Game 6: SmithyQ – Sidbee: The Importance of the Centre

Let me get this out of the way: I played against a 1200-rated player, and though we went 20 moves, this one was over by about move five.  It wasn’t very close.

Rather than disrespecting my opponent by dissecting all his mistakes, I figured I’d do something more educational.  Most beginners neglect the centre.  Indeed, the main difference between me and my opponent in this game came down to the centre: my every move strengthened the centre, whereas he did not.  My centre then took over, and he was swept away because of it.

My analysis today, then, will focus on the centre.  It will be aimed at beginners, using frequent words and few variations.  I’ve also highlighted how every move does something for the centre. I hope it proves helpful.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.04.03”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “siddbee”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “B28”]
[WhiteElo “1614”]
[BlackElo “1203”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “47”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{A game against a beginner that shows the importance of the centre.} 1. e4 {
[%csl Gd5,Gf5] 1.e4, opening lines for the Queen and Bishop, controlling the
centre. Probably the best opening move you cane make.} c5 2. Nf3 {[%csl Gd4,Ge5]
Developing the Knight, controlling the centre.} a6 {This particular move was
popular at the GM level for awhile. Maybe it still is, as it has a ‘trap’ of
sorts. Regardless, this is not the type of opening I’d recommend for a 1200 player.} 3. c3 {[%csl Gd4] Considered the best move by theory, preparing d4 and avoiding the trap.} (
3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 {and because there is no Nb5 available, Black has an
improved Sveshnikov / Kalashnikov / Pelikan / Lowenthal / whatever you want to
call it. At anything below IM/GM level, it doesn’t really matter.}) 3… Nc6 4.
d4 {[%csl Gd4,Ge4] I have achieved the ideal pawn centre.} b6 {By contrast,
Black has made a series of flank pawn moves with little sense of purpose.} 5.
d5 {[%csl Gc6,Ge6] I push forward, now claiming territory in Black’s side of
the board.} Na7 6. c4 $1 {[%csl Gd5] The only move I play that’s hard to find.
The pawn further reinforces the centre, but it’s main purpose is to allow a
Knight to come to c3. Playing Nd2 instead would be awkward, and it would block
my Bishop. I could develop the Bishop first, but I don’t know where is best
yet. c4 is thus the most flexible move.} h6 7. Nc3 {[%csl Gd5,Ge4] The Knight
comes to the fight for the centre.} Bb7 8. Bd3 {[%csl Ge4] And now the Bishop
as well. Notice how all my pieces are in the centre, applying pressure there?
Black’s pieces are either undeveloped or huddled in the corner.} e5 9. Nxe5 {
[%csl Ge5] Black gives up a pawn, so I take it.} Qe7 10. Bf4 {[%csl Ge5]
Developing my final minor piece and defending the piece. A good move, though
not the best move.} (10. f4 d6 11. Nf3 Nf6 12. O-O O-O-O 13. e5 dxe5 14. fxe5
Nd7 {[%csl Gb5,Gc6,Gd5,Gd6,Ge6,Gf6] Look at all the squares my central pawns
control. They control most of Black’s side of the board. My pieces can now go
anywhere. This is the power of central control.}) 10… g5 $1 11. Bg3 {[%csl
Ge5] My Bishop was attacked, and it must remain in control of e5, so it drops
back.} Bg7 12. Nf3 {[%csl Gd4,Ge5] I cannot maintain my Knight in the centre,
so it drops back. It’s a loss of time, but I won a pawn in the process, and I
still have superb central control and a lead in development.} b5 13. O-O {
I castle, getting my King safe before attacking in the centre.} Nf6 14. Bc7 $5
{[%csl Gd6,Ge5] I overthought on this move. It’s quite an impressive idea. I
wanted to play e5, attacking in the centre and chasing the Black Knight, but
then the pawn gets in the way of my own Bishop on g3. By playing Bc7 first, it
