23 February 2013

Annotated Game #84: Piece exchanges and draw offers will lose you the game

This was from the first round of the next tournament following Annotated Game #79.  While the previous tournament had a bad vibe to it from the beginning, this one was considerably better overall.  The fact that I was paired in the first round against a strong Expert player was a big benefit for me, as I didn't feel any pressure to win due to the 500-point ratings gap between us.  My opponent on the other hand did not appear to be as happy and looked even less happy after I had built up a fine-looking position out of the opening, an English - Grunfeld defense setup.

Black makes the first significant error on move 12, unnecessarily moving his rook away from the defense of the f7 square.  I was able to take advantage of this and by playing obvious moves had obtained a clearly superior position as of move 15.  At this point my lack of positional judgment starts to show, however, as I choose the wrong square for the retreat of my knight.  This is followed by allowing Black to exchange his so-so knight for my excellent light-square bishop on move 18, which marks the real strategic turning point of the game.  One of the things Class players often lack is a sense of the importance of piece exchanges and this game is an excellent illustration of the consequences.  Black immediately obtains the initiative and the bishop-pair, allowing his pieces to spring to life and target what are now some obvious White weaknesses.

Despite White's forced retreat, Black misses some chances to leverage his positional advantage for tactical gains (including 23...Bb5!) and White re-achieves equality, making a draw offer that is rejected.  Nowadays I've given up the practice of early draw offers in favor of emphasizing mental toughness, but even then I have to admit it was rather rude, given the ratings gap, not to mention being overly optimistic.  Indeed, a few moves later White plays the complacent 27. Nd3? and this time Black does not miss his chance to inflict material losses on White, who eventually loses after trading down into a bishop (for Black) endgame.

Although this was a loss, the game in fact left me in a relatively positive mood for the rest of the tournament.  I had made a 2100+ player sweat through the early middlegame and did not simply collapse after his first counterblow.  This positive frame of mind helped in my later games.  This was also the first tournament I played in after beginning to train with Qigong breathing exercises (part of my Taijiquan martial arts practice), which also appeared to have a positive effect on my mental outlook.  More on that later.

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