Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Game of the Week

A lot of people enjoy chess but are anxious about playing against chess club members because they fear the humiliation of being creamed by some condescending grandmaster. I'm here to tell you, this is not something you need to be afraid of. Beginning in my adolescence, I went on a 27-year hiatus from chess because I couldn't get the hang of it, and I've returned to it only in the past few years with a serious eye toward improving my game. And even though the player I am today would wipe the floor with the player I was just two years ago, I'm still nowhere near as strong as most of the players I encounter at tournaments -- but I can count on my fingers the ones who've been anything but warm, welcoming and helpful.

I have my better days, but for all intents and purposes, I'm still a beginning chess player. So it was only a matter of time before I was knocked off my untenable position near the top of the ladder (I say near the top because Relton Sharp seized first place, then stopped showing up -- get back here and defend your position like a man!) by a player who's been at it much longer than I have. This week, the honor went to Steve Black.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, April 27, 2010

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 d6 3.Nc3 Be6
This is basically a King's Indian, with one major exception: Steve has just blocked in his e-pawn, so he won't be able to push it to e5. I take aggressive advantage of this stumble.

4.e4 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7 6.Be2 Qe7
Instead of castling. I see an opportunity to trap Steve's light-square bishop and begin to tighten the snare.

7.h3 Qc8 8.d5 Bd7 9.0-0 0-0

Positionally, it's looking nice for me. Nevertheless, I'm facing a dilemma. What I really want to do, somehow, is get my king's knight to e6, but Steve's f-pawn makes that impossible. My consolation, however, is that Steve can't get anywhere on the kingside either. Since I own the center, I figure it's time to push a bit on the queenside.

10.a4 b6
Steve has a better move in 10...Na6, with the idea of 11...c5. (The opposite order is equally effective.)

It's at this point that I make the mistake that will cost me the game. I've been trying hard to train myself to scan for threats before selecting candidate moves, but I still lapse far too frequently. In this case, I miss the fact that, now that I've castled kingside, Steve's queen and light-square bishop are lined up to smash my king's cover. That's not necessarily the best thing for him to do, but the threat is there, and I'm asleep to it.

Not only does this error overlook the breakthrough threat, it also opens up the long diagonal on which Steve has a fianchettoed bishop. If it occurs to him to play 11...Nxe4!, I lose a rook with 12.Nxe4 Bxa1. The move to play is 11.e5 dxe5 12.Nxe5, which retains an advantage.

11...Bxh3 12.gxh3 Qxh3

This actually isn't as bad for me as it looks. I'm up a bishop for two pawns, and Steve's queen has no backup in the attack; in theory, since she has so little room to maneuver, I can just dance around in the corner (e.g., 13...Qg4+ 14.Kh2 Qh5+ 15.Kg2 Qg4+ . . . ) until I get a draw by repetition or Steve backs off and tries something else, giving me time to take cover and/or bring other pieces into the area. With 13.Ra3, the diagonal attack against my rook is disarmed, and I can return to my positional play with a slim but significant material advantage.

But I'm spooked and not thinking clearly. Fully cognizant of what I'm doing, I drop a piece.

13.Ng5 Qxc3 14.Bd2?
It's my best bishop move, if I'm going to move the bishop. But 14.Rb1 is much better -- in fact, it's the only move that may save the game for white. 14...Nfd7 15.Bb2 Qxb2 16.Rxb2 Bxb2 is carnage, but it ends with black only a pawn up, with two undeveloped pieces bottled up in the corner and without any way to attack white's exposed king (right). In contrast, my move lets Steve off the hook with a two-pawn material superiority. It's an imbalance that I won't overcome.

14...Qe5 15.f4
15.Bd3 gives the e4-pawn some needed backup, freeing my knight to counterattack.

15...Qd4+ 16.Kg2 Nxe4 17.Nf3??
Again, I'm overlooking Steve's diagonal attack, this time against my rook, which I mistakenly think is adequately protected (not against his queen and his bishop!). My best bet is to trade knights on e4, then gain time on Steve's queen with 18.Bf3, giving me a chance to rescue my rook.

17...Qxa1 18.Qc2!
Refusing to settle for the obvious. Steve's language begins to get amusingly colorful.

18...Qf6 19.Qxe4 e6 20.Nh2 Nd7 21.Ng4 Qe7 22.Qf3 a5 23.b5
More hilarious expletives from Steve, except in this case, I'm actually better off doing what he expects me to, trading pawns on a5 (I have no reason to fear a rook breakthrough -- my d2-bishop makes that impossible). Moreover, I have a tasty follow-up in 24.Qh3, threatening 25.Nh6+ and 26.Rh1.

24.Bc3?! f6 25.Qh3
It's a nice thought, but I'm pulling needed protection off my e2-bishop, which is under pressure from Steve's queen.

