19 May 2024

Annotated Game #276: The KISS principle

The first round of the next tournament I played unfortunately kept to a familiar pattern: lose as Black. Often I play worst the first round, having to "shake off the rust" from not having played in a while, then my form improves. In this case I did not have that excuse, it coming just two weeks after the previous tournament - so perhaps that was the problem?!?

Regardless of the overall circumstances, game analysis shows I did not follow the KISS principle, which is very important in many endeavors - "Keep It Simple, Stupid" is the version I learned. Nowadays it appears that is considered offensive. In any case, the point is that making something needlessly complex = stupid, as overcomplicating things often leads to errors and failure. This is a repeated observation in this game - and in some of my other games - as I do things like avoid simple development and unnecessarily weaken my position. Eventually my opponent is able to take advantage of this, but really it was my repeated, unnecessarily complex moves that tipped the scale. When a move looks natural and good, maybe it just...is.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "67"] [GameId "489173303297"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. O-O Bg4 {so far a standard response to the Reti, having adopted a Slav formation.} 5. h3 Bh5 6. c4 Nbd7 (6... e6 {immediately is a more natural response, giving Black a choice of pawn recaptures on d5.}) 7. d4 e6 8. cxd5 cxd5 {choosing to preserve the symmetry and not provide a target for a minority attack on the queenside by White.} 9. Nc3 Rc8 {a little premature, with Black's king still in the center. Best to continue with simple development.} (9... Be7) 10. Bf4 a6 {again delaying development. It is useful to take away the b5 square from the knight, but not necessary at this point.} 11. Qa4 (11. Qb3 {would be more to the point.} b5 12. e4 $14 {gaining the initiative by starting operations in the center while Black's king is still there.}) 11... Rc4 {now the rook actually has something to do.} 12. Qd1 {b3 would again have been the more active square.} Bxf3 {choosing to exchange off a good attacking piece for White, so control of the e5 square is less important.} 13. Bxf3 Nb6 $6 {I resolutely continue ignoring the development of my bishop.} (13... Bb4 $5) 14. Rc1 Bd6 {finally!} 15. Bxd6 Qxd6 16. b3 Rc7 $11 17. e4 {my opponent correctly initiates action in the center, but with fewer pieces on the board there is less attacking potential, and the position is equal.} dxe4 18. Nxe4 Nxe4 19. Bxe4 O-O 20. Qh5 f5 $6 {this is unnecessary, weakening the e-pawn, although Black can still hold.} (20... g6 {is much simpler.}) 21. Bg2 Rd7 {a worse square than e7, reinforcing the e-pawn. Simply exchanging rooks would be fine, as well.} 22. Qe2 {correctly pressuring the one weak point in Black's camp.} Nd5 $6 {still not seeing the danger sufficiently, plus removing the threat to the d-pawn.} (22... Re7 {and Black has an extra tempo to play with.}) 23. Rfe1 $14 Re7 24. Rc5 Rfe8 {essentially forced. Black is now passively defending, but at least still defending.} 25. Qd2 b6 $6 {kicking the rook unfortunately does not help.} (25... f4 $5) 26. Rc4 a5 {hoping to support a knight on b4 and prevent a White queenside advance.} 27. Rec1 Qb8 {played for lack of a better idea.} 28. a3 Kf7 $2 (28... f4 $1 $11 {this freeing idea with counterplay did occur to me briefly, earlier, but by this point I was far too focused on passive defense.}) 29. Qg5 $16 {still not decisive, but I still crumbled under the pressure.} g6 $2 {now the kingside is too full of holes.} (29... h6 {would be a better pawn move.}) (29... Nf6 {would add to the defense.}) 30. Rc6 {good enough to keep the advantage and continue squeezing.} (30. Bxd5 exd5 31. Rc6 $18) 30... Kg7 $2 {now White finds the correct attacking idea.} (30... Qd8 $16) 31. Bxd5 h6 (31... exd5 32. Qf6+ Kg8 33. Rxb6 $18) 32. Qh4 g5 33. Qh5 exd5 34. Qxh6+ 1-0

18 May 2024

Mastery Concept: Tactical Defense

Periodically I'll post what I have identified over time as key ideas at the board that distinguish Master-level chess from amateur level; they are collected in the sidebar in Mastery Concepts: Amateur vs. Master. Today's is the concept of Tactical Defense.

The fundmental idea behind "mastery concepts" is that they often do not occur at all to non-masters, but can be seen often in master-level chess. Sometimes we have the illusion that every possibility can be seen and calculated at the board, which is simply not the case. If you do not already have the idea in your mind - which also can be described as recognition of a pattern for a possible move - then the candidate move or necessary sequence is unlikely to even be considered as part of your thinking process.

