06 January 2024

Annotated Game #261: Let's be realistic

The next tournament game following my return to OTB chess last year had me faced with a completely new response by Black (to me) in the English Four Knights (4...g6). I responded reasonably well and found (a bit late) the key to the position, which was advancing d4-d5 before Black blocked it. By move 10 I have a pleasant positional plus as a result. However, by move 22 this is gone and the game is completely level, with Black having some initiative. 

It's worth looking at how that happened in the analysis, but another main takeaway from this game is that I was properly realistic about the situation and did not foolishly try to recapture the lost advantage. Black pressed a bit at the end but had nowhere to go, so the game correctly ended in a draw. Sometimes it's easy to fool yourself into trying to win, when the position dictates otherwise. Psychologically this often happens, and we see a game trajectory where someone gets an advantage, spoils it, then either does not realize it or desperately tries to win regardless, which can easily lead instead to a loss. Accepting reality is the better way.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "53"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 {my opponent appeared somewhat unfamiliar with the opening, given some pauses, and now played something I hadn't faced before.} g6 5. d4 {the usual reaction for White to a move that does not pose a challenge in the center.} exd4 {choosing to liquidate then play against the center} 6. exd4 {the normal choice for White to recapture, giving him a bigger center. Unlike in a normal KID setup, Black no longer has the e-pawn to challenge it.} Bg7 7. Be2 {played without thinking enough about the position, as a "standard" move.} (7. d5 {immediately is a better idea, to seize the central space and prevent Black from occupying the square.}) 7... O-O (7... d5 8. Bg5 Ne7 $11) 8. d5 {I was a little uncertain about playing this, but saw the prospect of perhaps having to play an unenticing IQP game as being worse, if Black gets in ...d5. The engines agree it is the correct idea.} Nb8 {this seems less useful than the alternative ...Ne7} 9. O-O (9. d6 $5 {is an interesting idea I considered, but I did not want to spend a lot of time on it in an unfamiliar position.}) 9... d6 10. Bg5 $14 {now all my minor pieces are developed, while Black's queenside is still at home.} Re8 {neglecting somewhat his own minor piece development, which is probably more urgent.} 11. Re1 {I thought for a while here and was hopeful I could dominate the e-file eventually. This turned out not to be the case.} (11. Qd2 {immediately is more to the point, looking to potentially exchange the Bg7.}) 11... Na6 {at first glance this move is a bit ugly, but the c5 and b4 squares would be good for the knight, and it definitely needs to get out.} 12. Qd2 {connecting the rooks and getting on a more useful diagonal, with the Q+B battery.} Bf5 $6 {getting another piece out while targeting c2 and controlling e4, but the bishop is vulnerable here.} (12... Nc5 {would be the logical follow-up.}) 13. Nd4 $16 {the second-best choice by the engine. I thought for a while here and decided the exchange would be good for me, plus the knight is well-placed.} (13. h3 $5 {would take away the g4 square first.}) 13... Qd7 14. Nxf5 {this gives Black too much play and justifies the queen move. Better was to patiently increase the pressure.} (14. f3 $5 {is ugly but effective, controlling the key e4 square. It looks wrong to block the Be2 in, but it was going nowhere useful on the d1-h5 diagonal anyway. Meanwhile, Black cannot take advantage of the a7-g1 diagonal's opening.}) 14... Qxf5 $14 15. Bd3 {Dragon 3.2 validates this choice, which was also the result of a long think. Basically the queen needs to be kicked out of the center before anything else can be accomplished.} Qg4 {this gives me the move h3 for free.} 16. h3 Qd7 {unfortunately, now I was unsuccessful in coming up with any meaningful plan, beyond vague notions of dominating the e-file. Patience and maneuvering are required, as there is no immediate breakthrough.} 17. Rxe8+ (17. Rac1 $5 {would be one useful waiting move.}) (17. Bc2 {would proactively remove the bishop from potential attack, anticipating ...Nc5.}) 17... Rxe8 18. Re1 Nc5 19. Bc2 {the engine validates this choice as well. The bishop covers critical squares on both wings.} h6 20. Be3 {I had to check the tactics here, unfortunately they work in Black's favor, thanks to the overloaded Qd2.} (20. Bf4 $5 {would prevent Black's next move in the game.}) 20... Nce4 {now there is nothing better than to trade.} 21. Nxe4 Nxe4 22. Bxe4 $11 {this trade however was unnecessary and now any vestige of an advantage is gone. White has various queen moves possible.} Rxe4 {Black now has actively placed pieces, while mine are somewhat passive. Luckily Black has no breakthrough opportunities.} 23. b3 h5 24. Kf1 Qf5 {I had missed this move, which by protecting the Re4 removes some potential tactical ideas for White. I looked at the Black queenside pawns, but decided there were too many downsides to attempted pawn snatching with either the Be3 or after Qa5. The engine agrees.} 25. Re2 {playing without a real plan, other than to continue covering squares and maybe rearrange the pieces a bit. Here, however, the lack of ambition is entirely correct.} Re5 26. Qe1 {not bad but it feels awkward.} (26. Qc2) 26... a6 {unnecessary, since the bishop would be trapped after taking on a7 by ...b6, but Black has nothing concrete either.} 27. Kg1 {it might have been better to continue shuffling major pieces, since this is a (very) little weaker according to the engine, but my opponent offered a draw anyway.} 1/2-1/2

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