03 February 2024

Annotated Game #264: Lessons learned from an Exchange Caro-Kann

This next game started off my second "comeback" OTB tournament last year. My opponent was comparable in strength and we came out of the Exchange Caro-Kann opening in an equal but positionally dynamic situation. The variation I chose (6...g6) results in a structural imbalance, which in this case ended up with Black having an isolated queen pawn (IQP) position in favorable middlegame circumstances. That said, my planless and overly optimistic early middlegame play allowed White to gain a small advantage, but I hung close and eventually she was essentially forced into going for a three-time repetition to secure the draw.

It is always striking to me how analyzing your own games inevitably highlights significant lessons and insights into your play and how it can be improved. Even in cases like this, a relatively quiet, largely strategic and positional struggle, certain ideas can shine through clearly:

  • The strength of simple development and importance of optimal piece placement. I missed in various ways the effectiveness of just getting my bishop out with ...Bd7 and allowing the activation of the queen's rook; this did not happen until move 22. Another key positional idea was to retreat the dark-square bishop on move 14, which would have preserved the two bishops.
  • Immediately dissolving the tension on move 18, rather than searching for other improving moves. This urge to immediately swap pieces and resolve tension is a common feature (and drawback) of play at the Class level.
  • Missing good moves due to the calculation "horizon" effect - I stopped calculating too soon once I saw an "obvious" advantage for my opponent in a variation, without seeing additional tactical possibilities for myself.
I was nonetheless reasonably satisfied with my level of play, including the ability to recover after handing my opponent some advantage, and it's not a bad start to draw a similar-strength opponent at the start of a tournament.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "68"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Bf4 g6 (6... Bg4 {is the more standard move.}) 7. h3 {this is the second-most played move in the database, but I had not seen it before.} Bg7 {the most played response.} 8. Ne2 {I thought this was an inferior square for the knight, relinquishing control over e5.} O-O 9. O-O Re8 {played as a useful waiting move. I was considering the ...e5 break, as well as the ...Bf5 idea.} 10. Nd2 Nh5 {increasing control over e5 prior to pushing the pawn.} (10... e5 {is playable immediately, although it results in an isolated queen pawn. The engine has no problem with this, however.} 11. dxe5 Nxe5 $11 {and Black's piece activity and scope compare favorably to White's, compensating for the isolated pawn.}) 11. Bh2 {Although not obligatory, I expected this was the main idea behind h2-h3 earlier.} e5 $11 {Black has fully equalized by this point.} 12. dxe5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bxe5 {Black now has an IQP position but active pieces and control of central squares to compensate, as in the above variation.} 14. Nf3 {at this point I did not have a real plan and played what I thought was a useful waiting move, taking away b5 from the White bishop and potentially a future knight. The Be5 however should be retreated, preserving it.} a6 (14... Bd6 $5 {I did not see an antidote to} 15. Bb5 {during the game, but calculated poorly.} Re7 {did not even occur to me. The d5 pawn is tactically protected.} (15... Bd7 {was what I calcuated, but it still works after} 16. Qxd5 $2 Bxb5 17. Qxb5 {I stopped calculating here, assessing that White was simply a pawn up} a6 $1 {is found by the engine, the point being that the queen is tied to the defense of the Ne2 and can be forced off the diagonal, losing the knight.}) 16. Qxd5 $4 Bh2+ $1 $19) (14... Bg7 {is simple and good.}) 15. Re1 (15. Nxe5 {White should take the opportunity to rid Black of the two bishops.}) 15... Qb6 $6 {still planless and I also overlook that the Be5 will not be protected sufficiently after the Ne2 moves. My opponent goes for the straightforward capture, however.} 16. Nxe5 (16. Ned4 Qd6 {Black suffers an earlier wasted tempo by the queen.} 17. Nxe5 Rxe5 18. Rxe5 Qxe5 19. Qb3 $14) 16... Rxe5 17. Qd2 {connecting the rooks and getting the queen on a better diagonal, while also covering b2.} Qf6 {admitting that the previous queen move was erroneous and moving it to where tactical threats are possible against White's king position. This is perhaps overly optimistic.} (17... Bd7 {simple development is likely best.}) 18. Nd4 Rxe1+ {a bit hasty to exchange, bringing White's other rook into the action. One consistent flaw in Class players is an inability to maintain tension between pieces while looking for other moves that improve the position.} (18... Nf4 {immediately is more useful.}) 19. Rxe1 $14 {White's pieces are now better and more active than Black's, giving a positional plus.} Be6 $6 {the engine doesn't like this due to the potential exchange of pieces on e6, as White still has a rook to pressure the backward pawn on the e-file.} (19... Bd7) 20. Bc2 {White apparently liked his centralized knight and did not want to exchange it. The text move gets the bishop out of the way of the queen on the d-file and to a better (d1-a4) diagonal for other possibilities.} Nf4 {still dreaming of tactics against White's king.} 21. Qe3 {this brings the queen over to cover the bare king, but allows Black to get the rook in the game and catch up on development.} Re8 $11 22. Qg3 Bd7 {the engine applauds the bishop finally going to its best square, also allowing for neutralization of White's rook.} 23. Rxe8+ Bxe8 24. Kh2 Ne6 {now the exchange on e6 is fine, without the rooks on the board.} 25. Nxe6 fxe6 {here I was concerned about the isolated pawn having enough support, although recapturing with the queen would have been fine.} (25... Qxe6 $5 {would avoid some of the awkwardness on the back rank.} 26. Qb8 Kg7 {and if} 27. Qxb7 Qe5+ $11 {however I did not calculate past the pawn capture on b7, thinking that was sufficient for a negative evaluation.}) 26. Qb8 Qf7 $6 {unnecessarily awkward} (26... Kf8 27. Qxb7 $2 Qf4+ $1 $19 {and Black picks up the Bc2 with a subsequent queen fork.}) 27. Bb3 {an inaccuracy which helps me get out of the pin with little damage.} (27. Ba4 b5 28. Bb3 {the point is that the Black a-pawn is now vulnerable.} Kf8 29. Qd6+ Kg7 30. Kg1 Qf5 31. Qxa6 $14 {and now Black's queen is sufficiently active after ...Qb1+ to probably draw, but playing a pawn down is no fun.}) 27... Kg7 28. c4 Bc6 $11 {now I'm out of danger in all variations.} 29. cxd5 exd5 {White can easily draw with the queens on the board, but I thought she had to be a little careful here with the Black passed pawn.} 30. Kg3 Qf5 31. Qc7+ Qf7 32. Qb8 Qf5 33. Qc7+ Qf7 34. Qb8 Qf5 {as is mostly the case these days with scholastic players, they are taught to play out a game until the final result, in this case a three times repetition.} 1/2-1/2

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