Kasparov’s (brief) Return …

Just as Magnus Carlsen was retaining his World title in Russia, the 13th World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov, was in rare chess action in Japan. It was an exhibition event, against the shogi champion and chess FM Yoshiharu Habu. The time control was 25 minutes per game plus 10 seconds a move. Kasparov won both games, and perhaps expectedly so; however, it is not unfair to say that he was helped at least a little by some questionable play by his opponent.

I have annotated game 1, which is quite instructive, not only with regard to some rather fundamental chess technique, but also when it comes to the psychology of the event. For instance, notice how Kasparov plays the opening especially, avoiding main lines in which his opponent may be more up-to-date. Also, notice his 8.e5, which on one hand could indicate aggression, but, on the other hand, there were other good options, so could be seen as an unwillingness to maintain the tension in the position. This possibly shows his discomfort these days in analysing deeply, or some chess rust, which goes without saying after such a long time in retirement.

Unfortunately for Kasparov, he does not get a lot out of the opening, and his opponent achieves an equal (at worst) position. However, you will then see that Habu’s technique lets him down. He allows Kasparov to free his position and seize the initiative and from there seems to go to pieces.

In offering the annotations, below, I should say that I am not claiming that my thoughts as to the psychological reasons for a move are spot on, only that they are possible explanations for certain decisions. In chess, there is very often a lot more behind the moves our opponent makes than what is going on at the board. The same goes for our own moves. There are also things going on psychologically: likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses.

It is to our advantage if we can get in to the mind of our opponent, while keeping him well away from ours. Also, it is something to keep in mind when analysing our games — did certain decisions of our opponent perhaps reveal something that we did not pick up on at the time? Did our own play betray us in some way? It may only be a case of small things, but they can make a very big difference.

John Lee Shaw

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Never Trust a Robot

This warning from Stephen Hawking got me thinking. First of all I was surprised that he was taking the trouble to lend support for this idea which has been depicted in the movies on numerous occasions. And then I started considering chess players’ relationships with computers and how they’ve changed the nature of the game.

Computers have certainly led to massive advances in the fields of training and preparation; now even some players below 2200 can effectively use engines such as Houdini or Stockfish to prepare critical positions. This has led to many top players eschewing sharp theoretical lines and instead choosing to slug it out in dour positional struggles, with Magnus Carlsen being the leading representative of this approach. Speculative gambits have become quite rare as the work required to prepare them is largely wasted; it’s a serious risk to play the same line in more than one game as future opponents may be very well prepared.

So what lines are good? Basically just about anything that puts the emphasis on the middle game in which both sides have lots of playable alternatives. Your opponent can still prepare using a computer database, but he’s not likely to unleash a decisive opening innovation.

As for artificial intelligence, let’s keep them on a tight rein. I discussed this matter with Michael Koblentz on Facebook and he cited Koblentz’s law of robotics. This included such common sense measures as not given computers weapons, allowing them unilateral control of life support systems, build other computers etc. All common sense really, and of course we should never, ever, let them play chess.

Nigel Davies

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Adventures with 1…e5 (3)

Fate soon offered me another opportunity to defend against 1. e4 in another Richmond v Surbiton encounter, this time a match between our respective B teams. Again I was sitting opposite an opponent rated slightly below me.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4

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

3.. Nf6
4. Ng5 d5
5. exd5

Should I stick with the slightly dubious Fritz variation after what happened last time or try something else? I decided to go down the main line, at least for a few moves.

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

White’s most popular choice here, but is it best? Alternatives are the currently fashionable 8. Bd3 preparing a knight retreat to e4, which leads to fairly obscure positions, and the sharp pinning move 8. Qf3, when one option (there are others) for Black is 8.. Rb8, the Colman Variation, analysed by Eugene Ernest Colman while he was held in the Changi Civilian Internees Camp in Singapore during the Second World War. Colman played his move successfully in club chess for Wimbledon, no doubt on occasion in the Thames Valley League. Olympiu Urcan’s biography of Colman, Surviving Changi, is highly recommended.

8.. h6
9. Nf3

Steinitz and Fischer both tried Nh3 here.

9.. e4
10. Ne5 Bc5

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

11. c3

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

11.. Bd6

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

12. d4

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

12.. exd3
13. Nxd3 Qc7

76 games in BigBase 2014 reached this position with Black scoring 74%. It looks like White’s backing a loser by going down this line.

14. h3

Now we have 41 games with Black scoring 78%.

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

21 games here and Black now up to 81%.

16. b3

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

16.. Rfe8

White looked like a man about to play Ba3 so I played something that I thought prevented this. I was right, but for the wrong reason.

