28 June 2014

Annotated Game #129: Slaying a White Hippopotamus

The Hippopotamus (or Hippo) is a rare defense for Black, although it has some popularity at the club level, and is an even rarer opening formation for White to pursue.  From move 2 of this sixth-round tournament game, however, I knew it was coming.  The Hippo formation - central pawns advanced one rank to clear their squares for the knights and both bishops fianchettoed - can be solid and difficult to crack.

This was in fact the first time I had faced the opening, but I was in a positive mindset coming off my earlier round win (Annotated Game #128) and considered it an interesting challenge.  I decided to unbalance things early with 3...Bg4 and this turned out to be an excellent practical decision, as my opponent responded weakly and allowed me to develop a kingside attack early on.  Subsequent mechanical moves made by White in an attempt to reach the standard Hippo formation only served to aid my own plans.

The decisive point occurred when I correctly calculated a key tactical sequence from moves 13-17, resulting in forced material gain due to control of the e3 square.  From there it was a "matter of technique" to simplify to a won endgame, although I made sure to then focus on safety and on eliminating any possible counterplay.  This reflected the advice of NM Dan Heisman about "going to sleep" in the endgame, not in the sense of turning your brain off, but in playing moves which maintain your advantage and at the same time do not allow your opponent any possibilities to make progress.

I felt very much "in the zone" in this game and did well in seeing the attacking possibilities, which was something of a novelty for me.  I believe it was the first time I have played such an early ...h5-h4 pawn push, for example, and I was not afraid to take the attack to White after I evaluated his weaknesses.  This showed I was overcoming the old limitations imposed by my self-imposed "positional" playing style.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "84"] {A00: Irregular Openings} 1. d3 d5 2. e3 {a strong indication that the Hippopotamus is coming.} Nf6 3. g3 Bg4 (3... e5 {is the more common move, creating a pawn center. I decided to develop first and see if my opponent could be thrown off his standard game a bit.}) 4. Be2 $146 {already out of the database and something of a concession, as g3 no longer makes sense for White's development.} (4. Nf3 $5) 4... Qd7 {defending the bishop with a piece; I am happy to keep g4 as an outpost for a piece or make White further weaken his position to get rid of it.} (4... h5 {played early on is an alternative that I considered and Houdini also validates. Already White's kingside is looking suspect.}) 5. Bxg4 Nxg4 6. Ne2 {sticking with the usual Hippo development plan for the knight, which however gives it significantly less scope.} e5 $15 {although the pawn center is useful, the decision was made to push e5 primarily because Black needs to release the Bf8; e6 would block the c8-h3 diagonal and fianchettoing the bishop on g7 would remove it as a potential offensive piece targeting White's kingside.} 7. O-O {White has a cramped position, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Nc6 {developing toward the center and opening up the possibility of queenside castling. The bishop development is deferred, as I want to see where it will be best placed.} 8. Nd2 {continuing with the standard Hippo development plan for knights, making White's position even more congested.} Be7 {with h5 coming, I decide the bishop can best support things from here.} 9. a3 {Consolidates b4, notes Houdini. Despite the rest of the action being on the kingside, this is not really a waste of time. Black could otherwise benefit from posting a knight on b4, especially if the queen moves away from defending c2.} h5 {White's cramped position, related underdevelopment, and weakend king position justify the launching of the attack. White's knights have some potential after a f4 or c4 pawn break, but the Bc1 and Ra1 are shut out of the game for now.} 10. Nf3 $2 ( 10. h3 {seems necessary.} Nh6 {so the knight can cover f5} 11. Kg2 h4 12. g4 O-O-O $17) 10... h4 $19 {White's last move in fact did nothing to prevent this; Black can now start prying open the king position.} 11. e4 $2 (11. gxh4 Bxh4 12. Ng3 O-O-O $19 {and Black's attack is worth over two pawns, according to Houdini.}) (11. Kg2 {is the best try, although also rather scary for White.} O-O-O (11... Nxh2 12. Nxh2 hxg3 13. Nxg3 Qh3+ 14. Kf3 e4+ 15. Ke2 Bd6 $19) 12. h3 hxg3 13. hxg4 e4 14. Nxg3 Qxg4 15. Nh4 Qxh4 $19) 11... hxg3 (11... Nxh2 { is evaluated as better by the engine, but is rather more complicated to calculate. The text move was the more practical choice.} 12. Nxh2 hxg3 13. Nxg3 Qh3 $19 14. Ng4 Bc5) 12. fxg3 (12. Nxg3 {would at least get another piece into the defense for White.}) 12... O-O-O {an important decision point for Black. I preferred to activate the other rook by castling queenside rather than immediately press the attack. The next sequence is critical and had to be calculated carefully.} 13. exd5 Qxd5 14. Nc3 {an obvious, but losing, threat.} (14. h4 {is a better defensive try, although still losing material.} Bc5+ 15. Kh1 (15. d4 e4 16. Nc3 Qc4) 15... Nf2+ 16. Rxf2 Bxf2 17. Kg2 e4 $19) 14... Bc5+ 15. d4 Qc4 {the queen moving to uncover the pin of the d4 pawn is the crucial point after Bc5, something missed by my opponent.} 16. Qe2 Bxd4+ 17. Nxd4 (17. Kg2 {is still a small chance for White, says Houdini.} Qxe2+ 18. Nxe2 e4 19. Nh4 Be3 $19) 17... Qxd4+ {this holds it all together for Black, protecting the Ng4 and controlling e3. White is now completely lost, with material loss is inevitable.} 18. Be3 (18. Kh1 Rxh2+) 18... Qxe3+ {I decided simplifying by forcing the queen trade was the best road to victory.} 19. Qxe3 Nxe3 20. Rxf7 Rd2 {Black has entered the endgame a piece up and with dominating rooks.} 21. Rf2 Rxf2 22. Kxf2 Ng4+ 23. Kg2 Rxh2+ 24. Kf3 Nf6 {and from here my technique suffices to seal the point. I am careful to play prophylactically, with the aim of allowing White no counterplay whatsoever, rather than try for the quickest possible win.} 25. Rb1 Rxc2 26. Ne2 Rd2 27. Ke3 Rd7 28. Rh1 Kd8 29. Rh4 Ke7 30. g4 g5 {White's last move made things significantly easier for Black, as now the sole defender of the g-pawn is forced away.} 31. Rh8 Nxg4+ 32. Kf3 Nf6 33. Ke3 Rd8 34. Rh1 Nd4 35. Nxd4 exd4+ 36. Kd3 g4 {now the win is simple, as White cannot hope to stop the separated passed pawns.} 37. b4 b6 ( 37... c6 {would make more sense here, as Black is prevented from executing his plan of pushing c5 by the White rook.}) 38. Rc1 Rd7 39. b5 Ke6 40. Rc6+ Kf5 41. Rc1 g3 42. Rf1+ Kg5 {the Nf6 is immune to capture, as the g-pawn would then queen.} 0-1

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