10 June 2016


Last weekend I played in the Spokane Contenders, a round robin tournament that determined the challenger to our city champion. I had won this tournament in 2008 and 2012. I also tied for first in 2010, finishing second on tie-breaks. I played again in 2014, but my play was mixed and I finished in the middle.

My play was mixed again this weekend. I won my first round game on the Black side of a Ragozin--the first time I had played this opening in over-the-board play. I had been reading The Ragozin Complex (2011) by Vladimir Barsky and practicing the opening in some online blitz (see "Opening Inaccuracy" [2014]).

On Sunday, I played a long and interesting game against a former student, a three-time elementary state champion finishing his sixth grade year. He is growing accustomed to beating the A Class players who occupy the top tier of players in my city. In round three, he beat the player I had defeated in round one. We played a long game that ended in a draw. After he offered a draw on move 46, I tortured him as long as I could, struggling in vain to provoke an error. I had trained him well in the endgame and he refused to crack. After twenty moves of probing, I exchanged my rook for his bishop and advanced pawn and we played out the dead drawn pawn ending rapidly until stalemate on move 79.

Then, in round five, I misplayed a Sicilian Kan in the same manner that I have done in the past and was essentially lost by move eleven. I played another fourteen moves attempting tricks, all of which failed.

In the second round, Saturday afternoon, I played the lowest rated player. I had beaten him in all of our prior encounters and sat at the board with confidence. We quickly reached a familiar tableau.

Stripes,James (1811) -- Frostad,John (1608) [D18]
Spokane Contenders Spokane (2), 04.06.2016

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.e3 e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0–0 0–0

White to move


In 2007, I played 9.Qe2 against my phone, a RAZR running Chessmaster. I won that game easily. I also played 9.Ne2 once before in a correspondence game that I lost after a long struggle.

Perhaps the question mark is not fully warranted. Several strong Grandmasters have played this move, although the highest rated Black player who has lost is Rok Hrzica 2296.

The central problem with this move is that it wastes tempi, conceding the initiative to Black. In the game, I not only expended several tempi to gain the bishop pair, but also failed to attend to the needs of my bishop on c4 and hence did not continue with a pair of bishops into the middle game.

9...Nbd7 10.Ng3 Bg6 11.Nh4

Both 11.Bd2 and 11.b3 seem a little better.

11...c5 12.Nxg6

12.f4 was played in Bogoljubow,E -- Alekhine,A, London 1922, which was drawn in 70 moves.

12...hxg6 13.Qf3

13.dxc5 is probably best 13...Nxc5 (13...Ne5 and drawn in 58 moves,.Piket,J (2670) -- Shirov,A (2710), Aruba 1995) 14.Qe2 Nfe4 and Black went on to win a long struggle Rubinstein,A -- Alekhine,A, London 1922.

13...cxd4 14.exd4 Nb6

White to move


15.Bb3 keeps the prospect of maintaining a bishop pair alive. White is already suffering for his errors. Black's pieces are mobile and coordinated. Black's plan to eventually win the isolated d-pawn is simply and straightforward. Meanwhile, my only effort to generate counterplay hinged on a mating attack employing either quuen and knight against f7 (easily stopped) or creating a battery of heavy pieces on the h-file (nearly impossible).


15...Qxd4 and Black is clearly better.



16...Nxc4 17.Qxc4 Nd5 18.Bd2 Qb6 19.Bxb4 Nxb4 20.Ne4


20...Nd5 21.Qe2 Rac8 22.Nc5 Rfd8 23.Qf3 Qc6 24.Nd3 Qb6 25.Ne5 Nf6 26.g4?

Black to move


26...Rxd4! 27.g5 Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 and White can consider resigning.


27.g5 would at least be consistent with my desperate plan to go all in for checkmate. Of course, Black maintains an advantage and a comfortable game.

27...Rxc1 28.Rxc1–+ Qxd4 29.Qg3 Nd5 30.Nf3 Qxb2 31.Rd1 Qc2 32.Rd2 Qxa4 33.Qh4 Qa1+ 34.Kg2

Black to move


34...Nf4+! wins more quickly, as I showed my opponent after the game. 35.Kg3 Rxd2 36.Nxd2 f6 37.g5 (37.Kxf4 g5+) 37...e5-+.

35.g5 b5 36.Nd4 Kf7 37.Qh3 Nf4+ 0–1

Frostad's play was solid enough to let me self-destruct. He went on to win the event and gets to play the city champion is a four game match in August. He is the second lowest rated player to play in our city championship (see "Fifteen Minutes"). I wish him well.

