Game 15: SmithyQ-FreeLance: My Pet Positional System against the Sicilian

This game features two main points I want to discuss: my opening system against the Sicilian and my theory on chess playing.

First, the opening system.  I’m a big believer in the Maroczy Bind structure against the Sicilian.  White gets a thematic set-up with very little risk, the moves are easy, the middlegame plan is easy, perhaps most importantly, most Black players don’t know the first thing about it.  I don’t know why it isn’t more popular.  Here’s the basic set-up.

Second, one thing I’ve learned from GM Smirnov is the importance of moving pieces forward wherever possible.  This has given me an insight or theory on chess.  In general, the side that moves backwards most is the one that will lose, and in particular, a backwards move often indicates a chance for the other side to gain an immediate advantage, often via tactics.

We’ll explore both of these ideas in the following game.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.04.28”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “Freelance”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “B55”]
[WhiteElo “1750”]
[BlackElo “1564”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “73”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{I have a thesis that good players outplay inferior positions by moving pieces
forward and rarely if ever move them backward. Fun fact: in this game, I make
three backward moves, with one of them winning the exchange and another
forcing resignation, so that’s pretty good.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4.
Nxd4 Nf6 5. f3 {This is my pet variation of the Sicilian. Is it better than
the main lines? Hard to say, but it definitely leads to positions most Black
players are far less comfortable playing.} e6 ({While Black’s move in the game
was perfectly fine, the two main lines are} 5… g6 {leading to a Dragon-type
position, where Black aims to get play on the dark-squares; and,}) (5… e5 6.
Nb3 d5 {is I believe the absolute mainline, trying to take advantage of the
slow f3 move. Most Black players don’t know this and don’t play it. White
still keeps an edge after} 7. Bg5 {, though admittedly this is not the Maroczy
Bind structure that I love and one reason this isn’t a perfect solution
against the Sicilian.}) 6. c4 {[%csl Gc4,Ge4][%cal Rb7b5,Rd6d5,Ge4d5,Gc4d5,
Gc4b5,Gd4b5] This is the key move, and it’s probably my favourite pawn
structure to play (and my least favourite to play against). In the Sicilian,
White usually uses his superior development and mobility to threaten Black,
but this exactly what Black wants. He wants a crazy, tactical struggle. This
position, the Maroczy Bind pawn structure, is the exact opposite. White gains
a permanent space advantage and aims to restrict Black’s main pawn breaks, b5
and d5. White hopes to slowly improve his space advantage and attack on the
Queenside or centre, similar to the classical King’s Indian, and I’ve found
that most Black players don’t understand these positions at all.} Nc6 7. Nc3 a6
8. Be3 ({I nearly always play Be3 before Be2, just to avoid the following.} 8.
Be2 Qb6 {The Queen targets both d4 and b2, making it hard to defend both. Now,
the computer says the following is nearly a pawn better for White, but I’ll
let you judge:} 9. Be3 Qxb2 10. Na4 Qb4+ 11. Bd2 Qa3 12. Nxc6 bxc6 13. Rb1 Nd7
({Taking the second pawn is arsonic.} 13… Qxa2 $2 14. Ra1 $18) 14. Bb4 Qe3
15. Bxd6 Bxd6 16. Qxd6 {I’ll stop here. Apparently this is over a pawn better
for White, even with material equal … but it’s messy, the moves aren’t
natural and I’m not completely sure how to continue. In short, it’s not the
type of position I’m aiming for, and why risk this when I have a much simpler
option?}) 8… Be7 9. Be2 {[%csl Gc3,Gd1,Gd4,Ge2,Ge3][%cal Ga1c1,Ge1g1,Gh1d1,
Gd1d2] Another useful feature of this system: White generally plays the same
developing moves every game, and the order barely matters. The minor pieces
all belong here and the Rooks belong on c1 and d1.} Bd7 10. O-O O-O 11. Qd2 {
We’ve talked about White’s plan, but what about Black? What can he do? In all
honesty, not much. Black has two plans: to attack on the Queenside (which
works best if he develops his Bishop to g7 instead of e7) or to sit around,
wait for White to mis-step and get in b5 or d5. This is some pretty subtle
stuff, far beyond what most amateurs know. I don’t even play it well as Black.
