Category Archives: Annotated Games

When to Sacrifice

It’s important to learn about the idea of sacrificing a piece for a pawn or two in front of the castled enemy king. There are many books which will show you examples of this, and all teachers enjoy showing these games to their students.

But if you read these books and follow these lessons you may well get the idea that such sacrifices always work. In real life, of course, they don’t, but it’s much more entertaining to demonstrate a short sacrificial win than a long game where the defender refutes the sacrifice and wins the ending with his extra piece.

Sometimes you can calculate a forced win. Sometimes it will be obvious to an experienced player (but not necessarily to someone less experienced) that the sacrifice won’t work. There’s also a grey area in the middle where you clearly have compensation. It’s partly a question of style, temperament and personality whether or not you will choose to make the sacrifice. You might also like to remember the rule (something I read years ago, I think in a book by Julian Hodgson) that you should play the sacrifice if, after giving up the piece, you have more attackers than your opponent has defenders.

The game below was posted on Facebook by my colleague at CSC, Ferris Lindsay. He asked why he lost this game. Let’s have a look.

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. exd5 exd5

White chooses the Exchange Variation in reply to his opponent’s French Defence. This is often a sign of peaceful intent, but Ferris has an aggressive plan in mind.

4. Nc3 Nf6
5. Bg5 c6
6. Nf3 Be7
7. Qd2 O-O
8. O-O-O

Natural moves, I suppose, but this position has only been seen in a few fairly low level amateur games. Superficially it looks a bit scary for Black, who has to reckon with a possible sacrifice if he ever tries to play h6. So we might want to consider why stronger players don’t start the game in this way.

It’s worth considering what would happen if Black decided to put the question to the bishop at this point. After 8… h6 White can consider two thematic sacrifices. Do either of them work. You might like to go away and analyse this position yourself before reading on, or, if you’re a chess teacher, set it as an exercise for your students.

So: 9. Bxh6 gxh6 10. Qxh6 when Stockfish finds several viable defences for Black, which may not, however, be so easy to find over the board at amateur level. One such defence is 10… Ne4 with the idea of Qd6 as well as a possible fork on f2. Then 11. Nxe4 dxe4 and the knight on f3 can’t move because of the nasty Bg5 pinning and winning the queen. Now Black’s not threatening exf3 because gxf3 will open the g-file for a white rook, but he’ll be able to play Qd6 next move and defend comfortably.

Or White could try 9. h4 hxg5 10. hxg5 hoping for an attack down the h-file. Now Black has only one way to gain an advantage: 10… Ne4 (against other knight moves 11. Bd3 will give White at least a perpetual check) 11. Nxe4 dxe4. Again the knight can’t move because of Bxg5 and this time, because of the pawn on g5, Black will be able to capture on f3 next move. After 12. Bc4 exf3 13. Qd3 Bxg5+ 14. Kb1 Re8 15. Qh7+ Kf8 White is two pieces down but has a strong attack. Not quite strong enough, according to Stockfish.

8… h6 is fine if you have a silicon brain, but a human would have to be pretty brave and pretty good at defending to play it.

Instead Black played…

8… Nbd7
9. h4

A useful move as White might have a rook lift via h3 in some lines.

9… Bb4

Black decides to take action on the queen side.

10. Bh6

This is it. Ferris sacrifices a bishop even though he’s only going to get one pawn in return. My first thought as a more experienced player is that this really isn’t going to work. Before we see what happened in the game, we’ll consider a more measured approach for White.

White’s most natural move seems to be 10. Bd3 when Black could continue with Qa5, a logical follow-up to his previous move. Given the subject of this article, though, we might also consider 10… h6 and decide whether 11. Bxh6 works. Again you might want to step back and decide on the blue pill or the red pill before going any further.

This time the sacrifice seems to work for White because he’s already played h4. One possible variation runs 10. Bd3 h6 11. Bxh6 gxh6 12. Qxh6 Re8 13. Ng5 (threatening mate in 3 starting with 14. Bh7+) 13… Nf8 14. Rh3 Bxh3 15. gxh3 Qd6 16. Rg1 and Black has to play 16… Re1+ to gain time to stave off White’s attack.

But back to the game…

10… gxh6
11. Qxh6 Kh8

A typical panic reaction in the face of White’s sacrifice. This sort of move is often seen in games at this level. Black moves his king because he’s scared of a possible check. He should have preferred 11… Ng4, driving the queen back, when he should be able to defend.

12. Bd3

Developing and attacking, but 12. Ng5, preventing an immediate Rg8, would have given Ferris an extra move for his attack and put him back in the game. 12. Ng5 Qe8 13. Bd3 Rg8 14. Nxh7 Ng4 15. Qd2 when White has won a second pawn for the piece and exposed the black king.

12… Bxc3
13. Ng5

White bravely continues with his attack rather than recapturing the piece. 13. bxc3 would have given Black time to defend with 13… Rg8

13… Bxb2+

Black seems determined to lose his bishop. Instead the natural move 13.. Bxd4 was correct, giving him a vital extra defender. Then 14. Bxh7 Ng4 15. Qh5 Ndf6 rather amusingly traps the white queen, while after 14. Nxh7 Black just has time to defend: 14… Ng8 15. Qh5 Bg7 16. Nxf8+ Bh6+ 17. Kb1 Qxf8.

