Sunday, 22 July 2018

039. Taking the Draw as White

White: Raffzahn - thematic tournament,, 2018

It's a common fact in chess that very sharp openings often lead to quick draws. Take this line of the Jaenisch: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 Nc3 fxe4 5 Nxe4 d5 6 Nxe5 dxe4 7 Nxc6 Qg5 8 Qe2 Nf6 9 f4 Qxf4 10 Nxa7+ Bd7 11 Bxd7+ Kxd7 12 Qb5+ Ke6 13 Qxb7 Bd6.

Black has sacrificed two pawns for a lead in development and strong counterplay against the white king. Obviously the black king is none too safe either, which (unfortunately) means that White can, if desired, just take a draw.

Supposing White doesn't take the draw, what then? One possibility is 14 Qb3+ Kd7 15 Qf7+. I actually wrote an article on this for the BCCA magazine (CC#144, Autumn 1999), in which I was slightly dubious about Black's chances. But my conclusions there were wrong. Not least because, after 15...Kd8 16 Nc6+ Kc8 17 Ne7+ Bxe7 18 Qxe7 Re8 19 Qc5, the best move is not 19...e3?! (“!” in the article) but 19...Ra6! – as later shown by German gambit theoretician, Peter Leisebein, and consolidated in the games of CC-SIMs Hans-Dieter Vötter and Gerhard Ziese. This is significantly better for Black than my previously favoured 15...Be7 15 Nc6 Kxc6 17 Qxe7 Rae8.

As it happens, I've recently had a spate of 10 Nxa7+s, facing it eight times in online games in 2018. And I've taken to hectoring my opponents, trying to discourage them from taking the draw. For instance:

10. tsmenace: Bah, 10 Nxa7 again. This is just a draw I think. 10 Ne5 is critical, or else 9 Nxa7 if White really wants to take the pawn. But of course you may yet prove me wrong ;)

Whether influenced by my comments or not, they've generally played the position on. And rightly so – in principle – because why play 10 Nxa7+ at all as White if you're just going to take a draw? What's to be learned from doing that? On the other hand, I should perhaps mention that, of the seven players who didn't take the draw, six have lost. That was quite a surprise to me, I must admit. I mean, I knew there were decent practical chances in these lines, but to score 6½/7 as Black!?

It's inadvertently given me more respect for the one person who ignored my remarks and took the draw:

15. Raffzahn: offered a draw - Please use the Accept Draw or Decline Draw buttons to accept or decline the offer.

I declined and played on:

15. tsmenace: it's your move :) - obviously you can force a draw if you want one

My opponent was determined. So – a draw. Well done.


Sunday, 8 July 2018

038. The Chigorin Sicilian

Black: RickF - all-play-all tournament,, 2018

Actually, Mikhail Chigorin has no Sicilian system named after him. Against 1 e4 the great Russian master played 1...e5 almost exclusively, and in the king's pawn openings his name is mainly associated with a formation in the Closed Ruy Lopez: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3 0-0 9 h3 Na5 10 Bc2 c5.

I'm not sure why Chigorin gets the credit for that either. He seems only to have played it a couple of times; his treatment in O.Duras-M.Chigorin, Nuremberg 1906, was quite "unthematic"; and Schlechter had already ventured this set-up against Tarrasch four years earlier. If it's because Schlechter lost and Chigorin won, Schlechter had his revenge – beating Chigorin from the White side in 1907.

Well, anyway, the Chigorin Ruy Lopez it became and subsequently developed a large complex of theory. One variation, amongst many, runs 11 d4 Qc7 12 d5, whereby White hopes to keep the a5-knight out of the game; for example, after 12...Nc4 13 a4 Bd7 14 b3 Nb6 15 a5 or 12...Bd7 13 b3 c4 14 b4 Nb7 15 a4. Note that, in the latter line, 13 a4 is somewhat premature in view of 13...c4!, controlling the white b-pawn and preparing to target the a4-pawn with ...Nb7-c5.

Despite that, 13 a4 is still seen occasionally. E.Hossain-J.Hjartarson, Turin Olympiad 2006, continued 13...c4 14 Be3 bxa4?! 15 Bxa4 Bxa4 16 Qxa4 Nb3 17 Ra3 Rfc8 18 Nbd2 Nc5 19 Qc2 Nfd7 20 Rae1 a5 21 Nxc4 and White was clearly better at this point (later going very wrong in time trouble and losing). Rather than exchanging on a4 so soon, Black should maintain the tension with something like 14...Rfb8 or 14...Rfc8, or an immediate 14...Nb7-c5.

