Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Game of the Week

This week we bring you the conclusion of the now-completed "Steve vs. Steve" battle for the top spot on the club ladder.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Dec. 8–15, 2009

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c6
Another unconventional opening response from Steve Black.

3.Nc3 e6 4.e4 Bd6

Steve McWhirter demonstrates the error of this opening:

5.e5 Bxe5
Giving up the bishop. He could have given up the knight instead with 5...Be7 6.exf6 Bxf6.

6.dxe5 Ng8 7.Nf3
Now that black's dark-square bishop is gone, the g7-pawn is weak; white can attack it immediately with 7.Qg4. Meanwhile, white's e5-pawn is isolated and likely to come under attack, so eventually he's going to want to push his f-pawn. 7.Nf3 interferes with both of these strategic ideas.

7...Qa5 8.Bd2 Qb4 9.b3 Qc5 10.Ne4 Qb6 11.Nd6+

By pushing Steve B.'s queen around, Steve M. has gotten his knight to a sweet outpost square. The pawn behind it is still weak, though. Will this matter?

11...Kf8 12.Nxc8 Qd8 13.Nd6
Steve B. is now two bishops down for a pawn.

13...f6 14.Bc3
That bishop is wasted guarding a mere pawn, but that's all right: the small advantages Steve M. has been accumulating (material, active minor pieces, development, space) add up to a huge winning advantage. According to Fritz, however, white can exploit his material advantage and sacrifice a knight to make some mischief: 14.Ng5 fxg5 15.Qh5 g6 16.Qf3+ Nf6, and the advantage this gives white is frankly terrifying. With the follow-up 17.h4, white threatens to either take the g-pawn, threatening the pinned knight and opening up a line for his king's rook, or pull the g-pawn off its square, opening a path for white's dark-square bishop to join the attack from h6. If white follows this path, black is not long for this world.

14...b6 15.Bd3
15.Ng5! is still a possibility.

15...f5 16.g3 Nh6 17.h4 Na6 18.Ng5 Nc5 19.Qh5
This attack looks fierce, but it's actually quite risky: Steve B.'s knight is threatening to take Steve M.'s d3-bishop with check, and the attack itself doesn't hold much promise with the h6-knight covering the invasion square. At most, Steve M. can hope to pick up a rook for a knight and a bishop.

Steve B. is spooked enough by the apparent threat to take this countermeasure.

Hastily patching the hole in his backfield.

20...a5 21.g4 Nxd3+ 22.Rxd3 Nxg4 23.Nxh7+ Kg8

It's turning into a tangled mess. What's white's best move? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

24.Nf6+! simplifies the position and leaves white far ahead: 24...gxf6 25.exf6 Qxf6 26.Qxg4+ fxg4 27.Bxf6.

The game proceeded thusly:

24.Qg5 Qxg5+ 25.hxg5
Steve M. would have been slightly better off retaking with the knight: 25.Nxg5 Nxf2 26.Rdd1 Nxh1 27.Rxh1 g6.

25...Nxf2 26.Rdh3??
Ensures that white will lose a rook without compensation. Steve M.'s advantages are going up in smoke. Fritz notes that he could have sacrificed his knight with 26.Nf6+ to clear the h-file with tempo: 26...gxf6 27.Rxh8+ Kxh8 28.Rd2 fxg5 29.Rxf2, and white is still a minor piece up, versus the actual game, in which black is a pawn up and has a rook against two minor pieces. The game turned on this mistake.

26...Nxh3 27.Rxh3 (27.Nf6+ gxf6 28.exf6 Nxg5 29.Rg1) Rxh7 28.Rxh7 Kxh7
Steve M.'s advantages are all gone. Now Steve B. is in the driver's seat.

29.a4 Kg6 30.Bd2 c5 31.Kd1 Rh8 32.Nb5?
Why move from a sixth-rank outpost to a fifth-rank outpost?

32...Rh3 33.Kc2 Rh2 34.Kd3 Rh3+ 35.Kc2 Rh4
This is where the game adjourned last week.

In the interim, Steve M. evidently decided that the sixth-rank knight outpost was better after all.

36.Nd6 Rh2 37.Kd3 Rh5 38.Nc8

38...Rh3+ 39.Ke2
Steve M. needed to retreat to Kc2 to defend the b-pawn.

39...Rxb3 40.Be3?
Takes away coverage of b4. Now the rook can clear away the a- and c-pawns.

40...Rb4 41.Kd3 Rxa4 42.Nxb6 Ra3+ 43.Ke2?
With 43.Kd2, Steve M. could have wriggled his way over toward the left side of the board, suppressing the passed a-pawn. Now that pawn's going to make a break for it.

43...a4 44.Nxd7 Ra2+ 45.Kf3 a3 46.Nxc5?
46.Bxc5 would have tied the rook down to defense of the a-pawn.

46...Rc2 47.Nxe6
47.Nb3 would have covered the queening square.

47...Rxc4 48.Bd4 a2 49.Ke3

Black to move and win. (Highlight to reveal answer.)

49...Rxd4 0-1 (50.Nxd4 a1Q)

And thus did Steve Black claim the top spot on the Route 20 Chess Club ladder.

Merry Christmas, Good Yule, Chanukah Sameach . . . see you in January!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Game of the Week

Q: How can you tell we're a dedicated bunch?

A: Yesterday we'd already received the first consignment of
this . . .

. . . and five of our members still showed up! That was two more than my most optimistic prediction.

We have two recorded games to choose from this week, both involving Steve Black, an entirely self-taught player whose unconventional (OK, I'll come right out and say it: weird) openings belie an opportunistic eye that often reverses his fortunes for the better in the middlegame and endgame. The second game was against Steve McWhirter, but as tempting as it is to post a "Steve vs. Steve" matchup, that game had to be adjourned at 9 PM so that we could all get home without killing ourselves on the way. Instead, here's the complete first game.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Dec. 8, 2009

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d6 3.g3 Bg4 4.Bg2
Bill plays Bill's Opening. In other breaking news, salt is salty.

4...d5 5.Nh4
5.Ne5 threatens an exchange on g4, removing the guard from the d5 center pawn. Black must then retreat his bishop, giving white better development.

Supports d5 and closes off f5. But it also has a drawback: It traps the g4-bishop. 6.h3 Bh5 7.g4 would have driven the bishop over the precipice.

