08 March 2015

Annotated Game #143: Playing against your own defense is hard

In this fourth-round tournament game, I faced my own defense and did poorly in the opening as a result.  Not because the defense itself is overpowering, but because I was not well prepared to play against it either technically or emotionally.  I believe this is something common to chessplayers, especially amateurs, when we over-identify with a particular opening setup and invest it with emotional qualities.  Professionals often can play both sides of their favorite openings with virtuosity; for example, in the modern era Kramnik is often cited in this context.

As the game progressed, I managed to achieve equality via a strategic piece exchange, but then made another classic amateur error, that of assuming opening play was "safe" and moves made on principle would be sufficient, rather than always closely examining possible tactics and falsifying my moves.  This is a lesson that I have been presented with multiple times and need to take to heart for the future.

The other major lesson I take away from this game is to play out every endgame and not to give up on them.  Despite my opponent being a pawn up for most of the game, I was savvy enough to reach drawing positions, but let myself be affected by the accumulated pressure and repeated threats, eventually losing as a result.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "118"] [EventDate "2013.01.20"] [EventRounds "7"] {D13: Slav Defence: Exchange variation without ...Bf5} 1. c4 c6 {I dislike playing against my own defenses and did not have a good opening line against it.} 2. Nf3 d5 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 Nc6 6. d4 (6. d3 {would be more in the spirit of White's play so far and significantly more solid.}) 6... Bf5 7. O-O e6 {by this point, Black has three pieces developed to White's two, along with a better-supported pawn center. Clearly the opening is a failure for White.} 8. a3 {I was worried about the various threats revolving around the b4 square, most immediately Nc6-b4-c2.} Be7 9. Nh4 $146 {this is a standard type of maneuver to exchange off the powerful light-square bishop, now that e6 has been played.} Bg6 $11 (9... Be4 10. Nc3 $15) 10. Nxg6 hxg6 { White has the pair of bishops, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface. This is the factor that gives White equality.} 11. Nc3 O-O 12. Bg5 $6 {the result of thinking only positionally in an unfamiliar opening; I failed to falsify the move, believing everything was safe. The advantage of "book" lines is that they are (or should be) free of tactical worries and surprises. Here the d4 pawn is not adequately protected and the bishop move also leaves b2 unprotected, leading to Black's next move.} (12. b4 Qb6 $11) 12... Qb6 $15 13. Bxf6 {after a long think, I decide that the inadvertent pawn sacrifice means that White should attempt to get compensation via a kingside attack, calculating the sequence until move 17.} gxf6 14. e3 Qxb2 15. Na4 (15. Qd3 $5 $15) 15... Qb5 16. Rb1 Qa6 $17 17. h4 {Black's forces are more oriented toward the queenside and White can press an attack using the h-file. However, White's resources are also limited and take time to bring into play.} b6 {Consolidates c5, notes the engine.} 18. Kh2 {this idea, involving bringing the rook to h1, is too slow.} (18. Re1 $5 {might be a viable alternative}) (18. h5 $5) 18... Kg7 19. Rh1 Rh8 20. Bf1 {the bishop was doing nothing on g2 and can now be redeployed with tempo.} Qb7 21. Qd3 {defending the a3 pawn. Tactically this was not completely necessary, as the following variation shows.} (21. Nc3 Na5 ( 21... Bxa3 22. Qa4 Be7 23. Ba6 Qd7 24. Kg2 $15) 22. a4 $17) 21... Bd6 (21... g5 {is more to the point, with White's king still on the h-file.}) 22. Kg2 { White needed to play this anyway, so Black's pin on g3 and threat to capture the h4 pawn was irrelevant. The bishop might be better suited to defense on e7, although it's difficult to tell; the move also clears the square for the knight.} Ne7 (22... Na5 $5 $17 {heading for c4.}) 23. Be2 Rac8 24. Nc3 { I turn my attention to reactivating the other minor piece. By this point my position is looking in better shape, although with little compensation for the loss of the pawn.} f5 25. Nb5 Bb8 26. a4 {by this point I didn't see any real chance of a kingside breakthrough, so turned my strategy back to the queenside. White has a space advantage and perhaps can generate some pressure there.