Last season I played six games with Black starting 1. e4 e5. They all continued 2. Nf3 Nc6, whereupon I encountered 3. Bb5 and 3. Bc4 twice each, and 3. d4 and 3. c3 once each.
I chose unusual ways to meet the Spanish: 3… g6 in one game and 3… Nge7 in the other. After the latter game my opponent told me he’d have played the Exchange Variation if I’d played 3… a6. I’d been wondering whether, considering that I only play 15-20 games a year and am coming to the end of my chess career, it was worth learning a main line defence such as the Marshall. How often would I get the chance to play it?
In the spirit of enquiry, I decided to find out whether my first Spanish opponent last season would have followed the main lines, so, when I found myself once again with the Black pieces against Paul Shepherd (congratulations to Paul for having become Surrey champion since we last met) I decided to ask him by playing 3… a6.
I hadn’t quite decided what to play against 4. Ba4 but as it turned out I wasn’t going to have to make that decision. Yes, he decided to trade on c6.
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Bxc6 dxc6
5. O-O Bg4
This is what I teach my pupils so I decided to play it myself.
6. h3 h5
A considerable improvement on the similarly motivated Fishing Pole Trap. Of course it’s not a good idea for White to take the bishop.
7. d3 Qf6
The more complicated alternative is 8. Nbd2 which my opponent rejected because he didn’t know the theory, unaware that I didn’t know it either.
9. Qxf3 Qxf3
10. gxf3 Bd6
11. Nd2 Ne7
The usual choices here are Rfb1 (which looks rather strange to me) and Nc4.
Ng6, c5 and f6 have all been played here, but the engines seem happy enough with my choice. A not terribly interesting GM example: 12… c5 13. Nc4 Nc6 14. c3 Ke7 15. Kf1 f6 16. a3 a5 17. a4 g6 18. Ke2 Ke6 19. Rg1 Rhg8 20. Rg2 Rad8 21. Rag1 Kf7 1/2-1/2 A Volokitin (2600) – V Akopian (2689) Sochi 2004
13. Kf1 Ng6
Or 13… f6 14. Ke2 g5 15. Rg1 Ng6 16. c3 Rd7 17. Nc4 Be7 18. Rad1 c5 19. a3
Rhd8 20. Rd2 h4 21. Rb1 Nf8 22. b4 cxb4 23. axb4 b6 24. d4 exd4 25. cxd4 Ne6
26. d5 Ng7 27. Na3 Bd6 28. Nc4 and a draw in 65 moves in A Ruszin (2125) – H Asabri (2228) Budapest 2007
14. Ke2 Nf4+
15. Bxf4 exf4
16. Rg1 Rhg8
17. Nc4 g5
18. Rg2 f6
19. Rag1 Be7
White might have played h4 at any time over the last few moves. Now I decide to put a stop to that idea, after which there shouldn’t be too much happening.
21. Ra1 Rge8
But this is very careless, allowing a potential fork should the white knight move to a5. I managed to spot this and played…
23. Na3 Bxa3
24. bxa3 Re6
25. Rb1 c5
26. Rgg1 c4
27. Rgd1 Red6
28. Ke2 cxd3+
29. cxd3 Rd4
30. Rb4 Kb7
It’s not looking too for for White in this rook ending, but he could try to hold on with Rb3 or Rxd4 rather than giving up a pawn with…
31. Rdb1 Rxd3
32. a4 Rd2+
33. Ke1 Rxa2
34. axb5 axb5
A very poor decision, played without any thought at all. Instead, simply 34… a5 when White has no counterplay and Black has an easy victory in prospect.
35. Rxb5+ Kc6
36. Rf5 Rdd2
37. Rxf6+ Kd7
38. Rf7+ Ke6
Natural, I suppose, but another poor decision. 38… Kd6 39. Rf6+ Ke7 was the way to go, again with a simple win.
39. Rxc7 Re2+
40. Kd1 Red2+
Offering a draw, which was accepted. After 41. Ke1 I have nothing better than repetition.
Not a good game. My opponent made a careless mistake on move 22 and took a risk which left him with a lost position on move 31. I then threw away easy wins on moves 34 and 38. The same thing happened, you will recall, in the game I demonstrated last week. The better my position the more nervous I become and the worse I play. It’s always been what’s going on in my head more than anything else which prevented me becoming a better player. Would I ever win another game against a highly rated opponent?
There was no reason to complain about my position from the opening, though. 1… e5 still seems to be working well: perhaps I should have played it all my life.