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

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