Finishing Off A Wounded Opponent
Phelon wrote: "Hey I just got my first win against an expert a few days ago and was hoping you could analyze it. I was playing black in the Caro-Kann, the time control was 2h/40 and then another 1h. It was a fairly complicated game, and I’m wondering if some of my decisions were the correct ones especially early on like playing …h5."
Expert (2010) vs. Phelon (1840), Concord 2012
1.e4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.d4 e6 5.Bd3
This move doesn’t have a huge following among grandmasters or international masters, though lower rated players tend to love it. Trading white’s useful light-squared Bishop off so early gives Black some breathing room (in general, the side with more space shouldn’t seek out exchanges), and the f5-square will often turn into a fine home for a black Knight.
When playing the Advanced Variation, White usually tries to take advantage of the f5-Bishop’s position by (eventually) kicking it about in some manner (for example, check out the game G. Gopal – V. Bologan below), or he will leave it there and patiently seek gains from his space advantage via quiet moves like 5.Be2, 5.a3, 5.Nc3, 5.c3, 5.Nbd2, and/or he will mix one of these with a quick crack on the queenside (5.c4, or a later c4) when the Bishop on f5 might be missed on the other wing.
Here’s a nice example of white annexing space on every side of the board with the far more popular 5.Be2:
Here’s a game that shows black’s light-squared Bishop getting kicked around a bit (though it doesn't seem to phase Black at all), and also how the White space advantage can be cracked with a timely pawn break:
5…Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+
This is a nice maneuver, and it’s very easy to handle the resulting positions (thus I recommend it to my students). However, 6…Nd7 is also a good move and has scored very well for Black:
7.Bd2 is also played quite often, but Black scores extremely well:
Phelon: “This variation is good for black.”
Phelon: “A weird move. The best move is exchanging, now he can’t castle. With Qe3 the idea is to prevent c5.”
8.Qxa6 is massively the most popular move. Having said that, White tends to do quite badly!
Phelon: “Threatening …Nf5 to kick his queen off of the diagonal and to allow me to play …c5.”
Phelon: “This move seems overly aggressive. I try to take advantage of it.”
In the game Antal Horvath – D. Burtonshaw, [B12], Dos Hermanas 2003, White tried
9.b4 but after 9…Nd7 10.a4 Nf5 11.Qd2 Be7 12.g4 Nh4 13.Nxh4 Bxh4 14.Qc2 f6 15.Bf4 fxe5 16.Bxe5 Nxe5 17.dxe5 0-0 18.Rf1 Rxf2 19.Rxf2 Rf8 Black was slaughtering his opponent, though he later hung his Queen and managed to lose.
9.g4 is a very bad move since the h1-Rook isn’t protected. You’ll see why that’s important after black’s 9th move.
This move wins the f5-square since 10.gxh5 and 10.g5 give it up, and 10.h3 isn’t wise due to 10…hxg4 when the pin along the h-file leads to material loss for White.
Phelon: “I’m okay with not castling kingside.”
Phelon: “Qf3 is coming. Still I’m obligated to play …Nf5 since the point of …h5 was to allow me to get my knight there. Also he has no pawns to remove my knight from that square so it’s a great outpost.”
White threatens to win with 12.Qf3, attacking f7 and h5 at the same time. Fortunately for Black, he’s able to end the threat by playing the very move he intended to play in any case.
A sweet square for the horse!
Phelon: “Here I was thinking of playing …g6 originally but saw what looked like a great sacrifice for him. Also I wondered about leaving my rook on that square. I decided to point out that his e4-square leads to his king.”
Phelon: “ 12...g6 13.Rg1 Be7 (13...Nd7 14.Nxf7 Kxf7 15.Rxg6 Kxg6 16.Qg4+ is even worse than if I played …Be7.) 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.Rxg6 looked kind of sketchy.”
Well, you’re certainly seeing some interesting possibilities, but “interesting” and “effective” are often two different things. In general, if you want to play a certain move (like 12…g6), and you see something scary, it’s your responsibility to defend your idea and try to discredit the line that’s worrying you. So let’s do that here:
12...g6 13.Rg1 and now:
13…c5! is not only a good position move (gives c6 to the b8-Knight and pressures d4), but it also stops white’s attack in its tracks since 14.Nxe6 can now be met by 14…Qxe6. Yes, it was that easy to give 12…g6 a new lease on life. In fact, after 13…c5 14.dxc5 Nd7 (hitting both c5 and e5) White is completely busted! Clearly, 13…c5 is an easy move to find. However, you were so entranced by white’s sacrifice on e6 that you promptly gave up on 12…g6 and didn’t even look for a way to discredit white’s whole concept.
