Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Game of the Week: Championship Edition

According to the USCF December rating supplement, I'm rated an intimidating 937. Will Engel -- our club titan and now rated champ -- is rated 1760. I didn't hold out much hope going into this round, but I thought, "I've made enough noise about how much I hate playing against the Dutch . . . maybe he'll use the Dutch against me." And so I spent a couple of hours before last night's game studying up on the Dutch.

After I opened 1.d4, Will said, "I know what I could do, but I'm not going to do that to you." He played a Semi-Slav. Doh!

Route 20 Chess Club Championship (3)
Freeport, Ill., Dec. 21, 2010

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf6 e6!?
Will postpones ...Nf6, presumably for the extra tempo.

4.Nc3 dxc4!? 5.a4 Bb4 6.Bd2?
My first opening stumble. I was concerned about being unable to use the knight and/or my b-pawn to break down Will's pawn structure on the queenside. But the book line is 6.e3 b5 and only then 7.Be2 (if black plays anything else on move 6, white can then take on c4 right away).

6...Bxc3 7.Bxc3
Preserving freedom of movement and the ability to break down Will's queenside pawns with b3.

Will's first opening stumble. There's no good reason to play anything except 7...Nf6, especially with my queen's knight gone.

8.e4 b5 9.b3 cxb3

At this point, I need to remain calm and realize that the pawn on b3 has nowhere to go, not with my bishop on c3. The key square is b5: if I play 10.axb5, I win my pawn back and enjoy a significant positional advantage. Unfortunately, I go into a momentary fog and fail to realize the importance of the move order.

10...bxa4 11.Qxa4 0-0 12.Bc4 Nd7 13.0-0 Nb6 14.Qa2 Nxc4 15.Qxc4 a5

Remarkably, according to Fritz, my development is so good that, despite being a pawn down, I still have the advantage. Can't have that. I'd better do something about it.

I've overlooked the potential skewer along the a5–f1 diagonal, which 16.Qc5 sidesteps. Will hasn't -- in fact, it's probably why he played 15...a5 -- and wrests the advantage away from me.

At this point, having twice failed to spot tactical shots against me that I feel I should have been aware of, I force myself to slow down and look for a constructive way out of this mess. What I eventually discover is a nice bit of counterplay that keeps things from getting any worse than they already are.

17.Bxa5 Bxc4 18.Bxd8 Rxa1 19.Rxa1 Rxd8 20.Nxc4

Amazingly, I've even managed to win back the pawn I was down! But while before I was materially down but had an advantage owing to better position, the situation is reversed: We're materially equal, but Will has the better position and the advantage now.

The question in my mind is what to do about my d-pawn. Just as I realize that Will can't take it -- if he does, then 21.Ra8 leads to a back-rank mate -- he makes one quiet little move that says, "Yes, I can."

Now his king has an escape square, and the mate is mooted.

21.Rd1 c5 22.d5 exd5 23.exd5 Rxd5
Not 23...Nxd5? 24.Ne3, which turns the tables.

Being down a pawn again, I probably shouldn't be chasing trades. But at this point, I'm thinking about the endgame -- specifically, that if I can get the rooks off the board, it might be easier for me to obtain a draw. This is going to take some doing, since the passed pawn that Will now has gives him a decisive advantage.


25.g3 Kf7 26.f4 Ke6 27.Kf2 Nb4 28.Ne3 f5 29.Ke2 Nc6 30.Kd3 Na5

I'm not doing badly at all here, but I'm starting to get a little frustrated. Where is my break going to come from? I can't trade knights until our pawns are equal, and I shouldn't sacrifice my knight unless I can be certain that either his knight will go or his last pawn will. Meanwhile, Will's paired pawns on c5 and f5 prevent any sort of a breakthrough. Rather than continue to dance around, I take a gamble.

31.g4?! fxg4 32.Nxg4
I'm better off seizing the opening with 32.Ke4.

Ouch. Now I'm going to be two pawns down if I'm not careful. Looking at the arrangement of Will's pawns, I get a new idea: working my way around to e6 for a fork.

