05 July 2014

Commentary: Lopota Women's Grand Prix - Round 3

Going backwards in time a short while from the round 5 trio of English games, in round 3 of the Lopota Women's Grand Prix we see Antoaneta Stefanova on the Black side of an unusual and unbalanced Slav.  White's 4th move choice cannot be recommended on its merits, but it is a decent try at a surprise move designed to avoid regular book lines.  The database shows that it appears to have been used this way a number of times in the past, with success largely predicated on a large rating gap in White's favor.  In this case, it did not work out so well for White.

Before fully getting out of the opening phase, Zhao Xue decides to enter into a series of complications, allowing Black's queen to take the rook on a1 in the hopes of trapping it.  However, White's pieces are awkwardly placed and Black is able to extricate herself in the end, keeping the exchange as her reward.  Black then makes the decision to exchange off her minor pieces, freeing her king and allowing her to mobilize her extra rook.  White's attempt to make progress with her passsed b-pawn comes to naught and Black's king triumphantly penetrates to escort her a-pawn to victory.

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.21"] [Round "3.1"] [White "Zhao, Xue"] [Black "Stefanova, Antoaneta"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2538"] [BlackElo "2488"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nbd2 {this appears to have been played just to get Black out of her standard book lines. The move itself is clearly inferior to Nc3, among other things temporarily blocking the bishop development and limiting the scope of the knight.} Bf5 {Black continues by developing the bishop in classic Slav style.} 5. e3 (5. Nh4 {seems to be the a strong choice here, immediately challenging the bishop and leaving the f3 square open for the other knight in the event of a piece trade.}) 5... h6 {now the bishop has a retreat square on h7.} 6. Ne5 (6. Be2 {is a more obvious follow-up, developing the piece and preparing to castle.}) 6... e6 7. Bd3 {evidently the point of the previous knight move.} Bxd3 8. Nxd3 Nbd7 9. b3 $146 {now out of the database. Black has solid and thematic development, while White's appears on the awkward side.} Qa5 {Black finds an unusual way of exploiting White's offbeat development.} 10. O-O (10. Bb2 $11 {would be the obvious follow-up.}) 10... Qc3 11. Nb1 {White chooses an unbalancing continuation, perhaps with the hope of trapping the Black queen.} (11. Nb2 $11 {would avoid the following sequence, although it makes White's minor pieces look even more awkward.}) 11... Qxa1 12. Qc2 c5 {it is interesting to see how White's pieces get in each other's way, preventing her from successfully getting to the Qa1. The other problem White has to deal with is that, having already taken one rook, the Qa1 would have no problem sacrificing herself by taking the other rook on f1, leaving Black doing fine material-wise.} 13. a3 $6 {White no doubt did not see fully the next sequence, which gives Black a clear advantage.} (13. Nc3 dxc4 14. bxc4 (14. Bb2 $2 {this idea does not work in this and similar variations.} cxd3 15. Qd2 Ne4 16. Nxe4 Qxa2 $19) 14... cxd4 15. exd4 Be7 16. Bf4 Qxf1+ 17. Kxf1 O-O $11) 13... dxc4 14. bxc4 b5 {the key idea, attacking c4 and thereby giving the queen a way out.} 15. cxb5 c4 $6 {pressing forward immediately. The resulting pressure leads White to make an error, but Black could have prepared better by developing instead.} (15... Rd8 {is a non-obvious move found by the engine, the point being to target d4. For example} 16. Nc3 cxd4 17. Na2 (17. exd4 Rc8 18. Bb2 Qa2 $19) 17... Nc5 18. Nxc5 dxe3 19. Nb7 exf2+ 20. Rxf2 Qe5 $19) (15... cxd4 {also looks good, opening lines for Black.} 16. Qb3 Ne4 17. Bb2 Nec5 $17) 16. Nf4 {after this Black has her choice of good follow-up moves. } (16. Bb2 {would now be OK for White and probably the best choice.} cxd3 17. Qb3 {the Black queen is finally trapped.} Qxb2 18. Qxb2 Be7 $15) 16... Rb8 ( 16... c3 {is found by the engine. The main point is that b2 is taken away from White, while taking the c3 pawn leads to problems. For example} 17. Nxc3 Rc8 18. Bb2 Qa2 19. Rc1 Qc4 $19) (16... Nb6 $5 {is also possible.}) 17. Bd2 { preparing to get at the queen from the other side, but Black can effectively combat this idea.} Bxa3 18. Bc3 Bb2 19. Bxb2 Qa2 20. Nc3 Qb3 21. Qxb3 cxb3 $17 {after all the complications, Black has emerged an exchange up.} 22. Ba3 { preventing castling and trying to prove some compensation for the material.} Nb6 23. Rb1 Nbd5 {Black's strategy is to exchange pieces and get to a simpler endgame situation where her material edge will give good winning chances. This will also relieve her king position, with the centralized king becoming a benefit.} 24. Nfxd5 {White has nothing better than to go into the series of exchanges.} Nxd5 25. Nxd5 exd5 26. Rxb3 {regaining the pawn helps some, but Black still has an obvious edge and no longer has to worry about her king.} Kd7 27. Bc5 a5 {correctly mobilizing the pawn.} 28. Ba7 $6 {this leads directly to White's demise. Although she can make superficial progress, once that is done Black is able to break through.} (28. Kf1 $5 {White now needs to get her king into the action as well.}) 28... Rb7 29. b6 Rc8 $19 {the extra rook comes into play in a dominating way.} 30. Kf1 Rc1+ 31. Ke2 Rc2+ 32. Kf3 Kc6 {now the king penetrates decisively, collaborating with the mobile a-pawn.} 33. g4 a4 34. Rb1 a3 35. Rb3 a2 36. Ra3 Kb5 {and now White cannot prevent the a-pawn from queening with the king's support, without giving up her rook.} 0-1

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