Monday, February 25, 2013

Game 32: Lowry Grand Prix Series, Columbia Rd. 1

Lowry Grand Prix Series
E47: Nimzo-Indian: Rubinstein: 5.Bd3 without ...d5
White: Philipp Lamby (2222)
Black: Dan Quigley (1802)
Columbia, SC, Round 1, G/65, 5 sec. inc., Feb. 23, 2013

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4

Against 1.d4 I have spent the most time studying kingside fianchetto defenses, both the King’s Indian and Gruenfeld. For some reason I became worried that I may not know these defenses well enough to acquit myself theoretically at the master level against a long-time 1.d4 player. Some variations of the King’s Indian can become horribly cramped if Black misses just one opportunity to free himself. It wasn’t too late to play 3…c5, entering a Blumenfeld versus 3.Nf3 or a Benoni versus 3.Nc3, two defenses I know more about than the Nimzo-Indian. Why I thought I could slug it out in a Nimzo-Indian, the 1.d4 defense I know least well, is still a mystery to me.

4.e3 0–0 5.Bd3 c5 6.d5

To my disgust, I am out of my book knowledge with this move already. Looking this line up, I see why. White has played 6.Nf3 just over 2000 times, but the text move only slightly more than 20 times. I began calculating the forced line that Philipp and I now do indeed proceed to play, only I calculated 9.Qh5+ and 10.Qxd5 instead of the slightly more accurate move order Philipp actually played. I am embarassed to have miscounted the result, thinking I would have 7 pawns to his 6.

6…exd5

Later in the game I was wishing I had counted the result right. If so, I would have played 6…b5 now. The text is okay; it’s just not my style.

7.cxd5 Nxd5?! TN

Apparently, no one has ever played this move before, at least not according to my database. Probably best is 7…d6. Black has won that position twice, drawn once, and never lost it. 7…h6 is the other move that has been played here, which is dead equal, though Black has lost one of these and drawn the other. As I stated previously, my playing of this move was based on a material miscalculation. While it is not as good 7…d6 or 7…h6, it is by no means losing either.

8.Bxh7+ Kxh7 9.Qxd5 Nc6 10.Nf3

What is losing is my psychological state right now. I have the feeling that I have fallen into an opening trap and been completely outplayed. White is ahead in development, appears to own the center, and has exposed Black’s King at no charge. Much to my surprise, I now discover that my more objective chess program considers this position almost equal. White has at most two tenths of a pawn’s advantage! Black has some trumps I failed to consider, much less appreciate at this point in the game. I have the two Bishops, and I’ve given up the less valuable h-pawn in exchange for White’s more central c-pawn. I am only one move behind in development. Black just needs to keep his cool and play some chess.

10...f5?

I made this positionally weakening move believing my King to be in more danger than it was. The best plan for Black here is to fight for the center with 10…d6, and 11…Qf6. If a White Knight on f3 ever chases Black’s King back to g8 with a check on g5, then Black plays …Qe5 and takes over the center or forces a beneficial trade.

11.0–0

White castles and improves king safety.

11...Qf6 12.e4!?

An aggressive and enterprising move, one that takes into account the opponent’s current psychological state. However, objectively speaking, one does not normally want a more open position when one’s opponent has the two Bishops. Chess programs prefer 12.Bd2, followed by 13.h4 and 14.Ng5, building up a position based on Black’s square weaknesses around his King. However, after 12.e4, if Black continues to play in fear he will soon be blown off the board.

12…Nd4!

I dug deep, did a gut check, and am proud of finding this resource. One way of finding candidate moves is to consider what the opponent’s last move just gave up. White’s 12.e4 gave up partial control of d4. What if I take advantage of that by occupying the square now, since that is possible? My calculations showed me no ill consequences. And the move has plusses. I not only increase my control of the center (positional advantage), I am beginning to threaten to trap White’s Queen in the center of the board.

13.Ng5+ Kh8

This is a nerve-wracking position to be in. Black's King now can't move.

14.e5?

My chess program suggests 14.Kh1 for White. This indicates there really is not much White can do to improve his position.

14...Qe7?

This seemingly inconsequential retreat becomes the source of much trouble later. I now think it is most likely the losing move. Instead, Black must take the opportunity to play 14...Qc6!?, after which Black would be completely equal. It amazes me how much of a difference there is between these two moves. The reason I did not play 14…Qc6 was because I wanted to keep an eye on my f7-square and did not want to allow Nf7+, but this was not really a threat. If 15.Nf7+ Kh7 and White has no follow up available. If White tries to keep Queens on the board by retreating with 15.Qc4, Black can play 15…b5 16.Qd3 Kg8! 17.Be3 (17.Qh3 Qh6=) 17…Bb7 18.f3 Rae8=. Black gets his pieces untangled just in time!

