…Nf6-d7 – Undermining the e5 Square

With fewer than 50 days until the US Junior Open, I’ve finally returned to Richmond to start the summer. It’s been an eventful first year attending Pitt, but with the second semester in the books, I’m really excited to start preparing for my trip to New Orleans!

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With only so much time between now and my flight south, I’ve put together a study schedule to prepare for the event. Somehow an hour of daily exercise made my list…

Playing in Pittsburgh definitely offered me more playing opportunities, and while my rating didn’t change much, I still managed to break 2100 and earn the Candidate Master title this year, not to mention a nearly unbeaten record for the University of Pittsburgh (9 wins, 3 draws, and only 1 loss in team matches). I do get the impression, however, that to some extent, my ability to gain rating points was dampened by my schoolwork, and hopefully my appearances in New York City, Washington D.C., and Charlotte will give me the opportunity to prove that going into the US Junior Open.

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2016 Pittsburgh Metropolitan Open. Can you spot me?

That’s enough about me, I thought today I would discuss an interesting idea in queen’s pawn structures, specifically when 1. d4 is met with …d7-d5. Let’s sample the position below.

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Here we have a position where White has played the London System and has achieved control over the e5 square. Should White anchor a piece here, it’s up to Black to know how to undermine White’s center. This position can also occur in various Stonewall positions as well, here’s a case where I mishandled the pressure back in 2012.

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White to Move

Steincamp–Armentrout (Eastern Open, 2012)

Despite my 1800 rating at the time, I’ve already shown my opponent here that I don’t understand Black’s objectives in the Stonewall with the poor choice 6… cxd5, eliminating Black’s worries over his bad bishop. Aside from that early blunder, the critical moment is actually here, where I elected 10. Nxe4? allowing my opponent to turn his space into a space advantage. Already, after 10… fxe4 11. Nc3 Nf6 12. 0-0 0-0, White is already visibly worse.

My bishop on g2 is poor, and I’ve spent two moves to get my knight to c3 where it does absolutely nothing. Realizing the poor state of affairs, I tried to break through with 13. f3, only to find after 13… exf3 14. Bxf3 Bh3 15. Bg2 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 =+ that White simply has too many light-squared weaknesses and a weak e3 pawn for no compensation.

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I went on to lose 15 moves later in what would turn out to be the worst tournament of my career.

So it’s evident that handling your opponent’s control over the e4/e5 square in such closed positions is of extreme importance. If we look back, White would have been much better served trying 10. f3, though I’m convinced that even with this improvement White is still worse.

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The bishop on f4 is misplaced, and thanks to an early trade on d5, the e3 pawn proves a liability. But at least here you can see that White can try for an e3-e4 break to limit Black’s hold on the center. The resulting position will leave White with an isolated queen’s pawn, but at least it will be my best shot at equality.

In reality, when your opponent uses the e4/e5 square as an outpost, you really have two options, to kick it with your f-pawn, or to trade pieces. Each option has its perks.

For my first showcase example, I want to use the opening of a game I discussed upon the relaunch of chess^summit last fall. If you want to see the whole game, you can watch it here:

Ou – Steincamp (Washington International, 2015)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5

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With White’s choice of 3. Nc3, I opted for this move, …d7-d5. White’s plan is to control e5, and perhaps have a well timed h-pawn push to weaken my kingside.

4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 O-O 6.Be2 b6

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The “safe” option for Black. I have the option of …Bc8-b7 and …Bc8-a6 with this move, but more realistically, I’m planning …c7-c5 to contest the center the one way White can’t, the flank.

7.Ne5

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And we’ve reached the critical concept for today. Here White puts a knight on e5 with the intention of playing f2-f3 and e3-e4, paralyzing Black. I can’t afford to let this knight stay on the e5 square, as my b8 knight cannot easily develop without ceding the c6 square for White’s knight. In this position where White holds the static advantage, its critical that Black play dynamically to breakthrough. Before taking any drastic measures, I quickly protect the d5 pawn to make my next move possible!

7…c6 8.O-O Nfd7!

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A backwards knight move! Though seemingly counterintuitive, the idea is to play …f7-f6 seizing control over e5, while simultaneously preapring an …e7-e5 push myself. Should White trade on d7, I develop with tempo – 9. Nxd7? Nxd7 10. h3 e5 11. Bh2 =+ Already it’s clear that the intiative has shifted.

9.f3 Nxe5

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It might also be acceptable to try 9… f6, but here I thought it made sense to trade since Black is cramped and now White must make some sort of concession on e5. My opponent chose to recapture with the bishop, which gave me quick play in the center.

10.Bxe5 f6 11.Bg3 e5

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Suddenly it’s White who has concerns over his weak center, and 12. e4 seems to give White more problems than solutions. I went on to win a nice game, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly encourage you to check out my video on it!

In this next example, White transposes into a Stonewall structure. Note how this time my pieces are much more effectively placed than they were back in 2012.

Mucerino–Steincamp (Pennsylvania G/29 State Championships, 2016)

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 c5?!

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Not my typical choice, but I knew my opponent would stick to his repertoire and not take the pawn on c5 given the short time control. In return, I got a fantastic position.

5.e3 O-O 6.c3 b6 7.Bd3

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From what I’ve come to understand, this bishop really belongs on e2, but here it still offers control over the e4 square. My next two moves make it difficult for White to push his e3 pawn to claim the center.

