Structures in Practice – The Catalan Gambit

Throughout the past month I have had much trouble choosing the topic of my next post. Maybe I haven’t followed enough recent games, or maybe there haven’t been many that caught my eye. Finally, I decided to share a game from my own experience, related to a structure I do not discuss in my book, but is nevertheless relevant: the Catalan Gambit, where White doesn’t recapture on c4. I actually sacrificed the c4-pawn not because I wanted to, but because it seemed to be the only chance to fight for an advantage. The resulting position is probably a dynamic balance, where White’s hope is to achieve a kingside or central attack before Black obtains some strong queenside play with the extra pawn.

1. d4 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. g3 Nf6 5.Bg2 O-O 6. O-O c6 7. Nc3 Qa5 8. h3 I had prepared this line extensively, but then my opponent chose to move away from the main line with 8…Qa6!? Instead, I had prepared 8… e5 

9. Nd2!? Moving away from the usual lines, mostly due to my ignorance. The main line is 9.b3

9… Be6 10. Qb3 My goal was to support c4, preparing e2-e4 in the next move, with a strong control of the center. The alternative I considered was 10. d5 but after 10…Bc8 I believe Black has good counterplay, as I am somewhat overextended, for example 11. e4 Nbd7 12. Re1 Nc5 13. Bf1 Qb6 14. Rb1 a5 with good play.

10… d5! Black’s centra reaction is timely and precise

11. e4!? I found this interesting option, which is probably my only ambitious try in the position. It is not a very good idea to take the pawn with 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Nxd5?! Nxd5 13. Bxd5 Bxd5 14. Qxd5 Nc6 15. e3 e5! where Black has more than enough compensation for the pawn. Also, in case of 11. c5 b6 12. cxb6, axb6 Black’s structure is preferable 

11… dxc4 Black should have considered 11… dxe4! and after 12. d5 Bf5 13. Ndxe4 Nxe4 14. Nxe4 Nd7 15. Be3 the position is equal.

12. Qc2 White has an interesting compensation for the pawn, since Black’s queen is misplaced on a6. 

12…Nbd7 Black needs to play 12… b5!? sooner or later in order to create counterplay. 13. Nf3 Qc8 14. Ng5 Na6 and the position is unclear.
13.Nf3 Rfd8 14. Ng5 Nf8 15. Be3
and White is a little better. Black’s plan has been rather slow, and now White counts with a dynamical advantage due to his nice control of the center

15…Ne8 Making White’s task easier. Black should have played 15… b5 16.f4 Qb7 17. f5!? where White has some initiative 16. Rfd1 Bd7?! Black still had time to seek counterplay with 16… b5! 17. a4 Black’s position now becomes unpleasant, as White dominates both sides of the board, and counterplay with b7-b5 is now much harder to carry out

17…b6 18. f4 Qc8 19. g4 Nc7 20. f5! White has a big advantage. The latter move creates contact with Black’s kingside, and it also has the virtue of keeping both of Black’s knights out of the game 

20…f6 An interesting variation was 20… b5 21. axb5 cxb5 22. e5 Rb8 23. Rxa7 b4 24.Rxc7! inviting Black into a mate in 3 with 24…Qxc7 25. Nd5 Qa7 26. Nxe7+ Kh8 27. Nxf7# 21. Nf3 Black reacted adequately, challenging the strong f5-pawn with e6! 22. Nh4! It is very important for White to maintain the strong f5-pawn where it is, as it creates many obstacles to Black’s defence, and it prevents Black’s bishop on g7 from playing 22…Re8 In case of 22… gxf5 23. gxf5 exf5 24. exf5 Be8 25. Kh1+- White’s kingside attack will be decisive 23. Qf2 a6 24. Rf1 White could already gain some material with 24. d5!  24… Qd8 25. Rad1!? Preparing the central break. I missed
the more direct 25. d5! winning a lot of material by force, for example 25…cxd5 26. exd5 exd5 27. Bxb6 Bc6 28. Qc5 Qd7 29. Bxc7+- 