14. Kd2

Likewise White insists on not capturing the bishop. This move should lose, but after 14. Kxb2 Qb6+ 15. Kc1 Qxd4 16. f3 Qb4 17. Bxh7 Qa3+ is one possible variation, leading to a position where both players have a perpetual check.

14… Qa5+

Moving the queen offside (14… Bxd4 was easier) but should still be good enough.

15. Ke2 Re8+

A tempting check, but it’s dangerous to undefend f7 in this way. 15… Bxd4 was still the simpler option.

16. Kf1 Re4

A very complicated position has arisen. Black tries block the attack on h7 by returning material, but, as it happens, the move is a mistake.

Yet again 16… Bd4 was correct. Then after 17. Nxh7 Black should gain time by returning one of his extra pieces: 17… Ng4 18. Qh5 Nh6 19. Qxh6 Bg7 20. Qh5 Kg8 – but I guess these moves would be very difficult to find over the board.

17. Nxf7+

What could be more natural than capturing an undefended pawn with check? But, unfortunately for Ferris, it loses.

Taking the rook also loses: 17. Bxe4 dxe4 18. Rh3 Qb5+ 19. Kg1 Qe2 20. Rf1 (an amusing position, given that White castled queen-side 12 moves earlier) 20… Qh5 and the black queen has managed to get back to defend her king.

But, amazingly, Stockfish reveals that there is a win here. The improbable winning move is 17. Rh3, with the slow but unanswerable threat of Rg3, forcing mate. The best Black can do is give up his queen: 17… Qc7 18. Rg3 Qxg3 19. fxg3 Kg8 when Black has rook (about to be captured), bishop and knight for queen. Paradoxically, White needs his knight and bishop for the attack, so he should use his rook, not a minor piece, to trade off the intruder on e4. Stockfish continues: 20. Re1 b6 21. Rxe4 dxe4 22. Bc4 when, because of the threats on f7, Black has nothing better than Ba6, shedding a piece.

Of course working all this out with your clock ticking is far too hard for most humans.

17… Kg8
18. Ng5 b6

Black is two pieces up but still needs to defend accurately. This move lets White back into the game. There were preferable defences such as Re7.

19. f3

Ferris misses his last chance. Again he could have considered the rook lift: 19. Rh3 (threatening both 20. Rg3 and 20. Nxe4 dxe4 21. Bc4+) when Black’s only route to an advantage is 19… Re7 when Stockfish analyses two variations: 20. Bxh7+ Nxh7 21. Re3 Ba6+ 22. Kg1 Qb4 23. Rxe7 Qxe7 24. Qg6+ Kh8 25. Nf7+ Qxf7 26. Qxf7 Ndf6 when White has queen and two pawns for four minor pieces in a position which looks totally unclear to me or 20. Nxh7 Bxd4 21. Rg3+ Kf7 22. c3 Ba6 23. Qg6+ Ke6 24. cxd4 Bxd3+ 25. Rgxd3 Rg8 and Black’s king just about survives.

19… Ba6
20. fxe4 dxe4

White has regained most of his material but now it’s Black who has the winning attack. Another insufficient try here is 21. Ne6 Bxd3+ 22. cxd3 Qf5+ 23. Nf4 Rf8.

21. Kg1 Bxd4+ 22. Kh2 Qe5+ 23. g3 exd3 24. Rde1 Qc5 25. cxd3 Qc2+ 26. Kh3 Qxd3 27. Re7 Qg6 28. Qxg6+ hxg6
29. Re6 Re8 30. Rxc6 Re3 31. Rc7 Nc5 32. Rxa7 Bc8+ 33. Kg2 Re2+ 34. Kf1 Rf2+ 35. Ke1 Nd3+ 36. Kd1 Bg4+
37. Nf3 Bxf3#

So was Ferris right to make the sacrifice? In theory, no, because the sacrifice could have been refuted simply by 11… Ng4. In practice, no, because he eventually lost the game. But, you know what? I think he was indeed right to sacrifice. He will have learnt a lot about when sacrifices against the castled king are or aren’t likely to work, and will have learnt also about how to calculate and what sort of moves to look for in that sort of position. The beauty of online games is that the result doesn’t really matter. There’s no prize at stake. There are no teammates to complain if you lose. So you can afford to try things out and treat your games as a learning experience.

Richard James

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A Single File Please … !

It goes without saying that the chess elite are so great to learn from, because they are capable of playing such great chess, and showing the rest of us how it’s done. However, that is really only half the story. The other half, is that when they get things wrong, they can really get things wrong. Not only that, but the consequences tend to be amplified all the greater. This is because they are usually playing another elite player, who is ever poised to grab them by the jugular — figuratively speaking, of course (in most cases).

The following game is a case in point. It was played at the recent London Chess Classic, by Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik, both former World Chess Champions. It must first be said, that this was a blitz game, but that rarely makes huge differences at the top levels. Of course, it varies from player to player, but the two involved in this game are both very accomplished blitz players. Therefore, the game should be judged accordingly.

