01 April 2017

Annotated Game #169: Alekhine's Gun

The Alekhine's Gun formation is one of those rare, fun and aesthetically pleasing positions that is hard to resist playing when you have the opportunity.  In this game, it appears on move 29 and was a natural reaction to my opponent allowing me play on the open e-file.

The general course of this tournament game shows how effective a small but persistent advantage can be.  I was fortunate enough to be on the positive side of this effect, after a queen sortie to snatch White's a-pawn.  I tend to credit moves like 12...Be4 with helping keep up the psychological pressure on my opponent, although I by no means found all of the most effective moves/ideas (for example the idea of mobilizing my extra a-pawn).  Another key strategic turning point in the game was when my opponent played 20. c5, which very helpfully clarified my middlegame plans by eliminating the central pawn tension.  At the Class level, it's very common to not be comfortable maintaining such types of tension and prematurely resolving it with either an advance (as happened here) or by exchanging, in either case often giving the opponent a better (or at least easier) position as a result.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "70"] {D02:1 d4 d5 2 Nf sidelines, including 2...Nf6 3 g3 and 2...Nf6 3 Bf4} 1. Nf3 Nf6 {I prefer to take a waiting approach in response to White's first move, rather than directly challenge in the center.} 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 d5 {a solid approach, essentially aiming for a Slav-type setup, which was the point of the previous move. It's not necessary to commit so early with 2...c6, but with White obviously fianchettoing his bishop, it doesn't hurt to strengthen the diagonal in preparation for 3...d5.} 4. O-O Bf5 {it's mostly a matter of taste whether the bishop is played to f5 or g4, although the resulting play has significant differences. Here's a recent high-level example of the alternative bishop placement:} (4... Bg4 5. h3 Bxf3 6. Bxf3 Nbd7 7. d3 e5 8. e4 dxe4 9. dxe4 Bc5 10. Bg2 Qe7 11. a4 O-O 12. Qe2 a5 13. Nd2 Rfd8 14. Nb3 Bb6 15. Bd2 Nc5 16. Nxc5 Bxc5 17. Rfd1 h6 18. Be1 Nd7 19. h4 Bb6 20. Qc4 Nc5 21. b3 Ne6 22. c3 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Rd8 24. Qe2 Qa3 25. Rxd8+ Bxd8 26. Qd1 Bb6 27. Bh3 Nc5 28. Bc8 Qb2 29. Kf1 Nxe4 30. Bf5 Nxf2 31. Qd7 g6 32. Be6 fxe6 33. Qe8+ Kg7 34. Qe7+ Kg8 35. Qe8+ Kg7 36. Qe7+ Kg8 {1/2-1/2 (36) Giri,A (2782)-Kramnik,V (2812) Paris 2016}) 5. d4 e6 6. b3 {this is actually the second most popular move in the database. It doesn't score so well for White, though, at 49 percent.} (6. c4 { would transpose directly into Slav Defense territory.}) 6... Nbd7 {developing the knight first and keeping the dark-squared bishop placement flexible for as long as possible.} 7. Ba3 $6 {this minor piece exchange is a net benefit to Black, who develops and exchanges the bishop in one tempo, while leaving White's knight on an awkward rim square. If the knight had b5 available it might make more sense.} (7. Nbd2 Ne4 8. Bb2 Be7 9. Ne5 Nxd2 10. Qxd2 Nxe5 11. dxe5 Qb6 12. Bd4 c5 13. Be3 Qc7 14. c4 d4 15. Bf4 h6 16. e4 Bg4 17. f3 Bh5 18. g4 g5 19. Bg3 Bg6 20. f4 gxf4 21. Bxf4 h5 {Perez Pardo,J (2297)-Istratescu,A (2607) Caleta 2010 0-1 (36)}) 7... Bxa3 8. Nxa3 O-O {castling before deciding where to most effectively develop the Black queen.} 9. c4 {presumably this was my opponent's idea behind putting his knight on a3, to support the c-pawn push. Under the right circumstances after pawn exchanges, the knight could then go to c4 or b5. However, since I do not oblige by exchanging on c4, this never actually happens.} Re8 {getting the rooks onto better squares is never a bad idea and is often neglected by Class players (as I've done many times in the past).