Tactical defense of a piece means that your opponent cannot capture it, without suffering a heavier loss in return. This concept allows a player to effectively ignore an opponent's threat to a piece and do something else on the board. In terms of the thinking process, this means you are free to consider choices beyond physically protecting or moving the attacked piece - the most basic and "normal" candidate moves. This concept can be particularly crucial as part of an attacking sequence, or perhaps can simply allow for better positional play. As in the first example below, it may also mean you can consider moving a piece to where it is technically "en prise" but it cannot in fact be taken without consequences.

Naturally the best way to start identifying and absorbing concepts is to see examples of it in action. Below are several games that illustrate this type of play, mostly master-level but including one from my own game analysis.

Included in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi, Game 100 (move 18) 

[Event "Muenster Masters op"] [Site "Muenster"] [Date "1996.??.??"] [Round "6"] [White "Kupreichik, Viktor D"] [Black "Kortschnoj, Viktor Lvovich"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2510"] [BlackElo "2635"] [Annotator "carlo"] [PlyCount "134"] [GameId "284824192668"] [EventDate "1996.10.14"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "CBM 055 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1997.01.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1997.01.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Qb6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Be2 Nh6 7. b3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Nf5 9. Bb2 Bd7 10. g4 Nfe7 11. Nc3 h5 12. Na4 Qd8 13. g5 Ng6 14. Qd2 Rc8 15. Rc1 Bb4 16. Bc3 Ba3 17. Rb1 Be7 18. Nb2 Nh4 19. Rg1 (19. Nxh4 Bxg5) 19... Nxf3+ 20. Bxf3 Qb6 21. Na4 Qc7 22. Be2 b5 23. Bxb5 Nxe5 24. Bxd7+ Nxd7 25. f4 O-O 26. Ke2 Bd6 27. Rbf1 Rfe8 28. Bb4 Bxb4 29. Qxb4 Qc2+ 30. Qd2 Qe4+ 31. Kd1 e5 32. fxe5 Nxe5 33. Nc3 Rxc3 34. Qxc3 Nd3 35. Kc2 Nb4+ 36. Kb2 Qe2+ 37. Kb1 Qxa2+ 38. Kc1 Nd3+ 39. Qxd3 Rc8+ 40. Kd1 Qa1+ 41. Ke2 Qb2+ 42. Qd2 Rc2 43. Rd1 Qxb3 44. g6 fxg6 45. Rxg6 Rxd2+ 46. Rxd2 Qh3 47. Ke1 Qf5 48. Rgg2 a5 49. Ke2 Qe4+ 50. Kf1 h4 51. Kg1 a4 52. Rge2 Qg4+ 53. Kf1 Kh7 54. Rf2 Qe4 55. Kg1 h3 56. Rfe2 Qg4+ 57. Kf2 Qf4+ 58. Ke1 Qf3 59. Kd1 Qc3 60. Ke1 g5 61. Kf2 Kg6 62. Re6+ Kf5 63. Ree2 a3 64. Kf1 Kg4 65. Kf2 Kf4 66. Kg1 Qc1+ 67. Kf2 Qh1 0-1

Included in Grandmaster Performance by Lyev Polugaevsky, Game 43 (move 19)

[Event "URS-ch45 Final"] [Site "Leningrad"] [Date "1977.12.08"] [Round "7"] [White "Bagirov, Vladimir"] [Black "Polugaevsky, Lev"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D32"] [WhiteElo "2480"] [BlackElo "2620"] [Annotator "carlo"] [PlyCount "76"] [GameId "272191901158"] [EventDate "1977.11.29"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "URS"] [EventCategory "12"] [SourceTitle "URS-ch"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 e6 6. e3 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Be2 Bd6 9. O-O O-O 10. Bf3 Be5 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bd2 Qd6 13. g3 Bh3 14. Bg2 Bxg2 15. Kxg2 c5 16. f4 Bxc3 17. Bxc3 Ne4 18. Qf3 Rfe8 19. Rfd1 Qb6 20. Rac1 (20. Rxd5 Nxc3 21. bxc3 Qb2+) 20... Rad8 21. Rc2 d4 22. exd4 cxd4 23. Be1 Qa6 24. Qb3 h5 25. Qc4 Qb7 26. Qc6 Qe7 27. Ba5 Rd6 28. Qc7 Qe6 29. Qc4 Rd5 30. Bb4 a5 31. Ba3 h4 32. Qc6 h3+ 33. Kg1 d3 34. Qxe6 Rxe6 35. Rc8+ Kh7 36. f5 Ree5 37. Rc4 d2 38. b4 Nc3 0-1

Kramnik - Fridman, Dortmund 2013 (move 31)

Krush - Eswaran, U.S. Women's Championship 2014 (move 35)

Paikidze - Melekhina, U.S. Women's Championship 2015 (move 29) 

Annotated Game #98: An Attacking Slav (move 21)

12 May 2024

Annotated Game #275: An opening shock and a bit of redemption

This final round game put an end to my bad run as Black, thanks to an opening shock that was the proximate cause of my opponent overlooking an unusual knight fork. I've been the victim of such assumptions in the opening phase myself, in which I don't look for tactics (or overlook them) because of the mental presumption that they are not possible so early in the game. Here, the 3...dxc4 line in the Slav after 3. Nc3 is not all that unusual, but most people play 3...Nf6 and I've repeatedly seen surprise on my opponent's faces at the Class level.