The opening is a Reti. It is not unusual for players to opt for less common openings, steering the game away from theoretical lines. This way, they lessen the risk of being caught out or wasting their preparation. The games often quickly become a straight middlegame fight. The players both play the opening reasonably well. In a position of opposite-side-castling, White obtains an initiative on the Kingside, while Black endeavours to create counter-play on the Queenside. Good, fighting, exciting chess.

The outcome of this game is largely a result of inaccuracies made by White, it has to be said. First, his 20.Qa6? posts his Queen away from his theatre of operation. Not only that, but it offered Black the opportunity (albeit missed) to take the initiative with 20…Bxd4!. White’s fatal error, however, would have to be refusing 24.dxc5 in favour of 24.d5?? A move very much unworthy of a player of Anand’s calibre. This is because the chosen move hands his opponent the b6-square (and thus the b-file) on a platter, whereas the refused move would have guarded the b6-square and actually seems very good for White. The move is a clanger, it must be said.

Vladimir Kramnik is clinical, seizing control of the game via the b-file. He wraps things up powerfully and renders his opponent’s attempts at defence futile.

John Lee Shaw

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Adventures with 1…e5 (4)

My fourth consecutive black saw me facing 1. c4 so it’s not relevant to this series of articles. Another match and yet another outing with the black pieces. This was yet another Richmond v Surbiton encounter: Richmond B v Surbiton A so I was on a high board against an opponent about 200 points stronger than me.

My opponent chose the slow option. We had to complete 35 moves in 75 minutes, with a choice of adjournment or adjudication if the game was unfinished after 2½ hours. You might find the rules strange but that’s the way things work in ThamesValleyLeagueLand.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5

At last I get to face the Ruy Lopez. I’m looking at a few options in answer to this.

3… g6

The Smyslov Variation. I’m hoping to continue with Bg7, Nge7, d6, 0-0 in some order. The Cozio Variation (3… Nge7) is another possible move order to achieve the same aim.

4. O-O

Not White’s scariest line. An immediate d4 will disrupt Black’s plan but his position is still playable.

4… Bg7
5. c3 d6
6. Re1 Nge7
7. d4 O-O

Natural developing moves so far. The three previous games in this series were about opening knowledge, tactics and calculation. Here, at least for the moment, it’s about understanding pawn formations, long-term planning and positional judgement. But of course you still have to calculate everything that moves.

Both players have several choices with regard to the centre pawns. White can close the centre with d5 when the position will resemble a King’s Indian Defence or possibly trade on e5. Black has a range of options. He might be able to play an immediate d5, an immediate f5, or trade on d4 and then play either d5 or f5. He might also want to throw in a6 (with or without a subsequent b5) before doing any of these. There’s a lot to think about.

8. Be3

For the moment White decides to play a simple developing move rather than committing himself in the centre.

8… Bd7

Not a very intelligent move. There was no need to put the bishop on d7 after I’d castled and in some cases it might prefer to be on g4. Now was probably the time to undertake some sort of action in the centre.

9. Bf1

Again White decides to wait.

9… Kh8

Another waiting move based on an irrational fear of checks on the diagonal. I could and probably should have played 9.. exd4 10. cxd4 d5 when I can meet 11. e5 with f6.

10. d5

White decides it’s time to take action in the centre himself, heading for a King’s Indian Defence structure. I’m very big on encouraging children who are serious about the game to learn ALL major openings, partly for this reason. If you never open 1. d4 and never play the King’s Indian with black you’ll be totally at sea when you reach this sort of position via a Ruy Lopez.

Now the game continues with a series of typical KID-type moves.

10… Nb8
11. Nfd2 f5
12. f3 f4
13. Bf2 g5
14. c4 b6
15. b4 a5

16. c5

Ambitious. 16. bxa5 was a simpler and probably stronger alternative.

16… axb4
17. c6 Bc8
18. Qb3 Na6
19. Qa4

Overlooking a cheapo but Black seems to be doing quite well anyway, with various tactical chances on the king-side and the long diagonal.

19… Nxd5

My opponent thought I would have been in trouble here without this move but Stockfish suggests I’m OK. The pin on the a-file isn’t a big problem as, whenever I move the bishop from c8, it can bounce back to c8 again after Bxa6. But he’d completely missed this simple tactic winning the exchange.

20. exd5 e4

The point – the rook is trapped and White has no way of blocking the diagonal. Justification for my third move!

21. Rxe4

The more natural Nxe4 was probably a better try – at least in theory.

21… Bxa1
22. Nb3 Be5
23. Nd4 Bxd4

Well, what can I say? It looks, and is, totally wrong to trade off the bishop on the long diagonal for a knight. If one of my more serious pupils had played this move I’d have been very disappointed in them. At this point I had about 15 minutes left to reach move 35, so didn’t want to spend more than a few minutes on this move. I had visions of this knight coming in on e6 in some lines, but, realistically, that’s never going to happen. I’d also failed to consider that White could double his queen and bishop on the long diagonal. From what I recall, my other candidate move was Bf5, which is absurd for tactical reasons. After a sensible move such as Qf6, though, White has absolutely nothing for his material deficit. It’s Black, if anyone, who has the king-side attacking chances.

