Wednesday, 12 December 2018

043. Form is Temporary

White: R.W. Bauld - BCCA Championship, 1994/95

I'm playing very badly at the moment and don't know why. I've hardly won a league game in over a year and am now losing to people who haven't beaten me in a long time - or even at all. So far this season, I've had a lost position in every one of my nine games. That I've drawn five and even won a game doesn't make me feel much better. From a peak rating of 221 (ECF) eighteen months ago, I'll have dropped 30 points by the time the next list comes out.

Well, form comes and goes, I suppose. And drastically so for me in correspondence chess. For instance, after winning the BCCA Championship for the second time (and consecutively) in 1993/94, in the following year I came last. The game below is from the 1994/95 tournament.

It features another "deferred" Open Game. To be precise, it's a type of Réti – a reversed Classical Pirc – to which ECO duly assigns the code A07. But it could just as well be C42 or C44. Indeed, the first game in the database to reach the position at move seven (B.Ivkov-L.Rellstab, Bled 1950) took the route 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 Nbd2 Be7 6 Bg2 0-0 7 0-0. So there you are.

It's also a slightly unusual game in that, having built himself a fortress, my opponent took to "passing" from move 25 on, giving me unlimited time to try and find a way in. My written notes give no indication as to why I didn't take the e-pawn on move 29. Instead, I sent my knight on a trip from f6 to a8 and then round again to g5. This did in fact enable me to break through, though it was only a mistake on move 47 that gave me a winning position. And then I fell for a stalemate trick.

It was another three years before I was back in the Championship and won it again, this time with my best ever score of +6.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

042. Days of Innocence

Black: C.S. Thomson - BPCTC, 1993-94

Once upon a time, when people used to play 1...e5 against me (which no one has done OTB for three years now), I got to utilize a lot of "unexpected" variations in the King's Gambit. One of these was the Rosentreter: 2...exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 d4!?, intending 4...g4 5 Bxf4 gxf3 6 Qxf3 with practical chances (see here, for instance), based on the fact that Black has no pieces out at all.

Some players, perhaps surprised by 4 d4, would try to reach a standard set-up with 4...Bg7, intending ...h7-h6, ...d7-d6 and so forth. Only to be confronted by 5 h4 h6 6 hxg5 hxg5 7 Rxh8 Bxh8 8 g3! (Keres), after which they found themselves instead in a fringe line of Becker's Defence, not knowing what to do.

I used to do quite well with this line (8...g4 9 Nh2! is the main point), even against FIDE titled (or future titled) players, such as: Gregory Kaidanov, Mark Hebden, James Cobb, and Robert Eames. My opponent in the game below, Craig Thomson, has a title too (he's an FM – whether at the time or later, I'm not sure), though the Becker wasn't a surprise to him because he started it off with 3...h6. (In any case, the element of surprise tends to be more potent in rapid chess than postal chess.) All the same, he didn't manage to defend correctly, and I won – as I thought then – a nice game.

They feel like days of innocence now. Neither that game, nor any of the others mentioned, stands up to engine scrutiny – especially the one against Hebden, which exemplifies Tartakower's maxim: that the player who wins is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake; i.e. it didn't matter that Hebden blundered first (17...Qf5??), nor that several other moves by both sides were also blunders, because I blundered last (38 Bf4??) and therefore lost.

If there's a reason I stopped playing 5 h4 and 8 g3, I've forgotten what it was. Maybe there wasn't a reason. Today, Stockfish gives Black the edge, but not fatally so. Or as John Shaw put it in his book: “The King's Gambit – not quite as stupid as it looks.” On the other hand, on the few occasions in recent years I've gotten as far as 2...exf4 as White, I've only played 3 Nf3 twice. Coincidentally, the last of those was against Hebden again (in 2016), where he blundered first again, and won again. Some things never change.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

041. My First CC Tournament

Black: D.J. Finnie - BCCA Major, 1988-89

I can't remember why I started playing correspondence chess. Likely I picked up a leaflet somewhere and decided to send it off. After playing chess as a junior – and packing it in at secondary school – I returned to it again in 1985 when the local chess club (Mansfield) suddenly turned up in my regular, the now defunct Stag & Pheasant (which is not the Wetherspoons of the same name). Three years later I entered the BCCA pyramid tournament for the first time.