6.Qb3 Qc8?
Steve could have had an advantage with 6...Nc6 7.f3 (7.Qxb7 Nd4 8.0-0 Bxe2 (not 8...Nxe2?! 9.Kh1) 9.cxd5 Bc5 is a winning advantage for black) Bh5 8.0-0.

7.h4 is much better, and still a possibility.


This invites white to keep munching his way through black's pawns, uncovering a nasty tactic (8.dxe6 Qxe6 (8...fxe6 9.Bxb7!) 9.Qxe6+ Bxe6 10.Bxb7). 7...exd5 is a necessary answer. Black needn't worry about his pawn -- white's queen can't retake it, and his fianchettoed bishop is too valuable a piece to exchange for a knight.

Considering that Bill often follows his opening with pressure on b7, it's particularly disappointing that he missed the value of 8.dxe6.

Recapturing with the wrong piece. That knight had a job to do, and Bill takes advantage of its absence.

9.Qa4+ Qd7 10.Qxg4 h6 11.Ne5 Qd6 12.Qd4
12.Nc3!? would go after black's centralized knight and dare him to do anything about it.

12...Bg7 13.Qa4+ Nc6 14.Nxc6 Qxc6 15.Qxc6+ bxc6

Despite his lack of development, which he can catch up on easily, and Steve's central knight outpost, Bill's advantage goes far beyond his extra piece. Steve's doubled c-pawns are sitting ducks. Bill has a comfortable square for his own knight on c4, and his pawns are poised to storm the kingside. Which is why his next few moves are confusing.

16.Bxd5 cxd5
Far from inconveniencing Steve, this exchange actually takes the pressure off.

17.Nc3 Ke7 18.Nb5
Instead of 18.b3, securing the b-file against ...Rab8. Bill's advantage is now less than his extra piece should give him.

18...c6? (18...Rab8 was strategically better) 19.Nc7??
And with this strange "forward retreat," Bill's advantage is almost gone. If Steve plays correctly, that knight will die.

19...Rac8 20.Na6

Steve has the opportunity to make a subtle move here that will really ruin Bill's day. Can you find it? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

20...c5! 21.d4 Bxd4 leaves the knight with no way out.

Alas for Steve, he didn't find it, and Bill reasserted his material advantage.

20...Bd4?? 21.e3 Bb6 22.b3 c5 23.Ba3 Rc6 24.Rc1 Rhc8

Whereupon Bill made a mystifying choice:

25.Bxc5+ Bxc5 26.Nxc5 Rxc5 27.Rxc5 Rxc5
. . . and the extra bishop turns into an extra pawn. Looks like setting off the fireworks on c5 wasn't worth it -- or was it? The weird thing is, 25.Nxc5! Bxc5 26.Rxc5 does work, even though you'd expect the end result to be the same. Here's the difference:

The left-hand diagram is the actual game after 25.Bxc5+ Bxc5 26.Nxc5. The right-hand diagram is the variation 25.Nxc5! Bxc5 26.Rxc5. The difference is that if black recaptures with 26...Rxc5 in the variation, his rook is in a pin, which white can exploit with 27.d4!. Black therefore needs to move his king off the diagonal, giving white the extra tempo to play 27.Rxc6.

Wicked, huh?

Unfortunately for Bill, he no longer has the luxury of castling -- he has to play 28.Kd1 to prevent Steve from invading the seventh rank with his rook. Going into the endgame, the game is now even.

28...Rc2 29.d4 Rxa2 30.Rc1 f5 31.Rc7 Kf6 32.b4 a6 33.Ra7 Rb2 34.Rxa6 Rxb4 35.Kg2 g4 36.Ra8 Rb7 37.Rh8 Kg6 38.h3 h5 39.Re8 Kf6 40.hxg4 hxg4 41.Rh8 Rg7 42.Rh6+ Ke7 43.Kf1 Kd6 44.Ke2 Ra7 45.Kf1 Ra1+ 46.Kg2 Ra8

Since Steve's rook is having all the fun, Bill starts a several-move sequence to work his own rook loose.

47.Rh7 Re8 48.Ra7 e5 49.Ra6+ Kd7 50.Ra5 Kc6 51.Rc5+ Kd6
A very happy home for that rook. But now what?

Black is threatening 52...exd4 53.exd4, after which he'll move his rook to e4 or c8 and attack white's divided pawns. Bill needs to back his rook off to give it maneuvering room. Instead, he plays a pawn break that would have been marvelous earlier (say, at move 42 or 48) but now no longer works.

52.f3?! gxf3+ 53.Kxf3+ exd4 54.exd4 Re4 55.Ra5 Rxd4 56.Ra6+ Ke5 57.Ra1 Re4 58.Ra5 Rg4 59.Ra7 Kd4 60.Ra4+ (60.Rf7 was a great missed opportunity to even the score again) Ke5 (60...Kc3 would have exploited white's mislocated rook) 61.Rf4??

This is such a crucial position, I'm givin' it to you extra-large.

I'd been recording this game while Steve McWhirter and Monica Vorass played a game of their own. By this time they were done, and we were all watching Bill and Steve's endgame with keen interest. Naturally, we were scribbling notes to each other about what moves we thought they ought to play. I had a brain-flash here and wrote "d4!" on the back of my notepad -- the pawn gets a free pass because of the g4-rook's X-ray defense. But there's an even better move that wins the game in one blow. What is it? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

61...Rxf4+!! 62.gxf4+ Kd4 and white, in zugzwang, is forced to make the unappetizing choice between abandoning the defense of his last pawn and giving black's d-pawn a wide-open lane to promotion.

Black has no other move that even begins to compare with the might of 61...d4! or 61...Rxf4!!.

The actual game finished up thusly:

61...Rg5 62.g4?? (62.Ra4 would have maintained a semblance of balance) fxg4+ (62...Rxg4! achieves the same result, but with more certainty) 63.Rxg4 (Bill could have wriggled out with 63.Kg3) Rxg4 64.Kxg4 Ke4 0-1

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Game of the Week (and a Cautionary Miniature)

This week we bring you a doubleheader between me and Bill Koester. Actually, "doubleheader" is probably not the right sports analogy. Let's try "mulligan."

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Dec. 1, 2009 (1)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 e5 4.d5?
4.Nf3 is the book move.

