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