Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Game of the Week

In which Steve McWhirter comes tantalizingly close to ending Will Engel's reign of terror.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Ill., Nov. 23, 2010

1.d4 f5
I hate playing against the Dutch. Glad it's Steve and not me.

2.c4 Nf6 3.Bg5?!
More typical white third moves are Nc3, Nf3 and g3. This move promptly launches the game out of book, although not into completely unexplored territory: according to ChessBase, Vladimir Raičević used it to beat GM Slobodan Martinović in Valjevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984. So there.

3...d6 4.Bxf6 gxf6
May 4...exf6 be slightly better?

5.Nc3 e5 6.e3 Qe7 7.Qh5+ Kd8 8.Nd5
Steve can solidify his advantage by castling queenside instead.

8...Qg7 9.g3 Na6
By playing 9...c6, Will can kick out Steve's knight and obtain equality.

The arrangement of Steve's pawns suggests queenside activity, not kingside. What about 10.b4!?, taking a big bite of space? If 10...c6, Steve can counterattack with with 11.b5.

10...c6 11.Nc3 Qg6 12.Qe2

Will is setting up to push his f-pawn. An interesting alternative is to play 12...exd4!? first, trading pawns, then play ...Bh6.

13.Nf3 f4
This alarming-looking move is actually not bad for Steve at all, because his misplaced kingside bishop gets to go out in a blaze of glory, taking out its counterpart on c8. Does Will have an alternative? Well, there's 13...exd4 14.Nxd4 (14.exd4?? is terrible because of 14...Re8) 14...f4 15.Bxc8 Kxc8 16.gxf4 (again, not 16.exf4? because of 16...Re8 17.Ne6 Nc5) 16...Bxf4 17.0-0-0 (17.exf4 is not as good because of -- you guessed it! -- 17...Re8).

14.Bxc8 Rxc8
Surprisingly, 14...Kxc8 really is better. Will can't castle anymore anyway, and 14...Kxc8 pulls his king just a little farther out of harm's way.

What? This is mystifying. Why put the king on the g-file when Will's queen is staring straight down it? In this case, castling does not provide king safety. Why not play 15.gxf4, threatening dxe5, 0-0-0 (with potential check) and Rhg1, instead?

15...fxe3 16.fxe3 Re8
It's as if both players are trying their darnedest not to allow any path to open up through the center, even if they can do it in an advantageous way.


Finally some movement in the center. Steve is looking good. Will, perhaps feeling the pressure, makes a couple of eyebrow-raising moves in reply.

There's a pin combo in 17...Qg4 and 18...e4. Perhaps the point of Will's 17th move is to prepare 18...Qd3 or 18...Qc2, but both are easily thwarted by Steve's playing 18.e4.

18.Nh4 Qg5?
The welcome mat is out, but Will doesn't accept the invitation. Now the door slams.

19.Nf5 Kc7 20.Rad1
The e4-square is huge huge huge, yet neither Steve nor Will has moved to occupy it since move 15. Why the blind spot? 20.Ne4! Qg6 21.Nexd6 Bf8 22.Nxc8 Kxc8 is devastating for Steve.

Why? Why? 20...e4. Come on, please?

21.a3 Na6 22.Ne4

22...Qg6 23.dxc6 bxc6 24.Nexd6 Re6

Steve is only a pawn up in material, but positionally, he's dominating the board. Now he has an incredible (but complicated) tactical opportunity: 25.c5!! dares Will to take the pawn, and Will cannot but accept the dare with 25...Nxc5, whereupon 26.Qc4 forks rook and knight. The line proceeds 26...Rdxd6 27.Qxc5 Qxf5 28.Qxa7+ Kc8 29.Rxd6 Qxf1+ (29...Rxd6?? 30.Rxf5) 30.Kxf1 Rxd6, and Steve finishes with a queen and a pawn against a rook and a bishop (diagram).

In reality, it doesn't happen quite that way.

25.Nxh6 Rexd6 26.Rxd6 Rxd6 27.Nf5 Rd8

The position is still significantly better for Steve -- in particular, Will's knight is awfully placed -- but the path to victory is murky.

