Category Archives: Strong/County (1700-2000)

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

Mednis Principles (2)

“With major pieces (queen or rook) on the board, having bishops on opposite colors favors the side with an attack.”
Edmar Mednis

A couple of nice articles about these principles can be reviewed HERE and HERE
SIM Michael R Freeman is a very strong ICCF player from Darwin, New Zealand. The fact he has been able to perform at around 2500 correspondence chess rating since 2009 is a high accomplishment not many are capable of. He is also FIDE-CM over the board and this summer he had the opportunity to play in the 8th IGB International Seniors Open Chess Championship 2017, Malaysia. Michael was kind to share interesting positions from his games along the way and I liked one in particular. The position was extremely interesting and the additional thoughts and comments by Michael caught my attention and made me take a closer look. We also had a very instructive online discussion about it; in the end can say for sure I learned more about opposite bishops endgames. Here it is with comments as indicated:

Of course Mednis principles apply here perfectly. White was pressing all along and that opened the door for a nice ending. Personally I think this is also an excellent example of how we need to pay attention to what is going on until the opponent has signed the scoresheet. Michael could have been rattled by the missed chances or by the tough defence he had to face up to that point; also he might have thought this was a done deal with those 2 passed pawns ready to promote. Any of us in his shoes would have had to consider 1… Bc5 as the best reply and gather our last drops of energy to figure out the winning idea with Bb5 hanging. He did it and was rewarded for it. Below is the full game score. Thank you Michael for sharing it with us!

Valer Eugen Demian

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

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (5)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position, a rook and pawns endgame between players rated 2400+ FIDE. It is white to move and the quest is to decide if White can play the tactical rook sacrifice or not?

This one feels real because it is from a game instead of a study. Dhopade probably had a better understanding of the position since he played the game; still the 1 minute we have is enough time to evaluate the position and come up with a good answer. Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • There are no passed pawns
  • Both Black pieces (king and rook) are very well placed, one attacking Rd4 and the other one the a3-pawn
  • Black is threatening to win a pawn on the queen side and create a passer
  • It becomes obvious Black is better and playing for a win
  • Reading the question again leads me to believe White did not like his position at all and wanted to do something unexpected to surprise his opponent
  • Considering a sacrifice of this magnitude means White was thinking of getting a serious return for it or the game would be lost
  • What serious return could White think of? With only pawns left on the board, the only serious return could be promoting one of them
  • Which pawn is the most likely candidate to promote? A quick glance from left to right identifies the b4-pawn (and the possible b4-b5) plus the c4-pawn (and the possible c4-c5) as options
  • In both cases Black can ignore the sacrifice and choose to deal with the pawn situation created; the difference is after 1. b5 c5 Black is in a better position than after 1. c5 b5
  • The last detail to ponder is if Ra2 can come around and cover the 8th rank in time to stop the promotion; Black would consider using the e-file or h-file for that purpose
  • Kf1 is the only one capable to defend either file, meaning it won’t be able to cover them both

Conclusion: White should not sacrifice its Rook. Please see how the game ended below:

In general a sacrifice like this smells desperation. If anyone tries it against you, the first indication is they are desperate. This should give you confidence because it is an immediate confirmation your position is much better and you should play for a win. What you need to do is figure out if you can accept it (first step) and how you would win in that case; if you are not sure and accepting it feels too risky, see what is the best way to ignore it (second step). Normally the opponent offering the sacrifice has spent a lot of time to come up with it and brushed aside (most of the times) what to do if you simply ignored it. A sacrifice like this one works better for the player offering it with little time on the clock; in the same time the option to ignore it backfires on the same player with little time on the clock because he needs to look for something else, spending time to do it and trying to not forget what he had planned when it all started.

Valer Eugen Demian

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

“What Say You?” The 1 Minute Challenge (4)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position asking you to choose the next move for White. What is the most likely result based on your choices?

Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • Each side has a passed pawn and both kings are within reach (see rule of the square in our app level 3, lesson 26) with a plus for the Black king being closer
  • Pushing the pawn forward 1. c5 … gives Black time to activate its king (1… Ke6 for example). White will have to capture the a-pawn, while Black will do the same with the c-pawn; after those pawns come off the board, Black’s king will be closer to capture the g4-pawn and promote its remaining f6-pawn (see basic pawn endgames in our app level 2, lesson 19). Black could win in this case
  • Based on the above idea 1. Kd4 … does not look like a good idea either because it also allows 1… Ke6. The difference in this case might be the fact the White king stays close to its c4-passer, it could capture Black’s a-pawn and come back in time to defend the passer; hmm, this is an interesting thought after all
  • Continuing along this line of thought 1. Kd5 … looks the best since it is keeping Kf7 away. The problem here is that after 1… a4 there is no other response but the forced 2. Kd4 … or the a-pawn promotes. We are now back to the previous line with the a-pawn farther down the board. This will draw the White king away and allow the Black one to activate; after the simple moves 2… Ke6 3. Kc3 Ke5 4. Kb4 Kd4 there is nothing better for each side than pushing pawns down toward promotion and a draw
  • Going back to 1. Kd4 Ke6 and using the information gathered in the 1. Kd5 … line, this must be the move to play. The a5-pawn has not moved yet and black must choose between moving it or bringing its King closer; in both cases this is good news for white

Conclusion: 1. Kd4 … gives white the best practical chances and should be played. You might be out of time by now to be able to determine if white can win this or not. The endgame has one more nice wrinkle white must consider in order to win and you can see it looking at the solution below:

What can we conclude out of it? Sometimes we might have to go ahead and play the most promising line even if we don’t see the final result for various reasons. We must keep our focus and apply our thought process along the way to uncover opportunities and achieve the best possible result. Start with the simple stuff first and build on it based on your knowledge; wherever your knowledge stops, mark it down and make sure you focus on expanding it during your home preparation. Good luck!

Valer Eugen Demian

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