Despite being down major material, my opponent still was up for the fight, so I focused my strategy on eliminating any possible counterplay; perhaps some thanks are due to previous study of Petrosian's games. This included giving back some of the material to eliminate White's strongly placed knight, a useful counter-example to some of my past too-materialist thinking, and the decision was fully validated by the engine. Thinking about the board situation in this type of dynamic (rather than static) fashion is what I need to do more. 

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.12.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "66"] [GameId "487233073238"] {[%evp 0,66,19,31,23,-7,26,30,30,-7,-7,-23,-23,-32,-32,-32,-32,-46,-4,-102,-108,-411,-411,-444,-444,-494,-502,-504,-512,-529,-457,-509,-491,-492,-488,-525,-527,-536,-455,-467,-457,-477,-423,-454,-477,-529,-458,-496,-484,-563,-585,-644,-530,-530,-534,-582,-582,-582,-510,-614,-614,-622,-649,-664,-664,-667,-702,-743,-872]} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. a4 {my opponent seemed unfamiliar with the move three capture, thought for a bit, then played a standard move preventing (for now) Black's b-pawn advance.} e5 {my opponent had a long think after this, clearly not expecting it.} 5. dxe5 Qxd1+ 6. Nxd1 Bb4+ {I remembered this idea (vaguely) from my opening prep and it certainly seemed best at the board.} 7. Bd2 Bxd2+ 8. Kxd2 Nd7 {a key idea to target the e5 pawn and develop.} (8... Be6 {is also possible and perhaps simpler.}) 9. f4 {this looks obvious to protect the pawn, but now Black's knight becomes strong.} Nc5 $15 {Dragon 3.2 already shows a small but significant positional advantage. I also noted the potential fork on b3 at this time.} 10. Nc3 $4 {my opponent misses the unusual knight fork, no doubt influenced by being in unfamiliar opening territory.} (10. Ke1) 10... Nb3+ $19 11. Kd1 Nxa1 {naturally this is fully winning for Black, but I still have to extract the knight and activate my pieces. So I did not take the win for granted and was careful to examine my opponent's potential counterplay possibilities.} 12. e3 Be6 13. Ne4 {heading for the d6 outpost, no doubt the idea behind the previous move, leaving e4 clear for the knight while opening the diagonal for the Bf1.} O-O-O+ {I thought about this for a while, and Dragon 3.2 agrees that it's best. Black will give back some of the material to simplify and eliminate White's counterplay.} 14. Nd6+ Kc7 (14... Rxd6+ {immediately is also possible and is considered best by the engine.} 15. exd6 Nf6 $19 {the d-pawn is not going anywhere and can be ignored for the short term, while Black gets more pieces into play.}) 15. Kc1 Nb3+ {first extracting the knight, with tempo.} 16. Kc2 Rxd6 17. exd6+ Kxd6 {now I'm a clear piece and pawn ahead and White is not able to develop any meaningful counterplay, although I still have to be careful.} 18. Nf3 f6 {controlling the knight's potential outpost squares at g5 and e5.} 19. Be2 Ne7 20. e4 b5 {reinforcing c4 and mobilizing the queenside pawns.} 21. axb5 cxb5 22. Rd1+ Kc7 {White will not control the open file for long.} 23. f5 Bf7 {keeping an eye on the h5-e8 diagonal.} 24. g4 Nc6 {powerfully activating the knight, which covers some excellent squares in the center and on b4.} 25. h4 Rd8 26. Rxd8 Kxd8 {now I control d4.} 27. Nd2 Ncd4+ {with the forced reduction in available material, there is no longer any real counterplay possibility for White.} 28. Kd1 Nxe2 29. Kxe2 Nxd2 30. Kxd2 Kd7 31. Kc3 Kd6 32. Kd4 {White's king is well centralized and keeps mine from advancing, but now the queenside pawns further mobilize and will eventually win.} a5 33. g5 h5 {designed to neutralize any possibility of a kingside breakthrough. My opponent thought for a while here and then resigned, having no possible prospects for counterplay.} 0-1

