11 August 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 6 (Yu - Lee)

We resume our look at last year's U.S. Women's Championship with a seesaw battle between FM Jennifer Yu and FM Alice Lee. This round 6 game follows Alice Lee's round 3 Slow Slav defense until move 10, when Yu varies as White. While the opening has something of a drawish and balanced image, this game also demonstrates how imbalances between the sides can cause sometimes dramatic shifts in fortune, especially in the endgame.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.11"] [Round "6"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2297"] [BlackElo "2263"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "126"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 {the Slow Slav.} Bf5 {for a while ...Bg4 was more popular here, but play seems to have reverted to the standard bishop placement on f5.} 5. Nc3 e6 {the basic point of the Slav Defense, to develop the bishop outside the pawn chain. White will almost always exchange it for the knight, however, figuring the two bishops can't be bad.} 6. Nh4 Be4 {opinions vary between this and the immediate ...Bg6 retreat. Korchnoi in his "best games" collection is of the opinion that f2-f3 is in fact useful for White. Black argues that it is not by playing the text move.} 7. f3 Bg6 8. Qb3 Qc7 9. Bd2 Be7 10. g3 {now White varies from following the round 3 game of Lee, which featured queenside castling.} dxc4 {this is one of the top Dragon 3.2 engine choices, but is relatively little played and scores poorly (25 percent) in the database. Black prefers to dissolve the center and rely on her solid structure to deter White aggression. Meanwhile, White gets a space advantage.} 11. Bxc4 a6 {this seems a bit slow, but with a semi-closed position it does not seem to matter.} (11... b5 $5) 12. a4 Nbd7 {catching up in development.} 13. a5 {preventing ...Nb6.} Nh5 $6 {this forces the Nh4 to commit itself or be exchanged. However, as White would like to do this anyway - the Nh4 is not doing anything else on the rim - this instead appears to misplace Black's knight at the cost of a tempo.} (13... O-O {seems simple and good.}) 14. Nxg6 hxg6 15. Ne4 {the knight was not doing much good on c3.} O-O-O {this seems both very committal by Black and unnecessary.} (15... Nhf6 $5) 16. O-O-O $16 {the engine now awards White a significant plus. Let's see if it materializes on the board...} Nhf6 17. Ng5 {hitting the vulnerable f7 square, which normally would be protected by both rook and king after ...O-O.} Rdf8 {one of the rooks has to protect it.} 18. Bxe6 $6 {hasty execution by White now allows Black to equalize. Other options would maintain White's spatial squeeze.} (18. Kb1) (18. e4) 18... fxe6 $11 19. Nxe6 Qd6 20. Nxf8 Rxf8 {using a standard "points" method of counting material, White is the equivalent of a pawn up. However, in the middlegame two minor pieces are normally better than a rook, and White no longer has a space advantage. Perhaps she was counting on the passed e-pawn for an advantage, but Black's pieces are all active now and White's king is more exposed.} 21. Rhf1 Qd5 22. Qc2 (22. Qxd5 cxd5 {would assist Black in containing the e-pawn, which is White's main threat.}) 22... Bd8 {pressuring the advanced a-pawn.} 23. Qxg6 Bxa5 {the exchange of the doubled g-pawn for the a-pawn would seem to favor Black, although perhaps not so much as to upset the balance.} 24. Kb1 Bxd2 25. Rxd2 Qa5 $15 {taking advantage of the cleared square.} 26. Qd3 Nd5 {centralizing the knight and heading for b4.} 27. e4 {White correctly gets the central pawn roller going. Black now has counterplay with her minor pieces, however.} Nb4 28. Qa3 Qb5 {preserving the queen, as exchanging into an endgame now would give White a winning advantage with her central pawns supported by the rooks. Instead, Black's queen can roam the board.