12 March 2016

Annotated Game #151: The Critical Position

This fourth-round tournament game illustrates well the importance of understanding the critical position in a game.  Most games have one position (occasionally more, if it's a long game) that contains a major decision point and require significant thought, both in terms of calculating and evaluating it properly.  Here the critical position occurs on move 17, something which I recognized during the game and is also evident during analysis.  I had deliberately unbalanced the position with my opening choice (9...Bf5!?), which lead to having an open g-file and a strong light-square complex, at the expense of the dark squares and my kingside pawn structure.  Over the next several moves, I correctly exploited the ideas for Black inherent in the position and developed a good initiative.  Unfortunately I failed to then find the best (really only) idea for continuing, 17...Nxg5, which immediately turned over the initiative to my opponent.

It's interesting to observe how often when one fails to play the critical position correctly, it dooms the rest of your game.  Partly that is due to objective factors, but there is also a significant psychological component.  For example, I also failed to find better options - admittedly, much harder to calculate - on moves 18 and 26.  I think that is a combination of the position actually being significantly more difficult to play, along with the earlier psychological blow coming from the sudden shift in momentum.  Aside from the concrete lessons that analysis of this game teaches me, remembering to keep looking for ways to reverse course, even after suffering a turnaround in the game, is a more general lesson to keep in mind.

Class C - ChessAdmin

Result: 1-0
Site: ?
Date: ?
B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack
[...] 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.¥f4 (4.¥d3 is the Exchange Variation main line.) 4...¤c6
4...£b6 is the only original try in this position to take advantage of the early dark-square bishop move, but it doesn't work. 5.¤c3 ¤f6 (5...£xb2?6.¤xd5+⁠−) 6.¤b5 ¤a6²
5.c3 ¤f6 this move is fine, but represents a bit of lazy thinking on my part. I should have pondered more the difference between this position and the normal Exchange Variation with an earlier Bd3.
5...¥f5 played now is the way to take advantage of the lack of a White Bd3. 6.¥d3 ¥xd3 7.£xd3 e6 with the idea of playing ...Bd6 and exchanging the other pair of bishops.
6.¥d3 now we're back to the standard Exchange Variation line. 6...g6 7.¤f3 ¥g7 8.¤bd2 O-O 9.O-O ¥f5 a deliberately unbalancing move. Safer would be ...Nh5. 10.¥xf5 gxf5 11.£c2 e6 12.¥g5 £c7 taking advantage of the bishop leaving the h2-b8 diagonal. 13.£d3 ¤e4 the natural move, hitting the Bg5 and powerfully centralizing the knight. 14.£e3 f6 correctly mobilizing the extra f-pawn. So far I am doing well in understanding the unique characteristics of the position and using them to my advantage. 15.¥f4?! (15.¥h6!?) 15...e5µ is again the strong, natural reaction. The extra f-pawn is a benefit rather than a drawback, supporting e5. 16.dxe5 fxe5 17.¥g5 Black has an active position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface. Unfortunately my calculation and evaluation skills now fail me in this unfamiliar and complex position. 17...f4?! this is the "easy" way to rationalize the position, but unfortunately it gives White an advantage.
17...¤xg5!? I considered for a long time, along with the text move, but I did not understand how to properly follow it up, incorrectly evaluating that it would cause me to lose the initiative. 18.£xg5 and now Black in fact has a pleasant choice of how to proceed, for example 18...e4 (18...¦f6!?) (18...¦ad8) 19.¤h4 h6 20.£e3 f4 21.£h3 £f7µ
17...£f7 is also good, something I did not really consider. 18.¤xe4 fxe4 19.¤h4 £h5³
18.£d3 at the time, I did not appreciate how easily White could fix his problems with this move. The d5 pawn is hanging, which is key. 18...¤f6? this is obviously bad, but at the time I did not see an alternative.
18...¤xd2!? and Black is still in the game, notes the engine. 19.£xd5+ ¢h8 20.¤xd2 h6 21.¥h4 ¦ad8 I would have also needed to find this non-obvious move. 22.¥xd8 ¦xd8 23.£b3 ¦xd2²
19.¥xf6±19...¦xf6 not the best move, but I am already, with some desperation, thinking about how I can try to counterattack rather than simply lose without a fight. (19...¥xf6 20.£xd5+ £f7 21.£xf7+ ¢xf7±) 20.£xd5+ ¢h8 21.¤c4 (21.¤e4 ¦d8 22.£b3 ¦g6+⁠−) 21...¦g6±22.¦fe1 ¦g8 my only hope at this point is to get something going on the g-file. 23.¤h4
23.g3 is the simpler way to defuse g-file threats. 23...fxg3 24.hxg3 ¦f8 25.¤h4 ¦gf6 26.¦e2±
23...¦g4 (23...¦h6!?24.¤f5 ¦f6 25.¤xg7 £xg7 26.g3±) 24.¤d6 with the threat of Nf7+ 24...¦f8 25.¤hf5 £d7 pinning the Nd6 and therefore threatening ...Rxf5. 26.¤xg7? this allows an unusual saving tactic for Black...which however is difficult to see.
26.¦ad1 would protect the Qd5 and unpin the knight. 26...¦xf5 27.¤xf5 £xf5±
26...£xg7? the second-best move.
26...f3! the idea is to press the attack while temporarily ignoring the need to recapture a piece. White cannot simply ignore the threat. 27.¤e6 (27.g3 ¦g6µ) 27...¦xg2+ 28.¢h1 ¦f6µ and material equality will be restored, with Black having a more threatening position.
27.¦ad1?! this again allows a creative tactic...which again is not found. (27.g3± is necessary here.) 27...f3? the right general idea, but wrong sequence.
27...e4!28.¦xe4 (28.g3 now does not work: 28...e3 29.fxe3 fxg3 30.h4 g2µ) 28...¦xg2+ 29.¢h1 f3
28.g3+⁠−28...¦h4 29.¦e4 ¦xe4 (29...¦h6 30.h4+⁠−) 30.£xe4 despite being only a pawn up at the moment, White has a thoroughly winning game and I no longer have any counterplay, so the rest is easy for him. 30...¦f4 31.£e1 h5
31...£d7 would be the best try, but White can now easily defend against a mate threat on g2 or h2. 32.b4 a6 33.a4+⁠−
32.¢h1 h4 33.£g1 ¦g4 34.£f1 hxg3? this loses quickly, but frankly sometimes that is better than inevitably losing slowly. (34...£g6+⁠−) 35.fxg3 sealing the win.
35.£h3+ seems even better, comments the engine. 35...£h7 36.¤f7+ ¢g8 37.£xg4+ ¢xf7 38.fxg3+⁠−
35...e4 36.£h3+ ¢g8 37.¤f5 £g5 38.¤h6+ ¢g7 39.£xg4
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