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


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Game of the Week

The worst-kept secret at the Route 20 Chess Club is that Bill Koester always opens with 1.c4, 2.g3, 3.Bg2 as white. While it's known elsewhere as an early-fianchetto variation of the English Opening, at Route 20 we just call it "Bill's Opening." And with umpteen years of playing it over and over again, chances are he knows what to do with it better than you know how to stop him.

That hasn't deterred me from trying to come up with responses that make him stop and go, "Hm." These have revolved around the moves 1...e5, 2...Nf6 and 3...c6, with the intent of blunting the power of the fianchettoed bishop down the long diagonal. But this week, feeling the need for some variety, I opted for a symmetrical response.

W. Koester–K. Ammann
Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Sept. 15, 2009

1.c4 c5 2.g3!? g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.d4 Qa5
The book response to 6.d4 is either 6...cxd4 or 6...0-0, but I was concerned that I would come out behind if I initiated an exchange. However, Fritz calls the exchanged position even, while my move affords white a slim advantage.

7.d5 Nb8 8.Bd2 a6
I didn't want that knight coming in on b5. But Fritz prefers d6, corking white's pawn, which could rip away my king's protection if it advanced first.

9.Na4 Qc7 10.Bf4 Qa5+

The position has evened up. Now Bill and I do a little dance in which I basically dare him to draw by repetition:

11.Bd2 Qc7 12.Bf4 12.Qa5+ 13.Nc3
Bill decides he doesn't like to dance.

Better late than never.

14.0-0 b5
Starting to gain some real space on the queenside.

15.cxb5 axb5 16.a3 Nxd5??

Gott in Himmel, what am I doing? It's moves like this that keep my rating in the triple digits. The best justification I can offer is that I wanted to open up the long diagonal in order to bring my own fianchettoed bishop into the attack. Fritz says I should have just castled.

Now Bill has a solid lead.

This move made Bill do a little double-take, but in the end, it lost me a tempo. I would have been better off redeploying my backward knight.

Fritz prefers sending a nastygram with 18.Nxe7. If I take the rook, black recaptures with 19.Qxa1, threatening 20.Qxh8+; even if I play 19...Kxe7, 20.Qxh8 leaves me no better off materially than I was before, plus my position resembles a camp of lazy, disorganized Cub Scouts, while his is a legionnaires' fortress. If I immediately nab the knight with 18...Kxe7, 19.Qxd6+ is an Excedrin headache. Bill's actual move lets me off the hook somewhat.

18...Bg7 19.Ng5
19.Nxe7 was still a possibility.

19...Ra7 would have snuffed the possibility of 20.Nxe7 out. But 19...Bb7 is bad for another reason, which will become apparent in a moment.

Bill clearly doesn't see how much trouble 20.Nxe7 will cause me and chooses to harass my queen instead.

20...Qd8 21.Nf6+
Bill seizes a tactical opportunity: Since I've left my rook in the corner, 21.Nf6+ discovers a threat along the diagonal, and I lose another piece. At least it was the bishop and not the rook.

21...Bxf6 22.Bxb7 Ra4 23.Bd5
23.Qb3!? would have been even more hurtful, putting pressure on both f7 and b5.

23...e6 Qb3
With the f7 pawn now shielded and his bishop under attack, it's too late for bill to play Qb3; 24.Bb3 was better, saving the piece while threatening my rook.

Merry Christmas, Bill! Once again, I should have castled.

25.Qxb5+ Qd7 26.Qxd7
Bill likes to trade queens, so this move was a foregone conclusion -- but in this case, it releases a lot of the pressure against me. 26.Qb2 0-0 27.Bxg5 exd5 28.Rxd5 Kg7 would have kept it up.

26...Nxd7 27.Bxg5??

Greedy Bill! According to Fritz, he threw away his initiative with this move. The way to keep me on the ropes was 27.Bc6, forcing me to choose between losing the exchange (27...Bxd2 28.Bxa4) and losing a bishop without compensation (27...Ra6 28.Bxd7+ Kxd7 29.Bxg5). Instead, I now enjoy a slight advantage!

Now we both flail around a bit before regaining our senses.

27...exd5 28.Rb1? (Rd1 was better) 0-0 (h6 was better) 29.Be7 Re8 30.Bxd6 Rea8 31.Rb7 Rxa3??
And there goes the game. Rxd7 was the threat I overlooked. If 31...R8a7, then 32.Rab2 Rxa3, and I maintain equality.

32.Rxa3 Rxa3 33.Rxd7 Ra1+ 34.Kg2 c4 35.Rd8+ Kg7 36.Be5+ 1-0
The crowning indignity. I resigned here.