12 February 2014

Annotated Game #115: The Opaque Hedgehog

Of course there is no actual "opaque" variation of the Hedgehog - the reference is to the fact that the whole opening complex is rather murky and complicated for us Class players.  In the following game, although I have a general idea of the slow, maneuvering play required from the Hedgehog, as early as move 13 (or perhaps a little earlier) I have no real idea on how to usefully proceed.  While I don't make any obviously bad moves, I don't play very effectively as White and allow my opponent to get a very solid position with some potential threats on the queenside.  This is in fact a standard characteristic of the Hedgehog, in which Black intentionally adopts a solid, non-aggressive formation limited to the first three ranks, then slowly pushes White back while developing counterplay.

After a fair amount of maneuvering on both sides and reaching a drawish position following a queen exchange, my opponent decides to keep pressing, which was not in my view objectively warranted.  Key strategic mistakes on moves 26 and 27 left the center open for my knights, which handed me the initiative and eventually the game after I spotted the deflection tactic on move 41.  Although Black put up strong resistance afterwards, I found the correct endgame ideas and the outcome was never in doubt.

This was a blunder-free game on my part, although some of my ideas were certainly sub-optimal, and there are some positive signs for the evolution of my playing skills in terms of tactics and endgame technique.  Knowing that I would not have been able to play this way several years ago, or at least not find the correct ideas nearly as easily, is a good indicator of how my chess studies are bearing fruit.

