22 February 2017

Commentary: 2016 London Classic Round 4 (Topalov - Nakamura)

(The original ChessBase article including this game can be found at https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-rd-4)

This next commentary game between two Super-GMs (Veselin Topolov and Hikaru Nakamura, from the 2016 London Classic in December) is a great contemporary example of the 3...c5 variation in the Advance Caro-Kann.  It is the only real gambit continuation in the Caro-Kann defense and is a legitimate alternative to 3...Bf5, which however is much more popular (and theoretical).  Here both sides are spoiling for a fight, as shown especially by Black's 9th move and White's 11th move choices.  Topalov gets the worst of it, however, overextending his queenside which is undermined with the key 11...a5, which has a number of unpleasant consequences for White.  Topalov throws caution to the winds with a queen sac on move 18, going "all in" on his aggressive idea, but Nakamura then capably quashes White's counterplay and essentially cruises to victory.  A model game to study for Caro-Kann players and in general, as it contains some important thematic ideas in the opening, along with a slew of middlegame tactics and a virtuoso demonstration of the power of the queen when she is mobile and her opposition is uncoordinated.

Topalov, V. (2760) - Nakamura, Hi (2779)

Result: 0-1
Site: London ENG
Date: 2016.12.12
[...] 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.dxc5 ¤c6 5.¤f3 ¥g4 the standard reaction after Nf3 in this version of the Advance variation. The ability to pin the Nf3 is one of the benefits of playing 3...c5 rather than ...Bf5. 6.c3 this deters . ..Qa5 and prepares the b-pawn advance. (6.¥b5 is the main move here.) 6...e6 7.b4 a6 preventing ...Bb5, but slowing development. (7...¤ge7!?) 8.¤bd2 ¤xe5 this is an earlier and an easier recovery of the pawn than is normal for Black in the variation. White in this line has chosen to emphasize queenside play instead. 9.£a4+ ¤d7 now out of the database. This move choice preserves the queens on the board and indicates that Nakamura wants a middlegame fight.
9...£d7 had been tried twice before in the database, both times resulting in a loss. Most recently: 10.£xd7+ ¤xd7 11.¥b2 ¥xf3 12.¤xf3 ¥e7 13.¥e2 ¥f6 14.O-O ¤e7 15.¦ab1 O-O 16.c4 a5 17.¥xf6 gxf6 18.a3 axb4 19.axb4 ¦a2 20.¦fe1 ¤e5 21.cxd5 ¤xf3+ 22.¥xf3 ¤xd5 23.¥xd5 exd5 24.¦e7 ¦b8 25.g3 ¦d2 26.¦d7 ¦d4 27.¦d6 ¦c8 28.¦xf6 ¦c6 29.¦d6 ¦d2 30.¢g2 ¢f8 31.¢f3 ¦d4 32.¦d8+ ¢g7 33.¦b2 ¦f6+ 34.¢g2 b6 35.cxb6 ¦xb6 36.b5 ¦d1 37.¢f3 ¢f6 38.¢e2 ¦d4 39.¦b3 ¢e7 40.¦a8 ¦e4+ 41.¢f3 ¦ee6 42.¦a7+ ¢f6 43.¢g2 ¢g6 44.¦a4 h6 45.¦d4 ¦ed6 46.¢f3 ¢f6 47.¢e3 ¦d8 48.¦f4+ ¢e5 49.¦xf7 d4+ 50.¢d3 ¦d5 51.¦e7+ ¢f5 52.¦e4 ¦dxb5 53.¦xb5+ ¦xb5 54.¦xd4 1-0 (54) Nevednichy,V (2554)-Zelcic,R (2548) Tromsoe 2014
10.¤e5 ¤gf6 Nakamura is not concerned about the knight for bishop trade on g4 and continues with development. 11.c4?! while active-looking, the main problem with this move is that it leaves White's queenside pawns overextended, which Nakamura takes advantage of with his next move. Presumably Topalov was looking to exchange on d5 at some point and get rid of his doubled pawns.
11.¤xg4 is a more obvious follow-up, obtaining the two bishops, although it doesn't offer much for White beyond equality. Topalov is obviously trying for more, which requires the knight to stay on e5. 11...¤xg4 12.¥e2 £h4!? (12...¤ge5) 13.¥xg4 £xg4
11...a5 now White cannot take on a5 or advance the b-pawn without losing the c5 pawn. 12.¤b3 (12.cxd5 axb4 13.£b5 ¥xc5³) 12...axb4 this capture is made even more annoying for White because the Queen is tied to the pin of the Nd7, which otherwise could take the hanging Ne5, so recapturing on b4 is not possible. 13.£b5 the only move. 13...¥e7 14.c6 this looks a bit scary at first, but Black emerges unscathed from the sequence rather better.
