26 February 2023

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

This game was selected for commentary because of its opening/middlegame clash of ideas, which can be seen from both White and Black perspectives in different openings. It is a Sicilian Grand Prix attack, which features an early f-pawn thrust and aggressive moves by White on the kingside. Reverse the colors and you get a common type of English Opening as well, which is what I have experience playing and would like to understand better. This kind of cross-training of openings is one thing I have become more open to over the years, since the more you look, it is interesting how ideas and setups can be similar and relevant.

In this particular case, there are some useful decision points to examine for both White and Black. In the opening phase, for example, Black chooses on move 7 a more standard approach that does not attempt to disrupt White's slightly unusual setup. Black on move 10 also commits to an offensive middlegame stance, when defense is what is indicated. Black should get credit for hanging in the game under tremendous pressure and even equalizing going into the endgame. However White also gets credit for not crumbling after losing all her advantage - which often happens - and then grinding away in the endgame for the win. This is one of those games that has a number of lessons to tell at each stage, so is well worth the study time.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.07"] [Round "03"] [White "Tokhirjonova, Gulrukhbegim"] [Black "Wu, Rochelle"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "2317"] [ECO "B23"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin / Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 {the #2 reply in the database, but far behind ...Nc6, which (at this stage) scores above 50% for Black. The added control over d4 seems more important than preventing an early e4-e5, the usual reason for playing ...d6.} ( 2...Nc6 3.f4 g6 {is the preferred method for Black players to handle the Grand Prix Attack.} ) 3.f4 {historically by playing g3 here we would enter a Closed Sicilian, but the Grand Prix Attack is now more popular.} 3...g6 {the Grand Prix Attack proper would be entered by transposition with ...Nc6. Here with ...g6, Black chooses to accelerate the dark-square bishop development to influence the center and also contest f5. This scores evenly for Black, while the classic ...Nc6 shows a fairly significant White plus.} 4.Bb5+ {White seems to be mixing and matching her variations, now developing the bishop to b5 as if it were the Moscow Variation. This is less to the point here, as it does not have the same impact on the fight for the center or support White's kingside thrust. Instead Nf3 is by far the most played here, because why not?} 4...Bd7 5.Bc4 {White indicates her desire to preserve the light-square bishop, but essentially this is a free tempo for Black. For this to make sense, White would have to argue that the Bd7 development is a net minus for Black. It does block the queen on the d-file, and White now has more control over d5, but is the trade-off worth it?} 5...Bg7 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.d3 {choosing to delay castling in favor of development, with the idea of thrusting with the f-pawn.} 7...e6 {this leads to standard-type play in the center. Objectively this is not bad for Black, but it is something of a concession to allow White to easily pursue the typical plans here.} ( 7...Na5 $5 {is an alternate way to play that puts more pressure on White to prove her setup is good. For example} 8.f5 $2 {can now be met with} 8...Nxc4 9.dxc4 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Nf6 $19 {with White essentially being positionally lost.} ) 8.f5 {pressuring Black to make an early, complex choice about the direction of the game. Black chooses an aggressive-looking continuation, but it results in a White plus.} 8...Nd4 ( 8...gxf5 $5 {scores the best in practical terms, although with a low number of games played.} ) 9.fxe6 {correctly exchanging the center pawn.} 9...fxe6 $6 {Black chooses to maintain an equal number of central pawns, but opens the f-file, making White's developmental lead more relevant.} 10.O-O Qb6 $6 {Black is clearly still thinking offense, when defense is more required by the position. The queen move allows the idea of castling queenside, but this would still leave the kingside and center weakened, and Black never in fact manages to castle.