[Event "DHLC Slow Chess Quads"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.01.31"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "Yamaduta"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "1489"] [BlackElo "1436"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "107"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A30: Symmetrical English: Double Fianchetto and Hedgehog} 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 {the English Hedgehog. The specific move-order is not terribly important, although Black's early ...e6 meant that 4...d5 was a possible alternative.} 6. O-O Be7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 O-O 9. Rd1 {the most common approach to the Hedgehog by White. Pressure is built up on the d-file while White tries to exploit his temporary space advantage.} a6 {by this point I had no recollection of specific lines to follow, so just stuck with basic developmental ideas.} 10. b3 d6 11. Bb2 (11. Ba3 $5 {should cause Black more difficulty.}) 11... Qc7 12. Rac1 {with the idea that the rook is better placed on the c-file opposite the queen, in the event the c-pawn is exchanged off.} Nbd7 $11 {by this point Black has equalized and I have run out of obviously useful ideas.} 13. Nh4 {not the worst move in the position, but not likely the best either. I'm seeking to reposition the knight to a better square to fight for d5.} (13. Qe3 Rfe8 14. Nd4 Bxg2 15. Kxg2 Bf8 16. h3 Rac8 17. Kg1 Qb8 18. Qf3 Ne5 19. Qg2 Rc7 20. Ne4 Nxe4 21. Qxe4 Rec8 22. a4 Nd7 23. Qf3 Ne5 24. Qe3 Qb7 25. Ra1 Rb8 26. Bc3 Rcc8 27. Rdc1 h6 {Cebalo,M (2492)-Jelen,I (2420) Ribnica 1979 1/2-1/2 (53)}) 13... Rac8 $146 (13... Bxg2 14. Nxg2 Qb7 15. Ba3 Nc5 16. Bxc5 bxc5 17. Qf4 Rfd8 18. Ne3 h6 19. h4 Ne8 20. Rd3 Qc7 21. Ng2 Bf6 22. Na4 Qe7 23. Qd2 Rab8 24. Ne1 Qb7 25. Rd1 Rdc8 26. Nf3 Qb4 27. Qc1 d5 28. Nd2 Nd6 29. Qc2 d4 30. e4 Qb7 {Dudas,J (2410) -Zetocha,C (2360) Aggtelek 1997 1-0 (49)}) 14. Bxb7 {there was no particular need to rush the exchange, but again I had no alternative ideas.} Qxb7 15. Ng2 {I continue with the idea of repositioning the knight, although this is rather slow. Black could take advantage of this and get some initiative going on the queenside, if he chose. However, he largely ignores this and instead ends up focusing on central and kingside play.} (15. Qe3 Nc5 $11) 15... Rfe8 16. Ne3 Ne5 (16... b5 {is Houdini's main choice here and over the next several moves.} 17. Qf4 $15) 17. Qd2 (17. a4 {was something I had in fact considered, in order to block the possible ...b5 advance, but ultimately decided it looked too weird. Houdini has no hangups about the way the pawn formation looks and prefers it.} h5 $11) 17... Red8 18. Qe1 {the start of a rather slow idea, to fianchetto the queen, but at least it seemed productive and not very risky.} (18. a4 Nc6 $11) 18... Nfd7 (18... b5 19. Nb1 $15) 19. Qf1 (19. f4 {I considered this idea as well, but ultimately decided that it left the center looking too weak. Black is not in a position here to take advantage of the weakened squares behind the pawn, however.} Nc6 $11) 19... Nc5 20. Qg2 Qxg2+ 21. Kxg2 {with the queens off the board, I no longer have to worry about pressure from Black. The position looks quite drawish.} f5 {this surprised me, but is in fact Houdini's top choice. I went into a big think here, as Black is threatening to drum up some threats on the f-file, although I overestimated their strength during the game.} 22. f4 { I eventually decided to go for what seemed the simplest option to defend against further advances by the f-pawn, also kicking the knight.} Nf7 23. Nc2 { repositioning the knight to give it more possibilities.} h6 (23... Bf6 24. e3 $11) 24. Nb4 (24. b4 {is something I never considered, because it would (temporarily) leave the c-pawn hanging. However, the engine considers it best, after} Ne4 (24... Nd7 25. Nd4 Nf8 26. Na4 $14) 25. Nxe4 fxe4 26. Ne3 $14) (24. Nd4 $5) 24... g5 25. e3 {I had expected the pawn thrust and after this move did not see any way for Black to make further progress.} Kf8 26. Nd3 { unambitious, but I was more interested in squelching any Black activity at this point rather than trying to go for an advantage.} (26. Ne2 $5) 26... Nd7 $6 {my opponent withdraws his excellent knight, leaving behind a weaker kingside and center.} (26... Bf6 27. Ba3 $11) 27. Re1 (27. e4 fxe4 28. Nxe4 $14 {would be more aggressive.}) 27... e5 $2 {this fatally weakens the d5 square, which gives White a dominating outpost.} (27... Nc5 {is Houdini's choice, showing how the knight really is best situated on c5. In practice it is very difficult to reverse course like this.} 28. Nxc5 dxc5 29. Rc2) 28. Nd5 $16 e4 { Black pushes ahead, not seeing the threat the two knights working together will pose.} (28... Nf6 29. Nxb6 Rb8 $18) 29. N3b4 $18 Nc5 {now the knight returns, but too late.} 30. Red1 {a solid choice to make progress.} (30. Rf1 a5 31. fxg5 Bxg5 $18 (31... axb4 $4 {would be a terrible mistake} 32. g6 Ke8 33. Rxf5 $18)) 30... a5 31. Nxe7 {I chose this as seemingly the most obvious route to a lasting advantage.} (31. Nc2 {this looks weak at first glance, but in fact gives White a decisive advantage based on the threat of going to d4 to target Black's weaknesses.} gxf4 (31... Nd3 32. Rxd3 exd3 33. Nd4 {I had in fact considered this as a possible sequence, since it seemed that White's two knights would dominate the center and pick up more material (threatening e6 and f5), but eventually I shied away from the exchange sacrifice as unclear.}) 32. exf4 {with the threat of Nd4.} h5 33. Nd4 Nh6 34. Nxb6 $18) 31... Kxe7 $14 32. Nd5+ Ke6 33. Nxb6 {this actually dissipates White's advantage to some extent, as either the pawn is recoverable, or Black can get positional compensation.} (33. Rb1 $16) 33... Rc6 {this makes it easy for White, as Black has no compensation for the pawn.} (33... Rb8 34. Nd5 a4 35. Nc7+ Kd7 36. Nb5 { this saves the b-pawn, but Black gets a really strong knight at d3 in compensation; in this line, the exchange sacrifice doesn't work.} axb3 37. axb3 Nd3) 34. Nd5 $16 Nd3 35. Rc2 Nxb2 (35... Rd7 $5 $16) 36. Rxb2 $18 {I had calculated this far after taking the pawn on move 33, judging that White has a comfortable and probably winning advantage.} g4 {I was fine with Black spending time to lock up the kingside, or try (as in the game) to open up the h-file, as my rooks are well positioned to switch from queenside to kingside as necessary.} 37. Rbd2 {perhaps not the most effective move, but it seemed the easiest way to proceed.} h5 $2 {this does nothing to try and disrupt White's strong play on the queenside and down the d-file, which is Black's only chance.} (37... a4 {this is a common idea for breaking up pawn chains, the idea being that White would come out worse if he takes on a4, exchanging that for the c-pawn and ending up with weak doubled a-pawns.}) 38. Nc3 Rd7 39. Rd5 {I was pleased at finding this idea, as in the past I've had trouble identifiying when to deploy rooks centrally.} Ra6 (39... Rc5 {is not much help} 40. Na4 Rxd5 41. Rxd5 $18) 40. Na4 (40. Nb5 $18 {seems even better, notes Houdini, as the knight can then go to d4 and the f5 pawn falls.}) 40... Nd8 $2 {this misses the primary tactical threat behind the last move.} (40... Rb7 $18 {and White will have to reposition his knight again to make progress.}) 41. Nc5+ $1 {a triple fork, using the visually but not actually protected c5 square, given that the d-pawn is pinned against the hanging Rd7.} dxc5 42. Rxd7 Nf7 43. Rc7 a4 44. Rxc5 axb3 45. axb3 Ra2+ 46. Kg1 Re2 {I had calculated this far after the fork and had seen that White could win by advancing his queenside pawns, so was not concerned about the e-pawn.} 47. Rc6+ Ke7 48. b4 Rxe3 49. Rc7+ Ke6 50. b5 Rb3 (50... h4 {is Black's best try, but an insufficient one.} 51. gxh4 g3 52. Rc6+ Ke7 53. Rd5 Re1+ 54. Kg2 Re2+ 55. Kxg3 Re3+ 56. Kg2 Re2+ 57. Kg1 Re1+ 58. Kf2) 51. Rc6+ Ke7 52. b6 {with the Rd1 cutting off the Black king, Black's position is hopeless.} Rb2 53. Rc7+ Ke6 54. c5 (54. c5 e3 55. b7 e2 56. Re1 {and Black has no more possible threats left.} Kd5 57. Rxe2 $1) 1-0

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