Saturday, May 16, 2015

Random Thoughts on Studying Endgames

While waiting for pairings last Thursday night, I enjoyed conversing with local master and South Carolina's top rated player Sam Copeland. Among the topics we discussed was Jeremy Silman's book on the endgame, Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master. There was apparently some discussion on Facebook about the book's quality, and I commented that in my opinion there really is no such thing as a bad endgame book. As long as the book contains diagrammed positions to consider, one can't go wrong by reading it. Did any surrounding text or possible wrong analysis to the position really matter? Last century the quality of the writing in an endgame book might have mattered. This century, with the tools now available to us, I really don't think so. That's because we can use those tools to help get to the heart of the truth about endgame positions.

Any twentieth century book about an endgame, however proficient and ingenious its author, is going to be riddled with errors, probably in almost every endgame position the book offers. That's because endgames are so rich and complex that the human brain can't possibly get a true handle on all the complexities, nuances, and possibilities of any but the simplest endgames, not even after spending hours and days in home study on positions. Even the simplest of endgames are no easy chore to grasp. However, a computer program can really, really help us to arrive at authoritative conclusions that eluded even the world's most advanced endgame specialists just thirty years ago.

Here is an endgame I want to offer for consideration, Black to move:

The position is from Breyer-Nyholm, Baden-Baden 1914.Reuben Fine discusses it in Basic Chess Endings, number 62a in his "White Has an Outside Passed Pawn Section". Fine states that White "should experience little difficulty in winning" positions like this. Indeed, all else being equal, an outside passed pawn normally wins, especially as the number of pawns each side holds increases. This is because Black has to divert his King to capture the outside passer, leaving White the better King position with which to gobble the pawns left unprotected on the other side of the board.

But what about this particular position? Black will at some point have to take his King offside to eat White's c-pawn. However, the c-pawn is not very outside. Also, once the c-pawn is gone there is not that much material left on the board. Another advantage Black has is that his King at present is in a beautiful position. Are these factors considerable enough for Black to hold the position to a draw against the static (i.e. virtually permanent) White advantage of the outside passer?

There are eight "pieces" on the board, counting Kings; therefore, this position exceeds the range of endgame tablebases at this time and is not subject to precise calculation today. We are therefore still left to our own resources. However, when supplemented by computer programs, these are sufficient for a definitive conclusion.

A) Fine quotes an early analyst, Marco (in Wiener Schachzeitung), who concluded that White's passer triumphs. Fine gives the line 1...h5 2.h4 e5 3.c3+ Ke4 4.Ke2 g6 5.Kd2 Kf4 6.Kd3 g5 7.hxg5 Kxg5 8.Ke4 Kf6 9.Kd5 (L. Steiner's suggestion) 9...Kf5 10.c4 e4 11.Kd4 Kf4 12.c5 e3 13.Kd3 Ke5 14.Kxe3 Kd5 15.Kf4 Kxc5 16.Kg5 and White wins. Fine added only that if 3...Kc4 4.Kc2 is still winning, and that White should avoid playing 9.c4 Ke6 10.c5 h4 11.c6 Kd6 12.c7 Kxc7 13.Kxe5 Kd7 14.Kf5 h3!! and Black draws because he can get his King to f8.

A British Grandmaster and world leading specialist on endgame theory Jon Speelman came along to reassess the position in his 1981 book (revised 1988) Analyzing the Endgame in the chapter titled "Two Less Complicated Endgames". Less complicated! Right! If you played through the above analysis without a computer program, I am sure you wondered at many points, why did he move there, and what about such and such move? This endgame is anything but simple.

Black's drawing strategy is to try to exchange pawns off on the kingside. He hopes to allow White a pawn on the h-file at a point when he can reach f8 with his King to achieve a drawn position. Speelman correctly points out that in the analysis given above, 9.c4 actually still wins for White. After 9...Ke6, White should play 10.g3! (rather than 10.c5?). After 10...Kd6 11.Kf5 Kc5 12.Kxe5 Kxc4 13.Kf5 White will be able to Queen his g-pawn.

B) Speelman then goes on to show that there were a lot of analytic mistakes made and that Black in fact with correct play should easily be able to secure a draw. The first mistake is back in the position reached after 1...h5 2.h4 e5 3.c3+ Fine stated that after 3...Kc4 4.Kc2 White is still winning. Kovacevik (in Sahovski Glasnik 9/74) showed that 4...e4! draws for Black. 5.Kd2 Kb3 6.Ke3 Kxc3 7.Kxe4 Kd2 8.Kf5 Ke3 9.Kg6 Kf4 10.Kxh5 Kg3 11.Kg5 Kxg2 12.Kg6 Kg3 13.h5 Kg4 draw.

