12 November 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2022, Round 1 (Eswaran - Lee)

This first commentary game from the 2022 U.S. championships features FM Ashritha Eswaran vs. FM Alice Lee. I found it interesting because of the themes surrounding White's chosen opening setup, technically an English Opening but one that could be reached from different move orders. Instead of classical development, White goes for an early g-pawn thrust, which works well but results in complications that lead Eswaran astray. Move 14 is critical in that respect, with sacrificial tactics for White that could have lead to an advantage.

Also interesting is to compare it with their 2021 game in the U.S. championship, in which Eswaran chose to fianchetto and play a King's Indian Attack setup.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.05"] [Round "01"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2263"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 2.6.1 by Komodo"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 {this is in keeping with the flank opening approach and significantly more popular than playing for a pawn center with d4, although both have a similar winning percentage in the database.} 5...Nbd7 6.Bb2 Bd6 {in keeping with the Semi-Slav structure Black has adopted. The bishop helps control e5 and is on the more active b8-h2 diagonal. However it also blocks the d-file for the Qd8 and is hanging until the Nd7 moves, which can sometimes be taken advantage of tactically.} 7.Qc2 {the best square for the queen, getting on the b1-h7 diagonal, protecting the Bb2, eyeing the c-file should it open up, and clearing the first rank for the Ra1 to move.} 7...O-O 8.Rg1 {indicative of the modern approach to openings, in which once a plan is selected - in this case a kingside pawn storm - it is carried out at once. Rg1 can also be played in an accelerated fashion as early as move 5.} 8...Re8 {Black now goes for passive defense, rather than countering in the center in a classical fashion with ...e5. The text move is not bad, but the the follow-up gives White too much scope on the kingside.} 9.g4 {White has committed and must launch the pawn.} 9...Nf8 $2 ( 9...e5 ) 10.g5 $16 N6d7 11.h4 {the most straightforward way to continue the kingside pawn storm. O-O-O would be an interesting possibility, getting the other rook into play.} 11...a6 {Black attempts to get counterplay against White's queenside and get her Bc8 developed.} 12.h5 ( 12.d4 {is preferred by the engine, proactively fighting for e5. While it looks like this shuts in the Bb2, Black could do this otherwise by advancing ...e5 herself.} ) 12...b5 {the most disruptive move.} 13.Bd3 {White decides to avoid advancing the d-pawn and instead develop the bishop. Without the central pawn, however, Black will have ...e5 as a resource.} 13...Bb7 14.g6 $6 {it is somewhat ironic that now White has both bishops pointed at the king, she misses a sacrificial motif.} ( 14.Bxh7+ Nxh7 15.Nxb5 {this is the key idea, opening the long diagonal and threatening the Bd6, not giving Black time enough to shore up kingside defenses.} 15...Ndf8 ( 15...axb5 16.g6 {with similar play.} ) 16.g6 {the problem now for Black is that the Rg1, Qc2 and Bb2 all combine against the king, with g6 a weak square despite the presence of the Nf8.} 16...fxg6 17.Nxd6 Qxd6 {and now White has various ways to consolidate an advantage, for example c5 followed by O-O-O, h6 or hxg6.} ) 14...fxg6 {this essentially solves Black's problems, although White still has pressure.} 15.Ng5 bxc4 ( 15...h6 $5 {is a more direct way of combating White's forces.} ) 16.bxc4 h6 17.Nf7 {White must have been planning this from move 14. However, at the end of the sequence Black is fine.} 17...Kxf7 18.Bxg6+ Ke7 {while the king is cramped temporarily on e7, it will soon be able to get itself out of danger, unlike on g8.} ( 18...Kg8 $2 19.Bxe8 Ne5 ( 19...Qxe8 $2 20.Ne4 $18 {threatening the Bd6 and g7 at the same time.} ) 20.O-O-O Qxe8 21.f4 $1 $16 ) 19.Bxe8 Qxe8 20.Rxg7+ Kd8 {Black still has some issues, but king safety has now improved. Meanwhile, White has weaknesses spread across the board. Activating the rook with Rb1 appears to be the best option, as the h-pawn is indefensible.} 21.Qa4 $2 {this results in a burst of pseudo-activity that in the end goes nowhere.} 21...Qxh5 $17 22.cxd5 exd5 23.Qa5+ Ke8 {with White's pieces spread out and uncoordinated, the king is perfectly safe here.} 24.Ba3 c5 $1 {Black hits on the correct idea immediately, to mobilize her pawns. Black's pieces now coordinate much more effectively against the White king.} 25.Rb1 d4 $19 {perhaps White underestimated the power of this pawn break, which breaks open the White pawn shield and opens up the long diagonal as well. Now there are no good options.} 26.exd4 ( 26.Rxb7 Qh1+ 27.Ke2 Qxb7 ) 26...Qh1+ 27.Ke2 Bf3+ 28.Kd3 Be4+ {deflection tactic against the Nc3, the sole defender of the Rb1.} 29.Nxe4 Qxb1+ 30.Ke3 cxd4+ 31.Kxd4 {with so many pieces still on the board and White's king naked in the center, the end is inevitable. It is interesting to see how White has no counterplay whatsoever.} 31...Ne6+ 32.Ke3 Bf4+ 33.Kf3 Ne5+ 34.Ke2 {now Black misses ...Nd4 mate, but it doesn't matter to the result.} 34...Qxe4+ 35.Kd1 Nxg7 36.Qc5 Qf3+ 37.Kc2 Qc6 0-1
Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

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