Monday, 13 December 2021

073. How Could I Play Like That?!?

White: R.C. O'Neale - BCCA Championship, 1994/95

So GM Ian Nepomniachtchi failed in his bid to dethrone World Champion Magnus Carlsen, essentially collapsing after losing the 136-move marathon sixth game. As to why, GM Daniil Dubov offered the following explanation in an interview at

In my view, Ian played five and three quarters of the games brilliantly. The way he operated was fantastic, at the limits of his ability, and he was in no way inferior to Magnus. (...) [T]he main strength of Carlsen is that even on his worst days he doesn’t fall below a certain level, and that level is very high. That isn’t Ian’s strong point. On a good day he can beat anyone, but on a bad one he can lose to anyone. As has already been said, at the end Ian played in such a way that you didn’t need to be Magnus to beat him. That’s precisely what makes World Championship matches so tough. There are a lot of games. At some moment the stress will get to you and the fatigue will tell.

I think Nepomniachtchi may look back at games 8-11 in bemusement, wondering “How could I play like that?!?” At my much lower level I can certainly relate to such feelings, having had correspondence tournaments where I just played atrociously. I look back at my games now in bemusement, wondering “How could I play like that?!?”.

Notable instances are (with my dismal scores in brackets): BCCA Championship 1994/95 (2½/10), Email Olympiad 14 Final (2/11), BCCA-100 GM (3½/14). The first of those is particularly “Huh?!?”, given that I'd won the event the previous two years.

Take the game below. The coffeehouse-style 21...b5 raises the eyebrows for a start. But the follow-up "exchange sacrifice" 22...Ng4 has me completely befuddled.
Even if Black is given a free move after 23 Bxd8 Bxd8, it still looks like total rubbish.

There's more rubbish to be seen in Game 43. However, as I note in that earlier post, I later recovered form to win again in 1997/98. I even won in the same line, this time with the more sensible 19...Qg4 20 Bd2 Qd7. That was a nice game from my perspective, featuring a much stronger ...Ng4 too. But I wouldn't be surprised if my opponent looks back it in bemusement, wondering “How could I play like that?!?”

Monday, 8 November 2021

072. Which Rook and Where?

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

It's a well-known chess quandary. You've castled kingside, your queen's rook is still on its home square, and you have to decide where both rooks should now go. The c-file and d-file? The c-file and e-file? The d-file and e-file? Where?

Here's a case in point.

White is a pawn up but it isn't a very good one, doubled and isolated on the open c-file, and the king resides on that side of the board. Black also has a slight lead in development. The question now is where to put the rooks. The logical destinations are the c- and e-files. The former attacks the c3-pawn with options of ...Rc6-b6. The latter eyes a discovery against White's queen.

Let's try the king's rook:
a) 16...Rfc8 can be met by 17 Rd4 Rc6 (or 17...Qb6+ 18 Rb4) 18 Be2 Rac8 19 Rhd1 and White defends by means of 19...Rxc3 20 Rd8+ or 19...h6 20 c4.
b) 16...Rfe8 might lead to 17 Qf4 Qb6+ 18 Qb4 Qxf2, when Black gets the pawn back, but then something like 19 Qd4 Qf5 20 Bc4 Bxc4 21 Qxc4 Re6 22 Rhf1 Rb6+ 23 Ka1 Qg6 24 Rd7 Rf8 25 Rfxf7 is a draw.

Okay, let's try the queen's rook:
c) 16...Rac8 17 Rd4 Rc6 18 Be2 Rfc8 is the same as line ‘a’.
d) 16...Rae8 is not the most obvious choice, but when we compare this with move 24 in line ‘b’ we see that Black already has a rook on f8 defending the f7-pawn and so has a “free” move. Here 24...h6, creating luft, is useful. (Not 24...Qxc2?? 25 Qxf7+! Rxf7 26 Rd8+ and mates.)

