13 March 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 2 (Yip - Abrahamyan)

This commentary game from the second round of the U.S. Women's Championship also (by chance) features WGM Tatev Abrahamyan on the losing side, this time as Black. However, once again she played in the most interesting game of the round for me, featuring the fun Milner-Barry Gambit in the French. Her opponent was much stronger than in the first round - being IM Carissa Yip, the eventual tournament winner - and the clash between them was of a very different nature.

As is usual with gambits, the game was full of dynamic tension, with White having full compensation for the pawn due to Black's poorer development and worse piece placement. An easier strategic game is also often a benefit for the gambiteer, even if more of a psychological one. Here, Black (Abrahamyan) does not have a good strategic plan available, and is essentially baited by Yip into making a fatal mistake by allowing tactics to appear on the board for White. From there, it is a matter of White reducing material while not allowing counterplay, and elegantly using a tactic to transition to a clearly won position. A fine win by Yip and another frustrating game for Abrahamyan. Hopefully I'll find a good win of hers for later in this series...

Below the game replayer I've included a snapshot of the HIARCS Chess Explorer "Evaluation Explorer" for the game. Based on previous discussions, I think I'll do that for all of the games going forward, as it adds a further dimension to understanding both the objective and subjective game dynamics.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.07"] [Round "02"] [White "Yip, Carissa"] [Black "Abrahamyan, Tatev"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2402"] [BlackElo "2344"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] [ECO "C02"] [PlyCount "65"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:01:05"] [BlackFideId "13301918"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:15:58"] [WhiteFideId "2090732"] 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Bd3 {the Milner-Barry Gambit.} 6...cxd4 7.O-O {cxd4 is overwhelmingly played in the database, but the text move is favored by higher-rated players and scores a little better as well (around 50 percent). White gets on with development and gets the king to safety.} 7...Bd7 ( 7...dxc3 8.Nxc3 $14 {here White has three minor pieces developed to Black's one, good open lines for the bishops, and prospects of getting the queen to f3/g4/h5 for kingside pressure. Well worth the gambited pawn.} ) 8.Re1 {again we have a split between the heavily played database move (cxd4) and the text move favored by master-level players (and the engine). Here the rook overprotects the e5 pawn, freeing up the Nf3 to move.} 8...Nge7 9.h4 {a typical attacking move in these types of positions. White has been concentrating on development until now, but has no need to move the Bc1 given its beautiful scope on the kingside, and the Nb1 stays at home in case it needs to recapture on c3.} 9...a6 {by playing this, Black argues that her kingside defense is better off by leaving the pawns at home and flexible.} ( 9...h6 $5 {this is the most played, based on a small sample size. Black here chooses to context the g5 square and pay some attention to kingside defense.} ) 10.h5 {pressing ahead on the kingside. This rules out ...Ng6 and threatens further disruption to the pawn structure.} 10...h6 {physically blocking further advances of the h-pawn and taking control of g5.} 11.Qe2 {develops the queen to a square from where she protects the b-pawn, forms a battery on the f1-a6 diagonal, and reinforces the e-file.} 11...f5 {this appears to have been done in order to provoke White's next response, which leaves Black somewhat better off in objective terms. The engine assesses that White could have exploited the resulting pawn structure weakness with a more patient approach.} ( 11...dxc3 $5 12.bxc3 $10 {and White's pawn structure looks fragmented, but the c-pawn does a good job of covering the key b4 and d4 squares.} ( 12.Nxc3 $6 Qb4 $15 ) ) 12.exf6 {for reasons mentioned in the previous note, here the engine advocates developing the knight to a3 or d2, which gets it into thae game, as retaking with the pawn on c3 is fine for White.} 12...gxf6 13.cxd4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Qxd4 15.Be3 {the key moment in this sequence. Black's queen is exposed and needs to be careful, being faced with White's centralized bishop pair. Bailing out with ...Qb4 is possible, although the engine strongly favors ...Qh4, calculating that the queen cannot be trapped. In practical terms this would be difficult to play, of course. Black instead of the above chooses to keep her queen centralized, presumably wanting to keep using it in defense of the king. However, this gives White other opportunities.} 15...Qe5 $6 16.Nd2 $14 {simple but effective. White now gathers her forces for a push in the center and kingside, with the pieces cooperating well together. Meanwhile, Black's forces are disorganized and relatively undeveloped, with the pawn not enough material compensation for White's positional edge.} 16...Rg8 {developing the rook to a more effective file.} 17.f4 Qd6 18.Qf2 {forming an effective dark-square Q+B battery on the diagonal, with Bc5 and Bb6 now a possibility, and lining the queen up on the f-file against Black's weak f6 pawn.} 18...Rc8 {getting the other rook out to its best file.} 19.Rad1 {although this lines the rook up against the queen on the d-file, it seems to be more of a waiting move. Given that her opponent has no obvious plan at this point, this can be an effective strategic ploy, tempting her to go wrong...as she does on the next move.} 19...Bc6 $2 {now White has tactics involving the light-square bishop and a revealed pin on the d-pawn.} ( 19...f5 {is one option that would maintain the defense by blocking the b1-h7 diagonal and also the further advance of the f-pawn. Perhaps Black did not like the resulting dark square weaknesses, but these can be covered well enough by the Bf8. For example} 20.Nf3 Bg7 $10 ) 20.Bh7 $1 $18 Rg7 21.Ne4 {unleashing multiple threats which Black cannot parry.} 21...Qc7 22.Bb6 {this is a safe choice for consolidating the advantage.} ( 22.Nxf6+ Kf7 23.f5 {is a more devastating but complex route.} ) 22...dxe4 {essentially forced, getting some material back for the queen.} 23.Bxc7 Rxh7 24.Bd6 Rg7 {getting back to a useful file with potential counterplay. Black is no doubt hoping that the e-pawn plus more active pieces gives her a chance to catch her opponent out in a tactic later.} 25.Rc1 {White will be happy to exchange rooks on the c-file if Black allows it, consolidating the material advantage.} 25...Nf5 $6 {allowing the exchange of bishops, which reduces material and removes potential Black counterplay on the dark squares.} ( 25...f5 $5 {consolidating the pawn structure seems useful here.} ) 26.Bxf8 Kxf8 27.Rxe4 {taking advantage of the pinned Bc6.} 27...Rd8 28.Rxc6 {correctly simplifying the position further to a clear win.} 28...bxc6 29.Rxe6 {the material balance is now queen and pawn for rook and knight, which without counterplay is a win for White. Black tries a few more desperate moves, but has no threats left.} 29...Ng3 30.Rxf6+ Ke7 31.Qc5+ {an elegant way to consolidate the win, effectively using a tactic to trade off rooks.} ( 31.Rg6 {also works, but lets Black have more fun first.} 31...Rd1+ 32.Kh2 Rxg6 33.hxg6 Nf1+ 34.Kh3 Kf6 35.Qe2 $18 ) 31...Kxf6 32.Qe5+ Kf7 33.Qc7+ 1-0

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