15.f4

White threatens to bring a Rook up to f3 and then over to h3.

15…g6

I considered 15...Bxc3 16.bxc3 Ne6, though after 17.Be3 White’s attack is still strong. So I kept the two Bishops instead.

16.Be3 Ne6 17.Ne2

An alternative for White is 17.Na4!? Nxg5 18.a3± But perhaps the position is already complicated enough.

17...Nxg5 18.fxg5 Qe6

I did not yet appreciate how weak White’s e-pawn was. Best was 18...Re8 19.Nf4 Kg7 20.Nd3, but White is comfortable here too.

19.Qxe6?

After the game, Philipp said he felt it was a mistake to make this exchange. I agree, but it only prolongs the game. White is best off to build pressure instead and allow Black to initiate the exchange if he wants it: 19.Rad1!? Qxd5 20.Rxd5 Kg7 21.a3 followed by 22.Bxc5 and White has a winning position.

19...dxe6 20.Nf4 Kg7 21.a3 Ba5 22.Bxc5 Rf7 23.Rfd1 Bc7 24.Re1 a5 25.Rac1 Ra6 26.Bd6! Rc6

Even after the best move 26…Bb6+, Black is still quite lost, e.g. 27.Kh1 Bd7 28.Bc5 Bd8 29.h4 Rc6 30.Red1 Bc7 31.Bd6 Rxc1 32.Rxc1 Bb6 33.Rc3 winning. Having the two Bishops counts for nothing in positions such as these.

27.Rxc6 bxc6 28.Rc1

Quicker is 28.Bxc7 Rxc7 29.Rc1 Rb7 30.Rxc6.

28...Bb6+ 29.Bc5 Bd8 30.h4 Rb7 31.b4 Kf7 32.Kf2 axb4 33.axb4 Rb5 34.Ra1 Bb6 35.Bxb6 Rxb6 36.Ra7+ Rb7 37.Rxb7+ Bxb7 38.Ke3 1-0

Friday, February 22, 2013

Game 31: Columbia Club Championship Rd. 1

Columbia Chess Club Championship
B06: Modern Defense
White: Dan Quigley (1802)
Black: Philipp Lamby (2222)
Columbia, SC, Round 1, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Feb. 21, 2013

1.e4 g6

This move was a slight disappointment for me. Philipp has a reputation for being an Evans Gambit slayer. I hoped to put that reputation to the test with a line I had prepared for him.

2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3

I have always been somewhat confused as to why players of the Black pieces who play the Modern Defense (1.e4 g6) prefer it to the Pirc Defense (1.e4 d6). White can practically force Modern Defense players into Pirc lines with the move I just selected. By playing ...g6 and putting no pressure on e4 by ...Nf6, Black also allows White to play 3.c4 in case White has some line against the King’s Indian Defense he really likes to play, but does not get to because White dislikes playing 1.d4, let’s say, for fear of the Nimzo/Queen’s Indian complex. In other words, Black by choosing the Modern move order instead of the Pirc just gives White more options to play the opening he is most comfortable with. Okay then, I am most comfortable with openings that do not involve playing pawns to c4 or f4 because I like open channels for my Bishops, and a Saemisch-type pawn structure (pawns on d4, e4, and f3) when attacking Kingside fianchettoed positions. I think Black is being kind to let me choose the setup I most favor.

3…d6 4.Be3 a6

This move is the most fashionable for Black currently. I have never seen it since I seldom face the Modern. I must not be the only one who seldom sees it because my database shows that Black is doing slightly better than White after playing this move - 1 percentage point better. Amazing! The move seems slow to me. There might be some hidden resources for Black in it that are beyond my understanding.

5.Qd2 b5

Again, the most popular move for both sides, and my database now shows Black’s advantage from here grown to 4%. Go figure!

6.a4!

This move looks like the obvious choice to me, but I give it an exclam because it’s White’s second most often played. More favored is 6.f3. I considered it; however 6.a4 has more plusses because it defines the Queenside, which lets me know how to proceed in my development. Black has to either acquiesce to axb5 and a possible Rook swap and pawn loss (not advisable), play …bxa4 which isolates the a-pawn and provides White an obvious method of play, or push the pawn past (practically forced) as he does here. The defining of the Queenside lets White know where to put his pieces.

6…b4 7.Nd5

There are five possible Knight moves here that have all been played in the history of this position. 7.Nd1 is the most popular and has been chosen over 100 times. I chose the fourth most popular move by playing my Knight to d5. Only 7.Nb1 gets fewer votes than 7.Nd5. How odd! 7.Nd5 is the move my software program likes best and it seems the obvious choice to me. I only briefly considered one alternative, 7.Na2, but dismissed it fairly quickly. Knights do best near the center forward deployed, even if they have to move a bit to stay there. Six games have been played previously with 7.Nd5, favoring Black 4 to 2. My software program gives me a tenth of a pawn’s advantage though.

