Game 22: Mortsdnil-SmithyQ: An Equal Colle Endgame

Let me start by echoing a popular sentiment: I dislike playing Black against the Colle and London setups.  You know what I’m talking about: some White players play the exact same set-up every single game, getting a fairly dry, sterile position.  You know, a snoozefest.

In particular, I dislike when I get ‘tricked’ into playing d5 against said lines.  White has a normal, weakness free position, and if he doesn’t do anything silly the position will remain even, the pawn structure symmetrical and very little winning chances for the second player.  I can be against a much lower-rated player and find it hard to win just because White’s position is so solid and his play so unambitious.  I can play very well and yet never have more than a draw, and that feels like it happens far too often.

This game is a good example.  Most of the game I play very well.  I’m better out of the opening, I’m better as Queens come off and I’m better in the endgame.  The entire time, though, I have only slight winning chances, and in the end, when I might have won after my opponent slipped up, I made one imprecise move and lost all winning chances.

This is clearly the opening’s fault.  Let’s take a look.

[Event “Let’s Play!”]
[Site “Chess.com”]
[Date “2015.07.19”]
[Round “?”]
[White “Mortsdnil”]
[Black “SmithyQ”]
[Result “1/2-1/2”]
[ECO “D05”]
[WhiteElo “1675”]
[BlackElo “1804”]
[Annotator “Pettit”]
[PlyCount “124”]
[EventDate “2015.??.??”]
[TimeControl “1”]

