Game 18: SmithyQ-ThoniMarv: The Squeeze

If you ask most players their favourite way to win, most would respond with tactics and sacrifices, something like a mythical Queen sacrifice that leads to a brilliant forced mate.  To play like Morphy, art on the chess board.  I won’t lie, I’m one of those people … but a close second is what I call the python, where you suffocate your opponent to death, where they simply have no moves left.  Sometimes, this can be even more beautiful than a dashing sacrifice, or at least I think so.

Normally, such a python strategy happens when one side has a lack of space, and then they get slowly squeezed to death.  This game is odd in that it quickly opens up, both sides flying across the board … and yet, suddenly Black finds himself with no play, nothing to do and no hope of getting out.  The python had him firm, and the result may be my favourite game of 2015.

Let’s take a look.

[Event “Open Challenge CANADA. – Board 27”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.05.03”]
[Round “?”]
[White “SmithyQ”]
[Black “ThoniMarv”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “B13”]
[WhiteElo “1764”]
[BlackElo “1702”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “61”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{A back and forth game that features one of my favourite final positions.} 1.
e4 c6 2. d4 d5 {The Caro-Kann is one of my least favourite openings. I never
knew how to play against it as White, so I played it as Black for a while,
hoping to get some new ideas … and I found a lot of nothing, just players
making natural moves and White getting no advantage. Great.} 3. exd5 (3. Nc3
dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Bd3 Bxd3 8. Qxd3 Nf6 {This is the
mainline, where White gets a nice space advantage but no targets to attack,
and things just seem really dull. Only the Caro-Kann could have an early
h4-push and seem dull.}) 3… cxd5 4. c4 {This appears to be the best way to
test Black, as the positions aren’t ‘normal’ Caro-Kann, and it’s much easier
for Black to make a mistake.} Nf6 5. Nc3 Bg4 $2 {Case in point, this normally
natural move simply loses a pawn. Black needs to play Nc6 or e6 first.} 6. Qb3
{[%cal Gc4d5,Gb3b7]} dxc4 $6 {From bad to worse, letting me develop with tempo.
} 7. Bxc4 e6 8. Qxb7 Nbd7 9. Bf4 {[%cal Gf4b8,Ga8b8] The most accurate move.
This develops a piece, always good, and it stops Rb8 from hitting my Queen.}
Rc8 {Black attacks White’s Bishop. He has two good moves and a whole bunch of
bad ones. Retreating is never good, so don’t move the Bishop back. Something
like b3 is a pure defensive move, and pure defense is almost always bad. I
want to keep the pressure on Black, to make him react. Bb5 with a pin is nice,
but the most accurate move is an attacking move.} 10. Ba6 $1 Nb6 11. Qxa7 {
I’ve now won a second pawn, and an early victory should be in sight.} Ra8 12.
Bb5+ {Again, an attacking move.} Nbd7 13. Qc7 $6 {This is my first inaccuracy.
Up until now I’ve played perfect, so says the computer. This move makes sense,
as I’m up two pawns and want to trade Queens to win in the endgame. It seems
perfect, but it gives Black a surprising amount of activity, which I did not
consider.} (13. Qb7 {Instead of thinking of immediately trading, I should have
thought to keep the pressure on. It’s very hard for Black to find a move here.
Every active move loses instantly, so Black has to keep passive. I can then
finish development, castle and THEN trade Queens. Here’s a few ways Black
could blunder rather easily.} Nd5 (13… Bb4 14. Bxd7+ Nxd7 15. Qxb4) 14. Bxd7+
Qxd7 15. Qxa8+) 13… Qxc7 14. Bxc7 Bb4 {You’ll notice in the 13.Qb7 variation,
this move was impossible. I completely under-estimated the power of this
Bishop. Black threatens Rc8 and then capturing on c3, winning a pawn.} 15. f3 {
The best way to keep material. The Bishop will move, I’ll play Ne2 and
everything is protected.} (15. Nge2 {Playing Ne2 first will lose a pawn.} Rc8
16. Be5 Bxe2 17. Kxe2 Bxc3 18. bxc3 Rxc3 {Black has won a pawn … but at the
same time, he faces a very difficult endgame, with a passed a-pawn, two
Bishops and the much more active White army. Black almost certainly doesn’t
hold this.}) 15… Rc8 {I have to give credit to my opponent. In a position
where Black could seemingly resign at any time, he found the best moves, and
here I only have one move that keeps the advantage.} 16. Bg3 {This is not that
