Monday, March 20, 2017

Tomb Raider

The Tomb Raider franchise began in 1996 when game studio Core Design released under its parent company Eidos Interactive, a third-person 3D action adventure featuring acrobatic (and shapely) Lara Croft as the Tomb Raider navigating through traps. Since that time, the franchise has gone on to publish about fifteen game titles and inspire two movies starring Angelina Jolie. A reboot of the film franchise is in development with Alicia Vikander (from Ex Machina) in the title role.

I won a game last month that reminded me of the Tomb Raider. My opponent offered material for the possibility of trapping my queen. I stayed one step ahead of the traps and managed to escape with the material advantage intact. I'm playing Black. White's 20th move was 20.Qc2-e2, loosening the protection of the Nb3, to which I responded 20...Qc7-d7 threatening to capture the white pawn on a4 and having a follow-up threat against Nb3 for the next move. Notice that Black has a loose a7 pawn.

My opponent and I were both a little short on time, about 15 minutes to make 10 moves and reach move 30. Ideally, both sides could sink into 30-45 minute thinks and try to work out the next 8-12 plies with some level of certainty before making such committal moves. Barring that, I fell back on intuition that I could use the pawn exchanges at e4 and b4 and my well-placed rooks at c8 and d8 to aid my queen's escape. If the two white rooks came to a1 and b1, the bishop would have trouble discovering the attack of the b-rook because a1 was occupied and Bc1 allows simply Qxc3. If the minor pieces could not trap my queen, then I might be able to sac my queen for a rook, thereby gaining at least material parity. I also used a rough risk-reward calculation: if I took on a4, worst case scenario was that Ra1 forces my queen to retreat to d7 and then I would have to contend with Rxa7. So, sometimes, I used shorter variations than I really should have to substitute for calculated certainty. My opponent sweetened the reward by cutting off the protection of Bb2. 21.Nc2??

I knew that I was getting the a-pawn and at least positional play against a pair of awkward knights (if either knight goes to a1). If he tried to trap my queen with Ra1, I would get the Nb3 and tempo against the loose Bb2. So I took the bait and entered the tomb. 21...Qxa4 22.Ra1

Last chance to bail out with Qd7 Rxa7. No guts no glory. 22...Qxb3 23.Reb1

White is one move away from trapping the Black Queen with Ra3, but Black has several resources to delay that outcome. The most immediate is cxb4. This has the possibility of opening the c-file for the Black rook and it also temporarily prevents Ra3. However, White would almost certainly play Nxb4, keeping the c-file semi-closed. Another resource is dxe4, temporarily giving Black the potential of Qd5, but fxe4 leaves the queen trapped. I already began to see the possibility of a bailout sacrifice to get my queen out of trouble, but I wasn't sure it was going to work. So I went for the pawn exchanges to improve my rooks. 23...dxe4 24.fxe4

24...cxb4 25.Nxb4

A pause now that we're five moves closer to time control. I was annoyed at the weakness of my a7 pawn and the tempo that Rxa7 might get on my Bb7. Since I was already up a knight and a pawn, I calculated that 25...a5 26.Ra3 Qxa3 27.Bxa3 axb4 might be a bailout strategy. Do you see the other possibility of bailout yet? 25...a5 26.Ra3. White moved in to kill my queen.

Even though 26...Qxa3 27.Bxa3 axb4 28.Bxb4 carries the material advantage of queen (9) for rook and two knights (11), White's position seemed annoyingly consolidated. I couldn't see how I was going to organize my pieces for the next round of battle. With White's Nb4 under attack and both our time troubles becoming serious, I decided to play my ace in the hole. 26...Nd4!.

If he captures my queen with Rxb3, I capture his queen with check Nxe2+ with more even exchanges helping Black's endgame. If he captures my knight with cxd4, I capture his knight Qxb4 and get my queen away safely with the knight advantage. If he saves his queen, I save my queen with Qe6. My opponent let his time tick down to about 1 minute for 4 moves as he tried to work out this mess. He finally settled on 27.Qd2 Qe6.

At this point, I figured that White should trade knights and gain a protected passer at d5, e.g. 28.cxd4 axb4 29.d5. Another variation could have gone 28.Nc2 Nxc2 29.Rxc2. However, with his time trouble, White tried too hard to avoid exchanges and came up with a move that made his knight, bishop, and rook awkward. 28.Na2?

With the remaining time on my clock, I retreated while picking on the awkward rook. 28...Nb5 29.Ra3 Nd6 30.Qf2 Bc6. With a piece and a pawn down and the possibility of losing the rook, my opponent resigned. Black's most straightforward win goes 31.Ra3 Nb5 32.Ra4 Qb3 going back to the tomb to loot more treasure.

1 comment:

frenez said...

White probably should have avoided the whole trap the queen thing just by realizing that it's 4 or 5 moves before you even get a chance at it. The position is very tricky with a lot of different variations, each of which have to be run down. Black, on the other hand, has 4 or 5 moves to get out, that's a lot of time. And, as you noted, there are several bailouts available. A5 n Nd4 were nice (if u saw that when u played Qxa4 ur a genius). Qf1 is trickier than Qc2. PxN and d5 and Bh3 and Ra7, in some order will keep u on your toes, but it seems manageable, and your still a piece up. A good game though that required a lot of calculation from both sides.