Game 3: Attacking the Pirc

I present here my third game since returning to chess, played back in 2015.  It features perhaps the most direct attacking ideas that I’ve played since taking chess seriously again.  I had no strategic subtleties in mind here: I sought violence from about move 5 on, and it worked.  I won via miniature in 24 moves.

That said, I played 15 good moves, reached a great position … and then threw it all away with one mistake.  I wasn’t losing, but with accurate play my opponent would have completely neutralized my advantage.

Here’s the position.  What would you play as White?  And you can guess my mistake?  Think it over for a few moments, and then see the full game below.

[Event “2- Chess is for fun – Round 1”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.03.27”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “BigRezi”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “B07”]
[WhiteElo “1680”]
[BlackElo “1514”]
[PlyCount “47”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{A single mistake turns my great attacking position into a neutered puppy …
and then my opponent’s mistake gives it right back with interest.} 1. e4 d6 2.
d4 {In the past, I would play 2.c4 here, hoping to reach a KID-position I had
studied as White.} (2. c4 Nf6 ({If Black plays an early e5, then I transpose
into a sort of English setup.} 2… e5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nge2 Nc6 5. g3 Be7 6. Bg2
O-O 7. O-O Be6 8. d3 {[%csl Rd4][%cal Gf2f4,Gd3d4,Ga2a3,Gb2b4,Rc6d4] something
like this. White can play f4, d4 or a3-b4, playing anywhere on the board.
Black has fewer options, though the hole on d4 gives him counterplay.}) 3. Nc3
g6 4. d4 Bg7 5. Nge2 O-O 6. Ng3 {[%cal Gf2f4,Gh2h4,Gg3f5] Most Black players,
especially those that play the Pirc, have rarely seen this variation, if at
all. On g3, the Knight helps restrict the f5 advance from Black, and it’s
possible for White to go on the offensive with f4-5 or h4-5. This was my
favourite way to play, though my results were never more than 50%.}) 2… Nf6
3. Nc3 g6 4. Bg5 Bg7 5. Qd2 O-O 6. O-O-O {[%cal Ge4e5,Gg5h6,Gh2h4,Gh4h5] I’m
playing one of the simplest ideas against the Pirc: develop all the Queenside
pieces as fast as possible, castle and then launch a pawnstorm. The White
attack is generally faster and easier than Black’s. The three general ideas
are e5 (chasing away the Knight), Bh6 (exchanging the important Bishop) and
h4-5 (opening lines for the Rooks).} a6 {By contrast, Black has fewer
attacking ideas. He can play b4-5 to chase my Knight … and that’s it. He
needs to make far more pawn moves to open a line for his pieces near my King.}
7. f4 Bg4 8. Nf3 b5 9. e5 {Here it is, the first attacking idea.} ({The
computer prefers} 9. Be2 {, which makes sense: finishes development, connects
the Rooks and, if Black exchanges on f3, puts the Bishop on a monster diagonal.
}) 9… dxe5 10. fxe5 Nfd7 $2 {I was flabbergasted when my opponent played
this. Not Nd5? That move needed to be played. It’s the most obvious, the most
natural. I take advantage now by applying pressure and forcing him to react.}
11. Qf4 {Attacking the Bishop.} Bxf3 12. Qxf3 {Attacking the Rook.} Nb6 13. h4
{And now my second main attacking idea comes in. Notice how virtually every
White piece is developed and doing something. I just need Bd3 to reach maximum
activity. Compare that to Black, who has no easy way to make threats in his
undeveloped state. Black is in real danger of getting swept off the board.} h6
14. Bf4 ({Fun fact, I spent 10min debating between Bf4 and Be3. Which is
better? I tried my hardest to find out … and then I realized, does it even
matter? Not really. The computer prefers} 14. Be3 {by .1 of a pawn, but they
lead to the same positions. Some moves don’t need to be analyzed to death, and
this was one of them.}) 14… e6 15. Bd3 {[%cal Gh4h5,Gf4h6,Gc3e4,Ge4f6,Gd3g6,
Gd1f1,Gh1h3,Gh3g3] I’ve now reached max activity out of the opening. I have a
plethora of attacking moves here, as the plethora of green arrows shows. Black
has virtually nothing. I’m this close to winning.} ({The computer likes h5
more, but I didn’t know what to do after g5, keeping the files closed.} 15. h5
g5 16. Bh2 N8d7 17. Bd3 Qe7 18. Qe4 {Taking advantage of the weakness of g5,
the open diagonal.} f5 19. exf6 Nxf6 20. Qg6 Qf7 21. Rhe1 Qxg6 22. Bxg6 {
This is the computer line, and it leaves White with a clear advantage: no
weaknesses, two Bishops and a clear target on e6 (not to mention the hanging
pawns on c7 and e6).}) 15… N8d7 16. Qe3 $6 {This was my one mistake in the
game. I couldn’t decide which attacking move to play, so I thought I’d just
play a useful attacking move, improve my position and then see how Black
responds. I assumed he had to play either Kh7 or h5, but he had a much better
continuation.} (16. h5 {This is the computer move, which is also the most
logical: crack open the h-file with all speed.} c5 (16… g5 17. Qe4 f5 18.
exf6 Nxf6 19. Qxe6+) 17. dxc5 Nxc5 18. hxg6 Nxd3+ 19. Rxd3 Qe7 20. Qh3 fxg6 21.
Bxh6 Bxh6+ 22. Qxh6 Qg7 23. Qh3 {This computer line leaves White with active
play and an extra pawn. Note Qxe5?? is of course impossible because of mate on
h7.}) 16… b4 $1 {Boom, the counter-attack! An active decision, and one I
should have seen in such a dynmaic position.} 17. Ne4 ({The computer actually
prefers} 17. Ne2 Nd5 18. Qe4 Nxf4 19. Nxf4 {since now there’s a threat of Nxg6
or Nxe6 if Black isn’t careful.}) 17… Nd5 18. Qd2 a5 $2 {I can’t figure out
why Black made this move. My best guess: he saw that my last move, Qd2,
attacked his pawn, and so he automatically defended it.} (18… Nxf4 {This is
of course the move Black needed to play.} 19. Qxf4 {This one swap of pieces
has completely changed the position. Without a dark-square Bishop, it’s
incredibly hard to attack the Black King. After c5, Black will undermine my
center while also opening lines against my King. White still has active
chances, but it’s not the slam dunk it was two moves ago, and I’d be willing
to play either colour.}) 19. Bxh6 $18 {Just like that, all my threats are back
on, and now I’m up a pawn to boot. The rest of the game features no more
wobbles.} c5 20. h5 cxd4 21. hxg6 ({Though my move is still winning, the
computer suggests the following is +3 pawns better.} 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 22. hxg6 Rh8
(22… fxg6 23. Qh6+ Kf7 24. Qh7+ Ke8 25. Nd6#) 23. gxf7 Ne3 24. Qf2 {This may
be ‘better’ according to the engine, but my decision was much faster in
practice.}) 21… Nxe5 (21… Bxe5 {This is the only move according to the
computer, though Black’s position remains losing.} 22. gxf7+ Rxf7 23. Qe2 Nf8
24. Qg4+ Rg7 25. Bxg7 Bxg7 {Black is down material and still facing a
devastating attack against a completely naked King.}) 22. Bxg7 Kxg7 23. Qh6+
Kg8 24. Qh8# {In the end, the game ended how I imagined it would in the
opening: I used all my standard attacking ideas (Bh6 exchanging Bishops, h4-5
to open lines for my Rook and e4-5 to attack in the centre), but it was
nowhere near as smooth as that makes it sound.} 1-0

