06 June 2024

Annotated Game #284: Ask yourself what is different in the opening

Whenever your opponent deviates significantly from your known repertoire, especially early, it is important to understand what the main difference is from other lines, and what you can do to take advantage of it. In this round 3 game, my opponent's 4. Bf4 provoked some thought, but at the time I did not identify the key difference, which was Black's ability to now harass the bishop after 4...Nf6. While I managed to play equally for a short while, the novelty of the position increasingly threw me off and I ended up unnecessarily entering an unfavorable, pawn-down position. Part of the problem was having unrealistically high hopes for a larger advantage, along with inaccurate calculation.

The other main takeaway from this game, as in a number of others, is the value of fighting hard and never giving up. My opponent played competently, but missed a drawing line in which my centralized knight managed to equalize in an unexpected burst of activity. I was happy to achieve that, after being positionally lost for most of the game.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "90"] [GameId "498001369780"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 {clearly a surprise for my opponent.} 4. Bf4 {Tthis was a surprise in turn for me. After some thought, I stuck with the standard plan after anything except a2-a4.} b5 (4... Nf6 {scores the best in the database, with the idea of harassing the exposed bishop. Black need not fear} 5. e4 (5. a4 Nd5 6. Bg3 {and Black has a pleasant choice of how to play, already having equalized. For example} Nd7 7. e4 Nxc3 8. bxc3 Nf6 $11 {baiting White into possibly going} 9. e5 $6 Qa5 10. exf6 $4 Qxc3+ 11. Ke2 Bf5 $19) 5... b5 6. e5 $2 Nd5 $17) 5. a4 b4 6. Na2 e6 {opening the diagonal for the bishop and protecting the b4 pawn, while not being necessarily concerned about hanging on to the extra pawn.} (6... a5 {is the engines' preference, just playing to hold onto the extra pawn.}) (6... Nf6 $5) 7. e3 Ba6 {I thought for a bit and decided there was no reason not to at least make it more difficult to retake the extra c-pawn.} 8. Rc1 $6 Qd5 {the correct reaction, getting the queen centralized and pressuring g2.} 9. Qd2 {my opponent was evidently focused on recovering the material by force, and unfortunately here I run out of concrete ideas.} Nf6 $6 {a decent developing move, but I did not have a good follow-up prepared with the queen after the obvious capture on b4.} (9... c5 {this did not occur to me at all, but the engine shows a major advantage. Let's see what happens.} 10. dxc5 Bxc5 {now the b4 pawn is tactically protected.} 11. Nf3 (11. Nxb4 $2 Qxd2+ 12. Kxd2 Bxb4+) 11... Nf6 $19 {Black has consolidated the pawn advantage and positionally the advanced b/c pawn duo dominate the queenside.}) (9... c3 {I considered carefully, but did not see anything coming out of it. This was the correct evaluation.} 10. bxc3 Bxf1 11. Kxf1 a5 12. Nf3 $11) 10. Nxb4 Qa5 $2 {This just leaves me a pawn down.} (10... Qf5 {is the engine's choice and something I did not consider.}) 11. Nxa6 Qxd2+ $6 (11... Qxa6 12. Bxc4 Qxa4 $16 {White is still significantly better here, with a much stronger pawn structure and the two bishops, but the queens are still on the board and there's material parity.}) 12. Kxd2 Nxa6 13. Bxc4 $18 {White is now a clear pawn ahead with the two bishops and her king position is just fine with the queens off the board and reduced material.} Nb4 {I was pleased with this active knight on the b4 outpost, one of the few good things about my position.} 14. f3 {taking away the e4 square from the Nf6.} Be7 15. Ne2 O-O {I thought here I might get some play against White's king, although that is more a hope than a strategy.} 16. Rhd1 Rfd8 17. Ke1 {the withdrawal is a bit awkward and gives up influence over some territory, so my knight hops forward to good effect.} Nfd5 $16 18. Kf2 g5 $6 {an aggressive idea about trapping or harrassing the bishop that doesn't really go anywhere.} (18... Nxf4 19. Nxf4 $14 {now with opposite-colored bishops a draw looks more possible.}) 19. Bg3 Rd7 {with ideas of doubling on one of the files.} (19... h5 {would be the logical follow-up, although the simple reply h3 is just fine for White, as I saw.}) 20. Nc3 a5 {consolidating the b4 outpost.} 21. Ne4 Rad8 22. Nc5 $6 {this is actually a fine move, except for a tactic that neither of us spotted.} Bxc5 (22... Nxe3 $1 {this would justify the doubling of the rooks, as the Re1 is under-protected.} 23. Kxe3 Bxc5 $15) 23. dxc5 $18 {at this point I thought I could hold, and this turns out to be the case in the game, but White should with best play be able to engineer a breakthrough using her two bishops and extra pawn.} Ne7 24. Rxd7 Rxd7 25. Ke2 Nf5 26. Be1 {correctly preserving the bishop...at first.} Rb7 27. Bxb4 Rxb4 ({not} 27... axb4 28. a5 $1 $18) 28. b3 {forced, but good.} Kf8 {time to activate the king} 29. Rd1 {correctly seizing the file and barring the king from getting over to help protect the c-pawn.} Ke8 30. e4 Ne7 31. Ke3 Rb7 32. g4 $2 {this allows the draw, as now the knight goes to g6, from where it can prevent a breakthrough in conjuction with the g5 pawn.} (32. Rd6 $18) 32... Ng6 33. Rd6 Ne5 {the knight's flexibility in the center stymies White, who can try to trade off the g-pawn, but then will get into a drawn rook ending after the minor pieces come off.} 34. Kd4 (34. f4 Nxc4+ 35. bxc4 Rb3+ $1 $11) 34... Nxf3+ {my opponent may have missed this, or hoped that I would snatch the h2 pawn. In any case, it is a draw from here, although she plays it out all the way.} 35. Kc3 Ne5 36. h3 Ke7 37. Be2 Rd7 38. Rxd7+ Kxd7 39. b4 axb4+ 40. Kxb4 Kc7 41. Kc3 f6 42. Bc4 Nxc4 43. Kxc4 e5 {this puts an end to any further action on the kingside, with the queenside soon to follow.} 44. a5 Kb7 45. Kb4 Ka6 1/2-1/2

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