Thursday, May 27, 2010

Game of the Week

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, May 25, 2010

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 a6?
A weak response, possibly intended to prepare ...b5 or prevent the utterly improbable Nb5. 3...c6 is the most solid response to the line, 3...Nf3 the most popular. 3...Be7 isn't unreasonable either.

I'm looking to take advantage of Jim's failure to play 3...Nf3 or 3...c6, but more direct is 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Qb3.

4...dxe4 5.Nxe4 Nf6
There was also 5...Bb4+ to consider.

I'm reluctant to trade, but 6.Nxf6 Qxf6 7.Nf3 is the only move.

Better is 6...Bb4+ 7.Nc3 c5.

We're both stumbling through this offbeat QGD offshoot. With this queen move, I'm trying to defend my knight and my d-pawn simultaneously, but it doesn't really work: with 7...Nxe4! 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.Qxe4 Qb4+! 10.Kd1 Qxb2, my king is exposed, I can't castle anymore, I'm down a pawn, and I'm about to lose another. In light of this potential calamity, I'm still better off trading on f6: 7.Nxf6+ Bxf6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6.

Fortunately for me, Jim overlooks the threat too.

For the next dozen moves or so, it's more as though Jim is playing white and I'm playing black: he's trying to generate some kind of attack, and I'm batting his efforts aside, to his mounting frustration.

8.Nc3 Nbd7 9.Nf3 h6 10.Bh4 0-0 11.Be2 c5 12.0-0 cxd4 13.Nxd4
I miss a good opportunity here in 13.Qxd4 e5 14.Nxe5 Nxe5 15.Qxe5 Re8 16.Rad1, winning a pawn.

13...Nc5 14.Qe3 Bxc3 15.Qxc3
I could recapture with 15.bxc3 here. The doubled pawns aren't much of a problem -- they just give me the lovely b-file for one rook and d-file for the other.


The game is going to be all about this pawn for a while.

16.Nf3 Re8 17.Rad1 Qe7 18.Bxf6 Qxf6 19.Rd5 Ne4
An aggressive "forward retreat," but 19...Nd7 is better: it both saves the knight and adds another defender to the e-pawn.

There was nothing wrong with 20.Qe3 Bf5 21.Rfd1. With this move, I effectively give up my assault on the e-pawn. But I'm OK with that -- with his knight move, Jim has blockaded his own pawn's advance, so I needn't fear ...e4 threatening exf3 anymore. Still, my backing down gives Jim more freedom of movement.

20...b6 21.Qa3 Bg4 22.Rfd1 b5

Jim's threat is not ...b4 but ...bxc4. I can't resist.

Perhaps I should have resisted, though, since 23.cxb5 is actually better: if 23...axb5 24.Qe3, then 24...Rxa2 loses a piece to 25.Qxe4. And better still is to move the queen right away: 23.Qe3 Bxf3 24.Nxf3, also threatening Qxe4.

Jim really needs to get that knight out of the way of his e-pawn. This move gives me a chance to triple my heavies on the e-file with a threat on the knight as well: 24.Qd3! Rxd5 25.Qxd5 Rc8 26.Qxe4. After that, the bloodbath continues 26...Bxf3 27.Qxf3 Qxf3 28.Bxf3 Rxc5, heading into an endgame with white up a bishop for a pawn. Yow! That would have made an exciting finale to this game . . . if, y'know, any of it had actually happened.

24.h3 Bxf3 25.Bxf3 Ng5 26.Bg4 Ne4
Fritz says forget that -- instead, trade rooks on d5 and push the pawn!

27.Qf3 Qxf3??

A straightforward queen trade, right? Wrong. What tactic are Jim and I both missing? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

28.Rxd8+!! Rxd8 29.Rxd8+ Kh7 30.Bxf3 and white goes into the endgame a rook ahead.

28.Bxf3 Rxd5 29.Rxd5 Nf6
Jim has to retreat the hanging knight, but 29...Ng5 gives him 30.Rxe5?! Nxf3+ 31.gxf3 Kf8, giving his pawn a respite (white needs to play 30.Bg4 to defuse the threat) and allowing it to advance.

30.Rxe5 Rd8 31.c6
A little imagination reveals that playing 31.Bb7 first both attacks black's a-pawn and guards the c-pawns promotion square.

