Charlotte Open, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Gregory Risk (1929)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 d5 3.Bg5
A word about this opening. While this line is covered in ECO (the code is D03), it has been known for the last couple of decades that the Torre Attack is typically ineffective against an early d5, such as 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5. Typically, it is mainly played against Nf6/g6 and Nf6/e6 responses, though it can also be played against Nf6/d6 or Nf6/b6 responses as well. I have always preached to people that these "systematic" openings don't work against everything. The Colle is no good when Black brings his Bishop outside the pawn chain. White then must play c4 to get anything, and play usually transposes to a Slow Slav. The London System doesn't work against the Modern Defense because Black gets in the early e5. The Veresov doesn't work against the Modern (1...g6) or Benoni (1...c5) lines. Well, for the Torre, it's the early ...d5.
As covered in the introduction, I in no way condone my own play in the opening, and this is the only time I have done this since taking up the Torre a couple of years ago. In the past, I would play 3.e3 against the early d5, and if the Bishop comes out, go into the slow Slav lines with 4.c4, or if 3...e6, then I'd play a Colle Zukertort (5.b3) with an occasional Koltanowski (5.c3) thrown in. Now, I play 3.c4 against this early d5. This game, however, was an exception where my sole intent was to get Black out of his comfort zone rather than playing what is necessarily the "best moves". The ONLY time that I would advise this is if you face someone that has absolutely no diversity in their game. For example, you can try a few inferior lines against someone that always plays the King's Indian, Pirc, and some form of Kingside Fianchetto line as White, like the English or King's Indian Attack, just to break their stride. Do not make a habit of this activity against everyone you face. In my almost 2800 games, I can think of two other times that I've done this. I won them both.
This move is ok, as are many other moves as Black is not limited in valid options, but let's look at the line that specifically makes the Torre inferior against the early ...d5 that can't be played after Nf6/e6 or Nf6/g6. It starts with 3...Ne4! Now you might be asking how this is any different than the Trompowsky Attack. In the Trompowsky, White saves the Bishop, and then has the opportunity to kick the Knight away with f3, but here, the White Knight is already on f3, making the pawn push impossible and therefore it becomes very hard to harass. After 4.Bh4 (4.Bf4 is even less appealing for White) Qd6! 5.Nbd2 (5.e3? Qb4+!) Qh6!, White must play very accurately just to maintain a balanced game. The only move is the odd looking 6.Qc1! (6.e3? g5 7.Bg3 Nxg3 8.fxg3 g4 drops the e-pawn). Here, Black can either trade Knights, which is roughly equal, or go for a line that contains even more traps for White to watch out for, and even if he avoids them, he still has nothing better than equality. Black can play 6...Nc6 7.c3 Qh5 where White must avoid falling for 8.Nxe4? dxe4 9.Qg5 Qxg5 10.Nxg5 h6 11.Nh3 e5!, which favors Black, and play 8.h3 with equality.
Another word of note is that Black can also play 4...c5 (after 3...Ne4 4.Bh4) when White must play 5.dxc5 with equality. Note that 5.e3? is bad due to 5...Qb6 6.Qc1 cxd4 7.exd4 g5! 8.Bxg5 Nxg5 9.Nxg5 Qxd4 with advantage to Black. This line is critical to note as we end up in something similar on the Queenside, but the lack of the Black Knight and White Bishop, and the change in pawn structure, alters the assessment in the game itself.
I was under the assumption that Black would not find all of this, and he didn't, but just in case you are wrong, you must be prepared for this just in case your opponent does figure out the moves.
4.Bxf6 exf6 5.e3 Qb6 6.Qc1?!
Far stronger is 6.Nc3! as 6...Qxb2?? loses almost instantly to 7.Nxd5 Bf5 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.cxd3 Kd8 10.O-O. Black must play 6...Be6, where 7.Bb5+ is roughly equal.
6...Nc6 or 6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nc6 both lead to a slight advantage for Black.
7.Nbd2 Nc6 8.c3 Rc8 9.Qb1 cxd4 10.exd4 Bd6
Black misses his chance to get a slight advantage. The correct move here is 10...Rc7 where after 11.Bd3, the move 11...Re7+ eliminates White's castling rights as he has nothing better than 12.Kf1. Black is slightly better.
From here on out, the rest of the game see the position toggle between equal and better for White. It took some luck, but after going through White's inferior play in the opening, we are ready to roll!
This trade, giving up the light-squared Bishop for nothing, is completely unexplainable. Better was 11...Qc7 with an equal game.
