I should note that after beating the top seed in the previous round, this is now the second seed that I'm facing. Due to a number of upsets in the first round, and not a single game won by Black, this lead to some people repeating color as early as round two, and therefore, I did have the fortune of getting White against both of the top two seeds. Let's see how I was able to take advantage of that luxury.
Atlanta Class Championship, Round 2
W: Patrick McCartney (2018)
B: Hemachandra Rambha (2104)
Sicilian Defense, Prins Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3 e5 6.Nb3
For details on the last 3 moves, check the previous article.
Now, Black decides to take the opposite route of that which happened in Round 1.
This immediately resolves the backwards pawn, but usually leads to a miserable endgame for Black, despite the fact that it's equal with correct play. The main problem is that Black's winning chances are almost zero barring an egregious error by White.
The correct move for White. Bad is 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.a3 Be6 9.c4 Nb6 10.Qxd8+ Kxd8 and Black has a slight advantage due to the more active pieces.
The best reply. 7...dxe4? 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Bxf6+ gxf6 10.fxe4 gives White an improved version of the main line, while 7...d4 isn't much better after 8.c3 Nc6 (8...dxc3 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Nxc3 gives White a small advantage.) 9.Bb5 Be6 10.cxd4 Bxb3 11.Qxb3 Qxd4 12.Be3 Bb4+ (Worse is 12...Qb4+ 13.Nd2!) and now both 13.Nd2 and 13.Kf2 give White a small advantage.
Of course 8...Qxf6 9.exd5 simply wins a pawn for White.
9.exd5 Qxd5 10.Qxd5 Bxd5 11.Nc3
Now Black has a decision to make. His four main options are 11...Bxb3, 11...Bb4, 11...Bc6, or 11...Be6, the last of the four being considered the main line and theoretically best for Black.
11...Bc6 12.O-O-O Bb4
Play has transposed to the 11...Bb4 line where 12.O-O-O Bc6 takes us back to the game position.
This move is not bad, but stronger is 13.Nb5!, when 13...Bxb5 14.Bxb5+ Ke7 15.c3 leads to a theoretically winning position for White. Black's pawns are a train wreck, and White's Bishop is better than Black's.
13...Bxd5 14.Rxd5 Nc6 15.Bb5 a6 16.Bxc6+ bxc6 17.Rdd1 Ke7 18.c3
Here is a prime example of thinking beyond the basics. Under normal circumstances, a position like this would be viewed as Black having the better minor piece. Maybe not the better position, but the better minor piece. Here, even that isn't true. While yes the position is somewhat open, and yes there are pawns on both sides, the problem for Black is that he has way too many weaknesses beyond just that of his own pawns. His pawns sit on e5 and f6, and with a pawn also on f7, it is very difficult for Black to be able to advance the e- and f-pawns. This shows the reasoning behind White's last move. He forces the Bishop back so that he can put his other Rook on e1, pressuring the e-pawn if the f-pawn ever advances. However, the moment the f-pawn tries to advance, it will be an easy target for the White Knight, and Black will be forced to advance the f-pawn again to f4, re-creating weaknesses on the light squares, like e4 and f5.
Had Black's Bishop been a light-squared Bishop, this wouldn't be that big of a problem for Black. However, with a dark-squared Bishop, Black's position is terrible due to the light squares, and we are about to see a Knight tour where the Knight will end up on f5 in short order.
18...Bd6 19.Rhe1 Kd7 20.Na5
Headed for f5.
20...Kc7 21.Nc4 Rad8 22.Ne3 h5 23.Nf5 Rhg8
Now, based on the current position and what has happened recently, this might just look like a run-of-the-mill endgame that is really boring in nature. Truth is, this position is only boring for one player. Black! The trick here is to recognize various endgame tactics, not just the positional nature of the position. Sure, we all know that White's Knight is in an excellent spot, and Black's Bishop stinks, but that is not enough to win the game. However, what are the various ways that White can win the game? Some of the answers may include:
- Flat out winning material via tactics.
- Removing all the Rooks. If you were to envision the position with all the Rooks off, the Knight would easily beat the Bishop as Black has Pawn weaknesses all over the place, and the Knight can get to any of the 64 squares on the board.
- Recognizing that if everything were to get traded off, White's 3-on-2 Queenside majority is far superior to Black's 4-on-3 Kingside majority, and figuring out that White would most likely win all pawn endgames.
