28 November 2021

Annotated Game #258: Unforced errors

The theme of this last-round tournament game echoes an earlier post on unforced errors. Mine occur mostly in the opening phase, with a mis-remembered line against the Dutch Defense; my opponent surprised me with it and it was the first time I had played the actual opening as White, although I had experience with it from the Black side and playing against similar setups after opening with the English.

Despite some missteps on my opponent's part in the opening which gave me some breathing space, eventually he focused on my queenside positional weakness and awkward piece placement to inflict permanent structural damage. He then tortured me with pressure from his major pieces down the c-file, but could not quite find a way to break through. His last, best shot fell prey to an equalizing tactic which left me, I felt, with the winning chances in the endgame (two rooks vs. queen). Although we both missed seeing chances for Black, the two rooks prevailed in the end. Not a clean game, but an interesting look at how persistent defense can pay off.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A80"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 2.5.1 by Komodo"] [PlyCount "99"] 1. d4 f5 {the first time that I've played a true Dutch Defense as White.} 2. Bg5 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. e3 (4. Bxf6 $5 {it's probably best to inflict the structural damage on Black immediately.}) 4... e6 5. Nf3 Bd6 {this is in keeping with the standard Modern Stonewall development plan, but it leaves the Bg5 rather strong.} (5... Nbd7 {would be less commital.}) 6. h4 $6 {in some variations with 2. Nc3 this is standard, but here there's no good follow-up for White on the kingside.} (6. Bd3) 6... O-O 7. Ne5 $6 Nbd7 (7... c5 {would be the strongest response, immediately hitting at White's center. Black is already castled and can do so solidly.}) 8. f4 $6 {Black now has a pleasant choice of how to proceed with an advantage, for example with the above-mentioned ...c5, ...Bb4, or even an immediate ...h6. The text move is trappy, in the sense that Black cannot simply take the Bg5 because of threats on the h-file, but he could proceed with normal operations in the center and be better.} (8. Bf4 $5) 8... Qe8 {my opponent continues playing stereotyped Dutch moves, luckily.} (8... h6 9. Be2 {and now} hxg5 $2 10. hxg5 Nxe5 (10... Nh7 $2 11. g6 Nhf6 12. g4 $18) 11. dxe5 Bxe5 12. fxe5 Nd7 13. Qd4 Qxg5 14. O-O-O $11) 9. Be2 {still thinking about the mirage of a kingside attack, as could happen if Black played into the above variation with ...h6 and taking the bishop. However, now my opponent realizes my structural weaknesses on the queenside and seizes a small but persistent advantage.} Bb4 {with the positional threat of taking on c3 and doubling my pawns, which will make his queenside play more effective. Unfortunately there is no good way to meet this and I have no compensation for it. I therefore decide to start swapping down pieces to reduce his middlegame attacking chances.} 10. Nxd7 (10. Qd2 $2 Ne4 $19) 10... Bxd7 11. Bxf6 Rxf6 12. Kf2 {this was the product of a long think. The king will be needed in the future to help cover holes in the position, rather than being tucked away in the corner on the kingside, or subject to Black attack on the queenside, after castling.} c5 $6 {this gave me an opening to avoid the positional threat, but unfortunately the retreat did not occur to me.} 13. a3 (13. Nb1 c4 $11) 13... cxd4 (13... Bxc3 14. bxc3 Rc8 $15 {would leave Black with more prospects of targeting the c2 pawn.}) 14. axb4 dxc3 15. bxc3 Bb5 {this should lead to equality after an exchange of pieces, but I miscalculate here and play a too-fancy move.} 16. Ra5 $6 (16. Bxb5 Qxb5 17. Qd4 $11) 16... Bxe2 {my opponent immediately finds the problem with the previous move.