09 December 2014

Commentary - 2014 Sharjah Women's Grand Prix

The Sharjah 2014 women's grand prix tournament occurred in late August - early September and featured a number of interesting games.  The following three I found particularly relevant to my study interests and playing style.

In the first game, from round 5, women's world champion Hou Yifan uses an English against Tatiana Kosintseva's Queen's Gambit Accepted type defense.  Remarkably, Hou appears to have the initiative throughout the game, despite some missteps in the middlegame that allow Black to mostly consolidate a won pawn.  Some key strategic decisions are made at various points by White that could have taken the game in different directions, for example on moves 16, 19 and 26.  White appears to elevate some practical considerations, such as preserving her queen, over completely objective ones in her calculations.  This risk pays off in the end, however, as Kosintseva, shortly after gaining an advantage around move 36, apparently lets the continuing White pressure get to her and fails to find an adequate defense heading into the endgame.

[Event "Sharjah WGP 2014"] [Site "Sharjah UAE"] [Date "2014.08.30"] [Round "5"] [White "Hou Yifan"] [Black "Kosintseva, T."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2661"] [BlackElo "2494"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "153"] [EventDate "2014.08.25"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. Qa4+ {recovering the pawn immediately is normal here, although White can head for a true gambit by castling.} Nbd7 6. Qxc4 c5 7. Qb3 {while not necessary at this point, repositioning the queen can be done with the text move or Qc2.} Rb8 {Black will eventually want to develop with ...b6 and ...Bb7, so getting the rook out of the way of the Bg2 is a prerequisite.} 8. d3 Bd6 9. Nc3 a6 {taking away the b5 square from the Nc3, a necessary prophylactic move.} 10. Nd2 {this is a somewhat unusual idea and follows most recently the game Seirawan-Kaidanov (2012). The Bc1 is blocked in temporarily, but the knight will be repositioned on e4.} O-O 11. O-O b6 12. Nde4 Nxe4 13. Nxe4 Be7 {the game now diverges, to White's favor, as Black's bishop is more passive.} (13... Be5 14. Bd2 Nf6 15. Bc3 Bxc3 16. bxc3 Nxe4 17. Bxe4 b5 18. a4 Bb7 19. Bxb7 Rxb7 20. axb5 axb5 21. Ra6 Qc7 22. Qa2 b4 23. Qc4 Rfb8 24. cxb4 Rxb4 25. Qc3 Rb3 26. Qc4 R3b4 27. Qc3 Rb3 28. Qc4 R3b4 29. Qc3 {1/2-1/2 (29) Seirawan,Y (2643)-Kaidanov,G (2594) Saint Louis 2012}) 14. Bf4 e5 {forced, otherwise White can follow up effectively with Nd6.