17. Ba3

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

17… Bxa3

Stockfish informed me after the game that I should have played 17.. Bh2+ (the immediate 17.. Rad8 is also strong) 18. Kh1 Rad8 when there’s surprisingly little White can do to meet the threat of Rxe2 followed by Bxd3.

18. Nxa3 Qe7

This is what I’d seen when I played 16.. Rfe8. I thought it won a piece, but it doesn’t. Instead I could again have played 18… Rad8, but now White has some sort of defence: 19. Nc2 Rxe2 20. Nd4 Bxd3 21. Nxe2 when Black has bishop and knight for rook and pawn.

19. Re1

We both missed that White can save the piece here: 19. b4 Qxe2 20. Qxe2 Rxe2 21. Nc1 (gaining time by hitting the rook) 21.. Re4 22. bxa5 Ra4 23. Nb1 and White is still in the game. But now Black’s just a piece ahead.

19… Qxa3
20. Nb4 Rad8

Forcing a queen exchange.

21. Qc1 Qxc1 22. Raxc1 Kf8 23. Kf1 c5 24. Na6 Ne4 25. g4 Bc8 26. Kg1 c4 27. Nc7 Re7 28. Nb5 cxb3 29. axb3 Nxb3 30. Rb1 Ned2 31. Rbd1 Rde8 0-1

My switch to 1.. e5 was certainly successful in that game. White certainly needs to rethink the opening as 10.. Bc5 seems very comfortable for Black. Still no Spanish, though. Maybe next time.

Richard James

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The Road that Leads to Improvement

I thought about titling this article “The Journey to Mastery” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not every chess player would be willing to commit to such a difficult endeavor, becoming a titled “master” of the game. On the other hand, anyone who enjoys the game would be more than happy with improving their chess skills. Thinking about it further, I realized that you cannot even consider the journey to mastery until you’ve spent some time walking along the road that leads to improvement. At some point, a mathematical statistician determined that anyone who put ten thousand hours into the study of a subject would become a master of that subject. Does that mean that all you have to do is read a stack of chess books and play chess for ten thousand hours to become a Grandmaster? Absolutely not! In fact, you could spend ten thousand hours studying and playing chess only to become a slightly better than average player. It’s quality of study that leads to real improvement, not quantity of time spent studying. The best students of any subject have highly effective study habits and techniques.

In my youth, back when chess games were recorded on stone tablets, we got better at chess by reading chess books and then testing out our new found knowledge on the board against a human opponent. Now, there are so many alternative methods of study that the beginner is left bewildered by the numerous choices. You can use Books, DVDs, training software or websites that are dedicated to specific aspects of the game. However, no matter which method you choose to employ, there is one specific concept that must be embraced in order to improve. I’m talking about good studying habits. If your studying habits are not good you’ll only retain a fraction of what you learn which slows down your improvement greatly. This can lead to frustration which can lead to simply giving up. How you study is just as important as what you study!

Slow and steady wins the race when if comes to improvement. Humans tend to be impatient so they try to complete a task as quickly as possible. This leads to setting unrealistic goals. If your goal requires three hundred hours to accomplish, you could spend an hour per day and meet your goal in three hundred days. You could also shorten that time frame by spending ten hours a day working toward you’ll goal, cutting the total number of days needed to thirty. This would be a grave mistake! Most people lead busy lives which means they can only dedicate a small amount of time each day to their studies. However, even if they had the time to study for ten hours a day, they would fall victim to mental fatigue, especially when studying chess which requires great concentration. The best route to take is to set a realistic time table, say thirty minutes a day to start. Most of us can take thirty minutes from our daily schedule without having our lives fall apart. Thirty minutes will not leave you mentally drained at the end of your study session. While you might say that thirty minutes day isn’t much, it adds up to 182 hours a year. Still, some of you are thinking that 182 hours isn’t a lot of time, especially when thinking about reaching that 10,000 hour mark. Forget about that 10,000 hour idea. Let’s worry about improving before mastery!

Our next consideration is where to study. I’ve talked about study techniques in previous articles but I feel the subject so important that I’m bringing it up again. My next point is crucial if you want to improve. Find a quiet place to study. I feel so strongly about this that I have taken to sitting in my car, parked in front of my house to study chess uninterrupted. I have a busy household and even my office can be a bit noisy. You need a place that is not only quiet but offers no distractions as well. I’ve taken to my car because of one incident. I was studying a variation of the Nimzo Indian opening because it I had trouble with it. Sitting in my office, I reached one of those “ah ha” moments when everything suddenly became clear. I had the Nimzo Indian within my grasp. Suddenly, our pit bull (Ruby Petrosian Patterson) burst through my office door, made a run towards my desk and started grabbing chess pieces off the board I use. Needless to say, my concentration was broken and the mysteries of the Nimzo Indian still remain a mystery to me. Find a quiet place to study!

