Tuesday, 22 May 2018

035. One for the Dustbin

White: afms - thematic tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2018

Something I've always aimed for in the opening is to take opponents away from positions they know – without thinking – how to play. In the Jaenisch, for instance, a lot of players opt for 4 d3, aiming for a more "normal" game after 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Nf6 6 0-0. In order to rob them of that, back in 1992 I began playing 4...Nf6 instead, and if 5 0-0 then 5...Bc5, refusing to exchange on e4 and offering a reversed King's Gambit should White decide (correctly) to capture on f5. GM Nigel Davies later proposed this for Black in his book Gambiteer II (Everyman 2007).

In truth, I've never done very well with it. OTB my score (1992-2018) is 54.3%: P23, W9, D7, L7. Not very impressive, even if most of those losses were to strong players: James Cobb, Fernand Gobet, Jeff Horner, and Gary Quillan (all now IMs). I've stubbornly stuck with 4...Nf6, trying to find improvements for Black as and when necessary. But I think it's time to throw it in the bin.

One critical position (which can be reached via several routes) arises at move ten.

Black has a 0% score from here in the database (with one of my own losses contributing to that). Essentially, White has a terrific reversed Schallopp (1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e5 Nh5), where the gambit pawn is firmly defended. Yes, Black can obtain a nice-looking centre after ...d6-d5, but it's not going anywhere – and it's not even very secure since White can swipe at it with either c2-c4 or f2-f4 or both.

In the game below, my opponent went for a slow build-up before breaking on the kingside, and eventually mated me by promoting a tripled f-pawn: g2-g4-g5xf6-f7-f8Q. It's a matter of taste, I suppose. I'd have used the bishop myself.

I've posted twice recently (Games 32 and 33) about Grandmasters coming to the rescue in my openings, but I can't see any help being forthcoming in this one.

Monday, 14 May 2018

034. That'll Learn Me

Black: dakarportsmouth - knockout tournament, ChessWorld.net, 2018

“If you find a good move, look for a better one” (as Emanuel Lasker apparently didn't say). It's a good maxim for correspondence chess, where you can spend all the time you like looking for better moves. Over the board, on the other hand, I usually opt for the practical “one win is as good as another” strategy. And sometimes this lazy attitude affects my Fernschach as well.

With fewer people signing up for my thematics at ChessWorld.net nowadays, I recently entered a couple of ordinary tournaments instead: a four-player round robin and a knockout with 64 players. In my own events I restrict the strength (or rather weakness) of my opponents by setting a lower limit on rating. The ordinaries are open tournaments, in other words anyone can enter. In the first round of the knockout I was drawn against someone nearly 1400 points lower rated than me. The first three moves were 1 e4 e5 2 f4 d6 3 Nc3 f6, after which I went into "simul" mode: come to the board, make a quick move, and go away again.

Now I'm regretting it because the engine shows that I failed to spot a pretty queen sacrifice leading to an unusual mate:

Having won a piece, I simply retreated the knight with check here, soon picked up more material, and eventually mated with queen and two bishops. However, Houdini pops instantly out with 16 Qxf6+! and declares a forced mate in eight: 16...Nxf6 17 Rxf6+ Kg7 18 Rf7+ Kg8 19 Rxe7+ Kf8 20 Bc5! (threatening 21 Rf1 mate) 20...Bc8 21 Rb7+ Ke8 22 Bf7+ Kd8 23 Be7 mate, this time with two bishops and rook.

Damn, that would have been really nice.