17 August 2020

Annotated Game #249: Hanging in for counterplay

This next tournament game in part illustrates Bad Chess Attitude #1, as I try to immediately punish my opponent for his deviant opening play. In this case, the move (6...f6) in fact is not good, but it is not so bad that I can generate a winning attack by immediately sacrificing material with 7. Nxe5? I therefore end up in the classic situation of having given up a piece for two pawns and an insufficient attack.

Rather than give up, I continue playing on, actively looking for counterplay. As Komodo points out, objectively I was lost, but I knew that certain weaknesses in my opponent's position - primarily his exposed king - gave me the possibility of some practical opportunities, if my opponent was not careful. By hanging in, I was eventually able to take away much, if not all, of his advantage, finding a skewer tactic to roughly even the material balance.

The endgame was still a big challenge, first with the tactically tricky 2R v R+2B, then a second nail-biting phase with R v 3P, which I deliberately entered. Although we were both tired from the long game and in the secondary time control, I feel I did well overall in finding the right continuations, with the exception of missing (as did my opponent) a winning idea for him.

Game analysis highlighted several of my weaknesses, as it should, but on a more general level it also showed one of my strengths, which is identifying potential avenues for counterplay when losing, then hanging in the game until my opponent opens one up. Part of the reason for this is the added mental focus that one gets when in trouble - which I naturally would prefer to start applying earlier, before I get into trouble.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "128"] {[%mdl 8256] A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 f6 $6 {as is usually the case in the opening, an early ...f6 can only be bad for Black. But how bad?} (6... Nxc3) 7. Nxe5 $2 {this attempt to punish Black's opening inaccuracy does not work, as White will not have enough of an attack for the sacrificed material.} (7. d4 $14 {scores 100 percent in the database. The added pressure on e5 and Black's now airy king position give White an edge.}) (7. O-O $14 {scores over 90 percent, if White wants to emphasize king safety first.}) 7... fxe5 8. Qh5+ Ke7 9. Bxc6 {this seemed necessary to continue the attack and pick up the pawn on e5, getting a bit of material back, but it also removes the good White bishop from the board.} (9. d4 $5) 9... bxc6 10. Qxe5+ {now I started getting worried, as it is more evident looking at the board that White cannot bring enough pieces to bear on Black's exposed king.} Be6 (10... Kf7 $5) 11. Ne4 {trying to bring more force into the attack, but it's just not there.} Nf6 (11... Nb4 $5 { is what I was most worried about, since now the c2 and d3 squares are targets.} ) 12. b3 {this is a logical developing move, getting the bishop activated, but now Black smartly exchanges down material. The less pieces on the board, the greater his advantage.} (12. Ng5 $5 Qd6 $17) 12... Nxe4 13. Qxe4 Qd5 $19 { powerfully centralizing the queen, with an x-ray attack on g2, as well as offering to exchange pieces to Black's benefit.} 14. Qh4+ {the only way I saw to keep the queens on the board. According to the engine this worsens White's evaluation, but having the queens off in an endgame where my opponent has the two bishops to my one would just be a tortuous loss. With Black's king still in the center, I felt I had better practical chances with the queens on.} Kd7 ( 14... g5 $5 {and Black can already relax, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 15. Qg3 Kd7 16. Bb2 Bd6 $19) 15. O-O Be7 16. Qg3 Bf6 {a minor slip, but it gave me a bit of hope that my opponent would start getting overconfident.} (16... Kc8 {evacuating the king from the center would consolidate the position.}) 17. d4 c5 $6 {my opponent seems intent on winning more material, but this is not necessary. He appears to ignore the fact that opening up the central files with his king there could give me counterplay.} 18. Ba3 (18. Bb2 $5 $17 {is more active than it looks, not only protecting the d4 pawn, which however is worth doing in itself.}) 18... cxd4 19. exd4 { my opponent naturally does not fall into the obvious trap of recapturing on d4, which would allow me to pin the piece with a rook.} (19. Rac1 $5 {developing with tempo, as the c7 pawn is targeted.} Rhc8 20. exd4 Ke8 $17 {preserves Black's advantage, but is tricky for him.}) 19... Qg5 $19 20. Qd3 Bd5 { blockading the d-pawn and centralizing the bishop with a mate threat on g2.