Category Archives: Annotated Games

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

The Third Missed Fork

Yet another game, yet another White, yet another QGD Exchange, and yet another missed fork. They say things come in threes.

This game was another rematch: against Ealing and Richmond Junior Alfie Onslow, who had beaten me at the start of the season, as well as in the previous season. Would it be third time lucky?

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6

I think this isn’t part of Alfie’s regular repertoire. I seem to recall a game in an informal blitz tournament when he played the King’s Indian, which I met with the Smyslov variation. Although his moves were all reasonable he seemed unfamiliar with the opening and was soon some way behind on the clock.

4. cxd5 exd5
5. Bg5 Bb4

Another Bb4 rather than Be7, so I’ll be playing in the centre rather than going for a minority attack.

6. e3 O-O
7. Nf3 h6
8. Bh4 Qd6
9. Bd3 Ne4
10. Qc2 Bf5
11. O-O Bxc3
12. bxc3 g5
13. Bg3 Nxg3
14. hxg3 Bxd3
15. Qxd3 Nd7
16. Rab1 Nb6

16… b6 would have been more to the point as he wants to play c5. Now my knight should have advanced to e5 rather than retreating. I was probably scared of f6, for no very good reason. Of course an immediate 17. Ne5 f6 would lose at once to 18. Qg6+.

17. Nd2 c5
18. c4

A conflict in the centre of the board. Both players have to make decisions about pawn captures here. Waiting a bit, as Black decided to do, was probably not the right idea: taking on c4 would have been better.

18… Rad8
19. dxc5

A miscalculation. Instead 19. cxd5 followed by Ne4, hitting all sorts of juicy squares (c5, d6, f6) would have given me some advantage.

19… Qxc5
20. Rb5

I was hoping I was winning a pawn with this move, but in fact I’m losing a pawn: I’d completely missed Black’s reply. It’s the usual short circuit. I attack my opponent’s queen and assume he’s going to move it, not looking at anything else.

20… dxc4
21. Qb1

21. Qxd8 was an alternative which, of course, I didn’t consider at all.

21… Qc6
22. Nf3 c3
23. Rc1

Blundering into a position you might have seen before. 23. Rb3 was the correct move, when I might eventually be able to win the c-pawn.

23… Rd6

But Alfie misses the chance for a winning tactic: 23… Rd1+ 23. Rxd1 (or 23. Kh2 Rxc1 24. Qxc1 Qxb5) c2 24. Rxb6 axb6 25. Qc1 cxd1Q+ 26. Qxd1 when Black is the exchange ahead.

24. Nd4 Qc7
25. Rb3 Rxd4

Running low on time, he switches to desperation mode. There was no need for this: after 25… Qd7 White is only slightly better.

26. exd4 Rc8
27. Rbxc3 Qxc3
28. Rxc3 Rxc3

Now it’s easy for me as long as I keep a clear head.

29. Qe4 Rc1+
30. Kh2 Rd1
31. Qxb7 Rxd4
32. Qb8+ Kh7
33. Qxa7 Ra4
34. Qxf7+ Kh8
35. Qf6+ Kh7
36. Qxb6 Rxa2
37. Qb7+

I’d worked out a long sequence of checks ending up with Qf7+ forking king and rook, but Alfie pointed out that I could have played Qb1+ immediately – yet another missed fork! Anyway, he resigned here.

One of the few games I played last season in which I handled the clock better than my opponent. A gratifying win against a strong opponent, but ultimately frustrating yet again because of the missed tactic.

Richard James

This Piano is No Joke!

Many amateur chess players (especially Americans) mispronounce the names of chess openings and foreign chess players. “Giuoco” is pronounced like joke-o. Giuoco Piano means go easy game. This opening and its variants are also called “The Italian Game”.

My opponent blundered while transitioning from the opening to the middle game. I can’t say that any one move was responsible for his loss.

Mike Serovey

The Second Missed Fork

Another game, another White, another Queen’s Gambit Exchange (well, sort of), another missed fork.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. Nf3 Nf6

Black chooses the Ragosin System. He’s planning to meet Qa4+ with Nc6 when you might argue that both the white queen and the knight on c6 are misplaced. Of course Bg5 and e3 are both fine but instead I exchange at once.

