30 December 2017

Annotated Game #183: A lesson in exchanging queens and the initiative

This third-round tournament game was a hard-fought draw and I showed some resilience in achieving that result after the blundering loss the previous round (Annotated Game #182).  (Interestingly, in my latest tournament I had a very similar board sight problem that could also have been solved by playing Kg2 - "stepping up in the pocket" would the the sports term in American football - so there's a learning point for my game analysis.)

This particular variation (with 4. e3, reached by a different move-order here) used to be called the "Slow Slav" but now it's quite standard at the professional level.  At first it looks harmless, but the positions hold the metaphorical "drop of poison" for Black if he doesn't know what he's doing, as was the case this game.  I decided to exchange queens early on, which looked quite reasonable, but then White essentially by force gets a lot of space and pressure on the queenside, with no compensating counterplay for Black, who finds it difficult to place his minor pieces well and come up with a useful plan.  For Slav players, this points out why ...Qc7 rather than ...Qb6 is the standard reaction to White's queen sortie Qb3.

The middlegame is a study in contrasts, as I finally get some counterplay going (starting with 18...e5), but White puts on a very effective squeeze and gets a large advantage as a result.  I refuse to roll over and die, though, and continue searching for any counterplay possible.  Move 29 was a psychological victory for me, using a tactic that my opponent had overlooked, although by move 37 White was in the driver's seat in the endgame.  However, I was able to drum up some activity on the kingside and in the rook ending make some threats, causing my opponent to falter and force a draw.

So, multiple lessons from this game:
  • What to do (and not do, in other words exchange queens) in the Slow Slav after White brings out Qb3
  • Never give up fighting and trying to create counterchances
  • The initiative is a real phenomenon (in human chess) and if you can disrupt your opponent's momentum, it will have a positive impact on the game 

