26 July 2014

Commentary: Dortmund 2014 - round 5

The following game from round 5 of the prestigious Dortmund tournament caught my eye.  Like the previous commentary game, it falls into the Slow Slav opening category, but with a significant difference in development due to the modern 4...Bg4 variation.  Elements that were particularly useful to see were the kingside development for both sides in the early stages; the jockeying for central position and pawn structure around move 14; Black's tactical maneuver that nets him a pawn and seizes the initiative on move 25; and the endgame play which negates the material advantage.  This game is also another excellent example of the importance of evaluating the effects of piece exchanges.

[Event "42nd GM 2014"] [Site "Dortmund GER"] [Date "2014.07.18"] [Round "5.4"] [White "Meier, Georg"] [Black "Adams, Michael"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2632"] [BlackElo "2743"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "120"] [EventDate "2014.07.12"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bg4 {this modern move (in place of the formerly standard deployment to f5) is an interesting alternative. The bishop is harder to exchange off for White and of course pins the knight. However, the bishop is missed on the h7-b1 diagonal, where it is strong (and one of the reasons why White normally immediately spends extra time in the opening to exchange it off).} 5. Qb3 {immediately taking advantage of the bishop's absence from the queenside.} Qb6 {the strongest response. Black does not care if he ends up with doubled b-pawns after a queen exchange, with a half-open a-file and the extra pawn on b6 influencing the c5 square.} 6. Nc3 {White continues his development and focuses on the action at the d5 square, rather than worrying about the potential exchange on f3.} e6 {as does Black.} (6... Bxf3 {it would seem useful to inflict doubled f-pawns on White and weaken the kingside structure, but White gets dynamic compensation in the center and the half-open g-file, as the following recent game illustrates.} 7. gxf3 e6 8. e4 Qxb3 9. axb3 Bb4 10. e5 Ng8 11. Ra4 Be7 12. Rg1 g6 13. b4 Nd7 14. c5 f6 15. f4 Nh6 16. b5 Nf5 17. bxc6 bxc6 18. Bd3 Nxd4 19. Rxd4 fxe5 20. fxe5 Nxe5 21. Be2 Bxc5 22. Rf4 Rb8 23. h4 Ke7 24. h5 Rhf8 25. Na4 Bb4+ 26. Kf1 c5 27. hxg6 hxg6 28. Rg5 Kd6 29. Rh4 Rb7 30. f4 Nc6 31. Rxg6 Ne7 32. Rg5 Nf5 33. Rh3 Ba5 34. Kg2 Bd8 35. Rg4 c4 36. b3 cxb3 37. Ba3+ Kc6 38. Rc3+ Kd7 39. Nc5+ {1-0 (39) Wiedenkeller,M (2475)-Efimov,I (2395) Larnaka CYP 2014}) 7. Nh4 {White now turns to the kingside and drives the bishop away to be exchanged, a common plan in master play.} Be7 8. h3 {remarkably played 100 percent of the time in the database.} Bh5 9. g4 Bg6 10. Nxg6 hxg6 11. Bg2 {the logical follow-up for development.} g5 {while this loosens Black's kingside pawns, it is more important to fix White's h-pawn by controlling h4. Black scores 50 percent from this position and appears to be fully equal.} 12. Bd2 Nbd7 13. Qa4 Qc7 { moving the queen to a better diagonal and anticipating a possible c5 advance. The b2 pawn is en prise, but tactically protected (after Rb1).} 14. cxd5 Nxd5 { choosing to emphasize piece play slightly more with this recapture, rather than doing it with the e-pawn.} (14... cxd5 {would simply give White an easier game and more open lines on the queenside.} 15. Rc1 Qd8) 15. O-O O-O 16. Rac1 Rad8 {the a-pawn is tactically protected for Black, similar to how the b-pawn was for White earlier on.} 17. Qc2 Qb8 18. Rfd1 Rfe8 {Black's maneuvers seem rather slow, but White does not seem to have any way to take advantage of that. } 19. Ne2 Nf8 20. a3 {a prophylactic move in order to take the b4 square away from Black's pieces.} Ng6 21. b4 Nh4 {the point of Black's (slow) plan.} 22. Qb3 e5 {of course Black could also exchange on g2 prior to playing the pawn advance. The idea is to exchange the d-pawn and weaken White's center.} 23. Bh1 a6 24. a4 (24. Nc3 $5 {the point being that now if} exd4 (24... Nxc3 {is better but after} 25. Bxc3 exd4 26. Bxd4 Bd6 {White has a more comfortable game.}) 25. Nxd5 cxd5 26. Bxd5 $14) 24... exd4 25. Nxd4 Nf4 {a nice tactically-enabled maneuver that forces the indirect exchange of the knights and gives Black the initiative.} 26. exf4 Rxd4 27. fxg5 Red8 28. Be3 Rxb4 { Black now has the advantage of a 3-1 queenside majority, but the position is also more open for White's bishops and Black's Nh4 is mostly out of play.} 29. Qc2 Qe5 {a strong centralizing move that gets the queen in the game and also pressures the g5 pawn.} 30. Rxd8+ Bxd8 31. Rb1 a5 {this move gives White a chance to avoid the threat to the h-pawn from a penetrating Black queen, but White either failed to recognize this or decided that he did not like how the variation would turn out.} (31... Rxb1+ 32. Qxb1 Bc7 33. Kf1 Qh2 34. Ke2 Qxh3 $17) 32. Bd2 (32. Rxb4 axb4 33. Qe4 Qa1+ 34. Kh2 Bc7+ 35. Bf4 Bxf4+ 36. Qxf4 { Black's queenside majority looks quite threatening here, but White's active, centralized queen helps compensate, especially with Black's king being open to harassment and White being able to bring the bishop into play via e4.}) 32... Bc7 {a threat for a threat. Black's threat to the king is the most urgent, so White is forced to address it first.} 33. Kf1 Qh2 34. Ke2 Qe5+ 35. Kf1 Qh2 36. Ke2 {a repetition of the sequence which White is perfectly happy with. Black probably did not mind getting close to making time control either.} Rxb1 37. Qxb1 Qxh3 38. Qe4 Ng6 {Black must activate his knight in order to have any chance of realizing his advantage.} 39. Qe8+ {as noted in the above variation, White's queen is well positioned to harass Black's king and its activity partially compensates for Black's material advantage.} Nf8 40. Bf3 Qh2 41. Be3 Qe5 {by exchanging, Black benefits by getting rid of his queen's more active counterpart and allowing the Nf8 to get moving again. However, White's two bishops now come more fully into their own.} 42. Qxe5 Bxe5 43. Be4 Ne6 44. g6 Bf4 45. Bb6 {of course White is not interested in breaking up his bishop pair.} Bc7 46. Be3 Kf8 {Black could of course repeat moves, but he is still trying to find some way to make progress.} 47. Kd3 {White now mobilizes his king and heads it for the most crucial sector of the board, to pit it against Black's pawns.} Ke7 (47... fxg6 $5 48. Bxg6 Nf4+ 49. Bxf4 Bxf4 {would get rid of White's bishop pair but end up with opposite-colored bishops. Black evidently felt this was too drawish, but the game continuation ends up offering nothing better.}) 48. Kc4 fxg6 49. Bxg6 Kf6 50. Bf5 g6 51. Bxe6 {preserving the bishop would seem better, but White decides to rely on the opposite-colored bishop dynamic and his kingside pawn majority to offset Black's pawn and achieve a draw.} Kxe6 52. f4 Bb8 {both sides now indulge in bishop maneuvers and Black shuffles his king between e6 and f7, to restrain White's pawn majority. Black decides not to potentially overpress his advantage and the game ends peacefully.} 53. Bd2 Bc7 54. Be3 Bd6 55. Bd2 Kf7 56. Be3 Bb4 57. Bc1 Ke6 58. Be3 Kf7 59. Bc1 Ke6 60. Be3 Kf7 1/2-1/2

