Tuesday, 12 December 2017

029. Avoiding the Four Knights


White: tripoduk - Chess.com, 2017

In my previous post I mentioned that I've only ever had six OTB games with the Four Knights, and “it hardly seems worthwhile studying an opening that you only face once every five years”. The point is that there's actually quite a lot of theory on the Four Knights, especially if you meet 4 Bb5 with Rubinstein's 4...Nd4. If you can't be bothered to try and remember it all, the question is what to do other than 3...Nf6.

Obviously, 3...f5 is the move I'd most like to play. Unfortunately, 4 d4! fxe4 5 Nxe5 Nf6 6 Bc4! d5 7 Nxd5! Nxd5 8 Qh5+, as in G.Breyer-Z.Von Balla, Bad Pistyan 1912, pretty much wins for White. And there aren't any significant improvements for Black which make 3...f5 acceptable.

Alternatively, 3...g6 is a popular avoidance strategy; but as IM Andrei Obodchuk says in his book on the Four Knights (New in Chess 2011), this “is employed most often by stronger players against weaker opponents”, with the aim of outplaying them in less familiar positions. Whereas my 3 Nc3 opponents tend to be of comparable strength to me – or stronger. Outplaying them from a slightly inferior position is therefore not the most likely outcome.

So, I've recently been looking at 3...Bc5!? instead. The book refutation of this move runs 4 Nxe5! Nxe5 5 d4 Bd6 6 dxe5 Bxe5 and so on.



Back in 1993, Nunn wrote that “Examination of published theory gives the impression that this line is very bad for Black, which is probably true”. Or not. GM Oleg Romanishin has been playing 3...Bc5 for years with decent results (P24, W8, D10, L6 in the database); and as Obodchuk shows in his more serious investigation of the variation, it really isn't that bad at all. Even his various suggestions for White don't seem to trouble Black much since, if nothing else, they can often be circumvented.

I tested one such in the game below. This followed D.Pedzich-O.Romanishin, Koszalin 1997, where after 12...Nf6 13 0-0 0-0 Obodchuk suggests 14 Re1 as offering White a slight advantage. That may or may not be the case, but Black doesn't have to go in for it anyway. The plan of 12...Bd7, ...Bc6, ...0-0-0, and ...Nf6, as in B.Bogoevski-R.Navarro Segura, Merida 2001, seemed preferable to me.

As it happens, I've since had the chance to test 3...Bc5!? out over the board as well. J.Willow-J.Tait, Notts County Championship 2017, saw 7 Bc4 Nf6 8 0-0 0-0 9 Re1 Re8 10 Bg5 c6 11 f4?? Bxc3 12 bxc3 Qb6+ and Black won a pawn for nothing.

Okay, I didn't in the end manage to win either game, but at least I enjoyed them a whole lot more.


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

028. Two Lines of a Rook Endgame


White: J. De Waard - North Sea Team Championship, 1998

One of my mates once told me: “if you want to play the Four Knights as Black, play the Petroff”. That's because, as I mentioned here, 3 Nc3 is a common reply to 2...Nf6. Whereas it isn't so much against 2...Nc6. Checking my own OTB games, going back to 1989, I see I've only faced 3 Nc3 six times. In correspondence chess, it's even more of a rarity: just three games in all competitions. Those nine in total continued with 4 d4 (four times), 4 g3 (thrice), and 4 Bb5 (twice). I won just once.

Hmmm. It hardly seems worthwhile studying an opening that you only face once every five years. But still... only one win as Black. How'd you like them apples?! Not very much, in truth. Maybe I should do something about that.

On the other hand, my one win was quite nice. Glek's variation (4 g3) led eventually to a double rook endgame where I held the initiative, and thence to a single rook endgame. The final result turned, after 45...Rb1, on two move 49 positions, both of which I assessed as won for Black:



a) 46 Ra2 Rxb3 47 Ra6+ Ke7 48 Rxh6 Rxd3 49 Kxf5 Rd4;
b) 46 Re2 Rxb3 47 Re5 Rxd3 48 Rxf5+ Ke6 49 Rxc5 Rxh3.

Black ends up with rook and two vs. rook and one in each case. And the second line (with split passed pawns) is indeed won, as the Lomonosov databases now confirm. But the first one (with connected passed pawns) isn't: 50 Ke5 Rxc4 51 Rb6 or 50...Kd7 51 h4 Rxc4 52 Kd5 and draws (Lomonosov again).

Guess it was lucky my opponent went for line ‘b’.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

027. Emotions in Correspondence Chess


White: A. Richards - BCCA DJKO 33/1, 1998

The main point of Georgi Popov's 3...a5!? defence to the Ruy Lopez is to follow up with 4...Na7 5 Bc4 b5, gaining the usual queenside space for Black while driving the Lopez bishop away – and trapping it should it drop back to b3. White's 4 d3 in the game below is therefore quite obliging as it blocks a retreat to the centre. Thus 4...Na7 5 Bc4 b5 (etc) and the bishop is lost.

My opponent in the game below wasn't bothered by that, responding 6 Bxf7+ Kxf7 7 Nxe5+ Ke7 and then 8 Nf7!?.



I don't recall ever seeing a similar idea before: White gives up two pieces on f7 in order to win an unprotected rook on a8 with queen checks. Later on he surprised me again by putting his other bishop en prise to a pawn (21 Bd6).

