17 May 2020

Annotated Game #244: Is it equal?

This second-round tournament game, against an Expert in a Classical Caro-Kann sideline, is an interesting look at what "equal" means and how it can be wrongly evaluated. One of the recurring themes found in my own game analysis, mentioned before here, is that the result of an assumed "equal" piece exchange in reality favors one side. As Black, one of the strategic errors I make early on is 9...Bxf3, which is an unforced trade of bishop for knight while the position is relatively open. A common amateur mistake is to blindly follow a strategy of trading down pieces against a significantly higher-rated opponent, thinking that fewer pieces automatically means a more "equal" game. In reality, it usually just plays into the strengths of your opponent, who is probably better at endgames and exploiting small positional advantages than you are.

Despite a few other inaccuracies, I actually do manage to achieve real equality in reaching a K+P endgame - which shows the benefits of stubborn and careful play - but I crack under pressure eventually with a miscalculation. Having a better "automatic" idea of what to do during endgames should help avoid this in the future, as it is too draining energy-wise to have to try to switch on your full internal calculating machine all the time, especially in a long game.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "107"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. h4 Nh5 {my opponent was surprised by this move-order trick, clearly had not seen it before.} 8. Nxh5 Bxh5 9. Be2 { pursuing normal development by breaking the pin on the Nf3.} Bxf3 $146 { this is a novelty because it is a bad idea strategically. The position is too open to give away the two bishops advantage so quickly.} (9... Nd7 {remains equal.} 10. Bf4 e6 11. Ne5 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Be7 13. O-O-O O-O 14. Kb1 Nxe5 15. Bxe5 Re8 16. Rd3 Bf8 17. h5 f6 18. Bf4 Qd5 19. Rg1 Rad8 20. g4 Qb5 21. Qe4 c5 22. Rb3 Qa4 23. Qxb7 cxd4 24. Bc1 Re7 {Garcia,G (2485)-Campora,D (2550) Zaragoza 1992 0-1 (70)}) (9... e6 {is the other choice, which also looks reasonable.}) 10. Bxf3 $16 {Komodo already evaluates White as significantly better here.} e6 11. g3 {protecting the h-pawn so White can castle.} Bd6 12. O-O Qc7 {there's no need to commit the queen this early.} (12... Nd7 $5) 13. Qe2 Nd7 14. Be3 O-O {I had felt pretty good about the position here, in terms of keeping it solid, although objectively White has all the pluses. However, unless he plays vigorously, I should be able to improve things, which is what happens in the game.} 15. Bg2 (15. c4 {would be more to the point here, among other things taking away ideas of Nd7-f6-d5.}) 15... Rfe8 {thinking about a potential ...e5 break and lining up on White's queen. The rook was doing less on the f-file, I felt.} 16. Rad1 {White centralizes a rook in turn, supporting the d-pawn.} Nf6 17. Bg5 Be7 18. c3 {a solid choice.} h6 {with the idea of prompting an exchange and getting rid of the two bishops advantage.} 19. Bf4 Bd6 20. Bxd6 {my opponent couldn't come up with anything better.} Qxd6 $11 { now White has a slight space advantage, but not much else.} 21. Rfe1 Qc7 { allowing for a potential transfer over to the queenside.} 22. Qe5 {this looks like a strong queen centralization, but White does not have enough material on the board for it to translate into a meaningful attack. Best would be to continue with maximizing the Black queen's scope.} Qxe5 (22... Qb6 {keeps more tension.} 23. Rb1 Red8 24. Bf3 Rac8 25. Qe2 a5) 23. dxe5 {my opponent has the evident strategy of outplaying me in the endgame, which the exchange of queens has assisted. The advanced e-pawn, along with the h-pawn, is a better endgame structure for White.} Nd5 {the knight is well centralized, but unfortunately has no targets.} 24. Rd4 Kf8 {with the idea of centralizing the king and moving it to help cover the d-file.} 25. Kf1 Ke7 26. Ke2 Red8 {correctly contesting the d-file.} 27. Red1 Nb6 $6 (27... Rd7 {with the simple but effective plan of doubling rooks, since White cannot do anything useful in the interim.} 28. c4 {was what I was avoiding, but after} Nb6 29. Rxd7+ Nxd7 $11 { Black is completely equal.}) 28. Rxd8 Rxd8 29. Rxd8 Kxd8 $14 {White now has a slight advantage in the BvN endgame, due to his king position and ability to restrict my knight. His bishop is not very effective either, though.} 30. Kd3 Ke7 {this seems logical, but leaves my knight doing nothing. Might as well get it back into the action immediately.} (30... Nd7 $5) 31. b3 {restricting the knight's squares.} Nd5 {this again looks nicely centralized, but the knight would be more effective from d7.} 32. a3 Kd7 33. c4 Ne7 34. Be4 {White is consistently gaining space with his moves. In the absence of an obvious breakthrough, this is a good plan, especially since I do not really understand what I should be doing here to disrupt his plans.} b6 (34... f5 $5 35. exf6 gxf6 {would leave my kingside pawns on squares that could not be targeted by the bishop, and help control the 5th rank.}) 35. g4 (35. c5 {is a more dangerous try.} bxc5 $2 (35... b5 $11) 36. Kc4) 35... c5 {it was good of me to see the dangerous idea and block it for the future.} 36. f4 {the engine shows complete equality, but of course with White pressing forward it did not feel like it at the board. A pawn disruption is what is needed.} Nc6 (36... f5 37. exf6 gxf6 38. g5 fxg5 39. hxg5 hxg5 40. fxg5 Kd6 $11) 37. Bxc6+ Kxc6 $11 { still perfectly equal, but it's easy to go wrong in a K+P ending, which is what my opponent was counting on.} 38. h5 Kd7 39. Kc3 a6 40. Kd3 Ke8 41. g5 { I thought for a long time here and calculated incorrectly.} f6 $4 { unfortunately, this pawn break is now a bad idea with a pawn on g5.} (41... Ke7 $11 {is probably the simplest.}) 42. exf6 $18 gxf6 43. g6 $2 {my Expert-level opponent also goes wrong here, so we blunder back and forth.} ({White should play} 43. gxh6 Kf7 44. f5 exf5 45. Ke3 $18 {with White's rook pawns able to hold off the Black king for a couple of tempi, White's king can gobble the Black f-pawns then head over to the queenside.}) 43... Ke7 $2 (43... f5 $1 { would take away White's access square.}) 44. b4 $2 (44. f5 $18 {with a similar idea as in the above variation.}) 44... a5 $4 (44... f5 $11 {still draws.}) 45. bxc5 $18 {now White finds the killing blow and the rest is forced.} bxc5 46. Ke4 Ke8 (46... f5+ 47. Ke5 $18) 47. f5 Ke7 48. fxe6 Kxe6 49. Kf4 a4 50. Ke4 f5+ 51. Kf4 Kf6 52. g7 Kxg7 53. Kxf5 Kf7 54. Ke5 {White now wins the queenside pawns and can queen a pawn first.} 1-0

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