27 February 2017

Falkbeer Counter-gambit

Ernst Karl Falkbeer (1819-1885) founded Austria's first chess magazine, Wiener Schachzeitung, but is remembered today mostly for the response to the King's Gambit that bears his name. He published an article analyzing Black's third move and also played several games employing the gambit.

The main line appears to be 1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 (the signature move of the Falkbeer Counter-gambit) 3.exd5 e4 (the topic of Falkbeer's 1850 article) 4.d3 Nf6 and then White has four main options.

a) Nc3
b) Qe2
c) Nd2
d) dxe4

According to John Shaw, The King's Gambit (2013), "White has excellent chances of an edge in the traditional main lines" (560). The Falkbeer "has become something of a museum piece at the highest levels," according to Neal McDonald, The King's Gambit: A Modern View of a Swashbuckling Opening (1998). Even so, Dmitrij Jakovenko has played it as recently as the 2014 Russian Championship.

My Round Four Opponent
When I was facing the King's gambit yesterday, I had recollections of one of the Polgar sisters playing the Falkbeer, and also remembered two games that I have studied in some depth, Schulten -- Morphy 1857 and Rosanes -- Anderssen 1862. Both historic games were won quickly by Black. A check of my database this morning shows that Susan Polgar lost to Boris Spassky in 1988 when she played the Falkbeer. She opted for the 3...c6 line that was popular for awhile.

The oldest game in the ChessBase database with Black's 3...e4

Anderssen,Adolf -- Falkbeer,Ernst Karl [C32]
Berlin m3 Berlin, 1851

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.Bb5+ Bd7 5.Qe2 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bc5 7.Nxe4 0–0 8.Bxd7 Nbxd7 9.d3 Nxd5 10.Nf3 Re8 11.f5 Bb4+ 12.Kf2 N7f6 13.g3 Qd7 14.c4 Nxe4+ 15.dxe4 Nf6 16.e5 Qxf5 17.Kg2 Rad8 18.a3 Bd6 19.Rd1 Qh5 20.c5 Rxe5 21.Qxe5 Qg4 22.cxd6 Re8 23.Qxe8+ Nxe8 24.d7 Qe4 25.d8Q Qc2+ 26.Bd2 1–0

Two memorable historic games.

Schulten,John William -- Morphy,Paul [C32]
New York blindfold m New York, 1857

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.d3 Bb4 6.Bd2 e3 7.Bxe3 0–0 8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Re8+ 10.Be2 Bg4 11.c4 c6 12.dxc6 Nxc6 13.Kf1 Rxe2 14.Nxe2 Nd4 15.Qb1 Bxe2+ 16.Kf2 Ng4+ 17.Kg1 Nf3+ 18.gxf3 Qd4+ 19.Kg2 Qf2+ 20.Kh3 Qxf3+ 0–1

Rosanes,Jacob -- Anderssen,Adolf [C32]
Breslau m Breslau, 1862

1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.Bb5+ c6 5.dxc6 Nxc6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qe2 Bc5 8.Nxe4 0–0 9.Bxc6 bxc6 10.d3 Re8 11.Bd2 Nxe4 12.dxe4 Bf5 13.e5 Qb6 14.0–0–0 Bd4 15.c3 Rab8 16.b3 Red8 17.Nf3 Qxb3 18.axb3 Rxb3 19.Be1 Be3+ 0–1

My fourth round opponent started with the Bird, which I met with the From, then we transposed into the King's Gambit and the Falkbeer. That is exactly how one of my worst tournament games ever began two years ago, except that I had White (see "Knowing Better").

Tito Tinajero (1614) -- James Stripes (1845) [C32]
25th Collyer Memorial Spokane Valley (4), 26.02.2017

1.f4 e5 2.e4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.Nc3

4.d3 is considered best. 4...Nf6 5.dxe4 Nxe4 6.Nf3 Bc5 7.Qe2 "theory and practice have demonstrated with a high degree of certainty that White will obtain an advantage" (Shaw, 585).