19 July 2014

Commentary: Plovdiv (European Women's Individual Championship) - Round 7

There have been a number of high-level international events recently, including the ongoing Dortmund tournament from which I'll select a commentary game for the next post. The following game is from round 7 of the European Women's Individual Championship held in Plovdiv.  GM Valentina Gunina dominated the event with the strength of her play and did not flag in the final rounds, as so often happens with tournament leaders.  In the below game she finds a way to win in the "Slow Slav" variation as Black, which is a crucial test of the opening at the top levels; encounters such as these are therefore well worth studying.

[Event "15th ch-EUR w 2014"] [Site "Plovdiv BUL"] [Date "2014.07.12"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Zhukova, Natalia"] [Black "Gunina, Valentina"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2451"] [BlackElo "2501"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2014.07.06"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Bg6 7. Nxg6 hxg6 { this line shows most clearly the fundamental imbalance of the opening, with Black giving up the two bishops but maintaining a solid structure.} 8. Bd3 Nbd7 9. O-O Be7 (9... Bd6 {is much more common, for example in this recent game:} 10. h3 a6 11. c5 Bc7 12. f4 Nh5 13. Qf3 f5 14. g4 Nhf6 15. g5 Ne4 16. Bxe4 dxe4 17. Qg2 e5 18. Rd1 Qe7 19. b4 exf4 20. exf4 a5 21. d5 axb4 22. d6 Qe6 23. dxc7 bxc3 24. Be3 Rc8 25. Rd6 Qf7 26. Rc1 Nf8 27. Rxc3 Ne6 28. Qb2 Rxc7 29. Ra3 O-O 30. Ra7 Re7 31. Qb3 Rd8 32. Qd1 Red7 33. Qb3 Rxd6 34. cxd6 Rd7 35. Ra8+ Nf8 36. Qa3 Qd5 37. Kg2 Kf7 38. Rb8 Ne6 39. Qa8 Qxd6 40. Rxb7 Rxb7 41. Qxb7+ Kg8 42. Qb3 Kh7 43. Kg3 Nxg5 44. a4 Nf3 45. a5 c5 46. Qa2 Qd3 47. Kf2 Nd4 48. Qd2 Qa3 49. a6 Qxa6 50. Bxd4 cxd4 51. Qxd4 Qd3 {0-1 (51) Lou Yiping (2492)-Ma Qun (2613) Jiangmen CHN 2014}) 10. h3 {a novelty in this position. In the above variation it is a necessary defensive measure. Here developing a piece with Bd2 is normally played.} O-O 11. Qc2 {now out of the database. While Black remains solid, there is no easy way to make progress. The standard lever ...c5 is the most obvious method, but its timing and combination with other measures makes the situation more complicated, given the different possibilities for transforming the pawn structure. The engine favors playing it earlier rather than later.} Rc8 (11... c5 12. cxd5 Nxd5 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. dxc5 Nxc5 $11 { Houdini considers this equal, but a human player might not like the isolated d-pawn. However, the classic isolani positional compensation is present in terms of greater activity for Black's pieces and the space advantage of the d5 pawn versus the e3 pawn.}) (11... dxc4 12. Bxc4 c5 13. dxc5 Nxc5 $11 {would be a more conservative way to implement the ...c5 lever, without the isolated pawn as a result.}) 12. Rd1 Qc7 13. Bd2 {there is a reason this variation is called the Slow Slav. Both sides need time to simply develop all their pieces and set up useful moves.} a6 14. Rac1 dxc4 15. Bxc4 c5 16. dxc5 Nxc5 {Black by this point has comfortable equality, with the two bishops looking to be a factor only in the endgame rather than the middlegame.} 17. a3 {proactively defending the b4 square from the Be7 (or a push of the Black b-pawn) and preparing her own eventual pawn advance.} b5 18. Be2 Qb8 (18... Qb6 {may be a slightly more active and flexible version of the idea.} 19. Be1 Rc7 {with the idea of doubling rooks on the c-file.}) 19. Be1 Bd6 {Black's idea evidently is to reposition the bishop, although this seems slow and perhaps not terribly effective.} 20. b4 Nce4 {White by this point is in a similar strategic position, not having any obvious ways to make progress.} 21. Bf3 Rc4 (21... Bh2+ 22. Kh1 Ng5 23. Be2 Nge4 {looks good for Black, although this line would require a lot of calculation. For example} 24. Qb3 (24. g3 $2 {the attempt to trap the bishop would open up a number of tactical threats for Black.} Bxg3 25. fxg3 Nxc3 26. Bxc3 Qxg3 27. Qd3 (27. Bf1 $2 Rxc3 28. Qxc3 Ne4 $19)) 24... Rxc3 25. Rxc3 Nxc3 26. Bxc3 Nd5 $11) 22. Qb1 {unpinning the queen} Nxc3 23. Bxc3 Rfc8 24. Bb2 (24. Qa1 {would be a more active continuation, forming a battery on the long diagonal.}) 24... Bh2+ 25. Kh1 Be5 {now Black has repositioned her bishop for free.} 26. Kg1 Bc3 (26... Bxb2 27. Qxb2 Rxc1 28. Rxc1 $11 {looks like a simpler route for Black to a draw and is perhaps objectively better. However, it becomes apparent from the game continuation that Black still is looking for winning chances.}) 27. Bxc3 Rxc3 28. Rd8+ Rxd8 29. Rxc3 {the rook positions make this position slightly more unbalanced than the previous variation.} Nd7 30. Qe4 (30. Qc2 $5 {and it's unclear what Black can do to generate any threats.}) 30... Ne5 31. g3 f5 32. Qb7 Qd6 {avoiding the queen trade.} 33. Kg2 Nc4 34. Qc6 Qe5 35. Rc2 Kh7 {Black now unbalances the game further in her attempt to generate winning chances, offering the a-pawn for an attack.} 36. Qxa6 {the correct decision, although White still has to be careful.} Nd2 $6 {perhaps Black was playing psychologically here, hoping to bait her opponent into the losing move. If so, it worked.} (36... Rd3) 37. Bc6 $2 {either Qc6 or Qb7 protecting the bishop would have consolidated the pawn advantage. At first glance, the text move appears strong and obvious, but Black finds an excellent interference tactic.} Rd5 $1 {blocking the long diagonal, which is now available for the Black queen's use as a road to White's king. The combination of knight and queen proves devastating on the attack. White can still draw, but the defense is difficult to find.} 38. Rxd2 $2 {the losing move.} (38. Bxd5 $2 {does not help, as the queen seizes the diagonal on the recapture.} Qxd5+ 39. Kg1 Nf3+ 40. Kf1 Qd1+ 41. Kg2 Ne1+ { winning.}) (38. Rc1 {is the only move and not at all obvious.} Qe4+ 39. Kg1 Nf3+ 40. Kf1 {and the best Black can do is a perpetual check.}) 38... Rxd2 39. Qxb5 Qxe3 $19 {the game is essentially over now, but White plays on in vain hope.} 40. Qf1 Qxa3 41. Qc4 Qb2 42. Qc5 Rc2 43. Qb6 Qe5 44. b5 Qe1 45. Qd4 Rd2 46. Qf4 Rd1 0-1

12 July 2014

Annotated Game #130: A tactical finish

This last-round tournament game featured some major swings in the initiative.  Neither myself nor my opponent were on familiar ground in the opening, but we both acheived reasonable positions.  Unfortunately I lost my way first, not having a suitable middlegame plan while allowing Black to take over the initiative and start pressing on the queenside.  The key sequence of the middlegame portion took place in moves 17-19, where Black could have established dominance but failed to see his way through the complications.  After this, Black overpressed and dropped first one pawn, then two, although it appeared like the endgame would be long and hard-fought.  To my pleasant surprise, Black continued to be over-aggressive and lined himself up for a discovered skewer against his king and rook, ending the game immediately.

Although I was a bit fatigued from the previous six rounds' worth of games and bungled the transition into the middlegame, I was able to immediately recover and then successfully calculate several different key sequences, which lead to the eventual victory.  Analyzing this game provided me with a boost to my opening knowledge and a much better idea of what to do in these types of positions, along with how to avoid the same problems in the future.

