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.

Friday, 25 November 2016

006. The Game of Analysis

White: AndyAndyO - thematic tournament,, 2016

Most over-the-board players I've spoken to about correspondence chess regard it as a waste of time. Everyone just uses computers now, they'll say, so what's the point. In other words, computers have destroyed CC as a meaningful contest. Personally, I don't think that's true; but computers have certainly changed it – to such an extent that I gave up playing serious CC ten years ago.

That's not because I think the use of computers is "cheating" or anything. I don't think that at all. In fact, I think entirely the opposite. Correspondence chess is the game of chess analysis – it's about whose analysis of each ongoing position is the best – and to undertake any proper chess analysis today without referring to a computer (at least at some stage) would be pretty much ridiculous.

No, I gave up because computers have taken the fun out of it for me.

In bygone days we played by actual post, writing our moves turn by turn on specially designed scoresheets or postcards, sticking on stamps, going out and posting them, waiting for the replies to drop through the letterbox, rushing to the door to see – and often being surprised – by what our opponents had done. All that has gone. Okay, the material aspect is not to be mourned: the long delays between moves (especially when playing internationally), moves going astray (or people claiming they had), the sheer expense of it all. But the surprise has gone. Nowadays, I know what my opponents will play 90%, 95% of the time (even 100% in some cases), because it's what my computer would have played. Nowadays, games turn on small margins, a positional error, an erroneous plan, a misassessment through not analysing deeply or incisively enough. This is grandmaster chess and, more than that, grandmaster chess where no one ever blunders outright. And that's fine, really it is. But it's not much fun.

If I'm to play that type of chess, I need there to be more at stake than just winning or losing. So the only remote chess I play now is in online thematic opening tournaments, mostly those I set up myself with my own pet lines. Yes, I still know what my opponents are going to play most of the time, and I see the same erroneous plans being carried out by different opponents, unfamiliar with the variations and overreliant on their engines. And then, sometimes, they (or their engines) come up with different ideas, new ideas, stronger ideas, and sometimes I lose. And yes, I do still hate to lose.

But more than winning or losing, what I want from these games is truth. Every win, every loss, every draw, increases my knowledge, refines my analysis through critical practice. And as an opening theorist more than a player these days, that's what makes it worthwhile to me.

Here's some truth I was taught very recently. In this line of the Wagenbach, Black's set-up with 7...Bh6 8 0-0 h3 9 g3 Nc6 looks, admittedly, very artificial (especially as an early ...h4-h3 is almost always wrong in the Wagenbach), but it had survived computer-aided assault surprisingly well.

Not any more. White's play with 10 e6! fxe6 11 d5! appears to refute it completely. I spent a long time on this position, looking at all sorts of different variations, but failed to find a satisfactory defence for Black. The rest of the game is just me playing it out. I thought for a moment I might survive with 15...Nb6 and then 16 Nd4 Nxc4 – but White inserted 16 Rf1! first, and Black is just losing after that.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

005. A Different Gambit Declined

White: P. Dodd - BCCA thematic tournament, 2003

When I was around ten or eleven years old and competing in national junior training tournaments, I used to play the Göring Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 c3), having learnt it from Leonard Barden's The Guardian Chess Book (signed copy). I won brilliancy prizes as well, perhaps partly because Mr. Barden was awarding them and I was playing "his" opening, but it helped that people usually accepted the pawn(s). Whatever its objective theoretical assessment, the Göring Gambit Accepted (with 4...dxc3 5 Bc4!? cxb2 6 Bxb2) is not easy for Black to defend over the board. In practical terms, declining with 4...d5 makes a lot of sense.

The game below is a Göring Gambit Declined. And yet if you look at the opening moves, you'll notice it begins 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 – in other words, as a Queen's Gambit Declined: Chigorin's Defence. Before no one writes in to complain, I'll reiterate that I did say “1 e4 e5 – or transpositions thereto”. And if you continue on to White's 8th move, you'll find that it reaches the same position as after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 c3 d5 5 exd5 Qxd5 6 cxd4 Bg4 7 Be2 Bb4+ 8 Nc3, which is indeed a Göring Gambit Declined.