Going over the game with Houdini now, it seems neither of these surprises is particularly good for White. The engine prefers the bishop and knight to White's rook and two pawns in the first instance. In the second, it suggests that Black simply takes the piece: 21...cxd6 22 Nxd6 Nf4 and then answer 23 Nxc8 with 23...Nxg2!, which looks very strong. Whether I actually considered that, I'm unable to tell, since the game is somehow missing from my cardboard Postal Games 1996-98 folder.

What I do remember is feeling unsettled, unable wholly to trust my assessments throughout the game. In the end, I went completely wrong (31...Ng7?) and lost.

It might be assumed that emotions don't much matter in correspondence chess. On receiving a shock, for instance, you don't have to find a reply right there with the clock ticking. You can let your feelings subside before studying a position... calmly, rationally... two or three days later maybe. But it can be difficult all the same. An underlying sense of unease, that you're not in control, that things are going wrong, can pervade a whole game, and is no less disturbing for being long drawn out.

Or so I have found anyway. Your mileage may vary.


Friday, 29 September 2017

026. A Spectacular Queen Hunt


White: MarcShaw - Thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2014

Hunts in chess are always “spectacular”, aren't they. In this one the white queen rushes out early to h5, snaffles the rook on h8, is driven back by busy minor pieces and seeks shelter on the queenside, only to suffer the indignity of perpetual attack from a lowly bishop, forcing a draw.

Okay, this hunt is not really so spectacular. The initial queen sally is a known theoretical line, and her subsequent harassment forms the basis of Black's compensation for the sacrificed exchange. All the same, it's quite a nice sequence of events: Qd1-h5-h8-h7-h4-a4-a3-a6-a4-a6 and draws.

It also shows that, in the 3 Bc4 variation at least, The Latvian Gambit Lives!, even if Black's path to apparent safety remains quite narrow: 3...fxe4 4 Nxe5 d5! 5 Qh5+ g6 6 Nxg6 hxg6! and so on. Everything else (e.g. 3...d6?!, 4...Qg5?!, 6...Nf6?!) is just good for White.

Since the 3 Bc4 Latvian can – and in fact did – arise via the Calabrese Counter-Gambit, it's a good thing for the latter that this line of the former is acceptable for Black. Regarding which, the game below is theoretically interesting.



From the diagram, the game continued 11...Ne5 12 Nd2 exd3 13 0-0 Nf6 14 Qh4 Qd6, which I think represents best play for both sides.

Instead, GM Kosten – working in, if not exactly pre-computer days, then certainly weaker computer days – gave a few erroneous assessments which are perhaps worth noting:
a) “11...exd3! and Black is at least equal”. Here 12 0-0 is good for White; e.g. 12...dxc2 13 Bxc2 Nf8 14 Qh4 Qxh4 15 gxh4, MarcShaw-Reprimand, ChessWorld.net 2013.
b) “13 f4! looks right, followed by Nf3-g5”. This lands White in serious trouble after 13...Nf6 14 Qh4 Neg4 15 Nf3 Qd6 16 Ng5+ Ke7.
c) 13...Qf6!? 14 f4 Nc4 15 f5 gxf5 “unclear”, H.Hage-F.Van der Muysenberg, correspondence 1995. This should have been met by 16 Nf3! with advantage.

At the time I was a bit worried about 15 Qf4, but now Houdini shows that 15...g5! 16 Qxg5 Rh8 17 Re1 Rh5 is fine for Black. I love computers :)


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

025. Two Terrible Blunders


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

024. Rook vs. Bishop and Pawn


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

023. Winning By "House"


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

022. Queen vs. Rook, Bishop and Knight


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

021. Queen vs. Two Rooks and Three Pawns


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

020. Queen vs. Three Minor Pieces


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

019. Revisiting Steinitz


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.


Friday, 19 May 2017

018. All Rook Endgames are Drawn


Black: tripoduk - Chess.com, 2017

For five years now I've been playing an ongoing series of friendly games on Chess.com against someone under the name of “tripoduk”. I generally visit the site first thing in the morning, make a couple of quick moves, and go away again. As my opponent is much weaker than me, and as I don't play against anyone else on Chess.com, my win-to-loss ratio is very high indeed. In fact there have been no losses at all, and when I'd racked up a score of +89 =2 -0 (98.9%), the site administrators decided I must be cheating and banned me – albeit only temporarily. Once I'd explained the situation to their satisfaction (CC-SIM vs. relative novice), they let me back on under a new name and gave me a Diamond membership too as a titled player. Well, grand.

Since then we've played another 41 games, the score in which is currently +32 =9 -0 (89.0%) in my favour. Still no losses, but you'll notice that my percentage has decreased somewhat. My opponent is getting better. And in the game below, he should have had me.

Most of the games with me as White have been King's Gambits, and the following critical line of Becker's Defence has arisen several times: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 h6 4 d4 g5 5 Nc3, followed by 6 g3. John Shaw's King's Gambit book (pp 171-6, 231) has been useful here, and up to 2016 I'd scored 8/8 as White: five wins after 5...d6 6 g3 Bg7 7 gxf4 g4 8 Rg1!; one each against 6...Nc6 and 6...g4; and one more after 5...Bg7 6 g3 fxg3 7 hxg3 d6 8 Be3.