7…a5 8.h4!? TN

Theoretical novelty. Previously played in this position are 8.Nf3, 8.f3, 8.c4, 8.Bc4, and 8.c3 (twice). My move is very aggressive and less developmental than the alternatives. I played it in part for psychological reasons. Black is on notice that despite the 400 points rating difference, I want a scalp. After all, my own hair is disappearing so fast! Moreover, h4, threatening h5, is the type of move that makes me nervous when I as Black fianchetto kingside. The 8.h4 move has some real bite too. Where is Black going to castle now? Can he really afford to keep his King in the center? My program isn’t a big fan of 8.h4 on its meritsa ndi ndicates the extravagance cost me my tenth of a pawn’s advantage. We now have an objectively level game. Nevertheless, that's a tenth of a pawn I don't mind investing.

8…e6 9.Nf4

And now we see another benefit of 8.h4. Black can never really consider playing …g5 at some point. Thus f4 has become a somewhat unconventional Knight outpost for White.

9…Nf6 10.f3

Black was threatening 10…Nxe4 as well as 10…Ng4.

10...h5

Black parries White’s h5 threat, but creates a weakness on g5. Exploiting g5-weaknesses is a theme in many of my games, as you can see from previously posted games to this blog.

11.Ngh3 Nbd7 12.Ng5 Qe7

12...0–0 allows 13.Nfxe6 fxe6 14.Nxe6 when White has a slight advantage. Nevertheless, this is probably best for Black.

13.Bc4

My chess program prefers 13.Ngxe6 fxe6 14.Nxg6 Qd8 15.e5 and claims White is a little more than a pawn better. Nevertheless, during the game I was uncertain of White’s long-term prospects and remain so now. It seems to me that I am trading off two great attacking Knights for an undeveloped Rook and a couple pawnsa, and that doing so allows Black exchanges (something a cramped player always likes) for some rather transitory advantages for White. I still think the text move is okay. 13.Bc4 adds another piece to the attack and keeps my Knights in position awaiting future developments.

13...Nb6 14.Bb3

White can still play 14.Bb5+ Bd7 15.Ngxe6 fxe6 16.Nxg6 for a small yet concrete advantage. I have not changed my mind about the two Knights swap for Rook and 2 pawns being insufficent; I want more.

14…d5 15.Nd3

Here, I took my first long think of the game. I have an advantage, but I can’t figure out how to make anything of it. My chess program likes 15.e5 Ng8 16.0-0-0, keeping a slight edge, a decision not unlike one I eventually reach anyway. However, rather than lock up pawns, I decided to maneuver a bit and try to find a way to convert my advantage. 15.Nd3 helps with the control of c5 and e5.

15...Nfd7 16.0–0–0

Tucking my King to relative safety now that Black can not easily target a4 with…Bd7 and a Knight on b6. I also bring another player (the Rook on a1) into the game.

16...Nc4 17.Qf2

Black must have been expecting 17.Bxc4 because he now takes his longest think of the game. If I have to give up a Bishop, I would rather it be my dark-squared one since after e5 that will be my bad Bishop. Also, as a matter of personal style I feel most comfortable when keeping material on the board.

17…Bb7 18.e5?!

Philipp shared after the game that he believed I made a mistake in closing the center this way. I am still not prepared to call this move a mistake. My original intention had been to continue to build the pressure with 18.Rhe1 or 18.Bf4. However, Black’s pieces are now fairly well positioned. After Black castles, his Bishops are on the long diagonals, his Knights as close to the center and as advanced as mine, his Rooks linked, and he has the pawn break …dxe4 every bit as much as I have one with exd5. After considering all that, I decided to convert advantages and go for a space grab. However, I do acquiesce to a locking of the center, which increases Black’s safety.

18...Nxe3 19.Qxe3

Black has the pair of bishops, but in a closed position like this Knights are better.

19...Ba6 20.Nf4 Bh6?

Black gives me my chance to win the game. As Philipp stated after the game, all he had to do was play 20...Bb7! in order to maintain equality. To play 20…Bb7 however, Black has to 1) see the danger himself, 2) estimate me to be a better player than my rating in order to find the upcoming sacrifice, and 3) resist the temptation to put the Bishop on the juicy h6-b1 diagonal all in the face of building time pressure. Philipp expects a lot of himself if he really hopes to find 20…Bb7! in this situation.

21.Bxd5!