So 16...Rae8 it was. After which I got to play a succession of nice little rook moves:
17 f3 Rc8 (because 18 Rd4 Qb6+ 19 Rb4 now drops the undefended queen)
18 Be2 Rfe8 (because the white bishop is now in danger behind the queen)
19 Qd4 Rc6 (because the queen blocks the d1-rook from defending via Rd4)
20 Ra1 Rd8 (shifting the white queen before doubling on the c-file)
21 Qe3 Rdc8 (now that ...Rxc3 will hit the queen again)
22 Qd4 Rxc3 (okay, the queen moved first)
23 Bd3 Rxd3 and Black won – thematically, in a rook endgame.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

071. Another Line in a Book

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

I've finally finished my book, which will be out whenever it's out. How much other people will be interested in it all remains to be seen.

From my own perspective, for my own chess, I now have a well-worked-out, extremely comprehensive repertoire with the black pieces after 1 e4 e5, though remembering what I've written may prove challenging over the board. Distance chess, no problem; I can just look it up. Since everything in the book has been through Stockfish, this gives me a quite considerable advantage (not least because no one else has it yet).

For instance, I've just had a game with a sort of Vienna Gambit: 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 f4 exf4 4 Nf3 g5 and then 5 Bc4. Hmmm, what did I have to say about that?

“a) 5 Bc4 allows Black a favourable Hanstein Gambit, which was favourable anyway; e.g. 5...Bg7 6 d4 d6 7 0-0 h6 8 Nd5 Nce7 and White had nothing, P.Faulkner-J.Tait, Notts Championship 1996. However, Black can also go for more: 5...g4! 6 0-0 (6 d4 transposes to line C21) 6...gxf3 7 Qxf3 (instead, 7 d4 is line C21 again; while 7 Bxf7+ Kxf7 8 Qxf3 Qh4 9 d4 Nxd4 10 Qd3 Ne6 11 Bxf4 Nxf4, M.Vachier Lagrave-H.Nakamura, blitz 2020, leaves Black with far too much after 12 Rxf4+ Qxf4 13 Rf1 Qxf1+ 14 Qxf1+ Ke8, even if it’s all sitting at home) 7...Qh4 8 d4 (or if 8 Nd5, J.Nebel-S.Ter Sahakyan, Titled Arena blitz 2021, then 8...Bc5+ 9 Kh1 Ne5 10 Qxf4 Qxf4 11 Rxf4 Kd8 wins) 8...Nxd4 9 Qd3 Ne6 10 Bxe6 (or 10 Nb5 Qe7 11 Bxf4 Nxf4 12 Rxf4 Kd8 13 Rxf7 Qc5+ 14 Rf2 Ne7 and so on) 10...dxe6 11 Bxf4 Qe7 12 Nb5 e5 13 Be3 a6 14 Nc3 Be6 and Black won, O.Westermann-D.Van Donk, corr. 2017.”

Okay, 5...g4! it is then. (Line C21 is the Pierce Gambit, 5 d4, by the way.) The game continued 6 0-0 gxf3 7 Qxf3 Qh4 8 Nd5 Bc5+ 9 Kh1 Ne5.

Here I suddenly thought: What about 10 Qc3 - ? I can't remember whether I looked at that or not. Well, clearly Black should reply 10...Ng4! 11 h3 Nf2+ 12 Kh2 and then maybe 12...Kd8 and I'm threatening ...Nxe4 or ...c7-c6 or just ...Qg3+, seeing as I'm a piece up. And my opponent did play Qc3 but inserted 10 Nxc7+ first, which made it even better for Black, and I won in short measure.

Having mentioned at move ten that I'd researched the whole line with Stockfish a couple of months before, and feeling a bit bad about it, I duly apologized afterwards. My opponent was gracious, taking the loss in good heart. Maybe I shouldn't say that our return game just followed Reprintsev-Yanvarjov, Uzhgorod 1988, until a few forced moves from my side left me winning this one too.

Information is a powerful thing.

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 Jaenisch, 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 Jaenisch as Black, study the endgame!