21 July 2012

City Championship, Game Two

All opening innovations by Category I players should be looked upon as errors until the Candidate Master cannot prove otherwise.
Alex Dunne, How to Become a Candidate Master (1986)
After a draw in the first game, despite some errors, I stood to do well in the 2012 Spokane City Championship match against John Julian. Prior to the match, I had intended to review some games in the symmetrical English as preparation, but did not make this work a high enough priority. My choice of a suboptimal move six led me precisely into the sort of position that I sought to avoid with my first move. Even so, the position was not unplayable, despite giving Black easy equality. Subsequent errors gave Black an advantage.

Stripes,James (1982) - Julian,John (2053) [A30]
Spokane City Championship Spokane (2), 14.07.2012


This move has the merits of flexibility, but also leaves Black's choices wide open. For the player of the English Opening, however, it prevents 1...e5, the reversed Sicilian.

1...c5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3

I have played 1.g3 on several occasions, but was frustrated with myself for making this move in haste. Firing off moves in mere seconds caused me to play positions in this match somewhat different than planned. This move is White's second most common choice, although played less than half as frequently as 3.Nc3.

3...Nc6 4.Bg2 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5

White to move


Objectively, this move may not be an error. It may be dubious. It is certainly passive. Both 6.d4 and 6.Nc3 keep alive White's hope for an advantage. For me, however, without adequate preparation to play a reversed Sicilian Dragon, Maroczy Bind, it was an error to go into this line. It is a rare move. The resulting position occurs a handful of times, mostly via transposition, and among players the strongest of whom was barely over 2100. As Alex Dunne suggests, my opponent considered the move an error.

6...e5 7.Nbd2

Again, 7.Nc3 might have been preferred.


White to move


This move is a tactical and positional blunder. The pawn on e5 is not vulnerable. Fantasies of provoking an exploitable weakness along the a2-g8 diagonal are illusions. A better plan, albeit slow, might have been to transfer the knight to a better square, Ne4 with the idea of Nc3. Also worth considering was 8.b3.

I also might have castled, reaching the position from Karlsson -- Tal, Skara 1980, which Tal lost (see Chess Informant 29/74). Lars Karlsson adopted a hedgehog formation with the white pieces. My approach was inferior.

Black has a clear advantage. But, how does he convert an advantage into a win? Are there clear weaknesses in White's position?

In How to Become a Candidate Master, Alex Dunne puts the reader in the Expert's seat, playing against an A Class opponent. He encourages the reader to begin thinking as the player he or she wishes to become. How do Experts win these sorts of positions against A Class players? Sometimes, the A Class players lack understanding of the demands of the position. Sometimes they self-destruct.

8...f6 9.a3 Rb8 10.0–0 Nc7

According to Hiarcs 12, this move lets White back into the game. 10...Be6 or 10...O-O maintain the edge. However, engines should not be relied upon too strongly. The maneuver Nd5-c7-e6-d4 is a reasonable idea. It is hard to see how White can do much to deter Black's plans.

White to move


11.Nh4! is Hiarcs' idea. Indeed, I considered this move during the game. However, I did not see where the knight might be headed, and the idea of trading my light-squared bishop for the c6 knight was not particularly alluring. I failed to see 11...Bd7 12.f4! O-O 13.fxe5 b5 14.e6! In this line, White gets some play too.

11...Bd7 12.Rc1 Ne6 13.Ncd2

13.Nh4 is still possible, although less effective than two moves ago. Black has been methodically preparing his pieces for battle. Soon, he will occupy the d4 outpost with one of his knights.

13...0–0 14.Nb3 Ncd4 

White to move


I thought for six minutes, and rejected 15.Nfxd4 cxd4 16.Bd2 Ba4, because I did not see the merits of 17.Qc2. Here, 17...Qb6 can be met with 18.Bd5 Kh8 19.Bxe6 Qxe6 20.Nc5.

15...cxd4 16.Nbd2 b5

Black begins his expansion on the queenside. Was it possible for White to hold this passive position? White has very few squares for his pieces.


Perhaps 17.Bh3 made sense. If White could swap pieces, he might find the lack of space less suffocating. On the other hand, is it wise to swap the light-squared bishop for a knight? If Black's light-squared bishop could be taken in the trade, would the light squares around the Black king remain secure?

Hiarcs 12 finds three candidate moves: b4, Bh3, Qb3. The other two are favored slightly over the one played. The engine sees Black's advantage as roughly 3/4 of a pawn. It felt much worse during the game.

17...a5 18.Qb3 Kh8

White to move

19.Ne4 Qb6 20.Rc2 Rbc8 21.Rfc1 Rxc2 22.Rxc2 axb4 23.axb4

Black to move

White swapped off a pair of rooks, and one of pawns. Is his position less cramped than before? How does Black continue the pressure?


Simple and effective. The rook threatens Ra4 where Black can muster more attackers on the b4 pawn than White can find defenders. The rook also threatens White's back rank.


24.h4 was better, providing a square for the king.

24...Ra1+ 25.Bf1 Qa7

White to move


26.Nd6 leaves Black in the driver's seat, but at least does not chart the course for him.

26...Nxc5 27.bxc5 Bh3 28.Nd2 Qa5 29.Qf7

Black to move

Black has one move that maintains the clear advantage. It is easy to find, and then the rest is easy. Even so, White plays on a few moves in this hopeless position looking for a chance at perpetual. Black does not let down his guard, permitting White's nefarious schemes to snatch a draw from hopelessness. With several ways to finish off the pretender, the City Champion considered his move 33 for five minutes.

29...h6 30.Qh5 Qxd2 31.Qxh3 Qxc2 32.Qc8+ Kh7 33.c6 Rc1 34.Qf5+ Kg8 0–1

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