In my recent articles I have touched upon such intricate matters as material imbalances and initiative. Today I would like to share with you annotations to a baffling game of mine played at the Russian Superfinal against GM Tatiana Kosintseva (the chess fight made it to November top-10 best games in the world according to ChessPro). Also, to make the story more challenging, you will be offered a few critical positions to solve on your own.
Pogonina,N (2472) - Kosintseva,T (2581) [C95]
60th ch-RUS w Moscow RUS (7), 23.11.2010
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0–0 9.h3 Nb8 10.d4 Nbd7 11.c4 c6 12.Nc3 b4 13.Na4 c5 14.d5
A closed position with some space advantage for White has occurred (pay attention to the c4-d5-e4 triangle). The b4-c5-d6-e5 chain is relatively vulnerable since the b4 pawn can’t support it. White’s plan is to transfer the knight to d3, where it will be menacing Black’s position and then, depending on the situation, play in the center and on the queenside (a3, double the rooks along the a-file), or in the center and on the kingside (f4); or try both. Black’s mobility is rather limited, and the main idea is to play f5 at some point and play on the kingside. The setup is a bit passive, but very solid and safe.
14...Ne8 15.Bc2 g6 16.Bh6 Ng7 17.a3 a5 18.b3 Rb8 19.Qd2 Kh8 20.Nb2 Nf6 21.axb4 axb4 22.Red1 Ng8 23.Be3 f5 24.Nxe5 dxe5 25.d6 Bf6
White has positionally sacrificed a whole piece for the pawn. Nonetheless, the d6 pawn is a pain in the neck for Black, and Tatiana’s pieces get shoved back to the 8th rank. The c5, e5, and b4 pawns are easy targets, and the White army is just about to take advantage of the open files. Sounds great, but how should White play?
26.d7 [Better is 26.Na4] 26...Bb7 27.Bxc5 Be7?
What should white now do about the dark-squared bishop?
Following the principles of keeping the initiative, I should have sought ways to increase the pressure. White basically has two options – Ba7 and Na4. In the first case the bishop is retreating from the scene and imitating a threat of capturing the Black rook (which actually helps Black improve coordination). Meanwhile, the White knight is out of the game, so I should have brought it into play.
28.Ba7 [Better is 28.Na4] 28...fxe4 29.Na4 Ra8 30.Bb6 Qb8 31.c5? Ne6 32.Qxb4 Nd4 33.Rd2 Nf6?!
After making a mistake, White is on the ropes, and there is just one way to prolong the fight – sacrifice a rook. It is remarkable that a single pawn on d6 is keeping the whole Black army at bay, but even the brave hero can’t be saving the world for too long!
34.Rxd4! the only chance 34...exd4 35.Qxd4 Bc6 36.Rd1 Qf4 37.Nc3 Bxd7? 38.Nd5 Qg5
Once again, White needs to find the only correct move
39.Nxe7 [39.Nxf6?] 39...Bxh3 40.g3 Bg4?! 41.Re1 Bf3 42.Bd1 Bxd1 43.Rxd1 Rae8?
A tactical idea saves White. Moreover, it even leads to an advantage. Black is in trouble after c6.
44.c6! e3 45.Qxe3 Qxe3 46.Bxe3 Rxe7 47.Bc5 Ng8 48.Bd4+? Nf6 49.Bc5 Ng8 50.Bd4+ Nf6 51.Bc5 Ng8 1/2
And now the whole game with annotations:
After the sacrifice the game became extremely complicated. White had more opportunities, but at some point my imprecise play led to a tough position. However, by that time my opponent has spent lots of energy and time on the defense, and couldn’t seize the initiative. Generally speaking, positional sacrifices are risky. If one doesn’t play actively enough, she/he may lose. Keep that in mind, but don’t be afraid of taking justified risks!