Thursday, July 28, 2011

May tournament round 1

Hello, everyone!

I’ve finally gotten a few moments to start answering the questions in the quiz I posed a while back.

Actually, I’m going to do that by going through my games from the May tournament that I won. There’s a surprising amount of stuff in some fairly simple-looking games. This is the first game in that tournament, and the answer to the first quiz position.

But first another little quiz:
White has given check, seeking compensation for his pawn minus in his bishop pair and better development:

There are themes of Re7+ if the king moves to the second rank, and Kd8 is met by Nxg7 followed by (...Rf8, Nh5) Bxf6+. What about Kf8, which avoids these problems?

Okay, here's the game:

Vytas Vytsauskas - Leon Shernoff [A27] Skokie G/90, 5.6.2011

after a mutually misplayed opening, we reached this position. I was definitely playing myself back into shape in this first-round game, and for some reason couldn’t see any difference between the various Nc6 moves! I knew I was going to play …d6 and …b6 soon and then the knight(s) dance to those squares and onwards; I wasn’t seeing any difference in where they went first. Luckily, at the last minute my hand reached out and threw the knight onto a5 without any conscious intervention on my part.

Also part of the "playing myself back into shape" thing: I thought I was okay at this point, but it turns out I’m definitely not!

9… Na5 10.Qxe7+ Kxe7 11.Bd3 h6

Black is playing very slowly and for the greatest possible advantage: I see that my knights can kick the butt of White’s doubled pawn complex, so I don’t want him to be able to exchange one of them with Bg5.

The course of the game will show what I was aiming for, since it gets implemented pretty much without opposition. It may seem a little strange here, but White should have taken a bunch of moves to exchange his bishop and inflict a similar weakness on Black: 12.Ba3+-b4xa5 was best. Fritz then gives White an advantage of almost a pawn.

12.0–0? b6 13.Nd4?!

Similarly, even here, better is 13.Re1+ Kf8 14.Ba3+ d6 15.Bb4 Nb7 and suddenly White’s space advantage is actually useful and his pieces aren’t tied down to his weaknesses like they end up in the game.

13… Ba6 14.Nf5+

At first, I was worried about 14.Nb5, because I consider Vito a better calculater than I am; and there’s lots of stuff that could go wrong for Black after this move. But 14…Bxb5 15.Re1+ Kd8 16.cxb5 Nxd5 is safe enough.

14...Kf8 15.Ne3 d6


Again, the bishop should go to a3 to exchange off the first knight that appears on c5. On d2 it is just in the way, and something of a target.


How should White respond to this move? It threatens Ne5, irrevocably winning a pawn, and thus provokes 17.f4. But it’s not hard to see that White will lose a pawn soon anyway, so maybe it was better to just try and get active and avoid making this new weakness. After all, once Black takes on c4, that opens things up a bit for White’s bishops. Fritz has White only down half a pawn after
17.Rfe1 Ne5 18.Bf1 Nexc4 19.Rad1

which is way better than the game continuation.

In fact, if Black takes on c4 with the bishop to avoid the pin:
18...Bxc4 19.Nxc4 Naxc4 20.Bc1 g5 21.Re4 Na5 22.f4

Fritz calls this position equal, though I respectfully think that the extra pawn is still a pawn here. Granted, neither of these is a position that White wants to achieve out of the opening; but it’s loads better than what actually happens to him.

The question of whether White can/should just shed a pawn early and try to get compensation through the opening of the position for his bishops will keep recurring over the next several moves.

17.f4 Nc5 18.Be2 Re8

This is the position that I put up as a quiz last month. The question is how to respond to Black’s pressure on the e-file. In fact, my main concern here was how to get my Rh8 into action. If I play …g6 (instead of Re8), intending …Kg7, then he plays f5, and suddenly it looks like his kingside pieces are doing something real. Likewise, after …f6 he has Bh5, and I don’t want this to happen either. I could walk my king to h7; but that’s way lame considering how much time it takes and considering that since we’re on the verge of an ending, the king will soon have to walk all the way back to the center. So I decided to probe by developing the other rook, and see if I could develop my pieces this way.


After this, Black achieves a total bind unhindered. I thought that White had to try 19.Kf2, protecting both pieces on the e-file, as after the game move I have 19…f5, solving my development problems and fixing the weak Pf4.

Well, it turns out that 19.Kf2 loses a pawn to Ne4xc3 and Rxe3 – in fact this is a general threat of 18…Re8 (so Fritz in fact also prefers 19.Rf3). I hadn’t noticed this at all during the game (like I said, I was definitely playing myself back into shape at this point) because I was mainly concerned with how to get the Rh8 into play. However, shedding a pawn is not necessarily bad for White if it opens up things for his bishops and gets his pieces active. There are two ways to attempt this: 19.Kf2 and 19.Rae1.

As Todd pointed out, 19.Kf2 has the flaw of not developing further, while uncastling the king. On the other hand, it turns out to allow Bxa5 (finally!), which almost balances out these flaws:
19.Kf2 Ne4+ (19...Re4!? ×f4, c4) 20.Ke1 Nxc3 21.Bxc3 Rxe3 22.Bxa5 Bxc4

(looks scary, but…) 23.Rf2 bxa5 24.Kd2 Rxe2 25.Rxe2 Bxe2 26.Kxe2 with a rook and pawn ending that most of us humans would consider quite blowable – Black has two extra pawns, but one them is doubled and isolated, and the other is backwards on an open file. Plus, White is about to activate his rook first.

Certainly, White’s chances are way better than in the game.

