25 November 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 12 (Foisor - Lee)

This next commentary game from the penultimate round of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship concludes my examination of the event. It features another Keymer Variation, but White takes it in a very different direction, using a passive Hedgehog-like setup. This is a valid strategic choice, often used when a player wants to provoke their opponent into over-reaching; past international greats such as Petrosian, Ulf Andersson, and from time to time Viktor Korchnoi employed this strategy successfully.

However, in this game Black demonstrates the problem with this type of passive approach, by successfully occupying and controlling the center and then achieving what could have been a winning advantage on the queenside, with White's pieces relatively passive and bottled up. It appears that Lee may have misjudged the sequence starting on move 37, which actually requires Black to use a nice tactic just to stay even in the endgame. The strategic clash between the players and the particular importance of elements like recurring opportunities to exchange minor pieces made this game stand out for me.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.18"] [Round "12"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "2203"] [BlackElo "2263"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "146"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 {another "Keymer Variation"} Nf6 3. b3 Bf5 4. Bb2 {it now looks like a reverse Queen's Indian setup versus a reverse London.} e6 5. Be2 {keeping options open.} h6 6. d3 {this is now a commital move in the center. White will look to construct a rather passive Hedgehog-like structure, something she evidently was aiming for from the start.} Nbd7 {contesting e5 while not blocking the c-pawn.} 7. Nbd2 c6 8. O-O Be7 9. a3 {in keeping with the Hedgehog theme.} O-O 10. Re1 (10. c4 $5 {would strike back in the center and reduce White's level of passivity.}) 10... Qc7 {connecting the rooks, getting a nice diagonal for the queen and controlling e5.} 11. Bf1 {a logical idea, given White's previous move. Otherwise the Re1 is doing nothing.} Rad8 12. Qe2 {White seems determined to "turtle up" with all her pieces.} Rfe8 13. g3 {this move is not really in keeping with the idea of the original e3/Be2 development, but if White is not worried about things like tempi or challenging the center, then it is at least consistent with her strategic approach.} Bg4 {provoking White's next.} (13... e5 $5 {Black could also immediately seize more space with her well-supported central pawn.}) 14. h3 Bh5 15. Bg2 e5 $15 {Black has no weaknesses and a space advantage in the center.} 16. g4 Bg6 17. e4 {White now challenges for the first time in the center. Black then chooses to lock it, reducing her dynamic possibilities.} d4 {this makes the position simpler to play and certainly helps lock out the Bb2. However, Black could have done more with a mobile center and keeping the tension.} 18. Nf1 {with a closed center, White can return to leisurely maneuvering.} Nf8 19. Bc1 {the bishop currently has no future on the long diagonal. White can now think about further supporting a g4-g5 advance.} Ne6 20. Ng3 Nd7 {pre-emptively getting away from a pawn attack and opening up the Be7 on the diagonal.} 21. h4 {White's plan is very clear by now, to expand with all available pawns and pieces on the kingside.} c5 {not a bad move, but real counterplay on the queenside is far away, with all the action on the kingside.} (21... f6 $5 {would directly counter White's plan.}) 22. Bh3 Nf4 23. Qf1 {White at this point would be fine with a minor piece exchange on h3, thereby putting the queen on a more effective square.} (23. Bxf4 $5 {exchanging the bad bishop for good knight looks like a good deal for White.}) 23... b5 {continuing the idea of queenside counterplay through pawn advancement.} 24. Nf5 Bf8 (24... Nxh3+ 25. Qxh3 Bf8 {the engine evaluates as an improved version of the idea for Black.}) 25. g5 {this appears premature, as Black could lock things up and then proceed on the queenside.} h5 (25... Nxh3+ 26. Qxh3 h5) 26. Ng3 (26. Bxf4 $11 {is still best here, exchanging off the bad bishop.}) 26... Nxh3+ $1 {now Black goes for this idea, with admittedly more impact than it might have had before.} 27. Qxh3 c4 28. Qf1 cxb3 29. cxb3 Qc3 $17 30. Bd2 {otherwise Black comes in with ...Nc5.} Qxb3 31. Reb1 Qa4 {Black is now a full pawn up with no compensation for White. The 2-1 connected queenside majority is Black's potential winning formula.} 32. Ne1 {Other moves would have been more active, such as Bb4 or Qe2.} Nc5 $19 {Black has mobilized her pieces and looks ready to press forward on the queenside.} 33. Rb4 Qa6 34. Qe2 Rb8 {this overprotects the b-pawn, but allows White's next.} (34... Na4 $1 {is recommended by the engine, gaining a tempo on the Rb4 and offering up the h-pawn as a sacrifice with powerful compensation.} 35. Rb3 Rc8 {and now} 36. Nxh5 {is answered by the dynamic} Nc3 $19 {and White has no good choices:} 37. Qf3 (37. Bxc3 Bxh5 38. Qxh5 dxc3) 37... Bxh5 38. Qxh5 b4) 35. Nxh5 Qe6 (35... Bxh5 {why not exchange off the bad bishop?} 36. Qxh5 Qe6 $17) 36. Rab1 (36. Ng3 $5 {to preserve the knight / prevent the exchange.}) 36... Bxh5 37. Qxh5 Qh3 $6 {exchanging Black's b-pawn for White's d-pawn at first does not look like a bad idea...} (37... a6 $17 {is simple but effective.}) 38. Rxb5 Rxb5 39. Rxb5 Nxd3 40. Rb3 $11 {this now causes Black problems, however.} g6 41. Qe2 Nc1 {a creative solution to the pin, which is tactically broken.} 42. Rxh3 Nxe2+ 43. Kf1 Nf4 44. Rb3 {This is evaluated by the engine as equal, perhaps with a slight advantage to White. Clearly not what Black was looking for earlier. The protected passed d-pawn looks strong, but White has an effective blockade and her pieces will be active enough to fend off any threats.} Ne6 45. Nd3 Nc5 46. Nxc5 Bxc5 47. Ke2 (47. a4 $5 {becomes an idea, to free up White's rook and gain space.}) 47... Kg7 48. Kf3 (48. Kd3 {also looks solid.}) 48... Re6 49. Rb5 Rc6 (49... Bxa3 50. Ra5 {followed by Rxa7}) 50. Bb4 Bxb4 51. axb4 {this is now a drawn rook ending, although Black evidently still wants to try for a win.} Re6 52. Ke2 Re7 53. Rd5 Rb7 54. Rxe5 Rxb4 55. f4 Rb3 56. Kf2 Re3 57. Re7 Kf8 58. Rxa7 {eliminating the outside passed pawn and simplifying the draw.} Rxe4 59. Kf3 Re3+ 60. Kg4 {now White just needs to get her rook behind the d-pawn.} Re1 61. Rd7 Rd1 62. Kf3 d3 63. Ke3 Re1+ 64. Kf2 Re2+ 65. Kf3 Rd2 66. Ke3 Rh2 67. Kxd3 Rxh4 68. Ke4 {there's no point in continuing now, but the game is played out.} Rh1 69. Ra7 Re1+ 70. Kf3 Rf1+ 71. Ke4 Re1+ 72. Kf3 Rf1+ 73. Ke4 Re1+ 1/2-1/2

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