Sunday, January 20, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 3

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. After a rough outing against the GM in round 1 and the painful draw round 2, I was desperate for a win. I had seen the pairing almost an hour before the game began, and so I looked up my opponent prior to the game, and in the limited games online, I noticed one trend. He always went for the same piece placement. As Black, he played the Slav and the Caro-Kann. Structures with a pawn on d5, Bishop on f5, and Knight on f6. He even played this setup in a game against 1.b3. This is usually, though not always, a sign of a player that might have a narrow understanding of pawn structures. Therefore, what we are going to see this game is not the best moves by White in the opening, but rather, playing a slightly inferior line specifically to get Black out of his comfort zone, avoiding his favorite structure of Bishop on f5, Knight on f6, Pawns on d5 and e6, and nothing more beyond that! Therefore, you will not want to use this game for opening prep, but there are many middle game ideas that can be gotten from this game.

Charlotte Open, Round 3
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Gregory Risk (1929)
Torre Attack

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!

11.Bd3 Bxf3

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.

28...Kg7 29.Be2

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.

29...Rb8 30.Qd1

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.

31.Nxf5! Qxf5

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!

35...Rb6 36.Qe1

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.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 2

Hello everyone and welcome as we continue the analysis of games from the Charlotte Open. This round 2 game may be a hard one to watch as while there are no real tactical blunders, there are a ton of strategic mistakes made in this game, with the most common theme being White playing a lot of second rate moves, and Black having horrible judgment in which pieces to trade off.

A word about trading. Often times, when a trade occurs, amateur players often think about the piece that is coming off the board. For example, they assume a Queen trade means endgame. That a trade of light-squared Bishops means the light squares are suddenly safe for the Kings. That the trade of a Bishop for a Knight means that the player that traded away the Bishop has gained control over the color squares opposite that of his Bishop. For example, that if you trade your dark-squared Bishop for a Knight, you gain control of the light squares.

While all of these things are to some extent true, they are not all cut and dry like that. What if Black trades away his dark-squared Bishop for a Knight, but White has his pawns for the most part on light squares? Can Black make use of the light squares if they are all covered by White pawns? And if White's pawns are on light squares, his uncontested dark-squared Bishop is probably very strong as it is free to roam, unobstructed by his own pawns.

So, when looking at this game, think about trades from a different angle. Instead of thinking about what is being traded off, think about what remains!

With that, let's look at the game from the second round of the Charlotte Open.

Charlotte Open, Round 2
W: Adharsh Rajagopal (1989)
B: Patrick McCartney (2061)
Catalan Opening

1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 Nf6 4.g3 dxc4 5.Qa4+

While there is no refutation to this move, this move is slightly inferior to 5.Bg2. White's idea is to regain the pawn immediately, which is a slightly better idea in the line known as the "Neo-Catalan", where White has not played d4 yet: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 dxc4 5.Qa4+. The reason for that is that Black still has the flexibility to play a hedgehog setup with d3, and the Queen is unobstructed on the fourth rank.

5...Nbd7 6.Qxc4


Black decides to continue development and doesn't take advantage of the flaw in the immediate recapture with the Queen. In this position, Black could (and probably should) play 6...a6 7.Bg2 b5 8.Qd3 Bb7 and already Black is contesting the long diagonal, and he will have absolutely no problems getting in the freeing move, ...c5. Black already has a small advantage.

Let's compare this to the main line. Had White played the correct move, 5.Bg2, then after 5...Be7 6.O-O O-O 7.Qc2 (7.Ne5 is also possible here, leading to a completely different idea that is also fine for White, but the 7.Qc2 line is the one that can and should be compared to the game.) 7...a6 and here White has a choice, both of which are better White than the position Black could have achieved with 6...a6 in the game:
  1. White can recapture the pawn with 8.Qxc4, allowing 8...b5 with tempo, but after 9.Qc2 Bb7 10.Rd1 Nbd7 11.Bg5