19.Rae1 looks much more constructive, and (but?) carries with it the possibility (risk?) of much more active/dynamic/complex play to justify the additional material sacrifice. In short, this is the line to go for if you think White should be pursuing radical remedies here:

19…Ne4 20.Bc1 Nxc3 21.Bd3

and now Todd gives
21...Ne4 22.Bb2 Nf6 23.g4
when White has full counterplay. Fritz plays more dynamically for Black, giving 22...Nc5 (instead of Nf6) 23.Nf5 f6 24.Rxe8+ Kxe8 25.Re1+

and awards Black an advantage of a third of a pawn, but the possibilities here of Re7, or (…Kd8) Nxg7-h5 render this fairly meaningless in human terms.

Quiz Answer!
The move that best avoids these possibilities, 25…Kf8??, sadly runs into 26.Nxd6! with back-rank awfulness (26...cxd6 27.Bg6).

In any case, the two bishops and the undeveloped Rh8 are really showcased in these lines. Black’s extra pawn is fairly meaningless at the moment.

However, Black has a more dynamic possibility himself, grabbing another pawn with 21…Nxa2 (instead of 21…Ne4), and the black knights start to dance on the queenside:

21…Nxa2 22.Ba3 (22.Bd2 Nb3) 22...Nc3 23.Bb4 Na4

Finally, the white bishop has reached b4, but it’s not enough. White has two possibilities, and both are fairly messy, but they also seem fairly won for Black (given enough time):
24.Bc2 Nc5 25.Bxa5 bxa5 26.Kf2

and White is ready to play 27.Ra1, but this doesn’t seem like enough.

The other line is

24.Nf5 Nc5 25.Rxe8+ Kxe8 26.Re1+ Kd8 27.Bf1 Bxc4 (27...g6 28.Nd4) 28.Bxa5 Bxf1 29.Kxf1 bxa5 and White is down three pawns at the moment.

After taking on g7, Fritz rates Black's advantage at only 1.3, which again is much less than in the game, but still should really be losing, especially as it's much harder for White to get at Black's queenside pawns in this line.

At any rate, we can now appreciate the complications that White could have spawned, instead of the continuation in the game where Black just gets to sit on him without worries:

19.Rf3?! f5! 20.Kf1 g6

Now I have a choice of developing my kingside with Kf/g7 and Re8, or Rh7-e7.
Fritz prefers to swoop in immediately with

20...Re4 21.Re1 Bxc4 22.Nxc4 Nxc4 23.Bc1 b5

which indeed looks quite dominating. But it only gets this far by rejecting (20...Re4 ) 21.Nxf5 Nxc4 22.Bxc4 Bxc4+ 23.Kg1 Bxd5

when White has genuine activity, potentially meaningful pawn imbalances, and opposite colored bishops. To a human, this is much less attractive for Black than what happens in the game. Especially in a G/90 situation, the trouble-free situation is the one to go for.

Back to the game:

21.Rd1 Re4 22.Be1 Bxc4

White is ready to defend his c-pawn with Rd4, so Black needs to take.

Depending on your point of view, my move is either an inaccuracy or a clever trap. I wanted to exchange two pairs of minor pieces, which I can force by 22...Nxc4, but I didn't see that my Ba6 was defended, so thought I had to take with the bishop first.

23.Nxc4 Nxc4


All’s well that ends well: he decides to trade everything anyway. Fritz tries to keep the minors on, but then finds out that this loses more material (this would be the clever trap): 24.Rd4 Ne3+ 25.Kg1 (25.Kf2 Ng4+ 26.Kf1 Nxh2+) 25...Nxd5.


This is a big mistake, as now White can’t avoid the loss of another pawn via the following maneuver, and he’ll be left with an awful minor piece. Correct was
25.Bf2 Ne4 26.Bd4 Rh7
when White’s only one pawn down with a lousy position, and Black will have trouble making progress without allowing the exchange of his knight. As the game goes, White not only loses another pawn, his bishop is a huge albatross around his neck.

25...Rxd4 26.cxd4 Ne4 27.Ke2 Nf6 28.Kd3 Nxd5 29.Kc4 c6 30.a4 a5 31.h3 h5 32.Bd2 Kf7 33.g3 Re8 34.Kd3 Re4 35.Kc4

There has been none of the White counterplay we’ve seen in the earlier sidelines. Fritz awards Black a 3.6 pawn advantage, even though White is only two pawns down on the board and has the more centralized king.

Now Fritz wants Black to play 35...Nc7 (with the idea of c6-c5) 36.Rd3 d5+ 37.Kc3 h4 38.gxh4 Ne6 at which point it gives Black a four-pawn advantage. However, I stick to my ultra-solid style of cashing in:
35...Re2 36.Kd3 Rh2 37.h4 Rh1 38.Kc4 Rb1 39.Ra3

Now that my Rb1 is holding my one weak(ish) pawn on b6 (against Rb3), I can swing my knight to e4, causing White’s bishop a bit of embarrassment. I’m hoping for something like (magically move Black’s knight to e4 in the above diagram) Kd3 Rd1 Ra2, or Bc3 Rc1 where the bishop is pinned, and I get to exchange all the pieces, leaving me with a dead-won pawn ending. I like dead-won pawn endings. But even without that, the next order of business is N-f6-e4 and Ke6-d5.

Best for White is probably (39…Nf6) 40.Kd3 Ne4 41.Be3, but there’s no doubt about the outcome after I bring my king to d5. Instead, White blunders.

39...Nf6 40.Rb3?? d5+ 41.Kc3 Ne4+

because of …Rxb3 and Nxd2