Category Archives: Improver (950-1400)

Chickening Out

By now the league season had finished but we were still in the cup, facing Surbiton in the semi-finals. I had yet another white, against former RJCC member Jasper Tambini, who was graded 185 at the time, but is now 202.

I wheeled out my trusty QGD Exchange. Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. cxd5 exd5
5. Bg5 Be7
6. e3 h6

An unusual move order. Black usually plays c6 or O-O here.

7. Bh4 c6
8. Qc2 O-O
9. Bd3 Re8
10. Nf3 Nbd7
11. O-O Ne4
12. Bxe7 Qxe7
13. Nd2

White usually heads for the minority attack with Rab1 here. Bxe4 is another popular choice. My plan of trading knights on e4 shouldn’t give me anything.

13… Ndf6
14. Ndxe4 dxe4
15. Be2 Nd5
16. Nxd5 cxd5
17. Rac1 Qg5
18. Qc7 Re6

He could have played Be6 here, intending to meet 19. Qxb7 with Bh3. Tactical points like this are always important. Calculation in chess is more about spotting this sort of idea than ‘sac sac mate’. Now I might have tried 19. f4, but instead, predictably, head for the ending.

19. Qg3 Qxg3
20. hxg3 Rb6
21. b3 Bd7
22. Rc5 Bc6
23. Rfc1 a5
24. f3 exf3
25. Bxf3 a4
26. bxa4 Rxa4
27. R1c2 Ra3

White’s attacking the black d-pawn while Black in turn targets the white a-pawn. It’s still equal.

28. Kf2 Rba6
29. Bxd5 Bxd5
30. Rxd5 Rxa2

An alternative was 30… Rf6+ 31. Ke2 Re6, switching his attention to the e-pawn.

31. Rd8+ Kh7
32. Rxa2 Rxa2+
33. Kf3 Kg6
34. Rd6+ f6
35. Rb6 Ra7

This is clearly a mistake. Black should give up the a-pawn to remain active rather than moving his rook to this poor square. 35… h5 36. Rxb7 f5 and Black is holding. One idea is Kf6 followed by g5, g4+ and Rf2#, although of course White isn’t going to allow this!

36. e4 Kf7
37. Kf4 h5
38. e5

Giving Black some counterplay. 39. d5 should have been preferred.

38… Ra4
39. Rxb7+ Ke6
40. Rb6+ Kf7

Losing a vital tempo. 40… Ke7 still offered drawing chances.

41. e6+ Ke7
42. Ke4 g6

At this point Jasper unexpectedly offered a draw. My emotions were conflicted. Regular readers, as well as anyone who knows me in real life, will be aware that I’m almost always happy to agree a draw, regardless of the position. As my opponent is a former RJCC member and we’ve always been very big on cultivating sportsmanship, I’d assume he would only offer a draw if he thought he could hold the position. Offering a draw in a position you know is lost when your opponent has enough time on the clock is, to say the least, bad manners. It seemed to me like a position in which, whether or not I was winning, I could press without any danger of losing. But then I became tormented by negative thoughts. Perhaps I would freeze and end up losing on time. Perhaps he’d capture my g-pawns and his pawns would start advancing towards promotion. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

In fact the position’s an easy win for White, as long as I find some fairly accurate king moves to escape the black rook’s attention. For example: 43.Rc6 Rb4 44.Kd5 Rb5+ 45.Kc4 Rb2 46.d5 Rc2+ (or 46…Rxg2 47.Rc7+ Kd8 48.e7+ Kxc7 49.e8Q) 47.Kb4 Rb2+ (or 47…Rxc6 48.dxc6 Kxe6 49.Kc5 with a winning pawn ending) 48.Kc3 Re2 49.Kd3 Re1 50.Rc7+ Kd6 51.Rd7+ Kc5 52.e7 Re5 53.d6 and the e-pawn will eventually promote.

But of course I agreed the draw. Meanwhile, although we were heavily outgraded on all but the top board, a couple of the other games went in our favour. We lost the match 3½-2½, but if I’d played on and won, we’d have drawn 3-3 and gone through to the finals on board count.

What else could I say? A lot, actually, but not now.

