Patience With Black at the 2017 Pan Ams

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about team tournaments, it’s that when teammates underperform, they better do it at the same time! Two of our losses were to lower-rated teams by the thin margin of 2.5-1.5, which along with an unfortunately predictable 4-0 sweep by the all-GM Webster B team, gave us a 3-3 record for the tournament despite our relatively strong lineup of David Hua (2394 USCF as of December), Eigen Wang (2337), Maryia Oreshko (2151), and myself (2118). The timing of our individual results proved unfortunate in the tournament. It often seemed that no sooner had one of us had found our footing when someone else started struggling.

But as is often the case in these team tournaments, the chess often proved secondary to team dynamics as we found ways to enjoy our combination of struggles and triumphs. Trekking out to Pan Ams in the middle of winter break has never been easy for me, but Eigen (who, as an undergrad and masters student, has played Pan Ams more than the rest of us combined) convinced me I had to go before graduating, so I went to experience it myself for the first, and probably the last time.

Board 4 is a stranger experience in some ways, as Isaac explained after his own Pan Ams almost exactly a year ago. More than any other board, it sometimes seems like you’re always playing way down or way up. An expert is in an awkward spot, because they’re likely playing a lot of 1650-1800 players, who if motivated enough are dangerous in their own rights. Or players like GM Manuel Leon Hoyos (who presumably had no problem picking apart my 14th move pawn blunder); take your pick.

I also had the gift of an extra Black this tournament (4 of the 6 rounds). Given my opening repertoire, that means a lot of less glamorous chess that, depending on how much you appreciate it, can be described as methodical, patient, boring, or lucky. All my games as Black are reminders that you often have to grind your way out of equality to win. In “boring” positions, this often entails relying on tactical vigilance (less charitably referred to as “waiting for blunders”) and playing for smaller advantages.

The Unfortunate

My last-round game (and only even matchup of the event) would easily have been my favorite if not for an unfortunate blunder near the end. After declining an early draw from my opponent (who wasn’t feeling too well – something I didn’t catch on during the game), I maneuvered into a much better ending. Unfortunately, my time management was not nearly as good, and my opponent alertly picked up a piece – and the game – after my time trouble slip.

The Caro-Kann

A lot of Classical Caro-Kann middlegames look unpleasant for Black at first glance because White can often get more queenside space and more active pieces simply by playing natural moves. However, Black has plenty of tricks despite the cramped positions; White still needs to understand some of the positional themes to keep up pressure.

In my first-round game, my opponent lost the thread after a positional/tactical blunder. My fifth-round game, also a Classical Caro-Kann, was a little more difficult. I spent what seemed like forever engineering a …c5 break, but my opponent did not have a good plan and after some time-wasting moves fell victim to some well-timed tactics.

The Kingside Attack

This last game is interesting because it involves a Bh6 (trying to exchange off Black’s fianchettoed bishop) that is surprisingly similar to what I play in one of the Closed Sicilian mainlines. Many players play Be3/Qd2 and the subsequent Bh6 exchange automatically, and it seemed especially anti-positional so I didn’t give it much thought. But when I realized how I’d seen similar ideas as White many times in my openings, I realized it might not be that easy to defend. Ultimately however, the positional considerations were still in my favor and I was able to consolidate after my opponent impulsively sacrificed a pawn on the kingside.


As always, it is a bit strange playing on Board 4. I think it’s a good thing to revisit the basics once in a while, though when you have to beat just about everyone to gain rating it feels a little loose. However, it was great to end the year spending time with the CMU team at *the* college team tournament, and in February, I’m hoping to take another stab at team glory at the U.S. Amateur Team East. See you all in two weeks!

 

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Structure vs. Activity

The question of whether to aim for a structurally sound position or active play is one of the most common dilemmas known to chess. A solid structure, almost by definition, is meant not to change so easily, and opening lines of play or creating weaknesses in order to play more actively almost always entails some risk or structural concession. It is very natural for most people to develop some kind of stylistic preference, but this is not always a good thing. Attacking for the sake of activity, for example, can be disastrous if you are undeveloped, have too many other problems to deal with, or are simply not tactically justified in attacking. On the other hand, trying to stay solid can easily turn into simply being passive, which may just as easily get you rolled off the board.

