This game analysis is dedicated to Dr Cris at Chess.com :-)
I decided to write a piece below that painstakingly goes through my thought process because I know we are all trying to help Dr get to the next level, plus the game is only 17 moves (so it won't be too long), and as a bonus it ends with a massive blunder on my part. I found that my thought processes really constrained my options to the point to where I was forcing myself into dubious moves. I hope this helps.
The opening variation I was trying to play is: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 (Sicilian Najdorf). Of course White can play anything he wants, but this particular game is unrated and I told him I was interested in playing Black against 1.e4 sinceI am trying to (re)learn Sicilian.
Why am I trying to (re)learn Sicilian? Because I am trying to learn Sicilian in general to confront all of my irrational fears of chess:
- I can't learn an opening - its too much memorization
- Open openings scare me
- What if it is too tactical?
I start using the openings, and for Black against 1.e4, the Hyper Accelerated Dragon. I have about a 50% "non disaster" rate, maybe winning 30% (I do not have exact stats). The point is that I'm doing marginal, and can't quite make it to the middlegame without a lot of prior damage. If I could get to the middlegame in an ok (even slightly worse) position then I feel I can play chess and I'm happy.
At the Continental Open in Sturbridge MA USA, earlier this month, I talked with a chess friend (candidate expert level) and he told me a few interesting things:
- Learning openings is essential for my range (1400+)
- I need to focus on understanding, not memorization (but how do I do that?!)
- And I should stay away from sharp, dubious lines, such as the Hyper Accelerated Dragon. The reason (according to him) that the book series above used it, is because that is the favorite "pet" line of one of the authors, and it's ok, but... only if you exactly follow the lines. Well, with my work schedule the odds of me learning boat loads of exact lines is zero.
- So what to do? He suggested two books for the Sicilian where they recommend mainline play like the Najdorf (I signed up for the Najdorf DHLC tournament BTW). Moreover the book gives good overview, and most important has representative annoted games so I can get an overall feel for the opening and don't have to stay so exactly on the precise line (esp. since their recommended lines have some buffer to them, not so razor sharp).
The recommended line is Najdorf (6...a6) if White plays mainline. Else my chess friend recommended:
So, if I get 1.e4 c5 2.b4, I'll have some sort of clue.
But let's go back to Najdorf, and the game. And keep in mind this is my first Najdorf game, switching from Hyper Accelerated Dragon...
The game followed Najdorf up to 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4. That's it. I, the one who is trying to learn and practice this new opening, couldn't muster remembering lines past move 4. Funny, sad, but reality. What I like about the Najdorf from reading about it and looking at some games is that since ...d6 is played early, it avoids the huge issues I have had with the Hyper Accelerated Dragon, namely when the heck do I push the d-pawn?? The sharp line in my old book said hold off, then at the right magic moment, play ...d5 all at once, but that assumes you make it to the magic moment without serious damage... I think that is what the guy was telling me about that line. Too sharp. I will hurt myself. Ok...
So I get to 4.Nxd4, and all of a sudden I remember, I am playing Najdorf, I didn't have time to review, have coffee (ha!) or anything, and I am already busted. I do not know the continuation... It is so true that we don't usually win at chess, somehow we just manage to lose slower than the opponent... In any case I do remember that I need to play ...Nf6, ...a6 and ...e6 at some point, and before that I needed to play ...Nc6.
Well 2 out of 4 isn't bad. Unless you playing chess. Seriously. No ...e6, and certainly no ...Nc6. I am clearly remembering a bit of Accelerated and a bit of Najdorf and boogering the whole thing up. For example 4...Nc6 allows 5.c4 leading to a Maroczy Bind. I've encountered this from the Accelerated side, and it's a bear to handle (h/t to dax for pointing this out). Dax suggested that 6.Bc4 would be more active than 6.Be2 (Jagdeep confirmed he intended to castle Queenside when he made that move) although 6.Be2 prevents a later ...Ng4.
