Sunday, 19 February 2017

013. Winning With Someone Else's Moves

White: paardesprong - thematic tournament,, 2005

One of the benefits of studying openings is that you can, very occasionally, win games with moves you've worked out entirely at home. Or even with someone else's moves that you've just remembered. My most notable instance was against Colin Crouch at the 1990 Nottingham Congress. In a sharp line of the French, Black answered a classic bishop sacrifice on h7 by giving up his queen for three pieces. This was reckoned at one time to offer Black good play but had since been refuted in the game S.Szilagyi-T.Harding, ICCF World Cup 1986. Colin helpfully played straight down this line, stopped, thought for an hour, and then resigned – and a move sooner than in Szilagyi-Harding, so I didn't have to think of a single move for myself.

This hardly ever happens to me in over the board chess anymore. For one thing, I mostly avoid theoretical main lines nowadays; and, for another, I usually find I've forgotten most of my home analysis, even in my own pet lines. In correspondence chess, it's a different matter. With everything written down (or entered on ChessBase), I do still win games where most of my moves have been worked out (and computer checked) in advance. And it's possible to win games with someone else's moves too.

When investigating the Calabrese Counter-Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5!?) in the mid 1990s (see Game 009), I got round to considering what would happen if White replied with 3 f4!?. It seemed to me that 3...exf4 was the best response, transposing into a variation of the Bishop's Gambit: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Bc4 f5!?. Against this, theory recommended that White play 4 Qe2 Qh4+ 5 Kd1 fxe4 6 Qxe4+ Be7 7 Nf3 Qh5 8 Bxg8 Rxg8 9 Nc3 Nc6 10 Re1 d6 11 Nd5 Bf5 12 Qc4 Bxc2+ (intending 13 Kxc2 Qxd5! etc) 13 Ke2.

Here analysis by Igor Glazkov continued 13...Qg6 (L.Hoffer-Grischfeld, London 1882) 14 Kf2! Kd7 15 Rxe7+! and wins, or 13...Ne5 14 Qxc7 Qf7 15 Qxb7 Rd8 16 Kf1! with advantage to White.

But, as it happens, Eric Schiller had refuted all this in his (unfairly disparaged) little book Who's Afraid of the King's Gambit (Chess Enterprises 1989), where he gives 13...Bh4! 14 Nxc7+ (or 14 d4 0-0-0) 14...Kd7 15 Nxa8 Re8+ 16 Kf1 Rxe1+ 17 Nxe1 Qd1 18 g3 fxg3 19 hxg3 (or 19 Qxc2 Qxe1+ 20 Kxe1 gxh2+ 21 Ke2 Nd4+) 19...Bxg3 20 Qe2 Bd3 21 Qxd3 Qxe1+ 22 Kg2 Qf2+ 23 Kh3 Qh2+ 24 Kg4 Ne5+ and Black wins.

This was picked up later (2004) by Thomas Johansson, but did not make it into general circulation. For instance, the one-volume encyclopaedia Nunn's Chess Openings (Everyman, Gambit 1999) stops at 13 Ke2, with an exclamation mark and the symbol denoting that “White is much better”.

So, so far I've won three times as Black after 13 Ke2. The game below was the shortest – and in that one, too, I didn't have to think of a single move for myself.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

012. A Bust to the Bishop's Gambit

Black: tarby - thematic tournament,, 2015

I once wrote an article (again for the BCCA magazine) entitled “A Bust to the 7...Qc7 Winawer - ?”. It was based on my games with a home-made plan involving pushing the kingside pawns. My record over the board against the main line is indeed quite favourable: P41, W31, D9, L1 (grrrr). All the same, the title was a little joke, a nod to Fischer's famous “A Bust to the King's Gambit”, in which he proposed that 2...exf4 3 Nf3 d6! wins by force.

Actual busts of opening variations are pretty rare. Sooner or later someone usually finds a way to refute the refutation. In both the supposed “busts” above, theory has indeed moved on substantially. All the same, I think Black's position is objectively better against my line than White's position is against Fischer's – which is as you'd expect. Robert James Fischer, the 11th World Champion, was one of the strongest players in the history of chess. Naturally, therefore, his opinions (at least on chess) are going to worth more than mine, a mere correspondence IM (SIM) with a current, rather specious OTB rating of 219 ECF (roughly 2350 Elo).

