Thursday, August 26, 2010

Game of the Week

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but Game of the Week is back. This time, we bring you a challenge for the top ladder step with a surprise twist ending.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Aug. 24, 2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3!?
When I saw those first couple of moves, I was hoping for a Petrov, but no such luck.

3...Nc6 4.Bb5 a6 5.Bxc6 bxc6?!
5...dxc6 offers much better chances.

6.Nxe5 Bb4 7.d3 0-0 8.0-0 Bb7
8...Re8 9.f4 Bb7 looks better.

9.Be3 d6 10.Nf3 h6 11.Re1 Qd7 12.h3 Rae8

It's not pretty, and Steve is a pawn up, but Gary has managed to complete his development first.

13.a3 Ba5 14.b4 Bb6 15.d4
Preparing to push the e-pawn. But this is careless: 15...Nxe4 16.Nxe4 Rxe4 wins black's pawn back.

15...Re6 16.e5 Nd5 17.Nxd5 cxd5
The doubled pawns on the d-file are much less of a liability than they were on the c-file. Imagine that Steve now decides he wants to move his knight to a more active position. He can't do it: c4, e4, a5 and c5 are all off-limits to him now. The only path forward is Nh4-f5, and as soon as he makes the first move, Gary can shut it down with g6, leaving Steve's knight without options.

18.Bf4 Rfe8 19.Qd2

Finally, Steve is fully developed, but his position is awful. What can he do from here?

19...c5 20.bxc5
Better to strike at the defending pawn first: 20.exd6 cxd4 21.Rxe6 Qxe6 22.Re1 (not the more dispersed 22.Nxd4 Qf6 23.Nb3 Bc6).

20...dxc5 21.Rab1 Ba7 22.c3 Bc6 23.g4?!
A dubious move that disregards the potent threat of ...c4, which will allow black to come roaring down the queenside.

Luckily for Steve, Gary doesn't seem to be thinking that way. But his advantage, despite being a pawn up, has narrowed significantly.

A shrewd and subtle defensive move. Now if Gary tries to bash through with Rxg4+?? -- which would have worked just a moment ago -- Steve interposes his knight and bats the threat away effortlessly. Having driven Steve's knight to the edge of the board, Gary's best move is simply to pull the rook back where it came from.

Uh-oh. Gary goes for it anyway.

25.hxg4 Qxg4+ 26.Ng2

Steve is out of immediate danger and has won a rook for a pawn. But he still has to get his balance back; his knight is pinned, and his pieces aren't working together.

26...Re6 27.Qe2
27.Re3 is better, setting up Rg3. Pulling the queen off d2 allows Gary to desperado his queen in order to gain back a pawn: 27...Qxe2 28.Rxe2 cxd4 29.cxd4 Bxd4.

Gary misses that the desperado move is actually mandatory, as his a-pawn is hanging and under attack, and his dark-square bishop is trapped in the corner, where it will be next to fall.

28.Qxa6 cxd4
Not much else to do, since the bishop is toast.

29.Qxa7 dxc3 30.Rbc1

30.Rb8+ is a sledgehammer blow, setting up a potential mating combination on the back row, though one that will take a few moves. Steve's actual move, meanwhile, overlooks a nasty attacking combination from Gary. What's the black move that releases the hounds? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

30...d4 threatens ...Qxg2#. If Steve plays any response other than 31.Bg3, at best his material advantage is demolished (e.g., 31.f3 Bxf3 32.Re2 Bxe2 33.Qxd4 c2), and at worst, he loses outright. Fortunately, Steve finds the one response that lets him hold onto his winning advantage: 31.Bg3 Qd3

Recognizes the re-energized mating threat -- but why put a rook where it can be taken by a pawn? 32.Kh2 is actually sufficient to neutralize it. Now 32...Qf3 is easily sidestepped by 33.Nh4, after which both potential invasion squares are defended and the queen is counterattacked to boot.

A bit of a gift, as you can't really fork two rooks when one can move to defend the other. 33.Rexc3 gobbles up a pawn on the way to the afterlife, and 33...dxc3 34.Qe3 keeps the other rook from being lost.

