26 February 2017

Annotated Game #166: Even short draws have lessons

Having finished off the 2016 master-level commentary games, I'll turn back now to looking at my tournament games.  At first glance this 19-move draw seems pretty worthless, but in fact analyzing it really gave me some insights into some key mechanics of the Classical Caro-Kann setup, especially how Black should coordinate the pieces - note the uselessness and even the liability that the Bd6 proved to be here - and think prophylactically (11...b5!?).  The opening itself veers out of book early on (moves 6-7), something I did not handle very well.  My opponent was rated significantly below me, but played well and I had the worst of a position with no prospects, so the draw was probably the best outcome.

Class D - ChessAdmin

Result: 1/2-1/2
B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines
[...] 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.¤c3 dxe4 4.¤xe4 ¥f5 5.¤g3 ¥g6 6.¤f3 ¤f6 7.¥c4 e6 8.O-O ¤bd7 a solid move, but it allows White to establish the Bf4. (8...¥d6) 9.¥f4 ¤b6 not a good decision. I waste time in the opening by driving my opponent's bishop to a better square, while moving the same piece twice.
9...¥e7 10.¦e1 O-O 11.¤h4 £b6 12.¤xg6 hxg6 13.¥b3 ¦fd8 14.c3 c5 15.¤e2 e5 16.dxe5 ¤xe5 17.£c2 ¤d3 18.¦ed1 c4 19.¥e3 cxb3 20.axb3 £b5 21.¤d4 ¦xd4 22.¥xd4 ¤f4 23.¦xa7 ¦xa7 24.¥xa7 Djacic,N-Maric,A (2407) Cetinje 2009 0-1 (34)
10.¥d3 White has an active position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface. 10...¤bd5 hitting the bishop and centralizing the knight, but I am still under-developed. Again, White's bishop is driven to a better square as well. (10...¥d6 11.¥e5 O-O) 11.¥e5 ¥d6 a little late with the idea and not really helpful for me. Unfortunately, taking with the bishop on e5 would simply give White a strong e5 pawn and kick the Nf6, gaining a tempo. With the dark-square bishop gone, I also would have more trouble covering the dark squares on defense. The bishop is actually something of a liability on d6 for me, as the Qd8 is tied to its defense.
11...b5 is the engine's recommendation of a prophylactic move, to help preserve the Nd5 on its square. Whenever Black puts a knight on d5 in this variation, if White can advance a pawn to c4 to kick it off the square, it's not very well placed. 12.h4²
11...¤d7!? might be a better version of the idea to exchange the Be5.
12.¦e1
12.c4 would give White the initiative. 12...¤e7 13.¥xg6 hxg6 14.£b3 ¦b8²
12...O-O removing the king from the e-file, very important for tactical reasons as well as developmental. 13.£d2 my opponent continues to play decent but somewhat slow moves. 13...b5 here I recognize the importance of defending the Nd5 outpost and implement the prophylactic idea (a bit late).
13...¥e7 is also an option, acknowledging that the trade on e5 will not happen with the bishop and allowing ...Nd7.
14.a4 (14.c3 ¥e7) 14...a6
14...b4 is a superior continuation, gaining space. 15.c4 bxc3 16.bxc3 ¥e7 and now if 17.c4 ¥b4³ (17...¤b4 also works.)
15.h3 presumably done to prevent ...Ng4.
15.axb5 is probably the most challenging way to continue, but after a series of piece exchanges White will not have enough material to push an attack. 15...cxb5 forced. (15...axb5?16.¦xa8 £xa8 17.¥xd6+⁠−) 16.¥xd6 £xd6 17.¤e5 ¥xd3 18.£xd3
15...¦e8 (15...£c7!?16.¥xd6 £xd6 17.c3) 16.¤e4 this allows for simplification into a drawish position. 16...¤xe4 17.¥xe4 ¥xe4 18.¦xe4 ¤f6 this seemed the obvious move at the time, although it would allow White to try to create something on the h-file with Rh4.
18...f6 is forcing with the Bd6 and also takes away the g5 square from White's knight. 19.¥xd6 £xd6 20.¦ae1 White can try to pressure the e-pawn but without prospects for success. 20...¦e7 is the safe response, leaving e8 open for the other rook.
19.¦ee1 (19.¦h4 £e7) 19...h6 I correctly evaluated the position here as having no winning prospect for myself, with any chances on my opponent's side, so accepted a draw. (19...¥e7)
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22 February 2017

