Saturday, November 16, 2019

Game Analysis: Atlanta Class Championship, Round 1

Hello everyone and welcome. Here, and in the next four articles, I will be covering the games I played in the Atlanta Class Championship played in mid-October. This was a tournament that was restricted to players rated under 2200, and were in 200-point sections called classes, and you were restricted to playing either in your class, or you could play up 1 section. For example, to play in the Expert Class (2000-2199), you had to be at minimum 1800. To play in the Class A section (1800-1999), you had to be at minimum 1600, etc. Often times, local tournaments with a restricted rating range tend to be smaller because the masters are not there, and some players go to tournaments to see the top players play. While the turnout was fairly small, the Expert section did draw 14 entrants, and I was the 6-seed of those 14, and end up winning the tournament outright, and the road to victory was not easy as I had to face the top seed in round 1, the second seed in round 2, and the third seed in round 3.

In this current article, we will be looking at the first round game. Here I am facing a kid that is supposedly well known to the local Atlanta area, and I can't help by say that what happens this game is very typical of what happens in many of my games against kids. They are out to try and go after your King, as opposed to playing some kind of maneuvering game where they win with a passed pawn or a better minor piece. They want blood. Well, in this game, Black has one opportunity to go for blood, but instead tries to hold on to a pawn that is attacked. After that, when he does throw his pieces at White, one of them gets trapped, costing Black the piece, which in turn costs him the game.

Without further ado, let's see how White wins this game.

Atlanta Class Championship, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2018)
B: Alexander Rutten (2172)
Sicilian Defense, Prins Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3

This is the starting position of the Prins Variation. The idea is simple. White wants to avoid moving the Knight to c3 to block the c-pawn, and would rather have the c-pawn out on c4, leading to a Maroczy-Bind type of position. This is a very positional approach, and hence why the only book that I'm aware of that covers this line is called "Steamrolling The Sicilian", the idea of the title being that it is a system where you slowly kill Black like you are running him over with a Steamroller rather than going for an assault-style attack.

One thing to note is that this system only works when Black plays 2...d6. The reason is simple, and those that play the Taimanov or Kalashnikov Sicilian will understand immediately. In the Maroczy Bind structure, with White pawns on c4 and e4, even with a pawn on f3, the one thing that White must avoid is a Bishop pinning and trading off the c3-Knight as it is a major contributor to the control of d5, the square that the c-pawn and e-pawn are clamping down on.

In the Taimanov Sicilian, after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6, White has problems after 5.c4? Nf6 6.Nc3 Bb4, creating pressure on e4 and fighting for control of d5. If Black breaks through with d5, the bind has failed. Therefore, in the Taimanov Sicilian, White must play 5.Nb5 first if he wants to play a Maroczy Bind position instead of the main line, 5.Nc3, and only after 5...d6, blocking the Bishop from going to b4, can White play 6.c4.

Same deal in the Kalashnikov. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 5.Nb5 d6 and only now, 6.c4 is a line. It's the more positional option while 6.N1c3 is the more tactical choice.

So now we see the importance of Black's second move. With 2...d6, the Bishop is blocked from that diagonal. Notice in the Dragon it usually goes to g7 while in lines like the Najdorf or Scheveningen, it's typically Black's bad Bishop and sits on e7 behind the d6-pawn. So just something to keep in mind when Black plays an early ...Nf6. If ...d6 has not been played, this f3 idea is no good. But here, it's an excellent line to use against someone that might be an avid fan of quick attacks and wild, tactical lines like the Dragon and certain lines of the Najdorf.


Considered Black's strongest response. The other two main options for Black are to play a dragon set-up, which will directly transpose to the Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind (something most regular dragon players loathe), or else play an early ...e6, and it will usually lead to a Hedgehog-type position that you often see in the English Opening. Most other moves are bad. For example, a Najdorf player that is unfamiliar with 5.f3 will often try to play something like 5...a6, but the move is pointless after 6.c4, preventing Black from the typical ...b5 expansion.


Now Black has a major decision to make. He knows that White is probably intending to play c4. Why else would White have played 5.f3 instead of 5.Nc3? He has 3 main options.

Black can play 6...d5 right now, beating White to the punch. This move leads to a very early endgame, and the cost for Black is his pawn structure that results from it. It leads to a long, grind it out type of endgame with a small advantage for White due to the pawn structure. We will actually see this occur in Round 2 of this tournament in the next article.