For the amateur player, it’s almost always a question of tactics and calculation, since in most positions it can clearly be determined what moves are certainly good or bad. However, as someone who fails to do this a lot, I know that it’s often not an easy task. In my case, laziness, fear of calculating incorrectly, or simply the preference to play certain types of positions (even if they might be worse) makes a more subjective judgment tempting. This has its ups and downs, as I discovered in a recent game against an 1800-rated player at the Pittsburgh Chess Club this week. My opponent’s interesting attempt at an active yet risky position did not prove its worth, but some ups and downs in my decisions made things interesting for a while, although I managed to stay ahead and eventually pulled off the win. Enjoy!

Lessons from a Painful Game

True lessons are rarely learned from just one game, but sometimes it takes an unexpectedly nasty game to make you realize what you’ve been missing! Before moving on, it might be helpful to see my most recent game (as much as I was able to record) to see what you notice.


Immediately, it’s apparent that there’s a lot of craziness in that game, and unfortunately, a lot of it is not good (from either side). Of course, from the vantage point of a computer (or anyone screening for perfection, really), there are many mistakes to be found in almost any amateur game. So that should not take away from this G/120 victory by local Class A veteran Jeff Schragin, who did well to pour on the heat throughout the opening and, despite losing the thread later on, saw the benefits of a good time reserve as he eked out the win in a tricky knight ending.

It bears repeating that basic-looking mistakes are surprisingly common even among strong players (who can get pretty forgetful), and that worthwhile lessons are rarely limited to just one game. But there are many that show themselves in this game more than many other games I’ve played:

  • First things first; any mention of why I lost this game must start with my ridiculous time management. In particular, Black (at least with my endgame skills) simply cannot expect to waltz through that knight endgame (dynamically equal, with Black trying to use the extra pawn before White cleans up on the queenside) with 2 minutes on the clock. That situation was undoubtedly caused by several terrible decisions earlier on, starting with a nearly 15-minute think on move 5 (see next point!). Along with my traditionally time-consuming habits in the more complicated positions, this gave me no chance to calculate accurately in the later stages of the game.
  • While deep expertise in specific openings is far from necessary at almost all levels, going in completely cold is not a reliable strategy; it is important to develop a sound opening repertoire. Being surprised by a novelty or taking time in an unexpectedly complicated early middlegame is fine, but it’s probably a good idea to be familiar enough to breeze through the first 5-10 moves almost every time. You are likely not in good shape if you are spending 15 minutes on move 5 (in my case, I had been aiming for a Hedgehog but didn’t bother to remember any move orders and ended up flustered early on – this is something I’ll definitely fix in future games). Black’s somewhat-forced 10…c5 is a testament to how positionally dominant White remained for the better part of the opening.
  • Wild computer evaluations usually means major mistakes were made, and in this game plenty were made from both sides. By a certain level, most players will roll their eyes at checking all “checks, captures, and threats” but when you forget this at a fundamental level, you’re vulnerable to errors like 24…Bd6? and 25. Nd3?, which both miss 25. Nxf7 just picking up a pawn. Probably the costliest error of the game, 36…Ng4?? (which still leaves Black better, but complicated to play with 2 minutes left) could have been prevented by just checking 36…Bxc1, which immediately wins as Black brings in Nd3-b4. For his part, my opponent, who ended the game with a whole hour on his clock, probably could have benefited from a few extra seconds of blunder checking (although it is understandable to save energy and save time for later), although it should be noted that more time does not imply more accuracy, as I spent too much time on several moves checking lines that ended up not being very relevant.
  • Sometimes, the most you can do is cause as many problems as possible for your opponent to win, and sometimes it works. The caveat here is that you have to go all the way. I thought my opening position was borderline unsalvageable, but all I could do was try my best to avoid any immediate tactical disasters (which led to some technically inferior moves such as 12…Kxd8 instead of allowing 12….Rxd8 13. Bc7). Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for me as I ran into time trouble near the end. On the other hand, it is also difficult to endure a much worse or losing position after having held an edge for so long, and my opponent did well to pull off the win after I missed the win on move 36.

This is certainly not the first or the last time I’ve seen these ideas in play, but this game really puts these principles in perspective. While it’s never easy to analyze these kinds of games in depth, they can be surprisingly instructive and make us stronger as players!

