Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Black: juliangon - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2017
I'm currently competing in a Latvian Gambit tournament, all the games to start with 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 f5. I've played the Latvian on and off over the board with reasonable results, and still bring it out in blitz chess from time to time. However, apart from 3 Bc4 which can arise via the Calabrese Counter-Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5 3 Nf3), I've not looked at the theory in years, especially the state of the 3 Nxe5 Qf6 4 d4 d6 5 Nc4 fxe4 main line.
Well, I have to say that this seems now to be virtually unplayable for Black, so that anyone who manages to scramble a draw from this position has, I think, done very well. So far I've not managed to do that and have been crushed twice. From the other side, I am (or was) looking at two solid wins as White. My third opponent might well draw as Black (well done!), while I might draw my third game too (hurrah!).
All the same, just ½/3 and having to work extremely hard for it... No, I don't think I'll bother anymore, thanks. If it's really true that The Latvian Gambit Lives, as GM Tony Kosten entitled his second book on the opening (Batsford 2001), it's only with a finger or two keeping the coffin lid from being nailed shut.
My two losses have come against 6 Nc3 Qg6 7 Ne3 and 7 f3 Be7 8 fxe4!. In the latter line, I look like drawing with each colour after 8 Nxe4. I'm a pawn up in the endgame as White, but it will probably resolve itself to three vs. two on the kingside, which won't be an easy win. Whereas two pawns up and three vs. one should be simple enough (as has occurred in another game after 3...Nf6 4 Bc4 Qe7 5 d4 Nc6 6 Nc3!).
In my final game as White, I went for Bronstein's 6 Be2, both for a change and because I've never been particularly happy facing this myself. Indeed, it all turned out very well for me, until my final move...
Here I intended 30 gxf6 Rxe5 31 fxg7 Kxg7 32 Ne4 and wins, while the tricky 31...Re1!? is refuted by 32 Bxh7+! Kxh7 33 g8Q+ Kxg8 34 Rg3+ (saving the rook) and 35 Qxe1. Instead, I apparently entered 30 Bxf6??, which is a terrible blunder since 30...Re1! now works and even wins for Black; i.e. 31 Qxe1 Qxf3+ 32 Kh2 Qxh3+ 33 Kg1 c4+ etc. As I wrote in an earlier post: “human stupidity can never be prevented entirely”.
Fortunately, I only discovered my mistake when glancing over an email notifying me that my opponent had resigned, which of course was a terrible blunder too.
Naturally, I was both surprised (at my mistake) and pleased (that it hadn't immediately cost me the game), if more surprised than pleased. In fact “shocked” and “relieved” would be more to the point there. But at least it was first thing in the morning rather than last thing at night. Otherwise I might have been tossing and turning for hours.
Thursday, 31 August 2017
Black: D. Nightingale - John Elburg anniversary tournament, 2001
“Petroff's Defence, or the Russian Game, is an extremely peace-loving opening. By choosing a symmetrical move, Black is as much as saying: whatever you do, I'll follow you; I'm a meek and mild-tempered fellow.
“If White responds to Black's peace initiative, then the moves flow like water off a duck's back – a dozen exchanges, and the clocks are stopped. Draw.
“But White has only to show a touch of arrogance and obstinacy, and go in for an open fight, when Black immediately replies blow for blow, and then for a long time it is difficult to say who is attacking and who is defending.
“But that rarely happens. More often White complies; one exchange, then another – and then the judge rushes to the table....”
Such was Bronstein's witty description of the Petroff back in 1970. Nowadays, even if the draw percentage remains high, White is generally unwilling to concede one quite so easily. Thus Black is obliged to demonstrate the opening's fighting qualities, as in the game below.
This followed a then topical variation with 3 d4 and 7...Qh4, which seems now to be a theoretical backwater, almost a historical footnote. White prefers 3 Nxe5 five or sixfold over 3 d4 – and 3 Nc3 too is seen nearly three times as often. Even when 3 d4 is brought out, subsequent play hardly ever gets as far as 7...Qh4, which features in just 0.002% of recent Petroff games.
Nevertheless, an “open fight” duly ensued, with both sides pushing their pawns forward vigorously, and a wholly correct exchange sacrifice led to a material imbalance of rook vs. bishop and pawn.
In this position Black's bishop (hiding behind the white d-pawn) safeguards his king, and the advancing kingside pawns should give him sufficient compensation, whether or not queens come off. In the end, all the major pieces left the board, and the g- and h-pawns were traded for White's c- and d-pawns, to leave a pure rook vs. bishop endgame with three vs. two on one flank.