5. cxd5 Bxc3+

A very strange decision, giving me an extra centre pawn as well as the two bishops. White has a very large plus score from this position.

6. bxc3 exd5
7. Bg5 h6
8. Bh4 Bf5
9. Qb3 b6

The computer prefers to give up the b-pawn with Nbd7, which it considers equal. Now I could trade on f6, when Black has to double his f-pawns to avoid losing a pawn, but I preferred to wait to see if he castled.

10. e3 O-O
11. Bxf6 gxf6
12. Be2

I might have played c4 here.

12… Nc6
13. O-O Na5
14. Qa4

And now I might have played Qd1, followed by Bd3 to trade off the bishops. The queen’s not so well placed here.

14… c6
15. Nh4 Be4
16. f3

16. Bg4 followed by Bf5 was better, still trying to trade bishops. I think I’d just failed to notice that the black bishop had the h7 square available.

16… Bh7
17. g3

The immediate e4, sacrificing a pawn to open lines, was probably a better idea. After 17… Re8 Black would have been close to equality. One idea will be b5 followed by Nc4 (you might remember that Black might have gone for the same idea in the game I showed you last week: something for me to remember and learn from). Black vacillates a bit over the next few moves before hitting on the right plan.

17… Qe7
18. Ng2 Kh8
19. Qd1 Rae8
20. Qd2 Kg7
21. Rae1 f5
22. Bd3 b5
23. Qc2 Qg5
24. g4

Trying to be clever but we both missed something. After 24… fxg4 25. Bxh7 f5 Black will regain the piece with a position the computer assesses as equal.

24… Nc4
25. Bxf5

Another possibility here was 25. h4 Qf6 26. gxf5, but, as usual, I seize the first opportunity to trade queens.

25… Bxf5
26. Qxf5 Qxf5
27. gxf5 Rg8
28. Kf2

28. e4 was better. Here Black should have preferred 28… Kf6 29. e4 Nd2, but instead creates a cheap threat.

28… Nb2
29. Rb1

Better was 29. Nf4 Kf6 30. e4

29… Nc4
30. Rfe1 Kf6
31. e4 dxe4
32. fxe4 Nd2
33. e5+ Kxf5
34. Rbc1 Ne4+
35. Kf3 Ng5+

The black knight heads in the wrong direction. 35… Nd2+ was correct.

36. Kf2

And the white king also heads in the wrong direction. 36. Ke3 was better for White, not blocking the f-file, but now Black could equalise with 36… f6. This is a rather tricky position, and, without too much time left on the clock, the inaccuracies are, at this level, understandable.

36… Nh3+
37. Kf3 h5
38. Ne3+ Ke6
39. c4 Ng5+

The computer prefers b4 here. The checks force White’s king to a better square.

40. Kf4 Nh3+
41. Kf3 Ng5+
42. Ke2

Untypically, but correctly, turning down a possible repetition.

42… b4
43. Kd3 Rd8
44. Rf1 Rg6

A fatal error. He had to play Kd7 to clear the e6 square for the knight.

45. h4 Nh3
46. Rf3

The immediate Rf5 was winning, but instead I decided to force the knight to what I thought was an even worse square first.

46.. Ng1
47. Rf5

But this move is now a blunder. This is the position you might have seen before. I’d overlooked the tactic 47… Rxd4+ 48. Rxd4 Ne2+ with Black for preference, although White can probably hold. I suppose it’s not so easy. It’s quite an unusual position, it appears, superficially, that Black has no counterplay, and the clock is running down. I should have learnt the idea from my previous game, though. Luckily for me, my opponent didn’t notice it either.

I was still winning with either Rff1 or Rf2 here, but Rf4 would have been less clear. The reason is that, after, say, 47. Rf2 f6 48. d5+ Kxe5, White wins at once with 49. Nf5, and Black has to give up a rook to avoid immediate mate.

47… Nh3

Now White’s centre pawns are too strong. The rest of the game can pass without comment.