New Openings, New Struggles

Being in a low-stakes chess environment (for example, after becoming a master) is a good time to try out some new things. Unfortunately, I took this a little too far at the Pennsylvania State Action (G/30), where I lost to a slew of lower rated players in strange, unfamiliar openings, easily making it my worst tournament of the last few years. While it is not wrong to wade in uncharted waters, there is a wide range of unfamiliar that requires some reasonable judgment. All I can say is, when you find yourself in a close game against someone several hundred points lower, you only have yourself to blame for playing 1…a6.

A better idea is to start with smaller changes, which in my case (since I don’t study openings very heavily) means slight deviations in lines I otherwise play very often. Nevertheless, there are some difficulties to be expected along the way, like when I tried (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3) 3…a6 against rapidly improving 10-year old expert Evan Park. Although this looks like Black is just fooling around, this is in fact a useful waiting move, as White is tempted into the choices of:

  • 4. exd5 (a harmless Exchange Caro-Kann)
  • 4. e5 (an Advanced Caro-Kann where White has already committed to Nc3, making …c5 more attractive)
  • 4. Nf3 (what Evan played)

4. Nf3 was followed by 4…Bg4 and soon Be2, Bxf3, Nf6, e4-e5, etc. where Black has sort of a French Defense without the problematic light-squared bishop. Note that …a6 can be useful to Black in some lines (at worst it’s harmless since the position is relatively closed), unlike my try of 2…a6 against Isaac in a Sicilian. While I got a nice position for Black, I was unfamiliar with the plans and overlooked a tricky tactic around move 15, making the rest of the game a huge uphill task.

Games against lower-rated players are also good opportunities to try out new openings as long as they aren’t joke openings like I played a few times, but for example, some Open Sicilians I’m not so familiar with, like against a local 1609 in the first round of the ongoing Robert Smith Memorial. A much higher-rated player should still be able to outplay an opponent based on “normal” skill.

After my recent quick chess troubles, I was looking forward to start over at the Pennsylvania G/15. Unfortunately, things didn’t seem to be heading my way as Evan Park outplayed me from an equal ending in my favorite Classical Caro-Kann. A critical matchup developed in a crazy Round 6 against none other than Isaac to even our head-to-head record. Unfortunately, it just so happens sometimes that the most exciting games are the ones where you can’t keep score properly… but here is the game, to the best of my efforts!

With that victory and a final-round draw against NM Eigen Wang in Round 7, my score of 5.5/7 was good enough for 2nd place. While it’s not a particularly high-stakes victory (quick rating points and some pocket cash), it does give me a boost going into the end of 2017. Like Isaac, despite some rough patches, I very much look forward to finishing the year strongly!

How Much Fun is Enough?

In a more casual setting at a local G/45 tournament last weekend, I took the opportunity to play some stranger openings that I don’t attempt in more serious play. Unfortunately, I took this a little too far when I barely managed to draw a 1192 (he was playing quite well for his rating, but still). In fairness, I wasn’t the only one (a fellow master lost to a 1377 who wasn’t scared off by an unsound Scandinavian gambit), and this incident was not really because of the opening (which began with 1. g3 h5!? 2. e4 h4). Ultimately, everything seems to come down to how one plays regular chess.

That disaster left me a chance to redeem myself against the only sane high-rated player left in the field, NM Franklin Chen. However, I was intrigued by his assumption that I would play the Closed Sicilian as White, and wanted to switch things up a little. But Franklin turned out to be a step ahead, surprising my 1. e4 with 1…e6.

Psychologically, that was not acceptable, and Franklin knows his openings very well, so I had to think up a good alternative to 2. d4. I ultimately settled on 2. Qe2!?.

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Li – Chen: after 2. Qe2

I’ve only seen one game in this line, but from what I understand the point is to hinder …d5, as Black would much rather take back with the e-pawn. In the only game that I’ve seen, the game continued 2…Be7 3. b3 d5 4. Bb2 Bf6 (4…Nf6 5. exd5 exd5 6. Bxf6 gxf6 leaves Black with riddled pawns) 5. e5 with a lot of space for White.

2…c5

So Black decided to go back to a “closed” Sicilian after all, and after a few moves it’s clear I lost the opening battle (at least psychologically). Qe2 makes White’s development a bit smoother after g3/Bg2/O-O/etc. but that didn’t look very interesting. I tried to play for d4.

