A Planning Challenge
With my usual arrogance, I was offering Charlie some notes on a game, and he remarked afterwards:
"The move I sweated over for so long, you passed over without comment, as though it was the most natural move in the game!"
What would you have played? Make your mind up (that is,
write it down) before reading on!
White to move
Exeter vs. Met. Office
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c3 Nf6 4. d3 g6 5. Be2
(White to move) ... 1-0 (42)1-0 OK, so, how do you go about making a decision like this? We haven't followed Charlie's thought processes move by move, so we need to warm up a little, get ourselves into the game... A quick once-over the available tactical ideas tells us that the position cannot be 'solved' by a combination, so we have to see what is our proper strategy here.
Jeremy Silman talks about a pawn-pointing rule, saying you should look to expand or attack on the side where your pawns are pointing. I don't think pawns always point quite so obviously as this suggests, nor is it a rule that cannot be broken, but if you are stuck it will give you a shove in the right direction.
Charlie's game, for example, seems a very good example of the
pawn-pointing rule. White's pawn chain c3-d3-e4 points forward
King's-side, and Black's e7-d6-d5 chain points to the
This is quite clear and also rather cheering, for it seems that Black's
earlier manoeuvring on the Queen's-side has resulted only in a weak
square on b5, which is occupied by the piece which benefits most from
such outposts, the Knight. So,
So, to play on the King's-side... White can try to attack mainly with pieces with moves like Qd2 or moving both Bishops (er, somewhere) and playing Re1-e3-g3 and maybe (groan) Na3-b1-d2-f1-h2-g4... I can't see that going anywhere at all, certainly not at that speed. Imagine putting those pieces there now, what threats would White have, even if Black did nothing for 10 moves? However, there is a familiar plan here of playing f2-f4-f5 and opening a King's-side file, where Black has less space. So, f4 seems a very natural, even an obvious choice.
The trouble with the march of the f-pawn is that White's
pieces don't fit in with that right now. I would rather prefer
the Re1 to be on f1, and the Be2 to be on d3, and the Nb5 to be on g3,
to lend their weight to a discussion of the f-file. So, pointing
pawns notwithstanding, I wouldn't be pushing the f-pawn to f5.
Let's see if we can go through this from scratch. First, make a quick comparison of the two positions: compare pairs of pieces, see which one is better. Then have a go at the pawn structures, what are they telling us?
Both Kings are castled and secure. The positions of the
equivalent, centralised and poised but not yet active. White's
are on good squares but on closed files; so that's our first hint,
White's Rooks will need an open or half-open file to work on before
long. Black's Rooks on the 'bishop' files are not badly placed
but I don't know what Black is planning to do in order to open a file
(the c-pawn cannot be moved and perhaps the f-pawn should not
be). And the minor pieces: White's good Knight and Black's good
Bishop are very much more active than the rest, which look rather tame
at the moment. If the position opens up, White's Bishop pair will
enjoy life much better.
If we want to (half-)open a file, where can White look?
advanced a- and c-pawns allow White to lever open either the b-file or
the d-file by advancing and exchanging the pawn on those files; Black,
faced with b2-b4 or d3-d4 may choose to (half-)open the a-file or the
c-file by exchanging his pawns on those files instead. All
Queen's-side files, I note. Now, at the moment, most of Black's
look well-placed to take advantage of open lines on the Queen's-side:
they're either on that side or pointing that way. Nonetheless, I
can imagine someone pointing to the weakness of b5 and that handsome
knight, and declare, White should be attacking on the
Queen's-side. There are prospects there, I expect, but I can't
see it happening very quickly. I'd want to get the Be2 into the
weak light squares, maybe the Queen... I have a feeling that by the
time I'd arranged all my pieces for attack (Rb1 Bf3 Qc2-c4 maybe) Black
would have re-arranged their pieces for defence (...Nc7 threatening to
exchange on d4 is one immediate idea). Hmm, Na3-c4 and b2-b4
might make the backward b6-pawn feel sorry for itself... OK, let's not
forget all those ideas, but nothing there is compelling.
Well, if neither side is quite appealing, White can turn to
the centre. The 'crouching' white central pawns do suggest a
central expansion with d3-d4. That immediately gives a sniff of
the wild to three of the currently tame White pieces, namely, the Rooks
and the Be2, all of whom suddenly have new prospects. An argument
against d4, of course, is that Black has sensibly parked a Rook on the
same file as the White Queen, so that after d3-d4, ...c5xd4, the white
c-pawn is pinned against the Queen... Currently, White still has three
other units covering d4, so d3-d4 doesn't lose anything, but it would
be nice to threaten to take over the centre by d3-d4 and be able to
recapture c3xd4 with two pawns abreast. Having had this idea, I
can see that I can get the white Queen off the c-file with gain of
tempo:Qd2 forces some sort of response from Black, like Kh7, when most
of our earlier options are still available. After which, I think
taking space in the centre with d4 seems very logical. I also
think that is White's best short-term goal; long-term, it is hard to
tell what a general space advantage can lead to, but this push seems to
put pressure on Black's game and gives a definite (modest) advantage to
White. Medium-term... well, I can imagine playing d4-d5 (again
with tempo) squashing Black even more; I can imagine playing e4-e5,
opening lines in the centre... Just at the moment, White doesn't have
enough covering e5 to make that much of a threat, but Bf4 or f2-f4
would definitely make it a contender.
Charlie's actual move was f4. So far, I've listed two
separate if not overwhelming reasons for this move: to open a file with
f4-f5, and to support a pawn advance after d3-d4 and e4-e5.
Having thought of playing it, I can see another virtue in the move:
parking that fidgety light-squared Bishop on f3, waiting for the
liberating e4-e5. This is the Bishop without an opposite number
on the Black side, it's the Bishop which make use of the weakened light
squares on Black's Queen's-side... so it should be doing more in life
than getting in the way of the Rooks!
Overall, then, 22.f2-f4
was probably worth more comment than I gave it, but it was plausible,
unobjectionable and had more than one point... And there were more
important things to mention! If you fancy a go yourselves, what
would you comment on this whole game? I'll show you what I sent
Charlie in a week or two.
22.f4 Nc7 23.d4 cxd4 24.Nxd4 Nde6 25.e5 Nd5 26.Qe4 Nxe3 27.Qxe3 Qxa4 28.Bb5 Qa2 29.exd6 exd6 30.Nxe6 fxe6 31.Bd7 Qxb2 32.Qxe6+ Kh8 33.Bxc8 Qxc3 34.Bb7 Qc5+ 35.Kh1 Rxf4 36.Rc1 Qb5 37.Qxg6 Rf6 38.Re8+ Rf8 39.Rxf8+ Bxf8 40.Be4 Qd7 41.Rc8 Qxc8 42.Qh7# 1-0
[C] Charlie's notes. My notes
on Charlie's game
Just to complete the story; were they anything like yours?
Complete game without notes for you to annotate:
Complete game with notes for you to compare: