20 January 2020

Annotated Game #234: An excellent disappointment

As improving players, sometimes our best games against strong opposition still end in losses. As with any serious game, I believe it's what you get out of it, in terms of a better understanding of both the chess and yourself, that are important in the long run to gaining strength. The result still stings a bit when you know you should have won, though.

One pattern that has become very obvious in my games is that when I fully understand the early middlegame plans, I do very well. Otherwise, I am sometimes prone to crash and burn by around move 25, not really knowing what to do with my pieces and getting in trouble as a result. The below first-round tournament game shows the former case. I know how to put the pieces on their best squares, identify targets in the enemy camp, and capitalize on inaccurate moves to achieve first a substantial and then winning advantage.

The final result illustrates, however, how and why many master-level players are able to avoid losing, and in fact win, against lower-rated opposition. My opponent keeps taking active, practical chances for counterplay, even when completely lost. The length of the game starts taking its toll on my calculating ability and when the situation becomes increasingly pressured and sharp, I go off the winning path and in fact lose. My opponent well deserved the result, since he never gave up and did what was necessary to find pressuring moves that gave him the best chances. And although it was a loss, I can take away from it a number of positive reinforcements as well, to emulate in future games.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Master"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D40"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "94"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 {choosing to go for a QGD setup rather than a Nimzo-English with ...Bb4.} 4. e3 c5 {characteristic of the Tarrasch Defense, inviting a transposition with d2-d4.} 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Be2 {this is more of a waiting move than anything else, although the bishop development is consistent with White's original ideas in the opening.} (6. d4 {transposing directly to a Semi-Tarrasch is most popular here and scores reasonably well in the database at 58 percent.}) (6. Nxd5 {is played less often, but scores better at 70 percent and forces a positional transformation.}) 6... Be7 7. O-O Nc6 8. d4 { transposing to a Semi-Tarrasch opening. I thought my opponent probably knew it better than I, but I assessed it was nonetheless better to challenge actively in the center than to go for a more Hedgehog-type position after d2-d3.} O-O 9. Nxd5 {the idea is to head for either a symmetrical pawn structure or giving Black an isolated queen pawn, depending on how he chooses to recapture.} exd5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 {now there is a balanced but relatively simple and easily playable position for me to play, with clear ideas to follow.} 11. a3 {taking away the b4 square from Black's minor pieces.} a5 {preventing the otherwise logical follow-up with b4.} 12. Qc2 {an excellent square for the queen, on the open c-file and the b1-h7 diagonal, especially since it is currently unopposed on either and cannot be chased away by ...Nb4.} Bd6 $6 {I felt at the time this was inaccurate and Komodo concurs. Black's d-pawn is a target and this both removes a defender (blocking the Qd8) and also reinforces White's control over the blockading square d4 in front of the IQP.} 13. Rd1 $14 Be6 14. Bd2 { it's a common principle that playing Bd2 (or the equivalent development for Black ...Bd7) is rarely optimal. However, here the idea is to go to c3 and get on the long diagonal, which Black cannot prevent. I didn't want to develop it alternatively with b2-b3 and then Bb2 due to the weakening of the a-pawn that would result.} Rc8 {now the queen is no longer unopposed on the c-file. However, it has another good square to go to.} 15. Qa4 {there's no immediate threat from the queen here, but Black has to watch the pressure on the a-pawn. The queen also influences the key d4 square now, laterally.} b6 {reinforcing the a5 pawn but also weakening the light squares on the queenside. No pawn advance comes without this type of trade-off.} 16. Bc3 {a beautiful long diagonal for the bishop, targeting g7 and helping control the central d4 and e5 squares.} Qc7 (16... f6 $5 {looks ugly, but is suggested by the engine as one way to help blunt White's advantage.}) (16... Ne7 {looks like a retreat, but removes the knight from potential threats against it on the c-file.}) 17. Ba6 $16 (17. Rac1 {immediately is also good, perhaps better, as the Ra1 is currently doing nothing and Ba6 remains a threat.}) 17... Rb8 18. Rac1 $18 { White's advantage is now substantial, thanks to the under-supported Nc6. Positionally, all of White's pieces are active and have a purpose, while Black's pieces are much less coordinated and have few places to go, including being under threat.} Rfd8 (18... Bc5 19. Bb5 Rfc8 20. Bd4 $18) 19. Bxg7 { cashing in immediately on the threat to win a pawn, given the double attack on the Nc6.