19 May 2012

Annotated Game #46: Maneuvers and Missed Opportunities

This fourth-round tournament game features an extended period of middlegame maneuvering, which is a feature of some English Opening variations in which neither side has obvious weaknesses; a head-on attack would simply hand the advantage to your opponent.  Black early on inflicts some positional and structural weaknesses on himself, including weakening his dark-square complex and locking his light-square bishop away.  White's choice of non-confrontational opening variation means that he ends up with a positional edge, but no obvious way to immediately punish Black.

In the middlegame, White's incorrect choice of strategy with 12. b4 leads him nowhere in particular, although Black continues an to make some positionally weakening moves.  White starts to go astray with his awkward move 22, essentially ceding the initiative - at least mentally - to Black.  A remarkable tactical idea for White on move 27 (and afterwards) is completely missed by both sides, which if the engines had a sense of humor would no doubt very much amuse them.  After a good deal of back-and-forth, Black's attempt to press White comes to naught and a draw is a agreed, with neither side seeing how to make progress.  It's worth noting that Black was rated around 100 points higher than I was, which I think weighed on my decision-making process and made me more inclined to look for a draw and pass up other opportunities.  With more mental toughness that wouldn't have happened.

Key points that can be drawn from this game:
  • Applying the plan of pushing the b-pawn, which is common in other variations, was not called for here.  Playing an opening on automatic and not critically evaluating different positions can lead to ineffectual play.
  • It is important to look for central pawn breaks and exchanges in the English.  The play here was typical of my past refusal to consider these types of moves, which I wrongly felt were uncharacteristic of the opening.
  • Similarly, I failed to consider key alternatives on move 25 and 26 which would have been superior and probably winning.  This was symptomatic of my failure to look for tactical options in many situations, as these did not fit with my self-imposed mental image of having a "positional style" as a player.
The last point on how my self-perceived playing style held me back is, I think, a common and major psychological flaw among amateur players.  More on this later.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "87"] {A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 g6 {this move is not consistent with the QGD-type setup pursued to this point and weakens the kingside dark square complex.} 5. b3 Bg7 6. Bb2 O-O 7. Qc2 Nbd7 8. O-O Re8 {The highest-level encounter in the database had the following continuation:} (8... c6 9. Rd1 Re8 10. d4 Ne4 11. Nbd2 Nxd2 12. Rxd2 b6 13. e4 Bb7 14. Re1 Rc8 15. Ne5 Nf6 16. f3 Qc7 17. Nd3 Nd7 18. cxd5 cxd5 19. Qxc7 Rxc7 20. e5 {1/2-1/2 Panno,O-Rodriguez,J/Boca 1997/CBM 58 ext (20)}) 9. Re1 { note that the Panno game featured Rd1. Unless White intends to try for e4 at some point, or exchange on d5, the rook looks misplaced on e1.} (9. Nc3 { would be simple development, deferring placement of the rooks.}) 9... c6 10. d3 {Covers e4, observes Fritz. The idea is to combat Black's counterplay possibilities in the center, rather than attempt to assert control of it via d4.} Qc7 {Black spends a good amount of time in this game moving his queen around, not always to good effect. On c7, among other things it is unprotected. } (10... e5 $5 $11 {is what the engines prefer, with a bigger center for Black. } 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Nc3 a6) 11. Nbd2 $14 {now White has all his pieces out, while the Bc8 is still locked in for Black, giving White a temporary edge in development.} b6 12. b4 {this was the key strategic point for White, who had to decide how to proceed. The b4 push, which in other variations is a main theme, here is unsupported and artificial.} (12. cxd5 {is Houdini's first choice, which leads to a resolution of the central tension in White's favor and kingside attacking possibilities.} exd5 {forced, due to the hanging Qc7.} 13. e4 Bb7 (13... dxe4 14. dxe4 {and White has a central pawn majority of 1-0 and attacking possibilities using the e5 push.}) 14. e5 Ng4 15. d4 c5 16. Bh3) (12. Rac1 {was also possible, patiently building up on the c-file.}) 12... Bb7 13. a4 dxc4 (13... a5 {is what Houdini prefers, thereby neutralizing White's pawn advance.} 14. bxa5 Rxa5) 14. Qxc4 {this greatly improves the position and reach of the queen. However, Nxc4 would probably improve White's piece placement even more, relatively speaking.} Rac8 15. Rac1 {here it seems better to leave the rook on a1 for pressure up the a-file.} (15. Qc3 $5) 15... e5 { this opens the diagonal for White to exert pressure on f7.} 16. Ng5 Re7 { we now have a complicated position where White has a definite plus, but no obvious threats. A period of maneuvering is thus called for.} 17. Nb3 {this makes the most sense if White is looking to push a5.} (17. Nde4 {is another version of the idea of getting this knight into play.