Marin on Tromso R10 – Boring symmetry?

8/13/2014 – How long can perfectly symmetrical play last at the top level of chess? Eleven moves? And what are the results of games in which the moves are mirrored? Draw, win for White or loss because of a kind of zugzwang? Curious about this our GM commentator Mihail Marin put on his symmetry glasses to look at round ten, giving us three instructive examples. You should be taking notes.

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Marin on Tromsø – round ten selection

It sometimes happens that I try examining the initial position with the beginner's eyes, after locking up all the experience and knowledge accumulated over the years in a drawer back in my mind. "It is absolutely symmetrical" is one of the first things I remark, generating the natural question: "Would it be just dead equal?" But then the drawer opens little by little and I remember that keeping the symmetry for more than two or three moves is almost impossible for Black if White does not cooperate a bit. And then I think of so many symmetrical variations which are not drawish at all, not in practical games, at least. I would gladly skip the next step, when I remember that in almost all the games when I chose a symmetrical variation with White I fatally ended up struggling despite my initial extra tempo, or as if White actually was in zugzwang.

I have long waited for a good moment to examine this issue closely so I was glad to notice that the tenth round in Tromso produced some relevant top level games. The selected examples feature all three possible results, helping us to get a complete perspective over the matter.

The first game ended in a draw and it must be more than a coincidence that the perfect symmetry lasted for longest. However, White missed a promising continuation at the critical moment.

