An Instructive Showcase

The perennial Potomac Open was held from July 29-31 in Rockville, MD.  Finally having a weekend free after a summer filled with school-related course work and activities, I decided to play in what would have only been my second full-length tournament of the summer, the first being the Continental Class Championships soon after school let out.  Apart from tournaments, most of my chess was delegated to playing in league matches every few weeks.

To be truthful, my recent play of late has not been up to par.  Ever since peaking my rating at 2207, I have, for the most part, only been dropping points; my current rating before this tournament was all the way down to 2150.  Since this was my first tournament in a while and I had a week to prepare, I was hoping that this would be my turnaround performance.  Of course, such things don’t just come to you; you have to work for it.  So, naturally, I tried to prepare as thoroughly as possible prior to this tournament.  I was also playing in the U2300, which was different than the typical U2200 sections one would see at most open tournaments.  While the difference wasn’t drastic, it certainly was enough to make the preparation stage not that straightforward.

In the first round, I was paired with someone I had never played before with a rating of 2012 as Black.  Halfway through the first time control, I was able to net a pawn through a complicated tactic, but it proved futile as the endgame that resulted did not offer any chances to win, especially with the clock ticking down.  In the second round, I was paired against another lower rated player, but one I had played a few times in the past.  As it turned out, I had not prepared the opening that this game went into as well as I had for the other games.  However, it didn’t seem to matter too much, but somewhere in the middlegame, my opponent found a positional exchange sacrifice that cemented an advantage, and she went on to win.  Starting the tournament with 0.5/2 was far from what I had wanted or imagined, for that matter.  However, it was what it was.  The only thing that I could do from that point on was to play out the rest of the games and try to win as many as possible in order to avoid tanking my rating even further.  In the third round, I was paired against a 2075-rated youngster as Black, and after what I believed was a well-played opening and middlegame, I was able to grind down my opponent.  After that confidence-lifting performance, I was able to back that up with another win against a 2100-rated young adult in a tactical game where I sacrificed a piece early with the king in the center.  With two straight wins, I had come back to a respectable 2.5/4, but I still had a game to play in the last round.  In the last round, I was paired against a 2079-rated adult who had played above his level and already had netted a few upsets.  That game ended in a draw in 19 moves after I found myself in a worse position and my opponent offered a draw, citing tiredness as the reason.  Finishing with 3/5 and getting back $50 from the entry fee, it was an “okay” performance in my mind.  Although I didn’t start the tournament as well as I hoped, I was able to salvage the rest of the tournament and kept my rating stable (part of this was because my second round opponent went on to upset two other higher rated players and increased 67 rating points).  Of all my games, I believe my third round game was the most instructive, regardless of the result.  So, I will be providing that game with notes for today’s article.  The other games may be showcased in some articles in the future if they become relevant.

Zheng, M – Kobla, V – Potomac Open, 2017

Position after 14. … Rfd8

The opening thus far was quite an interesting one, with White backing away from the typical main lines and going for a relatively awkward structure with the knight on f3 and a bishop on b2.  Black, meanwhile, has a standard structure with connected rooks and prepares a d6-d5 push to open the position as he is ahead in development.

  1. Nd5

White correctly decides to close the position by blocking the advance of Black’s d-pawn.

  1. … Bxd5 16. exd5 Nb8 17. c4 Re8

A key move, as the autopilot move 17. … Nbd7 would allow 18. Nd4! from White, since the bishop on e7 is now unprotected.

Position if the side variation with Nbd7 and Nd4 had occurred
  1. Rad1 Nbd7 19. Nxe5!?

An interesting combination that forces the trade of a couple pieces, but it looks good only superficially.

Position after 19. Nxe5
  1. … Nxe5

Not 19. … dxe5? which would give White the two uncontested bishops.

  1. Bxe5 dxe5 21. d6 Qb6 22. dxe7 Rxe7 23. Qc3 e4

The best way to defend the pawn.  This move increases the number of defenders on the pawn, limits the scope of the e1-Rook, and further constricts the mobility of the f1-bishop, which was already a bad bishop.

Position after 23. … e4
  1. Re3

This move temporarily halts the forward progress of the e-pawn, but it also prevents the rook from being able to control the open d-file.  This makes the next move by Black fairly intuitive.

  1. … Rd8

Challenging White’s control of the d-file and forcing White to make a choice.  However, no choice is beneficial, as all will end up with Black having control of the only open file on the board.

  1. Rde1

White doubles rooks and temporarily pins the e4-pawn, which could open the door to a future f2-f3 push.  That isn’t a threat just yet, however, since White has to first negotiate the would-be pin on the g1-a7 diagonal.

  1. … Rde7

Swiftly sidestepping the pin and cementing control of the d-file.  Black is now firmly in the driver’s seat and it will remain that way for the rest of the game.

Position after 25. … Rde7
  1. Rg3 Qd4 27. Qc1 Qd2 28. Qa1 Qd4 29. Qc1 Qd2 30. Qa1 Qf4

I repeated moves once in order to throw my opponent off psychologically, and it must have worked to some extent, as he offered a draw after blitzing out 30. Qa1.  I, of course, was going to play on.  On f4, the queen is perfectly stationed, hitting the f2-pawn while making way for the rooks to penetrate.

Position after 30. … Qf4
  1. Rge3 Rd2 32. R3e2 Rd4

The move 32. … e3 was also an interesting try worth mentioning.

  1. g3 Qf5 34. Bg2 h5 35. Qb1 Re8

White has been able to unwind slightly, but not completely yet.  With Re8, Black sets a practical trap that White falls right into.

Position after 35. … Re8
  1. f3

After having been on the defensive for many moves, White goes the only try for activity, but it also creates an immense weakness on g3, and that proves fatal.

  1. … Qg5 37. Kh2 h4 38. gxh4

This move seemingly nets a pawn, but it leaves White’s kingside in shambles.

  1. … Qf4+ 39. Kg1 e3

Creating a passed pawn and essentially imprisoning the f1-bishop, all at the cost of only a single pawn.

Position after 39. … e3
  1. Qc1 Rd3 41. Rd1 Red8 42. Rde1 Re8 43. Rd1 Qd4

Again, I repeated moves once before diverting.

Position after 43. … Qd4
  1. Rxd3 Qd3 45. Bf1

The bishop attempts to make some sort of threat against the queen, but if the rook moves from e2, Black will just continue on with e3-e2.  As a result, the rook is still stuck on e2 for now.

  1. .. Nh5

Now, the dark square weaknesses on the kingside become apparent, as White cannot stop the Black knight from entering.

  1. Qc2 Qd4 47. Qb2 Qb6

One last accurate move.  This move avoids the trade of queens but also prevents the only counterplay that White could have had with Rg2 and Be2 ideas.

Position after 47. … Qb6
  1. c5 Qxc5 49. Rc2 Qb6 50. Be2 Qg6+

Swinging to the other side of the board to deliver the final blow.

  1. Kh1 Nf4 0-1

The move threatens mate-in-one with Qg2, and coupled with the e-pawn screaming down the board, White resigned.

Position after 51. … Nf4

This, in the end, was probably my best game out of the entire tournament, and it came at the perfect time, as I was able to turn it around finished 2.5 out of the last 3 games.  This was also the most instructive game that I had, with many key points scattered throughout the entire game.  These included how to use open files, how to capitalize on weak squares, and prophylaxis, among others.  I hope that you will be able to use, or continue to use, these concepts in your future games.  And, as always, thanks for reading and see you next time!



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