So what went wrong? Why did I play such an obviously bad move? Time and again in my games I talk myself out of playing a move I know I should play or talk myself into playing a move I know I shouldn’t play.

Indecisiveness (coupled, in this case, with lack of familiarity of the opening) always leaves me behind on the clock. I’m not a good speed player and not good at dealing with stress so when I don’t have much time left I start to panic. Lack of self-confidence, which also contributes to getting short of time. Irrational fears (in this case, an irrational fear of a knight landing on e6). All this is the story of my life, not just the story of my chess games. In my case, and it’s probably true to a greater or lesser extent for most players, getting better at chess is not just about learning more openings or improving calculation skills. It’s about clearing all the junk (which has been there for more than half a century) out of my head.

Anyway, the game continued.

24. Bxd4+ Kg8
25. Nd2 Bf5

The position’s now very complicated and without much time on the clock I wasn’t able to find a good continuation. Stockfish tells me Black has several ways to draw here but I really don’t understand most of the moves! One of the options was 25… g4, with the following variations: 25… g4 26. fxg4 Bxg4 27. Bxa6 Qg5 28. Qb5 Bh3 29. Qe2 Rxa6 30. Nf3 Qxg2+ (30… Qg4 31. Re7 Rf7 32. Re8+ Rf8 33. Re7) (30… Qg6 31. Nh4 Qg5 32. Nf3) 31. Qxg2+ Bxg2 32. Kxg2 Rxa2+ 33. Kh3 Ra3 34. Kg2)

26. Bxa6 Bc8

Played (without any thought) to regain the bishop, but I should have taken the rook instead and gone for the white king: 26… Bxe4 27. Nxe4 g4 28. Qb5 Qh4 29. Qe2 Rf7 30. Bc4 gxf3 31. gxf3 which Stockfish assesses as equal, though don’t ask me why.

27. Qxb4 Rxa6
28. Bc3 Bf5

This is losing. The only way to stay in the game was to play Rxa2, hitting the knight on d2. Stockfish analyses 28… Rxa2 29. Qd4 Qf6 30. Qxf6 Rxf6 31. Bxf6 Rxd2 with an ending in which, although Black is temporarily a pawn ahead, White has better chances.

29. Re2

He could have ignored the rook, just playing 29. Qd4 Qf6 30. Qxf6 Rxf6 31. Bxf6 Bxe4 32. Nxe4 Rxa2 when White is winning because Black can’t defend c7 (after Bd8, Nc3, Nb5).

29… Rf6

29… Kf7 was an insufficient alternative. Stockfish informs me that White’s best reply is 30. Ne4, threatening 31. Bf6, and also 31. g4 fxg3 Nxg3 when if the bishop moves on the b1-h7 diagonal White has Re6 and if it moves on the h3-c8 diagonal White has Qb1. Alternatively, 29… Rxa2 30. Qd4 and Black has to give up a rook. Notice that 29. Re2 defended the knight on d2.

30. Qd4 Kf7
31. Re6

White gives up a second exchange, this time deliberately.

31… Bxe6 32. dxe6+ Rxe6

Losing horribly but 32… Ke8 drops the rook on f6 and 32… Kxe6 drops the rook on a6 (after 33. Qc4+).

33. Qg7+ Ke8
34. Qg8+ Ke7
35. Qxg5+ Ke8
36. Qg8+ Ke7
37. Qxh7+ Ke8

At this point time was called. My opponent could either propose an adjudication or seal a move and adjourn. We agreed on an adjudication as the computer would confirm whether or not he had any more than a perpetual. Looking at the position, we soon concluded that after Ne4 I had no defence to a future Nf6+. Computer analysis confirmed this so I resigned by email the following day.

1-0

Richard James

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Adventures with 1…e5 (3)

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
3. Bc4

Someone else who’s going Italian. I decided to try the Two Knights’ Defence again.

3.. Nf6
4. Ng5 d5
5. exd5

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.

5.. Na5
6. Bb5+ c6
7. dxc6 bxc6
8. Be2

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.

8.. h6
9. Nf3

Steinitz and Fischer both tried Nh3 here.

9.. e4
10. Ne5 Bc5

The immediate Bd6 is Black’s most popular choice here but engines and stats both prefer this move.

11. c3

The most popular move here. White wants to prevent a possible Qd4 but takes a square away from his queen’s knight.

11.. Bd6

This move and 11.. Qc7 both score very well for Black.

12. d4

Again the most popular choice, but 12. f4 might be an improvement.

12.. exd3
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.

14. h3

Now we have 41 games with Black scoring 78%.

14.. O-O
15. O-O Bf5

21 games here and Black now up to 81%.

16. b3

Played twice in BigBase 2014. In both cases Black won after playing Rad8.

16.. Rfe8

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.

17. Ba3

This should lose at once, but White’s position is uncomfortable due to Black’s pressure down the centre files.

17… Bxa3

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.

19. Re1

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.

19… Qxa3
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.

Richard James

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How Does One Fight a Blind Warrior?