C) Interestingly, after 1...h5 2.c3+ (instead of 2.h4) Kovacevik shows that 2...Kc4? would lose for Black because White has the surprising bolt 3.g4! 3...h4 (3...hxg4 4.hxg4 Kd5 5.Kd3 e5 6.c4+ Kc5 7.Ke4 Kxc4 8.Kxe5 Kd3 9.g5 Ke3 10.g6 wins) 4.g5 g6 5.Kc2 e5 6.Kd2 e4 7.Ke3 Kxc3 8.Kxe4 Kd2 9.Ke5 Ke3 10.Kf6 Kf3 11.Kxg6 Kg3 12.Kh5 Kxh3 13.g6 and White wins. Speelman mentions, and a computer program confirms, the way to the draw after 1...h5 2.c3+ is 2...Ke4 3.h4 and 3...Kd5 or 3...Ke5 draws, e.g.: 3...Kd5 4.Kd3 e5 5.c4+ Kc5 6.Ke4 Kxc4 and Black's King gets back in time to save the day as in B above. Speelman also finds the same draw for Black after 1...h5 2.c3+ Kd5. Interestingly enough, Speelman says that the line 3.g4? hxg4 4.hxg4 Ke4 "gives Black no problems." I'll say! Black actually wins according to the computer program, and in very interesting fashion. 5.g5 g6 6.Ke2 e5 7.Kd2 Kf4 8.c4 Kxg5 9.c5 Kf6 10.c6 Ke6 11.c7 Kd7 In this line we see how White's not "very" outside passed pawn cost him the game. White can maintain a draw with 3.h4, 3.Kd3, 3.Ke3, or 3.Ke2 instead of 3.g4? of course.

In conclusion, Speelman points out that Black's position is far from critical. Black does not need to play 1...h5 to draw. 1...g5 also draws perfectly well. Computer programs actually show that Black can draw with any of five moves in this position, 1...h5 among them, but least advisable (most risky). The four perfectly equalizing moves at Black's disposal are 1...g5, 1...g6, 1...e5, and 1...Ke4. Although barring an egregious error by White, Black has no winning chances in the above diagram, his King is well enough situated to deal easily with White's static advantage of the outside passer.

Arriving back to the opening point of my purpose for writing this column, with computer programs it is now possible to check the analysis of any endgame position given in any endgame book. Therefore, there is no bad endgame book so long as it provides endgame positions for consideration and independent checking. Perversely, I'll even go farther out on this limb by asserting that Fine's Basic Chess Endings and other twentieth century endgame books that were not computer checked may be even better books to study the endgame by. Not only is the cataloging of positions in logical order likely more thorough and comprehensive in these venerable tomes, but despite, perhaps even because of, their many errors they make the reader examine conclusions for himself. As always the computer can be used as a tool to check and show hidden, unconsidered paths, especially the intriguing hard-to-see finesses missed by earlier analysts. But it is the obligation of the player making the study to learn and understand the hidden facets of endgame positions and then remember them well enough to apply them in games when a position in which a similar principle arises.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Game 40: After a Long Absence from Tournament Chess Ashland, Round 5

A lot happened in my personal life in the last year or so to cause me to put chess on a back burner. Many of the issues that arose have been resolved, and one more promises to resolve itself in the next year. I can now give chess more time than I have been recently able to. I find after my absence that my hunger for chess and analysis are fully restored, even if my skills are somewhat rusty. I have been playing only two-dimensional, ten-minute games on

Ashland, Round 5
A11: English Opening, 1...c6
White: Dan Quigley (1766)
Black: Ian Bell (1871)
Columbia, SC, Round 1, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, May 14, 2015


One strength of the English Opening (in my opinion) is that 1.c4 is the move that most effectively deters 1...d5. Against any other first move by White, 1...d5 is an entirely possible continuation, with a near equal (or better) game resulting. It is only against 1.c4 that 1...d5 becomes inadvisable.

1...Nf6 2.g3

This move is not ambitious of me. More often chosen moves, and probably objectively better are 2.d4, 2.Nf3, and 2.Nc3. I dismissed the first because I did not want to play a Queen pawn game, the third because Black can play ...Bb4 and time ...Bxc3 to his liking. That isn't the gravest of threats, but I don't know the theory behind how White can counter the idea. I think 2.Nf3 is the best way to proceed for White. As I learn more about the English, I will be adopting it. 2.g3 is a quiet move that steers the game towards hypermodern channels, concepts I have some understanding of.


More common are 2...e5, 2...g6, and 2...e6. However, 2...c6 is the only move that results in a statistically favorable game for Black. The move makes a lot of sense. Black was denied 1...d5 by White's first move, but now intends to get it in forthwith in a way that won't be disadvantageous. The move also shores up the long diagonal White just announced he would be placing his Bishop upon.

3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5?!

Almost universally played in this position is 4.Nf3. I considered it, but after 4...dxc4 5.0-0, Black can play 5...b5 immediately or whenever White makes a serious attempt to recover his material. There are counters White has, of course, else 4.Nf3 would not be so popular, but I don't know them off the top of my head and didn't care to spend the game “discovering” them. So, I made this concession instead. The drawback of White's move is that it clears c6 for Black's Knight, which allows Black free and easy development.

4...cxd5 5.Nf3 Nc6!?

Developing the Bishop to f5 or g4 is selected more often in this position, but my young opponent again finds the strongest, most principled move instead. Now, the only way to stop ...e5 is to play 6.d4, making this a sterile Queen pawn game. I just wasn't willing to go in for that.

6.0-0 e5!?

Very good. It's not yet clear where Black's Queen Bishop belongs.


White's only alternative, strongly favored by computer programs and which I considered for a long time at the board, is 7.d4. However, after 7...e4 Black's pawn chain is virtually indestructible and White's g2-Bishop will bite on close-by granite forever. That a move like 7...d3 is the only alternative to 7.d4 is a clear sign something has gone wrong in this opening for White.


