14 June 2014

Annotated Game #127: Turning Point

This fourth-round tournament game turned out to be the turning point for me.  Normally this would mean that I triumphed in a hard-fought game, but in this case I lost in a long, hard-fought game.  For most of it, however, I had done an excellent job of following my thinking process, evaluating positions, and combining strategy and tactics.  It is always gratifying when reviewing a game with an engine to see it agree with a large number of your moves, which was indicative of the overall quality of the game.  My opponent also played well and made a good psychological decision in the final phase of the game to not accept a draw and instead try to unbalance things, although he was slightly worse as a result.  If he had not done that, he could not have won in the end.  Perhaps he perceived my relative tiredness, lack of patience and desire for a draw, something which precluded me from finding some potentially advantageous continuations.

Other lessons taken away from the game analysis include:
  • The benefits of the opening maneuver with h7-h6 to clear a safety square for the Bf5, something recently highlighted in the cross-training openings post; this would have been a good option early on for Black, after White chose not to immediately pressure the bishop.
  • How "caveman" style strategies, as White adopted in the early middlegame by pushing the f and g-pawns, can be met.
  • How one should look to undermine advanced pawns, for example the variations on moves 33 and 35.
Despite the loss in this game, I ended up winning my remaining tournament games and finishing in the money for the first time in a number of years.  In contrast, my opponent did not do so well and ended up below me in the final rankings.  Although naturally I would have preferred not to lose, the overall high quality of play carried through into the next rounds and I was able to regain my mental toughness, as we shall see in the next series of annotations.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "127"] {D12: Slav Defence: 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 Bf5} 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. c4 c6 {we have now transposed into a standard "Slow Slav" game.} 5. Nc3 e6 6. Be2 (6. Nh4 {is the usual move and the only one normally treated by opening books. Here White delays the idea of challenging the placement of the Bf5.}) 6... Nbd7 {the most common move. Black continues with standard development.} (6... h6 { can also be played now, to open the h7 square for a bishop retreat. This line of play would take advantage of White's previous move.}) 7. O-O Be7 {while the second most popular move in the position, it is far behind} (7... Bd6 {; in the main line with Nh4, the dark-square bishop can go to b4 following some exchanges. Here it certainly seems better posted on d6 than e7 and Black scores over 50% with this line.}) (7... h6 {remains an interesting idea, also scoring over 50 percent.}) 8. b3 O-O 9. Nh4 Ne4 {I was pleased to see that Houdini also considers this move strong in the position. Black deliberately invites White to exchange on f5, judging that the pawn would be well placed there.} (9... Bb4 {is the other equally good choice according to the engine and netted Black a draw in the following game:} 10. Na4 Bg6 11. Nxg6 hxg6 12. Bb2 Rc8 13. Nc3 Bd6 14. Rc1 dxc4 15. Bxc4 Nb6 16. Bd3 Nbd5 17. Qe2 Nxc3 18. Bxc3 Nd5 19. Bb2 Nb4 20. Bb1 Qc7 21. g3 e5 22. Qg4 Nd5 23. Rfd1 Nf6 24. Qh4 { Galamba,S (2124)-Kobzar,A Evpatoria 2002 1/2-1/2 (37)}) 10. Nxe4 (10. Nxf5 exf5 11. Bb2 Ndf6 $11 {is how I would have played. Here the formation and ideas resemble a Dutch Stonewall.}) 10... Bxe4 11. Nf3 Qc7 {connecting the rooks and moving the queen to a nice diagonal. Black by this point is comfortably equal.} 12. Bb2 b6 {in the Stonewall, this is often done in order to develop the light-square bishop. Here, that's unnecessary. At the time, I was thinking about the potential for a future ...c5 push.} (12... a5 {is Houdini's first choice, controlling b4 and applying prophylaxis to a future White queenside advance.}) 13. Nd2 Bg6 14. f4 {apparently the idea behind White's previous move. It doesn't seem like it has much to recommend it, with Black being more than capable of stopping a future kingside attack.} Nf6 {getting the knight into play and immediately eyeing the weak e4 square.} 15. Rc1 Qd8 {while the queen does well in getting off the c-file, this is not the ideal square.} ( 15... Qb7 {is preferable, not interfering with the rooks on the 8th rank and also positioned to take advantage of a potential opening of the long diagonal.} ) 16. a3 {Consolidates b4, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Ne4 (16... Rc8 {seems more patient and develops the rook to a more useful square. I recall thinking that the rook might benefit from an open a-file at some point, but the prospect of that seems rather remote, while on c8 it can contest the c-file.}) 17. Nxe4 {White immediately trades off the knight, which otherwise could pose a lot of problems for him.} Bxe4 18. Bf3 Bg6 {exchanging the bishop on f3 would not make sense, as it would be replaced with the queen, giving White better prospects for a kingside attack supported by his heavy pieces.} 19. g4 {White decides to go "caveman", which however is a logical continuation of the original f4 idea.