Studies in Phailure: Episode 2
Here's a game where a stronger opponent slowly squeezed the life out of me. There was no gotcha moment or blunder where I slapped my forehead, just a quarter of a turn on the vise handle with each move. My plan to take advantage of his open f2 square backfired, and instead I watched in horror as first his Queen and then later his second Rook joined his original Rook on the f-file, which had turned into an Interstate for his armor.
I'll run through the game first, and then follow it up with some thoughts on why this particular game had a big influence on me.
In my post-game review I decided that move 8 was a major turning point. After White played 8.Qc1 I was concerned about his Queen now backing up his Bishop on e3. I thought he might even be considering sacrificing his Bishop with Bh6 ...gxh6 Qxh6 to get rid of my g7 pawn and park his Queen on h6. I've won a couple games myself with that sacrifice. So I decided a Bishop exchange on e3 wouldn't hurt me (aside from a loss of tempo because I could have done the same thing instead of retreating my Bishop 2 moves earlier), and I was hoping White would elect to recapture with his f2 pawn rather than his Queen. I thought that would eventually give me a weak point for attack, and make his g2 pawn more vulnerable down the road.
The result, of course, was just the opposite. All moving the f-pawn did was give White a semi-open f-file, which provided him an open path to hammer me the rest of the game. The computer didn't think I had made a bad move when I initiated the exchange with 8...Bxe3, but I now think I would have been a lot better off finding another way to thwart any plans White had for his Bishop and Queen on the c1-h6 diagonal. Maybe just 8...h6 , as his pawn structure precluded any threat of attack along the b1-h7 diagonal.
I spent more than half the game with White's Rook staring at me down the f-file, sometimes joined by his Queen, and later backed up by the other Rook. The Rook never actually captured anything until the last move of the game, and it's capture, ironically, was with it's first step off the f-file since move 5. Still, it's presence required me to keep my own pieces tied up around my Kingside, instead of being able to take advantage of the more open space on the Queenside.
I read somewhere that's it's important to remember that a Rook has an effect on an entire file even if there are other pieces between it and your piece(s). The writer said a Rook should be thought of like a cannon aimed at you from the next room. Just because there's a wall in between doesn't mean you shouldn't worry.
After matching White's mobility up to the mid-point of the game, my mobility decreased steadily after move 16. By the end I didn't feel like I could go anywhere, and I didn't have any plan at all. It seemed like I had been squeezed into a corner, and it was only a matter of time before his pawns would start advancing, and sooner or later one of them would get through and promote, or I'd have to sacrifice a major piece to prevent that from happening. I was quite surprised to see that the post game computer analysis evaluated the position I resigned as only +1.54, and before my boneheaded 30...Qf7 we were still even in material and it evaluated White's edge as only +0.29. But I still thought my position was pretty hopeless. I asked White after the game what he had felt about the position near the end, but I never got an answer.
This game changed my thinking quite a bit. For all of my chess life I had always felt like I needed three kingside pawns for good King protection. As White I was terrified of openings or later plans that involved advancing my f-pawn-- I didn't think the two remaining pawns were enough protection. As Black, if I could eliminate or move White's f-pawn I thought I was gaining a big edge that I could exploit.
However, in the past few months I've played a tournament with Bird's Opening and another with the Vienna Gambit, which gave me quite a few games (with both colors) involving early f4 play. As Black, I discovered that when White played f4 I still had difficulty getting at his King, and I got more comfortable with the idea of only having my g- and h-pawns for cover when I played White. Then along came this game, and I saw that not only was White protected, but if Black didn't pay attention, White could deliver a real beating down the f-file if his pawn was out of the way.
To continue my exploration of improving my comfort with a more open King, recently I've been playing the King's Gambit in my games as White. When I look through King's Gambit games in the databases I see a lot of early positions where White's King seems to be completely exposed, and has often lost the ability to castle, yet Black can't get at it. I'm trying to get better at evaluating when a King looks exposed, but for one reason or another, is not actually in any danger. I doubt I'll stick with the King's Gambit in the long run, but for the moment it's allowing me to explore a couple aspects of King safety and Kingside pawn play that I've never been comfortable with.
Anyway, this loss, although it started as a Bishop's Opening and didn't involve f4, played a big role in my thinking about openings that include an early f4.