07 December 2013

Annotated Game #109: How to play against your own opening?

It's always difficult to play against your own opening, psychologically speaking.  You normally will have faith in its superiority (or at least its preferability), the flip side of which is that you naturally will tend to dislike the other side's position type.  Of course strong players can often play both sides of an opening equally well, but that is one of the reasons why they are exceptional.  Overcoming a psychological bias and deeply understanding an opening's characteristics from both sides' perspectives, including the middlegame and endgame play that results, is I think a characteristic of mastery.

In the following game, played in the opening round of a tournament in the Slow Chess league, I face an early opening choice as White when my opponent replies with 1...c6.  Rather than transpose into more standard lines against my own defenses, I stick to an independent English Opening continuation that involves gambiting a pawn.  This is the first game that I have played with this line, so I'm pleased with it for training purposes, as well as content with the result.

One of my long-term flaws as a player has been being too materialistic, so learning to play more dynamically and with "compensation" is good for my chess.  In this game, the compensation for White is positional rather than in the form of a direct attack, although I was able to obtain some tactical play once Black castled queenside.  Houdini's assessment throughout was that White had full compensation for the pawn, which is useful validation of the line and my handling of it in this debut game.

[Event "DHLC Slow 1-2 Pairing #4"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.12.07"] [Round "1"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "keshavprasad"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "1443"] [BlackElo "1442"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 {an independent opening choice.} (2. e4 {directly transposes to a Caro-Kann.}) (2. d4 {gives Black a few more options, but the logical follow-up is to play ...d5 and enter a Slav.}) 2... d5 3. g3 dxc4 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. O-O Bf5 {although this is the 3rd most popular choice in the database, it doesn't seem to be the best placement for the bishop. White scores over 62 percent in this line.} (5... Nbd7 {is the most popular choice and has balanced results.}) (5... b5 {is perhaps the most obvious way to try to hold onto the pawn.}) 6. b3 (6. Na3 {is Houdini's recommendation and scores over 60 percent in the database. The idea is to provoke ...b5 first, which will leave a backward c-pawn for Black after the exchange and not allow him to oppose queens on b6.} b5 7. b3 cxb3 8. Qxb3 Be4 9. d3 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 a6 11. Nc2 e6 12. a4 Ra7 13. axb5 cxb5 14. Nb4 Bxb4 15. Qxb4 Qe7 16. Qb3 Qd7 17. Ba3 Nd5 18. Bxd5 Qxd5 19. Qc3 Rg8 20. Qc8+ Qd8 {Romanishin,O (2560)-Sveshnikov, E (2545) Minsk 1979 1/2-1/2 (36)}) 6... cxb3 7. Qxb3 Qb6 $146 {a logical way to protect b7, also looking to trade off queens. If White moves his queen away, it would simply be a loss of time.} 8. Ba3 {the idea is to make it awkward for Black to develop his dark-square bishop.} (8. Na3 $5 {heading for c4} Qxb3 9. axb3 e6 10. Nc4 Nbd7 11. Na5 $11) 8... Nbd7 (8... Qxb3 9. axb3 a6 10. Nc3 $11) 9. d3 {taking control of e4 and clearing the d2 square for the knight. However, White's compensation for the pawn declines after Black exchanges queens.} (9. Qc3 $5 $11 {now that the bishop is in place on a3, moving the queen away would not lose a crucial tempo.}) 9... Qxb3 10. axb3 e5 {this seems a little loose on Black's part, as the e-pawn will be rather weak here and White can prevent its further advance.} (10... e6 11. Bxf8 Rxf8) 11. Nbd2 {I thought for a while here and decided that it was better to continue developing rather than go for the exchange.} (11. Bxf8 Rxf8 (11... Nxf8 $143 12. Nxe5 Ke7 13. Nd2 $14) (11... Kxf8 $143 12. Nbd2 $11) 12. Nbd2 Be6 $11) 11... Bg6 {I was surprised at this move choice, since it didn't seem to gain Black much of anything and brings the bishop to a worse square.} (11... Bxa3 12. Rxa3 Be6 13. Rfa1 a6 14. Ra5 Nd5 15. Nc4 $11) 12. Bxf8 {the Ba3 did not seem to have any better options, so I take the chance to exchange and prevent Black from castling on the kingside.} Rxf8 13. Nh4 {I again thought for a while here. Nc4 is an obvious follow-up, but I wanted to open up the Bg2, control e4 and go ahead and eliminate Black's light-square bishop so it could not oppose my own.} (13. Nc4 {immediately is preferred by Houdini.} e4 14. Nh4 exd3 15. Nxg6 fxg6 16. Nd6+ Kd8 17. Nxb7+ Kc7 18. Na5 dxe2 19. Rfe1 $11) 13... a6 14. Nc4 O-O-O {I thought this allowed White to keep the initiative, as Black's king position is more exposed and White can make some tactical threats as a result. Objectively, however, it is fine.} 15. Rfc1 Nd5 (15... Kc7 16. b4 $11) 16. Nxg6 {deciding to proceed first with the plan of eliminating the light-squared bishop, which does not affect the tactical situation on the queenside.} hxg6 17. Bxd5 {I considered various tries like Na5, but White has no real threats against the Black king, so I decided to recoup the pawn.} cxd5 18. Nxe5+ Kb8 19. Nxd7+ {I evaluated the position as even with no real winning chances for White, so decided to simplify.} Rxd7 {A double rook endgame, which I soon turn into a single rook endgame.} 20. Ra2 Rc8 21. Rac2 Rxc2 22. Rxc2 Rc7 23. Rb2 {an important decision that holds equality. Simplifying down further into a K+P endgame would give Black any winning chances, with his 2-1 queenside majority and more active king, although it would still probably be a draw.} b5 24. Kg2 {White must get his king into the game and centralize it.} Rc3 {I didn't understand the purpose of this, it would seem Black should instead improve his king (... Ka7). However, the game is even and unless one side blunders, a draw should be the outcome.} 25. Kf3 Kc7 26. Ke3 Kd6 (26... b4 27. Kd4 $11) 27. Kd4 Rc6 (27... b4 {is what I was expecting.}) 28. e4 (28. Ra2 $5 $14 {I considered this idea for the rook placement, but focused instead on creating the central passed pawn.}) 28... dxe4 $11 29. Kxe4 Kc7 (29... a5 30. f4 $11) 30. b4 {Black has a new backward pawn: a6, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Re6+ {this indicated to me that my opponent was going to head for a draw by repetition.} 31. Kd4 Rd6+ 32. Ke4 Re6+ (32... f5+ {does not do anything for Black.} 33. Ke3 g5 34. f3 Re6+ 35. Kd4 $11) 33. Kd4 Rd6+ 34. Ke4 Re6+ 35. Kd4 1/2-1/2

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