28.e4 Qg5 29.Ne3
Oh, no. Steve's knight is spooked off a secure outpost square, and the pressure begins to bleed off. Compare this submissive move with the iron-fisted 29.Rd1 Nc5 30.Rxd8 Kxd8 31.Qd1+ Nd7. The pawns can take it from there.

29...Rd4 30.Rf5 Qh6 31.Rh5
Not bad per se . . . but if I had a rook, I don't think that's the part of the board I'd want it on.

31...Qg6 32.Nf5
Back where it belongs.

32...Rxe4 33.Qxe4 Qh5

Steve's pawn advantage is gone now. Positionally, the main thing he has going for him is Will's passively placed knight.

This second-best move is the crack that Will needs to claw his way back into the game.

34.Qd3 would have suppressed this move. Now, suddenly, Steve is on the defensive.

35.Kg2 Qb3 36.b5
Only 36.Qe3 Qxe3 37.Nxe3 maintains a meaningful advantage.

36...cxb5 37.Qd5??
What will it profit him to save a pawn and forfeit a knight? By taking protection off c2, Steve permits the king-knight fork 37...Qc2+.

This is nearly as bad, since Will has now gone from being one pawn down to two pawns up.
38.Qd6+ Kb7 39.Qd7+ Kb6

40.Qd8+ Nc7 41.Qxf6+ Qe6 42.Qf8 might hold on for a while. As it is, it's going to go downhill rapidly from here.

40...Qc6+ 41.Qxc6+ Kxc6+ 42.Kf3 b4 43.axb4 Nxb4 44.Ke4 Kc5 45.h4 a5 46.Ne3 a4 47.Nd1 Nd5 48.Kd3

48...e4+! 49.Kxe4 a3 0-1

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Game of the Week

I haven't posted one of my own games in a while.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Ill., Nov. 16, 2010

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3
It's funny: I coach a team of middle school players, and one of them was confronted with exactly this unusual line at the Illinois Chess Association All-Grade Championship this past weekend. He replied by mirroring his opponent. I decided to take a different approach: turning it into a sort of Grünfeldy thing.

3...g6 4.e4 Bg7
Hewing a little too closely to my plan. I should have examined 4...dxe4!? before fianchettoing the bishop.

5.e5 Ne4 6.Ng5
There's also 6.Nxe4 dxe4 7.Ng5.

For some reason, I perseverate on the "threat" of Nxf7 (not really a threat yet, since without backup it throws away a knight for a pawn) and fail to notice that my knight is under attack. 6...Nxc3!? 7.bxc3 c5 is my best option.

7.Ngxe4 dxe4 8.Nxe4
Now I'm a pawn down. A cunning plan is required.

8...Bf5 9.Nc5
9.Ng3 forces the bishop back.

9...b6 10.Nb7??

This is a stroke of luck for me. My queen can easily sidestep the attack, after which the knight has nowhere to go.

10...Qd7 (10...Qd5 may be more direct) 11.Bf4 Be4 12.f3
The knight is toast. Ken may as well force me to double my pawns on the a-file on the way out: 12.Na5 bxa5 13.f3 Bb7. By itself, 12.f3 is a thank-you move, "forcing" me to do what I intend to do anyway.

12...Bxb7 13.Qd2 c5 14.0-0-0 Nc6
I'm eager to catch up on development, but I can win back my pawn with 14...Qa4 15.Kb1 Rd8 16.Bd3 cxd4.

15.dxc5 Qxd2 16.Rxd2 bxc5
This move isn't obviously bad unless you read a few more moves down the line: 17.e6 fxe6 18.Be3 and the c-pawn is vulnerable.

17.Bc4 Nxe5 18.Bd5 Bxd5 19.Rxd5 f6 20.b3
I guess this is to prevent ...Nc4, but the pawn pickup 20.Rxc5 is a freebie. Following up with 20...Rfc8 21.Rxc8+ Rxc8 22.Bxe5 fxe5 brings us quickly into the endgame. In this variation I'm up a piece for a pawn, but my doubled e-pawns look awful.

20...c4 21.b4 e6 22.Rd6

There's something to be said for 22...Rfb8!? -- "Here, go ahead, have my e-pawn." If the bait is taken, 23.Rxe6 Rxb4 24.Bd2 c3 25.Bxc3 Bh6+ 26.Bd2 Rab8 27.Bxh6 Rb1+ 28.Kd2 Rxh1 is decisive, winning the exchange.