In our most recent game, my opponent repeated the last of those variations – and much more strongly. After his 12th move I was struggling to find any compensation at all for the sacrificed pawn. I continued struggling to find any as the game progressed, and watched rather helplessly as my position declined from worse to bad to lost. In the diagram below, White is completely lost.



The logical plan for Black now is to trade the g-pawn for the white a-pawn, swap the bishops off in the process, and win the rook endgame with two extra pawns.

It's not entirely trivial: the direct 55...Bb2 56 Kxg5 Bxa3? etc leads to a draw (as in the game); but rather than take the a-pawn at once, the switchback 56...Be5! forces the white rook to give way (57 Rd7+ Ke6 58 Rd8? runs into 58...Bf6+), after which Black should win easily enough. Temporizing with 56 Kf5 doesn't help either, since 56...Bxa3 57 Bxa3 Rxa3 58 Kxg5 wins for Black, if only just (58...Ke7! 59 Rd4 Ra1 60 Rxd3 a3 61 Rd2 Rf1! 62 Ra2 Rf3 63 Kg4 Rb3 64 Kf4 Kd6 65 Ke4 Kc5 and so on); while 56 Bd2 Rxa3 57 Kxg5 (or 57 Bxg5 Rc3) 57...Be5! is equally hopeless for White.

The immediate 55...Be5! is good too; e.g. 56 Rd7+ Ke6 57 Rd8 Bb2, when White can't take on g5 and otherwise Black takes on a3 and wins again.

Instead, I was given a reprise: 55...Bc3? 56 Bxc3 Rxc3 57 Kxg5 Rxa3 58 Kf4 and this rook endgame is drawn since Black can make no progress; e.g. 58...Rb3 59 Ke3 a3 60 Kd2 Ke7 61 Ra6 and if the black king advances up the board it gets checked away from behind; or 58...Ra1 59 Rxd3 a3 60 Rd2! a2 61 Rf2 (safeguarding the white king from checks) and if the black king advances up the board to the third rank, it gets checked away from the side. This made me think of Tarrasch's maxim: “All rook endgames are drawn”. By which he meant that even quite favourable-looking rook endgames can be difficult to win, and sometimes they can't be won at all.

As it happens we've just started another game with the same line (up to 8 Be3 so far), so I'll have to find an improvement pretty soon. Hmmm.


Saturday, 6 May 2017

017. Numerical Error


White: G. Benson - Koshnitsky Memorial Tournament, 2002

Most correspondence chess nowadays is conducted on online servers. Rather than replying to your opponent in hard or electronic format, as we used to do, you go and make your move on an actual board. The advantages of this method are significant: there is no chance of moves going astray, the time used for “thinking” is clear, and those errors unique to correspondence chess, such as writing your move down wrong, are ruled out. Obviously, human stupidity can never be prevented entirely; input errors are still possible.

The (Gary) Koshnitsky Memorial was played by email, using international numerical notation. In this system the squares on a chessboard are each given a two-digit code according to its file (1-8; replacing the usual algebraic a-h) and rank (1-8 as well), so that the square f3, for instance, is now 63. Making moves involved sending a four-figure number: the first two digits denoting the starting square of the piece or pawn you want to move, the second two digits indicating its destination. Thus 1 e4 would be sent as 5254.

International numerical was standard for international correspondence games, because different countries have different initials for the pieces arising from their different languages: such that a bishop is B in English, but A (alfil) in Spanish, C (слон) in Russian, F (fou) in French, L (läufer) in German, and so on. Using numbers rather than letters eliminates those discrepancies. The slight drawback in human terms is that moves are harder to visualize. 1 Nf3 may be immediately appreciable, but 7163 you have to think about for a moment. In the game below I failed to visualize a move correctly and duly made a numerical error.



The position in the diagram, arising from a Scotch Game, had been seen before. H.Staudler-V.Piccardo, 19th World CC Championship ¾-final 4 1999, continued 21 Ne3 0-0 22 Nxd5 Rxd5 23 f4 Bg5 24 Rc4 Re8 25 Kf2 c5 and was later drawn. My game went a different way: 21 Be2 c5 (aiming to ease my defence by eradicating the queenside pawns) 22 Ne3!? (an unexpected and dangerous sacrifice) 22...cxb4, and now 23 Bb5+ Kf8 24 Kf2 bxa3 25 Rhd1 gives White a strong initiative for the pawn. I hoped to be able to defend, but it didn't look at all easy. And sure enough my opponent played 23 Bb5+, but not as 23 5225. Instead, 23 6125 came back. Checking his earlier emails I discovered that White's 21st move was not 21 Be2 (6152) at all but 21 Kf2 (5162), which means that he basically has an extra tempo for his attack.

Returning to the diagram again: 21 Kf2 c5 22 Ne3 is now not even a sacrifice, and 22...cxb4? (22...0-0 is necessary here) 23 Bb5+ Kf8 24 Rhd1 gave White a big advantage. Subsequent play led to an endgame with rook vs. bishop and knight which I was unable to hold. Fuckadoodledoo.