I find that rather surprising myself – and it can seem much more so to White. As far as they're concerned, they're playing the Queen's Gambit and may have no idea the Göring Gambit even exists. Even worse, this is not a very good line for White anyway. After 8...Bxf3 9 Bxf3 Qc4! (as in F.Marshall-J.Capablanca, Lake Hopatcong 1926), Black scores an impressive 59.4% from 588 games in MegaBase. I've also done well (4/5 to date) from here – not least, I'm sure, because my opponents had never seen this position before; two in fact began with 1 Nf3, ruling out ...e7-e5 on their first move, and still ended up in an Open Game.

The most common course (after 9...Qc4) is 10 Bxc6+ bxc6 11 Qe2+ Qxe2+ 12 Kxe2, when White may have thoughts of exploiting a superior structure. In actuality their d-pawn is weaker than Black's doubled c-pawns. And sometimes you get a helpful a2-a3, driving the black bishop towards its desired post at b6, increasing the pressure on d4. In the game, too – where White offered the queen swap on b3 – Black has the more promising play. While White should expect to hold (the draw percentage is 47.8%), having to defend right from the opening clearly isn't the best use of the first move.

Incidentally, there's another surprise lurking after Black's 4...e5!?. The critical response is reckoned to be 5 Qb3 Bxf3 6 gxf3, as Steinitz played (twice) against Chigorin in their 1889 World Championship match. But if an unwary opponent tries instead to keep things solid with 5 Be2, then 5...e4 6 Nfd2 Bxe2 takes the game unexpectedly into a reversed French Defence, in essence a reversed Alekhine-Chatard Attack (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e5 Nfd7 6 h4!? with 6...c5 7 Bxe7; the omitted ...h7-h5 is not significant), when the natural 7 Qxe2?! Nb4! already sees White in difficulties. Checking my files, I discover that I've won an online game ( 2004) with this against a “Jonathan Dodd”. Okay, it's probably just a coincidence.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

004. The Rorschach Knight

Black: M. Camejo de Almeida - 14th CC Olympiad (Preliminaries), 2000

This was the first time the Correspondence Chess Olympiad had been conducted by the astonishing new medium known as “email”. I was on board three (for England) and made a lot of draws. My opponent in the game below was playing for Portugal.

It is also my personal record for the longest (by a long way) I've ever followed “theory”. The position after 30...Qg5 was (with a slight detour on moves 26-28) from V.Anand-A.Beliavsky, Madrid 1998. At this point I deviated (from Anand's 31 Neg6) with 31 Bxc5, but this too was following theory – specifically, a line given in MegaBase (by either Anand or Wedberg) through to 38...Ke7, assessed as “with compensation” (for Black, who is a pawn down), which seemed reasonable in view of Black's active bishop and king. Nevertheless, I managed to grind out a win.

My analysis of this endgame was quite comprehensive. Whether that analysis is correct or not is another question, but my notes do indicate several things (which, again, may or may not be correct):
— 40...Kc5 “?!”. Rather than going towards the queenside, albeit temporarily, centralizing the king at once with 40...Ke5 seemed better.
— 46...g5 “!?”. In other words, not necessarily bad. All the same, I might have preferred 46...Ke5 again.
— 50...gxh4 “?”. Here I reckoned that 50...Bf7 would have held. Whereas after 50...gxh4, White has the strong plan Kf4, Ng6, Kg3, Kh4, Kh5 and Kxh6.
— 61 g5+ “+-”. With the added comment: “since Black cannot prevent the pawn reaching g7”. Which is correct, since the Lomonosov tablebases now tell me it's mate in 32.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the game comes in the sideline 70...Ka4 71 Kg6 Bg8 72 Kf6 Bh7 73 Ke7 Bg8 74 Kf8 Bh7 75 Ne8 Kxa3 76 Nf6 (and wins). White's lone knight has clearly done a lot of work – in fact it has made 24 moves so far. For this type of situation, ChessBase offers a Special Annotation: “Piece Path”, which maps all of a designated piece's moves on a small insert. Running that function on this knight produces the following picture:

Well, isn't that nice. The symmetry created by the knight's peregrinations is almost a Rorschach inkblot test.