7…Bb7 8.O-O d5

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A rather simple position. White’s gotten the simplistic development he wanted, but its not quite clear where he should go from here. That being said, White tried putting a knight on e5 to expand on the kingside.

9.Ne5 Nfd7!

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The star move for today! With both …f7-f6 and …Nd7xe5 threatened, White must act with urgency.

10.f4 Nxe5

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Black is prepared to break White’s central grip with his next move, …f7-f6. I think 10…f6 was also worthy of consideration 11. Nxd7 Qxd7 (getting off of the h4-d8 diagonal to prepare …e7-e5) 12. Bh4 e5 =+ and White has a slightly worse position

11.fxe5 f6 12.exf6 exf6 13.Bh4 Qe8!

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Despite a convincing win over an expert the last round, my coach, GM Eugene Perelshteyn told me that this was the best move I made this tournament. Not only does this move evade the pin on f6, but it puts pressure on the backward e3 pawn while also stopping e3-e4. My next move, 14…f5 locks in this weakness.

14.Qf3 f5

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At the cost of weakening the e5 square, I managed to turn e3 into a permanent structural weakness.

15.Qf4 Nd7 16.Rae1 Nf6 17.dxc5 bxc5 18.Qc7 Qc6?=

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Trading queens is the right idea, but it was critical to force the exchange on c8 not c6 to stop White’s resource c3-c4. By trading on c6, I could meet the push with …Bc8-a6! pinning the pawn to the unprotected d3 bishop.

Given the nature of the short time control, the advantage shifted sides throughout the rest of the game, ultimately reaching a drawn rook and pawn ending.

Today’s post showed how Black can effectively undermine an outpost on e5 with the maneuver …Nf6-d7 (White can do the same with Nf3-d2 to attack e4!) to break White’s hold on the center without creating any real positional concessions. It may not work for every closed position, but it’s definitely a mechanism worth knowing for the future!

Novice Notice! – Free Game Analysis

In today’s free game analysis post, I wanted to discuss a game sent to me by an aspiring chess player from the Virginia Beach area. The game we will review today was played on chess.com, but nonetheless has great instructional value for some of chess^summit’s less-experienced followers. Let’s have a look!

Bchninja4–OhhhJordan (chess.com, 2016)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.O-O Bg4 6.h3

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As a former Ruy Lopez Exchange player, I had this position quite a few times when I used to play 1. e4. Black deviates from main line theory with his next move, which is why I recommend the sharp 6…h5! as a way of testing White’s theoretical knowledge. Black’s move was fine too, it just simply failed to put any pressure on White throughout the game.
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This is technically a piece sacrifice, but the bishop is poisoned! Should White get greedy and play 7. hxg4? hxg4 and White must give back the piece and major initiative because of …Qd8-h4 threatening mate along the h-file.
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White is not advised to take the bishop, and should instead consider 7. d3. Black’s line is dangerous, but with sufficient independent research, White fairs respectably well in this line.

6…Bh5 7.Nc3 Bd6 8.d3 h6

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Rather than developing, Black spent a move here stopping Bg5 with this move. While there may not be anything particularly wrong with this move, I think that if Black were truly afraid of Bc1-g5, he should have played 7… f6 a few moves ago. Let’s look at that position.
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7… f6 seems like the antithesis of normal play, but I actually like the resulting move a lot more than the position Black got in the game. With this move, Black protects e5 and takes away the g5 square, giving Black the flexibility to put his f8 bishop on a much more active square like c5. Furthermore, should White chase the bishop on h5, we have a retreat square on f7, which puts the bishop on a diagonal that can still exploit White’s lack of a light-squared bishop. Of course, this takes away the f6 square for Black’s knight, but it saves a move compared to Black’s position in the game, while also allowing Black to be more active.

9.Kh1

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Not a bad move but such prophylactic measures should generally be taken after development is complete. Black has no concrete threats on the king so White should have instead continued with 9. Be3 to begin connecting the rooks. Furthermore, moves like Kg1-h1 are made for a concrete reason, usually concerning the safety of the king. Since the h1 and g1 squares are roughly equivalent, this would not apply. My last thought would be that perhaps White wants to push f2-f4, and thus 9.Kh1 would move the king off the a7-g1 diagonal. This could be a plan in the future, but with the pin on the f3 knight, I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

9…Nf6 10.a3

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It was at this point of the game that I realized that White had no real plan! But that’s okay – first finishing development with a move like 10. Be3 would have definitely pushed White in the right direction. Still, after that, the position doesn’t really seem to provide a clear-cut plan. When I put the position into Stockfish, the computer says 11. Nb1 is the best move, rerouting the knight to d2. In an effort to come up with ‘human’ moves, I thought 11. Rg1 fit in best with the position, seeing as the king had already made way, and a future g2-g4 push would eliminate the pin.

This being said, the position doesn’t promise either side an advantage and relies on one side agitating the balance. The problem for White is that the pin on f3 is hard to break. Should the queen move, the f-pawns become doubled after Black takes on f3. Without a light squared bishop, White’s ability to flexible is extremely limited. Using the prompting from the engine and the main lines following 6… h5, I think the ergonomically correct way to hanldle the position was to play 7. d3, with the idea of getting the knight to d2.

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This particular structure gives White a lot more long term play. Without a knight on c3, White can consider a future central break of c2-c3 and d3-d4, while simultaneously not having to worry about the pin on f3 as much. While Black is solid, I think the second player still has to prove equality to some degree here.