Fortunately, that was my only loss in the tournament and I finished in joint second place, with a nice win against OTB GM Colin McNab along the way, and received a cheque for a pleasant amount of Australian dollars. I also, as I discovered years later, achieved a CC GM norm in the process. Damn, if I'd realized that at the time I might have tried to get another one. Nevertheless, I can't quite regard this as a missed opportunity, since in my next major tournament I came last.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

016. The Double Rosentreter


Black: Carpo - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2006

In an earlier post, I mentioned in passing the following variation: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 d4 g4 5 Bxf4 gxf3 6 Qxf3 Nc6 7 Bc4 d5 8 Bxd5 Nxd4 9 Bxf7+ Kxf7 10 Qh5+ Kg7 11 0-0 “with strong play for the two sacrificed pieces in the style of the Double Muzio.” Given that here too White sacrifices the knight on f3 and the bishop on f7, it seems appropriate to dub this the “Double Rosentreter”.

As in the Double Muzio, the practical difficulty for Black is in defending against threats which mount very quickly on the f-file. The problem for White is in obtaining anything more from this than a draw. Indeed, Black could have forced one by playing 10...Ke6, after which White has nothing better than to repeat with 11 Qe5+ Kf7 12 Qh5+ etc. But supposing Black doesn't want that, what then? Then interesting things can happen.

In the following game, 13 Qh6+ was my prepared novelty. I had drawn ten years earlier with 12 Na3 Nf6 13 Bh6+ Kg8 14 Qg5+ and so on. Later, the Russian player (and future CC-SIM) Enver Efendiev did substantially better after 12 Nc3, winning two very short miniatures (including one against my previous opponent); but neither of those featured 12...Nf6.



After that move, 13 Be5 Qe8 14 Qg5+ Qg6 15 Qxg6+ Kxg6 16 Bxd4 Rd8 saw Black consolidate very easily in Mic.Schulze-J.M.Johansen, IECG 2001. (The two pawns are not worth anything like the extra bishop.) And 13 Bh6+ Kg8 14 Qg5+ Kf7 15 e5!?, from V.Chetvertakoff-F.Arbis, IECC 2001, also seems a bit dubious after 15...Nf5!? 16 Rxf5 Bxf5 17 Qxf5 Qd7 18 Qf2 Qc6; while 15 Qh5+ Kg8 16 Qg5+ Kf7 is another draw (unless Black wants to try 15...Ke6!? perhaps).

Okay, it's probably true that White doesn't have anything after 13 Qh6+ Kf7 14 Be5 either. Houdini resolutely declares it “0.00” and two other games have ended in two more draws after 14...Bg4!. All the same, I think the Rosentreter (with 5 Bxf4), which I first played in 1989, is worth an occasional punt. The lack of any immediate threats allows Black a rather confusing freedom, and in such cases you can easily find that you've put your pieces on the wrong squares. And then it's often too late.

In my game below it is only when we reach move twenty that the engine starts to see some promise in White's position. Even if it's not necessarily all over for Black at this point, it's certainly much easier to play White. Just keep moving forwards. At the end, Black had presumably worked out that he would soon lose a lot of material and so resigned. I'd have played it out myself, but I quite understand the feeling of not wanting to look at a game anymore.


Friday, 10 March 2017

015. Losing From Both Sides


Black: H.J. Hofstetter - 14th CC Olympiad (Final), 2002

In his recent, entertaining book, Your Opponent is Overrated (Everyman 2016), James Schuyler tells of a series of bets he had with Alex Sherzer:

Sherzer set up a simple endgame position with five minutes on the clock and claimed he could win this as White, then turn the board and draw it as Black. Schuyler took the bet. Sherzer won and pocketed the cash. He then said that in another position he could do the same thing twice; i.e. win as White, draw as Black, and then – after having shown how White might win and Black might draw – win with White and draw with Black again. Schuyler took the bet. Sherzer won and pocketed the cash. He then said that in another position he could do the same thing three times: win, draw, win, draw, win, draw. Bet taken. Sherzer won again and pocketed the cash. Having lost enough money and pride by this point, Schuyler gave up.

That story reminds me, in reverse, of Bogoljubow's boast: “When I am White I win because I am White; when I am Black I win because I am Bogoljubow!” Even for me there are certain positions, certain openings, where I expect to win with either colour, but okay, the starting position is not one of them. And there are occasions when I have lost positions from both sides.

In another main line Zaitsev Ruy Lopez (as seen earlier in the Rorschach Knight), the following position (after 28 Qc2) has arisen in two of my games.



In the first (as Black), I played 28...Ra1+ 29 Kh2 Ba6 30 e5 dxe5 (someone had previously drawn with 30...Nxe5 but, rightly or wrongly, I didn't like 31 Re4 here) 31 Nd2 b3 32 Qc3 Nf4 (if 32...Qh4 then 33 Bg5) 33 Ne4 Qf5 34 Bxf4 Qxf4 35 Re1 Rxe1 36 Qxe1 Bb7 37 Nd6 Rb8 38 Qb4 c3 (the only move) 39 Qxb3 c2 40 Qxc2 Bxd5 and now a pawn down for nothing, I eventually lost, U.Strautins-J.Tait, ICCF Champions League 2002.

In the second game (as White), my opponent played 28...Ba6 straight away: 29 e5 dxe5 30 Nd2 b3, the difference being that 31 Qc3 can be met by 31...Qh4 32 Bg5 Qd4, since the e8-rook is still defended by the one on a8. The fact that I had already lost as Black in this variation encouraged me to go for a win as White, so I tried 31 Ne4 Qf4 32 Qd2 Qxd2 33 Rxd2? Reb8 34 Nf6+ Kh8 35 Rg4 Rb6 36 Ne4 f5 37 Rh4 Kg8 38 Be3 g5! and ended up losing again (as you'll see below).