I am proud of finding this move. As can be seen from games earlier in this blog I have been missing opportunities like this. This sacrifice initiates a double attack on c7 and e7.

21...exd5

Black’s best resource was 21...0–0–0!?, but then White has 22.Bxe6! taking the lead, 22...fxe6 23.Nxg6 Qg7 24.Nxh8 with a strong attack. Nevertheless, Black has some chances of saving the position.

22.Nxd5 Bxg5 23.hxg5 Qd8 24.e6!

The point. Seeing the strength of this move is what lead me to play the sacrifice back on move 21. I couldn’t exactly figure out the win from here, but I knew there had to be something in this position for White. The Queen and Knight are coordinating against a Black King stuck in the center, and both center files are opening and available for Rooks. Positional judgement says this has to be enough for the piece sacrificed.

24…Nb6 25.exf7+?

I now take my longest think of the game. This is the critical position. I examined three candidates, 25.Qf4, 25.exf7+, and 25.Nf6+. I spent the longest time on the first two, but could not find anything conclusive. For example, A) 25.Qf4 Qxd5 26.Qxf7+ Kd8 27.Qf6+ (27.e7+ Kc8 28.e8(Q)+ Rxe8 29.Qxe8+ Kb7=) 27…Kc8 28.Qxh8+ Kb7= After B) 25.Nf6+, Black can play 25…Kf8 and then 26.e7+ just loses a pawn. If I prepare the pawn thrust by playing a Rook to e1, Black can play the Queen to e7 to block. It felt like a Knight on f6 was getting in the way of my other pieces. So, I finally settled on the text figuring that flushing the King out in to the open was the best option. Unfortunately, the winning path is indeed 25.Nf6+! I missed this excellent chance. After 25...Kf8 White has to find the quiet move 26.d5!, and then it’s curtains for Black. White’s position holds and can’t be broken. From this controlled center, huge space advantage, and with Black’s King interfering with his own pieces' coordination, White can build up the pressure and soon win somewhere. There’s a big lesson here for me. This position will never make the middlegame books with a "find White's 25th move and win", because it's not clear enough to serve as an example, but it's important to know what to do from a position like this if I ever want to beat a master. My lesson is, when unable to find a clear tactical win, find the move that preserves everything even when a piece down so that the pressure can be built until something in the opponent’s position cracks. Don’t simplify as I did with 25.exf7+. As a sample continuation of best play from 26.d5! the computer program generates 26…Nc4 27.Qe4 Nd6 28.Nd7+ Kg8 29.Qe5 Nc4 30.Nf6+ Kf8 31.e7+ Qxe7 32.Nd7+ Ke8 33.Qxh8+ Kxd7 34.Qxa8 Qxg5+ 35.Kb1 winning. My problem was that I was looking for a shorter, more decisive win than this, like the one pictured in middlegame books, but none is available.

25...Kxf7 26.Qf4+ Kg8 27.Nf6+

After the game, Philipp stated that the move he was really worried about was 27.Nxc7, but there was nothing there. In fact, Black can then force a trade of Knights by playing 27…Nd5! There would be plenty of chess left to be played, but I feel Black’s extra piece would eventually tell, much as it did in the text continuation.

27...Kg7 28.Qe5?

Flashy, but no substance. The threat of my double attack is more easily parried than I anticipated. White does better to develop his remaining piece with 28.Rhe1 Qd6 29.Re5 Raf8 30.Qe4 and there is lots more chess to be played, but I remain skeptical of White’s long-term chances here.

28...Kf7 29.Qf4?

Fruitlessly hoping to repeat moves. Better was 29.d5 Qd6 30.Qd4 Rad8 31.Rhe1, but I still don’t like White’s long term prospects.

29...Qd6 30.Nxh5+ Qxf4+ 31.Nxf4 Bc4 32.b3 Nd5 33.Nxd5 Bxd5 34.Kd2

34.Rh6 Rxh6 35.gxh6 g5 is good for Black as well.

34...Rae8 35.Rxh8 Rxh8 36.Re1 Rh2 37.Re2 Bb7 38.Ke3 Ba6 39.Rd2 Bf1?

We both sensed Black’s upcoming win here and fell asleep. With this move, Black threatens to win material on g2, but this is not material Black wants to win. Black should play 39…Ke6 instead, winning easily.

40.g3?

Not a good decision, because now the opponent has an easy course. The move that poses problems for Black is 40.Rd1! If Black were then to play the intended 40…Bxg2? White saves the game with 41.Rd2 Ke6 42.Kf4 Kd5 43.Kg3 Rh5 44.Kxg2 Rxg5+ 45.Kf2 with the extra pawn for White not being enough to win given Black’s superior position and a draw the likeliest result. Black can save himself with the retraction  40…Ba6 however, and still win.