My opponent in this chess game uses the handle blind-warrior on ICC because he is legally blind. He needs to use a special electronic chess board when he plays on ICC so that he gets notified when his opponent moves or sends him a tell. Many chess federations have special rules for blind chess players, such as “touch move” does not really apply to them. His real name is Manny Guzman and he was born in Puerto Rico. He lived in New York City for a while and now he lives in Maui. If his special chess board malfunctions Manny will ask to abort the game and I let him because that is not how I want to win. If I can’t get at least a draw against a legally blind 1500 rated chess player then I need to quit playing chess for a while and go to bed!

I have played against the Smith-Morra Gambit before and I have not fared well in the past. So, in this chess game, I decided to try an unusual move on my third turn. Normally, I do not play my Queen out this early in the opening! However, that worked out OK for me in this game. Manny also brought his Queen out early and I gained some time chasing it around.

Manny’s fifth move was a novelty and I was on my own from there.

As Black I challenged the Center on my sixth turn and we started exchanging material from there. My ninth move was intended to keep the White Knight off e5. Letting that Knight get there would have resulted in the loss of a pawn.

White did not castle until move number 13. Black was lagging behind in development but was making threatening moves on almost every turn up to that point. I never castled and decided to keep my King near the Center instead. White continued to play normal developing moves while Black continued to put pressure on c2.

On move number 16 White goes into a combination that loses material for him. He then follows that up with a horrendous blunder on move number 19. Things went downhill for him from there.

My forcing the exchange of rooks on move number 23 simplified the endgame and made it easier for Black to win. When I am up material I will trade off pieces and go into an easily won endgame. When I am down material I will try to trade off pawns for a drawn endgame. White resigned when he realized that I was up a Rook and was going to queen my passed c pawn.

Mike Serovey

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Methodically Building An Endgame Fortress

A student showed me a fascinating game of his in which he was fighting for a draw as White, being an exchange down (Rook down for a Knight) for a Pawn. The position looked precarious, but the more I looked at it, the more it looked like he missed a fortress draw (he blundered quickly instead). Upon analysis, the fortress idea appears to work, but just barely. Below I explore the construction of the fortress and a subtlety that shows how a single inaccuracy could cause White a lot of trouble.

Features of the position

The starting position has unusual features that give White a fighting chance to draw at all:

  • White has a Queen side Pawn majority and a King side Pawn majority. This helps prevent Pawn breaks by Black, although Black may be able to try a minority attack on the King side.
  • Black’s b6 and e6 Pawns are extremely weak. If White could win one of them, that would ensure a lot of counterplay, probably good enough for a draw.
  • White’s Knight on d4 is a monster. Most critically, it prevents any Black King invasion via c6, b5, or f5, so Black can any possibility of winning only by using the Rooks and King side Pawns.
  • There is only one open file for any of the Rooks, the a-file. If White takes it, White should probably be able to draw by perpetual check and/or winning the b6 or e6 Pawn (especially the e6 Pawn, in which case White would have a passed e-Pawn ready to march to e6 and e7).
  • One of Black’s Rooks happens to be very poorly placed. It will take time for this Rook to get to the a-file and join up with the other Rook to try to advantageously trade one Rook and then aim to knock off any weak White Pawns that cannot be protected by White’s King or Knight.

Ideas of White’s fortress

Making a list of the features of the positions gives many clues about how White could possibly draw this position, as well as how Black can try to win it. Of course, general considerations are not enough: very careful tactical calculation is required especially when White has the opportunity to go all out to abandon everything and try to get to Black’s seventh rank with a Rook: if the attempt at a perpetual check (or other draw by repetition) and/or Queen promotion fails, White will obviously lose. In this article I don’t focus on the variations in which Black allows such penetration, but on the fortress itself, under the assumption that Black does not allow the penetration.

The first thing to do is to imagine that Black does trade off White’s remaining Rook. Black can always force a Rook trade if desired, so we have to at least be able to hold the draw if White’s Rook can no longer defend the whole range of White’s position, from Queen side to King side.

  • Black’s King cannot make progress as long as White’s Knight stays close to d4 and attacks the e6 Pawn.
  • If Black sacrifices the Rook for White’s Knight, that should not achieve anything because Black’s King is not close enough to do anything useful in the King and Pawn ending.
  • The c-Pawn must remain protected: this requires either the King on the b, c, or d files or the Knight on e2.
  • The e-Pawn must remain protected: this requires either Ne2 blocking a Rook on e1, or f4 creating a Pawn chain.
  • The f-Pawn must remain protected: if the g-Pawn has been forced to advance to g3, then f4 creates a Pawn chain; if the g-Pawn has been forced to advanced to g4, the f-Pawn is best protected at f3 by the Knight on d4.
  • The g-Pawn must remain protected: it has to go to g3 or g4, because otherwise it is too far away from White’s King and Knight, which ideally remain no further than the e-file, in order to guard against possible loss of the c-Pawn or possible invastion by Black’s King.
  • The h-Pawn must remain protected: at h3 it is in big trouble because we assume the g-Pawn has to be advanced; at h4 it might be OK, protected by a Pawn at g3; at h5 it might be OK, protected by a Pawn at g4.

