Game 4: The Dancing Hare – SmithyQ: An Endgame Swindle

There are three types of draws in chess.  The first where all the pieces get traded by move eight and the opponents just shake hands.  You know, the grandmaster draw we all know and love.  Second, there are the games when one side has a small advantage the entire time but can’t quite convert it into a win.  Such games are frustrating for both sides and are barely better then the GM draws.

Finally, there’s the epic saves, the miracle defences, the unbelievable twists of fate.  Today I share one such game.

This was my fourth game since coming back to chess, against a much higher-rated opponent, and he was winning by move 18.  I spent 40 moves doing everything to stay afloat, but he crushed me with the precision of a Swiss watch … until one careless move saved the day for your’s truly.  Let’s take a look.

[Event “2- Chess is for fun – Round 1”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.03.27”]
[Round “?”]
[White “The-dancing-hare”]
[Black “SmithyQ”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “D05”]
[WhiteElo “1883”]
[BlackElo “1604”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “120”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{My opponent has a huge advantage but then falls for an endgame swindle.} 1. d4
Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. e3 {First, let me state how much I hate playing against this
as Black. Despise it. The game is equal, but White has no targets, no
weaknesses, and it’s fully possible to play great as Black and stare at
nothing but a draw the entire time. Unfortunately, it’s perhaps the most
common White 1.d4 setup in amateur chess, and it will be the reason I stop
playing the Nimzo/Bogo Indians.} c5 4. c3 d5 {This is the classical way to
play, and it’s certainly sound, but it often leads to dull, symetrical pawn
structures. I’ve always assumed it was the only move, but lo, that’s not true.}
({I recently came across the following interesting plan.} 4… b6 5. Bd3 Bb7 6.
O-O Be7 7. Nbd2 {Now we could play d5 here as before, with firm control of e4,
or we could play} cxd4 $5 8. exd4 (8. cxd4 O-O 9. e4 {Now that White has no
c-pawn, we can exchange his mighty Bishop.} Ba6 $5 10. Bxa6 Nxa6 11. e5 Nd5 {
Is White’s centre a strength or a weakness? It’s hard to say, but it’s also
hard to see how White can attack without his important light-square Bishop.
Interesing if nothing else.}) 8… O-O 9. Re1 d6 {We reach an asymetrical
position where it’s hard for White to attack in the usual way. The position is
equal yet unbalanced, giving far more room for the better play to win.}) 5. Bd3
Nc6 6. Nbd2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. dxc5 {So far we have just developed naturally.
This was the first move to somewhat surprise me, as I assumed White would go
Re1 and then push for e4 that way.} Bxc5 9. e4 {This leads to perhaps the most
important decision in the game, one which I completely rushed. I’m not
exaggerating: if I react correctly, White gets nothing more than equality, but
if I’m inaccurate, then White can get a small to large edge.} e5 {This move
may be overly ambitious. It’s sound, but it gives White more play. My
reasoning was perfect: White spent two moves playing e3-e4, so why not do the
same with e6-e5? It opens the center when I’m not fully developed, though, and
it gives White a target to attack, namely the e5-pawn.} ({First, let’s look
why breaking the tension is bad.} 9… dxe4 10. Nxe4 Nxe4 11. Bxe4 {White is
now very active, and he may even be threatening the classic Bxh7+ sacrifice.
Black has no defenders nearby, and exchanging Queens just gives White even
more activity after the Rook recaptures and controls the open file.} Qxd1 $6