Commentary: 2016 London Classic Round 4 (Topalov - Nakamura)

(The original ChessBase article including this game can be found at https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-rd-4)

This next commentary game between two Super-GMs (Veselin Topolov and Hikaru Nakamura, from the 2016 London Classic in December) is a great contemporary example of the 3...c5 variation in the Advance Caro-Kann.  It is the only real gambit continuation in the Caro-Kann defense and is a legitimate alternative to 3...Bf5, which however is much more popular (and theoretical).  Here both sides are spoiling for a fight, as shown especially by Black's 9th move and White's 11th move choices.  Topalov gets the worst of it, however, overextending his queenside which is undermined with the key 11...a5, which has a number of unpleasant consequences for White.  Topalov throws caution to the winds with a queen sac on move 18, going "all in" on his aggressive idea, but Nakamura then capably quashes White's counterplay and essentially cruises to victory.  A model game to study for Caro-Kann players and in general, as it contains some important thematic ideas in the opening, along with a slew of middlegame tactics and a virtuoso demonstration of the power of the queen when she is mobile and her opposition is uncoordinated.

Topalov, V. (2760) - Nakamura, Hi (2779)

Result: 0-1
Site: London ENG
Date: 2016.12.12
[...] 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.dxc5 ¤c6 5.¤f3 ¥g4 the standard reaction after Nf3 in this version of the Advance variation. The ability to pin the Nf3 is one of the benefits of playing 3...c5 rather than ...Bf5. 6.c3 this deters . ..Qa5 and prepares the b-pawn advance. (6.¥b5 is the main move here.) 6...e6 7.b4 a6 preventing ...Bb5, but slowing development. (7...¤ge7!?) 8.¤bd2 ¤xe5 this is an earlier and an easier recovery of the pawn than is normal for Black in the variation. White in this line has chosen to emphasize queenside play instead. 9.£a4+ ¤d7 now out of the database. This move choice preserves the queens on the board and indicates that Nakamura wants a middlegame fight.
9...£d7 had been tried twice before in the database, both times resulting in a loss. Most recently: 10.£xd7+ ¤xd7 11.¥b2 ¥xf3 12.¤xf3 ¥e7 13.¥e2 ¥f6 14.O-O ¤e7 15.¦ab1 O-O 16.c4 a5 17.¥xf6 gxf6 18.a3 axb4 19.axb4 ¦a2 20.¦fe1 ¤e5 21.cxd5 ¤xf3+ 22.¥xf3 ¤xd5 23.¥xd5 exd5 24.¦e7 ¦b8 25.g3 ¦d2 26.¦d7 ¦d4 27.¦d6 ¦c8 28.¦xf6 ¦c6 29.¦d6 ¦d2 30.¢g2 ¢f8 31.¢f3 ¦d4 32.¦d8+ ¢g7 33.¦b2 ¦f6+ 34.¢g2 b6 35.cxb6 ¦xb6 36.b5 ¦d1 37.¢f3 ¢f6 38.¢e2 ¦d4 39.¦b3 ¢e7 40.¦a8 ¦e4+ 41.¢f3 ¦ee6 42.¦a7+ ¢f6 43.¢g2 ¢g6 44.¦a4 h6 45.¦d4 ¦ed6 46.¢f3 ¢f6 47.¢e3 ¦d8 48.¦f4+ ¢e5 49.¦xf7 d4+ 50.¢d3 ¦d5 51.¦e7+ ¢f5 52.¦e4 ¦dxb5 53.¦xb5+ ¦xb5 54.¦xd4 1-0 (54) Nevednichy,V (2554)-Zelcic,R (2548) Tromsoe 2014
10.¤e5 ¤gf6 Nakamura is not concerned about the knight for bishop trade on g4 and continues with development. 11.c4?! while active-looking, the main problem with this move is that it leaves White's queenside pawns overextended, which Nakamura takes advantage of with his next move. Presumably Topalov was looking to exchange on d5 at some point and get rid of his doubled pawns.
11.¤xg4 is a more obvious follow-up, obtaining the two bishops, although it doesn't offer much for White beyond equality. Topalov is obviously trying for more, which requires the knight to stay on e5. 11...¤xg4 12.¥e2 £h4!? (12...¤ge5) 13.¥xg4 £xg4
11...a5 now White cannot take on a5 or advance the b-pawn without losing the c5 pawn. 12.¤b3 (12.cxd5 axb4 13.£b5 ¥xc5³) 12...axb4 this capture is made even more annoying for White because the Queen is tied to the pin of the Nd7, which otherwise could take the hanging Ne5, so recapturing on b4 is not possible. 13.£b5 the only move. 13...¥e7 14.c6 this looks a bit scary at first, but Black emerges unscathed from the sequence rather better.
