Game 16: SmithyQ-AliSadraei: Pressure Makes Diamonds … and Blunders

There’s a familiar phrase, “Pressure makes diamonds.”  And it’s true.  You take some ugly rocks, put them under intense pressure for millions of years and boom, you’ve got some pretty diamonds.  At the same time, as I tell people whenever I can, “Yeah, pressure makes diamonds, but it also makes balloons pop.”

Related image

What can I say, I’m a cynical optimist.

Coming back to chess, I have a long-standing theme on this blog: most amateur games are decided by blunders.  You can win a heck of a lot of games just by looking for enemy mistakes.  Now, if you just sit there and do nothing, your opponent might blunder, but he or she probably won’t.  Just like anything else, blunders can be created.

Of course, you can’t physically force your opponent to blunder, but you can make it much more likely.  If you are under pressure, you start thinking different, you start to worry, you start feeling the danger, and then blunders follow almost automatically.  In today’s game, I do exactly this, making a single attacking thrust and then having my opponent contort into a ball out of fear.

Let’s take a look.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.05.01”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “Ali-sadraei”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “B54”]
[WhiteElo “1767”]
[BlackElo “1666”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “71”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{My opponent completely overreacts to my aggressive posturing, which soon
leads to blunders and an easy win.} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6
5. Nc3 a6 {We’ve reached a rare Open Sicilian. I don’t mean that this
particular position is rare, though it’s certainly no Dragon or Najdorf.
Rather, I rarely play a true Open Sicilian. Even I sometimes feel the need to
unleash violence on the board.} 6. Be3 d6 {Let’s just look at this position
generally for a moment. White has more space, better development, easy
development, a clear plan of castling Queenside and a target on d6. Why isn’t
White just winning this position, or indeed, any Sicilian position? Everything
I’ve said above is true, but Black’s pawns do an excellent job of restraining
White. That is, White has great pieces right now, but it’s hard to advance
them further because of Black’s pawn shield. If White does nothing, then Black
will catch up in development and may actually achieve a small advantange,
because he will have two centre pawns to White’s one. This is why White’s most
common strategy is to either sacrifice a piece for a few pawns or, more common
still, to start a pawn storm, exchange Black’s pawns and then use the superior
space and developement to unleash a devastating attack.} 7. g4 $1 {This
explains the thought-process behind this move, and really, this basically wins
the game for me. Yes, I could just continue development, castle and then
attack … or I could do it right now, hitting Black while he sits around
undeveloped, before his pieces can set up behind his pawn shield. Also,
psychologically, an early g4 is tough to meet as Black. My opponent seemingly
saw this move and curled into a ball with fright. Watch how he never develops
his Nf6 for fear of the g4-g5 advance.} Be7 8. Qd2 {I continue development
normally, waiting for him to play Nf6.} Bd7 {This here was the first sign that
Black was feeling panic. The natural move is Nf6, which, true, allows g5, but
then the Knight can retreat to d7 and then e5 or c5 later. With the Bishop on
d7, now the Knight has no retreat squares at all. Is Black going to just not
develop his Knight?} ({Black cannot try to win a pawn with} 8… e5 {[%cal
Gc8g4] because} 9. Nf5 {and Black is faced with a terrible choice.} (9. Nb3 {
Interesting, White could even allow Black to win the pawn.} Bxg4 10. Rg1 Bh5
11. Nd5 {[%cal Ge3b6,Gd5b6,Gg1g7,Gf1h3] White has a monster lead in
development and the position is opening up. Threats include Bh3, stopping
castling, Bd6 harassing the Queen and pressure on g7 (have to be careful here,
though, as Bg6 could trap the Rook). This isn’t best play, as there’s no need
for White to sac a pawn here, but it shows some of the resources White has in
these g4 lines.}) 9… Bxf5 ({or} 9… g6 10. Nxe7 Ngxe7 {[%csl Rf6,Rg5,Rg7,
Rh6] and Black has terrible dark-square weaknesses.}) 10. gxf5 {[%csl Gd5]
