DHLC Swiss 8, Round 2, "Help! I've fallen into a cul de sac, and can't get out!"
DHLC "Art of War" Swiss 8, Round 2 game MurkyLizard v hreedwork (1-0) and almost a miniature (26 moves) due to a game ending massive blunder by me. But the point of the game isn't really the blunder... I was trapped in a cul de sac and couldn't escape.
I didn't have a lot of time to prepare (work, travel, end of year, blah blah blah), but I did have about 30 min to review MurkyLizard's past games as White, and quickly discovered he plays 1.d4, while all my energy studying for Black has been against 1.e4 (doh!) where I use the Sicilian Najdorf. Or at least I try, see this amusing attempt at Najdorf, where I get everything mixed up with the Hyper-Accelerated Dragon, and hilarity ensues...
Back to the "I need to quickly get my bearings before the game" bit. I whip out my handy Black repertoire manual and look at the Nimzo-Indian 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bc4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 b6 6.f3 Ba6 and we have an opening, and I at least understand the purpose of the ...b6 and ...Ba6 moves, to pick on the c4 pawn without a pawn defender. The book I use is the "Chess Openings for Black, Explained" by Lev Alburt.
In MurkyLizards games I notice that he doesn't quite follow that same line, but time is up, our game is about to start...
As further mental prep, I remind myself to give full attention to the game, use all my time and so on. I think I did reasonably well on the "you must concentrate" aspect, and I certainly did use all my time, as did MurkyLizard. So neither of those aspects of the game was the problem. So what was the problem, what happened?
The game starts!
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2, hmmm... not what I had time to read about. The Alburt book recommends 4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bd2 O-O, and we have a game.
Uncertain, I play 4...O-O. My logic was to wait until my DSB was attacked before capturing the Knight. I didn't have to wait long, 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3. Here I knew from other painful games with Black that I needed to make a freeing move. And it better be in the center, and I have to do it now, or maybe be shut out of that possibility for a long time. 6...d5.
After making this move, I was releived. I thought I made it through the first big decision in a decent fashion. I knew for now my LSB was blocked in, and I needed to bias toward a closed position, to make best use of my two Knights. However I had bigger issues on my hands, namely what type of pawn structure is my goal? Am I fighting on the Kingside or Queenside? Inquirying minds want to know!
7.e3, which (if I remember correctly from our post-mortem analysis) MurkyLizard thinks is a bit passive. Nonetheless, I am now confronted with the biggest decision of the game...
Yikes, I need to make another important decision, and it's only my seventh move. This really underscores the importance of knowing something about openings you play, a bit about typical structures, and the piece coordination and move order to get there. Gees, at this point, I would have been happy to know simply if I should focus on Queenside or Kingside... Below depicts what I considered, and didn't consider. Plan A contains two areas of interest. My Queenside pieces need to develop, and the center, which I knew was important. But couldn't decide if I needed the d5 pawn to be a "strongpoint", or if the d5 pawn should capture the c4 pawn, and one of my Knights take up post on d5.
My brain is a jumble.
But then I see something I can comprehend. A glimmer of hope. White's Queen is on c3 on the c-file. If there are pawn exchanges on the c file, then if I put a Rook there to threaten the Queen... and so it started. I worked out long tortuous routes for the QS Knight, was puzzling over how to activate the LS Bishop, all in the spirit of "threatening" MurkyLizard's Queen. It was all clear now. I had a purpose, and a goal. Life is good.
But deep down, I knew I was on shaky ground. Why am I threatening a piece so early, especially when she can simply move, or better yet close the file with a c4-c5 push? Why?...
The spirit of Valery Frenklakh...
I took some lessons from Valery back in the 90's (he is still an active coach in the Boston area) and among various things like admonishing me for being lazy and not calculating (true back then but lately I do tactics and calculate), said something amazing... "Chess is a Game of Squares not Pieces!" Well, amazing to me anyway. I used to spend so much time chasing and attacking pieces, only to have them move to an even much better position. Meanwhile I'm left holding the bag... full of piece uncoordination, multiple weaknesses, and so on. Then my opponent turns on me and I think to myself "what happened?" Sheesh!
But, here I am in search of a plan, I latch on to threatening the Queen while opening a file, all good rationalization. Not necessarily a good plan, but rationaization nonetheless. Since I can make sense this plan (plan A) I take it. However, I did not even consider play on the Kingside (plan B). Not even a hint. Nada. However, I did try to at least make a few moves which are "flexible and not too commital.
7...c6 8.Nf3 Nbd7 9.Bd3
White is getting ready to castle, I need to continue development, and I have to decide which side to play on and so forth. I stick with the original piece chasing plan. 9...Nc6.
Analysis of Plan B
However, consider if I decided even now to pursue a Kingside plan (plan B). The goal then is an e5 pawn push, which the Knight on d7 is already set up to support . If we take a different approach and add Rook and Queen support with 9...Re8 10. O-O Qc7 11.b4 e5 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.dxe5 Qxe5, we have a game, and can start middlegame operations.
Oh No! I have fallen into a cul de sac...
9.Nb6 signals the commital move to the plan around the c file and attacking the Queen. After 10.b3 Bd7 11.O-O Rc8 12.c5 Na8 13.Ne5 Nc7 14.a4, a sequence which I deliberately planned for and received, we arrive at the end of the cul de sac. Here is what it looks like:
End of the road. I still need to develop. I still need my "freeing move" to remove the cramp and allow for piece movement, and subsequent coordination. Interestingly the only way out that I can find is 14...Ne4, thus playing on the Kingside which earlier I didn't even consider. I don't mean look at and then reject... I mean just plain old didn't consider. And now I am on my knees looking for a way to acheive some play on the Kingside. Better late than never, but I was never able to escape the cul de sac in one piece...
15.Qc2 forms the Q and B battery I was concerned about off and on through the whole opening. ANd as a bonus my Knight is not on f6 which protects the potential h7 attack by the Q and B battery. 15...f5 15.f3 Ng5 17.Bd2 Ne8 (looking to make use of this hapless Knight) 18.e4, and this is where my escape from the cul de sac starts to sideways a bit. 18...fxe4 19.fxe4 Nxe4 20.Rxf8+ Kxf8 (drawing my KIng on to the open e file) 21.Bxe4 dxe4, and at a minimum my pawn structure is a big deficiency going into the endgame. 22.Qxe4 Kg8 23.Rf1 and I am becoming very concerned with all of the tactical possibilities.
23...Nf6 24.Qf4 Qf8 25.Qg3 and I am mentally very tired due to trying to fight my way out of the cul de sac. However I didn't "see" the Queen pin of the g pawn against my King. 25...Qe8?? 26.Rxf6 (1-0)
Kudos to MurkyLizard for (a) knowing his openings and sticking to them; (b) very consistent pressure, at times during post-mortem he wanted a little more activity from some of his moves, but ultimately he simply didn't make any stinker moves, and; (c) using all of his time!