And with that theoretical side note, we return to the game.

10…O-O 11.b4?

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I’m not sure what White’s plan is here, but as we discussed, it’s not so easy to find one. This move gets a question mark because it gives Black the resource …c6-c5!, trading off his biggest structural weakness. One thing you must remember when playing the Ruy Lopez Exchange is that your compensation for the bishop pair is Black’s doubled pawns. While this won’t mean much in the middlegame, White’s intention is to be structurally better in most endgames, giving him the best winning chances. With this move, White potentially gives up this small advantage, and now Black can seize the initiative.

11…a5

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Missing the point! Yet Black does still keep the initiative seeing as White must ruin his structure with an isolated a-pawn.

12.bxa5 Rxa5 13.Bb2 =+

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I think here White realized the cost of his b2-b4 move. Now instead of being an active bishop on e3, the piece is practically on a pawn. Unfortunately, since the pawn on e5 is sufficiently protected, the pressure White put’s on it is imaginary. Black has a static advantage here.

13…Qe7

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A strong move! Both protecting the e5 pawn and putting pressure on a3. I would have also considered 13… Qa8! and after 14. a4 Qa7! as White must now continuously protect f2, thus punishing the early Kg1-h1 move. I don’t often highlight works of others, but I have to admit,  this idea I had was inspired by Simon Williams’ recent article on chess.com where he discussed diagonals, and their importance to the game of chess. It’s definitely worth a read, and I guess I have to wonder if I would have found this …Qa7 idea without it.

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14.a4 b5??

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Losing everything!! When you have the static advantage, you must maximize it. As Iossif Dorfman wrote, a static advantage will always become a material advantage. Black had to keep playing statically to ensure the steady growth of his advantage. Ideas like …Rf8-a8 and …Nf6-d7-c5 come to mind.

15.axb5 Rxb5

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Given how Black has played up to this point, I’m relatively shocked that he decided to give up so much material instead of admitting his mistake by taking on a1 and losing the pawn. While I like sacrificing the exchange as much as the next guy, there needs to be concrete compensation to make such a sacrifice. With the a- and b- files opening, I’m not seeing how Black was intending to continue. Moral of the story? Respect the relative value of material! While assigning point values to each piece may seem silly (especially in different contexts), we learn this heuristic to appreciate the relative value of pieces in most positions. Here it was much better to be down one pawn rather than an exchange.

16.Nxb5 cxb5 17.c4?

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A simple error from White as he must give up a pawn after Black trades on c4. I’m willing to bet this was directly related to White just having won a piece. In chess, it’s really important to control our emotions. Being too excited can mean losing an entire advantage and perhaps even losing. Don’t believe me? Here’s a flashback!

17…bxc4 18.dxc4 Nxe4 19.Qe2 Bxf3 20.gxf3 Qh4?

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Again, respect the relative value of material! In this position, Black cannot hope to mate with just a queen. If Black had just moved the knight, there was a small chance that he could have made something of the extra pawn – but now the position is just lost.

The players simplified, but 21 moves later White lost on time in a completely winning position. That being said, I think the main points for this game have already been made.

Black wasn’t just slightly better, he was strategically winning! However by rushing into things with b5, and getting impatient by sacrificing material for no clear compensation, he quickly fell on the wrong side of the evaluation. As for White, his initial poor position derived from a lack of opening understanding and thus an inability to find a clear plan.

So the key word for today’s game? Relax. Both sides at points had opportunities to improve the quality of the game with clear-cut calculation.

If you liked today’s free game analysis, make sure to send your games to chess.summit@gmail.com so I can review them in my next post!

Boxing the Bishop!

One poorly placed piece makes your whole position bad

–Siegbert Tarrasch

Learn how this one quote dictated the pace of an entire game! In this short time control game, I managed to box in my opponent’s dark squared bishop on a7 throughout the middle game.

This game for me was kind of a return to positional play for me. Lately, my games have been a lot more tactical and dynamic, but I do have to admit, I somewhat missed the soul-crushing kinds of positions quality static play got.

Anyways, here’s one way to slay the Karpov system against the English!

Playing with Fire – Pawn Sacrifice for Long Term Compensation

Today’s video features an important game I played yesterday in the Pittsburgh Chess League. My opponent missed one opportunity to get play, but after that, all bets were off as I was left pressing in the final position.

This was a crucial fixture for the University of Pittsburgh, as the winner of the match would clinch the league title. In the end, our team won, pulling a 3-1 victory over the Carnegie Mellon alumni team.

The Tale of Two Bad …Nb6s! – From Pittsburgh to DC

I haven’t done a Free Game Analysis post in a while, so I was extremely pleased to get two game submissions this week from tournaments in both Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. If you too would like to have your game analyzed for free by me, send your game PGNs to chess.summit@gmail.com!

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Our first game is from Joe P’s last round of last week’s Pittsburgh Open. Joe scored 3.5/5 in the U1800 section, and saw a rating boost of 71 points to break 1600! Congrats Joe!

Mattis–Pleso (71st Annual Pittsburgh Open, 2016)
1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Nf3 Nb6

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Instinctively, I don’t like this move. Black moves the knight a second time and it’s not quite clear what the compensation is. Attacking the c4 pawn and provoking White to push it to c5 gives White a space advantage, with Black’s knight forced to move once again.

So what should Black do instead? The main lines in this position are 6…0-0 and 6… c6 with the intention of keeping a closed position, and standard QGD play. While there’s nothing objectively wrong with this, Black doesn’t score very well at the top level.