} h6 18. Nxf6+ Nxf6 19. Ne4 Nxe4 20. Bxe4) (17. Ba3 {is suggested by Houdini, moving the bishop to a more productive diagonal.}) 17... h6 18. Ne4 Qb8 {this is rather passive and doesn't accomplish much, although White now has to start taking into account the Rc8 lined up with his queen.} 19. Nxf6+ Bxf6 {this seems an unnecessarily awkward placement for the bishop.} 20. Qc2 {protects the Bb2, but is passive; the bishop can exchange itself for its counterpart on f6 in the event Black pushes e4.} (20. a5 {would be the only move taking advantage of the Nb3 and is preferred by the engines. One possible continuation:} c5 21. Bxb7 Qxb7 22. bxc5 Nxc5 23. axb6 axb6 24. Ba3 $14) 20... Qd6 {here White definitely would still love to have a Ra1, in order to support Ba3.} (20... c5 21. Bxb7 Qxb7 22. Nd2 $11) 21. Qd2 {with a cheap threat against h6} (21. Nd2 {threatening Ne4 and Nc4 would give White a substantial positional plus. For example} Bg7 $14 22. a5 Ree8 23. Nc4 Qc7 24. axb6 axb6 25. Ra1) 21... Qe6 22. Rc3 $6 {while not losing, this puts the rook in an awkward spot and exposes it to a discovered attack from the Bf6.} (22. Qc2) 22... Kg7 23. Rec1 Nb8 24. a5 {finally moving forward on the queenside.} (24. d4 {would instead block the a1-h8 diagonal and give White a clearer edge.}) 24... e4 (24... Na6 25. d4 Rd8 26. Re3 $14) 25. d4 { at this point in my career, I never would have considered an exchange sacrifice.} (25. dxe4 {is found by the engines. The exchange sacrifice is only temporary, as it turns out.} Bxc3 26. Qxc3+ f6 $16 27. Bh3 Qf7 28. Bxc8 Bxc8 { and White is a pawn to the good.}) 25... Rd7 (25... Qd5 26. f3 Bg5 27. f4 $11) 26. e3 {White is obviously only thinking defense at this point and not considering all his options.} (26. Re3 $142 $16 {and the e4 pawn cannot be adequately defended.}) 26... Be7 $4 {is a losing blunder in a complicated position, but White does not take advantage of it.} (26... Na6 $5 {is Fritz's recommendation.} 27. b5 Nb4 $11) 27. Rc4 (27. d5 {is the tactical idea found by the engines, as the queen is attacked and White also has a discovered check threat on the long diagonal.} Rxd5 28. Rxc6+ Kg8 29. Qc3 Bf6 30. Rxc8+ Bxc8 31. Qxf6 Qxf6 32. Bxf6 {and White is a full piece ahead.}) 27... f6 {closing off the long diagonal.} 28. Ba3 {with the idea of overprotecting b4 and locking down control of c5, also anticipating Black's next move. However, the move betrays a lack of understanding of the potential of the d5 push.} (28. d5 $142 $5 {is still possible, although no longer devastating.} Rxd5 29. Nd4 Qg4 30. h3 Qd7 31. Bxe4) 28... Ba6 {the initiative temporarily shifts to Black.} 29. R4c3 Qd5 30. Qb2 Bb5 31. Nd2 {creating threats by honing in on the e4 pawn} f5 32. f3 {the engines agree this is best; this is a common move in these types of positions, to break out the Bg2. Unfortunately, I misplay the idea.} exf3 33. Nxf3 (33. Bxf3 {would be a little better, helping retain the initiative and immediately getting the bishop active on the long diagonal again.} Qf7 34. Nc4) 33... Qe6 $2 (33... Rdd8) 34. Ne5 $6 {again missing the idea of d5.} (34. d5 $1 Qf6 35. Nd4 bxa5 36. Nxb5 axb4 37. dxc6 bxc3 38. cxd7 Nxd7 39. Rxc3 Rxc3 40. Nxc3 $18 {and White is up a piece for a pawn.}) 34... Rdc7 35. axb6 (35. Nxc6 $5 Nxc6 36. Bxc6 $14 {and if the bishop is captured then d5 is played.}) 35... axb6 $14 36. Kf2 $11 (36. Nxc6 {was again possible here.}) (36. Qd2 {was a better choice if White wanted to reinforce the e3 pawn.}) 36... Bf6 {now Black again seizes the initiative.} 37. Nc4 Bxc4 38. Rxc4 b5 39. R4c2 Re8 {Exerts pressure on the backward pawn, notes Fritz.} (39... Nd7 {getting the knight back into the game would have been more useful, in the engines' opinion.}) 40. Re1 {the passive choice.} (40. Rc3) 40... Bg5 $2 {Increases the pressure on the backward pawn. However, missing the threat (again) of d5.} 41. Rce2 (41. d5+ $142 {White missed this excellent chance, notes Fritz.} Qf6 42. dxc6 $18) 41... Qd6 42. Qc3 Rce7 (42... Nd7) 43. Bb2 Bf6 44. Qd2 {and a draw was agreed; Houdini rates the position as equal.} (44. Ra1 $5 $14 {is noteworthy, says Fritz, and would appear to be the best try for an advantage, exploiting the penetration threat on the a-file.}) 1/2-1/2

2 comments:

  1. A very interesting game.

    I thought you were pretty much better at 18...Qb8 so maybe b4 was OK.

    It doesn't look like Black has a whole lot and there are some good targets like the hanging R on e7, possible pin of Nd7, and the pin on f7 which weakens g6.

    Also d6 looks good for a N and if exchanging the B on b7 then c8 looks like trouble for Black.

    I'm not sure what my plan would be but I'm thinking there might be time to reposition something like Nbd2, Qb3 and then Nc4 might offer some good opportunities.

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  2. Thanks for the comments. I don't think 12. b4 was a bad move necessarily, but it didn't really do much for White and was symptomatic of a rather weak analysis of the position and resulting planning during the game (i.e. "I'll play b4 because that's what I always play in the English.")

    18...Qb8 definitely put Black in a weaker position. I particularly like the analysis variation for White on move 21 (Nd2).

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