10 February 2013

Annotated Game #82: A good diagnosis

This recent game (part of the Chessmaster ladder series of training games) provided a good diagnosis of my current playing strengths and weaknesses.  The opening phase is strong, with my opponent following a move 8 sideline of the Caro-Kann Panov variation (officially classified as a Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Tarrasch, which is what it becomes via transposition).  White's strategic error on move 11 with the bishop exchange gives Black relatively easy equality, in contrast with the kingside pressure White normally achieves in this variation.

The early middlegame analysis (moves 12-14) shows some interesting alternative plans for Black.  This for me is often the most valuable part of these training exercises.  Knowing how to play the early middlegame positions, in other words having a good idea of what to do in a position after your opening lines are finished, is a crucial skill and is something that I have often failed to do well.  In this game, my chosen path was not bad, but being aware of the other opportunities in the position will give me an advantage the next time I play a similar middlegame.

The game becomes tactical on move 17 as White drops a pawn with a typical computer handicap move.  However, it was much more interesting than it appeared, as the chosen method of White's piece recapture would have allowed Black to eventually win White's queen with a back-rank pin or check.  This was not obvious, however, and I instead focused on winning the pawn.

By move 24 we have an endgame where Black could have achieved a significantly stronger position by exchanging pawns on f3, inflicting a weakened structure on White and maintaining a strongly supported d-pawn.  Black instead ends up with several weak, isolated pawns that he cannot defend adequately, but is able to capture White pawns in exchange for them.  Black is stopped during the final race on the kingside, where the 2-to-1 pawn advantage is not enough to win in the single minor piece (BvN) endgame.

Diagnosis summary:
  • Solid opening preparation
  • Early middlegame was OK but not optimal, but this is not surprising given my lack of experience with actually playing the position.
  • Although I did not see the full possibilities of 18...Bf4! in terms of trapping the queen several moves later, I at least considered it as a candidate move, which I would not have done previously.
  • Remaining middlegame play was good, including the decision to force an exchange of queens and transition to the endgame.
  • I used my thinking process reasonably well and did not miss any significant threats from my opponent.
  • First endgame strategic decision was incorrect (not exchanging on f3), leading to better chances for my opponent.
  • Later on, my endgame advantage may not have been enough to win against best play, but I passed up several chances to improve my situation.
  • I lack knowledge of correct strategies in BvN endgames.

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