GM John Shaw is also much stronger than me, with a current ECF rating of 237 (roughly 2500 Elo), but he is not Fischer either. In his recent megatome The King's Gambit (Quality Chess 2013), Shaw includes a chapter “The Refutation of 3 Bc4?!”, in which he recommends 3...Nc6 and claims a definite advantage for Black. Subsequent investigators have disputed this.

The critical line in question runs 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Bc4 Nc6 4 d4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Bb4 6 Nge2 f3! 7 gxf3 d5 8 exd5 Nxd5 9 0-0 Nxc3 10 bxc3 Bd6.

Here Shaw writes: “What is good about White's position? Nothing, unless you think four pawn islands versus two is a plus. The following game confirms Black's superiority.” That was Belanoff-Simmelink, correspondence 2007, which continued 11 Ng3 0-0 12 Ne4 Be6 13 Bxe6 fxe6 14 Rb1 b6 15 d5 Ne7 16 dxe6 Qe8 17 Nxd6 Qg6+ 18 Kh1 Rad8 19 Ba3 cxd6 20 Qe2 Rf6 21 Rbe1 Nf5 and “Black eventually converted his advantage”.

Shaw also comments that “The simple 12...Be7 maintains an edge”. As it happens, I had previously lost a game following that very move: 12...Be7 13 Kh1 Na5 14 Bd3 f5 15 Ng3 c5 16 Rg1 cxd4 17 Rb1 dxc3 18 Nh5 Rf7 19 Bf4 g6 20 Be5 Bc5 21 Rg2 Qh4 22 Bxc3 Qxh5 23 Bxa5 Be6 24 Qf1 b6 25 Bd2 Bd5 26 Rg3 f4 27 Rh3 Qg5 28 Rg3 fxg3 29 Bxg5 Bxf3+ 0-1 tsmenace-Carpo, 2005.

There is nothing new in chess. In his earlier book The Fascinating King's Gambit (self-published 2004), Thomas Johansson, too, had flagged 6...f3! as “Black's best option” and continued the line to 12 Ne4, which he assessed as unclear, writing that “White's pawn structure may not be the healthiest, but on the other hand White still has more influence in the centre and a half-open g-file.”

So who is right? In my game, White might improve with 19 Qe1 or simply 17 cxd4, intending 17...Qxd4 18 Bh6 Rf7 19 Nxf5, but I'm not keen on the position after 12...Be6. Instead, on the ChessPublishing forum, Stefan Bücker proposed 11 Qd2 and 12 Qg5, writing that “When the queens are exchanged, there is not the slightest reason why Black's fewer pawn islands should be a factor. White's center may well be more important.”

Which brings us finally to the game below, where I had a chance to test Stefan's idea out. As you'll see, Black kept the centre pawns under control, but didn't manage to do much else. And another 2016 correspondence game quickly ended in a draw too. So it seems that, while Shaw's recommendation leads to a position that you might not want to play over and over again, White is probably not worse here.

Unless, of course, you know different...

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

011. Chess Correspondence

White: D.M. Andrew - BCCA Premier, 1991

Not only did we used to play chess by post – with cards, envelopes, stamps and so forth – we used to correspond about chess by post as well. My two most regular correspondees, both now deceased, were Otto Hardy and Donald Andrew. Otto was a significant opening theoretician and his letters were full of his own games and analysis, of which I still have three files worth. Donald was... well, I'm not sure what Donald was exactly. Perhaps the most apt word is “enthusiast”. Donald used to collect other players’ game scores and pick their brains about opening analysis. As well as me, I think he also wrote to and received stuff from Jeff Horner and John Littlewood, and very likely there were more of us. For services rendered, as it were, Donald used to send me an occasional book of first class stamps, which I used for my postal games.