4...Nf6 5.Bb5+

I expected 5.d3, which is the main line. Shaw mentions 5.Bb5 as a means of avoiding established theory. It's certainly a worthy move at the club level.

5...c6

5...Nbd7 or 5...Bd7 were options. Because I needed to win, I was happier accepting weaknesses in pawn structure than offering minor piece exchanges. Later, however, concrete analysis forced me to consider some exchanges.

6.dxc6 bxc6 7.Bc4

Black to move

7...Bg4?!

7...Bc5 seems better and was played in the only game in PowerBook 2016 with 5.Bb5+. That game continued 8.d4 Qxd4 9.Qxd4 Bxd4 10.Nge2 Bb6 11.Na4 Ba6 12.Nxb6 axb6 13.Bb3 0–0 14.h3 c5 15.a3 e3 16.Bxe3 Re8 17.Kf2 Ne4+ 18.Kf3 Bb7 19.Rhe1 Nd7 20.Ng3 Ndf6 21.Nxe4 Nxe4 22.Ke2 Ba6+ 23.Kf3 Bb7 24.Ke2 Ba6+ 25.Kf3 Bb7 26.Ke2 ½–½ Metz,H (2275) -- Baburin,A (2530) Liechtenstein 1993

8.Be2

8.Nge2 was worth considering.

8...Be6 

8...Bf5 9.d3 Qb6 10.dxe4 Bxe4 was played in Richter,E -- McAloon,J, Ca'n Picafort 1992, which White won in 36 moves.

9.d3 Bb4 10.Bd2

Black to move

10...exd3

I first thought of 10...e3, as Morphy played against Schulten, but my c-pawn makes a critical element of Morphy's attack impossible.

I missed an opportunity: 10...Qd4! 11.Qc1 (11.dxe4? Bc5 12.Qc1 Qf2+-+) 11...Nbd7 and Black's pieces are more active.

11.Bxd3 Qb6?

I should have castled, but failed to anticipate White's next move.

12.f5 Bd5

I spent twenty minutes on this move.

13.Nxd5 Nxd5

During that twenty minutes, I thought that I would play 13...Bxd2+, but now spent another five minutes considering whether that was best. Although several of my moves in this game were not best, the time that I invested and the care taken are indicators that I was taking the game seriously. I was playing the board, not my opponent. I was not making the sort of hasty moves that cost me a draw on Saturday (see "Stronger King").

14.Qe2+

Black to move

14...Kf8

I spent another thirteen minutes on this move. I considered 14...Kd8, as well as several other options that seemed to fail tactically. I wanted to castle, but blocking the check and the castling seemed to drop a piece after White drove the knight away. Of course, White would need to castle first or face a skewer along the e-file. Blocking the check with the knight seemed to be going backwards.

My chess engine prefers 14...Kd8, which I rejected because it seemed too easy for White to move the bishops, producing a discovered attack against my king. If I could calculate as well as a computer, I might have been able to assess these dangers. 15.0–0–0 Re8 16.Qf1 Nd7 and Black is equal, according to Stockfish.

14...Kf8 is the computer's second choice.

15.0–0–0 Nd7

Stockfish prefers 15...Be7, which would have been consistent with my earlier plan to avoid exchanges. But, now, I sensed the need to catch up in development. Despite my sacrifice of a pawn for activity, my opponent's pieces seem more active.

16.Bxb4+ Qxb4 17.Bc4?

17.Qd2 and White retains the edge.

17...Re8

The game is equal.

White to move

18.Qd3??

18.c3 Nxc3 19.bxc3 Qxc3+ 20.Qc2 Qa1+= and Black forces a draw. I likely would have played something else and been worse.

After 17 moves, my opponent had 1:15 remaining to my 45 minutes. Being behind thirty minutes on the clock might have motivated me to cut my losses and bail. Happily, he spent four minutes finding a horrendous move that I quickly exploited.

18...Ne5 19.Qf1 0-1

After making this move, my opponent tipped his king before I could play 19...Nxc4.