} 17. Qxe2 b6 {in contrast with the previous variation, the queen is on a less useful diagonal and Black can organize himself to pressure the c-file without worrying as much about the a-file.} 18. Ra6 Qc6 (18... Rf7 $5 {better to immediately reactivate the rook.}) 19. Qd3 $6 {played with the idea of going to d4 if need be, which occurs on move 25.} (19. c4 {Dragon 2.5.1 likes the pawn sacrifice. Let's see why:} dxc4 20. Qf3 Qe8 (20... Qxf3+ 21. Kxf3 { and now if Black wants to put a rook on the d-file, he will have to jettison the a7 pawn, leading to equality.}) 21. Rha1 Rf7 22. Rxb6 {and equality is restored, thanks to the pin on the a-pawn due to the double attack on a8 by rook and queen.}) 19... Rf7 $17 {at this point it is clear that I will have to be completely on the defensive, but I assessed that I could hold under pressure.} 20. Rha1 Rc7 21. R6a3 (21. R1a3 $5 {would keep up the physical blockade on the a-file and the lateral pin on the b6 pawn.}) 21... Qd7 22. Ke2 Rac8 23. Kd2 Qe7 {the correct general idea, to swing around and target the weak kingside.} (23... Qf7 $5) 24. g3 Qf6 25. Qd4 {this at least temporarily stymies Black's efforts at targeting the c-pawn.} Qe7 26. Qe5 Rd8 27. R3a2 Rdd7 28. Rg1 {overly optimistic about potentially generating counterplay on the kingside.} (28. Qd4) 28... h5 {preventing any ideas of advancing the g-pawn.} 29. Qd4 {just marking time on the defense.} Rc4 30. Qd3 Rdc7 31. Rga1 Qf6 32. Ra3 a5 {best try for a breakthrough.} 33. bxa5 bxa5 34. Rb1 {this is a tricky move which allows the following sequence.} Qe7 $2 (34... Rc8 {would maintain the advantage and take away a back-rank tactic that comes into play in the game.}) 35. Rxa5 Rxc3 {this had also been an earlier possibility. However, exchanging two rooks for queen and pawn I judged would be advantageous to the side left with the double rooks vs. queen.} 36. Qxc3 Rxc3 {the point being that if White retakes immediately on c3, Black can win material.} 37. Ra8+ $1 ( 37. Kxc3 $2 Qc7+ 38. Kb4 Qc4+ 39. Ka3 Qc3+ 40. Ka4 Qxc2+ 41. Rb3 Qc4+ {and White will go on to pick up the g3 or e3 pawns with more checks.}) 37... Kh7 38. Kxc3 $11 {the engine now evaluates the position as completely equal, but I figured all the winning chances that existed were now on my side, making it much easier to play. My opponent had also suffered the psychological shock of going from an advantage with major pressure to having to defend a complicated endgame. However, queen endings are always tricky and I had to constantly take into consideration the possibility of a queen fork on my K+R or against both rooks.} e5 39. Kd2 $2 {this looked like a harmless defensive move, but the engine points out it is a blunder. Luckily my opponent was also low on time by this point, so had less ability to do complex calculations.} (39. Rbb8 $11) 39... exf4 (39... d4 $1 40. exd4 exf4 {this is what I had missed in my own calculations.} 41. gxf4 Qxh4 {and another pawn now falls as well, because} 42. Ke3 $4 (42. Rf1 Qh2+ 43. Ke1 Qxc2 (43... Qg3+ 44. Rf2)) 42... Qg3+ 43. Kd2 Qxf4+ $19) 40. exf4 d4 {still a good move, but no longer a breakthrough.} 41. Rb3 {the only good move for White, defending along the third rank. Now Black has no more real threats.} Qe4 $6 (41... d3 {it appears that jettisoning the pawn is the only way for Black to maintain equality, giving his queen more avenues to check the White king.}) 42. Rd8 {now Black will lose material anyway, as the queen cannot cover all of his weaknesses, while I can maneuver the rooks both defensively and offensively.} Qg2+ 43. Kc1 Qf1+ 44. Kb2 Qc4 45. Rdb8 Qc7 46. R8b4 {targeting the d-pawn first} Qc5 47. Rb5 {now the f-pawn} Qc8 48. Rd5 {now both} Qc4 49. Rxf5 g6 50. Re5 $18 {now further material losses will come for Black while I can maintain myself perfectly safe. Low on time, my opponent resigned.} 1-0