14.cxd5 doesn't seem to work any better for White, as after 14...O-O 15.¤xg4 (15.d6 ¤xe5µ) 15...¤xg4 White either must accept the loss of the c5-pawn or allow Black to go into a dangerous-looking sequence with 16.h3 ¤xf2 (16...¤ge5 is the safe alternative) 17.¢xf2 ¥f6 18.¦b1 ¦xa2+
14...bxc6³15.¤xc6 £c7 and the b-pawn is tactically protected. White does not have sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn and has no good choices at this point.
15...£b6?! looks tempting, directly protecting the b-pawn, but is worse for Black after 16.¥e3 £xb5 17.cxb5² and now the advanced b-pawn White has acquired is a strength rather than a liability.
16.f3 (16.¤xb4?16...¦b8 winning material.) 16...¥f5 so the bishop ends up on f5 after all, and is nicely placed there. 17.¤xe7 ¦b8 a key intermediate move, preserving the b-pawn. 18.¤xf5? now Topalov goes "all in" with the material sacrifice, which has some shock value but favors Black.
18.£a5 this more solid alternative must have looked unappetizing to Topalov after 18...£e5+ 19.¢f2 ¢xe7³
18...¦xb5 19.¤xg7+ ¢e7µ Black does not have to be in a rush to trap the knight with ...Kf8. 20.cxb5 ¤c5 this allows time for White to seize the long diagonal.
20...£e5+!21.¥e2 ¤c5 22.¦b1 ¤d3+ 23.¢f1 ¤xc1 24.¦xc1 ¤d7µ
21.¥b2 ¤xb3 22.axb3 £f4 23.¥e2 although White must be desperate to activate his pieces, this gives Black time to do the same, getting his rook into play very effectively.
23.¦a7+!?23...¤d7 24.¤f5+ now the bishop's presence on b2 is a saving grace for White. 24...exf5 25.¦xd7+ ¢xd7 26.¥xh8
23...¦c8 24.¦d1 £g5 this looks quite threatening to both the Ng7 and g2 pawn, but moving the rook to c2 immediately appears stronger. The Ng7 is dead anyway and the Rc2 creates new threats. 25.b6?!
25.O-O £xg7 26.¥d4 and Black may have a slight edge, but no immediate threats.
25...¦c2 26.¥xf6+ £xf6 27.¤h5 a nice try at extracting the knight, but now the Black queen and rook combine well in making new, decisive threats. (27.b7 £c3+ 28.¢f1 £c7 and the b-pawn is indefensible.) 27...£c3+ 28.¢f1 £e3−⁠+ now the power of the queen is demonstrated. Black will pick up both of White's defenseless queenside pawns, while the rook on the second rank helps paralyze White's pieces. Note how poorly they coordinate and the fact that the Rh1 is completely out of play, with the Nh5 not much better. 29.¦e1 £xb6 an easy path to victory, as White is essentially helpless.
29...d4!? is the engine's preference, ramming through the passed pawn and picking up the Be2. For example 30.b7 d3 31.¤g3 dxe2+ 32.¤xe2 £b6−⁠+
30.¤f4 £e3 31.g3 £xb3 Topalov now tries to put up a fight and activate his pieces, but it's too late. Just seeing the passed d- and b-pawns makes it rather obvious. 32.¢g2 ¢f8 33.¢h3 £b2 34.¦b1 £f6 35.¦he1 (35.¦xb4 £h6+ 36.¢g2 e5−⁠+ and White loses a piece.) 35...e5 again, Nakamura chooses a straightforward winning path.
35...£f5+ would allow Black to play a tactical trick using the h7-b1 diagonal. 36.¢g2 e5 37.¤xd5 ¦xe2+ 38.¦xe2 £xb1−⁠+
36.¤xd5 £e6+ 37.¢g2 £xd5 38.¦xb4 £d2 39.¦b8+ getting out of the queen fork 39...¢g7 40.¢f1 £h6 41.¢g2 (41.¦b4!?) 41...e4 the correct break, opening White's position further. 42.¦b3 £e6 White's king remains the more vulnerable one, due to Black's mobility and Q+R combination. 43.¦e3 exf3+ 44.¢xf3 £h3 45.¦d1
45.¦h1?45...£f5+ 46.¢g2 £d5+ 47.¢g1 ¦c1+ 48.¥f1 ¦xf1+ 49.¢xf1 £xh1+
45...£h5+ a strong intermediate check that heightens the impact of the capture on h2, with tempo. 46.¢f2 (46.g4? is no help 46...£h3+) 46...£xh2+ 47.¢f3 ¦c6 a strong redeployment of the rook. Black again has time to spare, with a lack of any White counterplay. 48.¦d4 ¦g6 49.g4 ¦f6+ 50.¢e4 £h1+ 51.¢d3 £b1+ note how White's two rooks actually hinder rather than help him, in the face of the queen's mobility. 52.¢d2 £b2+ 53.¢d3 ¦c6 and White loses material.
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05 February 2017

