08 February 2020

Annotated Game #237: Redemption (with a bit of luck)

Losing my first three games of this tournament ("castling queenside" 0-0-0 as mentioned in Annotated Game #236) was a low point in my chess career, something I recognized I needed to deal with mentally. I've never withdrawn from a tournament and personally don't believe in doing so, unless there is some unavoidable external reason (family emergency, serious illness, or the like). By withdrawing there is also no chance of redemption. Achieving mental toughness in competition means that previous bad outcomes - whether a mistake within a game, a previous loss, or a poor overall tournament result - have to be accepted and then put aside, in favor of focusing on playing as well as possible in the moment.

The below game is far from clean, but it does highlight some positives as well as several areas for improvement.
  • As Black in a Caro-Kann Advance variation, I easily achieve equality out of the opening, although I could have done better at several points, as the position ends up being rather sterile.
  • My opponent makes a weakening move in the early middlegame, which I exploit for a small advantage. 
  • The turning point comes after I come up with a bad plan (featuring 28...f5?) which also highlights a general weakness in my game, of not properly evaluating the circumstances behind f-pawn pushes.
  • I get lucky when my opponent misses a winning tactic for White. Both of us were too focused on the situation with the weak e6 pawn to see it.
  • I do a better job of evaluating the position after my opponent technically is able to win material (two rooks and pawn for the queen), but I get much better dynamic chances, as my queen combines well with my remaining knight against White's exposed king. The pressure then rattles my opponent into dropping a rook and the game.
In terms of redeeming my tournament performance and keeping my Class A rating, this was a must-win game. Part of the mental preparation for it, however, was paradoxically accepting that I could lose, and that my chess career would not be over as a result. The fact that one of my previous losses had actually been a well-played game against a master (Annotated Game #234) also was helpful, even though disappointing, as it showed my play had not been uniformly terrible. The nature of Swiss system tournaments, in which your opponent always is in a similar position in terms of results, also contributes to the chances of coming back from a bad start: they are likely to be just as depressed as you are, so if you can adjust your attitude to be more positive, you may enjoy a certain psychological advantage.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "116"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {this is one point of the opening variation starting with 3...c5, to enable Black to place the bishop more effectively on g4.} 6. Be2 e6 7. Nbd2 Qb6 {choosing to increase pressure on the diagonal before taking any other action. In these types of positions, it is sometimes difficult to figure out when it is best to relieve the pawn tension, or increase it with the queen move.} (7... cxd4 {immediately is the favorite choice in the database, and here it is more effective in achieving Black's developmental goals and equalizing, without prematurely committing the queen.} 8. cxd4 (8. Nxd4 Bxe2 9. Qxe2 Nxd4 10. cxd4 $11) 8... Bb4 $11) 8. Nb3 ( 8. dxc5 $5 {at first looks like it plays into Black's idea of building up pressure, but after} Bxc5 9. O-O {Black's pieces in fact are not doing much. The pressure on the a7-g1 diagonal is no trouble for White so Black will have to redeploy his forces, figure out where to put the g8 knight, and leave the king in the center for while.}) 8... cxd4 (8... Bxf3 $5 {may be a better version of the idea.} 9. Bxf3 cxd4 10. cxd4 a5 11. a4 Bb4+ 12. Kf1 Nge7) 9. cxd4 (9. Nbxd4 {would have been more consistent with White's previous move, centralizing the knight and providing less of a target than the d4 pawn will be.}) 9... Nge7 {a solid developing move.} (9... a5 $5 {would take advantage of White's positionally awkward setup with the knight on b3, as ...a4 is threatened to drive away the knight, with d4 under pressure.}) 10. O-O Bxf3 { this was not yet necessary. Making White weaken his kingside squares with h3 if he wanted to kick the bishop would be slightly better for Black.} (10... Nf5 {continues with development, to the ideal square for the knight.}) 11. Bxf3 Nf5 12. Be3 {White has the two bishops, but this one is functioning just like a big pawn.} Be7 13. Rc1 O-O $11 {I've now completed development - except for the rooks - and have a comfortable position. White meanwhile is tied to defending d4.} 14. a3 {this temporarily takes the b4 square away from Black, but at the cost of weakening b3.} Rfc8 {it is unclear which rook should get into play first. I chose to leave the rook on the a-file, where it could perhaps support an a-pawn advance, but this never happens.} (14... a5 $5 { immediately is another idea.}) 15. Qd3 Qd8 {here I have a think and come up with a substandard plan.} (15... a5 {again is the main idea in the position and the logical follow-up.}) 16. Qb5 {I saw that the queen could gain space in this manner; however, the b7 pawn is not actually threatened, since after ... Rab8 the Nb3 would be hanging.} Bg5 {this was the original idea, to exchange off a defender of d4.