Sunday, 20 June 2021

070. A Line in a Book

White: verdi - all-play-all tournament,, 2021

I've not blogged for three months. The reason for my absence is that all my time and energy has been going into writing a book. A chess book. A repertoire for Black based on the disreputable openings that appear in this blog. Having very nearly finished it – just half a chapter to go – I'm taking a day off. And using it to write about chess some more right here. Insert rolling eyes emoji.

Well, anyway... one of those openings is 4...Qh4 in the Scotch, so the game below has particular relevance.

White's set-up with Re1 and Bg5 in the main line is one of the most testing. My previous (three) games with this all featured 11...Qf5. One I drew as White, two I won as Black – all well and good – but I wasn't very convinced with any of them. So this time I thought I'd try 11...Bd7, as in the 18th Top Chess Engine Championship Superfinal between LcZero and Stockfish. Although White won their game, I had a novelty in mind for Black.

My idea didn't fare any better. At a critical juncture, where the black king needs to defend himself and his infantry, it turns out he can't.

The desired 20...Kd7?? loses to 21 d5!, intending 21...c5 22 Qb5+ and mates. So I had to give up the extra pawn and then try to hold a major piece endgame with an exposed king and a lot of pawn weaknesses. I didn't manage it.

Due in no small part to precise play from my opponent, concluding in an impressive king march (Kh2-h3-g4-f5-f6-e7-d8-c7xc6-d5-e5) through counterfire from my own heavy artillery. In the final position Kxf5, or Qxh6, or both, would have followed, since 60...Qxh4 61 Qf6+ swaps queens for a trivial win.

Will this reverse put me off 4...Qh4 from now on? No, it won't. I've played it four times since, for (I'm hoping) three wins and a draw. It's simply that, sometimes, you just have to take the hit.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

069. Just Because You Can

White: A. Corish - C&DCCC Sinclair Trophy, 2021

Mainly it's a blitz thing: playing a move simply “because you can”. It applies to those moves made for aesthetic (rather than objective) reasons, purely for the look of them, for the surprise of them, yet which are tactically sound. Some of us take this sensibility into longer form chess as well. The game below features two, even three such instances.

In the opening 4...Nf6!? is an unnecessary extravagance. After 5 0-0 there is nothing better than 5...fxe4, transposing to the main line anyway, whereas White also has the option of 5 exf5!. Nonetheless, I sometimes allow this simply because 5...Ne7! is such a nice reply and (I think) is just about sound. In other words: 4...Nf6!? just because I can.

My opponent, as many others have before, preferred the main line – but then played it uncritically. The moves immediately after 6...d6 are actually crucial. If Black manages safely to castle short, the opening problems are already solved and we can consider fighting for the advantage.

To that end I tried 13...g5!?. Here 13...Ne7 would be the routine continuation and should offer a plus. But I wanted to play 13...g5. And yes, it's tactically justified: 14 Bxg5? Bxg5 15 Nxc7 Qg6 16 Nxa8 Nf4 is a massive attack, while 14 Nxg5 Nf4! 15 Bxf4 exf4 16 Nf3 Qg6 (as in the game) provides excellent compensation, based on ...Rg8, ...Ne5, ...Bxh3 ideas. So 13...g5!? it was. Just because I could.

White should probably leave the pawn alone. My opponent took it and the pressure increased until he felt obliged to sacrifice the exchange. Then 29...Qh4! tied the white queen to defence of f2 with ideas of ...Rg3 and ...Bxh3; e.g. 30 b4 Rg3! 31 fxg3 fxg3+ 32 Kh1 Bxh3 33 gxh3 Rxf3! and wins. White guarded against this with 30 Rh1.

So now what? The obvious move is 30...Bg4, removing the defending bishop, or if 31 Qe2 then the reverse order 31...Bxh3! 32 gxh3 Rg3! wins. But what happens if Black just plays 30...Rg3 anyway?

Let's see: 30...Rg3!? 31 fxg3 fxg3+ 32 Kg1 (shutting the rook in) 32...Qg5 (threatening ...Qe3+) 33 Qd3 Qc1+ (decoying the white bishop from the f-file) 34 Bd1 Qe3+! 35 Qxe3 dxe3 leaves White facing ...Rf2 and ...e3-e2, regaining the piece for a winning endgame. Or if the bishop returns to block with 36 Bf3, then 36...Rxf3! 37 gxf3 Bxh3! 38 Rxh3 e2 sees the e-pawn promote. White might put up a fight with 39 Rxg3 e1Q+ 40 Kg2 Qd2+ 41 Kh3 Qxb2 42 Nd5, but Black would still be winning.