11 May 2024

Annotated Game #274: The en passant rule and a repertoire hole

In this next game my opponent played well in the opening against my Stonewall Attack, and indeed put her finger (figuratively) on a significant repertoire hole for me. By move 9 I am significantly worse positionally and do not help my cause by delaying a knight jump into e5. However, things turn around due to my opponent not fully comprehending the en passant rule, attempting to execute it illegally and then being forced to move the pawn involved, which dropped a piece. I did not take the win for granted, however, and seriously focused on calculating out my defense afterwards, given some potentially scary-looking operations by Black down the now-open g-file. This was successful, thanks to a well-placed knight and rook combination, even though my kingside ended up denuded of pawns. I was then able to break through in the center and unleash my queen decisively.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "117"] [GameId "487213742334"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. e3 d5 3. Bd3 (3. Nf3 $5 {in light of White's problems in this line that are soon illustrated, perhaps a better choice.}) 3... c5 4. c3 {attempting to reach standard Stonewall Attack lines.} (4. dxc5 $5 {and then the engine line goes} e5 5. b4 a5 6. c3 {with both sides in strange opening territory.}) 4... Nc6 5. f4 {the main problem with this type of Stonewall Attack formation is Black's next move.} (5. Nf3 $5) (5. dxc5) 5... Bg4 $17 {engines typically undervalue the Stonewall, but in this particular case I do consider its assessment of a Black advantage as valid. The main problem is that White cannot get the "Pillsbury knight" to e5 soon, and Black will be able to exchange off the light-squared bishops, a key part of White's normal attacking game.} 6. Nf3 e6 7. O-O Bd6 8. h3 Bf5 9. g4 (9. Bxf5 {I didn't like the resulting pawn formation, which favors Black by restraining g2-g4 and also fixing White's backwards e-pawn on the half-open file. However, it's still objectively best, according to the engine.} exf5 10. Qd3 Ne4 11. dxc5 Bxc5 $17 {Black is ahead in development and has more space, so this is not losing perhaps but rather miserable for White.}) 9... Bxd3 10. Qxd3 {in contrast with the above variation, Black's central pawn formation is stronger.} Qd7 11. Nbd2 $6 (11. Ne5 {immediately looks better, removing the pressure of the Bd6 on the f-pawn, which is a common issue if an exchange is possible on d4.}) 11... O-O-O $15 {this gets the king out of the way of White's kingside pawn expansion, but allows me to get my knight to its to ideal square, while creating a target for play on the queenside. Now opening the c-file isn't such a great idea for Black.} (11... cxd4 {forcing open the c-file.} 12. cxd4 {normally White would prefer to capture with the e-pawn, but the Nd2 is blocking the Bc1 and the f4 pawn would be hanging.} Rc8) 12. Ne5 Qc7 13. b3 {the idea being to restrain c5-c4 and perhaps support a future c-pawn advance.} (13. b4 $5 c4 14. Qe2 {and looking to follow up with the e4 pawn lever or an a-pawn advance would be more aggressive.}) 13... h5 {this was probably played in error, since after} 14. g5 $11 {my opponent tried to illegally take en passant on g4. After that was confirmed by the TD, she was then forced to play} h4 {having touched the h-pawn.} 15. gxf6 {still required some thought in order to calculate its safety, however, as now Black gets pressure down the open g-file.} gxf6 16. Nxc6 $18 Qxc6 17. Nf3 {I will still have to sort out my pieces from here, so Black has a bit of initiative, but no real attack.} Rdg8+ 18. Kf2 c4 19. Qd1 {interferes on the back rank a bit, but I wanted to maintain protection of the Nf3 and put the queen on the d1-h5 diagonal. Moving Qe2 immediately would have been fine.} Qe8 {this is too slow.} (19... Rg3 {is the critical try, but is stopped easily by} 20. Rh1 $18) 20. Bd2 (20. Rg1 $5 Rxg1 21. Qxg1 Rg8 22. Qf1 $18) 20... Rg6 {again too slow to create threats.} (20... e5 $5 {looks like the best practical try.}) 21. Qe2 Qg8 $6 {this helps set up a tactic shortly.} (21... Rg3) 22. Rg1 {now with the queen out of the way, exchanging on g1 simply benefits White.} Rg3 {this no longer works for Black, due to} 23. Nxh4 $1 {removal of the guard theme} Rxg1 24. Rxg1 {coming with tempo, since it hits the queen instead of a rook} Qh7 25. Nf3 Qxh3 {While Black has regained the material, strangely enough the queen and rook are effectively out of play on the kingside, as the Nf3 and Rg1 cover everything, so now I can turn my attention to breaking through in the center, with Black's king looking vulnerable behind it.} 26. bxc4 Be7 27. cxd5 exd5 28. Qf1 {by this point I felt it would be easier just to exchange into a won piece-up endgame, rather than keep queens on the board. I also saw I could harass Black's queen if it weren't traded, then take control over the kingside files.} Qh5 29. Rg2 f5 $2 {this effectively ends the game, cutting off the queen's retreat.} (29... Qf5 30. Rh2 Rxh2+ 31. Nxh2 Qc2 32. Nf3 Qxa2 33. Qh3+ Kc7 34. Qh5 $18) 30. Rh2 {skewering the queen against the rook.} Qxh2+ 31. Nxh2 Rxh2+ 32. Ke1 {now I simply had to be careful not to blunder into a Black tactic, for example pinning one of my pieces against the king.} Bh4+ 33. Kd1 Rf2 34. Qh1 Bg3 35. Qh3 Bh2 36. Qxf5+ Kc7 37. Qxf7+ Kc6 38. Qe6+ Kc7 39. Qxd5 {my opponent, like many scholastic players, appears to have been trained to never resign, even when it is hopeless. This doesn't bother me any more, since I have decided to just play completely safely to win in response; if there are extra moves involved, that's then more agony for my opponent, rather than myself.} Bg3 40. Qh1 a6 41. Qg1 Bh4 42. Qg7+ Kb8 43. Qh8+ Kc7 44. Qxh4 Rg2 45. Qe1 Rg8 46. e4 Re8 47. f5 b5 48. e5 a5 49. e6 Kb7 50. Qe5 Kc6 51. Qc5+ Kb7 52. Qxb5+ Ka7 53. Qxe8 a4 54. f6 a3 55. f7 Kb6 56. f8=Q Kb7 57. Qd6 Ka7 58. Qee7+ Ka8 59. Qdd8# 1-0

