06 April 2024

Annotated Game #269: Symmetrical = wild??

Due to having a bye round in the tournament (and having quickly lost my first game as Black), I surprisingly ended up having two Whites in a row. This one, despite being a Symmetrical English, turned into one of the wildest games I have played in at least the past few years. 

Similar to Annotated Game #265 and others, I often get the sense from my opponent's initial hesitation to respond to 1. c4 that they have decided to simply mimic moves, rather than actually follow a prepared repertoire. The problem from White's perspective is that in this opening, that works reasonable well for Black up until around moves 8-9. The positive aspect, as I've also learned, is that once asymmetry is reached, Black may have less of an idea about what to do in the middlegame.

In this game, Black's asymmetric move 9 allows White to obtain a small positional plus and led to what could be a comfortable, even winning middlegame. One of the main lessons for me was a failure on move 14 to kick Black's strong centralized knight on d4 - this is something that I recognize I have repeatedly failed to do in other games, also with poor results. A big benefit of analyzing your own games is recognizing these types of specifc patterns that recur and then correcting them; I articulated this in more detail in Annotated Game #192: The problem of mental perspective

Starting on move 17 the game gets a lot crazier and mutual time pressure contributes to a number of swings in evaluation. I wish I had been able to spot the more sophisticated way to play, but felt relatively good at the end of an exhausting wide ride, escaping with a draw.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2/Stockfish 16"] [PlyCount "117"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. d3 d6 8. Rb1 Rb8 {this sort of mirror-imaging can be annoying, but ultimately it has to stop somewhere, and does the next move.} 9. a3 Ng4 $6 {this is a dubious maneuver, however, since it does nothing to counter White's queenside plans or help Black's development.} 10. Bd2 $14 Nge5 {this was evidently the idea behind the maneuver, but the knight has taken up time to move to a square which is not evidently better.} 11. b4 (11. Nxe5 Nxe5 12. b4 $14 {is a similar idea to get in the pawn advance while opening the long diagonal; it seems to be easier/better for White to play, since the bishop in the game loses a tempo retreating from f3.}) 11... Nxf3+ 12. Bxf3 Nd4 13. Bg2 {although it's only a small positional advantage for White, I was quite happy here with control of the long diagonal and the d5 square, and having already got in b2-b4.} Bd7 14. bxc5 {this wins a pawn, but Black has significant compensation.} (14. e3 {is the engine recommendation, getting the strong centralized knight out of d4. A common flaw in my play has been leaving such knights in place for too long.} Nc6 15. b5 Ne5 16. f4 Ng4 17. Qe1 $14 {covering e3 and preparing to push the e-pawn.}) 14... dxc5 15. Bxb7 Nc6 $6 {this passive move allows White to keep the pawn and a positional advantage as well.} (15... Bg4 {is the most aggressive response, pressuring e2 and combining well with the centralized Nd4.} 16. Be4 {simply retreating does not help.} (16. Bf4 e5 17. Bd2 {eliminates the threat to the Nc3, but after} Qc7 {Black renews his threats and can pick up the e-pawn again by capturing on b1.}) 16... Rxb1 17. Qxb1 Bxe2 $11) 16. Ne4 $16 {now my own centralized knight causes Black problems.} Na5 {this seems to just lose another pawn, but eliminating the bishop is better for Black.} 17. Nxc5 (17. Bd5 $1 {positionally alone this might be best, but there is also a tactical justification.} Rxb1 18. Qxb1 e6 19. Nxc5 $1 exd5 20. Nxd7 {and the Na5 will be hanging if the Qd8 moves off the diagonal to recapture, so} Nxc4 21. dxc4 Qxd7 22. Rd1 $18) 17... Nxb7 {I thought for a while here and picked the wrong piece to recapture with.} 18. Rxb7 $6 (18. Nxb7 Qc7 19. Na5 $16) 18... Rxb7 19. Nxb7 Qa8 $1 $11 {I had missed this idea, which exploits the weakness of the long diagonal on White's king position.