48. Rcf1 Rf8
49. d5+ cxd5
50. cxd5+ Ke7
51. Rxh5 Rc8
52. Rh7 Rc3+
53. Kd2 Ra6
54. Rhxf7+ Kd8
55. Rf8+ Kc7
56. R1f7+ Kb6
57. Rf6+ Ka5
58. Rxa6+ Kxa6
59. e6 Ra3
60. e7 Rxa2+
61. Kc1 Ka5
62. e8=Q Ng1
63. Nc4+ 1-0

The First Missed Fork

My next opponent and I had had several quick draws in recent years and this time we, in effect, agreed to share the point before the start of the game. I essayed the Black Knights’ Tango, an opening I increasingly think is rather dubious, and soon found myself at a slight disadvantage, but once I’d equalised my opponent offered to share the point. I accepted and we spent the rest of the evening in the adjacent bar. Much more enjoyable for both of us than playing a serious game!

Regular readers will have seen a position from my next game several months ago. Here’s the complete encounter. I’d recently read Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan’s excellent book Chess for Life, and was particularly impressed by the chapter on Keith Arkell’s handling of the QGD Exchange. When I try the same opening with White, though, things never seem to work out the same way.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 d5
4. Nc3 Be7
5. cxd5 exd5
6. Bg5 h6
7. Bxf6

They usually play Bh4 here, but this is also OK.

7… Bxf6
8. e3 O-O
9. Qc2 c6
10. Bd3 Qd6

An unusual choice. Re8 and Nbd7 are both popular here.

11. Rb1 Bg4
12. Nd2 Re8
13. O-O Nd7
14. b4 a5

Ambitious. Rac8 has been played a couple of times here. I decide to take the pawn, but now we’ve moved away from typical QGD exchange territory.

15. bxa5 Reb8
16. Nb3 Bd8
17. Bf5

The wrong plan. The computer prefers 17. e4 or 17. a6 bxa6 18. e4, with a slight spatial advantage and play against the pawn on c6. As so often in my games, I’m too eager to trade pieces.

17… Bxf5
18. Qxf5 Bxa5
19. Nxa5 Rxa5
20. Rb3

Failing to understand the position. I had to play 20. a4. Now Black would be a bit better after 20… b5, with Nb6 and Nc4 to follow. But instead he blunders into a tactic.

20… Nf6

This is the position you might have seen before. If you have you’ll recall, if you haven’t already spotted it, that I could have won a pawn by a simple combination: 21. Rxb7 Rxb7 22. Qc8+. As usual, I failed to consider it at all, even though I tell my pupils to look for every check, capture and threat. Instead, I spent some time analysing 21. e4 and eventually decided to play it, but without much conviction. I was right not to be convinced. One thing that was happening in my head was that I was very happy to notice a way to trade queens, and I usually go for anything involving a queen exchange. My feeling has always been that the more pieces I swap the fewer pieces I will have left to leave en prise and the nearer I will be to a draw.

21. e4 g6
22. e5 gxf5
23. exd6

I’d seen this and was hoping my pawn on d6 would prove to be strong. I’d seen that there were some lines when, if the knight on f6 moves away, I’d have the possibility of d7 followed by Rxb7, even though I hadn’t considered 21. Rxb7 at all. What I’d missed was that Black now has 23… Ne8 24. d7 Nd6, defending b7 again when the pawn on d7 will fall and Black will be a pawn ahead. Fortunately for me, my opponent missed this as well, and instead played…

23… b5
24. a4 Ne4
25. Nxe4

Leading to a level ending. I might, had I considered it, have tried for more with 25. d7, when Black would still have doubled isolated f-pawns.

25… fxe4
26. axb5 Raxb5
27. Rc3 R5b6
28. Rfc1 Kf8
29. g3 Rd8
30. Rxc6 Rxd6
31. Rxb6 1/2-1/2

The ending is completely level. A fair result as neither of us really deserved to win. I really must learn to spot simple tactics!

Richard James

Draw Or No Draw?

