Game 11: ChessScott22-SmithyQ: Positional Outplay

When I play my best chess, I make things look simple.  I don’t use fancy tactics, I don’t have to sacrifice the kitchen sink.  I just improve my position, slowly and gradually, and then I win.  Okay, so I’m missing a couple steps in the middle there, but that’s the general outlook.

This game shows this almost perfectly.  White makes an early inaccuracy in the Nimzo, and he basically loses a pawn by force.  From there I just slowly move forward and suddenly White is in a dire, terrible position.  After about move 10, none of my moves are difficult or hard to find, and White gets swept away.

This is positionally outplay, my favourite way to play.  Let’s take a look.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.04.20”]
[Round “?”]
[White “ChessScott22”]
[Black “SmithyQ”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “E29”]
[WhiteElo “1522”]
[BlackElo “1651”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “82”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{White gets positionally rolled in the Nimzo.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4.
e3 {This is one of the mainlines of the Nimzo, where White is content to
develop normally before trying to claim the centre.} ({Before we go any
further, let’s look at the mainline of the Saemisch variation.} 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5.
bxc3 c5 6. e3 Nc6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Ne2 b6 9. e4 {and now, in this position, the
best move is Ne8, sidestepping both e5 and the Bg5 pin, and this leads to a
complex struggle. If Black does NOT play Ne8, then he gets into trouble.
That’s the power and threat of White’s position.}) 4… c5 5. a3 {With this,
we’re now entering the Saemisch territory. It’s very easy to transpose from
variation to variation in the Nimzo.} Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 O-O 7. Bd3 Nc6 {Let’s look
at this position for a moment. I’m not a Nimzo expert, and I remember
struggling to understand these types of positions in the past. Here’s the
struggle: White has two Bishops and a compact if clogged pawn structure. If
White can open the centre and get his Bishops active, he does well. If he
can’t, then Black is better. The battle, then, is whether White’s Bishops can
enter the game in a big way.} 8. Ne2 (8. dxc5 {I remembered wondering why
White doesn’t take the c-pawn. A pawn is a pawn, right? It’s because of my
above description of the position. White is making his structure even worse.
For one, Black can play Qa5 and win his pawn back effortlessly, but Black can
also play in a gambit style, similar to the Benko gambit.} b6 $5 9. cxb6 axb6 {
[%csl Rc4][%cal Gc8a6,Gc6a5,Ga8c8] The pawn on c4 is weak, and Black can
easily bring his pieces to attack it. In addition, the c5-square is a
beautiful one for a Knight. Where can White’s Bishops go? If he tries to play
e4 to get his c1-Bishop active, then it cages the d3-Bishop. In short,
‘winning’ the pawn gives Black an incredibly good game.}) 8… b6 9. O-O {
Amazingly, this move is almost mistake. Look at the first variation I gave of
the 4.a3 Nimzo. It reaches this position, but White plays e4 instead of
castling. Of course he does, because that’s his main goal: advance in the
centre and get his Bishops active. It basically forces Black to play Ne8. By
just castling, it gives Black a free tempo to attack the centre, and White
easily get into trouble.} Ba6 {For my part, the plan is simple: attack the
weak c-pawns. Ba6, Na5, and when the time is right, maybe cxd4 and Rc8,
allowing my Rooks to come in.} 10. d5 $6 {This move just forces my Knight to
go exactly where it wants to go.} (10. e4 {would transpose back into the
mainline, and it’s White’s only chance.}) 10… Na5 {The only way to defend c4
is with Qa4, but that doesn’t defend because the Bishop on d3 would be
undefended. Even if it worked, defending a pawn with the Queen is a huge waste.
} 11. dxe6 dxe6 12. Ra2 {White, not knowing what else to do, plays this
imaginative Rook lift to get some play, but it costs him a pawn. It’s worth
noting here how Black will positionally outplay White from here on out. White
never finds good squares for his pieces and his structure is always worse.
Compare that to Black, who effortlessly finds great squares for his Knights.}
Bxc4 13. Rd2 Qe7 {I move my Queen, side-stepping and Bishop discoveries on my
Queen.} ({The threat, of course, was} 13… h6 14. Bh7+ Kxh7 15. Rxd8 $18 {
Having a Rook lined up with your Queen is never good, and here the threat was
immediate.}) 14. Bxc4 Nxc4 {[%csl Gc4] It’s worth noting here that weak pawns
also mean weak SQUARES. My Knight occupies one such square, and it can never
be chased away.} 15. Ra2 Rfd8 (15… e5 {[%csl Rc1][%cal Ge5e4] is the
computer’s choice, as it prevents Nf4 and, if White does nothing, Black may
