06 June 2020

Annotated Game #246: A thematic Stonewall victory

This last-round tournament game is thematic in a number of ways, not just for the opening in consideration. I had only played a handful of Stonewall games at this point, and it's clear through analysis that I missed some subtleties (and not-so-subtle aspects too). It is exactly this process of experience, analysis, and understanding that drives improvement, however, whether it's a new opening you are playing or any other aspect of your game.

Here I was fortunate enough to win in the end, pressing through a kingside attack that finishes nicely, but could have been defended against (or completely refuted) by exchanging one of my primary attacking pieces. I would also like to highlight some more universal chess observations that stemmed from the analysis, including about how Class players think.
  • White's opening a3 and h3 rook pawn moves are a common tendency among players at a certain level. It struck me during the game that my opponent was playing these moves more as a "system" or automatically, rather than through careful consideration of the needs of the position; a3 in particular looks out of place. The time lost was not decisive, but it allowed me to accelerate my attack plans and grab the initiative.
  • My opponent prematurely resolves the pawn tension in the center on move 9, a common mistake previously discussed in Annotated Game #245; it's interesting to see how these kinds of themes keep cropping up in games and analysis.
  • I missed two key strategic (and tactical) ideas involving piece exchanges and mobilization. I never considered trading off my well-placed Ne4 during the game, although the knight could have profitably given itself up for White's dark-square bishop. A related idea was mobilizing the Nd7 sooner, with the general principle of bringing more pieces into an attack.
  • As previously highlighted in Pitfalls of Computer Analysis, trusting superficial engine assessments can lead you astray. Here on move 16 that would have lead to thinking ...Qh4 was a mistake, based on an initial full-game analysis pass.
  • There are a number of calculation mistakes on both sides regarding the kingside attack that Black launches, starting around move 14. For my part, it reinforces the fact that I should be looking harder for my opponent's ideas, including in this case the very disruptive idea of Nxe4. In general, though, the process and outcome is an object lesson on the practical benefits of the initiative of being the attacker, since an under-pressure defender usually has more costs associated with calculation failures (mate, in this case).
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A84"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "46"] {A84: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Miscellaneous} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nf3 f5 {the Slav Stonewall} 5. a3 {this neglects development} Nf6 6. h3 $146 {Secures g4, but also neglects development. We are now out of the database.} Bd6 { Black has now reached the standard Modern Stonewall setup. With White underdeveloped, Black has equalized by this point.} 7. Bd2 {a rather passive choice for the bishop.} (7. Bg5 h6 $11) 7... O-O 8. e3 Nbd7 {this is where I had my first real think. I defer for the moment deciding on where to put the light-square bishop.} (8... b6 9. Be2 Bb7 $11) 9. cxd5 $6 {this prematurely releases the pawn tension in the center. If Black can recapture with the e-pawn in the Stonewall, it usually is an advantage, since the c-file remains blocked for White while the half-open e-file can be better exploited by Black.} exd5 $15 10. Be2 Ne4 {the thematic Stonewall knight jump.} 11. O-O Qf6 { this is another strategic point for thought. The square f6 can be used by the queen, the Nd7 or the Rf8, so Black needs to formulate a plan here.} (11... Qe7 $5 {Komodo agrees that developing the queen is a good idea, but prefers e7. One point is that it fights for control of e5 just as well from here, leaving f6 free for another piece.}) 12. Qb3 {this normally would signal a desire by my opponent to pursue a queenside strategy, also importantly occupying the a1-h8 diagonal. This allows some tactical ideas based on the d5 pawn pin. Having learned my lesson in a previous game, I move my king out of the line of fire.} Kh8 {this also clears g8 for a rook.} 13. Rad1 $6 {this does nothing for the rook, as it has no future on the d-file, and contradicts to some extent the previous queen move.} g5 {I now get a standard kingside attack rolling.} (13... Nxd2 $5 {is a better version of the idea, as found by Komodo. The removal of the Bd2 gives Black an advantage on the dark squares, as well as weakening the defense of f4.} 14. Nxd2 (14. Rxd2 g5) 14... g5 {with the idea of ...Qh6 and ...Nf6 to mobilize additional forces, and ...g4 and ..f4 to storm the king position.}) 14. Nh2 $6 {a premature retreat. White would do better to exchange his largely useless Nc3 for my well-placed Ne4 first.} (14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Nh2 $15 {Black has only a slight advantage, at most, as White can defend his king and has ideas of pushing d4-f5.}) 14... g4 $2 {played after a lot of thought, but a mistake. I am missing both the ...Nxd2 idea and the key follow-up of ...Qh6.} (14... Nxd2 $5 {again is the key idea.} 15. Rxd2 Qh6 $17 {now ...g4 is a real threat, especially after ...Nf6.}) 15. hxg4 $6 { this misses my next idea.} (15. Nxe4 $5 {would allow White to at least equalize.} fxe4 16. Nxg4) 15... Bxh2+ {this also took a good deal of thought, but this time with success...mostly.} 16. Kxh2 Qh4+ {here a previous version of Komodo (11.2) on the first pass thought this was a mistake, instead preferring ...Qh6, as does version 13.2 initially, but after some additional time the engine agrees the text move is best.} 17. Kg1 fxg4 $4 {Komodo via the Fritz interface gives this two question marks, since White now has an only move that wins. Another long think that does not go well for me, in a complex position.} (17... Ndf6 18. Qb4 Rf7 19. Nxe4 Nxe4 $17) 18. Be1 $2 {a logical defensive idea in general terms, but White is better by exchanging off the Ne4 attacker, which also opens up the center.} (18. Nxe4 $1 dxe4 {and now White breaks through in the center while Black's attack has evaporated.} 19. d5 $18 { and now after Bc3, White will cut into Black's position along the diagonals and also the d-file.}) 18... Rf6 $2 {the idea of a rook lift does not lose, but ignores the correct path to victory. The f6 square is better used to mobilize the Nd7, which also opens up the Bc8's path to the kingside.} (18... Ndf6) (18... Nxc3 $5 {followed by ...Rf6 also should win and may be a simpler path.}) 19. f3 $4 {this loses, as I had calculated.} (19. Nxe4 {again would save the game.} Rh6 (19... dxe4 $2 20. d5 $18) 20. f4 Qh2+ 21. Kf2 $11) 19... g3 $19 20. Bxg3 {forced} Nxg3 21. Rfe1 Rh6 {I chose this as a certain win, not being able to fully calculate the ...Nh1 idea at this point, due to fatigue.} ( 21... Nh1 {can be played immediately here.}) 22. Rf1 {now with f1 blocked and the rook already on h6 cutting off the h-file, the tactical idea is much clearer.} Nh1 23. Rfe1 Qf2# 0-1

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