Aggressive looking, but I prefer 7...Be7. On d6 the Bishop has little offensive power since it bites on g3 granite. It weakens Black's protection of d5, and when (not if) White plays Bg5, Black no longer has the unpinning Bishop on e7 unless he wants to lose time retreating the Bishop from d6.

8.Nc3 0-0

Played with not much thought. 8...h6 is most often played here. Also worth consideration is 8...Be6 and 8...d4, both of which have won for Black.

9.Bg5 Be6 10.Qd2 TN

I had no idea how to proceed here. My thought was to link my Rooks by playing my Queen to the second rank, and I chose d2 because playing the Queen to c2 encourages Black's Rook to c8 all the more. But 9.Qd2 turns out to be pointless. Other players of White played 9.Rc1, 9.a3, 9.Bxf6, 9.e4, and 9.Nd2!? none of which are fantastic for White, but all of which look more normal. My unintended novelty is at least not harmful to White.

10...h6 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.a3

In the two games where White played 10.Bxf6 (without waiting for ...h6 as I did), after 10...Qxf6 White played 11.Nd2 and eventually won both of those games when Black allowed White to play 12.Ne4 next, which he did after both 11...d4 and 11...Ne7 12.Nde4 dxe4 13.Nxe4 and 14.Nxd6. The disadvantage of my tenth move is that d2 is no longer available for my Knight. I therefore decided to make the best of it and temporized with 12.a3, which at least has the virtue of keeping Black's pieces off b4.

We have arrived at what I think is the hardest type of position in chess to play well. Black has played the opening superbly and has nearly a pawn's worth of advantage according to computer programs, despite the material equality. Black must have felt (quite correctly) that he had an advantage and therefore must attack. But what is there to do? White may have played the opening passively, nevertheless his position has no weaknesses. Of what consists Black's superiority? Black must answer this question before making his twelfth move.


In my opinion, part of Black's advantage lies in the fact he has the two Bishops; therefore he should want to keep lines open. Black also dominates the center squares and enjoys a space advantage. Black's plan then should be to make something out of the center. He needs to complete his development by placing Rooks on c8 and d8. Then, he needs to figure out a way to pressurize the center such that he can eventually advance center pawns so that the likely result will be pawn exchanges rather than blocking pawn moves by White, or pushing past. Instead of employing a patient plan, Black began an unprovoked flank attack. 12...a5 also has the drawback of creating holes at b5 and b6 for White to exploit.

13.Rac1 a4?

Consistent, if wrong. Black considers b3 a weakness he can exploit. He could have been right except for the tactical flaw with the concept. Best was 13...Qd8 when I planned to play 14.e3 and Hedgehog it with colors reversed. Black's position would still be preferable.


I noticed the a4 pawn could not be held. At first I was going to play 14.Qc2 to go after it, but that runs in to 14...Rfc8 15.Nxa4 Nd4! It took quite some time before I could fully convince myself this Karpovian retreat of the Queen back to the first rank from which she so recently emerged was White's best.


I expected 14...Rfd8!, after which Black probably has enough activity and central control to compensate for his pawn deficit.

15.Nxa4 Na5?

Best was 15...Qd8 (protecting b6) 16.Nc5 Bxc5 (parting with the bad Bishop) 17.Rxc5 with only a small advantage for White due to the pawn plus. Black still owns the center and enjoys a space advantage, some small measure of compensation.

16.Nc5 Bd5?

Best was 16...Rfc8 17.Nxe6 Rxc1 18.Qxc1 Qxe6, though White is doing well here.

17.Nd7 1-0

A pawn and exchange down, Black resigned. A bit premature perhaps, but understandable. I have played plenty of games like Black's and could only feel bad for Ian. Being beat by one's opponent is much easier psychologically to accept than being beat by oneself, as happened here. I'm sure Ian's talent and determination will limit how often he loses the game in this manner. I anticipate a much tougher game the next time we face off.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Game 39: Ashland XXXVI, Round 2

Ashland XXXVI
C45: Scotch Game
White: Paul Potylicki (1588)
Black: Dan Quigley (1800)
Columbia, SC, Round 2, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Jan. 23, 2014

It has been a long time since I have posted. This is because I did not play the last half of 2013. The reasons for that are several. I was very discouraged by a 13-move loss to Dan Caiello in June 2013. I felt like I had barely showed up for the game and moved impatiently, without adequate thought. My life was getting busier as I began to pursue my M.A. as well. Time for a break.

I continue to bounce hard against my 1800 rating floor. I wrote an email to USCF asking them to reset this. I went over 2000 briefly in the early 1990s, but those were different times. I am clearly not playing at even 1800 over the board level by modern day standards.

I am back and playing again now, trying to recapture what little form I have. I am no longer going to post every game. I have not found that maintaining this blog has done much for my chess. I will from time to time post my most educational games, to share with what little audience I may have. This one against long time chess nemesis Paul Potylicki was extremely interesting in my opinion because of the problem posed to Black regarding what to do at move 16. Any comments you may have regarding how to approach that middlegame position, how to find a worthwhile plan for it, would be very much appreciated. I still don't have a grasp on how I can improve my thinking process there, but believe it's important in terms of my improvement to find the way. Thank you.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Qh4 5.Be3

White stated after the game that his idea to gambit the pawn was intentional, that he would get enough play with his pieces to compensate for the loss. I was dubious. Central pawns are worth more than the flank pawns that are normally gambitted in the opening because they help control the center. Sure, Black is behind in development now. But my feeling was that I could catch up and consolidate the pawn advantage. Once I do, White would have nothing to show for the pawn minus. Besides, 4…Qh4 is not that great a move. White has better moves available to him, one of which is 5.Nb5 or 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Nb5, neither of which I am completely convinced Black can equalize against. I gambled White would not know of the Nb5 counterplay idea and that it would not occur to him over the board.