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With this quick look in ChessBase’s free online Mega Database, Black only has two decisive games in the position after 6… 0-0 7. Rc1. If you look at some of the names, strong players like Sargissian, Naiditsch, and Kryvoruchko all lost to lower rated players in this line. Black’s relative passivity in this line makes life tough for Black, which is why I’m going to recommend the much more active set-up in the Ragozin. Putting the bishop on b4 instead of e7 gives Black alot more flexibility and space, and while there is plenty of theory, it’s clear that Black can play for a win in the opening.

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This position gives Black a little more life. It’s important that this isn’t a true Ragozin, since Black usually keeps the option of playing …Nb8-c6 open, meeting Bg5 with …h7-h6.

7. c5 Nbd7 8. Bd3 c6 9. O-O b5?

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A strategic error! With this push, we reach a padlock structure (check out the idea here). By reaching this kind of position, Black shuts down his own queenside counterplay, meaning that White is the only side that can press for the initiative. Think about it, if Black gets a pawn on b3, White can meet it with a2-a3, and if Black reaches a3, b2-b3 will shut down the queenside. Furthermore, if White does nothing, Black now has a very bad bishop on c8. Much better was 9… b6, putting pressure on the c5 pawn, while making the b7/a6 squares available for the c8 bishop to clear the way for a rook.

10. cxb6??

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This move justifies Black’s play. Now when Black recaptures on b6 with the a-pawn, Black will have dynamic chances with a …c6-c5 push, as well as pressure on the a2 pawn.
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This brings us back to the importance of statics and dynamics. Just a move ago, White was statically better, and could simply improve his own position. However, by changing the structure and taking a dynamic measure, Black’s resulting position is vastly improved. To learn more about static play, make sure to check out my October Article!

10…axb6 11. a3 Ba6

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A practical decision. Here Black trades off the light squared bishops, getting rid of his worst piece. Furthermore, this reduces White’s ability to defend squares like e4 and c4. Let’s see if this becomes an issue.

12. Bxa6 Rxa6 13. Qd3 Ra8 14. Rfc1 h6 15. Bxf6 Bxf6

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Well the typical recapture would be with the knight, right? Maybe, but I like this better. If Black can play …c6-c5, he can put even more pressure on d4 with a bishop on f6. From d7, Black’s knight not only controls e5 and c5, but safeguards the weak pawn on b6.

16. Ne2 c5 17. dxc5?

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One thing I’ve discovered about lower rated play is that less experienced players HATE structural tension. In this case, Black’s bishop is opened (even with a quick cheap shot on b2!) and he trades off his last weak pawn, b6. Much better was 17. b3, preventing …c5-c4. I’m not quite sure what White intends with his knight on e2, since it doesn’t exactly have many great squares.

17…bxc5?!

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Opting for structural solidarity over a tactical shot. In his analysis, Joe sent me the following computer line: 17… Bxb2 18. c6 Nc5 19. Qb5 Bxa1 20. c7+ Qd7 21. Qxb6 Na4 22. Qb7 Rc8 23. Rxa1 Nc5 24. Qb4 Qxc7 25. Ned4
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Black is clearly better here but had to make a lot of precise moves to hold on to the advantage. Sure, being able to see this line would have been nice, but not being able to clearly see the right continuation and taking on c5 instead is the much more practical choice.

18. Rab1 Qb6

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This move isn’t exactly precise, as White’s idea is at some moment to push b4 and rid himself of this weak b2 pawn. Rather than checking an engine for the best line here, I encourage you to ask yourself how to limit White’s play. If you found 18… c4!, then you’ve found the best way to take control of the position. Black’s knight will move to c5 with nice options on b3 and d3, and it’s White who must find ways to break out of his shell.

19. Ng3

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This knight does a lot of dancing over the next few moves, watch it jump on its quest to nowhere… White really needed to keep the knight on the queenside, since that’s where the battle is being fought.

19…Ne5

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I’m not a fan of this move, as Black’s knight on d7 does a lot more than White’s. 19… 0-0 was the computer move, but 19… h5?! is an interesting alternative, with the idea of marching the h pawn down the board to attack.

20. Nxe5 Bxe5 21. Qe2 O-O 22. Nf1 Rfb8 23. Nd2 Bd6?

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I understood before, but why not take on b2? The pawn won’t get much weaker than it is presently and White has no way of exploiting the pin by tactical means, thanks to the bad knight on d2.

24. Qd1 Ra5 25. a4 c4?

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I think Black’s future problems stem from this move. Unfortunatelty, its already unclear how to convert Blacks bishop v knight advantage. My best guess is a long term plan of …Qa7, provoking b2-b3, then play …Rb8-b7 and …Qa7-b8, targeting both b3 and h2. It’s a long term fight, and it’s becoming clear that Black lost his chance when he didn’t take on b2.

26. b3 cxb3 27. Rxb3 Qa7 28. Rxb8+ Qxb8 29. g3 Qa8 30. Ra1 Be5 31. Ra2 Ra7 32. Nf3 Bf6 33. Qd2??

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White was so close to equality, but here White willingly loses a pawn for close to no compensation. White could have tried Nd4 or h4, but this move is clearly inferior.