4...Bb4+ 5.Nc3 Qh4?!
Fritz gives 5...Qh4 a double question mark, but I give it a ?! here because, to my infinite regret, it actually worked.

Missing the attack on e4. 6.Qa4+ Nc6 7.dxc6 Qxe4+ 8.Be3 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 would have kept an advantage.

6...Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Bg4 8.Bd2??
8.Qa4+ still works here . . .

8...Bxc3 9.Qa4+??
. . . but not here. Now that black's b4-bishop has moved, Qa4 is no longer a tactical threat.

9...c6 10.dxc6?? Bxd2+ 11.Nxd2 Qe2# 0-1

OK, so that's how not to play a Queen's Gambit Accepted. Now for the more dignified rematch -- same colors.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Dec. 1, 2009 (2)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e3 e5 5.Bxc4
I've been caught flatfooted too many times by ...b5, preventing the recapture. This time I weigh the threat against the d4-pawn and decide I'm better off retaking immediately.

5...exd4 6.Nxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxd4 8.Qxd4 Qxd4 9.exd4

Bill's next move makes it all worthwhile.

9...Bxc3+ 10.bxc3

I was pleased as punch by this outcome. Bill's overenthusiasm for exchanging pieces has left me with a developed bishop and unexpected (but welcome) backup for my d-pawn, which I'd had some minor anxiety about leaving isolated. In contrast, he has no developed piece and an exposed king.

He takes immediate countermeasures.

At this point I started thinking about how I could swiftly conclude my development and convert my positional advantage into an attack. I could have castled kingside immediately, but I wanted to bring my other bishop into the field. But where? On d2 and e3, the bishop is blocked by pawns; on f4, it's undefended; and on g5, it's an empty threat. Forcing myself to take a moment to look for a better move (thank you, The Improving Chess Thinker by Dan Heisman!), I found one.

This move allows me to castle kingside or queenside, as I choose; it also suppresses black's kingside castling, so in one move, I not only advance my development but interfere with Bill's. As an added bonus, my bishops are working side by side like partners in a buddy cop movie.

Bill's plan was to fianchetto his bishop and move knight to d5. Having lost one bishop already, though, he might be better off daring me to give up the bishop pair with 11...Be6 12.Bxe6 fxe6.

Rapidly centralizing one rook while allowing the other to take the open e-file on its next move. For some reason, this causes Bill to abruptly change his mind about the fianchetto.

12...Be6 13.Bb5+
13.d5! would have been magnificently obnoxious.

13...Bd7? 14.Rhe1+ Kd8
Bill finally gives in to the inevitable.

15.Be7+ Kc8 16.Re5?!
Strategically, this move is appealing: a rook on an outpost is a fine thing, and it gives me a way to double my rooks on the e-file. But it doesn't deter Bill from exchanging off one of my bishops, bringing the game much closer to equality than it has been. Much better for me would have been 16.Ba6+ Kb8 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Re7, wrecking black's kingside pawns.

16...Bxb5 17.Rxb5 Re8 18.Re5
Playing with fire. Bill could beat me back with 18...Ng4!?. 19.Re2 Kd7.

18...Nd7 19.Re3 f6 20.Rde1 Kb7
Our pieces are in a pretty standoff. Time to try to create a new imbalance.

21.f4 g6 22.g4 f5 23.g5
This is probably a wrong choice according to endgame theory -- corking his pawns on light squares when my bishop is on dark, or something like that. I was concerned about letting Bill get the outside pawn. But either 23.h3 or 23.gxf5 gxf5 24.h4 would have been better than 23.g5.

23...h6?? 24.h4
Why I overlooked 24.gxh6, I can't say. This poor decision colors the moves that follow.

24...hxg5 25.hxg5 (25.Bxg5 was better) Rh8

Before you say it, yes, I did see 26.Re6, and I was strongly considering it. In fact, it was the move I wanted to play, but with the h8-rook threatening to invade, I was afraid that I couldn't take my rook off the e-file to make the capture. I should have remembered the maxim, "The threat is stronger than the execution." Black's best response to 26.Re6 is to defend with 26...Rag8, tying it down to the defense of a pawn and keeping it out of black's attack plan.

26...Rh4 27.Rf1 Re8 28.c4 c5
28...Rh7!? 29.Rfe1 Rh4 is an invitation to a draw by repetition. It's interesting that this is actually black's best bet. Or would be, anyway, if black weren't up against a player with a reputation for blundering winning positions. Bill keeps fighting to knock out one of my backward pawns.

29.d5 Rh7 30.Rfe1 Rh4 31.Rf1
A draw is not as attractive to white right now as it is to black. I could have avoided repetition by covering the f-pawn with 31.Bd6. But Bill's not the drawing type anyway.

31...Rh2 32.Rfe1 Rd2 33.d6??
The tactically crafty 33.Bxc5 or 33.Bxd6 would have kept up the pressure. My move hands black attacking possibilities against my pawns.

33...Rd4 34.Bf6?
Uh-oh . . . am I about to live up to my reputation?

34...Rxe3 35.Rxe3

Black has several good moves. One wins resoundingly. One wins respectably. (Highlight to reveal answers.)

35...Rxf4! 36.Bb2 Rxc4 picks up both of the pawns on the fourth rank. Second-best is 35...Rxc4 36.Re7 Kc6 37.Be5.

Bill, however, did not choose either of these moves -- or one of the others that would have allowed him to keep a slight advantage.


I seize the moment.

36.gxf6 Rxd6 37.Re7+ Kc8?
Black's only good evasion is 37...Ka6.

38.f7 Rf6 39.Re8+ Kd7 40.f8Q Rxf8 41.Rxf8 Kc6 42.Rf6+ 1-0

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Game of the Week

This week's game should have been the latest matchup between ladder champ Steve McWhirter and second-place Jim Strong, but when we rolled up the boards at 9 PM last night, their slugfest was still in progress, and they had to adjourn. Meanwhile, Steve Black and I played two games, both of which he won. Here's the second of those two:

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Nov. 24, 2009

1.d4 f6?!
Steve is not one for playing conventional openings.

2.Nf3 g5 3.b3
Should I have just played 3.e4? Probably.

What's he doing?

4.Bb2 b6 5.Nb2 Bb7 6.c4 Nf5 7.e3 d6?
This move doesn't free any piece for development, unlike, say, 7...e6!?.