So, what do you see? :)

Friday, 28 October 2016

003. Not the Exchange Variation

White: W. Wittmann - ICCF EU/M/GT/368, 1992

The Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation used to make me cross: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 – Bleurgh! How can anyone play like this?! At least, that's what I thought back then. Nowadays, I often play “boring” lines myself, such as 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+!. Taking an opponent out of their heavily-prepared opening system can be very effective, especially if they're fed up that you have. I lost more than one game to the Exchange Spanish largely through being fed up.

In chess, more often than not, “boring” simply means a position where you don't have any ideas. Whenever there's a variation you don't like, which you decry as “boring”, I think the most sensible course is to study it until you do like it, until you do have some ideas, and in fact there are plenty of interesting lines for Black to choose from after 3...a6 4 Bxc6. One move does not a boring game make. I didn't do that though. Instead, I decided irascibly to circumvent the issue by not playing ...a7-a6 at all. So there.

Around this time, I came across a book in a tournament bookstall bargain bin: Spanish: Schliemann (Jaenisch) by Leonid Shamkovich and Eric Schiller (Batsford 1983). (Which, incidentally, has more typos than any other chess book I've ever seen.) And on page two, there was the following diagram:

I've taken several openings into my repertoire because I liked a particular diagram in a particular book, and this one – showing the basic tabiya of the Schliemann – was really quite appealing to me. White has played the Ruy Lopez, the Variation of Champions, and Black has just pushed the f-pawn at it disdainfully. Pah!

So how does 3...f5 avoid the Exchange exactly? What if White takes on c6 anyway? As with 3...a6 4 Bxc6, the usual recommendation for Black is to recapture with the d-pawn, and in the Schliemann there is the additional trap 4...dxc6 5 Nxe5?! Qd4 6 Qh5+?? g6 7 Nxg6 hxg6 and wins, since the black queen defends the h8-rook backwards along the diagonal. But assuming White doesn't fall for that and plays, say, 5 Nc3 – what then? Nothing much, it seems. White can try and grind that out too, as I have occasionally done myself in thematic tournaments.

That brought me to 4...bxc6!?. Shamkovich & Schiller (most likely the latter) write: “4 ... bc would be pointless here”. I beg to differ. 4...bxc6 has definite points: it gives Black an extra central pawn, the light-squared bishop can sometimes be developed at a6, and most significantly of all – it's not 4...dxc6. After 4...bxc6, the nature of the game is substantially changed, so White can't contentedly and complacently grind. For instance, 5 Nc3 now allows Black a fine centre after 5...fxe4 6 Nxe4 (or 6 Nxe5? Qg5 7 Ng4 d5) 6...d5.

The critical (or at least critical-looking) continuation is 5 Nxe5, winning the e5-pawn and threatening Qh5+ as well. Obviously this can't be answered by 5...Qd4 here (the d7-pawn is in the way); but Black has 5...Qe7! instead, when 6 Qh5+ g6 7 Nxg6 Qxe4+ or 7...hxg6 offers good play; while 6 d4 leads to the current game which, as you'll see, turned out very well for me.

My opponent, Walter Wittmann, an OTB IM, used to play literally hundreds of postal games at a time. You can't conduct as many as that and hope to maintain a consistently high level, but Dr. Wittmann wasn't bothered. He used them purely as a means of researching and testing his OTB openings, picking CC players’ brains as it were. I guess what he learnt from this one is that 4...bxc6 5 Nxe5 Qe7 offers Black good play.

He did later try 4 Bxc6 again – in W.Wittmann-H.Kotz, Austrian League 2001. Whether he'd found a new idea for White after 4...bxc6 was not revealed, since the game continued 4...dxc6 5 Nc3, the line I was aiming to avoid. Okay, Black managed to draw without much trouble, but it certainly didn't look as much fun.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

002. Skirting the Troitsky Line

Black: juliangon - thematic tournament,, 2016

Alexei Alexeyevich Troitsky (1866-1942) was a Russian analyst and study composer. One of his achievements was his definitive investigation of the endgame: king and two knights vs. king and pawn.