3. b3?! Nc6 4. Nf3 e5

I usually don’t think very highly of locking up the dark squares like this, but it’s so hard for White to play d4 here that it makes a lot of sense. Again, I still tried to stick to d4.

5. Nf3 d6 6. h3 g6 7. Na3?

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Li – Chen: after 7. Na3

Consistent at least, but admittedly way too slow (still going for Na3-c2/d4). However, …f5 is coming.

7…Bg7 8. c3 Nge7 9. Rd1

White is almost ready to play d4, but Black can play 9…f5!, threatening …fxe4 followed by …d5 with a big advantage. This can be done over the next few moves, but ultimately Black delays it too long.

9…O-O 10. Bg2 a6 11. O-O b5?! 12. Nc2 Bb7?

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Li – Chen: after 12…Bb7

This was Black’s last chance to get ahead with …f5, and with the d4 push, White is equal again.

13. d4 exd4 14. cxd4 Re8 15. Qd3 f5?!

Would have been a great idea little earlier, but now this looks rather suspect. Since Black’s bishop isn’t defending the weak light squares on the kingside, White has a lot of potential Ng5/Bd5/similar ideas.

16. Ng5

Threatening the devastating Ne6/Nxg7; relatively best, in hindsight, is 16…Bf6.

16…Nc8?

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Li – Chen: after 16…Nc8

Since this was a pretty fast game, I totally missed this, which is bad because White’s knight is nearly trapped; even if it moves (e.g. 17. h4 h6 18. Nh3) Black wins the e4-pawn because of the Bb7’s indirect attack on the e4-pawn. Of course, Black’s kingside is not held together very well, so simply sacrificing the knight and opening the f/g-files gives White (at least) decent compensation. I decided to sac the knight and hope for the best. It turns out that this is very sound.

17. f4! h6

Probably not objectively best, but it’s reasonable for Black to make White prove the attack at this point. Bailing out with 17…fxe4 leads to 18. Bxe4 Nb4 19. Nxb4 Bxe4 20. Nxe4 cxb4 where 21. f5 is unlikely to end well for Black.

18. exf5 hxg5 19. fxg5 Qxg5

Otherwise, it’s virtually impossible to defend g6 after 20. f6.

20. h4!

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Li – Chen: after 20. h4

A few other moves work too, but this, which I first saw after 19. fxg5, looks the simplest. If Black tries to hold onto g6 (as in the game), White just storms ahead with the f-pawn. Otherwise, f5-f6 followed by Qxg6+ is game over.

Black chose to just give up the e8 rook, but this leaves White up the Exchange with a still massive attack, so the rest of the game was relatively straightforward.

20…Qg4 21. f6 N8e7 22. f7+ Kh7 23. fxe8=Q Rxe8 24. Rf4 Qd7 25. Rf7 Kg8 26. Raf1 Nd8

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.58.41 PM

Rxg7+ have been rather tempting for a while, but allowing Black to block the a1-h8 diagonal complicated matters a little. With that option gone, White mates in a few moves.

27. Rxg7+ Kxg7 28. dxc5+ Kg8 29. Qc3 Nf6 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Qg7+ Ke6 32. Qf6#

When to (not) Break Out …f6?

If you play the French often enough, you have probably seen the …f6 break as a common theme to equalize space. One common example comes from the 3. Nd2 Tarrasch main line:

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After 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4

Here, Black can eliminate the cramping e5-pawn with 8…f6 with good piece play and open f-file, at the cost of a somewhat bad bishop and backward e-pawn.

However, there are many different variations and subvariations in which one can consider an …f6 break (in non-Tarrasch lines as well), and suffice to say that not all of them are good. Admittedly, I’m not an expert in the French, and I’m not sure how much studying one would have to do to cover all of these scenarios. My personal advice is to not break out …f6 when in doubt, since it does create weaknesses and in many cases can be delayed with few major consequences.

It’s easy to take the …f6 break for granted in lines like the above, but it does weaken Black’s center (two hanging pawns) and king. It (more or less) works for Black in the above Tarrasch because White’s pieces are not well-developed enough to take advantage of the weaknesses too soon and Black is positioned well to defend and even counter-attack due to the open lines created by …f6.