So 30...Rg3!? it was. Just because I could. And it all worked out very nicely :)

Saturday, 30 January 2021

068. N-QR1, Resigns

Black: ianl - all-play-all tournament,, 2020

Following on from the previous post, my reversed colours game against the same opponent also had an interesting finish.

This one featured a critical line of the Mason Gambit. After the rarely played 11...g5, I tried an artificial plan of pushing the a-pawn, together with some obscure manoeuvres on the queenside. They didn't come to anything. (I'm not AlphaZero.) Eventually I had to give up a piece for Black's front f-pawn (the result of a reckless sacrifice on move two). And then my a-pawn dropped off as well.

All very nice for Black. The only entertaining part for me came at the close.

Rook, knight and two vs. rook and three. White might only draw by swapping all the pawns off which is never going to happen. So it's merely a matter of choosing how best to lose. That to me often means how nicest to lose:

49 Rd4 Rg3 (creating a mating net) 50 d6 b5+! 51 cxb5 Na8! 0-1 (since mate is inevitable; e.g. 52 d7 Nb6+ 53 Ka5 Ra3 mate, or 52 b6 Nxb6+ 53 Ka5 Ra3+ 54 Kb5 a6+ 55 Kc5 Rc3+ 56 Rc4 Rxc4 mate.

My opponent thought I was being silly, wanting the game to end this way.

But “N-QR1, Resigns”! How many games in chess history have ended like that? :)

Monday, 25 January 2021

067. An Eighteenth Century Fortress

White: ianl - all-play-all tournament,, 2020

In Game 32, ‘Grandmasters to the Rescue’, I mentioned a critical variation of the Schliemann, 9 Nxa7+ Bd7 10 Bxd7+ Nxd7 11 f4!, and how this had been strengthened for Black with 11...Qf5!.

The following year I had a brief discussion about this line with a couple of IMs (pfren and poucin) on the forum:

jatait47: I'm guessing the engine line meant, deviating from Carlsen-Nisipeanu, is this one: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 Nc3 dxe4 5 Nxe4 d5 6 Nxe5 dxe4 7 Nxc6 Qg5 8 Qe2 Nf6 9 f4 Qxf4 10 Nxa7+. Yes, the engines all love this move – for a while anyway. I get 10 Nxa7+ all the time in online games and it gives White nothing. (My score over the past two years: P12 W7 D5 L0.) The only drawback is that White can force an immediate draw - and indeed three of my opponents did just that (ffs).

pfren: Quite unfortunately the direct 9.Nxa7+! has practically archived the whole line as problematic for Black.

jatait47: That's certainly more testing than 10 Nxa7+, but it's not so clear either. There's a very important game with 9 Nxa7+ Bd7 10 Bxd7+ Nxd7 11 f4 Qf5! - Nekhaev-Nisipeanu, correspondence 2012. And I'm currently 4½/5 as Black in this line :)

poucin: All this is well covered in Sokolov's "Ruy Lopez revisited" (written in 2009), where he thinks black is ok. However, he concludes Qg5's introduction by: “I would not be surprised if in the future white players focus on the complicated 9.Nxa7 (instead of 9.f4), and that this becomes one of the main lines in the Jaenisch gambit.”

jatait47: Yes, Sokolov was the first to draw attention to 11...Qf5!, but other players have taken this line further since then. In particular, Nisipeanu came up with 12 Nb5 0-0-0 13 a4 Bb4!, which improves on Sokolov's 13...Bc5.

pfren: That game featured a clever recipe by Livi (13.a4 Bb4!?), but this is not enough. Instead of Nekhaev's 14.c3?! and the great piece sac 14...Nc5! white could (and should) trade Queens with 14.Qc4! Qc5 (forced) 15.Qxc5 Nxc5 16.Ke2, or 16.Nc3, when it is very hard to show compensation for a two-pawn deficit.

jatait47: Yes, that's the engine's first choice. But 13...Bb4! wasn't some casual punt in a blitz game. This was high-level correspondence, where both players obviously considered 14 Qc4 for White. In fact Nisipeanu had prepared the whole thing to play against Carlsen. After 14...Qc5 15 Qxc5 Bxc5 and then, for instance, 16 Ke2 c6 17 Nc3 Ne6 18 Nxe4 Rhe8, Black actually has compensation for three pawns, as Junior Tay shows in his recent book. Apparently, Nisipeanu was more worried about 14 0-0 Qc5+ 15 Rf2 Qxc2 16 d4, though that's defensible as well (my one draw came in this line).

