Without further ado, let's take a look at the featured game.
South Carolina Championship, Round 2
W: Leo Rabulan (2045)
B: Patrick McCartney (2018)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6
Now the move 6.c4 would be a direct transposition to the Fianchetto King's Indian, but White plays a different move.
So here we have the starting position of what is probably deemed the "Main Line" of the Kingside Fianchetto, if such a "Main Line" exists. To understand the best way to respond to this opening requires understanding the main difference between the diagram position and the pawn going to c4 with the move 7.Nc3 coming. With c4 and Nc3, White has greater control over the central light squares, but here, White's passive idea of fianchettoing the dark-squared Bishop leads to a lack of control of e4 and d5, and should be the driver of how Black should follow up here.
Against 6.c4, the move 6...c6, intending either 7...Qa5 or 7...Bf5, makes perfect sense. But here, it fails to take advantage of White playing an inferior 6th move. Black should be trying to take advantage of e4 lacking coverage for White. After 6...e5! 7.dxe5 (no other move makes sense here), there follows 7...dxe5 8.Bb2, and here, Black should answer with 8...e4!, when after the fairly forcing sequence 9.Qxd8 Rxd8 10.Ng5 Bf5 11.g4! Bxg4 12.Nxe4 Nxe4 13.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Bxe4 Nc6, Black has a slight lead in development, but with accurate play, White can probably equalize, but no more.
7.Nbd2 Bf5 8.Bb2 Ne4 9.Nh4 Nxd2
This is the best move available to Black in this position, but it also shows the problem with the line Black played. In the normal fianchetto King's Indian with 6...c6 and 7...Bf5, Black will usually look to trade two sets of minor pieces off, alleviating the cramp. Here there is no cramp as White hasn't claimed territory, and his pieces are tripping over each other.
10.Qxd2 Be6 11.e4 d5 12.e5
And just like that, White has gone from a lack of space to a fairly significant space advantage after inferior play by Black. The next few moves don't change the assessment, and actually, White proceeds to even gain some space on the Queenside as well.
12...Qd7 13.Re1 Bh3 14.Bh1 e6 15.Ng2 Bxg2 16.Bxg2 a5 17.a4 Rc8 18.Bf1 Qd8 19.Rad1 Nd7 20.c4 Nb6
We are now at a critical point of the game. White has maintained his advantage thus far, but now needs to find the right move. What is the right move for White in this position?
White's idea is that he thinks he threatens the a5-pawn and is forcing Black to retreat the Knight. The correct move here is 21.c5! This forces the Black Knight back, and with the lack of space, it is very difficult for Black to maneuver and get all of his pieces to the Kingside. This gives White a local piece superiority on the Kingside, and so after 21.c5! Nd7 22.Qf4, White has a Kingside Attack.
Black gives White a second chance to play 22.c5. He was correct in ignoring the threat on a5, but the correct way to proceed is 21...dxc4!, eliminating White's c5 possibility. After 22.Bxc4 Nxc4 23.bxc4 b5 24.axb5 cxb5 25.cxb5 a4 26.Rb1 Rcb8, the position is equal. Note that 22.Bxa5 is no good because of 21...cxb3 23.Re3 b2 24.Rb3 Nc4 5. Bxd8 Nxd2 26.Rxd2 Rxd8 27.Rdxb2 Rxd4 28.f4 Rdxa4 29.Rxb7 g5 with a clear advantage for Black.
Once again, 22.c5 was the answer. Now White's advantage is gone. Note that once again, 22.Bxa5 fails, this time to 22...Nxc4!! with a slight advantage to Black.
22...c5 23.dxc5 Bxc5 24.Red1 dxc4 25.Qf4?
White was forced to play a move like 25.Qe1. Now Black misses a winning idea.
Black missed it! 25...Nd5! and sudden Black is significantly better, if not winning.
26.bxc4 Qe8 27.h4 Nxa4 28.Be1 b6
It is now Black that can claim a slight advantage. White doesn't have enough for the missing pawn.
29.h5 Be7 30.Be2 Nc5 31.Kg2 Rd8 32.Bc3 Rxd1 33.Rxd1 Rd8 34.Rh1 g5 35.Qe3 h6 36.Rb1 Qc6+ 37.Kh2 Na4 38.Be1
White's position is virtually frozen, and we will see him toggle his Bishops while Black's position continues to improve.
38...Nc5 39.Bf3 Qc7 40.Be2 Rd7 41.Bc3 Qd8 42.Be1 Kg7 43.Bc3 a4 44.Qf3 Nb3 45.c5 Bxc5 46.Bb5
And now we reach the critical position for Black. He is up two pawns, and so any forced exchanges of equal material benefits Black. Can you find the move that puts White away?
This move is still winning for Black, but he makes matters far more complicated. It should be noted that at this point in time, White has 12 minutes and Black has 10 minutes for the rest of the game with a 30 second increment per move, and so time is becoming a problem for both players.
The instant win comes via 46...Nd2!, attacking not 1 major piece, but rather, two major pieces, virtually forcing trades. White has nothing better than 47.Qf6+ Kg8 48.Qxd8+ (48.Bxd2 Qxf6 49.exf6 Rxd2) Rxd8 49.Bxd2 Rxd2 50.Bxa4 Rxf2+ 51.Kh3 Re2 and Black's winning.