27 November 2021

Article: "Introducing the Caro - Kane Variation"

 NM Jeremy Kane recently posted an interesting look at a dangerous Caro-Kann sideline on Chess.com, "Introducing the Caro - Kane Variation". It's partly what the expression "tongue-in-cheek" is about - not being completely serious - yet it is definitely worth some thoughtful consideration. The idea is based on an ultimately unsound sacrifice on f7 for White in a variation of the Two Knights, but one that can easily trap Black. I consider that true mastery of an opening requires study of exactly these kinds of ideas, which from the Black point of view your opponent could easily use in an attempt to try to win in the opening phase. Gaining an understanding of the line's ultimate flaws will both arm you against future opponents and give you a better comprehension of chess in general.

Here's my take on it, looking at the best play from Black's point of view (with an assist from Dragon 2.5.1 by Komodo).

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Caro-Kann - Two Knights"] [Black "\"Caro-Kane\""] [Result "*"] [ECO "B10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 2.5.1 by Komodo"] [PlyCount "20"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 {This is considered by opening theory to be not as strong as ...Bg4, but a lot of Black players may use it with the intention of transposing to the Main Line.} (3... Bg4 {is played most often, although the text move is a strong second. Black now has to be comfortable with the idea of immediately exchanging the bishop on f3 after h2-h3.}) 4. Nxe4 Nf6 ( 4... Bf5 $6 {is a common error, with Black trying to get into the Classical Caro-Kann. However, White just gets an advantage if Black uses standard moves in the line, for example} 5. Ng3 Bg6 (5... Bg4 $5) 6. h4 h6 7. Ne5 Bh7 8. Qh5 g6 9. Bc4 $18) 5. Neg5 {this introduces the "Caro-Kane" sideline.} (5. Nxf6+ { and now Black can play either ...exf6 or ...gxf6 and after White plays d4, this transposes into the respective Main Line variations.}) 5... h6 6. Nxf7 { this is the point of the line. White will now try for an all-out attack on the more vulnerable Black king.} Kxf7 7. Ne5+ {The most likely follow-up, although the bishop check on c4 could be executed first. Black has to remember two ideas: retreat to g8 (not e8) after the knight check, and block the bishop check with ...e6.} (7. Bc4+ e6 8. Qe2 (8. Ne5+ {transposes to the main line given here}) 8... b5 {the third key idea to remember is to react with ...b5 after White plays Qe2. Black aggressively challenges the bishop, in order to disrupt White's building attack.} 9. Bb3 c5 $19) 7... Kg8 {see the "Caro-Kane" article for what happens after ...Ke8. The king is too exposed if left in the center.} 8. Bc4+ e6 {now White can follow up in a variety of ways, but again Black has thematic counter-ideas.} 9. d4 (9. Ng6 $6 {it looks tempting to recoup material, but the attack then fizzles and Black is doing well.} c5 10. O-O Qe8 11. Nxh8 Kxh8 $19 {Black's king is perfectly safe and now Black will get a decisive lead in development with open lines against White's king. The two minor pieces Black has are much more of an advantage in such situations that the rook White has in exchange.}) 9... c5 {this is the engine's choice, which is also a good response to Ng6 (given above), O-O or c3. If Qe2 then ... b5, as mentioned in the above note. Black now has the idea of developing with . ..Nc6 to directly challenge the Ne5 and White's center, and is also threatening ...cxd4.} (9... Bd6 {was highlighted in the "Caro-Kane" article as a common response by Black.} 10. f4 c5 (10... Bxe5 $2 {is what the author's opponents tended to play, but this gives white compensation with an open f-file after fxe5.}) 11. dxc5 (11. f5 $2 Bxe5 $19) 11... Qa5+ {followed by ... Qxc5, Bxe5 and Nd5, with the idea of ...Nc6}) 10. O-O (10. Be3 {the problem with moves like this is that White is down too much material and any exchanges will simply favor Black, while robbing White of attacking pieces.} cxd4 11. Bxd4 Nc6 $19) 10... Nc6 $19 {White has run out of attacking options, as the Ne5 will now be driven off or exchanged. As we've seen before, White loses even if the knight gets back material by going for the Rh8, due to the much better minor pieces vs. rook situation that would result for Black.} *

20 November 2021

Annotated Game #257: The dangerous Caro-Kann Classical

This next game, the third played, was the best of the tournament for me, in terms of the level of play and it being the most interesting. Over the years I've had excellent results with the Caro-Kann Classical defense, as it contains much more dynamic possibilities than its rather staid reputation. So I was happy when my opponent went into the variation and left theory around move 10 with a sub-par move.

