22 October 2023

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

I was hoping to wrap up my examination of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship before this year's finished, but have not been quick enough. I even went backwards with this game, looking at the round 9 win by Tokhirjonova over Megan Lee after analyzing a round 10 game, because of the interesting opening structure. The formation of a fianchettoed kingside bishop plus Nf3 and d4 used to be more common for White in the opening, and appears to be making something of a comeback. This is one of those openings that can transpose easily to a Reti, Queen's Gambit or Catalan, but does not have to.

Here the game follows an independent course, with Black varying the symmetry early with 5...Ne4!? and White choosing to make a real gambit out of it. This provides an excellent lesson in that sometimes nebulous concept of "compensation" - White has an advantage in both structure and development/time, but fritters that away by move 20. Nevertheless, she still has an equal position despite being a pawn down, with her two bishops being very effective. She then correctly chooses to focus on a kingside attack, which Black mishandles and cannot recover. Tactics were key to this for White, especially 35. Bc6! which perhaps Black missed, and sealed the game for White.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Tokhirjonova, Gulrukhbegim"] [Black "Lee, Megan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "2226"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] {[%evp 0,111,19,29,23,-8,32,23,12,4,10,4,28,29,42,14,16,11,15,29,37,35,44,39,67,36,19,0,62,60,63,71,91,83,83,16,37,18,3,0,0,0,-32,-2,0,0,0,0,-36,-51,0,-23,-54,-56,-60,-39,10,20,-1,21,115,41,56,55,141,91,114,117,163,164,198,190,277,291,291,306,306,316,397,503,500,323,325,319,332,325,339,336,333,340,360,360,378,395,404,405,402,412,420,415,429,439,456,460,501,509,601,613,670,697,725,808,943,1016]} 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. d4 {this now brings the opening out of the Reti realm.} Nf6 5. O-O {White has staked out a presence in the center with d4, but waits before committing further with c4.} Ne4 $5 {this is a very rare idea and seems premature. In a symmetrical opening setup, the Black player moving the same piece twice will by definition lose time, so needs to have a specific follow-up idea that makes it worthwhile. Here there do not seem to be enough threats generated by the move to compensate for the time loss.} 6. c4 {scored by Dragon 3.2 as best. White in this position can still use typical Queen's Gambit ideas to undermine Black's center.} c6 (6... dxc4 7. Qa4+ c6 8. Qxc4 $14) 7. Nc3 {There are various good options here, with b3 being played almost exclusively in the database games. Here White instead looks to exchange off the time-wasting Black knight and thereby increase her relative development.} Nxc3 (7... O-O 8. Qb3 $14) 8. bxc3 dxc4 {now White has a true gambit, however with more than sufficient compensation for the pawn in terms of development and structure, including better central control.} 9. e4 {White plays straightforwardly for the center.} (9. a4 {would be a more prophylactic move, restricting ...b5.}) 9... Bg4 $6 {here with h3 White could either force a trade of minor pieces, thereby winning the two bishops, or a bishop retreat, gaining additional time. White's next move instead maintains the tension in the center.} 10. Qe2 $14 {also threatening to take on c4, spurring Black's next.} b5 11. a4 {looking to disrupt the pawn formation.} O-O 12. axb5 {this was perhaps premature, with e5 and h3 being other ideas.} (12. e5 $5 {and now Qe4 is possible immediately after a pawn exchange on b5.}) 12... cxb5 13. e5 a5 $6 {this allows White's next.} (13... Nd7 {now the Ra8 is protected.} 14. Qe4 Bf5 $11) 14. Qe4 $1 {now the exchange on f3 is forced, due to the fork of rook and bishop.} Bxf3 15. Bxf3 Ra6 {Black is still a pawn up, but is behind in development and space and her pieces are not working together at all.} 16. Ba3 $16 {White's two bishops are now very well placed.} Nc6 17. Bc5 (17. Rfb1 {would more directly target Black's weaknesses, as the pawn cannot be effectively protected. The general rule with hanging pawns is to hit them with everything you have.