02 January 2012

Annotated Game #25: English (Irregular); playing on while down material

This second-round game followed Annotated Game #24 and was against a Class D player.  The opening started off in an irregular fashion on move 4 with ..Bd6, although White cannot usually immediately punish these types of positional errors in the English.  In this case it led to a loss of tempo by Black, which White could have exploited better on move 8 with more active play; this was one of the useful points found in analysis that will help inform my future play.  White also could have played more actively on move 10, seizing the outpost on d5 for his knight, which is a key theme in the English.

My opponent goes astray with moves 10 and 11, where he evidently thought he could get in the central break ..d5.  A tactical point instead allows White to win a piece and then work on consolidating his advantage.  In Class-level games, however, a piece advantage in and of itself is not an automatic win, especially if there is no glaring weakness in the position of the player who is down material.  This point was made in Dan Heisman's ChessCafe article "When You're Winning, It's a Whole Different Game".  By coincidence, I happened to read this just before analyzing the game, which illustrates the point nicely - I missed at least one neat way to wrap up the game (see move 31) and on move 32 missed a pinning tactic that gave back the piece.  Luckily when the dust cleared I was still up two pawns in a winning endgame and went on to convert the point with careful play.

The overall lesson here is to not put the brain on automatic in the opening (instead look for more active play and to exploit opportunities, even in familiar setups), nor when winning and up material where there is still play left in the position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "119"] [EventDate "1995.??.??"] {A25: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 but without early d3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 Nf6 {not the usual move after choosing the Closed English setup with ..Nc6, as it blocks a potential f5 advance. This however invites White to transpose to the main line 4. g3 variation of the English Four Knights following Nf3.} 4. Bg2 Bd6 $146 {blocks the d-pawn and effectively loses a tempo. Bc5 and Bb4 appear the most in the database.} 5. d3 {Secures e4, notes Fritz.} h6 {Covers g5, as Fritz also notes. Here ..h6 is not a significant weakening move, as it can be in King Pawn openings, since White is not in a position to launch a kingside attack.} 6. Nf3 O-O 7. O-O Bc5 {Black decides to unblock the d-pawn after all.} 8. Nd2 (8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. d4 Bxd4 10. Qxd4 {is a sequence preferred by the engines. Houdini gives it approximately +0.5 for White, who has a lead in development, central control and an active queen.}) 8... d6 $11 9. Nde4 Bb6 (9... Nxe4 10. Nxe4 Bb6 {would trade off one of White's central knights and keep things equal.}) 10. Rb1 (10. Nxf6+ Qxf6 11. Nd5 {would be a more active way to play, giving White the excellent outpost on d5.}) 10... Nb4 {simply a waste of time, as no threats are generated.} 11. a3 d5 $4 {an inaccurate counterattack, as the Ne4 now moves with tempo, leaving the Nb4 en prise.} (11... Nxe4 {this is the best way to fight back, says Fritz. } 12. Nxe4 Nc6 {and White will now have some momentum for queenside expansion, but nothing material.}) 12. Nxf6+ Qxf6 13. axb4 a5 {at a higher level, being down a piece with no compensation would be cause for resignation. Here my opponent chooses to fight on and I respect that.} 14. Nxd5 Qd8 15. c5 ({ Here simplifying down and developing is probably the quicker way to victory.} 15. Nxb6 cxb6 16. Bd2) 15... Ba7 16. bxa5 Bxc5 17. b4 Bd6 18. Be3 Ra6 19. Qc2 c6 20. Nb6 Bf5 21. Bc5 g6 {this only weakens h6, which could be exploited by a future Qd2.} 22. Rfc1 ({Houdini finds the following sequence:} 22. b5 Rxa5 23. Nc4 ({not} 23. Bxd6 Qxd6 24. Nc4 Qc5) 23... Bxc5 24. Nxa5 Qxa5 25. Qxc5) 22... Be6 23. Nc4 Bxc5 24. bxc5 Qc7 (24... Bxc4 {would have exchanged off this soon-to-be-dominant central knight.