} 15. Be3 Bb7 16. f4 {here Komodo 8 prefers the plan of disrupting Black's queenside pawn majority, using the a-pawn as a lever. This was also played in the following game, having reached the same position by transposition.} (16. a4 Bxe4 17. Bxe4 a5 18. Bd2 Bg5 19. Bc3 Kh8 20. Bc6 Qc7 21. Qd5 Rbd8 22. Bxd7 Rxd7 23. Qxe5 Qxe5 24. Bxe5 Re8 25. f4 Bf6 26. Bxf6 gxf6 27. Kf2 Rd4 28. b3 f5 29. Rfc1 Kg7 30. Ra2 Rd6 31. Rd2 Red8 32. Rc3 h5 33. e3 Kf6 34. Ke2 h4 35. d4 hxg3 36. hxg3 cxd4 37. Rcd3 Ke6 38. Rxd4 Rxd4 39. Rxd4 Rc8 40. Rc4 Rb8 41. Rc6+ Ke7 42. Kd3 b5 43. Rc5 bxa4 44. bxa4 Rb3+ 45. Kd2 Kf6 46. Rxa5 Ra3 47. Ra6+ Kg7 48. Ke2 Ra1 49. Kd3 Ra3+ 50. Kd4 Rb3 51. Rc6 Ra3 52. Rc4 Kg6 53. Kc5 Kh5 54. Kb4 Rxe3 55. Rc3 {1-0 (55) Vaganian,R (2590)-Enders,P (2475) Germany 1992}) 16... Bxe4 17. Bxe4 Nf6 18. Bf3 exf4 19. gxf4 {a big strategic decision on how to recapture. White creates a half-open g-file, likelier to create additional opportunities against her opponent's king, but also weakening her own shield.} Qd7 20. Kh1 {the obvious follow-up, otherwise the g-file will do White no good.} Ng4 (20... h5 {is an interesting idea here, establishing an outpost for the knight before launching it into enemy territory.}) 21. Bg1 {White now has to block the g-file of her own accord, in order to preserve the two bishops and keep her defenses intact.} Rfd8 {this is problematic, as it leaves f7 weakened.} (21... Bf6 $5) 22. Rad1 Bf6 23. d4 { a masterly move. Doing the simple math of taking on d4, this looks suicidal, but White recognizes that her opponent's pieces are overloaded and she can strike in the center.} cxd4 24. e4 Nh6 25. Rd3 {White chooses not to follow up with the immediate e5, preferring to do some maneuvering with her pieces first, building up their attacking potential.} (25. e5 Be7 26. Rxd4 {would regain the pawn immediately, but likely lead to simplifications. For example} Qh3 27. Be2 Qxb3 28. axb3 Bc5 29. Rxd8+ Rxd8 30. Bxc5 bxc5 $11 {White can now capture the a6 pawn, but then Black's rook would be able to camp on the second rank.}) 25... Qe6 (25... g6 $5 {is a defensive idea that could be good for Black, giving the bishop a retreat square on g7.}) 26. Qd1 {White decides to preserve her queen and offer a second pawn.} (26. Rfd1 {is perhaps the more natural move, as Black gains little or nothing by exchanging on b3.}) 26... Qxa2 27. Rf2 Rbc8 (27... Qe6 {is a retreat that could be played now or in the near future, that would bring the queen back into play on the kingside for defense.} ) 28. Rg2 Qc4 29. Rgd2 {White evidently has second thoughts about pursuing a kingside strategy and switches back to the center, although this is effectively a loss of tempo with the rook.