} 10. Rc1 $2 {White's subsequent troubles can be traced to this move, which neglects the (now) two unprotected pieces on the a-file.} Qa5 {an example of a double attack tactic, in this case via a type of skewer down the a-file which attacks the hanging Na3 which cannot be defended, and thereby indirectly the a2 pawn.} 11. Nc2 Qxa2 $15 {Komodo evaluates White as having some compensation for the pawn. I will have to spend some time extricating the queen, but it's still worth the material.} 12. Ne3 {here I thought for some time, since there are several plausible alternatives. Komodo agrees with my choice.} (12. Nb4 Qa5 13. Nd3 $15) 12... Be4 {this move is a common theme in these types of positions. The bishop is well supported and centralized on e4 and is annoying to deal with. Any effort to exchange it should also result in a position that is fine for Black. I chose it because it keeps up the pressure a bit more on my opponent.} (12... Bg6 {is a solid alternative.}) 13. Ra1 Qb2 { part of the calculations that went into move 11. My queen is in no actual danger, despite being behind the screen of queenside pawns, since my opponent has no pieces able to cover all of the escape squares.} 14. Ne1 {engines here show a preference for exchanging queens, which among other things would help ease White's space deficit.} (14. Qc1 Qxc1 15. Rfxc1 a6 $17) 14... Qc3 { I deliberately made a safe choice here, deciding to focus on ensuring the queen could be withdrawn without any issues. The engine prefers a more aggressive approach.} (14... a5 $5 {mobilizing the extra pawn.} 15. Bxe4 Nxe4 16. N1c2 Qxb3 17. Rb1 Qc3 18. Rxb7 Red8 $17 {for example is evaluated as better for Black, but I was leery of allowing White any counterplay down the b-file.}) 15. Bxe4 {apparently my opponent didn't like having my centralized bishop in his territory.} (15. Rc1 Qa5 $15) 15... Nxe4 $17 {however, after the minor piece exchange on e4, Black's space advantage and better piece coordination is more evident. At this point I also noticed the idea of a sacrifice on f2, based on the relative lack of support for the Ne3.} 16. Nf3 Ndf6 {I thought for a while here, as I was not able to find an obvious plan. This move had the purpose of supporting the Ne4 and also left open the idea of a sac on f2.} (16... a5 $5 {again would be more assertive with Black's extra pawn, grabbing space and promising good play on the queenside.}) 17. Rc1 $15 { now the queen has to retreat, somewhat regretfully, without being able to carry out the sacrifice idea.} Qa5 {I spent some time here deciding between a5 and b4. On b4 the queen could continue to pressure the b-pawn, but I was more interested in giving her extra mobility on the d8-a5 diagonal.} 18. Qd3 Qc7 19. Ne5 {this was expected and is a thematic occupation of the e5 outpost. I now have to think hard about how to neutralize the knight.} Qe7 {I had to be careful here about some of the tactics involved in the potential pawn exchanges on d5. This move got the queen out of a latent pin on the c-file.} 20. c5 {this is not a bad move, but I was happy to see it from a strategic perspective. The tension at d5 is now resolved and it clarifies what Black's plan should be, which is play in the center and kingside.} (20. f3 $5 Nd6 $15) 20... Nd7 {challenging the Ne5 and preparing to advance the f-pawn if necessary.} 21. Nxd7 Qxd7 $17 {as material is exchanged, any White compensation for the missing pawn is decreased.} 22. f3 {ejecting my knight from its advanced outpost.} Nf6 23. g4 {during the game I felt that this was over-optimistic. It's not a terrible move, but as with all pawn advances it leaves weaknesses behind it.