    Black still has problems to figure out. He is by no means losing, and the position is ok for Black, but Black is not better here. For instance, unlike the 6...a6 line in the game, where Black will have no problems getting in the freeing move ...c5, here, 11...c5 would come at a major cost in the form of a shattered pawn structure. After 12.dxc5 Bxc5 13.Bxf6 gxf6, White is slightly better. Of course, Black has an improvement in the form of 11...Rc8 with the idea of ...c5 to come, and after something like 12.Ne5 Bxg2 13.Kxg2 c5 or 12.Nc3 c5, the position is equal.
  2. White can also obstruct Black's attempt at playing ...b5 by playing 8.a4 with the idea of capturing the next move. The downside is the weakening of the b4-square, but on the plus side, Black can't easily contest the long diagonal. Here, Black can abandon the plan entirely of trying to contest the "Catalan Bishop" by playing 8...Nc6, looking to take advantage of the weakening of b4, which is probably Black's best idea with a roughly level position, or he can try to contest the diagonal with 8...Bd7 9.Qxc4 Bc6, but the Bishop is very clumsy here and obstructs the c-pawn. White has the advantage after a move like 10.Bf4.

7.Bg2 O-O 8.O-O c6

Black's idea here is to play the freeing move ...e5 where this move doesn't allow White to by-pass with d5. However, a move like 8...Qe7 was probably better. Do you see the move for White here?


White misses it! After 9.Rd1!, Black cannot get in ...e5 without a huge positional concession. 9...e5? gives White a completely dominating endgame after 10.dxe5 Bxe5 11.Nxe5 Nxe5 12.Rxd8 Nxc4 13.Rxf8+ Kxf8 14.b3 and the Bishop pair is the most important feature in this open position. That said, even after the slight improvement of 9...Qe7, getting in ...e5 will still cost Black his Bishop after 10.Qd3!. Now 10...e5 11.dxe5 forces Black to take with the Bishop first as otherwise it will hang, and so White gets the Bishop pair once again. Lastly, delaying it a move further doesn't work either. After 10...Rd8, White can stop the ...e5 push with 11.Bf4!.

9...e5 10.Rd1

Too late!


The Queen would be better placed on e7. Now White can take advantage of the problem with the Bishop again. With the Queen on e7, the Bishop can retreat to c7 and still cover e5. If you flip the Queen and Bishop, a Bishop on e7 does not cover e5, hence the reason the Queen should go to e7 instead of c7.


Here we are with that theme of not knowing when to trade. Here, White should again be looking at the fact that the Bishop on d6 is only covered once, keep the tension, and play 11.Qd3 with the same theme. The threat for White is the same as before. White threatens to play 12.dxe5 at a time that Black would be forced to take with the Bishop and part with the Bishop pair. It is more favorable for White to make Black initiate the trade on d4 rather than doing it himself on e5.

11...Nxe5 12.Nxe5 Bxe5 13.Be3

White should have contested the dominant Bishop on e5 via 13.Bf4.

13...Be6 14.Qa4

So after Black's failure to take advantage on move 6, he has regained equality here. What should Black play?


This move makes no sense. Black figures that it shatters White's pawns, and allows him to contest the long diagonal with his other Bishop. But why? Black got away with the slow approach with ...c6, plugging up the diagonal, and was still able to get away with the freeing move with his e-pawn after the missed opportunity by White on move 9. Now, if he plays anything "normal", like 14...h6 or 14...Rfe8 or 14...Bf5, he has a fully playable position and the game is equal. Here, he is surrendering his best minor piece simply so he can contest the other Bishop when that Bishop is barely a threat any more. Another case of failing to think about what's left. What's left is no Black dark-squared Bishop! If that piece is going to get traded off, it needs to be with interest. For instance, had White played 13.Bf4, he would get the opposing Bishop for it and White's pawn structure would be compromised. Here, he just hands the dark squares to White.

15.bxc3 Bd5 16.Bc5

White should play 16.Bd4 from the start and not give Black a free developing move for his Rook.

16...Rfe8 17.Bd4 Bxg2 18.Bxf6

White should capture the other Bishop here with 18.Kxg2. Now Black has the advantage again.

18...Be4 19.Bd4 c5 20.Be3 Bc6 21.Qf4

White has offered Black a Queen trade. If Black trades, he gets the better pawn structure. Should he do it?


