12 November 2020

Commentary: 2019 National Open, Round 5 (Ramirez - Sorokin)

This next commentary game is a nice example of how strategic, positional play in the English Opening can lead to a tactical finish, sometimes rather quickly. With these master games, I save interesting ones periodically and then get to them whenever I can. GM Alejandro Ramirez recently had a disappointing 2020 U.S. Championship, so I decided now would be a good time to look more deeply at this instructive and clean win of his over FM Aleksey Sorokin, as compensation. (Original ChessBase report and analysis on the 2019 National Open from Li Ruifeng can be found here.)

[Event "National Open 2019"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2019.06.14"] [Round "5"] [White "Ramirez, Alejandro"] [Black "Sorokin, Aleksey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2574"] [BlackElo "2536"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "51"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 {this simplifies White's opening choices, as it makes little sense not to exchange the c-pawn for Black's central d-pawn.} 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. g3 {the most popular continuation. The more flexible Nf3 also scores as well, around 57 percent in the database.} e5 {staking out territory in the center (which Nf3 would have prevented).} 5. Bg2 {forcing Black to choose what to do with the Nd5.} Nb6 {preferred and best scoring option (around 50 percent) .} 6. d3 {still avoiding committing the other knight. Moving the d-pawn seems necessary in any scenario for White.} Be7 7. Be3 {the bishop development to e3 is a standard idea in some lines of the English. Here, f4 and g5 are out and d2 would be more passive. The Black king's knight is also on b6 rather than f6 as normal, so cannot harass it.} O-O 8. Rc1 {activating the rook on the half-open c-file.} Re8 9. Nf3 {the knight is finally developed.} (9. a3 { is often played here.}) 9... Nc6 {the e-pawn must be protected.} 10. O-O Bf8 { overprotecting the e-pawn and choosing to give the bishop a defensive role on the kingside, which is lacking the usual protection of a knight.} 11. a4 { White has played a variety of moves here. Normally one would expect an a-pawn thrust to be more consistent with a White rook on a1. One recent high-level alternative:} (11. Bg5 Qd7 12. a3 h6 13. Bd2 Qd8 14. Ne4 a5 15. Nc5 a4 16. Qc2 Ra7 17. Rfe1 Nd4 18. Nxd4 exd4 19. e4 dxe3 20. Bxe3 c6 21. Ne4 Be6 22. Bc5 Ra8 23. Bxf8 Rxf8 24. Nc5 Bc8 25. Re4 Re8 26. Rce1 Rxe4 27. Rxe4 Ra5 28. h3 Kf8 29. d4 Ra8 30. Re1 g6 31. Qd2 Kg7 32. Qf4 Nd7 33. Ne4 Ra5 34. Nd6 Nf6 35. Re8 Qd7 36. Rxc8 g5 37. Qd2 Ra6 38. Qb4 c5 39. dxc5 Rxd6 40. cxd6 Qxc8 41. Bxb7 Qxh3 42. Qxa4 h5 43. Qd4 Qd7 44. Bf3 h4 45. gxh4 gxh4 46. Qxh4 Qf5 47. Kg2 Kf8 48. a4 Qg6+ 49. Qg3 Qf5 50. b4 Nd5 51. Qg4 Qe5 52. Qc8+ Kg7 53. Qg4+ Kf8 54. d7 Ke7 55. Qe4 Qxe4 56. Bxe4 Nxb4 57. Bf5 Nc6 58. Kf3 Kd6 59. Kf4 f6 60. Be4 Nd8 61. Kf5 Kxd7 62. Kxf6 Kd6 63. a5 Ne6 64. a6 {1-0 (64) Caruana,F (2835) -Nepomniachtchi,I (2784) chess24.com INT 2020}) 11... a5 $6 {Black blocks the a-pawn's further advance, but this was not currently threatened. Perhaps it was a deliberate invitation to exchange on b6 and give Black the two bishops, although White seems to inflict enough structural damage to more than compensate for that.} 12. Bxb6 (12. d4 $5 {is the engine line and actually has been played in a few games. The point is that exchanges on d4 favor White's piece activity.} exd4 (12... Nc4 {is what the engines give} 13. Nb5 Nxe3 14. fxe3 $14) 13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Qxd4 15. Bxd4 $16) 12... cxb6 13. Nb5 { now White has b5 as an excellent outpost for the knight.} Be6 {this seems to unnecessarily weaken the e-pawn, by blocking the Re8.} 14. d4 {now Black cannot maintain the pawn on e5.} e4 (14... exd4 {is the other option, which likely will lead to wholesale liquidation:} 15. Nfxd4 Bg4 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17. Bxc6 Bxe2 18. Qxd8 Raxd8 19. Bxe8 Bxf1 20. Kxf1 Rxe8 $11) 15. Ne1 {this is the most challenging option for White, avoiding a piece exchange and activating the strong Bg2. The knight will later emerge via g2.} (15. Ne5 {is less ambitious and gives Black more play.} Nxe5 16. dxe5 Qxd1 17. Rfxd1 Bb3 18. Rd4 Rxe5 $11) 15... f5 (15... Rc8 $5 {may be better, but is a typical complicated engine line.} 16. Bxe4 Nxd4 17. Rxc8 Bxc8 18. Qxd4 Qxd4 19. Bxh7+ Kxh7 20. Nxd4 $11) 16. f3 {a forcing move which causes Black to go wrong.} Bd5 $2 {this will allow White to force a favorable structure in the center.} (16... exf3 17. Bxf3 {and White should have a comfortable game after e2-e3 and Ng2, but the engine rates it as equal.}) 17. fxe4 fxe4 (17... Bxe4 {would give White too much of a free hand in the center.}) 18. e3 {White's d-pawn is now protected and passed, while Black's isolated e-pawn requires defending.} g6 {Black needs to activate his dark-square bishop.} 19. Bh3 {an illuminating move. White seizes a better diagonal for his bishop, as the e4 pawn is doubly protected. This leaves the Bh3 superior to its Black counterpart.} Bh6 (19... Be6 $2 {attempting to exchange bishops does not work tactically.} 20. Bxe6+ Rxe6 21. Qb3 Qe7 22. d5 $18) 20. Ng2 {getting the knight back into the action, protecting e3 and looking to go to f4. At this point White is strategically winning, as his pieces are all better placed than Black's.} Re7 21. Nf4 {this is not as forcing as some other possibilities.} (21. Rf6 $1 {is the engine move, which of course is not at all obvious. The point is that the rook threatens to go to d6, while White can also play Qg4 and Rcf1, mobilizing his heavy pieces to dominate.} Nb4 22. Qg4 $16) (21. Qg4 $5 {with the idea of Qh4 also looks very good.}) 21... Nb4 {protecting the Bd5 again.} 22. Qg4 Nd3 $4 {Black makes a bid for counterplay which fails to a tactic.} (22... Bxf4 {Black likely hesitated to give up the two bishops, even though it was best for defense.} 23. gxf4 $14) 23. Nxd5 Nxc1 (23... Qxd5 24. Rc8+ Rxc8 25. Qxc8+ Kg7 26. Qf8# { White's control of the f-file pays off.}) 24. Qh4 $1 {with a double attack on e7 and h6.} (24. Nxe7+ Qxe7 25. Nc3 {trapping the knight also should win.}) 24... Qxd5 (24... Bf8 {after the exchanges Black just ends up a piece down.} 25. Nxe7+ Qxe7 26. Qxe7 Bxe7 (26... Ne2+ 27. Kf2) 27. Rxc1) (24... Bxe3+ 25. Nxe3 Ne2+ 26. Kg2 $18) 25. Qxe7 Bxe3+ 26. Kh1 {White now threatens Be6+ with mate to follow.} 1-0