So the last 2 bullets are long term ideas, but let's look at how we can threaten to win material. Well, the first thing to recognize is that with the Knight on f5, covering e7, there is no way, at the moment, for Black to move his Bishop on d6 and be able to cover the d8-Rook. This is significant. While it doesn't take long to recognize that this doesn't actually win material, because if White gets two Rooks on the d-file and forces the Bishop to move, because the h8-Rook and King both guard d8, Black can move the Bishop away to a square like c5 and no material is lost, but the important thing to recognize is that if White can achieve this, all of the Rooks will be forced off the board, and we will have the second bullet with a winning Knight vs Bishop endgame. Black also threatens g2-for the moment. So therefore, we want to double up on the d-file as quickly as possible, but we also want to cover the g-pawn. We could advance 24.g3, but that does nothing to double our Rooks on the d-file. Therefore, we probably want to lift a Rook to the second rank, but which one?
This is where recognizing minor details comes into play. Ultimately we want our Rooks on d2 and d1. We can lift the Rook on the d-file with 24.Rd2, planning to play 25.Red1, or we can lift the Rook on the e-file with 24.Re2, threatening 25.Red2. Which should White play?
The thing to recognize that if Black can advance the e-pawn, and once he does, it opens up the Bishop to the f4 square, which would pin a Rook on d2 to the King on c1, and so 24.Rd2 would be a slight error. It does not lose, but it gives Black counterplay with something like 24...e4 25.Rxe4 Bxh2. Therefore, White's next move should be fairly obvious at this point.
Now, with the Rook lifted off of g8, the move Rd2 becomes a threat to win material as there is nowhere for the Bishop to go (again, e7 is covered by the Knight). The minor detail is that the Knight itself is under attack, but that should spark an idea in your head. If Black is not immediately attacking a piece, then Rd2 wins outright, and so therefore, do we need to move the Knight right now? Do we need to take the Bishop? The answer is no! White has another move that defends the Knight tactically.
But wait a minute, isn't that square attacked twice by Black an only covered once by White? Well, yes, but again, if Black captures twice, the Knight on f5 is no longer under attack, and moving the Rook from e2 to d2 would win a minimum the Bishop. Therefore, this tactical defense works here.
25...hxg4 26.fxg4 e4
Black recognized that taking the pawn on g4 drops a piece to 27.Red2, and therefore plays this idea mentioned earlier to be able to check or pin a Rook with the Bishop on f4. The problem here is that this pawn is now hanging, and so White can cash in by trading down and winning a pawn. You might say that a Rook ending is the last thing you want being one pawn up, but think about the position of the pieces and pawns after the combination.
27.Nxd6 Rxd6 28.Rxd6 Kxd6 29.Rxe4 f5 30.gxf5 Rxf5
Were you able to visualize this position back at move 27? This is a critical thing to be able to do. Visualize the position moves later and with who it is to move. By visualizing, you should have been able to figure out that White would be a pawn up, that he would have the outside passer compared to Black along with the majority on the Queenside, and most importantly, you'd be able to recognize that this position comes with White to move. Had it been Black to move, then being able to plop the Rook on the 2nd rank would cause White many problems, but it's White to move here, and so he moves his King up so that if Black tries to intrude on the 2nd rank, White can block with his own Rook.
31.Kd2 Rf1 32.Re1
This is better than the immediate 32.Re2 as it entices Black to check the White King, and then White gets his Rook to e2 with tempo.
32...Rf2+ 33.Re2 Rf1
So we have the exact same position that we would have had with 32.Re2, but the difference is, here it is White to move, and in that line, it would have been Black to move.
34.Ke3 f5 35.Rf2 Re1+ 36.Kd3
This was probably the wrong direction to go, but there is nothing that Black can do to take advantage of it. It simply doesn't allow White to make the progress he needs to make to win.
This brings up another interesting point. There are a number of ways that White can win. Identifying them, and figuring out which one is the most likely to be successful at happening, are both critical.
White can win by successfully achieving any of the following methods:
- Getting the h-pawn advanced and being able to get behind the h-pawn with the Rook. This would tie Black down to stopping the h-pawn, and White would use his majority on the Queenside to win. If Black tries to win the h-pawn, he is forced to do so via trading the Rooks, and White will snatch the f-pawn with his King, his King will be closer to the Queenside, and he'll be a full pawn up. White wins.
- Trading the h-pawn for the f-pawn if it means dragging the Black King to the Kingside.
- Forcing a trade off of the Rooks.
So the last one is a complete pipe dream. It is a blend of the first two that wins for White in this scenario. White needs to bring his King towards the Kingside to try to start advancing the h-pawn up to the point that the Black King has to come that way, and only then, White will trade the Kingside Pawns off, get to the Queenside first, and slowly snatch the Queenside pawns before promoting one of his own on that side of the board.