} 11.Ng5 $16 {White has a pleasant choice of how to continue. The text move hits e6 and f7 and unleashes the Rf1.} ( 11.Nxd4 {also results in an advantage, for example} 11...Bxd4+ 12.Kh1 Nf6 13.Ne2 Be5 14.Nf4 $18 {White is effectively targeting Black's weaknesses, while Black has no counterplay.} ) 11...Nf6 12.Ne2 {hitting the advanced Nd4, also a defender of e6. Now Black has no good options.} 12...Nxe2+ ( 12...d5 $5 {is what the engine assesses is the best chance for Black.} 13.exd5 exd5 14.Nxd4 O-O-O {and now White can choose between Bb5 and Nf7 to maintain the advantage.} ) 13.Qxe2 e5 {trying to lock the center, but this also decisively boosts White's light-square control.} 14.a4 $18 {this looks a little random, after all the action on the e- and f-files, but in fact it appears to be the most effective follow-up. Black will not have any safety on the queenside either, with the Qb6 exposed to harrassment.} 14...Ke7 {castling is now a distant dream. The text move covers the weak e6 square and connects the rooks.} 15.a5 Qc7 16.b4 {further opening lines and keeping the initiative, with what would only be a temporary pawn sacrifice.} 16...Raf8 ( 16...cxb4 17.Bd2 $18 ) 17.bxc5 dxc5 18.d4 {White is in a hurry to further open things up, but perhaps could have prepared the idea better.} ( 18.Nf3 {the knight is no longer as effective on g5, so repositioning it first makes sense.} ) 18...h6 {Black seizes the chance to gain a tempo on the knight and at least temporarily win a pawn.} 19.Nf3 exd4 20.Nh4 $6 {here White gets distracted with more knight moves, rather than pressing on in the now wide-open center. However Black, under pressure, does not find the best active defense.} ( 20.e5 {would be the direct approach.} ) ( 20.Bd2 {would develop White's last piece and connect the rooks.} ) 20...Be8 $2 {the obvious defensive move to protect g6, but it cannot save Black.} ( 20...Ng4 {is the best try, according to the engine. The mate threat on h2 makes life much more difficult for White, who wins the exchange but sees Black counterattack immediately, regaining material.} 21.Nxg6+ Kd8 22.Bf4 Rxf4 23.Nxf4 d3 {the key move, clearing the d4 square for Black's bishop.} 24.Qxd3 Bd4+ 25.Kh1 {and now Black has to find} 25...Ne5 ( 25...Nf2+ $2 26.Rxf2 Bxf2 27.Ne6+ $18 ) 26.Qb3 Bxa1 27.Ne6+ Bxe6 28.Bxe6 c4 {with a complex position but what only looks like a small plus for White after Qb4.} ) 21.Bf4 $1 {White's last piece gets into the battle, with a vengeance. The two bishops criss-cross Bthe center with nothing to stop them, while Black's centralized king position without a pawn shield makes it obvious White is winning.} 21...Qd7 22.Bb8 ( 22.Rab1 $5 {bringing another piece into the attack first.} ) 22...Nh5 23.Bxa7 {the point of course is not the a-pawn itself, but the threat to the c5 pawn.} 23...Qd6 24.Rab1 {bringing into play major threats on the b-file.} 24...Rxf1+ 25.Qxf1 Be5 {now this threat to the h2 pawn is not enough to distract White.} 26.Rxb7+ Kd8 27.Nf3 {getting the knight back into play, guarding h2 and attacking the Be5.} 27...Rf8 28.Bb6+ {this is a strong move but not a prudent one.} ( 28.Qb1 {would be useful in controlling the b-file, as well as more importantly getting the queen off the file with the rook, thereby eliminating what becomes a tactical possibility for Black.} ) 28...Kc8 {now many things win for White, including probably the most obvious Rc7+, but...} 29.Ba6 $2 {without an immediate threat, this allows Black to execute the following tactic, based on the Nf3 pin.} 29...Bxh2+ $1 30.Nxh2 Rxf1+ 31.Nxf1 Bd7 32.Nd2 d3 {amazingly, Black has now equalized and the game objectively should end in a draw by perpetual, which both side have (Ra7+ for White). However, the fight continues. How does White, whose king is now quite open as well, manage to emerge victorious?} 33.c3 {White starts by taking away the d4 square, which is the obvious way for the Black queen to penetrate.} 33...Ng3 ( 33...Qg3 {and Black maintains the ability to force a perpetual, for example} 34.Ra7+ Kb8 35.Rxd7 ( 35.Bc7+ Kxa7 36.Bxg3 Kxa6 37.Be5 Kxa5 $10 ) 35...Qe3+ $10 ) 34.Ra7+ Kb8 35.Rb7+ Kc8 36.Ra7+ {White gains some progress in the time control by repeating moves this way.} 36...Kb8 37.Bc7+ Kxa7 38.Bxd6 Ne2+ {removing the knight from attack by the Bd6 and gaining the necessary tempo for recovering the bishop.