Monday, January 7, 2013

Pieces Schmieces

Last weekend at the Tim Just Winter Open, I was up a piece in three games and only won one of them.  However, I also managed to win a game when I was down a piece so I wound up with two wins, two draws, and one loss.

Let's start with my first round game in which I screwed up the opening against a player who was lower rated by 300 points.

The game transposed into the Symmetrical Variation of the English Opening 1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 O-O 5.d3 c5.  I had beaten Robert Moskwa last year at a tournament in Skokie by pushing my b-pawn so I figured that the same strategy would work against this guy.  6. a3 Nc6 7. Rb1 e6 8. b4 cxb4 9. axb4 d5 10. b5 Ne7 11. c5 Nd7.  I was aware that my knight on c3 was loose and I had planned on playing 12. Na4, but for some reason the idea of playing 12. d4? popped into my head and I did so without giving it much thought and was unpleasantly surprised when my opponent whipped out 12...Nxc5.

This would of course have been a good time for a long think after which I would no doubt have resigned myself to being down a pawn, but that is not what I did.  Instead, I played the first move that popped into my head, 13.Nxd5?? to which my opponent replied 13...Nxd5. 


Now instead of being down a mere pawn, I'm down a whole piece.  After 14.dxc5 Nc3 15.Qxd8 Rxd8, I cannot move my rook because Black is threatening mate on d1 and 16.Bg5 f6 17.Rc1 fxg5 still leaves me down a piece.  14. Bxd5 Qxd5 15. Nf3 gets rid of Black's immediate threat, but I don't want to trade any pieces unless I absolutely must because I am going to need everything I've got if I'm to have a chance to save the game.  After forty minutes of thought, I finally decided on 14. Qc2 and I was greatly relieved when my opponent played 14...Nd7? almost immediately.  Had he played 14...Bxd4, I suspect I might have resigned in another move or two. 

It makes sense to play more defensively when ahead on material, but this move allows me to complete my development in relative peace. 15.e4 N5b6 16.Ne2 Nf6 17.O-O Bd7 18.Ba3 Rc8 19.Bc5 Re8.  

The worst thing about being down a piece is the friends and acquaintances who stop by your board to see what a mess you have made of your position.  At this point, at least it looks like I have some compensation for the material deficit as Black's position is pretty passive. My goal at this point was to keep his pieces bottled up for as long as I could in the hopes that he would get frustrated by the fact that the win wasn't coming as easily as he hoped.  20.Qa2 Ra8 21.Qb3 Bf8 22. Rfd1 Rc8  I was very happy to see my opponent shuttling his pieces back and forth even though I wasn't really making any progress.  Just maintaining the status quo is all I need to do to increase his frustration.  At some point, he probably should have tried to open up his position with something like ...e5 but he was mindset was thoroughly defensive by at this point.   23.Rbc1 Rc7 24.Nf4 Qc8 25.Nd3 Rd8 26.Ra1 Na8?  

When your opponent puts his knight in the corner, you know that he having trouble coming up with a constructive plan.   Grabbing the pawn with 27. Rxa7 b6 28. Rxc7 Qxc7 29. Bxf8 Rxf8 may be objectively best, but the exchanges might have made him feel like he was making progress.  By this point, I was actually ahead on time by a couple minutes despite the forty minutes I had consumed on my fourteenth move.  27. Qb2 b6 28. Bxf8 Rxf8 29. d5 Ne8 30. Ne5 Ng7 31. Nc6.

Now it was my opponent's turn to blunder horribly.  He told me after the game that he had spent so much time thinking about the consequences of 31...Bxc6 that in his mind's eye the d7 square was unoccupied.  As a result, he thought he could safely exchange pawns on d5.  31...exd5??  Unfortunately he couldn't. 32. Ne7+ 1-0

What lessons can be learned from this game:

(1)  No matter how much higher rated you are than your opponent, you cannot ignore development.
(2)  Being unable to win a won position is very frustrating.  If you can keep pieces on the board and maintain the status status quo in a bad position, your opponent's frustration will grow.  

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