As we learn early on, two knights can't force mate against a bare king because stalemate always comes first. But give the defending side a pawn as well and stalemate doesn't apply. In that case it all depends how far the pawn has advanced, whether it can promote before the knights are ready to give checkmate. And how far is far enough depends upon which file the pawn is on. Troitsky worked out that if the pawn is blockaded by a knight no further forward than the fifth rank (RP, QP, KP), fourth rank (BP) and third rank (NP), then the knights have time to mate a cornered king. The imaginary pattern drawn across the board by this theoretical pawn is known as the Troitsky Line.

The tablebases now have five-piece (and six- and seven-piece) endgames worked out to perfection. Nevertheless, they have been unable to improve significantly on Troitsky's original analysis, which, according to John Nunn in Secrets of Minor-Piece Endings (Batsford 1995) was “astonishingly accurate”. Astonishing is the right word. Primarily because, given that one of the knights is stuck on blockading duty, how on earth do you drive the enemy king into a corner with just king and knight? Why doesn't it keep getting away?! Alexei Troitsky, presumably by means of extremely complicated retro-analysis, managed to prove that, while the king does keep getting away, in the final event it finds itself in a situation from which it can't escape.

Well, that was two knights vs. a single pawn. How about three pawns? I reached this ending in a recently finished online game. R+3P vs. 2N+3P eventually became 3P vs. 2N, at which point the Lomonosov endgame tablebases declared mate in 103. Fascinating!

It took me quite some time to understand why I was losing.

In the diagram Black has just played 57...Kf3! (the unique winning move). White can't jettison the a- and c-pawns because the h-pawn is much too far back. In fact doing so sees the white king corralled very quickly: 58 a6 Nxa6 59 c7 Nxc7 60 Kh4 Ne6 61 h3 Ng8 62 Kh5 Ne7 and mate in 10. So the game continued 58 Kh4 Kf4 59 Kh3 Na6! 60 Kg2 Kg4 61 h4 Ne8! (not 61...Kxh4? 62 c7 and draws) 62 h5 Kxh5, and now if 63 c7 then 63...Nexc7! and Black wins because the remaining white pawn is safely blockaded behind the Troitsky Line. The tablebase declares mate in 90.

Okay, we could have played that out, but there seemed little point. We were only continuing at all because the endgame was so unusual. So I found a different way to lose, one involving two little "traps": 73 Ka7!? (the "best" move 73 Kc8 leads to mate in 65), when 73...Kxc6? (or 71...Kxc6?) is stalemate, while 73...Kxa5? is a draw by Troitsky. The way Black solves this problem is quite nice: 73...Ne8! 74 Kb7 Nd6+ with mate in nine.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

001. Playing That Rubbish

White: M. Mossekel - ICCF WT/M/644, 1994

A clubmate of mine, Kevin Simpson, recently played at the Paignton Congress, one of GM Keith Arkell's regularly haunts. On learning that Kev was from Mansfield Chess Club, Keith quipped: “Are they still playing that Wagenbach rubbish?”

The answer to that is: Yes, Keith, we're still playing it — for 25 years now, and it's still not been refuted.

The “rubbish” to which Keith is referring is a defence to the King's Knight Gambit: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 h5!?, invented in 1991 by another Mansfield stalwart, János Wagenbach (aka ‘The Master’). Okay, “rubbish” is not unfair comment, given that 3...h5 did start out as a joke... the King's Gambit (itself) is such rubbish that I can even play 3...h5!? against it! Ha ha ha, very funny! — so how come I'm not winning?

And the more we looked at it, the less White seemed to be winning. What really caught my interest was the variation 4 Bc4 h4! 5 d4 g5 6 Ne5 Nh6 7 Qh5 Qf6.

Obviously 8 Nxf7 Nxf7 9 Bxf7+ Qxf7 10 Qxh8 just wins here – so much for that 3...h5 rubbish! – except that it doesn't. Black plays 9...Ke7! instead and White loses a piece. Quite a nice trap.

This scenario has played itself out in 63 games so far, at least up to 7...Qf6, at which point White usually realizes it's not going to be so easy after all and tries 8 Nc3 – as in the following game, my first with the Wagenbach at correspondence chess. (Both János and I had previously played 3...h5 over the board, the first recorded game being D.Newhouse-J.J.Wagenbach, Burnley rapidplay 1992.)

