04 July 2014

Commentary: Lopota Women's Grand Prix - Round 5 (an English trio)

The recently-completed Lopota FIDE Women's Grand Prix tournament featured fighting chess, an outstanding performance from GM Hou Yifan, and a number of games of direct interest to me.  Out of the six games in round 5, three of them saw wins in the English Opening.  The first saw eventual champion Hou strategically outplay her opponent, GM Antoaneta Stefanova, and achieve a central dominance leading to a quick victory.  In the second game, Ju Wenjun simply kept pushing on the kingside until her opponent buckled under the pressure, showing the power of the initiative and threats even in objectively balanced positions.  Finally, the third game, a loss by GM Humpy Koneru, offers some useful insight into what works well (and what does not) for both sides in typical English formations, with a turning point that occurs due to a tactical complication typical of those faced by Class players, not just 2600+ GMs.

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Hou Yifan"] [Black "Stefanova, A."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [WhiteElo "2629"] [BlackElo "2488"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5 3. e3 {a rare continuation, with g3 being the overwhelming favorite and Nf3 the next most popular option.} Bg7 4. d4 {the logical immediate follow-up to the previous move, although waiting with Nf3 looks fine as well.} d6 5. h3 {one effect of Black's last move was to release the light-square bishop, so White decides to take away the g4 square prior to further development.} Nc6 6. Nf3 e6 {freeing e7 for the knight development and contesting the d5 square.} 7. Be2 (7. dxc5 {would force a queenless middlegame after} dxc5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 {but this is evidently not to White's liking and looks very drawish.}) 7... Nge7 {here the knight stays out of the way of the Bg7, allowing it to pressure d4.} 8. O-O cxd4 9. exd4 Nf5 10. Bg5 Qb6 {Black continues to pile up on d4, so White releases the tension.} 11. d5 Ncd4 12. Nxd4 Nxd4 13. dxe6 {this sets up a long, partly forced sequence.} (13. Be3 { is a possible alternative, after which the game could go a significantly different route.}) 13... Bxe6 14. Be3 Nxe2+ ({Alternatives such as} 14... O-O { do not work out well for Black, for example} 15. Kh1 {removing the king from the unpinning tactic} Rac8 16. Nb5 Bxc4 17. Nxd4 Bxd4 18. Bxd4 Bxe2 19. Qd2 Qb5 20. Rfe1 Rfe8 21. Qh6 f6 22. Bxf6 $16) 15. Qxe2 Qc6 16. Nd5 {a common theme in the English is to occupy d5 with a knight, even if it cannot be maintained there, since often the results still favor White.} Bxd5 17. cxd5 Qxd5 {the win of the pawn is only temporary for Black.} (17... Qa6 18. Qxa6 bxa6 $14 { would leave Black with an annoying structural flaw on the queenside, but with a much safer king position.}) 18. Bf4+ $16 Kf8 {now Black's king is stuck in the center, also shutting out the Rh8 from play.} (18... Be5 {is no help, for example} 19. Rad1 Qe6 20. Qb5+ Kf8 21. Bh6+ Bg7 22. Rfe1 Qf5 23. Qxb7 $18) 19. Rfd1 {White continues with the initiative.} Qf5 20. Bxd6+ {now White has regained the pawn and has positional dominance.} Kg8 21. Rac1 {mobilizing White's "extra" rook.} h5 {attempting to move the king off the back rank and free the rook stuck in the corner.} 22. Rc7 b5 {attempting to save the pawn.} ( 22... Kh7 $5) 23. Rd3 {a strong rook lift idea, threatening to go to the f-file.} Rc8 $2 {the losing move, although Black was in difficulties regardless. With this move, Black sets herself up for a deflection tactic on the Qf5, which is the only protector of the Rc8. Perhaps Black instinctively thought the rook was protected by its back-rank partner, as would normally be the case if the king weren't blocking it.} 24. g4 $1 hxg4 25. hxg4 {and the Rc8 is lost, so Black resigns.} 1-0

