23 December 2012

Annotated Game #76: Strategic blunders in the English

The most notable feature of this second-round tournament game is the two strategic blunders made by White out of the opening, an English vs. King's Indian Defense (KID) setup.  Move 10, where White pushes b4 without the a3 pawn to support it, is an excellent lesson in how not to execute the standard queenside expansion plan.  White's rook, after retaking on b4, is pushed around and Black easily takes over the initiative after White's second strategic error on move 13.  With 13. Qc1, White was attempting to play on the kingside and exchange off the Bg7, but this is far too slow and never actually happens.

There are some other interesting points to the game, which I managed to draw in the end.  However, the strategic lessons of 1) not pushing b4 when opposed by a5, until the b-pawn can be supported by the a-pawn, and 2) not haphazardly switching from a queenside to kingside strategy, are the most valuable for anyone playing a similar setup as White.  For those inclined to play the KID as Black, the game and analysis variations included offer a good guide to exploiting these types of errors.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 d6 5. d3 c6 {an alternative to the usual immediate O-O and e5 development scheme. This leads to a less aggressive setup for Black in the game.} 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. O-O O-O 8. Rb1 {preparing the b4 advance and getting the rook off the a1-h8 diagonal, which is dangerous due to the presence of the Bg7.} a5 9. Bd2 { in the database a3 is played almost exclusively. A high-level example:} (9. a3 Nb6 10. Bd2 d5 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. a4 Ne8 13. Nb5 Bd7 14. Qb3 Nxa4 15. Qxa4 Nc7 16. Nfd4 e5 17. Qb3 a4 18. Qa2 exd4 19. Nxc7 Qxc7 20. Bxd5 Bg4 21. Rfe1 Rfe8 22. Rbc1 Qd7 23. Bf4 Rac8 {Andersson,U-Polugaevsky,L/Hilversum 1973/MCD/1/2-1/ 2 (36)}) 9... Rb8 $146 (9... Nc5 10. b3 {1/2-1/2 Ziger,S-Begovac,F/Bern 1996/ CBM 51 ext (10)}) 10. b4 {this is an excellent example of how not to execute the standard b4 pawn advance plan.} (10. a3) 10... axb4 11. Rxb4 {now instead of having the open a-file to exploit, White has inflicted an isolated a-pawn on himself and has nothing of real use on the b-file.} Qa5 {too aggressive and obviously refuted.} (11... Nc5 {and Black looks well placed for the ensuing middlegame, while White will struggle to find a useful plan.}) 12. Ra4 Qc7 13. Qc1 {a strategic error. White tries to shift to kingside play with the idea of exchanging the Bg7, but this is too slow and does not take advantage of the new opportunity presented on the queenside.} (13. Ra7 Qb6 14. Ra3 {and now White has control of the a-file after all.}) 13... Nc5 14. Rb4 {see how much time has been wasted by moving around the rook, while Black has been able to develop and now can seize the initiative.} e5 15. Ng5 {White intends to blockade e4.} Bf5 {Black directly challenges the idea.} (15... Ra8 {would instead activate the rook and pressure the a-pawn.}) 16. Nge4 Ncxe4 17. Nxe4 Bxe4 18. Bxe4 Nxe4 19. dxe4 {the dust has now settled. Interestingly, Fritz originally gave a =/+ for Black here, While Houdini considers the game level. White's pawn structure is weaker, but the Bg7 is shut in.} Ra8 20. Qb2 Qa5 { the idea evidently is to begin a dynamic series of exchanges, although White could prevent this.} (20... Rfb8 $5 $11) 21. Rxb7 (21. Ra1 {is Houdini's preference. Black now has no way to make real progress.}) 21... Qxa2 22. Rb1 $2 {there is no logic to this move, as Black can simply scoop up the c4 pawn.} ( 22. Qxa2 {would be level.} Rxa2 23. Be3 Rxe2 24. Rd1 {and White will regain the pawn.}) 22... Qxc4 $15 {Fritz again gave more of a decisive advantage to Black here.} 23. Rd7 $17 (23. Bg5 {is preferred by the engines and would be a more sophisticated version of the counterattacking idea.} Ra2 (23... f6 { with the idea of simply grabbing the e4 pawn interestingly does not work.} 24. Be3 Qxe4 25. Rd1 d5 26. Rxg7+ {the key idea in this and similar variations.} Kxg7 27. Qb7+ Kh8 28. Bh6 Rg8 29. Bg7+ Rxg7 30. Qxa8+ Rg8 31. Qxc6) 24. Qb3 Qxe2 $15) 23... Qxe4 (23... Ra2 {would cause more problems for White.} 24. Qb4 Qxb4 (24... Qxe2 25. Qxd6 Qxe4 26. Rc1) 25. Bxb4 Rb8) 24. Rxd6 $15 Qxe2 25. Rxc6 e4 26. Qc2 (26. Bc3 $5) 26... Bd4 27. Be3 Qxc2 28. Rxc2 Bxe3 29. fxe3 f5 30. Rb7 {Despite Black's extra pawn, I felt reasonably sure of my ability to hold the position, given my active rooks and the need for Black to spend time setting up any pawn breakthroughs on the kingside.} Rfe8 $6 {a rook move that truly does nothing except hand the initiative to White.} (30... Rf7 31. Rxf7 Kxf7 32. Rc7+ Kg8 {would simplify things to Black's benefit.}) 31. Rd2 $2 { White fails to act aggressively enough and also makes a useless rook move.} ( 31. Rcc7 {would immediately ensure a draw, as Black cannot escape from the ensuing checks on the 7th rank.}) 31... Red8 32. Rc2 Ra1+ {this leads to the draw, as White does not pass up the second opportunity.} (32... Rab8 $5) 33. Kg2 $11 Rad1 34. Rcc7 R1d2+ 35. Kh3 g5 (35... h6 {would instead remove the h-pawn from the line of fire.}) 36. Rg7+ {here I didn't see a win for White, so took the draw.} 1/2-1/2


  1. Perhaps you could have played on, after ...Kf8 or ...Kh8, you can pick up the h-pawn with a tempo (either check, after Kh8, or threat of mate on the back rank after ...Kf8. Then you could also pick up the g-pawn, and have the plan of advancing the h-pawn coupled with pressure on the f-pawn and threats to the enemy king.

  2. I definitely could have played on, and probably would if I were playing the game now. As it happened, at that point in the game psychologically I was happy to take the draw, after Black blew his advantage.