33…Rxa4 34. Rxa4 Qxa4 35. Kg2 Qe4 36. Qd1 Kh7 37. Kg1 Kg6 38. h3 Qf5 39. Kh2 Qe4 40. Qe2 e5 41. Nd2 Qc2 42. Kg2 Kh7 43. Kf1 Be7 44. Nf3

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There have been some small inaccuracies leading up to this moment, but this move is practically a resignation. While you wouldn’t believe it from this position, a knight and queen is usually stronger than a queen and bishop due to the unusual combinations of squares they can control. Giving up that advantage means going into a position down a pawn where Black has a bishop over a knight. White really should have never brought the knight back to d2, but now cedes the trade without a fight.

44…Qxe2+45. Kxe2 f6 46. Nd2 Bb4 47. Nb3 Kg6 48. Na1

Where is he going?
Where is he going?

48…Kf7 49. Nc2 Bc5 50. Kd3 Ke7 51. Kc3 Kd7 52. Kb3 Kc6 53. Nb4+

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Walking into a lost pawn endgame. A poor decision by White. Black played reasonably well to secure the win, trading off a couple pawns to create a passed pawn.

53…Bxb4 54. Kxb4 h5 55. f3 g5 56. f4 h4 57. gxh4 gxh4 58. Kb3 Kc5 59. Kc3 exf4 60. exf4 f5 61. Kd3 d4 62. Kc2 Kd6 63. Kd2 Kc5 64. Kd3 Kd5 0-1

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My thoughts on the game? Aside from the opening, Black was never really in trouble of losing the game, but at times played too passively. White should have secured the half point, but Black played the better game. Congrats Joe on the strong finish and the big rating gain!

On to our next game, from Jeffrey, a chess^summit fan and my former teammate from my MLWGS days. Jeffrey’s currently at the Virginia Open, and after a rocky start, managed to pick up a round 2 win to reach 1.5/2. Let’s see how it went!

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Jeffrey playing GM Sergey Erenburg in a simul back in late 2014. Since then, Jeff has managed to break 1700, and is trying to fit into the tough world that is adult chess.

Song – Cahill (48th Annual Virginia Open, 2016)

1.f4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6 6.d3 Nbd7 7.e4

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Even though the Bird’s Opening may not be the most conventional weapon, it’s different, and can still reach reasonable positions. Here White could transpose into a Closed Sicilian if Black were to choose …c7-c5 for his next move.

7…e5

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As a King’s Indian player, I’m not thrilled with this choice for Black. Usually, Black plays …e7-e5 to undermine the d4 square to control critical outposts like c5, but here the position is different. I think the most sound move is 7… c5 going into a semi-Sicilian, but the knight on d7 does make it hard for Black to play moves like …Bg4 and …Nd4. One reason I switched out of the Nbd7 King’s Indian lines was that it wasn’t very flexible and could often lead to passive positions with innacurate play.

8.Nc3 c6 9.h3 Re8?

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Whenever I play against the King’s Indian, I’m always thrilled to see this move. Here, with the pawn on e4 protected by the d3 pawn, this …Re8 move actually does nothing! Keeping the rook on f8 is a thematic resource, not only to play …f7-f5, but to protect the f-file in some positions. Black has bigger problems right now besides the placement of his rook such as development and space.

10.Nh4

Knight on the rim is grim! Or is it? This is a new move for me, but it does help push the f-pawn to f5.
Knight on the rim is grim! Or is it? This is a new move for me, but it does help push the f-pawn to f5. While it’s a neat idea, this move tactically fails to 10… exf4 11. gxf4 Nd5! and the h4 knight is hanging. Honestly, White doesn’t need the support of the knight to play f5, it might even be worth a pawn later if black were to cripple his structure by taking with g.

10…Nb6?

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Just like the last game, another bad …Nb6! While it technically opens the bishop, where can it actually go? Again, like last game, Black has wasted two tempi with this knight to go nowhere. A much better plan would have been 10… a5 with the idea of …Nd7-c5! A much more active square. If you are going to play a modern style of chess, you must be prepared to be active. The King’s Indian is the least forgiving to passive players.

11.a4 d5 12.a5

I think both 12. fxe5 and 12. f5 are possible here, but upon further evaluation, White’s choice doesn’t really matter since Black’s plan should be …Nf6-h5 with the idea of putting pressure on f4. Black’s opening play has been kind of poor, but White’s play hasn’t exaclty been punishing. I analyzed the move order with an engine and came to a few conclusions.

First, Nf3-h4 was a waste of time in this position, not only because it should have failed tactically, but it loses the value of having played 1. f4. What do I mean? Well if you think about it, White can reach a similar position in a King’s Indian Attack set-up:

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This has a structural resemblance to the game, but now White must move the knight on f3 to execute f2-f4. Since f5 is occupied, the knight usually goes to e1 and then returns to f3 to be able to enter the fray via g5 after f2-f4 has been played. White’s first move enabled him to not lose this tempo.
Knight on the rim is grim! Or is it? This is a new move for me, but it does help push the f-pawn to f5.
If you think about it, with a Black pawn on g6, White doesn’t exactly have a landing square for this knight besides f3, so to go back to my original question, the knight is grim!

Next, 9. h3 is what gives Black the …Nh5 resource since g3 is weakened. Usually this move is played to allow for Bc1-e3, taking away the g4 square from the knight, but seeing as Jeffrey didn’t play this move, 9. a4! would have been much more prudent.Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 18.42.59

It’s not that we are expecting Black to play the poor 9…Nb6? its just that this move restricts Black’s ability to expand with …b7-b5 on the queenside. Now it’s up to Black to come up with ideas. 9… a5 is a natural move for Black to secure the c5 outpost, but a knight on c5 won’t help Black with the pawn on d3. White can just play Kh1 followed by f4-f5. Also reasonable is b2-b3 and Bc1-a3 putting pressure on d6 once the f4-e5 tension is resolved (I will admit this is less agressive).