40...Rxd2 41.Kxd2 Ke6 42.c4 Kf5 43.f4 Ke4 44.d5 Bh3 45.Ke2 Bg4+ 46.Kf2 Kd4 0-1

Friday, February 1, 2013

On the Value of Study

I am happy to report that my modest blog now has two regular followers. I have many more viewers than that, but not regular followers. Since I have not figured out yet how to post diagrams of chess positions to this blog, or how to make games available in PGN notation, two followers is probably more than I deserve. Welcome!

One of my new followers poses the following (no pun intended) question: "Other than annotating the games how do you study or prepare for upcoming matches or events? I saw an old interview from Chris Mabe and he said he thinks more time should be spent on studying. Do you agree with that?"

I do agree with former South Carolina Chess Champion and Master Chris Mabe on the value of chess study.

To annotate the games, I have to really analyze where I went wrong and right. That often takes a very long time. For example, in the Evans Gambit game of Post 28, once I achieved my objectives in the opening and got the position I was striving for I had no idea what to do. So, I looked over about 100 games from that position. Instead of Bb2, I now tend to see Kaidanov's point in recommending Nc3, and I plan to play that next time I get that position. Since that position can get reached by transposition fairly often, I think I will be getting that position again this year. I also discovered the point in d5, which blocks the Bishop. It also knocks Black's Knight to the edge of the board where it often sits utterly useless until the end of the game. If I did not study, I would not know how to handle the middlegame position that ensues from the opening I like to play.

Unfortunately, I am not particularly wise in how I study chess. Openings really don't matter that much. Magnus Carlsen and chess computers have proven that. Nevertheless, I find studying them enjoyable, however unproductive it is to do so. Much more useful is middlegame study, tactics more than positional themes, and endgame study. If I were more deeply versed in endgame theory I would have known better what to do in the Rook and Pawn endgame I reached in Game 30. I was just lucky my opponent had an aversion at a couple key points to sacrificing material for positional gain, and had no better idea of what to do in the endgame than me.

That all said, I do despair that chess study does very little to help one's chess strength past the 1800 level. Chess strength over the 1800 level is mostly a matter of native ability. If I may make an analogy, the ability to play chess well is a lot like having the ability to solve math problems in your head well. Let's take the problem 77 times 66. Pose that problem to people and I estimate only perhaps 10 percent would even attempt to solve it in their head. There are several strategies to solve the problem. Brute force, the way we would solve the problem if we had pen and paper, is difficult, perhaps impossible for most. I wouldn't attempt it that way in my head, although I probably could if I had no better alternative, but not 765 times 543. It's harder to do it by brute force than it is to use another way. Instead, I realize 6 x 7 is 42. I add that to 420 in my head to get 462, the first addend. The second addend will be the same number with a zero on the end, 4620. I know the final digit will be a 2, then working left we have 8, a 0, carry the one, and a 5 for a final answer of 5,082. I check it by realizing 4600 and 400 are 5,000. Then add on the 62 and 20 for 5,082.

Chess is like this in the respect that much of the game has to be done in the head in a very similar place of the brain we use for solving math problems. Shortcut strategy alternatives to brute calculation like the one I used to solve the math problem are also needed in chess. Masters have those shortcut strategies. It's what is meant when studies show masters to have "superior pattern recognition". Nevertheless, masters also have the ability to brute force calculate. Every last one of them, I promise you. Some of those shortcut strategies or pattern recognition techniques can be taught if the person teaching them is clever enough to break them down and express them in a way that can be grasped to someone who hasn't figured it out intuitively on their own. But you still can not get away from that absolutely essential ability to calculate in your head. It's native, has something to do with synapses and brain hard wiring, can't be taught, and is necessary for chess strength. Chess ability, or visualization and calculation, is like a muscle; it's present in the brain and beefy, or it's not. The ability to build that chess muscle as opposed to normal muscles is much more limited than building physical muscle because of the greater number of factors needed to build the ability to calculate, most of which are out of the personal control of the calculator. In other words, the ability to calculate in one's head, which is the ability to visualize what a board will look like after a series of if/then moves and properly assess the outcome, is what makes the difference in chess strengths, and much of this can not be taught, or studied for. It is at least in part inherent.

Nevertheless, chess study helps, especially in getting to A class, for the part of playing good chess that is not inherent, the part that involves calculation less. The other reason I believe chess study has value is that it increases one's ability to appreciate the game. As humans we can recognize a correct fact far more easily than we can synthesize information and then produce a correct fact from data. That is why multiple choice tests are easier for us than fill in the blank, or short answer question tests. In the former, we have only to recognize the right answer. We don't have to manufacture or produce it. Studying chess allows one to better recognize chess beauty when seeing it even if we can't quite produce it ourselves.