31...Ne8? 32.Rc5
Lucky Jim. If I play 32.Re7, his a-pawn is history (32...Kf8 33.Ra7). He could have prevented it with 31...Kf8.

32...Nc7 33.b4 Rd2 34.a3 Ra2 35.Rc3 Ra1+ 36.Kh2 Ra2??

This move looks natural, but it's horrible! Watch what happens if white has his head screwed on straight: 37.Rd3!? Rxf2 38.Rd8+ Kh7 39.Rd7 Ne8 40.Rxf7. White regains his dropped pawn, and the knight is going to die falling on that little grenade on the c-file.

Note to self: When you're a pawn up, don't let the loss of a pawn stop you from looking for an attack.

Bah. Sensible and tame. Not in the spirit of the position.

37...g6 38.Rd3
A move too late. After, say, 38...Kg7 39.Rd7? Ne6 is merely pitiful (40.c7?? Rc2).

The bad thing about this move is that it sorta kinda allows 39.Rd7 to work (39...Ne6 40.Bd5 Rxa3+ 41.f3 Rc3 42.Bxe6 Rxc6 43.Bxf7+ Kf8 drops the knight).

I . . . I don't know what I'm thinking with this move. Bb3, maybe? 39.Rd7 is the only move worth considering.

I guess Jim is reading my mind and dodging the stupid move that I shouldn't make anyway.

40.Rd7 (finally) Ne6 41.c7 Nxc7 42.Rxc7 Rd2
Let's see, now . . . when you're a piece up in a straightforward, almost symmetrical endgame, what do you do?


Seriously, I have to give it that many question marks because of the utter delight with which it fills Jim. You see why, right? I'm not even going to insult your intelligence by making you highlight it.

43...Rd3+ 44.Kf4 Rxb3

"I've been waiting this whole game for you to make that one mistake you always make," crows Jim. Yeah, yeah. I'm not done fighting.

45.Ke5 Rb2 46.Ra7 Rxf2 47.Rxa6 Rxg2 48.a4 bxa4 49.b5??
49.Rxa4 is a no-brainer -- kills the a-pawn, defends the b-pawn. This dumb move just sets up a skewer.

49...Rg5+ 50.Kf6 Rxb5 51.Ra8+ Kh7 52.Kxf7 Rb7+
52...Rb3 followed by 52...Rxh3, roll credits.

53.Kf6 Kh6
Goodness gracious . . . after all that, we're heading into draw territory.

54.Rh8+ Rh7 55.Ra8 Rc7

If I just keep swooping in with Rh8+ and back out, I can force a threefold easily. Two pawns down, why am I still trying to win? It's not going to happen.

56...Rc3 57.Ra8??
Now Jim can check me, and I can forget about that forced draw.

57...Rf3+ 58.Ke5 Rxh3 59.Rh8+ Kg5 60.Rf8 Kh4 61.Rf4+ Kg3 62.Ke4 g5
Jim can force a win here with 62...Rh4! 63.Rxh4 Kxh4 64.Kf3 -- the g-pawn will promote.

63.Rf3+ Kg2 64.Rf5 g4 65.Rg5 g3 66.Kf4
I'm gambling that I can get Jim so cramped in the corner that he'll be forced to drop something.

66...h4 67.Kg4 Kh2 68.Kf3 Kh1
68...g2! 69.Ke4 Rg3 is Jim's only chance to force a win.

69.Kg4 g2??
Swindle achieved! (Jim needs to play 69...Rh2 first to save himself.)

70.Kxh3 g1Q 71.Rxg1+ Kxg1 72.Kxh4 ½-½

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Game of the Week

I chose this game for three reasons: because Steve McWhirter occupies the top of our club ladder, because it's a wild collision ultimately decided in the endgame, and because I can't remember the last time I saw a game that began 1.e4 e5.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, May 18, 2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 d6?
3.d4 is the Scotch Game. The standard answer is 3...exd4; "3...d6 gives a bad Philidor," Sam Collins dryly says in Understanding the Chess Openings, "with the knight committed to c6." (The Philidor Defense is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6.)

That being said, Gary's response to Steve's out-of-book move is also suboptimal. 4.Bb5 is more heavily favored, 4.Nc3 a bit less so.

4...Bg4 5.exd6 Bxf3 6.Qxf3 Qxd6
Gary seizes his opportunities and stands a pawn up.

