14 March 2013

The Exposed King

A claim that I read in a forgotten text several months ago keeps running through my mind. Some chess master claimed that he had read the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) cover to cover. Does this assertion mean the master has read and played through all of the main lines? Did the reading enterprise extend to the footnotes? In either case, the task seems daunting.

I started with volume D and quickly got caught up in the footnotes. The game Hodgson -- Van Wely, Horgen 1995 has occupied my thoughts while sipping my morning coffee.

The game was published as Chess Informant 65/350 with Hodgson's annotations. It is clear that Loek van Wely, who is a much stronger player today, defended well in a difficult position. Indeed, it seems that his game went awry in the first couple of moves, and then he avoided many pitfalls.

Hodgson -- Van Wely

1.d4 d5 2.Bg5

This opening is called the Levitsky Attack, or sometimes the Hodgson Attack. Julian Hodgson had notable success with it in the mid-1990s. Sometimes, it is incorrectly called the Trompowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5) to which it can transpose. Andrew Soltis, The Trompowsky Attack (1995) includes lines after 1.d5. Michael Jefferys calls it the Trompowsky in his video about some traps in the line. Jeffreys calls 2...c5 a blunder, but this move was played by van Wely. 2...Nf6, transposing to the Trompowsky, is the main line in ECO. The main line after 2...c5 is Hodgson -- Sokolov, Groningen (Informant 68/325), which ends in a slight advantage for White, according to Hodgson. Jeffrey's assertion must be regarded as hyperbole.

2...c5 3.dxc5 f6 4.Bh4 e5 5.e4 dxe4 6.Qxd8+ Kxd8

White to move

Here the game starts to become interesting. Black has a five to three pawn majority on the kingside, but his king is stuck in the middle. The e4 pawn cannot be protected, but the majority seems secure. White's bishop does not appear capable of getting at the exposed king, and yet, Hodgson shows that it can, and in doing so creates some serious checkmate threats.

7.Nc3 Bxc5 8.O-O-O Nd7 9.Nxe4 Be7 10.f4

The footnote in ECO ends here with the evaluation that White has a significant advantage.

Black to move

If I were reading the print version of the Encyclopedia, I might have done no more than glance at the footnote while playing through the moves of the main line on a chess board. In the electronic edition of ECO, however, it is easy to play through all of the lines relegated to footnotes. Moreover, if one has the proper Informants installed, it is easy to right-click in the game score and open the reference game. This ease of access promotes distraction that inhibits reading ECO cover-to-cover.

My first USCF rated tournament game was the Black side of a Trompowsky (I lost). My only win among the small selection of my correspondence games that can be found in the Chessbase online database is the White side of a Trompowsky. A few months after that correspondence game, I played the Levitsky against a player rated nearly 300 Elo above me, and drew. It would seem reasonable to be able to crank through ECO D 00.

Instead, I became caught up in a fascinating game that made the footnotes.

The exposed Black king and sacrificial attacks the exploit his vulnerability have not been my experience in the Levitsky nor Trompowsky. Hodgson's sacrifices faced stubborn defense, and van Wely's king escaped the onslaught. Instead, White ended up with a material advantage and retained the initiative through to the end.

10...exf4 11.Nf3

Hodgson, in his annotations, offers an improvement for White beginning with 11.Ne2.

11...Kc7 12.Nc3 Nb6 13.a4 Bb4 14.a5 Bxa5 15.Nb5+

Black to move


15...Kc6 steps into a mating net, where the Black king may get pushed to a2.

16.Rd4 Nd7

16...g5 opens up Black to some combinations along the b8-h2 diagonal.

17.Rxf4 a6

17...g5 is still losing.

18.Bg3 axb5 19.Ra4

Black to move


19...Ne5 blocking the check does not gain the rook, but loses the king.

20.Bxc7+ Kxc7 21.Rxa8

White has a decisive advantage, according to Hodgson. He is up the exchange, has the initiative, and a less vulnerable king. The game went on to move 79.

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