25...Nxa4 26.Ba1 exd5 27.Rh1
Hope chess -- hanging my bishop in order to rush an avoidable attack into action.

27...Qxe2+ 28.Nf2 Qxc4
28...h5 would have shut down my attack entirely.

29.Qxh7+ Kf7 30.Re1 Rh8 0-1

My queen being trapped, I resign here. Surprisingly, however, 30...Rh8 is a bad move compared with the straightforwardly brutal 30...Qxf4. It allows white a tactic that, while not enough to restore equality, will at least leave an attentive player with fighting chances. I didn't see it; can you? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

31.Re7+! Kxe7 32.Qxg7+ Kd8 33.Qxh8+ Kd7 34.Qxa8 Qxb5 35.Bxf6 and white is left with a bishop against five pawns.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Game of the Week

Gary Sargent was kind enough to take notation in his game against Steve Black this week, giving me a respite from writing about myself.


Route 20 Chess Club

Freeport, Illinois, April 20, 2010


A classic Steve Black "irregular opening."

1...e5 2.Nc3 d5

Chessbase points out that these first four moves were actually played in a game between Aron Nimzowitsch and Siegbert Tarrasch in 1928. Their game continued 3.d4 exd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.e4 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 8.e5 Ne4 9.Nxe4 dxe4 10.Ne2 Be7 11.Be3 Qxd4 12.Nxd4 Bd7 13.0-0 0-0 14.Rfe1 c5 15.Ne2 f5 16.exf6 gxf6 17.Nf4 Rf7 and after 18.Rad1 stood roughly even. Nimzo won after 66 moves.

3.Bb5+ c6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qf3

This game, however, is not so well-balanced. Gary is steadily increasing his edge with each move.

5...e4 6.Qe2 Bd7 7.d3 Be7 8.dxe4 dxe4 9.Qc4??

Yikes! Steve walks into a pawn fork: 9...b5 10.Bxb5 cxb5 11.Nxb5 Nc6 wins a bishop for two pawns -- and development and space advantages that more than make up for the pawns. Luckily for him, Gary misses it.

10.Bb3 0-0 11.Bd2

Steve should be developing that king's knight.

11...Nbd7 12.0-0-0 Nb6

Weaker than it looks. It's time for a push for queenside space: 12...a5!? 13.Qf1 b5, giving black a decisive edge.

13.Qb2 Qc7

Gary said afterward that he thought he should have played Qc8 instead, but Fritz disagrees, favoring 13...Qc7 and a few other moves over 13...Qc8 -- but preferring 13...a5 14.a4 Nbd7 15.Ba2 Qc7 over all of them! The differences in evaluation, however, are minute: no more than one-fifth of a pawn's difference between 13...a5 and 13...Qc8.

14.h3 h6 15.g4 Bh7

This is where Gary starts to lose ground. The bishop needs to retreat to g6 (16.h4 Nfd7 17.g5) to maintain an edge.

16.h4 Nfd5 17.Rf1 Bb4

17...Nxc3!? might have forestalled the fireworks that are about to happen.

18.Nxd5 Bxd2+ 19.Qxd2 Nxd5 20.Bxd5 Rad8 21.Bxf7+ Qxf7 22.Qa5 b6 23.Qa4

It's a delicate balance. Black can maintain it with 23...Qd7.

23...Rd6 24.Ne2!

White's best move by far, bringing his last undeveloped piece out into the center. Steve has the advantage now.

24...Rfd8 25.Nd4 Qd7 26.Qc4+

Easily dodged. 26.Rhg1 straightforwardly defends the hanging g-pawn and leaves white's queen in place for a tradeoff in the event of ...c5.


Disastrous! Running out into the open leaves Gary's king in more danger than if it had simply cowered in the corner. His rooks and queen form a wall that the poor king is going to slam into.

27.f3!! Ke8 28.fxe4 Bxe4??

While Steve had a potentially winning advantage, he was only a pawn up materially, and Gary conceivably could have fought his way back. But this careless move invites checkmate. As Gary notes, "After satisfying myself that the check on f7 was livable, I missed that moving my bishop would allow a check on g8."

29.Qg8+! Ke7 30.Rf7# 1-0

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Game of the Week

"I know I went wrong somewhere," Bill kept repeating after this game. "Somewhere early on, I musta done something wrong." It's true, he made a few clumsy moves in the opening and midgame. But it's the last mistake that really counts, isn't it?

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Illinois, April 13, 2010

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.e3 Nf6 5.Bxc4 Ne4
Not a mistake, but not conventional, either. Convention calls for developing the queenside bishop, either to f5 or to g4.