07 May 2024

Training quote of the day #47: Michael Prusikin

 From the introduction to Attacking Strategies for Club Players, by GM Michael Prusikin:

In some ways, learning how to play chess is like learning a foreign language. Both chess and languages are comprised of blocks of information, so-called 'chunks', that we memorise and then must put together / apply correctly on the board (or when speaking). In chess we generally talk in this connection about 'patterns', a typical example being the different mating motifs such as the back-rank mate, smothered mate etc. Of course, there are also corresponding chunks for the topics of strategy and the endgame. A strong chess player differs from one less strong primarily by the greater number of chunks that he has internalised. Talent and creativity have an impact when the player, in a tournament situation, 'digs out' from his memory the right chunks at the right time and puts them together. As useful as general rules and strategic explanations may be, the number of internalised tactical and strategic patterns is, as already mentioned, the crucial factor when it comes to playing strength.



04 May 2024

Annotated Game #273: A bad run as Black

In our chess careers, sometimes we have extended "runs" (good ones with wins, or bad ones with losses) with the results for one color; with this tournament game, I managed to extend my Black run to five losses over multiple tournaments. It is relatively easy under those circumstances to start seriously questioning your repertoire choices, having an sinking feeling whenever you see a Black on the pairing chart, etc. Here the value of analyzing your own games and better understanding what is actually going on helps combat over-reactions.

Last seen in Annotated Game #262: An unhappy introduction to the Fantasy Variation, this opening is also sub-par for me, but not an unmitigated disaster. The key lesson from the early phase is the idea - also seen in my preferred answer to the Caro-Kann Advance variation - of using the ...c5 pawn lever against White's center. Unfortunately it's an idea that I completely missed - but will remember in the future.

Instead I make the strategic mistake on move 10 for going for a closed position, which resulted in an initiative for White and awkward cramping for myself, until I finally get some counterplay going with a b-pawn advance. I then get a bit lucky when my opponent misses a pin-related tactic on move 20, but mishandle the calculations. It's also notable that my thinking is too materialistic, a repeated observation I've had recently.