By then my OTB rating was 163, which meant I was placed directly in a Major section, two divisions below the Championship. All-play-all, both colours, five opponents, ten games. I won nine. Going through them with Stockfish thirty years on, the engine inevitably points out a few mistakes but surprisingly few serious ones by me. It seems I actually played quite well (see here, for instance). Except in the game below.

In this one Philidor's Defence arrived via a Pirc move order: 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nbd7 4 Nf3 e5 5 Bc4 Be7 6 0-0 0-0.

I've faced this (Hanham) system twice as White and lost both times (once OTB in 1993). Since then I've studiously avoided it, opting variously for (3...Nbd7) 4 f4 (or if 3...e5 then 4 Nge2), or 3 f3, or 2 Nc3 without d2-d4 at all. It's interesting... Switch the colour of every piece in the diagram and I'd be perfectly content to grind this out as "Black", so why should it be more difficult with White? I guess it's a psychological problem. Or else just me. I'm sure Magnus Carlsen would be more than happy to take the white pieces here, and as often as he possibly could.

Well, anyway, looking over my BCCA game again now, I have to say I'm struggling to understand some of my moves:

13. Why not play Qf3 straight away, instead of wasting time with the dark-squared bishop?
15. Why then leave the bishop on f4 to be captured?
17. Why not take on e6 at once, instead of wasting time with the light-squared bishop?
23. What on earth was Rd4 for?
29. Okay, this was just a blunder.

But I can't be sad (can't be sad), ’cause nine out of ten ain't bad. I even won a game with Alekhine's Defence.

Monday, 15 October 2018

040. Old Novelties, New Novelties

White: Glawurtz89 - All-play-all tournament,, 2018

Twenty years ago in an ICCF thematic I played the novelty 19 Rf5 h6 20 Bf4 h5!. This was my improvement on analysis (20...Rfe8 21 Rg1) by Victor Ivanov and Alexander Kulagin in their very interesting book Play the Schliemann Defence! (Olbrich 1994).

It was indeed good, but I failed immediately to back it up. After 21 Bg5, my next move 21...Kc7? could have been met by 22 Qd2!, since 22...hxg4? 23 Qa5+ Kc8 24 Qxa7 g3! (as I'd analysed) fails instead to 24 Nc4! and if 24...g3 then 25 Nxd6+ Rxd6 26 Bf4 Rd7 27 Qxa7 wins for White. Fortunately, my opponent played 22 Ng6?, made some more mistakes, and finally allowed me a win with 31...f2! 32 d5 R8e4! 33 dxc6+ Kc7 – which I missed. I didn't even realize I was winning. This is all according to the engine of course.

Going back, the correct move was 21...Bc7, which seems to work out for Black. In the game below I intended to give it a go – until my opponent played 19 Rg1!, planning simply to trap the queen with Rg3.

No worries. I'd looked at this back in the day. Ivanov & Kulagin analysed the further 19...Bxe5 20 dxe5 Rxe5 21 Rg3 Qxg3 22 hxg3 Rxg5 23 Qe3 Rxg4 24 Qxa7 Re8, giving the appropriate symbol for “with counterplay”.

Okay, I'll just check that with the engine... 25 Rd4 Rg5 26 Rb4 b5 27 Rb3 Rh5 28 Ra3 e3 29 Rxe3 “+- (2.22)”. In human-speak: “White is winning”. Bollocks!

I had to leave the g4-pawn alone, grovel with 23...Re5 24 Qxa7 Rfe8, and hope that the e-pawn would still offer enough.

Well, as it turned out, my rooks managed to get in on the second (at the cost of a couple of pawns) and eliminate the white queenside, leading to a rook plus one vs. knight plus two endgame where the black e-pawn was enough. For instance, at the end, 46 Rxh7 c4+! 47 Kxc4 e2 48 Rh1 Ne3+ 49 Kd3 Nf1 draws.

