July 2015 Chess Game of the Month

I figure once a month I will analyze one of my games.  This will be good practice, as analysis is perhaps the best way improve your chess game, especially if you can find and correct your mistakes.  I won’t just put down variations but will explain key and interesting positions, as that seems more useful.

This month I only played one game, so the choice is easy.  It was played at chess.com, and you find the whole game here.  I played the Black side of the Colle system, and despite getting a slightly better endgame, I could not finish off the game.  My opponent, though roughly 150 points lower rated than me, defended very well.

Without further ado, let’s look at the game.

The Opening

White has just played e4.  Let’s look at this position.  Both sides have three pieces developed and have castled.  The King’s Knight and the Bishop are both developed perfectly mirrored to each other.  Black’s Queen’s Knight, though, is better placed than White’s, as it block’s White’s Bishop.  Indeed, White has wasted time playing e3 and then e4 within the first eight moves.  This suggests why the Colle System is not popular at Super-GM level.

That said, what should Black do?  First of all, White threatens e5 with a Fork, so we need to address that.  Taking on e4 would be the easiest solution, but after Nxe4 White has improved his Knight and opened the path for his Bishop.  Indeed, White would suddenly be doing very well.  The Colle System may be harmless for Black, but one inaccurate move can give White a good initiative.  This is why the Colle is so popular at amateur level.

I used a standard plan to neutralize White’s center.  After …cxd4, cxd4 e5, the situation is symetrical, but again Black has the better placed Knight.  It’s small, and it’s White’s turn, but the position is equal.  After exd5, the following position was reached.  What would you do as Black?

Highlight this area for the best move: Nxd4!

Instead, I played Nxd5.  The advantage of Nxd4 is that, after Nxd4 exd4, Black is set to capture the pawn on d5.  True, the pawn on d4 is very weak, but it will take White at least two moves to capture it (Nd2 -> f3 -> d4), whereas Black only needs to spend one move.  In other words, White has to lose time, and in this open position Black can start his own initiative.  Black is slightly better.

Improve My Play

A few moves later, the following position was reached.  White had just played Nf3, finally improving the position of his Knight and with tempo, attacking my Bishop.  What should Black do?  I got the answer wrong.

I struggled between two moves here.  In the game, I erred on the side of caution and just retreated with Bg7, but Black has a much stronger move.  Can you see it?  Highlight here for the answer: Nb4!

This move attacks both the Queen and Bishop in a pretty elementary way.  I rejected it because I didn’t know what to do after Qc5 Nxd3, Nxe5 … where of course the answer is NxQ.  I somehow went completely blind to this simply threat.

My computer gives the following as best play after Nb4: Qe2 Bxh2+, Nxh2 Qxd3, Qxd3 Nxd3, and Black is a pawn up and with a great Knight.  Pity I missed this.

I ended up playing Nb4 a few moves later, and things soon simplified to this position:

Black has a solid positional advantage here.  I have two Bishops on an open board, which is a clear plus.  White’s pawns are on the white squares, which limit his own Bishop.  After Rac8, my next move, I will have all my pieces ready to react.

This is the type of position a grandmaster would win with ease, but lesser mortals often struggle.  We’ll see that I came close, but I couldn’t find the winning path.

The Endgame Appears

After more exchanges the following endgame appeared.  How would you play it?

Endgames are tricky, so let’s look at this position first.  Material is still equal, but Black has a Bishop against the Knight, usually an advantage in endgames.  Both of my pieces are more active that White’s.  That said, White has no weaknesses to attack.  What should we do?

Obviously we need to get the King into the game, and I played Kf8 with that purpose.  This is good, but Ra5! is better, because after a4 b5! Black creates the weakness he can attack, and White has a hard time defending.  Very likely Black ends up winning White’s pawn and emerges with a distant passed pawn, a key to victory.

White’s Big Mistake

The following position was reached.  I exchanged Rooks and penetrated with my King into White’s queenside.  It looks like I’m going to win both of White’s pawns there.  What should White do?

White played Kd3?, trying to play Kc2 and keep his pawn.  This should have been his losing move.  Instead, Nxg4! is correct.  White will play Ne5 after, attacking the f7 pawn.  If Black lets White take it, then the position ends up with two connected pawns against two connected pawns, a draw.  If Black moves the pawn, say f6, then White goes Nc6 and then b4.

This position has very few pawns, and so exchanging any of them lets the other side just sacrifice his piece for the last pawn and get a draw by insufficient material.

Black’s Big Mistake

Soon after, we reached this position.  I had just won a pawn.

I made a really dumb move here.  I was worried that my King would be stuck against the side of the board forever, hemmed in by White, and that would stop my pawns from Queening.  I saw that Kb4 lead to Nc6+, forcing Kc5 Nxa7, but I thought I would either corner White’s Knight, winning it, or be able to get my King over and take White’s f5 pawn, leading to an easy win.

Did you notice the words I used?  ‘Worried’ and ‘thought.’  In other words, I just hoped everything would work out, rather than actually calculate the consequences.  Kb4? is obviously terrible.  a5 is the only chance for victory, and really it’s the only move.  Instead I blundered the game.

The Final Fortress

White managed to set up an impenetrable wall.

White’s Knight controls the vital e5 square.  I can’t chase away the Knight.  The only other way to attack the f5-pawn is to bring the King to h6 and g5, which takes a thousand moves and White can easily get his King to g4 in time to counter it, or even just attack my b-pawn for counterplay.

I tried several attempts at triangulation to get White to mess up, but my opponent had none of that and held on confidently.  We declared it a draw on move 62.

Final Verdict

This game proves that old adage that you can make 40 good moves, make one mistake and not win the game.  That said, I am very happy with my play.  I was black, and I had achieved equality by move 9, a better position by move 17 and gave White absolutely no counter-chances all game.  If I keep playing like that, I will win a lot of games in the future.

Starting next month I will be studying Igor Smirnov’s course Endgame Expert, so hopefully that will games such as these have happier endings.

Here’s the complete game:

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