7

I played as black in the following game, and with the help of StockFish I've discovered a few mistakes, one of which was a very serious tactical blunder. However, I'm having trouble figuring out where I went wrong strategically.

[FEN ""]
[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2014.03.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Stockfish DD (50.0%)"]
[Black "Ralph"]
[Result "1-0"]
[StartPly "16"]
[StartFlipped "1"]

1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 O-O 7.e3 Nbd7 8.Bd3 
c5 9.Bb2 dxc4 10.Bxc4 Nb6 11.Be2 Nbd7 12.c4 a6 13.a4 Ne4 14.O-O b6 15.Qc2 
Ndf6 16.Ne5 Bb7 17.Rfd1 Qc7 18.Bd3 Nd6 19.a5 cxd4 20.axb6 Qc5 21.Bxd4 Qc8 
22.c5 Nd7 23.Bxh7+ Kh8 24.cxd6 Qxc2 25.Bxc2 Nxe5 26.Bxe5 f6 27.Bg3 Kg8 28.
Bb3 a5 29.d7 Ra6 30.Bc7 1-0

Here are some of the specific mistakes that I've spotted, which you might like to add to or elaborate on.

  • From what I can tell, 12...a6 was a mistake because of 13.a4, leaving me with a weak b pawn and a cramped Q-side.
  • StockFish pointed out that 15...Ndf6 was a mistake. I'm guessing this is because it allows white to place a knight on e5?
  • StockFish showed me that 19...cxd4 was a massive blunder resulting in the loss of two pawns and two passed pawns for white.

My original plan, rudimentary as it was, was to aim Queen and bishop at white's K-side down the a8-h1 diagonal, then double my rooks on the semi-open D-file, and finally launch an attack on the king using my knights. As it turned out, I failed to coordinate my pieces properly and was unable to even begin implementing this plan due to white's threats. I just wonder:

  1. Was this the correct plan to begin with, and if so, how could I have implemented it better?
  2. If not, what would a good plan have looked like?
  3. Based on my play in this game, do you feel I need to "go back to school" to learn anything, and if so, what specifically?

Your advice is very much appreciated!

5

Plans are not usually so long range and specific. Your opponent will be trying to do things that you cannot ignore. Plans are often a collection of piece improvement ideas that work together to control important squares and put pressure on your opponents position.

Part of your plan could be developing your light square bishop on b7. This looks to help control the central light squares, and might long term put pressure on white's kingside.

If you want to put your bishop on b7, then b7-b6 is a priority. a7-a6 does not go with this idea, as you point out.

White's bishop on c4 does not have a lot to do and does not need to be driven off with 10...Nb6. This also gets in the way of developing your bishop to b7.

On move 10, white's bishop on b2 is not very good. You should look to controlling the d5-square to prevent white d4-d5. You should support your pawn on c5. It brings pressure on white's center, and if white takes d4xc5 his pawn structure will be weakened. Qc7, Rfd8, Rac8 look like good places for the heavy pieces to help control the central squares, and the possibility of white ending up with weak pawns on the c or d files. Qc7 and Nd7 help control e5, and might provide a chance for an e6-e5 break.

A knight posted on e4 goes well with a bishop on b7.

This plan on move 10 would need to be continually adjusted based on what white does.

3

The quick, short, and practical answer about the plan in that position would be in this specific order:

1) Continue fighting for control of the center (which seems you did somehow unconsciously probably due to some memorization of the opening moves) by excerpting pressure on it with your with pieces (moves like b6, Bb7, Rc8)

This point 1 aligns with one of the important goals of the opening and of chess strategy in general: aim to control the center because controlling the center you can take control of other parts of the board, and more easily move your pieces to where the ensuing battle will happen.

2) Aim to end up with the better part of a pawn center or avoid and inferior pawn center; exchange in the center only if it is you that benefits.

This point 2 aligns with one of the major factors that influence planning in the middle game. The pawn center (or lack of it) determines the character of the position and consequent actions for both sides.

3) After the center has settled off, you can set your sight on a longer term course of action, taking into account these elements of the position:

  • likelihood of semi open c file for your rooks

  • likelihood of having a pawn on d5 that controls d4 plus your bishop on b7

  • likelihood of using e4 as an outpost for your knight and attack pawn on c3

Obviously white is not just sitting there doing nothing; white will try to aim its queen, bishops and night to your king but should do so preferably after the center has been settled; you should be prepared for that and should try to exchange off those pieces attacking your king; for example, I think exchanging queens off the board would benefit black's intentions and you reduce the potential risk that your king could face in the near future.

So that addressees your points 1, 2 in your question.

Regarding your point

"do I need to "go back to school" to learn anything"

, obviously there's a lot you need to learn but let me point out high level things that you want to consider addressing about the middle game and likely in the order I list them:

1) Tactical elements - usually these are "the hows" of a game; things like threats, forcing moves, forks, skewers, double attacks, pins, discovered attack, discovered check, deflections, decoy, attraction, etc.

2) Typical mate patterns and combinations.

3) Strategy elements - typically these are "the whats" in a game; things like good and bad pawn structures, the bishop pair, bad vs good bishop, good bishop vs bad knight and viceversa, isolated pawns, weeks pawns, doubled-pawns, initiative, space, open columns/diagonals, etc. In this area I liked this book a lot "How to Reassess Your Chess" Fourth edition by Jeremy Silman.

One final thing to suggest would be having a "chess thought process" for a more disciplined playing; it's not an easy thing to do initially but once you have one it helps a lot deciding what to move and avoid blunders; here is a relatively simple one you may want to start with:

(1) Threats (for both sides)

1.1) mate threat, stop it if there's one

1.2) checks, captures, and other threats, stop it if dangerous or harmful

1.3) foresee upcoming threats

(2) Tactics (for both sides)

2.1) if there's tactical elements present try to exploit them

(3) Assessment and planning (for both sides)

3.1) identify the imbalances/differences in the position, strengths and weaknesses, the goods and bads, and targets if any

3.2) elaborate a course of action (a plan) based on those differences

3.3) carry out your plan, typically points (1 - threats) and (2 - tactics) have been taken care of at this point

  • Thanks for your answer. I'm currently reading vol 1 of Ludek Pachman's "Complete Chess Strategy" to learn more about middlegame strategy. – Ralph Apr 1 '14 at 12:34

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