If you’ve followed my advice so far, you’ve set up the conditions for productive studying. You have a realistic time table and a place to study. Now comes the question, what to study? Finding suitable chess material to study is similar to buying pants. Pants come in a vast range of sizes. However, you’re never going to purchase a pair that is an exact fit. The length might be perfect but the waist is a bit tight! Chess training material is the same way.

While many companies will list a rating range for their training material, such as “for players rated between 800 and 1200,” that 400 point range is a huge consideration for the beginner whose rating is closer to 800. How can the beginner determine whether the training material in question suitable for their skill set? If its a book, the beginner can either examine the book, if being purchased from a bookstore, or preview it, if being purchased online. In either case, look at the table of contents first. If you’re a beginner trying to improve your general opening play, you should see chapters dedicated to the opening principles such as control of the board’s center, minor piece development, castling, etc. The book should also contain games in which both sides win. Examine a chapter and ask yourself “does this make sense?” If you can’t understand the concepts as explained by the book’s author, you may want to consider another title! Avoid books that promise fast improvement results or promise a fast increase in your rating.

DVDs can be a bit trickier because you cannot play the DVD before purchasing it. However, many DVD producers, such as ChessBase, offer previews on their website which allow you to test drive them prior to purchase. Again, ask yourself “does this make sense.” With specific DVDs, such as those dealing with opening play, you have to be careful as a beginner. I teach and coach chess full time so I spend a great deal of time both teaching and learning. I will always be a student of the game. I mention this because I’ve fallen victim to the purchase of a DVD about specific openings that are beyond my skill set. Beginners should stick to DVDs that explore principles rather than specific openings at least until they have a strong grasp on the principles!

Lastly, invest in a software training program that has a good GUI (Graphical User Interface) and decent chess engine. This gives the beginner an instant opponent and many of these programs have add on training modules that can be purchased separately. There are some pitfalls with these programs. First off, when playing against the computer at its lowest levels, you’re going to get an unrealistic game of chess. The computer will make the worst moves and, while your victory against the silicon beast might feel good, you’ll pay for that joy when you sit down and play a human (even a novice player) and they make much better moves than your computer program (on a low setting), leaving you with a lost game. Only play the computer at a higher game setting. The moves are more realistic and you only get better at chess by playing stronger opponents. Play human opponents every chance you get!

Lastly, beware of website advice. While a decent percentage of these websites are an excellent resource for learning, you have to remember, anyone can create a chess website regardless of their chess skills. I spend a great deal of time correcting my student’s bad habits, bad habits they picked up online. Nigel’s Tiger Chess website is an exception and you should consider an online visit (http://tigerchess.com). Another good resource is IM Andrew Martin’s Youtube videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/YMChessMaster) You would definitely do well to read all the excellent articles by the folks here at The Chess Improver as well. Keep it simple, make your study time count and sit in your car if you need a quiet place to study. Your game will slowly but surely get better. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. I bet these guys had good studying habits!

Hugh Patterson

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How Does One Fight a Blind Warrior?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Serovey

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Methodically Building An Endgame Fortress

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

Features of the position

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

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

Ideas of White’s fortress

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

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

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

How might Black breach the fortress?

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

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

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

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

Annotated

Franklin Chen

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Avoiding Time Trouble

“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”
– Albert Einstein

If I talk about myself, I never face time trouble except in ‘blitz’ chess because of my habits, both good and bad. So I thought I’d share what I think are my good habits along with observations from the tournament hall of bad ones. Plus those I am trying to overcome:

1. Many of us have the habit of thinking only when our clock is ticking and relaxing in the opponent’s time. Sometimes it is good to take a break, though it is not always necessary.

2. Calculating the same variation again and again is something I have seen a lot. It often occurs when someone is not able to visualize the board properly and it often results in time trouble.

3. Taking too much time in opening can lead to time trouble. Of course if there is something new you should think about it, but when the moves are familiar to you it’s better to play more quickly and save time for critical moments.

4. Trying to see every detail in calculating can also lead to time trouble. There’s no need to calculate everything to the end, it is not possible for humans. It’s better to end your calculation when you feel position is comfortable for you.

5. Don’t try to force a position that’s not ready. In a simple position you can’t find a forced win over the board. You can do it at home with hours of analysis. Over the board you should coordinate your quality of move and time so play the optimal move rather than one that is necessarily the best.

Ashvin Chauhan

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The Processes of Finding The Right Move

How does a Grandmaster decide what moves to play? The same as any chess player, by a process of thought. It just happens that the Grandmaster applies the process better, and understands things a little more. It used to be suggested that it was a matter of intelligence, but that is now known to be a myth. Grandmasters have put hours and hours of study in over a chessboard, and played thousands and thousands of games. Of course, some people are cleverer than others, but in the main I believe this to be irrelevant.

