09 May 2021

Commentary: London Chess Classic 2017, Round 7 (Nepomniachtchi - Anand)

 This game continues the recent theme of an English Opening with e3/b3 development from last time (Carlsen - Giri), but here GM Ian Nepomniachtchi as White plays the provocative yet thematic 7. g4!? to completely change the character of the game. Pitching the g-pawn in this manner is one example of similar themes appearing across different openings - as occurred in a previous Caro-Kann commentary game - so the idea is well worth studying. I'm not sure if I would play it myself, but improving your chess strength requires having a more open mind to study ideas that are outside your normal comfort zone. In my previous (pre-blog) chess career, for example, I never would have looked at this game in depth, one of the reasons I stagnated at Class B strength for so long.

Of course 7. g4 does not magically win straight out of the opening, but White does well for himself in gaining the initiative and minimizing his positional weaknesses, with his king position being reasonably solid in the center. Anand does eventually equalize, but then Nepo strikes back and is able to pick up material for no compensation. Black, left with the prospect of a losing endgame with no counterplay, resigns. I doubt this would happen at the club level, but it's worth seeing in the final position what a 100% sure win looks like, even with a fair amount of material still on the board.

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.09"] [Round "7"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [WhiteElo "2729"] [BlackElo "2782"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo Dragon"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 {now Black could just as easily go into a Nimzo-English hybrid with ...Bb4, but it seems most often a QGD formation is set up from here.} d5 4. e3 {White has committed to central play and there is no longer a potential gambit situation on the queenside, now that the c4 pawn is protected.} a6 {the move actually scores pretty well, leaving Black around 50 percent in the database, but it seems a little slow, given White's flexibility here.} 5. b3 {by far the most played. White develops his dark-square bishop and protects c4 again, allowing him to choose to retake with a pawn in case of an exchange and exert more control over d5.} Bd6 { a good square for the bishop, also signaling that Black will look to use his control of e5 strategically.} (5... c5 {is the usual reaction by Black. Here's an instructive and tactically fierce game featuring GM Mamedyarov as an example:} 6. Bb2 Nc6 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Rc1 Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. Na4 Nd7 11. Be2 b5 12. Nc3 Nf6 13. O-O Be7 14. a4 Bxf3 15. Bxf3 Rb8 16. axb5 axb5 17. Ne2 Qd6 18. Nf4 Nb4 19. Ba3 Na6 20. d4 b4 21. Bb2 O-O 22. Bxd5 Nxd5 23. dxc5 Nxc5 24. Nxd5 Rfd8 25. Qg4 Bf8 26. Nf6+ Kh8 27. Qf5 g6 28. Ne4+ {1-0 (28) Mamedyarov,S (2801) -Georgiadis,N (2526) Biel 2018}) 6. Bb2 O-O 7. g4 $5 {this was a novelty in tournament play, although it has been tried several times since with good results. The idea of sacrificing the g-pawn to open the file in this manner is a theme encountered in other openings.} Nxg4 {Black chooses to accept the challenge head-on.} (7... dxc4 {is an alternative.} 8. g5 Nfd7 9. Bxc4 $11) ( 7... c6 $5 {is suggested by Komodo Dragon as another way to decline the pawn. The point is to reinforce d5 while supporting a potential ...b5 pawn thrust.}) 8. Rg1 f5 {Black maintains the knight outpost, at least temporarily, while still allowing for ...Nf6 in the future. It also opens the 7th rank to lateral defense. However, it leaves the kingside a little loose and weakens e6, a fact which White later exploits.} 9. cxd5 e5 {Anand has given the pawn back immediately, but now maintains the advanced e5/f5 pawn duo.} 10. h3 Nf6 11. Ng5 {even with material equality, White needs to play actively to justify his uncastled king and isolated h-pawn. The knight gets into the game - not being very effective on f3 - by eyeing e6 and also clearing the diagonal for the queen.} Qe7 {covering e6 and g7.} (11... h6 $2 {this might be the obvious move played at the club level, in order to kick the knight. Let's see what would happen.} 12. Ne6 Bxe6 13. dxe6 {while at first glance White's pawn looks weak, Black has no immediate way of dealing with it and his own f-pawn has similar problems.} Nc6 14. Qf3 {and White has threats of Bc4 and Qg2 coming up, along with queenside castling as a possibility.