Okay, let’s explore the moves you looked at after 13.Rg1:
13…Nd7 and now you said: “14.Nxf7 Kxf7 15.Rxg6 Kxg6 16.Qg4+ is even worse than if I played …Be7”. Let’s check that out: 14.Nxf7 Kxf7 15.Rxg6 Kxg6? (15…Rxh2! is an easy win for Black) 16.Qg4+ and you seem to think Black is dead meat. However, 16…Kh7 17.Qxh5+ Nh6 18.Bxh6 Bxh6 19.Qf7+ Kh8 leaves White fighting for a draw (20.Qxe6 c5!) since 20.Qxd7?? Rg8 forces immediate resignation! So even if you missed 13…c5 and played 13…Nd7, the 14.Nxf7 sacrifice shouldn’t be feared at all.
13…Be7 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.Rxg6 “looked kind of sketchy.” Okay, it does look dangerous, but what’s the truth of the matter? Apparently, Black gets away with all the toys after 15…Rxh2! 16.Rxe6 Nd7 17.Bg5 (17.Qxf5 Rh1+ 18.Kd2 Qf1 gives Black a winning attack) 17…0-0-0! 18.Bxe7 Rg8 (18…Rdh8!?) 19.Bd6 b6 (19…Rgh8!?) ends back rank problems and after 20.Na3 Rg1+ 21.Kd2 Rf1!! 22.Rxf1 Qxf1 leaves Black in charge.
So, while I agree that the position after 13…Be7 was much too complicated for most players to analyze properly (hell, I probably screwed it up in the comfort of my home with no chess clock ticking and freaking me out!), 13…Nd7 is an excellent move and far easier to wade through. And, lest we forget, 13…c5 is best of all – easy and crushing, with no muss, no fuss.
Having said all that, your 12…Rh4 is a very strong move! And, best of all, you avoid all the nonsense we just looked at. In this case, your choice made good sense. However, in other cases you will find that if you don’t defend the move you initially wanted to play, you’ll pay dearly for it on many, many occasions.
Phelon: “It looks like he wants Bg3 to drive out my rook.”
I think White needed to bail out with 13.Qe2 when his game is markedly inferior, but at least he won’t fall under an attack.
Phelon: “Wasn’t going to allow that at all. Here I had decided my plan was going to be to castle queenside since I had some nice tactics to back it up.”
Phelon: “The point of this move is to go f1-e3 to trade off my great knight on f5. However I calculated it and it looked like I had just enough time to carry out my plans. Now 14.Bg3 Bxg5 15.Bxh4 Bxh4 is much better for me.”
The position after 15…Bxh4 is more than much better for you, White’s positionally and materially crushed.
Phelon: “Preparing to castle queenside and finishing my development.”
14…c5! was quite a bit stronger, but it’s hard for me to quibble when you’re playing so well. Okay, I’ll quibble! The immediate 14…c5 is better because you continue to pressure your opponent and keep him off balance. Also, your undeveloped Knight can (after 14…c5) move to c6 where it joins with the c5-pawn and the f5-Knight in bashing d4 to a pulp.
Phelon: “Preparing his move.”
Phelon: “Nxf7 doesn't work for him here for a number of reasons.”
In one sense you’re doing something I always tell my students to do: “Get your King safe before you go on any adventures!” But in chess, rules are made to be broken, and this is a case in point. Sometimes you need to strike while the iron is hot (where did this saying come from?) since if you wait too long, White will be able to set up some kind of defense. Thus, here 15…c5! is still very strong (16.dxc5 Qc4 is crushing). You can also have fun looking at 15…Bxg5 16.Bxg5 and now Black has a very nice move:
Phelon: “Here my plan involved exploiting the e4-square: 16.Nxf7 Rf8 17.Ng5
(17.Nd6+ Nxd6 18.exd6 Rhxf4 19.dxe7 Rxf3 20.exf8=Q+ Rxf8 and I’m just up a queen for a rook and his king is out in the open.) 17...Nxd4 exploiting the bad placement of his bishop. 18.cxd4 Rfxf4 I will capture the knight next.”