Googling today, I discover that Donald was Yorkshire Champion in 1949, came joint second in the British Major Open the same year and, much later, was joint British Senior Champion (in 1985). A game of his features in the updated edition of John Littlewood's book How to Play the Middle Game in Chess (Batsford 2001), where John wrote:

[I]nexperienced players have somehow acquired the erroneous belief that middle games with opposite-coloured bishops are also drawish. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, I am tempted to generalize by stating that, in middle game situations, opposite-coloured bishops tend to unbalance play and tilt it even more in the favour of the player with the initiative. As an instructive example of this, I quote a correspondence game played recently by an old friend of mine, Donald Andrew:

That game was Andrew-Roach, correspondence 1999: 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 Nf6 3 d4 exd4 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 e5 d5 6 Bb5 Ne4 7 Nxd4 Bd7 8 Bxc6 bxc6 9 0-0 Bc5 10 f3 Ng5 11 f4 Ne4 12 Be3 Qe7 13 Nd2 Nxd2 14 Qxd2 Bxd4 15 Bxd4 c5 16 Bf2 d4 17 c3 Bb5 18 Rfe1 d3 19 c4 Bxc4 20 Rac1 Ba6 21 Rxc5 0-0 22 Ra5 Qe6 23 f5 Qc8 24 f6 h6 25 Re3 Rd8 26 Rg3 g5 27 Rxg5+ hxg5 28 Qxg5+ 1-0.

I never actually met Donald in person, but I played him five times in BCCA tournaments. All the games were drawn. The first of these followed (or rather, transposed to) the same line of the Two Knights Defence as the one above, until Black deviated at move seven. As it happens, Donald could have gone for opposite-coloured bishops in our game too.

Here 13 Bxc5 gxf3 14 0-0! was possible, after which my handwritten notes give a terse “14...Bh3!” and no further. Twenty-five years on, Houdini continues this line with 15 Re1 Bxg2 16 e6 Rd8 17 exf7+ Kxf7 18 Re7+ Kg6 19 Bd4 Qf5 20 Rxg7+ Kh5 21 Rxg2 c5 22 Rg3 Rhg8 23 c3 and claims a slight advantage for White. This is perhaps why virtually everyone else has preferred 11...Qe7.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

010. The Weakest Square

Black: L.T. Ellis - BCCA Gambit Tournament, 1999

As all beginners quickly learn, the weakest square in each sides' position at the start of the game is KB2 – that is f2 for White and f7 for Black – which is only protected by the king. We learn this by losing (often more than once) to sequences like 1 e4, 2 Bc4, 3 Qh5 and 4 Qxf7 mate. One of the aims of the King's Gambit, too, is to open the f-file and target this square with as many pieces as possible.

In the following game, White did indeed aim for f7 with 6 Qxf3 and 7 Bc4. For instance, 7...Nxd4? 8 Bxf7+! Kxf7 9 Qh5+ Kg7 10 Be5+ Nf6 11 Bxd4 and wins, or similarly 7...d5 8 Bxd5 Nxd4 9 Bxf7+! Kxf7 10 Qh5+ Kg7 11 0-0 with strong play for the two sacrificed pieces in the style of the Double Muzio. But Black forestalled any such ideas with his early queen manoeuvres.

Instead, the weakest square turned out be Q2 (d7), which is covered initially by four pieces: b8-knight, c8-bishop, queen and king. In fact three of them (knight, bishop and king) were still defending it in the key position at move 31.

The trouble was that the knight and bishop had not moved throughout the game, nor had the a8-rook, nor did they. Meanwhile White had amassed five attackers: knight, bishop, queen and two rooks, and could theoretically add the e-pawn as well if required.

In the end, the "weak" Q2 square didn't collapse after all. But preventing that cost Black too much and he soon resigned.

Friday, 6 January 2017

009. Patzer Sees a Check

White: stormytlc - thematic tournament,, 2011

Talking of articles, I once wrote an article on 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5!? (the Calabrese Counter-Gambit) for a special issue of Tim Harding's magazine Chess Mail (May 1997). Nineteen years ago. Damn. My theoretical investigations have moved on quite a bit since then.

