30 April 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 7 (Lee - Paikidze)

We continue following the last U.S. Women's Championship with this round 7 game, in which WIM Megan Lee recovers from her previous round's defeat and outplays IM Nazi Paikidze. Paikidze chooses the Modern defense, which in fact allows her to equalize rather easily against White's less-than-aggressive play. Black could have done more to seize the initiative heading into the middlegame, around move 17, but instead let White eventually find some active ideas and improve her pieces. Black starts shedding pawns and White then grabs a winning advantage, although Black misses an interesting stalemate idea late in the game (see move 56).

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.13"] [Round "07"] [White "Lee, Megan"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2211"] [BlackElo "2374"] [ECO "B06"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:03:51"] [BlackFideId "13603620"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:14:58"] [WhiteFideId "2029618"] 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 {the Modern defense.} 3.Nf3 ( 3.Nc3 {is played much more often here and scores better (at 54 percent) in the database. However, there are obviously a lot of transposition possibilities.} ) 3...d6 4.Be3 {White super-focuses on reinforcing d4.} 4...Nd7 5.Nc3 a6 {the Modern is not about taking on White directly, but restricting potential activity. Black here takes away the b5 square, for example.} 6.a4 {restraining ...b5 in turn.} 6...b6 7.Bc4 e6 8.Qd2 {White now chooses to emphasize piece play.} ( 8.h4 $5 {is a more aggressive alternative that Black has found hard to meet. Here is a sample game from GM Robert Hess:} 8...h6 9.h5 g5 10.Qd3 Qe7 11.d5 Ngf6 12.dxe6 fxe6 13.e5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 dxe5 15.O-O-O Bb7 16.f3 Qf7 17.Qd2 Bc6 18.a5 b5 19.Bd3 O-O-O 20.Kb1 e4 21.fxe4 Nxe4 22.Nxe4 Bxe4 23.Bxe4 Rxd2 24.Rxd2 Qf6 25.Bd4 Qe7 26.Bxg7 Qxg7 27.Re1 Qf6 28.Rde2 Re8 29.Bc6 Re7 30.Re5 Qf4 31.Bd5 Qd2 32.g4 Kd7 33.Bb3 c5 34.c3 Kc7 35.Rxc5+ Kb8 36.Rce5 Qd3+ 37.Bc2 Qg3 38.R1e4 Qg1+ 39.Ka2 Qa7 40.Rxe6 Rxe6 41.Rxe6 Qf7 42.Bb3 Qf4 43.Rxh6 Qxg4 44.Rh8+ Kb7 45.h6 b4 46.h7 Qh5 47.cxb4 Qh6 48.Bd5+ Kc7 49.Ra8 {1-0, Robert L Hess 2609 - Samy Shoker 2475, WchT 8th, Ningbo (3.4), 2011.07.19} ) 8...Bb7 9.Bg5 Ndf6 {this looks strange, but the point is to develop the other knight to e7, from where it can fight for d5 and f5.} 10.Qe2 {after this, the engine considers the position completely even, with perhaps a slight advantage to Black. White retreats her pieces, meaning the previous development was largely ineffective.} 10...h6 11.Bh4 {choosing to maintain the bishop's presence on the kingside. Bd2 seems more flexible.} 11...g5 {a commital move, with the intent of forcing a piece trade. A more standard developing alternative would be ...Ne7.} 12.Bg3 Nh5 13.O-O-O {the best place for the king, as O-O would then give more punch to Black's trade on g3, with prospects for further kingside pawn advances to open up the position.} 13...Ne7 14.Ne1 {forcing Black to commit with the Nh5. However, this was presumably her intent anyway with the knight, so perhaps something more active is indicated.} ( 14.d5 $5 {Black's king is still in the center and White's rook is now in play on d1, so this seems like a good time to advance.} ) 14...Nxg3 15.hxg3 {the usual rule of capturing towards the center applies in this position. White maintains a connected pawn formation and usefully opens the h-file for the rook.} 15...Qd7 {developing the queen and clearing the back rank for possible queenside castling.} 16.d5 {this ends up being a premature break in the center. White has just retreated the knight, so her forces are not fully marshaled to support her in the center.} ( 16.f4 $5 {is the engine's preference.} ) 16...exd5 17.Nxd5 {with the game continuation, this seems fine, but the engine suggests that Black is better without further exchanges on d5.} 17...Bxd5 ( 17...b5 {seems most to the point, getting Black's play on the queenside started against White's king, although it involves a pawn sacrifice.} 18.Nxe7 Qxe7 19.axb5 axb5 20.Bxb5+ c6 21.Bc4 O-O $17 {White's king position is much worse and Black will also be able to take over the initiative in the center, for example after ...Rfe8 and ...d5.} ) ( 17...O-O {also looks good.} ) 18.Bxd5 Nxd5 19.exd5+ Kf8 {Black is still equal here, despite having lost the right to castle. Material is reduced, lessening the chance of a kingside attack succeeding for White, and Black has good prospects on the queenside.} 20.Qe4 {actively centralizing the queen.} 20...Re8 {logically kicking the queen off of the excellent e4 square, but it still moves to another good square.} 21.Qc4 b5 {forcing the opening of lines on the queenside.} 22.axb5 {necessary to avoid the opening of the b-file after ...bxa4, which would increase the vulnerability of the White king.} 22...axb5 23.Qb3 $6 {this is too passive a square for the queen.