I've played some "standard play" games via chess.com over the past few weeks: these are 45/45 games (45 minutes per player per game, plus 45 second increment) and are a much more realistic "real chess"-like experience than either the quick 'n' careless 5-minute blitz games and the long 'n' slow, multi-day correspondence.
I play using a real chess board, next to my laptop to send/receive moves from my opponents, for these occasions because I find that an actual physical board and pieces makes me focus and concentrate much better. This photo was taken during the first game I played in this way.
The context for the particular game I'm discussing today was that both players were on 4 out of 4 in the Dan Heisman Learning Center "Slow Swiss #6" 5-round tournament. The winning player would win the tournament outright and a draw would see both players share First Place, possibly together with other players currently on 3.5 out of 4. And it was an interesting game, so I decided to annotate it. I'm discussing the game with diagrams at critical moments, but the whole game is available for play through at the end of the article.
Here's the game, which started as a fairly typical Caro-Kann. After 10. ... Qc7
I always think this is the most accurate move, preventing White putting the bishop on f4. White can try to coax something out of it, by moving Ne2 or Ne4, then playing g3 to support Bf4, but it's all a bit slow and White really needs to concentrating on getting his King to safety. During this opening, Black's usual aim is to plan to break with c5 at a convenient moment. Even though it was never actually played in this game, the 'threat' of it was always in my mind and had to be taken into consideration when analysing. After 16. ... Rd5
A critical point in the game. At this point an off-the-board drama erupted: the power went off! My laptop stayed on (battery) but my Internet connection failed. Panic! I started to set up a mobile hotspot using my phone but the power failure had knocked off the local mobile phone mast too, so I had no mobile connection either. Fortunately, power returned within two minutes, but it was a nerve-wracking time.
At this point in the game I was confused that I couldn't defend my h5 pawn and thought I must have done something wrong in the opening. According to the opening theory which I've now consulted, 17.c4 is the right move. If Black captures on h5, 17. ... Rxh5 18.Rxh5 Nxh5 19.d5! is excellent compensation for White. I didn't see this variation and assumed I was simply losing a pawn. And, if I was forced to lose a pawn, I wanted to get as much activity in return as I could muster. But I made a poor choice... 17. g4?
This is a mistake. If I'm going to be a pawn down, then a better pawn to give away is the weak h-pawn. By giving up the g-pawn instead, I still have a weak h-pawn! The only slight compensation (and my reason for playing 17.g4) is that I have potential play down the g-file.
Soon we reach this position after 20.Ne5
where I've consolidated my position somewhat and am considering ways of attacking Black's only weak spot, g7. However, I'm also annoyed at being a pawn down and being rattled by the power outage. Now my opponent surprised me by playing 20 ... Bxe5?!, which is not best; after the game my opponent agreed. After the exchanges, we reach this position:
At this stage I thought for quite some time about my plan. Black has a weak pawn on g7 which I might be able to exploit, but putting a rook on the g-file, i.e. Rg1, takes it away from its nice location on the d-file. So I decided to play 22. Rh3 which prepares Rg3 (or instead to other locations on the third rank) whilst simultaneously getting out of any discovered attacks from the Queen on e7 down the d8-h4 diagonal. A useful multi-purpose move.
Then my opponent let me off again, I feel, with 22. ... Nd7? As we discussed after the game, this is definitely a mistake. Black returns the pawn with no obvious compensation. Probably 22. ... Rhd8 or even 22. ... Ne8 are better alternatives. After 22. ... Nd7, then 23.c4 is an interesting move and may in fact be best, but I wanted to grab the pawn! So after 23.Bxg7 Rh7 we reach this position:
On playing 24.Be5 I thought I'd have a good position after the coming exchanges, possibly even that I had a very slight advantage, but my assessment was optimistic. After 24. ... Nxe5 25.dxe5 we reach this position
where we have a heavy piece endgame looming. There are potential back rank threats from both sides, although Black can generate more of these because my King currently has no escape square. After 26 ... Qc5 Black is attacking both f2 and e5:
The obvious reply is 27.f4 which I eventually played, but I was looking at the variation 27.Rg3, threatening Rg8 followed by Qd8 mate) to which 27. ... Rh8 is the only reasonable reply. However, Black can then get his rook to d8 and looks better. So, rather than play for the 'soft' mate threat, which Black isn't going to miss(!), I instead played what I originally intended.
Black's next move, 27. ... Rg7, surprised me: it shouldn't have, but I hadn't even considered it.
Black is suddenly threatening to play Rg1 which I need to attend to immediately. White now has two choices: 28.Rf3 and 28.Rh1. 28.Rf3 looks more active, but I'll need to play the rook to f1 afterwards anyway, so I save time and put my rook on the first rank straight away, 28.Rh1. Both players were down to about 5 minutes or so here, plus the 45 second increment. Black replied with 28. ... Qe3 although I was expecting 28. ... Rg2 which looks stronger to me.
So, with my clock time rapidly running out, I'm faced with this position and looking for a way to finish the game quickly:
My thinking at this point went as follows: Black is attacking f4 and any defence of the pawn is very passive. I noticed that the Black rook is undefended on g7 and if I can play Qd6, I will threaten Qf8+. But I can only play Qd6 when there are no back rank threats and my rook is safe. So, I offer the pawn on f4 to decoy the Black Queen, putting it on a square where none of my major pieces are attacked and there is no back rank mate. I play 29.Re1!:
My opponent was very kindly complimentary about this move after the game: "That's a nice move, I like that"
And after 29 ... Qxf4 30.Qd6 Rg8 I play 31.Rd1 which is the necessary follow-up, White has a perpertual check, Qd6+/Qd7+. Of course Black can't put his King on a8 because of the back rank mate.
Here's the game in full to play through:
Hope you enjoy reading and playing through this one as much as I enjoyed playing it. Thanks to my opponent Cygnus_X-1
for a great game.