“If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he’s worse off”
Nigel Short

Mentioning draws in competitive chess brings up first Fischer’s approach to play for a win in every game; possibly close behind is Short’s advice, something quite popular in junior and club chess levels. Of course things are not as simple as they seem and the correct way to look at draws is to take a balanced approach, analyse the situation at hand and decide if you need to play for a draw or not. We all start playing with the intention to win; some might even know the saying:
“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
Vince Lombardi
It is however possible to look for a draw all along if the opponent is quite strong or famous. One of the latest examples in this regard is the first game between Magnus Carlsen and Bu Xiangzhi at the FIDE World Cup 2017. Bu sacrificed a piece to open up Magnus castle. All the pressure was then on Magnus who had to choose between going for a perpetual or playing ahead and proving the sacrifice was wrong. What would have you done in his shoes? It depends, right? Going back to Bu’s decision, it shows one of the right ways to go for a draw: attack the opposing King, offer a perpetual line and have a strong attack with practical chances as the other option. Time could also become a factor since the stronger player would have to use it to decide what to do and how to navigate the stormy waters of defending properly. Magnus did not handle it properly and Bu’s decision brought him a decisive win:

The second and decisive game between Bu Xiangzhi and Magnus Carlsen (same event) was another good display on how to play for a draw from the beginning. Bu played very solid and maintained a small advantage throughout the game. Magnus could not muddy the waters, nor was he given any opportunity to create a weakness in White’s position. It is very hard to play for a win with the Black pieces in such cases.

I am sure if you look in your own databases of personal games, you could find several samples where you were faced with the same dilemma: “draw or no draw?”. My next two personal examples have passed the test of time and will forever stick with me, proving that draws can also be memorable.
The first one comes from my junior years. My queen side attack was not very inspired and my piece placement proved to be unfortunate. I remember sensing something was wrong and hoping I could hold on. My opponent came up with a brilliant plan, only to follow it up with a huge blunder when all he had to do was to collect the win. That gave me the opportunity to force the draw in a unique position. See it for yourself:

The second example is also a personal milestone, representing my first result for the national team. Back in 1989 Romania managed to arrange a friendly correspondence chess match with Germany, a perennial powerhouse. A number of young and full of potential players were selected to represent both countries and I was fortunate enough to also be selected on our side. I did not know much about my opponent except his high ICCF rating at the time (2485), while I had no international rating. We were playing two games in the same time (one as White and one as Black), moves being sent back and forth by post. The pace was about 1 move a month; the postal connection between Romania and Germany was still very sketchy at the time. I got an interesting position as white in the semi-Slav and had my eyes on attacking at the first opportunity; for that purpose I was ready to take risks.
“He who takes risks can lose, he who doesn’t however will lose for sure.”
Savielly Tartakover
Black got in time trouble, played a couple of dubious moves and then decided to go for the available line leading to a draw by perpetual.

Hope I made a good case for looking at the draw option with an open mind. Today chess is played under fast time controls and holding a strong position where you could offer a draw at anytime is a strong choice for all of us. Looking at the FIDE World Cup 2017 semifinal, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the chance to play for a draw in his Armageddon game versus GM Levon Aronian. He did not succeed, but the possibility to decide the winner of the match like this was/ is of major importance. We need to be prepared to play for a draw if the situation dictates and there is nothing wrong with that.

Valer Eugen Demian

Speed Merchant

My next game featured a return encounter with the Harrow junior I played in my first game of the season. Here’s how our earlier game went. My opponent played all his moves (there weren’t very many of them) more or less instantaneously. I thought perhaps he was rushing the game because he had some homework to complete but that didn’t seem to have been the case.

Here’s the game, in which I had the black pieces.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. d3 Bc5
5. h3 d6
6. O-O Na5
7. Bb3 Nxb3
8. axb3 Be6
9. Nc3 a6
10. Bg5 Qd7

A pretty crude attempt to set up a sacrifice on h3. There were probably better plans available, but I suppose you can’t argue with success.

11. d4 exd4
12. Nxd4 O-O-O
13. f4

The engines prefer White after a move like Qd3. After this move, opening up the g1-a7 diagonal, the sacrifice is immediately decisive.