} 21. f3 Rhe8 22. Kh1 {at this point it's clear that I have no compensation for the material, other than Black's king position, which however is quite defensible. However, I played on, since my opponent still had a chance of slipping up. This in fact occurred on the next move.} Re3 $6 (22... c6 $5 $19 { would shut down White's hopes of counterplay.}) 23. Qb5+ {this creates multiple threats, including an unavoidable skewer tactic with Bc1.} Bc6 (23... c6 $2 {of course loses the rook on a8.} 24. Qb7+ $18) 24. Qxg5 Bxg5 25. Bc1 Rae8 26. Bxe3 Bxe3 $17 {material is now roughly equal, but Black still has a significant edge due to the two bishops. Unfortunately I have a problem coming up with an appropriate plan here, in part due to lack of endgame understanding and in part due to exhaustion from having been fighting to stay in the game to this point.} (26... Rxe3 27. Rfe1 Rc3 $17) 27. a4 $4 {causes further problems for White, is Komodo's verdict. The text move just creates a backward pawn on an open file, which really makes no sense. The (superficial) idea was to take away the b5 square from Black, but that ignores the downside of the move.} (27. Rfe1 $17) 27... a5 (27... Rb8 {keeps an even firmer grip} 28. d5 Bxd5 29. Rfd1 $19) 28. Ra2 $6 {not the bravest move, comments the engine.} Bd5 29. Rb2 $2 { played under the illusion that the d4 pawn is tactically protected.} Bxd4 $19 30. Rd2 c5 {I simply missed this, a sign of exhaustion.} 31. g3 {back to desperation again. I felt I needed to get the king into the game.} Bxb3 32. Kg2 Re3 33. Rc1 {threatening to take on c5. I still haven't given up searching for counterplay.} Bd5 $6 {getting greedy by targeting the f-pawn. Black is still winning, but I can at least strike a blow in revenge.} 34. Rxc5 Bxc5 35. Rxd5+ Kc6 36. Rd8 {with the idea of harrassing Black from the 7th and 8th ranks.} Ra3 {preparing to wrap up the a-pawn.} 37. Rc8+ Kd5 38. Rc7 Bd4 39. Rd7+ Kc4 40. Rc7+ Kb4 {my opponent is becoming fixated on the a-pawn.} 41. f4 {with the idea of taking away the e5 square from Black's bishop. Also hoping for my opponent to not see the tactical risk behind...} Kxa4 $2 (41... Rxa4 {and the rest is a matter of technique} 42. Rc8 Ra2+ 43. Kf3 a4 $19) 42. Rc4+ {I had spotted this potential tactic earlier, although did not expect my opponent to fall into it. We had just made the time control, though, and he obviously was impatient to win.} Kb3 43. Rxd4 $11 {the ending is now a theoretical draw. However, given that only Black really has winning chances at this point, of course I expected my opponent to continue trying to win.} a4 44. Rd3+ Kb2 45. Rd4 Kc3 46. Rd7 {in general it is good to have the rook active in the back ranks like this, but here maintaining the defense on the 4th rank might have been a safer practical choice. With the text move, I deliberately go for a R v 3P ending.} (46. Re4) 46... Rb3 {Black can be proud of that piece} 47. Rxg7 a3 48. Rxh7 a2 49. Ra7 Kb2 50. Rxa2+ Kxa2 {I knew that this should be a theoretical draw, but have no real idea of how to actually play it. At the end of a long game and in the secondary time control, neither my opponent nor I play it out accurately.} 51. h4 $2 {any other available move is better, according to the engine.} (51. g4) (51. Kh3) 51... Rb8 {this keeps things level.} (51... Kb2 $5 {and now Black can more rapidly centralize his king, moving along the long diagonal.}) 52. h5 Kb3 53. Kf3 Kc4 {correct now would be to advance the king in front of the pawns, with either Ke4 or Kg4.} 54. g4 $2 { weakening the position} Kd5 $17 55. g5 Ke6 {now it's clear that Black's king is very well placed, controlling f5, while my king cannot support the further advance of the pawns.} 56. Kg4 $2 {this could have been a losing blunder. The correct response for Black would be to bring his rook into my rear.} (56. Kg3 $17) (56. h6 $17) 56... Rb5 $2 (56... Rb1 $19 {secures victory, as the combination of Black's king and rook being in their most effective placements means that Black can block ideas of queening and eventually pick up a pawn with the rook. For example} 57. h6 Rg1+ 58. Kh3 Ke7 59. Kh4 Kf7 60. Kh5 Rf1 61. g6+ Kf6 62. g7 Rh1+ 63. Kg4 Kf7 64. Kg5 {and Black just moves the rook back and forth on the h-file until White runs out of f-pawn moves.}) 57. h6 $11 { now I am a tempo up on the lines in the previous variation. I was even hoping for a win at this point, if Black messed up. Both of us still need to calculate carefully.} Kf7 58. f5 Rb4+ 59. Kh5 Rf4 60. g6+ Kf6 61. h7 {now Black cannot capture the f-pawn without allowing the h-pawn to queen.} Kg7 62. Kg5 Rf1 63. f6+ {one final potential trick} Kh8 (63... Rxf6 $2 64. h8=Q+ Kxh8 65. Kxf6 Kg8 66. g7 Kh7 {and White wins.}) 64. f7 {forced, otherwise Black starts gobbling up the pawns.} Kg7 {now neither side can make progress.} 1/2-1/2

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