}) 12. Qf3 {this allows the queen to move to the g-file, pressures f5, and also places it on the long diagonal. This last point is shortly used to good effect.} (12. Ne6 {the engines agree that this is best played immediately.} Bxe6 13. dxe6 {and the pawn is temporarily immune from capture due to the Bc4 skewer tactic. White can then follow up with Qf3.}) 12... Kh8 (12... e4 $5 13. Qg2 Nbd7 14. Ne6 Rf7 15. O-O-O $14) 13. Ne6 Bxe6 {now b7 is undefended.} (13... Rg8 {is the engines' preference. Again, leaving the strong Ne6 in place looks counterintuitive, but White still does well from the exchange.}) 14. dxe6 Qxe6 15. Qxb7 {White now has the bishop pair and his pawn structure overall is no worse than Black's.} Nbd7 16. Bc4 {a logical move, but hitting the queen is of limited utility for White here.} (16. Bxa6 {pawn snatching may be possible, but Black should get some compensation in terms of the half-open a-file and a strong center, while White's king starts looking a bit vulnerable.} e4) (16. O-O-O) (16. Qc6) 16... Qe7 17. Qg2 Nb6 $11 {White has no more immediate threats to make and Black has equalized. White will need to do some maneuvering to start playing dynamically again.} 18. Be2 a5 {looking to break up White's pawns and make inroads on the queenside.} 19. Bb5 {a good example of prophylaxis. It feels a bit strange to move this bishop yet again, but it is the best way to prevent ...a4.} Rad8 20. Qg5 {prompting Black to respond with} g6 {and now} 21. Qh6 {prompts} Ng8 22. Qg5 {White would be fine with an exchange here, so Black returns the knight.} Nf6 (22... Qxg5 23. Rxg5 {and now White's king position is much improved, lacking a queen to threaten it, and with two bishops and the half-open c-file to play with.}) 23. Rd1 {at this point queenside castling would not seem to be an improvement for White's king, so the center is reinforced.} e4 {this logical-looking move causes Black a few headaches, after White's next. The long diagonal is opened and Black loses control of d4 and f4, although gaining space.} (23... Qe6 {maintains Black's grip in the center.}) 24. Qh6 {pinning the h-pawn and threatening Rxg6.} Rg8 25. Ne2 {Black now immediately moves to contest the open long diagonal.} Be5 26. Bxe5 Qxe5 27. Nf4 $1 {the key move to give White the initiative. The Bb5 is hanging, but White has counterplay on the kingside if that happens.} g5 {an excellent defensive pawn sacrifice by Anand, echoing Nepo's original one.} (27... Qxb5 28. Nxg6+ Rxg6 29. Rxg6 Rg8 30. Rxg8+ Nxg8 31. Qe6 $14) 28. Rxg5 Rxg5 29. Qxg5 Rg8 30. Qh6 {the position is still tricky here and perhaps Anand was under time pressure, as his next move effectively loses.} Rg7 $2 {this looks like a solid defensive move, but in fact it leaves White's queen too active.} (30... Rg1+ 31. Bf1 Nbd7 32. Ne2 Rg6 {and Black should be fine, his space advantage and piece activity compensating for the pawn deficit.}) 31. Bc4 {a subtle move that even looks positionally wrong at first, trading off White's good bishop.} Nxc4 (31... Nfd5 {is the engines' recommendation, but White retains an endgame advantage after} 32. Ke2 Nxf4+ 33. Qxf4 Qxf4 34. exf4 Nxc4 35. bxc4 $18 {as Black can do nothing about White's plan of Rb1-b5, for example} a4 36. Rb1 Rg6 37. Rb5 Rc6 38. Rxf5 Rxc4 39. Rg5 {with what should be a winning rook endgame, as White can transfer his rook back via g3.}) 32. bxc4 {the b-pawn finally fulfills its destiny. From a strategic perspective, the opening of the b-file is also potentially very good for White, if he can get the rook on it.} Qb2 {Black looks to get his pawn back, but has to keep defending the Nf6.} (32... Qd6 { does not help much either, as after Ne2 and Rb1 White is taking over the game.} 33. Ne2) 33. Ke2 {White now has no real weaknesses and his pieces are in a much better position to go after Black's king.} (33. Ne2 {also works, protecting g1.}) 33... a4 34. Ne6 {White goes back to the weak e6 square, this time unchallenged.} Rf7 35. Nf4 {this is sufficient to win without the complications of attempting a direct attack.} (35. Nd8 Rg7 36. Rg1 $6 {allows Black to keep fighting} (36. a3 {as in the game}) 36... Ng4 37. hxg4 Qa3) 35... Rg7 36. a3 {physically blocks Black's ...a3 and is untouchable, due to the hanging Nf6. Essentially Black has no good moves at this point.} Ne8 {Black tries to cover everything, but is not successful.} (36... Qb6 {is the engines' best try} 37. d3 Qb2+ 38. Rd2 Qc3 39. Ne6 $18) 37. Qc6 {forking the Ne8 and the a4 pawn, so after the next move White will be up two pawns, one of which is the passed a-pawn, with no compensation for Black.} 1-0

