Sunday, 26 March 2017

016. The Double Rosentreter

Black: Carpo - thematic tournament, 2006

In an earlier post, I mentioned in passing the following variation: 1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 d4 g4 5 Bxf4 gxf3 6 Qxf3 Nc6 7 Bc4 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.” Given that here too White sacrifices the knight on f3 and the bishop on f7, it seems appropriate to dub this the “Double Rosentreter”.

As in the Double Muzio, the practical difficulty for Black is in defending against threats which mount very quickly on the f-file. The problem for White is in obtaining anything more from this than a draw. Indeed, Black could have forced one by playing 10...Ke6, after which White has nothing better than to repeat with 11 Qe5+ Kf7 12 Qh5+ etc. But supposing Black doesn't want that, what then? Then interesting things can happen.

In the following game, 13 Qh6+ was my prepared novelty. I had drawn ten years earlier with 12 Na3 Nf6 13 Bh6+ Kg8 14 Qg5+ and so on. Later, the Russian player (and future CC-SIM) Enver Efendiev did substantially better after 12 Nc3, winning two very short miniatures (including one against my previous opponent); but neither of those featured 12...Nf6.

After that move, 13 Be5 Qe8 14 Qg5+ Qg6 15 Qxg6+ Kxg6 16 Bxd4 Rd8 saw Black consolidate very easily in Mic.Schulze-J.M.Johansen, IECG 2001. (The two pawns are not worth anything like the extra bishop.) And 13 Bh6+ Kg8 14 Qg5+ Kf7 15 e5!?, from V.Chetvertakoff-F.Arbis, IECC 2001, also seems a bit dubious after 15...Nf5!? 16 Rxf5 Bxf5 17 Qxf5 Qd7 18 Qf2 Qc6; while 15 Qh5+ Kg8 16 Qg5+ Kf7 is another draw (unless Black wants to try 15...Ke6!? perhaps).

Okay, it's probably true that White doesn't have anything after 13 Qh6+ Kf7 14 Be5 either. Houdini resolutely declares it “0.00” and two other games have ended in two more draws after 14...Bg4!. All the same, I think the Rosentreter (with 5 Bxf4), which I first played in 1989, is worth an occasional punt. The lack of any immediate threats allows Black a rather confusing freedom, and in such cases you can easily find that you've put your pieces on the wrong squares. And then it's often too late.

In my game below it is only when we reach move twenty that the engine starts to see some promise in White's position. Even if it's not necessarily all over for Black at this point, it's certainly much easier to play White. Just keep moving forwards. At the end, Black had presumably worked out that he would soon lose a lot of material and so resigned. I'd have played it out myself, but I quite understand the feeling of not wanting to look at a game anymore.

Friday, 10 March 2017

015. Losing From Both Sides

Black: H.J. Hofstetter - 14th CC Olympiad (Final), 2002

In his recent, entertaining book, Your Opponent is Overrated (Everyman 2016), James Schuyler tells of a series of bets he had with Alex Sherzer:

Sherzer set up a simple endgame position with five minutes on the clock and claimed he could win this as White, then turn the board and draw it as Black. Schuyler took the bet. Sherzer won and pocketed the cash. He then said that in another position he could do the same thing twice; i.e. win as White, draw as Black, and then – after having shown how White might win and Black might draw – win with White and draw with Black again. Schuyler took the bet. Sherzer won and pocketed the cash. He then said that in another position he could do the same thing three times: win, draw, win, draw, win, draw. Bet taken. Sherzer won again and pocketed the cash. Having lost enough money and pride by this point, Schuyler gave up.

That story reminds me, in reverse, of Bogoljubow's boast: “When I am White I win because I am White; when I am Black I win because I am Bogoljubow!” Even for me there are certain positions, certain openings, where I expect to win with either colour, but okay, the starting position is not one of them. And there are occasions when I have lost positions from both sides.

In another main line Zaitsev Ruy Lopez (as seen earlier in the Rorschach Knight), the following position (after 28 Qc2) has arisen in two of my games.

In the first (as Black), I played 28...Ra1+ 29 Kh2 Ba6 30 e5 dxe5 (someone had previously drawn with 30...Nxe5 but, rightly or wrongly, I didn't like 31 Re4 here) 31 Nd2 b3 32 Qc3 Nf4 (if 32...Qh4 then 33 Bg5) 33 Ne4 Qf5 34 Bxf4 Qxf4 35 Re1 Rxe1 36 Qxe1 Bb7 37 Nd6 Rb8 38 Qb4 c3 (the only move) 39 Qxb3 c2 40 Qxc2 Bxd5 and now a pawn down for nothing, I eventually lost, U.Strautins-J.Tait, ICCF Champions League 2002.

In the second game (as White), my opponent played 28...Ba6 straight away: 29 e5 dxe5 30 Nd2 b3, the difference being that 31 Qc3 can be met by 31...Qh4 32 Bg5 Qd4, since the e8-rook is still defended by the one on a8. The fact that I had already lost as Black in this variation encouraged me to go for a win as White, so I tried 31 Ne4 Qf4 32 Qd2 Qxd2 33 Rxd2? Reb8 34 Nf6+ Kh8 35 Rg4 Rb6 36 Ne4 f5 37 Rh4 Kg8 38 Be3 g5! and ended up losing again (as you'll see below).