Actually, my response 8...Bb4 wasn't the best. It was later established that Nc3-d5 isn't a serious threat, so Black can simply continue 8...d6!, and if 9 Nd5 then 9...Qd8, or 9 Nf3 Rg8, threatening to trap the queen with ...Bg4. Yes, White can regain the gambit pawn with 9 Nxf7 Nxf7 10 Bxf7+, seeing that 10...Ke7 is no longer possible; but after 10...Kd8! 11 Qg6 Qxg6 12 Bxg6 Nc6 13 Ne2 Bg7 14 c3 Ke7!, followed by ...Kf6, the bishop on g6 is suddenly embarrassed and White loses the pawn once more, this time for no compensation whatsoever.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

200 Open Correspondence Games

Back in 1992, when I began my tenure as editor of the BCCA Magazine, Correspondence Chess, contributed copy was scarce, as it often was, before and since (nobody got paid). So, in order to fill a few more pages of my first issue (CC#117, January 1993), I wrote the following article:


Three Open Games

If I had to pick one book from the 1992 crop of chess literature, it would be the re-publication of Grandmaster David Bronstein's 200 Open Games. If you are ever feeling fed up with chess – disillusioned by a horrible loss, perhaps – this book is a tonic guaranteed to restore your enthusiasm.

But the most unique feature of 200 Open Games is the manner in which Bronstein presents his games. Instead of conducting the usual wall-to-wall analysis, he introduces each one with a little story bringing to life some aspect of the game or of the chess world in general.

Of course, few writers can be as gifted or as entertaining as Bronstein, but his method has the advantage of allowing an author to include games that would not normally be considered for a selective collection; for example, the twelve-move draw, Bronstein-Ivkov, Vienna 1957.

It is this approach that I would like to exploit in presenting my own Three Open Games.

White: T.F. Deery - BCCA Major, 1988-89

The reader might consider the following game to be little more than the technical realization of an advantage. White misplayed the opening and lost a pawn without sufficient compensation. In postal chess, an error of this magnitude is usually decisive.

But what would you think if, instead of 27 Nc2, White had gone 27 Nb5 Rae8 28 Nc3 ...? The game could then have adorned the anthologies for years to come, given Black's spectacular sacrifice 28...Qxc3!!.

You will see that, despite having no less than four ways of winning the queen, White is lost no matter which one he chooses:
(i) 29 R1xc3 Re1+;
(ii) 29 R4xc3 Re2 (threatening 30...Bg2+) 30 Qxe2 Rxe2 31 Rg1 Bg2+ 32 Rxg2 Re1+;
(iii) 29 bxc3 Re2 30 Qxe2 (30 Rd4 Bg2+ and 31...Rxd2) 30...Rxe2 31 Rd4 Bxd4 32 cxd4 Re3 with a winning endgame;
(iv) 29 Qxc3 Re2 30 Rd4 R8e4 31 Bc4 Bxd4 32 Qxd4 Rxd4 33 Bxe2 Rxd5 again with a winning endgame; for example, 34 Rxc7 Rd2 35 Bf3 Rf2.

Black: K.W. McLaughlin - BCCA Premier, 1989-90

An entertaining variant of chess, other than those outlined by Malcolm Horne in CC#115, is the one known to me as ‘Scotch Chess’. The only difference in the rules from ordinary chess is that on capturing a piece or pawn, you must immediately replace it on the board – on any unoccupied square, subject to the restrictions that pawns cannot be placed on the 1st or 8th ranks and, obviously, you should not put yourself in check.

As neither player loses material, the main strategy of the game involves reducing the scope of the opposing army – usually by clustering enemy pawns towards one corner and putting pieces in behind them; e.g. black pawns at a6, a7, b6, b7, c6, c7 and bishop at b8 will form a close cage (for the queen) around a8. The extrication period can be used trying to checkmate the king.

It may have been familiarity with Scotch Chess that led me to a similar idea in the following game.

Consider the position after 11 Qd2. As compensation for White's lead in development and strong, mobile centre, Black has three extra, advancing kingside pawns. However, suppose White plays 12 Rxh4 and, after 12...Qxh4, 13 Bg5, forcing the queen down the h-file in front of the pawns, Black tries to drive away the bishop by ...f6 but White ignores the threat, allows ...fxg5, and instead manoeuvres a knight to f1, pushing the queen back to h4.

