28 June 2012

A Better Novelty

The Spokane City Championship Contenders tournament is going well for me. At stake is a chance to be the challenger in the Spokane City Championship, a four game match with the current champion. In 2008, the champion was FIDE Master David Sprenkle and I lost the match 2 1/2-1/2 (see "Fifteen Minutes"). Although two difficult opponents remain ahead of me, my chances look good right now. On Monday I won against our city's current highest rated player. Yesterday, I won against Nikolay Bulakh. He went 1-1 against my two remaining opponents. Nikolay has had bad results against me, worse than my results against Michael Cambareri, one of those whom I must still play. Last year, Michael won the Contenders tournament, but lost the match with John Julian. Michael's chances also look good this year.

As in my game on Monday, yesterday I played a novelty. This time, however, my novelty appears sound. After what appeared to me a simple tactic to gain the bishop pair, my opponent complicated the game by trading two minor pieces for a rook and pawn.

Stripes,James (1933) - Bulakh,Nikolay (1923) [E01]
City Championship Contenders, Spokane 2012

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 c6 5.Nf3 Bd6 6.Qc2 0–0 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.Nc3 dxc4 9.e4 e5 10.Rd1 Qc7 11.d5N!

Black to move

10.d5 had been played prior to Rd1.

See Van de Mortel,Jan (2401) - De Waal,Mark (2322)
BEL-chT 0102 Belgium (6), 06.01.2002

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 Bd6 5.0–0 Nbd7 6.c4 c6 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Qc2 dxc4 9.e4 e5 10.d5 cxd5 11.exd5 a6 12.a4 Rb8 13.a5 b5 14.axb6 Nxb6 15.Rd1 Bb7 16.Be3 Qc7 17.Bxb6 Qxb6 18.Nd2 Qc7 19.Ra4 Rbc8 20.Nxc4 Qe7 21.Na5 Rfe8 22.Qe2 Ra8 23.Rda1 Bc8 24.Nc6 Qb7 25.b4 Bg4 26.Qc4 e4 27.Nxe4 Nxe4 28.Bxe4 f5 29.Bg2 Be2 30.Qc2 f4 31.Nd4 f3 32.Nxf3 Bb5 33.Ng5 g6 34.R4a2 Qe7 35.Ne4 Rac8 36.Qd2 Rc4 37.Nxd6 Qxd6 38.Rb2 Qf6 39.Rd1 Ba4 40.Rf1 1–0


The engines favor 11...Bb7

12.dxc6 Qxc6 13.Nxb5

I went to the toilet and drinking fountain, confident that I would deprive my opponent of the bishop pair and have a better position. I overlooked my opponent's next move.


Time used: 21 minutes for White, 37 for Black. As in my game on Monday, my opponent found himself in serious time pressure. "You move too fast," Nikolay told me after the game.

14.Nc3 Ng4

White to move

Here I went into my longest think of the game, eleven minutes. I considered several alternatives to defending the f-pawn with my rook. All of them appeared to give my opponent material superiority and the initiative.


The engines prefer 15.Rf1.


The engines prefer 15...Bb7

16.Rxf2 f6 17.Nd5 Bxf2+ 18.Qxf2

Playing with Imbalances

Imbalances are the heart of chess strategy. Someplace I read the exchange of bishop and knight for rook and pawn described as a typical beginner's mistake. But my opponent's decision cannot be dismissed so lightly. What must I do to make my advantage in number of pieces, and my bishop pair more telling than his extra rook?

Black to move

I ran several engines on this position. They all see White as having an advantage approximating two pawns. Realizing that advantage is no easy matter. I would like to support the knight on d5 with something other than a pawn. Black's e-pawn is supported, and could create problems for me if it became a passed pawn. My dark-squared bishop is a strong piece, but has no clear targets. Both my b-pawn and my opponent's c-pawn are potential targets. Black's king looks relatively more secure.

18...Rf7 19.Be3 Nf8 20.Rc1 Qa4

White to move


Moving too fast, I missed the opportunity to defend my a-pawn with 21.Bf1

21...Be6 22.Nc3

On positional grounds, I had already rejected 22.Nd2 Bxd5 23.exd5 Rc8 24.Ne4. Hence, I did not examine it. Rybka 4 thinks I erred by not playing this line.

22...Qe8 23.Ne1?!