All that is true, but you failed to notice that White just played a move that’s even worse than 16.Nxf7. White needed to play 16.Ng3 when he’s much worse, but still has a pulse. After the blunder 16.Ne3, Black can extinguish any signs of life:
Phelon: “I think his best was probably fxe3, where I would’ve had to have played …Rf8 which is alright but slightly worse than what happened in the game in my opinion.”
Of course you’re still much better, but you keep missing ways to chop off your opponent’s head. If you don’t kill the demon when you have the chance (and you’ve had a few chances), it might very well come back to get you.
Phelon: “17.fxe3 Rf8.”
Black’s still much better after 17.fxe3 (which is superior to 17.Bxe3) 17…Rf8, but it’s a far cry from the carnage you could have subjected White to during several earlier moments.
This drains a lot of the position’s tension away, and further erodes your advantage. It seems to me that you were being tricky, allowing him to fork your Rooks, just to show that it’s no big deal.
Instead of showing off, you should have retained as much tension as possible by 17…Rf8 or 17…Qd3!? (18.Nxf7 Rf8).
Phelon: “Forking my Rooks.”
Phelon: “But I have a way out.”
Phelon: “He might have played Be3 if he’d seen my next move.”
And White slides back into the pit! 19.Be3 only leaves you better, but no longer winning as you were earlier.
Back in the saddle again!
Phelon: “Exploiting the face that the f-file is a bad place for his bishop to go.”
Phelon: “I thought for a long while here about how to conduct my attack since I knew if I did it right, I could really expose him for leaving his king in the center and for being so underdeveloped compared to me. 21…e5 looked tempting but it opened too many diagonals for his queen and bishop. 21…f5 seemed to weaken my dark squares far too much. I decided that the only way to move forward was to play this next move. Of course, 21.Bxf6 Rf8 wins the bishop and my position is overwhelming.”
Phelon: “It turns out this move was even better than I expected, since it opens a line for my queen to guard e6 and gain greater access to the game as well as attacking the center.”
A good move, but 21…e5 was probably stronger.
Phelon: “This move just looked wrong. It took an attacker off of my rook I thought he needed and moved his queen off to the far side of the board. His threat was immediately obvious, f3 to win the exchange. However his move just didn’t look right at all. It’s no surprise I found the move that I did.”
White goes berserk. He had to try 22.Qe2 since, in general, if someone is attacking you it’s a good idea to trade the “mating hammer” (Queen). Of course, after 22.Qe2 Black would avoid the exchange by 22…cxd4 23.cxd4 (23.Qxa6 dxe3+) 23…Qa5+.
Phelon: “I don’t know if it really deserves two exclamation points, but I felt like I deserved it for finding this. c5 perfectly prepared this by opening my queen to defend the e6-pawn. Also it allows me to support a move like d4 if he takes my knight.”
It’s an imaginative move, so you have every right to be proud of yourself. Is it best? Probably not. Black has lots of drool-worthy ideas, but perhaps best of all is 22…cxd4! 23.cxd4 e5! which is completely crushing: 24.Rhc1+ Kb8 25.Qg3 Ka8 26.Qg7 (26.dxe5 d4) 26…Nb6 27.Qe7 Rh8 28.Qg7 Re8 29.dxe5 d4, 0-1.
Phelon: “This is gutsy. I thought he’d go with dxc5 at first. 23.dxc5 Nc4+ and I have good ways to conduct my attack wherever he moves his king. I could’ve even played …Qd3+ I wasn’t entirely certain how I would continue this, but this looked strong.”
There are several ways to win after 23.dxc5, but the most devastating is 23…d4! 24.cxd4 Qc4! when White can’t prevent a soul-shattering …Rxd4+ breakthrough on the next move. For example: 25.Rhd1 Rexd4+ 26.Bxd4 (26.Ke1 holds on longer, but it’s certainly no fun for White: 26…Qb4+ 27.Rd2 Rxd2 28.Bxd2 Rxd2 29.Qxe6+ Kc7 30.Kf1 Qxb2 and it’s time for White to resign) 26…Rxd4+ 27.Ke1 Re4+ 28.Qe3 Nf3 mate.
Phelon: “I’m forced to do this to continue.”
Phelon: “Makes sense, now I can’t take anything and open the file for my rook.”
White’s best defense was 24.Rad1! when 24…dxe3+ 25.Kc2 Qe2+ 26.Kc1 Rxe5 27.fxe3 keeps the game chugging along. However, 24.Rad1 Qxa2! is better: 25.Kc2 Rxe5! 26.Qf3 Rf5 27.Qe4 dxe3 28.Rxd8+ Kxd8 and Black will eventually win.