As Averbakh showed many years ago, Pa5, Pb6, Bc6, Kb7 is a fortress even without the black c-pawn. So all that remained was for the metaphorical judge to rush to the table.
Saturday, 19 August 2017
White: J.J. Wagenbach - friendly thematic, 1998
Twenty years ago (really?!) we used to play friendly thematic games to test out variations of the Wagenbach. One line which saw quite a bit of action was 4 Bc4 h4 5 Ne5!?, whereby White tries to improve on 5 d4 g5 6 Ne5 (as in Game 1) by attacking f7 before Black has played ...g7-g5, so that a later ...Qf6 does not also defend the rook in the corner. After a while, 5...Nh6 6 Qh5 Qe7! was worked out to be fine for Black and the line was more or less abandoned, but not before we'd had several interesting games. The one below is one such.
However, I'm not showing this game for any reason of Wagenbach "theory", nor subjecting it to modern computer analysis, but rather because of a possible position at move 32. Here White might have played 32 Rh1!? and claimed a win by "house"; i.e. by filling in a complete line on the board – and, very oddly, on the h-file.
Obviously, there's no such rule in chess, so János opted for something more sensible in 32 Bg3 (and only subsequently went wrong). All the same, I might as White have played 32 Rh1!? anyway, just because.
Thursday, 27 July 2017
White: N. Christophe - ICCF thematic tournament, 2000
Back in my very first post, I mentioned that my pet lines include the Calabrese Counter-Gambit (2 Bc4 f5!?), Wagenbach King's Gambit (2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 h5!?), Traxler Two Knights (2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 4 Ng5 Bc5!?), and Schliemann Ruy Lopez (2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5). Subsequent posts have featured two or three of each of those so far – with the exception of the Traxler (aka Wilkes-Barre Variation), so here's one of those now, which also fits into the ongoing Material Imbalances theme.
In the diagram position, the titled piece configuration is only temporary. Black can quickly regain the e4-pawn for a start, while another game (Holzner-Tait) soon reached Queen and Two Connected Passed Pawns vs. Two Rooks and Bishop – which I lost. As it happens I seem to be the only person to lose (and lose twice) as Black from this position, though the other games in the database hardly represent best play either.
Black has tried a variety of moves here: 20...a6, 20...Qh4+ (going for the pawn straight away), and the anodyne 20...Kb7 (my choice). That move looks bizarre to me now. White is getting close to consolidating the kingside and I'm bothered about losing the a-pawn?! Obviously Black should be trying to generate counterplay and, to that end, might consider either 20...h5 (intending ...h5-h4, when 21 Rh1 Qe5 has at least disrupted White's artificial castling) or 20...h6 (probably stronger), followed by ...g7-g5. Houdini marks the latter down as only slightly better for White.
As for 20...Kb7?!, someone else did win with this move (with a bit of help), and in Holzner-Tait 28...h5 (rather than 28...g5?! etc) 29 a4 Qg2 might have offered Black more chances. But in the game below I lost without any fight whatsoever.
In his recent book, Black Gambits 2 (Quality Chess 2012), GM Boris Alterman stops at 18 Nf3 and writes: “Black has no more attack, and White's rook and two pieces will eventually overpower the black queen.” Certainly that proved to be the case in both my games, though whether it's entirely inevitable is not so clear. All the same, the standard 7...Qh4 is probably the right way to go.
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
White: W. Goedhart - ICCF thematic tournament, 1998
So the queen was unable to compete successfully with three minor pieces in the previous game. How about two rooks and three pawns? That's virtually a +4 point count in the latter's favour. This situation arises in a main line of the Schliemann Defence and is duly assessed as winning for the +4.
In The Ruy Lopez Revisited (New in Chess 2009), GM Ivan Sokolov writes: “Black is too much material behind, without serious chances to create an attack. While White still has to round off the technical part, it is obvious that Black is better advised not to repeat this opening preparation.”
White's mass of material should indeed be sufficient to win. Nevertheless, there are still some practical difficulties to overcome: (i) the rooks are not yet in play; (ii) the white knight is currently a slight liability; and (iii) there are some light square weaknesses for Black to try and exploit.
These factors were all demonstrated in the game below: (ii) Black's 23rd move threatened ...Qg5, forking the knight and g2-pawn; (iii) White's response (24 g3?) made the light squares even more vulnerable; and (i) the rooks never really got into the game at all.
In fact White went wrong straight away. 24 0-0-0 is to be preferred, after which Sokolov concludes: “White had a winning advantage in Todorov-Boudre, Cannes 1997.”