} (29. e5 Be7 30. Be4 $11) 29... Qc1 $15 30. Qe2 {White is consistent in not wishing to trade queens, until forced to.} Be7 31. f5 {finally the mobile center pawns start rolling.} f6 (31... Bf6) 32. Rd1 Qc2 33. R3d2 Qc4 34. Qxc4+ {White now decides to get a pawn back.} (34. Rxd4 $5) 34... Rxc4 35. Be2 Rb4 36. Bxa6 Bc5 {Black has now reasonably consolidated her extra pawn, although it will certainly be a continuing target on d4.} 37. b3 {possible due to all of Black's pieces being tied to protecting the advanced d-pawn.} Kf8 38. Bc4 Ke7 $6 {this slip costs a tempo, as the king has to retreat to protect the pawn again.} (38... Nf7 {would allow Black to follow up with either ...Ng5 or ...Nd6, as needed.}) 39. Rg2 Kf8 40. Bf2 Nf7 41. Bg3 Ng5 {Black here appears primarily concerned about blocking threats along the g-file.} (41... Nd6 42. Bxd6+ Bxd6 43. Rdg1 (43. Rxd4 $2 b5 $19) 43... Rd7 $15) 42. Bd5 $11 {an excellent move, cutting off the Rd8 and centralizing the bishop, which is unchallenged on the light squares.} Bd6 43. Bxd6+ Rxd6 44. Ra2 (44. h4 $5) (44. Rd3 {also seems logical, protecting the third rank and preparing for transfer to g3 along with the threat of h4.}) 44... Rd7 45. Ra8+ Ke7 46. Kg2 Nf7 (46... Rc7 {is a subtle move, but one that ends up costing Black less.} 47. Bc4 b5 48. Rb8 Kd6 49. Rxd4+ Ke5 50. Rd1 Kxe4 $15) 47. Rg8 Ne5 48. Rxg7+ {while the engine shows complete equality here, the momentum is on White's side and she has the easier game.} Kd6 49. Rg8 d3 50. Kf2 Ra7 51. Rd2 Kc5 52. Ke3 {note how both players emphasize king activity in the center.} Rb5 (52... Ra1) 53. Rc8+ Kb4 54. Rxd3 $1 {this is not forcing - the engine finds a reasonable defense for Black, even a pawn down - but the decision to offer the exchange sacrifice is a winning one and psychologically hard to turn down.} Nxd3 (54... Rc5 55. Rxc5 bxc5 56. Rd2 Kc3) 55. Kxd3 $16 { Komodo 8 now has White a full pawn equivalent ahead in its evaluation, despite being materially a pawn down. White's bishop is magnificent and her king is better centralized. The ending remains tricky, however.} Ra1 56. Rc6 Rd1+ 57. Ke3 Rbxd5 {Black decides to return material, but exchanges down into an inferior ending. Compare this with the pawn-down position from the move 54 variation and it's obvious White is much better.} (57... Re1+ $5) 58. exd5 b5 59. Rxf6 Rxd5 60. Ke4 Rd2 61. Rh6 Kxb3 62. f6 $18 {White's advanced passed pawn will decide the game.} Re2+ 63. Kd5 Rf2 64. Ke6 Re2+ 65. Kd7 Rf2 66. Ke7 Re2+ 67. Kf8 Kc4 68. f7 b4 69. Rf6 b3 70. Kg8 b2 71. Rf1 Rg2+ 72. Kh8 b1=Q 73. Rxb1 Rf2 74. Kg8 Rg2+ 75. Kf8 Kd5 76. Re1 Ra2 77. Ke7 {and Black will have to give up the rook for the f-pawn.} 1-0