This move marks the beginning of a plan that is too slow and easily prevented by my opponent. It would have been better to play 23.Nh4 with the idea of Nh4-f5. I was determined to place a knight back on d5, but supported by pieces. Then, I intended to attack the c-pawn. According to my chess engines, I am letting a clear advantage slip away. Are the engines correct?

23...Ng6 24.Nc2

24.Bf1 may have been stronger. I considered it.


White to move


Now that my plan to play Nc2-b4-d5 is effectively stopped, I shift to another dubious effort to improve coordination of my pieces. At points in this game, it appears than I am more interested in running my opponent out of time through offers of red herrings, than I was in finding an effective attack.

25...Ne7 26.Rd1?! Nc6 27.Nb5?


I wanted a knight on d5 supported by a piece. My opponent's last move made that possible. Instead, I went in search of a fork. Trying to provoke my opponent to chase illusions, I chase them instead. He is down to 22 minutes, while I still have 70 remaining.

27...Rd7 28.Bf3

Black to move


28...Rxd1 29.Qxd1 and the imbalances balance according to Rybka 4.


29.Rxd7 was likely better.

29...Rxd1 30.Bxd1 Qd7 31.Be2 Nb4!?

White to move

Wow! I did not see that coming. Now I spent five minutes contemplating two possibilities. My opponent was down to 10 minutes on the clock. After my reply, I had 57 minutes remaining.

32.Nxb4 Qxb5 33.Nd5 Bxd5

Both players have about equal chances. White's early advantage after the creation of the imbalance has dissipated. 33...Qxb2 34.Qxa5 Rb8 35.Bc4 also appears to be about equal. White does have a substantial advantage in time remaining on the clock. Perhaps it would have been better, however, to use more time and play better moves. The position was rich with strategic possibilities that I failed to take the time to comprehend. Consequently, my opponent concocted some tactics to which I had to find appropriate responses.

34.exd5 Qxd5 35.Qc3 Rc8 36.b3 Qc6

White to move


Playing fast as my opponent fell under the four minute mark, I missed an easy tactical opportunity to snatch the Black a-pawn.

37...Qxc4 38.Bxc4+ Kf8 39.a4 Ke7 40.Kf2 h6 41.Bd2 Rc5 42.Bb5 Rc2 43.Ke3 f5

White to move


If I played as well as an engine, I might have seen that White has a strong advantage after 44.Bxa5 Rxh2 45.Bb4+ Kd8 46.a5

44...Rc5 45.Bxa5 Rd5+ 46.Ke2

I grabbed my king and moved it to e3, but keeping my hand on it, thought for a few more seconds and changed to e2 before releasing the piece. Now that Black's a-pawn is gone, White has a clear advantage. Having 49 minutes to my opponent's less than two only makes the win easier.

46...Kd6 47.Bb4+ Kc7 48.Bf8

Black to move


48...g6 was the last chance for stubbornness.

49.Bxg7 Kd6 50.Bf8+ Kc7 51.Bc4 Rd8 52.Bb4 Rd7 1–0

I seem to be missing a move or two at the end of the game score. I wrote 53.Bb5+, but neither my scoresheet nor my memory can account for how Black's king made it to c6. We had a problem with the time delay on the clock as my opponent's time went down to seven seconds. It appeared that he was not getting his five second delay. We reset the clock with the delay apparently working correctly, and gave him one minute. At move 51, he was at 17 seconds to my 46 minutes.


  1. James this is becoming quite funny to me that you keep mentioning players that I know from all the way over in Michigan in your last few posts. I remember Moroney played in my very first tournament and the FM Sprenckle or whatever played and won the tournament I went to a few weekends back. Small world I guess! Who else do I know that now plays in your arena :).

    1. Tim,

      I just learned this week that Moroney is from Michigan. He's been in Spokane a couple of years, and after our game this week was the first time we had talked much. Nice guy, and strong player. I'm quite lucky to have a good score against him.

      Sprenkle lived in Spokane about ten years, and moved back to Michigan a bit over a year ago. Glad to see that he's playing chess.

      My oldest son went to school at Northern Michigan, and there is a a young man named James Stripes who lives in Michigan. He is my cousin's son, and he graduated HS last week.

      Aside from a brief trip through the state as a youth, or making connecting flights in Detroit, I've not been to Michigan. Perhaps fishing Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River" on the U.P. should be on my Bucket List, though.