opening: Three Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 f5 4. d3 {this scores poorly in the database, around 40 percent. Better to challenge the center immediately with d4. It is still the second most popular move played, however, probably due to the reversed Sicilian type positions that arise.} Nf6 5. Rb1 $146 {not in the database at all! The idea is to get an accelerated version of the queenside b-pawn push going.} (5. g3 { is more consistent with White's previous move.}) 5... Be7 {a safe choice.} ( 5... e4 6. dxe4 fxe4 7. Nd4 $11) 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 d6 {we're now back in the database. Both White and Black have achieved standard-looking setups, although my path was a little wobbly.} 8. b4 {time to get the b-pawn rolling.} Qe8 { making space for the knight.} 9. b5 {it's not necessary to push this immediately. The threat remains and another move to build up pressure like Nd5 may be better. O-O also helps development.} Nd8 $11 {around here I was feeling good about my game, having pushed Black's knight around, but the engine is more objective. The position is equal, with White's queenside space advantage being offset by Black's coming play in the center and kingside.} 10. O-O Ne6 { understandably wanting to get the knight back into action.} (10... a6 $5 { is what the engines prefer, putting some pressure on White's advanced b-pawn.}) 11. a4 Qh5 {Black signals that he will ignore the queenside in favor of going all in on the kingside.} 12. Ba3 {likewise, I continue to focus on queenside development.} (12. e3 $5 {would be a wise investment, to restrain Black's f-pawn.} a6 13. Nd2 $14) 12... f4 {now Black's pressure on the kingside makes itself felt, before I can push things further on the queenside.} 13. Nd5 { this knight jump to d5 is thematic, but here it is made under less favorable circumstances.} (13. e3 fxg3 14. fxg3 $11 (14. hxg3 $2 Ng4 $19)) 13... Nxd5 14. cxd5 Ng5 15. Nxg5 {getting rid of Black's excellent attacking knight is almost forced.} Bxg5 16. Bf3 {the best defensive move, which should let me push Black's queen away or further exchange down material.} Bg4 17. Bxg4 Qxg4 { this should be equal, but there is only one good defensive move and I fail to find it.} 18. f3 $2 {this was based on a miscalculation. When making pawn moves, it's important to understand the weakened squares they leave behind, in this case e3.} (18. Kg2 $5 {the king "steps up in the pocket" and covers both h3 and f3 effectively. With Black not having a light-square bishop, this is possible.} fxg3 19. Rb4 (19. hxg3 {also works, but is trickier for White.} Bh4 20. Qe1 Qd4 (20... Qxa4 21. Qb4 $11) 21. Qd1 Qxd5+ 22. e4 $11 {taking the Bh4 will leave White's king open to checks from the queen and rook.}) 19... Rf4 20. f3 Qd7 (20... Qh5 21. hxg3 $14) 21. hxg3 $11) 18... Qh3 $17 19. Rf2 fxg3 { only now did I realize that the skewer tactic on e3 existed, I had mentally visualized the pawn on f4 in the way of the Bg5 until then.} 20. hxg3 $4 { loses immediately. I was too rattled to put up further resistance, however, thinking I was already lost. The main problem is that I lose far more than the exchange after Black's pin of the Rf2, due to the g3 pawn hanging.} (20. Rg2 { is the only move.} gxh2+ 21. Kh1 Bf4 22. Bc1 {keeps White in the game, although not happily.}) 20... Be3 $19 (20... Be3 21. Qf1 Qxg3+ 22. Qg2 Bxf2+ 23. Kh1 Qxg2+ 24. Kxg2 Bb6 $19) 0-1

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