The themes to be on the lookout for are positional decision making in the middle game along with two endgame themes, the tempo game and zugzwang. Without further ado, let's see what happened in the game.
Potomac Open, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2050)
B: Jay Lalwani (1879)
1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.O-O O-O 6.d4
Through a slightly unusual move order, we directly transpose into a Catalan, normally reached via a Nimzo-Indian mover order (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 O-O 6.O-O) or a Queen's Gambit Declined move order (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O). With the move order played, the Open Catalan (4...dxc4) is avoided. Black can take on c4, but without d4 played, we reach Reti territory instead of the Catalan. This leaves Black with the option of the Closed Catalan (6...c6) or the Semi-Open Catalan (6...dxc4). Black goes with the former.
6...c6 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.Rd1 Ne4
This move is not very good for Black. At first glance, it looks like Black is attempting to transition the position into a Stonewall Dutch if he were to play a future ...f5. The main problem is that while the Dutch Stonewall was played over half a decade ago with the Bishop developed to e7, it has since been determined that the more modern idea of putting the Bishop on the active d6 rather than placing it passively on e7 is more accurate, and so a transposition to the Stonewall Dutch here would give White a small but lasting positional advantage.
Instead, Black should try to complete his development rather than lash out with already developed pieces. Similar to the issues in the French, Queen's Gambit Declined, and Stonewall Dutch, Black is dealing with a bad light-squared Bishop. The best idea here for Black is to fianchetto the light-squared Bishop with 8...b6, intending 9...Bb7, and getting in a timely ...c5 push, often preceded by developing the Rook to c8. It is well known that in the Catalan, White's light-squared Bishop is the most dangerous minor piece. If Black can neutralize this piece by contesting the same diagonal, open up the position to eliminate his space disadvantage, and release tension at the right time, Black can defuse any attack White imagined having and a symmetrical endgame with open c- and d-files is not uncommon. Like most symmetrical positions, because White goes first, he will have a slight, nagging advantage, but with correct play, Black should be able to hold the position without much issue.
Often times in the Catalan, White has to develop the Knight on the more passive d2-square, or else spend time to play b3 before placing the Knight on c3. The reason for this is the c4-pawn would suddenly become unprotected. However, with the Knight on e4, Black can't take the pawn as the Knight would hang.
So Black spent two moves getting the Knight to e4 versus White taking one move to go to c3, and then Black initiates the trade on c3, which White recaptures with the Queen. Therefore, since the Queen might not be best placed on c3, it can be argued whether White gained two tempi or only one tempo, but either way, that's at minimum one tempo lost by Black in the long run. Another reason why 8...Ne4 should be considered inferior to 8...b6.
Best here is still 10...b6, against which White's best move would be to return the Queen to c2, and hence gaining only one tempo.
White correctly ignores the pin on d4, which is meaningless, and instead focuses on control of e5.
White has a very strong, positional advantage here. His Rooks are connected with one of them already developed to the two main files in the Catalan (c- and d-). Black's Rooks are both passive and his Bishop and Queen are undeveloped. If White does nothing fancy and just continues to improve his position, he will have an advantage. However, there is absolutely no need to take a tactical approach to the position.
There are two simple ideas for White:
- The positional approach would be to play 12.Be5 Nxe5 13.dxe5 Be7 14.Qc2 with 15.e3 to come to contest d4 and White has a space advantage thanks to the pawn wedge on e5 and given the nature of the position, the Bishop pair is nothing to shout home about, and does not offset Black's lack of space or development. He would also have to watch out for Kingside attacks.
- Also good is the simple 12.e3 where after 12...b6 13.Bd6 Re8 14.Ne5 Bb7 (14...Nf8? 15.dxc5 and White is already winning) 15.Rac1 Nxe5 16.dxe5 Qxd6 17.exd6 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Rad8 19.cxd5, White is to be preferred.
The lesser evil was 13.Qc2 e5 14.Bd2 Qe7 with equality.
This simply leads to an inferior pawn structure for Black. Instead, Black should play 13...e5! when 14.Qxd8 Rxd8 15.Bg5 Bxg5 16.Nxg5 Nb6 is better for Black.