8.Bd3 Qd7 9.Qc2

I was feeling contented with my development so far.

Steve needs to retreat that knight.

Not bad, but a miscue in this case. 10.d5 threatens 11.dxe6, undermining the protection of the knight while gaining a tempo on the queen, which therefore has to retreat to g7 or e7.

Taking the square away from me -- a sensible thought, but it doesn't work out well.

11.cxd5 Bxd5 12.Be4
I missed the subtler, far superior 12.e4!. My move puts Steve back in the game.

Steve is squandering his opportunity. He needs to catch up on his development. 12...Nc6, for example, would have been sensible.

13.Kb1 Bb4 14.Rc1 Na6 15.Qd3
Now that Steve's knight is off b8, the pin on the d5-bishop is nowhere near as compelling as it was before. I should have pulled my own bishop back to d3. But I wanted to get my queen out from in front of my rook, and I also saw that Steve's a6-knight was hanging.

15...b5 16.h3 Kf7 17.a4
For quite a bit of this game, Steve had the opportunity to drive my knight off its best square with ...g4. Now I have a parallel opportunity on the same file, but I miss it too.

Steve begins to lose patience.

18.Nxd2 bxa4?? 19.Qxa6 axb3

Time for one of my trademark blunders! This should perhaps be a new variety of chess problem: "Find the stupid move that gives your opponent a stellar opportunity."

Steve, a sharp tactical player, wasted no time capitalizing on my error.

20...Bxe4+ 21.Ka1 Bxg2
How could I have prevented this? 20.Bxd5 would have done the trick. Also, 20.Bd3 Bxh2 is much less threatening than it looks.

I'm trying to change the dynamic with an initiative move, but it accomplishes little: now I have a menacing knight outpost, but I've also blocked the c-file.

Misses the threat of 23.Rhe1 and 24.e4. Fortunately for Steve, I missed it too.

23.Rhg1 Bxh3??
With my knight on c5, 24.e4 is now possible without the preparatory rook move. But, again, I wasn't thinking about that.

My chances of seizing back the game are now pretty much gone.

24...Nd6 25.e4? (a bit late for that) Nxe4 26.Nxe4 Qxe4 27.Rxc7+ Kg6 28.Rgc1?!

Steve has no particular reason to feel nervous about the doubled rooks.

28...Qg2 29.R1c6 (instead of 29.Qd6, maneuvering into black's backfield) Qxf2 30.d5 Rab8 31.Rc2 Qe1+ 32.Bc1
Instead of 32.Rc1, which I found myself painfully regretting a few moves down the line. I think I was afraid that Steve would sac the exchange on b2 to yank my king out into the great wide open. But in retrospect, if he had done that, I could have ignored his b2-rook, taken his queen and had a winning advantage! Note to self: Don't be afraid of rabbits when there's a wolf in the yard.

32...exd5 33.R2c5 Bf1
33...Bf5!, threatening 34...Rb1+, would have been decisive.

34.Qa2 Bc4
Better is 34...Bd3, with the same threat as above.

35.Qc2+ Kh5 36.Qh2+ Kg6 37.Qc2+
Sure, I'll take a draw at this point! But Steve doesn't go for it.

37...Qe4 38.Qxe4+ dxe4 39.Rxc4 f5 40.R4c6+ Kh5 41.Rxa7 Rhc8 42.Raa6 Rxc6 43.Rxc6

At this point I'm thinking, "Bishop against four pawns? This might be doable." But those pawns are also connected, and Steve's king is right next to them, while mine is off in the antipodes.

43...f4 44.Rc2
44.Re6 e3 45.Re5 would have limited black's possibilities somewhat.

44...e3 45.Rh2+ Kg4 46.Rxh6 e2 47.Bd2 Rd8 48.Ba5 Rd1+
Obviously overlooking the pin 48...Ra8. But a devastating flourish is to postpone the pinning move in order to execute the simple advance 48...f3.

49.Kb2 e1Q 50.Bxe1 Rxe1 51.Rh8 f3 52.Rf8 Kg3 53.Rf5 g4 54.Kc2 f2 55.Rxf2 Kxf2 56.Kd2 Re3 0-1
It's mate in 6. Goodnight, Gracie.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Feb. 27, 2010 Northwest Illinois $5 Open

The Route 20 Chess Club is proud to announce its first event:

Northwest Illinois $5 Open
4/SS, G/45, unrated. Newell Room (H201D), Student/Conference Center, Highland Community College, 2998 W Pearl City Rd, Freeport, IL 61032 (park in lot A). Entry fee: $5 if received by Feb. 25, $7 at site. Prizes: trophies + 1 year free Route 20 Chess Club membership to top 3, top player under 18. Nonsmoking, no computers, wheelchair accessible, bring sets and clocks. Registration: 9-9:45. Rounds: 10-12:15-2-3:45. Club membership, USCF membership are not required; this is not a USCF-rated event. Entries payable to Route 20 CC, c/o William Koester, 529 W Avon St, Freeport, IL 61032. Info:

Game of the Week

Much of tonight's meeting was spent hammering out the details of our upcoming $5 Open, so the pickings are slim, but there was this position from my game against Steve McWhirter:

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Nov. 17, 2009

White to move. I played 1.f5??, followed by 1...exf5 2.Rxf5 Rxf5+ 3.Qxf5+ Rf8 0-1. Reviewing the game, I noted that I'd considered playing 1.Bg4, which is much sounder than 1.f5. But there's an even better move than 1.Bg4, one that significantly blunts Steve's lead. What is it? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

1.Bxc4 bxc4 2.Rxb7 wins a pawn and eliminates the threat along the a8-h1 diagonal.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Game of the Week

This week, Steve McWhirter defended his spot at the top of the ladder against two challengers, Bill Koester and Jim Strong. Bill went first. Here's a problem from that game:

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Nov. 10, 2009

Bill has just played 13...b5. White to move. (Highlight to reveal answer.)

14.Bxb5! The pawn fork threat, which seems nasty at first glance, is toothless -- white can recapture without fear, since black's defending pawn is pinned. 14...axb5 15.Qxa8 contains the damage, but Bill's response, 14...Bb7 (trying to keep from losing the rook), makes matters worse: 15.Bxc6+ Bxc6 16.Qxg6+. Bill resigned four moves later.