Having won my last three games, I ended up in the money for the first time in quite a while, which I felt was a vindication of my training efforts and new focus on chess.  We'll see in the next tournament analysis whether that was completely justified (hint: not entirely).
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "111"] {A37: Symmetrical English vs ...g6:4 Bg2 Bg7 Nf3} 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. O-O e5 {the first time I had encountered this type of play from Black, who was himself in completely new territory.} 6. Nc3 Nge7 7. d3 O-O 8. Bg5 {a wide variety of moves have been played here. More common is the plan to push b2-b4, preparing it with Rb1 or a3. Normally in this variation of the Symmetrical English, White should aim to use his dark-square bishop to exchange (or threaten to exchange) the Ne7 rather than the Bg7.} d6 9. Qc1 { Here Houdini prefers either way of preparing to push b4 (Rb1 or a3).} Be6 $146 (9... f6 {would in fact be the thematic move from Black.} 10. Bd2 Be6 11. Rb1 Qd7 12. Re1 Rab8 13. a3 a6 14. b4 cxb4 15. axb4 b5 16. cxb5 axb5 17. Qa3 d5 18. e3 h6 19. Bf1 Bg4 20. Nh4 g5 21. Ng2 f5 22. Qa2 Kh7 23. d4 exd4 24. Nxb5 { Haffner,A-Schubert,M Kiel 2000 1/2-1/2 (64)}) 10. Bxe7 {I decide to make the bishop for knight exchange in order to decrease Black's control of d5, although this may not be the best idea.} (10. Bd2 Rb8 $11) (10. Bh6 {would be the logical follow-up to the previous move.}) 10... Qxe7 {Black has the pair of bishops, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface. However, White's knights are both good and Black has to watch the d5 square carefully.} 11. Nd2 Qd7 12. e3 {a lot of possibilities here. I chose to play to prevent a Black knight arriving on d4. However, it might be worth simply keeping the move in reserve.} Bh3 (12... a6 {is Houdini's preference, employing prophylaxis against Nb5.}) 13. Nd5 {A classical outpost, notes Houdini. White is quite happy to occupy it. } Bxg2 14. Kxg2 {the exchange has loosened the king position somewhat, the consequences of which will become clearer a few moves later.} Rab8 {Black appears to waste a little time with this and probably should play ...f5 immediately.} 15. Ne4 f5 {Black threatens to win material: f5xe4} 16. Nec3 { I felt that the knight was better placed here to support d5, hence the maneuver.} a6 17. Rb1 {here I fail to accurately assess the position's requirements. Now White's usual plan of b4 is ironically mirrored by Black and more effectively; the text move is simply too slow.} (17. a4 {would restrain Black's pawn advance;}) (17. Nb6 {would emphasize piece play and clear d5 for the other knight.}) 17... b5 {Black now has the initiative and White has no real counterplay, although the position remains balanced.} 18. b4 $2 {played without adequate calculation or feel for the consequences.} (18. f3 b4 19. Ne2 Ne7 20. Nxe7+ Qxe7 21. e4 {is Houdini's recommendation, locking up the position and heading for a draw.}) 18... cxb4 {the wrong pawn capture.} (18... bxc4 19. bxc5 cxd3 $17 {and White will have to struggle to get compensation or regain the material.}) 19. Nxb4 {here I manage to calculate the correct capture.} (19. cxb5 {doesn't work as well.} axb5 20. Nxb4 Nxb4 21. Rxb4 Rfc8 $15) 19... f4 {Black decides to move the kingside attack forward, letting up on the queenside pressure.} (19... bxc4 20. Nxa6 Rxb1 21. Qxb1 $11) 20. h3 $6 { again poor calculation on my part, as I was unnecessarily worried about the mate threat after ...f3.} (20. Nxa6 Rbc8 (20... f3+ $6 21. Kh1 {I simply didn't see his, only picturing the retreat Kg1, which of course is mate after . ..Qh3.} Rbc8 22. Rxb5 $14) 21. Nd5 f3+ 22. Kh1 e4 $14) 20... f3+ (20... bxc4 { again would keep some advantage.} 21. Nbd5 cxd3 22. Rxb8 Nxb8 23. Qb1 $15) 21. Kh2 $11 bxc4 {now Black has no more kingside threats and this is not as effective.} 22. Nxa6 Ra8 (22... Rxb1 23. Qxb1 Rf5 24. g4 $11) 23. Nb4 (23. Nd5 {a tactical possibility that Houdini finds, not exactly obvious for a human.} Rxa6 24. Qxc4 $1 {now Black needs to move his queen away, due to the discovered check threat.} Qf7 25. Qxa6 Qxd5 $18 26. e4) (23. Rb6 $5) 23... Nxb4 24. Rxb4 cxd3 25. Qd2 {White now regains the pawn, one way or another.} Rfc8 26. Qxd3 {I had foreseen the coming pin and calculated that White would do well out of it.} Ra3 27. Qd5+ Qf7 {essentially forced, otherwise white plays Rb7 as a follow-up.} 28. Qxf7+ Kxf7 29. Ne4 {by this point I've solved my problems and have no real weaknesses, with the obvious next step being an exchange of the a-pawn for Black's d-pawn.} Kg8 $6 (29... Rc2 $11 {is what I had expected.}) 30. Nxd6 {this move still gains a tempo by attacking the rook, giving White the initiative while Black will have to focus on trying to regain the material.} Rca8 {the problem for Black is that White can go after the kingside pawns now.} 31. Ne4 Rxa2 (31... R3a4 32. Rxa4 Rxa4 33. Nd2 $14) 32. g4 $16 {White opens up the diagonal for his king to enter the game. Although material is even, Black's f3 pawn is doomed.} R2a4 33. Rfb1 Rxb4 (33... Bf8 34. Nf6+ Kf7 35. Rxa4 Rxa4 36. Nxh7 $16) 34. Rxb4 $16 {I had necessarily calculated this far from move 30. Black cannot avoid material loss.} Bf8 35. Rb7 Bg7 {protecting against the mate threat of Nf6.} 36. Kg3 Rf8 37. Rb5 h6 38. Nd2 g5 39. Nxf3 e4 $6 {an error, severely weakening the e-pawn. Black saw the bishop fork on move 41 but not how White could nullify it.} (39... Re8 40. Kg2 $16) 40. Nd2 $18 Re8 41. Rb4 Bc3 42. Rxe4 $1 Rd8 43. Nf3 {now two pawns up, this should be a win for White, although I expected a long, hard slog for it.} Kg7 44. Rc4 Ba5 $2 {this takes the bishop effectively out of the action.} ( 44... Bf6 $18) 45. Nd4 Rd7 46. Kg2 Bd8 47. Ne6+ {I immediately took advantage of the chance for further simplification, figuring that the bishop (if active) would be more difficult to overcome with my knight, rather than the pure rook endgame.} ({Houdini prefers to win a pawn with} 47. Nf5+ $5 Kh7 48. Rc6 h5 49. gxh5 {which is something I confess I did not look at.}) 47... Kf6 48. Nxd8 (48. Rc6 {is another way to win the h-pawn that I missed.} Kf7 $18 49. Nd4 Rb7 50. Rxh6) 48... Rxd8 49. Rc6+ Kg7 50. Rc2 Re8 51. Re2 {playing very defensively, which is not the way to go in a rook ending. Rook activity is most important.} (51. Ra2 Rc8 $18) 51... Kf6 (51... h5 52. gxh5 Kh6 53. Kg3 $16) 52. Kf1 (52. Ra2 Rc8 $18) 52... Ke5 $2 {Black gets too aggressive and lines himself up for a tactical response.} (52... h5 $142 $5 $16) 53. f4+ $1 $18 {surprise! Says Houdini.} Ke4 (53... gxf4 54. exf4+ {wins the Re8 for White with a skewer tactic.}) 54. Kf2 gxf4 $4 {and my opponent misses the tactic while overpressing.} 55. exf4+ Kxf4 56. Rxe8 1-0