12. Rxd1 {[%csl Gc8] White has a risk-free advantage, and it’s not clear
Black’s Bishop will ever get into the game.}) (9… Qc7 {This move controls e5
better before going for the pawn advance. It’s hard for White to prepare for
e5 himself, so Black simply completes all necessary preperations before
advancing in the center.} 10. Re1 $6 ({If Both sides play quietly, then Black
gets easy equality again.} 10. h3 h6 11. Re1 e5 12. exd5 Nxd5 {The difference
between this and the game is that the Queen is on a less vulnerable square and
h6 prevents any tactics with Bxh7+.}) 10… Ng4 {[%cal Gc5f2,Gg4f2]}) (9… Bb6
{This is an interesting computer retreat. The Bishop is now defended and out
of any Nb3/e4 attacks. Play might continue.} 10. h3 {Again, the immediate Re1
is met by Ng4, attacking f2.} h6 11. Re1 e5 12. exd5 Qxd5 {And now the
computer thinks White has nothing. It’s interesting how this position, so
similar to the game, is equal, whereas two preparatory moves less and White
has a fairly big edge.}) 10. exd5 Qxd5 (10… Nxd5 {This is the other main
option, but it takes away a defender from the Kingside and it seems to allow
annoying pressure.} 11. Nc4 {Attacking e5.} (11. Ne4 Be7 {And Black is fine.
f5 might even be coming.}) 11… Re8 12. Ng5 {Attacking h7.} Nf6 13. Qc2 {
MORE attacking h7.} h6 14. Bh7+ Kf8 (14… Kh8 15. Nxf7#) 15. Ne4 {Attacking
the Bishop.} Nxe4 16. Bxe4 {And I’d rather be White. Black’s position is
unpleasant, White has no weaknesses.}) 11. Qc2 Bg4 $6 {Here I played too
quickly again. I was in a rush to finish development, but I should have taken
a moment to ask, “What is my opponent’s threat?” He’s clearly ganging up on h7.
} (11… h6 {I needed one tempo to make a prophylatic move first.} 12. Ne4 Nxe4
13. Bxe4 {I’m going to have to misplace my Queen somewhere, but White has no
real attack either.}) 12. Ne4 {White threatens to gobble up my dark-square
Bishop, a great trade for him, as well as take on f6 and then h7, winning a
pawn. I completely overlooked this move.} Bxf3 {I do take advantage of its one
drawback, doubling White’s pawns.} 13. gxf3 Bb6 $2 {And here, not seeing what
else to do, I prioritize keeping my Bishop. Remember how an above variation
had a Bb6 retreat before playing e5? It would have taken some sting out of
this move.} (13… Kh8 $5 14. c4 (14. Nxf6 gxf6 15. Bxh7 Rg8+ $1 16. Bxg8 Rxg8+
17. Kh1 Qxf3#) 14… Qd8 15. Nxc5 b6 16. Na4 Nb4) ({Trying to keep the pawn
would be suicide.} 13… h6 14. Nxf6+ gxf6 15. Be4 $16 {And Black’s position
is terrible. White’s light-square Bishop will run rampant through all my
weaknesses.}) 14. Nxf6+ gxf6 15. Bxh7+ Kh8 {This move loses instantly, though
neither of us saw it. I thought it was the only move.} (15… Kg7 {This move
would prevent White’s attack like in the variation below, allowing the Rook to
swing to the h-file.} 16. Qf5 $2 Rh8) 16. Be4 (16. Qf5 $1 {wins on the spot.
Look how I’m defenceless on the light-squares.} Ne7 17. Qh5 {White threatens
both mate and a discovered attack, winning my Queen.} Rfd8 (17… Qd6 18. Bg6+
Kg7 19. Qh7#) 18. Be4+) 16… Qd6 17. Qd2 {White threatens mate, so I have to
accept the pawn-down endgame. I throw in a check first, just to misplace his
King oh so slightly.} Rg8+ 18. Kh1 Qxd2 19. Bxd2 Rad8 {To be fair, I have some
compensation for the pawn. White is passive and all my pieces are active. If I
had a normal pawn structure, we may even be equal. Alas, White’s main
advantage is his monster light-square Bishop, which has complete control of
the board.} 20. Rad1 Rd6 {I strive to double on the d-file, which is logical.}
(20… Ne7 {The computer suggests Ne7 right away, ready to kick the Bishop way
with f5. The b7-pawn is immune.} 21. Bxb7 $2 Rd7 22. Be4 Rgd8 $17) 21. Be3 Rgd8
22. Rxd6 Rxd6 23. Bxb6 axb6 {These exchanges don’t really hurt me. Yes, my