It may be worth my time to find another line against the King's Gambit, or to meet the Bird with something other than the From. Against 1.e4, I usually play the French.


26 February 2017

Stronger King

At the Eastern Washington Open last October, I lost to a former student on Sunday morning. My next loss in standard rated USCF tournament games came yesterday afternoon. In between, I played ten games. I was clearly worse at some point in nearly every game, but still managed eight wins and two draws.

This weekend is the 25th annual Dave Collyer Memorial chess tournament. It is Spokane's premier tournament--both largest and strongest. This year, four former winners--all masters--are competing. In the second round, I was paired against the fifth seed, the strongest non-master. He overlooked a nuance in a tactical sequence in the early middlegame that gave me a slight edge.

James Stripes (1845) -- Chris Kalina (2068) [D37]
25th Collyer Memorial Spokane Valley (2), 25.02.2017

White to move
After 21...Be4
22.Nd7! Bxd3 23.Nxb6 axb6

23...Bxf1 24.Nxc8 It was the vulnerable bishop on e7 that my opponent overlooked when he forced the trade of queens 24...Bf8 25.Kxf1+-

24.Rxd3±

My chess engine insists this position is equal, but most human players would favor White.

24...Rd5 25.Rfd1 Rxd3 26.Bxd3 Nd5 27.Bg3 Bf6 28.e4 Ne7 29.e5

This move was a little hasty on my part.

29.Ba6  does more to improve my pieces relative to those of my opponent. I thought that I was trapping the bishop and moved instantly. Later, this bishop won the game in poetic recall of my round five game during the Spokane Chess Club's Winter Championship. A piece that seemed to be inactive became the star in the ending. See "Perseverance".

29...Bg5 30.f4 Bh6 31.Ba6 Rb8 32.Rd4 Nd5

White to move

We have reached the critical position where the middlegame must be played with clear understanding of what may go down in the endgame. Or perhaps, this is already the endgame because I determined that is was time to activate my king. Studying this position, I reasoned that my king was stronger than my opponent's king. My plan was to post my king on f3, protecting my f-pawn, so that my dark-squared bishop was free to harass Kalina's vulnerable b-pawns.

I failed to anticipate how Black could bring his king to the queenside the capture my light-squared bishop, and hence underestimated his next move.

33.Kf2?

33.Bc4 or another move of this bishop leaves me with an edge.

33...b5 34.Kf3 Kf8 35.Be1

35.Bf2 was hard to find, but protects the other bishop.

35...Ke8 36.Bxb4?

36.Bf2 maintains equality.

36...Rb6 37.Bc8 Nxb4

37...Bxf4 38.Ke4 Rb8 39.Ba6 Bxh2 is even better for Black.

38.Rxb4 Kd8 39.Bxe6 fxe6 40.a4 g6 41.g4 Kc7

I offered a draw a move or two before this point. Chris said, "maybe later", and played on.

White to move

42.Rxb5

I was too optimistic about being able to eliminate Black's e- and g-pawns.

42.axb5 leaves me with more options for counterplay.

42...Rxb5 43.axb5–+ Bf8 44.Ke4 Bc5 45.f5 Kd7?

My opponent pursues a plan that demonstrated his king to be stronger than mine, but this move could have squandered the win if I had calculated correctly later on.

45...Kb6–+

46.Kf4 Ke7

46...Be7–+

47.h4 Kf7 48.h5 Bb6

White to move

I spent a bit of time trying to find the draw. Of course, if I can leave my opponent with only the h-pawn, the draw is elementary. Understanding that, he labored to prevent it. That was the reasoning behind his move 45. In this position, I think I found the correct idea, but then three moves in, the lines crossed in my head and I fell short.

49.fxe6+ Kxe6 50.hxg6 hxg6 51.Kg5 Kf7

White to move

52.e6+??

