Last weekend was an opportunity for some good practice at the excellent Kings Place rapid tournament (http://chess-results.com/tnr362015.aspx?lan=1&art=1&rd=6&flag=30) After a very busy period at work, I wasn’t in inspired form but did enough to finish =2nd on 5/6 together with GM Luke Mcshane and IM Peter Roberson behind the winner GM David Howell. However, it’s always fun to spend some time after the tournament analysing interesting episodes in your games. I’d like to start with the complicated middlegame I played against John Merriman in the last round. As always a playable version of this game is available at http://cloudserver.chessbase.com/MTIyMTYx/replay.html
There is also a YouTube video about the game at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6Qi_Do7xkk
Sadler,Matthew D – Merriman,John [A17]
Kings Place, 07.07.2018
[Despite its calm appearance, this position contains some interesting positional and tactical features. Firstly, Black seems to have developed smoothly and logically but there is one slight dissonance in his position: the knight on c6. Ideally Black’s queen knight would be on d7 from where it
- Defends b6. This allows Black to complete development and redeploy the Black queen via …Rac8 followed by …Qb8–a8.
- Frees the a8–h1 diagonal so that Black’s bishop on b7 puts pressure on White’s knight on f3.
- Reinforces c5 and thus dissuades dxc5 due to …Nxc5 gaining a tempo on the queen
On c6, the knight attacks the d4–pawn as well as the b4–square that White weakened with a4, but neither of these particularly worry White. White’s piece configuration of Qb3, Bd2, Ne2 and Rc1 highlights the drawbacks of Black’s development:
- The queen on b3 attacks the pawn on b6, preventing Black from moving his queen off the c-file
- The rook on c1 eyes the queen on c7 and dissuades Black from relieving the pressure against the c5 pawn.
- The knight on e2 supports the pawn on d4 and allows White to recapture on d4 with a knight after …cxd4 (combining with the rook on c1 to put pressure on the knight on c6). Moving the knight from c3 to e2 also activated White’s dark-squared bishop.
- The bishop on d2 restricts the movement of the knight on c6 by attacking both b4 and a5.
Secondly, Black’s development of the light-square bishop on the a8–h1 diagonal and the king’s rook to d8 has weakened Black’s protection of the e6 and f7 squares and White’s position is well-placed to exploit this:
- The queen and light-squared bishop are lined up along the a2–g8 diagonal
- White’s knights can emerge at f4 or g5 to create some very dangerous sacrificial threats.In fact, White’s next move is likely to be 15.Nf4 increasing the pressure on e6 which explains Black’s provocative choice in the game.]
[Black blocks the a2–g8 diagonal, but his knight is anything but stable on that square. It didn’t take me too long to decide on the most aggressive reply.]
[This aggressive reply caught me by surprise. By blocking the e1–a5 diagonal, Black introduces the threat of …Na5 exchanging off White’s dangerous light-squared bishop. However moving the king’s knight from its defensive post on f6 to an advanced queenside outpost felt intuitively too risky:
- White’s sacrifices on e6 were likely to increase in strength with one less Black defensive piece on the kingside.
- …Ndb4 also exposes Black to tactical tricks exploiting the opposition of the rook on c1 and the queen on c7 starting with White playing Bxb4.
I was sure that there would be some way to navigate to a clear advantage but to my surprise during the game, I was unable to find any clear path. Even more surprisingly, I was unable to do so during analysis either! ]
[15…Nf6 16.Bxe6 fxe6 17.Nf4 looks strong for White.]
a) 17.Qxe6+ Kh8 18.Bxb4 Nxb4 19.Ne5 Rf8 20.Nf7+ (20.Rc3 threatening Ng6+ followed by Rh3+ mate is simply met by 20…Bxe4; 20.dxc5 interested me for a while during the game but simply 20…Rf6 forces a draw by repetition. 21.Nf7+ Kg8 22.Nh6+ Kh8) 20…Rxf7 21.Qxf7 Bxe4 looked good for Black to me during the game, and that is indeed true.
b) 17.Bxb4 Nxb4 18.Qxb4
This is the exploitation of the opposition of the rook on c1 and queen on c7 I was talking about. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to promise White any advantage. 18…Bxe4 19.dxc5 Bxf3 20.gxf3 Bxc5 21.Qe4 Qe7 looked even during the game and that’s a correct assessment.
c) 17.Nf4 is the line I analysed at great length after the game.
c1) 17…Na5 is a typical idea to distract the White queen from the a2–g8 diagonal. 18.Qxe6+ Kh8 19.Ne5 exploiting the abscence of the Black knight from c6.