Study may have an even more practical application. Had I not studied chess a great deal, and I have, I doubt I could have found the Rook sacrifice that saved my recent Evans Gambit game (#28), even though the sacrifice shouldn't have worked. I also think that without study I would have lacked the imagination to have sacrificed my Bishop in desperation as I did in my last game (#30), for a chance to save a draw later. Studying chess increases our ability to see wider as to what may be possible in this deep and rich game. That is one reason studying Nimzowitsch games can be such a joy, for example. So many of his moves are just outrageous, like moving Knights to a corner, parking Queens on h2 in a castled position, or placing a Rook behind a pawn that hasn't moved and looks like it has no business ever being considered for moving. But Nimzowitsch had concrete and justified reasons for all his moves. Had you not seen him try it by studying his games, I don't think that when playing your own game you would consider a similar possibility when it arises, even when it was the best move available.

Besides annotating my games, I study by playing over master games, preferably well annotated games, and checking those annotations for accuracy against what strong programs reveal about chess positions. Of the modern masters, I especially enjoy looking over Carlsen's and Nakamura's games. I should try to solve tactical puzzles and read endgame theory more often. I have heard and believe that doing so is enormously helpful. But so far I have lacked the self discipline to make myself do that very often. Also, please do not think I under rate the value of playing. I am really enjoying getting out weekly for a serious tournament game these days and can feel the rust beginning to crack off, even if I suffer a setback in my chess thinking as I did in Game 30. I don't play very often on the internet though. Anonymous chess quickly bores me. I am sure that when I was in my 20s and earlier I would have found it less boring and played a lot more games. If I could bring myself to play online more often, even just speed games, I would certainly benefit.

I hope that begins to answer your question!

Game 30: Columbia Round 5

This game is a real disappointment for me, not because of the result – a draw I was lucky to get – but because of the lack of chess sight I exhibited throughout this game.

Ashland XXXI
B28: Sicilian 2 Nf3 a6 (O'Kelly Variation)
White: Gilbert Holmes (1832)
Black: Dan Quigley (1807)
Columbia, SC, Round 5, G/75, 30 sec. bonus, Jan. 31, 2013

 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6

The O’Kelly is not my favorite variation, but I like to vary things by trotting it out every once in a while. Statistically speaking, my database shows Black does better with this move than with the four more popular moves: 2…d6, 2…Nc6, 2…e6, and 2…g6.

3.c3

I consider this White’s best move against the O’Kelly. I like seeing the slightly more popular 3.d4 here because I can play the Black side as a Kalashnikov or Sveshnikov wherein White is deprived of his best answer to …e5, namely Nb5, e.g. 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 and 4…e5 right away, or 4…Nf6 5.Nc3 and 5…e5. I have had great success with both of these and statistics in general greatly favor Black after 3.d4. The psychological point of the O’Kelly is that White might prefer to play open Sicilians and thus not really be prepared for the closed variations the O’Kelly steers White towards.

3…d5

Black can never go wrong with making this move whenever White plays c3 in a Kingpawn game. If the Center Counter Defense is okay when White has the immediate option of Nc3, and I think it is, it is actually better for Black when White does not have this option.

4.exd5 Qxd5 5.d4

At this point, I am very close to transposing into Sicilian Alapin lines that start with 2.c3. Against those, I like to develop my Knights to their natural square and then my Bishop to g4 before playing …e6. I like these lines better where Black develops the Queen Bishop outside the pawn chain. So I decided to try to go for that setup here, but I am one move behind due to having played 2…a6. Perhaps that makes this plan for Black inadvisable from the O’Kelly move order. I sure found it difficult to put into effect this game! Incidentally, Black is not doing that well statistically speaking from this position. White is at 60%, which is significantly higher than the normal 53% he gets with 1.e4, the 51% White gets if Black plays 1...c5, or the 50% he is at after Black plays 2...a6, a figure that is skewed because of the popular 3.d4?! response which gives White a 42% winning chances ratio. I suspect the 60% figure from this position for White may be because players of Black are not as fully prepared to play this position as they should be.

5...Nc6

I still consider this move the right approach. The problem with 5…Bg4 immediately is that it lets White know to develop his Bishop to e2. I want White to commit the development of that Bishop first. If he plays Be2 early, I may go ahead and leave my c8-Bishop behind the pawn chain. The text stops White from considering drawish Queen trade ideas once Black plays the inevitable …cxd4 by preventing the White response Qxd4.