In that game I should have accepted that White had no advantage and opted for 33 Nf6+ Kg8 34 Bxd2. Or else 31 Qc3 anyway, at which point a draw was agreed in R.Bocanegra Moreno-I.Cavajda, correspondence 2010. 29...Nxe5 is also fine for Black, as seen in V.Palciauskas-A.Lanc, 13th CC Olympiad 2004 (which took place later than the 14th Olympiad, since this one was being played by post rather than email).

And as it happens Black may not be losing in my first game either. Looking at it now, Houdini shows a possible defence: 32...Nxf2! 33 Rf3 Rh1+ 34 Kg3 Qh8 35 Qe3 (my notes indicate that I did consider this, but not...) 35...Ng4! 36 Kxg4 (or 36 hxg4 Qxh6) 36...c3! 37 Qa7 Qh7!, when the computer claims equality in a morass of complications. (I've given a few silicon-generated variations below; the 41...Qh4+ line where Black loses with two queens is worth seeing.)

Sigh. What can I say? When I am White or Black I lose because... it seems I don't really understand chess at all.


Saturday, 4 March 2017

014. Losing With Someone Else's Moves


White: R. Smith - BCCA Centenary Tournament, 2006

The converse to Winning With Someone Else's Moves is losing with them. In correspondence chess this mostly occurs when you haven't prepared properly: when you play an opening variation with which you have very little experience, following someone else's analysis that you haven't checked.

In the BCCA Centenary GM tournament, I decided (for some reason) to abandon my usual repertoire and play "sensible" main lines; e.g. 1 d4, 2 c4 as White, the Semi-Slav and Ruy Lopez as Black. The fact that I was extremely busy around then and unable to concentrate on my games is not an excuse; it just makes my decision more ridiculous. I was consciously playing positions I didn't understand, against strong opponents, without even the time to study them properly. I duly came last on 3½/14 without winning a single game.

The one below is a case in point. I ventured the Marshall Attack against the strongest player in the tournament, CCGM Robin Smith, without having done any specific preparation, and without ever having played it in a serious game before. Reaching the basic tabiya after 13 Re1, I suddenly had to decide what to do next. In a recent-ish issue of Chess Informant (#89), I came across an interesting consultation game (between two teams of OTB masters, played by SMS text messaging), which continued 13...Bf5 14 Qf3 Re8 15 Rxe8+ Qxe8 16 Nd2 Qe1+ 17 Nf1 Bg6 18 g3 b4 (a theoretical novelty)



19 Bxd5 cxd5 20 Qxd5 Rd8 21 Bg5 Qxa1 22 Bxd8 Bf8 23 Ba5 Qb1 24 Kg2 Bxd3 25 Nd2 Qc2 26 Qa8 Qxd2 27 Bxb4 h5 28 Qxf8+ Kh7 29 Qxf7 Qe2 30 Qf4 Qf1+ 31 Kf3 Qe2+ 32 Kg2 Qf1+ 33 Kf3 Qe2+ 34 Kg2 Qf1+ ½-½. This was annotated in detail by one of the team leaders, GM Igor Nataf, and his analysis seemed pretty good.

Sigh. In correspondence chess “seems pretty good” is a terrible mindset. Analysis is either good or it isn't, and either way it needs to be checked beforehand. My opponent deviated immediately from the published game, opting for 19 c4, and only at this point did I begin to examine it all. Nataf's main line ran 19...Nf6 20 Qxc6 (20 d4 is met by 20...Bh5!) 20...Rd8 21 Qb6 Rd7 22 Bc2 Ng4 23 Rb1 Qe2 24 Bd2 Ne5 25 Qe3 Qh5 26 Bd1 Qf5 27 Be2 Bf8, which he assessed as slightly better for White. I didn't much like the look of that. What happens after 28 Re1, for instance? Nataf in fact gave 19...Nf6 a dubious mark.

However, there was also a one-move bracketed note: 19...Nc7, with the accompanying text “!?= Radjabov, Bacrot”. That is to say: interesting, equal, and suggested by world-class grandmasters Teimour Radjabov and Etienne Bacrot. Okay, great, I'll try that. It even sets a little trap: 20 Qxc6?? Bd3 21 Qg2 Re8 and Black wins with ...Bc5 and ...Re2. Hurrah.

A CCGM is not, of course (underlined seventeen times), going to fall for that. Instead, Robin came up with something much stronger: 20 d4! c5 (there's no ...Bh5 here) 21 d5 Re8 (otherwise Ba4 and Qe3 follows) 22 Bd1!, breaking the pin on the c1-bishop and allowing White to drive the black queen away with Bd2 as necessary. Black now has nothing for the pawn, the now connected passed pawn. Several precise, grandmasterly moves later, I resigned.

As it turns out, there was nothing much wrong with Nataf's analysis. Black has since done perfectly well, answering 19 c4 with 19...Nf6, but playing 27...f6! (rather than 27...Bf8) at the end of the above variation. And Peter Svidler scored an impressive victory as Black against Vassily Ivanchuk after the similar 19 h4 h5 20 c4 Nf6 (where 21 Bd1 did not prove to be anything like as strong).