How might Black breach the fortress?

The main thing to notice is that if Black can get a Pawn down to h3 safely, without trading any Rooks, White is surely lost, because Black can first tie up White’s pieces on the Queen side, then trade a Rook just in time to get the other Rook attacking White’s defenseless Pawn on h2. Therefore, Black has the plan of g5, h5, h4, h3.

Also, if Black can force a Pawn trade of the g-Pawn and open a file on the King side (say by White being able to play f4 only after Black has already played g5), White is surely lost, because of the power of a Rook crashing through White’s position through that file and winning one or more remaining weak White King side Pawns with the help of the other Rook.

So the main variation below, which succeeds in setting up a defensive fortress, has White hurrying up to distract Black’s Rook away from the King side to defend the a-file, then playing h4 to permanently prevent the h3 plan. Note that it involves saving time by not defending the attacked h2-Pawn at all.

An interesting side variation, which may lose, involves White playing g3 to protect the h2-Pawn currently under threat, but permanently weakening the h-Pawn. Black can try the g5, h5, h4, h3 plan. If White just waits passively, the game is lost. There is a fiendishly complicated variation in which White abandons the fortress idea and tries to get counterplay at the cost of sacrificing the f-Pawn after redeploying the Knight to d6. This is scary-looking and I don’t actually know if White can draw with computer-perfect play, but it is White’s best try after starting the mistaken g3 idea.

Annotated

Franklin Chen

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Adventures with 1…e5 (2)

It was not so many years ago that there were nine or ten fairly strong and serious teams in the Thames Valley League. It’s symptomatic of the decline in chess, at least in this part of London, that there are now only four serious teams: Ealing, Surbiton and Wimbledon along with my team, Richmond.

My next chance to play 1.. e5 came when I played for Richmond A in our home match against Surbiton A. My opponent was rated slightly below me. We’ve known each other for many years, but, surprisingly, this was only our second encounter over the board. A few years ago I lost through a blunder at the end of the session.

Here’s what happened.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. c3

White chooses the unusual Ponziani opening, the fifth most popular choice here after Bb5, Bc4, d4 and Nc3.

3.. Nf6

This and 3.. d5 are Black’s main options and both totally playable as long as you avoid the tricks. Here’s a game played just the other day in which a strong player suffered a disaster. White was Federico Gonzalez (1978) and Black Rico Salimbagat (2213): the game was played (online) in the US Chess League KO between Miami and Manhattan.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. c3 d5 4. Qa4 dxe4 (f6 and Bd7 are also played here) 5. Nxe5 Nf6 6. Bc4 Bd7?? 7. Bxf7+ Ke7 8. Qa3+ 1-0

I seemed to recall reading somewhere many years ago that 3.. Nf6 was the simpler route to equality, but there are some traps there as well.

4. d4 Nxe4
5. d5 Ne7

Jochem Snuverink informed me after the game that 5… Bc5 is another option for Black. White has to play very accurately just to stay in the game. Stockfish analysis runs 6. dxc6 Bxf2+ 7. Ke2 Bb6 (a big improvement on bxc6, which is usually played here) 8. Qd5 Nf2 9. cxb7 Bxb7 10. Qxb7 Nxh1 with some advantage to Black.

6. Nxe5 Ng6

Black has to be careful. I correctly rejected 6.. d6 because of 7. Bb5+, which wins at once.

7. Bd3

After just seven moves we reach the critical moment of the game. Black can play simply 7.. Nxe5 8. Bxe4 Bc5 when Black’s position is slightly more comfortable. Jochem told me he used to play the Ponziani himself but gave it up because of this line. 7.. d6 again loses: either to 8. Bb5+ or to 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. Qa4+ with a familiar queen fork.

But it looks very tempting to play the desperado 7.. Nxf2 when most of White’s pieces seem to be hanging. After a queen move I can capture on d3 with check. I was suspicious as my opponent had played all his moves immediately so far, but couldn’t see anything wrong with it so foolishly decided to call his bluff.

7.. Nxf2
8. Bxg6

So this was what I’d overlooked. I saw enough to realise that I couldn’t take the queen. After the game my opponent showed me the variation 8.. Nxd1 9. Bxf7+ Ke7 10. Bg5+ Kd6 11. Nc4+ Kc5 12. Nba3 Nxb2 (12… Qxg5 13. b4#) 13. Be3#. It’s not a forced mate but Black will be a piece down with his king exposed.

BigBase reveals that I’m not the only person, or even the strongest person, to have fallen for this trap. Igor Rausis, rated 2460 at the time, lost to an unrated player back in 1992, playing 8.. Qh4 here. Four players have captured the queen, all losing. Five players preferred the tricky Bc5, managing to win three games and draw one, but with best play White should be winning. Stockfish likes 9. Qe2 Qe7 10. Bxf7+ Kd8 11. h4 to threaten Bg5.

My choice is slightly better, but should still lose.