On the other hand, consider this position I recently happened upon from a Pittsburgh weekend tournament game between two experts:

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After 7. Be3

Black played 7…f6 here. At first it doesn’t look too bad because the center is relatively closed and White hasn’t castled. But White’s pieces are much more developed here than in the first example, so attacking the d5/e6-pawns is a lot easier. Note that White hasn’t committed the light-squared bishop and still has the option of g3/Bh3.

That wasn’t Black’s only mistake, but it quickly made things more difficult for Black. After the natural 8. Qd2 a6 9. exf6 Qxf6 10. O-O-O Bd6 11. g3! b5?? (not what Black needs to be focusing on!) 12. dxc5 Bxc5 13. Bh3 Black’s position is virtually beyond repair. Although it doesn’t immediately work out tactically, White is already entertaining the idea of Nxd5 (as happened a few moves later).

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After 13. Bh3

Unfortunately, the rest of the game was not particularly hard to predict. White soon won both the e6 and d5 pawns, and still managed to attack Black’s weak kingside. This goes to show how seemingly insignificant differences can completely change the positional assessment of an …f6 break!

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After 25. Bg6, Black resigns

 

 

 

Weak Squares In the Anti-Sicilians

Facing a tame-looking opening as Black often looks like a lucky break, as getting a solid, equal (or better) position out of the opening – often the dream as Black – seems to become much easier. I used to worry about this more from the White side, wondering if my openings were too cautious and balanced to create winning chances. But after playing a lot of these “boring” openings from both sides, it became clear that the better player always manages to create chances to profit. From the Black side, it’s always important not to get lulled into careless decisions when it looks like your opponent is not trying hard enough.

Despite blowing the second game in my last post against FM Petesch, the prospect of me closing out the Pennsylvania G/60 with two Whites made things a bit more comfortable. But with the next round starting immediately after that tough loss, I felt like I just wanted a quiet game without time trouble issues.

With that in mind, I decided not to grind out one of my usual Closed Sicilians against young expert Maxim Yaskolko, who I’ve played on and off since I was about 1500. I’ve been getting the better of him lately, but he had to be pretty familiar with my Closed Sicilian routine, so I went for the only other anti-Sicilian I knew anything about.

Li – Yaskolko

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7

I was ready for the more ambitious 3…Nd7, although it is probably a bit risky, so Black goes with an understandable and safe alternative.

4. Bxd7+ Nxd7 5. O-O Ngf6 6. Re1 e6 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4 Be7 9. Bg5 O-O

White’s choices haven’t been particularly interesting. The queen on d4 looks solid at first as it eyes the d6-pawn, but Black can challenge the queen with …Qb6 and should have no problems defending on the d-file after …a6.

10. Nc3 a6 11. Rad1

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After 11. Rad1

For the above reason, 10. Nc3 was rather futile, and probably could have been replaced by 10. c4 or something, though Black is doing fine. The knight is pretty awkwardly placed now, especially after the natural 11…Qc7 and 12…Rac8. However, Black hastily tries to chase the queen out immediately.

11…e5?

A really unfortunate decision, as the rest of the game is basically me slowly exploiting the weakness of d5 and d6. It is very hard to justify this given the absence of the light-squared bishops.

12. Qd2 b5 13. a3 Qb6? 14. h3?

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After 14. h3

I’d been trying so hard to play relatively quick, safe moves to just improve my position that I missed 14. Nh4! g6 15. Bh6 followed by 16. Nf5! when the knight is immune due to mate on the g-file, and thus winning at least a pawn.

Nevertheless, even with that opportunity gone, Black’s problems continue, as there is little to be done to prevent White from piling on the d6-pawn.

14…Rfd8 15. Nh2 b4 16. axb4 Qxb4

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After 16…Qxb4

In my first big think of the game, I started calculating a lot of tempting Nd5 lines. They weren’t clear at all, so I simply continued my plan as to not cash in too early.

17. Re3 Nb6 

17…Qxb2?? 18. Rb1 Qa3 19. Nd5 wins.

18. b3 Rac8 19. Rd3 Rd7 20. Bxf6

Black does have chances at counterplay with …Rdc7, so this gets rid of one more useful Black defender and introduces the Nh2 with tempo.

20…Bxf6 21. Ng4 Be7 22. Ne3 g6

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After 22…g6

Black thought allowing Nf5 would be curtains, but it turns out Nd5 works immediately anyway.

