28 January 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 3 (Eswaran - Paikidze)

This next commentary game features a positional struggle involving what IM Jeremy Silman terms - usefully, I think - key "imbalances" between the sides. The opening, a Two Knights Caro-Kann, sets this up early, with Black exchanging bishop for knight on move 4. The minor piece and pawn structure imbalances are the main things both sides have to keep in mind for their strategies. It was useful to analyze their choices and see where different options might have kept more tension in the position.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.07"] [Round "03"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2354"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 {the Two Knights Caro-Kann.} 3...Bg4 {the most effective response by Black, who however will need to immediately exchange bishop for knight, as the bishop retreat after h3 is not as effective. This is not a bad trade-off, however, as the Nf3 is a valuable attacking piece and Black will be able to build a strong pawn skeleton on the light squares.} 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.Be2 Nf6 7.O-O ( 7.e5 {looks tempting, but scores poorly for White, as attacking prospects are limited and Black will get more counterplay in the center. An example game:} 7...Nfd7 8.Qg3 a6 9.O-O c5 10.d3 Nc6 11.f4 g6 12.Kh1 Be7 13.Qf2 Nd4 14.Bd1 h5 15.Ne2 Nf5 16.c3 Nb8 17.d4 cxd4 18.cxd4 Nc6 19.Be3 Nb4 20.Qg1 Rc8 21.Bf2 Nd3 22.g3 Qa5 23.Kg2 Qd2 24.Rb1 Nxf2 25.Rxf2 Qd3 26.Rf3 Qd2 27.Ba4+ b5 28.Bd1 g5 29.Qf2 g4 30.hxg4 hxg4 31.Rb3 Bd8 32.Rc3 Rxc3 33.bxc3 Ne3+ {0-1, Ezio Righi 2116 - Peter Long 2302, Olympiad-39, Khanty-Mansiysk (6.3), 2010.09.27} ) 7...Nbd7 {a noncommittal developing move, prompting White to play the obvious next move to occupy the center and free the Bc1.} ( 7...Bc5 $5 {is the next most popular and scores slightly better in the database. The point of course is to prevent d4.} ) 8.d4 dxe4 {Black needs to exchange in the center, otherwise White's presence becomes too strong.} 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Nf6 11.Qd3 {the situation in the center is now more resolved, with a standard Caro-Kann pawn structure for both sides and White having the two bishops, a slight long-term advantage.} 11...Qc7 {the queen move is logical, since it occupies the h2-b8 diagonal and at least temporarily prevents White developing with Bf4. However, it may be a premature commitment of Black's strongest piece.} ( 11...Be7 {is most played here, as the logical square for the bishop and to immediately prepare kingside castling.} ) 12.Rd1 {the best file for the rook, supporting the d-pawn again and therefore allowing the Qd3 more flexibility.} 12...Be7 13.a4 {a recently tried move, this indicates White intends to focus her attantion on the queenside. The easiest and best response appears to be simply to block further progress of the a-pawn and restrain the White b-pawn's advance.} 13...a5 14.Bd2 {it is not easy for White to find a good square for this bishop and it is awkwardly transferred here to e1.} 14...O-O 15.Be1 Rfd8 {Black logically places her rook on the best file, opposing White's pieces. The game is equal.} 16.Qc4 {neither side has obvious weaknesses to target, so the middlegame will necessarily feature some maneuvering. Black's plan is easier to identify, however: doubling rooks on the d-file and threatening a pawn break to open it up. The text move is not bad for White, but it does put the queen in the way of the c-pawn.} 16...Rd7 17.Bf3 {the bishop was not doing much on the other diagonal, so f3 is a better square for it.} 17...Rad8 18.c3 {logically reinforcing d4. Also, White has little better.} 18...e5 {Nimzovich famously wrote "the threat is stronger than the execution" - which seems true here. Black is fine after the resulting exchanges, but could have maintained the tension.} 19.dxe5 Qxe5 20.Qe2 Qxe2 21.Bxe2 Nd5 {having previously opted for exchanges, now Black chooses to wait and maneuvers the bishop to f6. It's not clear if this is better, however.} ( 21...Rxd1 22.Rxd1 Rxd1 23.Bxd1 Kf8 $10 ) 22.g3 {controlling the f4 square.} 22...Bf6 {this restrains the advance of White's b-pawn, but gives up its mobility along the f8-a3 diagonal and leaves the bishop biting on the c3 pawn.} 23.Bf3 {returning to its previous square, but now it appears less effective.} ( 23.Bg4 $5 ) 23...Nb6 {now we get another exchange in any case.} 24.Rxd7 Nxd7 {this is better because the knight goes to a better square afterwards.} 25.Ra2 {this appears to be a waiting move, to see what Black will do.} 25...Ne5 26.Be2 Nd3 {forcing the minor piece exchange. White can choose which bishop, however.} 27.Bxd3 Rxd3 28.Ra3 {from this point the position is very balanced, with near- symmetrical pawn structures. Black has better piece activity, but there is no way to make real progress.} ( 28.Ra1 $5 ) 28...Be7 29.Ra1 f5 {contesting g4 and opening the diagonal for Black's king to more quickly head toward the center.} 30.Kf1 {White moves to centralize her king as well, one of the most fundamental endgame principles.} 30...Kf7 31.Ke2 Rd7 32.b4 {White chooses to simplify things on the queenside.} 32...axb4 33.cxb4 Bf6 34.Rc1 Rd5 {defending against the idea of a White pawn advance on the queenside.} 35.a5 Re5+ 36.Kf1 {White can penetrate with the king, but cannot do any damage thereby.} ( 36.Kd3 Rd5+ 37.Kc4 Rd4+ 38.Kc5 Rd5+ 39.Kb6 Rb5+ $10 ) 36...Rb5 37.a6 {the series of exchanges that result mean the position will be drawn.} 37...bxa6 38.Rxc6 Be7 39.Rxa6 Bxb4 40.Bxb4 Rxb4 {short of a blunder, there is no possible result other than a draw at this point.} 41.Ke2 Rb3 42.h4 h5 43.Kf1 g6 44.Kg2 Rc3 45.Rb6 Rd3 46.Ra6 Rc3 47.Rb6 Rd3 48.Ra6 Rc3 1/2-1/2

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