08 July 2014

Grandmaster Q&A at Quality Chess

The latest commentary on training to take off in the chess blogosphere is Grandmaster Q&A at the Quality Chess blog.  The post by GM Jacob Aagaard emphasizes the following aspects of a training program:
a) Analyse your own games (and those of others)
b) Solve exercises
c) Improve your openings
d) Study the endgame
I highly recommend reading the original post (and the commentary, although it is all over the place).

For those looking for past commentary on these topics here, for comparison or just for curiosity, relevant posts are:

05 July 2014

Commentary: Lopota Women's Grand Prix - Round 3

Going backwards in time a short while from the round 5 trio of English games, in round 3 of the Lopota Women's Grand Prix we see Antoaneta Stefanova on the Black side of an unusual and unbalanced Slav.  White's 4th move choice cannot be recommended on its merits, but it is a decent try at a surprise move designed to avoid regular book lines.  The database shows that it appears to have been used this way a number of times in the past, with success largely predicated on a large rating gap in White's favor.  In this case, it did not work out so well for White.

Before fully getting out of the opening phase, Zhao Xue decides to enter into a series of complications, allowing Black's queen to take the rook on a1 in the hopes of trapping it.  However, White's pieces are awkwardly placed and Black is able to extricate herself in the end, keeping the exchange as her reward.  Black then makes the decision to exchange off her minor pieces, freeing her king and allowing her to mobilize her extra rook.  White's attempt to make progress with her passsed b-pawn comes to naught and Black's king triumphantly penetrates to escort her a-pawn to victory.