6.Be3

6.Be2 is the main line. However, 6.Be3 is a normal developing move in the Alapin, and there is nothing wrong with it here. Surprisingly, my database contains 12 games played from this position in which Black wins 9, draws twice, and loses only once in a game where a class C player was playing a class D player. How did that game get in my database?

6…cxd4?!

No doubt, 6…Nf6 is the most accurate move here. I chose not to play it because I did not want to allow 7.dxc5 when a Queen trade is virtually forced. However, the Queen trade is not a problem for Black who can then play …e5 and soon recover the pawn with what I believe is complete equality. My difficulty stemmed from the desire to disallow the potential Queen trade.

7.cxd4 Nf6?!

I don’t think I would repeat this move either. I am still playing for …Bg4 and …e6 here, but it is probably time to give up on such lofty ambitions and settle for 7…e6 8.Nc3 Bb4 with only near equality because Black will be conceding White the two Bishops.

8.Nc3 Qa5 TN

The decision of where to retreat this Queen, d6 or a5, is a perennial question in the Center Counter Defense as well as the Alapin Variation. I normally prefer a5, though I can see that the …Qd6 retreat helps Black keep more force in the center. The drawback to …Qd6 is that the f8-Bishop has a narrower range of choice for which squares to develop to. That is why I normally prefer a5 for the Queen. However, here Black already has …a6 in, and therefore never has to concern himself with a possible Nb5 from White. For this reason, I am now thinking d6 might have been the slightly preferable square for my Queen. That is what happened in the only other game to reach the position after 8.Nc3: 8…Qd6 9.Bc4 e6 10.a3 Be7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Qe2 b5 13.Ba2 Bb7 14.Rfd1 Rac8 15.d5 exd5 16.Nxd5 Nxd5 17.Rxd5 Qb8 18.Rf5 g6 19.Bf4 Qa8 20.Ng5 Bxg5 21.Rxg5 Rcd8 22.h4 Rfe8 23.Qg4 Ne7 24.Be5 Bc8 25.Qf4 Nf5 26.Bf6 Re4 27.Qc7 Rd7 28.Qc5 Ne7 29.h5 Bb7 30.hxg6 Nxg6 31.Qf5 Rd3 32.Rxg6+ hxg6 33.Qxg6+ 1-0 Petrushin (2415) - Polovodin (2435), URS-FL Tallinn, 1983

9.Bc4

After 9.d5! Nb4 10.Bc4 Bf5 11.0-0 Rc8 12.Ne5 White has center domination, a secure King, and thus a strong initiative, all as a result of small inaccuracies by Black the past two or three moves. 12…e6 is no answer either because White can sacrifice the Knight on e5 with 13.dxe6! Qxe5 14.exf7+ Ke7 15.Bd4 Qd6 16.Re1+ Kd7 17.Bxf6! and Black is running out of moves. Probably best for Black in the above line is to decline White’s Knight sacrifice with 13…fxe6, and a very difficult game to follow.

9...Bg4?!

Consistently overambitious. White developed the Bishop to c4, so I decided to pin the Knight on f3. Due to White’s response, it is now clear to me that 9...e6 was best though White will play 10.0–0 with initiative.

10.Qb3 Nd8

A computer program found an interesting move which I never considered: 10...0–0–0! The point is that if White takes on f7, Black will capture on f3 and win the d4-pawn in exchange for the f7-pawn, a disadvantageous trade for White. Instead, White could play 11.d5 Nb4 12.Ne5 Bh5 13.0-0 with an even stronger attack than that of the game continuation because Black’s King is not safe.

11.Ne5!

At the board I was worried about 11.d5, threatening 12.Bb6. However, Black has an answer in 11…b5 and 12…b4, actually allowing the win of the d5-pawn. This is a very sharp, tactical position.

11…e6 12.0–0 Bb4 13.d5 b5?

This move should have lost the game for me. Best was going down a pawn with 13…0-0 14.dxe6 Bxe6 15.Bxe6 Qxe6 16.Bxf7+ Rxf7 17.Qxb4, but there would be plenty of chess left to play.

14.Nxg4?

I was fortunate White missed 14.dxe6!? when I had planned 14…bxc4 15.exf7 Nxf7 and I thought I would be okay, but White has 16.Nxc4 with a very good game. There are no real alternatives to 14…bxc4 either. For example, 14…Bxe6 15.Bxe6 fxe6 16.Nc6 Nxc6 17.Qxe6+ Kf8 18.Qxc6

14...Nxg4

White has the pair of bishops.

15.Be2

And now he doesn’t. Cute is the line 15.Bb6 bxc4 16.Bxa5 cxb3 17.Bxb4 a5 with a slight advantage to White.

15...Nxe3

For the first time this game, Black is now equal, but in opposite colored Bishop middlegames advantages can sway to one side or another quickly.