} (19. Bb5 {is given by the engine as a better version of the idea. As is so often the case, a good idea can be improved on with additional prepatory moves. However, this line is more complex to play.} Rdc8 (19... Na7 20. Bf6 $1) 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Rxc6 Qe7 22. Qd4+ $18) 19... Kxg7 20. Rxc6 Qe7 21. Qd4+ f6 { a practical choice not to exchange queens, in the hopes of later counterplay. One problem is that it opens the 7th rank up, however.} 22. Bd3 {redeploying the bishop to pressure the now-weakened kingside.} (22. Qh4 $5 {would immediately take advantage of Black's closing the d8-h4 diagonal with his last move, pressure the h-pawn, and also provide some cover for White on the kingside.}) 22... Bc5 $2 {this now forces the queen to its best square.} (22... Bd7) 23. Qh4 Rh8 24. Qg3+ {taking advantage of the bishop moving off its excellent b8-h2 diagonal.} Kf7 25. Rc7 {Black's 7th rank weakness is now taken advantage of by White. At this point I thought the game was essentially over, and it should be.} Bd7 26. Bf5 (26. Bc4 {is the even better engine line, but the text move should also win.}) 26... Bxf5 27. Rxe7+ Bxe7 {White is significantly ahead on material and can target Black's exposed king, which means it should be a relatively easy win. However, Black has the two bishops and double rooks, which offer him dynamic possibilities, especially with the g-file available for him.} 28. Nd4 {I thought about this for some time, passing up the d-pawn in favor of better activity for the knight.} (28. Rxd5 { is perfectly fine, however, and probably a simpler route to victory.} Be6 29. Rh5 Rbc8 30. h4 Rc1+ 31. Kh2 $18) 28... Bg6 29. Qf3 {I thought for some time here, too. I was having trouble coming up with an actual plan.} (29. Qg4 $5 { would be more in keeping with my last move, using the knight as leverage to get into e6.}) 29... Rbd8 30. Rc1 Rd7 31. Qh3 {still making good, active moves. The queen targets the Rd7 and gets on the open h3-c8 diagonal.} Rd6 32. Rc7 { restricting the Be7 and getting on the 7th rank again.} Re8 {again, I have a dominant position, but am struggling with a plan.} 33. Qg3 {the Rd6 is hanging, with the Be7 pinned.} Rdd8 34. Qg4 {back to the excellent diagonal and looking to penetrate.} Kg8 35. h4 {the best move, according to Komodo. The obvious threat is winning the Bg6 due to the pin.} Bd6 36. Rc6 {White is still fine after this, but here is where I start to lose momentum and have calculation problems due to fatigue. I was concerned about back-rank threats if the rook abandoned the c-fiile, now that the Bd6 covers the h2 flight square for my king. However, this threat is easily handled.} (36. Rb7 Rc8 37. g3 $18 { White's king will be fine on g2, even with the light square weakness, since f2-f3 is available if Black goes ...Be4; meanwhile, the Nd4 covers the c2 square.}) 36... Re4 {now Black starts making threats and the pressure starts getting to me.} 37. Qf3 (37. f4 $5) (37. Qh3) 37... Be5 (37... Rxh4 $2 38. Qxf6 $18) 38. g3 {I thought afterwards that this was a bad move, being too passive, but the engine is fine with it.} (38. Rxf6 $5 Bxf6 39. Qxf6 {giving back material to defang Black would be a winning strategy here. The centralized knight and queen combine well against Black's weaknesses on both sides of the board.}) 38... h5 39. Ne6 {a good, active move. In the next sequence I am still winning by a large margin, but felt increasingly under pressure.} Re8 40. Nf4 (40. Ng5) 40... Bxf4 41. gxf4 d4 {the best practical move and one which caused my calculation efforts to seize up even more. The pawn threatens to queen and/or open the e-file, but these threats are in reality not difficult to deal with.} 42. Rxf6 Kg7 43. Rd6 (43. Rxb6) 43... dxe3 44. f5 $6 (44. Kf1 { holds things together.} exf2 (44... e2+ 45. Ke1 Rc4 {is what I was concerned with, missing however} 46. Rc6 $1) 45. Kxf2) 44... Rg4+ {now I needed to simplify down. It is psychologically hard to give up a queen when you have been winning for a long period of time, however.} 45. Kf1 $2 {the losing move.} (45. Qxg4 {I somehow thought Black might continue pushing the pawn, but of course that is not possible with the Bg6 hanging.} hxg4 46. Rxg6+ Kf7 47. fxe3 Rxe3 {with a rook ending advantageous for White.}) (45. Kh2 {also allows White to survive, with difficulty.} Rxh4+ 46. Kg3 Rg4+ 47. Kh3 exf2 48. f6+ Kf8 49. Qxf2 Bf5 50. f7 Re5 51. Kh2 $14) 45... e2+ $19 46. Qxe2 Rxe2 47. Rxg6+ { the final miscalculation, although it was lost anyway at this point.} (47. Kxe2 Bxf5 48. Rxb6 Rxh4 $19 {and the endgame is easily won for Black, thanks to the material advantage and advanced passed h-pawn.}) 47... Rxg6 0-1


  1. Hi ChessAdmin,

    I found this game really interesting. I am a professional chess coach, and from time to time I see my students lose won games in a similar fashion.

    I wrote a blog post about simplifications and used your game as an example. I hope you don't mind it.




    1. Glad to be of service!

      One of the things that struck me about the analysis was the move 38 variation, which I think is an elegant simplification into a won position, also demonstrating how giving back material can lead to other benefits.


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