02 May 2021

Commentary: Tata Steel Masters 2018, Round 14 tiebreak (Carlsen - Giri)

In keeping with a thematic approach to commentary games, this next one features an English Opening with a b3/Bb2 development. It is a different structure than Tarjan - Kosteniuk, however, as Black (GM Anish Giri) here adopts a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) approach, while Carlsen uses a more central strategy with e3 instead of a double fianchetto for his light-square bishop.

This was actually a tiebreak blitz game, which however doesn't make it any less instructive for how Carlsen chose to strategize his play and the numerous positional decisions made along the way. The overall strategy for White was to get a comfortable game with no weaknesses and then keep pressuring the obvious Black targets. Giri as a result was always struggling for equality with less harmonious piece placement, not a position you want to be in regardless of the time control.

[Event "Tata Steel Masters TB"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee"] [Date "2018.01.28"] [Round "14"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Giri, Anish"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2752"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo Dragon"] [PlyCount "109"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 {now we are in an English Opening, unless White plays an early d4.} e6 3. b3 d5 4. Bb2 Be7 {QGD setup} 5. e3 {with this move, White chooses to exert more direct control over the center, particularly the d4 square, and develop his bishop accordingly.} O-O 6. Nc3 {this directly pressures d5 and is in keeping with the opening's focus on the center.} c5 { now that Black has increased his influence on the d4 square, White exchanges in the center.} 7. cxd5 {exchanging the c- for the d-pawn is a standard idea. It will give White a numerical advantage in center pawns, increase the scope of the light-square bishop, and open up the c-file for White's rook.} Nxd5 ( 7... exd5 {is just as frequent a choice here. After} 8. d4 {play will be similar, but with the extra pair of minor pieces.}) 8. Nxd5 exd5 (8... Qxd5 { has been played more often, but White has a much higher score in the database, at 68 percent. After} 9. Bc4 {and the queen retreats, White has a pleasant game with a small lead in development.}) 9. d4 {now White challenges with the pawn, to force an isolated queen's pawn (IQP) structure.} Qa5+ {a novelty. Carlsen however is fine with the queens coming off the board.} (9... Nc6 { is the more familiar way to play, with some more options for White.} 10. dxc5 ( 10. Be2) 10... Bxc5 11. a3 (11. Bd3)) 10. Qd2 {forced} Qxd2+ 11. Kxd2 Nc6 ( 11... b6 {is the engines' preference here. White would not want to go for a hanging pawns structure after a pawn exchange on c5, since he does not have enough firepower to sufficiently pressure the c5/d5 pawns.}) 12. dxc5 {we now have the IQP structure on the board.} Bxc5 13. Bb5 {this bishop development gives the option of exchanging on c6, to inflict a backwards c-pawn on Black, while allowing the king to go to e2 and not block the bishop after the upcoming check. Bd3 was also a good possibility.} Bb4+ 14. Ke2 Be6 { reinforcing d5, although this makes the bishop a "big pawn" in effect.