14.Qxd8 Rxd8 15.Nxd4 Nb6 16.Bc7
Once again, an inaccurate decision by White on how to take advantage of a better position. White's idea is obvious. Double the pawns and bank on the better pawn structure. However, instead of taking the Knight to create a wrecked pawn structure, White should put the question to the Knight with 16.b3, questioning Black as to where he thinks that Knight on b6 is going, or what it could possibly do on b6.
16...Rd7 17.Bxb6 axb6 18.Rac1 Rd8 19.a3 Be6
This move is too passive. Black should play 19...Bg4, threatening to win a pawn with 20...Bxd4 followed by 21...Bxe2. This would force White to weaken his Kingside with a move like 20.f3 or 20.h3 to make progress, giving Black a target to play with.
Stronger is 20.Rc7 where Black can passively defend b7 with 20...Rab8 or else if Black tries to contest the c-file with 20...Rac8, White can win a pawn after 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Rxb7.
20...Rac8 21.b4 Bxd4 22.exd4 Kf8 23.Bf3 Ke7 24.Kg2 Kd6 25.Be2 Ra8 26.Rc3 Rdc8 27.Rdc1 Rxc3 28.Rxc3
White has the advantage in the Bishop ending. Instead, 28...Bd7! is completely equal and a draw could be agreed to right then and there. Black virtually paralyzes White. He completely controls a4, stopping the a-pawn from advancing, and therefore the White Rook is tied down to covering a3. In addition, all entry points on the c-file are covered, and so White isn't coming in anytime soon.
29.Rxc8 Bxc8 30.Bd3 h6 31.Kf3 g5
It should first be noted that with perfect play by both sides, this game is probably a draw, despite Black's doubled b-pawns or the fact that Black's d-pawn is on the color square of the Bishops. That said, if White wants to dream of winning, he has to play this position very delicately. I have mentioned before, and I will mention again, that computers can rarely be trusted for the best move, and especially in the opening or in an endgame of more than 6 pieces total. Most computers have table bases for 5-piece and 6-piece endgames. However, we have 16 pieces still on the board. An example of inferior analysis by a computer is that of Shredder, the engine used when in analysis mode on chess.com, recommends 32.g4 for White, and claims that White is better. However, that is not the case. 32.g4 creates a well-known blocking pattern. When two sets of pawns block each other three files apart from identical ranks, such as the White and Black pawns on d4 and d5 paired up with a set of White and Black pawns on g4 and g5, it creates a complete barrier for both Kings. The only entry would be on the Queenside, and either player can shut that door with push of their b-pawn. Therefore, despite the bot saying that White's better after 32.g4, that move would merely create an immediate draw. Black should never take any White pawn that goes to f4 or h4. He can merely guard the g-pawn, and he will always have that pawn on g5, and using the Bishop and King to guard d5, White would never break through. Therefore, the move played was to see what Black does while the position is still somewhat mobile.
Black cannot afford to advance 32...g4 himself as then White breaks through with 33.Kf4, winning.
33.Kf3 Bd7 34.Bg6
White's idea is to swing the Bishop around to g4, forcing a decision from Black, and trying to entice the f-pawn to advance.
34...Be6 35.Bh5 Bd7 36.Bg4
Now Black has to make a crucial decision. He cannot trade Bishops here as the White King will get in and win at minimum the h-pawn. He also can't allow White to trade Bishops on d7. Therefore, he either has to move the Bishop off the diagonal, which helps White gain control of the light squares, or else advance f5, going right into White's script. Again, this shouldn't be fatal for Black, but gives Black one more thing to think about.
36...f5 37.Bh5 Ke7 38.Ke3 Kd6 39.Be2 Be8 40.Bd3 Bd7 41.Kf3
White should probably think about 41.b5 here, not allowing Black to play 41...b5 himself.
This move allows White to come in to b5 with the Bishop instead of the pawn. Still not losing yet for Black, but why allow White to create more headaches?
I don't agree with trading the Bishops from Black's perspective. Just waiting and playing a more passive move like 42...Bf7 was probably better.
Now is when accuracy by both players is at its most crucial stage.
To maintain winning chances, White needs to play 44.b5, stopping any b5-advance by Black. It also buys White a tempo that he can use at any point in time via moving his a-pawn. When it comes to King and Pawn endgames, often times having a single tempo gained or the ability to waste a single tempo can often be vital in deciding a win versus a draw or in some cases, a win versus a loss!