c21) 18.Qxe6+ Kh8 19.Qh3 looked powerful to me, threatening Ng6+ and Qe6# and also d5. My engines also see this as a White advantage though not too great.;
c22) 18.dxc5 Bd8 is the key defensive move, to meet Nxe6 with …Qf7 while keeping the g5 square covered against Nfg5. (18…bxc5 19.Nxe6 Na5 20.Qc3 shows the value of inserting dxc5 before capturing on e6.) 19.Nxe6 (19.Bxb4 Qxf4) 19…Qf7;
c23) 18.Nxe6 The engine move 18…Na5 19.Qxb4 Qc6 (19…Qd6 20.Nxc5 is the same) 20.Nxc5 (20.d5 Qxe6 21.Qxa5 Qxe4 (21…Qg6 22.Qc3 Qxe4 23.Bg5 seemed to keep an edge for White. 23…Bxd5 24.Re1) 22.Qxb6 Bxd5 should give Black some play for the pawn and was my main line during analysis. I saw 20.Nxc5 but couldn’t believe that Black wouldn’t find a way to cause some trouble. My engine however is unconcerned!) 20…Qg6 (20…Bxc5 21.dxc5 Rxe4 looking to follow up with …Rg4. 22.Qxb6 is the key riposte.) 21.Qa3 bxc5 22.Bxa5 Bxe4 looked like some compensation to me somewhere, but my engine disagrees wholeheartedly! 23.dxc5;
d) 17…Bc8 18.Nxe6 Bxe6 19.Qxe6+ Kh8 20.Bxb4 This simple move is the key. (20.d5 Nd3 is a nasty riposte. 21.dxc6 Rd6 followed by …Nxc1.) 20…Nxb4 (20…Rd6 21.Qb3 Nxb4 (21…cxb4 22.d5) 22.Qxb4) 21.Ne5 Rf8 22.Nf7+ Rxf7 23.Qxf7 Rf8 24.Qe6 I thought this was very good for White but my engine finds a way to minimise the damage for Black. 24…Nc6 (24…Rf6 25.Qg4) 25.a5 My engine’s main line (25.d5 Rf6 (25…Nd4 fails to 26.Rxd4 Qf4 27.Rf1 cxd4 28.Qxe7 d3 29.d6 d2 30.h3 is winning for White.) 26.Qh3 Ne5 My engine likes Black.) 25…bxa5 26.dxc5 looks a touch more comfortable for White.;
e) 17…Qc8 I hadn’t spotted this during the game, but only in analysis afterwards. I thought I’d broken it but with my engine’s improvement it seems to be good for Black!
18.Bxb4 (18.Nxe6 Na5 wins the knight on e6.) 18…Nxb4 (18…cxb4 19.Qa2 was my main line which is good for White. The White queen sidesteps …Na5 and Nxe6 is threatened.) 19.Nxe6 c4 is the elegant way of refuting this line. (19…Bxe4 is also fine according to my engine!) 20.Rxc4 Qxe6
It seems therefore that the sacrifice on e6 fails tactically. It’s therefore necessary to revise my opinion of the risky 15…Ndb4. Sometimes it’s a good defensive technique to force the opponent to attack before his pieces are completely mobilised and tempting White to sacrifice on e6 before having played Nf4 seems like a good example of this. I certainly didn’t see all these lines in the 7 or 8 minutes I spent on this move, but I sensed that the situation after 15.Bxe6 was anything but clear. I therefore took a good practical decision and constructed a different attacking setup which I think was unexpected for Black.]
[From a practical point of view, this is a good decision and probably also from an objective point of view. By exchanging on b4, White removes Black’s idea of …Na5 and thus increases the stability of his attacking light-squared bishop battery along the a2–g8 diagonal. This means that although Black has gained the advantage of the two bishops, he now has to think of a new way of “getting at” White’s position. Moreover, 17.Ne5 has increased the pressure against Black’s vulnerable e6 and f7 squares considerably which requires some accurate calculation from Black. My opponent played his reply fairly quickly and allowed me to demonstrate my main idea.]
[17…Rxd4 is my engine’s main line and is a radical way to break up White’s attacking structure. I hadn’t considered it at all during the game. 18.Rxd4 (18.Nxd4 Qxe5 is very pleasant for Black.) 18…cxd4 19.Nxf7 looks awful for Black, but my engine finds a path! 19…d3 20.Bxe6 (20.Bxd3 Qd7 21.Rc7 is another surprising engine line. 21…Qxc7 22.Qxe6 Bf6 23.Ng5+ Kh8 24.Nf7+ is a draw by repetition.) 20…dxe2 21.Ng5+ Kh8 22.Nf7+ Kg8 23.Ng5+ is a draw by repetition.]
[18…Qxf7 19.Bxe6 wins.]