Jänisch's "refutation" 3 d3 Nf6 4 f4, which I indicated as still being the critical line, had in fact already been neutralized by Mark Lyell: 4...Nc6 5 Nf3 fxe4! (I concentrated on the inferior 5...exf4, utilizing some transpositional analysis from Matthias Wahls) 6 dxe4 Nxe4 7 fxe5 Nxe5! 8 Bd5 (or 8 Nxe5 Qh4+) 8...Nxf3+ 9 Qxf3 Nf6 and Black is fine, J.Emms-M.Lyell, British Championship, Southampton 1986.

In his later book on the Italian Game and Bishop's Opening, Beating 1 e4 e5 (Everyman 2010), John Emms suggested two other possibilities for White: 3 d4!? exd4 4 e5 d5 5 exd6 Bxd6 6 Ne2 Nc6 7 0-0 Na5 8 Bxg8 Rxg8 9 Nxd4 “with advantage, J.Pietrasanta-K.Shirazi, Pau 2008”; and the simple 3 d3 Nf6 4 Nf3.

The first, a sort of reversed Falkbeer, was missing from my article. I subsequently faced 4 e5 three times (1998-2001), though White always retreated the bishop in my games. After 5 exd6 etc, Shirazi's play might be improved by 7...Qh4!?, when something like 8 g3 Qf6 9 Nd2 Ne5! 10 Nxd4 Bd7 and ...0-0-0 is quite unclear.

The second line, 3 d3 Nf6 4 Nf3, can indeed be tricky if Black develops "normally". I gave (among other things) 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Nxe4 6 Qd5 Nd6, following L.Bledow-P.von Bilguer, Berlin 1839, which looks extremely dodgy to me now, especially if White just plays 6 0-0!. Instead, Emms notes that 4...Nc6 5 0-0 Bc5 6 Nc3 d6 7 Bg5 “is a King's Gambit Declined with reversed colours, and 7...Na5 8 Bxf6! Qxf6 9 Nd5 Qd8 10 b4! Nxc4 11 bxc5 was somewhat better for White in D.Fryer-M.Lyell, Hastings 2003/04.” The problem is the combination of Bg5 and Nc3-d5 which the natural ...Bc5 does nothing to prevent. Trying to solve this led me to the patzer's variation 4...fxe4 5 dxe4 Bb4+!?.

White has four reasonable ways to block the check, all of which rule out the Bg5 and Nc3-d5 plan: (i) 6 Nc3 sees the knight pinned; (ii) 6 Nbd2 puts it on the wrong square; (iii) 6 Bd2 allows the bishop to be swapped off; (iv) 6 c3 Bc5 leaves the c3-square obstructed by a pawn. Almost all of my opponents have chosen option four, when White's position does look rather good. It will take at least four moves for Black to evacuate the king from the centre, while the c5-bishop is an obvious target for space-gaining advances on the queenside with b2-b4 and a2-a4-a5. Nevertheless, it turns out that it's not so easy for White to prove anything, while Black gets on with the slow plan of ...d7-d6, ...Qe7, ...Be6 and ...0-0. It's often possible (and better) to insert ...Nc6-d8 before ...Be6 as well.

The game below was one of my earliest with this set-up. As it happened, my opponent managed to keep me from castling short, but by that time it was okay to go long. Note that 18 Qxd6?? would lose for White after 18...Nb8, while 18 Na3 Rhe8 19 Qxd6 Qf4 20 Qd2 Nf6 21 Qxf3 exf4 is fine for Black. And also that no one has yet managed, in my 16 further games, to cast doubt on Black's position after 5...Bb4+. It may be possible to cast doubt on the whole idea of 2...f5, but that will have to wait for a future post.

Friday, 23 December 2016

008. Spoilsport Chess

White: M.W. Johnson - BCCA Championship, 1992/93

Issue #102 (April 1989) of the BCCA magazine (before my time as editor) featured an article by Peter Millican on the King's Gambit, Double Muzio. The basic tabiya arises after 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 Bc4 g4 5 0-0 (the Muzio) 5...gxf3 6 Qxf3 Qf6 7 e5 Qxe5 8 Bxf7+ (“doubling up”) 8...Kxf7 9 d4 and if 9...Qxd4+ then 10 Be3 Qf6 11 Bxf4. Yes, White is two pieces down here, but the rest will all soon be in play and attacking, whereas Black's forces are almost all still at home, while the king sits uncomfortably on the f-file. Peter concentrates on this line, assessing it as “objectively equal”, and supplies a fascinating, at times brilliant exposition of the attacking resources at White's disposal.