12.Bxf3 g6 13.O-O O-O 14.Re1 Rfe8 15.Rxe8+ Rxe8 16.Qc2
White manages to unclog his Queenside with a slight advantage.
This move allows White to pressure the d5-pawn. Better is 16...Na5, heading for c4 with the Knight, or 16...a6.
17.Qb3 Ne7 18.Re1 Rc8 19.g3
So let's assess the position:
- White has the better pawn structure as it is three pawn islands versus two and Black has an isolated pawn. The doubled pawns are not as big of an issue for Black as they cover critical squares on the e-file.
- White's Rook is ideally placed. Virtually nothing else on the board is.
- Black's Knight is virtually stuck on e7.
- Bishops are of opposite color, which favor the side with the initiative in the middle game. Since Black's Knight is stuck, his heavy pieces are not on an open file, his pawns are worse, it can be safe to say that White is the one with the initiative.
Based on this, we can safely say that White has the advantage. Now we need to figure out what White's "To Do" list is:
- Prevent the Knight from being able to come to f5.
- Relocate his Knight, Bishop, and Queen.
- Build pressure on the d5-pawn and down the e-file.
- When the dust settles, possibly advance the king side pawns to loosen the coverage of the Black King. This has to be done with caution though as it also opens up the White King.
The move ...Nf5 is not yet a threat as it would hang the d-pawn.
And so therefore White prevents any intrusions such as 20...Qh3.
Once again, not a move that helps Black get the Knight to f5. Therefore, White needs to figure out what to do next. A common concept in chess is to look for the worst placed piece. This can be the King, but Pawns don't count. Take a minute to look at White's position, and see if you can figure out White's worst placed piece.
So, did you figure out which of White's five pieces (including the King) is the worst placed piece?
- The Rook is ideally placed on the only open file.
- The Queen is not ideally placed, but she is pressuring the weak d5-pawn, and so she is not the "worst-placed" piece.
- The Bishop is doing the task of covering f5.
- The King is safe on g2
- The Knight?
I think we have our answer. Now the question becomes, where do we want to put the Knight and do we have time? From f3, the Knight is doing absolutely nothing. However, if he could move himself to e3, he covers the f5-square once again, and also adds an attacker to the d5-pawn. Now you might be wondering about the blocking of the Rook on the open file. With the Black Knight stuck on e7, Black is not going to build up on the e-file. behind the Knight as there is only one square. Therefore, White does not need to concern himself of the Rook being temporarily blocked, but once the Knight moves, he's still ready to contest the file. Also, given what happens in this game, it turns out the Rook will soon be the worst placed piece despite it being the best one at the very moment. The last thing to figure out is whether or not he has time. Black has almost nothing here. Possibly an advancement of the Queenside pawns to try to disrupt White's pawn structure, but that is about it. Therefore, we should have time to maneuver the Knight.
21.Nd2! Qc6 22.Nf1 Kf8 23.Ne3 Rd8
Mission one accomplished. Notice how Black was unable to do much of anything in that time. NOW what is the worst placed piece?
The Queen has gotten off of f5, and the Knight has taken over the job of covering f5 along with adding an attacker to d5. Now the Bishop needs to be relocated to f3 to add yet another attacker to the d5-Pawn.
24...Bc7 25.Bf3 b5
Ok, so one more time. What is White's worst placed piece? This one is tough!
Here is where things start turning the other way and White's advantage is about to dwindle. Here, White thought the worst-placed piece was the Knight, that it hasn't gotten to its ideal square yet, and that it really belongs on b4, or else induces Black to advance the a-pawn and slightly weaken the Queenside.
Well, it turns out this is not right. Did anybody say the Queen was the worst placed piece? Well, again, it's not great, but it turns out it's not the worst placed piece, and if you find the correct piece and move it to its correct location, the Queen problem will sort itself out.
It turns out the answer is the Rook! White should have played 26.Ra1!, preparing a4, and after 26...f5 27.a4 bxa4 (Black has nothing better than this move) 28.Qxa4 Qxa4 (Remember I said the Queen problem will sort itself out?) 29.Rxa4 a5 30.Ra3 Rb8 31.b3 Rd8, White has a near-decisive advantage, and once again will relocate his worst placed piece for what is probably the last time, which this time it is finally the King, and he should play 32.Kf1! intending to relocate the King to d3.