Allows Gary to reactivate the threat of ...Qd3. Plus, by repeating the position, Steve runs the risk of a threefold draw. This is a tightrope walk.

For whatever reason, Gary gives up on his combination attack. It can't be that he thinks Steve will seek the repetition draw, can it?

Nope, better to just kick Gary's queen in the face.

34...Qb2 35.Qe3 Qb7

It's just not the same with the queen in back rather than in front . . .

. . . but that doesn't mean there's nothing at all to it. Steve overlooks the threat to his knight, allowing Gary to pick it off. He has a swellegant alternative in 36.Nf4!, which cleverly forks Gary's rook and one of the paired pawns. Gary can buy time with 36...c2, but all Steve has to do is advance his rook with 37.Rd2, corking the other pawn and holding it in place to be picked off after Gary evacuates his rook with 37...Re8. The c-pawn must abandon all hope as well. It's a beautiful cascade of seemingly predestined moves.

In contrast, the loss of the knight is as ugly as a skinned palm from falling down in your own driveway.

37.Rcxd3 Bh1 38.f3
Nice try, Gary.

38...Rg6 39.Rd8+
Assertive, but Steve isn't out of the woods yet. 39.Kh2 allows Steve to relax, as there's nowhere for that bishop to go.

39...Kh7 40.Qe4
Does Steve not realize his bishop is hanging? Or, for that matter, that Gary's bishop is hanging? Either 40.Kf2 or 40.Kxh1 is practically mandatory.

40...Qxe4 41.fxe4 Bxe4

Batmobile lost a wheel, Joker got away. Steve's hopes now rest entirely on his extra rook and his a-pawn. Can he convert these advantages into a win? It's pure endgame now, and you can never count Gary out in such a situation.

42.Kh2 Rc6 43.R1d6 Rc2+ 44.Kh3
The more assertive 44.Rd2 forces black to reassess his priorities. 44...Rc3 45.Rf2 Rxa3 46.Rxf7 sacrifices the a-pawn and transfers its aspirations to the e-pawn, which is better suited to fulfill them anyway. And should Steve's king really be hanging around on light squares?

44...Bf5+ 45.Kh4 Rc3 46.Kh5??
Leaving the bishop to die. That's cold, man. And moving onto another light square . . . Steve's king is living dangerously.

If 46...Rxg3, it's all over, because of the threat of 47...Rh3#. White's moves are forced: 47.Rxh6+ gxh6 48.Rd4 (preparing to block check) Rxa3, and now it's black who's a piece and a pawn ahead. White is in no position to keep black from picking off his e-pawn (49.Rh4 Ra5 50.Rf4 Rxe5; 49.Rf4 (or 49.Rb4) Rh3+ 50.Rh4 Re3 51.Rf4 Rxe5).

Self-preservation would seem to dictate 47.Kh4, getting onto a dark square and defending the bishop, which Gary has magnanimously spared. Alternatively, Steve might play 47.Rf8 first, followed by 47...g6+ 48.Kh4. Either line will progress into a series of checks that ultimately amount to an equalization of pieces, after which Steve and Gary can get down to the business of agreeing to a draw. (One possible line: 47.Rf8 g6+ 48.Kh4 Ra4+ 49.Bf4 g5+ 50.Kg3 gxf4+ 51.Kf3 Be6 52.Rxe6 fxe6 53.Rf6 Kg7 54.Rxe6=.)

But self-preservation isn't on Steve's agenda.

47.Bf4?? 48.Rh3# 0-1

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Night Speed Chess CANCELED

Because of a last-minute issue with the availability of the venue, tonight's Friday Night Speed Chess at City Coffee Co. in Freeport is canceled. There is no "rain date" at this time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Games of the Week

Plural, since I'm including both the game in which Gary Sargent deposed me from my place on the ladder and the one in which I took it back.