Leinier Dominguez Perez, top GM from Cuba

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø¸"] [Date "2014.08.12"] [Round "10"] [White "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"] [Black "Jobava, Baadur"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C10"] [WhiteElo "2760"] [BlackElo "2713"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Cuba"] [BlackTeam "Georgia"] [WhiteTeamCountry "CUB"] [BlackTeamCountry "GEO"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nc6 $5 {Over the past few years, Jobava played this rare variation mainly in rapid and blitz games. Recently, he has used it in two games at classical time rate, too.} 4. Nf3 {Dominguez seemed nevertheless surprised by his opponent's choice, since he invested nearly a quarter of an hour on this move. It is worth mentioning that most of Jobava's previous games with this line led to hair-rising complications, but against a technical player like Leinier the fight will run very smoothly.} Nf6 5. exd5 {Without special preparation, this is the most natural reaction to Black's knight pressure in the centre.} exd5 {[#]This is the first moment of perfect symmetry. It bears some similarity with the Petroff defence structure. The main question in such cases is for how long could Black maintain this situation and whether it is really safe to immitate Wite's moves endlessly.} 6. Bb5 Bb4 7. O-O { Leinier castled after a 25 minute thought.} ({He might have been tempted to break the symmetry with} 7. Ne5 {, when White's extra move would allow him deliver the first check if Black kept playing the corresponding moves. He might have concluded, though, that Black would get enough compensation for the pawn after} O-O {as played in Miles-Darga, Germany 1985}) 7... O-O 8. Bxc6 bxc6 9. Ne5 Bxc3 10. bxc3 Ne4 {[#] Five more moves have passed and White has not managed to rid himself of the increasingly irritating symmetry.} 11. f3 {Not even this forcing move was able to stop Black from his immitating policy.} f6 $1 (11... Nxc3 {would be equivalent with releasing the tension, allowing White to take over the initiative.} 12. Qd3 Na4 13. Qa3 Nb6 14. Nxc6 Qd6 (14... Qe8 15. Qc5 {leaves White with a dominating position.}) 15. Qxd6 cxd6 16. Bf4 { Black loses one of his double pawns, although the opposite-coloured bishops allows him hoping for a draw.}) 12. Ba3 $1 {Finally a move that cannot be immitated anymore!} (12. fxe4 fxe5 {would be dead equal.}) 12... Nd6 (12... Ba6 $2 {loses material since after} 13. fxe4 {the f6-pawn is pinned. For instance:} Bxf1 14. Nxc6 Qd7 15. Ne7+ Kh8 16. Qxf1) 13. Nxc6 {White wins a pawn, but the same applies as on 11...Nxc3 examined above. The knight gets onto an unfavourable path and Black gets some time for developing, with satisfactory compensation.} Qd7 14. Bxd6 cxd6 $5 {[#]David Bronstein wrote that he enjoyed playing with double pawns because this meant having more open files for his rooks! By opening the c-file Jobava more or less ensures retrieving the c3-pawn.} 15. Nb4 Bb7 {Believe it or not, this "bad bishop" will end up dominating a White rook!} 16. Qd2 Rfc8 17. Rfe1 Qc7 18. Rab1 {A subtle move, developing the last piece with no obvious beneffit so far.} (18. Re3 {doesn't save the pawn due to} a5 19. Nd3 Qxc3) 18... Qxc3 {[#]} 19. Re8+ $6 {This spectacular move does not win material because the a8-rook is defended. In the ensuing endgame Black will have little trouble maintaining equality.} ({The critical continuation was the simple} 19. Qxc3 Rxc3 20. Re7 a5 ({Suddenly, the rook's presence on b1 mkes itself felt by preventing} 20... Rb8 $2 {due to} 21. Nxd5 {or 21.Na6.}) 21. Rxb7 axb4 22. R1xb4 {And now the rook becomes active along the b-file. White threatens the unpleasant rook doubling along the c-file, for instance} Rxc2 23. Rd7 h5 24. Rbb7 g5 25. a4 {Pawns are equal, but Black's position is at least unpleasant.}) 19... Kf7 20. Qxc3 Rxc3 21. Rxa8 Bxa8 22. Rb3 Rc4 23. c3 a5 24. Nc2 Bc6 25. Ra3 {[#]} a4 $1 {The simplest. With his rook caged on a3, White cannot win even if he wins the exchange.} ({But Black could also defend with} 25... Ra4 26. Rxa4 Bxa4 27. Ne3 Ke6 {when WHite would have no way to break the fortress.}) 26. Nb4 (26. Ne3 {is similar to the game after, say,} g5) 26... Be8 ({Actually, Black would be out of danger even after} 26... g5 27. Nxc6 Rxc6 28. Rxa4 Rxc3) 27. Nxd5 Ke6 28. Nf4+ ({Or lese} 28. Nb6 d5) 28... Kd7 29. Nd5 Kc6 $1 {The king hurries forward in order to consolidate the fortress on light squares.} 30. Ne3 Kb5 31. Nxc4 Kxc4 {The rest of the game was played by pure inertia.} 32. Kf2 d5 33. Ke3 Bd7 34. h4 g6 35. Kd2 h6 36. Ke3 Be8 37. g3 Bd7 38. Ke2 Be8 39. Kd2 Bc6 40. Ke3 Bd7 41. f4 f5 42. Kd2 h5 43. Ke3 1/2-1/2

Imagnitive and inventive: Georgian GM Baadur Jobava

The apparently dry Slav Exchange Variation offers more fighting resources than it may seem at first sight. In the past, great players like Botvinnik or Portisch have obtained outstanding results with it. True, they seemed to be aware of the limits of this variation, since they used it only occasionally, as some sort of surprise weapon. The Exchange Variation preserves its merits in the computer era. In the next game one careless move was enough to put Black in trouble barely out of the opening.

Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov demolished Rauf Mamedov in 29 moves

