Monday, 24 December 2018

044. Surprising Openings

White: J. Rudd - C&DCCC Minor Counties, 2002

Whether or not an opening, or a variation of an opening, is a surprise naturally depends on whether an opponent expects it or is otherwise prepared. In an information-neutral context – i.e. without knowledge of someone's repertoire or, conversely, their knowledge of your own – the element of surprise can therefore be a matter of chance. My openings tend towards the disreputable, so they tend to have decent surprise value – most pleasingly demonstrated when an opponent starts thinking on move four.

But in this post I'm not concerned with opponents’ reactions. Instead, I've been looking through my old CC games, sorted variously by ECO code and notation, and have been surprising myself with some of my opening choices. For instance, as White: 1 e4 c5 2 a4!? (one game), 1 c4 (three games); and as Black: 1 d4 e5!? (one game), 1 d4 c5 2 d5 Nf6 3 c4 Ne4!? (one game), 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 (another three games). Okay, I can deduce that the single instances there were prompted by the writings of Hugh Myers and Stefan Bücker. But what I was doing playing the English and the Najdorf, I really have no idea.

In the blog-relevant C20-C99 category, there are surprises too: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d5!? (three games), 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 f5!? (three games). I don't remember those either, especially the three Elephants. The games with the Schliemann Deferred (all from 2002) are slightly less surprising. I have occasionally played this over the board, usually aiming to take opponents (who might be ready for 3...f5) away from standard paths, since the seemingly benign inclusion of ...a7-a6 and Ba4 actually changes the position considerably. To obtain an advantage White has to play 5 d4 (a sideline in the Schliemann itself), and if 5...exd4 then 6 e5 with a favourable sort of reversed Falkbeer. I see that one of my CC games did go this way – and I lost – so whatever new ideas I might have had probably weren't very good. I'll have to look at that again sometime.

The game below took a less critical path: 5 d4 exd4 6 Nxd4 Nxd4 7 Qxd4 c5!.

Here the obvious threat to the a4-bishop (with ...b7-b5 etc) enables Black to escape the opening with a satisfactory position. This increased by degrees in the middlegame, and reduced more sharply in the endgame, until my opponent (now an OTB IM) was rightly justified in offering a draw (at move 35), which I declined – a decision equally and instantly justified when they blundered by reply. Sorry, Jack.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

043. Form is Temporary

White: R.W. Bauld - BCCA Championship, 1994/95

I'm playing very badly at the moment and don't know why. I've hardly won a league game in over a year and am now losing to people who haven't beaten me in a long time - or even at all. So far this season, I've had a lost position in every one of my nine games. That I've drawn five and even won a game doesn't make me feel much better. From a peak rating of 221 (ECF) eighteen months ago, I'll have dropped 30 points by the time the next list comes out.

Well, form comes and goes, I suppose. And drastically so for me in correspondence chess. For instance, after winning the BCCA Championship for the second time (and consecutively) in 1993/94, in the following year I came last. The game below is from the 1994/95 tournament.

It features another "deferred" Open Game. To be precise, it's a type of Réti – a reversed Classical Pirc – to which ECO duly assigns the code A07. But it could just as well be C42 or C44. Indeed, the first game in the database to reach the position at move seven (B.Ivkov-L.Rellstab, Bled 1950) took the route 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d3 Nc6 4 g3 d5 5 Nbd2 Be7 6 Bg2 0-0 7 0-0. So there you are.

It's also a slightly unusual game in that, having built himself a fortress, my opponent took to "passing" from move 25 on, giving me unlimited time to try and find a way in. My written notes give no indication as to why I didn't take the e-pawn on move 29. Instead, I sent my knight on a trip from f6 to a8 and then round again to g5. This did in fact enable me to break through, though it was only a mistake on move 47 that gave me a winning position. And then I fell for a stalemate trick.

It was another three years before I was back in the Championship and won it again, this time with my best ever score of +6.