6.0-0 Bg4 7.d5 Na5?
White is in excellent shape -- and the knight is toast -- if he replies by retreating with 8.Be2, followed by 8...c6 9.b4 Qxd5 10.Qc2. I took a more positional approach.

8.Bb5+ c6 9.dxc6 bxc6 10.Ba4 Qxd1 11.Rxd1

If there's any moment to which Bill might point and say, "That's where I went wrong," it might be the next three moves:

11...g6?? (11...Nc5 12.Bc2 Nab7 13.Nbd2) 12.Rd4 Bf5?? (12...Bxf3 13.gxf3 Nc5 14.Nxa4 Rxa4) 13.Nbd2 Bg7?? (13...Nc5 14.e4 Bd7) 14.Rb4
Of course, it's good to be forgiving, as I am with my 14th move -- much better is 14.Rd5! (safe, because the c6-pawn is pinned) Nxd2 15.Nxd2.

14...Nxd2 15.Bxd2
Maintaining my development lead, which 15.Nxd2 0-0 would hand over.

15...0-0 16.Rc1 Bd7??
This doesn't look so awful; the problem is, it falls far short of what Bill really needs to do, which is 16...Rfd8. Bill is now at a decisive disadvantage and will stay there for a good, long while.

17.Rc5 Rab8 18.Rxa5 Rxb4 19.Bxb4 Rb8 20.Rxa7
Needlessly giving up a bishop for a pawn; 20.a3 would have avoided that. However, this drags Bill's bishop out of its fianchetto position and paralyzes it on the back rank, which will come in handy later.

20...Rxb4 21.Ra8+ Bf8 22.b3 h5
Kind of an eyebrow-raiser. I'm not sure what Bill is aiming at. 22...f6 would have thwarted my next move.

23.Ne5 Be6

How would you take the c6-pawn?

Gary Sargent, who was watching our game, opined afterward that this was an error and that I should have taken with the knight. I had in fact thought quite a bit during the game about this move and marked it on my scoresheet for later assessment. My rationale for taking with the bishop was to free a piece that had been hemmed in and place it on the long diagonal, where it might flourish. Sure, I could get a tempo on the b4-rook, but it's not like it was trapped or anything; I might well end up kicking it to a more favorable square, whereas it wasn't doing jack on b4.

According to Fritz, I made the right call: it assesses the difference between 24.Bxc6 and 24.Nxc6 at nearly three-fourths of a pawn in favor of the bishop capture. In fact, it considers no fewer than four other moves (the pawn moves f3, f4 and h3, along with Kf1) preferable to Nxc6, the best line from which is 24...Rb7 25.h3 Rc7.

24...Kg7 25.f4 f6 26.Nd3
Gary's other postgame comment was that I could have distracted the king with 26.Nxg6 Kxg6, allowing me to nab Bill's bishop with 27.Rxf8, for a net gain of a pawn. On this one, Fritz bears out Gary's judgment.

26...Rb6 27.Ba4 Bd5 28.Rd8 Be4??
A nonthreat, which I duly ignore.

29.h3 Rd6 30.Rxd6 exd6 31.Bb5 d5 32.a4

Break time!

32...Bd6 33.a5 Bxd3 34.Bxd3 Bc5 35.Kf2 Kf7 36.Kf3 f5 37.g4 hxg4+ 38.hxg4 fxg4+ 39.Kxg4 Bxe3 40.Kg5 Ke7 41.Bxg6 Kd7 42.Kf5 Kc7?!
42...Kc6 43.Bf7 Ba7 is more assertive.

43.Ke5 d4 44.Ke4

44...Bd2 45.f5 Bxa5 46.Kxd4

I'm letting my edge erode a little bit, but I figure I still have room. Now the endgame begins in earnest.

46...Kd6 47.f6 Ke6 48.f7 Bb4 49.Kc4 Bf8 50.b4 Kf6 51.Bh5 Kg5 52.Bf3
Not really necessary in light of 52.b5 Kxh5 53.b6 Kg6.

52...Kf6 53.Bd5 Ke7 54.Kc3
I can almost hear Fritz's exasperation. "Just push the b-pawn, already!"

54...Kd6 55.Kd4 Bg7+ 56.Kc4 Kc7 57.b5 Kb6 58.Bc6 Bf8 59.Kd5 Kc7 60.Ke6 Kb6 61.Kd7 Bb4 62.Ke8 Kc7 63.f8Q Bxf8 64.Kxf8 Kb6 65.Be8 Kc7 66.Ke7 Kb6 67.Kd6 Ka7 68.Kc7 Ka8

Bill is mine now.

69.b6?? ½-½
Stalemate! Garrrr!

As I said, it's the last mistake that really counts.

(The winning move is 69.Bc6+ Ka7 70.b6+ Ka6 71.b7 Ka5 72.b8Q Ka6 73.Qb6#.)