Richard James

The Heffalump’s Escape

For my penultimate game of the season I was paired against a formidable opponent in Alan Perkins, joint British U16 Boys Champion in 1965 and student international in the 1970s. In recent years he’s preferred to ply his trade in the calmer waters of the local chess leagues.

My archives remind me that we first met 40 years previously in a weekend congress when I managed to draw. I was slightly worse in the final position but quite probably ahead on the clock. We met again in 2010, in another match between Richmond B and Ealing A, when I lost.

In both games I had white and faced the King’s Indian Defence, trying the Saemisch Variation in 1977 and the Smyslov Variation in 2010. In 2017 I was again White, and it was another Smyslov Variation.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5 c5
6. d5

I’d learnt from my earlier game against Mike Singleton to play d5 here.

6… d6
7. e4

Looks natural, but the stats suggest that e3 is to be preferred. It’s slightly more popular, the choice of stronger players and has a much better percentage. Maybe next time.

7… h6
8. Bh4

Again natural, but the stronger players – and the stats, prefer Bf4.

8… e6
9. Be2

Again, Nd2 is the expert move.

9… exd5
10. exd5

Choosing a King’s Indian rather than Benoni formation. An unpopular decision which also scores poorly for White. If you’re playing a 2200 strength opponent it helps if you know some theory!

10… Qb6

A new move. 10… g5 11. Bg3 Nh5 is the recommended plan.

11. Qd2 Bf5
12. O-O Nbd7
13. h3 Rfe8
14. Bd3 Ne4
15. Bxe4 Bxe4
16. Nxe4 Rxe4
17. Rac1

White has problems with the long diagonal but could defend tactically: 17. Qc2 Rae8 18. Qa4.

17… Rae8

Here there was no reason why Black couldn’t have taken the pawn: 17… Qxb2 18. Qxb2 Bxb2 19. Rb1 Bg7 20. Rxb7 Nb6 and c4 will fall while Black can hold d6.

18. Rfe1

There was no reason not to play 18. b3 here, and no reason for Black not to trade rooks and then take on b3. We’d both misjudged the position.

18… f5
19. Bg3

Again, I could have played 19. b3 and he could have captured the pawn.

19… g5
20. Rxe4 Rxe4
21. Nxg5

21. b3 was still about equal. I was concerned about my bishop being buried alive after 21… f4 but I can always play g3 at a convenient time.

Instead I lash out with a ridiculous sacrifice, hoping to get three pawns against a piece. Or perhaps, aware of Alan’s tendency to get into time trouble, trying to lure the heffalump into a swamp in a deep dark forest. You decide.

21… hxg5
22. Qxg5 Qxb2
23. Bxd6 Qf6

I’d missed this simple defence. I might have played 24. Qg3 to keep the queens on, but instead traded.

24. Qxf6 Bxf6
25. Rc2 Be5
26. Bxe5 Nxe5
27. f3 Rxc4

Now I only have one pawn for the piece. Time to resign?

28. Re2 Nf7
29. Re8+ Kg7
30. Re7 Rc2

30… b5 was the easiest way to win.

31. Rxb7 Rxa2
32. d6 Kf6
33. d7

My passed pawn reaches the seventh rank. Black will have to be a bit careful.

33… c4
34. Rc7 Ra4
35. g4 fxg4

35… Ke7 was the way to go: 36. d8Q+ Kxd8 37. Rxf7 c3 and the white rook can’t get back.

36. fxg4 Nd8

Now Ke7 doesn’t work because the white rook can return via the f-file to stop the c-pawn.

37. g5+ Ke7
38. g6 Ra6
39. g7 Rg6+
40. Kf2 Rxg7
41. Rxa7 Kd6
42. Ke3 Kc5
43. Rc7+ Kd5

The territory’s becoming swampy for Black now as he only has one pawn left and the white d-pawn is surviving. The only path to victory here was 43… Kb4, but it’s not so easy in the quickplay finish.

44. h4 Rh7
45. Ra7

The wrong plan. The way to hold was to get the white rook to the eighth rank to have access to the b-file. So: 45. h5 Rxh5 46. Rc8 Rh8 47. Rb8/Ra8 and there doesn’t seem to be any way for Black to make progress.

Now 45… Kc5 would have put Black back on track, but instead he captured the h-pawn.