14.cxd5 doesn't seem to work any better for White, as after 14...O-O 15.¤xg4 (15.d6 ¤xe5µ) 15...¤xg4 White either must accept the loss of the c5-pawn or allow Black to go into a dangerous-looking sequence with 16.h3 ¤xf2 (16...¤ge5 is the safe alternative) 17.¢xf2 ¥f6 18.¦b1 ¦xa2+
14...bxc6³15.¤xc6 £c7 and the b-pawn is tactically protected. White does not have sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn and has no good choices at this point.
15...£b6?! looks tempting, directly protecting the b-pawn, but is worse for Black after 16.¥e3 £xb5 17.cxb5² and now the advanced b-pawn White has acquired is a strength rather than a liability.
16.f3 (16.¤xb4?16...¦b8 winning material.) 16...¥f5 so the bishop ends up on f5 after all, and is nicely placed there. 17.¤xe7 ¦b8 a key intermediate move, preserving the b-pawn. 18.¤xf5? now Topalov goes "all in" with the material sacrifice, which has some shock value but favors Black.
18.£a5 this more solid alternative must have looked unappetizing to Topalov after 18...£e5+ 19.¢f2 ¢xe7³
18...¦xb5 19.¤xg7+ ¢e7µ Black does not have to be in a rush to trap the knight with ...Kf8. 20.cxb5 ¤c5 this allows time for White to seize the long diagonal.
20...£e5+!21.¥e2 ¤c5 22.¦b1 ¤d3+ 23.¢f1 ¤xc1 24.¦xc1 ¤d7µ
21.¥b2 ¤xb3 22.axb3 £f4 23.¥e2 although White must be desperate to activate his pieces, this gives Black time to do the same, getting his rook into play very effectively.
23.¦a7+!?23...¤d7 24.¤f5+ now the bishop's presence on b2 is a saving grace for White. 24...exf5 25.¦xd7+ ¢xd7 26.¥xh8
23...¦c8 24.¦d1 £g5 this looks quite threatening to both the Ng7 and g2 pawn, but moving the rook to c2 immediately appears stronger. The Ng7 is dead anyway and the Rc2 creates new threats. 25.b6?!
25.O-O £xg7 26.¥d4 and Black may have a slight edge, but no immediate threats.
25...¦c2 26.¥xf6+ £xf6 27.¤h5 a nice try at extracting the knight, but now the Black queen and rook combine well in making new, decisive threats. (27.b7 £c3+ 28.¢f1 £c7 and the b-pawn is indefensible.) 27...£c3+ 28.¢f1 £e3−⁠+ now the power of the queen is demonstrated. Black will pick up both of White's defenseless queenside pawns, while the rook on the second rank helps paralyze White's pieces. Note how poorly they coordinate and the fact that the Rh1 is completely out of play, with the Nh5 not much better. 29.¦e1 £xb6 an easy path to victory, as White is essentially helpless.
29...d4!? is the engine's preference, ramming through the passed pawn and picking up the Be2. For example 30.b7 d3 31.¤g3 dxe2+ 32.¤xe2 £b6−⁠+
30.¤f4 £e3 31.g3 £xb3 Topalov now tries to put up a fight and activate his pieces, but it's too late. Just seeing the passed d- and b-pawns makes it rather obvious. 32.¢g2 ¢f8 33.¢h3 £b2 34.¦b1 £f6 35.¦he1 (35.¦xb4 £h6+ 36.¢g2 e5−⁠+ and White loses a piece.) 35...e5 again, Nakamura chooses a straightforward winning path.
35...£f5+ would allow Black to play a tactical trick using the h7-b1 diagonal. 36.¢g2 e5 37.¤xd5 ¦xe2+ 38.¦xe2 £xb1−⁠+
36.¤xd5 £e6+ 37.¢g2 £xd5 38.¦xb4 £d2 39.¦b8+ getting out of the queen fork 39...¢g7 40.¢f1 £h6 41.¢g2 (41.¦b4!?) 41...e4 the correct break, opening White's position further. 42.¦b3 £e6 White's king remains the more vulnerable one, due to Black's mobility and Q+R combination. 43.¦e3 exf3+ 44.¢xf3 £h3 45.¦d1
45.¦h1?45...£f5+ 46.¢g2 £d5+ 47.¢g1 ¦c1+ 48.¥f1 ¦xf1+ 49.¢xf1 £xh1+
45...£h5+ a strong intermediate check that heightens the impact of the capture on h2, with tempo. 46.¢f2 (46.g4? is no help 46...£h3+) 46...£xh2+ 47.¢f3 ¦c6 a strong redeployment of the rook. Black again has time to spare, with a lack of any White counterplay. 48.¦d4 ¦g6 49.g4 ¦f6+ 50.¢e4 £h1+ 51.¢d3 £b1+ note how White's two rooks actually hinder rather than help him, in the face of the queen's mobility. 52.¢d2 £b2+ 53.¢d3 ¦c6 and White loses material.
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05 February 2017