Anyways, I thought it was interesting that Black still had a tenable position after violating several opening principles.

12…d4

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So who gained the most out of this sequence? Black managed to expand in the center, but in doing so drives White’s knight to a more productive square, d2. Meanwhile, Black must retreat the knight back to d7, and still is way behind in development.

13.Ne2 Nbd7 14.f5 c5 +=

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Black’s limited development makes it extremely difficult to mobilize his forces, but I think Black’s best plan is follow-up with a …c5-c4 push, with the idea of placing a knight on c5 pressuring d3.

15.Qe1 b5 16.g4 Qe7?

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Simply too slow. Black has no time and must act with 19…c4. My guess is that Black was afraid of 20. Qb4, but 20… Ba6 21. dxc4?! Bf8 22. Qe1 bxc4 it becomes clear that this would only help Black mobilize his army.
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Following the sample line. Black is arguably better here with the strong a6 bishop, and the f8 bishop ready to come into c5. Obviously, White had much better in 20. Bf3.
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And my chief concern becomes the threat of g4-g5. My proposed move doesn’t really give Black an answer, but neither did the text’s move. With Black already this far behind, it’s fair to believe Black is strategically, in large part to the idea of Nb6.

17.Bf3 Qd6 18.g5 Nxe4

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Black gives up material instead of …Nh5. This doesn’t bode well for Black.

19.Bxe4 Rb8 20.Ng3 Bb7 21.Bd2!

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A very practical decision by Jeffrey. Instead of rushing manners on the kingside, he maximizes the overall optimization of his pieces before going in for the kill. Now the rook on a1 can join the fight. This is a great way to save time on the clock and maintain pressure over the board.

21…Bxe4 22.Nxe4 Qc6 23.Qg3 c4 24.Bb4 Bf8 25.Bxf8 Rxf8 26.f6?

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Trying to do too much. White is better because of material, but this move slows his ability to win. 26. Nf6+! was a lot more simple, the idea being that 26… Nxf6 27. gxf6 Qxf6 28. fxg6, and Black’s queen and king are both under fire.
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Black is lost. From f6, White’s knight is untouchable in the combination, and should Black not capture it, White will bring in his rooks to the kingside before busting open the g-file.

26…Rbe8 27.Nf5??

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This is too much, not to mention the combination actually fails! The idea is that if 27… gxf5! 28. Rxf5 Kh8! Black’s king is extremely safe, and after …Rf8-g8, White’s king could be under fire.
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One of the reasons I didn’t like f5-f6 was that it makes it very difficult to attack Black’s king. White doesn’t have many points of entry to the kingside aside from g7, and with the pawn on g4, it’s not quite clear how White will make progress. This diagram here is the structure if Black had taken on f5. As you can see, it’s not so simple to breakthrough. Sure White was up a piece anyways, but the f-pawn push followed by …Nf5 was a failure of tactical foresight.

27…Re6 28.Ne7+ Rxe7

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Out of frustration, Black gives up the rook, and in doing so, the game.

29.fxe7 Re8 30.Nf6+ Nxf6 31.Rxf6 Qd7 32.Qg4 Qxe7 33.Re1 Qb4 34.Qg3 Qxb2 35.Rxe5 Rxe5 36.Qxe5 Qc1+ 37.Rf1 Qe3+ 38.Qxe3 dxe3 39.dxc4 1-0

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This game was a lot more tactical than the first, but also proved as another exemplar as to why these …Nb6 ideas don’t work. Sure, Black got away with it in the first game, but that was White’s choice, not Black’s genius. As a coach, I’ve noticed that this manuever, though incorrect, has been played alot by lower rated players. When I started working with one of my current students, he played a line of the King’s Indian like this:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 c5 7.d5 Nbd7 8.O-O Nb6

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Of the three cases we’ve discussed today, this is the worst …Nb6, and while my student knows much better now, I think it shows that even at the 1400 level, this move still shows up.

If we’ve learned anything today, it’s that this amateur-ish …Nb6 idea is not only a weak move, but its a bad plan! It’s passive, and it slows the natural expansion of the queenside for Black. In more active openings like the King’s Indian, this move is even more unforgiveable since Black falls behind too many tempo in the sharp position.

Well, I hope you’ve made it this far – this is my longest free game analysis post yet. Make sure to send your games into chess.summit@gmail.com to have your game analyzed by me in my next post!

Rough Weekend Makes For Tough Lessons

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My first game had me on board 1, taking on Grandmaster Alexander Fishbein. The game took five hours, and though I lost, it was a reasonably well-fought game on my behalf.

Well – I wish I could say that a week of intensive study and deep preparation paid off, but I simply had a rough outing at the Pittsburgh Open this past weekend. Only scoring 1/4 in the top section, the weekend’s performance showed me that the road to becoming a master and playing for the US Junior Open is a lot longer than I had anticipated.

While there were a lot of negatives for me in this event, I did want to share my second round match-up.

Steincamp–Opaska (Pittsburgh Open, 2016)

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.d4

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Once again I opted for this c4-d4-e3 set-up, it’s really easy to play since it’s mostly intuitive. I knew my opponent can play the English, so going for this meant there was a greater chance he wasn’t familiar with the opening.

