Death by Dark Squares
IMPORTANT: [At the end of the puzzles, you should click MOVE LIST so you can see my instructive notes and variations. If you are having trouble solving a problem, just click SOLUTION, and then MOVE LIST. Even if you solve everything, DO click MOVE LIST or you might miss an important bit of prose.]
Drak0dan said: “As you can see, this is hardly a game in which I gloat over steamrolling a weaker player. This was the first time I had ever played someone with a rating this much higher than my own, even if it is still not a Master rating, and the result is unsurprising; I eventually yielded to the stronger player, albeit in an unsatisfactory fashion. This being the case, I was reluctant to deviate from the book for the longest time (15 moves, as a matter of fact), and I am not quite sure how I let this game crumble away, as I’m sure I had a winning position for the best part of it.
“Certainly, my chances were best after 33.Qd2??, after which point securing the win should have been easy, but I somehow managed to throw the game away in the few moves after that. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.”
Drak0dan wants to know how he fell apart in a dead won position (after white’s 33.Qd2). Before we get to that critical moment, I’ll give mild notes to the opening and moves leading up to 33.Qd2.
diddan23 (1891) - Drak0dan (1338), C99, chess.com (1 move per 7 days!) 2012
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d6 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 cxd4 13.cxd4
A very popular position! 13…Nc6 is black’s most popular move, while 13…Bd7, 13…Rfd8, and 13…Be6 have also been played by various grandmasters. The move Black played in the game, 13…Bb7, is black’s number-two choice.
Now the b7-Bishop is hitting granite on d5.
15.Bd3 is the main line, but 15.Bb1 is also common.
The trouble with this move is that the Knight actually blocks the c-file. Remember my note on move 14? I said that the b7-Bishop is hitting granite on d5. With that in mind, a more dynamic idea is to toy with an …f7-f5 push (sometimes after a lot of preparation) which, if e4 falls, would leave d5 a bit loose. This can be done by 15…Nh5 (heading to f4 and also eyeing that …f7-f5 idea – this is probably black’s most dependable choice) and by 15…Nd7 freeing the f-pawn for a possible …f7-f5 push.
Here’s an example of this idea in action, though (unfortunately) it doesn’t turn out very well:
16.Nf1 Rfe8 17.Ng3 g6
Keeping white's Knight out of f5 makes sense, though Black must be aware that he now has a responsibility to make sure the dark-squares he just weakened won’t ever fall into white’s hands!
I don't trust this move at all since White won't get enough compensation for the pawn.
18...Nxb2 19.Qd2 Nc4
This kind of move is sometimes referred to as a “soft move” – it’s a somewhat lazy move that doesn’t take everything the position is offering. In the long run, refusing to milk the position for all it's worth can easily come back to haunt you.
Once again, Black brings his Knight to the “pretty” square that actually blocks out its own Queen and Rook. Black had a far stronger move.
20.Qe2 Na3 21.Bd3 Nc4?
Another soft move. The problem is you're goofing around with your Knight, which was actually doing some good work on a3. Instead, 21...Nd7 intending ...Nc5 gives Black a clear advantage. The game won’t win itself. You need to add layer upon layer of improvements before White will concede that you got him.
22.Rac1 Nd7 23.h4 Nc5?!
Why the hurry to give back your pawn? Black could have held onto his stuff with 23...Ndb6, or given the pawn back for a more active position by 23...Qa5:
24.Bxc4 bxc4 25.Rxc4 a5 26.Qc2?!
26...Ba6 27.Rc3 Bd8?
Black should have stepped off the c-file pin by 27...Qd7 when 28.Be3 Nd3 is annoying. As it turns out, your idea of ...Be7-d8-b6, “activating” the Bishop turns out to be unfortunate.
28.Be3 followed by chopping on c5 and then swinging a Knight to c4 would have given White a small plus.
28…Qd7, centralizing the Queen, keeping an eye out of the Black Queen, and also eyeing the a4-square, was best.
29.hxg6 hxg6 30.Rb1 Bb6?
This looks very attractive, but the Bishop was performing an important duty in defending the dark-squares around its King. This move soon comes back to bite you.
31.Qb2 Na4 32.Rxc8 Rxc8
Mr. Drak0dan gave this move two question marks, and it's easy to see why he felt that way since Black has a nice tactic that appears to win the day. But, incredibly, the truth turns out to be completely different than the position's first impression: After 33.Qd2 Black is actually in bad shape!
A nice find by Black, but it just wasn't his lucky day. Other moves are no better:
34.Qxf2 Qxb1+ 35.Kh2
Suddenly black's dark-squares are fatally weak! There is no defense. Why is there no defense? Think of it this way - White has a Queen, a Bishop, and two Knights vs. the lone black King. Yes white's behind in material, but that extra material is on the other side of the board!
I will offer all of black's defenses in problem form:
Mr. Drakodan, thanks for sharing this very interesting game. You played quite well, and came close to taking a big scalp. The fact that the position after 33.Qd2 favored White was probably more bad luck than anything else.
LESSONS FROM THESE EXAMPLES
* Don’t rest on your laurels. Once Black took white’s pawn, he failed to milk the position for everything it was worth.
* When you take your foot off the gas pedal when you’re winning the race, it’s not uncommon for the guy way behind you to suddenly be in front! You can take it easy when the game is over.
* King safety is more important than anything else. If you think you have someone on the run, make sure you don’t get too excited and forget to protect your King!
* Though the move 17…g6 was perfectly okay, it did weaken the dark-squares around the Black King. That’s okay, as long as you’re aware of this slight problem and make sure a tiny glitch doesn’t turn into Hell on Earth!
* A game won’t win itself. You need to add layer upon layer of improvements (small and large) before your opponent will concede that you got him.
* Beware of soft moves!
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For more on weak color complexes, check out this Mentor course.