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Ju Wenjun"] [Black "Zhao Xue"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A15"] [WhiteElo "2532"] [BlackElo "2538"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 b6 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. O-O g6 {Black opts for the double fianchetto formation rather than entering the Hedgehog proper with ...e6.} 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 d6 9. Be3 {this move has had significantly more success than the more standard Rd1. White thereby prevents ...a6 and connects the rooks earlier.} Nbd7 {the point of the previous move. Black does not want to obscure his Bb7 by developing to c6.} 10. Rac1 {White gets his rook off the long diagonal to its most useful square.} O-O 11. Qh4 {the more aggressive option; Qd2 is the other standard move here.} Qb8 $6 $146 {the idea is apparently to allow the king's rook to come to c8, but the queen and Ra8 are then placed awkwardly in the corner.} 12. Rfd1 Rc8 13. b3 a6 {Black is now able to play this thematic move and take away b5 from the Nc3.} (13... h5 { would forestall White's next move.}) 14. g4 h6 (14... e6 $5 {would take advantage of the placement of the Qb8 defending the pawn on d6.}) 15. g5 { this ends up dissipating White's threats on the kingside.} (15. Bxh6 Bxh6 16. Qxh6 Nxg4 17. Qf4 Ngf6 18. Qe3 e6 19. Rd4 Kg7 20. Rcd1 $14) 15... hxg5 16. Bxg5 Rc5 {guarding against Nd5.} 17. b4 Rc7 {although the rook has been chased away, it will end up guarding e7 and neutralizing the Nd5 threat anyway.} 18. Nd5 Nxd5 19. cxd5 Nf6 20. Bxf6 Bxf6 21. Ng5 Bxg5 22. Qxg5 Rxc1 23. Rxc1 Qd8 { White is still better placed to continue to make threats, although Black should be able to defend.} 24. h4 (24. Bh3 $5) 24... Rc8 25. Rxc8 Bxc8 (25... Qxc8 {simply looks better. Black can in this line use her queen actively to counter White's threats. For example} 26. Qxe7 Qc1+ 27. Bf1 Bxd5 28. Qxd6 Be6 29. Qg3 Bxa2 30. Qb8+ Kh7 31. Qxb6 Qf4 32. Qxa6 Qg4+ 33. Bg2 Bd5 34. f3 Qd4+ 35. Kf1 Qd1+ {with a perpetual.}) 26. h5 Kg7 27. Be4 {activating the bishop.} Qe8 (27... Qh8 {here would again make the queen more active and able to pose threats to White, even if Black had to stay a pawn down for a while.} 28. hxg6 f6 29. Qc1 Qh4 $11) 28. f4 f5 (28... f6 {would take the sting out of White's position, for example} 29. Qxg6+ (29. Qg2 g5 30. Bg6 Qd7 31. fxg5 fxg5 32. Qxg5 Qg4+ 33. Qxg4 Bxg4 34. Kf2 Kh6 $11) 29... Qxg6+ 30. Bxg6 Bg4 $11) 29. Bf3 Qf7 30. Kf2 Qf6 31. Kg3 Bd7 32. Kh4 {White marches the king over to continue the kingside pressure with all of her remaining pieces.} Be8 33. hxg6 Bb5 $6 { a key weakening move. Black declines to restore material equality, evidently thinking she can still hold the position. Leaving White with her advanced passed pawn seems counterintuitive.} (33... Bxg6 34. Bh5 Kf7 $11) 34. Kh5 Kg8 $2 {the actual losing move, according to the engine.} (34... Be8 {nothing better than to return to targeting the passed pawn.}) 35. Qxf6 exf6 36. Kh6 a5 37. bxa5 bxa5 38. e3 Bc4 39. a3 Bb5 40. Bd1 {Black has no threats left and White can take her time to consolidate the win.} Be8 41. Bc2 Bd7 42. g7 { Black is now in zugzwang, as any move she makes will lead to a loss; she cannot cover the a4-e8 diagonal, f5 pawn and f6 pawn all at the same time.} 1-0

