Saturday, July 11, 2020

Game Analysis: Developing Your Pieces Wisely

Hello everyone and welcome. As chess continues to be unavailable over the board, I am continuing to cover decisive games and exciting draws in the world of correspondence chess. The feature game today comes from the IV Argentine Cup, a large, 35 bracket tournament with 7 players per bracket and multi-entry. The cost to get in was 10 Euro, but there was a 6-for-5 deal, and so I am one that decided to take up on that offer, and have 36 games going across 6 brackets in that tournament. The top finisher in each bracket moves on to the semi-finals, and then there will likely be a few second places finishers that advance to fill up the brackets for the semi-finals. There was also an option for players over 2300 that they could pay $20 per bracket or 6 for $100 if they wanted to start in the Semi-Finals and not have to qualify in the preliminaries.

While the games themselves are not visible to the public, you can follow the results by clicking HERE. If you are looking to follow specifically my results, I can tell you that I'm in brackets 7, 9, 12, 13, 17, and 22. Thus far, only 3 of my 36 games have completed as this only started in mid-June. I have a win and a draw in bracket 12 (the win being the feature game of this article) and a draw in bracket 17.

Without further ado, let's analyze today's feature game.


IV Argentine Cup, Preliminaries, Bracket 12
W: Patrick McCartney (USA - 1900)
B: Giel Massy (NED - 2221)
Closed Sicilian

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6

This move is often played by Najdorf players to avoid getting move-ordered. For example, after the most common move, 2...Nc6, White can play 3.Nf3, and after 3...d6 4.d4, a Najdorf player has just been tricked as the Knight almost always goes to d7 in the Najdorf, and so you have to be careful how you respond to 2.Nc3 and make sure that your lines in the Open Sicilian, Closed Sicilian, and Grand Prix Attack all mesh together.

Another common move by both Najdorf players and Kan players is 2...a6, and Kan players can also play 2...e6. Those that play a line of the Sicilian where the Queen's Knight goes to c6 anyway, like the Dragon or Classical or one of many other variations, you are probably best off playing 2...Nc6 only because it's the most flexible move, not because it is in any way systemically better.

3.g3

White reveals his intentions. 3.Nf3 would lead to the Open Sicilian while 3.f4 would be a Grand Prix attack.

3...e5

While this Botvinnik type of structure is a common defense to the Closed Sicilian, and particularly in White's two main lines of the Closed Sicilian, which are 6.f4 and 6.Be3 (after 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6), it may be a tad early to commit to this as White does have other sidelines where this may not be best. That said, it is not an outright bad move, and is surely not what lost Black this game, though we will see White put d5 to good use later on in the game.

4.Bg2 Nf6 5.d3



Now, this is actually a slightly unusual position already for the Closed Sicilian, but that doesn't make it bad. This is why I always harp on not "memorizing" openings, but rather, "understanding" them. Ask yourself the question, "What is White looking to accomplish?" White has committed his Knight to c3, blocking the c-pawn. He has already played d3 instead of d4. He has not developed his King's Knight yet, leaving the f-pawn free to advance. He "could" try to advance a3 and b4, but does this make sense here? Sure, if Black does something weird to force the issue, White might advance on the Queenside, but in normal circumstances, is White going for a Queenside attack? His two main features are domination of the d5-square, controlled with the Knight on c3, Pawn on e4, and Bishop on g2, and Kingside mobility. So White is likely to play on this sector of the board. Therefore, Black's counterplay is likely to be on the Queenside, and possibly the d4-square, a very weak square for White. So there are a number of moves that Black can play here:
  • He can play 5...Nc6, developing a piece toward the center, adding to his control of the d4-square, and covering e5 in anticipation of an advancement of the White f-pawn.
  • He can play 5...Be7, looking to get his King castled before expanding on the Queenside.
  • He can still play 5...g6, though the early commitment of the Knight to f6 may limit a few of his options, though it's not "bad".
  • He can expand on the Queenside with his pawns starting with 5...a6, looking to play ...b7-b5-b4.
  • He can even play a move like 5...h6 to simply prevent a pin by White, though it is highly unlikely that White will be looking to do this. The Bishop will usually be developed to e3 in the Closed Sicilian to eye d4 and continue to point to the Kingside.

