25 September 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 9 (Eswaran - Yu)

This round 9 game features the recently-rehabilitated Tartakower Variation of the Caro-Kann, which is now considered a fully-valid and solid reply by Black to the main line (3. Nc3). FM Jennifer Yu as Black plays an unusual sideline (6...Bf5) which turns out well for her, however, as she gets a favorably imbalanced queenless middlegame. This one is proof that danger still exists without the queens on the board.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Yu, Jennifer"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2297"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin / Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "112"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ exf6 {the Tartakower variation, which has been rehabilitated in the last few years.} 6. c3 {by far the most played here. White shores up d4 before further development, but can afford the time to do so.} Bf5 {although this is the second most-played move in the database, it is far below ...Bd6 in popularity.} (6... Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Qc2 Re8+ 9. Ne2 h5 {is the line that is most responsible for reviving the variation.}) 7. Bc4 {this placement of the bishop, while aggressive-looking, is usually not a threat to Black in the Caro-Kann. In this variation, White does not have a knight developed yet and both g5 and e5 - normally good possibilities for an outpost - are covered by the doubled f-pawn, which therefore proves useful.} Bd6 8. Qe2+ {White signals a willingness to enter a queenless middlegame here, as Black's next move is clearly best.} Qe7 9. Nf3 Nd7 {Black is willing to maintain the tension and see where White takes things.} 10. Qxe7+ Kxe7 $5 {Black's intent is to "castle by hand", choosing to maintain the bishop on the move advantageous b8-h2 diagonal.} 11. O-O Rhe8 12. Nh4 Be6 {naturally an exchange on e6 would un-double Black's pawns, a good outcome.} 13. Bd3 g6 {Black now has a very solid pawn lineup on the 6th rank and White has no real weaknesses to target.} 14. Re1 Kf8 $11 15. c4 {gaining a bit of space and bringing up the future possibility of d4-d5. However, this goes against the original idea of playing c2-c3, which was to keep d4 from becoming a Black target. This is now exactly what happens.} Rad8 {Black does not have any major weaknesses to target either, but centralizing the rook and putting it opposite the currently undefended d-pawn is a good idea in general.} 16. Bd2 {while not bad, this development of the bishop is a little slow and without much point to it. Bringing the knight back from its exile on h4 might make more sense.} Be7 {clearing one piece from the d-file, in front of the Rd8.} 17. Ba5 Nb6 {now the knight is actually doing something useful, and of course an exchange on b6 would be both materially and positionally desirable for Black.} 18. Nf3 (18. Bxb6 axb6 19. Nf3 {and Black can choose between ...f5, ...Bc5 or ...Bg4 to win a pawn.}) 18... Rd7 {clearing d8 to double rooks, as well as getting out of the pin.} 19. b3 {c4 must be protected now that the Nb6 is "alive" again.} Bg4 {The correct positional idea. White's bishop is very limited, so exchange it for White's more flexible knight, which is also a key defender of d4.} 20. Bc3 {covering the d-pawn.} Bxf3 21. gxf3 $15 {White's kingside structure is now ugly enough to warrant giving Black a slight plus.} Red8 {doubling rooks, per the idea on move 18.} 22. b4 $2 {whoops! White loses patience and advances another pawn prematurely.} (22. Rad1 {would activate the other rook and prepare to reinforce the d-file.}) 22... Na4 {This would seem to be the obvious response, driving away the bishop from the defense of the d-pawn, after which Black can scoop it up.} 23. Rxe7 $2 (23. Bd2 Rxd4 24. Bh6+ Ke8 25. Bf1 {it's possible that Eswaran calcuated this out and just saw a torturous endgame loss in her future, so she decided to try and complicate things at the board.}) 23... Rxe7 24. Be1 Rxd4 $19 25. Bf1 {It's hard to see any hope for White here, as the two bishops simply cannot match up against the two rooks. White can however use the power of the two bishops to hold off her opponent for a while.} Kg7 {a safe move, defending the otherwise hanging f-pawn. This also helps prepare the withdrawal of the Na4, which is currently preventing Bc3.} 26. Rb1 Nb6 27. Rc1 Nd7 {it takes a while to reposition the knight, but White cannot do anything substantial in the meantime.} 28. Bc3 Rf4 29. Kg2 Ne5 30. Be2 g5 31. Bd2 Ng6 $1 {these kinds of moves help distinguish masters from other players, who might simply reflexively move the rook away. Here, Yu gets more from the position.} 32. Be3 (32. Bxf4 $2 Nxf4+ 33. Kf1 Rxe2) 32... Rh4 {Black could still ignore the capture on f4, but Yu has something different in mind, wanting to create pressure down the h-file.} 33. Bf1 {now Bxa7 is threatened, with the bishop no longer hanging.} b6 34. Rd1 Rh6 (34... Ne5 $5 {is a more normal-looking move that improves the knight's range, threatening c4 as well.}) 35. Kg3 Nh4 {a strong move that takes advantage of the White king's advance, cutting off its retreat to g2 while pressuring f3 and threatening ...Nf5.} 36. Bh3 {this allows the following tactic} Nxf3 {the Bh3 hangs if the king recaptures on f3.} 37. a4 Rh4 {the rook reactivates itself to great effect. It's unclear why White continues on at this point, although the idea of a queenside pawn advance supported by her bishops perhaps looked like a desperate possibility.} 38. c5 Ne5 (38... bxc5 {might be more straightforward, as after} 39. Bxc5 Re1 40. Rxe1 Nxe1 41. Bxa7 Rxb4 {and Black is winning.}) 39. Bd4 Re8 {this subtle move will allow the rook to go to the d-file in some variations.} 40. b5 {still hoping for a breakthrough.} cxb5 {this is certainly good enough to win.} (40... Rd8 $1 {is actually an excellent idea, pinning the bishop and a natural follow-up to the previous move.}) 41. axb5 bxc5 42. Bxc5 Rc4 43. Be3 Rb4 {White's queenside ambitions are no more, but the b-pawn still holds out a sliver of hope.} 44. Bf1 Rg4+ 45. Kh3 h5 (45... f5 {is also possible here, getting some more out of the extra f-pawn.}) 46. Be2 Rh4+ 47. Kg3 Ng4 {cleverly forcing an advantageous trade.} 48. Bxg4 Rxg4+ 49. Kf3 Re7 {a safe move - why rush things?} 50. Rd6 Re5 51. Bd4 Rf4+ 52. Kg2 Rxb5 {now the position is certainly resignable, but Eswaran plays on.} 53. Bxa7 Rg4+ 54. Kh3 Rb3+ 55. Be3 f5 {the extra f-pawn now decides things.} 56. f3 Rh4+ {winning the bishop and the game.} 0-1

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