13 August 2011

Annotated Game #5: First Sacrifice

The following features the first material sacrifice that I had ever played in a tournament game. My opening choices and general playing preferences are oriented largely towards achieving a solid game, with a either a comfortable position as White or counterattacking chances as Black.  This means that I tend to end up in middlegames in which there are not necessarily any obvious plans; I also reach endgames more frequently than the average player at the Class level.  This leads me to the conclusion that I need to work harder at endgame study and gain more depth on typical middlegame positions, but this style generally suits me well and I enjoy and better comprehend the resulting games.

One of the pitfalls of this type of playing style, however, is that it can become an excuse not to attack when the position warrants it.  As I've gained more experience and absorbed more chess knowledge, especially from study of master-level games, I've been better able to understand that as a player, I should first look to respond to the needs of the position.  For example, in Annotated Game #2 I resisted playing e4 although the position demanded it.

My opponent for this game was significantly higher-rated and younger.  He obviously was not familiar with this English Opening variation, being surprised by 6. Bb5 - a common phenomenon when Black prefers a reversed open Sicilian position, as other usual fourth moves for White (g3 etc.) do not allow for this response.  Once Black castled queenside, the position became very favorable to a White attack.  Although I don't play the Sicilian anymore, I have gone over a fair number of games in that opening and was aware of the thematic exchange sacrifice on c3 for Black, which is seen here from the White perspective on c6.

I made the decision to execute the sacrifice, seeing that even if it did not lead to a forced win, White would retain the upper hand.  In the event, some sub-par choices resulted in a draw.  I particularly recall thinking a long time about the position on move 21, which I had seen starting from the sacrifice on move 18.  I ended up not seeing enough benefit in the knight capture, so went with the queen capture with check.  Analysis shows that the knight capture was in fact superior, due to a neat tactic which forces Black's rook to remain en prise for an extended period.  There were two additional favorable ideas based on knight tactics later on in the game, also missed; in the endgame there was a forced win after my opponent got greedy and snapped up a pawn.

This game illustrates some of the strengths of knights on the attack and even in relatively open positions, where forking possibilities and their spatial control should not be underestimated.  The main lesson for me, however, was the benefit of playing according to the characteristics of the position, which in this case called for a sacrificial attack on Black's king position.  Another lesson, also seen in Annotated Game #4, is to avoid simplification for its own sake, which can quickly eliminate your advantage.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 {attempting to play a standard reversed open Sicilian} 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 {this is the key move for White, leading to better positions than a reversed Sicilian. The point is that the pawn on e5 is now vulnerable.} Nxc3 7. bxc3 Bd7 8. d4 exd4 {this gives up the center, the alternatives are Bd6 and e4. } 9. cxd4 a6 10. Be2 Bb4+ 11. Bd2 Qe7 12. O-O O-O-O $2 {Gives White a big target with the open b- and c-files, with all of White's pieces able to easily join the attack.} (12... Bxd2 13. Qxd2 O-O {is Ingenerf, S-Mundil,U/Germany 1989/EXT 97-B/1-0 (52)}) 13. Rb1 Bxd2 14. Qxd2 Bf5 15. Bd3 Bxd3 16. Qxd3 Rd5 17. Rfc1 Rhd8 18. Rxc6 {Demolishes the king position, with a deflection theme.} ({Houdini's preferred method of conducting the attack is} 18. Rb2 g6 19. Rcb1 Na5 20. Rxb7 Nxb7 21. Qxa6) 18... bxc6 19. Qxa6+ Kd7 20. Ne5+ Ke8 21. Qxc6+ ({ Both Fritz and Houdini consider as much superior} 21. Nxc6 {with a possible continuation being} Qe4 22. Rc1 Rg5 23. g3 Qe6 24. Qb7 Rc8 25. Na7 Rd8 26. Rxc7 {A key tactical theme is that the d8 rook can't run away, due to capture or mate threats.}) 21... Kf8 $16 22. Qc2 Qh4 {inexplicably gives up the c7 pawn.} 23. Qxc7 $18 Qf6 {Black has to protect f7, while White has to keep in mind potential back-rank mate threats on the d-file.} 24. Rb8 (24. h3 {is considered superior by Houdini, keeping the pressure on while giving the king an escape square.}) 24... Rxb8 25. Qxb8+ Qd8 26. Qxd8+ {Here it would have been better to keep the queens on with Qb4+, with the queen and knight being a good combination. The black rook now becomes much stronger.} Rxd8 27. f3 $2 { I was focused on creating space for the king here.} ({Both Fritz and Houdini pointed out the superior} 27. a4 {which advances and saves the pawn because of a knight tactic:} Ra8 28. Nd7+ Ke7 29. Nc5) 27... f6 28. Nc6 Ra8 29. Kf2 Rxa2+ 30. Kg3 {By this point the game is drawn, the knight not being enough to help White's extra pawns promote. I recall offering a draw here and it being rejected.} Kf7 31. e4 g6 32. d5 Rd2 33. Nd8+ Ke7 34. Ne6 f5 35. Nf4 (35. h4 { was preferable, keeping the knight on a strong square and restraining Black's kingside pawns.}) 35... g5 36. Ne6 Kf6 37. Nc5 Ke5 38. Nd7+ Kd4 39. Nf6 h5 40. exf5 h4+ (40... Ke5 {keeps a more active king position for Black. Now White gobbles up the remaining Black pawns while retaining several of his own.}) 41. Kh3 Ke5 42. Ne4 g4+ 43. Kxg4 Rxg2+ 44. Kxh4 Rxh2+ 45. Kg3 Ra2 (45... Rh8 $142 $5 {is the superior defensive move.}) 46. d6 Kxf5 $4 {this in fact leads to a forced loss, which however White fails to find. Any reasonable defensive rook move holds the draw.} 47. d7 Ra8 48. Nc5 ({Both Fritz and Houdini found the beautiful} 48. Nd6+ Ke6 49. Nc8 Kxd7 50. Nb6+ {and White wins.}) 48... Rd8 $11 {The position is once again dead drawn, but my opponent rejected a second draw offer.} 49. f4 Rg8+ 50. Kf3 Rd8 51. Kg3 Kf6 52. Kg4 Ke7 53. f5 Rb8 54. f6+ { I successfully calculated the following sequence, which forces the draw.} Kd6 55. d8=Q+ Rxd8 56. Nb7+ Ke6 57. Nxd8+ Kxf6 1/2-1/2


  1. Very instructive game!

    Did you learn that form of the English opening (e3, early Bb5) from some book?

  2. Actually, yes, it was in Nigel Povah's "How to Play the English Opening", which I mentioned in the "Opening Study Methods" post as one of the best opening books (if not the best) that I have. Out of print by now, unfortunately.

    4. e3 isn't very popular in the English Four Knights variation - most people seem to prefer playing g3 and developing the bishop on g2 - but I think White gets a good game from it. At the club level, many people still play 4..d5 in response, trying for a reversed Sicilian, which is simply better for White due to the Bb5 possibility.