23.g4 Nxf3 24.Rf1 Ne5
24...e5 is better. "Sure, take my knight. And I'll have your bishop, thanks." After 25.Rxf3 exf4, the pawn capture 26.Rxf4?? steps into a pin, 26...Bh6.

25.g5 f5 26.h3 Nf7 27.Re1 Nxd6
Obvious, right? But 27...e5 is even more brutal: if white doesn't move off with 28.Rd7, he loses the rook anyway, and if he does, he loses the bishop after 28...exf4.

28.Bxd6 Rad8 29.Bc7 Rd7 30.Bf4

I should get the bishop out first: 30...Bc3!? 31.Rd1 e5 32.Bg3 (32.Rxd7 exf4 33.Rd3 cxd3) 32...Rxd1+ 33.Kxd1 Rd8+ 34.Ke2 Rd2+ 35.Kf3 Rxc2 and white has no hope left.

31.Bh2 c3 32.Re2 Rd2
This powerful-looking move is actually a setback. Better is 32...a5 33.b5 (33.bxa5 allows 33...Rb8 34.Rd2 Rxd2 35.Bf4 exf4 36.a4 [36.a6 Rb1+ 37.Kxb1 Rd1#; 36.a3 Bf8 37.h4 Bxa3#] Rh2 37.Kd1 [37.a4 Rh1#] 37...Rb1#) 33...Bf8 34.a4 Red8. You saw that, I'm sure.

33.Rxd2 cxd2+ 34.Kxd2 Rd8+ 35.Kc1
Is it wise to run back into the corner? Now I'm going to use my rook to keep Ken's king away from my advancing pawn.

35...f4 36.a4 f3 37.Bg1 Rf8
A player with a more wicked imagination might see 37...e4 38.Bxa7 Bd4!, forcing the exchange of bishops -- 39.Bxd4 Rxd4 -- and sacrificing the rook in favor of a brutal two-queen finale, 40.c3 f2 41.cxd4 f1Q+ 42.Kc2 Qd3+ 43.Kb2 e3 44.Ka2 e2 45.d5 e1Q 46.d6 Qeb1#.

38.b5 f2 39.Bxf2 Rxf2 40.a5 Rf4 41.b6 axb6 42.axb6 Rb4 43.c3 Rxb6 44.Kc2 Rd6 45.c4 e4 46.c5 Rd5 47.c6 Be5 48.Kb3 e3 49.Kb4 e2 50.Kc4 Rd1 51.Kc5 e1Q 52.c7 Bxc7 53.Kc6 Qc3+ 54.Kb7 Bh2
You're not hiding behind me!

55.Ka8 Rb1 56.Ka7 Qa3# 0-1

Friday, November 12, 2010

Game of the Week

I've heard it said that chess games are won by whoever makes the second-to-last mistake. It was true of a lot of our games this week, including this one.

Route 20 Chess Club
Freeport, Ill., Nov. 9, 2010

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6?!
A passive alternative to 3...a6. If you're going to open up a pin on yourself, you should have a good reason.

4.d4 Bd7 5.0-0 Nf6 6.Nc3 exd4 7.Nxd4 Nxd4 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.Qxd4 c5 10.Qe3 g6

This has to be seen as bad, if only because it takes a decisive positional and development advantage and undermines its certainty. With a little advance preparation (11.Re1; 11.Qf3, 12.Rd1), the move e5 greatly increases in power.

Steve gains a tempo, and now there's nothing backing up that e-pawn.

Answering a threat with a counter-threat . . . and throwing away the advantage. Black, not white, will control the center now. Gary can avoid that sort of trouble by sidestepping the attacking knight with 12.Qg3 (or the slightly inferior 12.Qe2 or 12.Qf3). Regardless of which of those moves Gary chooses, Steve's best follow-up is to castle queenside.

12...fxe6 is slightly better. Why not 12...Nxe3, threatening to win the exchange? Because 13.exd7+ Kxd7 14.fxe3 wins a knight for a pawn, ruins black's chances of castling, reestablishes white in the center and opens up a file for white's king's rook. Danger: high voltage!

