10 May 2020

Annotated Game #243: Battle in the center

This next first-round tournament game features a strategic and tactical battle over the center. Both my opponent and I make a number of key choices about how we fight for it in the opening and early middlegame, with some key points being:
  • The early choice of 3...Nc6 by Black can be solid, but it means the c-pawn will not be involved in the central fight.
  • 8. b3!? would have been an improvement for me, allowing recapture on c4 if necessary and maintaining influence over d5, as well as developing the dark-square bishop.
  • 9. c5! would have created a queenside and central bind in space. 
  • 10. d4 would have controlled e5 and reduced Black's counterplay, but at the time I valued more having an open long diagonal.
  • 11...Ne4 is the root of my opponent's difficulties for much of the game, as the knight looks good there but is too easily undermined, with the game becoming tactical after this.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "75"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Nc6 { normally Black plays ...d5 or ...Bb4 here, aiming respectively for a QGD or Nimzo-Indian type setup.} 4. e3 {White has a large number of options here, with d4 probably being the most straightforward.} Bb4 5. Qc2 {keeping with standard Nimzo-Indian type ideas, to recapture on c3 with the queen if needed.} O-O 6. Be2 Bxc3 7. Qxc3 $14 {the queen now has a great diagonal and is unopposed by the dark-square bishop.} d5 8. O-O {I figured I would castle eventually anyway, so did it here, but there are other ways to improve the position first.} (8. b3 $5 {would prepare to recapture on c4 with a pawn, helping control d5, and also open a path for the Bc1 development.}) 8... Qd6 ( 8... dxc4 9. Bxc4 $11) 9. a3 {a missed opportunity. I was concerned about restricting Black's knight, but can do that in a more aggressive manner.} (9. c5 Qe7 10. b4 $16 {Black's remaining bishop is now sealed off from the action and White can implement a bind on the queenside and/or center.}) 9... a5 { this restrains b2-b4, but there were more active options for Black.} (9... e5 $5) 10. b3 {sticking with flank play. I wanted to keep the long diagonal open for the bishop.} (10. d4 $5 $14 {would control e5.}) 10... e5 11. Bb2 Ne4 $6 { a one-move threat against the Qc3 which also puts the knight in a precarious position.} (11... Re8 {would proceed with developing the rook and reinforcing the center.}) 12. Qc2 $16 {a simple retreat that strongly threatens cxd5, undermining the Ne4.} Bf5 {perhaps hoping for some tactics involving the bishop (such as ...Ng3). It would have been best just to retreat with ...Nf6.} (12... f5 $2 {fails to} 13. cxd5 Ne7 (13... Qxd5 $4 14. Bc4) 14. Bxe5 Qd7 15. Qxc7 $18) 13. Bd3 {I spent a lot of time here evaluating the different possibilities, to try and figure out the best way to pressure the Ne4 and use the cxd5 idea that undermines it. I ended up playing the text move as it increased pressure on the b1-h7 diagonal against both e4 and the currently hanging Bg6. It also takes away tactical ideas for Black such as ...Ng3 in some variations, which would otherwise simultaneously attack the Qc2, temporarily protect f5 and attack the Rf1.} (13. d3 {would have been the best "safe" choice.} Nc5 14. cxd5 Qxd5 15. e4 Qxb3 16. Qxb3 Nxb3 17. exf5 Nxa1 18. Rxa1 $16 {material is roughly equal, but White's two bishops confer an advantage.}) (13. cxd5 {is the tactical choice, which I wasn't able to fully calculate.} Qxd5 (13... Ng3 14. d3 Nxe2+ (14... Nxf1 15. dxc6 Nxh2 16. Nxh2 Qxc6 17. Qxc6 bxc6 18. Bxe5 $18) 15. Qxe2 Ne7 16. Bxe5 Qg6 17. e4 Bh3 18. Bg3 $18) 14. Nh4 (14. d3 {goes into the other main variation}) 14... Ng3 15. Nxf5 Nxf5 16. Bd3 $18 {winning a pawn, with the two bishops and White queen running rampant.}) 13... Rfe8 $6 {this does nothing to address the tactical vulnerability of the Bf5/Ne4/d5 structure, so now I am able to find a solution. } ({Better is} 13... Bg6 $1 {and the bishop no longer hangs.}) 14. Nh4 $18 { Black now loses a pawn, but finds a way for the Ne4 to escape.} Bg6 $2 { right idea, just played a move too late.