Conclusion

This game shows a couple things.  First, though I didn’t touch on this in my analysis, we see the danger of playing the Black side of the Pirc.  Black played one inaccurate move, Nfd7, and it lead to a dominating position for White.  He made more mistake and that was game over.  Years ago I used to play the Pirc and Modern as Black every game, and I can tell you that this same scenario happened to me far too often.  It’s not a beginner-friendly opening.

More to the point, though, I had a great position on move 15, and one move later I threw it all away.  Had Black played Nxf4 instead of a5, the computer says the position is dead equal, 0.00.  I played 15 good moves, and yet none of that matters.

The reason is obvious.  This was a position of opposite-side castling and pawn storms.  Both sides want to attack.  The position is sharp and tactics will dominate.  Read my thoughts on move 16: I didn’t know what to do, so I just played a useful move, or so I thought.  I didn’t calculate at all.  I didn’t check for threats or tactics.  I just assumed he had no choice.

If this were a quite, calm position, perhaps I’d be right, but this is about the most sharp position you can get in the middlegame.  You can’t just ignore threats.  You can’t ‘assume’ anything.  You need to check and doublecheck tactics, and especially your opponent’s attacking ideas.  I didn’t do that; I took the easy way, and my opponent should have punished me for that.

If you are in tactical middlegame, then calculate.  If you are in a more positional middlegame, then focus on that.  You can’t conflate the two, though, as you face immediate refutation.  I won by quick checkmate, but that was more luck than skill.  I played 23 good moves, but that one error spoils an otherwise good attacking effort.

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