While my opponent was legitimately lower-rated, he was certainly much stronger than his actual rating - I would estimate high Class C / low Class B - and I give him props for fighting spirit after suffering a tactical blow, then taking full advantage of my blunders, with the game effectively over after the sequence starting on move 27.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class E"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "113"] {[%evp 0,113,19,36,77,74,60,14,44,34,22,-18,45,43,60,12,11,20,-1,3,9,-42,17,20,37,20,9,27,29,42,68,76,51,52,69,35,31,25,21,6,7,-38,-57,-16,-59,-46,57,59,51,9,-11,-5,-21,-72,100,55,136,145,133,136,113,110,138,137,158,145,140,138,150,130,137,100,203,213,217,217,217,217,247,218,218,218,208,203,212,159,159,159,159,118,124,110,120,110,133,133,138,144,229,233,233,133,133,125,196,133,133,125,469,516,1015,1016,1128,1353,1503,1020]} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 g6 4. e5 Bg7 5. Bd3 Nh6 {this is useful in most lines of the Fantasy Variation with an advanced e-pawn, as the h6 square is the natural outlet for the knight.} (5... c5 $11 {is the key idea in this position, however, undermining the e5 pawn immediately while Black has a chance. This is similar to the 3...c5 approach in the Advance Variation.}) 6. Ne2 {a reasonable developing move.} Bf5 $6 {played with the idea of exchanging off Black's "bad" bishop. However, the placement is awkward and other moves are better for development.} (6... c5 {remains the best idea.}) (6... O-O) 7. Ng3 $6 {premature movement of the knight. White could have more immediately taken advantage of the situation on the kingside with a pawn thrust.} (7. g4 $5) (7. h4) 7... Bxd3 {now I get my exchanging idea in and the immediate danger passes.} 8. Qxd3 O-O $11 {the simple approach to equalizing.} (8... e6 {is also good here, along with the ...c5 idea.}) (8... f6 {challenging the head of the pawn chain should furthermore be considered.} 9. exf6 exf6 10. Qe2+ Kf7 {is actually slightly better for Black, as the king is perfectly safe on f7 and now ...Re8 is threatened.}) 9. O-O f6 10. f4 {naturally choosing to reinforce the e-pawn. Now would be a good time to get the queenside moving for Black, but I am too fixated on the advanced White pawns and have blind eye for the idea of the ...c5 break in this position.} f5 $6 {played to get a closed position, but Dragon 3.2 evaluates that as favorable for White, with the strong advanced e-pawn effectively hampering Black's coordination. It is very club player-esque to seek to reduce tension in the position when it is not needed, or as in this case unfavorable.} (10... c5 11. c3 (11. dxc5 fxe5 12. fxe5 e6 $15 {Black is temporarily a pawn down but with better central control and play coming. For example} 13. Bxh6 Bxh6 14. c4 Qc7 15. cxd5 Qxc5+ 16. Kh1 Rxf1+ 17. Qxf1 exd5 $17) 11... cxd4 12. cxd4 Nc6 $11) 11. Bd2 $16 Nd7 12. Bb4 $6 {this loses some time and space for White.} (12. h3 {cutting off the g4 square for the Nh6, which could be a future threat.}) (12. a4 {this or b4 would grab space and help stifle Black on the queenside.}) 12... a5 $14 {finally I actually start some counterplay on the queenside, but only after having been offered an obvious chance my opponent to hit the bishop with tempo.} 13. Ba3 b5 14. c3 Nb6 {this looks good visually, but it's better to have a rook for support on the b-file, or immediately break the pin on the e7 pawn.} (14... Re8 $5) 15. Nd2 Re8 (15... Nc4 $5 {immediately looks more to the point after my last move.}) 16. b3 $16 {a good prophylactic move by my opponent, limiting the reach of the Nc6.} Bf8 {I was torn between this and e6, which seems like a cleaner option. I am still cramped here.