33.Ne5 Kxf4
With my f-pawn immobilized, Will can humiliate me with 33...g5!? 34.Nf3 Kxf4.

34.Nd7 Nb7 35.Nf8 Kg4 36.Nxh7 Nd6


New problem: I can't get to e6 anymore. If I play 37.Nf8, then 37...Kf5 guards the square. This is, in fact, my best course of action, despite the concomitant failure of my plan. Desperate, I try to pull Will's king away from where I want my knight to go.

37.h3+?? Kh4
Will should simply take the pawn.

My endgame-sense is failing me. Which pawn is Will going to try to promote, the one far from his king or the one near it? I should simply play 38.Nf8, now that Will can't cover e6 with his king anymore.

38...Kxh3 39.Ng5+ Kg4
39...Kh4!? makes hash of my fork plan by covering g5 so that Will's g-pawn can make a dash for it: 40.Ne6 g5 41.Nxc5 g4.

40.Ne6 g5 41.Nxc5 Kf3 42.Nd3 Ke3 43.Ne5 Ne4+ 44.Kc4 Nf2

Just one pawn to go. How to get in front of it?

Not like this. 45.Nf7!, despite looking completely ineffectual, achieves the draw because of 45...g4 46.Nh6 g3 47.Nf5+ Kf4 48.Nxg3.

45...g4 46.Nh4 Nd1 47.Ng2+?! Kf2
47...Ke4 48.Nh4 holds on.

48.Nf4 Kf3 49.Nh5 Ke4??

Immediately after making this move, Will sheepishly extends his hand and says, "You see it, don't you?" And I do: The fork 50.Nf6+ Kf4 51.Nxg4 wins the last pawn.


And so it was that I achieved my goal for the evening by fighting Will to a draw, and that Will won the well-deserved title of Route 20 Chess Club rated champion on the tiebreak. Congratulations also to Ryan Ekvall, our unrated champion. Complete crosstables are on our Tournament Results page.

No meeting Dec. 28 or Jan. 4 -- happy holidays, and see you next year!

Round 3 games in Chessbase format: Route 20 CC Ch 3.cbv

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Game of the Week: Championship Edition

Round 2, and a clean sweep: the players with white won every game. This week's games, for some reason, were short, the longest of them lasting only 36 moves. One was a TKO, two were alley brawls . . . but this one had a whiff of aikido about it. And I'm not just saying that because I won.

Route 20 Chess Club Championship (2)
Freeport, Ill., Dec. 14, 2010

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5?!
Ahh, the Albin Counter-Gambit. It always gives me a warm feeling, because despite having amassed more than enough grandpatzer norms to qualify for the title, I've never lost against this one.

3.dxe5 dxc4?
3...d4 is book, and necessary to avoid a premature dislocation of black's king.

4.Qxd8+ Kxd8 5.Nc3 Bb4

I thought about this one for a while. 6.Nf3 is a straightforward developing move, but it doesn't accomplish anything else, and if there's one thing I learned playing go that has an application to chess, it's to look for moves that serve more than one purpose. 6.Bg5+ is easily dodged, so I skipped past it in favor of 6.Bd2, which not only breaks the pin on my queen's knight but also gives me a chance to set up 7.Rd1, with the potential follow-up 8.Bg5+! Ke8 9.Rd8#. And even if Demetrio doesn't give me that gift, breaking the pin allows me to play e4 without having to fear ...Nf6.

But it turns out, 6.Bg5+ is like the guy next door who always seemed real quiet and never bothered anyone: 6...Be7 7.Rd1+ Ke8 8.Bxe7 Nxe7, and black's development is found dismembered in the backyard. What to do next? How about picking off that loose pawn (9.e4 a6 10.Bxc4), then trading down (10...Be6 11.Bxe6 fxe6) and finally taking aim at black's newly weakened pawn (12.f4)?

6...Be6 7.e4 Kc8 8.f4 keeps me from running amok.

I considered castling queenside but decided I didn't like the placement of my king on c1. Fritz, however, strongly prefers 7.0-0-0 -- no doubt because of the importance of getting my king off the b4–e1 diagonal.