{A near perfect example of why I hate playing agains the Colle System.} 1. d4
Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. e3 {Why did I bother studying the Nimzo-Indian? I have played
pver 100 games at chess.com, and I’ve had the Nimzo three times.} c5 4. c3 d5
5. Bd3 {There are several reasons I dislike this set-up from White. First, he
can play it against literally anything and get a decent game, and that gets
old after awhile. Second, it often leads to a sterile game that’s hard to win
as the second player. Third, literally everyone plays this or the London. Come
on, people. Don’t you know variety is the life of spices?!} Nc6 6. Nbd2 Bd6 7.
O-O O-O {Note that, in a pure chess sense, this position offers White nothing.
Most of the pieces are identically posted, and the main differences are the
Queen’s Knight … where Black is arguably better placed. This would be why
GMs don’t play the Colle.} 8. e4 {White invites immediate action in the centre,
which leads to a pretty sterile game with all central pawns exchanged.} cxd4 9.
cxd4 e5 {[%csl Gc6,Gd2] This position is amusing. Black responds in the centre
in kind, and in a near symmetrical position, the only differences are the
Knights. Black’s is definitely better placed now, and the only reason White
isn’t worse is that it is his move.} 10. exd5 Nxd5 $6 {I make two errors in
this game. This is the first, a natural move that, unfortunately, moves my
King’s only defender away. As much as I’ve been maligning White’s opening play,
it contains venom, so much so that this gives White the better game now.} (
10… Nxd4 {This move, which for some reason I didn’t even consider, is
clearly better. It makes use of my better Knight, and it leaves White with a
very weak pawn on d5 if he doesn’t exchange immediately. If he does, though,
Black will take over the initiative.} 11. Nxd4 exd4 12. Nf3 {Notice that the
position is now perfectly symmetrical, but it is BLACK’s turn to move. White
is on the back foot, if only slightly.}) 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Bxe5 {Things
look good for Black, with his two central pieces … but they are too central,
and I missed a tactic here.} 13. Qc2 (13. Bxh7+ $1 {This standard tactical
shot costs a pawn.} Kxh7 14. Qh5+ Kg8 15. Qxe5 {White is a clear pawn to the
good.}) 13… g6 {This was my main idea all along. It keeps my Bishop on the
great diagonal while also blunting White’s annoying light-square Bishop. Due
to the poor positioning of White’s Knight, his Bishop cannot get to h6 before
mine retreats to g7.} 14. Nf3 Bg7 (14… Nb4 {This move was also worthy of
attention. I didn’t consider it, though, because I rushed to save my Bishop.
That happens a lot this game, me zeroing in on move and ignoring anything else.
}) 15. Bg5 Nb4 $1 {I don’t miss it this time, and after the following forced
series of exchanges…} 16. Bxd8 Nxc2 17. Bxc2 Rxd8 {Black has the better
endgame. He has the two Bishops on an open board, and White needs to spend
time protecting his b-pawn. That said, White has no weaknesses, and this is
the type of position GMs would offer a draw without batting an eye.} 18. Rab1
Be6 19. b3 {White is also forced to put his pawns on light-squares, further
limiting his own Bishop.} Rac8 20. Be4 Rc7 (20… Bf6 {The computer suggests
this odd move, and I must admit, I struggled mightily to figure out why. The
reason is that Bxb7 isn’t a large threat, but Ng5 is annoyingm as my Bishop
doesn’t have a great square to retreat to. If Black loses the two Bishops, he
has nothing. I admit, this is a level of insight that is beyond my current
ability, and it took a lot of work to figure it out. Let’s look at a sample
line.} 21. Bxb7 {Obviously we need to see what to do if White captures.} (21.
Rfd1 {If White plays normally…} b5 22. Rbc1 Rxc1 23. Rxc1 a5 {With a similar
idea of using the pawns to force an exchange, creating a weak pawn on the
Queenside and then attacking it. Notice also White’s weak back rack, stopping
Rc5? due to Rd1 mate.}) 21… Rc2 {Of course, the counter-attack. If the
a-pawn moves (or falls), then b3 is extremely weak.} 22. a4 Rb8 23. Ba6 Rxb3 {
Black has regained material, as the much more active Rooks and is ready to aim
at a4. The position is still drawish, but Black’s Bishops give him excellent
practical chances.}) 21. Ng5 Bd5 {This natural move leads to a host of
exchanges, which isn’t necessarily bad, but when you have the better pieces
you should avoid exchanging them if possible.} (21… Bc8 $5 {This is a
fascinating try, as the Bishop is still active on its original square, and b6
could give it a new diagonal on a6 or b7. Black can easily double Rooks and
control the open file. h6 pushes the Knight back. Also, practically, the more
pieces on the board the easier it is to outplay a lower-rated opponent.}) 22.
Rbd1 Rcd7 23. Rxd5 Rxd5 24. Bxd5 Rxd5 25. Nf3 Kf8 {I make the natural move of
bringing my King out, but the computer considers this almost an inaccuracy.} (
25… Ra5 $1 26. a4 b5 {The theme I learned when studying this game with my
computer is the importance of creating weak Queenside pawns. Most of my moves
are natural, but they didn’t have a plan. I’ve mentioned how White did not
have any weaknesses, so I needed to create one.} 27. axb5 Rxb5 {[%cal Gg7a1]
My Bishop is extremely powerful, stopping any Ra1 counter-attacks on my own
pawn.} 28. Nd2 (28. Rb1 a5 {And the threat is a4, taking advantage of the pin.}
) 28… Bc3 29. Ne4 Rxb3 30. Nxc3 Rxc3 {I’ve won the pawn, and White’s
counter-attack doesn’t work.} 31. Ra1 a5 $1 32. Kf1 (32. Rxa5 $4 Rc1#) 32…
Rc5 {This position is very nearly a win for Black. Black has the ultimate
trump, an outside passed pawn. If he can get his Rook behind the pawn, it’s
almost a sure win. It’s certainly Black’s best shot.}) 26. Re1 {White tries to
stop my King.} Bc3 {So I push it away.} 27. Rc1 Ke7 {This is the move I was
counting on. The Bishop is immune due to that familar backrank mate.} 28. Kf1
Ba5 {And the second key move, stopping and Rc7 invasion ideas.} 29. Ke2 g5 {
My problem, though, is that though I’ve improved my position, I have nothing
to attack. White has no weaknesses. I thus try this g5 push, hoping to probe
on the Kingside and see what happens.} (29… b5 {is the computer suggestion,
