Channeling the inner AlphaZero

Positional dominance being a piece down. AlphaZero would approve of this game.

Stockfish on its own couldn’t have done it, but with a little help from its human friend and carefully guided to the (almost) winning position at move 17 it then channeled its inner AlphaZero in the most flashy way possible. Even a little piece of humiliation was part of the show.

Lean back and enjoy – as did I from move 18 on.

Hero (2.184) – Villain (2.211)
Correspondence game, Lechenicher SchachServer 2016
Queen’s Indian Defense

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 c5

queen1.jpg

A somewhat mysterious line of the Classical Queen’s Indian. While 90% of the chess playing population agree that this is just better for White, the other 10% (including some very strong players) insist on keeping it alive. I am part of the 90% 😉

6. d5 exd5 

queen2.jpg

White has a pleasant choice here. The old main move 7.Nh4 is still fine. Topalov’s 7.Ng5 contains a lot of poison for Black while Boris Gelfand thinks that sacrificing a pawn via 7.cxd5 is best.

7. cxd5 Bxd5 8. Nc3 Bb7

(During the Baku Grand Prix 2014 Boris Gelfand won a nice game against Dimity Andreikin that went 8… Bc6 9. e4 d6 10. O-O Be7 11. Nh4 g6?! with very good play for White.)

9. e4 d6 10. O-O Be7 11. Nh4 O-O 12. Nf5

queen3.jpg

Now e5 is a serious threat.

(Immediate 12. e5 Bxg2 13. exf6 Bxf1 14. fxe7 Qxe7 15. Kxf1 leads to an unclear position.)

12… Ne8 13. Re1 Qd7 14. Nd5 Bxd5 15. Qxd5 Nc7 16. Qd1 Bf6

queen11.jpg

There is plenty of discussion in chess forums about how a good correspondence player distinguishes himself from the average guy. Management of time and resources is a key factor that is rarely mentioned. Usually you play a number of games simultaneously, some guys play 10, others 50, but you only have a limited amount of time and engine time to invest into these games. This restriction makes it crucial to pick the right spots to either let the engine run for an hour or two and look deep without guidance, or to pick a position where you manually want to look even deeper (but more selectively).

In this game I didn’t do much except navigating an already favourable opening line and handling this one, crucial spot very well. The engine quickly shows that 17.Qxd6 gives White a substantial advantage, and it also shows that 17.f4 is worth consideration. I could’ve let the machine run for an hour or five, it would most probably stick to 17.Qxd6 as its first choice since it marks a clear way to a significant advantage.

Instead I soon decided to at least quickly check Qg4 manually which wasn’t among the engine’s top 3 choices, but which looks like a good attacking move that is more consistent with the sequence before. While Qd5-d1xd6 looks somewhat dull to the human eye Qd5-d1-g4 seems to make sense. With the help of the engine I quickly found that 17.Qg4 is very promising, and an hour later I was convinced that Qg4 wins the game (or comes very close at least).

Had I not smelled something and picked this spot for human interference, Stockfish would never have found the one decisive move on its own.

17. Qg4

(17. e5 Bxe5 leads to nothing once again.)

17… g6 18. Bf4 Kh8 19. Rad1

queen4.jpg

White now sacrifices a piece for the attack, then wins back an exchange, then sacrifices an exchange. In the end he has Black in zugzwang and a positional win appears on the board being a piece down!

As a mere human you can’t add much here, just help the engine with the analysis a bit and otherwise lean back and enjoy.

19… gxf5 20. Qh5 Bd4 21. exf5 f6

queen5.jpg

When looking at 17.Qg4 I had this on the board, and the prepared (and obvious) line was 22.Bxa8/23.Re6 and so on, probably winning. But here Stockfish on its own felt like humiliating our poor opponent and showed 22.Bb7 as the best move. I can’t say that I fully get it, and usually I am hesitant to make engine moves that I don’t completely understand, but in this case, whatever. I had opened the door with 17.Qg4, now may the machine strut through it.

22. Bb7 Rg8 23. Qh6 Qd8 24. Bxa8 Nxa8 25. Re6 Nc7 26. Rxd4 cxd4 27. Rxf6

queen6.jpg

Threatening Tf7 most of all. The final material distribution is now reached: White is a piece down – and winning! Black lacks space and coordination to extricate himself from White’s deadly grip.

27… Qe7

(27… Ne8 28. Rxd6! +-)

28. Rxd6

queen7.jpg

28… Qe1+

(28… Nd7 29. Rxd7 Qxd7 30. Be5+ Rg7 31. f6 +-)

29. Kg2 Qe4+ 30. f3 Qxf5 31. Rf6 Qd3 32. Rf7 Qe2+ 33. Kh3 Qe6+ 34. Qxe6 Nxe6

queen8.jpg

Black even managed to exchange queens, but that doesn’t help him to shake off the pressure.

35. Be5+ Ng7 36. Bxd4 Nc6 37. Bc3 b5 38. f4 b4 39. Bf6 a5 40. f5 Nb8 41. Rb7 Nc6 42. Rc7 Nd8 43. b3

queen9.jpg

A quiet move as a worthy finale. Black is a piece up, but remains helpless.

43… h6 44. Kg4 Kh7 45. Bb2 Kh8 46. Be5 Kh7 47. Kf4 h5 48. Kg5

Black resigned

queen12.jpg

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