Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kramnik vs Radjabov, Baku Olympiad 2016

Although the FIDE World Chess Olympiad 2016 ended some time ago, its games never fail to inspire. Today, we will look at a game from Round 9 of the Olympiad, where Russia's star player Vladimir Kramnik scored a crushing win over Azerbaijan's Teimour Radjabov.

I was unable to find a significant amount of discussion on this particular game, probably because it was eclipsed by the Carlsen - Caruana struggle in the same round. Hence, I have attempted to provide more of my own analysis below.

Kramnik, Vladimir vs Radjabov, Teimour
Baku Chess Olympiad 2016, Round 9

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Bc5
4. O-O Nf6
5. d3 d6
6. c3 a6
7. Re1

Kramnik is not ready to push d4 yet so he improves his position first.

7... Ba7
8. a4!?

A peculiar move, but it serves a multiple purposes: Prevent Black from pushing b5, and preparing a queenside pawn storm.

8... O-O
9. h3 Ne7

The knight will be more useful on the kingside, where it is not restricted by enemy pawns.

10. Nbd2 Ng6
11. d4 h6 (D)

Position after 11... h6

As always we want to know what happens if Black takes on d4: 11... exd4 12. cxd4

Here it is obvious why Radjabov won't play 11... exd4: White's pawn centre is dominating, and has the strong threat of e5. So for example 12... Re8 13. e5 dxe5 14. Qb3 Rf8 15. dxe5 Nh5 White has strong pressure on the kingside.

12. Bf1

Before advancing on the queenside, the path in front of the c-pawn must be cleared.

12... Re8
13. a5 Bd7

Perhaps it was possible for Black to counterattack on the other wing? An f5 pawn thrust looks prospective: 13... Nh5 14. b4.

Here f5 cannot be pushed immediately (see variation), so Black first brings his knight to safety: 14... Nhf4 (14... f5? 15. Nxe5 dxe5 16. Qxh5 winning a pawn.) 15. d5 f5 16. exf5 Bxf5 17. c4 (D)

Position after 17. c4

Although White's attack looks threatening, most of his army is still undeveloped. Black can use his more active pieces and the open f-file to his advantage.

14. b4

By occupying the dark squares, White restricts Black's dark-squared bishop.

14... Bc6
15. d5 Bd7
16. c4 Nf4
17. c5?!

Offering a pawn. The plan is to weaken the e5 square and attack in the queenside/centre.

17... g5?

Seeing ghosts: Black declines the offer but ends up weakening his kingside. It was better to just accept the sac: 17... dxc5 18. Nc4 cxb4 19. Nfxe5 Ng6 20. Bb2 (20. Nxg6? Nxe4 White must take on e4, else ... Bxf2+ winning the exchange anyway.) 20... Nxe5

White sacrificed his pawn to gain central space and more piece activity. In response Black exchanges pieces to relieve the tension.

18. Nc4 (D)

Position after 18. Nc4

"Now White has strong pressure, basically for free" --

18... Qe7
19. Be3 Bb5

Black must prevent White from breaking through on c6.

20. Rc1 Nxe4?

Picks up a pawn, but it opens the file and puts Black's queen in a deadly pin. Once again it was better to liquidate: 20... dxc5 21. Bxc5 Bxc5 22. bxc5 (The threat of 23. d6 is dangerous, so Black must get rid of the supporting pieces) 22... Bxc4 23. Rxc4 Rad8

Although White has the advantage, Black holds out for now.

21. cxd6 Nxd6
22. Bxf4! (D)

Position after 22. Bxf4

The effects of the pin! Black is forced to capture with his g-pawn, irreversibly wrecking his kingside.

22... gxf4
23. Ncxe5

With Black's king exposed, Kramnik switches his attention from one wing to the other.

23... Bxf1

Radjabov finally gets to exchange, but it is not enough to relieve the attack.

24. Kxf1 Nb5
25. Qd2 Qf6
26. Re4

The breakthrough. White wins a pawn and with it the game.

26... Qg7
27. Rxf4 Rxe5
28. Rg4 Rh5
29. Rxg7+ Kxg7
30. g4 Rxh3
31. Kg2 Rxf3
32. Kxf3 Rd8
33. g5 Rd6
34. gxh6+ (D)

Position after 34. gxh6

Powerful gameplay by Kramnik!


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Queenstown Open 2016 Round 5

For today we will look at another of my games from the Queenstown Open 2016. Here, White was unable to exploit his opponent's badly cramped position on the queenside and allowed Black to equalize, eventually blundering in the endgame.