So, perhaps the title of this post was not the most appropriate. It should perhaps have been ‘Losing After Someone Else's Moves’. Even if I might point to 19...Nc7 as someone else's mistake, actually playing it is obviously my own fault. If you're going to give a casual suggestion (whether from world-class grandmasters or not) a test in a serious game, at least investigate it in advance. Ya drongo.

Robin went on to score an unbeaten 11/14, winning the tournament by 1½ points – an impressive result in what turned out to be his final event. He died in 2009.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

013. Winning With Someone Else's Moves


White: paardesprong - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2005

One of the benefits of studying openings is that you can, very occasionally, win games with moves you've worked out entirely at home. Or even with someone else's moves that you've just remembered. My most notable instance was against Colin Crouch at the 1990 Nottingham Congress. In a sharp line of the French, Black answered a classic bishop sacrifice on h7 by giving up his queen for three pieces. This was reckoned at one time to offer Black good play but had since been refuted in the game S.Szilagyi-T.Harding, ICCF World Cup 1986. Colin helpfully played straight down this line, stopped, thought for an hour, and then resigned – and a move sooner than in Szilagyi-Harding, so I didn't have to think of a single move for myself.

This hardly ever happens to me in over the board chess anymore. For one thing, I mostly avoid theoretical main lines nowadays; and, for another, I usually find I've forgotten most of my home analysis, even in my own pet lines. In correspondence chess, it's a different matter. With everything written down (or entered on ChessBase), I do still win games where most of my moves have been worked out (and computer checked) in advance. And it's possible to win games with someone else's moves too.

When investigating the Calabrese Counter-Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5!?) in the mid 1990s (see Game 009), I got round to considering what would happen if White replied with 3 f4!?. It seemed to me that 3...exf4 was the best response, transposing into a variation of the Bishop's Gambit: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Bc4 f5!?. Against this, theory recommended that White play 4 Qe2 Qh4+ 5 Kd1 fxe4 6 Qxe4+ Be7 7 Nf3 Qh5 8 Bxg8 Rxg8 9 Nc3 Nc6 10 Re1 d6 11 Nd5 Bf5 12 Qc4 Bxc2+ (intending 13 Kxc2 Qxd5! etc) 13 Ke2.



Here analysis by Igor Glazkov continued 13...Qg6 (L.Hoffer-Grischfeld, London 1882) 14 Kf2! Kd7 15 Rxe7+! and wins, or 13...Ne5 14 Qxc7 Qf7 15 Qxb7 Rd8 16 Kf1! with advantage to White.

But, as it happens, Eric Schiller had refuted all this in his (unfairly disparaged) little book Who's Afraid of the King's Gambit (Chess Enterprises 1989), where he gives 13...Bh4! 14 Nxc7+ (or 14 d4 0-0-0) 14...Kd7 15 Nxa8 Re8+ 16 Kf1 Rxe1+ 17 Nxe1 Qd1 18 g3 fxg3 19 hxg3 (or 19 Qxc2 Qxe1+ 20 Kxe1 gxh2+ 21 Ke2 Nd4+) 19...Bxg3 20 Qe2 Bd3 21 Qxd3 Qxe1+ 22 Kg2 Qf2+ 23 Kh3 Qh2+ 24 Kg4 Ne5+ and Black wins.

This was picked up later (2004) by Thomas Johansson, but did not make it into general circulation. For instance, the one-volume encyclopaedia Nunn's Chess Openings (Everyman, Gambit 1999) stops at 13 Ke2, with an exclamation mark and the symbol denoting that “White is much better”.

So, so far I've won three times as Black after 13 Ke2. The game below was the shortest – and in that one, too, I didn't have to think of a single move for myself.


Saturday, 11 February 2017

012. A Bust to the Bishop's Gambit


Black: tarby - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2015

I once wrote an article (again for the BCCA magazine) entitled “A Bust to the 7...Qc7 Winawer - ?”. It was based on my games with a home-made plan involving pushing the kingside pawns. My record over the board against the main line is indeed quite favourable: P41, W31, D9, L1 (grrrr). All the same, the title was a little joke, a nod to Fischer's famous “A Bust to the King's Gambit”, in which he proposed that 2...exf4 3 Nf3 d6! wins by force.

Actual busts of opening variations are pretty rare. Sooner or later someone usually finds a way to refute the refutation. In both the supposed “busts” above, theory has indeed moved on substantially. All the same, I think Black's position is objectively better against my line than White's position is against Fischer's – which is as you'd expect. Robert James Fischer, the 11th World Champion, was one of the strongest players in the history of chess. Naturally, therefore, his opinions (at least on chess) are going to worth more than mine, a mere correspondence IM (SIM) with a current, rather specious OTB rating of 219 ECF (roughly 2350 Elo).

GM John Shaw is also much stronger than me, with a current ECF rating of 237 (roughly 2500 Elo), but he is not Fischer either. In his recent megatome The King's Gambit (Quality Chess 2013), Shaw includes a chapter “The Refutation of 3 Bc4?!”, in which he recommends 3...Nc6 and claims a definite advantage for Black. Subsequent investigators have disputed this.

The critical line in question runs 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Bc4 Nc6 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Nge2 f3! 7 gxf3 d5 8 exd5 Nxd5 9 0-0 Nxc3 10 bxc3 Bd6.