45… Rxh4
46. Ra8 Rh3+
47. Kd2 c3+
48. Kc2 Kc4

48… Rh8 was a simple draw, and even Kd4 was good enough. But instead the heffalump tumbled head first into the swamp. Will the tiger put the boot in and score an unlikely and, frankly, undeserved victory?

49. Rc8+

Sadly not. All I had to do to win the game from here was to play one of the most obvious moves in the history of chess: 49.Rxd8 Rh2+ 50.Kb1 Rh1+ 51.Ka2 Rd1 52.Rc8+ Kb4 53.d8Q Rd2+ 54.Kb1 c2+ 55.Kc1 Rxd8 56.Rxd8 and wins. For some reason (or for no reason at all other than having to blitz during a mutual time scramble) I had a brainstorm and decided I needed to check before rather than after capturing the knight.

49… Kd4
50. Rxd8 Rh2+
51. Kb3

Moving up the board because I was scared of mate threats. This is fine but Kb1 and Kc1 also draw, although Kd1 loses. Ironically, without the white pawn on d7 the draw would be automatic.

51… Rb2+
52. Ka3 Rb7
53. Rh8 Rxd7
54. Rh4+

54. Kb3 was again an automatic draw. He could only prevent Kc2 by playing Kd3 when I can just play Rh3+.

54… Kd3
55. Rh3+ Kc2
56. Rh2+ Rd2

At this point I stopped recording my moves. I’m not sure what I played here but it certainly wasn’t Rxd2. The position’s still drawn but it’s easy for White to go wrong now, which is what happened, and Alan just about had enough time to force checkmate.

An exciting ending which I certainly should have drawn, and was, for just one half-move, winning. I really shouldn’t have been allowed to get that close. Perhaps randomising the position on move 21 was justified even though it was an awful move.

You might also think that trying to play a proper game of chess in 2½ or even 3 hours is ridiculous. I agree, but I also think both adjournments and adjudications are ridiculous.

Richard James

Inexplicable Endgame Play

“If you are weak in the endgame, you must spend more time analyzing studies; in your training games you must aim at transposing to endgames, which will help you to acquire the requisite experience”
Mikhail Botvinnik

This week’s endgame comes from a voting match we played as part of one Canadian team during an 8 months period. The team componence (46 players for us versus 6 players for them) seemed to favor us by quite a bit, still getting things organized as a team with so many players is not easy to do. We are getting better at it as time goes on. We have far less “drive-by” players (those who just vote for any move they think of, even moves never discussed) and we have managed to prove to our regular team members that discussing our options before we start voting actually pays off. In this particular game we managed to overcome a so-so opening and shaky middle game play into the following endgame position (White to move):

The general consensus here was that despite the extra pawn, we had no chance to win at correct play. I was one of the members interested to offer a draw, but the team decided to play on. It turned out to be a very interesting experience. Do you agree the position should lead to a draw at correct play? Here are a few reasons for it:

  • The extra pawn is doubled and even if they are center pawns, as long as they stay doubled they are of little use
  • The double rook endgames are far more tactical because of the existing fire power and both kings need to be protected
  • The important h4/h5 pawn moves have already been played, establishing clear boundaries on what those pawns can do
  • White’s plan should be very simple here: take control of the 2nd rank and put pressure on the e5-pawn with both rooks to impede its advancement

Instead of the above White chose firstly to bring his rook onto the 7th rank. Of course an (un)written rule says the best position for any rook is on the 7th rank. We actually have the opportunity to see how any of these rules cannot be applied without making sure the situation on the chessboard warrant them.

The above mistake was important but not decisive. Letting us take control of the 2nd rank, the same idea they tried at the wrong time, made absolutely no sense. That also meant we now had a clear path toward winning. Some may say this second mistake allowed us to win it; in reality they were both connected. The remaining of the endgame was more or less technical. Enjoy the winning line and hope you will learn a bit from it. You never know when your opponents might offer you the opportunity to punish their endgame mistakes in inexplicable fashion.

Valer Eugen Demian

The Fourth Missed Fork

For my next match I was back at Surbiton, and facing Steve Kearney, my opponent in the first Missed Fork game, again with the white pieces.