7.Bc4 Qb4+ 8.Qc3 Nf6 9.a3 Qe7 10.0-0

Relinquishes the pawn advantage -- black's natural answer is 10...Nxe4. 10.f3 holds the line for white.

Not awful -- black's second-best move, actually -- but why pass up material equality when you're down?

It's like Gary is asking Steve to take his pawn . . .

. . . and Steve is saying, "No, really, I couldn't"! (Although with his knight pinned, black now has to take with his queen, allowing white to swipe another pawn with 12.Bxf7.)

What's the idea of this move -- to box in black's rook somehow? Gary has many better ways to tighten the screws on Steve, for instance, 12.Nd2 Nxe4 13.Qxd4 Nxd4 14.Bxe7 Nxd2 15.Bxf8 Rxf8, winning the exchange and clearing the center for cannon fire. There's even the cheap shot 12.Qh3+.


So much for an attack on e4. Steve should strike immediately with the gonzo 12...Nxd5 13.exd5 Qxg5 14.dxc6 Bc5.

13.Bxf6 Qxc3 14.Nxc3
Gary hasn't lost his decisive advantage, but contemplate the situation after the wicked 14.bxc3!: with a jab at black's rook, white gains time to evacuate his bishop from f6, leaving him a piece and a pawn up. Which just goes to show that Steve should have played 13...gxf6 instead of trading queens (something he should have avoided anyway, being down in material).

14...gxf6 15.Bxf7 Bd6 16.Nb5
16.Rad1!? challenges black's control of the open d-file.

16...Rxe4 17.Nxd6+ cxd6 18.Bd5
18.Rae1 Re7 19.Rxe7 Nxe7 looks good too. Even trades favor Gary right now.

18...Re2 19.Bxc6
The trouble with this, rather than an immediate Rac1!? (or the less favorable Rfc1), is that it throws away an active piece and gives Steve's pawns space and mobility. With nothing but rooks, kings and pawns in the field -- and with a black rook already on its seventh rank, while both white rooks are still on their first -- Gary's one-pawn material advantage looks a lot less significant.


20.Rac1 Kd7 21.h3 a5
The open b-file and e-file are calling to Steve's undeveloped rook, but it doesn't hear.

22.Rfe1 Rd2 23.Kf1 Rb8 24.b3 Rb5 25.Re2 Rxe2 26.Kxe2 Re5+ 27.Kf1 h5 28.Re1 Rc5
With precise endgame play, Steve is keeping Gary from taking advantage of his extra pawn.

29.Re2 f5 30.a4 Rd5 31.Ke1 h4 32.Rd2 Re5+ 33.Kd1 Re4 34.Rd3 Rf4
Steve's first stumble in many moves, blockading his own f-pawn. Better to advance it.

Gary repays the favor. 35.Ke2 seizes a chance to break out: 35...c5 36.c4 Re4+ 37.Kf3.

35...Rxf3 36.gxf3 f4

The door is slamming on Gary's winning chances. His extra pawn is useless now, trapped behind its compadre.

37.Kd2 c5 38.c4 Ke6 39.Kd3 Ke5 40.Kc3

A disastrous choice. Steve's best bet is to maintain the deadlock, and claim the draw, with a king move. Instead, the dominoes fall:

41.cxd5 Kxd5 42.Kd3 c4+?! 43.bxc4+ Kc5 44.Kc3! Kd6 45.Kd4 Kc6 46.c5 1-0
If Gary's c-pawn doesn't promote, his a-pawn will.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Friday Night Speed Chess

Perhaps we should have known better than to go up against a Criminal Minds marathon on A&E. Turnout was sparse; with six participants, we changed the format at the last minute from Swiss to round robin. Steve Black, who also led in our practice round on May 4, won first place with a total of 4 game points, and Steve McWhirter finished second with 3. Monica Vorass won third place on tiebreaks. (See crosstable on our Tournament Results page.)

Thanks to Andy Golz of City Coffee Co. for hosting the event!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Game of the Week

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, May 11, 2010

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bg5
When Gary and I postmortemed this game, I thought this move was a mistake on my part, because the game transposed into a Semi-Slav, in which white doesn't play the bishop move. But at this point, it's just the Cambridge Springs variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined, and I'm doing fine so far. Except that I don't really know the Cambridge Springs.

4...Nbd7 5.e3 c6 6.Nf3 Be7
Instead of the more standard move, 6...Qa5.