23. Ncd5! Nxd5 24. Nxd5 Qxd2 25. R1xd2

25. Nxe7+ Rxe7 26. R1xd2 Rdc7 27. Rxd6 Rxc2 28. Rxc2 Rxc2 29. Rxa6 would win a pawn, but the ending looks iffy.

25…Bg5? 

For better or worse, Black had to defend passively with 25…Bd8; this runs into a tactic taking advantage of the unfortunate position of Black’s rooks.

26. f4!

 

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After 26. f4

 26…exf4 (26…Bd8 27. fxe5 is just a clear pawn) 27. Nb6 and Black ran out of time.

 

This was by no means the best way to play the position (eventually given that I arguably missed a win at move 14!) but the game does underscore that you only need one win, and sometimes simply improving your position and limiting counterplay is enough. While I might have missed some objective improvements, I was never in real danger, which is often more than one can hope for.

My last game, a nice win over NM Tom Magar, might not be boring in the same sense, but I know some people don’t think the Closed Sicilian to be challenging enough. Indeed, many of the positions look almost symmetrical on the important areas of the board, but in many games I’ve been able to show that many small-looking advantages can be more useful than people think.

Li – Magar

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 d6 6. Be3

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After 6. Be3

I hadn’t had to spend too much energy in my third-round game, so it felt like a good time to get back to my roots. That said, Tom and I have played a number of Closed Sicilian lines before, so I didn’t know which one he’d choose.

6…e5 7. Qd2 Be6 8. f4 Qd7?!

This is a bit unusual and committal, since it largely immobilizes the Be6, making it vulnerable to Nf3-g5. Keep in mind that for now, this is Black’s good bishop.

9. Nf3 Nge7 10. O-O O-O

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After 10…O-O

I tend to think more of White’s chances than other people in these kinds of positions. Black’s position is reasonably solid, but White has a natural possibilities of doubling on the f-file and playing Bh6 or even c2-c3/d3-d4 if Black is slow. White’s bishop does not look great at the moment, but exf5 (if Black goes for the usual …f5 break) changes that outlook a bit. Note again that Black’s light-squared bishop is mostly stuck, and the potential loss of that bishop is a problem if he plays …f5.

11. Rf2 Rae8 12. Raf1 f5?! 

Black tries this anyway, but the task of defending the light squares (and dark-squares – see later) becomes a long term problem.

13. Ng5 Nd4 14. Nxe6 Nxe6

 

 

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After 14…Nxe6

15. fxe5

I’m always a bit hesitant to break this out too early (in this case, rooks will be “traded” quickly) but otherwise Black plays …exf4 himself, unleashing the dark-squared bishop. As it turns out, White has plenty of options left.

15…Bxe5 16. Bh6 Bd4 17. Bxf8 Rxf8 18. Kh1 Bxf2 19. Rxf2 

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After 19. Rxf2

Since a lot of pieces have been traded off and all of Black’s weak points are defended, it looks like there’s a lot less play. But White’s pieces have a lot more potential; Black has to watch out for Nd5, and if the e4 and f5 pawns are traded, Ne4 and the light-squared bishop in general. Perhaps Black would like to trade rooks, but doing that too hastily would allow White’s queen to be too active. Finally, Black has still a number of weak squares – currently defended, but not necessarily in the long term.

19…Ng7 20. Kg1 b6 21. Bh3

Trying to keep Black’s pieces tied down on the f-file and c8-h3 diagonal.

21…d5?!

One way to try and activate the queen, but this allows White’s queen an easy way in and now d5 (and e4 if the pawn moves) is a weak point White will try to exploit.

22. exf5! Ngxf5 23. Qf4 

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After 23. Qf4

23…Rf7 24. Qe5 

This immediately threatens 25. Bg2, either winning the d5-pawn or allowing the devastating Ne4 if …d4. Black’s only defense that I can see is to swing back with …Rf7-f8-d8.

24…d4?? 25. Ne4 Nd5

Forced, but White has quite a few ways to finish things off. One is to simply ensure Nf6.

26. c4 dxc3 27. bxc3 Re7 (otherwise, 28. c4) 28. Qxd5+ 1-0

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After 28. Qxd5

In the end, White won by exploiting the advantages from earlier. This goes to show how advantages that look small and manageable at one time are not necessarily the same later!