Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exploiting a pawn structure weakness: Kickoff 2015 Chess Tournament Round 2

Last week's tournament went poorly for me, but nevertheless there were several instructive games to analyze. So today, we will look the game from Round 2. Here, you will see how weaknesses in the pawn structure can be exploited to attain a lasting strategic advantage.

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Kickoff 2015 Chess Tournament (Round 2)

1. c4 c5
2. Nc3 e6
3. g3 d5
4. cxd5 exd5
5. e3 Nc6
6. d4

Otherwise Black will push d4, leaving me with a backward e3 pawn after the exchange.

6... cxd4
7. exd4 Nf6
8. Bg2 h6
9. Be3 Bf5
10. Nge2 Qd7 (D)

Position after 10... Qd7

11. O-O

For a moment I toyed with the idea of trying to win the d5 pawn, but decided to complete my development first. Later on I looked at the line 11. Nf4 Rd8 12. Nfxd5 (12. O-O Be4 13. Bh3 Bf5 14. Bg2 Be4 15. Bh3 Bf5 16. Bg2 will be a really peculiar draw) 12... Nxd5 13. Nxd5 (D)

Position after 13. Nxd5

For a while it would seem White has the advantage, but after 13... Nb4! 14. Nxb4 Bxb4+ 15. Kf1 (15. Bd2?? Qxd4 16. Bxb4 Qxb4+ loses the Queen) 15... O-O White's awkward king position may prove more significant than his extra pawn.

Returning to the position after 11. O-O:

11... Bh3
12. Nf4

In all honesty I don't see much difference between 12. Nf4 and the variation 12. Bxh3 Qxh3 13. Nf4 Qf5 so I wonder why I spent so long on this move.

12... Bxg2
13. Kxg2 Bb4
14. Qb3 Bxc3 (D)

Position after 14... Bxc3

15. bxc3?!

During the game I was uncomfortable with the thought of an isolated central pawn in the endgame; however, by doing so I inadvertently created a backward pawn on c3. This gave me significant problems as you will see later on.

15. Qxc3 would have been the better option; O-O 16. Rac1 Rfe8 (Play will revolve around the two central pawns and their adjacent squares) 17. Qc5 Rac8 18. Qb5 Ne7 19. Qxd7 Nxd7 20. Rfd1 Nf6 21. Rc5 Rxc5 22. dxc5 (D)

Position after 22. dxc5

Black may have a passed pawn here, but White is able to blockade it: 22... Rd8 23. Ne2 Nf5 24. Nd4! planning for a long term restraint of the d4 square.

Returning to the position after 15. bxc3:

15... O-O
16. Rad1?! Rac8

We see Black's long term plan here: To occupy c4 and pressurize the c3 pawn.

17. Rc1

Wasting a move.

17... b6
18. Qb5 Ne7
19. Qxd7 Nxd7
20. Rc2 Nf6
21. a4?

Better was 21. Rb1, preparing 22. Rb4 if Black plays 21... Rc4

21... Rc4! (D)

Position after 21... Rc4!

Now I have two weak pawns to defend.

22. Ra1 Rfc8
23. Ra3 Ne4

Slowly adding on to the pressure. Black's pieces are dominating, while White's are tied down to defending their weak pawns.

24. Ne2 g5
25. g4

Black is in control of the Queenside; I have to find counterplay on the other wing.

25... Nc6
26. Rc1

Else Black will play 26... Nb4 followed by 27... Nd3

26... Ne7
27. f3 Nd6
28. Kg3 (D)

Position after 28. Kg3

Here I stopped recording, but eventually blundered in time trouble and lost. Nevertheless, you can see my position here is already worse off.

So what can we learn from this game? You have seen how Black exploited the weak c4 square in White's position to pressurize the c3 pawn. This was not a short tactical blow, but a slow, grinding strategic idea. By tying down White's pieces to the defence of the pawn, Black could achieve a dominating position with more active pieces. Later he would turn his attention to other weaknesses in my pawn structure, slowly alternating pressure among the various weak points until I finally blundered.

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