Gameknot 188th Tournament: Round 2 (The danger of a passed pawn – Game#32)

A passed pawn was the difference in this game.

Pre-game analysis

Never underestimate your opponent. This is especially true when they are a few hundred rating points below your rating. This player made some mistakes but he defended well and gave me some resistance. In this next game a passed pawn and an exchange sacrifice were they keys to victory. But there is more to the story.

Be careful when you plan an exchange sacrifice. Ask yourself, “What is the immediate outcome?”. If you don’t have a clear and compelling reason, then you should not do it. In this game, I lied to myself by saying that his “has to be good”. Sure, but how?

Players make bad decisions all the time in chess. We play moves that we think look good only to find our opponent make a strong reply. But something like an exchange sacrifice played during postal time controls is different. My assessment of this position was wrong. I was already up a pawn. There is no reason to go for broke by sacrificing a rook.

When you are up material, continue to occupy key squares and improve your position. That should have been the theme of this game. Let’s take a look.

Game#32 – Exchange sacrifice and the passed pawn

Steve2 – Paul H.
Sicilian Defense w/Bb5 Nc6 [B31]
188th GameKnot Tournament
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Post-game analysis

On sacrificing the exchange. My exchange sacrifice (a rook for a knight and pawn) was well-intentioned. I wanted to push the c-pawn down the board but also clear a path for the a-pawn too. See diagram:

Gameknot 188th Tournament: Round 2 (The danger of a passed pawn - Game#32)
Position after 28…Qc3

Initially I felt good about this position but looking at it now, I feel differently. White’s rooks are very active. They control the b and d files and can quickly come to the seventh rank to put pressure on my king. My g7 bishop is a good piece. It covers the a1 queening square which would be ideal if I can get my a4 pawn moving. As it turns out, my opponent allowed this and my passer was able to secure the victory. However, in the diagramed position, the game is roughly equal. If anything, it is White who has a slight edge and, with proper play, has winning chances.

The over-rated bishop pair. I’ve written a lot about the importance of the two bishops. They were a major factor in my victories earlier in the tournament. Having the two bishops is almost always preferred depending on the position. Notice I said almost. This was a game that having the bishop pair did not yield a meaningful advantage. White’s e5 pawn was a thorn in my side. It limited the scope of my bishop and shut down the h8-a1 diagonal.

Overcommitting your rooks. We are taught to place rooks on open files or position them behind passed pawns. This was my plan in the position below.

Passed pawns need rooks behind them but this is not the case here.
Passed pawns need rooks behind them but this is not the case here.

Black is up a pawn in this position but chances are about equal. The problem is my rook placement. They are buried behind the black pawns on b8 and a8. White, on the other hand has his rooks doubled and active on the d-file. Be thoughtful about rook placement. In this game my opponent played R4d2(?) which allowed me to play b4 to activate my rooks. The problem is that he didn’t have to oblige me. If he just played Rh4 the game would go on and remain equal.

It’s important to recognize bad ideas even if they wind up helping you! Rfb8 was simply a bad move and the lesson here is to think carefully before placing rooks on the b and a files. Instead, creating weaknesses makes more sense. A properly timed a3, designed to weaken White’s queenside pawns should have been played. As it turns out, White played a3 himself and shutdown this idea. Getting rooks behind a passed pawn is great but first you have to create the passed pawn!