The last 4NCL weekend of the year was a successful one for my Guildford team as we won the league with a round to spare. I made 2,5/3 on Board 1 to round off a good personal season as well. Although none of my games were particularly noteworthy, there were a few interesting episodes which are worth revisiting.
In this article, I’d like to look at the final phase of my game against Ivan Sokolov. In principle, I was winning very early after Black missed my killer 17th move. However, a number of things struck me during the game while converting my advantage. First of all, I felt that Black did a good job of making life as difficult as possible from a hopeless situation. Secondly, it was interesting to reflect on which types of winning positions I was happy to play in a practical game, and which types I wanted to avoid if possible (even if the computer still evaluated them as +3 or +4) As always, a playable version of this game is available at http://cloudserver.chessbase.com/MTIyMTYx/replay.html
Sadler,Matthew D – Sokolov,Ivan
4NCL May, 04.03.2017
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 g6 6.e4 d6 7.f3 a6 8.a4 h5 9.Bg5 Be7 10.Be3 h4 11.Qd2 Nbd7 12.Nh3 Ne5 13.Be2 Rb8 14.0–0 Kf8 15.a5 b5 16.axb6 Qxb6 17.b4 Bxh3 18.bxc5 Qb2 19.gxh3
Obvious but there was a much better move!
I checked 19.Rfb1 quickly and I’d seen the idea of Bh6+ in other lines, but I never put the 2 together!
19…Ke8 (19…Kg8 20.Rab1 Qxd2 21.Rxb8+ Kh7 22.Rxh8+; 19…Rxh6 20.Qxh6+ Kg8 21.Rfb1) 20.Rfb1 Qxd2 21.Rxb8+ Kd7 22.Rb7+ Kc8 23.Bxd2 Kxb7 24.c6+
19…Qxd2 20.Bxd2 Rb2 21.Rfd1 Nh5 22.f4 Rxd2 23.Rxd2 Nxf4 24.c6 Kg7
The start of my reflections. White is the exchange up with a very strong passed c-pawn. Black’s (insufficient) compensation for his material deficit is his central and kingside dark-square control and the general looseness of White’s position (White’s king is open, and many pieces are unprotected on dark-squares). White’s immediate task is to consolidate and to devise a way of pushing his c-pawn through.
A safe move, getting the rook off the dark squares, protecting my loose knight on c3, providing support for the passed c-pawn and introducing the option of Bxa6 to cover the c-pawn’s queening square (which was impossible before due to …Nf3+ forking king and rook)
This surprised me: Black is faced with an enormous White c-pawn and there he is just taking a doubled h-pawn! (he’ll also have to spend a tempo bringing his knight back into play). However, it’s a good practical decision. Black has already accepted that the c-pawn will cost him his bishop, so he is planning for the situation after this. By taking the pawn on h3, Black removes some cover from the White king and most importantly frees the passage of his own g-pawn with …g5–g4–g3. It’s not great, but at least it’s a plan!
26.Kf1 Nf4 27.Na4
27.Bxa6 Ng4 28.Nd1 Bd8 Annoyed me as 29.c7 Bxc7 30.Rxc7 Nxh2+ seemed to give Black a little play. I decided to keep the bishop on e2 for as long as possible to keep the Black knights at bay and use my otherwise unemployed knight on c3 on b6 to force the c-pawn home
Activating White’s extra rook and introducing a number of threats:
1. c7 winning a piece without allowing Black to activate his rook on the b-file
2. Rb8 (the main idea) preparing to win the piece AND reduce Black’s attacking force still further by exchanging off the rooks.
29.c7 Bxc7 30.Rxc7 Rh6
During the game, I gave this position and the position after 28.c7 Bxc7 29.Rxc7 Rb8 some thought.
It occurred to me that if you want to have some practical chances in a position of great material imbalance / inequality then what Ivan has done is about perfect.
First of all, Black’s king is completely safe due to the stable knight on e5 which protects the pawn on f7. This means that White cannot exploit his material advantage (a whole rook) to finish off the game quickly: he will have to target other weaknesses which inevitably takes longer.
Secondly, White’s own king is somewhat open which means that White will continually have to look out for checks and little tactics.
Thirdly, Black has managed to concentrate his remaining forces in a small area of the board: the centre & kingside. By comparison, White’s pieces are spread all over the board. This means that in the short term, Black’s attacking force on the centre & kingside is not inferior to White’s: he may thus have some chances to make some immediate progress there.
Fourthly, Black’s pieces are entrenched on a colour square – the dark squares – which White finds difficult to challenge by normal means: it will take a little while before his knight returns from a4 to e2 for example to challenge the knight on f4.
Finally, Black has a plan to increase his space advantage on the kingside with …g5–g4-g3. Of course, White is completely winning in both cases, but it seemed to me that this was too little for the superiority I had in the position. I thus decided that I should spend some effort calculating a forcing win after 29.Rb8.
The best try
29…g4 30.c7 g3 31.Rxd8 (31.c8Q gxh2 32.Bf3 Nxf3 33.Qg4+ Bg5 34.Qxf3 Rxb8 35.Nc3 also wins easily which I hadn’t spotted during the game) 31…gxh2
32.Bf3 Nxf3 33.Rxh2 Nxh2+ 34.Kg1 Nf3+ 35.Kf2 was the line that got me interested in calculating 29.Rb8. It demonstrates a typical defensive technique where White is willing to give back material (a bishop and rook!) to defuse Black’s initiative.
Just in general, I was also very happy with the tactical connotations of this exchange: the king is drawn to the back rank (which means White’s c-pawn will queen with check) while the king also abandons the protection of the f7 pawn (which means that Rb7xf7 will become possible at times)
31.Rb2 g4 32.Rb7
White has invested a great deal of time to push through his c-pawn while reducing Black’s attacking force: Rc2, Rb1–b8xh8, Rb2–b7. That’s 6 tempi! It’s therefore not surprising that Black manages to develop some threats even if it feels a little unfair!
This was the move that cost me the most time. Unfortunately, I had a blind spot in my calculations. When I played 27.Na4, I had decided to keep the bishop on e2 to cover the kingside light-squares and in my mind, the bishop was anchored on this square. The only square I considered moving it to was a6 to support the march of the c-pawn. That explains why the simple 33.Bd1 never even occurred to me. 33…g3 34.Kg1 neutralises Black’s initiative without the slightest problem. A bishop, pawn (h2) and king are easily enough to keep an attacking force of 2 knights and 2 pawns at bay for a little while. My method was a little less elegant.
33.Rxc7 g3 34.hxg3 h2 is not good news!
33.Bxg4 Nxg4 34.Rxc7 was the first thought I had while calculating , but 34…Nxh2+ 35.Kg1 (35.Kf2 Ng4+ 36.Kg3 h2 is equally embarrassing) 35…Nf3+ 36.Kh1 Nh5 leads to mate!
33…Nxe2 34.Kxe2 g3 35.hxg3 (35.Rb3 gxh2 36.Rxh3+ is also good enough) 35…h2 36.Rb1 wins easily
destroys any remaining Black hopes
Setting a gorgeous little trap
35.Kg3 Be1+ 36.Kxh3 Nf4# what a mate!
35…Nxg4+ 36.Kxd3 Nxh2 37.Nb6
37…Ng4 38.c7 Nf2+ 39.Ke2 h2 40.c8Q+ and Black resigned.
40.c8Q+ Kg7 41.Qf5 h1Q 42.Rxf7+ Kg8 43.Qg6+ Kh8 44.Rf8#