A Successful Wager

My next game involved a trip along the motorway to Maidenhead, the Thames Valley League’s furthest outpost, where I had black against their top board, John Wager, a strong and experienced player graded nearly 30 points above me.

He chose the Colle System, a popular opening in these post-theory days, just getting your pieces out and setting up a flexible pawn formation ready for action in the middle game.

1. d4 Nf6
2. Nf3 e6
3. e3 c5
4. c3 b6
5. Nbd2 Bb7
6. Bd3 d5
7. O-O Nbd7
8. b3 Bd6
9. Bb2 O-O
10. Qc2 Rc8
11. Rac1 e5
12. dxe5 Nxe5
13. Nxe5 Bxe5
14. Nf3 Bb8
15. Bf5 Rc7
16. Rfd1 Qe7
17. c4

This is the critical period of the game. Something I wanted to write about at some point, because I find it difficult myself, is the whole idea of compensation. As a naturally cautious player myself I tend to be very materialist. Here, I might have considered a pawn sacrifice for attacking chances. I start with 17… d4 18. exd4 Bxf3 19. gxf3 Rc6 20. d5 Qd6 21. dxc6 Qxh2+ 22. Kf1 Re8 23. Be4 Nxe4 24. fxe4 Qh1+ 25. Ke2 Rxe4+ 26. Qxe4 Qxe4+ 27. Kf1 when Black has queen and pawn for two rooks, and, with care, will eventually be able to pick up the c6 pawn. White can do better by not taking the rook: 21. f4 Qxf4 22. f3 is equal according to the engines. But this, at my level, is very much a computer line. Would a grandmaster have played d4 here, and how much would they see? I’m not sure.

17… g6

I chose this natural alternative, which leaves Black, rather than White, with doubled f-pawns.

18. Qc3 gxf5
19. Qxf6

He didn’t have to take this immediately: it wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Instead simply 19. cxd5 and White has an extra pawn, but Black might want to claim some compensation in the shape of the two bishops. Enough? I don’t understand chess well enough to tell you.

19… Qxf6
20. Bxf6 dxc4
21. bxc4

You might think Rxc4 looks more natural here. There again you might not…

21… Rc6
22. Ba1

So the bad news is Black has doubled isolated pawns, while the good news is that he has two raking bishops.

22… Rg6

This is where things start to go wrong for me. This seems to me, at least superficially, a very obvious move, setting up a pin and planning a later f4 to undouble my pawns. But, as you’ll see, it’s not correct. My computer tells me 22… Re6 followed by f4 was correct, with perhaps a slight advantage.

23. Nh4 Rg4

Continuing along the wrong path. I had to play Rg5 here but I’d missed a simple tactical point.

24. g3

At this point I realised that my intended f4 would be met by Nf5 with an immediate win for White. It was still possible to swallow my pride and play Rg5 to keep the pawn. Re8 was a better try for compensation than my choice.

24… Bc8
25. Rd5 Be6
26. Nxf5 Bxf5
27. Rxf5 Rd8
28. Rd5

Trading when you’re ahead, but the computer is not impressed. Now I can tie his rook down to defending the a-pawn.

28… Rxd5
29. cxd5 Ra4
30. Rc2 Bd6
31. f4 Re4

Not a good idea. 31… Kf8 followed by Ke8 gives drawing chances.

32. Kf2 b5
33. Kf3 Ra4
34. e4 Ra3+
35. Kg4 b4

The final mistake. 35… c4, giving my bishop some room, was the only way to stay in the game. Now White’s centre pawns go through.

36. Bf6 Rd3
37. e5 Bf8
38. d6 Bxd6
39. exd6 Rxd6
40. Be7 1-0

Tell me, why did I lose this game? At one level I was just beaten by a stronger player. Although it wasn’t technically the losing move, my problems started with 22… Rg6, which I played because I hadn’t foreseen the knight’s journey to h4, f5 and h6.

Richard James

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.