24 September 2011

Annotated Game #11: Upset (or half of one)

This game was the next tournament game I played after Annotated Game #10: Upset, taking place during the first round of a weekend tournament the following month.  In this case, the rating difference (over 500 points) was even higher, with me being a Class C and my opponent an Expert, the first I had ever played.  I had some momentum still going after my previous win, even a month later, and I was able to achieve a superior position, although settled for a draw.  One of the reasons I chose to examine this game, as was the case with Annotated Game #3, was to take another look at the final position and see whether taking a draw was a mistake.  At the time, I thought I objectively should have been able to win the game, but doubted my ability to bring the full point home.

My opponent chose the Exchange variation of the Caro-Kann, which all the opening books say is harmless for Black.  This assessment jibes with my own limited experience; I've played two tournament games in the variation, winning my first one against an opponent rated almost 200 points higher and then drawing this game.  Basically, it causes Black no real problems and there is nothing very complex about it, so while it gives White a decent game, opportunities to pressure Black are much reduced compared to other variations.  The variation was touted for a short while in the Fischer era and then essentially disappeared from Grandmaster-level play.  I think there's still a bit of mystique at the club level as a result of Fischer's recommendation.  It's certainly a safe choice against the Caro-Kann, especially if someone doesn't expect to face it much and doesn't want to spend a lot of time studying a more complex variation that has better prospects of yielding an advantage.

In the game, my opponent was even less ambitious than is normally the case in the variation, playing 7. Ne2 instead of the critical 7. Qb3 line.  By move 10, Black has fully equalized and then pursues a strategy of trading down, successfully removing from the board two pairs of minor pieces in short order.  White suddenly decides not to accept his drawish fate and launches a kingside attack with 16. f4, seeking to create something out of nothing.  He misses that Black's queen can sally forth to grab the f-pawn, the result of a neat in-between move, and then safely move out of danger.  Black then concentrates on shutting down any possible White attack on the kingside, playing remarkably accurately; I chalk that up to having a good day and also having a simple enough position where I was confident in its soundness.

On move 35, just as I was activating my kingside pawn majority, my opponent offered a draw.  After some thought, I accepted it, although I partially regretted it at the time.  Looking at it now, however, it wasn't a bad choice.  The double rook and knight endgame would have been very difficult to win and Houdini gives an evaluation in the final position of Black having less than a 4/10 pawn advantage, despite being a full pawn ahead.

This and the previous game taught me not to fear Class A and Expert level players, which for a Class C player is a very valuable lesson.  I've subsequently always played much better when focusing on honing my own performance in a game, rather than worrying about my opponent's skill level, although I admit I haven't always succeeded at that in the past.  In any case, this was another watershed game for me.

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