17 September 2020

Annotated Game #252: Learning through gambits

Continuing with the theme of learning by doing, this second-round tournament game is an excellent example of a positional opening gambit. Komodo concurs that I (as White) have full compensation and more for the pawn given up on move 6, at least until around move 19. I consciously knew this would be something of an experiment, choosing not to avoid the challenge even though I had little experience with the resulting position. It is a characteristic of master-strength players to be able to deal with these types of positions, where there is no direct attack, but significant positional compensation for sacrificed material.

The problem, of course, is that in the long run it is easier to play the side with the extra material, since the burden of proof lies with the player who must demonstrate the compensation. Looking at the strategic alternatives on moves 17-19 is instructive in this regard, since there are significant improvements in terms of activating pieces and maintaining the pressure and space advantage. I must also give credit to my opponent, who was very close in rating, for repairing her weaknesses on the queenside and then moving to take the initiative using the pawn majority.

The complexity of the game caused us both to run low on time, which contributed to me blundering (rather than sacrificing) another pawn, but then made my opponent nervous as my rook took up position on her side of the board. She had less time than I did and took the practical exit of allowing a repetition of moves, so I ultimately escaped with a draw. A very interesting game, nonetheless, from an improvement point of view.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "5"] {A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. O-O {this continuation - the most popular in the database - is an indication that White is more focused on development than on regaining the pawn.} Nbd7 6. b3 { I thought for a considerable amount of time here, having expected my opponent to play ...b5 instead, to protect the c-pawn. This would leave c6 weak, however, and not contribute much to development.} (6. Qc2 $5) 6... cxb3 $11 7. Qxb3 {now White has a pure gambit. I wasn't fully comfortable with this, but felt I should have reasonable compensation. Komodo agrees.} (7. axb3 {is the alternate way to play this and appears to be no better or worse. The strategic ideas will be different, however, and I felt more comfortable with the positions resulting from Qb3.} e6 8. d4 Be7 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Ba3 Nd5 11. Bxe7 Qxe7 12. Ne4 N7f6 13. Nc5 b6 14. Nd3 Bb7 15. Nfe5 Nd7 16. e4 Nxe5 17. Nxe5 Nf6 18. Qc1 c5 19. dxc5 Qxc5 20. Qxc5 bxc5 21. f3 Rfc8 22. Rfc1 Kf8 23. Ra5 Ke7 24. Raxc5 Rxc5 25. Rxc5 Kd6 26. b4 Rc8 27. Nxf7+ Ke7 28. Rxc8 Bxc8 29. Ne5 Kd6 30. Nc4+ Kc6 31. Bf1 Nd7 32. Na5+ Kb6 33. Kf2 Ba6 34. Bh3 Nf8 35. Ke3 Kb5 36. Kd4 Kxb4 37. Nc6+ Kb5 38. Nd8 Bc8 39. Ke5 a5 40. Kd6 a4 41. Kc7 a3 42. Nc6 a2 43. Nd4+ Kc4 44. Nc2 Kc3 45. Na1 Kb2 46. Kxc8 Kxa1 47. Kd8 Kb2 48. Ke7 a1=Q 49. Kxf8 Qh1 50. Bxe6 Qxh2 51. g4 Qf4+ 52. Bf5 Qxf3 53. Kxg7 {1-0 (53) Martinez Reyes,P (2416)-Srdanovic,J (2070) chess.com INT 2020}) 7... e6 {blunting the pressure on f7, at the cost of blocking in the Bc8.} 8. d4 {seizing the space on offer in the center.} Bd6 $6 {this turns out to be a time-waster, as the bishop can get kicked off d6, so it is better developed to e7.} 9. Nbd2 { I thought for a while here on the best development scheme. The text move gets the knight out, covers e4 and eyes the c4 square, while not blocking the long diagonal.} (9. Ba3 {I rejected the bishop development at this stage, because of being a pawn dawn and not wanting to trade pieces. However, I missed the idea of recapturing with the knight, and trade anyway later.} Bxa3 10. Nxa3 $14 {with the idea of Rc1, Rfd1 and Nc4 if possible.}) 9... Nb6 {this guards c4, but loses some more time in the opening by moving the piece again.} (9... O-O 10. Nc4 Be7 11. a4 $11) 10. e4 $14 {a good follow-up, seizing space in the center and threatening the pawn fork on e5, which makes Black lose additional time in avoiding it.} Be7 11. a4 {now that the d5 square is covered, this threatens a4-a5 driving the knight backwards; it also restrains Black's b-pawn. } a5 12. Ba3 {the exchange here makes sense, trading White's bishop in one move for Black's which has made several, although the capture is not forced.} Bxa3 13. Qxa3 Qe7 {Black would be happy with the exchange of queens, reducing White's compensation for the gambited pawn in terms of space and piece activity.} 14. Qb2 {it was not clear to me what the best square for the queen was. On b2, it influences the b-file and is on the long diagonal.