} 17. c4 $6 {this allows me to equalize now and gain activity, relieving the cramped position.} (17. Bc5 e6 18. Ne2 $16 {maintaining the tension, as} Bxc5 $6 19. dxc5 Nd7 20. b4 {simply increases White's positional stranglehold.}) 17... dxc4 18. bxc4 b4 $11 {shutting out the bishop and gaining further space.} 19. Bb2 (19. c5 $5) 19... e6 {solidifying control of d5. Suddenly White's center is looking weaker and I have made my own space gains.} 20. c5 $2 {this idea comes one move too late, as my opponent misses the tactic now available, thanks to the opening of the diagonal for the Bf8.} Bxc5 $17 {taking advantage of the pin on the d-pawn and surprising my opponent tactically. However, I thought carefully before going down this path.} (20... Nd5 {was the "strategic" alternative I considered, where I felt I had a positional advantage. However after} 21. Nc4 $16 {White appears to be doing quite well.}) 21. Rac1 Na4 (21... Bf8 {is simplest and best to secure a dynamic advantage, but I was too materialistic in my thinking.} 22. Rxc6 Nd5 $19 {and now Black can mobilize the advanced 2-1 queenside majority effectively, while blockading White's center.}) 22. Ba1 Nc3 $6 {in addition to the aforementioned ...Bf8 idea, other ideas also work just fine if Black wants to protect the c-pawn. Instead, I mishandle some relatively complex tactics - but so does my opponent.} (22... Rc8) (22... Qd5) 23. Bxc3 $14 bxc3 24. Nb3 $6 (24. Nf3 Bb4 25. Ne2 $14) 24... Bb4 $11 25. Ne2 c5 {so far, correctly calculated by me after White's 24th.} 26. Rfd1 $6 {a good idea in general, to protect the Qd3 and allow for dxc5. However, there is a tactical flaw...which I failed to spot.} a4 $2 (26... c4 $1 {is the sacrificial idea found by the engine, which allows the Nh6 to be reactivated with immediate threats. Later on I start thinking more desperately about how to get the sidelined knight back in the game, but could have done it now.} 27. Qxc4 Ng4 28. Qd3 {and now} a4 29. Na1 Qh4 $1 $19) (26... cxd4 $11 {would be safe and equal. I in fact calculated this and then misplayed the sequence, having gotten confused about which variation worked.}) 27. Nxc5 {I simply missed this. The Qd3 is now protected so the pin on the d4 pawn is gone, which I had previously observed during my calculations, but then forgot when it came time to make the decision on the board.} Qd5 $2 {another idea which would have been useful earlier, but here played too late. Now White is winning.} (27... Qa5 $1 $16 {I considered but not thoroughly enough. There is still a significant White advantage but perhaps not decisive, for example after} 28. h3 {preventing threats from the Nh6} (28. Nxc3 $6 Bxc5 29. dxc5 Qxc5+ $11) 28... Bxc5 29. dxc5 Qxc5+ 30. Kh2 Nf7 31. Rxc3 Qf2 $1 $14) 28. Nxc3 $18 Bxc3 29. Rxc3 Qxa2 30. Ra3 $18 {also missed this, but Black is losing in all variations now.} Qd5 31. Rxa4 Rab8 32. Qc4 {assures a winning endgame.} Qxc4 33. Rxc4 Ng4 {I resist as best I can, but White's extra d-pawn, space advantage and better piece coordination make it hopeless...unless there's a blunder.} 34. Rc3 Rb2 35. Rdc1 Rd2 36. h3 Nf2 37. R3c2 Rxc2 38. Rxc2 Nd1 39. Nd7 Re7 40. Nf6+ Kg7 41. Rc8 h5 42. Rg8+ Kf7 43. Rh8 Nc3 44. Rh7+ Kf8 45. Rxe7 Kxe7 46. Kf2 h4 47. Ke3 Kd8 48. Kd3 Na4 49. d5 exd5 50. Nxd5 $2 {this lets the Na4 back into the game.} (50. Kd4 $18) 50... Nc5+ 51. Kc4 Ne4 $4 {I saw that I might get a pawn back, but it's meaningless in the end.} (51... Ne6 $1 $11 {I don't know why I didn't consider this more, although of course fatigue and time pressure played its role, perhaps along with materialistic thinking. White cannot in fact make progress after this, for example} 52. Kb5 Kd7 53. Nf6+ Kc7 $11) 52. Nf6 Ng3 53. Kd5 Ne2 54. Kd6 Nxf4 55. e6 Nxe6 56. Kxe6 Kc7 57. Nd7 {and the Black pawns are helpless.} 1-0

