28 June 2014

Annotated Game #129: Slaying a White Hippopotamus

The Hippopotamus (or Hippo) is a rare defense for Black, although it has some popularity at the club level, and is an even rarer opening formation for White to pursue.  From move 2 of this sixth-round tournament game, however, I knew it was coming.  The Hippo formation - central pawns advanced one rank to clear their squares for the knights and both bishops fianchettoed - can be solid and difficult to crack.

This was in fact the first time I had faced the opening, but I was in a positive mindset coming off my earlier round win (Annotated Game #128) and considered it an interesting challenge.  I decided to unbalance things early with 3...Bg4 and this turned out to be an excellent practical decision, as my opponent responded weakly and allowed me to develop a kingside attack early on.  Subsequent mechanical moves made by White in an attempt to reach the standard Hippo formation only served to aid my own plans.

The decisive point occurred when I correctly calculated a key tactical sequence from moves 13-17, resulting in forced material gain due to control of the e3 square.  From there it was a "matter of technique" to simplify to a won endgame, although I made sure to then focus on safety and on eliminating any possible counterplay.  This reflected the advice of NM Dan Heisman about "going to sleep" in the endgame, not in the sense of turning your brain off, but in playing moves which maintain your advantage and at the same time do not allow your opponent any possibilities to make progress.

I felt very much "in the zone" in this game and did well in seeing the attacking possibilities, which was something of a novelty for me.  I believe it was the first time I have played such an early ...h5-h4 pawn push, for example, and I was not afraid to take the attack to White after I evaluated his weaknesses.  This showed I was overcoming the old limitations imposed by my self-imposed "positional" playing style.

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