play e4 and completely imprison White’s poor Bishop.}) 16. Qc2 Rd6 {I now
simply double my Rooks on the only open file. Again, my pieces have easy
squares. It’s not clear where White can put any of his pieces.} (16… Qd6 17.
e4 Qd3 18. Qxd3 Rxd3 {is the computer’s suggestion, which is similar to the
main game.}) 17. Qb3 Na5 18. Qc2 {White temporarily pushed my Knight away, but
the pressure is still there.} Rad8 19. Ng3 Qd7 {I now have triple heavy pieces
on the only open file, and White can barely move anything. It’s also worth
noting that I, as usual, haven’t done anything special. I attacked a weak pawn,
and now I’m putting my pieces on good squares. That’s it, and it’s enough to
sweep White away without too much resistance from here on in.} ({The immediate
} 19… c4 {was also good.}) 20. f3 c4 {[%csl Gb3] Now there’s a new weak
square my Knight can enter. Also, c5 is available for a Knight if needed.} 21.
e4 Rd1 {I now invade with my pieces.} ({The computer suggests another
possibility.} 21… Qb5 22. a4 Qe5 {[%cal Ga5b3,Gd6d3] This continued to
restrict White’s Bishop, which can not go to g5 or f4 now. It’s an interesting
way to play, with Nb3 and Rd3 coming.}) 22. Be3 Nb3 23. e5 $6 {White feels the
pressure and overreacts. This pawn is more weakness than strength, and it just
gives a great square on d5 to my Knight.} Rxf1+ 24. Nxf1 Nd5 {Again, look at
the piece difference. All of my pieces are good, and none of White’s pieces do
anything.} 25. Bg5 Rc8 26. Nd2 {This move loses tactically, but it’s hard to
call it a mistake when White’s position is so difficult. Most ‘obvious’ moves
also lose material. The main problem is that now the Bishop has no retreat
square.} h6 {This simple move, perhaps surprisingly, completely destroys
White’s position. The Bishop is attacked, and the only safe square is h4, but
that loses control of e3 and leaves d2 under-protected.} 27. Nxb3 {Seeing this,
White tries a desperate move, but it fails pretty easily.} (27. Bh4 Ne3 28. Qb2
Qd3 {[%cal Gd3f1,Gb3d2] and the threat is to exchange on d2 and then play Qf1#.
}) (27. Nxc4 {is another attempt to use tactics to stay alive, but it doesn’t
quite work.} Rxc4 28. Qxb3 Rxc3 29. Qd1 hxg5 {and Black is still up a piece
and, in fact, reaches the exact same position as the game.}) 27… cxb3 28.
Qxb3 Rxc3 29. Qd1 hxg5 {Black is up a piece with a winning position. White
could resign, but he plays on, which is his right. I have no problem with
people playing on in such positions.} 30. Qd2 Qc7 31. Qxg5 Qc5+ {This sets up
a mating attack … which I didn’t calculate correctly. I can perhaps be
forgiven, as I was up a piece, but I miss several mates by the end.} 32. Kf1
Rc1+ 33. Ke2 Qc4+ {A natural move, forking the Rook as well, though Nc3+
apparently mates faster.} 34. Kd2 Qc3+ 35. Ke2 Qe1+ {This should be mate in
three. Can you see it?} 36. Kd3 Rc3+ 37. Kd4 Qg1+ {… because I didn’t see it.
} (37… Qd1+ 38. Rd2 Qa4# {I find backwards, retreating Queen moves to be the
hardest to see.}) 38. Ke4 Rc4+ 39. Kd3 Qd4+ {I then miss another mate, this
one a bit easier to see.} (39… Qf1+ 40. Kd2 Rd4+ 41. Kc2 Qc4+ 42. Kb1 Rd1+
43. Kb2 Qc3# {It’s also fairly thematic, with White’s Rook still on its
useless square.}) 40. Ke2 Nf4+ {I now stop trying to play for mate and just
win his Queen.} 41. Qxf4 Qxf4 {White now resigns. There may even be a forced
mate in this final position, but when up a Queen it doesn’t really matter. I’m
joking about it, but I probably should study mating patterns a bit more.} 0-1

Conclusions

In a blog post back in 2015, I noted that good players don’t move their pieces backwards, whereas weaker players tend to retreat fairly readily.  This game shows something similar.  In the first 30 moves, I made exactly one backwards retreat, playing Na5 when my Knight was attacked, and even here I soon moved it to an even better square.

To White’s credit, he didn’t do a lot of retreating in this game, but he rarely moved his pieces forward, either.  If you go through the game quickly and just watch his pieces, they tend to take small steps sideways, towards the side of the board.  He never got a central presence, which I said at the beginning of my analysis was White’s main aim in this line of the Nimzo.

Positional play, when you get right down to it, is about improving your pieces, about moving them forward to better squares.  If you can’t move them forward, find a way to do so.  If you can’t even do that, then prevent your opponent from going forward.  In the final analysis, I did this and my opponent did not, and that’s why I won.  That’s a positional victory in a nutshell.

One thought on “Game 11: ChessScott22-SmithyQ: Positional Outplay

  1. Gringo

    I couldn’t see any tactics even when you mentioned there’s a combination or a mate in sight. Oh well. I’ll just have to defeat you with my rock solid positional prowess.

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