29 April 2020

Annotated Game #242: Making it harder

This final round tournament game, an Exchange Slav, has as its main theme how I made it a lot harder on myself than necessary to secure a draw. Highlights:
  • 7...Qd7?! starts digging a positional hole for Black, as the queen development interferes with better minor piece placement. I was relying too much on transferring this idea from a Caro-Kann Exchange structure, which isn't quite the same. In that case, 7...Na5 is dubious (here it's better). However, White doesn't try to keep up the pressure and I equalize in several moves.
  • 14...a6 was OK, but unnecessarily weakening of the queenside pawn structure.
  • A classic Class player error is not developing the rooks in the early middlegame. I committed this sin by passing over the idea of 15...Rfc8 and later, until it was too late and White dominated the c-file. This was due to some sort of hallucination that White would control the file regardless. It still wasn't too late to contest the c-file on move 21.
  • I manage to get out of my problems, both earlier and later, thanks largely to my opponent's lack of patience and willingness to exchange pieces on favorable terms.
In the end I'm at least satisfied that I played some fighting chess and didn't despair in the endgame, even if it wasn't accurate chess.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "81"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 {the Exchange Slav historically has a drawish reputation, but I'd say it's as good a way for the White player to fight for the initiative as any, if they want to.} cxd5 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Bf4 Nc6 6. e3 Bg4 { this scores significantly better (about 50 percent) than the alternative bishop development to f5 (about 45 percent for Black).} 7. Qb3 {the majority of games in the database feature this natural queen sortie, hitting b7 and adding to the pressure on d5.} Qd7 $6 {in a somewhat similar Caro-Kann Exchange variation, this is a perfectly good move. Here, however, the queen is misplaced as it blocks a path back for the Bg4, plus the Nc6 is better on another square.} (7... Na5 {is best here, as it cannot be driven from its post on a5 and eyes c4, while protecting b7 and hitting the Qb3. A sample high-level game:} 8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Bb5 e6 10. Nf3 a6 11. Bxd7+ Nxd7 12. Ne5 b5 13. Qd1 Nxe5 14. Bxe5 Nc4 15. Qe2 Nxe5 16. dxe5 Bb4 17. Rc1 Rc8 18. Qd2 Qa5 19. a3 Bxc3 20. Rxc3 Rxc3 21. Qxc3 Qxc3+ 22. bxc3 Kd7 23. Kd2 Rc8 24. Kc2 Rc4 25. f3 f6 26. exf6 gxf6 27. Rd1 Kc6 28. g4 a5 29. Kb3 e5 30. h4 Kd6 31. Rg1 Ke6 32. Kb2 Kf7 33. Kb3 h5 34. Kb2 e4 35. f4 hxg4 36. Rxg4 b4 37. axb4 {Ni,H (2671) -Eljanov,P (2711) Riadh 2017 1/2-1/2 (65)}) 8. Bb5 $14 {a perfectly logical move, but not in the database's small sample.} e6 9. h3 Bf5 10. Nf3 Bd6 { here I want to exchange off White's effective bishop and complete my development.} 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. Ne5 O-O {by this point I feel White's initiative is largely spent and I've survived the opening pressure.} 13. Bd3 ( 13. Bxc6 $5 {is really the only way to try to fight for a (small) advantage. My opponent probably did not want to trade bishop for knight on principle, however.} bxc6 14. O-O {White has a slight pull on the queenside and the backwards c-pawn is a potential weakness, although Black should be able to keep things balanced with} Rfb8) 13... Bxd3 14. Nxd3 $11 a6 {taking the b5 square away from the knight, but also weakening b6. The b7 pawn is tactically protected.} (14... Qe7 $5 {also covering b7 looks simple and good.}) 15. O-O ( 15. Qxb7 $4 Rfb8 $19) 15... Rab8 {a solid choice, but it might be better to get the other rook into the game.} (15... Rfc8 {activates the rook and also contests the open c-file, the neglect of which causes me problems.}) 16. Rac1 Na5 17. Qb4 {a good choice by my opponent. White's pieces are a little better positioned than mine to fight on the queenside after the exchange.} Qxb4 { there is no good alternative, as retreating the queen just puts it in the way of my other pieces.} 18. Nxb4 Nc4 $6 (18... Rfc8 {it's still not too late for this.}) 19. Rc2 h6 $6 {played as a waiting move to give my king 'luft', but I could have put the tempo to better use.} 20. Rfc1 $14 Nd6 21. Na4 {now White's positional advantages are obvious, as he dominates the only open file and his knights can invade. With correct play, though, they are still too small to make a difference.} a5 $6 {forcing the knight to a better square.} (21... Rbc8) 22. Nd3 b5 23. Nac5 b4 $6 {I was having trouble coming up with a useful plan here, because I continued to fail to contest the c-file. With the Nd6 helping protect c8, however, that is the correct way to play.} 24. Ne5 {threatening the fork on d7. Now the pressure is really on.} Ra8 25. Ncd7 {my opponent lacks patience here. I'm perfectly happy to exchange off one of my worse knights.} Nxd7 26. Nxd7 Rfd8 (26... Rfc8 27. Nb6 Rxc2 28. Rxc2 Ra7 $14) 27. Ne5 a4 {I felt that this was my only source of counterplay, potentially opening the a-file or causing White some problems with the advanced pawns.} 28. Nc6 b3 {a bit desperate, but otherwise I thought White would gobble the pawn and just crush my position.} 29. axb3 axb3 30. Rc3 Rd7 31. Rxb3 {here I felt reasonably good about my drawing chances in a double rook ending, in part because White's pieces are no longer coordinating well. Komodo agrees, but not after the next move.} Nc4 (31... Rc7 $5 {is a very annoying pin on the Nc6.}) 32. Ne5 { again I'm happy to exchange.} (32. Rb5) 32... Nxe5 33. dxe5 $14 Ra2 {this abandons the 8th rank for the 2nd, unfortunately a worse placement for my rook, as all it does right now is be blocked by the b-pawn.} 34. Rb8+ {a mostly pointless check.} Kh7 35. b4 $6 {now my Ra2 is worth much more and can get in behind the pawn, where it ideally belongs.} Rb2 36. b5 Kg6 {adding a protector to the f-pawn and getting away from any ideas of a check on h8.} 37. b6 d4 $11 {this now activates the rook on the d-file.} 38. exd4 Rxd4 39. Rc3 {I thought for a while now and played a mistake.} Rdb4 $6 (39... Rd1+ 40. Kh2 Rxf2 41. b7 Rb1 {holds, for example} 42. Rh8 Rxb7 43. Rg3+ Kf5 44. Rxg7 Kxe5 45. Rxh6 $11) 40. Rg3+ $14 Kh7 41. Rf3 {here my opponent offered a draw, believing that the rook ending is drawn. After I take on b6, rooks are exchanged and White takes on f7. I'm still a pawn down but my more active rook should largely compensate and my king should help hold the kingside together.} 1/2-1/2

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