} 17. Qd3 Bxe3 (17... Nxe3 {makes more sense, keeping the bishop on the board and exerting pressure down the h6-c1 diagonal.}) 18. fxe3 { now the position is fully equal, with fewer practical prospects for Black than before. The d4 square is no longer a weakness and White can think about using the half-open f-file.} Qg5 {getting the queen back into the game, pressuring e3 and exerting influence on the kingside.} 19. Rfe1 Nce7 {the knight has no useful squares on the queenside, so redeploying it makes sense.} 20. Kf2 { removing the pin on the g-file, which could theoretically be annoying at some point, but the king is less secure on f2.} b6 {essentially a waiting move, although it does take away c5 and a5 from White knight.} (20... Rxc1 21. Rxc1 Rf8 {is Komodo's preferred plan. At first this looks like it just gives away the queenside, but White's king position justifies a break using the f-pawn.} 22. Qe2 (22. Rc7 $2 Qh4+ $19) 22... f6 $15) 21. e4 $6 {this looks like a strong move, but in fact it leaves White vulnerable.} (21. Nd2 $5) 21... Nh4 { good, but not the best.} (21... dxe4 22. Bxe4 Rxc1 23. Rxc1 Rd8 24. Rd1 a5 25. a4 Qh4+ 26. Kg1 h5 $17 {with the idea of ...Qg5 and running the h-pawn up. Black will have lasting pressure against both White's king position and the d-pawn.}) 22. Qe3 $6 {this makes it easier for me to resolve the kingside tension favorably.} (22. exd5 Nxf3 23. Qxf3 Nxd5 $15) 22... Nxf3 {this is possible because the Qg5 is simultaneously protected, which my opponent may have missed.} 23. Kxf3 {better than the alternative, which drops a pawn.} (23. Qxf3 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Qh4+ 25. Kg1 dxe4 $17) 23... dxe4+ 24. Qxe4 Nd5 $15 { a logical centralization of the knight, also blockading the d-pawn. However, Black can play more vigorously.} (24... Rxc1 $5 25. Rxc1 Rf8 $17 {again with the idea of lining up on the king and preparing ...f6.}) 25. g3 {creating a flight square on g2 and controlling h4 and f4.} a5 {I now finally play this idea, noticing that the Nb3 is short of squares.} 26. h4 Qe7 {I thought for a while here and decided to play the safe move.} (26... Qh6 {keeps more pressure on White.}) 27. Rc2 Rf8 {now I also play this idea from earlier, but the timing is not as good, and White still has both rooks on the board, which makes his control of the c-file much more relevant.} (27... Rxc2 28. Qxc2 Rf8 $17 {is an improved version.}) 28. Kg2 {the king also can more quickly run away from the f-file now.} f5 $2 {this shows both a lack of patience and a misunderstanding of the position. Without the king as a target, the opening of the f-file is no longer beneficial to Black and just weakens the position due to White's pressure on the e-file.} (28... Qd7 $15 {is better, with the idea of putting a rook on c8 and challenging for the c-file.}) 29. exf6 Rxf6 $4 { I thought for a while here and picked the wrong recapture. White (just as I did) now misses a game-ending tactic.} (29... Qxf6 30. Qxe6+ Qxe6 31. Rxe6 Rae8 32. Rxe8 Rxe8 $14 {accepts the loss of the pawn. Black however is blockading the d-pawn with a well-placed knight and has prospects for good rook activity, so this compensates somewhat.}) 30. Rc6 (30. Qxd5 {queen sacs (even if only temporary) are sometimes difficult to include in the thinking process, as it's common to automatically reject the possibility of such a capture. White wins a piece due to the hanging Qe7.}) 30... Qf8 $11 {now I lose the e-pawn, but can exploit the f-file and White's open king position.} 31. Rxe6 Rf2+ 32. Kg1 Nf6 { I had to think through the consequences of this carefully, predicting that my opponent would go for the queen for rooks exchange.} (32... Rxb2 {is also possible.}) 33. Qxa8 $6 (33. Qd3 Rxb2 34. Nd2 Rc8 $11) 33... Qxa8 34. Kxf2 Qd5 $17 {the general rule is that two rooks are better than a queen when there are open files and the endgame is near. In this particular case, however, my queen can combine effectively with the knight and it is powerfully centralized.} 35. Rxb6 {I got the impression that my opponent was quite happy with the position at this point, having gobbled a pawn on top of the rooks vs. queen situation. However, now I take over the initiative and demonstrate the power of the queen. } a4 {the knight's position is now revealed as a liability.} 36. Rb8+ (36. Nd2 $2 Qxd4+ {with a triple fork.}) 36... Kf7 37. Nc1 Qxd4+ 38. Re3 $2 {my opponent gets flustered by the situation and misses the knight fork, although . ..Qd2+ is also winning by picking up the Nc1.} Ng4+ $19 39. Kf1 Nxe3+ {at this point it's been a long struggle and I go for what I know is winning, rather than searching for even better moves.} (39... Qd1+ {is more effective.}) 40. Ke2 {my opponent now puts up stubborn resistance which requires a good amount of effort on my part to overcome, but the outcome is not really in doubt.} Nf5 (40... Nc4) 41. Rb4 Qe3+ 42. Kd1 Nxg3 43. Rxa4 Nf1 44. Kc2 Qd2+ (44... Qc5+) 45. Kb1 {I had foreseen this run to the queenside, which extends White's life for a little while longer.} Ne3 46. Ra7+ Kg6 {the problem for White is that the Black king can eventually hide behind his own pawns and/or gobble the h-pawn, so it is not vulnerable to further checks from the rook.} 47. Rc7 Qd6 48. Rc3 Nd5 49. Rd3 Qe5 50. Kc2 Qe4 51. b4 Nf4 52. Kc3 Nxd3 53. Nxd3 Qe3 { continuing with the pinning theme. When in doubt, render your opponent's pieces unusable.} 54. Kc4 Qe2 55. b5 Qc2+ 56. Kd4 Qa4+ 57. Kc5 Qxa3+ 58. Nb4 Qc3+ 0-1

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