G.Sargent–K. Ammann
Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Aug. 10, 2010

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 b6!? 4.Nf3 Ba6 5.Be2
Rather than waste a tempo, since I'm obviously aiming to trade bishops, white is best off initiating the trade with 5.Bxa6.

5...Bxe2 6.Qxe2 Ne7 7.Bg5 c5
Thematic to the French, but I can also kick the bishop with 7...h6.

8.0-0 cxd4 9.Nxd4

Uh-oh . . . the timing is off now. Gary is threatening Nb5-d6+. 9...a6 covers the critical square, while 9...Qc8 breaks the pin on the e7-knight, which allows it to get out of the way of the f8-bishop, which then covers d6. Subtle but effective.

Gary flinches. In fact, he can safely ignore my h-pawn: 10.Nb5! hxg5 11.Nd6+ Kd7 12.Nxf7 forks queen and rook, more than adequate compensation for the lost bishop.

10...g5 11.Bg3 Nbc6 12.Qb5
12.Nxb6 Nxb6 13.Rd1 retains the advantage. Now things are evening up.

12...Qd7 13.Nxc6 Nxc6 14.c4
Limiting the mobility of the queen without really defending it. Backing off with 14.Qe2 is safer.

14...Nd4 15.Qxd7+ Kxd7

16.Nc3 is essential, because the a1-rook is trapped, and I'm coming after it.

Not 16...exd5?! 17.Nc3, which lets the rook off the hook.

17.Nc3 Nxa1 18.dxe6+
Rather than recapture right away with 18.Rxa1 Rc8 19.dxe6+ Kxe6 20.Nb5, which is wiser.

18...Kxe6 19.Rxa1 Rd8 20.h3 Bg7 21.Nb5 Bxe5
Slightly better to cover the hanging a-pawn with 21...Rd7.

22.Bxe5 Kxe5 23.Rxe1+ Kd5
With ideas of plodding toward Gary's queenside pawns and doing something untoward to them. But should my king really be wandering around so close to Gary's knight? What about 23...Kf6!? 24.Nxa7 Rd2 25.b4 Rxa2 26.Nc6 ?

24.Nxa7 Kc5
Cute, but not sustainable.



26.Nc6 Ke4 27.Nxd8 Rxd8 28.Rc6 Ra8?
An unclear idea, wrongly executed. I need to march that little b-pawn forward. One against two is still better than zero against two.

After this, I stumble my way through another 30 moves of endgame that boil down to K vs. KPP, with the pawns connected on the f- and g-files. Just pretend I have the sense to resign here. 1-0

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Aug. 10, 2010

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 c6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 7.Qc2 Bb4 8.Bd3
It's all book up to here. Now that Gary's knight is unpinned, I'm worrying about 8...Ne4. Luckily for me, he not only gives me a chance to avert this but practically asks me to.

8...h6 9.Bxf6 Nxf6
Hrm. This sure doesn't feel like a Christmas present. ...Ne4 is still a threat, and after dxc4 Bxc4, removing the guard, I'll have three attackers piling on my knight. Must break pin now.

10.0-0 0-0 11.Ne5

A lucky break for me, but I don't realize it quite yet. I'm wrapped up in the dilemma of whether to recapture with my queen, inviting a trade, or with my b-pawn, declining it. "Don't rush," teases Gary, watching my clock count down. "Take all the time you need to think about it."

12.bxc3 (I choose wisely.) c5 13.f3?!
That knight is still causing me anxiety. The c-pawn isn't.

13...cxd4 14.cxd4 Nd7 15.cxd5 Nxe5 16.dxe5 exd5 17.e4
Now would be a good time to activate a rook -- say, with 17.Rab1.

Passive compared with 17...dxe4 18.Bxe4 Qxe5.

My timing is off -- 18.f4 is necessary to prevent the loss of the pawn in the above variation.


Suddenly I get a tactical idea: With my bishop defending b5, I can take the d-pawn, and if Gary recaptures with the bishop, I can fork bishop and queen with Rb5, while if he recaptures with the queen, I can place my bishop on the long diagonal and skewer his rook. It's a nice idea, but Gary finds the flaw in it, while I miss the simple elegance of 19.Rb5 Qa3 20.exd5.

