3Q in action

Black to play – …Qe7 or …Qe5?

A while ago I looked at one of Ray’s games as a part of this Monday training tips thing. My opinion was quite different than his was on what had gone wrong in his games. Now Ray had sent a good game he played recently, where he was looking more at the basics than before. And with the basics I am really talking about the three questions, as represented in Positional Play:

•    Where are the weaknesses
•    What is my opponent’s idea
•    Which is the worst placed piece

There is a longer explanation in that book and will be one again in Thinking inside the Box, but I want to just briefly go through the ideas here.

Where are the weaknesses?

Almost all games are decided by defeating the opponent on his weak squares. If you attack a strong square, it will be a division to get to a weak square. I am sure that there are exceptions; but they are few. To know the points of attack is always useful.

Obviously, this can also lead to deeper thinking about creating weaknesses as well; and beyond.

What is my opponent’s idea?

Your opponent has as much action as you have; if you do not take what he is doing into account, you are toast. Many times when you do not know what to do in a position; relating to the opponent’s ideas is a good way to play.

Which is the worst placed piece?

Your pieces should play together as a team. I have written an article for the next issue of New in Chess based on this metaphor. Check it out of it your have the chance. But essentially; your position are never improved as much as it is when you manage to make all your pieces have a function.

A training method?

I have said this at least 500 times: “This is a training method. I do not recommend that you sit and ask yourself these questions over the board continuously.” My idea was always that this should be a way to train your subconscious to focus on these vital parts of the position at all times, so you do not have to.

But then I had a conversation with Sabino Brunello at the London Classic last year. He said that whenever he is in bad shape, he uses it all the time, during the games. So, when a 2600 player thinks that it is a useful thing to do during the game, who am I to argue (top rating 2542).

Ray’s game in Ray’s words

N.N. (2028) – Ray (2195)
Slav exchange 08.02.2014

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Bf4 Nc6 5.e3 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bf5 7.Qb3 Na5 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qc2 Rc8 10.Bd3 e6 11.Nf3 Bb4
Going for development and a potential weakness on c3
12.0–0 h6
Prophylaxis -aimed against Bg5
13.Ne5 0–0 14.h3 Qe7 15.Bg3 Nc4
Trying to infuse some unbalance in the game
16.Bxc4 dxc4 17.Bh4 g5 18.Bg3 Bc6 19.Nxc6 Rxc6

20.e4 is better. My computer gives advantage for white.
20…Nd7 21.Ne4
Sacrificing a pawn for dubious attacking chances. 21.Bh2 is better.
21…f5 22.Ng3 Nxe5 23.dxe5 Qc5 24.Rad1 Qxe5 25.Rd7 Rf7 26.Rfd1 Bd6 27.Rd8+ Kh7 28.Qe2

I was happy with this prophylactic move (remembering Jacob’s advice to look at the opponent’s threats), but my computer thinks now white is slightly better after 29.R8d7.
28…Re7 is best and maintains black’s advantage, according to Hiarcs.
A bad move, white has no threats and can only use the square h5 with one piece, so the knight has nothing to do.
29…Rcc7 30.R1d4 Qf6 31.Qd1 b5
After a few more consolidating moves it’s time for activity!
32.Rb8 b4 33.Nh5 Qe7 34.Rd2 c3 35.bxc3 bxc3 36.Rc2 Qd6 37.Qc1 Qa3 38.Qb1 Bd6

We both had a minute or so left here, so I’m rather satisfied I played good moves in this phase (in line with my computer’s first or second moves)
39.Rb3 Qc5
Played with 30 seconds left on the clock. I hadn’t seen white’s next to be honest, but it turns out I have a very nice reply, which I saw while my opponent was thinking about his next move.
40.Rbxc3 Qe5
I made it to the time control and am now clearly winning.
41.Qc1 Qh2+ 42.Kf1 Rxc3 43.Rxc3 Qh1+ 44.Ke2 Qxg2 45.Rc6

45…Be5 is given by my computer with an evaluation of -5. But my move is also winning of course.
46.Rxd6 Qxh5+ 47.Kd2 Qf3 48.Qf1 Rc7 49.Rd8 g4 50.Qg1 Rb7 51.Qg3 Qe4 52.Rb8 Rd7+ 53.Kc1 Qc4+ 54.Kb2 Rd2+
and white resigned. I was happy with my last 10 moves – I stayed focussed and concentrated and didn’t give white any counter chances, by keeping my Queen on f3.