And now for our feature presentation:

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Nov. 10, 2009

1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 Nc6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.c3 Bxf3 5.exf3 Nf6 6.h3
Was Jim trying to forestall ...Ng4? I can see how he might want to untangle his kingside pawns, but he has great queenside development opportunities (Bd3 or Bb5, Qb3 or Qa4, Na3, not to mention 0-0 to get the king off that e-file), making the h-pawn advance seem beside the point.

6...e6 7.Bd3 Bd6 8.Bxd6 Qxd6
The trade favors black. Jim should have dodged with 8.Bg5.

9.0-0 0-0 10.Nd2 Rfe8 11.Re1 Nh5
Erases black's edge. 11...e5!? would have been a strong advance, threatening to evict white from the center entirely.

12.Qc2 g6 13.Nf1 Nf4
Steve is still missing the power of ...e5.


14...Nxh3+ Steve could have kept his edge by trading his knight for Jim's only developed minor piece with 14...Nxd3!?. Instead he took the loose pawn -- maybe because he got a check out of it? But the knight isn't well-placed on the h-file.

15.Kg2 Ng5 16.Nh2 f5
16...e5 is still Steve's best bet. What's holding him back?

17.f4 Ne4 18.f3
Scram! But Jim could have his own knight outpost with 18.Nf3!?. Now the position is equal again.

18...Nf6 19.a3

Steve begins to pile pressure on f4, but Jim's f4-pawn isn't particularly weak -- and seeing as how it's guarded by another pawn, why is Steve going after it with pieces? Or is his eye on g3? That pawn is weaker, but Steve's knight isn't going to take it out alone. If it was going to be a pawn war, 19...h5 would have been strong, or the counterintuitive 19...Nb8, followed by 20...Nbd7 and clearing the way for his c-pawn to charge.

Evidently, Jim is concerned enough for the f4-pawn's safety that he gives it more protection.

Now things get interesting. If 21.fxg5, then 22.Qxg3+. Not an especially deadly attack, but enough to cause white some headaches. White has a plethora of suboptimal responses to 20...g5; his one opportunity to be slick is 21.Rh1, which allows him to charge forward with his knight: 22.Ng4 discovers an attack on black's hanging knight, making time for the forking attack 23.Nf6+. But even after that, black still has an edge.

Personally, I can't see the point of this move at all -- but according to Fritz, it's actually white's third-best option, after 21.Rh1 and 21.Bb5 (the move I was eying at the time).

21...gxf4 22.gxf4?
The recapture seems natural enough, but it's actually a serious misjudgment. Black has two pieces defending his new acquisition; white, aside from his counterattacking pawn, has only his queen. Jim has just lost this square.

With a two-pawn material edge, Steve might have been better off with 22.Qxf4!?, daring Jim to trade queens. (Jim would have been better off not taking the dare.)

Nice parry!

23...Kf7 24.Bf1
Is the purpose of this move to suppress the f4-knight? I don't see what else it can hope to accomplish on the kingside with black's pawns corking one diagonal and his own f-pawn corking the other. Why not put it on the queenside, where it can enjoy some activity?

Better late than never. With a two-pawn lead, though, 24...Rg8 looks even better. 25...Rxg1+ is forcing (26.Kxg1 Rg8+ 27.Kh1 and black owns the file).

25.Qf2 exd4 26.Qh4
Eying that forlorn h-pawn.

Steve spent a lot of time on this move, squirming in his seat. It's not terrible, but it leaves a hole for white's queen on g5 (a hole that wouldn't be there if Steve had played ...Rg8 earlier). A stronger retort is 26...h6!, a quiet move that subtly but firmly shuts out white's queen.

27.Qg5 Rg8 28.Qxf5+ Qf6 29.Qd7+??
Jim has a choice of checks, the best of which is the queen-rook combination 29.Qh7+ Rg7 30.Rxg7+ Qxg7 31.Qf5+ Qf6 32.Qh7+ Kf8 (black has a winning advantage and doesn't want to draw) 33.Qxc7. In contrast, 29.Qd7+, in the best-case scenario, loses an exchange: the most white can hope for is to trade his remaining rook for black's defending knight.

29...Ne7 30.Rxg8 Rxg8 31.Bh3

31.Re1 initiates the aforementioned exchange: 31...Qg5 32.Rxe7+ Qxe7 33.Qxe7+ Kxe7. Now white is in hot water, as black has several deadly retorts, the severest of which is the devastating 31...Qh4!!, which suppresses Re1 and threatens the dismantlement of white's kingside.

Awwww. This was a decidedly non-deadly retort. Steve still has a winning advantage, but Jim is no longer standing on the big, black X.

32.Qxh3 dxc3 33.bxc3 h4
33...Qg6 would defend black's hanging pawn and nail white's rook down to defense of the back rank.

A thank-you move, forcing Steve to capture the pawn he wants to capture anyway. Jim was probably hoping to follow up with the fork Nh6+, but because he has to move his rook out of the way of Steve's queen, he doesn't have time.

34...Qxc3 35.Rg1 Rh8
Dodging the fork. But 35...Nf5 would have covered the forking square and put white in zugzwang. However, at this point, Steve has a three-pawn advantage; to win, all he needs to do is charge the promotion line. How can Jim stop him? He has to either take out a loose pawn (if Steve advances his knight, the c5-pawn will hang) or get his heavy pieces together on the same file for a counterthrust. At the same time, he doesn't want his own f-pawn to hang. 36.Qg2 would address all these issues.

Uh-oh . . .

Nom nom nom.

Jim had only two choices, neither of them good, but one (37.Qg2 Qxg2+ 38.Kxg2 Ke6) less bad than the other.

Massive simplification is in Steve's interest. He can set it up with 37...Rh5!! 38.Qe5 Qxg4 39.Rxg4 (39.Qxe7+ Kxe7 40. Rxg4) Rxe5 40.Rxh4, then begin his charge with 40...c5. But the power of this move is hard to see, and Steve didn't see it. He also didn't see a nasty, game-rescuing tactic that Jim had up his sleeve, which 37...Rh5 would have defended against as well.

37...h3 38.Ne5+! Ke6 39.Nxf3 hxg2+ 40.Kxg2 Rxh2+ 41.Nxh2 Nf5 42.Kf3 Ke5 43.Ke2 Ke4 44.Nf3?