25… exf5 26. gxf5 b5 27. e5 g5 In case of 27… fxe5 28. f6 Bxf6 29. Qxf6 Qxf6 30. Rxf6 White’s extra piece should be enough to win 28. e6! Keeping Black’s bishop on g7 locked out of the game. In case of 28. Nf3? Bxf5 29. Nxg5 Bd3 30. exf6 Qxf6! Black is still in big problems, but at least there is counterplay now, and pieces are somehow playing 

28… Nfxe6! a good practical chance from Black. In case of 28… gxh4?! 29. d5! Black’s position is desperate:

I think this diagram fully illustrates White’s potential in this structure. For example Nxd5 30. Nxd5 Bxe6 31. Nb6 Bd7 32. Bc5 Ra7 33. Bxc6 +- winning a lot of material. 29. fxe6 I missed the strong alternative 29. d5! cxd5 30.fxe6 Bxe6 31. axb5 gxh4 32. b6 Nb5 33. Nxd5+- 29… Bxe6 30. d5! It seems to be the only option to keep the advantage. Keeping the lines open at the cost of a pawn. But not 30. Nf3? Nd5 where Black manages to estabilize his position 

30… Nxd5. It does not help 30… cxd5 31. axb5! winning as above. Meanwhile 30… Bxd5 31. Nf5 is winning due to Black’s poor coordination, for example 31…Qd7 32. Nxd5 Nxd5 33. Nxg7 Qxg7 34. Rxd5 $1 cxd5 35. Bxd5+ Kh8 36. Bd4+- 

31. Nxd5 Bxd5 32. Nf5 +- In spite of the relatively equal material (four pawns for a piece) White is winning due to his coordination and the terribly passive bishop on g7 32…Re6 33. Bxg5! Qf8 The bishop is untouchable: 33…fxg5 34. Nxg7 Kxg7 35. Bxd5 cxd5 36. Qf7+ Kh8 37. Qxe6+- 

34. Bxd5 In case of 34.Nxg7 $6 Qxg7 35. Rxd5 fxg5 36. Rf5, where White is still winning, but it’s just not as easy as the game 

34… cxd5 35. Be3 now the g7-bishop is terribly placed 

35…Rd8 36. Kh1 clearing the g-file in order to attack the bishop on g7 36…Rd7 37. Rg1 Qe8 38. Bh6 Qh5 39. Nxg7 Qxh3+ 40. Qh2 Qxh2+ 41. Kxh2

With two extra pieces, for just a handful of pawns, the rest of the game is simple 41…Re2+ 42. Kh3 Kf7 43. Nf5 bxa4 44. Nd4 Re4 45. Rg7+ Ke8 46. Rg8+ Kf7 47. Rf8+ Ke7 48.Rh8 Kd6 49. Rc8 Rb7 50. Rc6+ Kd7 51. Rxf6 Rxb2 52. Rxa6 c3 53. Rg1 Rb7 54. Rxa4 Kd6 55. Bf8+ Ke5 56. Nc6+ Kf4 57. Bh6+ Kf5 58. Rg5+ Ke6 59. Rxe4+ dxe4 60. Rc5 Rb6 61. Bf4 e3 62. Nd4+ 1-0 Black resigned as all the pawns are falling. As a result of this game, I gained an important point toward my victory in the Montcada International Open of 2013. The game was very interesting tactically and strategically, but one thought I would like to leave all of you with is: Most of Black’s problems were a result of taking too long to mobilize the queenside. White’s control of the center is so strong that any attack is bound to work eventually, hence Black cannot just sit and wait. Seeking counterplay was needed.

Feel free to leave comments, suggestions or questions. If you liked this blog post, click “Follow” at the top of the page to receive an email once a new blog post is out. I will try to post at least twice a month.

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4 thoughts on “Structures in Practice – The Catalan Gambit

  1. Franklin Chen

    Very interesting Pawn structure transformation in the opening! Reading the first several moves, I was confused where the Catalan was coming in, but then saw how it played out. I assume Black had never played the actual Catalan and therefore was at a loss and forgot to set up …b5 with a typical Pawn structure and preparation for Queen side counterplay. The lesson here seems to be that we should all learn and know all the structures, because who knows what might occur out of any opening that we prefer to play.

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