Fate soon offered me another opportunity to defend against 1. e4 in another Richmond v Surbiton encounter, this time a match between our respective B teams. Again I was sitting opposite an opponent rated slightly below me.
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
Someone else who’s going Italian. I decided to try the Two Knights’ Defence again.
4. Ng5 d5
Should I stick with the slightly dubious Fritz variation after what happened last time or try something else? I decided to go down the main line, at least for a few moves.
6. Bb5+ c6
7. dxc6 bxc6
White’s most popular choice here, but is it best? Alternatives are the currently fashionable 8. Bd3 preparing a knight retreat to e4, which leads to fairly obscure positions, and the sharp pinning move 8. Qf3, when one option (there are others) for Black is 8.. Rb8, the Colman Variation, analysed by Eugene Ernest Colman while he was held in the Changi Civilian Internees Camp in Singapore during the Second World War. Colman played his move successfully in club chess for Wimbledon, no doubt on occasion in the Thames Valley League. Olympiu Urcan’s biography of Colman, Surviving Changi, is highly recommended.
Steinitz and Fischer both tried Nh3 here.
10. Ne5 Bc5
The immediate Bd6 is Black’s most popular choice here but engines and stats both prefer this move.
The most popular move here. White wants to prevent a possible Qd4 but takes a square away from his queen’s knight.
This move and 11.. Qc7 both score very well for Black.
Again the most popular choice, but 12. f4 might be an improvement.
13. Nxd3 Qc7
76 games in BigBase 2014 reached this position with Black scoring 74%. It looks like White’s backing a loser by going down this line.
Now we have 41 games with Black scoring 78%.
15. O-O Bf5
21 games here and Black now up to 81%.
Played twice in BigBase 2014. In both cases Black won after playing Rad8.
White looked like a man about to play Ba3 so I played something that I thought prevented this. I was right, but for the wrong reason.
This should lose at once, but White’s position is uncomfortable due to Black’s pressure down the centre files.
Stockfish informed me after the game that I should have played 17.. Bh2+ (the immediate 17.. Rad8 is also strong) 18. Kh1 Rad8 when there’s surprisingly little White can do to meet the threat of Rxe2 followed by Bxd3.
18. Nxa3 Qe7
This is what I’d seen when I played 16.. Rfe8. I thought it won a piece, but it doesn’t. Instead I could again have played 18… Rad8, but now White has some sort of defence: 19. Nc2 Rxe2 20. Nd4 Bxd3 21. Nxe2 when Black has bishop and knight for rook and pawn.
We both missed that White can save the piece here: 19. b4 Qxe2 20. Qxe2 Rxe2 21. Nc1 (gaining time by hitting the rook) 21.. Re4 22. bxa5 Ra4 23. Nb1 and White is still in the game. But now Black’s just a piece ahead.
20. Nb4 Rad8
Forcing a queen exchange.
21. Qc1 Qxc1 22. Raxc1 Kf8 23. Kf1 c5 24. Na6 Ne4 25. g4 Bc8 26. Kg1 c4 27. Nc7 Re7 28. Nb5 cxb3 29. axb3 Nxb3 30. Rb1 Ned2 31. Rbd1 Rde8 0-1
My switch to 1.. e5 was certainly successful in that game. White certainly needs to rethink the opening as 10.. Bc5 seems very comfortable for Black. Still no Spanish, though. Maybe next time.