} Qb8 (17... Qd7 {would indirectly protect the b-pawn, as the Nc6 could then move with a discovered attack on b5 by the queen, but this fails after} 18. Qd5 Qxd5 19. Bxd5 Rb8 20. Bxc6 Rxc6 21. Bxe7 $16) 18. Be2 $16 {threatening Bxc4 due to the pin on the b-file.}) 17... Qc7 {getting out of the way of the Rf8.} 18. Qe3 {recognizing the Q+B battery on the long diagonal is no longer effective and readjusting the queen's position, with more flexibility.} Rb8 19. Rfb1 {this poses no threat to the b-pawn now, as opposed to the position on on move 17.} Nd8 $11 {having stabilized the position, Black redeploys the knight to a better square.} 20. Bd5 {perhaps played with the idea of restraining the ...b4 advance. However, the bishop is a little awkwardly placed here and Black can continue with her knight maneuver.} Ne6 21. Ba3 {White's two bishops are still enough to compensate for the pawn deficit, by helping keep a space advantage and pressure on Black's position, but need to be preserved.} (21. Bxe6 $6 Rxe6 $17 {and now Black is essentially a pawn up for nothing.}) 21... Qd8 {targeting the hanging Bd5 while still covering e7.} 22. Be4 (22. Qf3 {immediately looks better, saving time on the bishop retreat and keeping it on a better diagonal. And if} Nc7 $4 23. Qxf7+ $18) 22... Nc7 {reinforcing b5 and protecting the Ra6, thereby giving the knight useful work to do. Now the b-pawn can advance.} 23. Bc5 {getting out of the way of the b-pawn and to a better diagonal again.} e6 {avoiding a repetition with ...Ne6.} 24. Qf3 Qc8 {Black apparently is now interested in mobilizing her queenside majority and overprotects the Ra6, so that the Nc7 is again mobile.} 25. h4 {White now plays on the kingside, where Black is weaker and White's two bishops and queen are well-positioned. An h-pawn advance against a fianchettoed bishop position is a standard theme, especially when there is no knight protecting it.} Bf8 {looking to exchange off one of the bishop pair.} 26. h5 {White persists with her idea of assaulting the kingside pawn shield.} Bxc5 27. dxc5 {White's queenside pawn structure is shattered, but the increased kingside attacking potential is sufficient compensation.} Ne8 $2 {the general idea of swinging the knight back to the defense is principled, but this avenue does not work.} (27... Nd5 $1 $11) 28. c6 $18 {White chooses to keep the pawn by advancing it into protection; despite being behind Black's lines, it cannot effectively be targeted.} (28. hxg6 {immediately was also possible.}) 28... Qc7 {pressuring the e5 pawn, without which White has no attack.} 29. Qf4 {consolidating the advantage by guarding the pawn and positioning the queen to penetrate on the dark squares. The rook lift threat Rb1-d1-d7 is now quite powerful, given the weakness of f7; meanwhile, Black still has to blockade the c-pawn.} Ng7 30. hxg6 (30. h6 $1 {is also possible as the knight is driven away, with White's pressure resulting in material gain. For example} Nh5 (30... Ne8 31. Rd1 Rd8 32. Qg5 $18) 31. Qg5 Ra7 32. Rd1 Qe7 33. Qxe7 Rxe7 34. Rxa5 $18) 30... fxg6 {this is marginally better than recapturing with the h-pawn, which would open the less defensible h-file.} 31. Rd1 {from this point on, Black desperately tries to fend off White's threats, but this is not possible.} Rd8 32. Qg5 Raa8 {exchanging rooks would simple give White ownership of the d-file.} 33. Rd7 {White's rook is still able to move decisively to the 7th rank, however.} Rxd7 34. cxd7 Rd8 35. Bc6 $1 {White had to find this tactical finesse, with a decoy / removal of the guard theme. Black cannot leave d8 unprotected.} Rxd7 {Black chooses to get rid of the advanced passed pawn and simplify into a (still-losing) rook vs. minor piece endgame. However her pawns are too weak and the knight is outmatched by White's rook.} 36. Bxd7 Qxd7 37. Rxa5 Qd1+ 38. Kh2 Qd5 39. Ra7 {again a rook on the 7th rank dominates.} Qf3 40. Qd8+ Qf8 41. Qxf8+ Kxf8 42. Rb7 Nf5 43. Rxb5 {this is now resignable for Black, but she plays on, perhaps in the hopes of White stumbling into a knight fork at some point.} Ne7 44. Rc5 Nd5 45. Rxc4 Ke7 46. Rc6 Kd7 47. Rd6+ Ke7 48. c4 Nc3 49. Ra6 Kd7 50. Ra7+ Kc6 51. Rxh7 {now all White has to do is snatch Black pawns and end up in a winning K+P endgame structure, exchanging the rook for knight when that happens.} Ne4 52. f4 g5 53. Re7 gxf4 54. gxf4 Kc5 55. Rxe6 Kxc4 56. Rd6 {now the e-pawn can just run in, as Black's king is cut off and the knight cannot take the rook without the pawn queening.} 1-0

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