Well, yes, probably. All the same, I think 7...Qd5 is worth an occasional punt over the board. The critical line (up to 18 Ba3!) is a lot for White to remember, supposing they've even looked at it before. From half a dozen games with 7...Qd5 over the years, only one of my opponents has ever got this far, and I won that game too.
Thursday, 29 June 2017
Black: draco - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2016
Unusual material equivalences usually lead to interesting games. That is, where each sides’ "point count" is roughly the same but made up of different forces. Such as:
- Rook and pawn(s) vs. bishop and knight;
- Rook vs. minor piece and two pawns;
- Two bishops vs. two knights;
- Queen and pawn(s) vs. two rooks;
- Queen vs. three minor pieces.
And so forth. Which side comes out on top naturally depends on the position, but some generalizations can be made. Such as:
- For the rook to beat bishop and knight in an endgame requires the aid of an outside passed pawn;
- For two knights to beat two bishops, the pawn structure has to favour the knights;
- For the queen to beat two rooks or three minors, the queen needs to have some targets to attack.
The following game featured the last of those, with queen vs. bishop and two knights, and arrived on the board as early as move eight. I'd generally prefer to have the three pieces because they're more fun: three rooks (of the feathered variety) mobbing the big bird. This time I had the queen but in what seemed quite a favourable situation, since, two moves later, all my opponent's pieces were sitting on their original starting squares.
Nevertheless, there were no targets in his position and I was unable to create any as the game proceeded. In fact, in attempting to do so, I allowed my opponent to create some in mine, the main one turning out to be the king. By the time I'd finally achieved anything (connected passed pawns on the seventh), the three minor pieces (assisted by a pawn) had combined to give mate.
Monday, 12 June 2017
White: juliangon - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2017
Back in the day, the Scotch Game was considered to be fairly harmless, because it resolves the situation in the centre “too soon”. The 13th World Champion overturned that assessment, and yet a modified form still has some validity: with the central tension resolved, it is hard for Black to direct the game away from established paths. From my own perspective, how on earth am I going to play ...f7-f5 here!?
That's not to say that the main lines of the Scotch don't lead to interesting games. They very often do. The Mieses Variation (4...Nf6 5 Nxc6 bxc6 6 e5 and so on), in particular, leads to complicated and unique positions. But post-Kasparov, they are now rather well explored; and even if I did once follow theory to move 38, I generally prefer openings where I can affect the course of play in the early stages, rather than battle on my opponent's territory. This proves to be quite tricky against the Scotch – unless, perhaps, you feel like trying Steinitz’ favourite response, 4...Qh4!?.
By centralizing the king's knight, White allows the black queen to take up a very active post, attacking the e4-pawn, which proves surprisingly difficult to defend: 5 f3 is illegal, 5 Bd3?? drops the knight on d4, while 5 Qd3 and 5 Nc3 are met by 5...Nf6 and 5...Bb4 respectively. Theory therefore recommends that White sacrifice the pawn for a lead in development.
In the 1990s GM Lev Gutman reinvestigated 4...Qh4 and published his findings in his book 4...Qh4 in the Scotch Game (Batsford 2001). In the critical line 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Be2! Qxe4 7 Nb5 Bxc3+ 8 bxc3 Kd8 9 0-0 (which Steinitz never faced), Gutman highlighted 9...Nf6! as being the best continuation and, together with the German correspondence player, Peter Leisebein, strengthened Black's defences in a key game (Z.Azmaiparashvili-J.Hector, San Sebastian 1991) and elsewhere.
One move Gutman doesn't mention is the engines’ preference, 10 Nd4!?. It looks rather odd to retreat the knight again without waiting for ...a7-a6, but it's not such a bad idea. The knight has fulfilled its function on b5, forcing the black king to move sideways, so now returns to the centre. GM John Shaw picks up on this in his recent book Playing 1.e4: Caro-Kann, 1...e5 & Minor Lines (Quality Chess 2016) and writes: “For the sacrificed pawn, White has the bishop pair, much the safer king, a lead in development and a flowing initiative; all that is more than enough.” Quite so; 10 Nd4 offers White good practical chances.
All the same, Black is neither losing nor, it seems, significantly worse. I'm currently competing in a thematic round-robin tournament with 4...Qh4, eleven of the twenty games reached the position in the diagram, and five continued with 10 Nd4. Here's the first of them to finish (against the same opponent as in Game 2) – it ended in a draw. Can White improve? That remains to be seen.