13… Bxh3
14. gxh3 Qxh3
15. Nce2 Ng4
16. Rf3 Qxf3
17. Bh4 Qe3+
18. Kg2 Qxe4+
19. Kg1 Ne3 0-1

The return encounter with our north west London rivals involved a relatively complicated journey by public transport: a bus, two trains and another bus. The trip started badly: the first bus took 20 minutes to get past the first two stops due to a traffic jam so I was running very late. I was pretty flustered when I arrived, finding myself facing the same opponent as in the previous game, but this time with the advantage of the move. He played at the same speed as last time.

Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 c6
3. Nf3 Nf6
4. e3 Bf5
5. Nc3 e6
6. Nh4 Bg6
7. Nxg6 fxg6

A very strange decision. My database has 1340 games with hxg6 and only 16 with this move.

8. Bd3 Nbd7
9. O-O Bd6
10. cxd5 exd5
11. e4 dxe4
12. Nxe4 Nxe4
13. Bxe4 O-O
14. g3 Kh8
15. Bg2 Qb6
16. Be3

I’d assumed, correctly, it would be dangerous for Black to capture on b2 but my opponent didn’t think twice about it.

16… Qxb2
17. Rb1 Qxa2
18. Rxb7 Nb8

Nb6 or Nf6, allowing me to capture on c6, would have been better alternatives.

19. d5 c5
20. Qc1

My computer likes Qg4 here, with a fairly obscure (at least to me) tactical idea: for example 20. Qg4 Re8 21. Bh6 gxh6 22. Qf3 and now 22… Rf8 loses to Qc3+ while 22… Be7 loses to Rxe7.

20… Qa6
21. Qb2 Be5
22. Qb5

Chickening out by giving Black the option of trading queens. 23. Qb3, retaining the initiative, was correct.

22… Bd6

But instead Black blunders. 22.. Qxb5 23. Rxb5 Nd7 was only slightly better for White.

If I saw this in a tactics book I’d have no problem finding the very simple 23. Rxb8, destroying the defender and winning a piece. Indeed there are plenty of similar examples in Chess Tactics for Heroes, written for players of under 100 ECF/1500 Elo strength (if you want to see the first draft let me know and I’ll email you a copy).

How could I miss such a simple tactic? I was thinking that his last move defended c5 so he was planning to trade queens and keep his extra pawn. Therefore I had to retreat my queen to foil his plan. It just hadn’t occurred to either of us that my last move created a threat. Short circuiting in this way happens over and over again in my games.

23. Qb2 Be5
24. Qb5 Bd6

He repeats the same blunder, and, even after thinking a long time about whether or not to repeat moves I fail to spot the winning move. Instead I decide on a threefold repetition.

25. Qb2 1/2-1/2

What went wrong? Was I still flustered after the traffic problems on the way to the venue? Was I still lacking confidence after losing to a much lower graded opponent a few months earlier? I teach my pupils to look for checks, captures and threats, so why can’t I do it myself?

This was not the only game I played last season which featured simple tactics missed (regular readers will have seen some other examples already). Nor was it the only game in which I agreed a draw in a completely won position.

Richard James

A Knight on d6 is Dim

My next game was again with the white pieces against Mike Singleton, a very experienced player graded slightly above me.

We’d played twice before, a long time ago, and in each case I also had White. Mike beat me in a London League match in 1979, and we drew, again in the London League, in 1982.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5

The Smyslov Variation: unless your name is Vasily you might consider this a cowardly way to avoid the main lines. To be fair to myself, though, the stats are pretty good for White after 5… d6 6. e3.

5… c5

An excellent choice as long as you’re happy with a Benoni formation after White plays d5, which is really the first player’s only chance for an advantage.

6. e3 Qa5
7. Bd3

7. Qd2 is usually played here.

7… d6
8. O-O Bg4
9. Bxf6

A poor choice, completely misassessing the position after the minor piece trades.

9… exf6
10. h3 Bxf3
11. Qxf3 Nc6

The immediate cxd4 was probably better as I could now have played dxc5 with equality.

12. Qf4 cxd4
13. exd4 f5

By now I realised that I’d misjudged this position. I’d assumed that Black’s crippled pawn formation would give me the advantage, but in fact it’s Black who stands better due to the weakness of White’s d-pawn. Black’s fianchettoed bishop is very strong here.