7...Bd7 8.Nf3 Nge7 9.e4 Na5?
Demetrio wants to keep me from picking up his c-pawn, but his knight will remain literally marginalized for the rest of the game. An alternative that maintains equality is 9...Ng6 10.a3 Bc5 11.Na4.

Thinking that if I can entice Demetrio to trade knights, I can undouble my center pawns. But I'm better off just kicking the bishop: 10.a3 Bc5 11.e6 fxe6 12.Ne5. Black is a pawn up, but white has all kinds of tactical shots, such as 12...Nec6 13.Bg5+ Kc8 14.Nxd7.

Bad call -- the b4-bishop is lost. Better is 10...Bxd2+ 11.Nxd2 Ng6 12.Bxc4 Nxe5. But even after that, my formation is way prettier, and I can slip out of the almost-but-not-quite-deadly counterattack with 13.Be2.

With the center wide open, 11.Nxb4 is the better capture.

11...Nxb4 12.Nxb4 c6 13.Ng5
A good move, but 13.e6!, which wins a piece, is better: 13...fxe6 14.Ne5 Ke8 15.Rxd7.

13...Ke7 14.Be2
14.Nxf7 tempts black into a trap: 14...Kxf7?? 15.Rxd7+ Kg6 f4, and black's king is wandering alone through a dangerous no-man's land. Black must therefore call white's bluff with 14...Bg4 15.Nxh8 Bxd1 Kxd1 Rxh8, but even after that, white has an active piece and can easily bring in two more, while black's are all passive.

14...Rhd8 15.0-0
Perfectly adequate -- but 15.Nxh7 is a freebie. However, I'm thinking that I need to activate my last piece and get my king into his bunker -- I've put it off long enough.

15...h6 16.e6
16.Nf3 is more solid, but I'm trying to put Demetrio on tilt. Plus, if he plays 16...fxe6, I no longer have doubled pawns, while he's got an isolated one; while if he plays 16...Bxe6, I reply 17.Nxe6 fxe6 18.Nc2, and I've still improved the pawn situation.

16...fxe6 17.Nh3
Yeah, yeah, a knight on the rim. But I'm seeing some potential on the f-file, and I don't want to plug it up.


This is my lucky break, although it looks like all I've done is leave my knight in the line of fire of Demetrio's bishop. But Demetrio had a tactic in 17...c5!? 18.Nc2 Ba4.

18.f4 exf4?!
18...Bxh3 19.gxh3 Rxd1 20.Bxd1 Rd8 21.fxe5 Rd2 hurts me a little. Not much, but a little. 18...exf4, on the other hand, is a thank-you move.

No more doubled pawn problem, and my knight is off the rim and out of danger. I'm feeling good.


At this point, Demetrio spots some kind of tactic that he believes will take me apart -- perhaps some form of the one he had two moves ago. But the death blow arrives so fast, he doesn't even see it coming. (If he had, he'd have parried it with 19...Be8.)

20.Ng6+ Ke6 21.Bg4# 1-0
Demetrio stares at the board for a moment, unable to believe it's over already. Then, a good sport, he smiles and shakes on it.

Round 2 games in Chessbase format: Route 20 CC Ch 2.cbv

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Game of the Week: Championship Edition

The Route 20 Chess Club end-of-year championship is under way, and the first round has offered up a number of potential games of the week, such as Demetrio Velazco's doomed outing against Will Engel -- rated 825 points higher -- in which, despite an opening error that put him permanently behind, he fought on gamely and accurately for another 22 moves; and Gary Sargent and Steve McWhirter's slow and delicately balanced game, which ended in a sudden tactical knockout. But perhaps the most interesting game came from the unrated side:

Route 20 Chess Club Championship (1)
Freeport, Ill., Dec. 7, 2010

1.Nc3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bf4?
If you asked that bishop, it would tell you it really wanted to be on g5.

3...Nc6 4.Nb5 e5?!
Strangely enough, this move is not the novelty . . .

5.dxe5 Ne4 6.e6 Bd6 7.Nh3
. . . this one is. Aside from the fundamental peculiarity of that knight move, Shawn misses a magnificent opportunity to win two more pawns by not playing 7.exf7+ Kf8 8.Nxd6 Nxd6 9.Qxd5.