01 May 2024

Annotated Game #272: The power of the pawn lever

After a disappointing first round loss, I was set to fight back as White and was able to get a classic Stonewall Attack on the board, with the result living up to the opening's name. I'm still learning about the ins and outs of the position type, with the primary lesson from this game being the huge power of the e4 pawn lever when the conditions are right. This idea kept reappearing in analysis, including in a final version with a rook sacrifice. The main point is that White's pieces can be unleashed against an insufficiently defended Black kingside, so the sacrificed material is irrelevant. This is a common theme across similar openings, such as the Colle System, so is important to keep in mind, even early on.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "59"] 1. d4 d5 2. e3 {my opponent thought for a while here, evidently not familiar with the opening setup.} c6 3. Bd3 Nf6 4. Nd2 e6 5. f4 c5 {actually the best move according to the engines, but of course it's still a waste of a tempo moving the c-pawn twice. This is one of those chess opening paradoxes that it is best not to think too hard on.} 6. c3 {we now have the Stonewall Attack formation.} Be7 7. Ngf3 c4 {gaining space, but at the expense of lessening the central pressure on d4.} 8. Bc2 Nc6 9. O-O {castling is fine, but not the only option.} (9. e4 $5 {this pawn lever is a key idea which I did not fully examine, being a temporary pawn sacrifice.} dxe4 (9... Nxe4 {is similar after} 10. Nxe4 dxe4 11. Ne5 {and now} f5 $2 {loses to} 12. Qh5+) 10. Ne5 $16 {with the c4 pawn threatened, while Black's e4 pawn is indefensible.}) (9. Qe2 {is also a standard preparatory move for the e-pawn lever, both to project force along the e-file generally and to defend the e3 square in particular.}) 9... O-O (9... Ng4 {targeting the e3 square is something White players always need to look out for, although here it's not scary.} 10. Qe2 f5 {and now White has several good options, including the thematic Ne5 or simply h2-h3.}) 10. Ne5 Nd7 {clearing the way for the f-pawn to kick the Ne5, although this increases the level of cramping in Black's position.} 11. Rf3 $6 {this is premature. In addition to the idea of the e4 pawn lever, which was examined before, there are other useful moves.} (11. e4 {still looks best and most aggressive:} f5 (11... dxe4 $6 12. Bxe4 $1 {keeping the b1-h7 diagonal open for the attack is more important than getting the Nd2 centralized immediately, especially since it continues to pressure c4.} Ncxe5 (12... Qc7 13. Ndxc4 $18) 13. fxe5 f5 14. exf6 Nxf6 15. Bf3 $18 {this is essentially a positionally won game for White, whose pieces are all better with no real weaknesses, while Black has to cope with weak e- and c-pawns.}) 12. exf5 exf5 13. Nxd7 Bxd7 14. Qf3 Be6 15. Qh3 $16 {White has attacking possibilities on the kingside and e-files, While Black will struggle to find counterplay.}) (11. b3 {looking to provide an outlet for the dark-square bishop and pressure the c-pawn.}) (11. Ndf3 {giving White's minor pieces more space.}) 11... Ndxe5 $2 {this removes an attacking piece, but White's e5 pawn is very strong as a replacement on the square.} (11... f5 $1 $11 {blocking the attacking diagonal and preventing further f-pawn advances.}) 12. fxe5 $18 {visually it's not hard to see White's advantage, with most of his pieces pointing towards a bare Black kingside.} f6 (12... f5 {now this doesn't work to block the file.} 13. exf6 {followed by e4, after the recapture on f6.}) 13. Rh3 $16 {the pressure down the h-file is good enough for an advantage, but not optimal. White can effectively enter the above variation with} (13. exf6 Bxf6 14. e4 $1 $18 {unleashing the energy of White's pieces.}) 13... h6 14. Qg4 $14 {I have an edge with pressure on the kingside at this point, but still have not unblocked my pieces for development, especially the Nd2 and Bc1; these would all be helped by an e3-e4 pawn break. The other rook also needs to get into play. I thought here for a while and thought g4 would be a flexible place to develop the queen while making threats; h5 is perhaps better.} (14. Qh5 f5 15. Rg3 Bh4 16. Rg6 Ne7 17. Rxh6 gxh6 (17... Bf2+ 18. Kxf2 gxh6 19. Nf3 $16) 18. Qxh4 $16) 14... f5 (14... fxe5 {is preferred by the engine but would appear risky-looking over the board.} 15. Rxh6 Bg5 16. Bh7+ Kh8 17. Rh5 Bh6 18. Bc2 Qf6 {holds.}) 15. Qg3 $16 {maintaining the pin on the g-file and therefore threatening to capture on h6.} Kh8 {breaking the pin.} 16. Nf3 (16. Qg6 {I thought about and rejected because of} Qe8 {which just helps Black's queen move to the defense.} 17. Qg3 $16 {preserves the advantage, however.}) (16. e4 {I did not consider because it seems like just losing the pawn, but the engine prefers it due to the follow-up sacrifice on e4, unleashing White's pieces.} dxe4 $2 17. Nxe4 fxe4 18. Bxh6 $1 $18 {is the point, as the bishop now decisively enters the game.}) 16... Kh7 {covering the g6 and h6 squares, so the e4 sacrificial lever no longer works.} 17. Bd2 {I thought for a while here and judged it best to activate the Ra1.} Rg8 {now I became worried about Black pushing the g-pawn towards a pawn fork on g4.} 18. Qf2 {this is sufficient to keep the advantage.} (18. Re1 $1 {the engine spots a strong sacrifice on e4, again to unleash White's pieces. Moving the rook into the game would also be consistent with the previous move.} g5 19. e4 {now ...g4 is not possible, due to the Bd2 being unleashed against h6.} dxe4 (19... fxe4 20. Qg4 {exploiting the absence of the f-pawn to penetrate Black's kingside, while the Nf3 is protected tactially by the pin on the b1-h7 diagonal.} Bd7 21. Rxe4 $18 {and Black can't take on e4 without exposing his king.}) 20. Rxe4 $1 {the most important idea is to open the diagonal for the bishop.} fxe4 21. Qg4 $1 {the immediate bishop capture on e4 should also be good enough, but the queen's penetration into Black's camp after capturing on e4 cannot be denied.} Kg7 22. Qxe4 $18) 18... g5 {this looks very threatening, but actually loses.} 19. g4 $1 {the only move that keeps the advantage, which I spotted when deciding to play the previous one. The g-pawn is physically blocked from advancing, while the pin on the f-pawn is decisive.} Kg7 20. Qg2 $18 {lining up against the king, which sets up the follow-on tactic.} Bd7 {this is too slow, but other moves don't help much either. If the king tries to run away, the h-pawn hangs.} 21. Rf1 {bringing another piece into the attack before moving to break through.} (21. gxf5 {immediately is also possible and considered best by the engine.} exf5 22. Nh4 $18) 21... Qb6 22. gxf5 exf5 23. Nh4 $1 $18 {this evidently suprised my opponent. Now his position crumbles.} Qxb2 {desperately trying to distract from the kingside attack underway.} 24. Nxf5+ Bxf5 25. Bxf5 Raf8 26. Rg3 {simple and sufficient to win.} (26. Rhf3 $5) (26. Qxd5 {is the engine's choice, but much more complicated to see at the board.} Qxd2 27. Qe6 Rxf5 28. Rxf5 {with mate to follow, unless Black exchanges queen for rook, for example} Qd1+ 29. Rf1 Qxf1+ 30. Kxf1 $18) 26... Kh8 27. Qh3 $1 {now White has too many pieces against Black's thin defense.} Kg7 {my opponent showed surprise at the queen sac that now came.} 28. Qxh6+ $1 Kf7 29. Bd7+ {elegantly cutting off Black's escape at the same time a discovered check is given.} Bf6 30. Qxf6# 1-0