Once again, the wrong answer was to trade. Sure, White's pawns are slightly compromised, but look at it from the perspective of what's left. White has a weak pawn on c3. How is Black going to put any pressure on it? He's not! How can Black take advantage of the doubled pawns? He can't! Instead, with opposite colored Bishops in a middlegame, Black needs to realize that the initiative is his, and that he should be keeping the Queens on the board and attacking the White King. After 21...Qa5 22.Rd3 Re6 (Note that 22...h6 would not allow 23.Qc4? as 23...Bb5 24.Qxc5 b6 is winning for Black because the a8-Rook is protected, but other than that trick, this move doesn't achieve much) 23.Qc4 b6 (Now 23...Bb5 is a mistake because after 24.Qxc5 b6 25.Qd5, the a8-Rook is hanging) 24.Rd2 Rae8 (threatening 25...Re4) 25.Qd3 Qa4 26.h3 (to stop 26...Qg4) Bb7 27.Kh2 (27.Qd7?? Qe4 -+) 27...Qc6 28.Rg1 Rf6 and Black has a dominating position. For instance, 29.Qd7?? loses to 29...Rxe3!, and so therefore, White is tied down.

22.gxf4 23.Rd6?

Another mistake. 23.a4 was necessary.


Now controlling the d1-square, White is going to unable to double on the d-file.

24.Kg2 Rad8

And once again, Black offers a trade that he shouldn't be making. Just because you stop White from doubling on the d-file does not mean it is time to trade more material just to get control of the file. Yes, Black gets control of the d-file, but he has almost nothing left to attack White with. Instead, Black gets a dominating position after 24...Re4 25.Rc1 Bb5 26.Rd2 (26. Kf3 Rc4) 26...Ra4 27.Rcc2 Re8 28.Rb2 Bc4 when Black has a dominating position. Sure it will still take work to win, but these trades that Black has made has done nothing but make White's defense easier to execute. Black should probably have won this game three times by now, and instead, he's running out of options and will soon be forced to surrender half the point to White.

25.Rxd8 Rxd8 26.f3 Kf8 27.Rb1 Ke7 28.Rb2 Ke6 29.Kf2 Rd1 30.c4

Already this is going to be very difficult for Black to win, but if he wants any hope, he has to start advancing the kingside pawns.


This does nothing but allow White to force off the last set of Rooks, and what we have is not one of those scenarios where Black can win with the Opposite Colored Bishops, mainly because the King has no way in, unlike, for example, the game I covered in December 2017 (click here to view that article) where the Black King was able to intrude. Here, the King will be stuck behind his pawns, and all subsequent efforts by Black are futile. Yes, White is limited, but there is always a move for him such that zugzwang by Black is impossible.

The rest of the game needs no analysis. Just playing through the moves, you can easily see that White's fortress can't be broken. The slightly better pawns are insufficient to win.

31.Rd2+ Rxd2 32.Bxd2 Bc2 33.Ke3 Ke6 34.Bc3 f6 35.Kd2 Bb1 36.a3 Kf5 37.e3 Ba2 38.Kd3 Bb3 39.Bd2 Ke6 40.e4 f5 41.Bc3 g6 42.Be5 a6 43.Bc7 b5 44.cxb5 axb5 45.Ba5 Bd1 46.Ke3 Kd6 47.Bc3 Bb3 48.Be5+ Kc6 49.Bc3 Bc4 50.Bd2 Bb3 1/2-1/2

For anybody of master strength or above, this would have to be an absolutely painful game to watch, but for those below the master level, this game points out a very common mistake the amateurs make, and that is a complete misjudgment of what pieces to trade and when to trade them. White's entire strategic plan was a complete failure with many inferior moves, but Black's complete misjudgment of when to trade and when not to cost him half the point in a game that he should have won without much trouble at all.

Next we will be looking at Round 3. Until then, good luck in your games.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Game Analysis: Charlotte Open, Round 1

Hello everyone and welcome to another year of articles on the blog. Hope everyone enjoyed the holidays.