keeps the Bishop active. That’s nice, and quite imaginative, but e5 was the
logical follow-up.} O-O 15. e5 {[%csl Gd6,Ge4,Gf6][%cal Gd3h7,Gc3e4] The pawn
advances, hitting the Knight and claiming more central space. More than that,
this advance gives my pieces more room to work. My Bd3 now has an open
diagonal straight to the King, and the e4-square is available for a Knight.}
Nh7 (15… Ne8 $1 {would have stopped my Bd6 plan. I completely missed this
idea.}) 16. Bd6 {[%csl Gc5,Ge5,Ge7] My Bishop lands on a devastating square,
hitting the Queen and the Rook and the pawn and basically everything.} Qe8 17.
Qc2 {[%csl Gc2,Gd3][%cal Gd3h7] I do not rush to take the Rook. It cannot move,
and my Bishop is excellent. I bring my Queen into the game, attacking the
Knight on h7 … which has no squares.} f5 18. Bxf5 {[%csl Gd7,Ge6,Gf5,Gg6,Gh7]
As is usually the case, my control of the centre has effortlessly turned into
a Kingside attack. Black must give up more material.} Rxf5 19. Qxf5 {[%csl Gd7,
Ge5,Ge6,Gg6,Gh7] My Queen is even better than the Bishop here, as it controls
even more squares, and Black cannot chase it away.} Nc8 {[%csl Ra4,Ra7,Rb4,Rb6,
Rc4,Rd4,Rf4,Rf8,Rg5,Rh4,Rh5,Rh8] For a moment, let’s look at the opposite. I
have complete control of the centre, so what can Black do? Essentially nothing.
All of his pieces are forced to the side of the board. None can more more than
one square. I have highlighted the squares Black controls and/or can safely
occupy.} 20. Ne4 {[%csl Gc5,Gd6,Gf6] My Knight now comes to the centre,
controlling even more Black space. I wanted to highlight all the squares I
could safely move to and/or control, but 90% of the board would then be green.
My central control allows me to do anything.} Nxd6 21. Nxd6 {[%csl Gb7,Gc8,Ge8,
Gf7] My centralized Bishop was replaced with a centralized Knight, which is
even more effective.} Qb8 22. Qxd7 {[%csl Gb7,Gd7,Gf7] I’ve won a central pawn,
which allows my pawns to move forward again. In addition, my Queen attacks
both the Queenside (the Bishop) and the Kingside (a mating attack on f7).} bxc4
23. Qe6+ {[%csl Gd5,Gd6,Ge5,Ge6] I now have a forced mate. Let us take a
moment and admire the White forces, expertly grouped in the centre, completely
destroying a Black armour twice the size.} Kf8 ({For completion sake, here is
the mate if Black takes the long route.} 23… Kh8 24. Nf7+ Kg8 25. Nxh6+ Kh8
26. Nf7+ Kg8 27. N3xg5 Nxg5 28. Nxg5+ Kh8 29. Qh3+ Kg8 30. Qh7+ Kf8 31. Ne6+
Ke8 32. Qg8+ Ke7 33. Qxg7+ Ke8 34. d6 Qd8 35. d7+ Qxd7 36. Qf8# {Did I
calculate this all out? No. I saw the windmill-style checks and knew White had
a win. And when up so much material, calculating 13 moves for a forced mate
doesn’t make the most sense.}) 24. Qf7# {There was a huge mis-match in terms
of skill here. We could look at lots of things here, but I think the centre is
most obvious. Black played somewhat randomly, whereas White played with a firm
eye on the centre. By the time the middlegame rolled around, Black could do
nothing whereas White had every plan available to him. Such is the power of
the centre.} 1-0

Conclusions

The centre is the most important part of the chessboard, but beginners rarely think about it.  I remember being a 1500 player, and if you asked me whether the centre was important, I would say yes, of course, obviously.  When I played, though, I didn’t think about it.  I thought about pieces and variations and trying to attack, but I never thought, ‘Okay, I should fight more for the centre now.’

Compare that to now, years later, where literally every single move affects the centre in some way.  The best way to see that is to compare my moves against my opponent’s.  He played more haphazard, making lots of strange moves.  Had he focused more on the centre, he would have fared far better.

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