So instead of 36.Kd3, the King should be coming the other way to the Kingside. White soon fixes that issue.
36...Rh1 37.Re2 Rd1+ 38.Ke3 Rf1 39.Rf2 Re1+ 40.Kf3 Rg1 41.Kf4 Ke6
White's last move has forced Black to start bringing his King to the Kingside due to the threat of the f-pawn.
And this move then forces the Black King to the f-file, a file further away from the Queenside.
43.Kf3 Rd1 44.h4
Threatening to get behind the passer.
And so Black stops that idea, but White is going to try to force the issue.
45...Rg1+ 46.Rg2 f4+
Since going back to the h-file just leads to the threat White just had previously, Black tries to take advantage of the pin to advance the f-pawn, but this advance actually weakens it, and soon White will switch gears to the approach of trading off the Kingside pawns and then running to the Queenside.
Of course, taking the f-pawn drops the Rook.
47...Rh1 48.Kxf4 Rxh4+ 49.Ke3 Ke5 50.Kd3
There is no use in 50.Rg5+ yet as the King is too close to the Rook, and the White King is not close enough yet to the White pawns on the Queenside to guard them. However, now if 50...Kd5, then 51.Rg5+ followed by 52.Kc2.
However, advancing this pawn doesn't help either. Now when White checks, Black has to go towards the hanging c-pawn and can't harass the Rook. It also doesn't allow the King to move forward either as d4 is covered by the White pawn. Therefore ...
But now ...
52.Rg6+ Ke5 53.b3
White avoids the issues with the check on c4. The a-pawn is not going anywhere, and there is no need to take it immediately. Now if the Black Rook goes to the second rank, then taking the pawn on a6 guards the a2-pawn.
53...a5 54.Ra6 Kd5 55.c4+
This creates a safe route for the White King via Kd3-c3-b2-a3-a4 and potentially take on a5 with the King.
55...Ke5 56.Kc3 Rh3+ 57.Kb2 Kd4 58.Rxa5 Rh2+ 59.Ka3 Rg2 60.Ra8 Kc3 61.Rh8
The position might look scary for White because his King is pushed against the edge of the board, but in reality, it is a non-issue for White. For example, if 61...Rg7, then 62.Rh3+ and 62...Kd4 gives the White King the escape out the bottom on b2, but if 62...Kc2, then White can escape out the top. After 63.Ka4!, if Black tries to win the a-pawn with 63...Ra7+ 64.Kb5 Rxa2, then White wins via 65.Rh2+ Kxb3 66.Rxa2 Kxa2 67.Kxc5.
62.Rh5 Kd4 63.Rd5+ Kc3 64.Rxc5
Black is now down three full pawns and can safely resign.
64...Rf6 65.Ka4 Ra6+ 66.Ra5 Rb6 67.a3
White starts advancing the Queenside pawns on the basis of a tactic that Black falls for immediately.
Despite giving up one of the pawns for it, the Black Rook is now trapped and is forced to be traded off. White is now winning easily and the rest needs no commentary.
68...Rxb5 69.cxb5 Kb2 70.b6 Ka1 71.Kb3 Kb1 72.b7 Ka1 73.b8=Q Kb1 74.Qh2 Ka1 75.Qg1# 1-0
So I started the tournament with two wins, both as White, against the top two rated players in the section. There was only one other two remaining, and so it was known immediately that I would have to play Black against the three seed the following round. That round will be covered in the next article. That said, there are a few things to pick up from this game.
One is that even in theoretically equal positions, they are not a piece of cake to execute. This line is supposedly equal for Black, but he has to sit through a long and miserable endgame just to get a draw, and he failed to do so here. White can basically drag this out at little to no risk. He really has nothing to lose. And so while 6...d5 may be the best move theoretically, practically, it's a nightmare for Black. For White, it's a simple case of "slow and steady wins the race".
The other thing that this game can be used for is to work on your visualization skills, especially around the moves in the 20s. If White doesn't use this to calculate his 24th and 25th moves, we might be looking at a different result as White can't afford to sit back passively. Otherwise, Black will consolidate and have very few problems getting half the point. Another thing that you can do is when you study a chess game, try to see how far you can mentally visualize the position without moving the pieces on the board. Only after that, make the moves on the board to see if your assessment was accurate, or if you are mis-visualizing the position.
This concludes the coverage of the second round. Until next time, good luck in your games, and have a good Thanksgiving.