The last word was mine and I've had no cause to revise my opinion. In five more games with 11...Qf5 since then I've scored W1 D4 L0, including three draws after 14 Qc4. The game below is one of them.

But I'm not showing this game because of the opening, rather because of the ending. My opponent's valiant efforts to try and win culminated in 46 Ra7, allowing – indeed forcing – the exchange sacrifice 46...Rc3+! 47 Nxc3 Bxc3, and reaching this position.

This is a fortress, dating back to E.Del Rio in 1750. Note that Black's pawns are irrelevant. (I played simply to give them away.) The crucial point is that Black's king is safe, since White's king cannot approach. The white pawn blocks off the c6-square and the bishop can drive the king from either b6 or d6. If the pawn advances, it will get taken off for a draw with bishop vs. rook.

Moral: If you want to defend the Schliemann as Black, study the endgame!

Sunday, 29 November 2020

066. Can I Still Draw?

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

Perhaps the most important question to ask about provocative openings is whether, should your opponent find (or know) good moves, you'll still be able to draw. An affirmative answer means you can essay that opening with confidence, ready to conduct a difficult defence if required or, more frequently, have your fun when it isn't. An answer to the contrary means you're essentially playing Hope Chess. In that case you'll need both to fake confidence and be prepared even so to take the occasional hit.

Colours are naturally a factor. As White you have considerable leeway to play suboptimally while remaining within the drawing zone, supposing you regard a draw as a satisfactory result. As Black a draw is theoretically theoretically acceptable, but the margins are tighter. A couple of inferior moves, especially in an open position, can mean you're losing right off the bat. I don't like to lose.

And yet I do like quarrelsome openings, particularly as Black. Here's a case in point: the Two Knights Defence with 4 d3. White refuses the confrontation posed by 3...Nf6 and simply defends the e-pawn, aiming for a slower, more positional game. Okay, we can go along with that, aiming to equalize after 4...Bc5, 4...Be7, or even 4...h6, all of which I've played on numerous occasions.

On the other hand, if you eventually end up wondering why you're bothering, you might be tempted just to push 4...d5. It's the sort of move you want to make with one finger. That's what I think of your opening. Pah.

Of course, breaking in the centre is very thematic. The downside to doing so so soon is that the e5-pawn is left exposed. And if White is unphased by your aggression and goes and takes it off, what then? Then we must show we can still draw.

From the diagram: 9...Bxf2+! 10 Kxf2 Qh4+ 11 Kf1 (11 Kg1?? Qd4+ is a not completely obvious trap) 11...Qf6+ 12 Qf3 Qxe5 13 Bxd5 c6, followed by 14...Qxh2, leads to an obscure non-Italian middlegame with rook and pawn vs. bishop and knight. Yes, the minor pieces ought to favour White at this stage – certainly Stockfish thinks so. Nonetheless, my score is P5 W1 D4 L0. Lost nil. It's not always easy, but it seems Black can still draw. The game below is a typical example.

At the finish, 33...Kh7 34 Bf6 Rexf6 35 Nxf6+ Rxf6 36 Rxh4+ Kg7 37 Rh3 Rg6 38 Kf1 c5 39 Ke2 f5 40 Kf3 Rb6 was one way to reach a drawn ending.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

065. Lockdown

Black: A. Eccles - BCCA Premier, 1996

The game below features the Scotch, Mieses Variation, with the then topical 9...Qh4!?. Black's nice idea is 10 a3 Bc5 11 g3 Bxf2+, followed by 12 Kxf2 Qd4+, winning the rook on a1, or 12 Qxf2 Qe4+, winning the rook on h1. The geometry of the twin corner captures is very pleasing.