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø¸"] [Date "2014.08.12"] [Round "10"] [White "Eljanov, Pavel"] [Black "Mamedov, Rauf"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D10"] [WhiteElo "2723"] [BlackElo "2659"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Ukraine"] [BlackTeam "Azerbaijan"] [WhiteTeamCountry "UKR"] [BlackTeamCountry "AZE"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Bf4 Nc6 5. e3 Nf6 6. Nc3 Bf5 7. Rc1 $5 {Both sides' main idea is to create a weakness on c3/c6 by developing the king's bishop to b5/b4. From this point of view, the last move makes sense, consolidating the c3-square and preparing to set up pressure along the c-file.} ({The natural continuation is} 7. Nf3 e6 8. Bb5 {There is an instructive story regarding this line. When preparing for the 11th game of his return match with Botvinnik, Tal decided that an easy draw would be most welcome, allowing him to recover from the unfavourable course of events. He played the Slav, an opening which did not make part of his rpeertoire, expecting Botvinnik to take on d5, leading to "dull equality". His expectations were fulfilled only partially, though. Botvinnik played the Exchange variation, indeed, but the result was other than intended:} Bb4 9. Ne5 Qa5 10. Bxc6+ bxc6 11. O-O Bxc3 12. bxc3 Qxc3 {Black is the first to eliminate the opponent's weak pawn on the c-file, but this is hardly an achievement. The reader should compare this situation with the ...Nxc3/Nxc6 issue from the previous game.} 13. Qc1 Qxc1 14. Rfxc1 O-O 15. f3 {Restricting Black's minor pieces.} h6 16. Nxc6 Rfe8 17. a4 { All White's pieces are more active than Black's and Botvinnik went on winning and increasing his lead in the match, Botvinnik-Tal, Moscow 1961}) 7... Qb6 8. Bb5 e6 9. Nf3 Bb4 10. O-O Bxc3 11. Bxc6+ bxc6 ({Black cannot avoid getting a weaknes on c6. If} 11... Qxc6 12. Rxc3 {White would get the control of the only open file.} Qb5 {Black needs defending the a4-e8 diagonal against Qa4+.} 13. Nh4 $1 {Exchanging the bishop in order to get the c2-square for the queen.} O-O 14. Nxf5 exf5 15. Qc2 {Followed by Rc1 with rather one-sided play.}) 12. bxc3 O-O {[#]} 13. Ne5 {An active move, useful for plans on either wing.} ({ Here, too, exchanging the bishop with} 13. Nh4 {makes sense. White would be able to occupy the b-file, while Black would be not.}) 13... Qa6 $6 {In a wider meaning, the decisive mistake after 17 minutes of thought and... as early as on move 13 in a supposedly dull variation!!} ({Black should have invested a tempo on ensuring the bishop's retreat to h7:} 13... h6 $1 {White would have had to switch to his queenside plan with} 14. c4 {, but Black would retain a defensible position.} Rfc8 {Preparing ...c6-c5.} 15. c5 Qb7 {White has more space, but after ...Nd7 Black could hope for gradually equalising.}) 14. g4 Bg6 15. h4 {[#]In order to save his bishop, Black has to weaken his kingside structure rather badly.} h6 16. Nxg6 fxg6 17. f3 {Overdefending the g4-pawn and restricting the knight.} h5 $6 ({It would have made sense to return with the queen into play with} 17... Qb7 {preparing to defend on f7. True, White would retain a huge advantage with} 18. Qc2 Qf7 19. Rb1 {followed by doubling rooks along the b-file. In the game, the queen will remain a mere spectator on a6 until the bitter end.}) 18. Qc2 Kh7 (18... hxg4 {also leads to a very strong attack after} 19. Qxg6 gxf3 20. Rxf3 {follwed by Be5, Rg3.}) 19. Bd6 Rf7 20. Rf2 Rd7 ({The g4-pawn is taboo:} 20... hxg4 21. h5 Nxh5 22. Rh2) 21. Be5 $1 {The final touch. Black has no satisfactory defenge against Bxf6 followed by gxh5.} Rf8 22. Bxf6 Rxf6 23. gxh5 Kh6 24. hxg6 Rxg6+ 25. Rg2 Rxg2+ 26. Kxg2 {White has won a pawn while keeping strong kingisde threats.} Rf7 27. Rg1 g6 28. Kh1 Rf6 $2 (28... Rg7 {would have been more stubborn.}) 29. h5 $1 { Le coup de grace.} (29. h5 {If} gxh5 30. Qg2 {followed by mate.}) 1-0

Coincidence made that the top board game of the same match featured the reverse side of the medal. White should not count on his initial extra tempo excessively when making his plans. And the remarkable thing is that this game was even shorter than the previous one!

