Ken Ho (1730) - Tom Laaman (1508), 20 Oct 2001

Caro-Kann (by transposition)
Seacoast Open #3
Dover, NH
Round 3 of 3

1 c4 c6 2 e4

Tom may have expected 2 d4, offering a Slav Defense after 2 ... d5. The text move seemed to have come as a surprise, making him use up some precious time in this G/70 time control.

2 ... e6 3 d4 d5 4 e5?!

I played this in order to cramp Black, but without realizing the difficulties I would have in supporting the e5 pawn. In fact, the d4 pawn is not very stable, as Black demonstrates. IM John Watson assessed 4 e5 as "!?" in English: Franco, Slav and Flank Defenses (1981), but gave no other comments. 4 Nc3 dxe4 (4 ... Nf6?! 5 e5 Nfd7 6 c5 +/-; 4 ... Bb4!?) 5 Nxe4 Nf6 6 Nxf6+ Qxf6 unclear.

Best seems to be 4 cxd5 when 4 ... cxd5 5 e5 is a favorable variation of the French for White or 4 ... exd5 exd5 5 cxd5 += according to Egon Varnusz in Play The Caro-Kann (1982).

4 ... dxc4 5 Bxc4 c5! 6 Ne2?

Trying to maintain the initiative and the option of f2-f4 to bolster the e5 pawn. White would lose the initiative and Black would have at least a slight advantage after 6 dxc5 Qxd1+ 7 Kxd1 Bxc5, but both sides would have chances. One possibility is 8 f4 Ne7 9 Nc3 O-O 10 Ne4 Rd8+ 11 Kc2.

6 d5!? exd5 7 Bxd5 Nc6 (7 ... Ne7?? 8 Bxf7+ +-; 7 ... Nd7 8 Bf4 looks badly cramped for Black) 8 Bxc6+ bxc6 9 Qxd8+ Kxd8 10 Bg5+ Be7 11 Nf3 Bg4 12 Nbd2 is comfortable for White.

6 ... Nc6 7 Bb5

Trying to keep the d4 and the e5 pawns.

7 ... Bd7 8 Bf4

An oversight, immediately losing a pawn, but White's position is already worse. 8 dxc5 Nxe5 (immediately resolving Black's bad bishop issue) 9 Bxd7+ Qxd7 10 Qxd7+ Nxd7 11 b4 a5 only delays the loss of a pawn. 8 Bxc6 Bxc6 9 O-O Qd5 targeting g2 is unpleasant for White, who will lose a pawn or more soon.

8 ... Nxd4 9 Bxd7+

9 Nxd4 cxd4 10 Be2 Bc6 11 Nd2 also leaves Black with a clear advantage.

9 ... Qxd7 10 O-O

Hoping for some compensation for the lost pawn in the form of faster development.

10 ... Ne7 11 Nbc3 Ng6

Although the text move forces White's bishop to a passive position, 11 ... Nef5 was probably better, reinforcing Black's hold on the d4 square and intending ...g6 and ...Bg7.

12 Bg3 Be7 13 Ne4 O-O 14 Nxd4 Qxd4

14 ... cxd4 would have left White with more difficulties (see note to move 20).

15 Qxd4 cxd4 16 Rfd1 h5 17 h3

To allow the bishop to continue to both protect the e5 pawn and keep Black's knight out of f4.

17 ... Rfd8 18 Rd3 Rd5?!

18 ... Rac8 seems more active.

19 f4

If allowed, White will rearrange his pieces to try to win Black's d-pawn, since it will be more difficult for Black to protect it if White's king gets to d3.

19 ... Rad8?!

19 ... Rac8, as in a previous note.

20 Rc1!

The c-file will be important for any hopes of a win or draw. If the queens had not been exchanged, it would be easier for Black to contest the open c-file.

20 ... f5

I think a more appropriate plan is to get the knight in play on the queenside. Given that White will want to reposition his knight to attack the d-pawn, I don't see Black gaining much with this move.

21 Nd2 h4

This leads to double-edged possibilities surrounding this pawn, which is not easily protected by the g-pawn.

22 Bh2 Rc5 23 Rxc5 Bxc5 24 Nb3 Bb6

24 ... Rc8 could even be played, since 25 Nxc5? Rxc5 26 Rxd4 Rc1+ 27 Kf2 Rc2+ 28 Kf3 Rxb2 is bad for White.

25 Kf2 Rc8 26 Rd2

Keeping Black's rook out of c2.

26 ... Ne7 27 Kf3 Nc6 28 Bg1 Rd8?!

28 ... g5!? (weakening White's e5 pawn) 29 g3 hxg3 30 Kxg3 gxf4+ 31 Kxf4 Bc7 32 Bxd4 Nxd4 (32 ... Rd8 33 Bc3 unclear) 33 Rxd4 Bb6 and Black has a typical bishop vs knight endgame advantage, but perhaps White can improve somewhere. Also, Black can in many cases play ...Rd8 after White has captured the d4 pawn since White's rook would be pinned on the d-file.

29 Bf2 Nb4?

An oversight, thinking I was only repositioning my pieces and not noticing that I was attacking the h4 pawn. 29 ... g5! is still interesting.