5…Qxe4 6.Nd2 Qe7 7.Be2 Nxd4 8.Bxd4

Black is behind in development, as predicted. Neither of Black's Bishops can move, an odd circumstance to happen after eight opening moves. Now comes Black’s plan to remedy this development lag, and it is with forcing moves; otherwise, the plan would not work.

8...c5 9.Bc3 d5 10.b3?

An inaccuracy. White was afraid of …d4, winning the Bishop. However, the Bishop can be defended tactically to advantage with 10.0–0 Bd7 preparing to castle long, after which White can still claim adequate counterplay for the gambitted pawn. If 10…d4?! (instead of 10…Bd7) 11.Re1 Be6 (not 11…dxc3? 12.Bb5+ winning) 12.Bb5+ Kd8 13.Nc4+/= It is subtle points such as these that have to be noticed if one is to derive an advantage from the opening.


Black passed up the opportunity to play 10...Bg4!? 11.Kf1 (or 11.f3 Bd7 with advantage to Black) 11…Bxe2+ 12.Qxe2 Qxe2+ 13.Kxe2 with advantage to Black]. But the text is advantageous too.

11.0–0 Bd7 12.Re1 0–0–0 13.Bf3 Be6 14.Qe2

After the game, White felt this move was not aggressive enough, but I think there is little White can do now to stop Black from consolidating his pawn advantage. Even if with hindsight White were to play the objectively stronger 14.Be5 to foil Black’s intention, Black still has 14…Rg8! with a general Kingside attack in the offing.

14...Qc7! 15.Rad1 Bd6 16.g3

To this point, I am very happy with my play. I am a pawn to the good and White has no counterplay worth considering. I now run into a great deal of difficulty, however, and for the first time in the game begin to take a long time to think. How is Black to proceed? What possible plans are there in this position? White has no weaknesses on either flank since White’s fianchettoed Bishops cover the squares of their color, and he has no targets in the center to lever against. What am I supposed to do here? I considered 16…h5, intending …h4, etc., but 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Bxh5 just gives back the pawn and makes White’s h-pawn a passer. I failed to find an adequate answer at the board, even after 20 minutes of thought, and even now sitting at home and looking at this position with and without a computer program, I still can’t figure out a good course of action for Black, despite being up a little over half a pawn (according to the programs). At the board, I finally just decided to grab space in the center and see if a plan would come to me later.

16…Rhe8 17.Qf1 d4 18.Bb2 Nd5

I considered 18…Bf5, but trying to grab the c2-pawn when my King and Queen were on the c-file seemed a bit foolhardy, e.g. 19.Rxe8 Rxe8 20.Nc4 Bxc2 21.Rc1 Bg6 22.Bxd4+/=

19.Nc4 Nb4

My computer program thinks I should keep the Bishop by retreating it to e7. However, my thinking was that I now had on d6 a bad Bishop that was biting on g3 granite. I didn’t mind exchanging it off for White’s Knight. Besides, I thought I saw a way to win another pawn.

20.c3! Nxa2?

Black takes the bait and grabs a poisoned pawn. Best was 20...Nc2!? anyway. After 21.Rxe6 Rxe6 (or 21…fxe6 22.Be4=) 22.Bg4 the position would be equal, but White would have to find this resource.

21.cxd4 a6?

When it rains it pours. Coming from a superior position, I have not psychologically dealt with the fact that I am now in serious trouble. I believed I had time for moves like this. Black’s only chance to save the game is in liquidation: 21...Bxc4 22.bxc4 f5 (So that Qh3+ does not garner the h7-pawn for Black. If 22…Kb8?! 23.dxc5 Qxc5 [and not 23…Bxc5? 24.Be5 Bd6 25.Bxd6 winning] 24.Rd5, and Black’s position is teetering.) 23.Ra1 Nb4 24.Rxa7 and Black’s position may be beyond salvation here too, but I can struggle on for a while. The text loses quickly.


Also strong is 22.dxc5!? Bxc5 23.Be5 Qe7+- However, White calculated a different advantageous line that was more forceful.


White wondered after the game why I did not play 22…Qxd6. The answer is simple. 23.dxc5 is devastating since Black dare not capture on c5 with the Queen. With the text, I hoped to perhaps double Rooks on the d-file, or have a protector for the c-file.

23.d5 Bd7 24.Rxe8+ Bxe8 25.Be5 h6?

The last mistake. 25...Bd7 was relatively best, after which the game would last more moves, but White should win eventually. Given, White’s time trouble (3 minutes left with 30 seconds per move added) it was sure worth a try.