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Queenstown Open 2016 Round 5

1. c4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. e3 Bc5
4. g3 O-O
5. Bg2 c6
6. Nge2 a6
7. O-O b5
8. d4 exd4
9. exd4 Bb4
10. b3 Bxc3
11. Nxc3 b4
12. Na4

By pushing his pawns Black has weakened the dark squares around the queenside, thus White uses them as targets. Normally it would be more logical to bring the knight to the centre, but in this case 12. Ne4 Nxe4 13. Bxe4 d5 cedes tempo to Black.

12... Qc7?

Allowing White to develop with threat. 12... d5 had to be played, giving Black more space to sort out his woefully undeveloped queenside: 13. Re1 (13. cxd5? Nxd5 blockading the isolated pawn.) 13... Bf5 14. Bf4 Re8 and ... Ne4 followed by ... Nd7 is a real threat here.

13. Bf4 Qd8
14. Bd6 (D)

Position after 14. Bd6

It is obvious that White is better here. His knight and bishop dominate the dark squares on the queenside, trapping Black's pieces. The only question now is how to exploit this advantage?

14... Re8
15. Re1 a5

The only way to free Black's pieces.

16. Re2?!

This gives Black the possibility of ... Ba6 pinning the c pawn. 16. Bh3! would have checked Black's counterplay: 16... Ne4 17. Bf4 Na6 (Black still cannot push his d-pawn: 17... d5? 18. Bxc8 Qxc8 19. Nb6) 18. Qd3 Nf6 19. Bd6 followed by Re5 and Rae1

16... Re6
17. c5!?

A very commital move, maintaining pressure but weakening the b5 square. 17. Rxe6 dxe6 18. Bf4 is another possibility, retaining centre control but giving Black's queenside some free rein.

17... Ba6
18. Re5 Bb5 (D)

Position after 18... Bb5

19. Bh3?

Too late. White should not be going for a mass piece trade since he still retains the advantage. 19. Nb6 was the only logical continuation. I had decided against this worrying about getting the knight trapped, but alas I was fearing ghosts: 19... Ra7 20. Rxe6 dxe6 21. a4 bxa3 22. Rxa3

This time White can afford to simplify since Black is left with pawn weaknesses on a5 and c6. This gives White the better endgame.

19... Rxe5
20. dxe5 Nd5
21. Bg2

Now 21. Nb6 is no longer possibly because of Nxb6 22. cxb6 Qxb6. 21. Nb2 Nc3 is not pleasant for White either.

21... Bxa4
22. Bxd5 Bb5
23. Be4 Na6

Black gets his knight out, but needs to spend a few tempi to bring it into the game. Can White hold on to any advantage he has left?

24. Qh5

24. f4 followed by f5 then Qh5 was better.

24... g6
25. Qd1 Nc7
26. f4 (D)

Position after 26. f4

Since a breakthrough on the queenside is looking less likely, White turns to the kingside.

26... Ba6
27. f5 Nb5
28. fxg6 hxg6
29. Qf3 Qg5
30. Rf1??

Throwing away the game in a single move.

30. Rd1 (preventing Qd2) had to be played, after which 30... Nxd6 31. Rxd6 followed by h4 would still give White some winning chances, no matter how small.

30... Nxd6!

This crushing reply-- combinating attack and defense-- was what I missed.

I was too obsessed with calculating 30... Nd4? 31. Qxf7+ Kh8 32. Bxg6 Qh6 33. e6 with Be5# to follow.

31. h4 Qxe5 (D)

Position after 31. Qxe5

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Don't waste moves; make sure every move you make has a purpose.
  2. Think twice before pushing pawns, for you might create weak squares that your opponent may exploit.
  3. If you see a good move and you know it works, go for it! Don't be afraid of the ghosts that don't exist. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

September Holiday Tactical Challenge 2016

With NST just over, here's something to keep you occupied for the September Holidays:

Have fun!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Queenstown Open 2016 Round 3

Today we will look at one of my games from the recently concluded Queenstown Open 2016. As in many QGD games, it features the typical attack and breakthrough on the open c-file.

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Queenstown Open 2016 Round 3

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. e3 Be7
5. Nf3 O-O
6. Be2 b6
7. O-O Bb7
8. cxd5

This open c-file will become an important part of White's middlegame plans.

9... exd5
9. b3 Nbd7
10. a4

The idea is to play Ba3 trading White's bad bishop.

10... a6
11. Ba3 Bxa3
12. Rxa3 Qe7

The drawback of 10. a4 is that is allows Black to develop with threat.