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "6"] {[%mdl 8192] D12: Slav Defence: 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 Bf5} 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. c4 c6 {now in a Slav Defense by transposition.} 5. Nc3 e6 6. Qb3 Qb6 7. c5 Qxb3 (7... Qc7 {is by far the most played at the master level. We'll see why over the next few moves. Black can also play this the previous move; the current sequence has the effect of provoking the c4-c5 advance.}) 8. axb3 Nbd7 9. b4 Be7 10. b5 {so far my opponent is playing the main database line, and effectively. White after the exchange of queens has grabbed space on the queenside.} O-O 11. bxc6 bxc6 12. Ra6 Nb8 {awkward, but probably best for defense.} 13. Ra2 {it's not clear what square is best for the rook on the a-file.} Nbd7 {now White has to come up with something different than moving the rook back. Effectively he gained a tempo with the maneuver, but it's not a particularly important one.} 14. Be2 a5 {getting some much-needed space for myself on the queenside. The a-pawn is still a target, however.} 15. O-O Rfb8 16. Bd2 $14 {White has a small advantage out of the opening, as his pieces are somewhat better placed and he has fewer weaknesses. My next move magnifies his minor piece superiority, unfortunately.} Bd8 {done with the idea of defending the a-pawn, but more activity rather than less was called for. White will also simply be able to double rooks and then unmask the Bd2 in order to win the pawn, so I should have sought counterplay instead.} (16... Ne4 $5 17. Nxe4 dxe4 18. Ne5 Nxe5 19. dxe5 Bxc5 $14) 17. Rfa1 $16 Bc7 {at least it's on a better diagonal here.} 18. Ne1 {White retains an advantage after this, but I now get counterplay in the center.} e5 {a thematic (and only available) pawn lever.} 19. Nd1 {attacking the isolated pawn on a5, but the minor piece arrangement is rather comical and I have a bit of compensation due to White's limited knights. } exd4 {necessary to open lines in the center for counterplay.} 20. exd4 Re8 21. Ne3 Bg6 {played automatically.} (21... Rab8 $5 {can be played due to the pin of the Ne3 against the Be2.} 22. Bxa5 Bxa5 23. Rxa5 $16) 22. Bxa5 { realizing the pawn advantage.} Bf4 23. Bd2 Rab8 (23... Rxa2 $5 24. Rxa2 Nxc5 { is an interesting tactic:} 25. dxc5 d4 {and Black regains the piece, but White is still better.}) 24. g3 Bxe3 {not the best decision. In general, exchanging when down material isn't good, plus keeping the bishop on the h6-c1 diagonal would generate useful pressure.} (24... Bh6 $5 $16) 25. Bxe3 h6 {played to give the king some luft and in the absence of any better ideas.} 26. Kf1 { protecting the hanging Be2.} Ne4 27. Nd3 $18 {White has now sorted out his minor pieces, is a clear pawn up, and dominates the a-file, while I have no threats. It's not looking good for the home team.} Rbc8 {a passive choice, looking to defend the c-pawn, but there's not a lot that's much better.} (27... Nef6 28. h3 $18) 28. Ra7 Nb8 {an all-too-familiar place for the knight in this game. White is just squeezing me to death at this point, while I try to hang on via static defense.} 29. Bg4 $6 {White is still winning comfortably by the engine's calculation, but there's a big tactical opportunity now with the Nd3 hanging and on the same diagonal as his king. This also marks a major psychological shift in the game, as White is no longer just squeezing a helpless opponent.} Nxg3+ {I see a chance to get back the pawn and take it.} 30. hxg3 Bxd3+ 31. Ke1 f5 {I keep playing actively, to try to keep my opponent off balance.} (31... Rcd8 32. Kd2 Bg6 33. Rb7 $18) 32. Kd2 (32. Bh5 {would sidestep the threat.} Red8 33. Bf7+ Kh7 34. Be6 $18) 32... fxg4 33. Kxd3 Rf8 { still looking for counterplay. The rook is doing more on the f-file.} 34. Rb7 Rf7 {played with the idea of preventing White from getting doubled rooks on the 7th rank.} 35. Rxf7 Kxf7 36. Ra8 $6 {White picks the wrong rank for the rook, although the pin on the Nb8 looks dangerous, with Bf4 threatened.} (36. Ra7+ {maintains the advantage.} Ke6 37. Rxg7 Nd7 38. Rxg4 Nf6 $18) 36... Re8 $6 {takes care of the pin threat, but not in the best way.} (36... g5 {would take away the f4 square from White's bishop and help prevent further progress by my opponent.} 37. Ra7+ Kg6 $14 {in contrast with the game continuation, here my c-pawn is still well protected.}) 37. Bf4 $18 Nd7 38. Ra7 {maintaining the pin and the advantage.} Ke6 (38... Re7 39. Rc7 Nf6 40. Rxc6 $18) 39. Rc7 {White is now firmly back in control of the game.} g5 40. Rxc6+ Kf7 41. Bd6 Re6 42. Rc7 Ke8 43. Rc8+ Kf7 44. b4 Rf6 {I'm doomed on the queenside, so my only real hope is to try to drum up something on the kingside.} 45. Ke2 (45. Rd8 $5 {might be the shorter path} Rxd6 46. cxd6 Ke6 $18) 45... h5 46. Rh8 (46. Rd8 {keeps an even firmer grip} Re6+ 47. Kf1 Rxd6 48. cxd6 Ke6 $18) 46... Re6+ 47. Kf1 Nf6 48. Be5 Nd7 49. Rh7+ Ke8 50. f4 {rather than focus on the queenside, where he's winning, he starts playing on the kingside. He's still winning, but again this gives me some hope for counterplay.} gxf3 51. Rxh5 Nxe5 52. dxe5 Rxe5 { we now have an interesting position where the computer has White winning by a landslide, but it's not so easy to see.} 53. g4 $2 {this gives me a crucial tempo.} (53. c6 $1 Kd8 54. b5 {and Black can't stop the pawns, with White's rook able to play on the 7th and 8th ranks.}) 53... d4 $16 54. Rh3 {and now it's a draw, according to the engine, although I don't go about it the best way. My opponent had little appetite for continuing at this point, however.} ( 54. Rh6 Rd5 $16) 54... Re3 (54... d3 {is the key idea.} 55. Rxf3 $2 d2 56. Rd3 Re1+ {wins.}) 55. Kf2 (55. c6 d3 $11) 55... Re2+ 56. Kf1 Re3 {Twofold repetition} 57. Kf2 Re2+ 1/2-1/2

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