A few comments

If I was Ray’s trainer, I would probably have emphasised a few different moments. So, let’s for fun imagine that I had 15 minutes to discuss the game with Ray; how would I approach it?

First of all, I would ask a lot of questions. There is no reason to give recommendations that are too far from what actually happened in the heads of the players. What I would want to achieve as a trainer is for the student to implement better practices at the level where he is at. This is why the computer can be entirely misleading.

For example: we could have spent a good deal of time trying to work out why 20.e4 should give White an advantage, which could be quite interesting, though I would not start there (see below). But it is entirely redundant to spend time on 45…Be5. Who cares about a swing from -3.5 to -5.5?

I also would not have granted White the benefit of the doubt on move 21. This was not a pawn sacrifice; he simply blundered 21…f5!, which is where the game turned. To me it is quite important that my students realise when they have a chance to take the advantage – and use it!

I would probably have emphasised on subtler points.

The position after 15.Bg3! is the first one that caught my attention.

White plays this little move with the idea of Bh4, to provoke a weakening of the black kingside. I personally would feel quite unhappy allowing this, as Ray did in the game.
Instead I would have gone for 15…Bxc3 16.bxc3 Qa3 17.Rfc1 Ba4 18.Qd2 Nd7 and Black has counterplay down the c-file. I would be a bit worried that I had left my king too bare, but overall I would hope the position was tenable.

This also leads us to why 20.e4! is a big improvement. If you try the natural exploitation of the …g5-weakening 20.f4!?, you will find that Black stays in the game with 20…Nh5 21.Bh2 f5!.

I still prefer White after the bizarre computer idea 22.fxg5 hxg5 23.Nb5!? a6 24.Na7!

24…Rc7 25.Bxc7 Qxc7 26.Rfc1 b5 27.a4 Qxa7 28.axb5 a5 29.Qxc4 and White is a bit better in a very complex position. But all of this is obvious computer nonsense; it would take us half an hour on the clock to play like this in a game; and we would not feel any certainty on the way.

Looking at Ray’s prophylactic 28…Bf8, we can see that it does not really work. It was more the idea of prophylaxis than the actual move that worked. This is the way it goes when you try something new; in the beginning it is not 100% natural to use.

Looking at this position we can see that the weaknesses are c4 and notably b7, f7 and h7. And indeed; White equalises with 29.Rd7 (either!) Rf7 30.Rxf7+ Rxf7 31.Qxc4 and the lost pawn has been regained. I do not see why White should be better; but if Ray’s computer says so :-).

There is a more complicated, but quite interesting choice later on. I think Ray must have been running out of time here, making it hard to make the choice on anything else than guessing. This is also our starting position of this article.

Black has an extra pawn and should win; but let’s call it a fight for now. We would of course like to have a lot of time to make such a decision; but should we make it intuitively, I would hope that I personally would gravitate towards putting the queen on the more centralized square e5.
But let us try to make a 3Q analysis on the position.

White is struggling with our extra passed pawn.
Our only serious weakness is the king.

Opponent’s idea
Rdd8 to put pressure on the kingside and maybe to get behind our pawn.

Worst placed piece
Obviously the queen!
For White it is probably the rook on d4, which has no function anymore.

This might not give us a lot of information, but it does help us a little bit. The most important is of course that our queen is hanging, which is pretty bad placement. But it does not make us much wiser. I am also not sure that pushing the c-pawn is an idea we would not have had without this analysis.

But I am less sure if we would have worked out that this position is an exercise in comparison, based on evaluating the consequences after 34.Rdd8 without going through this simple line of thoughts?!

