Sunday, 9 February 2020

059. The King Goes For a Stroll

White: Honeybunch - all-play-all tournament,, 2019

I used to try and defend the main lines of the Max Lange: 8 Re1+ Be6 9 Ng5 Qd5 10 Nc3 Qf5 11 Nce4 0-0-0 12 g4 Qe5 and so on. But that was a long time ago. Because...

Well, the positions are extremely complicated and – worse – it means playing on White's turf. I never like doing that. So I switched to the sideline 8...Kf8!?, as in ‘The King Steps Sideways’.

One slight annoyance is that White can pre-empt the king move by taking on g7 at once. Then theory runs 8 fxg7 Rg8 9 Bg5 Be7 10 Bxe7 Kxe7 (best) 11 Re1+ Be6 12 Re4 with more complications, again on White's turf. I don't much like that either.

I'm sure you'll have noticed the common factor in those two lines. Black blocks a rook check on e1 by sensibly developing the light-squared bishop to e6.

Right, so we won't do that after 8 fxg7 either. Instead, we'll send the king on a little walk: out to f6, capture the pawn on g7, and then drop back into the corner.

And it turns out that the king can stroll this path in blithe serenity — as long as the queen is ready to rush back and forth ensuring his safety: 15...Qg5, 17...Qd8! (a key novelty), 19...Qf6 (19...Nxf4? is far too greedy), 20...Qxb2, 21...Qg7, 23...Qxc3 and the various traps and tribulations – which concerned the king not at all – are finally past.

Caution: Special Agent Queen needs to be thoroughly prepared for her protection duties before being deployed in the field.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

058. Ulvestad's Second Variation

White: AndyAndyO - thematic tournament,, 2019

Olaf Ulvestad was a US master and openings theoretician, now known primarily for his variation of the Two Knights Defence: 4 Ng5 d5 5 exd5 b5!?. Ulvestad wrote enthusiastically about his discovery in the 1941 issues of Chess Review: “It stands out head and shoulders above all the other moves as the strongest, sharpest and best.” Okay, he's getting carried away there perhaps, but 5...b5 certainly very interesting.

The critical reply – indeed, the only good reply – is 6 Bf1!. Against this, Ulvestad originally proposed 6...h6 but later discarded it, albeit for the wrong reasons (7 Nxf7! Kxf7 8 dxc6 Bc5 9 Be2! is why this isn't any good). 6...Nd4 7 c3 Nxd5, transposing to the Fritz Variation (5...Nd4), has its drawbacks too (such as 8 cxd4! Qxg5 9 Bxb5+ Kd8 10 0-0).

Ulvestad's second idea, 6...Nxd5!? 7 Bxb5 Bb7, looks rather more promising. For example, 8 d4 exd4 9 Qxd4? Qe7+ 10 Qe4 Qxe4+ 11 Nxe4 0-0-0 12 Bxc6 Bxc6 (Ulvestad) is good for Black, since 13 Ng5 f6! 14 Nf7 loses quickly to 14...Bb4+ and ...Rhe8.

Taking the d4-pawn is clearly premature here. White should just castle: 9 0-0 “etc” (Tartakower). This is generally regarded as a refutation of 6...Nxd5, following analysis by GM Reuben Fine: 9...Be7 10 Qh5 g6 11 Qh6 Qd7

12 Qg7 0-0-0 13 Qxf7 (Fine), when White has regained, and appears to have consolidated, the extra pawn: 14 Ne6 is a threat, or if 13...Rhf8 then 14 Qe6 swaps the queens off. So it is somewhat surprising to discover that the engines think that Black is better, casually throwing out the disruptive 14...Ne3!. Well, splendid!

White is not obliged to play 12 Qg7?!. Instead, D.Pena-C.Fonseca, Pamplona 2012, saw 12 Re1 0-0-0 13 Nxf7 Bb4 14 Nxd8 Bxe1, and here 15 Nxb7 Kxb7 16 Bd2 would have been very good for White.

But once again the engines are ready with an improvement: the nonchalant 12...a6!, intending 13 Ba4 Qf5. I think it might be difficult to decide upon this over the board. The main point is that 12...Qf5? gets hit by 13 Bd3, but that's impossible once the bishop has retreated to a4.