30 Bxh4 Rd7 31 a3 Nc6 32 Bf2 Kf7

Black offered a draw which I declined, considering that I had good practical chances of winning. Black may have some difficulties holding on to the d-pawn. If that pawn falls, White should have fair winning chances.

33 Rd3 g6 34 Be1 Ke8 35 Nc1 a6 36 b4

Using pawns to keep Black's knight out of a5, so that White's knight can go to b3 unhindered, where it will attack the d4 pawn.

36 ... Rd5 37 Ke2 Kf7 38 Rg3

38 Rf3 would have served similarly well to vacate d3 for the king, but the text keeps Black concerned about his g-pawn.

38 ... Kg7 39 Kd3 Kf7 40 Nb3 Ba7 41 Rf3 Bb6?!

41 ... b5! denies the c4 square to White's rook, who may then be unable to win the d-pawn and will have to try to break through on the kingside to make progress. Black had been in time pressure for some time, though, so probably wasn't having an easy time defending his position.

42 Rf2 Ba7 43 Rc2 Ke7 44 Bf2 Kd7

44 ... Rd7! 45 Nc5 Rc7 should hold the position since White cannot take the d4 pawn (46 Bxd4?? Nxd4 47 Kxd4 b6 -+).

45 Nc5+ Bxc5 46 Rxc5 Rxc5?!

46 ... b5!? 47 Rxd5+ exd5 48 Bxd4 Ke6 (48 ... Nxd4 leads to a losing pawn ending after 49 Kxd4 Ke6 50 g3 when Black loses the e-pawn) and White probably cannot win despite the extra pawn. White would have to take on an appreciable risk of losing to make a serious attempt at winning.

47 bxc5 Na5 48 Bxd4?!

48 Kxd4 Kc6 (48 ... Nb3+ 49 Kc3) 49 a4 holds the extra pawn and allows White to initiate kingside action.

48 ... Kc6 49 Bc3?

49 Kc3 was correct. The text move loses the c-pawn.

49 ... Nb3 50 Kc4 Nxc5 51 g4 Ne4 52 gxf5!?

As it turned out in later analysis, unexpectedly dangerous for both sides!

52 ... gxf5

52 ... Nxc3?? 53 Kxc3 (53 fxg6?? Nd5 54 g7 Ne7 55 h4 b6! and Black wins, since White cannot infiltrate the queenside without giving Black a passed b-pawn which White's king would have to watch. With his extra piece, Black should win enough of White's kingside pawns in due course to get the full point.) and Black is in zugzwang, needing to watch White's passed e-pawn and protected his own queenside pawns. An example is 53 ... b6 55 h4 Kd7 (55 ... b5 56 e6 Kd6 57 e7 Kxe7 58 Kc5 +-) +-.

52 ... exf5!? would hold back White's h-pawn, but White might be able to make progress on the queenside or on the g- and h-files.

53 Be1 Kd7

53 ... Nc5 is no help: 54 h4 b6 55 h5 Nd7 56 Bh4 Kc7 (If 56 ... Nf8 57 Be7 Nh7, White wins by moving his king to the kingside to win the knight and promote his h-pawn, while using his bishop to prevent Black from promoting any of his pawns before then) 57 Be7 +- (h6-h7-h8Q).

54 Kb4 Kc6

54 ... b6!?

55 h4 Nc5 56 Kc4 Nd7 57 Bf2

57 h5!? Nf8 58 Bh4 Kd7 (58 ... Nh7 59 Be7 and White attempts to minimally zugzwang Black before playing his own king to the kingside).

57 ... Nf8 58 h5 Nh7

58 ... b6 with the idea of ...b5 forcing the White king back.

59 Bc5 b6 60 Bd6 Kb7?!

60 ... b5+!? 61 Kd4 (61 Kb4?! Kb6 with the idea of shuttling his king back and forth between b6 and c6 as long as White's king stays on the queenside) and White continues his plan to win by moving his king to the kingside.

61 Kd3 Kc6 62 Ke3 b5?

Black should not create entry points for White's king.

63 Kf3 Kd5 64 Ke3 Kc4 65 Be7 Kd5 66 Kd3 Kc6 67 Kd4 Kc7 1-0

68 Kc5 Kd7 (68 ... Kb7 69 Kd6 intending Kxe6 and Kf7-Kg7-Kxh8 winning easily) 69 Bd6 Ke8 70 Kb6 +-. If 70 ... Nf8 71 Bxf8 Kxf8 72 Kxa6 and White queens his a-pawn. If 70 ... Kf7 71 Kxa6 and again White queens his a-pawn.

67 ... a5!? sacrificing a pawn, attempting to hold the kingside, is insufficient: 68 Bd6 b4 69 axb4 axb4 (69 ... a4 70 Kc3 +-) 70 Kc4 Kd7 71 Bxb4 Ke8 72 Be1 (72 Kc5?!/!?) Kf8 73 Bh4 Kg7 74 Bg5 Nf8 75 Kc5 Nh7 (75 ... Nd7+ 76 Kd6 Nf8 77 Be7 +-) 76 Be7 Kh6 77 Kd6 Kxh5 78 Kxe6 Kg4 79 Kf7 Kxf4 80 e6 Kg4 81 Bd8 f4 82 e7 f3 83 e8Q +-.

68 Kc5 wins for White.

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