This, however, is a complete blunder and the position goes from winning to dead lost just like that! Correct was 47...Kg8! when both 48.Qxd8+ Rxd8 49.Bxa4 Ne2 50.Be1 Rd5 51.Kg2 Rxe5 and 48.Bxd7 Be7 49.Qxh6 Nf5 50.Qxe6 fxe6 51.Bxe6+ Kg7 52.Bxf5 a3 are winning for Black, despite the latter one featuring an equal material count, the problem being that the a-pawn will tie down White's pieces and Black can attack White's other weaknesses while the White pieces tend to stopping the a-pawn. Both of these lines are far more complicated than if Black had played 46...Nd2 instead of 46...Nd4, but at least Black would still be winning, unlike in the game.
48.Bxd7 Qxd7 49.Bxd4
This doesn't lose the advantage yet, but 49.Rd1 is stronger and wins on the spot. Black could resign immediately as 49...Nf3+ doesn't work because once White takes the Knight with the Queen, the Rook will be protected.
This is still winning for White, but there is now room for error, and an error is exactly what White makes.
Far simpler is to go into the completely winning endgame after 51.Rxd7 Bxf6 52.Rxf7+ Bg7 53.Rb7 Kg8 (53...a3 54.Ra7!) 54.Rxb6 a3 55.Ra6 Bb2 56.Ra7 and Black's position is hopeless.
After the move played, the position is actually drawn!
51...Qc7 52.Qe4+ Kg7 53.Qxa4
Thus far, since White's blunder on move 51, Black has made all the correct moves to hold the draw. Here is the trickiest one. There are many moves that leave White with only a slight advantage, but only one move completely maintains the balance. Can you find it?
A deflection tactic! 54.Qb3 can be answered by 54...Qc5 where Black's pieces are active and the material is technically equal, and the position itself is dead equal. Otherwise, it's all about seeing the trick when the White Queen fails to protect the Rook.
The Bishop is poisoned!
55.fxg3?? Qc2+ 56.Kh3 Qxd1 57.Qe5+ and Black avoids perpetual check by going 57...Kg8!, winning. Note that 58.Qb8+ would be answered by 58...Kh7 and White has no legitimate checks.
Once again, 56.Kxg3 loses to 56...Qxd1.
Or 57.Kxg3 Qf4+ 58.Kh3 Qh4+ 59.Kg2 Qg4+ with a draw by perpetual check.
57...Qf4 58.Qb2+ e5 59.Qe2
Or 59.Qc1 Kf6 with an equal position.
59...Bh4 60.Rg1 Qg3+ 61.Kf1
61.Kh1? loses to 61...Qh3+ 62.Qh2 Qxf3+ 63.Qg2 Qxh5 -+
This is forced as 62.Rg2?? allows 62...Bg3! and once the Bishop relocates from h4 to f4, Black's winning. Notice that after something like 63.Kg1 Bf4, White has no way to avoid dropping the h-pawn, and the Queen has absolutely no way to harass the Black King. Find a square to safely check the Black King from? It doesn't exist!
And this move forces the draw! There may be other solutions for Black as well, such as 62...Qf5, but this was the one I saw. If White play 63.Ke2??, he loses after 63...Qb5+ and White has no way to avoid a series of checks leading to the Black Queen on c3 and White King on e2. Once that is achieved, Black can advance the pawns. For example, 64.Ke3 Qc5+ 65.Ke2 Qc2+ 66.Ke3 Qc3+ 67.Ke2 f5 is one way that this could happen.
Therefore, White is forced to stop Black's immediate mate threat by moving his Queen, and regardless of whether that is to e2 or c2 or b2 or any safe square on the second rank, Black will repeat with 63...Qh3+ and then go back to d7 if White blocks with the Queen. One final note is that 63.Qh2 loses to 63...Qd1+ 64.Kg2 Qe2+ 65.Kh1 Qxf3+ and we are back to the same losing position for White that results from 61.Kh1 above.
So given the threats and forced reactions to each of them, there is no way for White to avoid the perpetual check, and that is exactly how the game ends.
63.Qe2 Qh3+ 64.Qg2 Qd7 65.Qe2 Qh3+ 1/2-1/2
Wow! That was a hand full. Three things to note from this game:
- Understanding (NOT MEMORIZING) the opening is critical. Black failed to realize the weakness on e4, played inferior moves in the opening, and gave White what he wanted, and even allowed White to convert his space issue, which is the typical problem with the Kingside Fianchetto opening, into a space advantage!
- White's positional mistake at moves 21 and 22 should be noted. The Queenside would be completely shut down, and Black lacks the space to get all of his pieces into the defense on the Kingside, which leads to a local piece superiority for White on the Kingside since his space advantage makes it easy for White to get all of his pieces into play over there whereas Black will have trouble untangling. In all likelihood, Black will be unable to get one of the two Rooks into action quick enough, and White's attack on the Black King is going to be extremely difficult to defend.
- Black's tactical mistakes on moves 46 and 47 illustrate two critical concepts. First, when you see possibly a good move that attacks an opponent's piece of greater value, such as 46...Nd4 attacking the White Queen, look for a better move that attacks multiple pieces of greater value, even if the square is covered as long as you are looking to force trades. 46...Nd2 attacks the Rook as well as the Queen and forces a trade of pieces, which benefits Black in that case as he was up two pawns at that time. Black's 47th move is also critical as not all safe squares for the King are the same. White should have won after Black's placement of the King on h7 instead of g8 on move 47. Fortunate for Black, White blundered away the advantage four moves later, and Black was able to find the tricky draw after that.
This concludes the coverage of the second round of the South Carolina Championship. Next time, we will look at the fourth round. Till then, good luck in your games.