I will be starting off the year with analysis of games from the Charlotte Open played in late December. This will likely be followed by coverage from Land of the Sky, which will take place in Asheville in three weeks. Over the course of this article and the following six, we will be seeing a number of different themes, and from an opening perspective, these articles will include three Torres, a French (which will come as the 17th edition of The French Connection), a Catalan, a London, and an Unusual Opening.

So here we will be looking at Round 1. I have White against a GM. A little word about facing significantly higher rated players. Often times, they fear that lower rated players are booked up with openings, but if they play something that is either offbeat or outright unsound, the lower rated player, due to his lower rating and lower rating alone, will not know what to do, and will play outright inferior moves, and when bad moves are met by bad replies, the bad moves are no longer bad, and they lead to a decent position.

I have covered a number of games that I have and won against either offbeat openings (see the final game in The Art of the Miracle Draw from mid-2017) or outright unsound hogwash (see The French Connection: Volume 9 from last year). Here, we are going to see a game where the side facing the garbage ends up playing a series of inferior moves, and the side playing the trash turns that trash into treasure. Be sure to pay close attention to White's possibilities that are pointed out in the notes.

Without further ado, let's take a look at Round 1 of the Charlotte Open!

2018 Charlotte Open, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2061)
B: Elshan Moradiabadi (2626)
Unusual Opening

1.Nf3 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.c4 e6

This move does not coordinate well with the Kingside Fianchetto and it weakens the dark squares. 3...d6 or 3...Nf6 is better here.

4.e4 Ne7 5.Nc3 d5

So here we have the first critical decision in the game, as early as move 6. This is why GMs like to play this kind of unsound chess against lower rated players. They have to make decisions on their own earlier rather than following well known theory that they are pretty booked up in.

In this position, White has no less than 8 ideas to consider:
  1. 6.Be3 is not good on account of 6...dxe4 7.Nxe4 O-O and White must constantly worry about ...Nf5 coming. The pressure is too great on White's center and Black is slightly better.
  2. 6.Bg5 is slightly better than Line A, but it's still not good. After 6...f6 7.Be3 dxe4 8.Nxe4, the ...Nf5 issue isn't nearly as bad as the Bishop on g7 is blocked by his own pawn on f6, but after 6...dxe4 7.Nxe4 Nd7 8.h4 h6 9.Bf4, Black has fully equalized after 9...b6 as White has no real way to plug up either of Black's Bishops raking along both long diagonals, and the slight space advantage is not enough to claim anything tangible.
  3. Trying to develop the other Bishop with 6.Be2 leads to dynamically balanced positions after 6...dxe4 7.Nxe4 O-O 8.Bg5 f5 9.Nc3 h6 10.Bf4 Nbc6 11.d5 g5 12.Bc1 and then Black has a choice between 12...exd5 13.cxd5 Bxc3+ 14.bxc3 Nxd5 and 12...g4 13.dxc6 gxf3 14.cxb7 Qxd1+ 15.Bxd1 Bxb7 16.gxf3. The first option puts Black up a pawn, but surrenders the Bishop pair to White and Black has the weaker King. In the latter option, it is White with the extra pawn, but then White has the weaker King and weaker Pawns, and his pieces are passive, which also compensates Black for his being a pawn down.
  4. 6.Bd3! - Of all the moves that develop a piece, this is by far the best one (we will get to the pawn moves in lines E thru G and the main game). After 6...O-O 7.O-O dxe4 8.Bxe4, Black's problems are not solved. While the following lines are not 100% forced and there are alternatives, none of the alternatives are any better and there are numerous options that all lead to the evaluation of either winning or significantly better for White. After 8...Nbc6 9.Be3 Na5 10.Qe2 f5 11.Bc2 f4 12.Bd2 Bxd4 13.Nxd4 Qxd4 14.Nb5 Qb6 15.Bc3 Nac6 16.b4 a6 17.a4, White has a winning position (17...axb5 18.c5!). Instead, a slight improvement comes from 8...c5, but after 9.dxc5 Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Na6 11.Bf4 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Nxc5 13.Bc2 e5 14.Be3! (14.Nxe5 Bf5 +/=) b6 15.Bxc5 bxc5 16.Be4 Rb8 17.Nxe5 Re8 18.Nd3 Bf5 19.Nxc5 and White has a clear advantage.
  5. 6.c5? makes absolutely no sense at all. After 6...dxe4 7.Nxe4, White has a big hole on d5 and Black maintains total control of it with also an attack on d4. Black is significantly better here.
  6. 6.exd5 only really makes sense if you intend to capture twice. After 6...exd5 7.cxd5 (again, 7.c5 makes no sense here as White can't make any use of the open e-file, and while the cavity on d5 is filled with a Black pawn, all the play is centered around attacking d4, which gives White nothing and leaving the tension there with a move like 7.Be2 or 7.Bd3 will just lead to a version of the Isolated Queen Pawn that is merely equal for White), Black is best off temporarily sacrificing a pawn with 7...c6! (7...Nxd5 8.Bg5! leads to problems for Black) 8.dxc6 Nbxc6 9.d5 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Nxd5 and the position is equal. White has the Bishop pair while Black has the better pawn structure.
  7. 6.e5 - This is the best of the pawn moves. At first glance, it appears that White has a major weakness on d4 with an open hole on d5 after the move 6...dxc4, but this move is actually not good at all for Black. The e5-pawn is protected, and so any frontal attacks with ...f6 won't do much as White can recapture with the d-pawn and maintain the wedge on e5. Occupying d5 with the Knight leads to the issue once again with the weak dark squares. After 7...Nd5, White's advantage is significant after 8.Bg5 (similar to the issue with taking on d5 in the line where White captures twice on d5). Black also can't afford to advance the c-pawn to either c6 (to get a firmer grip on d5) or c5 (to attack the base of the pawn chain and try to weaken e5) because of the major hole it creates on d6, and White has a direct route to d6 via e4 for the Knight on c3. Therefore, Black can ill afford to take on c4, and should instead play something like 6...c5! where 7.dxc5 (7.Bg5 Nbc6 is fine for Black) Nd7 8.Bf4 O-O and White only has a slight advantage.