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Dzagnidze, N."] [Black "Koneru, H."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A25"] [WhiteElo "2541"] [BlackElo "2613"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 {this enters into the complex of formations known as the Closed English.} 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. Rb1 {this accelerated rook development has become more common, as White's obvious plan is to push the b-pawn. Often White defers kingside development in this line, which is the point of the accelerated version, but in this game the opening heads back into more traditional channels.} a5 6. e3 {indicating that the king's knight will be developed to e2, a more defensive position than f3 that also leaves the Bg2 unobstructed.} (6. a3 {continuing with the idea of b2-b4 is more common here, scoring 56 percent in the database.}) 6... Nf6 7. Nge2 O-O 8. d3 d6 9. O-O Be6 {fighting for the key d5 square.} 10. Nd5 {a thematic move in the English; White is not afraid of a trade on d5, which would give her an excellently placed pawn and the two bishops. (...Nxd5 cannot be played due to the resulting pawn fork of c6 and e6)} Qd7 {connecting the rooks and preparing to try and trade off the Bg2.} 11. Nec3 {significantly improving the knight and reinforcing d5.} Nd8 {Black has a number of possibilities here and can choose to play on the queenside, kingside or in the center. Here she decides to exchange off two minor pieces and reposition the knight on the kingside following ...f5.} 12. Bd2 Nxd5 13. cxd5 Bh3 14. Bxh3 {while this looks positionally suspect, allowing the Black queen into the weak white-square complex, Black cannot exploit this effectively.} (14. Qb3 {is an alternative approach, spending the tempo developing the queen and ending up with a fianchettoed king.} Bxg2 15. Kxg2 f5 16. f3) 14... Qxh3 15. Qa4 {played apparently with the idea of pressuring the a-pawn and complicating Black's defense on the queenside. However, Black is able to proceed with her kingside plans.} (15. Rc1 $5 {would appear to generate more immediate threats and opportunities for White on the c-file.}) 15... f5 16. Nb5 (16. f3 {would maintain better control over White's potentially sensitive kingside.} Nf7 17. Ne2) 16... Nf7 $11 17. f4 (17. Nxc7 e4 18. f4 (18. Nxa8 $4 Ng5 19. f4 Nf3+ 20. Rxf3 exf3 21. Kf2 Qg2+ 22. Ke1 Qe2#) 18... exf3 19. Rxf3 Ne5 20. Rf2 Nxd3 21. Rg2 $11) 17... Rfc8 {Black is now able to neutralize White's play on the queenside.} 18. Rbc1 {now this has much less impact than it could have previously on move 15.} (18. Qd1 $5 {with the idea of redeploying the queen to be able to cover the kingside.}) 18... c6 19. dxc6 bxc6 20. Nc3 {now White is not worse, but the initiative has shifted to Black.} exf4 21. Rxf4 $6 { evidently White was looking to try and harass the Qh3, but this move would allow Black to get an advantage.} (21. exf4 $11) 21... Ne5 {now the knight happily occupies the central square and threatens to go to g4.} 22. Nd1 Qh5 { this lets up the immediate pressure and allows White to adjust. The threatened penetration of the queen to e2 can be contained.} (22... Ng4 {immediately looks very good.} 23. Rf2 f4 {giving the Qh3 a retreat path along the diagonal. } 24. exf4 Nxf2 25. Nxf2 Qe6 $15) 23. Bc3 Qe2 24. Qb3+ d5 25. Bxe5 {White is happy to exchange off the threatening, centralized knight.} Bxe5 26. Rf2 { now the correct path for Black becomes more complicated and she goes astray.} Qg4 $2 {apparently missing the next deflection tactic.} (26... Qe1+ 27. Kg2 Qb4 $11) 27. Rxc6 Rd8 {the better defensive option, maintaining the central pawn.} (27... Rxc6 28. Qxd5+ Kg7 29. Qxc6 $16) 28. d4 $16 Rab8 29. Qd3 Bg7 30. Rc5 { White can now calmly go about exploiting her material and positional advantage. Note how the Nd1 and Rf2 may look awkwardly placed, but in fact they hold the position together and neutralize Black's potential counterplay.} h5 {Black evidently believes that she is lost and decides to try and force some counterplay, in the hopes that White will make a mistake.} 31. Rxa5 $18 { a simple and strong response.} Bh6 32. Qe2 Qe4 33. Qf3 Qd3 34. Qe2 Qe4 { repetition of moves due to time pressure, no doubt.} 35. Rc5 (35. Ra6 $5) 35... Re8 36. Qf3 Qd3 {Black has no better ideas at this point.} 37. Kg2 Re4 38. Rxd5 (38. Qe2 {would now force the queen exchange and simplify things for White.}) 38... Rc8 {Black continues playing for a swindle.} 39. Rc5 Rxc5 40. dxc5 Qc4 41. Nc3 Re5 (41... Rxe3 42. Qd5+ Qxd5+ 43. Nxd5 Rd3 44. Nb4 Rd4 45. Nc6 $18) 42. Qc6 Kh7 43. e4 h4 {Black's last gasp.} (43... Qxc5 44. Qxc5 Rxc5 45. exf5 gxf5 46. a4 $18) 44. exf5 gxf5 45. Qd7+ Bg7 46. c6 Qg4 47. Rf4 h3+ 48. Kf1 Qg6 49. Nd5 1-0

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