[%cal Gh1g1,Gg1g7] and White has control of the center, a weakness on d5 and
an open g-file for his Rook.}) 9. O-O-O Qc7 {Black is still playing normal
Sicilian moves, but this isn’t a normal Sicilian position. He needs to do
something about his Kingside development.} 10. h4 Bf6 $2 {Black, after trying
himself in knots since my g4 advance, now becomes undone. This is an obviously
bad move with an obvious counter. My best guess is that Black wanted to play
Ne7.} ({Now, to be fair, it’s not clear what Black should play. I was looking
at the following line} 10… h5 11. g5 g6 {where Black tries to block the
Kingside and make time to castle Queenside. Unfortuntely, after} 12. f4 {
[%cal Gf4f5] White has a clear plan of f5 and Black is stuck defending for a
long time.}) 11. g5 {The obvious move. I was waiting for him to play Nf6 first,
but Bf6 works just as well.} Be7 {Black is forced to retreat, meaning he’s
lost a tempo in position where’s he’s already behind in development and I’m
attacking. Not good.} (11… Bxd4 {Usually a defender wants to exchange pieces,
but it doesn’t work tactically here.} 12. Bxd4 Nxd4 (12… e5 $2 13. Be3 {
and there’s no defence for the d6-pawn.}) (12… Kf8 {This may be the best
move, but when you’re forced to move your King to f8, you know your position
is terrible.}) 13. Qxd4 {[%cal Gd4d6,Gd4g7] and the double-attack wins at
least a pawn. Also, notice how exchanging pieces has left Black with no active
pieces at all, whereas White is still ready to rush forward.}) 12. Nxc6 {
This isn’t a bad move, but it can’t be the best move, either. It exchanges
pieces, easing Black’s cramp somewhat. My idea, though, was to put a different
piece on d4, attacking the g7-pawn, and it also opens the d-file for pressure
against d6.} (12. f4 {This is the obvious and best move. Keeps control of the
centre, keeps Black cramped, and f5 is a real threat.}) 12… Bxc6 13. Bd4 {
Probing for weaknesses. I figured this would force either e5 or Kf8, and in
either case Black has a permanent weakness I can attack throughout the
middlegame. Instead, Black self-destructs.} f6 $2 {Yuck. It stops the threat
to g7, I guess, but it creates so many more weaknesses. Honestly, I think
Black tricked himself into thinking I would play gxf6, where he can then
finally develop his Knight. I of course do not do that.} 14. Bh3 {I instead
develop my last piece to a great diagonal, hitting a now-weak pawn. This is an
often overlooked benefit of playing early g-pawn moves in an opening. Yes,
it’s starting a pawn storm, but it also allows your Bishop to get developed to
this useful square.} f5 $4 {Black, feeling the pressure mounting for ten moves
now, blunders a whole Rook.} 15. Bxg7 fxe4 16. Rhe1 {Developing my last piece
and aiming at the King. There’s no rush to take the Rook, as it isn’t going
anywhere.} ({For accuracy’s sake,} 16. Bxe6 {was the best move, as now Black
cannot castle. In fact, it’s not clear what Black should do next. If he tries
to continue like in the game with} d5 17. Bxh8 {[%cal Ge6g8] now the Knight is
hanging, and Black needs to waste a tempo to defend it … somehow. And did I
metnion White’s up a Rook?}) 16… O-O-O 17. Bxe6+ {That said, taking a pawn
with check is never a bad thing, either.} Kb8 18. Bxh8 d5 19. Qd4 $6 {I …
have no idea why I played this move. I’m sure there’s a really good reason …
but it may just have been chess blindness.} ({Yes, I could have just taken the
pawn.} 19. Nxd5 Bxd5 20. Bxd5 {My Bishop is pinned but well-protected, and I
can always play c4 if needed … or anything else. I AM up a Rook and two
pawns, after all.}) 19… Bd6 20. Bxd5 $6 {I now walk into a worse version of
the above variation. I missed a much better option.} (20. Nxe4 $1 {was a
beautiful tactic.} dxe4 21. Be5 {The Bishop is pinned twice, once to the Rook
on the file it and, of course, to the Queen on the diagonal. If Black does
nothing I simply win the Bishop, so} Bxe5 22. Qxd8+ Qxd8 ({moving the King
instead is the same fate.} 22… Ka7 23. Qxc7 Bxc7 24. Bxg8) 23. Rxd8+ Kc7 24.
Rxg8 {and I’m up a boatload of material. A great variation … but at the same
time, I’m up a solid Rook, so I shouldn’t need such great variations to win,
right?}) 20… Bf4+ 21. Kb1 Ne7 {By wasting time with my Qd4 idea, Black has
gained the time needed to bring his Knight into the game, finally. We enter a
fairly forced sequence.} 22. Bf6 Bxd5 23. Nxd5 {Good enough, but I had better.