Offering the article for download on his website, Peter comments: “It's all good fun, though I've since discovered a lot of improvements” and, pertinently, “Some day it would be good to redo the entire article with computer assistance.” Yes, indeed. As I know only too well, undertaking highly complicated, tactical analysis without a chess engine to tidy it all up is fraught with peril. Today's engines can rip everything to shreds in minutes, or even seconds.

For instance, Peter's main game (Millican-Down, BCCA Gambit Tournament 1986/87) continued 11...Ne7 12 Nc3 Nf5 13 Ne4 Qg6 14 g4 Be7 15 Kh1 Nh4 16 Qe3 Kg8. Here he rejected 17 Be5 (Estrin & Glazkov) on account of 17...b6! (Korchnoi, ECO) and played 17 Bh6!! (threatening 18 Nf6+ Bxf6 19 Rxf6 Qxf6 20 Qe8+) which won by force: 17...Qe6 18 Rf2 b6 19 Raf1 Ng6 20 Qd4 Bf6 21 Nxf6+ Kf7 22 Nd5+ Ke8 23 Qxh8+ Nxh8 24 Rf8 mate. Very nice. However, my Houdini software is less impressed, pinpointing Black's 16th move as an outright blunder, and refutes White's play with, ironically, the refutation of 17 Be5, only a move sooner: 16...b6!, when Black keeps the option of both ...Ke8 and ...Kg8 and appears to win in all variations. The emotionless computer gives not one whit about the discovered check.

That doesn't mean it's all over after 12...Nf5. Instead of 13 Ne4(?), White does much better with the natural 13 Nd5(!), while Houdini suggests a startling improvement of its own: 13 Be5!? (the Triple Muzio!), which it rapidly calculates to a draw: 13...Qxe5 14 Qh5+ Ke7 15 Qg5+ Ke8 16 Rxf5 Qe7 17 Re5 Kd8 18 Rae1 Nc6 19 Rxe7 Bxe7 20 Rxe7 Nxe7 21 Nd5 Re8 22 Nxe7 Rxe7 23 Qg8+ Re8 24 Qg5+ and so on. In other words, despite the computer finding flaws, sometimes serious ones, here and there in his 1989 analysis, Peter's intuitive/empirical assessment seems still to stand up. Moreover, in practical play, White has a huge plus score. It's easy to pick holes in variations after the event, especially with multi-processor enhancement.

But before the silicon era was even a dream, there was the first World Champion and first great spoilsport, Wilhelm Steinitz, who subjected his contemporaries' enthusiastic commentary to critical scrutiny and found it wanting. Steinitz looked at the Double Muzio too, but rather than get involved in the shenanigans after 9...Qxd4+, he recommended that Black avoid the whole thing by playing 9...Qf5!. I first discovered this in Stefan Bücker's interesting little book Das neue Königsgambit (Schach bei Franckh 1986), where Stefan wrote:

“Wäre das zweite Figurenopfer wirklich so stark, so hätte man es in der Blütezeit des Muzio-Gambits gewiß nicht übersehen. In Wahrheit hat schon die folgende Partie 1889 den Nachweis für die Inkorrektheit erbracht: Showalter-Taubenhaus, New York 1889. 9...Df5! (“Am besten”, Steinitz) 10 g4 (10 Lxf4 Sf6) 10...Dg6 11 Sc3 Sf6 12 Lxf4 d6 13 Lg3 Kg7 14 Sd5 Sxd5 15 Dxd5 Sc6 16 Dc4 d5 17 Dxd5 Le6 -+ (0:1, 26). Oder 11 Lxf4 Sf6 (11...Le7) 12 Le5 Le7 13 Lxf6 (13 Sc3 d6 14 Lxf6 Lxg4) 13...Lxf6 14 Sc3 (Nugent-Smith, USA 1909) 14...Kg7 15 Sd5 Tf8 16 Kh1 Sc6 -+.” (If you don't read German, Google Translate will give you the gist.)

