30 March 2013

Annotated Game #88: King Safety in the Caro-Kann

This next tournament started off with an Attack of the Clones, bringing me to a round 2 game with Black.  My opponent chooses an offbeat but effective sideline of the Caro-Kann with 2. c4.  However, he fails to take proper advantage of his lead in development and by move 10 Black has effectively equalized.

The positional maneuvering that follows is illustrative of Class B level play, as neither side seemingly knows what is going on in the position.  Black should be more pleased with the results, as his goal was to maintain equality and get his pieces into more effective positions, rather than attempting to seize the initiative.  Black's failure to understand the position's requirements, however, is brought to a head when White undertakes a rather obvious attack on Black's open kingside.  Despite the availability of a standard defensive resource (25...Ng8 with equality) Black fails to consider the move.  Instead he plays blithely on, focusing on the obvious White threat and failing to do elementary checks, captures and threats (CCT) analysis, leading to a quick and shocking conclusion.

The impression one gets from this game is that neither Black's mind nor heart was in it, which is essentially correct.  The opening variation is not very exciting for Black, who needs to struggle a bit for equality with no obvious counterattacking opportunities.  Games should not be played on autopilot, however, and in addition to engaging in poor positional play, I was simply lazy in failing to make the necessary calculations when my king position finally came under direct attack.

Any Caro-Kann player should have a defensive radar that detects these types of potential threats to king safety, ideally heading them off before they materialize or, failing that, marshaling enough defensive resources to meet the threat.  In this game, the weakening of the king's pawn shield allowed White to muster a cheap attack and Black's failure to find the correct defense allowed it to succeed, neither of which would have occurred if Black had been paying attention to his position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2007.01.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] 1. e4 c6 2. c4 d5 3. cxd5 (3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 {is how White can transpose into the Panov-Botvinnink Attack.}) 3... cxd5 4. exd5 Qxd5 (4... Nf6 {is a sexier line, but I prefer the straightforward recapture as being simpler. }) 5. Nc3 Qd6 {the queen may eventually retreat to d8 anyway, so this is mostly a matter of personal taste.} 6. d4 Nf6 7. Nf3 e6 {Black is behind in development, comments Fritz.} 8. Nb5 {Bd3 or Bc4 are the usual moves here, keeping White's development advantage. The text move is premature, as White has no specific threat as a follow-up, so it simply loses time.} Qd8 {the standard retreat.} (8... Qb6 {also looks fine and is a little more active placement.}) 9. a3 {another non-developing move.} (9. Bf4 Nd5 {and c7 is defended.}) 9... a6 10. Nc3 $11 {White's loss of tempi has effectively allowed Black to equalize.} Be7 11. Bd3 O-O 12. O-O Nc6 {pressuring the isolated pawn on d4 is not a bad idea, but Black may want to prioritize development of the Bc8.} (12... b5 {followed by ...Bb7 looks preferable, activating the bishop and strengthening control over d5.}) 13. Bg5 h6 14. Bh4 Nd5 $6 {this is the start of Black's problems. The plan is simply to trade down, but there is little regard for the consequences. Continuing to concentrate on further development would have been better.} (14... Qb6 {would put the queen on an active square and free d8 for a rook.}) (14... b5 {would still be an effective way of developing the Bc8.}) 15. Bxe7 Ndxe7 {we are accustomed to seeing "wrong rook" move comments, here it is the wrong knight.} (15... Ncxe7 { would have maintained Black's dominance of d5.}) 16. Ne2 $6 {more time-wasting by White.} (16. Bc2 {is what the engines prefer, with the standard plan of following it up with Qd3, forcing Black to make awkward defensive moves.}) 16... Bd7 17. Rc1 Rc8 18. Bb1 {Black has a cramped position, notes Fritz, but White has done nothing to take advantage of this.} Nd5 19. Qd3 g6 $6 {Black begins to neglect king safety here, loosening the pawn structure. Note the absence of defensive pieces on the kingside as well.} (19... Nf6) 20. g3 { again, White proceeds slowly and also blocks the g3 square from use by the Ne2. } (20. Ng3 $5) 20... Nce7 {Black finally figures out that the knight is essentially useless on c6.} 21. Nc3 Nxc3 22. bxc3 {White has new hanging pawns: c3+d4, comments Fritz.} (22. Rxc3 $2 Bb5) 22... b5 {aimed at preventing the c4 advance. Black is a bit cramped but equal.} 23. Ne5 Bc6 {Black would be perfectly happy to exchange bishop for knight, given the pawn structure.} 24. Qe3 {White threatens to win material: Qe3xh6} Kg7 25. Ng4 {White has a mate threat, comments Fritz.} Rh8 $2 $16 (25... Ng8 $5 $11 {and Black is fine. The theme of retreating a knight to the back rank for king defense (although more often to f8) is a common one and should always be considered as an option.}) 26. Qe5+ {this is the move I missed, focusing only on the threat to h6. The surprise blow triggers an immediate collapse.} Kh7 $4 {strolling merrily down the path to disaster, says Fritz.} (26... Kg8 {is the only move and although White comes out with a plus, the best continuation is not obvious, with a rather long line from the engines before it becomes evident.} 27. c4 bxc4 28. Nf6+ Kf8 29. Rxc4 Bb5 30. Nd7+ Kg8 31. Rxc8 Qxc8 32. Nf6+ Kf8 33. Rd1 Nc6 34. Nd7+ Kg8 35. Qd6 {and now White pushes the d-pawn.}) 27. Nf6+ Kg7 28. Nh5+ (28. Nh5+ Kf8 29. Qg7+ Ke8 30. Nf6#) 1-0


  1. Hi Chess Admin,

    Tough game.

    I think White played pretty well. Especially 16-18 where he overprotected the d pawn, took the c-file, and especially Bb1 which opened lines and kept h7 diagonal. I don't know if it was luck or skill but pretty good chess as you were busted with a bind by 20.

    Maybe around 18... was a chance to liquidate on the c file with something like ...Qb6 and ...Na7 or Na5 depending, you've got c8 covered and he's got to worry about back rank mate, rook fork on b1 and weakness on b2 square. It might be tough but it looks like if you can get rid of rooks & then queen and get Qside pawns on dark squares the d-pawn weakness would favor Black.

    1. White was around 4-5 tempi behind the usual IQP strategy by around move 20, without any real pressure to show for it, so I'm not as impressed by his play compared to what he could have done. After the pawn structure change, the move 25 variation with ...Ng8 shows that despite White looking optically better, he really has nowhere to go against Black's position (although Black certainly has nothing going against White either, it's pretty drawish). Black dominates the d5 square so White has nowhere to go in the center, the kingside threats are essentially over, and he's got no prospects on the queenside.

      Black's main mistakes earlier on were in not developing the queen and light-squared bishop, resulting in a more cramped position than necessary and giving White the only practical chances in the position - White looks better by comparison, I'll grant that. Later, the rapid collapse after White initiates a rather basic kingside attack is just awful. In sports the equivalent is when the commentators say that one side didn't bother showing up for the game.