pawns are now terrible, but it’s much harder for him to make a passed pawn on
the Queenside now. My Rook also dominates his. I’ve done a good job holding
him back so far.} 24. Rc1 $1 {A good move, preparing to meet Rd2 with Rc7,
defending laterally.} Rd7 {Passive. I’m not going to draw this game sitting
back and defending a worse pawn structure while down a pawn.} (24… Ne7 {
is again the idea. He still can’t take the pawn.} 25. Bxb7 Rd2 {And now there
is no Rc7 defence. The more pawns we trade, the more drawing chances I get.})
25. Kg2 Ne7 26. Bc2 Rd2 {I occupy the second rank, usually great for a Rook,
but I have no way of staying there. Instead, I should have thought of my King
and played Kg7, preparing to get it into the game.} 27. Kf1 f5 28. Ke1 Rd6 29.
Ke2 {We see now that I haven’t gained anything with my Rook excursion, whereas
White has moved his King nicely into the center.} Kg7 30. h4 $6 {And then
White nearly throws away his advantage! Rd1 is obvious, where trading Rooks
gets rid of my main drawing attempt. He was perhaps worried about losing the
h-pawn, but he need not.} (30. Rd1 Rh6 $2 31. Rd7 Kf6 32. Rxb7 $18 {White will
soon have killer Queenside passed pawns and I can resign.}) 30… Kh6 {This
move is fine, but the computer likes another.} (30… Ng6 31. Rd1 Nf4+ 32. Kf1
Rxd1+ 33. Bxd1 {and the computer thinks Black may be able to hold.}) 31. Rd1
Rxd1 32. Bxd1 b5 $6 {This very poor move should lose the game. I had a plan;
not a very good one, but a plan. I wanted to create a fortress, and if I put
my Knight on d6, it defends all my pawns and stops White from approaching …
at least, that’s what my imagination said. See the variation below for an
illustrated version.} (32… Kh5 {is of course the correct move, immediately
going after the h-pawn.}) (32… b5 {Imagine White does nothing for a moment.}
33. Kd2 Nc8 34. Ke2 Nd6 {[%csl Gb5,Gb7,Gf5,Gf7][%cal Gd6b5,Gd6b7,Gd6f7,Gd6f5]
If I could read this position, I have a near fortress. My Knight defends my
pawns, and there’s no way for White to use his Bishop to chase away the
defending steed from its post.} 35. Kd2 f4 36. Ke2 Kh5 37. Kd2 Kxh4 {If I can
just win that h-pawn and get my King back.} 38. Ke2 Kg5 39. Kd2 Kf6 40. Ke2 Ke7
{[%csl Ra4,Rc4,Rd4,Re4][%cal Re5d4,Rd6e4,Rd6c4,Rb5a4,Ge7d7,Gd7c6] … then I
have a fortress what White can’t break down! My knight and pawns cover all the
entry points. I just need my King to get to c6.} 41. Kd2 Kd7 42. Ke2 Kc6 {
And the computer confirms this is a draw. Quite a brilliant plan, right?
Unfortuantely, it relies on White doing absolutely nothing for ten moves,
which suggests it has a flaw.}) 33. Ke3 Nc8 34. f4 $1 {[%cal Gd1h5] A
fantastic move, completely destroying my plan. First, it indirectly defends
the h-pawn by covienr h5 with the Bishop. Second, it allows his King to enter
my position as soon as the e-pawn moves.} f6 35. fxe5 fxe5 36. f4 exf4+ (36…
e4 {This is normally the right idea, getting a protected passed pawn, but my
pieces are too passive and his King too active.} 37. Kd4 {[%cal Gd4c5,Gd4e5]}
Kg6 38. Kc5 {And White eats all my pawns.}) 37. Kxf4 {From this point on, I’m
completely lost. White has a strategically winning position. I must keep a
piece defending the h-pawn, as otherwise it promotes. Both the Knight and King
are short ranged pieces, meaning they must stay near it. White can then use
his Bishop at long range to make threats, eventually win my pawns and then the
game. This more or less plays out in the game.} Nd6 {I nearly resigned here,
but I have one saving idea: White’s h-pawn is the wrong colour of his Bishop.
If I can trade all the Queenside pawns, even sacrificing my Knight in the
process, then it’s a draw. I am thus playing for tricks … but my opponent is