The second option is to play an early ...a5. After 6...a5, White is at the crossroads. Here, 7.c4 is not very good as Black can chase the Knight away, and it is forced to block the Bishop in on c1. White can play 7.a4, and even follow it up with c4 after that, but then Black has achieved a major weakness on b4. White can play normal lines with 7.Nc3, or the move that would be my preference for White and what most shows the downfall to 6...a5 is 7.Bb5+. White develops a piece, waits to see what Black does, and after the most common move, blocking with the Bishop, White trades Bishops and Black, with his pawns already locked on d6 and e5, has to deal with a long term weakness on the light squares.

The third option is to anticipate the c-pawn advance by White, and play 6...Be6, intending 7...Nbd7 and 8...Rc8, attacking the c-pawn. White can be a materialist and try to hold on to the pawn with 9.Na3, or he can play in gambit style with 9.Nc3, where at the cost of a pawn, White gets a huge attack.

The third option is what Black plays in this game, though he delays it first via moving his King's Bishop, giving White a move of extra time.

6...Be7 7.c4 Be6 8.Be3 O-O

Yet another move that gives White time, rather than immediately going after the c-pawn. Unlike the Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind, White has a Knight on b3. While this is good in the sense that it can go to a5 the moment Black advances ...b5, going for a trade on d5, retaking with a Pawn, and then plopping that a5-Knight on the weakened c6-square, it also has the downfall of not being able to play b3 to protect the c-pawn. White spends the extra time getting his own King castled.

9.Be2 Nbd7 10.Nc3 a6

Another time waster. 10...Rc8 immediately was better. Black may have been afraid of losing the a-pawn, but White can't take it. The rescue mission with the a-pawn is too slow, and saving the Bishop with Nb5 leads to severe inflexibility in White's position. After 10...Rc8 11.Bxa7? b6 12.a4 Rc7 13.Nb5 Bxc4 14.Bxc4 (14.Nxc7 Bxb3! -+) Rxc4, Black has a far superior position.

11.O-O Rc8 12.Rc1?

This is an error by White. He is already better if he plays 12.Nd5. The extra moves by Black change the situation. In the normal line, which runs 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3 e5 6.Nb3 Be6 7.c4 Nbd7 8.Be3 Rc8 9.Nc3, Black can take the pawn, but at a cost. After 9...Bxc4 10.Bxc4 Rxc4, White has 11.Qd3 as a strong response. Black is not ready to play ...b5 here, and so the Rook has to retreat. In the game, with ...a6 already played, Black can take the pawn twice, and then Qd3 is not as strong because black has the resource ...b5 to cover the Rook. In the normal line, after 11.Qd3, typical play might look like as follows: 11...Rc8 12.O-O a6 13.Nd5 Nxd5 14.Qxd5 Rb8 15.Rfd1 Be7 16.Na5, with heavy pressure on b7 and sometime later in the game, the White Knight will be ready to leap into c6 if Black ever advances the b-pawn, or else c4, further pressuring the d6-weakness.


As explained in the previous note, Black in this case should have taken the c-pawn.

13.Nd5 Nbxd5 14.cxd5 Rxc1 15.Qxc1 Bd7 16.Qd2

White has the advantage here. He has an advantage in space. His pieces are either active, or in the case of the Rook on f1, he can easily get to the open c-file in a single move. Black's position is cramped, and if you look at the direction that the blocked pawns are pointing in the center of the board, White's play should be on the Queenside while Black's is on the Kingside. Notice that Black's attack hasn't even started yet!


So Black does exactly what is indicated and starts trying to attack on the Kingside. Probably better is 16...Qb8, looking to contest the c-file with the Rook and trade the Rooks off since Black's Rook is clearly more passive than White's.


White is already better with the space advantage, and Black doesn't have much counterplay, and therefore, the prophylactic move 17.g3 was stronger, keeping the Knight out of f4. We are going to see that this could have been very costly for White has Black played correctly the next half-dozen moves.

17...Nf4 18.Bf1 f5 19.Na5?

With the pawn on f5, blocking the view of the h3-square by the Bishop, this was White's one other opportunity to play 19.g3!, shooing the Knight away, and White maintains a large advantage.

After the move played in the game, Black has the opportunity to take over the advantage, and at worst, equalize the position, but for equality to be maintained, White will have to find a lot of only moves.

19...fxe4 20.fxe4 Qb8?

Black needs to take a more dynamic approach. After 20...Qe8, White has two ways to maintain equality, but both entail finding a number of not-so-obvious moves. Black's advantage can be held to a bare minimum via 21.Nxb7 Qg6 22.Bxf4 Rxf4 23.Rc7 Qxe4 24.Be2 Qb1+ 25.Qc1 Qxc1+ 26.Rxc1 or via 21.Rc7 Bb5 22.Nc4 Bd8 23.Rxb7 Qg6 24.Bxf4 exf4 25.Kh1, and even then, it's White that will need to show extreme accuracy to survive.


A more restrained approach with something like 21.b3, 21.Nc4, or 21.Bc4, is called for here. Moving the Queen away abandons the defense of the e3-Bishop, which is now loose and entices Black's next move.


With the major threat of 22...Nh3+, 23...Bxe3+, and 24...Bxc1.

22.Qa3 Bb5

Black has a major threat. Do you see it, and how do you stop it?


This move is almost forced. The major threat was 23...Bxf1, which depending on how White recaptures, Black's follow-up would have been 24...Ne2+ if the Rook takes the Bishop, leading to mate in 2, or if the King takes back, then 24...Nd3+ and taking the Rook. White's light-squared Bishop is a critical piece in the defense of his King.


Black misses his chance. After 23...Qc8!! 24.Nxe5 Qe8 25.Nf3 Nh3+ 26.Kh1 Bxf1 27.Rxf1 Qxe4 28.Bg1 Nxg1 29.Rxg1 Be3 30.Rf1, Black has a big advantage.


Now suddenly, White is slightly better, and Black has to be very careful here or else he will lose outright.


After all the times that this move would have given Black an advantage, here it loses for Black as he completely overlooks his minor pieces getting trapped. Black had to find the only move, which was 24...Qd8, protecting the Bishop on g5 and answering 25.g3 with either retreating the Knight, or else playing the very tricky 25...Qf6, after which the only way for White to get an advantage is with 26.Rc1! Note that 26.gxf4 Bxf4 27.Bg2 Qh4 28.Bxf4 Qe1+ 29.Bf1 Rxf4 30.Rc8+ Kf7 31.Rc7+ Kg8 is only equal.

After the game move, Black drops a minor piece.


With the Bishop on g5 loose, the Knight has nowhere to go.


This basically is self-captulation. Black had to at least make White work for the win, which actually isn't easy at all after 25...Qg6! Yes, White is still winning, but look at the hoops he has to jump through to win this: 26.gxf4 Bxf4+ 27.Bg2 Bxh2+ 28.Kxh2 Qh5+ 29.Kg3 Qg6+ 30.Bg5 Qxg5+ 31.Kh2 Rf4 32.Rc3, and White has a Bishop for only two pawns. White is not forced to shoot his King out into the wind, and can retreat to g1 instead of going to g3, but then White is surrendering a draw by perpetual check. In the final position of this line, with two heavy pieces each, White still has to be careful, but with correct play, he should win.

The game move brings no real challenge to White, and Black is basically waving the White flag.

26.gxf4 exf4 27.Bf2 Qg4+ 28.Kh1 b5 29.Rc7 Bd7 30.Rc1 Qg6 31.Qf3!

This time, White does it right and doesn't allow Black back in. Earlier, on move 17, White had a huge space advantage, which is a long term asset provided the side lacking space isn't able to trade the pieces off, giving him more room to maneuver his remaining few pieces. The correct approach from White then was to play the prophylactic move, 17.g3, which he failed to do and gave Black chances to take over. Here, White has another long term advantage. Extra material. Once again, a rush job is not the answer here, and this time, White does what he needs to do. Take the prophylactic approach of stopping any baloney by Black. The White Rook controls the open c-file. The Queen, which not the best piece to block with, is blocking the f-pawn from advancing and keeping many of the dark-squared diagonals closed, which is the only Bishop Black has, and White's Bishops cover all the entry points around the White King. White can gained full stability in the position, and now he will slowly release his pieces from their duties once they are safe to move, and work their way from a defensive role to an offensive role, eventually winning the game.

31...Bf6 32.b3

No reason to be giving Black anything here.

32...Be5 33.Bh3

So with control of the c-file and White's pawns covering the squares that Black could even remotely think about getting to anytime soon, the Bishop has no need to cover Queenside light squares. From h3, it is more active, still protects g2, and is protected by the White Queen, and so it is the first piece to take on a more active role.

33...a5 34.Be6+

Seeing no need to cover g2, as the Queen does it as well, the Bishop has been relinquished of all defensive duties and now plays a purely offensive role.

34...Kh8 35.Bf5 Qf6 36.Rc7

With the Queen now confined to dark squares and knocked off the g-file, there is no reason for the Rook to sit back. Do note though that this Rook will remain on the c-file for the time being, keeping Black from entering via the only open file. But there is no reason for the Rook to sit back on the back rank any more.