In the second game, from round 6, Black (Nafisa Muminova) manages to get the better of her better-known and higher-rated opponent, Zhu Chen, in a Slow Slav, although the final result is a draw.  Muminova makes a questionable excursion with her dark-squared bishop, but after White releases the tension on move 20 and then loses her advantage of the two bishops, this allows Black to fully equalize.  White perhaps overestimates her position and Black manages to gain a significant positional advantage with her better-placed pieces.

[Event "Sharjah WGP 2014"] [Site "Sharjah UAE"] [Date "2014.08.31"] [Round "6.4"] [White "Zhu, Chen"] [Black "Muminova, Nafisa"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2461"] [BlackElo "2315"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "94"] [EventDate "2014.08.25"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 6. cxd5 Bxf3 {the most popular and best-scoring response. White's queen is diverted to the kingside as a result, which lessens the impact of the bishop's absence from the queenside.} 7. Qxf3 cxd5 8. Nc3 e6 9. Bd3 Bb4 $146 {...Nc6 is the normal move here. The dark-square bishop typically goes to e7 or d6 rather than b4.} 10. Bd2 Nc6 11. O-O O-O 12. Rfd1 Rc8 {a typical Slav middlegame structure is on the board, with a symmetrical pawn structure and open c-file. White has the two bishops, but their scope is relatively constrained.} 13. Qe2 Qe7 14. Rac1 Rfd8 15. a3 Ba5 16. b4 Bc7 17. f4 Bd6 {at this point one has to question the wisdom of the bishop's long journey to d6, when this could have been played directly on move 9. Black shortly will use a pawn lever to break up White's queenside, so perhaps that was her original strategic concept.} 18. Rb1 Ra8 19. Na4 a5 20. bxa5 {this release of tension seems to favor Black's idea, rather than immediately pressing the chance for a White advantage. Two potential alternatives:} (20. b5) (20. Nb6) 20... Nxa5 21. Nb6 Ra7 22. a4 Ba3 {taking advantage of the Q+B battery.} (22... Nc6 $5) 23. Bxa5 {this exchanges a bad bishop for a knight on the rim. While not a bad idea in the short term, White does give up the one slim long-term strategic advantage she has.} (23. Rb5 Nc6 24. Rdb1 $14) 23... Rxa5 24. Qd2 Ra7 25. Qc2 Qf8 {keeps the Q+B battery active while lending the queen's strength to the eigth rank.} 26. Rb3 g6 {breaks the indirect pin on the Nf6, which otherwise was tied to defending h7. Also importantly prevents the f5 advance.} 27. Rdb1 Bd6 $11 {White's temporary pressure has ebbed and Black will be able to easily parry White's further attempts at activity.} 28. Rc3 Bb4 29. Rc7 Kg7 30. g4 Ba5 31. g5 Ne8 {although White has a space advantage and a rook sitting on c7 (temporarily), it is interesting to note the lack of any real threats. The Bd3 is effectively out of the game due to the pawn structure and the rook cannot do anything with the c-file.} 32. Rc5 Nd6 33. Qd1 {White apparently does not want to acknowledge her lack of threats and tries to regroup her pieces. However, this works to Black's advantage.} Bxb6 34. Rxb6 Rda8 $15 {at this point, Black's knight is superior to White's bishop and Black's pieces are cooperating much more effectively than White's.} 35. Rb4 Qe8 36. Bc2 Nc4 {White's lack of piece coordination, especially with the rooks, is visibly evident.} 37. Kf2 b6 { this allows White to return to equality.} (37... h6 {is the engine's recommendation to try for an advantage.} 38. gxh6+ Kxh6 39. Rc7 b6 40. Rxa7 Rxa7 $17 {Black can now target the isolated h-pawn and penetrate on the kingside with his queen.}) 38. Rcb5 Qd7 39. Qd3 $6 {this sets up a tactical weakness on the c-file.} (39. Bd3) 39... Qc7 (39... Rc8 {in return for sacrificing the b-pawn, Black gains control of the c-file and can penetrate to the back ranks.} 40. Bb3 Nd6 41. Rxb6 Rac7 $19) 40. Bd1 Ra6 {Black decides to concentrate on protecting the b-pawn and shutting down any White activity rather than unbalancing the game, evidently not evaluating that it would be clearly to her benefit. Several possibilites for advantage include:} (40... h6 $5 {this idea would again work to good effect here.}) (40... Rh8) (40... Rc8) 41. Rb1 Nd6 42. R5b2 Nc4 43. Rb4 R8a7 44. Ke2 Nd6 {the piece shuffling indicates both sides are happy with a draw.} 45. R4b2 Nc4 46. Rb4 Nd6 47. R4b2 Nc4 1/2-1/2

In the third game, from round 8, Elena Danelian provides a lesson on how to play what looks like an ordinary non-threatening English Opening against Muminova's Semi-Slav type setup.  The positional crush begins after White forces an exchange of knight for bishop, leaving Black's remaining bishop almost useless while White's two bishops will play decisive roles.  (This makes another excellent example for Mastery Concept: The Effects of Piece Exchanges.)  One of the notable features of this game is how it revolves around multiple White tactical threats to the d5 pawn, none of which are actually implemented, but collectively they tie Black in knots and allow White to break through.