As is usually the case, this theory deviation was hardly losing, but it did give me an easier game and essentially allowed Black to equalize immediately. My opponent adopted a very aggressive-looking plan of advancing his g- and h-pawns against my king, following queenside castling, but the thematic 16...Ng4 effectively blocked that possibility. To his credit, he found the tricky follow-up 17. Ng5, a sacrifice that complicated things considerably and made me have to be careful...occasionally too careful, as was determined in analysis. My forward-deployed knight, however, continued to serve a blocking function on h2 and was the determining factor in the win.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 2.5.1 by Komodo"] [PlyCount "70"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 {the Classical Caro-Kann} 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nf6 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 e6 10. c3 {first deviation from theory by my opponent. This is not a usual feature of the Classical variation, since the extra reinforcement of d4 is not really needed.} Bd6 {my first real think of the game. Other standard development options would be ...Be7 or ...Nbd7. In my experience, it's useful to get the king castled more quickly, to avoid White developing tactical threats on the e-file, which means a bishop move. On d6, it opposes White developing his bishop to f4.} 11. Bd2 O-O 12. Ne4 { this forces the knight exchange, otherwise the Bishop becomes awkwardly placed after retreating to c7.} Nxe4 13. Qxe4 Nd7 14. O-O-O {this surprised me a little. By doing this, White is signaling his intention to play aggressively on the kingside. However, it also will give Black's queenside counterplay more bite.} Nf6 15. Qd3 Qc7 (15... Qa5 $5 {is a more active placement of the queen, adding pressure to the a-file while also influencing the 5th rank.}) 16. Rdg1 { an obviously aggressive move, with White planning to push the g- and h-pawns for a direct attack on Black's king position. The next move is a thematic response for Black, physically blocking the pawn advance.} Ng4 {White has no way of removing the knight, but finds the continuation that allows him to attempt to keep pressing an attack. I had seen the possibility of his next move, but had somewhat discounted it.} 17. Ng5 {threatening mate on h7. While it does not in fact lose a piece, Black should still be at least a little better.} (17. Qe2 $5 {is the engine's preference, going for a positional game that keeps the balance, although it gives Black a small edge.}) 17... hxg5 ( 17... f5 $5 {is what Komodo Dragon 2 prefers, despite the fork on e6.} 18. Nxe6 Nxf2 19. Nxc7 Nxd3+ {I had calculated this far and seen no benefit to Black after Kc2, but after} 20. Kc2 Nb4+ 21. Kb3 Bxc7 22. Kxb4 {White's exposed king position and Black's ability to put a rook on the e-file should provide an edge.}) 18. hxg5 f5 {forced.} (18... g6 $2 19. Rh4) (18... Rfe8 $2 19. Qh3) 19. Qe2 Rae8 $11 {with best play the Ng4 is trapped, which I correctly assessed at the time, so I did not worry about it too much. However, my opponent appears to have underestimated the difficulty of rounding it up without incurring further losses, specifically missing the fact that it could go to h2.} 20. f3 ( 20. Rh3 $5 {would make ...Nh2 pointless.}) 20... Nh2 {this effectively blocks the h-file and White's attacking ideas, at least for the moment. White should immediately resolve this, even at the cost of the g2 pawn, which would restore his dynamic chances on the kingside.} 21. Re1 $2 (21. g3 Bxg3 22. Qg2 Bf4 { was what I was expecting, which does not give White enough time to develop an attack.} 23. g6 Bxd2+ 24. Kxd2 Qf4+ 25. Ke2 Qxf3+ 26. Qxf3 Nxf3 27. Kxf3 Rf6 $11 {despite being a pawn down, White is more active in the double rook endgame, which counts for a lot.}) 21... g6 $6 (21... Bg3 $1 {I had looked at this as a candidate move, but did not find the most effective follow-up, so eventually went with a more defensive move.} 22. Rd1 {the point is that now White cannot get to the Nh2, so Black should be able to keep the material and have a winning advantage. For example} e5 $19 {and now Black's centrally placed rooks also get into the game.}) 22. Qc4 b5 $17 {by this point I have a comfortable advantage, even if I have to keep a watch on e6. With the pawn advance, my queenside counterplay is also now coming into focus.} (22... Bg3 { is still possible.} 23. Re3 Kf7 $19) 23. Qb3 Kf7 24. Re2 a5 {with the obvious threat of ...a4, but my opponent misses his chance to block it.} (24... Rh8 $5 {is the engine's preference, which activates the rook on the h-file and overprotects the Nh2, freeing up the Bd6 and Qc7.}) 25. g4 $2 {this accomplishes nothing and lets me roll on the queenside.} a4 $19 26. Qc2 Kg8 { a prophylactic move designed to avoid any possibility of a subsequent White attack down the h-file, for example threatening to place a rook on h7.} 27. gxf5 exf5 {now my Re8 springs to life and White collapses.} 28. Rf2 $2 { this makes it easier for me, with the next obvious follow-up move, but White was already lost.} Bg3 {forcing the next move and allowing the Nh2 to extricate itself.} 29. Rg2 Nxf3 30. Qd3 Nxd2 31. Rxg3 Ne4 32. Rg2 (32. Rgh3 Qf4+ 33. Kc2 Nxg5 34. Rh8+ Kf7 $19) 32... Qf4+ 33. Kb1 Nf2 {the fork is the final nail in the coffin.} 34. Rxf2 Qxf2 35. Qh3 {threatening mate on h7, but one tempo too short.} Re1+ 0-1