Combining what we have seen here along with the game, the conclusion is evident. White should keep all the tension in the center and play 6.Bd3! here with a significant advantage. With all the weaknesses that Black has on the dark squares, it's not time to commit the dark-squared Bishop yet. It's similar to the old adage that "The threat is worth more than the execution". By not disclosing what we do with the dark-squared Bishop yet (lines A and B above), we maintain maximum flexibility. The other thing to figure out is that the pawn advances and pawn captures aren't that great, combining lines E thru G and the main game, though with 6.e5, Black has to know not to take on c4. Here inlies another difference between a GM and an amateur. An amateur has to remind himself to develop the pieces with the greatest flexibility last, and those with a single good location first. An amateur also ends up having to spend time calculating these pawn moves whereas a GM is likely to know in a split second that leaving the tension on the board is in White's best interest. A GM should find 6.Bd3 in less than a minute's time while amateurs need all the time in the world to churn this out because they haven't fully learned the concept of intuition. Sure, they are aware of intuition, but are unable to put it to full use correctly.

In the game, White plays the pawn move that we have not considered yet.


Of all the pawn moves, this one is probably a little worse than 6.e5.

6...exd5 7.e5

Compared to 6.e5, we see no pawn on c4 for White or e6 for Black, which opens up the Light-Squared Bishop for Black (not a good thing for White). Also, with a Black pawn on d5, undermining the White center is easier as advances of the c-pawn are not an issue like they are after 6.e5 dxc4 as the e4-square is covered. With this ability to undermine c5, Black can undermine the e5-pawn via a frontal attack once the d4-pawn is eliminated, which is what we will see in the game. This is why it was best to leave all tension there in the center and play 6.Bd3 earlier.


This move is unnecessary. Black can immediately start chipping away at White's center. Either 7...f6 or 7...O-O is better here. Note that it is too early to play 7...c5?! because of 8.Bb5+. Black should hold off on c5 until he has castled. For instance, after 7...f6 8.exf6 Bxf6 9.Bb5+ c6 10.Bd3 Bg4, Black has already equalized.