26.Qe2 1-0

Black has no answer to the double attack on a2 and e8. Paul played this middlegame beautifully.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Game 38: Columbia Round 1

Ashland XXXII
A46: 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 e6: Torre, London and Colle Systems
White: Leo Rabulan (2112)
Black: Dan Quigley (1801)
Columbia, SC, Round 1, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Apr. 11, 2013

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bg5 h6 4.Bh4 c5 5.e3 Qb6

5…b6 is main line here, and I have played it as Black in server-based games before with reasonable success. However, I decided tonight I wanted more active piece play. Black has been most successful with 5…cxd4 here, but I don’t like to liquidate tension until I see an advantage for doing so, or the avoidance of a disadvantage.

6.Qc1 cxd4 7.exd4 Nc6 8.c3 Be7

8...Nh5 9.g4 Nf6 10.Nbd2=

9.Bd3 d6

Prevents intrusion on e5.

10.Nbd2 Bd7 11.0–0 Rc8 TN

Black ever playing …Nxd4 is an illusion. Better was 11…g5 as in Volovich - Rubenchik, Somerset 1992. White went on to win because he was the stronger player: 12.Bg3 Nh5 13.Re1 Nxg3 14.hxg3 d5 15.a4 Rc8 16.Bb5 a6?! (After 16…f6, intending …Kf7, Black is fully equal.) 17.Bxc6 Bxc6 18.Ne5 0-0 19.f4 Be8 20.Ndf3 f6 21.a5 Qd6 22.Nd3 g4? (22…Bg6 and Black is perfectly okay.) 23.Nh2 Bg6 24.Qe3 Bf5 25.Rac1 b6 26.Ra1 h5 27.Nf1 Qc7 28.axb6 Qxb6 29.Re2 Qb5 30.Nf2 a5 31.Qd2 a4 32.Ne3 Be4 33.Nxe4 dxe4 34.f5 exf5 35.Rf1 f4 36.Rxf4 f5 37.c4 Qd7 38.Ref2 Bg5 39.d5 Bxf4 40.Rxf4 Rb8 41.c5 Rb3 42.d6 Rd3 43.Qf2 Qe6 44.Rxf5 Rxf5 45.Qxf5 Qxf5 46.Nxf5 Kf8 47.c6 Ke8 48.c7 Kd7 49.Ne7 Rd1+ 50.Kf2 Rc1 51.Ke3 Rc4 52.c8Q+ 1-0

12.Nc4 Qc7 13.a4 0–0 14.Re1 Na5 15.Ncd2 a6

Covers b5 and prepares …b5.

16.Qd1 b5?!

Opening the a-file for White is dangerous. Preferable for Black may have been quiet moves like 16...Rfe8!?= in order to make White prove he has an advantage if he does anywhere.

17.axb5 axb5 18.Ne4 Nc4 19.Qe2 Nd5 20.Bxe7 Nxe7 21.Ng3?!

This move is a retreat. White’s only active move was 21.b3!? when 21...f5 22.bxc4 bxc4 23.Bc2 gives a slight advantage to White, but the position is complicated.


Threatening …Nf4.


Also good for Black is 22.Qc2 Nf4 23.b3 Nb6 with a small advantage.


My idea here was to rid myself of a weakness, the isolated b-pawn, and give my light squared Bishop more scope. But better was 22…Ra8, contesting White’s open file, or 22...f5 23.Qc2 Ra8 and Black has the easier position to play.



With this blunder, Black hands the game to his opponent. 23...Qb8= with the same idea of playing against White’s shattered Queenside pawns would completely equalize. White has no easy plans for an advantage he can play in the position, a situation that often comes out of the Torre Opening. I was lulled into complacency by the quietness of the position and never saw that my Knight could be trapped, another reason I should have earlier offered a Rook exchange on the a-file.

24.b3 Nc3 25.Qd3 Nxb1 26.bxc4 Qxb4 27.Rexb1 Qxc4 28.Qxc4 Rxc4 29.Ne4 1-0

Game 37: Columbia Club Championship Rd. 5

Columbia Chess Club Championship
C42: Petroff Defence: 3 Nxe5 and unusual White 3rd moves
White: Dan Quigley (1807)
Black: Paul Potylicki (1494)
Columbia, SC, Round 5, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Mar. 21, 2013

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6

The Petrov Defense. I am seeing this more often at the club lately because I think 1…e5 players there may know how well prepared I am for 2…Nc6 3.Bc4 (Evans Gambit with 3…Bc5 4.b4 or Two Knights Defense 3…Nf6 4.Ng5) and prefer to steer for calmer waters.


This is the most popular response and the one whose lines I first studied in the 1980s and know the best. Still, there are four good alternatives for White, all of which are favorable for White statistically: 3.Nc3, 3.d4, 3.Bc4, and 3.d3. Of these, most impressive to me is 3.d4 and I have put in some work on lines stemming from this move in some server-based games. However, it has been a long time since I played and looked at those games, and I didn’t think I could remember the lines. Next time will be a different story.

3…d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 Bg4

The main line is 5…d5, but to an opponent who is not versed in opening theory 5…Bg4 would be more logical than moving the same pawn twice in the opening. The problem with 5…Bg4 is that this move is played in order to put pressure on the d4 pawn. There is no way Black can develop pressure on this pawn. Therefore, 5…Bg4 is somewhat nonsensical. All that is “threatened” is to trade a Bishop for White’s Knight, which would not harm White in the least.


I could have ignored the Bishop and played 6.Bd3, but I like putting the question out there. If Black backs up, then I can undo the pin whenever I wish with a later g4.