All the same, if there are any novelties to be found post 23...Re5, they're going to be White's. I think I'll look for an improvement earlier on next time.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

039. Taking the Draw as White

White: Raffzahn - Thematic tournament,, 2018

It's a common fact in chess that very sharp openings often lead to quick draws. Take this line of the Schliemann: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 Nc3 fxe4 5 Nxe4 d5 6 Nxe5 dxe4 7 Nxc6 Qg5 8 Qe2 Nf6 9 f4 Qxf4 10 Nxa7+ Bd7 11 Bxd7+ Kxd7 12 Qb5+ Ke6 13 Qxb7 Bd6.

Black has sacrificed two pawns for a lead in development and strong counterplay against the white king. Obviously the black king is none too safe either, which (unfortunately) means that White can, if desired, just take a draw.

Supposing White doesn't take the draw, what then? One possibility is 14 Qb3+ Kd7 15 Qf7+. I actually wrote an article on this for the BCCA magazine (CC#144, Autumn 1999), in which I was slightly dubious about Black's chances. But my conclusions there were wrong. Not least because, after 15...Kd8 16 Nc6+ Kc8 17 Ne7+ Bxe7 18 Qxe7 Re8 19 Qc5, the best move is not 19...e3?! (“!” in the article) but 19...Ra6! – as later shown by German gambit theoretician, Peter Leisebein, and consolidated in the games of CC-SIMs Hans-Dieter Vötter and Gerhard Ziese. This is significantly better for Black than my previously favoured 15...Be7 15 Nc6 Kxc6 17 Qxe7 Rae8.

As it happens, I've recently had a spate of 10 Nxa7+s, facing it eight times in online games in 2018. And I've taken to hectoring my opponents, trying to discourage them from taking the draw. For instance:

10. tsmenace: Bah, 10 Nxa7 again. This is just a draw I think. 10 Ne5 is critical, or else 9 Nxa7 if White really wants to take the pawn. But of course you may yet prove me wrong ;)

Whether influenced by my comments or not, they've generally played the position on. And rightly so – in principle – because why play 10 Nxa7+ at all as White if you're just going to take a draw? What's to be learned from doing that? On the other hand, I should perhaps mention that, of the seven players who didn't take the draw, six have lost. That was quite a surprise to me, I must admit. I mean, I knew there were decent practical chances in these lines, but to score 6½/7 as Black!?

It's inadvertently given me more respect for the one person who ignored my remarks and took the draw:

15. Raffzahn: offered a draw - Please use the Accept Draw or Decline Draw buttons to accept or decline the offer.

I declined and played on:

15. tsmenace: it's your move :) - obviously you can force a draw if you want one

My opponent was determined. So – a draw. Well done.


Sunday, 8 July 2018

038. The Chigorin Sicilian

Black: RickF - All-play-all tournament,, 2018

Actually, Mikhail Chigorin has no Sicilian system named after him. Against 1 e4 the great Russian master played 1...e5 almost exclusively, and in the king's pawn openings his name is mainly associated with a formation in the Closed Ruy Lopez: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3 0-0 9 h3 Na5 10 Bc2 c5.

I'm not sure why Chigorin gets the credit for that either. He seems only to have played it a couple of times; his treatment in O.Duras-M.Chigorin, Nuremberg 1906, was quite "unthematic"; and Schlechter had already ventured this set-up against Tarrasch four years earlier. If it's because Schlechter lost and Chigorin won, Schlechter had his revenge – beating Chigorin from the White side in 1907.

Well, anyway, the Chigorin Ruy Lopez it became and subsequently developed a large complex of theory. One variation, amongst many, runs 11 d4 Qc7 12 d5, whereby White hopes to keep the a5-knight out of the game; for example, after 12...Nc4 13 a4 Bd7 14 b3 Nb6 15 a5 or 12...Bd7 13 b3 c4 14 b4 Nb7 15 a4. Note that, in the latter line, 13 a4 is somewhat premature in view of 13...c4!, controlling the white b-pawn and preparing to target the a4-pawn with ...Nb7-c5.

Despite that, 13 a4 is still seen occasionally. E.Hossain-J.Hjartarson, Turin Olympiad 2006, continued 13...c4 14 Be3 bxa4?! 15 Bxa4 Bxa4 16 Qxa4 Nb3 17 Ra3 Rfc8 18 Nbd2 Nc5 19 Qc2 Nfd7 20 Rae1 a5 21 Nxc4 and White was clearly better at this point (later going very wrong in time trouble and losing). Rather than exchanging on a4 so soon, Black should maintain the tension with something like 14...Rfb8 or 14...Rfc8, or an immediate 14...Nb7-c5.