8.Be2 Be6 9.O-O b6 10.b4 O-O 11.a4

Up until now, after Black's dubious opening play and inferior 7th move, White has been taking advantage, but this is where all things start to slide for White. Instead of 11.a4, White should complete his development, and after something like 11.Re1 c5 12.bxc5 bxc5 13.dxc5 Nd7 14.Nb5 Rb8 15.Nbd4 Nxc5 16.a4, White is better. Not that 11.a4 is completely bad, but it just wasn't best.



This move, however, completely wipes away any advantage that White had. This move is a sign of White having the completely wrong idea. The critical spot on the board is the base of the pawn chain, d4. This Knight was a key defender of the d4-square. Why is White relocating it? The answer is that White's focus was in the wrong place. I was focused on e5 rather than d4. The idea was to relocate the Knight to d3 and to play f4. However, it takes to moves to relocate it to d3 from f3, and in 1 move time, Black can play ...Bf5 at a point when he has his d5-pawn secured, and then the Knight is threatened to be traded off anyway. White can maintain a significant advantage with a simple move like 12.Re1, continuing development and maintaining the e5 strong point that way, or 12.h3, stopping the Bishop from going to g4 and trading itself off for the Knight on f3. Since the focus is on d4, a dark square, this is the one way that a light-squared Bishop can have influence of a dark square. Trading itself off for a Knight.

Also, not only does it take two moves for the Knight to relocate and one move for the Bishop to attack it, but that extra move for Black is clearly defined because the moving of the knight loosened d4, making Black's next move automatic.


Of course! Why not? White just completed begged for Black to attack d4, and this is one case where Black is more than willing to comply..

13.bxc5 bxc5 14.f4?

Now Black has the advantage. White could have maintained equality with 14.Ba3, but this leads to another issue for White. When you have a bad plan, you often end up continuing that bad plan to the end, and things just continue to go down hill. You need to realize that your original idea was a train wreck, and before you let it continue to fly off the track at 100 miles per hour, you need to step back and reassess the position, which can be hard to do, but the problem here is that White is still trying to patch up the center which he cannot prevent at this point from being blown up by Black, and so this calls for different measures by White, and what f4 does that Ba3 does not do is weaken the White King. If your center is going to get blown up, don't go and weaken your King as well. The advancement of pawns in front of your King is only called for when the center is stable. As we will see here, White's center is anything BUT stable!

14...cxd4 15.Qxd4??

This was White's last chance to at least keep a manageable position. The only move here is 15.Nb5. After the move played in the game, White's position cannot be saved barring some kind of egregious blunder by Black.

15...Nbc6 16.Qc5 f6 17.Qd6 Nd4!

Unlike White, who at move 6 spent 6 minutes to incorrectly decide to relieve tension, Black, in half the time, 3 minutes, figures out that the tension should be left along for now, and he plays the best move. This is another issue at the amateur level. Amateurs trade way too often. Are there times to trade? Sure! If there wasn't, you wouldn't ever see an endgame at the GM level. But GMs trade for the right reasons. Amateurs trade often times because they feel that fewer pieces and the lack of pawn tension often simplifies the position. On the flip side, often times amateurs don't trade when they should. Some attacking-minded amateurs feel like their dreams are over if their Queen is traded off despite the fact that accepting a trade down gives them a completely winning endgame. Some positionally-minded amateurs or endgame lovers just want to get everything off the board for no other reason than to get it off.

I can tell you that I personally have no bias for or against trading down to an endgame versus maintaining tension between pieces or pawns, but it doesn't change the fact that my ability to correctly judge when a trade is appropriate or not is a bit clouded. I will be fixing that, and a book that covers just that, the art of knowing when to exchange and what to exchange, is actually in the mail right now at the time of the writing of this, called "Your Kingdom For My Horse (When to Exchange in Chess)".

18.Ba3 Nef5 19.Qa6 Re8 20.Nf3 Nxf3+ 21.Bxf3 fxe5 22.fxe5 Bxe5 23.Rae1

White may be grasping at straws, but what else does he have? Based on the diagram below, do you see the way for Black to win?