01 November 2020

Video completed: "Why You Should Never Underestimate Your Opponent" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"Why You Should Never Underestimate Your Opponent" is the ninth video in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. Keeping full awareness of all of my opponent's resources has been a struggle, so this topic is particularly important for me. It also reinforces the idea of focusing your play on the situation on the board, not making assumptions based on your opponent's rating.

The first example game is FM Anastasia Avramidou - GM Valentina Gunina, from the 2018 Olympiad. White was outrated by around 200 Elo. Black plays a careless move in the opening, with the apparent intent of avoiding a simplifying line, and White in response find a tactical sequence that picks up an unprotected rook. 

The second one is GM Sergey Fedorchuk - GM Andreas Kelires. At the time, Kelires was not yet a GM and White had around a 600 Elo advantage. The opening is a Najdorf Sicilian and follows an aggressive line with opposite-side castling. White trusts his attack too much and ignores how Black can turn the tables, defending his king position while making multiple threats.

The last example is GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Zviad Azoria, from the 2018 U.S. Championship. White had around a 200 Elo advantage and it was a good year for Caruana, so perhaps he felt he could/should win. In this particular case, however, a very equal R+N+pawns endgame was reached. Caruana passes up a chance to wrap up the draw and tries for an unbalanced pawn race position. Instead, he ends up a pawn down in a lost knight ending after the rooks and other pawns are exchanged.

The common thread in all of these is the negative consequence of relaxing your guard and not worrying about what your opponent can do. This is never good practice, even if your rating is higher than your opponent's.