Here Shaw writes: “What is good about White's position? Nothing, unless you think four pawn islands versus two is a plus. The following game confirms Black's superiority.” That was Belanoff-Simmelink, correspondence 2007, which continued 11 Ng3 0-0 12 Ne4 Be6 13 Bxe6 fxe6 14 Rb1 b6 15 d5 Ne7 16 dxe6 Qe8 17 Nxd6 Qg6+ 18 Kh1 Rad8 19 Ba3 cxd6 20 Qe2 Rf6 21 Rbe1 Nf5 and “Black eventually converted his advantage”.

Shaw also comments that “The simple 12...Be7 maintains an edge”. As it happens, I had previously lost a game following that very move: 12...Be7 13 Kh1 Na5 14 Bd3 f5 15 Ng3 c5 16 Rg1 cxd4 17 Rb1 dxc3 18 Nh5 Rf7 19 Bf4 g6 20 Be5 Bc5 21 Rg2 Qh4 22 Bxc3 Qxh5 23 Bxa5 Be6 24 Qf1 b6 25 Bd2 Bd5 26 Rg3 f4 27 Rh3 Qg5 28 Rg3 fxg3 29 Bxg5 Bxf3+ 0-1 tsmenace-Carpo, ChessWorld.net 2005.

There is nothing new in chess. In his earlier book The Fascinating King's Gambit (self-published 2004), Thomas Johansson, too, had flagged 6...f3! as “Black's best option” and continued the line to 12 Ne4, which he assessed as unclear, writing that “White's pawn structure may not be the healthiest, but on the other hand White still has more influence in the centre and a half-open g-file.”

So who is right? In my game, White might improve with 19 Qe1 or simply 17 cxd4, intending 17...Qxd4 18 Bh6 Rf7 19 Nxf5, but I'm not keen on the position after 12...Be6. Instead, on the ChessPublishing forum, Stefan Bücker proposed 11 Qd2 and 12 Qg5, writing that “When the queens are exchanged, there is not the slightest reason why Black's fewer pawn islands should be a factor. White's center may well be more important.”

Which brings us finally to the game below, where I had a chance to test Stefan's idea out. As you'll see, Black kept the centre pawns under control, but didn't manage to do much else. And another 2016 correspondence game quickly ended in a draw too. So it seems that, while Shaw's recommendation leads to a position that you might not want to play over and over again, White is probably not worse here.

Unless, of course, you know different...


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

011. Chess Correspondence


White: D.M. Andrew - BCCA Premier, 1991

Not only did we used to play chess by post – with cards, envelopes, stamps and so forth – we used to correspond about chess by post as well. My two most regular correspondees, both now deceased, were Otto Hardy and Donald Andrew. Otto was a significant opening theoretician and his letters were full of his own games and analysis, of which I still have three files worth. Donald was... well, I'm not sure what Donald was exactly. Perhaps the most apt word is “enthusiast”. Donald used to collect other players’ game scores and pick their brains about opening analysis. As well as me, I think he also wrote to and received stuff from Jeff Horner and John Littlewood, and very likely there were more of us. For services rendered, as it were, Donald used to send me an occasional book of first class stamps, which I used for my postal games.

Googling today, I discover that Donald was Yorkshire Champion in 1949, came joint second in the British Major Open the same year and, much later, was joint British Senior Champion (in 1985). A game of his features in the updated edition of John Littlewood's book How to Play the Middle Game in Chess (Batsford 2001), where John wrote:

[I]nexperienced players have somehow acquired the erroneous belief that middle games with opposite-coloured bishops are also drawish. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, I am tempted to generalize by stating that, in middle game situations, opposite-coloured bishops tend to unbalance play and tilt it even more in the favour of the player with the initiative. As an instructive example of this, I quote a correspondence game played recently by an old friend of mine, Donald Andrew:

That game was Andrew-Roach, correspondence 1999: 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 Nf6 3 d4 exd4 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 e5 d5 6 Bb5 Ne4 7 Nxd4 Bd7 8 Bxc6 bxc6 9 0-0 Bc5 10 f3 Ng5 11 f4 Ne4 12 Be3 Qe7 13 Nd2 Nxd2 14 Qxd2 Bxd4 15 Bxd4 c5 16 Bf2 d4 17 c3 Bb5 18 Rfe1 d3 19 c4 Bxc4 20 Rac1 Ba6 21 Rxc5 0-0 22 Ra5 Qe6 23 f5 Qc8 24 f6 h6 25 Re3 Rd8 26 Rg3 g5 27 Rxg5+ hxg5 28 Qxg5+ 1-0.

I never actually met Donald in person, but I played him five times in BCCA tournaments. All the games were drawn. The first of these followed (or rather, transposed to) the same line of the Two Knights Defence as the one above, until Black deviated at move seven. As it happens, Donald could have gone for opposite-coloured bishops in our game too.



Here 13 Bxc5 gxf3 14 0-0! was possible, after which my handwritten notes give a terse “14...Bh3!” and no further. Twenty-five years on, Houdini continues this line with 15 Re1 Bxg2 16 e6 Rd8 17 exf7+ Kxf7 18 Re7+ Kg6 19 Bd4 Qf5 20 Rxg7+ Kh5 21 Rxg2 c5 22 Rg3 Rhg8 23 c3 and claims a slight advantage for White. This is perhaps why virtually everyone else has preferred 11...Qe7.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

010. The Weakest Square


Black: L.T. Ellis - BCCA Gambit Tournament, 1999

As all beginners quickly learn, the weakest square in each sides' position at the start of the game is KB2 – that is f2 for White and f7 for Black – which is only protected by the king. We learn this by losing (often more than once) to sequences like 1 e4, 2 Bc4, 3 Qh5 and 4 Qxf7 mate. One of the aims of the King's Gambit, too, is to open the f-file and target this square with as many pieces as possible.