36...a4 37.Qh3

Here, White releases the Black f-pawn, but he doesn't have time to advance it to open up his pieces as there are direct threats on the Black King.

37...h6 38.Bh4 g5

The only move that doesn't immediately drop the Queen, but it fatally opens up the Black King.

39.Bf2 Kg8 40.Be6+ Kh8 41.Qf5

Here is one more thing that many people get hung up on. Is 41.Qf5 the absolute best move on the board? Not at all! But the thing is, when your advantage is this dominant, once you see a winning idea, just go with it. Don't waste time looking for the quickest or prettiest way to win. This is chess, not gymnastics. There are no style points!

That said, just to point out the stylish way to win. White has 41.Qh5! axb4 42.axb4 Ra8 43.Ra7!! Rf8 (43...Rxa7 44.Qe8+ followed by 45.Qg8 is mate) 44.Bf5 Kg8 45.Bg6 Rc8 46.Qxh6 Rc1+ 47.Kg2 f3+ 48.Kh3 g4+ 49.Kxg4 and White wins. Sure, this is all flashy and cool, but do you really want to have to find 43.Ra7 to buy time before the Black Rook comes in with him having to wait for Bg6 by White before he can enter via the c-file, and then have to calculate that the White King can survive on g4 where all Black can do to delay mate is give up another minor piece with a Queen check? Personally, I would rather take the simple road and save the energy for the other four rounds.

The move played in the game forces the Queens off, avoids any problems to White's King, and he can play with his extra piece in peace!

41...Qxf5 42.Bxf5 axb3 43.axb3 f3

So Black thinks he can try to mate the White King by controlling g2 and h2 with his pawn and Bishop? Get rid of the only piece that can back rank the White King!


Again, maybe not the flashiest way to win, but the simplest!

44...Rxc8 45.Bxc8 h5

The only move that preserves the f3-pawn. Anything else would be answered by 46.Bg4 and the f3-pawn drops.

46.Bd7 Kg7

If 46...b4, trying to hold the b-pawn, then 47.Be8 h4 48.Bh5 and it's all over.

47.Bxb5 g4 48.Bd7 Kg6 49.b4

Simple chess! Black has no immediate threats on the Kingside, and the pawn on d6 is actually to Black's detriment as it blocks the Bishop from controlling the promotion square.

49...Kg5 50.b5 Bc3

Too little, too late. Stopping the b-pawn is going to cost Black his other Bishop.

51.b6 Ba5 52.b7 Bc7 53.Ba7 h4 54.b8=Q Bxb8 55.Bxb8

There is no threat by Black on the Kingside. Any advancement of the f-pawn will be answered by Bb5, and if the g-pawn advances, trying to put two pawns on the sixth rank, then just a simple Kg1 move by White and even if Black somehow got the King in to aid the pawns, which he can't, White could even give up one of the two Bishops to eliminate the pawns if he had to. Black can safely resign, and he does two moves later.

55...h3 56.Bxd6 f2 57.Bb5 1-0

So I won the first round against the top seed in the tournament. It was a bit topsy-turvy, but the main theme of this lesson is clearly prophylaxis. In these Maroczy Bind type positions, typically any advantage that White gets is going to be purely positional, while Black's chances lie in tactical opportunities, as we saw from moves 17 to 23. Had White played the prophylactic move, 17.g3, the advantage would be his. He should have been in no rush to attack the Queenside as Black would have virtually nothing on the Kingside after the simple move.

After dodging that bullet, and winning the piece, notice how White, while he could have won with flash, took a more prophylactic approach to the remainder of the game. He controlled the only open file. He blocked Black from getting his pawns, and especially the f-pawn, off the color complex of his Bishop and hence made the Bishop for the most part immobile, and only after he stablized the position did he slowly start to shift from defense to offense, and yet still made his first focus be to prevent any counterplay by Black. Once he pushed Black back to a completely passive role, White is winning in virtually any way he chooses, and while he could have gone through the headaches to win in a flashy style, notice that White instead took the simple road to victory, and often times, while not beautiful, that is the easiest and safest way to victory as there is far less room to blunder. Had playing flashy not meant that my King was going to be running wild in the open, I might have gone that route, but King safety was my top priority because outside of pulling off a trick mate, there was absolutely no way that Black was surviving the game. A valuable lesson to many of you out there that don't believe in the Tortoise and Hare fable. Slow and steady wins the race!

That does it for this article. Next time, we will look at Round 2 of the Atlanta Class Championship, which will actually feature the same opening, only this time, Black will decide to play for the endgame, and so while the opening is the same, the game itself will be vastly different. Until next time, good luck in your games.

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