} (23. Rfe1 e5 $17) 23... e5 {this is a good idea but the timing of it is not the best. I probably spent less time than I should have thinking about this move, which is critical, but it seemed pretty obvious. } (23... Qc7 $5 {would have been a good preparatory move, getting the queen on the penetrating diagonal b8-h2 and directly supporting ...e5}) 24. dxe5 $6 { this just plays into Black's plan of getting pressure down the e-file.} (24. Nf5 $5 $17 {would seem to be a consistent idea with the g4 pawn push.}) 24... Rxe5 {now my advantage is more evident, with a positional edge on the e-file along with the material advantage.} 25. Nf5 {correctly occupying the outpost, but to less effect now that the e-file is open.} Rae8 {the obvious follow-up and a good one. I was most focused on Nd6 as a possible response, but then Black has ...Re3} (25... g6 $5 {is good but somewhat more complicated.} 26. Qd2 Qe6 (26... gxf5 $2 27. Qg5+ $16) 27. Nd4 Qe7 $17) 26. Rf2 (26. Nd6 Re3 $17 ( 26... R8e7 $5)) 26... h5 {I thought for a long time here and made Komodo's second choice. I couldn't fully calculate all of the consequences, but didn't see how White could benefit from the move and many ways how I could increase pressure. The basic idea of the move is to undermine the Nf5 and threaten to open up pressure along the c8-h3 diagonal.} (26... g6 27. Nd6 R8e7 {is evaluated as clearly better for Black, but at the time I didn't like how ...g6 cut off some potential lateral movement for the rooks.}) 27. h3 {I had mostly considered Rg2 in response. The move played is better, but has its own problems.} (27. Nd6 R8e7 28. Nf5 hxg4 (28... Re8 {is also fine}) 29. Nxe7+ Qxe7 $17) (27. Rg2 $6 hxg4 28. fxg4 Ne4 29. h4 g6 30. Nh6+ Kg7 31. g5 f5 $19) 27... a6 {a safe choice but not best.} (27... g6 {I also considered, but I was getting tired by this point and hesitated to pull the trigger. I figured that . ..a6 helpfully removed any possible threats on the a-file and I also wanted to see what my opponent had in mind before committing to a particular course of action. Among other things, I was concerned that the g-file could be opened to White's advantage or that the g6 pawn could become a target.} 28. Nd6 R8e7 29. Ra1 a6 $19) 28. Ra1 $2 {this is a wasted move and would have allowed me to get in the more effective ...g6.} (28. Nd6 R8e6 $15) 28... R8e6 $6 {this is a good idea, but the timing is wrong.} (28... g6 29. Nd6 R8e6 $19) 29. e4 $2 {this essentially forces Black to make a breakthough and loses for White, although I still had some thinking to do. I think my opponent was still being optimistic about his prospects for a kingside attack.} (29. Rg2 {is much more solid:} Qe8 30. Ra2 g6 31. Qd2 Qf8 $15) 29... Qe8 $19 {I now have the "Alekhine's Gun" formation on the e-file, which is always fun to see on the board and I admit played a role in my move choice. I also was getting tired and saw there was at worst a drawing line via repetition that would result, that at the same time was not obligatory.} (29... dxe4 {is the engine preference.} 30. Qxd7 Nxd7 31. b4 exf3 32. Rxf3 hxg4 33. hxg4 Re4 $19 {and Black has a winning endgame. However, I was thinking about winning the middlegame still.}) 30. Nd6 Qe7 31. Nf5 {I think my opponent had been thinking the same thing about reaching a drawing line. However, the c5 pawn is loose and I noticed it at this point.} ( 31. Raf1 dxe4 32. fxe4 hxg4 $19) 31... Qxc5 $19 {this puts the win for Black beyond a doubt, with the extra pawn seized and the Rf2 pinned.} 32. Nd4 dxe4 { forcing the issue.} 33. fxe4 (33. Nxe6 {doesn't work:} Qxf2+ 34. Kxf2 exd3 $19 {and Black mops up easily in the endgame.}) 33... Nxe4 34. Rc2 Qb6 { maintaining the pin on the Nd4.} 35. Kg2 Rd6 {the knight is now doomed.} (35... Rd6 36. Rd1 c5 $19) 0-1

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