Sunday, December 6, 2009

Whose Plans Matter?

Bill has graciously invited me to guest blog here. I work with the Prospect High School chess team. The following game is from last week's match between Prospect and Rolling Meadows. Robert Moskva is a freshman at Prospect who came out for the team after the soccer season ended. This is his first experience with OTB, having only played on the internet before. We started him on 5th Board, moved him up to 3rd, and then moved him up to 1st against's Barrington's Zach Kasiurak, who he gave a whale of a game which can be found at ProspectChess.

To pursue your own plans or thwart your opponent's plans: that is the difficult question that comes up time and time again. Sometimes players ignore each others plans completely when they castle on opposite sides of the board and launch attacks against each other's kings because everything depends on who breaks through first. More commonly, however, the players must solve the problems their opponents are creating as well as create problems for their opponents to solve.

Before sending me his score from his game against Tom Chung in the Prospect-Rolling Meadows match, Robert Moskva wrote down what he was thinking at several points during the game. I found this very helpful as I usually have to guess at what might have been going through a player's mind. In the opening, Robert spent too much time defending against possibilities that were not very dangerous, but in the ending, he did a very good job of assessing which threats were worth worrying about.

My comments are in blue italics.

1.e4 c5 2.Bc4
This is a perfectly logical developing move, but it is rarely seen at the master level. In most cases, White would rather wait to see how Black develops before he decides where he wants this bishop. 2...Nc6 (2...e6 is more popular, but i wanted to play a solid, well thought-out game) My choice would have been 2...e6, but I like the thinking behind this move. Black isn't sure exactly how he wants to deploy his pawns, but he knows that he's going to want the knight here so he defers the decision about his pawns for a move. "Knights before bishops" is sometimes cited as a principle of opening development (although I don't think it qualifies as much more than a rule of thumb). I think the point is that the bishops have a lot more possible destinations, each of which requires a pawn move. Knights really only have two, so developing a knight first leaves more flexibility.

3.Nf3 d6 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.0-0 e6
(blocked my bishop, but it shortens opponents bishop diagonal and I'm planning to play d5 at one point) Interesting thing about the blocked bishop: other than the Classical Variation of the Caro-Kann, I cannot think of any mainline openings in which Black's light squared bishop ventures out to f5 or g4. I'm not really sure why this is so. 6.d3 Be7 7.d4? (? because he wasted 2 moves for the same idea) 7...cxd4 8.Nxd4

Now we have reached an Open Sicilian where White has an advantage in space and easy development. As compensation Black has a very solid compact position, an extra central pawn, and the possibility of counterplay on the c-file. If White wants to make something of his advantages, he is almost obligated to launch an attack against the Black king. Black usually expands on the queen-side, often targeting White's pawns. Sicilian endgames tend to be good for Black. Timing can be crucial in the middle game though, so the fact that White spent two moves to get the pawn to d4 is a serious drawback.
8...0-0 9.Nf3?! By bringing the knight back to f3, White is signaling peaceful intentions. It would be hard for him to get an attack going without advancing his f-pawn. 9...h6 (Once again, he makes an odd move order, but I played h6 in order to stop any funky bishop or knight g5 stuff followed by maybe bxe6 and then Nxe6. So in a way, I'm proving his light square bishop a bit more useless) This is a bit too much precaution for my tastes. I don't think that Bg5 is that dangerous when Black has already played ...e6, ...Be7, and ...0-0. There is a little tactic Black should know about that sometimes wins a pawn against Bg5. 9...a6 10.Bg5 h6 11.Bh4 Nxe4!? 12.Bxe7 Nxc3 13.Bxd8 Nxd1. As far as Ng5 goes, if White had been thinking about Nxe6, he would have left the knight on d4. 10.Bb5 a6 11.Ba4

(I had to make a tough choice,did I want to win the pawn or not? I chose not to because my pawns would be very extended and my position would be slightly awkward, and from what I have realized I have a reputation for blowing good positions, so I played more solidly trying to prevent e5) Having played the Sicilian for years, I can say unequivocally that Black must be careful about trying to pick off the e-pawn this way. However, I would have gone for it for based on the following logic: (1) Black has developed reasonably in the usual Sicilian fashion; (2) White has lost time by using two moves to get his pawn to d4, moving his knight back to f3, and moving his light squared bishop three times. (3) If the Sicilian Defense is sound (which it undoubtedly is), Black should be able to take advantage of White's dilly-dallying. After 11...b5 12Bb3 b4 13 Ne2 Nxe4, Black's position is dominating.

It is not possible to calculate every possible line or visualize every possible position, particularly in shorter time controls. Therefore, a player has to factor in his assessment of the relative development when choosing between thwarting plans or pursuing. If he is confident that he has done a better job developing than his opponent, then the chances are that his own threats will be more dangerous and he shouldn't let them slip away.

