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I was playing a game with the Black pieces the other day against 1. h4. The reason why I wanna discuss this game with you is that during the game I always felt that my position is not stable, and at some point I was up by a pawn, but white had a lot of files to attack me and I needed to defend and it was uncomfortable. The engine gives an evaluation of -2.7 at the end but to me it was so unclear. I would really appreciate your feedback about the game in general in order for me to understand the position better so that next time I can evaluate the position better during the game and not be worried that I might be worse (although the engine says that I'm much better by -2.7). Moreover, I read somewhere that if your opponent plays 1.h4, then it's good to respond with 1...d5 opening the light-square bishop, and if your opponent plays 1.a4, then it's good to respond with 1...e5 opening the dark-square bishop. What do you think about this general tip? Also when your opponent plays 2. h5, do you prefer to play 2...h6, or do you continue occupying the center and fast development?

[FEN ""]
 1. h4 d5 2. h5 h6 3. Nf3 c5 4. d3 Nf6 5. Nbd2 Nc6 6. e4 Bg4 7. Be2 e6 8. Nh2 Bxe2 9. Qxe2 
 Bd6 10. Nhf3 Be7 11. e5 Nd7 12. Nf1 O-O 13. g4 Qa5+ 14. Bd2 Qc7 15. O-O-O Ndxe5 16. Nxe5 
 Qxe5 17. Qxe5 Nxe5 18. Nh2 Nc6 19. f4 e5 20. fxe5 Nxe5 21. Rde1 Bd6 22. Reg1 Rae8 23. g5 
 hxg5 24. Rxg5

3 Answers 3

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When playing through this game, at no time did I think that Black was losing.

I don't like 2...h6 myself. What are you doing? Preventing 3.h6? Why would you want to prevent that?

The other move I don't like is 12...O-O. The center is closed and it doesn't seem like your king is particularly unsafe in the middle or queenside. Your opponent has already spent two moves advancing the h-pawn; it's rather obvious that if you castle over there, they're going to play O-O-O and advance the g-pawn. Your h6 pawn makes a nice target. And it seems like it's difficult for your knights to get over to defend right away because of the e5 pawn. I wouldn't say it's a bad move, but it's very foreseeable that it would lead to you being on the defensive.

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  • Thanks for the feedback. 1) Can you elaborate on what would you do if I don't play 2...h6, and then white plays 3.h6 then how you would continue? 2) After 6.e4 from White, would you still play 6...Bg4? or would you choose a different plan? 3) On move 10 for Black, would you develop your queen and then castle queenside? I felt that it's not that great because I already pushed c5.
    – Guess601
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 21:15
  • 1) I'd likely play e5 or c5. Nc6 works too. 2) I don't see much wrong with Nxh6. Sure, your knight's on the rim and their rook has a half-open file, but White's just spent three moves and a pawn to get that. 6...Bg4 looks fine to me. 3) I'd develop the queen and then either castle queenside, or not castle at all (or wait to see where White castles.) The c-pawn isn't actually a huge issue if you do castle queenside, and you can always play Kb1.
    – D M
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 3:16
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Just answering the comment from D M's answer.

  1. Following general principles, control the center. e5 and d5 are both good moves. In response to h6, you could capture and make white waste time trying to regain the material, or just play g6 and show that it's more of a weakness than a strength.

  2. I would play Bg4 with the intent of capturing on h5. There's also nothing wrong with e5 and a plan similar to any KID.

  3. On move 10, Be7 is correct due to the fork threat. The queen is good on c7 and b6. You can castle on either side safely, but white has to tend to their h5 weakness, so queenside is better for both. The space gained by c5 actually protects your king well.

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When I saw the position, my first impression was, g pawn is so sad cause if opponent double his rook on g file, it will be harder to safe it. So I immediately thought I have save it.

h file is also open from black's view but not in the chess board. Your king is safe on h and g file.

I am going to show two move I immediately thought of, 24..... f6 and 24.... Kh7.

Let's start with a variation for the second move.

24.... Kh7 25. h6 Hoping for gxh6 that way g and h file will be open from white's perspective. (more info will be added at last). But g6 saves the game and you got your advantage g pawn "well" protected and h file is also protected by opponents pawn if it was open, you will be trouble. Stockfish doesn't like the 24.... Kh7 also doesn't hate it. So it's playable.

Why does Stockfish loves f6 instead of Kh7?

It's simple. When you play f6, there will be tempo on opponents rook so you get "an extra move" and also opens up the possibility to save g pawn by Rf7 and Re7. If there was instantly an attack on the g pawn then I will consider going with Rf7 cause it tells bishop to go to f8 to save g pawn and Rook is superior so it will do it's job. Whereas Re7 will block the diagonal of the bishop.

So just think that, you gotta play a move which will tell another piece what to do. That's the simple strategic plan. Also it is said that you don't have calculate 20 lines. Make short plan, cause in middle you don't know what your opponent is gonna do unless your opponent is Stockfish.

If I were said to play the position, I will consider playing both of the moves I mentioned above, also everytime I will look for better ones if there is. Where Stockfish will play f6 forever.

Let's go to :

Why are you safe in the position?

You castled kingside, so the safest file for your king is h and g. You are safe unless the files are from white's perspective.

What do I mean by open file from white's perspective?
Take your position as example. g file is open from white's perspective cause there's no white's pawn to stop white's attack. Whereas if white had doubled his rook on h file then it would be useless cause there's no attack white got no way to open up the h file unless you are willing to do so. So white will try to take full control of the g file cause there's "no way black can stop the attack" unless you are wise enough.

As I said earlier, you gotta use superior piece for attacking and minor piece for defending (if necessary) so use your bishop for defending g pawn and use rook to attack.

Let's look at Stockfish's move for the position you gave.

24... f4 (talked about it). 24 .... Kh7 (also talked about it) (it's recommended by Stockfish as 3rd move at 20th depth).

24... Re7 followed by f6 if white doubles rook on g file, I don't know why stockfish loves it more than Kh7. cause it takes diagonal of the dark squared bishop.

24... Re6 at first sight I thought it's shitty moves cause it gives away the g pawn. Let's look at the variation 25. Rg1 Kh8. 26. Rxg7 Ng6! (great move giving away the knight and taking a rook). Let's look at another variation: 25. Rg1 g6 26. hxg6 fxg6. I don't like the variation cause all kingside files are open. But Stockfish likes it cause there's no threat g pawn is well protected by the rook and knight. King is also coming to protect. But as a human I may make mistake later in the game for that reason, I don't like it. Also, first variation tricks the opponent.

When you play a game, ask yourself, the files are open but is there attack? Can he attack? If so, can I defend? If there's a way to defend, you are safe. If there's no attack, start your attack so opponent can't start his. He will spend rest of the game defending. But don't overrush.

General Philosophy behind h4 and a4 :

If someone starts with h4 it means, he is likely start his attack on the kingside. and for a4 queenside attack. You don't have to worry about it in the beginning. But in middle-game. In some particular positions instead of castling I will put my king on the f7 and pawn on f6 and e6 if possible. In response to a4 and h4, you can play d4 and e4 whatever you are more familiar with. But b4 has theory. You can learn b4's theory if you like to surprise people. If you like to counterattack then start your attack queenside after developing all your pieces including queen but not rook. If you had put Qc7 then you could confuse your opponent by which way you will castle so his attack might become useless as kingside is already weak for white. You could bring your pieces there faster and start attack there if he had castled kingside and if he castled queenside your pawns will say "Hi" to the opponent's king.

Let your pieces speak for themselves.

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