Perennial Super-GM from Azerbaijan: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø¸"] [Date "2014.08.12"] [Round "10"] [White "Ivanchuk, Vassily"] [Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2744"] [BlackElo "2743"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Ukraine"] [BlackTeam "Azerbaijan"] [WhiteTeamCountry "UKR"] [BlackTeamCountry "AZE"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bg4 5. cxd5 cxd5 6. Qb3 Qc7 {A modern hybrid of the Exchange Variation. White's queen's bishop did not make it outside the area restricted by the central chain and the main question is whether it will become active via d2-b4.} 7. Bb5+ {A rare move.} ({The main continuation is} 7. Nc3) 7... Nbd7 8. Nc3 Bxf3 9. gxf3 a6 10. Bxd7+ Qxd7 {In his fight for the initiative, White has made an important strategic concession, the chronic weakening of the kingside. This is a risky approach, since in positions with symmetrical structures initiative rarely is a telling factor. Usually, the importance of static factors prevails.} 11. Na4 {The only logical follow-up of the previous moves.} Qb5 12. Qxb5+ axb5 13. Nc5 {[#]} e5 $1 {A dynamic continuation, aiming for rapid development rather than maintaining the material equality.} ({Ivanchuk might have counted on} 13... b6 14. Nd3 e6 15. Bd2 {when the weakness of the double b-pawns and the excelent blocking b4-square would yield him pleasant play.}) 14. Nxb7 {Consequent and risky at the same time.} ({The simplifying continuation} 14. dxe5 Bxc5 15. exf6 gxf6 16. Ke2 Ke7 {would be safer. Black's activity compensates for his numerous pawn weaknesses and a draw is the most probable result.}) 14... exd4 15. exd4 {[#] Black's main achievement over the past moves is isolating the whte double pawns. The inevitable exchange Nc5, ... Bxc5 will leave him with a versatile knight versus a rather ineffective bishop.} Kd7 16. Rg1 g6 17. Bg5 Nh5 18. Kd2 Ra7 19. Nc5+ Bxc5 20. dxc5 Rha8 21. a3 Kc6 22. Rg4 Ng7 23. Rd1 Ne6 {Black was in no hurry to retrieve the material, since the c5-pawn is the best defender of the black king (please refer to ...a3+, Ka2! from Carlsen-Solak and ...hxg3, h3 from Mmedyarov-Jobava, published in previous articles).} 24. Be3 $2 {Not a fortunate square for the bishop.} ({Despite his strategic problems, White would have retained chances for equality with} 24. Bf6 {for instance} Ra4 25. Rb4 Kxc5 26. Be7+ $1 {Ensuring the rook's stability on b4.} Kb6 27. Rc1 Re8 28. Bd6 {The bishop cannot be chased away from the a3-f8 diagonal.}) 24... Ra4 25. Kc3 $2 {The decisive mistake.} ({It is also true that after} 25. Rxa4 Rxa4 { Black would have a clear advantage and a pleasant choice of plans based on ... d5-d4 and/or ...Rh4.}) 25... d4+ $1 (25... d4+ {White wins material:} 26. Rgxd4 (26. Bxd4 {loses the bishop to} Rc4+ 27. Kb3 Rd8) 26... Nxd4 {White needs to exchange his remaining rook, reaching a lost ending. Keeping the rook on board would ocne again create a decisive pin:} 27. Bxd4 Rc4+ 28. Kd3 (28. Kb3 Rd8) 28... Rxd4+ $1 29. Kxd4 Rd8+) 0-1

The great but sometimes unstable Vassily Ivanchuk before round ten

About the author: Mihail Marin

Born in 1965, GM Mihail Marin has several times been Romanian champion and first made the leap over the Elo barrier of 2600 in 2001. Marin possesses a rare gift for a grandmaster – he is able to explain in readily comprehensible terms the ideas behind moves, variations and positions. This ability is there for all to admire in his contributions to ChessBase Magazine. Marin has written some books which have earned the highest of praise, among which are "Secrets of Chess Defence" and "Learn from the Legends". He Marin lives in Bucharest and is married to women's International Master Luiza Marin.

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