I went for the Queens Gambit again, but this time chose a slightly different set-up.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 d5
4. Nc3 Be7
5. Bf4 c6
6. e3 Nbd7
7. h3 O-O
8. cxd5 exd5
9. Bd3 Re8
10. O-O Nf8
11. Ne5 Ng6
12. Nxg6 hxg6
13. Qc2 Nh5
14. Bh2 Bd6
15. Bxd6 Qxd6
16. Rab1 Bd7
17. b4 b6
18. a4 Nf6

So far so orthodox. I might have waited and tried to prevent c5 before playing b5.

19. b5 c5
20. dxc5 Qxc5

Black chooses an IQP formation. He might also have played bxc5, with hanging pawns.

21. Rbc1

21. Ne2, controlling the key d4 square, was more to the point. Now, and also over the next few moves, Black could play d4, trading off the isolated pawn.

21… Rac8
22. Rfd1 Qb4
23. Qb1 Qh4

Instead Black goes for a king-side attack.

24. Qb3 Be6
25. Qa3 g5
26. Ne2 Nd7

Vacillating. There were better alternatives, such as Rcd8, keeping more pieces on the board. I was expecting, and rather concerned about, the consistent 26… g4, but the engines aren’t too bothered, continuing with 27. Rxc8 Rxc8 28. g3 Qxh3 29. Qd6 with more than enough for the pawn. I rather suspect that 28. g3 wouldn’t have occurred to me.

27. Rxc8 Rxc8
28. Nd4 Nc5
29. Nf5 Bxf5
30. Bxf5 Rd8
31. Rd4

Looks natural, but the engines prefer Bg4 or Qa2.

31… Qh6
32. Bg4 Qg6
33. Bf3

Careless. I should have played Qa2 first to prevent Qb1+ or Qc2.

33… Qb1+
34. Rd1 Qc2
35. a5

Not 35. Rxd5 Rxd5 36. Bxd5 Qd1+. Now Black should try 35… Ne4, with equality, but instead makes what should have been a fatal blunder.

35… Qc4
36. axb6 axb6

And here’s the Fourth Missed Fork. I just hadn’t thought about the significance of opening the a-file. Of course, if you know it’s there it’s easy: 37. Bxd5 just wins everything. A sacrifice to set up a check which is also a fork. Time and time again I miss simple tactics by failing to do what I’ve been trying to teach my pupils to do for decades: look for every check, capture and threat.

37. Rd4 Qxb5
38. Bxd5 Rf8
39. Qa7 Ne6
40. Bxe6 fxe6
41. Rd7

Natural, I suppose, when you’re running low on time, but I failed to spot that the black queen can reach b2 to defend g7, when White will have problems defending f2. Instead Qe7 would have offered some chances. Now the game lurches towards the inevitable draw.

41… Qb1+
42. Kh2 Qb2
43. Re7 Rxf2
44. Qb7 Qe5+
45. Kg1 Rb2
46. Qc8+ Kh7
47. Qxe6 Rb1+
48. Kf2 Rb2+
49. Kg1 1/2-1/2

Richard James

An Effective and Ineffective Pin in the Italian Game (2)

This article aims at beginners only. In my last article I discussed the effectiveness of a very common pin, Bg5 (or …Bg4 by Black) pinning a knight against the queen. In this article we will see that the same pin can very dangerous when your opponent has already castled and can be exploited with simple and effective Nd5 (or …Nd4 by Black). Most of the time this guarantees a very strong attack because it creates weakness around the opponent’s king (usually doubled pawns on the f-file) which are static.

Here is a nice example of this:

Ashvin Chauhan

Missed Opportunities

My next match involved a trip to Uxbridge, where I was expecting to play their top board, Charlie Nettleton, a young player with a grade of 187 (now 197). I found quite a lot of Charlie’s games on MegaBase, but discovered that he’s one of these players who chooses a different opening every time, which at least meant I didn’t have to waste any more time on preparation.

I had the black pieces and soon found myself in a Vienna/Bishop’s Opening hybrid, another post-theory opening.

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Bc4 Nc6
4. d3 Bb4
5. Bg5 d6
6. Nge2 Na5
7. Bb5+ c6
8. Ba4 b5
9. Bb3 Nxb3
10. axb3 h6
11. Bh4 Be6
12. O-O O-O
13. Kh1 g5
14. Bg3 Nh5
15. d4

Fairly equal so far, but my next move is a blunder. Instead, Qc7 would have been about equal.

