01 June 2020

Annotated Game #245: How not to crack open the queenside

The following third-round tournament game is very thematic for English Opening players and illustrates a consistent strategic weakness that I have recognized. Facing a King's Indian Defense (KID) setup, I follow the typical plan of queenside expansion with b2-b4, which yields a small plus. The critical position occurs on move 11 and is an excellent example of where I need to improve my game. Tactics are not really involved, but calculation and evaluation is important. Essentially White needs to find a way to keep the pressure up and not prematurely resolve the tension in the position. While I what I chose gained space, it allowed Black to easily contain the pressure and frustrate further progress. Learning what to do (and not do) in these positions is an important step in achieving better results with the English.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "51"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O Nbd7 {this is a flexible choice, not committing to a pawn advance yet. That said, ...e5 is most played here, according to the database.} 7. d3 {the standard English setup against the KID.} a6 {up to this point, Black has delayed choosing between the two thematic pawn advances in the KID, but finally does so on the next move.} 8. Rb1 {this is the standard rook move, with the plan of b2-b4. White does not benefit from playing the pawn advance immediately, as Black's last move allowed, due to the weakness on the a1-h8 diagonal.} c5 9. Bd2 {this is a somewhat slow move, although it does develop the bishop, clearing the first rank, and support the knight. I was unduly worried about protecting the Nc3 against discovered attacks on the long diagonal from the Bg7. With the rook no longer on a1, this is not really an issue.} (9. b4 $5 {is a better way to pursue the initiative.}) 9... Rb8 { preparing to contest the b-file.} 10. b4 $14 {at this point White has a small lead in development, space and the initiative.} Ne8 $6 {Black has several options here, since White's last move is not forcing. This retreat of the knight opens the long diagonal, but withdraws it further from the action, which is a net minus for Black.} (10... cxb4 11. Rxb4 Nc5 12. Qc2 {with the idea of Rfb1 is a comfortable plan for White, keeping up pressure on the b-file. The a-pawn is isolated, but control of the b-file more than compensates for this.}) (10... Qc7 $5 {would avoid committing Black to changing the pawn structure.}) 11. b5 {not the best plan. Instead of opening the b-file to White's advantage, this allows Black to better contain White's pressure on the queenside. This is also an example of how Class players typically rush to resolve pawn tension.} (11. bxc5 $5 dxc5 12. a4 $16) (11. Qc2 {is also possible, connecting the rooks and maintaining the tension.}) 11... b6 {this looks a little dubious at first, since now I'll open the b-file with a backwards b-pawn for Black. However, after} 12. bxa6 Bxa6 {Black's b-pawn is overprotected and White has no obvious way to make progress.} 13. a4 (13. Qc1 Bb7 $11) 13... Nc7 {not the most active choice, but it gives Black the option of exchanging with the knight on b5, if Nc3-b5.} 14. Qc2 {at this point there is nothing left for White's queenside strategy and Komodo recommends switching to the kingside and center for play, although without a real prospect for an advantage. In that case, c1 would be a better square for the queen, creating a battery on the c1-h6 diagonal.} Bb7 $11 {illustrating how my efforts on the queenside have been for nought. Black can block the Rb8 and it does not matter. } 15. Rb3 {stubbornly continuing to look for queenside play, without bothering to take my opponent's obvious reply into account.} Bc6 {unblocking the Rb8 and pressuring a4.} 16. Nb5 Ra8 {now Black even has more threats on the queenside than I do.} 17. Rbb1 {an admission that my 15th move was useless, but there is nothing better.} Nxb5 {this exchange simplifies the queenside structure and gives my pieces better coordination as a result. However, the position is very even still.} 18. axb5 Bb7 19. Bc3 {contesting the diagonal under the principle that Black's Bg7 is a superior piece, so exchanging it would benefit me.} Nf6 { this is a small inaccuracy. Black wants to preserve his bishop, but this allows me some extra pressure.} 20. Ra1 $14 Qc7 21. Qb2 {now the Nf6 can only move to h5, due to the pressure on the Bg7.} h5 22. Rxa8 {not a bad move, but it ignores the (small) strategic benefits White has on the kingside and is followed up by queenside liquidation.} (22. Nh4 $5 {may be the best try to keep some initiative.} Bxg2 23. Nxg2 Qb7 24. e4 $14 {followed by Ne3 establishes better control of the center, particularly d5.}) 22... Rxa8 23. Ra1 Qb8 24. Ra3 {consciously trading to equality.} (24. Nd2 $5 Bxg2 25. Kxg2 Ra7 $11) 24... Rxa3 25. Qxa3 Qa8 26. Qxa8+ 1/2-1/2


  1. Thanks for sharing the game!

    Your observation on move 11 about Class players rushing to resolve pawn tension is right on the money! GM Rowson made the same observation in one of his books. GM Igor Smirnov encapsulated that idea in his aphorism, "To take is a mistake." Whenever I "feel" the tension reaching a peak, I try to remind myself to examine the position carefully to see if resolving the tension helps or hurts me.

    1. It seems like there is often a significant practical advantage conferred on the player who keeps the tension longer. Which means that (per the quote above) this should be the default decision, rather than immediately exchanging material. I think it's a sign of maturing chess strength to be able to calculate and understand the consequences of releasing the tension, so you can do it at the most advantageous time. This theme crops up repeatedly in certain structures I play, for example the Stonewall.


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