Look now at the diagram! Black's once-menacing pawns now merely encage their queen which, devoid of sensible squares, will take no further part in the game!

A rather fanciful idea, perhaps? No doubt the reader will find many flaws in it, but with a little help from Black, who knows? Unfortunately, Keith had other, more vigorous plans for his pawns and so carefully retreated his bishop out of their way with 11...Bf6.

As for the game itself, I have included it in my Three Open Games largely because I do not understand it and so cannot annotate it properly; but please do not be deterred from playing the game through to the end, since the final position of Black's rooks' pawns is quite unique.

Black: W.F. Lumley - BCCC Candidates, 1991-92

Ishlinsky, when asked “is it worthwhile putting so much effort into chess?”, replied “it is worthwhile because chess gives a man more than he puts into it.”

I should expand the context of this quote to ‘he/she’ and ‘man/woman’, but it can become tiresome to do so and makes for clumsy writing. There is much to be said for the adoption of Marge Piercy's personal pronoun ‘per’ in such cases.

But never mind that! The gist of Ishlinsky's statement is clear – and how much more so for correspondence chess players! The reader will know from per (!) own games how analysis can yield amazing variations when not fettered by over-the-board time limits. However, it may be possible to get too carried away.

The following game was almost one of my favourites. After achieving a sizeable plus from the opening, I was very pleased with my play, realizing this advantage in the rest of the game. Except that, at the end, I gave up my queen for a mate that was not there.

Look at the position after 24 Nb5.

I considered 24...Bg7 to be forced, as 24...fxg4 25 Rd8+ Qxd8 26 Rxd8 is mate. So I immersed myself in some pretty lines following 24...Bg7 25 Qg1!; e.g. 25...Qa5 26 Qxa7+! or 25...Qxf4+ 26 Kb1 b6 27 Nxa7! Kxa7 28 Ra5+ and wins. Consequently, I was not a little dismayed to receive by return of post the reply 24...fxg4!. Of course 25 Rd8+ Qc8! is not mate at all, so I had to resign.

Bitter self-recriminations followed and I gave up chess for nearly a week. I hardly need to point out to you that 24 Nxf5 wins quite easily for White.


I was quite pleased with that, and still am, even if some footnotes are now warranted:
— In the first game, there's no actual need for 27...Qxc3!?, since 27...Bg4 (among other things) wins far more easily.
— In the second, the queen cage is pretty much impossible. White would have to play something like 12 Rxh4 Qxh4 13 Bg5 Qh2 14 Kf1 f6 15 Qe3 fxg5 16 Re1, be given several free moves (Re2, Ke1, Nb1, Nd2, Nf1), and has a losing position even so.
— In the third, I'd now offer the non-binary inclusive, singular “they” as a gender neutral pronoun; while in the game, 24 Nxf5 isn't the best move either: 24 Qg1! was correct, followed then by 25 Nb5 (even after 24...a6), when my variations actually work.

I have, I confess, occasionally thought about writing my own book: 200 Open Correspondence Games, based on my experiences at “remote chess” (Fernschach), by post (snail mail), by email, and (nowadays) on online servers. The issues with that idea are obvious: who would want to publish what is primarily a vanity project? And more pertinently: who would want to buy it?

But that's the great thing about blogs, isn't it. It doesn't cost anything to post things online, and if no one much (or at all) reads your posts, never mind, you've had fun writing them. So here it is, my new blog: 200 Open Games.

All will begin with the moves 1 e4 e5 – or transpositions thereto – the prerequisite for an Open Game. Bronstein arranged his book by openings: “The Queen's Attack”, “The Bishop's Attack”, “The QP Attack”, and so forth. I won't be doing that. Instead, I'll add tabs for opening names and ECO codes, C20 through C99 – within which I have some areas of special interest:

C23: Calabrese Counter-Gambit: 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 f5.
C34: King's Gambit, Wagenbach Defence: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 h5.
C57: Two Knights, Traxler Variation: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 4 Ng5 Bc5.
C63: Ruy Lopez, Schliemann Defence: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5.

And the second one there in particular, since we (János and I) have been playing and analysing the Wagenbach for, what, 25 years now.

So I might as well start with one of those...