8.. hxg6

Now it’s White’s turn to face a critical decision. The correct choice was, as my opponent realised immediately after playing his move, 9. Qe2, when White should have no trouble converting his extra piece. As it happens, 9. Kf2 is also good: 9.. Bc5+ 10. Be3 Bxe3+ 11. Ke3 and White’s king will have time to scuttle back to safety.

But instead, and luckily for me, White went wrong.

9. Qf3 Qf6
10. Kxf2 Bc5+

I guess he missed that I could throw in this check before taking the knight. White either has to interfere with his rook or allow me to capture on e5 with check. 11. Kg3 Qh4# (which I hadn’t seen at the time) would have been amusing, at least for the spectators.

11. Kf1 Qxe5
12. Bf4 Qf5
13. Nd2

Another key decision. Should I return my extra pawn and castle into safety or retain my material advantage, allowing a check which would displace my king.

13.. O-O

The wrong decision, although it turned out well in the game. After 13… d6 14. Re1+ Kf8 my king is perfectly happy. I was hoping to use my threats to trap his bishop and embarrass his king but hadn’t realised my queen might be in danger.

14. Bxc7

It’s very natural to restore material equality, but neither of us noticed the possibility of 14. Ne4, threatening not just the bishop, but to trap the queen with 15. g4. So, assuming (not necessarily a safe assumption) that I spotted the Big Threat, I’d have to play 14.. d6 15. Nxc5 dxc5 16. Kf2 Qc2+ 17. Qe2 when Black may have trouble exploiting his extra pawn.

14.. Qxf3+

One of the symptoms of my habitual lack of aggression is a tendency to trade queens at the first opportunity. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that young children often avoid trading queens because if they lose their most powerful piece it will be harder for them to get checkmate. In my case I’m only too eager to exchange queens because I won’t be able to leave it en prise (and because if my opponent loses his most powerful piece it will be harder for him to get checkmate). Of course this is based on fear of losing rather than logic.

I thought this was good for me as I have threats of trapping his bishop as well as harassing his king, but I should have preferred 14.. Qc2, trying to win a few of White’s queen-side pawns…

15. Nxf3

…because White could instead capture with the g-pawn giving his king a safe haven on g2.

15.. b6
16. c4

This is the losing move. White can stay in the game with 16. Nd4 Bb7 17. d6

16.. d6

Now Black is winning material. If White tries to save his bishop his king will be caught in the crossfire of my bishops and rooks.

17. a3 Ba6
18. Nd2

Or 18. b4 Bxc4+ 19. Ke1 Be3 20. Bxd6 Rfe8 and the black king has nowhere to hide. The rest is easy.

18.. Rac8
19. b4 Bd4
20. Re1 Rxc7
21. b5 Bc3
22. Re2 Bxd2
23. Rxd2 Bxb5

A nice way to finish. If he takes the bishop he loses his rook on h1 to a skewer.

0-1

Richard James

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We Had an Even Finnish to the Chess Game

My opponent in this chess game is from Finland.

The first 11 moves of this chess game were pretty much what I expected. I was surprised by White’s 12th move, but it was in my database of chess games.  Once again, I was a little surprised by White’s 15th move. V. Golod has commented that this position gives Black an isolated d pawn, but it is otherwise equal. Blacks’ 16th move was based upon the results of games in my database, the evaluations of various chess engines and upon Golod’s comments. The Golod analysis is included in my subscription the ChessBase Magazine.

Up until move number 18 we are still in my database of chess games. White’s move number 19 is a novelty. The more usual move here is 19.Bd3. After that I was on my own. With a Knight versus a Bishop I thought that it was best to keep as much of my material as I could on dark squares so that this material could not be attacked by the White Bishop.

When I was given the chance to grab the White Bishop on move number 21 I took it. After that, there was some maneuvering of pieces and pawns with neither side getting any advantage. Because the material was even and our ratings were close I offered a draw and he accepted. At the time that I am writing this, this is the only game in this section that is completed.

Mike Serovey

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Blockading To Defend When Things Get Tough

In a recent tournament game that I painfully lost, I had a terrible losing position, but my opponent suddenly changed the nature of the game by allowing me to set up a blockade that should have enabled me to draw. I played carelessly and threw away the draw. I thought it would be instructive to show how powerful the concept of blockade is. In this game, the blockade was worth even more than the Pawn down and if I had been more careful, I could have maintained the blockade in the center and still had attacking chances of my own on the King side.

In the position below, my opponent had a winning advantage largely due to doubled Rooks on an open e-file, but then initiated a trade of Knights in which he blocked his own open file by recapturing with a Pawn to e4. Granted, this had its points: creation of a passed Pawn with Rooks behind it can be very powerful given the threat of advancing the Pawn further. But in this particular position, I had enough time to place my Bishop on e3 setting up a blockade, and if I had just made sure to leave it there, I could have continued a decent King side attack as compensation. Note in particular that Black’s extra Pawn, the d-Pawn is backward on a half-open file, and therefore if it can be prevented from advancing, the extra Pawn should not suffice to win in a simplified ending given enough piece activity. Here, tactics based on my good piece activity were enough that I could even have tried for more, if I had maneuvered my other Rook to the King side more efficiently.