[19…Kf8 20.Qxb4 Qc6
was something I was puzzling about during the game while my opponent was thinking about 17…Bf6. 21.Qb3 (21.Qc4 Qxe4 22.d5 Qxc4 23.Rxc4 Bxb2 didn’t look amazing for White during the game though probably a small edge. Whilst playing around with the position on my pocket chess set after the game, I found something much stronger which is also the engine’s main line.) 21…Qxe4 22.d5 I hadn’t appreciated the strength of this idea during the game. 22…Qxe2 23.Qxb6
23…Rab8 (23…Qxb2 24.Qc7 Be7 25.Rb1 wins the bishop on b7.; 23…Bc8 24.Qxc5+ Be7 25.d6 Rxd6 26.Qf5+ wins.) 24.Re1
A strong and not so obvious idea. 24…Qd2 Keeping the queen on a dark square to avoid any discovered checks. (24…Qh5 25.Qxc5+ Be7 26.Qxe7+ Kxe7 27.Bg4+ is the nasty point!; 24…Qd3 25.Qxc5+ Be7 26.Qxe7+ Kxe7 27.Bf5+ is very good for White and there may be better options.) 25.Qc7 Now the Black queen can no longer defend f7 from h5. (25.Rcd1 Qf4) 25…Be7 26.Rcd1 Qg5 (26…Qxb2 27.d6) 27.Rd3 with Rf3+ to follow. (27.Re5 Rbc8 28.Bxc8 was my winning main line, but the engine’s line is even stronger) ]
[A decision I regret now. I had the feeling that this wasn’t leading to any advantage but with time running short I couldn’t decide between 3 other options. I thus decided to keep some time advantage, take material and play on the exposed Black king. What I wanted to do was to retreat the bishop from e6 to either f5, g4 or h3. After that, White is threatening Qxb4, e5 and even Qe6+. However I couldn’t decide which one to play!]
a) 20.Qxb4 interested me during the game but then I spotted Black’s strong riposte. 20…Qd6 21.Rxc5 Qxc5 White’s back rank is vulnerable in many lines and this is one example of this.;
b) 20.Bf5 This was my least favourite option (funnily enough it’s my engine’s favourite). 20.Bf5 defends e4 and also introduces the idea of Qe6+ and Bxh7 with a possible Qg8+ in the air, but I wasn’t convinced about the strength of the idea. 20…a5 21.Qe6+ Kf8 22.Bxh7 Qf7 was my engine’s #1 line but doesn’t look amazing for White to me: White will get a lot of pawns but Black has the 2 bishops and a good spot for his knight.;
c) 20.Bh3 This defends g2 which means that White can play e5 without ever worrying about Black counterplay with …Qc6. However, the bishop is not very mobile on this square and it also stops the White queen from transferring to the kingside via h3. 20…Qc6 21.d5 Qd6 22.f4 Nxd5 looked fine for Black to me as the bishop on h3 stops the White queen from moving over to the kingside while White also cannot fight for the a8–h1 diagonal with his bishop.;
d) 20.Bg4 My favourite idea.
20…Bc8 A clever defence exploiting the undefended bishop on g4. (20…Qc6 was the move I didn’t like during the game but I had underestimated White’s key idea. 21.d5 Qd6 22.f4 I had not understood the strength of this idea during the game. 22…Nxd5 23.Bf3 is the difference with 20.Bh3.; 20…a5 21.e5 Bg5 22.Qe6+ Kf8 23.Qf5+ is the nice extra result of moving the bishop from e6: Black’s bishop suddenly doesn’t have many safe spots after e5.; 20…Nc6 21.e5) 21.Bf3 Threatening e5 and Qxb4 (21.h3 is an engine suggestion which would not have occurred to me! 21…Bxg4 22.hxg4 Qc8 23.Qg3 intending to advance the kingside and central pawns en masse.) 21…Bg5 22.Qxb4 Bxc1 23.Rxc1 cxb4 24.Rxc7+ Bd7 25.e5 was my main line which I hoped / assumed would be better for White. 25…Rdc8 I’d missed this way of challenging the rook on the 7th. (25…Rac8 26.Rb7 Rb8 27.Ra7) 26.Rb7 Rcb8 is equal according to my engine.;
e) 20.d5 is an engine suggestion, threatening Qxb4 and simply aiming to follow up with f4 and e5. It feels very odd to give up the possibility of e5 so quickly. 20…Qe5 21.a5 Kf8 22.Qe3 Bc8 23.Bxc8 Raxc8 24.axb6 Qd6 25.Nf4 Bd4 26.Qf3 is the engine’s main line which it asseses as slightly better for White. All feels a bit odd to me!]
20…Bxe5 21.dxe5 Qxe5
[22.Re1 Nd3 is Black’s key defence but more than enough!]
22…Kf8 23.Qh3 Kg8
[Black’s king has reached safety and the position is balanced. I had intended to loosen up Black’s kingside with 24.Be6+ followed by Bf5 but again I took the practical decision to consolidate my position rather than place my pieces on exposed squares. I felt that if I managed to unravel and solve my back-rank problems then Black’s queenside pawns might become a target.]
[24.Be6+ Kh8 25.Bf5 h6 26.Qg4 Nd5 followed by …Nf6 looked perfectly defensible for Black.]
24…Rxd1+ 25.Rxd1 Re8 26.Be2
[26…Nd5 concerned me during the game, but it fails tactically. 27.Bc4 Kh8 28.Nxd5 Bxd5 29.f4 wins!; 26…Bd5 followed by …Bf7 was the best way of getting the bishop to the Black kingside which looks pretty decent for Black.]
27.Qg3 Qe7 28.h3 Be6 29.Rd6 1-0
[and my opponent lost on time while making his move. However by this stage, White’s position is very good: the back-rank problems are solved while the Black queenside is very vulnerable.]