12 November 2019

Annotated Game #227: Lack of an early middlegame plan

This next tournament game is a perfect illustration of a common opening repertoire pitfall, that of not having a good (or any) early middlegame plan coming out of the opening. My opponent adopts a Slav setup as Black, which I should have played more actively against. Specifically, I should have recognized the standard idea of White playing an early Qb3 after Black's light-square bishop is away from the queenside; I've often enough been faced with this on the other side of the board. I hit on this idea later in the game, as well as the e2-e4 push to challenge Black in the center, but the delays mean that Black has fully developed and can more easily push back.

I was lucky that my opponent did not use his central pawn majority in a more effective way, but I still got into trouble after selecting a poor plan of just trying to exchange off minor pieces, which gave my opponent a tactic to win the exchange. I get a pawn for it, though, and successfully fight to tamp down further activity and try to set up a quasi-fortress. I succeeded in drawing in the end, which I felt good about. However, it would have been nice to avoid the whole thing by playing 9. Qb3, with greater piece activity and good play in the center and on the queenside. A lesson for the next time I face a similar setup.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "89"] {[%mdl 64] A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Bf5 5. O-O h6 6. cxd5 cxd5 7. Nc3 e6 8. d3 Nc6 9. Bf4 {this is of course a good post for the bishop. With Black's light-square bishop away from the queenside, however, it would be more to the point to develop the queen first with tempo, also displacing Black's queen slightly if moved to protect the b7 pawn.} (9. Qb3) 9... Be7 10. Rc1 O-O $11 11. Re1 Rc8 12. Qb3 {now that Black is fully developed, this is no longer effective.} (12. e4 $5 {perhaps it is time to think about challenging Black's space advantage in the center.} Bg4 13. exd5 Nxd5 14. Nxd5 Qxd5 15. Ne5 {forcing a queen trade and regaining a symmetrical pawn structure in the center.}) 12... Nd7 {an excellent, active move.} 13. Na4 $6 {it's already difficult to find something useful for White to do. The idea of the text move is to keep Black's knight out of c5, but Black is now free to start a pawn roller in the center.} (13. Be3 $5) (13. Qxb7 $2 Nc5 $1 {trapping the queen.}) 13... Na5 (13... e5 {poses White the most problems.}) 14. Qd1 Nc6 15. e4 {around here I recognize the danger Black's center poses.} dxe4 16. dxe4 Bg4 $15 {Black's pieces are still somewhat better placed than mine, but his central play has been diminished. Now I need to address the pressure from the Bg4.} 17. h3 Bh5 (17... Bxf3 18. Bxf3 Bb4 19. Rf1 $15) 18. a3 {this is primarily aimed at avoiding Black ideas of activating his bishop with ...Bb4.} (18. g4 {is preferred by Komodo.} Bg6 19. Qb3 {is a more active way to play.}) 18... e5 {now we're back to equality.} 19. Be3 $11 Nf6 20. Bc5 $2 {this was based on a a very uninspired idea of simply trading pieces. It has a tactical flaw, however.} (20. Nc3 $14 {would re-deploy the knight to a more effective spot. White's pieces at this point would be a little more active than Black's.}) 20... Qxd1 $17 21. Rexd1 Bxc5 22. Nxc5 $2 ( 22. Rxc5 {would admit the loss of a pawn and be slightly better.} Nxe4 23. Rcc1 $17) 22... Nd4 $1 $19 {well played by my opponent. Now I cannot cover everything threatened.} 23. Rxd4 {I felt this was a superior way to lose the exchange.} (23. Nxd4 Bxd1 $19) 23... exd4 24. Nxd4 b6 25. Ncb3 Rxc1+ 26. Nxc1 Re8 $2 {allows the opponent back into the game, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (26... Rd8 {maintains the advantage and activates the rook much more advantageously.} 27. Ncb3 a5 $19) 27. f3 $17 {essentially forced. Now e4 is well-protected and the Bh5 is locked out. I felt better about my chances to draw at this point.} Kf8 28. Kf2 {copying my opponent by activating my king, but perhaps it would be more effective to get a minor piece back into play immediately.} (28. Nce2) 28... Bg6 29. Nce2 Nd7 30. Nc6 $6 {this is premature.} (30. Bf1 $5 {preparing to get the bishop into play.}) 30... a5 (30... Ne5 { would be more active.} 31. Nxe5 (31. Nxa7 $6 Nd3+) 31... Rxe5 $17) 31. Ned4 { still neglecting the poor bishop.} Nc5 32. b4 $6 {these sorts of exchanges tend to make life easier for the side that is up material.} (32. Ke3) 32... axb4 33. axb4 Ne6 34. Bf1 {finally!} Nxd4 35. Nxd4 Ra8 36. Ke3 Ke7 37. Bb5 Kd6 38. Kf4 $6 {this prematurely lessens the influence of the king in the center.} (38. h4 $5 Ra3+ 39. Kf4 Rc3 $17) 38... f6 39. Bc6 Ra2 40. b5 {I was happy at this point to get the bishop and pawn protecting each other, making it difficult for Black to make progress on the queenside. Black should be able to use his rook to support play on the kingside, however.} Rd2 41. Ke3 Rd1 42. h4 Ke5 43. Ne2 (43. f4+ $5 Kd6 44. g4 $17) 43... f5 (43... Re1 {would keep the pressure on.} 44. Kf2 Ra1 45. f4+ Kd6 $19) 44. f4+ Kd6 45. e5+ {my opponent could not see a path to victory and had limited time, so offered a draw. I was pretty confident of being able to hold this position if we had played on, now that I have a protected passed pawn on e5 and only one (dark square and out of reach of the bishop) to protect on the kingside, g3.} 1/2-1/2

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