too wise.} 38. Bc2 (38. Ke5 $2 Nc4+ {and I pick up the b-pawn.}) 38… Nc4 39.
b3 Nb6 40. Kxf5 {Losing the f-pawn doesn’t matter. None of my pawns matter.
The only thing I need is to trade his pawns for the draw.} Nd5 {Another trick.}
41. Ke5 (41. c4 Ne3+ {with a fork.}) 41… Nxc3 {I’ve essentially traded my
f-pawn for his c-pawn, a big win, while also attacking the a-pawn.} 42. a3 (42.
a4 {would allow the draw right away.} bxa4 43. bxa4 Nxa4 $11) 42… b6 (42…
Kh5 {The reason I didn’t play Kh5 is that it didn’t matter. I’m still losing,
and taking the two moves necessary to win the pawn gives White two moves get
his King to win my pawn. I’m playing for tricks, pure and simple.}) 43. Kd6 Ne2
44. Kc7 (44. Kc6 $2 Nd4+ {and the idea behind b6 becomes clear.}) 44… Nd4 45.
Bd1 Nf5 46. Kxb6 Ne3 {Again, the h-pawn might as well not exist. By attacking
the Bishop, I get it to move away, weakening the b3-pawn.} 47. Be2 (47. Kxb5 {
In truth, White could ignore his Bishop and still win. My Knight can’t defend
against two connected passed pawns supported by a King.} Nxd1 48. a4 Nc3+ 49.
Kc4 {And my Knight can only sacrifice itself for one.}) 47… Nc2 48. Bxb5 Nxa3
{I’ve successfully traded two of the pawns. Only one more to go. I’m so close,
and yet so far.} 49. Be2 (49. Bd3 $1 {[%csl Rb1,Rb5,Rc2,Rc4][%cal Ga3b5,Ga3c4,
Ga3c2,Ga3b1] would end the game on the spot. My Knight is trapped, the King
will grab it and that’s all she wrote.}) 49… Nc2 {Instead, White gives me
room for one more bag of tricks. The threat is Nd4.} 50. Kc5 Kg7 51. Bd3 Ne3
52. b4 Nd1 {My opponent has played great so far, expertly converting a single
pawn advantage into a winning endgame, dodging all my tricks … and now he
just needs to find one more move.} 53. b5 $2 {and he misses it! For one move,
he didn’t ask, “What is my opponent’s threat?” and on move 53 it costs him the
win.} (53. Kd4 Nb2 54. Bc2 {and my Knight has no squares yet again.}) 53… Nc3
54. b6 Na4+ 55. Kb5 {“Bloody Knight!!!!!”, my opponent wrote in chat.} Nxb6 {
“:)” I replied.} 56. Kxb6 Kh8 57. Kc6 Kg7 58. Kd7 Kh8 59. Ke8 Kg7 60. Ke7 Kh8 {
We chatted for a few moves before declaring the draw. The idea is clear: White
has no way of chasing the King out of the corner. One of my finest endgame
swindles, if I do say so myself.} ({Just for completion sake,} 60… Kh8 61.
Kf6 Kg8 62. Kg6 Kh8 63. h5 Kg8 64. h6 Kh8 65. h7 {Stalemate.}) 1/2-1/2

Conclusions

First, the Colle is my least favourite opening to face as Black.  Screw the Colle.  Incidentally, if you ever play a game against me, you now know which opening to play…

Second, notice how many tactical tricks White had to avoid in the endgame.  We usually consider endgames to be boring, but there were more potential tactics in the last 20 moves then the entire middlegame.  A single imprecise move would have cost White dearly, and he had to walk a minefield.

On a related note, it’s amazing how these tactics came to my mind.  If this were an endgame puzzle, something out of a book, I doubt I give it a second thought.  Because I was playing, though, and because I knew I was losing, I started looking for tactics and little tricks everywhere.  If I applied this same mindset to every position, holy cow, a tactical hurricane.

Finally, a note on endgame theory.  If I didn’t know the ‘trick’ about wrong-colour Bishop and Rook pawns, I would have resigned this one somewhere around move 35.  Because I knew it, though, it gave me something to steer towards, and I ended up saving this game precisely because of it.  I’m no endgame specialist, but I’ve used a few similar ideas to save more than one game, and this is definitely an area we could all use further study.

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