Trading queens leaves a muddled position in which Steve, with his block of center pawns and his advanced knight, now has the advantage.

13...fxe6 14.Re1 Ne5 15.Ne4 Be7

Gary, as white, has a move that holds the line against Steve. What is it? (Highlight to reveal answer.)

16.Nxc5 Nf3+
Slightly better is 16...Kf7 17.Ne4. Steve can't play 16...dxc5 because of 17.Rxe5.

17.gxf3 dxc5 18.Rxe6

18...Kd7 19.Re4 Rhf8 20.Kg2 Rae8 21.Bh6 Rf5
The momentum begins to shift Gary's way again.

22.Rd1+ Kc6 23.Rg4
And the fish is let off the hook. The rook lift 23.Rd3 is significantly stronger. Now the game is starting to look drawish.

23...Bf6 24.c3 Re2

What's that about? This move overlooks the major positional threat of Steve's seventh-rank rook -- and the straightforward solution 25.Rd2 Rxd2 26.Bxd2. 25.Rb1 works also.

Returns the favor. 25...Rxb2 wins, period.

26.Rxd5 Kxd5 27.c4+ Kc6 28.Re4 Rxe4 29.fxe4 Bxb2
Heading back into Drawishland, with one point in Steve's favor: His pawns are all joined. Gary's are mostly isolated. But Gary repeatedly passes up the ramming shot a4 -- maybe because he's not sure he can stop Steve from promoting a passed pawn?

30.Bh6 Be5 31.f4 Bd4 32.Kf3 b5 33.cxb5+ Kxb5 34.f5
34.e5 offers better chances . . .

. . . as does ignoring the f-pawn. In this lineup (diagram), both sides are in "pawn zugzwang." Capturing either of the middle pawns gives the opponent a passed pawn he didn't have before, while the bishops stand guard to pick off any would-be escapee who makes a break for the fence.

35.exf5 c4?
In this instance, following the dictum "Passed pawns must be pushed" is a mistake. Gary's bishop covers the c-pawn's promotion square, and without 35...Kc6 to block his king, he can try to slip into Steve's territory with 36.Ke4 and 37.Kd5 and alter the balance of power on the kingside.

36.Ke4 Bf6 37.a3??
A beautiful victory plan left lying in the gutter. 37.Kd5 c3 38.Ke6 almost guarantees that the f-pawn will promote -- for instance, 38...Bd4 39.f6 c2 40.f7 Bc5 41.Kd7 Kc4 42.Ke8 Kc3 43.Bc1 h5 44.f8Q.

37...Bb2 is enough. That a-pawn has nowhere to go.

A game-ending blunder if Steve plays it right. The c-pawn's promotion square is no longer covered.

38...Ka4!? is better. Even though Gary is defending the a-pawn with his bishop, this king move means that bishop can never leave its post. Gary will quickly find himself trying to fend off too many threats at once.

Still passing up the chance to invade with 39.Kd5. If Steve makes a break for it with 39...c3, then 40.Bh6 Ka4 41.Ke6 Bd4 42.Bc1 adroitly takes care of the problem.

39...Ka4 is still the better move, because Gary is running out of options. If he plays 40.Kd5 now, 40...c3 works: 41.Bf4 Kxa3 42.Kc4 c2 43.Bc1+ Bb2, and Gary can stop either the a-pawn or the c-pawn but not both; 41.h3 Bg5 42.f6 Bxf6 43.Bf4 Kxa3; and pretty much anything else Gary tries will be answered by 41...c2 42.Bf4 Kxa3.


40.Bf4, getting back on the c1-h6 diagonal, is Gary's only chance to hold the draw. Anything else gives Steve a crack he can eventually pry open, but 40.Be5 is practically a capitulation, as the endgame makes clear.

40...Bxe5! 41.Kxe5 c3 42.f6 Kd7 43.f7 Ke7 44.Kd4 c2 45.Kd3 c1Q 46.f8Q+ Kxf8 47.a4 Qa3+ 48.Ke2 Qxa4 49.Kf3 Qb3+ 50.Kg2 a4 51.Kf1 a3 52.Kg1 a2 53.Kg2 a1Q 54.h3 Qba2+ 0-1