16.fxe3 0–0?

Best was 16...Bxc3 17.bxc3 0–0 18.a4 bxa4 19.Qb4 Qxb4 20.cxb4 exd5 21.Rxa4=. The text should have cost Black a pawn.

17.dxe6?

White misses the win of a pawn starting with 17.a4!? Bc5 18.axb5

17...Nxe6

Equality is again the result.

18.Nd5 Bc5 19.Qd3 f5?

I spent a lot of time considering this position. I am concerned that White will soon be developing Kingside threats, some perhaps based on a Nf6+ sacrifice threat, and I want to get my Queen Kingside in order to protect that flank. I thus considered three candidate moves a) 19…Qd8, intending …Qh4 or …Qg5, b) 19…Qa4, intending …Qh4, or c) 19…f5, which stops Nf6+ threats and cements White’s pawn to e3. I finally decided on the third choice, and to then figure out how to get the Queen to the Kingside later. Programs give Black a very slight edge if he makes the much more sensible move 19…Rad8.

20.Rxf5

Oops.

20…Rxf5?

Black does best to play 20...Qd8, but even then things are grim.

21.Qxf5 Re8 22.Bh5!

This move was completely unseen by me, not that I was looking all that hard. I was making what I felt were forced moves. Black is clearly dead lost as a result of his 19th and 20th move errors.

22…Bxe3+!?

Desperation.

23.Nxe3??

White allows me to distract him from his attack for the sake of mere material gain. After 23.Kh1!! instead, it’s all over for Black and White has reached his goal: 23...Qd8 24.Qf7+ Kh8 25.Qxe8+ Qxe8 26.Bxe8 and Black can resign.

23...g6

The point. White no longer has Nf6+ as an answer.

24.Bxg6! hxg6 25.Qxg6+ Ng7 26.Qg3 Qd2 27.Nf5

Good enough, but even crisper was 27.Ng4!? Qd4+ 28.Kh1 Rf8 29.Qb3+ Qc4 30.Qxc4+ bxc4 31.Ne3 clearly winning for White.

27...Qxb2 28.Qxg7+

White is trying to reach the endgame in a hurry where he figures he is winning, and so trades off the pieces. However, White’s pieces are better positioned than Black’s right now. Trades are therefore not necessarily in White’s interest. Building pressure in order to win material is. Therefore, best was 28.Rf1!? Qf6 29.h3 and Black is in for a really hard struggle to draw.

28...Qxg7 29.Nxg7 Kxg7

White is up a pawn in the Rook endgame that has resulted, but has to play accurately to get the point.

30.Kf2 Kf6 31.Rb1 Re4 32.Rb2 Kf5 33.a3 Rc4 34.Rb3 Rc2+ 35.Kf3 Ra2 36.g4+ Kg5 37.Kg3 Ra1 38.h4+ Kg6 39.Kf4

If there were a way to save this position, Black failed to find it. I can’t find it even now either. Computer programs declare White to be winning again from this position.

39…Kh6 40.Rd3 Rf1+ 41.Kg3 Rg1+ 42.Kf3 Rh1 43.Rd6+ Kg7 44.Kg3

44.h5 makes it even easier for White. If 44…Rh3+ 45.Kf4 Rxa3 46.g5, and its curtains for Black. White’s King can eventually make it to f8 where it will be shielded from checks from the back rank.

44...Rg1+ 45.Kf4 Rf1+ 46.Kg5 a5 47.Rd7+?

47.h5 and White has it in the bag: 47...Rc1 48.h6+ Kf7 49.Rd7+ Ke6 50.h7 Kxd7 51.h8(Q)

47...Rf7

Relieved, I offered a draw here. For the first time, I think I can see how to force one. I also hoped the timing of my draw offer might induce 48.Rxf7+ Kxf7 49.Kf5 b4 50.axb4 a4! and after we both Queen our Queenside pawns, I play 54...Qf6+ 55.Ke4 Qxh4 and a draw ensues because my King cannot be forced off the g-file.

48.Rd5 Rb7 49.h5 b4 50.axb4

White’s last chance to win was 50.h6+ and then if Black plays the natural 50…Kh7?? White can win with 51.Kh5 bxa3 52.g5 Kg8 53.Rd8+ Kf7 54.h7. Fortunately, Black has 50…Kh8 51.Kh5 Rb8 52.g5 b3 and White has to concede the draw by playing 53.Rd1 to stop Black’s pawn from Queening.

50...axb4 51.Rd2 b3 52.Rb2 Rb5+ 53.Kf4 Kh6 54.Kf3 Rb4 55.Kg3 Kg5 56.Kf3 Rf4+ 57.Ke2 Rxg4 ½-½