So as we can see, one feature about the Closed Sicilian, while maybe not as advantageous for White as the Open Sicilian is, is that it is a very flexible opening. There are many ways that the game can go, and those that have played tournament chess long enough will also know that it's an excellent opening for rated blitz tournaments, the idea being that with there be literally so much choice for Black, he will waste a lot of time early on trying to figure out the best moves. Now, of course, this is a correspondence game, and so that is not an advantage that White can take in this case, but with books and machines, sometimes the flexibility leads to a more interesting game than playing 45 book moves of Dragon and agree to a draw!

All of that said, what Black does here is not a wise move at all!

5...Be6?

After everything that we described in the previous note, how, in any way, does this move make any sense at all? If there is one piece that Black doesn't want to play here, it's the Light-Squared Bishop. The main reason for this is White's current flexibility. In this structure, the Knight is almost surely going to c6. The Bishop can go to e7 or g7, but it needs to move anyway for Black to be able to castle. But moving this Bishop early just dictates to White what he needs to do. Going 5...Bg4 makes no sense either as 6.f3 just drives it back and White can time f4 at his free will. By going to e6, Black is just screaming for White to advance his f-pawn. In many lines of the Closed Sicilian, White's f-pawn is one of the key breaks, and especially going to f5. Now if the Knight were not on f6, one could argue that Black intended to respond to an f4-push with the move ...f6 and tuck the Bishop on f7, similar to what White does in many lines of the Closed Sicilian where he retreats the e3-Bishop to f2 in order to avoid any pawn forks on d4, and also if Black plops a Knight there, White could trade a Knight on d4 without getting his other Knight on c3 and Bishop on e3 forked by the re-capture.

All of that said, with the Knight already on f6, this Be6 move is probably the most illogical move on the board that doesn't outright hang a piece.

White needed no time at all to figure out his next move.

6.f4!

Of course! Intending to play f5!

6...exf4 7.gxf4

Yes! Taking with the pawn and maintaining the threat to the Bishop is the right way to recapture. Remember this concept of flexibility I mentioned in the Closed Sicilian? Here, it might look tempting for Black to just try to throw everything at the Kingside, despite that not being the usual side for Black to attack in the Closed Sicilian. Well, White hasn't castled yet, and so if he sees Black throwing all of his forces over there, he still can actually castle Queenside and with confidence, despite it not being the usual way for White to play this line. So yes, do not fear taking with the g-pawn. In addition, this will lead to attacks on the King if Black castles that way, and with his c-pawn advanced, it's not like the Queenside is all that terribly safe for Black either while White's Queenside is still intact.

7...Nc6 8.f5!

White does not fear the slight weakening of another central dark square, in this case e5. Black's Knight on f6 is misplaced and it will take Black a while to create any kind of dark-square domination, unlike White, who already has the light squares under total control. Black's light-squared Bishop is being pushed back, whereas White's dark-squared Bishop can influence d4 and/or e5 by putting his Bishop safely on f4, e3, or b2. He also still has the flexibility of where to put his King.

All told, White already has a clear advantage, mainly due to the unwise placement of Black's light-squared Bishop early on in the game.

8...Bd7 9.Nf3



I put up another diagram to point out something very important for White. Yes, he has total domination of the light squares, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have to be extremely careful. He always has to watch out for the move ...d5 by Black. Here, it wouldn't work very well as after 9...d5?! 10.exd5 Nd4 11.Bf4 and now 11...Nxf5 12.Qe2+ or 11...Bxf5 12.O-O, Black would be so far behind in development that White already has a winning advantage. That said, if Black catches up in development and is able to break this barrier of White's, the story may be very different!

9...Qb6 10.Rb1

The Queen's Rook is usually the last piece to get into the game for White in the Closed Sicilian anyway, and so he plays this move so as to free the Bishop to develop. While the move b3 does come in the near future, 10.b3 here isn't very good as it commits too early to the weakening of additional dark squares. White can handle d4 and e5. He is not interested in making every dark square weak though.

This does expose where the White King is going, namely the Kingside, but now the Queen is on b6 instead of a place like h4 or any other square near the White Kingside.

