08 October 2011

Annotated Game #13: Black Wins the Race (thanks to White)

Following the Denker Tournament of Champions, I was away from tournament play (really much of any play at all) for several years.  The following game occurred in the last round of my first post-Denker weekend tournament, from which I emerged with a grand total of zero points.  This is my best/most instructive loss, which continues the theme of the previous annotated game of the queenside vs. kingside race in the English opening.  I was a high class B at the time, facing an Expert-ranked opponent.

In comparison with Annotated Game #12 from the Denker Tournament, Black chooses to make his kingside pawn advances early on, essentially achieving a Sicilian Grand Prix attack in reverse by move 4.  White modifies his game accordingly, varying with e3 and the Nge2 development rather than d3 and Nf3 as in the previous game.  As occurs in many of the "race" type games, heavy positional dueling ensues after initial development, with moves 11-17 being the most critical.  Both sides had improvements available, although in the game White maintained an initiative despite not employing the thematic exchange operation on f3.

Black makes the first serious missteps, a passive knight withdrawal on move 16 and then, following a series of kingside exchanges, misses a pin-based tactic, losing a pawn.  Two moves later, White has a visualization problem (26. e4, blocking the rook defending d4) and afterwards crumbles quickly and unnecessarily into a pawn-down rook endgame.  White then pulls it together and plays tenaciously for some time afterwards, before finally cracking thanks to a miscalculated operation.  (Update: here at the bottom of page 2 is an excellent description from NM Dan Heisman why White missed the threat on move 26.)

In analyzing this and the previous game, I feel I've learned a good deal more about these types of opposite-side "race" games, reinforcing my earlier observation that White's initiative can be enduring if properly handled, placing more of an onus on Black.  My opponent clearly passed up some equalizing lines, for example on move 15, indicating he was more interested in playing for a win, even with a somewhat inferior position.  The result shows that he made the right practical choice that time but I am now more convinced of White's dynamic resources and opportunities in these types of positions.  The psychological lessons will likely be addressed in a separate post.

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