Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it: Total Restriction of Activity

In round 3 of the Pittsburgh Chess Club championship, I won a game in which the theme was total restriction of opponent activity. I have rarely played a game in which activity was so squashed, and thought it would be instructive to point out places where my opponent could have played more actively.

The opening struggle could have been sharper

The opening was a Trompowsky in which I as White got in an early d5 in response to c5, preparing for a Benoni Pawn structure bind against Black. The thematic mission for White against a Black Benoni structure: restrict all activity on all wings, and eventually launch a decisive King side attack.

A Benoni Pawn structure

Black made the mistake of passively agreeing to enter the Benoni Pawn structure, rather than taking advantage of White’s nonexistent piece development at move 9 by rapidly developing his Bishop to d6, which would have created a sharp struggle. White’s Pawn at d5 could have been treated as a target in this line.

Black’s Qb4+ and b5 idea

At move 11, I made an inaccurate move, but consistent with the theme of trying to restrict Black’s piece activity: I played Bd3 preventing Black’s light-squared Bishop from reaching f5. But I should have allowed that possibility, because that Bishop would have been a target for kicking around anyway. Instead, developing my own Bishop out early made it a potential target: Black could have immediately aimed to place a Knight on e5. I would have prevented this with f4, but at the cost of allowing Black to play Qb4+ making way for a b5 break attacking the still-fragile White c4 and d5 Pawn targets. In that case, I would have chosen to forfeit castling in order to keep the bind.

Note that if Black had played Qb4+ at move 11, not move 12 after the time-wasting f4, I would have allowed the b5 break and given up the d5 Pawn in exchange for superior development while Black wastes time with the Queen. It’s very interesting how tradeoffs change depending on the deletion of a pair of moves (White playing f4 and Black developing an additional piece with Nd7).

At move 13, I played f4, despite still lagging behind in development, because of the value of restricting Black from getting a Knight to e5. Again, Black could have played the Qb4+ idea, and again, forfeiting castling seems best, to neutralize the b5 threat.

Tactical oversight

I made an embarrassing tactical oversight on move 14, when I castled into a discovered check tactic with Black’s Nxd5! that would have left me with a worse position. But my opponent did not see it, and on the next pair of moves, we both missed it again.

My explanation is that I was in a hurry to castle. Recently, I have been punished for mindlessly developing and mindlessly castling rather than playing precisely in the face of concrete situations.

As for h3, there my idea was again to prevent Black’s light-squared Bishop from developing, to g4, but as mentioned before, it is not actually to Black’s benefit to develop this Bishop only to have it be traded off anyway. In fact, in this particular kind of position, the Bishop is doing fine on c8 as a defensive piece.

Beginning the attack, risking losing the bind?

After the opening phase, as I finally developed the Knight to c3, it was clear that Black had a very difficult game. I shut down Black’s Queen side play with a4 and a5.

On move 20, the question was, how to proceed? The problem in chess is that when you attack, invading your opponent’s territory, you risk two things:

  • Overextending with Pawn advances, creating holes that allow your opponent’s pieces to come back to life.
  • Allowing piece exchanges that are freeing and reduce your forces.

I calculated that immediate invasion with Nf5 was tactically justified. This freed Black a little bit, but it looked accurate to strike immediately rather than attempt to “prepare” further with invasion, because Black always had the option of seeking counterplay on the Queen side with b6 or b5. The tactical justification for the invasion was that the most natural way for Black to try freeing his position with Nd7 and Nh4 led to a forced sequence in which the temporary Pawn sacrifice f5 gave White a favorable position.

Was Nf5 the best idea, however? I don’t know exactly. But my perception was that to prepare more forces for the initial invasion required me to activate the undeveloped dark-squared Bishop and the Queen Rook, but trying to use these would allow Black to proceed with b6 or b5. Then again, the resulting position would also have been favorable to me on the half-open a-file and the game would have shifted to the Queen side. I chose to fight it out immediately on the King side instead.

I made a slip, and the bind could have disappeared!

By move 25, the win was in sight, but instead of maintaining the winning bind with the nice h4 sacrifice (which cannot be accepted), I played a “preparatory” move Qg4.

Timing is critical during an attack. Once in, you have to go all in. After having advanced my Pawn to g5, I risked having my f4 Pawn bind on e5 diverted, and in fact, Qg4 allowed Black the possibility of breaking free from the bind and establishing a Knight on e5. The resulting position would have been still difficult for Black, but the forced win would have been gone for White.

The final bind

Look at the position after 30 Nd5. I’ve rarely played a game that resulted in a position like this. Black’s pieces and Pawns can hardly move at all. Black’s Bishop on e7 cannot move, period. In the game, Black blundered in one move, but supposing Black just marked time and waited, you can see that White can just calmly play Bd2, Bc3, Qh5, Qf7, and pick off Black’s Pawn on f6 for victory. There is nothing Black can do to stop this plan, because of the total bind on the Queen side, center, and King side.

Mission accomplished (but not without cooperation from Black)!

Conclusion

Chess being a dynamic game, it is instructive to find the critical points during a game that seemingly features total domination. There was a tactical blunder by White in the opening, and also very interesting forcing lines, and at one point in the game, a slip by White could have let Black regroup with a difficult defense, rather than lose immediately.

The annotated 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.