10...Be7 11.O-O O-O

White should not fear the discovered check, and in fact, it's outright bad for Black. After 11...c4+? 12.d4!, White is winning as he dominates the center completely, and undermining moves like 12...d5 fail to 13.e5, and once the Knight moves, 14.Nxd5!

12.Kh1

Now you might be asking "Why did you do this if the discovered check is bad? Don't you want Black to play 12...c4+?" Here you are asking for pipe dreams. If Black was so anxious to do it, he would either play the move right away, or else play a move that possibly threatens to do the discovery in a way that doesn't just win for White. For example, the 13.e5 push in the previous note hits the Black Knight. Maybe if he moves the Knight, he might be thinking about the discovery followed by ...d5. Not saying this works by any stretch of the imagination for Black, it's the concept that I'm illustrating here. Castling did nothing to improve Black's situation in the center, and so yes, the discovery is not a threat.

That said, the purpose of White's move is not to get out of the discovery. It actually serves a completely different purpose all together. Remember when we took with the g-pawn on move 7 instead of the Bishop? Now that the Black King has castled to the Kingside, White has a semi-open g-file with which he would like to place a Rook, and so the King moved over not to avoid the discovery, but rather to give way to a Rook going to g1 eventually. It turns out that the Rook doesn't go there until 15 moves later, as other priorities arise, but the square is available for the Rook once White needs it.

12...a5 13.a4

There is no need to rush the attack on the g-file. First, White settles orders on the Queenside. Black is looking for counter-play by trying to expand on the Queenside. White puts a stop to that with this move, and soon upcoming, he will advance the b-pawn to b3, creating a light-square wedge with a single weakness on c2, and put his Bishop on the long, open diagonal, which combined with a Rook on g1, eyes the g7-square, right in front of the Black King.

13...Nd4 14.b3 Rfe8

Black clearly sees what White is doing when he plays b3. In response, he gets his Rook out of the way so that he can place his Bishop on f8 to guard the g7-square.

15.Bb2 Qc7

The Queen serves no purpose at all on b6 at this point, and does nothing but block the b-pawn. It may be very difficult for Black to get a pawn break in like ...b5, but surely it's not happening with a Queen sitting in its way. The problem is, after Black's early mistakes, and especially the time lost from developing his light-squared Bishop to a bad square early on, it is hard to recommend anything to Black. We will see that the remainder of the game is going to mostly see Black as a sitting duck and White slowly but surely mounting a massive attack on the Kingside.



So now let's consider White's situation. With the Knight well-entrenched on d4, White will not see his Bishop putting pressure on g7 anytime soon. The Rook on b1 needs to get out as well, and so it's time for White to do a re-grouping. The White Rooks have a number of arrangements that they can use, depending on what Black does. They could go to e1 and f1, e1 and g1, f1 and g1, or create a battery on the g-file. It is also important to see which squares can be used and which are controlled by Black. If White is going to do a Rook lift to the third rank, he'll want to do it on the e-file or g-file. It is also important to figure out which piece or pieces of Black's are a problem for White. At initial glance, it looks like the d4-Knight is the only active piece for Black. However, it turns out, White can pretty easily work around this obstacle. Other than controlling e2 and f3, two squares that White doesn't need for the flow of his pieces, it doesn't do much. However, Black will likely need to advance g6 at some point if pressure mounts on the g-file. As we will see, this will open up a wedge for White where he will be able to advance f6. The downside to f6 is that it will open up Black's light-squared Bishop, and as we shall soon see in the game, this light-squared Bishop, that was so poorly developed early on and what currently looks like a bystander, turns out to be the key piece to eliminate from the Black camp, mainly because White will need access to the h3-square for his Rooks.

So let's see how White's plan is executed.

16.Qd2

He starts by getting out of the way of the Rook on b1 to come to the e-file.

16...Rac8 17.Rbe1

The other Rook comes out to a more active place.

17...Bf8 18.Qf2

With the Bishop coming to c1 in the near future, there is no reason to keep the Queen on this diagonal. It is better suited on f2 where it can come in at h4 and possibly a Rook lift will bring a Rook behind it to h3.