Black draws instantly with 44...b5, and 44...Kc6 probably works as well, but 44...b5 is the simpler move to execute.
Once again, White needs to play 45.b5 first.
And once again Black can shut the door on all hopes of a White win with 45...b5!
Finally! This does not sew up the win. Black still has to error for White to win, but it eliminates the instant draw that Black had the previous two moves.
Once again, all moves here should draw except one more that loses for White, but this allows an instant draw opportunity to Black. Better might be 47.Kf3, keeping tension, and make sure that Black knows to stand pat and just toggle the King.
The move 47.h4?? actually loses for White! After 47...f4+ 48.Kf3 fxg3 49.fxg3 gxh4 50.gxh4 Kf5 and White is busted!
47...g4! draws on the spot. Both 48.h4 f4 49.gxf4 Kf5 50.Ke3 Kg6 and 48.hxg4 fxg4 49.f3 Kf5 50.Ke3 h5 51.fxg4+ Kxg4 52.Kf2 lead to only a draw for White, and all other moves lose!
48...g4 again ends White's hopes at a win!
Yet another missed opportunity at 49...g4 with a draw.
And yet again 50...g4 draws.
This is now officially Black's final opportunity. He can take on a5 first if he wants because it's with check, but now he needs to play g4, either with or without the pawn trade on a5.
Now Black is lost!
52.axb6 Kd7 53.Kc5 Ke6
Ironically enough, the move that Black had numerous chances to draw with is the only move that wins for White here. Because the d5-pawn takes away the c4-square for the White King, there is no way for White to triangulate and to lose a tempo. Therefore, White must find a move that will lock the position of all the pawns with White himself making the last move so that it will be Black that is forced to move the King. Other moves fail.
- 54.h4 gxh4! (Not 54...g4? 55.h5! and White wins) 55.gxh4 f4 and no matter which pawn White moves, Black moves the other pawn and White then must move the King.
- 54.f4 h5! and now 55.fxg5?? h4 wins for Black while 55.h4 g4 once again White must move the King and a draw results.
- 54.f3 h5! and now 55.g4 is forced as both 55.h4?? f4 and 55.f4?? h4 are winning for Black! After 55.g4, Black draws after 55...hxg4 56.hxg4 f4 and once again, White is the player on move and must move his King, allowing the draw.
54...fxg4 55.hxg4 doesn't solve Black's problem either. He will have to move the King and White grabs the d5-pawn.
Now it's Black that has to move the King and the d-pawn falls. White will win by stalemating the Black King and force advancement of the h-pawn leading to mate upon promotion.
55...Ke7 56.Kxd5 Kd7 57.Ke5 Ke7 58.d5 Kd7 59.d6 Kd8 60.Ke6 Ke8 61.d7+ Kd8 62.Kd6 h5 63.gxh5 1-0
It's unstoppable mate in three, and so Black resigned.
So the following ideas should be learned from this game:
- In the middle game, when you have the advantage in the form of a lead in development and a number of positional trumps, there is no reason to rush the issue and get into a tactical mess. Oversights such as Black's opportunity to play 13...e5 can often result. Fortunately for White, Black missed this!
- When it comes to endgames, and especially Pawn endgames, it is often critical to play for the extra tempo. The ability to "waste a move" is often critical. There are numerous positions in endgames where whoever is to move wins, or if one player is to move, he wins, but if the other player is to move, it's a draw. However, there are a few rare cases where being on the move is bad. There are cases of reciprocal zugzwang, where whoever is to move loses, or slightly more common is a case like we saw in this game where once it gets to the point where only the Kings could move, if Black is to move, he loses, but if White is to move, he only gets a draw. So you can't always look at every position from the "positive" or "forward going" perspective. Sometimes you actually want to force your opponent to move, which is the main theme of the zugzwang tactic, where any move is detrimental to your position, and if you could "pass", you would draw rather than lose, or win rather than draw (or lose). The easiest way to achieve this is to have a move in your pocket that you can make to lose a tempo. In the game, it came in the form of f2-f3 for White, but this could happen on either side of the board. Had the White pawn still been on a3, White could lose a tempo by moving it to a4, hence why you don't want to waste moves like that earlier in the game unless you absolutely have to in order to stop the opponent from conducting a fatal attack or winning material.
Well, that concludes this article. Good luck in all of your games.