move. I completely missed Black’s possibility.} (16. Be5 {This move, keeping
the Bishop active, is best, as it covers the d-pawn. We’ll see why that is
important in a second.}) 16… Rxc3 $1 {A fantastic tactic that completely
evens up the game.} 17. bxc3 Bxc3+ 18. Ke2 Bxa1 19. fxg4 {Black is about to
win back his choice of pawn, with equal material. White has a slightly better
position, but considering I was up two pawns not even ten moves ago, that’s
unacceptable. Let this be yet another example how openings don’t matter at the
amateur level.} Nxg4 $2 {Oh, Black! You had just won back a near equal
position, you played brilliantly, and then you do this, taking the wrong pawn!
This is wrong for several reasons: the g-pawn was doubled and thus weaker than
the d-pawn, so leave it; the Knight on d7 is now hanging if Black tries to
castle; the Bishop on a1 has very few squares and can easily be attacked;
Black’s forces are un-coordinated. Believe it or not, but after this one move
I’m winning!} (19… Bxd4 {This was the only move, keeping Black’s
coordination.} 20. Nf3 Bc5 21. Rc1 {[%cal Gb5d7,Gc1c5] White has pressure here,
and the outside passed a-pawn means only White has winning chances in this
endgame, but it’s far from a slam dunk. Compare that to the game.}) 20. Nf3 {
[%cal Gf3d4,Gh1a1] The Knight develops with tempo, also protecting the d-pawn.}
Bb2 {The Bishop goes to a much worse square than in the above variation.} 21.
Bd6 $1 {[%cal Gb5e8,Gd6f8] And now my Bishop slams the door shut. Black can’t
castle … or really do anything. Seriously, find a move for Black? It’s
basically zugzwang.} Kd8 {He tries to break the pin, which is as good as
anything.} 22. Rb1 Bc3 23. Rc1 {My Rook now seizes control of the c-file with
tempo.} (23. Ba4 {Though I played well, the computer says this is even
stronger. The Nd7 is now anchored to the defence of b8, as I threaten mate.
There is no defence to the simple threats of Ne5 or Rb7.} Ngf6 (23… f6 {
Trying to stop Ne5.} 24. Rb7 {and now the Knight is lost or it’s mate on b8.})
24. Ne5 {[%cal Ge5f7,Ge5d7] Threatening both f7 with a fork and removing the
defender of b8.}) 23… Ba5 24. Ba6 {The threat is Rc8 mate.} Ke8 {Black keeps
material but loses his King.} (24… Nb6 {I thought this was the most testing,
and it forces me to find one more good move.} 25. Ba3 $1 (25. Rc5 $2 {the
immediate Rc5 allows} Bb4) 25… Re8 26. Rc5 {and I win the wayward Bishop.})
25. Rc8+ Bd8 26. Bb5 {Black has kept equal material, but has perhaps the worst
position ever. His Bishop is pinned, his Knight is pinned, his King has no
legal moves, his Rook is stuck in the corner. Black has one piece that can do
anything … but he can’t, as moving the Knight allows Ne5 and that’s game.
Middlegame zugzwang.} h6 27. a4 {Black’s position is so terrible that he
cannot stop the simple idea of advancing this pawn and Queening. I half hoped
that Black would simply resign after this move, because that seemed poetically
fitting. Instead, we get an artistic mate, so I guess I can’t complain.} h5 28.
h3 Ngf6 29. Ne5 {Utter domination. Wow.} g5 30. Nc6 Nd5 31. Rxd8# {What a
pretty final position. The real beauty, though, was in how Black got
completely tied up. One of my favourite games.} 1-0

Conclusions

First, let this be exhibit six-thousand that openings don’t matter at the amateur level.  Heck, Black fell into a simple trap, and yet not even ten moves later he manages to find a pretty awesome combo.  I didn’t win in the opening, and he didn’t lose in the opening.  It all centered around the middlegame.

If we want to figure out why the squeeze happened, how the python got entangled, it starts with time.  Specifically, when Black played Nxg4, he allowed me to bring my Knight and Rook into the game with tempo, and then I transitioned the Rook to a prime invasion square again with tempo.

Second, Black had a key weakness, his King stuck in the centre.  This meant he couldn’t get the Rook into the game, and so he was effectively playing without a piece.  I used my time to exploit that weakness, and soon his whole army was tied up, encircled, pinned.  Black was effectively playing without any pieces by the end!

When I realized Black was defenceless after I played a4, to me, that was pure heaven.  That was ecstasy.  That was the highest art.  It was like Sun Tzu, subduing the enemy without raising a sword.  I didn’t need a sword, merely the pin, and the python did the rest.

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