Dangerous! 44...Nd4+ 45.Nxd4 Kxd4 is game-winning for black.

44...d4 45.Nd2+ Kd5 46.Kd3 c5
Finally, the charge begins!

47.a4 a5 48.Nb1?!
A weak move, played in zugzwang. 48.Nc4 would at least have returned the favor.

48...c4+!? 49.Kc2 Ne3+ 50.Kd2 would have backed white up against the wall.

49.Na3 c4+ 50.Kd2
Same moves, different order for black -- but Jim has used his extra tempo to put his knight in an inferior location. Now 50...c3+! is game-ending for black.

The game will not end yet.

Jim has only one rescuing move . . . and he finds it!

Steve has a choice of several strong moves . . .

Oh, no! He overlooks the threat in Jim's next move.

52.Nd6+! Ke5?
Steve could have held a slight advantage with 52...Kf4 53.Nxc4 Ne3 54.Nd6 -- he'd have lost his b-pawn, but his a-pawn could have sprinted to the promotion line. White's king can't cover a1 and d1 at the same time, and his knight is too far away. But with Steve's king on e5, Jim not only picks up the c-pawn, he also gets a check and an extra tempo, with which he can take out the a-pawn as well if he wishes.

"I'm terrible at endgame," Steve admits. (Having lost other endgames to Steve, I wish I could agree!)

53.Nxc4+ Ke4 54.Nd6+ Ke5
Threatening a draw by repetition. But Jim doesn't like draws. He thinks he's got a shot at winning now, and he's going for it.

55.Nxb7 Ke4 56.Nxa5 d3
Watch out, Jim!

57.Nc6 Ne3

Uh-oh . . .

This is an interesting move, dangerous for reasons that aren't immediately obvious. The fork isn't the threat, because 59.Kc3 Nxa5 60.Nxa5 d2 61.Kc2 d1Q+ 62.Kxd1 is a draw. The real threat is in forcing white's king off the d-file so that black's pawn can promote. Jim obviously realizes this and tries to stay in the pawn's way, but it gets him in even worse trouble.

59.Kd1 Ke3 60.Nb4
At this point, Steve and Jim couldn't hold in the table talk any longer. Steve openly doubted that he had a way of forcing his pawn home. Jim didn't disagree. But Steve has 60...Nb2+!, which both guards the pawn and forces Jim's king off the queening square. With 61.Kc1 d2+ 62.Kxb2 d1Q, Jim's outlook would be bleak indeed. But as my NLP-obsessed dad says, "What the thinker thinks, the prover proves."

60...d2 61.Nc2+
It's looking awfully drawish now.

61...Kd3 62.Nb4+ Kc3 63.Nd5+ Kd4

A blunder that loses everything.

64...Kxd5 65.a6 Kc6
"Ohhhh, that's frustrating," Jim said. "What a bummer."

"Well," said Steve, "look at it from my point of view . . . "

66.a7 Kb7 67.a8Q+ Kxa8 68.Kd1 Ka7 69.Kc2 Kb6 70.Kd1 Kc5 71.Kc2 Kd4 72.Kd1 Kc3 73.Ke2 0-1

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Game of the Week

I probably ought to be featuring the game between Jim Strong and Steve McWhirter, in which Steve wrested away the top spot on the ladder . . . but this is the one I have recorded. It's interesting in its own way, though, as I thought Bill Koester was maybe going to have a heart attack over it -- at least until move 17, when I managed to fumble away my winning position.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Nov. 3, 2009

1.d4 b6
Playing black against Bill is a predictable affair -- he always plays a variation of the English opening. Playing white against him, on the other hand, is always a surprise. Fritz categorizes this opening under "Unusual responses to 1 d4."

2.e4 d5 3.e5 e6 4.f4 f5
I was rather surprised that Bill was handing me exactly the sort of position I like to play best -- a big traffic jam -- and one in which I had more space, to boot. 3.exd5 may be better than 3.e5, and it's what Bill expected me to do, I think, but the locked-up pawn structure is much more to my liking.

5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bb7 7.Be3 Qe7 8.a3 a6 9.Be2 Nh6 10.h3 0-0-0 11.c4!?

11.0-0 is more solid, but I had a plan.

11...dxc4 12.Bxc4 b5 13.Bb3 Na5
If Bill had seen what I was up to, he might have preferred 13...Nf7.

Not so hot . . . risks losing the bishop in a piece trade. 14.Ba2 would have been better. Actually, 13.Ba2, avoiding the loss of tempo, would have been best. But now Bill gave me a gift.

14...Nxb3 15.Nxb3 would have been far better for black.


Threatening all kinds of nastiness: 16.Bxe6+ would simultaneously pick off the weak pawn and fork king and queen, while the even more unneighborly 16.Nxf7 would win a queen and a rook for a knight and a pawn. Relocating that queen is mandatory for black -- and the e6-pawn is still toast, no matter what.

15...Qg6 16.Bxe6+ Kb8
Now would be an excellent moment for some tempo-gaining counterplay, such as 17.b4 Nc6 18.Ndf3, or to execute my long-delayed kingside castling. Whichever shall I choose?

17.Bxf5?? Nxf5
And thus the game falls out of my hands and into Bill's. But even with this unexpected gift, it still takes him a while to generate a real attack. And I tend to play with a little more focus when I'm cornered.

18.Qe2 Ng3 19.f5 Qxf5
19...Nxe2?! is impossible because of 20.fxg6 Ng3 21.Nf7, forking black's rooks.

Hoping to entice black into a queen trade, which I thought would be good for me, but I'd misread the sequence, as will shortly become apparent. Actually, the queen trade idea was correct, but I should have done it on f2 instead.

20...Qxg4 21.hxg4 Bd5
Whoops. So much for 22.Nf7, my planned knight fork, which was the whole reason I sought to trade off the queens. Ironically, Bill would have been quite a bit better off if he'd played the move I expected him to play, 21...Nxh1.

And now things get weird for a bit, as neither Bill nor I have any real idea what to do next.

22...Be7?? 23.Rxg3 Nb3 24.Rd1 h6 25.Ngf3 Nxd2

Finally Bill cuts to the chase. I have several different ways to recapture: Rxd2, Kxd2, Bxd2 and Nxd2. Three of them are good; one leaves me vulnerable to a dirty little pin. Guess which one I choose?