Peter noted similar lines himself after 10 g4 and therefore, in Millican-Rawlings from the same BCCA tournament, opted for 10 Bxf4 Nf6 11 Qe3, which led to another rout: 11...Bg7 12 Be5 Qe6? (12...Qg6 13 Nc3 Re8 14 Nd5 d6 is more testing) 13 Nc3 d5 14 Rae1 Nbd7 15 Qf3 Nxe5 16 dxe5 Qb6+ 17 Kh1 Rf8 18 Nxd5 Qd4 19 exf6 Bxf6 20 Nxf6 1-0. Houdini evaluates Black as already worse after 15...Nxe5 and losing after 16...Qb6+.

But if you're aiming to be a spoilsport, I think you should do it properly. In such mean spirit, I played 11...Qe4!? in the game below.

What is really annoying about this move is that White can now regain virtually all the sacrificed material – i.e. 12 Qxe4 Nxe4 13 Be5+ Kg8 14 Bxh8 with rook and pawn for the two pieces – but then the anticipated attack has completely vanished. Worse still, after 14...d5 15 Nc3 Nxc3 16 bxc3 Nd7, the two pieces will soon be two bishops, which means a horrible endgame for White. Preserving the h8-bishop from exchange, on the other hand, would cost a pawn; e.g. 15 Be5 Nc6 16 Bxc7 Nxd4 17 Nc3 Nxc3 18 bxc3 Ne2+ 19 Kh1 Nxc3 and White is pretty much just losing.

Understandably, Maurice (who was British Correspondence Champion at the time) wasn't too keen on any of that, so he retreated the queen again. But then Black has a superior version of Millican-Rawlings, and I won quite quickly (albeit without the reassurance of a powerful engine predicting the result in advance). That Houdini of course suggests improvements on my play, too, hardly matters since Black's play doesn't need improving. It's White who has to improve – and there the computer has nothing to say.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

007. The Flying Wedge

Black: A. Richards - BCCA DJKO 33/1, 1998

Pattern recognition is a significant factor in chess. This has actually been tested. Set up a normal position on the board, get someone to look at it for, say, ten seconds and then ask them to reproduce the position from memory. It turns out, in general, that the stronger the player, the better they succeed. That's because they have an increasingly larger memory base of categorized patterns.

Take, for instance, the following configuration on the black side: Kg8, Rf8, Bg7, Nf6, Pf7, Pg6, Ph7. Show that to a chess player, almost irrespective of strength, and they'll immediately notice that Black has castled behind a kingside fianchetto. That unitary formation could then be reproduced on the board in a few seconds. But to a non-chess player, it has no meaning; it's just seven items to be remembered more-or-less independently.

Now build it up into a position from a main line Classical King's Indian. The patterns in this much more complicated array are still readily appreciable to anyone who knows the opening: the arrangement of the two kingsides, the central pawn structure, the standard procedures of attack and defence on each flank. That's now perhaps five or six things for a chess player to recall, each of them interconnected. Whereas a non-chess player may have to try and remember 32, each piece and pawn individually, with no overarching principles to guide them. Dump everything randomly across the board, on the other hand, and chess players fare little better, because there are no familiar patterns for them to discern.

But the game below isn't really about any of that. The pattern arising after White's 21st move is not a particularly common one for chess players to recognize; it's just rather pleasing in its geometry.

Cochrane's Gambit gave White two pawns for a piece, which have now been assembled in a flying wedge. From Wikipedia: “This V-shaped arrangement began as a successful military strategy in ancient times when infantry units would move forward in wedge formations to smash through an enemy's lines.” The symmetrical white pawns have certainly done that. Better still, the white pieces are arranged symmetrically too: queen and bishops lined up behind the lead pawn, the rooks each behind the secondaries. Even the outlying b- and h-pawns hang back in proportion. (For the king to be sitting on e1 as well would probably be asking too much.) Meanwhile Black's forces seem indeed to be scattered randomly about the board. That doesn't necessarily mean that Black is losing, but he is.

Having set up their wedge, the white pawns rested for a little while... until the f-pawn (okay, strictly speaking, the g-pawn) moved forward to join its colleague on the sixth rank, at which point Black resigned.