There are actually two solutions. The first is what happens in the game. The other is 23...Qh4!, threatening mate via 24...Bxh2+ and 25...Ng3#, and the only way to stop it is also to give away the exchange via 24.Rxe5 Qd4+ 25.Kh1 Qxe5.

24.Kh1 Qh4 25.Ne2 Be5 26.g3 Bxg3 27.Nxg3 Nxg3+ 28.Kg1 Nxf1 29.Rxe6 Qxh2+ 30.Kxf1 Qh3+ 31.Bg2

There is one final trap that Black must dodge. If you are not paying attention to detail, three moves look equally promising for Black, namely 31...Rxe6, 31...Qxe6, and 31...Qf5+ (taking the hanging Bishop on a3 allows White to mate the Black King in 5 moves and is therefore not an option). Do you see which move fails?


This move works, as does 31...Rxe6, but 31...Qxe6?? would throw half the point away because the loose Bishop on a3 ends up being the savior. After 32.Bxd5!! Qxd5 (Black is lost if he plays anything else) and now because that a3-Bishop covers the f8-square, Black has no way to avoid perpetual check via 33.Qxg6+ Kh8 34.Qxh6+ Kg8 35.Qg6+ etc.

32.Kg1 Rxe6 33.Qb7 Re1+ 34.Kh2 Qf4+ 0-1

After 35.Kh3, it's mate in four, and so White resigned.

Some things to keep in mind from this game:
  • Often times, when a grandmaster plays an amateur, they have a tendency to play either offbeat or unsound openings on the basis that the amateur may be booked up on their pet lines, and not know what to do against the garbage, and figure they can simply "outplay" the amateur. While that often works, as was the case here, that can also blow up in their face, as was the case in the first article referenced previously, The Art of the Miracle Draw, which by the way, that is still to this day the highest rated player I've beaten, though I do have one draw against a player a few rating points higher than that.
  • Tension is a very good thing! It is released way too often, way too soon, by amateurs. While the releasing of the tension may be a benefit, you have got to observe the numerous consequences, which most amateurs fail to do. Probably the most common scenario is mixing up lines in the Queen's Gambit Declined where I have seen White play something other than the Exchange Variation (4.cxd5), like 4.Nf3 or 4.Bg5, and then later trade on d5 at an inappropriate time, improving things for Black, like opening up the diagonal for his bad light-squared Bishop.
  • Don't just look at a backwards pawn or the square in front of it, like in the case of 6.e5 dxc4 above in the notes, and assume that it is automatically weak. Other factors, like the weak d6-square, and pieces controlling the weak square, such as White's Knight on c3 and Bishop on c4 in that line, might make it virtually impossible for the other side to take any advantage, and therefore what may be "optically" weak isn't really weak at all.
  • When you realize you made an error, such as 12.Ne1, and you see the strong response like 12...c5, stop and reassess and see if anything can be salvaged, such as keeping an equal position via 14.Ba3, rather than just blindly continuing with the bad plan like what was done here with 14.f4 and 15.Qxd4, both of which were horrible moves, and many ways even worse than the bad 12th move White made. It can be very difficult to switch gears psychologically, but sometimes you have to approach a position mid-game with a clear head. For some people, that might mean getting out of your seat and walking around, or anything to keep from staring at the board while trying to clear head. In some cases, it is considered bad form to leave the table on your own turn, and there may even be something in FIDE against that, but that doesn't mean you can't stand up, take two steps, and face a different direction. Anything to get your eyes off the board. If you find that you can't clear you mind of the bad ideas while staring at the board, get up and just try to mentally think about something until you clear your mind of the bad plan you had previously. For some that might mean thinking about the position and what else you might be able to do but not actually looking at the board (that is my usual course of action), but for some, to clear the mind, maybe you just have to think about something completely different, like what you are going to eat for dinner that night, or where you are taking your wife or girlfriend next weekend, or Metallica, or stinky feet, or whatever else floats your boat. The important thing is not to continue to dwell on something that was clearly bad in the first place.

Next we will be looking at Round 2. Until then, good luck in your games.