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

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About Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard is currently the Curriculum Consultant for Chess in Schools and Communities (www.chessinschools.co.uk) as well as teaching chess in local schools and doing private tuition. He has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966 and currently has an ECF grade of 177.