Book completed - Play the Dutch

I recently completed Play the Dutch by GM Neil McDonald (Everyman Chess, 2010), which per the book's subtitle is "an opening repertoire for Black based on the Leningrad Variation".  It is also a direct follow-up to his Starting Out: The Dutch Defence which provides an orientation to all of the main Dutch variations (Stonewall, Classical and Leningrad).  The "Play the..." series of books are intended to be more focused and intermediate versions of the "Starting Out..." openings series from Everyman.

In this case, McDonald offers his preferred repertoire, although not too narrowly, for example discussing two of the three main options in the main line Leningrad (7...c6 and 7...Nc6) and offering some refinements on the Anti-Dutch sidelines in the earlier book.  Here's the table of contents, for reference:

Gambit Lines and Early Oddities
White Plays 2 Nc3
White Plays 2 Bg5
White Avoids an early g2-g3 against a Leningrad Set-up
Sidelines in the Leningrad Variation
The Main Line Leningrad: 7 Nc3 c6
The Main Line Leningrad: 7 Nc3 Nc6
The Dutch versus 1 Nf3 and 1 c4

Some general observations:
  • The book is very reader-friendly, both in terms of writing style and visual presentation.  To do serious work with it you'll of course need a board and/or database program to review the material, but it can be followed along with only moderate effort on a first read-through.
  • The Leningrad Dutch is a tactics-heavy and sometimes tricky opening, one in which the theory of individual lines (or even whole variations) can change relatively rapidly based on new games and ideas.  This book should not be used for the latest theory, but that's not its intent: it's designed more to present key ideas, themes and specific reasoning behind the highlighted lines, at an intermediate rather than advanced level.  It does this the best of all of the Leningrad Dutch books I have looked at.
  • If you have a coach familiar with the Leningrad, then this book is probably redundant, but for those of us without coaches, it can be quite helpful in getting to the next level of understanding about the opening and its middlegame ideas, something which McDonald emphasizes in the complete annotated games that the book is built around.  He makes the effort to highlight similar plans and themes across games (including things like the ...f4 thrust and the utility of ...Nf6-h5 in attacking situations), which will be very important to achieving practical success using the opening.
  • The book should greatly assist the reader in delving further into Leningrad ideas and exploring lines, but does not offer a 100% concrete, fully tested repertoire.  I don't think this is a bad thing, as long as you realize that the book is a good resource, rather than meant to be used as your gospel and only opening resource.  (Probably a good attitude to have about any openings book.)
  • The main line treatment with 7...Nc6 is welcome, but it's also limited to Black's response 8...Na5 (after 8. d5 is played).  So the other main alternative 8...Ne5 is completely ignored (unlike in the Starting Out book), which means if you are a Black player, you really should take a look at it as well as 8...Na5, given some (known) difficulties there.  GM Viktor Moskalenko's related observations and analysis in The Diamond Dutch are very useful in understanding the trade-offs between the two lines.

22 January 2017

Commentary: 2016 Tal Memorial Round 6 (Aronian - Giri)

Although I've previously mentioned that I tend not to choose games for commentary from the super-GM class, the last batch I selected from 2016 all feature top names who happened to play brilliantly (and understandably) in my general opening repertoire, so I felt I couldn't ignore them!