where I would then play Bb6, a5 and try the Queenside. Black has pressure, but
there’s still not much in real winning chances.}) 30. h3 h5 31. Rc2 {My threat,
of course, was to play g4 and, once the Knight moves, play Rd2+, gaining a
pawn.} g4 32. hxg4 hxg4 33. Nh4 Kd6 34. g3 Rc5 {Trading Rooks should help me,
as it gets my King closer to the Queenside and White’s only
sorta-maybe-weakness, the pawn a2. That said, Rook and Bishop work far better
than Rook and Knight, so there’s an argument that I should have kept them on
the board.} 35. Rxc5 Kxc5 36. Ng2 Kb4 37. Ne3 b5 {Controlling c4, as otherwise
a fork ends my chances.} (37… Ka3 $2 38. Nc4+ Kb4 39. Nxa5 Kxa5 40. a3 {
and this is a draw, as my King can’t come close. White may even have some
winning chances with my advanced pawns.}) 38. Kd3 $6 {This should be the
losing move, according to the computer, as it gives me an important tempo to
attack the Kingside pawns.} ({White needed to take right away.} 38. Nxg4 Ka3
39. Ne5 f6 40. Nc6 Bb6 41. b4 $1 Kxa2 {This structure is very similar to what
we reach in the game. Material is equal, and it’s impossible to make progress
on the Queenside. If Black tries anything with a5, at the very least White can
exchange pawns, sac his Knightfor the b-pawn and then rush his King to f5 and
play g4-g5, trading off the last pawn and securing a draw by insufficient
material.}) 38… Ka3 39. Nxg4 Kxa2 40. Kc2 (40. Ne5 {We can see the
difference a single tmepo makes by looking at what happens if White tries the
same as the above variation.} Kxb3 41. Nxf7 Bb4 $1 {[%csl Rb2,Rc2,Rc3,Rc4,Rd2]
[%cal Gb4f8,Ga7a1] Material is equal, but Black is far ahead in terms of time.
The Black Bishop controls the f-file Queening square, and White can’t get
close to the a-file with either piece.} 42. Ne5 a5 43. g4 a4 44. Nc6 Bc3 $1 {
[%cal Gc6a5,Gc6b4,Gc6d4,Gc6e5,Rc3e5,Rc3a5] The Bishop restricts the Knight,
not letting it come any closer.} 45. Ne7 a3 46. Nd5 b4 {and there’s no defence
to the sime Queening threat.}) 40… Be1 {I was hoping something like this
would happen when I first played g5-g4: White’s pawns are on dark-squares, and
so my Bishop can attack them.} 41. f4 Bxg3 42. f5 $1 {An excellent move, which
I didn’t appreciate at the time. Notice how the pawn is on a light-square,
which makes it immune from my Bishop.} (42. Ne5 $6 Bxf4 43. Nxf7 a5 {Again, we
see the Bishop dominating the Knight. White’s only hope is to somehow maneuver
the Knight over and sacrifice it for the pawns, but that looks grim.} 44. Nd8
a4 45. bxa4 b4 $1 46. Nc6 b3+ 47. Kc3 Bd6 $1 {Stopping Nb4.} 48. Nd4 b2 {
And Queens.}) 42… Ka3 $6 {I’m not sure what I’m doing. For some reason, I
thought I needed to get my King to b4.} (42… a5 {is the right plan, with
similar winning ideas as the above variation. It’s more complicated, though,
because the Knight can get closer.}) 43. Nh6 f6 44. Ng4 Bh4 45. Ne3 Bf2 {
I’m too caught up thinking about Bishop v Knight to look more generally.} ({
Since I moved my King, might as well keep going.} 45… Kb4 46. Nd5+ Kc5 {
My King is back in the centre and can pressure f5 as well as escort the
Queenside pawns. Should be winning.}) 46. Nd5 {Notice how I’ve simply pushed
his Knight to a great square?} Bd4 47. Ne7 Kb4 $2 {I now throw the win away. I
thought I could trap his Knight after it captures on a2, but that was a mere
phantom.} (47… a5 {Again, the right plan is to advance the pawn post-haste.}
48. Nd5 b4 49. Nf4 a4 50. bxa4 Ka2 $1 {[%csl Gb1,Gb2,Gb3] Putting the King
back where it belongs, ready to escort the pawn the final three squares.} 51.
Ne2 {I can ignore the Bishop. It has done its duty.} (51. Nd3 b3+ 52. Kc1 b2+ {
Because I still have the f-pawn, I need not worry about White sacing his
Knight.} 53. Nxb2 Bxb2+ 54. Kc2 Be5 55. a5 Bb8 {The Bishop controls the
Queening square.} 56. Kc3 Ka3 57. Kc4 Ka4 {Once White’s a-pawn falls, I can
protect the f-pawn and win.} 58. a6 (58. Kd5 Kxa5 59. Ke6 Be5 {The Bishop is
in time!}) 58… Ka5 59. a7 {Trying to distract the Bishop, but White is a
tempo too short.} Bxa7 60. Kd5 Kb4 61. Ke6 Bd4 {and again it’s a simple task
of bringing my King close, winning the f-pawn and then the game.}) 51… b3+
52. Kd2 b2) 48. Nc6+ Kc5 49. Nxa7 Kb6 50. Nc8+ Kc6 51. Ne7+ {The Knight chases
me around, or am I chasing it? It’s hard to say.} Kd6 52. Ng6 $1 {[%csl Ge5,
Ge6,Ge7][%cal Gc2d3,Gd3e4] White has a fortress here. His Knight and pawn stop
my approach, and a King on d3 controls e4, completely sealing teh Kingside.
With both White pawns on light-squares, my Bishop can’t attack anything.} Be5
53. Kd3 Kd5 54. Nf8 Bd6 55. Ng6 Bb4 56. Ke3 Bc5+ 57. Kd3 {I’m trying some
moves, almost random, seeing if White will make a mistake, but he holds his
fortress.} Bd6 58. Ke3 Kc5 59. Kd3 Kb4 60. Kc2 {If the pawns were one rank
farther apart, I might be able to get the King stretched too thin. As it is,
he can effortlessly control both b3 and e4 from c2 and d3, respectively, and I
have nothing.} Bc5 61. Nf4 Bd4 62. Nd3+ Ka3 {We agreed to a draw here, which
is only fitting. I like to think I played well, and I did, but I was unable to
convert on what little mistakes my opponent made, whereas he pounced on my
mistakes to secure the draw. A fair result.} 1/2-1/2

Conclusions

First off, credit where credit is due: my opponent played extremely well.  A few months after this game I was over 2000 rating, but he kept pace with me the entire time.  Kudos.

That said, a large part of that was because of the opening.  It is hard to win symmetrical pawn structures with no weaknesses.  From move 15 till 35, I played near perfectly, with the computer only offering one real improvement of note.  Imagine that, near perfect, and yet I was still looking a draw in the face.  That’s frustrating, and one reason I dislike playing the Colle so much.

All the same, as much as I want to blame the opening, I could have won this game.  Moreover, I consider myself a positional player, someone who does well in simple, quiet positions.  A Canadian Karpov, if you will.  Would Karpov have won this game?  Without a doubt.  I should thus not complain, double-down and work harder to achieve my ideal.

… I just wish every other White player didn’t play these set-ups every single game …

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