} 15. Rac1 (15. Bxc6 {is the engines' preference. After} bxc6 16. Ne5 Rfc8 17. Rhc1 c5 18. Nd3 {White has a more concrete slight positional plus. In the game, Carlsen avoids committing himself, however.}) 15... Rac8 {"It's always the wrong rook" is a common refrain. Here, Black's Rf8 is less active and the engines prefer him committing it to the queenside. Perhaps he had thoughts of . ..Re8 and ...d4 at some point, however.} 16. Rhd1 {getting the other rook into the game and pressuring the d-pawn.} (16. Bxc6 $5) 16... Be7 {Black decides the bishop is not doing anything useful on b4 and retreats it. This also covers the g5 square, preventing White's knight from landing there.} 17. h3 { preventing ...Bg4} a6 {putting the question to the bishop. Now the exchange on c6 seems less favorable and White retreats it.} 18. Bd3 (18. Bxc6 Rxc6 19. Nd4 Rxc1 20. Rxc1 Rc8 $11) 18... Nb4 19. Bb1 {these types of retreats are common in master play. Here of course it protects the a2 pawn, but the larger positional point is that the scope of the bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal is not diminished, so White loses nothing by having the piece on the back rank.} Rxc1 20. Rxc1 Rc8 21. Rd1 {Carlsen again avoids committing himself to the major piece exchange. Black's rook cannot penetrate on the c-file and White's rook is doing good work pressuring the d-pawn again.} Nc6 {Black's strategic problem is that he has nothing very useful to do. He would like to liquidate the d-pawn, but White has an ultra-firm grip on the d4 square, blockading the pawn's advance.} (21... Nc2 {doesn't get Black anything.}) (21... g6 {might be a somewhat useful waiting move.}) 22. g4 {one different between masters and amateurs is that masters have a much better sense of when to advance pawns, particularly kingside ones. Here the pawn advance does not impact White's king safety and restricts Black by controlling the f5 square; note the role played by the Bb1. This seizure of territory will help a future f-pawn advance as well.} h6 {getting "luft" for the king and also controlling g5.} 23. Nd4 { physically blockading d4 and clearing the way for the f-pawn.} Nxd4+ 24. Bxd4 ( 24. exd4 $6 {would negate the whole point of White's strategic play against the IQP.}) 24... Ba3 {controlling the c1 square, which could theoretically be used by either Black's rook or bishop. This is still a case of Black not having much useful to do, however.} 25. f4 {in contrast, White is now seizing space.} f6 {this gives the bishop the f7 square to retreat to if necessary, in order to maintain its guard over d5. It does inflict long-term weaknesses on the kingside pawn structure, however, which become important later.} 26. Bg6 { immediately taking advantage of the hole left behind by the pawn advance. Now White could exchange off bishops after ...Bf7 and e8 is also controlled.} Kf8 { moving to centralize the king, now that we are essentially in the endgame.} 27. Kf3 {likewise advancing his king to a more influential square.} (27. Rg1 { is liked by the engines, with the plan of further advancing the kingside pawns with the rook pressuring the g-file.}) 27... Ke7 28. h4 {at this point White still has the easier game, but with the material left on the board, it looks pretty even. This can still be dangerous for the side without a real plan, however.