Many possibilities arise from White's options at moves 13 and 14 (and move 17 too), but in all of them the activity of Black's pieces provides excellent compensation for the pawn, even into the ending. The game below is a case in point, where I forced the queens off (with 18...Bf8) just to see how easily it might be defended. As it turned out, I didn't have much trouble at all.

I should also add that my opponent also managed to draw as Black, this time after 6...Qxd5!? 7 Nc3 Qc5. It seems there are still plenty of secrets to be uncovered in these old Open Games.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

057. Not the Halloween Gambit

White: A. Faller - BCCL Premier Division, 1991

On October 31st I should be posting a game with the Halloween Gambit: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Nxe5. There are two reasons why that isn't happening:

1. It's rubbish. After 4...Nxe5 5 d4 Ng6 6 e5 Ng8 7 Bc4, GM Bologan's straightforward 7...d5! 8 Bxd5 c6 9 Bb3 Be6 is just good for Black.

2. Although not deterred by rubbish (as you'll see below), I haven't actually played any games with the Halloween Gambit, from either side.

So, instead, here's a Belgrade Gambit: 4 d4 exd4 5 Nd5!?. My reply 5...Nb4!? was unusual at the time, and the follow-up 6 Bc4 Nfxd5!? 7 exd5 Qe7+ even more so.

My plan was to win a pawn after ...Qc5, which I duly achieved. Unfortunately, White's lead in development more than made up for it. (Bologan, in 2014, rightly preferred 6...Nbxd5 7 exd5 Bb4+!.)

Inevitably, Stockfish puts up a better defence than I managed – first of all with 8...d3! (which I saw, but it wasn't my plan) and then 12...Qd6! (which I never considered at all).
A few moves later, my opponent went very wrong himself with 16 Rh5?? (the preliminary 16 Bxh7+! wins), when I might have escaped with 16...g6 but rejected this because of 17 Rxh7 Kxh7 18 Qh5+, overlooking 17...Bf6!.

And following that fine display I soon obtained the CC-IM title. Perhaps I should have turned it down.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

056. Computer Says Yes

Black: K.J. Bowyer - C&DCCC Ward-Higgs Trophy, 2000

Another main line Ruy Lopez, another sideline defence by Black, this time 10...Qd7!? in the Zaitsev Variation.

Searching MegaBase shows that Averbakh played this first (in 1962) and won, and Geller later won twice, albeit all against weaker opposition. More recently, GM Igor Kovalenko has tried it a couple of times, both winning and losing.

Objectively, it probably isn't very good. I say that because, facing this line as White, I just played natural, obvious moves and won very smoothly indeed. For instance: 15 d5, 17 a4, 19 Bf4, 20 e5, 26 Nc6, 27 a5, etc. I'm sure Ken saw all these coming and yet was unable to do anything about them.

Which is perhaps the definition of a dubious opening. You play something "unusual", your opponent replies with natural, obvious moves, and you lose without ever having any chances at all. All very depressing.

But what does Stockfish have to say about it?

Computer says yes.

And that's a total yes. Stockfish would have played every single one of my moves. It did stall for a moment over two or three but quickly came round. In other words, the engine says it was a perfect game.

Well, that's really quite gratifying :)

Monday, 26 August 2019

055. Computer Says No

White: M. Poppe - 1st North Sea Team Tournament, 1998

Searching my games by ECO code, looking for one that hasn't featured here before, brought up (along with numerous others) three examples of C96. This code covers lesser lines of the Closed Ruy Lopez, Chigorin System (9...Na5). All three games continued 10 Bc2 c5 11 d4 Bb7 12 Nbd2 cxd4 13 cxd4 exd4 14 Nxd4 Re8.

Yes, it's a bit loose for Black in that the d6-pawn is left as a weakness, backward and isolated. On the other hand, there's little prospect of being cramped under the Spanish Torture. Black has open lines and active pieces and can look to strike back in the centre with a timely ...d6-d5.

GM Oleg Romanishin (see Game 29) played this way on 24 occasions in 1988-97, for a plus three score. My own score was plus one: two draws and the win below.

It seems I was pleased with the win, since exclamation marks are strewn enthusiastically through my notes: 19...d5 “!”, 20...Bc5 “!”, 21...Nh5 “!”. Okay, I'll just check those with Stockfish now...

Tap, tap, tap.

Computer says no.