} ( 23.Qc6 ) 23...Ra8 24.Nd3 {White correctly ignores the possibility of a check on a1, which would gain Black nothing, as she is not in a position to effectively go after White's king on d2. The knight needs to get back in the game.} 24...Bf6 {clearing g7 for the king.} 25.f3 {this fights for g4 and also ensures the f-pawn is protected by another pawn, otherwise it could be pressured after ...Qf5 in some lines.} 25...Kg7 {now Black's rooks are connected.} ( 25...h5 {is the engine's suggestion, a prophylactic move against what White plays next.} ) 26.g4 {the logical follow-up, controlling f5 and h5 and blocking further advances of Black's pawns.} 26...c5 {another commital pawn move by Black. This will result in a half-open c-file, but Black's pawn structure is weakened.} 27.dxc6 Qxc6 28.c3 {now it seems more evident that Black does not have enough attacking potential against the White king.} 28...Qb6 {putting the queen on a more useful diagonal and threatening ...Qe3+} 29.Kc2 Rac8 $6 {it seems counterintuitive to leave the open a-file, reducing the number of potential threats Black could try to make. Moving the other rook to c8 is preferred by the engine.} 30.Nb4 {White's knight now greatly improves its scope.} 30...Be5 {defending the d-pawn and getting on the better b8-h2 diagonal.} 31.Nd5 Qa7 32.Rd2 {allowing for possibly doubling rooks on the d-file, while covering the 2nd rank.} ( 32.Qxb5 $2 {pawn snatching here in fact does open too many lines against White's king.} 32...Rb8 33.Qd3 Qa2 34.Rb1 Rhc8 $19 {now with the c-pawn pinned, the Nd5 has nowhere useful to go and becomes a target after ...Rc5, which then gives Black additional threats against White's king position.} ) 32...Rb8 33.Re1 Rhc8 $6 {this looks very reasonable, but now White continues with her rook lift idea.} ( 33...b4 {is found by the engine. It is counter-intuitive, since it looks like it just loses a pawn.} 34.Nxb4 Rb5 $10 {and now Black gets active play on the queenside to compensate for the pawn, with the ability to double major pieces on either the a- or b-files.} ) 34.Re4 {now the ...b4 idea is no longer possible, which means Black has no way to make progress on the queenside.} 34...Kh7 35.Nb4 {while the knight looked good on d5, it lacked targets. Note that the a2-g8 diagonal is also now open for the queen, pressuring f7.} 35...Rc5 $2 {while in some earlier variations this rook move would have made sense, here its awkward placement will cause immediate problems for Black.} ( 35...Kg6 {Black needs to think defensively and this would protect f7.} ) 36.Nd3 {Black now has no good moves with the rook.} 36...Rc4 ( 36...Rc7 37.Qd5 Bg3 38.Rb4 $16 {and White has all the play in the position.} ) 37.Rxc4 {now White just picks up a pawn.} ( 37.Nxe5 {is suggested as even better by the engine.} 37...dxe5 38.Rxe5 ) 37...bxc4 38.Qxc4 $18 Bf6 $6 {the bishop is hanging here and Black's queen remains tied to protecting f7.} ( 38...Kg8 {again would help cover f7, although Black still has major problems.} ) 39.Nb4 {uncovering the attack on the isolated d-pawn.} 39...Qa4+ 40.Qb3 {White would be quite happy to simplify here with an exchange of queens.} 40...Qe8 {correctly choosing to protect the f-pawn over the d-pawn.} 41.Rxd6 {White is now up two connected passed pawns, which would be hard to lose, especially at the Master level. White's somewhat exposed king position perhaps gave Black some hope of drawing, however.} 41...Be5 42.Rd1 Bf4 43.Kb1 Kg8 44.Qc2 {extricating the queen from the pin on the Nb4.} 44...Ra8 45.Nd5 {threatening the fork on f6.} 45...Be5 46.Qe4 {a powerful centralization of the queen.} 46...Rb8 47.Rd2 Kg7 {Black lacks any real ideas in the position, although this allows White to further simplify by force or win additional material.} 48.Re2 {now the bishop is pinned.} 48...f6 49.Nxf6 Qd8 {hoping to be able to get in ...Qd1+} ( 49...Kxf6 50.Qf5+ Kg7 51.Qxe5+ Qxe5 52.Rxe5 $18 ) 50.Nh5+ Kg8 51.Qg6+ ( 51.Kc1 {this may be the best practical move here for normal players, taking away any worries about Black counterplay.} ) 51...Kh8 52.Qxh6+ Kg8 53.Qe6+ Kh7 54.Kc2 Qa5 55.Qf5+ Kh6 56.Rxe5 $2 {this allows a neat tactical draw for Black, which of course is difficult to see at the board. Black's king is cornered and there is very little material on the board for her, which should be the cue for a stalemate theme.} ( 56.Qxe5 ) 56...Qa4+ $2 {Missing the stalemate idea. White now has only one move, but it is not hard to find.} ( 56...Rxb2+ 57.Kxb2 ( 57.Kd3 {running doesn't help, as all Black has to do is give away all her material, or gain a perpetual check. For example} 57...Rd2+ 58.Ke4 ( 58.Ke3 $4 Qxc3+ {and mates.} ) 58...Qa4+ 59.Ke3 Re2+ 60.Kd3 ( 60.Kxe2 Qe4+ 61.Kf1 Qe1+ $10 ) 60...Qd1+ $10 ) 57...Qxc3+ $10 {now it's a stalemate if White takes the queen, or a perpetual check if she doesn't.} ) 57.Kc1 Qa1+ 58.Qb1 {now it's all over.} 58...Qa6 59.Ng3 {White finds the best idea in the position, reactivating her knight and opening up against Black's king.} 59...Rd8 60.Nf5+ Kh7 61.Nd6+ Kh8 62.Nf7+ Kg7 63.Nxd8 Qf1+ {one last try in desperation.} 64.Kc2 Qf2+ 65.Kd3 1-0

Evaluation chart by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

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