52.Kh6 was necessary Be3+ 53.g5 Bd4 54.e6+ Kxe6 55.Kxg6=

52...Kg7–+ 53.Kf4 Kf6 54.e7 Kxe7 55.Kg5 Kf7 56.Kh6 Kf6 57.b3 g5 58.Kh5 Be3 59.b4 Ke5 60.b6 Kf4 61.b7 Ba7 62.b5 Bb8 63.b6 Bd6 0–1

It was hard for my unbeaten streak to come to an end. It was also hard to squander first an advantage, and then miss a draw. Even so, if I play today as well as I did in this game, I should at least finish the event with a far better performance than last year's Collyer (see "Bishop versus Knight").

25 February 2017

Bishop versus Knight

The 25th annual Dave Collyer Memorial chess tournament is this weekend. I have played in more than half of them, perhaps fifteen. My best year was 2012 when I finished in second place, winning four games and taking a third round bye. IM John Donaldson played and won all five games and finished first. My worst year was 1998 when I lost five games and finished in last place.

My first round game in 1998 was memorable and I often use it teaching students.

Rodriguez,Luis (2211) -- Stripes,James (1472) [B21]
Collyer Memorial Spokane (1), 21.02.1998

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3 d6 5.Bc4 a6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Ne5 dxe5 8.Bxf7+ 1–0

Last year was my second worst. I played four games, losing three. My rating dropped from 1886 to 1816. That was the start of my worst year since starting tournament chess twenty years earlier. The low point came in October in the Eastern Washington Open, which dropped my USCF rating to 1750, a nine year low. I had reached a peak of 1982 in 2012 a few months after the Collyer.

Then, I started winning again. I won a quick event at the Spokane Chess Club at the end of October, finished second in the Spokane Game 10 Championship in November, won my section of the Turkey Quads in November, and then won the SCC Winter Championship in January-February 2017.

After the low in October, I renewed the discipline and focus of my training and improved my attitude. Even so, I still play blitz marathons that put me in a bad mood and cultivate shallow thinking. See yesterday's "Attitude".

My fifth round game in last year's Collyer was a long and difficult battle with a friend who has won biggest upset more than once beating me. Although his rating seems to hover in the 1400s, he always plays well against me. He also helped me win the Winter Championship by drawing the second seed in the first round. I finished the game resolved to study the endgame, which I thought must be quite instructive. Alas, I did not even look at the game again until yesterday. Here is that ending.

Baker,Ted (1400) -- Stripes,James (1886) [A56]
Collyer Memorial Spokane Valley, 28.02.2016

Black to move
After 32.Rf2
32...Rb4 33.Ne3 Rb1 34.Ne2 Rb3 35.Nf5?

35.Rf3

35...Bf8 36.Rf3

Black to move

36...Rb2

36...Rxf3 is better. 37.Kxf3 g6 38.Ne3 Bxh3. If I am alert to such opportunities this weekend, I will do well.

37.Kf2 g6 38.Ne3 Be7

38...Bh6

39.Ng4 Bh4+ 40.Kf1 Rb1+ 41.Kg2 Re1 42.Nc3

Black to move

42...Bxg4

Forced.

43.hxg4 Rc1 44.Re3 Bg5 45.Rd3 Rc2+ 46.Kf3 Bh4 47.Nb5

Black to move

47...Kd7?

47...Rf2+ 48.Ke3 Rg2 49.Ra3 Rg3+ 50.Ke2 Rg2+ is equal.

48.Nc3

48.Ra3 gives White the upper hand.

48...Rf2+ 49.Ke3 Rg2 50.Kf3 Rg3+ 51.Ke2 Rxg4

Finally, I began to feel as though I had made some progress. However, I underestimated my opponent's ability to support his d-pawn, while also mistiming my h-pawn push.

52.Rf3 Rg2+ 53.Kd1

Black to move

53...h5

53...Rf2 offers Black good prospects.

54.Rf7+ Ke8 55.Rc7

Black to move

55...Bf2

55...Bg5 56.Na4 (56.d6 Rd2+ 57.Ke1 Rxd6 favors Black) 56...h4 57.Nxc5 h3 58.Rh7 Be7 59.d6 Bxd6 60.Nb7 h2 and the computer likes Black.