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.21"] [Round "3.1"] [White "Zhao, Xue"] [Black "Stefanova, Antoaneta"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2538"] [BlackElo "2488"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nbd2 {this appears to have been played just to get Black out of her standard book lines. The move itself is clearly inferior to Nc3, among other things temporarily blocking the bishop development and limiting the scope of the knight.} Bf5 {Black continues by developing the bishop in classic Slav style.} 5. e3 (5. Nh4 {seems to be the a strong choice here, immediately challenging the bishop and leaving the f3 square open for the other knight in the event of a piece trade.}) 5... h6 {now the bishop has a retreat square on h7.} 6. Ne5 (6. Be2 {is a more obvious follow-up, developing the piece and preparing to castle.}) 6... e6 7. Bd3 {evidently the point of the previous knight move.} Bxd3 8. Nxd3 Nbd7 9. b3 $146 {now out of the database. Black has solid and thematic development, while White's appears on the awkward side.} Qa5 {Black finds an unusual way of exploiting White's offbeat development.} 10. O-O (10. Bb2 $11 {would be the obvious follow-up.}) 10... Qc3 11. Nb1 {White chooses an unbalancing continuation, perhaps with the hope of trapping the Black queen.} (11. Nb2 $11 {would avoid the following sequence, although it makes White's minor pieces look even more awkward.}) 11... Qxa1 12. Qc2 c5 {it is interesting to see how White's pieces get in each other's way, preventing her from successfully getting to the Qa1. The other problem White has to deal with is that, having already taken one rook, the Qa1 would have no problem sacrificing herself by taking the other rook on f1, leaving Black doing fine material-wise.} 13. a3 $6 {White no doubt did not see fully the next sequence, which gives Black a clear advantage.} (13. Nc3 dxc4 14. bxc4 (14. Bb2 $2 {this idea does not work in this and similar variations.} cxd3 15. Qd2 Ne4 16. Nxe4 Qxa2 $19) 14... cxd4 15. exd4 Be7 16. Bf4 Qxf1+ 17. Kxf1 O-O $11) 13... dxc4 14. bxc4 b5 {the key idea, attacking c4 and thereby giving the queen a way out.} 15. cxb5 c4 $6 {pressing forward immediately. The resulting pressure leads White to make an error, but Black could have prepared better by developing instead.} (15... Rd8 {is a non-obvious move found by the engine, the point being to target d4. For example} 16. Nc3 cxd4 17. Na2 (17. exd4 Rc8 18. Bb2 Qa2 $19) 17... Nc5 18. Nxc5 dxe3 19. Nb7 exf2+ 20. Rxf2 Qe5 $19) (15... cxd4 {also looks good, opening lines for Black.} 16. Qb3 Ne4 17. Bb2 Nec5 $17) 16. Nf4 {after this Black has her choice of good follow-up moves. } (16. Bb2 {would now be OK for White and probably the best choice.} cxd3 17. Qb3 {the Black queen is finally trapped.} Qxb2 18. Qxb2 Be7 $15) 16... Rb8 ( 16... c3 {is found by the engine. The main point is that b2 is taken away from White, while taking the c3 pawn leads to problems. For example} 17. Nxc3 Rc8 18. Bb2 Qa2 19. Rc1 Qc4 $19) (16... Nb6 $5 {is also possible.}) 17. Bd2 { preparing to get at the queen from the other side, but Black can effectively combat this idea.} Bxa3 18. Bc3 Bb2 19. Bxb2 Qa2 20. Nc3 Qb3 21. Qxb3 cxb3 $17 {after all the complications, Black has emerged an exchange up.} 22. Ba3 { preventing castling and trying to prove some compensation for the material.} Nb6 23. Rb1 Nbd5 {Black's strategy is to exchange pieces and get to a simpler endgame situation where her material edge will give good winning chances. This will also relieve her king position, with the centralized king becoming a benefit.} 24. Nfxd5 {White has nothing better than to go into the series of exchanges.} Nxd5 25. Nxd5 exd5 26. Rxb3 {regaining the pawn helps some, but Black still has an obvious edge and no longer has to worry about her king.} Kd7 27. Bc5 a5 {correctly mobilizing the pawn.} 28. Ba7 $6 {this leads directly to White's demise. Although she can make superficial progress, once that is done Black is able to break through.} (28. Kf1 $5 {White now needs to get her king into the action as well.}) 28... Rb7 29. b6 Rc8 $19 {the extra rook comes into play in a dominating way.} 30. Kf1 Rc1+ 31. Ke2 Rc2+ 32. Kf3 Kc6 {now the king penetrates decisively, collaborating with the mobile a-pawn.} 33. g4 a4 34. Rb1 a3 35. Rb3 a2 36. Ra3 Kb5 {and now White cannot prevent the a-pawn from queening with the king's support, without giving up her rook.} 0-1