This next commentary game, from round 6 of the Tal Memorial tournament, features brilliant maneuvering from GM Levon Aronian in an English, which helps show the latent power of the central setup. There are some key thematic observations on positional topics, such as what happens with the light-squared bishop exchange on h3, but the focus of the game is on the queenside pressure and crush that Aronian builds up after his opponent (GM Anish Giri) allows him the initiative. In the resulting sequence, I think that most of the rest of us would decide on the option 21. Nxe5 (and not necessarily be wrong to do so), but Aronian's more complex 21. Na5 followed by an exchange sacrifice is a model of positional and tactical effectiveness. It is well worth breaking down the individual sequences of tactical ideas and how Aronian strings them all together with his final back-rank threats and winning knight maneuver.

Aronian, Levon (2795) - Giri, Anish (2755)

Result: 1-0
Site: Moscow RUS
Date: 2016.10.02
[...] 1.c4 e5 2.g3 this very early fianchetto is a popular way to play the English 2...¤f6 3.¥g2 d5 the most challenging, immediately looking to establish a central presence. 4.cxd5 ¤xd5 5.¤f3 ¤c6 now it looks like a reversed Sicilian, doesn't it? In fact that is how ECO classifies it. 6.O-O ¤b6 7.d3 with Black controlling d4, White must opt for a more restrained game, looking to control the center with pieces, which is the point of the original setup. 7...¥e7 8.¥e3 O-O 9.¤bd2 this move eyes both e4 and c4, but neglects d5. It does leave the c-file half-open for White's rook, though.
9.¤c3 would be a fine (and more natural) alternative development for the knight, focusing more on the key d5 square.
9...¤d5!? would be the way to immediately take advantage of the knight development; the engine considers the resulting position completely equal after 10. Rc1 and the exchange on e3. The only other game in the database continued 10.¤c4 ¤xe3 11.¤xe3 ¦e8 12.¦c1 ¥f8 13.¦xc6 bxc6 14.£c2 ¦b8 15.b3 ¥d7 16.¤d2 ¦b6 17.¤e4 a5 18.¤c4 ¦a6 19.¤b2 ¥e6 20.¤c5 ¥xc5 21.£xc5 ¥d5 22.¦c1 ¥xg2 23.¢xg2 £d5+ 24.£xd5 cxd5 25.¦xc7 ¦aa8 26.¤a4 ¦ec8 27.¦e7 ¦e8 28.¦d7 ¦ed8 29.¦e7 f6 30.e3 ¦ac8 31.d4 exd4 32.exd4 ¦e8 33.¦a7 ¦c2 34.¤c5 ¦ee2 35.¦a8+ ¢f7 36.¦a7+ ¢g6 37.¤d3 ¢h6 38.¢f3 ¦ed2 39.¢e3 ¦e2+ 40.¢f3 ¦xa2 41.¦d7 g5 42.¦xd5 ¢g6 43.g4 ¦ed2 44.¢e3 ¦e2+ 45.¢f3 ¦ed2 46.¢e3 h5 47.h3 h4 48.¦d6 ¦d1 49.¤e5+ ¢g7 50.¦d7+ ¢g8 51.¦d8+ ¢g7 52.¦d7+ ¢g8 53.¦d8+ ¢g7 54.¦d7+ ¢g8 55.¦d8+ ¢g7 56.¦d7+ ¢g8 57.¦d8+ ¢h7 58.¦d7+ ¢g8 59.¦d8+ ¢g7 60.¦d7+ ¢g8 61.¦d8+ ¢g7 1/2-1/2 (61) Artemiev,V (2663)-Matlakov,M (2691) Sochi 2016
10.¦c1 £d7 telegraphing Black's intent to exchange the g2 bishop. 11.a3 sort of a waiting move, but also done to take away the b4 square from Black (usually to prevent ...Nb4 as a reaction to Qc2). 11...¥h3 12.¥xh3 masters can play this move with ease in the English, even though it looks anti-positional. If Black could follow it up by bringing additional pieces into a kingside attack, then it would be bad, but often the exchange on h3 simply means that Black's queen is offsides for a while.
12.b4 is not a bad other option, but in this position White doesn't have much more to gain beyond this move on the queenside, so taking the time to first get Black's queen out of position is worth it.
