Black Takes Control of the Dark Squares by Grabbing the Bishop Pair

In the final round of my most recent tournament, I was scheduled to play Black against a particular opponent whom I have faced several times before. Because I had lost one game so far, I had to win this game to have any chance at catching the leaders in the tournament and winning it. So I thought about a plan to play hard for a win as Black.

I knew one thing almost for certain: my opponent as White always plays a solid Torre-style opening system involving the moves d4, c3, Bg5, Nd2. Also, I knew him to happily give up his dark-squared Bishop early for the sake of quick development. Given this knowledge, inspired by a recent Chess Improver post about the art of chess, I aimed to create a personal masterpiece on the chess board, with the knowledge that “you have to willing to accept the consequences of taking a chance”.

The battle of chess ideas

I decided to deliberately engage in a “battle of chess ideas” as Black for this game, investing valuable development time to gain the Bishop pair in hope of consolidating and achieving a good late middlegame or endgame, using my unopposed dark-squared Bishop to press on White’s dark-squared Pawn chain.

I attacked White’s Bishop with my h-Pawn on move 4, planning to eliminate it, and White obliged. On move 8, because White did not take the opportunity to maintain a Pawn center, the game was in no risk of being opened up, so I also invested valuable time in playing g6 (instead of developing immediately with Be7) in order to maximize the scope of my dark-squared Bishop.

Because of White’s slightly passive development, I ended up a bit impatient at move 11. My safest course was to complete development first, and then start applying pressure to White’s center, but I chose to open things up before actually completing development (of my light-squared Bishop). After some passive moves by White, I achieved a slightly advantageous position with all my main pieces developed, and my Rooks ready to be developed on the open d and e files also. I considered my opening experiment a success, although the cost of opening up the center was that the resulting symmetrical Pawn structure meant that most likely there would be a long struggle to try to win an endgame by applying more pressure on the Queen side to win a Pawn or something.

In fact, after several more moves of mutual maneuvering, my opponent blundered on move 25, resulting in forced loss of material.

A bad practical decision

Unfortunately, I made what was a bad practical decision. I was starting to get tired, but instead of playing safely, I got a bit ambitious, trying for a bigger win of material than the simple one of winning a Queen for a Rook and Bishop; if I had gone for that situation instead, I could have played effortlessly “for two results”: there was no way I could lose, and defense was surely impossible. But I thought that I would “wait” for an even better moment to take advantage of White’s self-pin.

It turned out that in fact, White played another blunder, allowing me to win an exchange and more on the Queen side, just as I had hoped. At this point, the game should have been nearly over.

Swindled!

Unfortunately, while on the verge of winning, just a few moves away from promoting a Pawn, while nervous about time getting a little low on the clock (but objectively, not that low: 10 minutes left of my original 120 minutes), I blundered repeatedly and ended up losing. It was arguably one of the most horrific losses in my chess life, in a very important game. But what can I say, I got swindled, and with a passed c-Pawn, ironically, the same Pawn that as White I had swindled a win in my previous round’s game, so there is justice in the chess universe.

I was devastated by this loss (of course, I got over it after about twelve hours), but at least I was proud of having actually executed my pre-game plan. If I had actually taken White’s Queen, then the plan of destroying White’s dark-squared Pawn chain on b2 and c3 through the combined efforts of my fianchettoed Bishop, Queen, and a Pawn storm, could have created the exact “personal masterpiece” I had envisioned before the game.

The complete game

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.