5…cxd4 6.exd4 d6 7.d5

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Already, I have vast central control, and it’s up to Black to come up with solutions. The computer already loves my position, since Black must now decide on an awkward knight move.

7…Nb8 8.h3 Nh6 9.Bd3 O-O 10.O-O Na6 11.Re1 Nc5 12.Bg5

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Willing to give up the bishop pair if it means provoking …f7-f6.

12…f6 13.Bf4 Nf7 14.Bf1

I thought this was a good decision when compared to Bc2. I decided that Black having a light squared bishop is inconvenient since going to f5 would block in the dark squared bishop, so going to c2 wasn’t as appealing.
I thought this was a good decision when compared to Bc2. I decided that Black having a light squared bishop is inconvenient since going to f5 would block in the dark squared bishop, so going to c2 where a trade was possible wasn’t as appealing.

14…e5??

 I was super happy when I saw this, I thought after 14… a5 then …Ne5, Black had a respectable position. Now the pawn on d6 is a major liability.
I was super happy when I saw this, I thought after 14… a5 then …Ne5, Black had a respectable position. Now the pawn on d6 is a major liability.

15.dxe6 Nxe6 16.Bh2 f5 17.Nb5 Bxb2 18.Rb1

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I will win the pawn on d6, so in this trade, I got an opportunity to claim the half-open b-file. Black’s lack of development makes his position quite uncomfortable.

18…Bg7 19.Nxd6 Nxd6

And the initiative is all mine. I had calculated 19… f4 (I suppose this was Black’s intention after f5), 20. Nxf7 Qxd1 21. Rbxd1 Rxf7 22. Rd6 and if 22… Re7 the f4 pawn is hanging and I have the option of 23. Ng5 and Black’s lack of development is a real problem.
And the initiative is all mine. I had calculated 19… f4 (I suppose this was Black’s intention after f5), 20. Nxf7 Qxd1 21. Rbxd1 Rxf7 22. Rd6 and if 22… Re7 the f4 pawn is hanging and I have the option of 23. Ng5 and Black’s lack of development is a real problem.

20.Bxd6 Re8 21.Qd5 Kh8 22.Ne5 Qh4 23.g3 Qf6

He didn’t play this the first time around, so I had prepared a fun line 23.. Qh5 24. Be2 Qxh3 25. Nf7+ Kg8 26. Ng5 Qh6 27. Bf4 and black is losing thanks to the pin on the knight and discovery soon to happen on the queen on h6.
He didn’t play this the first time around, so I had prepared a fun line 23.. Qh5 24. Be2 Qxh3 25. Nf7+ Kg8 26. Ng5 Qh6 27. Bf4 and black is losing thanks to the pin on the knight and discovery soon to happen on the queen on h6.

24.f4 h6 25.h4 Kh7 26.Nf3?

Pressed for time, I made this mistake, which relieved too much pressure. 26. c5 is so much cleaner, since ...g6-g5 isn't really a problem. Once the h-file opens, I can just play Re1-e2-h2 and have a comfortable grip on the position.
Pressed for time, I made this mistake, which relieved too much pressure. 26. c5 is so much cleaner, since …g6-g5 isn’t really a problem. Once the h-file opens, I can just play Re1-e2-h2 and have a comfortable grip on the position.

26…Rd8 27.Rbd1 Nd4?? 28.Rxd4 1-0

A mistake in mutual time trouble. As you may have noticed, while the computer evaluation is roughly equal before the knight blunder, it is difficult to find constructive moves for Black.
A mistake in mutual time trouble. As you may have noticed, while the computer evaluation is roughly equal before the knight blunder, it is difficult to find constructive moves for Black.

My only point of the weekend, but hopefully the short-term disappointment will lead to long-term success. I have a match for the Universtiy of Pittsburgh in two weeks, and I don’t intend to let that one go.

 

Central Dominance: A Bad Benoni Breeds Bad Play for Black

With less than 24 hours before my first round of the Pittsburgh Open kicks off, I thought I’d share another game of mine from the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Open. While I wasn’t happy with my finish in that event, it’s certainly propelled me to work harder this week in each phase of the game. I’m not sure what that means for this weekend in what should be a tough open section of Continental Chess’ Pittsburgh Open, but confidence is never a bad thing to have.

I like the game I’m about to share, because to an extent, it balances practicality with precise play, while at the same time showing what happens when your opponent jumps ship on opening principles. My opponent is a young, ambitious player who is closing in on 1700, let’s see how he holds up.

Steincamp – Cao (71st Annual Pittsburgh Metropolitan Open, 2016)

1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3

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I’m really starting to embrace this kind of play for White, not necessarily because it is theoretically dangerous, but a lot of the play is intuitive – meaning a lot less study time. My knowledge of this position has grown exponentially since I used it in the last round of the National Chess Congress back in November.

4…e6 5.d4 b6??

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A concrete error on behalf of my opponent. Failing to realize the importance of the center, my opponent will now lose time retreating his pieces.

6.d5 exd5 7.cxd5 Ne7 +=

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Black’s queenside expansion kind of resembles a Benoni, but his development is so slow that he won’t be able to find the counter play he needs in time. Meanwhile, I can push the center and restrict my opponent’s development.

8.e4

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Moving the pawn a second time is justified since my opponent will have moved his e7 knight 3 times once it finds refuge on g6.

8…d6 9.h3!

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An important decision! In the Benoni, Black usually likes to trade off his c8 bishop for the knight on f3. My opponent, only now opening up the light-squared bishop with his last move, prompts me to take away the g4 square.

9…Ng6 10.Bd3 Ne5? 11.Nxe5 dxe5

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Trading on e5 was not in Black’s interest. Not only did he move this knight 4 times in the first 11 moves just to trade it, he also gives me a protected passed pawn, giving me another long-term advantage. In addition to space and development, this will also wreak havoc on Black’s position.

12.a4

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In a position like this, where there’s no clear plan yet for White, it’s important to feel out Black’s position. This pawn thrust is a natural way of gaining space while also stopping Black from playing …b7-b5. If Black doesn’t play …a7-a6, I might be able to break through with a4-a5 ideas.

12…a6 13.O-O Bd6 14.f4

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Taking advantage of Black’s lack of development. Should Black try to trade on f4, it will only help me develop while Black’s king is still in the center of the board.

14…O-O 15.f5

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This f-pawn thrust alone is how I broke 1900 (see my 2014 post on the idea here). By cutting off the light-squared bishop from the game, I can opt to play on the kingside, or I can continue to build my advantage around the rest of the board. Since Black lacks activity here, I decided that it would be easiest to draw out the game, let him suffer, leaving me with easy decisions.

15…Qc7 16.Bc4!

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A surprisingly critical moment. Black’s only hope was to play …c5-c4 and try to play along the dark squares. I think 16. b3 is also acceptable, but Black would still have the option to sacrifice on c4, so this move cuts out the nonsense.

16…Bd7 17.Bg5 Be7 18.Qd3

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So this is where practicality sets in. I’m sure some of you may have noticed the move 18. d6! was possible – and I spent some extensive time looking at this before making my decision. Here’s what I saw: 18. d6 Qxd6?? loses to 19. Qxd6 Bxd6 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. Rad1 and Black loses a bishop.
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So this is winning, Black must recapture on d6 with the bishop to avoid these tactics.
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18. d6 Bxd6 19. Bxf6 gxf6 20. Nd5 Qd8 +=
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So in exchange for a pawn, I have a great outpost, and I’ve managed to weaken Black’s structure. But even though I knew I was intuitively better, the game isn’t easier. Black might have some resources with …Kh8 and …Rg8, and if I mess up, I’m just down a pawn. My move 18. Qd3, keeps my options open. Let’s look at that position again:
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For starters, I’m attacking a6, which would put me up a pawn, not down one. Furthermore, now I’m actually threatening …d6 because if …Bxd6 I have Bxf6 and Ra1-d1, winning a piece. Even though I knew d6 probably worked, I figured I could reap more rewards if I just improved my position.

18…Rfd8 19.Bxa6 Rxa6 +-

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I was surprised to see this move. It might be the best try though – for my opponent, he forces me to calculate accurately, to ensure the safety of my queen, and he gets some counterplay. Unfortunately for him, I saw the forced continuation before I took the pawn on a6.

20.Qxa6 c4 21.d6!

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The move I was counting on! This zwischenzug will either allow me to have a strong pin on f6, or take the pawn on c4 with my queen.

21…Bxd6 22.Nd5

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The other advantage to playing d5-d6 was that it cleared a square for my c3 knight. Now I have protected the critical e3 square to stop all counterplay from Black.

22…Qc5+ 23.Be3 Qc6 24.Nxf6+ gxf6 25.Qxb6

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Cashing in my exchange for a winning endgame. My opponent puts up some resistance, but the two rooks offer too much play for White.

25…Qxb6 26.Bxb6 Rb8 27.a5 Bc6 28.Rfe1 Bb4 29.Re2 Ra8 30.Kf2 Bb5 31.Rc2 Ba6 32.Rd1 Be7 33.Rd7

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My opponent is punished for his passivity, and with a rook on the seventh, I have full control over the position.

33…Kf8 34.Rc7 Bd8 35.R7xc4!

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Simplification! Eliminating Black’s hold on the light squares, while taking advantage of my soon-to-be doubled pawns. It turns out that the b2 pawn plays an important role in the conversion of this game.

35…Bxc4 36.Rxc4 Bxb6+ 37.axb6 Rb8 38.Rc6 Ke7 39.b4 h5 40.b5

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And Black realizes his dilemma. With the rook on c6 protected, there’s simply no way the king can undermine it. The f6-pawn is also weak, so that makes the conversion rather simple.

40…Ra8 41.b7 Rb8 42.Rc7+ Kd6 43.b6

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Continuing to use the same idea. Black allowed me to promote with his next move, but soon Black will be in zugzwang. If 43… h4 44. Ke3, and Black must move his rook since the king has no legal moves, giving me Rc7-c8 with a promotion.

43…Rd8 44.Rc8 Rxc8 45.bxc8=Q 1-0

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My opponent made me play on till checkmate, but the win is simple.

My opponent really only made two mistakes this game:

1) He didn’t stop my d-pawn push, which allowed me to gain too much time and space.

2) Giving me the protected passed pawn on d5 not only lost a tempo but caused long-term problems throughout the game. Because of the time he lost, it allowed me to march my f-pawn and then squeeze for space.

But the two principle abandoning gaffes were enough to lose this one. My opponent is a relatively strong player for his age, but even this game shows the importance of two basic opening principles: controlling the center and not moving the same piece twice.