Fifth position

Continuing my computer-abetted annotation of critical chess positions where I not only made errors, but demonstrated poor understanding.

This one here is me losing $200 or so :) Last round, 1st board, a Mechanics Institute G/45.

Slater – de Guzman (2378)

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 8.46.43 PM

My move as white. What I recall thinking:

  • My position is good. The a4 pawn is a long-term weakness. In fact it’s the only weakness on the board, and it’s his not mine! :) The Nc3 is very happy eyeing that pawn, so I’d like to avoid trading knights on e4.
  • I should stop his bishop from getting an active placement on f5.
  • Long-term I want to pressure a4, but I need to be a little mindful of what black might try to cook up on the kingside.  e5 is one square he might use to post/transfer knight or rook, in combination maybe with getting in Qh4.
  • Also, contesting his control of the e-file seems like a no-brainer.

So play continued

19.Bd3 Bd7 20.Re1 Rxe1 21.Qxe4 Ng4 22.Qe4 f5 23.Qd4 Qf8 24. f4 Re8 

Stockfish rewind:

The initial evaluation is correct. White’s better by about a half-pawn.

White is also better by about a half-pawn after move 24. However, I missed important ideas and the evaluation fluctuates a bit in between.

First, both Stockfish and my esteemed opponent clearly recognize that black wants to get in Ng4.

Second, the e-file is not irrelevant exactly but the Re8 isn’t causing me any problems. There are no entry squares now or in the near future.

So I played two moves that are very inefficient.

  • 19. Be2 takes away Bf5 but does nothing about g4.
  • Then 20.Re1 looks to solve an irrelevant problem, the Re8. (If you want to know how valuable it is to stop …Ng4, Stockfish’s recommended move is 20.f3.)

Instead look at the should-be-obvious move 19.Qf4. It doesn’t massively change the Stockfish eval (+0.5, versus +0.3 after Bd3), but it affects FOUR OR FIVE squares of significance. That’s what centralized pieces do! Chess 101!

  • Takes away …Bf5, just like my Bd3 move did.
  • Also takes away …Ng4
  • Adds another control to e4
  • Sets up to get to d4 if desired (notice my queen winds up there later anyway) and covers the h4 fantasy square for black’s queen.

The reason white stays significantly ahead in the game line is because of black’s 22…f5. Did we just mention that h4 fantasy square? Stronger is 22…Qh4 23.Qf4 g5 24.Qg3 Qxg3 25.hxg3, cutting white’s advantage to a quarter-pawn according to the ‘Fish.

So we see it again. We saw it here. And here. As Cool Hand Luke and Major Payne would say, What We Have Here is a Failure to Centralize.

This game isn’t so hard after all. Just put your queen in the middle of the board and viola! You’re a 2200. :)

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5 thoughts on “Fifth position

  1. Disagreeing with Stockfish is futile but I will try. 19.Qd1 jumped out at me: target the a4 pawn and keep an eye on g4. Then somehow get your Nc3 to d4 (Bf3 or Bd3, Ne2, Nd4) and isn’t White doing good here?

    1. Ha ha! Foolish mortal!

      Actually I don’t know. Will make a good research project.

      Initially (via Stockfish) it looks like the sequence matters very much – like 19.Qd1 Bd7 20.Bd3 immediately gives most of the advantage away. But I won’t have time to dig into “why” until later…

  2. Here is my stream of consciousness thoughts about this position:

    – White is better because of his big space advantage and better pawn structure (c7 pawn and a4 pawn are weak).

    -Due to the space advantage, White does not want to trade pieces without reason. This means that moves like 1. Bf3 are easily met with … Bg4 and forcing the trade of pieces.

    -The white bishop looks important on the d1-h5 diagonal to hold the h5 square from the knight but it also must look over e4. Perhaps it’s best square is actually c2.

    – Both Black’s minor pieces need the d7 square as long as g4 is not an option. This immediately suggests the following line: 1. Bd1 Bd7 2. h3 and now maybe Black goes Re7 or Re5 with ideas of Qe8 adding pressure on the e-file so then 2. …Re5 3. Re2 Rxe2 4. Bxe2 Qe7 5. Qf4 Re8 Black will achieve …Ne4 and trade off his problem and nullify the space advantage.

    -The reason the above line does not work is because Black always has …Re5 and …Qe7 followed by …Ne4, trading pieces away. I don’t see a good way to solve this issue. Perhaps a strange move like 2. f3 is a decent way to restrict the knight. However this allows 2. … b5! because this now works tactically after 3. cxb5 Qb8 and now 4. Bxa4?? fails to Rxa4! 5. Nxa4 Qa7+. This resource isn’t available after h3.

    – Now that I am convinced that the position is really equal, I want to place my pieces on good squares. I think the a2 rook can go to d4, controlling e4 , the LSB can go to c2 and the White queen goes to f4 or d2, and a white pawn is on h3. This seems to kill all of Black’s counterplay and now you can try for slow torture. The a4 pawn is dead after b5, so maybe this is the way to play.

    I’ve spent about 20 minutes thinking about this, so I am going to give it a rest now.

    1. Hey Rob! Very cool, thanks for digging into it. Love getting more perspectives.

      Interesting that you point out c7 as a weakness. Never thought of it. Some GM said “it’s not a weakness if there’s no way to exploit it,” which might be the case for a long, long time here. But if in some fantasy setup I could get an unopposed Nb5, I guess…

      More critically: You hit on a factor that proved vital in the actual game. Much later. After some mucking about we arrived a position which de Guzman said should probably be a draw.

      However, I played about 1/3 as fast as he did, and as my clock dwindled down I reverted to my base instincts and tried to, you know, DO SOMETHING. Which involved moving the knight from c3, intending to bring it d4.

      This allowed black to make his one thematic pawn break in this structure, which you pointed out: b5. My d5 pawn dropped, and then my cxb5 pawn, and everything fell apart.

      I should have been keenly aware of keeping that locked down.

  3. I feel like I can consider c7 a weakness if I can open the a file and infiltrate with the rooks. The b5 break is pretty obvious to me, as it is the only form of counterplay that Black has.

    I think this is a very instructive position on how to properly evaluate a position. It shows that optical advantages in space don’t mean that much if the tempii and harmony of the pieces isn’t there to support it.

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