26...a5 27.Ne3 Qd7
Now White has to watch out for a few tricks here. For example, White would like to pin the Knight to the Queen with his Bishop if Black ever plays ...Nf5. However, had it been Black's turn, he could very well do it because pinning the Knight fails tactically to ...Nxe3+, getting out of the pin and winning a piece. Therefore, White needs to do something about this trick.
The first move people think of is not usually a retreating move, but in this case, White does this to make it so that capturing on e3 is not check, which would make the pin effective if Black ever plays ...Nf5. Also, with the Bishop on f3 instead of d3, he can always move the Bishop to g2 if Black ever tries to come in on h3 with the Queen.
There is no need to relocate the Bishop. Better is 29.Qa3, pressuring the Knight on e7 once White moves his own Knight. Note that now 29...Bd6 would drop the a-pawn, and so Black has nothing better than 29...Qd6, allowing White to trade Queens, the piece that White should really be trying to trade off at this point.
Now White has completely thrown his advantage away. Better here was 30.a3, still retaining a small advantage.
Do you see Black's equalizing move?
Don't worry, neither did he! Not only did Black fail to find the equalizer, which was 30...b4, but he also outright blundered into a lost position.
As much of a train wreck that this is, the lesser evil was probably to take the tripled pawns with 31...gxf5. That said, White's still winning after 32.Bd3. Now the Black Queen doesn't get trapped, but she gets tucked away into a useless area of the board, never to see the light of day until it is way too late.
32.Bg4 Qg5 33.h4! Qh6
What a picturesque position! Black's Queen is deemed totally useless. The Bishop can do nothing to stop White's attack on f7, a light square, and the Rook on b8 isn't of much help either when White is about to bring both his heavy pieces down the e-file, and once the second one goes down, opening up c1 for the Black Queen, White will have the safe haven for the King on g2, a light square! This pretty much spells the end of the game.
34.Re7 Bd6 35.Rd7
Both gaining time on the Bishop and opening up the file for the Queen to come down next!
The correct square for the Queen, continuing to cover all three dark squares, c1, d2, and e3, so that the Queen remains stuck on h6.
36...f5 37.Qe8 Qc1+ 38.Kg2! 1-0
The only way to stop immediate mate is with 38...Be7, giving up the Bishop, but even there, White has mate in 8 against the best defense, and so Black resigned.
A few things to pick up from this game:
- Once again, keep in mind that White's opening play in this game was inferior and should not be repeated. Before playing an inferior line, make sure you do your research on your opponent, and make at least fairly certain that you aren't expecting the best play by your opponent. This is most often successful against players that play the exact same openings and exact same positions over and over and over and over again to the point that they are playing out of habit more than anything else. If these openings also lead to the exact same pawn structures, like the Caro-Kann and Slav or Pirc and King's Indian, all the better!
- Remember that an inferior move is only bad if the opponent is able to execute. If he can't, the inferior move suddenly went from bad to good. Note that inferior and bad are not the same thing! In many books, bad moves and blunders are pointed out because there is a clear cut path to busting the move played. Inferior simply means that there are better options, and your move is not outright losing, but it can lead to a position that you have to spend the rest of the game defending, which is almost never fun, especially when you have White.
- When making your To-Do list, always consider two things. First of all, you need a To-Do list whether you are attacking or defending. That To-Do list could be eliminating a key defensive piece, like a Knight on f6 (if you have White that is), and a relocation of your own pieces. But also keep in mind that your To-Do list could also be things you need to make sure you prevent from your opponent. For example, in the same we saw, White had the task of making sure that Black could never move his Knight to f5 without paying the price for it! As it turns out, it never was good for Black. Notice when he did play it in the game, his Queen was immediately put away and sentenced to life on h6.
- When trying to conduct an attack, always keep in the back of your head the idea of the worst placed piece. Remember, that can very well be the King, and maybe the King needs to go for a walk, but a Pawn is never considered the worst placed piece. Also note how a piece's value can change as the game goes on. The White Rook went from being the best placed piece at move 19 to being the worst placed piece at move 26. Also note that defending threats must take priority over moving the worst placed piece. This idea is something you do when you've determined that your opponent has no immediate threats and you are headed on the offensive. Also, a piece that might look bad may be very well placed for defensive purposes. This is often the case in certain openings, like the Knight on e2 in the Exchange Grunfeld with 7.Bc4 and 8.Ne2, or the Bishop on c8 or d7 in the French Defense, covering the potentially weak e6 pawn.
Next time, we will be looking at round 4, which will probably be in two weeks with Land of the Sky being next weekend. Until then, good luck in your games, and good luck to those attending LOTS.