If you're wondering what any of this has to do with the Sicilian, then watch... 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 a4!? (a harmless-looking move, played by GMs Bukhuti Gurgenidze, Bent Larsen and, more recently, Konstantin Chernyshov) 4...Nf6 5 d3 Nc6 6 0-0 e6 7 Re1 Be7 8 c3 a6 9 Bc4 0-0 10 Bb3 b5 11 d4 e5 (I once won after 11...Qc7 12 e5) 12 d5 Na5 13 Bc2 c4 (13...Qc7 was V.Kosenkov-M.Kletsel, 8th World Correspondence Championship 1975) 14 h3 Qc7 and somehow we've transposed to the diagram, duly making it a “Chigorin Sicilian”.

That was the surprising course of the game below. I tried Hossain's 14 Be3, my opponent replied with 14...Rfc8 and... nothing much else happened. There was one way I might have made it interesting: 29 Qf2 g6 30 Nh5!? gxh5 31 Bh6, but this fails to 31...Ne8! 32 Qg3+ Kf7 33 Nf3 Ke7 34 Nxe5 h4! 35 Qxh4 Ne6!, when Black emerges with the better chances while, most pertinently, White has no chances of more than a draw. It seemed simpler to swap things off and then just offer a draw. So that's what I did.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

037. The King Steps Sideways

White: G. Crook - BCCA DJKO 35/1, 2000

The Two Knights with 4 d4 exd4 5 0-0 isn't played very much nowadays, because 5...Nxe4 6 Re1 d5 7 Bxd5 Qxd5 8 Nc3 Qa5 (or 8...Qh5) 9 Nxe4 Be6 is considered perfectly acceptable for Black. All well and good. Black has grabbed the central e-pawn; White has played a little trick (7 Bxd5, 8 Nc3) to regain it. And there the excitement ends for me.

I've mostly preferred the Max Lange Attack: 5...Bc5 6 e5 d5 7 exf6 dxc4. The main line continues 8 Re1+ Be6 9 Ng5 Qd5 10 Nc3 Qf5 11 Nce4 0-0-0 12 g4 Qe5, reaching a very messy position. That's more like it. I like messy positions. Up to a point. What I really like is messy positions where my opponent hasn't already learned what to do. Mainline Sicilians, for instance, can be extremely messy but also mapped out to move thirty and beyond. I'm not interested in all that. Max Lange variations, too, go deep into the twenties, and I'm not interested in those either. Especially not when it's me who doesn't know what to do.

So I started sliding the king sideways: 8...Kf8!?. Theory tends to dismiss this on account of 9 Bg5 gxf6 10 Bh6+ Kg8 11 Nc3.

For the price of two pawns White has shut the h8-rook in the corner and opened the black king to spectacular mating attacks. Such as 11...Bg4 12 Ne4 b6 13 c3 Ne5? 14 Nxe5! Bxd1 15 Nd7! Be7 16 Nexf6+ Bxf6 17 Re8+! Qxe8 18 Nxf6 mate, as in B.Kazic-B.Vukovic, Candidates Tournament, Yugoslavia 1940. Or 11...Bf8 12 Nxd4 Nxd4? 13 Qxd4! Qxd4? 14 Re8 Qd6 15 Nd5 and mate in four.

Except, none of that is forced. In the latter line Black can play 12...Bxh6 13 Nxc6 Qxd1 14 Ne7+ Kg7 15 Rad1 Be6 16 Ned5 “with roughly equal chances”, according to Yakov Estrin in his book on the Two Knights Defence (Batsford 1983). And I think that's being generous to White, seeing as Black still has an extra pawn and the two bishops. Or if 12 Bxf8 Kxf8 13 Ne4, then 13...f5! and again the onus is on White to justify the sacrifices.

I got to test those “equal chances” in the game below. As it happens, my opponent did manage to find compensation, tried to mate me with rook, knight and king, and eventually took a draw by perpetual check. Nonetheless, today's engines give Black the advantage all the way through, even if I was unable to convert it at the time. Certainly I'd be happy to have another go.

That is if White doesn't avoid the whole thing by throwing in 8 fxg7 first.