15 July 2020

Annotated Game #247: Winning this game, again

This first-round win highlights a concept mentioned before on this blog as one of the keys to gaining playing strength (and rating points) - identifying, studying and exploiting common errors made by opponents in the opening systems you play. This means not just memorizing trappy lines, but understanding the fundamental characteristics of the positions into the early middlegame.

In this game, which features the 3...c5 variation of the Advance Caro-Kann, that key element is the struggle for the d4 square, which is occupied by a White pawn. If White is not careful, Black can pile on the pressure and end up a pawn. Through experience, I've seen how this situation can sneak up on White if they just ignore the potential problem. So essentially I've won this game before, by picking up the d-pawn while not allowing White any counterplay. This gives Black a comfortable strategic edge, if not quite an outright victory.

Here, White went down this oblivious path, missing a last chance on move 12 to avoid problems, although the necessary sequence (found by Komodo) is long, complicated, and unlikely to be calculated over-the-board. Of course obtaining an advantage doesn't mean that your opponent goes away, or that you can put your own play on autopilot. The final outcome required careful play from move 14 on, but at least was relatively simple.

It's worth highlighting that finding the most rapid way to a win is irrelevant to the outcome. It's better to keep the advantage in hand, snuff out any counterplay from your opponent in advance, and win easily, rather than try to always play "best" moves and win quickly. This is even the case when you are low on the clock, since calculating "best" moves accurately can actually take longer - especially if the variations are more complex and you need to be absolutely sure of them, rather than simply blunder-checking the "good enough" ones.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "94"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 {a secondary but still popular line of the Advance variation of the Caro-Kann, with the main one being ...Bf5.} 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. c3 Bg4 {the point of not previously playing ...e6 and locking in the bishop, which now can go to g4 with the pin on the Nf3. This is more important in this line than in some others, as there is a big fight for d4.} 6. Be2 e6 7. Be3 ({ Relevant:} 7. Nbd2 Rc8 8. O-O a6 9. h3 Bh5 10. Re1 Bg6 11. Nf1 cxd4 12. Nxd4 Nxd4 13. Qxd4 Ne7 14. Bg5 h6 15. Qa4+ Qd7 16. Qxd7+ Kxd7 17. Be3 Nf5 18. Bf4 Bc5 19. Rad1 Rhd8 20. g4 Ne7 21. Be3 Ke8 22. Bxc5 Rxc5 23. Ne3 Bh7 24. f4 g5 25. Ng2 Be4 26. Bd3 Bxg2 27. Kxg2 gxf4 28. Kf3 d4 29. cxd4 Rxd4 30. Bb5+ Rxb5 31. Rxd4 Ng6 32. b4 a5 33. a4 Rxb4 34. Rxb4 axb4 35. Re4 b3 36. Rb4 Nxe5+ { Yuffa,D (2534)-Romanov,E (2619) Sochi 2016 0-1}) 7... Nge7 {ignoring the c-pawn in favor of development.} 8. h3 Bxf3 {removing a defender of d4 and not wasting time with the bishop by retreating.} 9. Bxf3 Nf5 {increasing the pressure on d4 and clearing the diagonal for the Bf8. Although the c-pawn is still hanging, capturing it would lose the e-pawn for White.} 10. O-O cxd4 { it is sometimes difficult to understand at what point it is best to exchange the pawns or keep the tension. Here Komodo evaluates the text move as equal for Black, favoring increasing the pressure with ...Qb6.} (10... Qb6 $5 { targeting both d4 and b2, which guarantees Black the pawn. Notice that the Nb1 cannot participate in the fight, unlike after the pawn exchange on d4.}) 11. cxd4 Qb6 {now White has a single way to stay level, with Nc3. The sequence is not obvious, however.} 12. Qd2 $2 (12. Nc3 Ncxd4 13. Bxd4 Nxd4 14. Qa4+ Nc6 15. Bxd5 {regains the pawn, in a very non-obvious way, as White has compensation if the bishop is captured.} exd5 16. Nxd5 Qd8 17. Rad1 Be7 18. Qb5 Rb8 19. Nf6+ Bxf6 20. exf6 (20. Rxd8+ Bxd8 $15) 20... Qxf6 21. Qc5 $11) 12... Ncxd4 { I thought here for a while to make sure the correct knight was being used.} ( 12... Nfxd4 {is inferior, for example} 13. Bh5 Qb4 14. Nc3 Nf5 15. Bf4 $17 { and compared with the game continuation, White retains the two bishops and is better developed.}) 13. Bd1 {now Black no longer has the ...Nxf3 tactical resource, so it's time to trade off the pinning bishop.} Nxe3 14. fxe3 { the trade-off is opening the f-file for White's rook versus creating a weak, doubled e3 pawn.} Nc6 $19 {at this point I judged that Black has a strategically won game, being up a pawn and with White's pawn structure shattered in the center. I still have to watch things like the weak f7 square though.} 15. Nc3 Bc5 {targeting the weak e3 pawn.} 16. Re1 O-O {I thought about taking the e5 pawn, but thought that improving king safety and dynamic play would be better than pawn snatching. Komodo agrees.} (16... Nxe5 17. Ba4+ Ke7 {is still winning but gives White extra chances, or at least hopes.}) 17. Rc1 d4 {I judged that the pawn advance would force the issue in the center and open it to my benefit. White's next move had to be taken into account, though.} (17... Nxe5 $5 {might be a simpler path, now that there is no downside to the capture.}) 18. Na4 Bb4 (18... Qb4 {is the other possibility.}) 19. Qc2 { not the best square for the queen, but White is lost anyway at this point.} ( 19. Nxb6 $6 Bxd2 20. Nxa8 Bxc1 {and I should pick up more material.}) (19. Qe2) 19... Qa5 20. Re2 dxe3 21. Qe4 {this was unexpected. I decided to take the opportunity to simplify.} Qxe5 22. Rxe3 {my opponent evidently thought this was a clever intermediate move before capturing the queen, but I have one too.. .} Bd2 {the bishop fork stays valid after the queen exchange on e5.} 23. Qxe5 Nxe5 24. Rxe5 Bxc1 {the extra exchange now seals the game, as my technique is sufficient to win.} 25. Bf3 Rad8 {favoring rook mobility over trying to hold onto the pawn.} 26. Bxb7 Rd1+ 27. Kf2 Rfd8 (27... Bxb2 $5 28. Nxb2 Rd2+ 29. Ke3 Rxb2) 28. Bf3 R1d2+ 29. Ke1 Bxb2 30. Nxb2 Rxb2 {now with a two-pawn and exchange material advantage and no White counterplay, it really is a matter of technique.} 31. Ra5 Rdd2 {being careful here, to calculate avoiding any back-rank issues.} 32. Rxa7 Rxa2 33. Rb7 g6 34. Rb1 Kg7 35. Kf1 Ra7 36. Re1 Rda2 37. Re3 Rc7 38. Kg1 h5 39. Kh2 Re7 {perhaps not the fastest plan, but the idea is simply to get a rook behind the passed e-pawn and push the pawn majority up the board.} 40. Kg3 Ra5 41. Re4 f5 42. Re1 e5 43. Re2 e4 44. Re3 Rd7 45. Be2 Rd2 46. Kf4 Kf6 47. h4 Raa2 0-1

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