If Black can exchange a few pieces, especially dark-square Bishops, he
generally does alright.} Nxd4 {Black does just that, exchanging a pair of
minor pieces.} 12. Bxd4 e5 $6 {[%csl Gd5] This, though, is a mistake. Yes,
it’s a natural and thematic Sicilian move, but it’s only a weakness here. Now
there’s a hole on d5, the d6-square is more of a target and no piece can land
on e5. It feels like Black saw my Bishop, didn’t like it and tried to chase it
away, but with no plan beyond that.} ({I think Black should have played
something like the following.} 12… Bc6 13. b4 b6 {[%cal Gf6d7,Gd7e5,Ga8c8,
Gc6b7] The idea is to rearrange the Black pieces to better squares. The Bishop
can go to b7, where it doesn’t get in the way of the other pieces, and the
Knight has a natural square on d7. There it protects b6, possible allows the
f-pawn to advance, and the Knight wants to jump to e5. Wouldn’t a Knight on e5
be much better than a pawn? This shows, though, why this position is so hard
for amateur chess players. This plan is not obvious and it’s not easy, and
it’s no wonder most Black players mess up somewhere.}) 13. Be3 {Note that this
is only one of three retreats I make in this game. That will be a theme.} Qc7 {
Another standard Sicilian move, but it does nothing, and it just invites my
Knight to jump to d5.} 14. Rac1 {[%cal Gc1c7] Bringing my Rook to its natural
square and eying the Queen. This also heightens the power of Nd5.} Bc6 {
Black finally plays Bc6, but here it’s a mistake.} 15. Nd5 $1 {The Knight
lands on a monster square, and my army is in perfect position to support it.
Because of the poor position of Black’s pieces, particularly the Queen, Black
is in big trouble.} Qd8 {Two moves after moving his Queen, Black retreats it.
Hmm.} ({Black had one move to stay in the game.} 15… Bxd5 16. cxd5 Qd7 {
[%cal Ge3b6,Gd2b4,Gc1c3,Gf1c1,Ga2a4,Gb2b4,Gb4b5] Yes, this position is
terrible for Black, as White has 50 natural moves and a clear plan to advance
on the weak and undefended Queenside, but he’s not losing yet. He might trade
all the Rooks and grovel out a draw in 50 moves.}) ({You normally want to take
the Knight on d5 with your own Knight, but that doesn’t work here.} 15… Nxd5
$2 16. cxd5 {[%cal Gc1c7] and the pin wins the Bishop. That’s the problem with
Qc7: it just walks into White’s inevitable Rc1 and the pressure that comes
with it.}) 16. Bb6 {My Bishop now jumps into a juicy square, and with tempo.}
Qd7 17. Nxe7+ {My monster Knight trades itself for the immobile Bishop on e7,
which may look strange at first blush. There are two ideas. First, by removing
his dark-square Bishop, it weakens his dark squares, which makes my own
dark-square Bishop that much more powerful. Look at it, preening away at b6,
just as much a monster as the Knight. Second, and perhaps more obvious, it
fatally weakens d6.} Qxe7 18. Rfd1 {[%cal Rb6d8,Gd2d6] White’s pieces are
beautifully situated. The major pieces target the weak pawn on the open file
and my Bishop prevents his Rooks from defending it.} Ne8 {Black makes another
retreating move in a desperate attempt to protect his pawn. Hmm. That seems
suspect. His Knight is terribly passive, his Rooks are no longer connected, he
can barely move, White is fully developed … there must be a tactic here.} 19.
c5 $1 {And here it is. This perfectly encapsulates the logic of everything
I’ve done so far. It hits the dark-squares, which I just said were weak. It
attacks the d6-pawn. It opens lines for the major pieces, and it also gives a
near square for my Be2, the only piece not yet doing anything.} dxc5 20. Bxc5
Qc7 21. Bxf8 Kxf8 {The tactical sequence over, White is up an exchange, but
even better, I’m left with all the best pieces on the board. The goal now
should be to trade pieces and win in the endgame.} 22. Qb4+ {I start with the
check, which pushes his King away from the centre in the coming endgame.} Kg8
23. Bc4 {I then improve my worst piece, the Bishop. I want to plunk it down on
d5. Again, the d5-square comes up as a weakness, all because Black played 12…
e5 without proper thought.} Nf6 24. Bd5 {Black tried to defend d5, but I go
here anywhere. Again, a Rook on the c-file hits his Queen. It’s the same
tactical ideas all over again, like the Circle of Life.} Rc8 25. Bxc6 bxc6 {
Not only have I managed to trade pieces, but I’ve crippled Black’s pawn
