16 June 2012

Annotated Game #50: Rigid Thinking

This was the penultimate game in the tournament and a much-needed win.  The opening starts out in an unpromising way, as White attempts to avoid mainline Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) positions but in the process offers Black a chance to seize a clear advantage as early as move 6.  Black rigidly sticks to his own opening scheme, however, and the danger point passes for White.  White opts for a slow, solid strategy designed to wait and take advantage of any Black mistakes.  This eventually pays off, as Black allows White to break through on the queenside without the compensation that could have been generated by Black's play on the kingside.

Some useful learning points come out of this game analysis:
  • Avoid rigid thinking in the opening.  Both White and Black had early opportunities to significantly improve their game.  On my part, a largely emotional desire to avoid pushing center pawns - because I preferred to think of the English is a "flank opening" - limited my options.  Black appeared to similarly follow his preferred opening structure without considering other opportunities.
  • Avoid premature resolution of central pawn tension (as occurred on move 10).  This is a typical amateur mistake.  The resulting position needs to be fully evaluated and most often piece development before any such pawn exchanges will obtain better results.
  • Look for options which keep pieces dynamic rather than limiting their capabilities (White's move 18)
  • Consider longer-term consequences for piece placement, including exposure to attack (Black's move 18)
  • Examine any possible tactics close to the king (the missed Nxf2 sacrifice, a possibility in several variations.)

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "73"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 e6 {a flexible move, but it usually means that Black intends to enter a QGD setup.} 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. g3 (4. e4 {should be considered, as it would take advantage of Black's failure to play d5 on the previous move. It scores extremely well (over 80%) in the database.}) 4... O-O 5. Bg2 d5 6. b3 {choosing to keep the opening in uncharted waters.} Nbd7 {Black is thinking rigidly in the opening.} (6... d4 { instead would be a problem.} 7. Nb1 $15 (7. Nb5 Nc6)) 7. O-O {with the d7 knight blocking the Qd8, White now controls d4 and and develop unhindered.} Re8 8. Bb2 Nf8 9. d3 {a typical English strategy, taking away the e4 square from Black.} (9. Qc2 Ng6 10. d4 {is the approach preferred by Houdini, gaining more space and central control.}) 9... Ng6 10. cxd5 {a premature resolution of the central tension.} exd5 {Black now has the only central pawn and his Re8 has better prospects.} 11. Rc1 c6 12. e3 {White is now pursuing the strategy of a solid waiting game.} Bc5 {b4 is a better square for the bishop, as it is exposed to attack on c5.} 13. a3 {Secures b4} a5 14. Na4 Bd6 15. Nc5 {while not a bad move, this is typical amateur play. White needs to continue developing his heavy pieces.} (15. Qc2 {is one possibility, connecting the rooks and building up on the c-file.}) (15. Qd2 {is Houdini's choice.}) 15... Qe7 16. b4 axb4 17. axb4 Nd7 18. d4 {now the Bb2 is shut in.} (18. Qc2 { is preferred by the engines, which develops the queen while allowing White to maintain an outpost on c5.} Nge5 $11) 18... Bxc5 {this is a premature exchange and turns White's weak b-pawn into a strong, advanced c-pawn.} (18... Nf6 $142 $5 {should be examined more closely, says Fritz. Black would have the opportunity to try to stir something up on the kingside.}) 19. bxc5 Nf6 20. Qb3 {finally the queen is developed and the rooks connected.} Bf5 21. Ra1 Ne4 22. Bc3 {with the idea of tempting Black to exchange the bishop for the well-posted Ne4, or if that does not occur, giving the bishop some prospects on the a5-d8 diagonal.} (22. Rxa8 {is preferred by the engines, with the exchanges giving White more space and eventual control of the a-file.} Rxa8 23. Ra1 Rxa1+ 24. Bxa1) 22... Ra6 {this only weakens the queenside and allows White to execute his plan.} (22... Rxa1 {would instead set a nasty trap for White.} 23. Rxa1 $2 (23. Bxa1 Qd7 24. Rc1 $11) 23... Nxf2 $1 24. Bd2 (24. Kxf2 $4 Qxe3+ 25. Kf1 Bd3#)) 23. Rxa6 $14 bxa6 24. Ba5 {Black's pawns on a6 and c6 are now weak and therefore targets for White.} Qa7 25. Rb1 {obvious but not best.} (25. Ra1 Rb8 26. Bb6 {is a superior way to make progress, dooming the a-pawn.}) 25... Nf6 {this doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose.} (25... Qe7 $5 $14 {is worthy of consideration, says Fritz, as it renews Black's tactical threat down the e-file.} 26. Qb7 $2 Nxf2 $1) 26. Qb7 $16 Qxb7 27. Rxb7 Bd3 28. Bf1 Bb5 29. Nd2 {White misses the chance to go after the c-pawn.} (29. Bxb5 axb5 30. Rc7 Ne7 31. Ne5 $16) 29... Ra8 30. Nb3 Ne4 31. Bb4 {White could break through immediately, instead, with} (31. Bxb5 axb5 32. Rc7 Ra6 33. Rc8+ Nf8 34. Be1 Ra2 35. Na5) 31... Re8 (31... Kf8 $142 $5 $14 {is a better defensive try, moving to activate the king and avoid back-rank issues.}) 32. Bxb5 {White finally pulls the trigger.} axb5 33. Na5 {the incorrect sequence, however.} ( 33. Rc7 Ne7 34. Na5) 33... Ne7 {missing a chance to put up stronger resistance. } (33... Rc8 34. Ra7 $16) 34. Rc7 Ng5 35. Nxc6 Nxc6 36. Rxc6 Ne6 37. Rb6 { and the b-pawn will fall.} (37. Rb6 Rc8 (37... Nc7 38. Rb7 Rc8 39. Ba5) 38. Rxb5 $18) 1-0

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