04 July 2014

Commentary: Lopota Women's Grand Prix - Round 5 (an English trio)

The recently-completed Lopota FIDE Women's Grand Prix tournament featured fighting chess, an outstanding performance from GM Hou Yifan, and a number of games of direct interest to me.  Out of the six games in round 5, three of them saw wins in the English Opening.  The first saw eventual champion Hou strategically outplay her opponent, GM Antoaneta Stefanova, and achieve a central dominance leading to a quick victory.  In the second game, Ju Wenjun simply kept pushing on the kingside until her opponent buckled under the pressure, showing the power of the initiative and threats even in objectively balanced positions.  Finally, the third game, a loss by GM Humpy Koneru, offers some useful insight into what works well (and what does not) for both sides in typical English formations, with a turning point that occurs due to a tactical complication typical of those faced by Class players, not just 2600+ GMs.

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Hou Yifan"] [Black "Stefanova, A."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [WhiteElo "2629"] [BlackElo "2488"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5 3. e3 {a rare continuation, with g3 being the overwhelming favorite and Nf3 the next most popular option.} Bg7 4. d4 {the logical immediate follow-up to the previous move, although waiting with Nf3 looks fine as well.} d6 5. h3 {one effect of Black's last move was to release the light-square bishop, so White decides to take away the g4 square prior to further development.} Nc6 6. Nf3 e6 {freeing e7 for the knight development and contesting the d5 square.} 7. Be2 (7. dxc5 {would force a queenless middlegame after} dxc5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 {but this is evidently not to White's liking and looks very drawish.}) 7... Nge7 {here the knight stays out of the way of the Bg7, allowing it to pressure d4.} 8. O-O cxd4 9. exd4 Nf5 10. Bg5 Qb6 {Black continues to pile up on d4, so White releases the tension.} 11. d5 Ncd4 12. Nxd4 Nxd4 13. dxe6 {this sets up a long, partly forced sequence.} (13. Be3 { is a possible alternative, after which the game could go a significantly different route.}) 13... Bxe6 14. Be3 Nxe2+ ({Alternatives such as} 14... O-O { do not work out well for Black, for example} 15. Kh1 {removing the king from the unpinning tactic} Rac8 16. Nb5 Bxc4 17. Nxd4 Bxd4 18. Bxd4 Bxe2 19. Qd2 Qb5 20. Rfe1 Rfe8 21. Qh6 f6 22. Bxf6 $16) 15. Qxe2 Qc6 16. Nd5 {a common theme in the English is to occupy d5 with a knight, even if it cannot be maintained there, since often the results still favor White.} Bxd5 17. cxd5 Qxd5 {the win of the pawn is only temporary for Black.} (17... Qa6 18. Qxa6 bxa6 $14 { would leave Black with an annoying structural flaw on the queenside, but with a much safer king position.}) 18. Bf4+ $16 Kf8 {now Black's king is stuck in the center, also shutting out the Rh8 from play.} (18... Be5 {is no help, for example} 19. Rad1 Qe6 20. Qb5+ Kf8 21. Bh6+ Bg7 22. Rfe1 Qf5 23. Qxb7 $18) 19. Rfd1 {White continues with the initiative.} Qf5 20. Bxd6+ {now White has regained the pawn and has positional dominance.} Kg8 21. Rac1 {mobilizing White's "extra" rook.} h5 {attempting to move the king off the back rank and free the rook stuck in the corner.} 22. Rc7 b5 {attempting to save the pawn.} ( 22... Kh7 $5) 23. Rd3 {a strong rook lift idea, threatening to go to the f-file.} Rc8 $2 {the losing move, although Black was in difficulties regardless. With this move, Black sets herself up for a deflection tactic on the Qf5, which is the only protector of the Rc8. Perhaps Black instinctively thought the rook was protected by its back-rank partner, as would normally be the case if the king weren't blocking it.} 24. g4 $1 hxg4 25. hxg4 {and the Rc8 is lost, so Black resigns.} 1-0