6…Bh5 7.Bd3 Nf6 8.0–0 Be7 9.Re1 0–0

10.c4!? TN

In this position, White usually plays 10.Nbd2. I considered this move, but it looks drawish to me. Why play in cramped style? White has a space advantage right now and my move is designed to grab even more space.

10…Nc6 11.Be3 Qd7

Black really needs to consider playing 11...d5 in order to uncramp his position and to try isolating my pawn on d4. I still like my position after 12.Nc3 though. I have read Baburin’s now difficult to find modern day classic Pawn Structure Chess, and have some ideas of what to do with the isolani on d4.


To prevent …Nb4. Probably better was 12.Nc3. If 12…Nb4 13.Bb1 and then a3 frees my position. I didn’t want to bury my Queen Rook this way though.


Black could try to equalize with the more complicated 12...d5 13.cxd5 Nxd5 14.Ne5 Bxd1 15.Nxd7 =


White prepares to occupy d5 himself. Also promising was 13.Nbd2 d5 14.c5 +/=


A poor move. Black creates weaknesses around his King for no good reason. A later g4, Bg6, Bxg6, fxg6 should give White a promising attack on the Kingside. Best for Black was 13...d5 14.cxd5 Nxd5 15.Nxd5 Qxd5 16.Rc1=


Black has a cramped position, but taking advantage of this is far from automatic. Probably best for White was 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.cxd5 Nd8 and White is better because he can post both Rooks to half-open files to generate pressure.

14...a6 15.Be2

I could not find a plan for White. If 15.d5 Bxf3 16.Qxf3 Ne5 and …Nxd3 chops a lot of wood. Probably best was still 15.Nd5, hoping for 15…Nxd5 16.cxd5 Na7 17.Rc1 +/=


I never dreamed White would play this move. My last move was in preparation for 15...d5 16.Ne5 Bxe2 17.Rxe2 +/=

16.d5 Na7

Amother idea is 17.Ra2, so that after the f3-Knight moves and Black plays …Bxe2, White can double Rooks on the e-file.

17...Bf6 18.Rac1 b6

Consolidates c5.


I played this move intending Rg1, g4, g5, g6, etc.

19…Bg6 20.Bd3?!

The g4 plan was a chimera that never really goes anywhere, e.g. 20.Rg1 Nc8 21.g4 Bxc3 22.Qxc3 Nf6 23.g5 hxg5 24.Nxg5 Ne7, intending …Nf5 and Black has no worries. The way to play with a space advantage like the one White currently enjoys is to move pieces into nice positions. Best was 20.Nd4, intending 21.Bg4, and Bf4 and Nf5 to follow along with a Queenside pawn advance, if needed. Black’s position would be under tremendous pressure then and something would probably give.


Black seeks to improve the position of his most inactive piece, a really good idea.

21.Bxg6 fxg6 22.Nd4 Qf7 23.Re2

If 23.Ne6, Black would just offer a trade via 23…Nf8 +/=

23...Ne7 24.Rce1 Be5+ 25.g3?!

Secures f4, but weakens f3. Best was 25.f4 Bxd4 26.Bxd4 Nf5 27.Bf2 with a miniscule edge for White. Black has done a really good job of hanging in there all game and is now rewarded by a chance to put some pressure on White, which is met by inaccurate play.


I saw neither the danger, nor the solution. Counter-intuitive as it may be, 26.Qxd4!? was essential. Then, on 26...Nf5 (26…Ng5? 27.Bxg5 +/-) 27.Qd2 is equal.

26...Ng5 27.Rxe7??

This makes a bad game worse. Best was to just let Black win the exchange: 27.Kg2 Nf3 28.Qd3 Nxe1+ 29.Rxe1. Black should still win this, but there is still chess left to play.


White is completely lost. Given the rating disparity, I play on only in the hope of swindling the game away from Black somehow, but it wasn’t meant to be this time.

28.Rxe7 Nf3+ 29.Kg2 Nxd2 30.Rxf7 Kxf7 31.c5 Nb3 32.Be3 bxc5 33.b5 Nd4 34.bxa6 Rxa6 35.Bxd4 cxd4 36.Nb5 Ra4 37.Kf3 Kf6 38.Ke4 g5 39.Nxc7 Rxa3 40.Ne8+ Ke7 41.Nxg7 d3 42.Ke3 Ra2 43.Nf5+ Kf6 44.Nxd6 Ke5 45.Nf7+ Kxd5 46.Kxd3 Rxf2 47.Nxh6 Rf3+ 48.Ke2 Rxg3 49.Nf7 Ke4 50.Kf2 Rf3+ 0–1

Monday, March 18, 2013

Game 36: Columbia Club Championship Rd. 4

Columbia Chess Club Championship
B20: Sicilian: Unusual White 2nd moves
White: Birney Blind (1226)
Black: Dan Quigley (1807)
Columbia, SC, Round 4, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Mar. 14, 2013

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4

As anyone who has played much chess on the Internet knows, this early Bishop deployment is very common for people who do not like to study chess theory. There is nothing wrong with it, but Black now has a very good plan to adopt against White’s setup, namely …e6, and …d5. Once these moves are in White will have to lose time moving the Bishop again. Black has the option to throw in …a6 to prevent the Bishop from coming to b5 if he wishes to. Also, if needed, Black can play …Nf6 and …Bb4 in order to bolster the impact of …d5 when it comes.

