11 February 2015

Game of the Week

I am going through one game each week with the intention of understanding it thoroughly. This labor is part of a study plan guided by Rashid Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000).

There was an earlier, privately published version of this book. It caught my eye in the USCF product catalog in 1999 or thereabouts. The catalog description, "positions only, no evaluation," intrigued me. I ordered it; it was back-ordered for a few months and then I learned that it was no longer available. Ten years later, I bought the Thinker's Press edition, which also had gone out of print.

Ziyatdinov offers some hints concerning a program of study, and his co-author, Peter Dyson, offers additional hints. Much is left to the reader.

The basic plan is simple: each of the 253 positions (133 endgame, 120 middle game) in the book, plus an additional 47 selected by the reader, must be mastered thoroughly. That is, these positions must become as letters of the alphabet. Children learning to speak struggle to master the differences between the letter m and the letter n. Most have mastered these sounds before they begin school. Within a few years, the memory of these difficulties is forgotten and the sounds and meanings are second nature.

This past Saturday morning, I was discussing and playing Diagram 2 from "Problem Solving Contest" with a young student. The student did not yet understand some of the nuances of the position. We were also looking at slight variations of the same position. The student would make a move, and then I would either respond with an instant move for Black, or I would state, "the game is drawn". Diagram 2 is a win if it is White's move. If it is Black's move, Black steps the king forward one square, producing Diagram 14 in GM-RAM. Black holds a draw.*

Another young player, observing the exercise, stated, "But, you've studied this position!" I responded with an enthusiastic affirmation and the suggestion that he should do the same. This endgame position has become second nature for me, as have a handful of others in GM-RAM.

The 120 middle game positions are sourced from 59 games that Ziyatdinov offers in his book. Beginning in December, I have been systematically going through one of these games each week (see "Training with Anderssen"). Because I have been teaching an evening class on Tuesday nights, my week begins on Wednesday.

Mastery of these middle game positions is not easy. I am far from meeting the standard that I have attained with the simplest king and pawn endings and the elementary versions of Lucena and Philidor rook endgames. Even so, I am making progress. Some games are pushing me into study of obscure and or unsound openings.

Last week's "Game of the Week" is a case in point. I have not memorized the game. Nor have I come to a thorough understanding of the alternatives for both sides from the critical middle game positions. However, I have grown in my understanding of Louis Paulsen's opening ideas. In some of my blitz and rapid online games this past week, I have played Paul Morphy's move order against the Sicilian, and I have played Paulsen's defensive scheme from the Black side, albeit with improvements that I identified in my study.

Here are some of my notes on the game, the ninth in GM-RAM.

Morphy,Paul -- Paulsen,Louis [B40]
USA–01.Kongress New York (4.1), 29.10.1857

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Nf3

Morphy's move order nuance offers Black some choices, but no refutations.


3...e5 is interesting, when  4.c3 seems best.

a) 4.Nxe5?? Qa5+

b) 4.Bc4 Qc7

(4...Nf6 5.Ng5 d5 6.exd5 h6 7.Nf3 Bg4 led to interesting play in Cochrane,J -- Staunton,H, London 1842 [Staunton won in 24 moves])

(4...Nc6 [4...dxc3 5.Nxc3 Nc6 6.Bc4 d6 7.Ng5 Nh6 Bondarevsky,I -- Kasparian,G,Tbilisi 1937 (White won in 24 moves)] 5.cxd4 exd4 6.Nxd4 [6.Bc4 has scored better than the main line])

5.Bb3 Bb4+ 6.c3 dxc3 7.0–0 Nf6 appeared in Anderssen,A -- Harrwitz,D, Breslau 1848 (Harrwitz won in 30 moves).

4.Nxd4 Bc5

White to move

This move seems dubious to me, and yet a few Grandmasters have played it in recent years, especially Vladimir Epishen. Louis Paulsen played it five times in the First American Chess Congress. He won the first, and then faced Morphy. Morphy won three of the four games, and had a material advantage that he was unable to convert in the other.

After these games, Paulsen switched to 4...Nf6. His older brother Wilfried played 4...Nf6, and then tried 4...a6 in a few games.The three main moves, 4...a6, 4...Nc6, and 4...Nf6 each have their merits. All other choices must be regarded as sidelines.


This move remains the main line today.

5.Be3 was Morphy's choice after the drawn game.

5...Bb6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.Bf4

Black to move


7...d5 should be played 8.exd5 Nxd5 9.Nxd5 exd5 (9...Qxd5!?) 10.Bb5+ Nc6 11.0–0 0–0 and Black's position was good enough for victory against the World Champion in a simul: Anand,V (2786) -- Bluesette (2155), ICC INT 2007 (Black won in 50 moves).

8.Bd6 f5 9.e5 a6 10.Be2 Nbc6 11.0–0 Rf7 12.Kh1 f4 13.Ne4 Nf5 14.Bh5 g6 15.Bg4 Ng7 16.Qf3 h5 17.Bh3 Qh4 18.Nf6+ Kh8 19.Qe4 Qg5 20.g3 f3 21.Nd2 Bd8 22.Nxf3 Qh6 23.Rg1 Bxf6 24.exf6 Ne8 25.Bf4 Nxf6 26.Qxc6 Qxf4 27.Qxc8+ Rxc8 28.gxf4 Rxc2 29.Rac1 Rxf2 30.Rc8+ Ng8 31.Ne5 Rg7 32.Nxg6+ Kh7 33.Nf8+ Kh6 34.Nxd7 Rxd7 35.Rcxg8 Rxf4 36.Bxe6 Re7 37.R8g6+ Kh7 38.Bg8+ Kh8 39.Rh6+ Rh7 40.Rxh7# 1–0

This morning, I am moving on to the sixth game of the Morphy -- Paulsen match at the First American Chess Congress even though much work remains for me to do on the first game.

*Please see a correction to this paragraph in the comments below, and also in tomorrow's post.


  1. 3...a6!? is an interesting idea against Morphy's move-order, with the idea to meet 4.Nxd4 with 4...Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 when white can't play the main line against this Sveshnikov structure.

    Is diagram 2 really a win with white to move ?!

    1. Nope. It is only a win if the Black king is another square back. Thanks for your attention.