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Ju Wenjun"] [Black "Zhao Xue"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A15"] [WhiteElo "2532"] [BlackElo "2538"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "83"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 b6 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. O-O g6 {Black opts for the double fianchetto formation rather than entering the Hedgehog proper with ...e6.} 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 d6 9. Be3 {this move has had significantly more success than the more standard Rd1. White thereby prevents ...a6 and connects the rooks earlier.} Nbd7 {the point of the previous move. Black does not want to obscure his Bb7 by developing to c6.} 10. Rac1 {White gets his rook off the long diagonal to its most useful square.} O-O 11. Qh4 {the more aggressive option; Qd2 is the other standard move here.} Qb8 $6 $146 {the idea is apparently to allow the king's rook to come to c8, but the queen and Ra8 are then placed awkwardly in the corner.} 12. Rfd1 Rc8 13. b3 a6 {Black is now able to play this thematic move and take away b5 from the Nc3.} (13... h5 { would forestall White's next move.}) 14. g4 h6 (14... e6 $5 {would take advantage of the placement of the Qb8 defending the pawn on d6.}) 15. g5 { this ends up dissipating White's threats on the kingside.} (15. Bxh6 Bxh6 16. Qxh6 Nxg4 17. Qf4 Ngf6 18. Qe3 e6 19. Rd4 Kg7 20. Rcd1 $14) 15... hxg5 16. Bxg5 Rc5 {guarding against Nd5.} 17. b4 Rc7 {although the rook has been chased away, it will end up guarding e7 and neutralizing the Nd5 threat anyway.} 18. Nd5 Nxd5 19. cxd5 Nf6 20. Bxf6 Bxf6 21. Ng5 Bxg5 22. Qxg5 Rxc1 23. Rxc1 Qd8 { White is still better placed to continue to make threats, although Black should be able to defend.} 24. h4 (24. Bh3 $5) 24... Rc8 25. Rxc8 Bxc8 (25... Qxc8 {simply looks better. Black can in this line use her queen actively to counter White's threats. For example} 26. Qxe7 Qc1+ 27. Bf1 Bxd5 28. Qxd6 Be6 29. Qg3 Bxa2 30. Qb8+ Kh7 31. Qxb6 Qf4 32. Qxa6 Qg4+ 33. Bg2 Bd5 34. f3 Qd4+ 35. Kf1 Qd1+ {with a perpetual.}) 26. h5 Kg7 27. Be4 {activating the bishop.} Qe8 (27... Qh8 {here would again make the queen more active and able to pose threats to White, even if Black had to stay a pawn down for a while.} 28. hxg6 f6 29. Qc1 Qh4 $11) 28. f4 f5 (28... f6 {would take the sting out of White's position, for example} 29. Qxg6+ (29. Qg2 g5 30. Bg6 Qd7 31. fxg5 fxg5 32. Qxg5 Qg4+ 33. Qxg4 Bxg4 34. Kf2 Kh6 $11) 29... Qxg6+ 30. Bxg6 Bg4 $11) 29. Bf3 Qf7 30. Kf2 Qf6 31. Kg3 Bd7 32. Kh4 {White marches the king over to continue the kingside pressure with all of her remaining pieces.} Be8 33. hxg6 Bb5 $6 { a key weakening move. Black declines to restore material equality, evidently thinking she can still hold the position. Leaving White with her advanced passed pawn seems counterintuitive.} (33... Bxg6 34. Bh5 Kf7 $11) 34. Kh5 Kg8 $2 {the actual losing move, according to the engine.} (34... Be8 {nothing better than to return to targeting the passed pawn.}) 35. Qxf6 exf6 36. Kh6 a5 37. bxa5 bxa5 38. e3 Bc4 39. a3 Bb5 40. Bd1 {Black has no threats left and White can take her time to consolidate the win.} Be8 41. Bc2 Bd7 42. g7 { Black is now in zugzwang, as any move she makes will lead to a loss; she cannot cover the a4-e8 diagonal, f5 pawn and f6 pawn all at the same time.} 1-0