13. Ra1 Rfd8 (D)

Position after 13... Rfd8

14. Qc2?

Losing tempo. 14. Qb1 Rac8 15. b4 gets the pawn forward in time to stop c5.

14... Rac8

White must waste time moving his queen again, giving Black the opportunity to play c5.

15. Qb2 Ne4!?

I was expecting 15... c5 16. Rfc1 (16. dxc5 bxc5 Black has the strong threat of 17... d4 creating a passed pawn.) 16... c4 (Not 16... cxd4? 17. Nxd4 when White has a good blockade against the passed pawn.) 17. Na2 cxb3 (17... b5? 18. axb5 axb5 19. bxc4 Both b5 and b7 are hanging; White will win at least a pawn.) 18. Qxb3 Ne4 19. Nc3 Ndf6 (D)

Position after 19... Ndf6

Black has an isolated pawn, but is compensated with active pieces and more space in the centre. He needs to get his bishop into the game and use the outpost on c4 to his advantage. White will try to find counterplay on the c-file as well.

16. Rfc1

White does not capture on e4 straightaway. He doubles his rooks on the c-file first to strengthen the upcoming breakthrough.

16. Nxe4 dxe4 17. Nd2 c5 Black is the one controlling the c-file.

16... Ndf6

Is it still possible to play c5? 16... c5 17. Na2 Ndf6 (threatening Ng4) 18. Ne5 White holds for now, but his position is getting cramped.

17. Rc2 g6?

This only gives White more time to execute his plan.

18. Rac1 Qd6
19. h3 Re8 (D)

Position after 19... Re8

The tides are turning. Black had his chance to make a c5 pawn break, but it becomes more remote with each move. Instead, White is allowed to strengthen his forces on the c-file in prepration for a counterattack. With the rooks doubled, now is the time to take on e4.

20. Nxe4 Nxe4

20... dxe4 21. Ne5 Nd7 22. Nxd7 Qxd7 23. a5 bxa5 24. Rc5 with Qc4 to follow, targeting the weaknesses on a5, a6 and c7.

21. Ne5

The destination is c6. Note the passive position of Black's bishop.

21... Nf6
22. Nc6 Kg7
23. b4 Ra8
24. a5!

Provoking more weaknesses. Not 24. b5? a5 allowing Black to patch up his weak spots.

24... b5
25. Ne5 (D)

Position after 25. Ne5

By forcing Black to push b5, White can use c5 as an invasion point.

25... Re7.
26. Bf3

Before the rook advances, the knight must be stopped from coming to e4. (26. Rc5? Ne4)

26... Rc8
27. Rc5 c6!

The best defense, seeking protection of the bishop while allowing ... Rec7 and ... Nd7.

28. Qc2 Rcc7?

Hastening the breakthrough.

28... Rec7 had to be played; 29. Bg4 Nxg4 30. Nxg4 f6 while Black is still inferior due to his passive pieces, White would need a long siege to breach the defences: 31. f3 with the idea of centralizing the king and pushing e4 while Black's forces are tied down.

29. Nxc6 Bxc6
30. Rxc6 Rxc6
31. Qxc6 (D)

Position after 31. Qxc6

The breakthrough.

31... Qxb4
32. Qxa6 Qb2
33. Rc5 Qa1+
34. Kh2 b4
35. Rb5 Qa3
36. Qb6 Qb2
37. Rxb4

The passed a-pawn will prove decisive.

37... Qxf2
38. Rb3

Be careful! 38. a6? Rxe3 followed by ... Rxf3 and suddenly it is White's king that's in trouble!

38... Rxe3
39. Rxe3 Qxe3
40. Qb2!

Dashing any of Black's hopes for a perpetual.

40. a6? Qf4+! 41. Kg1 Qc1+ White cannot escape from the checks.

40... Qf4+
41. Kh1 Qc7
42. Qa3 Qa7
43. a6

By now Black had run into time trouble, so he resorted to waiting moves.

43... Kg8

Was it still possible to fight back? 43... Ne4 44. Qa5 (44. Bxe4 dxe4 White must give up his passed pawn to stop Black's.) 44... Ng3+ 45. Kh2 Qb8 complicates things a little but after 46. a7 Nf1+ 47. Kh1 Black can resign.

44. Qa5 Kg7
45. Qb5 (D)

Position after 45. Qb5

With 46. Qb7 to follow. So what can we learn from this game?

  1. Make sure every move you make has a purpose. Unecessary moves only give your opponent more time to execute his/her plans.
  2. When there is an exchange available you don't have to capture immediately; sometimes it is better to wait till the right moment before releasing the tension.
  3. Even if you're winning, watch out for perpetual checks!