19.exd5 Qxd5 20.Be4 Qd4+

21.Qf2 Qxe5 22.Bxa8
This oversight rattles Gary, but in reality, my advantage is slight. For one thing, he's just picked up a loose pawn of mine, so I'm one down. Also, back-rank threats still exist, and one of my rooks is stuck in the corner. I mutter something about the difficulty of turning checks into cash.

22...Rxa8 23.Re1 Qc7 24.Re4
A microsecond later, I realize that my outpost square is vulnerable to Gary's light-square bishop.

24...Bd5 25.Re3 Kf8 26.Qd2 Rd8??
A self-pin. I'm happy because I finally have a satisfactory emplacement for Alekhine's gun.

27.Rd3 Qc5+ 28.Kh1 Rd6 29.Rd1
Aim . . .

29...Bxf3 30.Rxd6
. . . fire.

30...Bxd1 31.Qxd1 g6 32.Rd5
Suboptimal, but I'm still smarting from the last endgame, and I'm looking for a path to a winning position that doesn't involve trading queens.

32...Qc4 33.Rd7 Qxa2 34.h3 a5 35.Qd4

And there it is.

35...Qa3 (35...Qb1+ 36.Kh2 Qh1+ 37.Kxh1 Kg8 38.Rd8+ Kh7 39.Qh8#) 36.Qh8# 1-0

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Game of the Week

In which I continue my exploration of the Slav Defense and fail, once again, to knock Steve McWhirter off the top of the ladder.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, Aug. 3, 2010

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5?
This is thematic to the Slav, but it doesn't fit this particular line because of the pressure on d5: 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3, and black must reply 6...Qd7 or lose either d5 or b7; white then plans 7.Nf3 and 8.Ne5. Ugh. Black's most common play is 4...e6, but 4...a6 may offer slightly better chances, though I'll be darned if I can figure out why.

5.Nf3 Nbd7
Still neglecting ...e6. This is gonna hurt.

6.Qb3 Qb6
After I play this move, both Gary and I begin to think I should have played 6...Nb6 instead, both shielding b7 and defending d5. However, this fails to 7.c5 Nbd7 8.Qxb7. My queen move, which maintains equality, is best.

7.Qa4 c5

An unfortunate choice that kicks off my downhill slide. Rather than take a defender away from d5, I need to add one with 7...e6.

8.Nxd5 Nxd5 9.cxd5 Qb4+
I should not be inviting trades.

10.Qxb4 cxb4 11.Bb5 a6 12.Ba4 b5 13.Bb3 e6
Again! Better is 13...Nb6 or 13...Nf6 14.Ne5 Be4 15.f3 Bxd5 16.Bxd5 Nxd5 17.e4 Nb6. Another option is 13...Rc8 14.Ne5 Nxe5 15.dxe5 e6.

14.dxe6 Bxe6 15.Bxe6 fxe6 16.Ng5 Be7?
Overlooking the threat to e6. Better is 16...e5.

17.Nxe6 Kf7 18.d5 Rac8 19.0-0 Ne5? (19...Nf6 20.Rd1 Nxd5 21.Nxd7 Rhd8) 20.Rd1 Rc2 21.h3 Rhc8 22.b3
22.Nd4 kicks out the intruder.

Hems in the intruder.


Seals the intruder's fate. From here it's just undignified wriggling on my part, which I won't bother commenting on:

23...Rxc1 24.Raxc1 Rxc1 25.Rxc1 Nd3 26.Rc7 Ke8 27.Nf5 Bf6 28.d6 (28.Nxg7+ Bxg7 29.Rxg7 h5) Kd8 29.Nxg7 Bc3 30.Ne6+ Ke8 31.d7+ (31.Re7#) Kf7 32.d8Q+ Kxe6 33.Re7+ Kf6 34.Qf8+ Kg6 35.Qf7+ Kg5 36.f4+ Kh6 37.Qxh7# 1-0