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.