20 August 2012

Annotated Game #59: It's a marathon, not a sprint

This second-round tournament game features a side variation of the English Four Knights (6...d6) that you won't find in manuals, but is played fairly often in practice, according to the database.  The first four moves of the game are full of transpositional possibilities, but White was looking to go into a Four Knights and it seems that Black was happy to oblige.

The problem with this side variation, as is usual with deviations from theoretical main lines, is not that it's losing; it's simply not best.  In this particular case, it doesn't develop a piece (unlike the main line 6...Re8) and limits Black's mobility in the center and with his dark-square bishop.  White makes obvious moves to take advantage of this, kicking Black's bishop back to b6 and then developing with a threat to the kingside with Bd3.  At this point, though, White - perhaps focusing too much on the 100-point rating gap in Black's favor - opts for a weak plan of simply trading minor pieces.  By move 12, White has negated any opening advantage he had, allowing Black to pass him in development and also handing Black the initiative with threats down the c-fiile.

Black for a time presses his initiative well, but then lets up for one move and White is able to almost equalize again. Unable to make progress, Black trades down and enters a Q+2R late middlegame/endgame which White should be able to hold with little difficulty.  Unfortunately, after 32 moves of hard-fought battle and feeling the pressure, White fails to fully calculate his 33rd move, again focusing on the illusory simplification of the piece trade and not its consequences.  Black then penetrates with his queen and it's all over.

Although analysis shows some of my play to have been erroneous or not optimal before the final error, the  game was at least a worthy struggle.  The problem at the end was can be ascribed to laziness (or tiredness, more charitably).  I've seen this happen before in my games, including more recently, and it remains an object lesson.  A chessplayer needs to have the mental capacity of a marathon runner, treating all moves until the end of the game as important.  Just as importantly, a player needs to have the energy to tackle them appropriately.  Sprinting is good for as long as it lasts, but most games are going to go the distance.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "68"] {A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 Nc6 2. Nf3 e5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 Bb4 5. Qc2 O-O 6. Nd5 d6 {opening manuals only deal with ...Re8 here. White scores almost 60 percent from this position.} 7. a3 Bc5 8. b4 Bb6 9. Bd3 h6 (9... Nxd5 {is what Houdini prefers here and as an antidote to an earlier Bd3.} 10. Bxh7+ Kh8 11. cxd5 Ne7 12. Bd3 Nxd5) 10. Bf5 $146 {this was played with the misguided intention of simply looking to trade pieces. Black will be happy to do this and gain some time back.} (10. Nxf6+ {is the superior move, according to both human practice and computer analysis. Removing the defending knight gives White an edge on the kingside.} Qxf6 11. Bb2 $14) 10... Nxd5 11. cxd5 Ne7 12. Bxc8 Rxc8 {after this sequence, White has left developed only the Nf3, which has no useful squares, and the Qc2, which can be targeted by the Rc8. Black meanwhile has castled, has better minor piece placement, and nicely placed rooks.} 13. e4 {ignoring the looming threat on the c-file.} c6 14. dxc6 Nxc6 15. Qb3 Kh7 {Necessary to prepare the following move, but this unnecessarily gives White some breathing room.} (15... Nd4 16. Nxd4 Bxd4 17. Bb2 $17 Qg5) 16. O-O f5 17. d3 fxe4 18. dxe4 {While Black has an edge now after his plan with ...f5, it's not nearly as critical as the position after 15...Nd4, as White's king is no longer in the center.} Nd4 19. Nxd4 Bxd4 20. Bb2 Bb6 21. Bc1 {with the idea of Be3, exchanging off the dangerous Bb6.} (21. Rae1 {was Fritz's original recommendation here, as the engine saw that the e4 pawn is vulnerable after ...Qh4. However, Houdini spots an attacking continuation for Black that makes this line bad for White.} Qh4 22. Re2 Rf4 23. Qh3 Qxh3 24. gxh3 Rc4) 21... Bd4 {Black evidently has trouble figuring out how to make progress, repeating the position.} (21... Qh4 22. Be3 Qxe4 23. Bxb6 axb6 24. Qe3 Qxe3 25. fxe3 {and White can hope to hold in the endgame.}) 22. Bb2 Qb6 {f2 becomes the focus of attention, noted Fritz. However, the position is now equal.} 23. Bxd4 Qxd4 24. Rad1 Qxe4 25. Rxd6 {this should now be a draw. } Qf4 (25... Rc2 26. Qd3 Qxd3 27. Rxd3) 26. Qb1+ Kh8 27. Qb2 {defensive, but maintains equality.} (27. Rd7 {would be more active. One should almost never pass up the chance to put a rook on the 7th rank unopposed.} Rc3 28. Rxb7 Rxa3 29. Qc2) 27... Qf5 28. Qb1 Rc2 29. f3 {again defensive, but equal. However, this also opens the g1-a7 diagonal and weakens the king position, so White should have looked for a better alternative.} (29. Rd7 {effectively trading rooks would give White an easier game.} Qxd7 30. Qxc2) 29... Rfc8 {Black's pressure now starts getting to White, who fails to find the correct defense.} 30. Rfd1 $6 (30. Rd2 {would use the pin on the Rc2 to White's advantage.} Qh7 31. Rxc2 Rxc2 32. Rc1) 30... R8c7 (30... Rxg2+ {is found by the engines.} 31. Kxg2 Rc2+ 32. Qxc2 Qxc2+ 33. R1d2 $15 {;however, despite the computer's judgment of slight advantage to Black based on the extra pawn, this would be difficult to win.}) 31. Rd8+ Kh7 32. R8d2 Qg6 33. Rxc2 $4 {after a long period of pressure, White fails to do the necessary calculations. The focus was erroneously on the piece exchange on c2, while the subsequent threat to g2 (with a tempo-gaining check) was ignored.} (33. g3) 33... Rxc2 $19 34. g3 Qb6+ {now the weakness on the diagonal proves fatal, as Black is able to use the extra tempo obtained with check to penetrate decisively with the queen.} (34... Qb6+ 35. Kh1 Qf2) 0-1

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