Book completed - Play the Dutch



I recently completed Play the Dutch by GM Neil McDonald (Everyman Chess, 2010), which per the book's subtitle is "an opening repertoire for Black based on the Leningrad Variation".  It is also a direct follow-up to his Starting Out: The Dutch Defence which provides an orientation to all of the main Dutch variations (Stonewall, Classical and Leningrad).  The "Play the..." series of books are intended to be more focused and intermediate versions of the "Starting Out..." openings series from Everyman.

In this case, McDonald offers his preferred repertoire, although not too narrowly, for example discussing two of the three main options in the main line Leningrad (7...c6 and 7...Nc6) and offering some refinements on the Anti-Dutch sidelines in the earlier book.  Here's the table of contents, for reference:

Gambit Lines and Early Oddities
White Plays 2 Nc3
White Plays 2 Bg5
White Avoids an early g2-g3 against a Leningrad Set-up
Sidelines in the Leningrad Variation
The Main Line Leningrad: 7 Nc3 c6
The Main Line Leningrad: 7 Nc3 Nc6
The Dutch versus 1 Nf3 and 1 c4

Some general observations:
  • The book is very reader-friendly, both in terms of writing style and visual presentation.  To do serious work with it you'll of course need a board and/or database program to review the material, but it can be followed along with only moderate effort on a first read-through.
  • The Leningrad Dutch is a tactics-heavy and sometimes tricky opening, one in which the theory of individual lines (or even whole variations) can change relatively rapidly based on new games and ideas.  This book should not be used for the latest theory, but that's not its intent: it's designed more to present key ideas, themes and specific reasoning behind the highlighted lines, at an intermediate rather than advanced level.  It does this the best of all of the Leningrad Dutch books I have looked at.
  • If you have a coach familiar with the Leningrad, then this book is probably redundant, but for those of us without coaches, it can be quite helpful in getting to the next level of understanding about the opening and its middlegame ideas, something which McDonald emphasizes in the complete annotated games that the book is built around.  He makes the effort to highlight similar plans and themes across games (including things like the ...f4 thrust and the utility of ...Nf6-h5 in attacking situations), which will be very important to achieving practical success using the opening.
  • The book should greatly assist the reader in delving further into Leningrad ideas and exploring lines, but does not offer a 100% concrete, fully tested repertoire.  I don't think this is a bad thing, as long as you realize that the book is a good resource, rather than meant to be used as your gospel and only opening resource.  (Probably a good attitude to have about any openings book.)
  • The main line treatment with 7...Nc6 is welcome, but it's also limited to Black's response 8...Na5 (after 8. d5 is played).  So the other main alternative 8...Ne5 is completely ignored (unlike in the Starting Out book), which means if you are a Black player, you really should take a look at it as well as 8...Na5, given some (known) difficulties there.  GM Viktor Moskalenko's related observations and analysis in The Diamond Dutch are very useful in understanding the trade-offs between the two lines.