And that's no to all of them. In particular, the engine bangs out 21 Ngf5! instantaneously, assessing the position as winning for White; e.g. 21...gxf5 22 Nxf5 Bxf2+ 23 Kh2 Bxe1 24 Qxe1 and Black's extra rook is useless against the white queen coming to the kingside. Yurk. My notes don't mention 21 Ngf5 at all.

To be fair (to me) 23...Rxe2 “!” was good, and the idea of trapping the h6-bishop with 28...g5 “!” was good too. Computer says yes. But as for my earlier moves...

Computer says no :/

Saturday, 10 August 2019

054. Playing On ’Til Checkmate

White: rgs56 - all-play-all tournament,, 2018

There are always a few players who don't or won't resign in utterly lost positions but carry on ’til checkmate. Or, very often, the move just before checkmate. And that's fine.

In correspondence chess, back when we played by post, it was annoying because you were forced to waste money on stamps sending unnecessary moves back and forth. Your opponents might thus consider themselves slightly revenged on having been beaten, albeit at the cost of their own stamps and reputation.

In online server games pecuniary penalties do not apply, so the only effect of playing on is to postpone an inevitable result for as long as possible – a strategy which can, if desired, be further extended by not replying until the very end of the time limit for each move.

Take the game below, for instance. At move 22, Black's extra bishop and knight are better than White's extra rook and pawn. At move 46, I assessed my position as winning. And by move 65 I thought it was time for Black to resign. My opponent opted to play on for another nineteen moves, ’til just before checkmate.

No worries. I got to look at my happily won position for significantly longer, make an aesthetically pleasing bishop retreat to the far corner, with zugzwang, and deliver mate with a pawn. Or nearly.

And sometimes I'll carry on in losing positions myself – if I want the game to resolve in a particular way to my own satisfaction. And I like my opponents to do likewise. I prefer some things to be played out rather than "left in the notes". Sometimes I'll play on ’til mate too – if it's going to be a nice one, say, and will happen soon. Such as in Game 35. Anyone can play any position on if they want to, and for whatever reason.

As it happens, another of my games (against the same opponent) is going the same way. I'm currently a rook up with a passed f-pawn one square from promotion. At one move per week (I usually reply straight away), if the game runs its full course we'll be enjoying it for three months yet. One of us will anyway.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

053. Grandmaster

White: M.L. Nicholson - Koshnitsky Memorial, 2002


I'm not a CC grandmaster. The best I can say – and indeed have already said – is that I once got a GM norm. This came from a joint second place (on 10½/14) in the CCLA's Gary Koshnitsky Memorial.

I also managed to win against a proper, OTB GM (Colin McNab) by copying the moves of another, stronger GM (Evgeny Gleizerov). Colin's improvement, when it came, wasn't much of one and I won relatively easily. But this was a Modern Defence and hence not blog relevant.

Instead, here's another King's Gambit. For some reason I discarded my usual 3...h5!? as Black and opted for 3...g5 “!” and a Kieseritzky, the only one I've ever played in a serious offline game. The subsequent 6 d4 and 9 Be2 was analysed by GM Joe Gallagher in Winning with the King's Gambit (Batsford 1992), with the open-ended conclusion that “practical tests are awaited”.

Practical tests duly came and went and the line was more or less abandoned. In particular, Gallagher's 9...Nc6 10 c3 Bf5 11 d5 Nb8 12 0-0 Qxh4 13 Nd2 g3 14 Nf3 Qh5 15 Qa4+ Nd7 16 Rae1 is well met by 16...Bg7! 17 Bc1 0-0 18 Nf4 Qg4, as in C.Santagata-S.Sabaev, ICCF EM/M/A071 1999, when White is struggling to show the slightest compensation.

My game saw 12 Na3 Bg7 13 Nc4 and then 13...Bxc3+. That was the threat behind ...Bg7, with the idea 14 bxc3? Nxc3 15 Qd2 Nxe2 16 Qxe2 Bxd3 and wins, so I went ahead and played it. My various engines (Stockfish, Houdini, Deep Fritz, Deep Rybka) now all go for 13...h5 “-+”. I guess I was dubious about the significance of Black's extra f7-pawn in the typical Kieseritzky structure.

It didn't matter. It doesn't matter. 6 Bc4 is regarded as the critical continuation nowadays, though Black has a plus score there too.