On to 8.Qd2. Here I am past the mixed up opening variations, and I am staring at a position that I am struggling to make sense of the position. During the game I considered these points:
- White is indicating he will castle Queenside
- Therefore there will most likely be pawn storms on both sides
- Why isn't my Rook on c8? I thought that is where Black Rooks go in a Sicilian (isn't that the point of ...c5 and later ...cxd4??)
- Neither one of us castled, and we should do so quickly!
Well this is the art of defense, of which I am still at the primary school finger painting, and eating paper mache glue level. However I have played through a few Petrosian games, and know that subtle maneuvering can serve to recoordinate pieces, provide escape hatches and so on. So I am on the hunt for how to rearrange my position to discover my options for where to move my Knight when the inevitable comes. Again, I consider points, then I make a decision. Points are:
- I need to act fast. The pawn storm has started, and there is no stopping it for now. The pawns will attack my Knight.
- The only plausible squares for my Knight are d7, d5 (if e5 push), and e4 if I can somehow exchange my way to those squares
- But d7 isn't available (make note of this assumption) because I need my Bishop to make way for my Rook to go to c8 (one of my earlier goals)
- And BTW, I should exchange to relive pressure due to cramping, so Nxd4 is a strong consideration.
And please note I am also discounting e8 which I did not even catch until I am writing this post. Retreat squares can be a big blindspot. No e8. Doesn't even exist - lol.
That leaves only d5 and e4 as plausible squares for the Knight. However I am getting even more concerned (why?) that my Rook isn't on c8. So I play 10...Bd7, which is usefull in other continuations, but right now is blocking a Knight retreat. This encourages Jagdeep to turn up the heat with 11.g4. Now the Knight is in trouble. Before, I could handle an e5 push with exchanges, but how do I handle 12.g5?
The hunt continues and intensifies for how to create an escape for the Knight on f6. And since I can't wait, and 11.g4 is much more likely than 11.e5 which I can handle, I try to force the situation. Note... "force the situation". Alarm bells are going off because I have learned in chess, you cannot "force the situation", you have to work with it...
Regardless, 11...d5, start exchanges. I didn't calculate to the end of all lines, however I did expect a pawn exchange likely and that is what happened. 12.exd5 exd5, then the inevitable 13.g5! Of course, the point. Remember I am blind to the e8 square, all I see is the intended 13...Ne4 attacking White's Queen and Bishop, forcing an exchange of Knights, 14.Nxe4 dxe4, which is the intended position. Remember I said I didn't calculate to the end, but I did calculate to here... which is a "quiescent" but as DH would say. However DH would also say, you need to look at one move beyond. I figured I could hold the pawn, or give it up. Maybe I could still hold the position. 15.Kb1. An opportunity to consolidate?
However, instead of trying to further consolidate, or exchange down to a manageable position (that was what I have been doing up to this point, yes?) I try to force the position even further (my alarm bells were ringing so loud the alarm broke and everything was quiet), and all of a sudden this seemed rational. It wasn't really quiet, but that is the point of this long post.
15....Nxd4 16.Qxd4, and then Black realizes he needs to put the darn alarm bells back together again! The Bishop on d7 is in trouble, and the lonely pawn on e4 is in big trouble. This is a double attack, usually very difficult to meet, especially when under pressure, especially when under pressure for many moves, constantly feeling under coordinated and confused...
16...Bf5?? This protects the pawn (true) and the Queen is double protected, and can handle the impending exchanges (true), except that White doesn't have to exchange, and can generate an even more intense double attack with 17.Qe5! and Black resigns.
However, 16...Bc6! following the theme discussed earlier still protects the pawn and holds the position, although White is definitely better.
This is visceral proof I need to seriously study the Najdorf... keep my mind open (reduce my blindspots), and think coordination from early in the game, not just when I am in serious trouble... @Dr, I hope this helps.