} (14. Qe3 $5 {is perhaps better, supporting the center and leaving the job of putting pressure on the queenside files to the rooks.} O-O 15. Rfb1 $14) 14... Nbd7 15. Rfe1 {activating the rook to support the center, overprotecting the e-pawn.} O-O 16. Nc4 {long thought here. In the end, I decided it was a good place for the knight, regardless of anything else. The engine agrees.} Qd8 {this controls b6, but the backwards queen move lessens Black's influence on the center.} 17. Rab1 {another long thought here. I didn't think this was a particularly effective move, although it increases pressure along the b-file, but I was unable to come up with anything more concrete as a plan.} (17. Nfd2 $16 {is Komodo's preference. This does multiple things, such as overprotecting e4 again, clearing the f-file for a potential pawn advance, and giving the option to reposition the knight to b3 or c4}) 17... Rb8 (17... b5 $5 {would give back the pawn in exchange for dissipating the queenside tension.} 18. axb5 cxb5 19. Qxb5 $11) 18. Qd2 {getting the queen out of the sights of the Rb8, while pressuring a5 and establishing a presence on the d-file.} (18. Nd6 $5 { looks like the obvious choice, but I was concerned about} Ne8 {The engine evaluates the knight for bishop trade as not bad for White, however. The Bg2 will become a strong piece, unopposed on the light squares.} 19. Nxc8 Qxc8 $14) 18... b6 {taking control of b6 by occupying it, as well as protecting the a5 pawn. Now White needs a new plan, besides continuing to try to pressure the b-file, but I have trouble finding one.} 19. Rb2 {this is more a waiting move than anything, although not bad in itself. The problem is that the e-pawn is not sufficiently protected, so Reb1 is not possible as a follow-up.} (19. Nd6 Ne8 20. Nc4 {invites repetition with} Nef6) (19. e5 $5 {would mark a change in strategy, giving up the d5 square but gaining space and opening the long diagonal for the Bg2. White remains active and retains full compensation for the pawn.} Nd5 20. Nd6 Nb4 21. Ng5 h6 22. Nge4 $11) 19... Ba6 $11 {a good freeing move from Black, getting the bishop developed to a useful diagonal and connecting the heavy pieces on the back rank. I didn't consider this move, which is always a bad sign.} 20. Nce5 $6 {again, played without much of a plan. Things start to go downhill from here.} (20. Nd6) 20... Rc8 $15 {now Black can start thinking about mobilizing her queenside pawn majority, well supported by her pieces.} 21. h4 $6 {lashing out rather crudely on the kingside. I could see the queenside pawn roller coming.} (21. Bh3 $5 {would at least partially activate the bishop, which otherwise is doing nothing.}) 21... c5 22. Nxd7 Nxd7 23. Reb1 $2 {this was the point of the decision to trade knights on d7, in my thinking at the time, so I could swing the rook over. However, Black now clarifies the center and my space advantage and other compensation are gone, leaving Black both materially and positionally better.} (23. dxc5 $5 {should be considered} Rxc5 24. Qd6 $15 {with at least some annoying pressure.}) 23... cxd4 $17 24. Qxd4 Qc7 25. e5 {played primarily to open the long diagonal, although the pawn is better on e5 as well.} Rfd8 (25... Bb7 {would immediately contest the long diagonal.}) 26. Qf4 Qc4 $6 {here Komodo is patient and assesses that improving a position of one of White's pieces would be better, letting Black do the exchanging.} (26... Bd3 27. Ra1 Nc5 28. Nd4 $19) 27. Qxc4 $6 {I exchanged here, believing that Black's queen was better than mine and that the backwards b-pawn gave me good chances of drawing. The problem is that Black's rooks are very active.} (27. Rd2 $5 {should not be overlooked} Qxf4 28. gxf4 $15 {the pawn structure looks strange, but reinforcing the e5 strong point is worth the doubled pawns.}) 27... Bxc4 $17 28. Nd2 $2 {this is just a calculation blunder. The idea was to get rid of the b-pawn in exchange for the e-pawn, with a 4v3 kingside majority for Black harder to convert in the endgame.} Nxe5 $19 29. Nxc4 Nxc4 {I failed to mentally see how the knight would cover b6 when calculating move 28.} 30. Rc2 g6 {creating luft for the king.} 31. Rbc1 {a one-move threat...} Nd6 {simply solved.} 32. Rc6 Rxc6 33. Rxc6 Nc8 $6 {with a two-pawn advantage, my opponent plays it safe by defending. However, this passes up the opportunity to create a passed pawn.} (33... b5 34. axb5 Nxb5 35. Rc5 Rd1+ $19) 34. Rc7 $2 {completely overlooking the advantage of keeping the knight tied to the defense of b6.} (34. Bf1 $5) 34... Nd6 { now the knight is back to a good square.} 35. Rc6 {nothing better.} Nc8 { because of major time trouble (on both sides), my opponent decides to go for a repetition of moves.} 36. Rc7 Nd6 {and I escape with a draw.} 1/2-1/2

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