Why not 7...fxe6, restoring material equality? Oh, and preventing 8.exf7+?

8.exf7+!? still dangles there, temptingly.

Whoops, not anymore.

9.e3 a6 10.Nc3

It's getting hot around d5.

Misses the point. Playing 10...Nxc3 11.bxc3 first before 11...Qf6 is necessary to keep Shawn from jumping in and seizing d5 . . .

. . . unless Shawn decides not to do that. Too bad, because 11.Ncxd5 Qe5 12.c4 Bxd5 13.Qxd5 is an intriguing possibility. But now it's going to be Ryan's game for a while.

11...Nxc3 12.Qd3 Nb4
12...Ne4 is much better: 13.0-0-0 (threatening 14.Qxb2) Bxh3 14.gxh3 Nxf2 15.Qd2 and black has nothing to complain about.

13.Qd2 0-0 14.a3??
Instead of threatening to take a knight with a pawn, why doesn't Shawn just take a knight with a pawn (14.bxc3 Bxh3 15.gxh3)?

14...Qe7 15.Qxc3 Nc6 16.Bd3?
16.0-0-0 is the best option Shawn has. There's no better place for that rook, and no safer place for his king.

What's Ryan's best move now? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

16...d4! The implicit threat is 17.exd4 Bxh3+! with a discovered check. Therefore, this is not how white should respond; the best answer is 17.Qd2 Bxh3 18.gxh3 Rae8. This can be played in another order too: 16...Bxh3 17.gxh3 d4 18.Qd2 Rae8.

17.Qd2 Rad8 18.0-0
The development idea is all right, but activating that wallflower knight -- and getting it out from under the bishop's eye -- with 18.Nf4!? is something that should be done sooner rather than later.


19.gxh3 Qg5+ 20.Kh1 Ne5??
An awful square for that knight, because of the unpleasant pawn fork 21.f4.

21.Qe2?? Rg1?? 22.Ng4??
We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please stand by.

It seems kind of pointless to level all that firepower at e3, then not do anything with it. 23...dxe3 24.fxe3 Rxe3 25.Qf2 is authoritative.

24.Rae1 c5 25.c4??
If there's an exchange on the e-file, that queen is going to be in an uncomfortable spot. 25.Qf3 is a useful preventive measure. After 25.c4, Ryan has the en passant capture 25...dxc3, followed by 26...c4, forcing Shawn's bishop to face some existential questions.

Ryan makes the last blunder of this series, and Shawn has emerged with the advantage.

26.cxb5 Rde8 27.Qf3 dxe3 28.bxa6 exf2 29.Qxf2 Qd5+ 30.Be4
30.Qg2 is a surprise killer: if black plays 30...Qxd3??, white replies 31.Rxe7!! (31...Rxe7?? 32.Qa8+ Qd8 33.Qxd8+ Re8 34.Qxe8#). Black's best option is to trade queens and rooks for leverage: 30...Qxg2+ 31.Kxg2 Rxe1 32.Rxe1 Rxe1 33.a7.

30...Rxe4 31.Rxe4 Rxe4 32.Qf3 c4 33.Rd1??

Disaster! 33.Rf1 is just fine -- white's position holds plenty of promise. But 33.Rd1 is a blunder that black can exploit. What does Ryan play? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

33...Re1+!! wins a piece by forcing Shawn to answer the check: 34.Kg2 (34.Rxe1 Qxf3+) 34...Rxd1

35.Qxd5 Rxd5 seems awful, but what else is there?

35...Rd3 36.Kf2
36.Qxd3 only postpones the inevitable: 36...cxd3 37.b4 d2 38.a7 d1Q 39.a8Q+ Qxa8 40.Kh4 Qe1+ 41.Kh5 Qd5+ 42.g5 Qdd1#.

37.Ke1 Qe4+ 38.Kd1 Rf2 39.Kc1 Qc2# 0-1

Round 1 games in Chessbase format: Route 20 CC ch.cbv*

* Does not include K.Conter–M.Kearney, which was not recorded.