26.Nxd2? Bh4! 27.Kf2 Rhf8+ 28.Nf3 Bxg3+ 29.Kxg3 g5 30.Rh1 Rh8
The necessities taken care of, my lack of a plan becomes gruesomely apparent.

31.Kf2 Rdf8 32.Rc1 c6 33.e6
My pieces aren't working together, and my king would be safer where he was two moves ago.

33...Rh7 34.Rc5? Re7 35.Ke2 Rxe6 36.Ne5
Not a bad move -- threatening a knight fork on d7 -- but easily refuted.

36...Kc7 37.Rc1 Bxg2 38.Bd2 Bh3 39.Kd3 Bf1+ 40.Ke3 Bc4 41.Ke4 Rf2 42.Ba5+ Kb7 43.b3 Re2+ 44.Kf5 Rf2+ 45.Ke4 Bxb3 46.Ke3 Rf4 47.Kd3 Bc4+ 48.Kc3

At this point, Bill clobbered me with a surprising tactic. Can you find it? Black to move. (Highlight to reveal answer.)

48...c5! 49.Nd3 cxd4+ 50.Kb4 0-1
I resigned at this point, though Jim, who was watching, tried to show that I had something left in my position with the sequence 50...Bxd3 51.Rc7 Kb8 52.Kc5 Re5+ 53.Kd6 Rfe4 54.Rd7 Re6+ 55.Kd5 R4e5 56.Kxd4 b4, after which we all made him admit he was wrong. From move 49, Fritz takes it as far as 49.Nxc4 cxd4+ 50.Kd2 Rxg4, then resigns.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Game of the Week

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Oct. 20, 2009

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e4 Nf6 4.Nc3?
Playing the Queen's Gambit all the time as I do, I should have remembered that the book move was 4.e5.

4...e5 would have been more forceful.

Too late now, as 4...e6 gave black's knight an outpost.

5...Nd5 6.a3
I was trying to forestall ...Bb4, but 6.Bxc4!? Bb4 7.Nge2 would have been more assertive.

6...Nxc3 7.bxc3 Bd7 8.Bxc4 c5 9.f4 b5 10.Be2 Bc6 11.Nf3 Nd7 12.0-0 c4

In my lust for space on the kingside, I'm missing a golden opportunity: 13.a4! would have been a timely ram. 13...Qa5 14.axb5, and black has to capture the pawn (14...Qxb5) to prevent a cascade failure.

13...Nb6 14.f5 Qd5 15.fxe6 fxe6
Now I realize I've gotten myself into a pickle. My plan was to create a weak pawn on e6 and attack it with 16.Ng5. But after 14...Qd5, I've left myself vulnerable to 16...Qg2#. How to wriggle free?

Not this way. Now I've just changed the threat, from ...Qg2# to Qh1#.

16...h6 17.Bf1 Qe4

I wracked my brain to figure out what Jim was aiming at. "If you can't see it," he said, "then I must be one step ahead of you!" Well, I couldn't, and he was.

18.Bg2 Qxg4!

19.Kh1? Be7! 20.h3 Qg3 21.Be3?
I was worried about my rook, but I could have rescued it with the deft discovered attack 21.Ng1 Bxg2+ 22.Rxg2.

21...Nd5 22.Qd2 Nxc3??
A stroke of luck that put me back in the game.

23.Qxc3 0-0 24.Raf1 g5? 25.Nd2??
Oops. Too soon. 25.Bd2 might have allowed me to keep the upper hand.

25...Rxf2 26.Rxf2 Bxg2+ 27.Rxg2 Qxh3+
26...Qxh3+! 27.Kg1 Bxg2 would have been even better for black.

28.Rh2 Qg3 29.Ne4??
Argh. Stepping right into a fork. If there was nothing good to do on the kingside, there was always 29.a4.

29...Qf3+ 30.Kg1 Qxe4

My pawns are no match for Jim's. From here, it's all downhill for me.

31.Rxh6 Rf8 32.Bf2 Qg4+
The cheeky attack 32.Rf3! would have been tough to fight off.

33.Kf1 Qd1+ 34.Kg2 Qe2 35.Qg3 Rf4 36.Rg6+??
Given my already suffering position, it's striking just how bad this move turns out to be.

36...Kf7 37.Rxg5 Bxg5 38.Qxg5 Rxf2+ 0-1

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Game of the Week

Turnout tonight was scant, but I can't complain: I swept the field tonight and took the top spot on the Route 20 Chess Club ladder from Steve McWhirter. I played the French Defense, he chose the Advance Variation, and I played an unusually error-free game with a lot of initiative. I traded off light-square bishops early, took space on the queenside and established a knight on a fifth-rank outpost which was a thorn in Steve's side for the rest of the game.

This position occurred late in the middlegame, when Steve decided he'd had enough of the knight:

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Sept. 29, 2009

White has just played 1.Bf2. Black to move.

Highlight to reveal answer:

Black's best move is 1...Rd8. If 2.Rxc5??, then 2...Nxf3+ 3.Qxf3 Rxf3 4.gxf3, and black has a queen against a rook and a bishop, better pawn structure and dominance over the d-file. White's best shot at even chances is 2.f4.

In the actual game, I played the second-best 1...Rxb2. Steve initiated the exchange on d4 with 2.Bxd4 cxd4 3.Rxc8 Qxc8 4.Qxd4, and I launched a mating attack with 4...Qc2 (threatening 5...Qxg2#). Steve could have obtained a draw by repetition with 5.Qxa7+, but instead he played 5.Qd6+?? and resigned after 5...Ke8.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Game of the Week

This week's game is one I began watching shortly after it began, so there's no transcript. Instead, a couple of positional problems:

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Sept. 29, 2009

Black to move.

Highlight to reveal answer:
1...Ndxe4! A possible continuation is 2.Qf3 c4 3.dxe4 Qxe4+ 4.Qxe4 Bxe4. In the actual game, Steve played 1...Bg6, and Bill answered with 2.e5.

When the dust settled, the game was headed toward an ending that reminded me of a heavyweight boxer trying to fight off a swarm of angry bees. About a dozen moves after the previous position, Bill faced a flying wedge of black pawns:

Black to move.

Steve considered playing ...e3. Good or bad?