14. Nb5 Rad8

He might also have played 14… a6 15. Nxd6 Bxd4 when the knight on d6 is in trouble.

According to Znosko-Borovsky in How Not to Play Chess: ‘The great Steinitz used to say that if he could establish a Kt at his K6 or Q6, he could then safely go to sleep, for the game would win itself’, although Edward Winter has failed to find any contemporary references to Steinitz saying any such thing.

You may recall a previous game in which I excitedly established a white knight on d6 only to find that it was neither strong nor stable on that square. Perhaps I should avoid putting my knights there in future.

15. Nxd6 Qc7
16. c5 Nxd4
17. Rac1 Ne6

My position is falling apart. My knight on d6 is being undermined and my pawns on b2 and c5 are both under attack.

18. Qf3 Nxc5
19. Nxf5

A desperate attempt to find a tactical solution.

19… Qe5

19… Bxb2 was the way to maintain an advantage. Now a forced sequence leads to a level ending.

20. Rfe1 Rxd3
21. Rxe5 Rxf3
22. Ne7+ Kh8
23. Rexc5 Rf4
24. Nd5

Not the most accurate move. It would have been better to do something about the b-pawn immediately…

24… Rd4
25. Ne3 h5

… because Black could now have won a pawn: 25… Ra4 when both my queen-side pawns are en prise.

26. Rc7 Rb4

Misplacing the black rook. Instead 26… Ra4 was equal.

27. b3 Bh6
28. Rd1 a5
29. Rdd7 Bxe3
30. fxe3 b5
31. Rxf7 Rxf7
32. Rxf7

White has won a pawn, but it’s probably not enough to win the game. Black aims to eliminate the queen-side pawns.

32… a4
33. bxa4 Rxa4
34. Rf2 Kg7
35. Rb2 Kf6
36. Rxb5

Settling for the draw. I could have tried to keep the pawns on but it was unlikely to affect the outcome of the game.

36… Rxa2
37. Rb6+ 1/2-1/2

A fair result, I suppose. I didn’t deserve anything more after a craven opening choice followed by an error of judgement on move 9.

Richard James

Sicilian Alapin Surprise

“Black has only two good replies (to 2. c3) – 2… d5 and 2… Nf6”
Evgeny Sveshnikov

White chooses Sicilian Alapin to surprise Black and render its theoretical preparation useless; instead of a well prepared Dragon, Najdorf, Sveshnikov or other preferred variation, the options are drastically reduced as any good book on it will tell you. A lot of times Black is not prepared for it and this gives White a psychological advantage at move 2. The good news is Black can also do something about it and the reduced number of choices helps. In my experience as a Sicilian player, one must have a variation ready to face the Alapin.

GM Johan Salomon is another very promising young player from Norway, the land of our current World Champion. Johan is very active on social media and regularly shares with his followers interesting puzzles and games of his own or by others. I find his choices very interesting and useful, like the following game I selected to share with you. IMO all Sicilian loving players should look at it and consider it as the starting point to explore the variation and ideas behind it. Without further ado here is the game:

White chose to avoid the heavily analyzed standard Sicilian variations with 2. c3 … and Black returned the favour with 5… Bf5; add into the mix an unexpected yet very playable queen sac and Black may have a nice surprise weapon to go along with the main preparation. Hey, one thing is for sure: if you manage to unleash the queen sac, your opposition does not read my column and you have a leg up on them. Please send over your games and get even better prepared in this variation to the point where white would avoid playing the Sicilian Alapin against you!

Valer Eugen Demian

Better Maul Paul

Returning to my games from last season, I was in need of a win to boost my morale, and, in my next game, had White against Paul Barasi, whom I’ve known well since our first encounter back in 1968. This was our eighth meeting, and up to this point we’d both won twice, with three draws.

As Paul is a regular reader of this column I’ll have to be careful what I saw about him!