}) 25. Nd6 Rb8 26. Qc3 Rxa5 27. Rxb7 { this is made possible by the deflection theme present, with the queen being unable to cover both b7 and the Ra5 at the same time.} (27. Bxc6 {is also possible, due to the same tactical theme.}) 27... Rxb7 28. Nxb7 Rb5 29. Nd6 Rb8 30. Qxe5 Qa5 31. Nc4 (31. Nxf7 $1 {would have won without much further trouble, due to the discovered attack on the Rb8.} Kxf7 32. Qxb8) 31... Qb5 32. Nb6 $4 { this is exactly why it's not necessarily a bad decision to play on when down material, as the player who is up material may miss an equivalent tactic.} (32. Bxc6 {would have taken advantage of the continuing deflection theme threat of Qe5xb8.} Qb4 33. Nd6 $18) 32... Rxb6 33. Be4 ({the c-pawn is pinned, as the Qe5 is undefended} 33. cxb6 Qxe5) 33... Qb2 {the engines agree with the decision to exchange queens here, which is in this position apparently best for both sides. White's more active queen and Black's airy king position make the trade good for Black, while White now cannot let the Black queen run rampant on the second rank.} 34. Qxb2 Rxb2 35. Bxc6 Rxe2 {now that the dust has settled after the move 32 blunder, White is still winning handily, although must now work much harder for it.} 36. Be4 {a rather silly move that wastes a tempo. Bf3 or Rd1 would be more to the point.} f5 37. Kf1 Rd2 38. Ke1 Rb2 39. Bg2 Kf8 40. d4 Ke8 41. d5 {now that White has his pieces behind the connected passed pawns, they look unstoppable.} Bc8 42. Rd1 (42. d6 {and White can already relax, says Fritz.} Kd8 43. c6 Ra2 $18 44. Rb1) 42... Kd7 (42... Ba6 {puts up more resistance.} 43. Bf3 $18 Rb3) 43. d6 Bb7 44. c6+ $1 {the sacrifice allows the breaktrough of the d-pawn.} Bxc6 45. Bxc6+ Kd8 ({not} 45... Kxc6 46. d7 Rb8 47. d8=Q) 46. Ra1 Rb8 47. Kd2 {I chose here to activate the king and march it down to assist the pawn. Black's rook can do nothing to bar its way, since it can't be away from the 8th rank for long due to the back-rank mate threat of Ra8. Houdini here finds a mate in 12 starting with Ra7.} Rc8 48. Ra6 g5 49. Ke3 h5 50. Kd4 h4 51. Ke5 hxg3 52. hxg3 f4 53. gxf4 ( 53. Ke6 f3 54. Bd7 Rb8 55. Ra5 g4 56. Rh5 Rb1 57. Rh8#) 53... g4 54. f5 Rb8 55. Ke6 g3 56. fxg3 (56. Ra7 gxf2 57. Rg7 f1=Q 58. Rg8#) 56... Rc8 57. Ra8 Rxa8 58. Bxa8 {now it's a bit ridiculous for my opponent to play for stalemate with three pawns on the board and plenty of space for his king, but he soon realizes this.} Ke8 59. d7+ Kd8 60. f6 (60. f6 Kc7 61. f7 Kb6 62. d8=Q+ Kb5 63. f8=Q Kc4 64. Qd5+ Kc3 65. Qa3+ Kc2 66. Qdd3#) 1-0


  1. Thanks for the link to the Heisman article, it was good to be reminded of this, though I have gotten pretty good at winning the won game--through hard experience of not winning them!

    I do disagree a little with something he seems to be saying--when ahead in material by a piece or more it's often best to use the extra force to just win more and more material. Of course every position is different, but often finding a target and winning it is actually "safer" than just sitting on your hands, because going too defensive can actually let him maximize his piece activity. Overall, though, Heisman's idea of taking your time and not trying to win in the fewest moves through complications is a very sound one.

  2. There is a little bit of apparent contradiction in the article, where he advises both to play actively and think "safety first." They're actually not mutually contradictory if someone is playing correctly, although our emotional minds may have trouble reconciling the two. I think his main point is that his target audience is much more likely to get excited about winning and then drop their extra material (or worse), rather than be able to convert without active focus on safety.

    On a related note, this reminds me of the practical fact that once you've found an ironclad winning strategy, it's not necessary or most often desirable to look for another way to play, although of course one shouldn't pass up easy mates.