12...£xh3 13.b4²13...¥d6 this is done to protect e5 and subsequently maneuver the Nc6, but it seems somewhat contrived, as if Black has nothing better to do. Bringing the queen back on side with ...Qe6 or ...Qd7 would seem more productive. 14.£b3 the natural spot for the queen, which no longer faces opposition from a bishop on the light squares and has a beautiful diagonal now; this is another reason why Aronian was happy to exchange off the bishops. 14...¤e7 15.d4 Aronian judges the time is right to release some of the pent-up energy of his minor pieces clustered in the center and challenge/eliminate Black's presence there. 15...exd4 essentially forced, as it would be more awkward for Black to try to defend with something like ...Nc6. 16.¥xd4 now the bishop has an excellent diagonal as well and cannot be easily opposed by its Black counterpart. 16...¤c6 Black moves to trade off the centralized bishop. 17.¤e4 White has to be careful to maintain momentum here. Piece activity is more important than avoiding the bishop for knight swap.
17.¥b2 for example would allow Black to get some counter-pressure with 17...¦fe8
17...¤xd4 18.¤xd4 White's pair of knights are doing well by being centralized, while Black's minor pieces are comparatively restricted. 18...£d7?! Here Giri seeimgly invites the following sequence, by enabling the potential tactics down the d-file. (18...¥e5!? immediately is playable.) 19.¦fd1± now both of White's rooks are in the game, while Black's are still at home. The game illustrates the latent power of rooks when they are opposing queens (or kings) down a file, even with multiple pieces in the way. 19...¥e5 20.¤c6 £e8 21.¤a5
21.¤xe5 is an alternate way to play that may be a more obvious one for most (at least Class) players. 21...£xe5 22.¤c5 and now Black's b- and c-pawns are under potential threat, while Black can gobble the e-pawn. For example 22...£xe2 23.¤xb7 £e7 24.£c3±
21...¦b8 22.¤c5 £c8 23.£f3 White builds up single-mindedly against the b7 pawn while tying Black's pieces to its defense. 23...c6 24.b5! a brilliant idea to increase the pressure on the queenside, involving an exchange sacrifice, and probably why Aronian chose the approach with 21. Na5 in the first place. (And why for the rest of us 21. Nxe5 would probably be the easier way to go.) 24...¥b2 (24...cxb5?25.¤d7+⁠− and Black has no good options.) 25.bxc6 the sharpest and most effective continuation.
Avoiding the exchange sacrifice with 25.¦c2 is less good, as after 25...cxb5 White has to contend with the pin on the Nc5.
25...¥xc1 26.¦xc1 £c7
26...bxc6 is shown by the engine as the least bad option, but then 27.¤xc6 forks the Rb8 and the undefended e7 square (which would fork the Black king and queen), so in this variation White can regain the exchange and then be a clear pawn up. Giri evidently didn't like this, so went for the more complicated game continuation.
27.cxb7+⁠− although the engine shows a big advantage for White, the winning continuation is tricky to find. 27...¤a4 trying to exploit the pin on the Nc5, however 28.¤cb3 holds everything together. 28...£e7 29.¤d4 Although Qf4 could be played immediately to good effect, White is still handily winning with this move, which threatens a fork on c6. 29...£g5 targeting the Rc1 and Na5, but now White has a brilliant finish. 30.£f4 this works on multiple levels, as after an exchange on f4 Black would have no defense against Ndc6 and subsequent material losses. In the game continuation, Aronian exploits Giri's back-rank problems. 30...£xa5 31.£xb8!31...¦xb8 32.¦c8+ £d8 at first this looks like it holds Black together, but after 33.¦xd8+ ¦xd8 34.¤c6! the knight and b-pawn threats prove decisive after all.
34.¤c6 ¦e8 (34...¦d1+ 35.¢g2 ¦b1 36.¤b4 and the b-pawn queens.)
34...¦b8 35.¤xb8 ¤c5 36.¤c6 ¤xb7 37.¤xa7 and Black will not be able to stop both the a-pawn and White's 4v3 kingside majority.
35.¤e7+ ¢f8 36.¤c8! and the b-pawn queens, with a blocking motif along the 8th rank similar to the above variation's one along the b-file.
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