Here’s the game:

1. d4 d5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. d5 Ne5 5. Nf3 (f4 is the critical move in this southpaw Alekhine’s Defence) Nxf3+ 6. exf3 e6 (6… e5!?) 7. Bxc4 exd5 (7… c6!?) 8. Bxd5 Bd6

There are three games from this position on my database, all of them with the English FM Mark Lyell playing Black. In each case his opponents played Qa4+, and in each case White won the game. The engines prefer Qb3, after which they consider White stands better, so perhaps this line isn’t the best choice for Black. I chose a simpler move which poses fewer problems for Black.

9. O-O Ne7 10. Bb3 O-O 11. Ne4 Bf5 12. Nxd6 cxd6 13. Bf4 d5 14. Rc1 Be6 15. Qd2 a5

Giving me a fairly free pawn. Nc6 or Rc8 would have been OK for Black.

16. Bc7 Qd7 17. Bxa5 Qb5 18. Bb4 Rfe8 19. Bxe7 Rxe7 20. Rfd1 h6 21. Qd4 Ra5 22. g3 b6 23. Rc3 Qe8

Giving me a second pawn in order to threaten mate.

24. Qxb6 Rb5 25. Qd4 Bh3 26. Re3 Rxe3 27. fxe3 Qe7

There’s a third pawn if I want it. 28. Bxd5 Rxd5 29. Qxd5 Qxe3+ 30. Kh1 Qf2 looked scary and I didn’t have time to work it out. After the immediate 31. Rg1 Bf1, with the idea of Be2, White has to take a draw, but instead I can throw in 31. Qd8+ Kh7 32. Qd3+ g6 33. Rg1 when White is safe. 28. g4 is also an option, but again looked too scary. By now, needless to say, I was beginning to get short of time.

28. Kf2 Qc7 29. e4 (Bxd5!?) Rxb3

The engines, as expected, throw their hands up in horror on seeing this move, but it’s an excellent practical try in a lost position.

30. axb3 Qc2+ 31. Qd2 (the immediate Rd2 was also fine) Qc5+ 32. Qe3 Qc2+ 33. Rd2 Qc1

With insufficient time on the clock and facing a mate threat I went into panic mode and missed the correct defence here: 34. g4 Qf1+ 35. Kg3 when Black has nothing.

34. Qe1 Qc5+ 35. Ke2 dxe4 36. Qf2 (36. fxe4! Bg4+ 37. Kd3!) Qb5+ 37. Ke1 e3

I missed that one (exf3 was a better try for Black) but fortunately had a way out and just about enough time left on the clock to win the game from here.

38. Rd8+ Kh7 39. Qc2+ g6 40. Qd3 and i just about managed to beat the clock. I’m not sure that I deserved to win this due to my poor time handling, but still, a win is a win.

Another game, another White and another Paul, this time Paul Janota, another player of about my strength. This was our third encounter: we’d drawn in 2000 and I’d won in 2010.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3 Bb7 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Qc2 (d5!?) d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Bf4 O-O 9. e3 Nbd7 10. h3 (Unnecessary here: Bd3!?) a6 11. Be2 c5 12. O-O Rc8 13. Qd2 Re8 14. Rac1 Nf8 15. Rfd1 Ng6 16. Bh2 Bd6 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. dxc5 bxc5 (A typical hanging pawns position which should be fine for Black. My opening hasn’t been very impressive.) 19. Bd3 Ne5 20. Nxe5 Qxe5 21. Be2 Ne4 (Not such a good idea. Now I get some play on the d-file.) 22. Nxe4 dxe4 23. Qc3 h6 24. Qxe5 Rxe5 25. Bc4 Re7 26. Rd6 a5 27. Rcd1 Bc6 28. Rd8+ Re8 29. Rxe8+ Bxe8 30. Rd5 (Bd5!?) Kh7 (Kf8!?) 31. Re5 (winning a pawn) Rb8 32. Rxc5 Rxb2 33. Rxa5 Rc2 (Rb7!?) 34. Bd5 (winning a second pawn because of 34… f5 35. Be6 g6 36. Rc7+) 1-0 A rather generous resignation by my opponent. He might have played on for a few more moves.

Two rather unconvincing wins, but at least they went some way towards getting my season back on track.

Richard James