} Bb4 29. Bd3 Bd7 {the bishop can now go to c6 if it needs to.} 30. e4 {Carlsen decides to simplify the situation with this pawn break. Time control may have been a factor here.} (30. Rg1 {would keep the IQP tension.}) 30... Bc3 {Black would be happy to trade off pieces on c3, giving him a nice place for the rook and getting rid of his relatively worse bishop.} (30... dxe4+ 31. Bxe4 b5 $5 {looks fine for Black, for example} 32. Bb7 Rc2 $11) 31. Bf2 {safely avoiding the trade.} Bc6 $6 {Komodo Dragon identifies this as the move which gives White an advantage. Let's see how.} (31... d4 $5 {looks like it would pose White more problems, as he cannot win the d-pawn immediately.} 32. Be2 ( 32. f5 $14) 32... b5 33. Bxd4 Bxd4 34. Rxd4 Rc2 {and now Black can recover the pawn, for example after} 35. a4 Rc3+ 36. Rd3 Rxd3+ 37. Bxd3 bxa4 38. bxa4 Bxa4 $11) 32. exd5 Bxd5+ 33. Be4 Bxe4+ 34. Kxe4 {White's positional advantages here are twofold: a better king position and Black's weaker kingside pawn structure, which White's king is threatening to penetrate and White's bishop has the potential to attack. Tactically, Black has to watch out for his Bc3 getting pinned against the Rc8.} Ke6 {this looks reasonable, but White's next move is obvious as well.} (34... Bb4 {is preferred by the engines, but White still has an edge after} 35. Rd4 {followed by Rc4, thanks to his more advanced and centralized king.}) 35. f5+ $16 Ke7 36. Rc1 {now the only way to un-pin the bishop is to protect the rook. There are multiple ways to do this.} Rc6 $2 { the losing move, as identified by the engines. Let's see why.} (36... Kd7 37. Kd3 Be5 38. Rxc8 Kxc8 39. Bc5 {is favorable for White, who has pawns he can target with his bishop, but would it be enough to win?}) 37. Kd3 Bb4 38. Rxc6 bxc6 39. Kc4 $18 Bd6 40. Bc5 {By now we can see Black's problems more clearly. The isolated pawns on the queenside must be defended from White's king, while the kingside pawns need to be defended against an incursion from White's bishop. White will benefit from the creation of a zugzwang situation as well. Exchanging pieces would simply give White a won K+P ending.} Kd7 (40... Bxc5 41. Kxc5 {and Black's a-pawn is doomed.}) 41. h5 $1 {Making the zugzwang even more apparent. White can therefore focus on increasing the pressure.} (41. Bxd6 $2 {this exchange does not work, because White's king is in a worse position and Black has the added resource of ...h5 to undermine White's pawn structure. For example} Kxd6 42. b4 h5 43. gxh5 Ke5 $11) 41... Bf4 (41... Kc7 $2 {now the bishop exchange works.} 42. Bxd6+ Kxd6 43. Kb4 $18 {it would take too long for Black to demolish White's kingside, as White gobbles up the queenside.}) 42. Bf8 Ke8 {hoping to trap the bishop if it captures on g7.} 43. Bc5 Kd7 44. Kb4 { heading to penetrate on the queenside.} Bd2+ 45. Ka4 Kc7 46. b4 {now the White king's way up the a-file is clear again.} Bf4 47. Bf8 {Black can no longer hold both sides of the board.} Kb6 (47... Kd7 48. Ka5 $18) 48. Bxg7 Bg5 49. Bf8 Bf4 50. Be7 Bg5 {Black attempts to hold out with a fortress. The problem is that if the bishop is exchanged, White gets a passed pawn and it's game over.} 51. Kb3 Kc7 52. Kc4 Kd7 53. Bc5 Kc7 54. Kd3 Kd7 55. Be3 {Black loses another pawn or sees White create a passed pawn now, which is losing either way.} 1-0