In the following game, White did indeed aim for f7 with 6 Qxf3 and 7 Bc4. For instance, 7...Nxd4? 8 Bxf7+! Kxf7 9 Qh5+ Kg7 10 Be5+ Nf6 11 Bxd4 and wins, or similarly 7...d5 8 Bxd5 Nxd4 9 Bxf7+! Kxf7 10 Qh5+ Kg7 11 0-0 with strong play for the two sacrificed pieces in the style of the Double Muzio. But Black forestalled any such ideas with his early queen manoeuvres.

Instead, the weakest square turned out be Q2 (d7), which is covered initially by four pieces: b8-knight, c8-bishop, queen and king. In fact three of them (knight, bishop and king) were still defending it in the key position at move 31.



The trouble was that the knight and bishop had not moved throughout the game, nor had the a8-rook, nor did they. Meanwhile White had amassed five attackers: knight, bishop, queen and two rooks, and could theoretically add the e-pawn as well if required.

In the end, the "weak" Q2 square didn't collapse after all. But preventing that cost Black too much and he soon resigned.


Friday, 6 January 2017

009. Patzer Sees a Check


White: stormytlc - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2011

Talking of articles, I once wrote an article on 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5!? (the Calabrese Counter-Gambit) for a special issue of Tim Harding's magazine Chess Mail (May 1997). Nineteen years ago. Damn. My theoretical investigations have moved on quite a bit since then.

Jänisch's "refutation" 3 d3 Nf6 4 f4, which I indicated as still being the critical line, had in fact already been neutralized by Mark Lyell: 4...Nc6 5 Nf3 fxe4! (I concentrated on the inferior 5...exf4, utilizing some transpositional analysis from Matthias Wahls) 6 dxe4 Nxe4 7 fxe5 Nxe5! 8 Bd5 (or 8 Nxe5 Qh4+) 8...Nxf3+ 9 Qxf3 Nf6 and Black is fine, J.Emms-M.Lyell, British Championship, Southampton 1986.

In his later book on the Italian Game and Bishop's Opening, Beating 1 e4 e5 (Everyman 2010), John Emms suggested two other possibilities for White: 3 d4!? exd4 4 e5 d5 5 exd6 Bxd6 6 Ne2 Nc6 7 0-0 Na5 8 Bxg8 Rxg8 9 Nxd4 “with advantage, J.Pietrasanta-K.Shirazi, Pau 2008”; and the simple 3 d3 Nf6 4 Nf3.

The first, a sort of reversed Falkbeer, was missing from my article. I subsequently faced 4 e5 three times (1998-2001), though White always retreated the bishop in my games. After 5 exd6 etc, Shirazi's play might be improved by 7...Qh4!?, when something like 8 g3 Qf6 9 Nd2 Ne5! 10 Nxd4 Bd7 and ...0-0-0 is quite unclear.

The second line, 3 d3 Nf6 4 Nf3, can indeed be tricky if Black develops "normally". I gave (among other things) 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Nxe4 6 Qd5 Nd6, following L.Bledow-P.von Bilguer, Berlin 1839, which looks extremely dodgy to me now, especially if White just plays 6 0-0!. Instead, Emms notes that 4...Nc6 5 0-0 Bc5 6 Nc3 d6 7 Bg5 “is a King's Gambit Declined with reversed colours, and 7...Na5 8 Bxf6! Qxf6 9 Nd5 Qd8 10 b4! Nxc4 11 bxc5 was somewhat better for White in D.Fryer-M.Lyell, Hastings 2003/04.” The problem is the combination of Bg5 and Nc3-d5 which the natural ...Bc5 does nothing to prevent. Trying to solve this led me to the patzer's variation 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Bb4+!?.



White has four reasonable ways to block the check, all of which rule out the Bg5 and Nc3-d5 plan: (i) 6 Nc3 sees the knight pinned; (ii) 6 Nbd2 puts it on the wrong square; (iii) 6 Bd2 allows the bishop to be swapped off; (iv) 6 c3 Bc5 leaves the c3-square obstructed by a pawn. Almost all of my opponents have chosen option four, when White's position does look rather good. It will take at least four moves for Black to evacuate the king from the centre, while the c5-bishop is an obvious target for space-gaining advances on the queenside with b2-b4 and a2-a4-a5. Nevertheless, it turns out that it's not so easy for White to prove anything, while Black gets on with the slow plan of ...d7-d6, ...Qe7, ...Be6 and ...0-0. It's often possible (and better) to insert ...Nc6-d8 before ...Be6 as well.

The game below was one of my earliest with this set-up. As it happened, my opponent managed to keep me from castling short, but by that time it was okay to go long. Note that 18 Qxd6?? would lose for White after 18...Nb8, while 18 Na3 Rhe8 19 Qxd6 Qf4 20 Qd2 Nf6 21 Qxf3 exf4 is fine for Black. And also that no one has yet managed, in my 16 further games, to cast doubt on Black's position after 5...Bb4+. It may be possible to cast doubt on the whole idea of 2...f5, but that will have to wait for a future post.