18...Ng4

A move that White should actually be glad to see. It forces White to make a move he wants to make anyway, and it removes the guard of the d5-square, allowing the White Knight on c3 to take on the active d5-outpost.

19.Qh4 Ne5 20.Nd5 Nexf3

It turns out this trade really only helps White. If he trades twice, White won't even need to re-locate the dark-squared Bishop. By trading once, it re-routes White's Bishop for him to d1 to take care of all issues of loose pawns on the Queenside. Eventually, White would let them drop like flies if it means a raging attack on the Black King, but here, it just makes White's life easier.

The move 20...Qd8 would put up more resistance. After both 21.Qxd8 Rexd8 22.Nxd4 cxd4 23.Rf2 Nc6 24.Rg1 and 21.f6 Nxc2 22.Bxe5 dxe5 (22...Nxe1?? 23.Ng5 h6 24.Nxf7 and now 24...Kxf7 is mate in 6 starting with 25.fxg7+ while 24...Nxg2 25.Qg3 will force Black to part with his Queen with something like 25...Rxe5 26.Nxd8, which is easily winning for White) 23.Ng5 h6 24.Nxf7 Kxf7 25.fxg7+ Kxg7 26.Nf6 Kh8!, White is winning, but there is still much work to be done in both cases. For example, in the latter case, only the move 27.Qg3 maintains the winning advantage. All other moves are equal or worse for White!

21.Bxf3 Qd8



22.f6! g6

22...Nxc2?? loses to 23.Bh5!!. Now 23...Nxe1?? allows White to force mate with 24.Bxf7+ and now either 24...Kxf7 25.fxg7+ Kg8 26.gxf8=Q+ Rxf8 27.Qg3+ with mate after a couple of useless interposes or 24...Kh8 25.Bg6 h6 26.fxg7+ and no matter which legal move Black plays, it will be followed by 27.Qxh6 and mate the following move.

If instead, after 22...Nxc2?? 23.Bh5!!, Black plays a move like 23...Re5, then 24.Bxf7+ still works, but it will take longer to hunt down the King.

23.Bd1 Re5 24.c4!

Stopping any thoughts of a breakthrough by Black of ...b5 to get active.

24...Be6 25.Bc1

Bringing the final piece into the game.

25...Rb8

25...Bxd5 would voluntarily help White eliminate the one problem piece that is covering h3.

26.Ne7+ Kh8

The other two legal moves are worse. Of course taking with the Queen makes no sense at all. After 26...Bxe7 27.fxe7 Qe8 28.Qf6 Bh3 (to open up e6 for the Knight) 29.Rf4 and there is no way for Black to avoid getting his Bishop trapped. The pin doesn't work for Black as after 29...Bf5, White can just take it with the Rook and opening of the g-file with the pawn capture is fatal, and so Black still drops a piece.

27.Rg1 Qe8 28.Ref1 Bd7 29.Nd5

White has no interest in allowing Black to sacrifice the Rook for Knight and Pawn. Yes, he can still take the Knight with the Rook, but then the f6-pawn stays!

29...Be6

This move and the next actually helps White. If instead, Black just sits and says to White "Prove it!", and plays something like 29...b6 followed by maybe 30...Rb7, White's idea, based on the fact that the f8-Bishop and f7-Pawn are stuck, blocking Black's other pieces from defending the g- and h-files, is to double the Rooks on the g-file with Rg3 and Reg1, making any captures with the g-pawn impossible as Rg8 would then be mate, and then playing Nf4 and Bh5 (again, based on the Rg8 tactic), and sacrificing a piece (likely the Bishop) on g6 to break through at the King once all of White's pieces are ready since it will open up Black's 7th rank for him when he plays ...fxg6.

Instead, Black sets himself up for immediate disaster.

30.Nf4

With the idea of what was just mentioned, doubling the Rooks next, but this Knight move was played first specifically in response to Black's last move because the moment he plays the following move ...

30...Kg8?

White has the green light to take the Bishop, the piece that we noted back after 15 moves would likely be the problem piece for White!