56.d6 Be3 57.Nd5 Bg5 58.Rxc5 h4

Correct play should lead to a draw. Probably, I was still seeking a win.

59.Rc7

Black to move

59...h3??

59...Rd2+ 60.Ke1 Rd4 61.Kf2 Rxe4 62.Kf3 Rd4=

60.Rh7+- h2 61.Nc7+ Kd8 62.Ne6+ Kc8 63.d7+ Kb8 64.Nxg5 h1Q+ 65.Rxh1 Kc7 66.Rh7 Rxg5 67.c5 Rg4 68.c6 Rxe4 69.Rh8 Rd4+ 70.Ke2 Re4+ 71.Kd3 1–0


24 February 2017

Attitude


Win with grace. Lose with dignity.
Susan Polgar
During morning coffee today, I reviewed three games on Chessgames.com, then played a single blitz game. When the blitz game began, I spoke my opponent's name, DarklordCOBRA, and then said, "this could be loss number 10,000." My wife can attest that I was calm and ready to accept defeat. She does not recall my tone of voice. Lack of recall is proof. Expressions of anger and despair do not go unnoticed. Last night, for example, after she went to bed, she called from the bedroom to ask, "what's wrong?" I was in the living room playing blitz on my iPad and had dropped a piece in an otherwise equal position, uttering some profanities.

Losses torment me. They bring out such fury that it seems that I hate the world and everyone in it. I yell such obscenities at the computer screen when losing online games that even the deaf dog heads outside for safety.

It need not be this way. It is possible to "lose with dignity", as Susan Polgar advocates. As a youth chess coach, I have spent years urging children to understand, "when you lose, you learn." In truth, however, I am a little half-hearted expressing this sentiment. I know that children hurt when they lose. A cliché offers minimal comfort at such times.

I have a more serious problem with the "win, draw, or learn" saying popular among other coaches. Often, victories should be subjected to the same scrutiny as losses. One of the students whom I coach one-on-one tied for first in his tournament last Saturday, winning his first trophy. During the tournament, he brought one of his game scores to my director's table and we analyzed the victory with his opponent. She missed at least two opportunities to checkmate him with a two move sequence. Although he finished at the top and she finished near the middle, the final standings could have been much different. It is very important to learn from one's mistakes in victories, as well as from defeats.

I recently won the Spokane Chess Club's Winter Championship. It would be easy to find comfort in my success, but it is more important to find humility. I had a lost position in four out of five games (see "Perseverance"). My success stemmed from a lot of help from my opponents who failed to put me away when they had the chance. However, I kept my own chances alive by never giving up. Throughout the course of the event, I tried to remain focused on having fun, finding the best moves, and learning. I found help from the prescriptions Paul Powell puts forth in The Fighting Dragon: How to Defeat the Yugoslav Attack (2016), which I reviewed recently.
I will explore new ideas and open my mind to new patterns. I will learn new patterns and become a stronger player.
Failure is not measured by wins and losses; failure is continuing to play without learning.
Paul Powell, The Fighting Dragon, 18.
When I play too much blitz, the quality of my play suffers. My attitude suffers also. The problem, however, stems less from the quantity than from the mindset. It may be possible to play for many hours and still cultivate a positive attitude. It is less likely when play is aimed at getting to that next rating goal (such as the rating I had yesterday).

Facing an opponent whose rating was higher than I have been in the past two weeks, I resolved to learn. I aimed to find strong moves and not get caught in the rut of playing without thinking. DarklordCOBRA essayed the Advance variation against my French. I commented, "I have played this over-the-board against a titled player and done well." Nonetheless, I went for the old main line instead of what I usually play. My opponent built up an advantage through the opening and early middlegame.

DarklordCOBRA (1946) -- Ziryab (1872) [C02]
Live Chess Chess.com, 24.02.2017

After 21.Bc3

Black to move

21...Qh4

I wanted to play 21...a5, but miscounted the number of pieces that I had supporting this push. It's kind of hard to count to two during a blitz game. After the game, I looked again at this idea, thinking White would reply 22.a3. Initially, in my postgame analysis, I did not see how 22...Qb6, intending b5-b4 fails to 23.Bxg7!

