06 March 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 4 (Yu - Morris-Suzuki)

This commentary game from round 4 of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship features an imbalanced attacking game in the "Iron English" setup popularized by GM Simon Williams and IM Richard Palliser. Oftentimes the English has a reputation as a more quiet or positional system, with action for White taking place on the queenside. This is not necessarily the case, however, and this game illustrates how White can generate kingside pressure and then break through if Black is not diligent about pushing their own alternate plan for counterplay.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.08"] [Round "04"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Morris-Suzuki, Sophie"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2297"] [BlackElo "2126"] [ECO "A36"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e4 {White breaks the symmetry and lays claim to d5.} 3...d6 4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 g6 6.Nge2 Bg7 7.d3 {the "Iron English" or modern Botvinnik setup is now reached.} 7...O-O 8.O-O Ne8 {while this is the #2 move in the database, it scores in an inferior way to both ...a6 and ...Rb8, suggesting that Black should prioritize getting on with queenside plans, rather than taking the time to reposition the knight.} 9.Be3 {this contests d4 further, but more importantly allows for a Q+B battery to be formed on the c1-h diagonal.} 9...Nd4 {the most popular move. Black would be happy to have the knight exchanged and get a pawn on d4, which would be a "bone in the throat" for White.} 10.Qd2 ( 10.Bxd4 cxd4 $17 {with ...e5 now a threat to consolidate Black's central control, along with moves like ...a5 to restrain White's b-pawn.} ) 10...Nc7 11.f4 {With Black's natural play being on the queenside, White chooses to expand on the kingside, which is where her pieces also have more influence. Using the f-pawn as a lever is one of the key ideas of the "Iron English" setup.} 11...Rb8 12.Nd5 $6 {this seems premature and Black picks the correct move to exploit it.} 12...Nxe2+ 13.Qxe2 {the queen is now off of its best diagonal and no longer threatens to exchange the Bg7 after Bh6.} 13...Ne6 $6 {Black however returns the favor, by not immediately pressing her natural plan of queenside expansion. This lets White recover the initiative.} ( 13...b5 ) 14.e5 b5 15.Rad1 {getting the rook into play is clearly a good idea, but it is difficult to determine which square is best for it.} ( 15.b4 $5 {is the engine's idea.} 15...cxb4 ( 15...bxc4 16.dxc4 Nd4 17.Bxd4 cxd4 18.exd6 exd6 19.Qd2 $14 ( 19.Ne7+ Kh8 20.Nc6 Qb6 21.Qf2 $14 ( 21.Nxb8 $2 d3+ 22.Qf2 Bd4 $19 ) ) ) 16.Bxa7 Rb7 17.Bf2 $14 {and Black's b-pawn(s) will be weak.} ) 15...Re8 {a relatively passive approach.} ( 15...Nc7 {challenging White's strong knight seems like a good idea.} ) 16.b3 {a good but conservative reaction.} ( 16.f5 Nd4 17.Bxd4 cxd4 18.e6 fxe6 19.Nb4 exf5 20.Nc6 $16 {looks good for White, although Black gets some compensation for the exchange.} ) 16...b4 $2 {this seems to be a classic strategic error, closing the side of the board where Black needs to make progress. The extra space is mostly meaningless.} ( 16...Nd4 $5 ) 17.Qf2 $16 {getting the queen to a more effective diagonal while also backing the f-pawn, which threatens to advance. Black is now under significant pressure and has no good options.} 17...Nd4 18.Bxd4 cxd4 19.Qxd4 {White is distracted from the kingside breakthrough, but at the cost of a pawn for Black. Note the space advantage and better coordination of White's pieces as well.} 19...Bg4 20.Rde1 ( 20.Rd2 $5 {looks more flexible, with the potential of later going to f2.} ) 20...a5 {this attempt at counterplay is too slow. Black can try to focus on defense instead.} ( 20...Bf5 $5 {would physically block the f-pawn advance while maintaining pressure on the d-pawn.} ) 21.Qb2 {looking to reposition the queen to a more effective square again, while also clearing d4 for the d-pawn's advance.} 21...a4 22.d4 Qa5 23.Qd2 Qa7 {Black just has some harassing ideas now, rather than real counterplay, and White is close to winning.} 24.Kh1 {smartly avoiding the d-pawn pin. White is not in a hurry.} 24...dxe5 $6 {this simply helps White break through and also control the center, but again there are no good options for Black.} 25.fxe5 Red8 $6 {as often happens, when under severe pressure a player starts making worse and worse moves. White correctly identifies the new weakness on e7 and decisively targets it with her queen, also attacking the hanging Bg4.} 26.Qg5 $18 Qxd4 27.Re4 ( 27.Nxe7+ {also wins.} 27...Kh8 28.Nc6 h6 29.Qxd8+ Rxd8 30.Nxd4 Rxd4 31.Rxf7 $18 ) 27...Qb2 28.Rxg4 Qxa2 {a useful illustration of how pawn snatching on the queenside when your king is under heavy attack is not worth it. White's attack is now masterful, sacrificing back the material to break through.} 29.Nxe7+ Kh8 30.Rh4 Rf8 31.Be4 Qe2 32.Nxg6+ fxg6 33.Rxh7+ Kg8 34.Rxg7+ Kxg7 35.Qxg6+ Kh8 36.Qh7# 1-0

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

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