12 March 2016

Annotated Game #151: The Critical Position

This fourth-round tournament game illustrates well the importance of understanding the critical position in a game.  Most games have one position (occasionally more, if it's a long game) that contains a major decision point and require significant thought, both in terms of calculating and evaluating it properly.  Here the critical position occurs on move 17, something which I recognized during the game and is also evident during analysis.  I had deliberately unbalanced the position with my opening choice (9...Bf5!?), which lead to having an open g-file and a strong light-square complex, at the expense of the dark squares and my kingside pawn structure.  Over the next several moves, I correctly exploited the ideas for Black inherent in the position and developed a good initiative.  Unfortunately I failed to then find the best (really only) idea for continuing, 17...Nxg5, which immediately turned over the initiative to my opponent.

It's interesting to observe how often when one fails to play the critical position correctly, it dooms the rest of your game.  Partly that is due to objective factors, but there is also a significant psychological component.  For example, I also failed to find better options - admittedly, much harder to calculate - on moves 18 and 26.  I think that is a combination of the position actually being significantly more difficult to play, along with the earlier psychological blow coming from the sudden shift in momentum.  Aside from the concrete lessons that analysis of this game teaches me, remembering to keep looking for ways to reverse course, even after suffering a turnaround in the game, is a more general lesson to keep in mind.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "77"] {B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bf4 (4. Bd3 {is the Exchange Variation main line.}) 4... Nc6 (4... Qb6 {is the only original try in this position to take advantage of the early dark-square bishop move, but it doesn't work.} 5. Nc3 Nf6 (5... Qxb2 $2 6. Nxd5 $18) 6. Nb5 Na6 $14) 5. c3 Nf6 {this move is fine, but represents a bit of lazy thinking on my part. I should have pondered more the difference between this position and the normal Exchange Variation with an earlier Bd3.} ( 5... Bf5 $11 {played now is the way to take advantage of the lack of a White Bd3.} 6. Bd3 Bxd3 7. Qxd3 e6 {with the idea of playing ...Bd6 and exchanging the other pair of bishops.}) 6. Bd3 {now we're back to the standard Exchange Variation line.} g6 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. O-O Bf5 {a deliberately unbalancing move. Safer would be ...Nh5.} 10. Bxf5 gxf5 11. Qc2 e6 $11 12. Bg5 Qc7 {taking advantage of the bishop leaving the h2-b8 diagonal.} 13. Qd3 Ne4 { the natural move, hitting the Bg5 and powerfully centralizing the knight.} 14. Qe3 f6 {correctly mobilizing the extra f-pawn. So far I am doing well in understanding the unique characteristics of the position and using them to my advantage.} 15. Bf4 $6 (15. Bh6 $5 $11) 15... e5 $17 {is again the strong, natural reaction. The extra f-pawn is a benefit rather than a drawback, supporting e5.} 16. dxe5 fxe5 17. Bg5 {Black has an active position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface. Unfortunately my calculation and evaluation skills now fail me in this unfamiliar and complex position.} f4 $6 {this is the "easy" way to rationalize the position, but unfortunately it gives White an advantage.} (17... Nxg5 $5 {I considered for a long time, along with the text move, but I did not understand how to properly follow it up, incorrectly evaluating that it would cause me to lose the initiative.} 18. Qxg5 {and now Black in fact has a pleasant choice of how to proceed, for example} e4 (18... Rf6 $5) (18... Rad8) 19. Nh4 h6 20. Qe3 f4 21. Qh3 Qf7 $17) (17... Qf7 { is also good, something I did not really consider.} 18. Nxe4 fxe4 19. Nh4 Qh5 $15) 18. Qd3 {at the time, I did not appreciate how easily White could fix his problems with this move. The d5 pawn is hanging, which is key.} Nf6 $2 { this is obviously bad, but at the time I did not see an alternative.} (18... Nxd2 $5 {and Black is still in the game, notes the engine.} 19. Qxd5+ Kh8 20. Nxd2 h6 21. Bh4 Rad8 {I would have also needed to find this non-obvious move.} 22. Bxd8 Rxd8 23. Qb3 Rxd2 $14) 19. Bxf6 $16 Rxf6 {not the best move, but I am already, with some desperation, thinking about how I can try to counterattack rather than simply lose without a fight.} (19... Bxf6 20. Qxd5+ Qf7 21. Qxf7+ Kxf7 $16) 20. Qxd5+ Kh8 21. Nc4 (21. Ne4 Rd8 22. Qb3 Rg6 $18) 21... Rg6 $16 22. Rfe1 Rg8 {my only hope at this point is to get something going on the g-file.} 23. Nh4 (23. g3 {is the simpler way to defuse g-file threats.} fxg3 24. hxg3 Rf8 25. Nh4 Rgf6 26. Re2 $16) 23... Rg4 (23... Rh6 $5 24. Nf5 Rf6 25. Nxg7 Qxg7 26. g3 $16) 24. Nd6 {with the threat of Nf7+} Rf8 25. Nhf5 Qd7 {pinning the Nd6 and therefore threatening ...Rxf5.} 26. Nxg7 $2 {this allows an unusual saving tactic for Black...which however is difficult to see.} (26. Rad1 { would protect the Qd5 and unpin the knight.} Rxf5 27. Nxf5 Qxf5 $16) 26... Qxg7 $2 {the second-best move.} (26... f3 $1 {the idea is to press the attack while temporarily ignoring the need to recapture a piece. White cannot simply ignore the threat.} 27. Ne6 (27. g3 Rg6 $17) 27... Rxg2+ 28. Kh1 Rf6 $17 {and material equality will be restored, with Black having a more threatening position.}) 27. Rad1 $6 {this again allows a creative tactic...which again is not found.} (27. g3 $16 {is necessary here.}) 27... f3 $2 {the right general idea, but wrong sequence.} (27... e4 $1 28. Rxe4 (28. g3 {now does not work:} e3 29. fxe3 fxg3 30. h4 g2 $17) 28... Rxg2+ 29. Kh1 f3 $11) 28. g3 $18 Rh4 29. Re4 Rxe4 (29... Rh6 30. h4 $18) 30. Qxe4 {despite being only a pawn up at the moment, White has a thoroughly winning game and I no longer have any counterplay, so the rest is easy for him.} Rf4 31. Qe1 h5 (31... Qd7 {would be the best try, but White can now easily defend against a mate threat on g2 or h2.} 32. b4 a6 33. a4 $18) 32. Kh1 h4 33. Qg1 Rg4 34. Qf1 hxg3 $2 {this loses quickly, but frankly sometimes that is better than inevitably losing slowly.} ( 34... Qg6 $18) 35. fxg3 {sealing the win.} (35. Qh3+ {seems even better, comments the engine.} Qh7 36. Nf7+ Kg8 37. Qxg4+ Kxf7 38. fxg3 $18) 35... e4 36. Qh3+ Kg8 37. Nf5 Qg5 38. Nh6+ Kg7 39. Qxg4 1-0

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