} (26. Nc3 {is an interesting idea from the engine. The point is that the a6-f1 diagonal is opened up and White would do well to place his queen or bishop on a6 in order to target c8. This idea will resurface later in the game.}) 26... Ng8 27. Qa3 Nf6 28. Nd6 {this was the point of the Qa3 maneuver for me, although it turns out to be a bad idea.} (28. a5 $5) 28... Bxd6 29. Qxd6 Qc7 { forcing White to exchange of queens, otherwise Black penetrates on the c-file. However, this is reasonably good for White.} (29... Ne4 $5 {is what Black should play.} 30. Qb4 Rc2 $17) 30. Qxc7 $15 Rxc7 31. Ba6 {the key move in this position, as Black is now stymied on the c-file and cannot push the queenside pawns. White may have a draw here.} Re8 32. Rhc1 {the obvious rook move, but perhaps not the best. "It's always the wrong rook"} Ree7 33. Kf1 $6 { essentially the losing move. Psychologically this came at a moment of relief and I did not feel that Black had any obvious threats.} (33. f3 {would have been a prophylactic move. I had briefly considered this, but ruled it out based on a vague consideration of potential future weaknesses on the third rank.}) (33. Bd3 $5) 33... Ne4 $17 {now the knight fork threat on d2 and various alternate forking possibilities (for example on c3) dominate the game and White is forced to make concessions.} 34. Ke1 Kf8 35. a5 {I saw that a Black breakthrough on the c-file would be inevitable once the king makes it over to protect c7, so I decided to give Black two rook pawns in the hopes that they could be contained in the later endgame. This also keeps White's rook more active.} (35. Bd3 Rxc1+ 36. Rxc1 Ke8 37. a5 {is another variation of the idea, perhaps better, due to the bishop placement.}) 35... bxa5 36. Rb8+ $2 {in this case, ignoring the chance to pick up the rook pawn is the wrong move. I was too focused on the c-file.} (36. Ra1 $5 $17 {has some apparent merit, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface.}) 36... Kg7 $19 37. Rc8 {this was the idea behind the rook check. It works out all right in practice, but Black could have significantly improved.} (37. Rd1 $19) 37... Rxc1+ {this is what I had expected.} (37... Rxc8 {and Black is on the road to success, states the engine.} 38. Rxc8 a4 39. Rc1 a3 40. Bd3 Rb7 41. Ra1 Rb3 42. Bc2 Rc3 $19) 38. Rxc1 $17 {I had seen this far when playing a5 and was reasonably content with the position. Black does not give up his will to win, however, and starts pushing on the kingside.} f6 (38... a4 39. Ra1 $17) 39. Bd3 {done with the intent of trading off the dominant knight. I did not see how Black could make real progress on the kingside afterwards.} Kh6 40. Bxe4 (40. Ra1 $5 g5 $15) 40... fxe4 $15 {we now enter a rook endgame where I should have some drawing chances.} 41. Ra1 $2 {this would have been the right move earlier. Unfortunately, now that circumstances have changed, Black has threats on the kingside.} g5 $17 42. hxg5+ (42. Rxa5 gxh4 43. gxh4 $19 {White cannot protect the h-pawn and Black will eventually be able to create another passed pawn.}) 42... Kxg5 $19 43. Kf1 e5 $2 {weakening the position} (43... Kg4 {should be winning.} 44. Kg2 a6 $19 {as if} 45. Rxa5 Ra7 46. Ra2 a5) 44. Rxa5 $11 Rd7 $15 45. Kg2 {played due to fears of Black's king penetrating decisively into g2.} ( 45. dxe5 {helps White's cause.} fxe5 46. Ke1 $11) (45. Ke1 {or Ke2 should also hold.}) 45... exd4 46. exd4 $11 f5 47. Rc5 $6 {this simply removes the threat on the a-pawn. White should instead centralize his king.} (47. f3 Kg6 $11) (47. Kf1) 47... f4 $15 48. gxf4+ Kxf4 49. Rc8 {Here I felt I had run out of good options.} (49. Rc6 $5) 49... e3 50. Rf8+ $2 {this loses.} (50. Re8 $11 { this seems obvious in retrospect, cutting off the king and eliminating the advanced pawn.}) 50... Ke4 $19 {now the game is essentially over.} 51. Re8+ Kxd4 52. fxe3+ Kc4 $2 {this gives White some hope.} (52... Kd3 53. Kf2 Rf7+ 54. Ke1 Rf3 $19) 53. e4 $2 {I still stubbornly refuse to centralize my king, hoping that Black will somehow miss the winning move.} (53. Kf2 $15 {is a viable option}) 53... d4 $19 {now Black is back on track for the win.} 54. Rc8+ Kd3 55. e5 Re7 56. Ra8 Ke2 57. Kg3 d3 58. Rb8 d2 59. Rb2 Ke1 (59... Ke1 60. Rb1+ d1=Q 61. Rxd1+ Kxd1 62. Kf4 a5 63. Kf5 a4 64. Kf6 Rxe5 65. Kxe5 a3 66. Kd5 a2 67. Ke4 Kc2 68. Kf4 a1=Q 69. Kf5 Qa6 70. Kg5 Qe6 71. Kf4 Kd3 72. Kf3 Qe4+ 73. Kg3 Ke2 74. Kh2 Qg4 75. Kh1 Kf3 76. Kh2 Qg2#) 0-1

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