} 29. Rc1 a5 30. Qc3 Qh5 {pressuring the f- and h-pawns.} 31. f4 Re8 32. d5 {forced, otherwise White's central pawns become effectively blockaded and the Black knights can run rampant.} Qg6 (32... Rxe4 $5 33. Qxg7 {Black was probably deterred by the prospect of White's three connected passed pawns appearing on the board, but the strategic logic is the same, with Black needing to rely on active counterplay anyway.} c5 34. Qg8+ Re8 {and White would have to find} 35. g4 (35. Qg7 Qf3 $19 {and the queen penetrates to good effect.}) 35... Rxg8 36. gxh5 Rh8 $15) 33. dxc6 {logically seeking to reduce the pawn shield in front of Black's king, seeking more dynamic play.} (33. f5 {would be a way to preserve the e-pawn, but Black again controls the blockading squares.} Qf7 34. Re2 Re5 $17) 33... Qxe4+ 34. Ka1 $6 (34. Qc2 $1 {is found by the engine but would be hard for a human to come up with over the board. Now if} Nxc2 35. cxd7+ Kd8 36. dxe8=Q+ Kxe8 37. Rcxc2 $11) 34... bxc6 {it looks precarious for Black on the c-file, but the Nb4 cannot be challenged without losting material and it does an excellent job of protecting c6.} 35. Rd4 Qe6 {not the most effective choice.} (35... Qe2 {would leave the squares on the e-file open for the rook, with both e3 and e6 being useful places to go. Dragon 3.2 in fact awards Black a winning advantage.}) 36. Qa3 Kb7 $6 {this lets White off the hook, although it must have been concerning for Black to have her king lined up against the Rc1.} (36... Qe3 {counterattacking the loose Rc1.} 37. Qxe3 Rxe3 {perhaps Black did not like the optics of this endgame, but the rook would be very effective on e2, making threats while the rest of Black's position is held together.}) 37. Qxa5 $11 Nd3 (37... Ra8 $2 38. Rxb4+ $18) 38. f5 (38. Rxd3 $2 {this loses now that} Ra8 {is possible, with no checks by White (b3 is protected by the Black queen).}) 38... Qf7 39. Rxd3 {the next sequence is forced.} Ra8 40. Qxa8+ Kxa8 41. Rxc6 {now a draw appears to be the best outcome for Black, who has to worry about being mated by the two rooks.} Qxf5 42. Rb3 Nc5 43. Rc3 Qf1+ 44. Ka2 Qf7+ 45. Ka3 Ne4 46. Rc1 (46. Rc8+ $5 {would force a drawn but unbalanced endgame.} Kb7 47. R8c7+ Qxc7 48. Rxc7+ Kxc7 49. Kb4 $11 {without the Black pawn on the board this would have been a risk-free try by White. As it stands, perhaps White did not want to risk blundering and losing.}) 46... Nd2 47. Kb4 Kb7 {offering to head into the knight-and-pawns endgame.} 48. R6c3 {White still avoids it, but instead this gives her a chance to go wrong with her exposed king.} Qe7+ 49. Ka4 Qd7+ 50. Ka3 $2 (50. Kb4 $11) 50... Qd6+ (50... Qd4 $1 $19 {White can no longer force the queen trade and her rooks are constrained, while she has to worried about being mated as well. For example} 51. Ka2 (51. h4 Kb6 {Black can bring the king up to assist the mating net and White will lose material.}) 51... Qa4+ 52. Ra3 Qb5 53. Rd1 Qd5+ 54. Ka1 Nb3+) 51. b4 Ne4 $6 {this gives White another opportunity to escape with Rc7+} (51... Qa6+ $1 {is the necessary idea, which will allow Black to temporarily pin the Rc3 before moving the knight.} 52. Kb2 Qf6 53. Ka2 Nf3 54. Rc7+ Kb6 {and now the endgame is no good for White after} 55. R7c6+ Qxc6 56. Rxc6+ Kxc6 57. h4 Nd4 $19) 52. Rc4 $2 Nf2 {Black however does not find the idea and the game ends in a draw, with both sides misplaying the endgame, perhaps in time trouble.} 53. Kb3 (53. R1c3) 53... Ng4 (53... Qe6) 54. Rc5 Kb6 (54... Qe6+) 55. Ra1 (55. Rc6+) 55... Nxh2 (55... Qe6+) 56. Raa5 {now the draw can be forced.} Qd1+ 57. Ka3 Qe2 58. Re5 Qc4 59. Rec5 Qe4 60. Rab5+ Ka6 61. Ra5+ Kb6 62. Rab5+ Ka6 63. Ra5+ Kb6 1/2-1/2

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