If you're wondering what any of this has to do with the Sicilian, then watch... 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 a4!? (a harmless-looking move, played by GMs Bukhuti Gurgenidze, Bent Larsen and, more recently, Konstantin Chernyshov) 4...Nf6 5 d3 Nc6 6 0-0 e6 7 Re1 Be7 8 c3 a6 9 Bc4 0-0 10 Bb3 b5 11 d4 e5 (I once won after 11...Qc7 12 e5) 12 d5 Na5 13 Bc2 c4 (13...Qc7 was V.Kosenkov-M.Kletsel, 8th World Correspondence Championship 1975) 14 h3 Qc7 and somehow we've transposed to the diagram, duly making it a “Chigorin Sicilian”.

That was the surprising course of the game below. I tried Hossain's 14 Be3, my opponent replied with 14...Rfc8 and... nothing much else happened. There was one way I might have made it interesting: 29 Qf2 g6 30 Nh5!? gxh5 31 Bh6, but this fails to 31...Ne8! 32 Qg3+ Kf7 33 Nf3 Ke7 34 Nxe5 h4! 35 Qxh4 Ne6!, when Black emerges with the better chances while, most pertinently, White has no chances of more than a draw. It seemed simpler to swap things off and then just offer a draw. So that's what I did.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

037. The King Steps Sideways

White: G. Crook - BCCA DJKO 35/1, 2000

The Two Knights with 4 d4 exd4 5 0-0 isn't played very much nowadays, because 5...Nxe4 6 Re1 d5 7 Bxd5 Qxd5 8 Nc3 Qa5 (or 8...Qh5) 9 Nxe4 Be6 is considered perfectly acceptable for Black. All well and good. Black has grabbed the central e-pawn; White has played a little trick (7 Bxd5, 8 Nc3) to regain it. And there the excitement ends for me.

I've mostly preferred the Max Lange Attack: 5...Bc5 6 e5 d5 7 exf6 dxc4. The main line continues 8 Re1+ Be6 9 Ng5 Qd5 10 Nc3 Qf5 11 Nce4 0-0-0 12 g4 Qe5, reaching a very messy position. That's more like it. I like messy positions. Up to a point. What I really like is messy positions where my opponent hasn't already learned what to do. Mainline Sicilians, for instance, can be extremely messy but also mapped out to move thirty and beyond. I'm not interested in all that. Max Lange variations, too, go deep into the twenties, and I'm not interested in those either. Especially not when it's me who doesn't know what to do.

So I started sliding the king sideways: 8...Kf8!?. Theory tends to dismiss this on account of 9 Bg5 gxf6 10 Bh6+ Kg8 11 Nc3.

For the price of two pawns White has shut the h8-rook in the corner and opened the black king to spectacular mating attacks. Such as 11...Bg4 12 Ne4 b6 13 c3 Ne5? 14 Nxe5! Bxd1 15 Nd7! Be7 16 Nexf6+ Bxf6 17 Re8+! Qxe8 18 Nxf6 mate, as in B.Kazic-B.Vukovic, Candidates Tournament, Yugoslavia 1940. Or 11...Bf8 12 Nxd4 Nxd4? 13 Qxd4! Qxd4? 14 Re8 Qd6 15 Nd5 and mate in four.

Except, none of that is forced. In the latter line Black can play 12...Bxh6 13 Nxc6 Qxd1 14 Ne7+ Kg7 15 Rad1 Be6 16 Ned5 “with roughly equal chances”, according to Yakov Estrin in his book on the Two Knights Defence (Batsford 1983). And I think that's being generous to White, seeing as Black still has an extra pawn and the two bishops. Or if 12 Bxf8 Kxf8 13 Ne4, then 13...f5! and again the onus is on White to justify the sacrifices.

I got to test those “equal chances” in the game below. As it happens, my opponent did manage to find compensation, tried to mate me with rook, knight and king, and eventually took a draw by perpetual check. Nonetheless, today's engines give Black the advantage all the way through, even if I was unable to convert it at the time. Certainly I'd be happy to have another go.

That is if White doesn't avoid the whole thing by throwing in 8 fxg7 first.