It is my belief that anyone with the desire, who is willing to invest the time, can become a very good chess player. And very proficient at applying their mind to it.

It goes without saying that the thought process is one of the most important qualities of a chess player. One can forget the opening, and other theoretical aspects, if one cannot think effectively. The correct line of thought can make a whole bunch of difference, with regards to the clock as well as anything else, and what exactly the correct approach is will depend upon the position on the board.

– How do we know?

– How can we evaluate this essential part of our technique?

Well, those who know my writing will already be aware that I am a great fan of the books by Alexander Kotov, Think Like a Grandmaster and Play Like a Grandmaster (the latter being one of my most treasured possessions). In those books, Kotov goes in to the thought process of a Grandmaster, and especially the differences depending upon the types of situation.

He states that in positions where there is calm, and no contact between the opposing sides, the considerations should be of a general strategic nature, where one wishes to post pieces, what files may open, how the structure and layout may change over time and how we can prepare for it. Importantly, the analysis of variations should be minimal, and merely as a quick check over. By contrast, when there is contact (or credible impending contact) between the opposing sides, he said very simply, “one calculates”. Thus, positional considerations play second-fiddle to the concrete analysis of variations and possibilities.

Failure to apply this can have serious consequences and make one’s analysis muddled and ineffective, as well as costing much time on the clock due to trying to cover everything from all sides. In chess it is very important to concentrate on the relevant. Before I learned this I used to have terrible time trouble problems due to going between the two approaches.

I found it very interesting to see Kotov’s words applied often when listening to Peter Svidler’s commentary during the recent Carlsen-Anand World Championship match. Svidler made many general observations, such as to where he would like to place a certain piece and why. He also voiced his anticipations about certain files being opened, changes in pawn structure, and he was ever mindful of the endgame.

Where there was tension, he wasted little time on such matters, instead stating that “we should calculate”, or that a certain line should be “made concrete”.

This, to me, indicated a finely tuned technique — not that one would ever think otherwise for such an accomplished player as Svidler, of course. And so I decided that in this article I would bring it to your attention, dear reader. If you find yourself unsure of how to approach a certain position in your chess games, or perhaps you are getting in to time trouble a lot, the following points may help you considerably. Infact, I would go as far as saying that there is not a chess player around who would not benefit from bearing the following in mind:

– In positions where there is little contact between the opposing sides, where there is a relative calm: One considers general strategic plans and possibilities. The analysis/calculation of variations is minimal.

– When there is contact between the opposing sides: One calculates variations. Positional and strategic considerations are minimal if at all.

An effective thought process can (probably will) add points to one’s rating. It will certainly add to the enjoyment of the game, due to less blundering and time pressure. It will help us approach chess positions with confidence and clarity. It will result in us finding the relevant and important. Ultimately, it is what will help us find the right moves.

John Lee Shaw

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Update on Adrian Hollis Memorial

After nearly a year the games in the Adrian Hollis Memorial are now over halfway completed with the current leader being GM Nigel Robson with a score of 5 / 7 with three games to finish. Of course, it is quite possible that other players will catch him when their games are finished. This is probably the strongest ever British Correspondence Chess Tournament with all British players.

Most of the games have been really hard fought, especially as there is a small monetary inducement for any wins, although personally, I am sure most players, including myself, just play for the glory!  Unfortunately, only completed games are viewable on the following link to the crosstable page on the ICCF server : – https://www.iccf.com/event?id=41391

I was pleased to draw the following game against ICCF GM John Pugh, especially with the Black pieces. Remember that from this year ICCF games are subject to the six piece tablebase rule so, even with the possibility of being a knight up, I knew that a draw was almost inevitable! I played as far as I could until my opponent could have forced a ‘tablebase draw’.

John Rhodes

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Adventures with 1…e5 (2)

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

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

Here’s what happened.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. c3

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

3.. Nf6

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

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

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

4. d4 Nxe4
5. d5 Ne7

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

6. Nxe5 Ng6

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

7. Bd3

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

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

7.. Nxf2
8. Bxg6

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

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

My choice is slightly better, but should still lose.

8.. hxg6

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

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

9. Qf3 Qf6
10. Kxf2 Bc5+

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

11. Kf1 Qxe5
12. Bf4 Qf5
13. Nd2

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

13.. O-O

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

14. Bxc7

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

14.. Qxf3+

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

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

15. Nxf3

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

15.. b6
16. c4

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

16.. d6

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

17. a3 Ba6
18. Nd2

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

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

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

0-1

Richard James

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