The loss of time with the Ne2 maneuver is a feature that I note with some frequency in my lessons with young students. Once these young players reach the point where they can understand three move tactics and are ready for complete games, we go through the eighteen games that Paul Morphy played in the First American Chess Congress. In his first game, James Thompson wasted time playing Ne2. His plan was grounded in a tactical shot aimed at the f5 square. Morphy calculated the tactics one move deeper and gained a clear edge via a zwischenzug.

Thompson,James -- Morphy,Paul [C50]
USA–01.Kongress New York (1.1), 1857

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.Nc3 h6

White to move

6.Ne2 d6 7.c3 0–0 8.h3 Kh8 9.Ng3 Nh7 10.Qc2

White's play is grounded in the belief that Black's intent to push f7-f5 fails tactically.


Morphy understood both Thompson's plan and the tactical refutation.


Black to play


The zwischenzug.

12.Bb3 e4 13.dxe4 dxe4 14.Ng1 Ne5 15.Be3 Nd3+ 16.Ke2 Bxe3 17.fxe3 Qh4 18.Nxe4 Qxe4 19.Qxd3 Qxg2+ 20.Kd1 Bxf5 21.Qe2 Qxh1 0–1

There is a moral to this story. If I insist on making the sort of moves that I teach my young students to avoid, I will lose. Regular readers may recall another tragicomic loss when I failed to heed a lesson from a familiar Morphy game (see "Knowing Better").


  1. An interesting post as usual! I have a few thoughts.

    First, I really don't think 9.Ne2 is so bad. Ne2-g3 takes some time, but you get one tempo on the f5 bishop. You could actually just leave the knight on b3, maybe develop your bishop to b2, and try to prepare e3-e4. If anything, 11.Nh4 may be a little slow, but still it's got a positional idea--you trade a little time for Black's good bishop.

    But I think you underestimated 13.Qf3? which I feel is a big positional mistake. The problem is that after ...cxd4, White ends up in a scary IQP position. And in fact, it was your weak d-pawn, not the loss of time from 9.Ne2, that caused you to suffer for the rest of the game. So why is this structure so bad for White?

    1) A major idea is in IQP structures is to go d4-d5, liquidating the weakness and gaining the initiative. But here Black has much the d5 square on lockdown. There is just no hope of getting in d4-d5, ever.
    2) Another major idea in IQP structures is to gain quick activity while you have extra space in the center. But here White is behind in development and his pieces are a bit uncoordinated.
    3) In many cases trading b7 for d4 will not work, basically because we can't afford to send the queen on an adventure with worse development. For example even after the correct 15.Bb3 in the game, there is an instructive line 15...Qxd4 16.Rd1 Qh4 17.Qxb7? Nbd5! and Black is much better due to piece activity and control of the center.

    One more positional idea in the IQP structure is that White generally doesn't want to trade minor pieces, because this tends to lead to a position where White's rooks are passively defending behind the IQP while Black's rooks are aggressive. I think that around move 26, this is exactly what you had. So for this reason I'd have avoided Bd2xb4 and instead played perhaps Bg5.

    A couple more comments:

    You mentioned "26...Rxd4! 27.g5 Rxd1+ 28.Rxd1 and White can consider resigning" White should NEVER EVER consider resigning in this position, where he is only down a single pawn, and a doubled one at that! Plus, White finally has some pressure of his own on f7. In fact, the only move that even keeps andvantage in this position is the tricky counterattack 28...Qc7, after which I intend to go 29.Re1 and 30.h4, then fight like an animal for 50+ moves in a position where I have very realistic practical drawing chances.

    I'd also add that the main point of 27.g5! is not so much that you're going all out for checkmate. It's that your knight and queen tie a Black piece to the defense of f7, and this is really important for slowing down his activity. Also after 27...Nd5, the heat is off your d-pawn for just a second and you have time for 28.Rac1! You'll go Rxc7 next, and you are resisting.

    To me, the lessons from this game are:

    1) Differentiating good vs. bad IQP positions. In this game, 13.Qf3? was a serious error because it led to an IQP structure where you were doomed to suffer, clinging to the passive defense of your d-pawn.
    2) In worse, passive positions, counterplay is king (27.g5! Nd5 28.Rac1!)

    Thanks, I really enjoy the effort you put into this blog.

    1. Thanks for the detailed response and argument, Todd.

      My Ne2 was not a blunder and has been played by masters. For me in that game against Frostad, however, it was an error. I had a 100% in our prior games, although none had been easy wins. Frostad showed up to our game well prepared. I was too willing to sacrifice tempi for the bishop pair. I could and should have played simple chess. Instead, I tried to be clever. Such cleverness bites me often when I play my opponent (or a fantasy opponent of his rating level) instead of playing the board. 9.Qe2 is one of the normal moves and has served me well in the past.