} (14... g6 15. f3 Nc5 16. Nxf5 gxf5 17. Bxf5 d4 18. Bxh7+ Kg7) 15. Nxg6 {this is good enough for a significant advantage, although again cxd5 is a better idea.} fxg6 $2 {this opens the a2-g8 diagonal and weakens the center.} 16. cxd5 {now I play the key tactical idea.} Nc5 {I admit that I didn't initially see the retreat when I began the sequence calculation on move 14, which was a blind spot in my visualization. Backwards moves like these are simply harder to spot, especially when it puts the piece concerned en prise. Although the Nc6 is still hanging - what I saw later - taking it by dxc6 would now expose the underprotected Bd3 to capture, which I missed.} 17. Bc4 {I took some extra time here as well. This move is winning, although not optimal.} (17. dxc6 {is not as good.} Nxd3 18. cxb7 Ra7 $16 19. Qc4+ Kh8 20. Bc3 $18 {here White is two pawns up, but I thought it simplified things too much.}) (17. Bb5 {wins more material, as the Nc6 is now pinned against the Re8.}) 17... Na7 {while this doesn't block one of the defenders of the e5 pawn and allows Black to think about playing ...b5, I can immediately challenge the other knight and pre-empt this idea.} (17... Ne7) 18. b4 axb4 $6 {opening the a-file does not help Black.} (18... Nd7 {immediately is better, although it loses a pawn.} 19. bxa5 Kh8 20. d4 $18) 19. axb4 Nd7 { although I'm only a pawn up, my two bishops are far better than Black's knights, with great diagonals that I can threaten to exploit. My pawn structure gives me a space advantage, and I have various targets to potentially go after, including the Na7, c7, and e5.} 20. Ra2 {the b4 pawn is tactically protected, so I decide to go with a simple plan of increasing pressure along the a-file against the Na7, since it has nowhere it can go without losing material.} Qb6 (20... Qxb4 $2 21. Ba3 Qb6 22. Rb1 Qf6 23. d6+ Kh8 24. dxc7 $18) 21. Rfa1 Kh8 {removing the king from the threat of d5-d6 with a discovered check.} 22. d4 e4 {my opponent makes the best choice in response, as exchanging on d4 would bring my dark-square bishop to life.} 23. Qb3 {without an immediately obvious best way to continue, I choose to generally strengthen my queen position. The b4 pawn is now protected and I have a battery on the a2-g8 diagonal, strengthening the bishop's effectiveness. This in fact proves decisive later on.} Rf8 {my opponent seeks counterplay against f2, with the evident idea of following up by ...Qf6.} 24. Bc3 {this move overprotects b4 and is designed to continue ratcheting the pressure up on the queenside, with the idea of following up by b4-b5 and playing the bishop to either b4 or a5.} Qf6 {an understandable bid for counterplay, including a trappy offer of the Na7. However, I now have a largely forcing continuation that leads to material loss for Black.} 25. d6 {this move wins, although in a more complicated way. I recognized that the pawn could be mobile and the sacrifice would open key lines.} (25. Be1 $5 {is the simplest path to victory, as by protecting f2 the Na7 now truly hangs.}) 25... cxd6 26. Be6 $6 {good enough, although the threat is still not enough to lose a piece for Black, given the continuing weakness on f2.} ({Avoid the trap} 26. Rxa7 $2 Qxf2+ 27. Kh1 Rxa7 $19) 26... Nb6 $2 (26... Rad8 $18 {defends for the time being, although Black is still losing.}) 27. d5 {the point of this move is that now Black can no longer maintain his queen on the f-file. With the threat to f2 gone, the Na7 is now truly hanging and Black must lose a piece. My opponent missed the discovered attack on his queen, having focused on saving the knight on d7.} Nb5 {this would have worked if there was no attack on the queen, as the Ra8 is also now sufficiently protected, but...} 28. Bxf6 Rxa2 29. Bxg7+ $1 {I figured I should buy the bishop's life as dearly as possible; this is known as a desperado tactic.} Kxg7 30. Rxa2 {the game is now effectively over.} Ra8 31. Rxa8 Nxa8 32. Qb2+ {leading to a forced mate. I didn't bother trying to calculate the absolute quickest path, which seemed like a waste of energy by that point.} Kh6 33. Qh8 Nb6 34. Bg8 Kg5 35. Qxh7 Nc4 36. h4+ Kf5 37. Qf7+ Ke5 38. Qe6# 1-0

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