[Event "Lopota WGP 2014"] [Site "Lopota GEO"] [Date "2014.06.24"] [Round "5"] [White "Dzagnidze, N."] [Black "Koneru, H."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A25"] [WhiteElo "2541"] [BlackElo "2613"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2014.06.19"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 {this enters into the complex of formations known as the Closed English.} 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. Rb1 {this accelerated rook development has become more common, as White's obvious plan is to push the b-pawn. Often White defers kingside development in this line, which is the point of the accelerated version, but in this game the opening heads back into more traditional channels.} a5 6. e3 {indicating that the king's knight will be developed to e2, a more defensive position than f3 that also leaves the Bg2 unobstructed.} (6. a3 {continuing with the idea of b2-b4 is more common here, scoring 56 percent in the database.}) 6... Nf6 7. Nge2 O-O 8. d3 d6 9. O-O Be6 {fighting for the key d5 square.} 10. Nd5 {a thematic move in the English; White is not afraid of a trade on d5, which would give her an excellently placed pawn and the two bishops. (...Nxd5 cannot be played due to the resulting pawn fork of c6 and e6)} Qd7 {connecting the rooks and preparing to try and trade off the Bg2.} 11. Nec3 {significantly improving the knight and reinforcing d5.} Nd8 {Black has a number of possibilities here and can choose to play on the queenside, kingside or in the center. Here she decides to exchange off two minor pieces and reposition the knight on the kingside following ...f5.} 12. Bd2 Nxd5 13. cxd5 Bh3 14. Bxh3 {while this looks positionally suspect, allowing the Black queen into the weak white-square complex, Black cannot exploit this effectively.} (14. Qb3 {is an alternative approach, spending the tempo developing the queen and ending up with a fianchettoed king.} Bxg2 15. Kxg2 f5 16. f3) 14... Qxh3 15. Qa4 {played apparently with the idea of pressuring the a-pawn and complicating Black's defense on the queenside. However, Black is able to proceed with her kingside plans.} (15. Rc1 $5 {would appear to generate more immediate threats and opportunities for White on the c-file.}) 15... f5 16. Nb5 (16. f3 {would maintain better control over White's potentially sensitive kingside.} Nf7 17. Ne2) 16... Nf7 $11 17. f4 (17. Nxc7 e4 18. f4 (18. Nxa8 $4 Ng5 19. f4 Nf3+ 20. Rxf3 exf3 21. Kf2 Qg2+ 22. Ke1 Qe2#) 18... exf3 19. Rxf3 Ne5 20. Rf2 Nxd3 21. Rg2 $11) 17... Rfc8 {Black is now able to neutralize White's play on the queenside.} 18. Rbc1 {now this has much less impact than it could have previously on move 15.} (18. Qd1 $5 {with the idea of redeploying the queen to be able to cover the kingside.}) 18... c6 19. dxc6 bxc6 20. Nc3 {now White is not worse, but the initiative has shifted to Black.} exf4 21. Rxf4 $6 { evidently White was looking to try and harass the Qh3, but this move would allow Black to get an advantage.} (21. exf4 $11) 21... Ne5 {now the knight happily occupies the central square and threatens to go to g4.} 22. Nd1 Qh5 { this lets up the immediate pressure and allows White to adjust. The threatened penetration of the queen to e2 can be contained.} (22... Ng4 {immediately looks very good.} 23. Rf2 f4 {giving the Qh3 a retreat path along the diagonal. } 24. exf4 Nxf2 25. Nxf2 Qe6 $15) 23. Bc3 Qe2 24. Qb3+ d5 25. Bxe5 {White is happy to exchange off the threatening, centralized knight.} Bxe5 26. Rf2 { now the correct path for Black becomes more complicated and she goes astray.} Qg4 $2 {apparently missing the next deflection tactic.} (26... Qe1+ 27. Kg2 Qb4 $11) 27. Rxc6 Rd8 {the better defensive option, maintaining the central pawn.} (27... Rxc6 28. Qxd5+ Kg7 29. Qxc6 $16) 28. d4 $16 Rab8 29. Qd3 Bg7 30. Rc5 { White can now calmly go about exploiting her material and positional advantage. Note how the Nd1 and Rf2 may look awkwardly placed, but in fact they hold the position together and neutralize Black's potential counterplay.} h5 {Black evidently believes that she is lost and decides to try and force some counterplay, in the hopes that White will make a mistake.} 31. Rxa5 $18 { a simple and strong response.} Bh6 32. Qe2 Qe4 33. Qf3 Qd3 34. Qe2 Qe4 { repetition of moves due to time pressure, no doubt.} 35. Rc5 (35. Ra6 $5) 35... Re8 36. Qf3 Qd3 {Black has no better ideas at this point.} 37. Kg2 Re4 38. Rxd5 (38. Qe2 {would now force the queen exchange and simplify things for White.}) 38... Rc8 {Black continues playing for a swindle.} 39. Rc5 Rxc5 40. dxc5 Qc4 41. Nc3 Re5 (41... Rxe3 42. Qd5+ Qxd5+ 43. Nxd5 Rd3 44. Nb4 Rd4 45. Nc6 $18) 42. Qc6 Kh7 43. e4 h4 {Black's last gasp.} (43... Qxc5 44. Qxc5 Rxc5 45. exf5 gxf5 46. a4 $18) 44. exf5 gxf5 45. Qd7+ Bg7 46. c6 Qg4 47. Rf4 h3+ 48. Kf1 Qg6 49. Nd5 1-0