31.Nxe6! 1-0

Black resigned here, which may seem early at first glance, but this is not unusual in correspondence chess, where your opponent has tons of time and you will not beat him due to time pressure. All recaptures for Black are terrible.
  • Of course, the reason for taking specifically when the King moves to g8 is that now 31...fxe6 32.f7+ wins the Queen.
  • 31...Rxe6 simply allows 32.Rg3 and 33.Rh3, with the assistance of the other Rook going to g1 if necessary, and the Bishops cover all the squares in front of the pawns, stopping Black from blocking White's attack down the h-file. Advancing the h-pawn is also fatal for Black.
  • 31...Nxe6 allows 32.Rf3 with a similar idea to taking with the Rook, only now the other Rook is already on the g-file.
  • Taking with the Queen via 31...Qxe6 is relatively best, but Black is still totally busted. 32.Bf4 allows a Rook sacrifice that at least temporarily ties White down after 32...Rxe4 33.dxe4 Qxe4+ 34.Rg2, which is annoying, but White will get out of it with still a winning advantage, and 32.Rg3 allows the annoying 32...Nf5 33.exf5 Rxf5 34.Rxf5, but all that it is is annoying, nothing else. White is still easily winning after both 34...Qxf5 or 34...Qe1+, which does win the d1-Bishop as the Rook on g3 is pinned to the Queen and therefore cannot interpose, but it's not enough.


So what we saw here was Black being tied down to a passive position, and White having basically all the time in the world to build the attack on the Black King, and then White proceeded to eliminate Black's key piece that was stopping White's main idea, doubling up on the h-file, at the right tactical moment such that Black could not recapture with his pawn and open up the 7th rank for his heavy pieces to defend his King, and so with Black's King blocked off by his own pawn on f7 and Bishop on f8, neither of which could afford to move, White used that to his advantage to get at the Black King.

So remember, when you have an attack on the opposing King, and the opponent has no counter-play, there is no need to rush the attack. First, you prevent all counter-play by the opponent with prophylactic moves like 24.c4 was in the game, you get all of your pieces into the game, not just one or two, you eliminate that one loose nail that is holding the entire structure intact, which in this case was the light-squared Bishop, and only then do you go for the kill on the opposing King.

On the flip side, to avoid getting into this mess, it is vital that you clearly understand and envision what your opponent is doing early on, and make sense out of where each of your pieces need to go. Don't just randomly place them and say "Hey, they are controlling the center". What we saw here was a case of poor development of the light-squared Bishop. The problem was that the best square for the Bishop was not clearly defined. White could have been going for ideas with an early f4, or he could be holding the pawn back and developing with moves like Be3 and Qd2. Now given the fact that Black hasn't fianchettoed his Bishop, the f4-idea is probably pretty obvious. What is White attacking with that battery on e3 and d2 if Black doesn't fianchetto? He doesn't have weakened dark squares like he does if he plays ...g6 and ...Bg7? So the holding back of the King's Knight should have been an obvious sign for Black that f4 was coming, and with ...Nf6 already played, not enabling ...f6 to retreat the Bishop to f7, it should have been obvious that 5...Be6 was not a good move, and that it would lose time for Black, and ultimately the game. The Queen's Knight had a defined place to go, c6. The dark-squared Bishop had 2 options and that was it. Go to e7, or fianchetto. The situation for the light-squared Bishop was fluid. When you develop, unless there is a tactical reason not to do it, you should always develop the pieces that have known roles first. This is why the old adage came out "Knights before Bishops". Now that is a little too generic to say that it always applies, but Knights almost always want to go toward the center, and so c3, f3, c6, and f6 are usually the most desired squares, with d2, e2, d7, and e7 usually next in line, and only rarely do they develop to the edge. Bishops have a number of squares on the diagonal, and it is often best to see how the opposing pawns are set up, and your own pawns for that matter, before automatically developing your Bishop except in known cases from theoretical openings, like here in the Closed Sicilian, fianchettoing the King's Bishop early is almost never a bad idea, but the Queen's Bishop is often the last or sometimes second-to-last minor piece developed - sometimes the King's Knight is delayed for specific reasons in this opening.


That will conclude this article on Developing Your Pieces Wisely. Once another decisive game or really amusing draw comes up, I'll be back to cover it. Until then, stay safe, and good luck in whatever online play you may be doing during the pandemic.

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