Franklin Chen

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Adventures with 1…e5 (1)

So, as I explained last week, I’ve decided to play more positively and make some changes to my opening repertoire. In particular, I’m switching from c5 to e5 in reply to e4. You might think c5 is the more aggressive choice, but not in my case. I preferred the relatively stodgy Kalashnikov Sicilian, but in most cases my opponents preferred to avoid the main lines, as generally tends to happen at club level. As I teach 1.. e5 to my pupils I know rather more about it than I do about 1.. c5, but in the past I’ve been scared of the tactics.

Since 2001 my only competitive games have been played for my club, Richmond, in the Thames Valley League. I currently play about 20 games a year. I’ve never in my life played a FIDE rated game but if I had a rating it would be somewhere in the region of 1900. The season started with two matches between our A and B teams, which are both in Division 1 of the league. My first black of the season was in the second of these matches when I found myself playing on board 2 for Richmond B against Jochem Snuverink, who has a FIDE rating of 2341. Playing an opponent about 450 points stronger than me would at least give me the chance to learn something.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

So he’s going Italian rather than Spanish. My main choices are Bc5 and Nf6, against both of which White has sharp options where Black has to know the theory. I guess I could play defensively with Be7 if I didn’t want a theoretical battle. Of course, whatever Black chooses, White has the option of playing for a closed position with d3.

3.. Nf6

3.. Bc5 is probably the theoretically stronger move but Black has to be prepared to counter both the Evans Gambit (4. b4) and 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4. Both absolutely fine as long as you can remember the analysis. 3.. Nf6 is more fun for Black to play, though.

4. Ng5 d5

Black’s alternative here is 4.. Bc5, the scary Traxler (or Wilkes-Barre) variation. 5. Nxf7 is totally wild and unplayable for either side unless you know the theory. 5. Bxf7+ Ke7 may not give Black quite enough play for the pawn, although things are never so easy in practice.

5. exd5 Nd4

This is the next big decision for Black. The obvious recapture 5.. Nxd5 gives White a pleasant choice. The famous Fried Liver Attack with 6. Nxf7 is very popular and successful in junior chess. An alternative preferred by some authorities is 6. d4, when 6.. Nxd4 7. c3 b5 is a fairly recent try for Black. I would have said that Nxd5 was no longer played at higher levels but it was tried in Shirov-Sulskis (Tromso Olympiad 2014) when Black, who seemed unaware of ancient theory, lost quickly. I would have thought Shirov was the last person you should play 5.. Nxd5 against, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

5.. Na5 is, and has been for a couple of hundred years or so, the main line. I’ll return to this in a later post.

5.. b5 is the Ulvestad Variation, which usually transposes into my choice, the Fritz Variation. This was very popular for many years at Richmond Junior Club and scores well in practice (54% for Black on BigBase 2014), so it was a natural choice for me.

6. c3

Generally accepted to be the best move. A trap which I’ve used successfully online (and in games against small children at Richmond Junior Club) on several occasions goes 6. d6? Qxd6 7. Nxf7? Qc6 8. Nxh8? Qxg2 9. Rf1 Qxe4+ 10. Be2 Nf3#

6.. b5
7. Bf1

Looks strange, but again considered the best move here.

7.. Nxd5
8. cxd4 Qxg5
9. Bxb5+ Kd8

This is the main line of the Fritz variation. White now has an important decision: Qf3 or O-O.

10. O-O

10. Qf3 is the more popular option here (144 games on BigBase 2014 compared with 70 for O-O) but Stockfish considers Black to be fine after 10.. exd4 (much better than the more usual Bb7, which would probably transpose to my game) 11. O-O Rb8 or 11. Bc6 Nf4! 12. Bxa8 Bg4 when Black, despite being a rook down, appears to stand better.

Jochem’s choice seems to be a definite improvement, leading to an advantage for White in all variations.

10.. Bb7

10.. Rb8 11. Bc6 exd4 (or 10.. exd4 transposing) is probably a better try for Black, but, with his king in the centre, it’s still good for White.

11. Qf3 exd4

11.. Rb8 12. dxe5 Ne3 13. Qh3 Qxg2+ 14. Qxg2 Nxg2 15. d4 is another try, but leaves White with an extra pawn.

12. d3 Qf6
13. Qg4 Qd6

In this position Black has chosen Qe5 five times and Bc8 three times. Everything seems to favour White, though.

14. Na3 c6
15. Ba4 Nf6

The losing move. 15.. Nb6 was a better try, but still pretty unpleasant for Black. Now Stockfish chooses Qh4, planning to follow up with moves like Nc4, Re1 and Bg5 when it can’t find a good defence for Black. Jochem’s move is also good enough to win.

16. Qg5 h6
17. Qa5+ Qc7
18. Nc4 c5
19. Bd2 Nd5

Leading to a quick loss, but after 19.. Qxa5 20. Bxa5+ Kc8 21. b4! White opens up the c-file for an attack on the black king.

20. Qb5 Qe7

The computer move Ke7 was the only way to play on.

21. Rae1 1-0

So it looks from this game that the Fritz Variation, while offering good chances against an unprepared opponent, is pretty much unplayable for Black as long as White knows the theory.

Richard James

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