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:
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.
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.
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.
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
Steve M. needed to retreat to Kc2 to defend the b-pawn.
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.
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!