Monday, 22 December 2014

Sacrifice

Here is the game played on Board 1 in the recent Colchester A v Wethersfield match. An interesting (though, according to the computer, dubious) sacrifice by Black on move 19 leads to a complicated game that White fails to find the right path through. Annotations by the winner.

[Event "NECL Plate 2014/15"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.12.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Van Poucke, Stefaan"] [Black "Stemp, Matt"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [Annotator "Stemp, Matt"] [PlyCount "120"] [WhiteTeam "Colchester A"] [BlackTeam "Wethersfield"] {Here’s an interesting game I played in the recent match between Colchester A and Wethersfield. I’m playing black; watch out for a couple of unnecessary mistakes I make in the middle!} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 {An unusual move that leads to easy equality for Black, who can now treat the game as a reversed Queen’s Gambit Declined.} Bf5 4. e3 e6 5. Be2 c5 6. O-O Nc6 7. a3 {Unnecessarily losing time, as Nb4 is not a threat. White should really seek to play c4 at the first opportunity to make sense of b3.} Bd6 8. Bb2 cxd4 9. exd4 {This exchange provides an edge for Black due to the misplaced bishop on b2.} O-O 10. Nh4 Be4 11. Nd2 Qc7 12. h3 Rac8 13. Rc1 {This was the last opportunity for White to play c4, as the pawns on the queenside are now becoming a liability.} Qe7 14. b4 {Ra1 was better, maintaining a more flexible pawn structure, though understandably White does not want to concede that Rc1 was inaccurate.} Bf4 15. Nhf3 Bg6 16. g3 Bh6 17. Ra1 Rfd8 18. Nh4 {After some piece-shuffling Black has emerged from the opening with a decent advantage. However, Black now attempts to force the issue…} Bxc2 $6 {A tempting move given the positions of Black’s rook on c8 and knight on c6, together with White’s awkwardly placed minor pieces on the 2nd rank and weak queenside. But Black has miscalculated…} 19. Qxc2 Nxd4 20. Qd1 {20. Qd3 is equivalent} Nxe2+ $2 (20... Rc2 {is better, after which Black can claim compensation after} 21. Bxd4 Rxd2 22. Bxf6 Qxf6 23. Qe1 Rc8 {However, 20...Nxe2 was based on a poor evaluation of the next move.}) 21. Qxe2 Rc2 $4 ({Instead, Black does better to bail out with} 21... Bxd2 22. Qxd2 Ne4 {and attempt to draw. Fortunately, White misses the winning move.}) 22. Bxf6 $2 (22. Nf5 {forking the queen and bishop is simply winning for White, though easy to miss because of the pinned e6 pawn.}) 22... Qxf6 23. Rad1 Qb2 24. Nhf3 {Black has (somehow) come out well, tying up White’s pieces with better piece activity. However, rather than the simple Qxa3 with three pawns for the piece, Black wants more… } e5 $2 25. Qxe5 $2 {Black once again relies upon White missing the key move. 25. Qd3! is significantly better for White, if not winning, as e4 is simply met by 26. Nxe4, due to the loose rook on d8.} Qxe5 26. Nxe5 Bxd2 {Black enters the endgame a pawn up with strong winning chances.} 27. Nd3 g6 28. Nc5 b6 29. Nb3 Bc3 30. Rd3 Bb2 31. a4 {Nd4 offered better chances to hold, forcing – at some point – a trade of knight for bishop. Now White’s pawns are weak, and with the passed d-pawn Black should be able to grind out a victory.} Rc4 32. Rb1 Bf6 33. Nd2 Rc3 34. Rb3 Rxd3 35. Rxd3 Kf8 36. Kf1 Ke7 37. Ke2 Ke6 38. Re3+ Kd6 39. Rd3 Re8+ 40. Kd1 d4 {Black could have advanced this pawn much earlier (e.g. move 27)} 41. f3 $2 {A move that significantly weakens White’s position, making Black’s job much easier; Rf3 offered more hope.} Kd5 42. Kc2 Be5 {Re1 is also strong, if not stronger.} 43. Nb3 Rc8+ 44. Kd2 Rc4 45. f4 Bg7 {Bd6 is perhaps better, but Black wants to keep constant control of d4.} 46. a5 Rxb4 47. axb6 axb6 48. Ke2 f5 49. Kd2 Ra4 {A simple manoeuvre that further activates the rook.} 50. Nc1 Kc4 51. Kc2 Ra1 {White’s pieces are now completely tied up.} 52. Rd1 d3+ $1 {A nice move to secure the win. Neither piece can take the pawn because of the overloaded king.} 53. Nxd3 Rxd1 {Note that the bishop covers the b2 square against the knight.} 54. Ne5+ Bxe5 55. Kxd1 Bd4 56. Kc2 b5 57. g4 b4 58. gxf5 b3+ 59. Kb1 gxf5 60. h4 h5 {Overall, not a bad game. After a well-played opening, the Bxc2 sacrifice, while objectively not great, offered some serious initiative that led to a winning endgame. However, patience is key! Sometimes the simpler move is the wiser move, maintaining advantages rather than seeking for more than the position offers. While flashy moves can feel good to play, putting your opponent in the hot seat and often providing good practical chances, they are rarely the best moves on the board. In the middlegame especially, it is normally a better strategy to calmly improve your position and wait for better opportunities to capitalise. But then, who can refuse playing a sacrifice!} 0-1

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