In that game I should have accepted that White had no advantage and opted for 33 Nf6+ Kg8 34 Bxd2. Or else 31 Qc3 anyway, at which point a draw was agreed in R.Bocanegra Moreno-I.Cavajda, correspondence 2010. 29...Nxe5 is also fine for Black, as seen in V.Palciauskas-A.Lanc, 13th CC Olympiad 2004 (which took place later than the 14th Olympiad, since this one was being played by post rather than email).

And as it happens Black may not be losing in my first game either. Looking at it now, Houdini shows a possible defence: 32...Nxf2! 33 Rf3 Rh1+ 34 Kg3 Qh8 35 Qe3 (my notes indicate that I did consider this, but not...) 35...Ng4! 36 Kxg4 (or 36 hxg4 Qxh6) 36...c3! 37 Qa7 Qh7!, when the computer claims equality in a morass of complications. (I've given a few silicon-generated variations below; the 41...Qh4+ line where Black loses with two queens is worth seeing.)

Sigh. What can I say? When I am White or Black I lose because... it seems I don't really understand chess at all.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

014. Losing With Someone Else's Moves

White: R. Smith - BCCA Centenary Tournament, 2006

The converse to Winning With Someone Else's Moves is losing with them. In correspondence chess this mostly occurs when you haven't prepared properly: when you play an opening variation with which you have very little experience, following someone else's analysis that you haven't checked.

In the BCCA Centenary GM tournament, I decided (for some reason) to abandon my usual repertoire and play "sensible" main lines; e.g. 1 d4, 2 c4 as White, the Semi-Slav and Ruy Lopez as Black. The fact that I was extremely busy around then and unable to concentrate on my games is not an excuse; it just makes my decision more ridiculous. I was consciously playing positions I didn't understand, against strong opponents, without even the time to study them properly. I duly came last on 3½/14 without winning a single game.

The one below is a case in point. I ventured the Marshall Attack against the strongest player in the tournament, CCGM Robin Smith, without having done any specific preparation, and without ever having played it in a serious game before. Reaching the basic tabiya after 13 Re1, I suddenly had to decide what to do next. In a recent-ish issue of Chess Informant (#89), I came across an interesting consultation game (between two teams of OTB masters, played by SMS text messaging), which continued 13...Bf5 14 Qf3 Re8 15 Rxe8+ Qxe8 16 Nd2 Qe1+ 17 Nf1 Bg6 18 g3 b4 (a theoretical novelty)

19 Bxd5 cxd5 20 Qxd5 Rd8 21 Bg5 Qxa1 22 Bxd8 Bf8 23 Ba5 Qb1 24 Kg2 Bxd3 25 Nd2 Qc2 26 Qa8 Qxd2 27 Bxb4 h5 28 Qxf8+ Kh7 29 Qxf7 Qe2 30 Qf4 Qf1+ 31 Kf3 Qe2+ 32 Kg2 Qf1+ 33 Kf3 Qe2+ 34 Kg2 Qf1+ ½-½. This was annotated in detail by one of the team leaders, GM Igor Nataf, and his analysis seemed pretty good.

Sigh. In correspondence chess “seems pretty good” is a terrible mindset. Analysis is either good or it isn't, and either way it needs to be checked beforehand. My opponent deviated immediately from the published game, opting for 19 c4, and only at this point did I begin to examine it all. Nataf's main line ran 19...Nf6 20 Qxc6 (20 d4 is met by 20...Bh5!) 20...Rd8 21 Qb6 Rd7 22 Bc2 Ng4 23 Rb1 Qe2 24 Bd2 Ne5 25 Qe3 Qh5 26 Bd1 Qf5 27 Be2 Bf8, which he assessed as slightly better for White. I didn't much like the look of that. What happens after 28 Re1, for instance? Nataf in fact gave 19...Nf6 a dubious mark.

However, there was also a one-move bracketed note: 19...Nc7, with the accompanying text “!?= Radjabov, Bacrot”. That is to say: interesting, equal, and suggested by world-class grandmasters Teimour Radjabov and Etienne Bacrot. Okay, great, I'll try that. It even sets a little trap: 20 Qxc6?? Bd3 21 Qg2 Re8 and Black wins with ...Bc5 and ...Re2. Hurrah.

A CCGM is not, of course (underlined seventeen times), going to fall for that. Instead, Robin came up with something much stronger: 20 d4! c5 (there's no ...Bh5 here) 21 d5 Re8 (otherwise Ba4 and Qe3 follows) 22 Bd1!, breaking the pin on the c1-bishop and allowing White to drive the black queen away with Bd2 as necessary. Black now has nothing for the pawn, the now connected passed pawn. Several precise, grandmasterly moves later, I resigned.

As it turns out, there was nothing much wrong with Nataf's analysis. Black has since done perfectly well, answering 19 c4 with 19...Nf6, but playing 27...f6! (rather than 27...Bf8) at the end of the above variation. And Peter Svidler scored an impressive victory as Black against Vassily Ivanchuk after the similar 19 h4 h5 20 c4 Nf6 (where 21 Bd1 did not prove to be anything like as strong).

So, perhaps the title of this post was not the most appropriate. It should perhaps have been ‘Losing After Someone Else's Moves’. Even if I might point to 19...Nc7 as someone else's mistake, actually playing it is obviously my own fault. If you're going to give a casual suggestion (whether from world-class grandmasters or not) a test in a serious game, at least investigate it in advance. Ya drongo.

Robin went on to score an unbeaten 11/14, winning the tournament by 1½ points – an impressive result in what turned out to be his final event. He died in 2009.