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.

Class B - ChessAdmin

Result: 0-1
D02:1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 sidelines, including 2...Nf6 3 g3 and 2...Nf6 3 Bf4
[...] 1.¤f3 ¤f6 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.¥g2 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 ¥f5 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...¥g4 5.h3 ¥xf3 6.¥xf3 ¤bd7 7.d3 e5 8.e4 dxe4 9.dxe4 ¥c5 10.¥g2 £e7 11.a4 O-O 12.£e2 a5 13.¤d2 ¦fd8 14.¤b3 ¥b6 15.¥d2 ¤c5 16.¤xc5 ¥xc5 17.¦fd1 h6 18.¥e1 ¤d7 19.h4 ¥b6 20.£c4 ¤c5 21.b3 ¤e6 22.c3 ¦xd1 23.¦xd1 ¦d8 24.£e2 £a3 25.¦xd8+ ¥xd8 26.£d1 ¥b6 27.¥h3 ¤c5 28.¥c8 £b2 29.¢f1 ¤xe4 30.¥f5 ¤xf2 31.£d7 g6 32.¥e6 fxe6 33.£e8+ ¢g7 34.£e7+ ¢g8 35.£e8+ ¢g7 36.£e7+ ¢g8 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...¤bd7 developing the knight first and keeping the dark-squared bishop placement flexible for as long as possible. 7.¥a3?! 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.¤bd2 ¤e4 8.¥b2 ¥e7 9.¤e5 ¤xd2 10.£xd2 ¤xe5 11.dxe5 £b6 12.¥d4 c5 13.¥e3 £c7 14.c4 d4 15.¥f4 h6 16.e4 ¥g4 17.f3 ¥h5 18.g4 g5 19.¥g3 ¥g6 20.f4 gxf4 21.¥xf4 h5 Perez Pardo,J (2297)-Istratescu,A (2607) Caleta 2010 0-1 (36)
7...¥xa3 8.¤xa3 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. 9...¦e8 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.¦c1? White's subsequent troubles can be traced to this move, which neglects the (now) two unprotected pieces on the a-file. 10...£a5 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.¤c2 £xa2³ 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.¤e3 here I thought for some time, since there are several plausible alternatives. Komodo agrees with my choice. (12.¤b4 £a5 13.¤d3³) 12...¥e4 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...¥g6 is a solid alternative.) 13.¦a1 £b2 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.¤e1 engines here show a preference for exchanging queens, which among other things would help ease White's space deficit. (14.£c1 £xc1 15.¦fxc1 a6µ) 14...£c3 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!? mobilizing the extra pawn. 15.¥xe4 ¤xe4 16.¤1c2 £xb3 17.¦b1 £c3 18.¦xb7 ¦ed8µ for example is evaluated as better for Black, but I was leery of allowing White any counterplay down the b-file.
15.¥xe4 apparently my opponent didn't like having my centralized bishop in his territory. (15.¦c1 £a5³) 15...¤xe4µ 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.¤f3 ¤df6 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!? again would be more assertive with Black's extra pawn, grabbing space and promising good play on the queenside.
17.¦c1³ now the queen has to retreat, somewhat regretfully, without being able to carry out the sacrifice idea. 17...£a5 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.£d3 £c7 19.¤e5 this was expected and is a thematic occupation of the e5 outpost. I now have to think hard about how to neutralize the knight. 19...£e7 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!?20...¤d6³) 20...¤d7 challenging the Ne5 and preparing to advance the f-pawn if necessary. 21.¤xd7 £xd7µ as material is exchanged, any White compensation for the missing pawn is decreased. 22.f3 ejecting my knight from its advanced outpost. 22...¤f6 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.¦fe1 e5µ) 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...£c7!? would have been a good preparatory move, getting the queen on the penetrating diagonal b8-h2 and directly supporting ...e5
24.dxe5?! this just plays into Black's plan of getting pressure down the e-file.
24.¤f5!?µ would seem to be a consistent idea with the g4 pawn push.
24...¦xe5 now my advantage is more evident, with a positional edge on the e-file along with the material advantage. 25.¤f5 correctly occupying the outpost, but to less effect now that the e-file is open. 25...¦ae8 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!? is good but somewhat more complicated. 26.£d2 £e6 (26...gxf5?27.£g5+±) 27.¤d4 £e7µ
26.¦f2 (26.¤d6 ¦e3µ (26...¦8e7!?)) 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.¤d6 ¦8e7 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.¤d6 ¦8e7 28.¤f5 hxg4 (28...¦e8 is also fine) 29.¤xe7+ £xe7µ
27.¦g2?!27...hxg4 28.fxg4 ¤e4 29.h4 g6 30.¤h6+ ¢g7 31.g5 f5−⁠+
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.¤d6 ¦8e7 29.¦a1 a6−⁠+
28.¦a1? this is a wasted move and would have allowed me to get in the more effective ...g6. (28.¤d6 ¦8e6³) 28...¦8e6?! this is a good idea, but the timing is wrong. (28...g6 29.¤d6 ¦8e6−⁠+) 29.e4? 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.¦g2 is much more solid: 29...£e8 30.¦a2 g6 31.£d2 £f8³
29...£e8−⁠+ 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.£xd7 ¤xd7 31.b4 exf3 32.¦xf3 hxg4 33.hxg4 ¦e4−⁠+ and Black has a winning endgame. However, I was thinking about winning the middlegame still.
30.¤d6 £e7 31.¤f5 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.¦af1 dxe4 32.fxe4 hxg4−⁠+) 31...£xc5−⁠+ this puts the win for Black beyond a doubt, with the extra pawn seized and the Rf2 pinned. 32.¤d4 dxe4 forcing the issue. 33.fxe4
33.¤xe6 doesn't work: 33...£xf2+ 34.¢xf2 exd3−⁠+ and Black mops up easily in the endgame.
33...¤xe4 34.¦c2 £b6 maintaining the pin on the Nd4. 35.¢g2 ¦d6 the knight is now doomed. (35...¦d6 36.¦d1 c5−⁠+)
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