Continental Open 2014, Round 3, Pressure, Tactics, Attack
Black starts the third round humbled by a devastating loss in Round 2, due primarily to a false sense of overconfidence. Black very much wants to go back to the formula for success in Round 1, which is to play solid, build pressure and wait for his opponent to make a mistake:
- Do not rush...
- Do not assume you know the opening well...
- Do play to fully develop...
- Do play to keep and maintain pressure, especially in the center...
- Do try to remain flexible and open minded...
Black plays the Najdorf Sicilian, and actually makes it to move 5 before deviating from plan. The classic Najdorf includes the trademark 5...a6. But no, Black plays 5...Nc6. I can't explain it except to say that I have never learned how to learn an opening.
Nonetheless, Black muddles through to an ok opening, albeit with the requisite need to catch up and equalize. Black is confined to the first three ranks, as opposed to White's four ranks, until move 11. On move 11...Nxd4, Black starts to exchange pieces in order to lessen the cramped nature of his game.
12. Rxd4 b5, Black prepares to fianchetto his LS Bishop, and consider what pawn break is appropriate to equalize.
13. Qf3, and Black goes into a deep think. The LS Bishop on b7 looks even more attractive now because this pins the e4 pawn, making it a target. Black's plans change from general development to something more concrete. To be sure the concrete version of the plan still included fianchetto LS Bishop, but also now features blockading the e4 pawn so it can't move (now with tempo).
13...e5 14. Rd2. With this Rook retreat White is slowly getting a bit uncoordinated. Safer is 14. Rd1 when the Rooks communicate and can support each other. 14...Bb7, now the fianchetto and pin are in place. How should Black exploit this? Black decides it's best to wait and keep building pressure.
15. Bg5, well Black didn't have to wait too long. White's DS Bishop on g5 allows a tactic which gains a pawn. 15...Nxe4 16. Nxe4, and now the pinned pawn is replaced by the pinned Knight. 16...Bxg5, threatening the now en prise White Rook. 17. Re2 Kh8, moving the Black King out of a pin as well. This frees up the f7 pawn to move to f5 winning the White Knight. White's Queen needs to break the pin and moves away 18. Qh5 Bh6 19. c3 f5 20. Ng5 Qc6. White tries to attack Black's King and misses. In the meantime Black steps up the pressure with 20...Qc6, threatening mate next move. 21. f3 forced, which then allows 21...Bxg5 22. Qxg5 f4 and now we are in a very different part of the game. The center is locked creating two halves of the board along the long diagonal h1-a8.
The initial pin lasted for 4 moves with no less than 3 pieces occupying the pinned square, and then resulting exchanges for 4 more moves. Afterwards we have a game where Black can attack White's Kingside at will, with h2 as a focal point. White finds it difficult to defend. One chance to defend with the Queen is unheeded.
23. Qh4, the White Queen instinctively shows herself to the door. Retreating here is an honorable option, as long as the retreat positions the Queen and other pieces for a long defensive game. Which is what I was expecting. 23...Rf6, position the Rook for attacking. 24. Bc2. Instead of White focusing on defense, White tries to counterattack with only two pieces. The venerable NM John Curdo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Curdo) once told me, "...don't forget you always need at least three pieces when you attack the King!" White was using only two pieces, with tenuous coordination, and easily blocked by Black's Rook.
24...Rh6, attacking the Queen. At this point a Queen retreat for defensive purposes is advised. However, White kept trying to counter-attack, now with only the Queen, and this activity is easirly parried, and with moves that help position Black's pieces for an attack on the White Kingside. 25. Qe7, leaving the White Queen vulnerable to continued attacks, with restricted freedom to retreat or hide.
25...Re8, Black continues to pressure the White Queen. 26. Qf7 Bc8, Black repositions his LS Bishop to join the Kingside attack against White's King. 27. Be4 forcing the Black Queen to move to where she wants to go anyway, with tempo besides. 27...Qb6+ 28. Kh1 Qd8, and the Black Queen is ready.
29. Rd1, White musters an illusion of counterplay. White may be better off swinging his Queen to a7 then g1 to defend against the inevitable. 29...Rf8, still time for Qf7 - a7 - g1. But White plays 30. Qd5 as if the weak Black pawn on d6 is important for counterplay. White needs to focus on thankless defense, not counterplay to get his pawn back.
30...Qh4 and the mate threat starts to build. 31. h3 to defend. Too little too late as the saying goes. White may try to delay by running, with 31. Kg1 (see notes in game viewer). Black has three pieces in the attack (Rh6, Qh4, Bc8), and the LS Bishop acts first to tear down the White King defense with 31...Bxh3, and mate in three moves.
White was a very gracious opponent and played the game to checkmate, similar to how I played my Round 2 loss to the end. For starters, if you are completely losing there is no harm in continuing to play, you might learn something. Second, every now and then an opponent who is winning may make a mistake and allow a stalemate, or worse!
You never know.