Highlight to reveal answer:
Black has an overwhelming positional advantage and is best off playing a quiet king-centralizing move such as 1...Ke6! If black plays 1...e3?, white can play 2.Bxe3 without fear. The "obvious" follow-up 2...dxe3?? is answered decisively by 3.Kxf3! Black is still winning, but his huge positional advantage has been thrown away. In the actual game, Steve played 1...Bh5 instead and went on to win with a neat bishop-bishop-pawn checkmate.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Game of the Week

At the start of our meeting this week, Jim Strong was in second place on the Route 20 Chess Club ladder. (I was . . . further down.) He had me choose for color, and I drew black. "I know you've been studying against Bill's Opening, so I'm not gonna start that way," he said, pushing his e-pawn. Then he proceeded to walk right into the other opening I've been studying -- the Advance Variation of the French Defense.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 b6!? 4.Bb5+!?

I recognized this exact sequence from a game I'd recently played through (Shabalov vs. Seirawan, U.S. Championship, Chandler, Ariz., 1997), and for the next several moves allowed myself to be guided by the spirit of Seirawan.

4...c6 5.Ba4 b5 6.Bb3 c5 7.c3 Ne7 8.a3

Jim finally stops playing like Shabalov, but I keep following Seirawan's strategy.

8...Nec6 9.Be3 Nd7 10.Nf3 h6 11.0-0 c4

I'm loving my space advantage right now. Jim is squirming.

12.Bc2 a5

Preparing to push my b-pawn.


Jim could have played 13.Nfd2, making it dangerous for me to take away the c4-pawn's cover.

13...Bb7 14.b3 Nb6 15.Qe2 b4 16.a4


The move I've been setting up for all this time. Yet, according to Fritz, I could have gained a larger advantage with 16...cxb3 17.Bd3. White can't retake on b3 because of the skewer threat 17...Ba6. I need to be more ambitious.

17.Bxc3 Ba6 18.bxc4 Bxc4 19.Bd3 Bxd3 20.Qxd3

I've achieved both of my goals: trading off light-squared bishops and undermining the white pawn chain. Yay me!

So why is it still an even game?

Maybe because I forgot a basic strategic principle: Trading pieces helps the player with less space to maneuver. Now a lot of the pressure I had on Jim has been relieved.

Plus, having done what I came to do, I'm not sure what to do next, as the following move shows.

20...Nc4?! 21.Nbd2

The balance of power begins to shift in Jim's favor.

21...Nb4 22.Bxb4 Bxb4

Now I begin to realize that I haven't read this sequence out, and it ends with me down a pawn and Jim's queen threatening to fork me. Erp.

23.Nxc4 dxc4 24.Qxc4

With the fork threat 25.Qc6+.


This move isn't even in my top five. Best was probably 24...Rc8, pointing a big gun in the interloper's face, but simply castling would have worked, too. I think maybe I was getting greedy and hoping to grab my pawn back.

25.Qxd5 exd5 26.Rfd1 Rc8 27.Nd2 Bc3

There were better ideas than this -- for instance, trading off bishop for knight, pushing my rook to Jim's third rank, or simply getting my king off the back rank so that my rooks would be connected. I recall balking at the trade because I was a pawn down and worried that I wouldn't be able to swing the endgame without the slight advantage of having a bishop against a knight. But 27...Bxd2 28.Rxd2 Rc4 is most unneighborly: it keeps both of white's rooks tied up protecting pawns.

28.Rab1 Bxd4 29.Rb5 Bxe5?

This is just not smart: it sets up the pin 30.Re1. Lucky for me, Jim missed it.

30.Rxd5 Bc7 31.Re1+ Kf8

Jim was feeling positively gleeful now. My failure to castle earlier allowed him to stuff my king in the corner, along with an undeveloped rook.

32.Ne4 g5 33.g3 Bb6 34.Nf6 Rd8??

Gives white the nasty attacking chance 35.Nd7+.


Whooooops. This move takes all the steam out of Jim's attack.

35...Bxd8 36.Re8+ Kg7 37.Nh5+ Kh7 38.Rxh8+ Kxh8

And the attack fizzles out. Now what?

39.f4 f6

I offered Jim a draw here, but he declined it.

40.f5 Kg8 41.g4 Kf8 42.h3 Ke8

I didn't play 42...Ke7 because my bishop was guarding the f6-pawn, and I didn't want to block it. It should have dawned on me that for the one move the king would block the bishop's protection, it would provide protection itself. Sigh.

43.Ng7+ Kd7 44.Ne6 Bb6+ 45.Kf1

Now that I'm checking it, Jim is finally moving his king. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.

45...Kd6 46. Ke2

Crap. That knight is disrupting my king's path to a4. If I move 46...Kd5, 47.Kd3 keeps me out of white's territory. Time for a change of plan.

46...Ke5 47.Kd3

Grrr! My plan was a bad one! The knight also blocks my path to g3! Actually, the plan was fine. We're just in a standoff.

47...Kd5 48.Kc3 Be3

I offered Jim the draw again, and again, he turned it down.



Uh-oh. Houston, we have a problem. 50.Nf7 threatens to take out one of my backward pawns, and the only way to prevent it was 49...Bc5, followed by 50...Bf8. It's not looking drawish anymore.

50.Nf7 Bc7 51.Nxh6 Be5+ 52.Kb3 Bg3 53.Ng8 Be5 54.Ne7+ Kc5 55.Ng6 Bd4 56.Nf8

Jim passes up an opportunity to trade pawns with 56.h4 gxh4 57.Nxh4. Instead, he threatens a fork on d7 (or e6, if I don't get my bishop out of the way).


Makes both fork possibilities moot . . . but also yields ground to Jim's king. According to Fritz, 56...Ba1 and 56...Kd5 were the only moves worth considering. Jim now has a deadly rejoinder: 57.Kc4 gains a tempo by threatening my bishop, then 58.Kb5 takes the bishop out of the game by tying it down to the defense of a5.

57.Ne6 Bb6?

57...Kd5 would have kept white's king from advancing.

58.Kc4 Kc6 59.Nf8 Bc5 60.Ne6 Bb6 61.Ng7 Bc5 62.Nh5 Be7

Jim and I are both walking a tightrope . . .

63.Ng3 Bd6 64.Ne4 Be7 65.Nc3 Bb4??

. . . and I fall off.

66.Nd5! 1-0