} (19. Qe2 Qd7 $11) 19... h6 20. f5 $6 exf5 21. gxf5 Bxf5 $15 22. Bxd5 {this is the tactical idea which my opponent saw and was behind the pawn advance. I confess to being surprised at this move, a discovered attack on the Bf5. This is an example of my not considering all CCT (checks, captures and threats) by the opponent.} Bh3 $11 {I understood that counterattacking offered the best chances here, but this was not the best execution of the idea.} (22... Bg5 {with this move, the other bishop instead immediately targets the weak e3 pawn, with a forking threat on the king and rook.} 23. Rc3 cxd5 24. Rxf5 dxc4 25. bxc4 Qd7 $15) (22... cxd5 23. Rxf5 Bg5 { also looks good.}) 23. Bg2 (23. Bxc6 Bxf1 24. Qxf1 Rc8 $11) 23... Bxg2 24. Kxg2 Bg5 {I now execute the idea of targeting e3.} 25. Qf3 {protecting e3 and targeting the hanging c6 pawn.} Qd7 {I thought for a while here, since it was unclear where the queen would be best placed.} (25... Qd6 {is preferred by Houdini as being more active, with Black able to move his queen along the sixth rank.}) 26. Rce1 f5 {while this looks rather weakening at first glance, Houdini agrees that it's best. The move is needed to stop the e4 push, which would allow White to start a central pawn roller moving.} 27. Rd1 (27. d5 Rac8 $11) 27... Rae8 $15 {Black takes advantage of White's rook moving off the e-file to pressure e3 again. Overall, Black's pieces are well coordinated and placed to pressure White, who will have trouble making any progress. However, I was still concerned at this point about White's central pawn mass.} 28. Rd3 Re4 {an excellent rook outpost. Without a light-square bishop or a knight, White cannot break it.} 29. d5 {nothing better, White gains space and a passed pawn as a result, although Houdini still gives the advantage to Black.} c5 { I decide that keeping the center closed and blockading the d-pawn is the best strategy.} 30. Bc3 Qd6 {this exposes the queen to the maneuver Be1-g3 and is unnecessary, although it does not change the evaluation of the position.} ( 30... g6 {immediately is better.}) 31. h3 (31. Be1 g6 32. Bg3 Qe7 $15) 31... g6 (31... Qg6 {would be a more aggressive choice and the primary variation would leave Black better off, with the bishop blockading on d6.} 32. Kh1 f4 33. Bd2 Qe8 34. exf4 Bxf4 35. Bc3 Bd6 {and now if} 36. Qg2 Rxf1+ 37. Qxf1 Be5 38. Bd2 Bd4) 32. Re1 Rfe8 33. Bd2 Bd8 {I continue to focus on keeping the blockade set. A more sophisticated approach would be to threaten to undermine the d-pawn.} ( 33... a6 34. Rc1 b5) 34. Rg1 Bg5 {again, choosing to play more defensively with the bishop staying on the d8-h4 diagonal. By this point in the game I was mentally tired and essentially out of ideas for how to make progress myself, so decided to simply try and block any progress by White and force a draw.} ( 34... Bc7 {is something I had considered, but thought that} 35. Be1 {would neutralize the idea, with Bg3 to follow. However, Houdini demonstrates that is not the case.} Kh7 36. Bg3 Qxg3+ 37. Qxg3 Bxg3 38. Kxg3 Rxe3+ 39. Rxe3 Rxe3+ 40. Kf2 Rd3 $15) 35. Kh1 Kh7 (35... b5 {switching play to the queenside via the deflection idea appears again as Houdini's preferred choice. For example} 36. Rc3 bxc4 37. bxc4 Rb8 {with a beautiful open file.}) 36. Qg3 {White would be happy to exchange queens here and remove the blockading Qd6. Unfortunately I oblige him.} Be7 {with this move I focus too much on maintaining a physical blockade of d6, when there are alternatives.} (36... Qe7 37. d6 Qe6 {and White will have great difficulty in supporting the d7 pawn.}) 37. Qxd6 Bxd6 38. Kg2 R8e7 {here Houdini thinks that bringing the king towards the center immediately with ...Kg7 is a better plan. The advance g5 is also possible.} 39. Kf3 $11 Rh4 40. Rh1 Rhe4 {Black is content to prevent any progress by White, relying on the fourth rank outpost.} 41. h4 Rg4 {An ideal square for the black rook, comments Houdini.} 42. Be1 Kg7 43. Bf2 Kf6 44. Rd2 Rd7 45. Re2 Re7 { the situation remains very stable and my plan of shutting White down is working so far.} 46. Rhe1 Ree4 {doubled rooks on the 4th rank is an unusual sight.} 47. Rd2 Re7 48. Rg1 {White decides to take a risk and break the rhythm first. Psychologically this was a good choice, as by this point I felt that a draw was inevitable, although I deliberately did not ask for one.} Rxg1 49. Bxg1 Rd7 $6 {Black misses his chance to activate his kingside pawn majority, passing that up to instead maintain equality. This is obviously not the most effective way to play, but I was not thinking about winning.} (49... g5 50. hxg5+ hxg5 $15) 50. e4 $11 fxe4+ 51. Kxe4 Bg3 {...Re7+ should be played first, as it is necessary anyway.} 52. Bf2 Re7+ 53. Kf3 Bd6 {The black bishop is safe in front of d5} (53... Bxf2 54. Rxf2 Re1 {is how Houdini would have played it, rating it equal. My knowledge of rook and pawn endgames was not sufficient to evaluate my chances here, however, so I avoided it.}) 54. Be3 h5 $4 {after a long, grinding, tiring fight, I hallucinate and miss White's skewer, not doing a proper think first. After this, it's just a matter of time before White breaks through, although I refuse to roll over and die immediately.} (54... Kg7 $11 {would have kept things level.}) 55. Bg5+ $18 Kf7 56. Bxe7 Kxe7 57. Re2+ Kf7 58. Re6 Bb8 59. Ke4 Bg3 60. Rc6 Bb8 61. a4 Bg3 62. a5 Bxh4 63. axb6 axb6 64. Rxb6 1-0

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