} 20. Na5 {essentially forced} (20. Nc5 Bh3 21. e4 Qc6 22. Be3 Rc8 23. d4 Bxf1 $17) 20... Bh3 21. e4 {this works to block the mate threat, but leaves the e-pawn as a target for a Black pawn lever.} (21. f3 $5 {I don't recall considering this at length, not sure why.}) 21... Bxf1 22. Kxf1 $15 {Black has a small advantage in the middlegame, as his pieces will be able to coordinate better and White's two extra pawns are not yet able to be mobilized.} Rb8 (22... f5 {would immediately hit at White's e-pawn and threaten to open more lines for the rook.}) 23. Nb3 $6 {it's understandable that I wanted to get the knight off the rim, but this is too slow.} (23. Bb4 $11 {mobilizing the bishop with tempo, as it threatens e7.}) 23... Rb7 (23... Qc6 $1 $17 {and Black threatens to move to a4, causing greater problems for White.}) 24. Ke2 {it's still a little early to be moving the king. Again, mobilizing the bishop looks better.} Qb8 25. Bb4 {I finally hit on the best idea, although it is not quite as effective as before. At least the b-file is shut off, and I felt that I could hold the position now.} Bd4 $4 {both my opponent and I hallucinated that the bishop was safe on the square. Mutual time pressure likely played a part.} 26. Nc5 $4 (26. Nxd4 {and wins.}) 26... Bxc5 (26... a5 $1 {is even better.} 27. Nxb7 axb4 28. Na5 bxa3 $19 {and the advanced passed a-pawn will be decisive.}) 27. Bxc5 Qe5 28. Bb4 Qh5+ $6 {this sequence was what I had anticipated with my (erroneous) calculations on move 26, and in fact it is balanced.} (28... a5 $17 {is the idea that both my opponent and I overlooked, which would allow the rook to penetrate.}) 29. Ke1 Qe5 30. Qd2 {again failing to defend against ...a5. However, luckily my opponent continues to miss it as well.} (30. Qa4) 30... Qa1+ 31. Qd1 Qd4 32. Qd2 $6 (32. Qc2) 32... e5 33. Bc3 {some complex and rather stressful defensive calculations were required here.} (33. Ke2 $5 {looks simpler.}) 33... Rb1+ 34. Ke2 Qd6 35. Bb4 $11 {now there should not be any threat of a breakthrough.} Qf6 36. Bc3 {just playing it safe.} g5 {my opponent meanwhile continues to try to press.} 37. Qe3 Qe7 {covering a7.} 38. Bb4 Rb2+ 39. Kd1 {keeping the king attached to the defense of the f2 pawn is a much better idea.} (39. Ke1) 39... Qf6 {immediately targeting f2.} 40. Qc5 $2 {this aggressive counterattacking defense has a major flaw, but Black overlooks it in time pressure.} (40. Bc5) (40. Bc3) 40... Qd8 $6 (40... h6 $1 $19 {and Black's king will be able to eventually avoid White's checks, while the Q+R combo can effectively penetrate and attack White's position.}) 41. Qd6 $11 {forcing the queen trade, to what should be a balanced position.} Qxd6 42. Bxd6 Rxf2 $2 {this is too greedy, but I miss the refutation.} (42... f6 $11) 43. Bxe5 $6 {thinking too materialistically here.} (43. c5 $1 $18 {passed pawns must be pushed! Leaving the bishop in place covers the f8 square, so Black's king is cut off.}) 43... Kf8 $11 44. c5 {one tempo too late.} Ke8 {as often happens in endgames, sometimes good-looking moves have subtle refutations.} (44... Ke7 $11) 45. h4 $2 {I was obviously worried about protecting the h-pawn, but this is done better with} (45. g4 $11) (45. d4 $1 {and the central connected passed pawns win, as the engine points out.} Rxh2 (45... Rf1+ 46. Kd2 Rf2+ 47. Ke3 Rc2 48. Kd3 Rc1 49. Bf6 $18) 46. d5 $18) 45... f5 $1 $19 {now Black should be winning.} 46. Ke1 Ra2 $2 {now White should be winning.} (46... Rf3 $1 $19) 47. exf5 $1 gxh4 48. gxh4 Rxa3 49. Ke2 $6 {another subtle endgame misstep and we are back to equality.} (49. Kd2 {and the king can chase the rook on the queenside.}) 49... a5 $11 50. c6 Ra2+ 51. Ke3 Rc2 52. c7 a4 53. d4 $2 {looks reasonable, but should lose.} (53. Kd4 a3 54. Kd5 Kd7 55. f6 a2 56. f7 Rf2 57. c8=Q+ Kxc8 58. Ke6 Kd8 $11 {and now neither pawn can queen.}) 53... a3 $19 54. d5 a2 55. d6 Kd7 56. f6 {desperate pressure added to Black, but it works. There is only one winning move.} a1=Q (56... Rc5 $1 57. Bd4 Rc1 $19) 57. Bxa1 Kxd6 58. f7 Ke7 59. Bf6+ {this is a little flashy and sets an obvious trap, but my opponent sees through it. Draw agreed.} (59. Be5 {also draws.} Kxf7 60. Kd3 $11) 1/2-1/2

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