Let us start with looking at 33…Qe7 34.Rdd8,
1R1R1b2/p1r1qr1k/4p2p/5ppN/1pp5/4P2P/PP3PP1/3Q2K1 b – – 0 34
when our main idea should be 34…c3 35.bxc3 bxc3 We are threatening to push the pawn so White has no choice but to block it. 36.Qc2

But what now? There are no obvious choices. White is quite active, even if he is threatening nothing. And Black does not have an immediate way to prove a serious advantage. For example; 36…Rd7 is quite well met with 37.Rdc8! where the white rook has seriously improved as White’s best piece.

But this is comparison. Let us see how the same line works with the queen on e5. Yes, we are not defending the bishop on f8, but the beauty with chess is that you cannot squeeze any random logic down its throat.

33…Qe5 34.Rdd8 c3 35.bxc3 bxc3

a) 36.Qc2 Qe4! puts White under pressure, forcing him to retreat with 37.Rd3, where we have retained control. (Notice that 37…Qxd3 38.Qxd3 c2 39.Rb1! is not so clear; but also unnecessary).

b) But obviously there is a forced line that has to be calculated: 36.Rxf8 Rxf8 37.Rxf8 c2 38.Qc1 Qd6! a strong double threat. 39.Rf7+!? Desperation; but we are not biting! 39…Kg6! 40.Rxc7 Qd1+

Black wins.

The last moment I want to look at is less critical. Black is winning in a lot of ways, but keeping control could be a useful thing.

Here Ray played 37…Qa3 38.Qb1 Bd6 39.Rb3 Qc5 in time trouble.

White now missed a chance to play 40.Rcxc3! with some chances to save the game. The key idea is that the rook from b3 defends e3, so White has f2-f4 to defend against mate. He still ends a pawn down, but this is the way we save bad positions: with good moves!

Instead I think Ray should have focused on getting his pieces into play. The rook on f7 has only one serious function; preventing a check on f6. Or in other words; the desired …Rfd7 would be a blunder.

Thus I would suggest 37…Kg6! as an improvement. The black king is happier just behind the pawns anyway (as we know from the Botvinnik) and with a gain of tempo, we prevent Nf6+. The knight needs to return, as after the logical looking 38.g4

Black can not only play my intended …Rfd7, but also 38…fxg4! 39.hxg4 Rc4! with a double threat against g4 and b8.

8 thoughts on “3Q in action”

  1. Wow, thanks a lot – this is really deep and learningful to see how the three questions can be used! I thought I played reasonably well, but apparently I still have a lot to learn :-). Two remarks: indeed I (as well as my opponent) was seriously running out of time, but in all fairness I doubt whether I would have seen your lines with more time. E.g., only now I see that Rb8 is hanging in your last diagram… Secondly, my opponent said after the game that he deliberately sacrificed a pawn on his 21st move, but of course in eality it’s a blunder :-). At least I had a lot of fun in an exchange Slav!

    PS: I’m currently working on the chapter on weaknesses in Positional Play, and I’m already starting to appreciate the importance of weaknesses. I’m rather (over)optimistic by nature, but by focussing more on (avoiding) weaknesses I could have seen 15…Bxc3.

  2. It was my pleasure. I hope other readers found this useful as well, though people generally do not comment on chess content here on the blog :-).

  3. @Jacob Aagaard
    No, I’ve noticed too – probably it’s much easier to contribute to a discussion on who should have been present at the Candidates Tournament or what consitutes gentlemanly behaviour 🙂

  4. I found this extremely useful, thank you. I tend to hyper focus on my own strategic ideas and fail to pause and consider weaknesses, and sometime threats. I like your views on pedagogy too—it is very wise to begin the teaching from within the thoughts of the player being helped and not from some idealized starting point perhaps beyond the reach of the player in question.

  5. I can only agree with TD, as I’m also going through Positionnal Play, just like Ray. I do find this content very enjoyable and close to the things I struggle with (especially the comparison part). Keep up the great work 🙂 !

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