15… Qf6
16. d5

Missing an opportunity. White could win a pawn here with the natural move 16. Ra6. This creates two threats. The obvious one is Rxc6, but there’s also a threat of Na2, when the bishop on b4 has nowhere to go. A problem-like theme: White creates this threat by moving his rook beyond the a2 square. Now I could deal with this threat by playing 16… Bxc3, but after 17. Nxc3 White has another threat. The knight recapture has uncovered the possibility of Qxh5. I could meet that threat with 17… Nxg3, but after 18. fxg3 White reveals another discovered attack, and this time there’s no way out. I can’t move the queen to defend c6 so the c-pawn finally falls.

16… cxd5
17. exd5

Taking with a piece seems more natural, and probably stronger.

17… Bd7
18. Qd3 a6
19. f3 Qe7
20. Bf2 f5
21. Na2 e4
22. fxe4 fxe4
23. Qd1 Bc5
24. Bxc5 Rxf1+
25. Qxf1 dxc5
26. Nac3 b4
27. Nd1 Rf8
28. Qg1

I’ve outplayed my opponent over the last few moves, but at the cost of precious time on the clock. I now have the chance to gain a decisive advantage.

28… Qd6

The sort of safe move you play in time trouble, defending the pawn on a6 and blockading the d-pawn. But I could have done much better: passed pawns should be pushed! The first point of 28… e3 is that the pawn can’t be taken. 29. Nxe3 runs into Re8, skewering the white knights, while 29. Qxe3 is even worse after Rf1+. White has nothing better than 29. Rxa6 when Black continues 29… Bg4 (but not 29… Bb5 30. Re6) and White has no defence. For instance, 30. Ng3 Nxg3+ 31. hxg3 Rf1 32. Qxf1 e2 and wins, or 30. Qe1 Qe4 (more accurate than 30… Bxe2 31. Rg6+ Kh7 32. Re6) followed by Bxe2 and Nf4. The best try is 30. Qxe3 Bxe2 when White clearly can’t capture the black queen, so has nothing better than 31. Ra8 Qxe3 32. Rxf8+ Kxf8+ 33. Nxe3 and Black, with a piece against two pawns, should win.

I should add that e3 was also very strong, as well as being rather more obvious, the previous move. Nimzowitsch was right about passed pawns!

29. Ne3

Now it’s equal, or would have been after the more active 29… Bb5.

29… Bc8
30. Rd1 Nf4
31. Ng3 Qg6
32. Nc4

White misses the chance to push his passed pawn: 32. d6 was strong.

32… Re8

Now I should have given up my e-pawn for activity: 32… e3 33. Nxe3 h5 with enough compensation for the pawn according to the engines.

Instead, with little time remaining, I overlooked the discovered attack after which my position collapsed.

33. Qxc5 Bg4
34. Re1 h5
35. Ne3 Bc8
36. d6 Qf6
37. Qc6 Rd8
38. Nxe4 Qe5
39. Nc4 Qd4
40. Nxg5 Bd7
41. Qc7 Qf6
42. Ne4 Qf8
43. Ne5 Nd5
44. Nxd7 Nxc7
45. Nxf8 Kxf8
46. dxc7 Rc8
47. Ng5 1-0

An interesting game with some missed opportunities on both sides. My main problem, as usual, was poor time handling. With much less time on the clock against a much younger opponent it’s highly likely that things will go wrong.

Richard James

An Effective and Ineffective Pin in the Italian Game

This article is aimed at beginners who often plays h3 or h6 move to prevent Bg5 or Bg4, pinning their knights against their queen. This is dangerous but not every time. The same pin is dangerous if you have already castled king side and your opponent has some ways to exploit it, for example Bg5 followed by Nd5. Sometime you can use opponent’s Bg5/Bg4 moves to gain tempo by moving your pawn to h6 or h3. And if you’re opponent tries to maintain the pin with Bh4/Bh5 then you can further develop attack with g5/g4. Not only can this break the pin but it can also shut the opponent’s bishop out of the game. Also note that moving pawns won’t weaken your king position because you haven’t committed castle on the king side.

In the following game Mikhail Chigorin demonstrates this aggressive strategy against premature pin. At the same time it also emphasises the importance of studying classic games.

Ashvin Chauhan

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

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