structure in the process. It will be impossible to defend all these pawns, not
with a Knight against a Rook.} 26. Qd6 {Continuing the plan of trading pieces.
Exchanging Queens will kill any faint glimmers of Black counterplay.} h6 {
Black suffers a weak back rank and tries to protect that. Other moves could
lose instantly.} ({Black’s only viable Queen move isn’t enough.} 26… Qb6+ 27.
Kh1 Qxb2 28. Qd8+ $1 Ne8 (28… Rxd8 29. Rxd8+ Ne8 30. Rxe8#) 29. Qxc8) 27.
Qxc7 Rxc7 28. Rd6 {The Queens are off, and we now see one of the greatest
mismatches in chess, the Rook versus the Knight. If there’s even one open file,
the Rook nearly always win, and if it’s an open board like here, it’s complete
domination. The Knight is helpless, and the pawns immediately start dropping.}
c5 29. Rxa6 Kf8 30. b4 $1 {[%cal Gc1c7] Once more, the pin on the c-file comes
to play! Now the b-pawn just marches straight to promotion.} c4 31. b5 Nd7 32.
b6 Rb7 33. Ra7 {Forcing the trade of Rooks is the easiest way to win. Of
course he cannot take the pawn, as the Knight would hang on d7.} Rxa7 34. bxa7
Nb6 {Black’s Knight tries to hold everything together, but one last tactic
ends the game instantly.} 35. Rxc4 $1 Nxc4 ({For educational purposes, let’s
just look at a sample line. This isn’t best play, but it illustrates how badly
the Knight struggles against the Rook.} 35… Ke7 36. Rc2 Kd6 37. Kf2 {[%csl
Ga8,Rc1,Rc3,Rc4,Rc5,Rc6,Rc7,Rc8][%cal Gb6a8] Here’s Black’s problem: his King
can never cross the c-file and help the Knight. The Knight must therefore
always guard the Queening square. Black can never chase the Rook away and can
never block the c-file, so White has all the time in the world to bring his
King over and win without thought.} Kd7 38. Ke2 Na8 39. Kd2 Nb6 (39… Nc7 {
Trying to build a bridge for the King, using the Knight to block the Rook’s
c-file coverage, falls for the same tactic as early.} 40. Rxc7+ Kxc7 41. a8=Q)
40. Kc1 {The King goes behind the Rook so as not to interrupt it’s line of
sight.} Kd6 41. Kb2 Kd7 42. Kb3 Kd6 43. Kb4 Kd7 44. Kb5 Na8 45. Ka6 Kd6 46. Kb7
{Black is helpless. A Rook can single-handedly severe the coordination between
a King and Knight, and when you combine that with a passed pawn it isn’t even
funny.}) 36. a8=Q+ {The pawn Queens.} Ke7 37. Qb7+ {Black resigns, as I’ll
pick up the Knight in the next few moves. Fun fact, this is only the third
retreating move I played, and it’s the move that forced resignation. If you
look back at Black’s errors, one was an ill-timed pawn advance and the other
two were piece retreats. That reinforces my thesis: good players move pieces
forward and force their opponents to go backwards.} (37. Qb7+ {Just for
completion sake, here’s how you win the Knight.} Ke8 {The back rank that isn’t
d8 is easy.} (37… Kd8 {going to d8 hits the Knight from a different angle.}
38. Qd5+) (37… Ke6 {King in the centre doesn’t work.} 38. Qd5+) (37… Kf6 {
and the third rank is also refuted.} 38. Qc6+) 38. Qc8+ {And yes, I did
calculate all this out, even though I was up a Queen. Maybe I’m weird.}) 1-0

Conclusions

First, humble brag time, the computer says I played perfectly.  Every move out of theory was top line, first choice.  Yay for me!

More relevantly, I wanted to talk about two things, the opening and the theory of moving backwards.  I think the opening was a complete success.  Black never looked comfortable and never had a threat.  I rolled over him quite easily, and most of that was just the opening choice.

I know I frequently say that openings don’t matter, and that’s true.  Don’t go memorizing 20 moves of this system.  Learn the basic set-up and middlegame plans, though, and you can do very well.  There’s a difference.

Also, let’s talk about pieces.  Why was Black’s Qc7 a mistake?  Because it allowed me to move my pieces forward and it pushed Black back.  He was in trouble.  What happened after his second backwards move, Ne8?  It was a signal to check for tactics, and sure enough something turned up.

I made three backwards moves all game, and really, only 13.Be3 was a retreat, and it was completely forced.  The others were attacking retreats (tactical withdrawals, if you will).   Black made more retreats, which were not forced, and he suffered for it.

Move your pieces forward and push your opponent’s pieces back.  In a nutshell, that was my victory.  It really can be that easy… at least in theory.

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