I played this game recently in an open tournament in Hamburg.
I think it illustrates the dangers of losing time in the opening and the importance of quick development pretty well.
1.c4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.e3!? (diagram)
A flexible approach. White aims for a setup with b3, Bb2 and holds back the typical center-push d4 for now.
This particular variation can be very annoying for Classical Slav players, as it’s not so easy to develop the c8-Bishop.
3. …Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 (diagram)
…committing to a Semi-Slav setup.
[Let’s briefly look at why developing the c8-Bishop first doesn’t solve Black’s problems:
A) 4. …Bg4 5.Qb3 Qb6 6.Ne5 += (diagram)
…is the kind of variation Black usually doesn’t want to be bothered with.
B) 4. …Bf5 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3 += (diagram)
…and if the best move here is 6. …Bc8, that’s not ideal either.]
Usually Black prepares to strike in the center with ->e6-e5, which is why a setup with Nbd7 & Bd6 would have been better. With the Bishop sitting on e7, the thematic pawn push ->e5 won’t happen anytime soon.
The next best thing to do in order to fight for the center is now pushing ->c6-c5 at some point. That pawn break isn’t desirable in the same way though, since it doesn’t address the development of the c8-Bishop; something that ->e6-e5 indeed does.
6.Bb2 0-0 7.d4 (diagram)
White’s development is very clear and harmonious – two more moves and he’s ready for whatever may come: Bd3 and 0-0. Meanwhile Black needs to get 4 more moves in to finish his development and claim his share of the center: b6, Bb7, Nbd7 and c5. That means White is clearly ahead in development.
7. …b6 8.Bd3 c5!? (diagram)
Reaching a symmetrical pawn structure and aiming to trade some pieces.
A lead in development is often especially notable and noticable in symmetrical positions though.
[What happens if Black prioritizes development? It’s the more solid choice, but White will maintain a comfortable edge. For example:
8. …Bb7 9.0-0 Nbd7 10.Rc1 Rc8 11.Qe2! +=
…indicating another nuisance for Black: where does he put the Queen? One more drawback of 5. …Be7: that’s a square where in many cases the Queen wants to hang out.]
9.cxd5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 Nxd5 11.Nxd5 Qxd5 (diagram)
The central pawns got traded off, as well as a pair of knights. The developmental edge hasn’t disappeared though and White’s Bishop pair is already menacing the Black kingside; so why not try to attack?
[The more conservative 12.0-0 isn’t a bad move per se, but oftentimes when far ahead in development, more drastic measures are justified. If you ask me, there also is something noble about the idea of severely punishing careless opening play]
Combining threats on several diagonals. The danger on g7 is obvious, but the diagonals b1-h7 and h1-a8, tied together by the crucial point e4 present some danger too; after all, the a8-Rook is quite vulnerable right now. Moves like B or even Qe4 come to mind.
The position is already slightly dangerous for Black.
12. …Bb4+ 13.Ke2 (diagram)
Forcing the King to e2 is a logical thing to do, however the King is quite safe there and the Bishop on b4 itself could (and will) become a target soon.
And, if absolutely needed, moves like Rhd1 and Kf1 would ensure the Kings safety quickly.
[12. …g6! was likely the best try. It weakens the dark squares around the King, but also parries the threats for now. After 13.0-0 (diagram), White is still considerably better, but Black stays in the fight and has the chance to get some development in.
(Also, note that 12. …e5 can be easily answered by either 13.Nf5 or 13.Qe4)]
13. …Ba6 (diagram)
A reasonable attempt, developing a piece and avoiding immediate disaster: the desirable discovered attack on g7 by the Nd4 can’t happen yet due to the pressure on the Bd3. Therefore:
Simple and strong.
In a difficult position, Black now makes the decisive mistake.
14. …Rc8? (diagram)
Again, trying to play actively: planning to invade with ->Rc2+ in case White finally does move the Nd4 somewhere, but overlooking a simple move avoiding just that. Instead, trying to cope with the g7-problem first was a necessity (not that easy though).
Truly a multi-purpose move: threatening mate on g7, attacking the Bb4, introducing ideas with Ne7+ and cutting off the Rc8. There is no defense.
15. …Nxc6 16.Qxg7#
Note that 15. …Bf8 fails to 16.Ne7+! (diagram)
What is there to be learned from this game?
1. Quick and sound development is the most important principle of the opening.
2. Having an idea of where the pieces belong in specific openings, or, when faced with an unknown variation, thoroughly thinking about it, is immensely useful.
3. A clear lead in development can sometimes be used effectively by initiating dynamic attacking play.