3…e6 4.Nge2?!

Unless there is a specific reason to prefer a Knight deployment to d2 or e2, Knights are always better developed on c3 and f3. I see no reason to prefer e2 in this case.


At the time, this move made a good deal of sense to me. White’s Bishop is almost in a Noah’s Ark type trap. If 5.Bd3, c4 will prove embarassing, for example. In fact, there is only one saving move. Unfortunately, that saving move places White in a very strong position, much stronger than I realized at the time. Rather than become diverted by what I thought was a White mistake last move, I should have likewise continued with my most logical development plan, 4...Nf6, in order to be able to play …d5 soon.


5.d3! is not only forced, it is much stronger than it first appears. If 5…Nxc4 6.dxc4 White has an excellent Maroczy Bind position. Black will have great difficulty getting …d5 in, if it’s even possible. Without the …d5 break, Black’s position will be cramped and very difficult to play. The two Bishops will also be markedly inferior to White’s Knights and the space advantage he will enjoy. After the text, White will lose material, but he gets some compensation for it. White’s position is not lost yet, but it does become very difficult to play.

5...c4 6.Ba4 a6 7.d4 b5 8.Nxb5 axb5 9.Bxb5 Qb6 10.Nc3 Bb4 11.Ba4?

This move surprised me. I expected 11.a4!?, after which I planned 11…Nf6 with pressure on White’s center.


I failed to do a reassessment of the position to realize that I could now win a piece with 11...Nb7. White can’t save the Bishop, which has nowhere to move. White’s best bet would be to seek counterplay with 12.Qg4, but even then Black’s threat to win a piece is not disappearing. I could play 12…Kf8 or 12…Ne7 13.Qxg7 Rg8, and then win the Bishop at my leisure. After 11…Nb7, White’s position would be lost.


Better was 12.e5, but even so Black emerges with a winning game, e.g. 12…Nd5 13.Bd2 Qxd4 14.Nxd5 Bxd2+ 15.Qxd2 Qxd5 16.Qxd5 exd5–+


I still fail to realize I can win White’s Bishop with 12...Nb7.


I don’t think White realized this move drops a pawn. Best was 13.Qd2 Nc6 14.Bxc6 dxc6, but Black is winning here too.


It is still probably preferable to win a piece with 13...Nb7 than to win just a pawn, but I never saw this possibility during the game.


White’s position was bad. The best plan, 14.a3 Be7 15.Qe2, will not bring White joy in the long run either. This mistake simply hastens the end.

14...Qe3+ 15.Qe2 Bxd2+

Black wins a piece. In view of 16.Kd1 Qxe2+ 17.Kxe2 Bh6, Black resigned.


My play this game was not the sharpest. I failed to fully evaluate the positional consequences of 4…Na5 5.d3 Nxc4 6.dxc4 to see how bad my position would then become as a result. I think I am putting too much weight on the advantage of having the two Bishops in many of my games. Going forward, I will strive for this only when I am sure I can have an open board afterwards. I also never saw the possibility of winning a White piece on move 11, 12, or 13 by simply backing up my Knight. This means I need to widen my search horizon a bit every move.

I was informed after the game that my opponent does not like to play up. I have never really understood this attitude among some low rated players. I personally relish the chance to play stronger or higher rated players. It is less damaging to my rating to lose these games, and those are usually the games I learn the most from, win or lose. Not wanting to play up is a really self-destructive preference, it seems to me.

A question was asked me via this blog site regarding whether it bothers me more to lose to someone lower rated. The answer is definitely “Yes!” All losses bother me to some extent, of course, though I try not to show it, and to accept the fact as graciously as possible that defeats are inevitable. Even Magnus Carlsen gets beat fairly often. However, for me to lose (or draw) someone who is lower rated, usually I have beat myself by making mistakes that I should know better than to make. Beating myself this way is always frustrating, sometimes even deeply embarrassing, like my recent loss to Andrew Manion (Game 35) was.

Even still, such losses are a natural part of the game. If you can’t stand the pain, and many can’t, then tournament chess is simply not for you, which is a shame because you then also miss out on the joy the flip side of the coin (winning) brings. People who can’t take the competitive aspect, I have noticed, still find other ways to involve themselves. They may play informal chess games only, for example, or become kibitzers, spectators, chess gossips, chess teachers, chess politicians, or tournament directors. I am not saying anything negative about these categories. I am very grateful directors exist, and South Carolina's are tops, one reason I choose to live in this state. Our state president and USCF delegate David Grimaud is my ideal of what a chess politician should be, if only more were like him. There is more than one way to enjoy chess than competing directly. Those ways just aren’t for me.

Anyone can have an off day due to a low grade headache, personal distraction, or become impatient at the board due to chess over-saturation, but still decide to try his luck nevertheless. The last condition (chess over-saturation) is easily avoidable, except maybe when playing in a multi-round per day tournament, and I have made a rule for myself to have little to do with chess for at least 24 hours before I am due to play a tournament game, and to try to avoid playing at extremely long time controls when possible. The break from chess makes me fresher and less impatient when I do sit down at the board, and I will think longer about my moves. The first two are a matter of experience in not doing the things that cause a health issue to arise, when at all possible, or in successfully compartmentalizing away personal distractions. Being ready for a game in the ways I have described will help make losses to lower rated players a more infrequent occurrence, I am convinced.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Game 35: Columbia Club Championship Rd. 3

Columbia Chess Club Championship
B28: Sicilian: 2 Nf3 a6 (O'Kelly Variation)
White: Andrew Manion (1340)
Black: Dan Quigley (1802)
Columbia, SC, Round 3, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Mar. 7, 2013

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 3.d4?! cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3?

