01 March 2014

Annotated Game #116: Back to School

My chess career has, like most people's, seen its ups and downs.  The latest "up" phase in terms of activity was marked by the start of this blog, although my opportunities to play in serious tournaments have still been limited.  With this annotated game, I return to analyzing my over-the-board (OTB) tournament games, which I will do in a series for each tournament.  As I continue playing in the Slow Chess League online, in between series of OTB tournament analysis, I intend to post more recent games worthy of review.

As you might expect after another long break in tournament play, my first round game felt like I was going "back to school" and was marked by some practical issues that I failed to solve.  One of these strategic issues was the fact that I gave my opponent easy play against me, primarily by entering into sequences that resulted in positional features with obvious plans, such as White's 2-to-1 queenside majority.  However, at minimum I did not blunder until the very end (missing a nice deflection tactic by my opponent) and played a reasonably solid game throughout.  This was my first tournament game since starting the blog, so I had hoped for a better result, but had to content myself with more of a learning experience.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2012.01.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] {B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 {a sideline that's rarely seen at the professional level, although it's not a bad move in itself and is likely to transpose to another variation.} d5 3. exd5 {the database games are evenly split between this and Nc3, which transposes into the Two Knights variation.} cxd5 4. d4 (4. Ne5 {is what the top players in the database play, including Morozevich and Navara, who play their second move obviously in order to get away from book lines. Some shock value, certainly. One possible sequence goes} Nc6 5. d4 e6 6. Bb5 Bd7 7. Bxc6 Bxc6 8. O-O Nf6 9. Bg5 Be7 {(from Garcia Jimenez-Topalov, 2008; 0-1 in 36 moves)}) 4... Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 {we are now in Two Knights' variation territory.} 6. Bd3 Bg4 { Black scores well here, close to 60 percent. The symmetrical pawn structure and ability to get the light-square bishop outside the pawn chain before playing ...e6 mean that Black has solved his opening problems.} 7. Be2 { if White had been concerned about the pin, Be2 should have been played the previous move, as this loses a tempo.} e6 8. O-O Be7 {the bishop could also go to d6, it seems more a matter of taste than anything else.} 9. h3 Bxf3 { this exchange on f3 is typical of the Two Knights variation, and I preferred not to lose time retreating the bishop and to eliminate the better of White's two knights. Keeping the bishop on is perfectly fine, however, and may be better if Black is serious about playing for an advantage.} 10. Bxf3 {White now has the bishop pair, of course, but I thought Black's strong central pawn formation limited the light-square bishop's scope.} O-O 11. Re1 Rc8 (11... Bb4 {would take advantage of the pin created on the Re1 and get the bishop into the game, rather than have it doing relatively little on e7.}) 12. Be3 $6 { while this initially looks solid, adding a defender to d4, it's certainly not the best square for the bishop, which can be targeted by a knight on c4.} (12. Ne2 {is Houdini's preference, with the idea of swinging the knight over to more promising ground on the kingside.} Qb6 13. c3 Bd6 {and it's an even game.} ) 12... a6 {the idea was to take away the b5 square from the knight. ...Bb4 is now even more effective and would complicate the knight redeployment.} (12... Bb4 {followed by ...Na5, ...h6 (to limit the Be3's flight squares) and ...Nc4 would be an effective plan.}) 13. Ne2 Re8 {not a bad waiting move, as the rook is bound to be more useful on the e-file.} (13... Qc7 {instead would assist Black in dominating the h2-b8 diagonal, with Bd6 to follow.}) 14. c3 {shores up d4 and takes away b4 from Black's pieces.} b5 {the plan of a minority attack here doesn't necessarily seem best suited for the position, as there are no major targets in front of the pawns. However, it's something to do in order to open up lines on the queenside.} 15. Nf4 b4 16. Qa4 {this is something I had considered my opponent might do, given the undefended a6 pawn.} Qa5 (16... bxc3 17. bxc3 Qa5 18. Qxa5 Nxa5 {is superior to the game continuation, as White's queenside pawn structure is now a weakness rather than a latent threat.}) 17. Qxa5 Nxa5 18. cxb4 Bxb4 {the game is even, but now White has a queenside pawn majority, which gives her easier play.} 19. Rec1 Nc4 20. Nd3 Bd2 $6 {too aggressive and unnecessarily complicated. Essentially any bishop retreat would be fine here.} (20... a5 {is also a possibility.} 21. Nxb4 axb4 22. a4 bxa3 23. bxa3 Nxe3 24. Rxc8 Rxc8 25. fxe3 Ra8 {should lead to a draw.}) (20... Nxe3 $5 {also looks good.}) 21. Bxd2 $14 Nxd2 22. Be2 a5 23. b3 {this takes away the c4 square from Black's knight, but lets up the pressure otherwise.} (23. Ne5 {is the more active option found by Houdini.} Nde4 24. Bb5 Rf8 25. Nc6 Ra8 $14 {and White is clearly better.}) 23... Nde4 $11 24. g4 { a premature pawn thrust. Ne5 was still an option.} Nc3 25. Bf1 Nb5 $6 {I played this, as I couldn't see how White could protect the pawn. Instead, she comes up with a nice counterattacking move.} (25... Nfe4 {is preferred by Houdini and would be the more active response.} 26. Nc5 Nxc5 27. Rxc3 Ne4 28. Rcc1 Rc3 {and Black is equal.}) 26. Rc5 {I had completely missed this possibility, which was a psychological blow. Black objectively is still doing fine, however.} (26. Ne5 $5 Rxc1 27. Rxc1 Nxd4 28. f3 {and now White is threatening to win the Nf6. Houdini rates the position as a slight plus for White.}) 26... Nxd4 27. Rxa5 {at the time I judged that Black should still have sufficient compensation from his piece activity and central control to offset the two connected passed pawns on the queenside for White. Houdini agrees. That said, White has the more obvious and easier play.} Kf8 (27... Rc2 {seems good immediately.}) 28. b4 Rc2 29. Rc5 Rc8 $6 {this gives White too much play.} (29... Rd2 {maintaining the rook on the 7th rank for Black would have kept the balance in his favor.}) 30. Rxc8+ (30. a4 {would get the pawns rolling immediately.}) (30. Rxc2 Rxc2 31. a4 $14 {is also good for White.}) 30... Rxc8 $11 31. a4 Nb3 $6 {this cheap threat gains Black nothing. Instead, it was more important to mobilize the kingside pieces and get them over to stop the pawns.} (31... Ne4 32. a5 Ke7 $11) 32. Ra2 Ne4 33. a5 {White follows the correct plan of advancing the pawns to put pressure on Black.} Ke7 $2 { unfortunately, this is too slow.} (33... Nd4 {I did in fact look at, but then decided in some time pressure that it might not be enough to stop the pawns, also missing White's 37th move while calculating the text move.} 34. Rb2 Nc3 35. Kg2 Ke7 $11) 34. a6 $6 (34. b5 $1 {the pawns together are much stronger.} Nd6 35. b6 {and now Black must sacrifice material to stop the pawns.} Nxa5 36. Rxa5 $16) 34... Kd6 $4 (34... Nd4 $11 {would still save Black.}) 35. b5 $18 Kc7 {still missing White's deflection tactic on move 37.} 36. Rc2+ Kb8 37. a7+ $1 ( 37. a7+ Kxa7 (37... Kb7 38. Rxc8) 38. Rxc8 $18) 1-0

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