09 November 2013

Annotated Game #107: Don't be afraid of the center

This game is from round four of the last Swiss tournament run by the Slow Chess League.  Some all-too-familiar lessons can be seen from analyzing this loss:
  • Don't be afraid of the center!  White could have established a fine center with d4-e3 early on, consolidating his pawn advantage and giving Black little scope for counterplay in the center.  White also shied away from "posting up" in the center with e4 later on.
  • Following general principles without concrete analysis can lead to trouble; in this case, I did not properly evaluate some of the exchanges that I initiated, although Black also made some similar missteps with exchanges.
  • Planlessness and negative trends.  I drifted planless starting around move 17, when a simple plan would have done fine.  This contributed to the establishment of a negative psychological trend for me and letting my opponent take over the initiative.  He was able to make a series of threats without having to worry about my counterplay, which in the end gave him the game.

[Event "Slow Swiss #9"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.10.26"] [Round "4"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "Lavner"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "1454"] [BlackElo "1478"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 {a common transposition into the lines with ...e5, although it is still more common to play the pawn move first.} 3. Nf3 e4 { this loses a pawn by force, although it has been played as a gambit in some master games.} 4. Ng5 {White scores over 60 percent with this.} d5 (4... b5 { is the master-level continuation, deflecting the c-pawn before playing ...d5. The sacrificed pawn is therefore the b-pawn rather than a central pawn.}) 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Ngxe4 Nc6 7. d3 {here was my first long think. I wanted to get the bishop out without giving Black a target, was the idea, but a relatively passive approach.} (7. d4 {followed by e3, building a strong center, is significantly better. Black will have some good piece activity and easy development, but no other significant compensation for the pawn.}) 7... Bf5 8. Nxd5 {an exchange that gives Black an active queen, so not the best decision. I was following the principle of exchanging down when ahead material; however, in this case the material advantage is limited to a lone pawn and I had lesser development, so exchanging off one of my two developed pieces and giving Black another developed piece resulted in a gain in time for Black.} (8. g3 { immediately would be fine, as White has no need to exchange in the center.}) 8... Qxd5 9. Nc3 Qd7 10. g3 Bb4 (10... Bh3 {seems like it would be annoying, but in fact Black would be reducing his time advantage with the exchange and White's king would not be in any danger.} 11. Bxh3 Qxh3 12. Qb3 {and now Black cannot penetrate on the kingside effectively, for example} Qg2 13. Rf1 Bb4 ( 13... Qxh2 $2 14. Qxb7 $18) 14. Be3 Qxh2 $6 15. O-O-O {and now White has the advantage in activity and threats after having returned the pawn.}) 11. Bg2 O-O (11... Bh3 {here would be more effective, since the Bb4 blocks the b-file threat after Qb3.}) 12. O-O Rad8 13. Bf4 {I debated here between this and Bg5. Houdini prefers the latter.} (13. Bg5 Rde8 14. Nd5 Bd6 15. e4 {is one possibility. I had in fact considered the idea of "posting up" in the center with e4, but thought that the d-pawn would be too weak. However, Black has no way of effectively getting to it, while the Nd5 looks quite strong. In this line, Black also has no time to play ...h6 and kick the bishop.} Bg4 16. Qd2) 13... Bd6 {this is a good exchange for White, reducing the minor piece count further and leaving Black with less effective pieces.} (13... Nd4 {would be more troublesome for White.}) 14. Bxd6 Qxd6 15. Rc1 $16 {despite White's uninspired play, at this point in the game there are no weaknesses for Black to target and White is a solid central pawn up.} Rfe8 16. Re1 a6 {preventing any any ideas involving Nb5, but White now has some other good moves available. However, I failed to come up with any real plan and started "drifting".} 17. a3 {the idea was to prevent ...Nb4 and allow Qc2, but this is rather slow.} (17. Ne4 {I considered in the game and it would be simple and good, centralizing the knight while giving the Rc1 some useful pressure down the c-file. Nc5 would now be a threat as well, so Black should probably exchange on e4.}) (17. Na4 {is another idea targeting the c5 square and looking to break up and weaken Black's queenside pawns. For example} a5 18. Bxc6 bxc6 19. Qc2) 17... Qh6 {hoping to generate some kingside pressure.} 18. Nd5 {I missed Black's next move, which takes away the knight's support on d5 and makes the idea of snatching the c pawn less strong, since the knight would not have a retreat square afterwards. Despite still having a significant advantage, mentally the disruption of my original idea helped move the game towards a negative trend for me.} Bh3 19. Nf4 $6 (19. Nxc7 {is in fact still possible, although not best.} Bxg2 20. Nxe8 Bh3 21. Nxg7 Qxg7) (19. Bh1 {this is a standard way to avoid the trade of the fianchettoed bishop, but unfortunately it did not occur to me during the game. I thought the e-pawn would be too weak or it would require too much awkwardness to defend, but Houdini finds a concrete, tactical continuation leading to an advantage.} Bg4 20. Rc4 {interesting to see how this rook lift idea works well here, but less so in the game continuation.} Ne5 21. Rxc7 Rxd5 22. Bxd5 Qd6 23. Bxf7+ Nxf7 24. Qc2) 19... Bxg2 20. Nxg2 { obviously awkward for the knight, but I was worried about threats to the knight after the king capture.} (20. Kxg2 g5 21. Nh3 {should be OK, however.}) 20... Re5 {an aggressive move which should have been countered easily by White. } 21. Rc4 {with the idea of playing Rh4 to disrupt Black's plans on the h-file. } (21. e3 {would shore up White's center while leaving Black no real threats.} Rh5 22. h4) 21... Qd6 22. Qc1 $6 {a subtle queen move which in fact hurts White. I thought the queen would do better on the c1-h6 diagonal and also could get out of the way of any tactical threats on the d-file.} (22. Nh4 $5 { would reactivate the piece, heading for f3 and the central fight.}) 22... Nd4 $11 {Black now takes full advantage of White's passivity in the center. White is too weak to boot the knight with e3, as the f3 square is vulnerable.} 23. Ne3 {a defensive move to cover the e-file threat.} c5 24. b4 b6 25. Qb2 { this looks good, protecting e2 again, pressuring d4 and covering b4. However, the defense of the back rank is weakened and the queen is unprotected, leading to the winning tactic later on.} (25. bxc5 {immediately might be better, if White is going to play this anyway.}) 25... h5 26. Ng2 $2 {simply a waste of time, also removing the defensive function of the knight by covering the e-file (why move 23 was played in the first place).} Qf6 {lining up various tactical threats, which however could have been countered.} (26... Rde8 { would have more effectively gone after White's weaknesses.}) 27. bxc5 $2 (27. f4 Red5 28. Kf1 $11) 27... bxc5 (27... Nf3+ {is something we both noticed after the fact, winning the exchange.} 28. Kf1 Nxh2+ 29. Kg1 Nf3+ 30. Kf1 Nxe1 31. Kxe1 Rxd3) 28. Ne3 {this covers the various threats involving taking on e2, but I miss the rook sacrifice, which after being accepted allows for the win of the queen.} Rxe3 29. fxe3 $2 (29. Rxd4 $1 {is the tactical defensive exchange sac that Houdini finds. I assumed that I would simply be down a piece and lost if I didn't accept the original sac, so did not even look for an alternative.}) 29... Nf3+ {with a discovered attack on the hanging Qb2.} 0-1

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