7.Bd3 h6 8.Bf4!? 0-0

This concludes our opening. I have a slight edge.

At this point, I have three almost equal choices: 9.Nd2, 9.cxd5 and 9.Ne5.

9.Ne5 Nxe5 10.Bxe5 Bd6 11.Bxd6
Not my best move. I'm thinking that I may as well take the opportunity to trade away Gary's good bishop. But my "bad" bishop is already outside my pawn chain and active, and trading helps him develop his queen, while if I just sit tight and let him initiate the trade, I retake with tempo. 11.Qe2, clearing white's back rank, retains the edge.

11...Qxd6 12.c5 Qc7 13.b4
I've forgotten about the center. 13.f4 is necessary to suppress the ...e5 push.


The game is starting to swing Gary's way, and I can feel it. Like it or not, the center is about to get cracked open. My king is suddenly looking very exposed. Castling isn't a really attractive option, since Gary's queen and bishop are staring menacingly down at my kingside, but what other choice do I have, besides wishing I'd played 11.Qe2 so that I could castle queenside now? In fact, I have several choices, 14.Qd2 being the best, and the counterintuitive (to me, anyway) 14.dxe5 coming in second. Alas, I give in to my emotions.

14.0-0 e4 15.Be2 Bd7 16.f4
Corking the queen's diagonal and daring Gary to capture en passant, opening my rook's file.

"The villainy you teach me, I will execute."

Wrong side. Better is 17.a4 a6 18.f5.

17...a5 18.a3 a4 19.g4!? Qc8 20.f5 g6 21.Qe1!

Considerably more subtle than I'm usually capable of. Gary found it frustrating. This one little adjustment takes much of the steam out of the attack he's been preparing. As for me, I'm just looking for a way to get my queen out of the backfield.

21...Nh7 22.Qg3 Kh8?
It's important for black to exchange pawns first (22...gxf5 23.gxf5+ Kh8), but I guess Gary didn't like the look of the discovered check. Neglecting the exchange leaves him open to the nasty sequence 23.fxg6 fxg6 24.Qe5+ Kg8 25.Nxd5 cxd5 26.Qxd5+ Kg7 27.Qe5+ Kg8 28.Qxe4 (diagram).

Unfortunately, I missed it too.

Instead of exploiting Gary's error, I weaken my own position.

23...gxf5 24.gxf5??
Even worse -- I'm opening myself up to a pin on my queen! Evacuation is essential: 24.Qd6 Qb8 25.Qxb8 Raxb8 26.gxf5 Rg8+ 27.Kh2 limits the damage.

24...Rg8 25.Bg4

My best defense. What's Gary's best reply? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

25...Bxf5! 26.Qe5+ f6 27.Qxf5 Qxf5 (black can put a quick end to white's hopes with 27...Rxg4+!) 28.Rxf5 Rxg4+ 29.Kf2 Rag8 30.Rh1 Rg2+ 31.Kf1 Rc2 32.Ne2 Ra2 33.Nf4 Ra1+ 34.Kf2 Rxh1 35.Ng6+ Kg7 36.Ne7 Rh2+ 37.Kg3 Ra2 38.Nxc6 Rxa3 39.Kf4 Ng5 40.Ne7 Nh3+ 41.Kg4 Kf7+ 42.Kxh3?? (42.Nxg8 Kxg8 43.Kxh3) Rxe3+ 43.Kh4 Kxe7 0-1

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Blitz Practice

Our next event, Friday Night Speed Chess at City Coffee Co., is just a week and a half away, so tonight we decided to get in some blitz practice. Gary Sargent noticed that we had six members present and proposed a round robin. Congratulations to Steve Black, who won four games in five rounds. As for myself, I claim the unique honor of being the only player to win against the top-scoring player and the only one to lose against the bottom-scoring one!

Route 20 Chess Club
Blitz Round Robin (G/5)
Freeport, Illinois, May 4, 2010

#NameTotalRd 1Rd 2Rd 3Rd 4Rd 5
1Gary Sargent3.0W2L4W3W5L6
2Steve McWhirter2.0L1W6L4L3W5
3Bill Koester2.0L6W5L1W2L4
4Steve Black4.0W5W1W2L6W3
5Monica Vorass1.0L4L3W6L1L2
6Keith Ammann3.0W3L2L5W4W1