21 July 2012

Annotated Game #55: Slice and Dice

This last-round game in the weekend Swiss open tournament shows how White takes advantage of passive play and effectively uses his two bishops in the end to slice and dice like knives through Black's position.  As Black, I deliberately selected a slightly inferior variation in the Two Knights variation of the Caro-Kann - done in order to save having to memorize the variation's main line - but quickly go wrong with it in the early middlegame.  This is a typical error of mine (and for many amateurs), related to lack of depth in opening study.  The failure to understand the important elements of the early middlegame that result from a particular opening line is, time and again, the root cause of a lost game.

In this case, the apparently subtle defensive move 12...Re8 was called for, which would have neutralized White's future threats along the evil e-file, although this does not become apparent for several moves.  This is also a reflection of the common general amateur error of not developing rooks early enough in the middlegame.  My opponent, an Expert, avoids this problem and the note to move 20 points out how effective his one developed rook is, combining with his other pieces to make threats while my rooks merely sit on the sidelines.

In terms of positional themes, the other dominant one is of course the two bishops.  In the opening, Black deliberately gives White this advantage, along with a small advantage in development, in compensation having easy development for himself and no structural weaknesses.  However, White's edge out of the opening is real and Black needed to concentrate harder on identifying and carefully neutralizing White's play.  Black instead focused on the more crude plan of simply exchanging down wherever possible, which worked up to a point but ignored White's positional threats.  The domination of the two bishops at the end of this game is an object lesson in why they are considered an advantage.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "69"] {B10: Caro-Kann: d3 and 2 c4} 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 {the Two Knights' variation} dxe4 {this sideline can result in a structure similar to the mainline Caro-Kann, once White plays d4.} (3... Bg4 {is the standard move here, leading to true Two Knights positions.}) 4. Nxe4 Bf5 {other standard moves (Nd7, Nf6) are very likely to transpose into their respective mainline Caro-Kann variations. Here, the move is the signature for the Classical variation, but as we'll shortly see White would get a major advantage if Black tried to play for a transposition.} 5. Ng3 Bg4 {this leads to a slightly inferior position for Black, which is however playable.} ({Playing} 5... Bg6 { as the analagous move in the Classical variation would only lead to a strong White initiative here.} 6. h4 h6 7. Ne5 Bh7 8. Qh5 {and White scores 70 percent from here in the database. The difference from the Classical variation is that while White has not played d4, Black has not played either Nd7 or Nf6, either of which would prevent White's attack.}) 6. h3 Bxf3 7. Qxf3 Nf6 8. Bc4 e6 {here we can take stock of the opening drawbacks for Black. White has three pieces developed to Black's one, and also possesses the two bishops. However, Black's position has no organic weaknesses.} 9. c3 Nbd7 10. d4 Be7 11. O-O O-O 12. Re1 Nd5 $146 {now out of the database.} (12... Re8 {strengthening Black's defenses on the "evil" e-file is the move of choice among high-level players, for example:} 13. Nh5 Nxh5 14. Qxh5 Nf6 15. Qf3 Nd5 16. Qg4 Nf6 17. Qf3 Nd5 18. Qg4 Nf6 19. Qf3 {1/2-1/2 Antoniewski,R (2585)-L'Ami,E (2592)/Hamburg GER 2011/ The Week in Chess 892}) 13. Ne4 N7f6 14. Bd3 {White redeploys on a more promising diagonal, also freeing the c4 square for a pawn push.} h6 {Prevents intrusion on g5, notes Fritz, but also gives White a kingside target.} 15. g4 { a very aggressive choice. White is looking to take advantage of Black's evident passivity.} (15. Nxf6+ $5 Nxf6 16. Bf4 $14 {is the choice of the engines.}) 15... Nxe4 {the correct reaction, exchanging off a potential attacker and redeploying the Nd5.} 16. Qxe4 Nf6 17. Qg2 {signaling further aggressive intent down the g-file. Houdini now evaluates the position as equal, however.} Qd5 (17... Nd5 $5 $11 {is an alternative, keeping the queens on the board. Black's defensive task may in fact be easier this way.}) 18. f4 (18. Bf4 Qxg2+ 19. Kxg2 Nd5 20. Be5) 18... Qxg2+ {Black accomplishes his single-minded goal of trading down pieces.} (18... Rad8 {would instead develop the rook and help prepare the ...c5 break.}) 19. Kxg2 c5 {Black is unfortunately ignorant of the coming threat down the e-file. Bd6 would be more appropriate, moving the unprotected bishop out of the line of fire from the Re1.} 20. f5 {White immediately capitalizes on Black's mistake. Note how effective the one White developed rook is, compared to zero effectiveness for Black's rooks.} Kh8 $2 ( 20... cxd4 {is a viable option, says Fritz.} 21. fxe6 fxe6 22. Rxe6 Bc5 $14 { is rather ugly, but Black is still hanging on for the time being.}) 21. fxe6 $18 Nd5 (21... cxd4 {is still Black's best option, but now he's further down material.} 22. exf7 Bc5 23. cxd4 $18) 22. dxc5 (22. exf7 {is strongly preferred by the engines.} Bf6 23. Be4 Rad8 24. dxc5 Rxf7 $18 25. Rd1) 22... Bh4 {a cheap and pointless threat, made out of a growing sense of desperation. Simply recapturing with Bxc5 was better.} 23. Rf1 (23. Re2 $5) 23... fxe6 24. Bd2 Rf6 $6 {this takes away the best retreat square for the knight, which White immediately sees.} (24... Rfd8) 25. c4 Nc7 $2 {this actually was Black's original idea, to protect the pawn on e6, but the passivity of the piece compared to White's increasingly active bishops will in fact doom Black.} ( 25... Rd8 $142 26. cxd5 Rxd5 $18) 26. Bc3 Rff8 27. Be5 $6 {this in reality forces the knight to a better square and should lose White the c5 pawn.} (27. Be4 {makes it even easier for White, says Fritz.} Bf6 28. Bxf6 gxf6 29. Bxb7 $18) 27... Na6 28. Bd6 Rf6 $2 (28... Rfc8 {would win back the pawn, at least, although Black is still losing.} 29. b4 Nxb4 $18) 29. Be4 {now the two bishops effectively help White finish carving up Black's position.} Rd8 30. Bxb7 Nb4 31. Be4 Rd7 32. a3 Na6 33. b4 Rdf7 34. Rxf6 Bxf6 35. Bg6 1-0

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