Not good. Why make a move that affects only e4 when you have a move available that fights for both e4 and d5? 5.Nc3 is the normal move, though I consider Black’s position already slightly advantageous even so.

5…e5 6.Nb3 d5

Black threatens to win material: dxe4.

7.Bg5 dxe4

This position with Black to make his seventh move has been reached five times in my database. Black has played three options, all of which I considered: 1) maintain the tension with 7…Be6. I didn't care for 8.exd5 Bxd5 9.c4 Bc6 10.Qxd8+ Kxd8 and decided not to go for this line. 2) Black can push the d-pawn on down the field, but then White can lay claim to the beautiful c4-f7 diagonal for his Bishop. White’s opening play surely doesn’t justify such a reward for White. 3) Finally, there is 7…dxe4 to consider. If the first option had to include acquiescence to a Queen trade, perhaps it’s best just to get it over with. I normally hate to allow this kind of simplification in my chess games, but I am consciously trying to expand the types of positions I am willing to play. Simplified chess causes me discomfort and I am bad at it in great part because I get bored and then impatient with the resulting positions. However, they are a part of chess and I have to learn how to play them. That is why I have been studying Capablanca. Unfortunately, my timing to play it here is off. I should not be making an exercise of trying to learn how to play simple chess when playing down nearly 500 points. I can tend to lose the advantage of that 500 points of experience. Objectively speaking, 7…d4 is the best move, and Black is ahead by about a quarter of a pawn. After …Be7 and …0-0, White’s c4-f7 diagonal does not amount to that much because g5 is occupied by a Bishop rather than a Knight.

8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.fxe4 Be6 10.N1d2

Or 10.Bxf6+ gxf6 11.Nc3 Nd7 12.0-0-0=


Around here I gave a lot of consideration to playing 10…Kc7. The King seems like it will be safest on this square and Black’s Knight can develop normally to the c6-square. But surely moving the King in the center of the board voluntarily like this can’t be right, I figured. After the text move though I start to feel a bit cramped.

11.0–0–0 h6 12.Bxf6+ gxf6

Black has the pair of Bishops, but I could never make them work for me.

13.Bc4 Rc8 14.Bd5 Bxd5 15.exd5 Nb6?

White is taking forever to decide on his moves and I am starting to feel really bored and miserable. I should not have spent time studying chess earlier today and writing that Capablanca article. I am burned out. I made this move quickly with no thought, and it is a horrible error. Not only am I decentralizing my Knight, I am self-discoordinating my entire Queenside for ephemeral pressure on White’s d5-pawn. The position before this move is equal if Black continues to play with care. The right plan is 15...Rg8, activating the Rook. After 16.g3 Rg4 Black is comfortable.


Better is 16.Rhf1 first so that after Ne4, Black does not have …f5 as a response. I would then have to eat crow and play 16…Nd7, grovel for ten or twenty moves, and hope for the best.


I considered 16...f5!?, but then saw that White could play 17.Ng3 attacking f5. I have no idea now why this concerned me so much at the time. I could then play 17…f4 with a fine game. My 16th move is a serious mistake that gives White real winning chances for the first time.


Besides this one, White has a number of good plans he can consider. Another is 17.Rd3 Nc4 18.Rf1 h5 19.Nbc5 with a strong bind.

17...Rc7 18.Nf5 Bf8 19.d6 Rc4

My alternative was to play 19...Rc8 so that after 20.Na5 I can play 20…Rb8. That was just too sad. I opted for piece activity instead.

20.Na5 Rf4 21.Ne7?

This lets White slip out. Best was 21.Rhf1!? to maintain the pressure. Black would be positionally lost at that point with only some squirming left as a possible resource.

21...Bxe7 22.Nxb7+ Kc8??

I made this move impatiently and with no consideration whatsoever. I thoroughly deserve this loss. 22...Ke8 was necessary 23.dxe7 Kxe7=


To my horror I now realized I can’t take the Knight on b7. The game is over and Black is lost. Normally, I would resign here. The only reason I played it out is because of the possibility that a D player could allow a Knight fork. The rest of the moves are without interest.

23…Rd4 24.Rxd4 exd4 25.e8Q+ Rxe8 26.Nd6+ Kd7 27.Nxe8 Kxe8 28.Rd1 Ke7 29.Rxd4 Ke6 30.Rh4 Nd5 31.c4 Nb4 32.a3 Nd3+ 33.Kc2 Ne1+ 34.Kc3 Nxg2 35.Rxh6 Ne3 36.Rh3 Nf5 37.b4 Kd7 38.a4 Kc7 39.c5 a5 40.b5 Ne7 41.Kc4 Ng6 42.Rh7 Ne5+ 43.Kd4 Kb7 44.c6+ Kb6 45.h4 Kc7 46.h5 Kd6 47.h6 f5 48.c7 Nf3+ 49.Ke3 1-0