Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Game of the Week

This week's game begins with a curious opening:

K.Ammann–G. Sargent
Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, March 23, 2010

1.d4 e6
Aggressively lobbing the ball back into white's court. Does white play 2.c4, inviting a Queen's Gambit Declined, or 2.e4, turning the opening into a French?

I was getting over a cold, so I wasn't equipped to properly weigh the two options. On the one hand, opening principle told me, "Grab the center -- he's inviting it!" On the other hand, as a French player myself, I know what a pain the defense can be for white. I chose 2.c4, playing it safe. When I got home, I queried Fritz and ChessBase and found, intriguingly, that in the former's database, 2.e4 was favored nearly two-thirds of the time, while in the latter's, 2.c4 enjoyed nearly as great an edge. Gee, thanks for clearing that up!

In any event, Gary's follow-up was a surprise curveball:

2.c4 c5!?
After the game, Gary told me that he'd planned to play 2...c5 regardless of whether I played 2.c4 or 2.e4. I was a little boggled by this. Surely, I thought, there must be some refutation to 2.e4 c5 -- otherwise, wouldn't black play 2...c5 all the time instead of going into the well-studied French Defense? Yet the most common reply, 3.Nf3, gives white only 50/50 chances.

The answer appears to be 3.d5. Exchanging pawns on d5 is just fine for white -- better than fine if, instead of 4...d6, black follows up with 4...Nf6? (5.Qe2+ Qe7 6.Nc3 Qxe2+ 7.Bxe2 Be7 8.d6 guarantees a grumpy black) . Both 3...Nf6 and 3...d6 are effectively squelched by 4.Nc3; 3...a6 is answered by 4.a4. White has an edge in every case.

As for the 2.c4 c5 scenario, it seems that my response was the correct one:

3.d5 d6 4.Nc3 Be7? 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.e4 e5
Fritz is hilariously unable to decide whether this opening sequence is a Czech Benoni or a Blumenfeld Gambit.

7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0
Before castling, I briefly consider 8.Bg5. This move must be obvious to a more experienced player, because Gary promptly shuts this idea down (though Fritz reassures me that castling is the right idea).

It's intriguing how many players in the ChessBase database choose to play 8...Ne8 here -- more than all other moves put together. Fritz, on the other hand, prefers 8...Nbd7.

9.Rb1 Bg4 10.b4 b6 11.bxc5 bxc5

Like me, Gary likes a good traffic jam. In this case, though, I've got an open lane. I'm perhaps too eager to take advantage of it.

12.Qb3 a6 13.Qb7 Nbd7 14.Bd2 Qb8 15.Na4??
I'm badly overestimating my chances following a queen trade, not to mention unwittingly leaving my e4-pawn defenseless. Instead, I should get my queen out of the way with 15.Qc6 -- discovering an attack against Gary's -- and use the tempo to put my rook on b7.

15...Qxb7 16.Rxb7 Rfb8 17.Rfb1 Rxb7 18.Rxb7 Rb8 19.Rxb8 Nxb8 20.Ba5 Nbd7

Yikes! I suddenly notice the hanging pawn and send its defender back to its post. Material is even; I retain a slight positional advantage.

21...Nh7 22.h3 Bh5 23.Nh4
This is a mistake: I fail to notice that h4 is covered by Gary's dark-square bishop. Best here is a tricky sacrifice, 23.Nxe5!? Nxe5 24.Bxh5 Nxc4 25.Bc7.

23...Bxe2 24.Nxe2??
Having shortsightedly placed my knight in danger on h4, I may as well finish carrying out my plan with 24.Nf5 rather than leave it hanging.


Advantage: Gary. And it's not a small one -- he's a whole piece up. Because of this, the rest of the game will be an uphill struggle for me.

25.Bc7 Be7 26.Ng3 g6 27.f3 Ndf6 28.Nf1 Ne8 29.Bb6 Nhf6 30.g4 Nd7 31.Ba5 Ng7 32.Kf2 f5 33.Ke2 Nf6 34.Nd2
My poor pieces are just too slow. There's no way I'm going to get them over to the queenside to take on Gary's a-pawn before he overwhelms me on the kingside.

34...fxg4 35.hxg4 h5 36.g5 Nd7 37.Bc7 Ne8 38.Ba5 Bxg5 39.Nf1 Bf4 40.Kf2 Ndf6 41.Kg2 h4 42.Bd8 g5 43.Nh2 Kf7
Allows 44.Ng4 Nxg4 45.fxg4 Nf6 46.Bxf6 Kxf6, but that only hastens what's going to happen eventually anyway.

44.a4 Kg6 45.Be7 Kf7 46.Bd8 Ng7 47.Kh3 Bxh2 48.Kxh2 Ngh5 49.Kh3 Nf4+ 50.Kh2 g4 51.Bxf6 Kxf6 52.fxg4 Kg5 0-1
There's no need to play this out to see how it's going to unfold. The g-pawn is toast, and I'll soon be doomed to eternal zugzwang.


John said...

27... Nfd6

is this Ndf6?

Anonymous said...

Yes, you're right. Thanks for the catch.

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