Unfortunately, it's all rather specious. After 12 Qxf2 Qe4+ 13 Kd1 Qxh1 14 Nd2! White gains huge compensation for the exchange, in terms of time, control and the initiative, while Black must hurry to extricate the queen. Hence 14...Nc3+ 15 Kc2 Ne4 16 Nxe4 Qxe4+ 17 Bd3.

Now the best Black has is 17...Qg4 18 Bf5 Qh5 19 h4 f6 20 exf6 gxf6 21 Bb2 0-0-0 22 Bxf6 0-0-0, which involves returning all the material for a much inferior position, with the bishop self-isolating on a6 and White's kingside pawn majority ready for a trip to the seaside.

The course of the game was even worse. In the final position, my opponent – still material up (rook and three pawns for two bishops) – resigned because his king and king's rook were in an enforced and permanent lockdown.

I tried to think of something to say about face masks and support bubbles as well, but I guess I've pushed the metaphor far enough.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

064. The Box of Pawns

Black: bobby fissure - thematic tournament,, 2007

In a just-finished game I had the small pleasure of creating the “box of pawns”. Two sets of doubled pawns on adjacent files – created by two pawns, three files apart, capturing towards each other – can sometimes be arranged in a little square or “box”. In my game this occurred on e4, e5, f4 and f5. Unfortunately, it was in a Sicilian and hence not blog relevant.

Not wishing to be deterred, I've searched through my game databases looking for other instances and found three more. Two were “over the board” and hence not applicable either, but there was one in an online game. It was only an incidental box, lasting for a single ply, as a pawn recapture removed it at once. Nevertheless, a box is a box, so here it is in all its temporary glory:

The game itself isn't too interesting. I was already winning when my opponent left the queen en prise. And it featured the KGA Modern Defence with 3...d5. I tend to roll my eyes, often literally, whenever this line is proposed as an “antidote” to the King's Gambit. Sure, it's perfectly fine for Black, who can look forward to theoretical equality. But Black can count on at least that with virtually any defence to the King's Gambit.

So, in effect, the Modern means returning a dubiously donated pawn for an equality Black already has anyway. I'm rolling my eyes now just at the thought of it.

Monday, 18 May 2020

063. Four Exchange Sacrifices

Black: Decus Tutamen - all-play-all tournament,, 2020

Theory advances inexorably. In the Traxler, for instance, 5 d4, which used to be considered totally harmless, now appears to be the critical move. IM Panayotis Frendzas has proselytized for it on the forums, and that led me to try out 5 d4 myself as White in online thematic tournaments. My score: P14 W12 D2 L0. As someone who generally plays this as Black, those results are not encouraging.

As it happens, I've faced 5 d4 twice too during the same period – and managed to defend the position after 5...d5 6 Bxd5 Nxd5 7 dxc5 Ndb4 8 a3 Qxd1+ 9 Kxd1 Na6 10 b4 Nd4, but it's not the most fun I've ever had – and White can probably improve anyway.

Instead, the game below followed some analysis by Stefan Bücker (whether my opponent knew it or not), where White sacrifices the exchange for two pawns and far greater activity (given that Black's remaining pieces are all on the back rank).

More exactly, we followed it up to a point because, rather than accept the exchange straight away, my opponent first sacrificed the exchange himself (with 13...Rxf3!?). This led to equal material – but not equality.

Black's king is still stuck in the middle and he has a weak e-pawn. The one point in his favour is that the white a-pawn is also weak, which means endings are not hopeless for Black. So, rather than liquidate, I played for an attack on the kingside. This my opponent neutralized by sacrificing another exchange (27...Rxg5), leading to another endgame where my extra material was not enough to win, even after the queens came off.

Well, perhaps I could have played more strongly somewhere. Stockfish is keen on 24 a3!? for some reason. But a game is a game. The only move I actually regret not playing is 38 Qxd3+, because a plausible line then runs 38...Kc8 39 g3 Qh6 40 Qe3 Qh2+ 41 Kd1 Bf5 42 Qe8+ Kb7 43 Rxb5+! axb5 44 Qxb5+ Ka7 45 Qxf5 Qxg3 and White reaches a pawn-up queen ending.

It doesn't win either, please note. But at least that way I wouldn't have been outdone on exchange sacrifices.