Goals & a Strategy: digging myself out of a collapsed game
Yesterday, I finished an exhilarating 960 game against an Armenian man whose ratings show an unusually strong ability in very fast games, such as 5 minutes or less. He prefers that form! Not surprisingly, his style of play is free and aggressive; but I had played to his strength through some bad choices in my opening. Because 960 openings render us ignorant of opening sequences, the 960 game often leads to a large number of early pawn moves; and I foolishly opened up the position in front of my castled king. Time control was 24 hours per move, though we plyed much faster than that.
You can see I made extravagant claims to a lot of space by pawn advances. Of my first 14 moves, 8 were pawn moves! 14.f4 was probably the worst of them. This deserved a lost game. On the other hand, I was pleased with placement of white bishop, and of queen - she is at least central, though c2 or d3 would have been much better. A queen which begins a 960 game in a corner needs attention, it is often said, as it is shortly needed in a central position to give structural strength to a position. This structural & organisational function of the queen is shown (goes this theory) in the opening sequences of conventional chess, which often place the queen on the second rank of the c, d or e file.
But by the time we reach 19...o-o-o, white's position looks shaky. I began to think of another home for my king, as I doubted I could hold the centre, or contain black's knight. If the centre fell, then the long diagonal of white squares, of which I had been so proud, could fall to black's queen & bishop, which would be fatal to my king. Likewise the pawn posting on h3 could then be worrisome, and the open g file even more so. Oy vey, that one should start a game with such bravura and fall apart so fast!
So after black's 19...o-o-o, I took some time to think rather than react so foolishly. I noted that except for 20...Rg8+, black had few possible moves. Yes: black lacks space & mobility. I thought that black would probably play 20...Kb8. This would achieve the following for black:
- take from white the easy release from black's pin of f4 to my queen (Qc3+),
- give some claim to c-file,
- and enable 21...Ne5!
But black has a lot of re-structuring to do, and not much space to do it in. Black's queen and knight are particularly dismally placed, at present. Black cannot move. Again referring to Znosko-Borovsky's notions (please see www.chess.com/blog/yollah/why-is-black-ahead), I wanted to do everything possible to contain black, and continue denying mobility.
So the plan developed for my game from move 20 onwards required achieving the following goals:
- find a safer home for white's king
- prevent the freeing moves, 20...Rg8+ and ....Ne5
- keep black's rook stuck in defending the knight
- keep black's knight immobilised
- when that's no longer possible, swap my white-squared bishop for black's knight
- swap off black bishops
- limit or prevent damage to my pawn centre
- swap off rooks & queens
- aim for an endgame with my knight against black's white-squared bishop.
This is correspondence chess, after all! At 24 hours per move, one has time to develop such ideas and plans... though we did choose to play the full game within 4 days. Looking back at this plan, I now feel doubtful about goals 5, 6 & 8 - those concerned with swap-offs. Swap-offs are probably inconsistent with the strategy of containment, as they are essentially freeing, simplifying. I suppose I wanted swap-offs because I was fearful of the attack mentioned above: black could destroy my over-extended centre quite easily, I feared, and so gain control of the long white diagonal, threatening my king. So you can see that I now think my goals may be inconsistent with each other.
The first goal seemed unachievable, really, though I felt I had to try. Achieving the first and second gave only 2 options for move 20: 20.Kf2 or 20.Kh1, as I thought Ng3 a bad idea. I thought that 20.Kh1 would give me greater long-term problems, as I did not really think I could hold the centre. Black's upcoming pawn moves, e6 and f5, seemed very dangerous to me. So I chose 20.Kf2 as a way of meeting the first two goals. Black's blunder on 20...Ne5? threw my king open again, and so I changed my mind, heading back to h1! The price of a piece!
What followed was a short, wild ride on the tail of a tiger. We played quite fast, as the narrative was so exciting! You can see that I notate a couple of black's moves with both ? and ! - I thought the moves challenging, fine-edged but dubious. But white was still in danger, even though ahead by a piece. If the Armenian tiger managed to get discovered check along the longwhite diagonal, then checkmate could follow fast. To this goal, he sacrificed much material. Would the tiger make the better calculations, or would I ? This does make for exciting chess.