Game Analysis #1 – An Interesting Nh3 In The Dutch Defense
I recently wrote a post titled How To Improve – The Art Of Game Analysis that received some positive reviews and players seemed very interested in the topic. This inspired me to start a series of game analysis posts breaking down how I like to review my own games. In that previous post, we identified four levels of game analysis.
- Opening Review
- Key Moments
- Full Human Analysis
- Extra Credit
For this first game in the series, I’ll be conducting a full human analysis.
This is a 30+30 league game played a few days ago. I was assigned the White pieces and had a bit of time to prepare for my opponent’s openings. One of my goals for this series is to play the openings that we recommended in Best Chess Openings For All Skill Levels. We may eventually come out with a opening course that will feature these same openings! In doing a quick review of my opponent’s games, it appeared they liked to play the King’s Indian Defense or the Dutch Defense. I did a few minutes of preparation for both to give the best odds of starting off on the right path.
Leading into this game I felt very rusty on my intuitive tactics, so I also did a bit of Puzzle Rush training.
Here’s the game in its entirety if you’d like to play through it first before reading my notes.
1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 The Dutch Defense. I am going to go with the best scoring reply 3.g3, which has a score of +9 (White scores 51% and Black 42%, 51-42 = 9) among club players. 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Be7 5. Nh3 I really like this move, and it’s scoring an incredible +18 in the database. The knight can later reach the f4 or g5 squares, and it keeps our g2-bishop open on the long diagonal.
5… O-O 6. O-O d6 7. b3 After I see d6 being played instead of d5, I know my opponent is aiming for a Classical Dutch and not a Stonewall Dutch. One of the main plans in the Classical Dutch is to play for the e5-break. b3 allows me to play Bb2 and counter-strike in the center with both of my bishops on the long diagonals.
7… e5 I am still in theory here and know the next move is Bb2. The reason I don’t capture on e5 is because it gives my opponent a big pawn center with pawns on both e5 and f5. 8. Bb2 exd4 I am now out of my memorized opening moves and starting to think. How should I recapture the pawn on d4?
My thinking was as follows:
- Bxd4 – My opponent will probably play Nc6, attacking the bishop. I want to keep my strong bishop on the long diagonal, so I will likely retreat it back to b2.
- Qxd4 – My opponent will also probably play Nc6, kicking my queen away. I do get to decide where to place the queen in this case and can try to improve on putting her back on d1. In hindsight, this was the better choice due to the flexibility of queen placement.
9. Bxd4 Nc6 10. Bb2 Kh8 I wasn’t sure what the idea behind Kh8 was except to possibly avoid tactics later on the checking diagonal. I wanted to develop the last minor piece and briefly considered both Nd2 and Nc3 in this position. I didn’t see any immediate ways to attack my opponent that looked stronger than bringing the b1-knight out. Choosing Nc3 was a pretty easy option considering the extra central control. 11. Nc3 Let’s take a look now at a few imbalances.
Space – Squares I maintain control of are in blue, and my opponent controls the red squares. This is a very small edge for me (7-6).
Minor Pieces – My opponent has slightly superior knights because the h3-knight is a bit out of play. I prefer the scope of my bishops though, and think the c8-bishop could end up a bad piece for a while. I’m watching for …Be7-f6 in an attempt to combat my bishop on b2.
King Safety – My king looks very cozy. The black king, as is common in the Dutch Defense, has some entry points on the light squares.
11… Ne4 An interesting idea that I did not consider! If I capture twice on e4 trying to win a pawn, my opponent can capture my knight on h3.
After realizing I couldn’t win the pawn on e4, I had to look for other options. I can see that my opponent is planning to put their bishop on f6 in an attempt to neutralize my b2-bishop. The move I played in the game, 12. Nd5 appeared very logical because I am forcing the trade of a knight for a bishop. I felt that having the bishop pair, more mobility, and the bad bishop on c8 gave me enough to play for a win.
This was a mistake on my part. I should have considered capturing the knight on e4 with 12. Nxe4 fxe4 and then followed it up with 13.Nf4. The pawn on e4 will still be weak and I will likely trade a knight for a bishop later with a future Nd5 jump. 12… Ne5 and we enter the middlegame.
The start of the middlegame was a critical moment, and I felt after this next move that my lead was slipping a bit. With the advantage in king safety, I should have tried to keep the queens on the board. I wanted to connect the rooks and post my queen on an aggressive square, so I chose 13. Qd4. A simpler 13. Qc2 followed by Rad1 would have kept up the pressure without leading to a queen trade. 13… Bf6 14. Nxf6 Qxf6.
The game quickly shifts from positional to tactical.
My opponent’s knights are very impressive in the center now and I need to watch out for Nf3+ tactics with the black queen pointing at my b2-bishop. I still cannot win the pawn immediately yet with Bxe4. Often times I stress to chess students that if you put your pieces on good/forward squares, the tactics will start to favor you. In this position, I wanted to put a rook on d1 and improve the h3-knight. 15. Nf4. Now threatening Bxe4 and also eyeing Nd5 ideas. At this point, my opponent made a mistake while trying to prevent Nd5 with 15… c6. Now the d6-pawn becomes weak and the dark squares may fall apart soon.
16. Rad1 g5 This was a funny moment. Prior to playing 16. Rad1 I was thinking to myself it looks like my opponent wants to go for g5. These aggressive pawn pushes in front of one’s own king can be strong, but often times have more downsides than upsides. In this case I did some calculation prior to 16. Rad1 and after 16… g5 to check which lines work tactically.
My candidate moves here were Nh5, Bxe4, Nd3, and Nh3 in that order.
- 17. Nh5 – After this, Black will probably play Qg6 to attack my knight. The first line I considered was 18. Bxe4 fxe4 19. Qxd6 and the a1-h8 diagonal will fall apart for Black. 18… Qxh5 leads to a similar fate. After 18. Bxe4 fxe4 19. Qxd6 Qxd6 there was a cool checkmate line 20. Rxd6 Re8. Try to visualize this from the board above and find the mate sequence!
- 17. Bxe4 – This looked good as well, and appeared to transpose after fxe4 18. Nh5.
- 17. Nd3 – Interesting move to increase pressure on the long diagonal. I didn’t like the fact that Black gets a free move to defend though considering the top two candidate moves were so strong.
- 17. Nh3 – Similar to 17. Nd3 but passive.
17. Nh5 Qh6 Similar to the Qg6 move I had analyzed. 18. Bxe4 Qxh5 19. Qxd6 Re8 20. Bxe5 and Black resigned in a few moves.
12. Nd5 – I should broaden my search of candidate moves in a position with some forced sequences. I shut down the idea of 12. Nxe4 too quickly.
13. Qd4 – Similar to move twelve, I didn’t consider enough options to look at 13. Qc2.
The main takeaway this game is to look for more candidate moves, going for a wider search up front. I had plenty of time on the clock to do this. I plan to do one of these posts weekly and we can see if this trend continues in the future. I’ll be thinking about it though during the next game!
Please post your thoughts below on this game and if you like the format of the new game analysis post series.