12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Re1 d5 ( I finally allow the pawn push but in exchange He now has to worry about the pawn a little and the only truly open side for play is the queen side, which I have the advantage in) An accurate assessment and quite typical of the Open Sicilian. 14.e5 Nd7 15.b3 Bb7 16.Bb2 c5 (Now I decided I was defensively solid, so I'm trying to win his pawn/storm him with my pieces) I think Robert was defensively solid several moves ago and that he has let his opponent get more solid in the meantime. 17.Nb1 Nb6!?(Better was 17...Rfb8, should've kept some pressure on e5) I like the rook move, but I think this is fine, too. I don't think that pressure against e5 would really do much for Black as White has it more than adequately protected. 18.Nd2 c4?! A good idea but it gives White a lovely square for a knight or a bishop on d4. I think Black could have increased the pressure with 18...a5 or 18...Rc8. 19.Bd4 Rac8 Why not the other rook? 20.Qe2 cxb3(20....Nd7 21. c3)21.Bxb6?(why give it up?)Qxb6 22.cxb3 Rc2 (I should've tried to open up my light-squared bishop with a5! but I got to excited with my position) Robert may be right about this. His neglect of that bishop was a problem in this game, but it is hard to resist the temptation of putting a rook on your opponent's second rank. 23.Rec1 Rfc8 24.Qe1 Qc7?!(24...Rxc1 25.Rxc1 Bc5! and black is clearly winning) I am always reluctant to use phrases like "clearly winning" when analyzing games between high school players, but Black certainly would have had a strong position. 25.Rxc2 qxc2 26.Ne1 Qxd1 27. Rxd1 Bg4?!

I think that most masters would prefer to have the two bishops in this ending, particularly with pawns on both sides of the board. The key to exploiting the bishops is opening lines for them. I would have liked to see 27...a5 to get the light squared bishop into the action or 27...f6 to open things a little on the king-side.

28.Nef3 Rc2 29.Nxg5 hxg5
Robert is stuck with a "bad" bishop because his pawns restrict its movements. 30.a3 Bc6? Robert finally tries to get his bishop into the game, but this allows White to get his knight to a more active square. 30...Rc3 would have kept the knight tied down defending the b-pawn. 31.Nf3 Rc3 32.Nxg5 Nxb3 33.Rc1 g6??

(All the advantage I had was lost, simply 33..Rxa3 and I'm fine, I just did the move for extra precaution on the back row, but in exchange white got a great knight) I think that "??" is unduly harsh, although 33...Rxa3 was certainly stronger.) 34.f3 Be8 35.Rc8 Kf8 36. Nh7+ Ke7 37.Nf6 Bb5 (It was essential that I play my defense in pin-point accuracy, and I'm glad to say that I did) "Pin-point" might be a little too strong, but I really do like the way Robert keeps his wits about him with a White rook and knight deep in his territory. 38.Rc7+ Kd8 This is a key point. Black's only chance to make progress is by giving up the f-pawn. If he plays 38...Kf8, White can force a repetition with 39.Rc8+ Ke7 because 39...Kg7 would give White nasty mating threats after 40.g4. 39.Rxf7 Rxa3 40.Rg6 Bd3(Seems like this move allows the deadly-looking Rd7+, but it is a harmless check and his position would end up the same in any way, I wasn't bothered by his possible little advantage, I was happy with my past a-pawn) After being unduly cautious earlier in the game, Robert does a very good job of figuring out which threats are really worth worrying about in the endgame. 41.Kf2 a5 42. Ra7 a4 43.Ra8+ By this point White is in serious time-trouble and he succumbs to the natural temptation to deliver some checks. It is a serious mistake, however, because it lets the Black king off the back rank and allows it to support the a-pawn. This is one of the most common errors that inexperienced players make in endgames, i.e., checking the opposing king and driving it where it wants to go rather than confining it. 43...Kc7! (important to play the kind here contrary to 43...Ke7 because that allows a bit of chance for a draw, while the more crazy looking 43...Kc7! maintains my advantage) 44.Ne8+ Again pushing the Black king where he wanted to go anyway. Inexperienced players tend to think "Always check because it might be mate." Stronger players know that checking is frequently a mistake and should not be done without good reason. 44...Kb7 45.Ra5 Bc2?(d4!) It would have been good. 46.Nd6+ Kb6 47.Ra8 Ra2 48.Rg8? a3 49. Ke2??(I'm guessing it was time trouble, but this blunder cost white the game) After 49.Ke3 Rb2, White is still losing because he is going to be forced to give up his rook to stop the a-pawn, but this does make Black's life easier.49...Ba4+!(Just a bit better than Bf5+ and less riskier by far) Actually, it is quite a bit better. 50.Ke3 Rxg2? This gives White a chance to prolong the game. 50...Re2+! 51.Kxe2 a2 would have been quicker. 51.Nc8+?? Once again, an impulsive check in time trouble. After 51.Ra8! Bd1 52.Rxa3 Rxh2, Black would be up a pawn but would have a lot of work left to do. Now there is no way for White to get to the a-pawn. 51...Ka5 52.Ne7 a2 53Ra8+ Kb4 54..Rb8+ Ka3!(Now all is lost. The earlier ...Ba4+ was a very useful move; it safeguards the king) and it shields the pawn. 55. Ra8 a1/Q 56.Kf4 Qd4#.

Crossposted at ProspectChess.

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