} 39.Kf2 Kxa6 40.c4 Kxa5 41.Bxc5 {the engine rates this with only a slight plus to White, yet the positional imbalances would seem to make it somewhat easier for White to play, given that the d-pawn is blockaded while the passed e- and c-pawns are not.} 41...h5 42.Ke3 {this does not actually threaten the d-pawn yet, since Black can use the fork trick on f4 to exchange it for White's g-pawn.} 42...Ka4 $6 {this move seems to be the culprit for Black's subsequent problems, as she puts her king too far from the action.} ( 42...Be6 ) 43.Bd6 $1 {with opposite-colored bishops, this square allows the bishop to restrain Black's pawns and prevent the fork trick on f4, while also clearing the way on the c-file for the pawn.} 43...Nc1 44.Nf3 {the blockade is no longer needed and the knight gets into the action.} 44...Be6 {a little too late now.} 45.Kd2 {chasing the knight away from the pawn, which is now doomed.} 45...Nb3+ 46.Kxd3 Na5 47.Ne5 $18 {now White is winning again, with two passed pawns, a centralized king, and a better knight.} 47...g5 {Black's only hope is to mobilize counterplay with her pawn duo.} 48.Be7 {nothing looks good as an option now for Black.} 48...g4 49.Kd4 ( 49.Kc3 {would maintain dominance over the Black knight.} ) 49...Nb3+ 50.Kc3 Nc1 51.Nd3 $6 {a strange decision, to allow a pure opposite-colored bishop ending, which is by far a better possibility to draw for Black.} 51...Nxd3 52.Kxd3 Ka5 ( 52...g3 $5 ) 53.Kd4 Kb6 {now Black's king is not so badly placed.} 54.c5+ Kc6 55.g3 Ba2 {Black's strategy now should be to use the bishop to protect the h-pawn and/or threaten the e-pawn if the White king strays too far. White cannot break the blockade on the c-pawn.} 56.Ke3 Kd7 57.Bd6 Bf7 58.Kf4 Ke6 $2 {with this, Black abandons the blockade of the c-pawn, leading to a lost position.} ( 58...Kc6 ) 59.Kg5 $1 {Black apparently did not believe White could make progress. However...} 59...Be8 60.Bf4 {Black is now in zugzwang, as the bishop is overloaded protecting the h5 pawn and the c6 square. The next king move is comparatively best, but still allows White a winning advantage.} 60...Ke7 61.Kf5 $1 Bd7+ 62.Ke5 {in contrast with the previous situation, White's king is now fully centralized and Black's king has been forced back to the 7th rank away from the c-pawn, where it is also vulnerable to further harassment by the bishop. White still has to defend the e-pawn with her king, but finds the correct way to make progress.} 62...Bc6 63.Bg5+ Kd7 64.Kf5 {now White can advance the e-pawn. Note how Black's bishop is in the way of her king.} 64...Bb7 65.e5 Kc6 {this is meaningless, since White's bishop can protect the pawn and not be chased away successfully.} 66.Be7 Kd5 67.Bd6 h4 {Black's last gasp, which contains an endgame trap.} 68.gxh4 ( 68.Kxg4 $2 hxg3 69.Kxg3 $10 {and White will not be able to break through against Black's light-square bishop, which defends in all lines.} ) 68...g3 69.e6 g2 70.Bh2 {the game is now effectively over.} 70...Kxc5 71.h5 Ba6 72.h6 Kc6 ( 72...Bd3+ 73.Kf6 {and one of the pawns will queen.} ) 73.Kf6 Bd3 74.Kf7 Kd5 1-0

Evaluation generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

21 February 2023

Training quote of the day #42: Victor Korchnoi

  From the commentary to game 35 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

There are two types of sacrifices in chess. When a player sacrifices a minor piece, he usually calculates the variations as far as mate, or to the regaining of the material. And this calcuation does not normally demand any great effort. It is another matter when a pawn, rook or queen is sacrificed. Usually such a sacrifice is made not on the basis of deep calculation, but by intuition. After all, often the human brain is not in fact capable of working out all the variations in a complicated position! You have to trust your intuition. It may happen that your intuition deceives you. But human life, in general, is full of dangers! You have to take a risk... And not only at the chess board! 

11 February 2023

Training quote of the day #41: Victor Korchnoi

 From the commentary to game 34 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

A competent positional player, if he has several plans, does not hurry to carry out one of them. After all, by beginning to implement some plan, he to some extent loses his superiority over the opponent, which in fact consisted of the fact that up till then he had more possibilities than the opponent!