Even though my opponent blundered and I played good, effective moves to win
the game convincingly, I always want to see where I could play better. In this
position, I could have better taken advantage of the pin, something I didn’t
even consider.} ({First, the main idea is to play Bishop take Knight, but that
doesn’t work right away} 23. Bxe7 Bxa2+ 24. Nxa2 Rxd4 25. Rxd4 Qxe7 {even here
White is winning in terms of material count, but why lose a Queen when you
don’t have to? The threat is Bxa2+ with the discovered attack against the
Queen, so let’s stop that check.}) (23. b3 $1 {White stops the check, and now
the simple threat is to exchange the Knight, thus removing a defender of d5
and winning a piece. The Bishop can’t move because of the the pin to the Rook,
and the Knight can’t move because it’s also pinned to the Rook. It’s brilliant!
} Rd7 {Trying to side-step all the pins, but it fails.} ({The previous tactic
no longer works.} 23… Bxb3 24. Qxd8+ Qxd8 25. Rxd8+ Kc7 26. Bxe7 {White has
twice as many pieces as Black, who can resign.}) (23… Nc6 {This tries to
counter-attack the Queen, but is still winning.} 24. Bxd8 Nxd4 25. Bxc7+ {
Check.} Kxc7 26. Nxd5+ {Check again.} Kc6 27. Rxd4 {and White is up even more
material, if that were possible.}) 24. Bxe7 Rxe7 25. Nxd5 {and there’s a fork
to finish it off. In fact, the Knight attacks all the remaining Black pieces!})
23… Rxd5 24. Qxe4 Rxd1+ 25. Rxd1 Nc6 {When I started, I was up a solid Rook.
Now I’m ‘only’ up an exchange, though also several pawns. I’m still winning
decisively, but it’s been a sloppy five moves or so.} 26. Qe8+ {No more
wobbles. Time to rush in and finish it.} Ka7 27. Rd7 {Now the Rook joins the
fray.} Qb6 28. Qc8 {Okay, I know I said no more wobbles, but this was slightly
inaccurate.} (28. Qe2 {This simple move stops and Black counterplay and
threatens Rxh7, which he cannot stop. I then have three pawns rushing to
promotion, which he again cannot stop.}) 28… Bg3 $5 {Black is completely
losing, so he tries a trick. Good idea.} 29. Rxb7+ $1 {The simplest solution.}
(29. fxg3 $4 Qg1+ 30. Rd1 Qxd1# {Opps. Let’s not do that.}) 29… Qxb7 30.
Qxb7+ Kxb7 31. fxg3 {[%csl Yd6,Ye6][%cal Gc6d4,Gc6e5,Gc6e7,Gc6d8,Rf6d4,Rf6d8]
I started up a Rook, now I’m ‘only’ up a few pawns, but it’s winning without
much effort. The main factor here is my Bishop completely stopping his Knight
from coming to the Kingside. It’s an important idea to remember: two spaces
between a Knight and Bishop and all the squares are covered.} Kc7 32. h5 {
The idea is to Queen as fast as possible. Run, pawns, run!} Kd7 33. g6 hxg6 34.
h6 {[%csl Gf6,Gf7,Gf8,Gg6,Gg7,Gg8,Gh6,Gh7,Gh8] Even better than taking the
pawn, as the h-pawn is further from the enemy King. Black can never get into
the ‘square of the pawn,’ as it is called.} (34. hxg6 {[%csl Ge6,Ge7,Ge8,Gf6,
Gf7,Gf8,Gg6,Gg7,Gg8] and Black reaches the square in time.} Ke6 35. g7 Kf7 {
I’m still up eight-thousand pawns, but it’s going to take longer to win. Can’t
have that.}) 34… Nd8 35. Bxd8 {Exchange the Knight so nothing can reach the
h-file.} Kxd8 36. h7 {The pawn will Queen and that’s the game. Looking back,
it was 7.g4 that won me this game. Sure, if you load it into a computer it
will say the game is equal, but my opponent doesnt play like a computer. He
feared the coming attack, he didn’t react properly and that lead to greater
mistake until he finally blundered a Rook. That’s the power of pressure, of
making your opponent uncomfortable and then seizing on the inevitable mistakes.
} 1-0

Conclusion

I won this game because of my opponent’s blunder.  Sure, there was some other stuff going on, various tactics and a simplification into a winning endgame, but that was secondary.  I won because I was magically up a Rook.

That’s true, but it’s also superficial.  My opponent didn’t blunder out of thin air.  He felt the pressure.  I was coming at him from move 7 on, making his life difficult.  I didn’t let him develop normally, and that caused a few mistakes and then more mistakes and then they all compounded on each other and boom, there’s the blunder.

I’m not saying you need to take huge risks or play g4 every game, but if you have the choice between a regular move and one that makes life harder for your opponent, tend towards that one.  Put pressure on your opponent, because though pressure makes diamonds, it also makes blunders.

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