[Event "Sharjah WGP 2014"] [Site "Sharjah UAE"] [Date "2014.09.02"] [Round "8.5"] [White "Danielian, Elina"] [Black "Muminova, Nafisa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "2490"] [BlackElo "2315"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2014.08.25"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 {Black chooses a Semi-Slav type setup.} 5. b3 Nbd7 6. Bb2 Bd6 7. Qc2 O-O 8. Be2 Re8 9. h3 (9. O-O {can also be played immediately and is the most popular in the database. One recent game:} a6 10. d4 b5 11. e4 b4 12. e5 bxc3 13. Bxc3 Bc7 14. exf6 Nxf6 15. Rad1 Ne4 16. Bb2 Bb7 17. Bd3 f5 18. Ne5 c5 19. Bxe4 cxd4 20. Bf3 Bxe5 21. Bxd4 Bd6 22. Bb2 Qc7 23. h3 Rad8 24. Rfe1 Bb4 25. Be5 Qc8 26. Rf1 dxc4 27. Bxb7 Qxb7 28. Qxc4 Rc8 29. Qe2 Red8 30. Bb2 Qe4 31. Qxa6 Ra8 32. Qb6 Rdb8 33. Qc7 Rb7 34. Rd8+ Bf8 35. Qd6 Rxd8 36. Qxd8 Ra7 37. Rc1 Ra8 38. Qd7 Rxa2 39. Rc7 Qb1+ 40. Kh2 h6 41. Qf7+ Kh7 42. Bxg7 {1-0 (42) Mikhalevski,V (2519)-Steinberg,N (2416) Beersheba 2014}) 9... e5 10. cxd5 cxd5 (10... Nxd5 $5) 11. Nb5 {with the pawn on c6 now gone, the nimble knight can activate itself and target Black's dark-square bishop.} Nf8 (11... Bb8 {would preserve the bishop, which has to cover the c7 square to prevent a knight fork. This looks a little awkward, but appears best strategically.}) 12. Rc1 $14 {deploying the rook usefully and sealing the fate of Black's bishop, which must now suffer being exchanged.} a6 (12... Bb8 { no longer would preserve the bishop, as it would have to exchange itself for the knight after Nc7.}) 13. Nxd6 Qxd6 14. O-O $16 {Komodo 8 already gives a significant positional plus to White, who dominates the only open file and has the two bishops. Black's forces meanwhile are uncoordinated.} N6d7 15. Qc7 Qe7 {Black evidently assesses that the exchange of queens would lessen her practical chances for counterplay.} (15... Qxc7 16. Rxc7 Ne6 17. Rc2 f6 18. Rfc1 $16) 16. Rc2 (16. Qa5 $5 {is an interesting alternative.} Qd6 17. Ba3 Qg6 18. Kh1 Qe6 19. Rc7) (16. Nxe5 $2 {would be a tactical blunder.} Nxe5 17. Qxe7 Rxe7) 16... Ne6 17. Qa5 e4 18. Nd4 {White's knight is happy to go to such an excellent central outpost. If Ne6 exchanges it, White can then penetrate on c7. } Qg5 {Black protects the d-pawn, but White is going to have a free hand on the queenside.} (18... Nxd4 19. Bxd4 Ne5 20. Qxd5 Nc6 21. Bc5 $16) 19. Nxe6 Rxe6 20. Rfc1 {a preparatory move that is a more conservative way to maintain the advantage.} (20. f4 $5 {immediately is suggested by the engine. This kicks the queen and picks up the d5 pawn, or otherwise leads to more problems for Black.} Qh4 (20... b6 21. fxg5 bxa5 22. Rc7 $18) (20... exf3 21. Bxf3 $18 { White is going to win the d-pawn in this line as well, as she has the back-rank threat of playing Qd8 if the Qg5 is deflected. For example} b5 $2 22. Bxd5) 21. Qxd5 $18) 20... Re8 {protects against possible back-rank threats, such as those shown in the previous variation.} 21. f4 exf3 22. Bxf3 b5 { defending the d-pawn by interference with the Qa5.} 23. Qc7 Nf8 24. h4 { a masterly move that again threatens to deflect the queen from protection of d5.} Qf5 (24... Qxh4 25. Bxd5 Be6 26. Bxa8 Rxa8 $18) 25. Qg3 {targeting the g-pawn and causing another weakness in Black's structure.} g6 {this turns out to severely weaken Black's defense.} (25... f6) 26. Rc5 Bb7 27. Rc7 Bc8 (27... Rab8 28. Bg4 Qe4 29. Qf2 $18) 28. R7c5 {repetition here was probably for time management purposes, bringing the time control closer for free.} Bb7 29. e4 { White continues pressing against the d5 pawn. She will never actually capture it, but all of her threats cause her opponent to lose ground in responding to them.} Rxe4 {Black decides in desperation to sacrifice the exchange in order to try to relieve the pressure.} (29... Qe6 30. Bg4 Qxe4 31. Rc7 $18) 30. Bxe4 Qxe4 31. Re1 {note how the Qg3 assists rook placement on both e1 and c7.} Qf5 32. Rc7 Bc8 33. Qc3 {now Black's kingside holes become the decisive factor.} f6 34. Qxf6 {White now has a number of ways to win and picks a safe and easy one.} Qxf6 35. Bxf6 Nd7 36. Bd4 Kf8 37. Rec1 {the Bc8 is lost and with it, the game.} 1-0

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