Phelon: “Keeping his rooks connected when he starts running with his king.”
25…Kb8 26.Ke1 dxe3 27.fxe3
Phelon: “My knight sac was definitely worth it, I have the attacking chances here.”
Phelon: “Seemed like the most natural way to continue the attack.”
Phelon: “Now I’m invading.”
Phelon: “A move like …Rd3 looks nice, but I need to keep it on the back rank or I risk being checkmated.”
Phelon: “Here I thought I was totally winning, that I would use the f-file and just kill his king.”
Phelon: “A very fine move, as …Ka8 to avoid the pin introduces mating chances along the h8-square.”
Phelon: “A wasted move. I thought I would check him on f5 and he would either lose his queen or get checkmated by my queen. After I played here I realized if I moved my rook my queen would become pinned and couldn’t deliver checkmate. Luckily he allowed me to correct my mistake.”
31.Ke1 Qd2+ 32.Kf1
Phelon: “And here it looked like the only way to continue trying to win and prove my advantage was to win material.”
Phelon: “I knew that was coming. I saw a way to get rid of the pin fortunately, even though it took a few moves.”
Phelon: “Now there are no more back rank threats and I will get out of the pin.”
It’s wise to defend against “accidents” like back rank mate. However, since you just announced your desire to eat your way to victory (win material), you could have safely continued with that philosophy with 33…Qxa2.
Phelon: “Opening the g1-a7 diagonal to be able to check my king if it tried to escape the pin.”
Phelon: “I wasn’t afraid of this. Even if he forced my queen off the board it looked like his passed h-pawn was easily stoppable and I had 2 versus 1 in pawns in the center and the queenside. I thought I couldn’t do worse than draw and it looked like I had real winning chances. He decided not to go for that though.”
You’re getting a little freaked out by possible enemy checks. Here you need to lower the boom by 34…Qxa2 (following that “greed” plan) or 34…Rd4 when 35.Re1 Ka7 seems fairly easy (you will chop on a2 or e4, depending on what he plays).
Phelon: “I thought this was a mistake. It allowed me to penetrate with my pieces to attack his king.”
He should have checked you with 35.Qe3+ when you should return to the previous position with 35…Kb8 36.Qg3 and now chop on a2 via 36…Qxa2 with two extra pawns.
Phelon: “If he blocks with his rook I will take his e4 pawn with my queen.”
Phelon: “Looked like the only square.”
Phelon: “Now his queen has no checks and my e4-rook has finally gotten itself back into the game. I was assured to win the game at this point if I played it right.”
Phelon: “Trying to create attacking chances on my king. Might as well since any passive defense would lose.”
Phelon: “This is a good idea, but perhaps playing …Qe1+ first was better. This allowed him the opportunity to play Rc1 and kind of stall my attack, though I’m still clearly winning and could even force a queen trade if I wanted.”
Forget about all that “I might trade Queens” talk! 38.Rc1 goes down in flames to 38…Rf5+ 39.Kg3 (39.Rf3 Rxf3+ 40.Kxf3 Qd3+ also leads to mate) 39…Rg4+ 40.Kxg4 Qe4+ 41.Kh3 Rh5+ 42.Kg3 Rg5+ 43.Kf2 Rg2+ 44.Kf1 Qe2 mate.
Phelon: “He is now one move away from checkmating me.”
Phelon: “Unfortunately for him my attack is unstoppable.”
39.Rf3 Qe1+ 40.Kg2 Rg4+ 41.Rg3 Qf1 mate.
~ Lessons From This Game ~
* Usually when you hear that a player “hung” something in a game, you equate it with a loss of material. But one can also “hang” a square, as we saw White do in this game on move 9 (g4?).
* If you see a move you want to play but notice something that might bash it, don’t immediately give up and look elsewhere! Instead, defend your move/concept and see if you can bash his counter back! Remember: nobody is going to defend your idea but you.
* Black played lots of reasonable (but not optimum) moves when he had his opponent on the ropes. In a sharp position, failure to capitalize and strike while the striking is good often means you’ll lose some or even all of your advantage. Thus, if you feel there’s a knockout hiding in the weeds, work as hard as you can to find it.
* “Get your King safe before you go on any adventures!” is a very useful rule. But in chess, rules are made to be broken, so try not to play by the “numbers” and instead – even with a good rule floating about in your brain – look beyond it for a moment and see if there’s something even better.