My move was an effort to play b5-b4, and shows also that I was instinctively aware of some vulnerabilities on the kingside. But, my queen was kicked around a bit.

22.g3 Qh5 23.Re1 Rfd8 24.Bd1 Qc5 25.Rc1 Qf5 26.Bc2 Qh3

My queen has a nice aggressive post, but my opponent is not going to give me time to put my bishop where my knight stands in order to support Qg2#.

White to move

27.Qg5

27.Re4 should prove decisive, as my queen is running out of safe squares.

27...g6 28.Re4 b4

I am losing my queen, but at least I can get a rook and bishop for it.

29.Rh4 Qxh4 30.Qxh4 bxc3 31.bxc3

White has a decisive advantage, but also has only sixteen seconds. I have thirty.

Black to move

31...Ne5 32.Qf6 Ng4 33.Qf4 f5 34.h3 Nf6 35.Bb3 Nd5

After the game, I thought I should have played 35...Kf7. Even here, Black is busted.

36.Qe5 Bc6

White to move

37.h4

With only nine seconds remaining, my opponent came up with a plan that seems to lead to checkmate.

37.Qxe6+ Kg7 38.Bxd5 Bxd5 39.Qxd5+- ends matters more quickly.

37...Nxc3 38.h5

My opponent should have found 38.Bxe6+ Kf8 39.Qf6+ Ke8 40.Qf7#

38...Bd5 39.h6 Ne2+

White to move

40.Qxe2??

40.Kh2 leaves Black with no checks, and only the possibility to delay checkmate. Black had five seconds in which to find Kh2.

40...Rxc1+

Now, for the first time in the game, Black has an advantage.

41.Bd1 Kf7 0–1

After the game, I went back through the battle looking for errors and opportunities. Mainly, I found my opponent's missed opportunities. Immediate postgame analysis of wins, losses, and draws with an aim to learning can help cultivate the correct attitude.

23 February 2017

Cultivating Youth Skills

My chess students range from absolute beginners who have just learned how the pieces move and are beginning to discover forks and pins to some of the perennial trophy winners at local scholastic events. Students who meet with me one-on-one get tailored instruction that includes analysis of their tournament games. They also get a heavy dose of classic games.

This week, both students who meet one-one-one and my advanced after school club worked through some positions on my green cards. These cards have diagrams from Ziyatdinov, GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000). One of these positions is from Schulten -- Morphy, New York 1857.

These positions are presented not merely as a tactical problem to solve, but also as a position to play. I emphasize, as does Ziyatidinov, finding the best plans for both sides. Yes, there is a tactical shot. But, there is also a need to cultivate the skill that converts the resulting advantage into a win.

Black to move

Having seen and learned Morphy's Opera Game last week, some students found the key move quickly after being told it is a Morphy game and we need to look at pins.

13...Rxe2 14.Nxe2 Nd4

In the game, Shulten played 15.Qb1.

We explored how Black might proceed after 15.Qe1. Together, we played both sides trying to find a win for Black and the stubborn defense for White.

One of the interesting lines continued: 15.Qe1 Bxe2+ 16.Kg1 Qb6 17.Be3 Ng4 18.Bf2 Re8 and we played on from here, taking back moves that seems to fail and looking for better tries.

We also looked at this position from one of my online games.

White to move

40.Rh7+ was played in the game, and it worked well because Black did not find 40...Kg6 41.Rxe7 Rxc5, which gives Black excellent drawing prospects.

40.Bxe7 is White's best move, leading to 40...Kg7 41.Bd6 Rc1 42.Be5+ Kg6 and White should win.

My beginning students completed the worksheet Beginning Tactics 3 after seeing an illustration of the power of pins from the game Portisch -- Berger, Amsterdam 1964.

White to move

16.Nxh7 Kxh7 17.Rh5+ Kg7 18.Be5+ f6 19.Rg5.

20 February 2017

17 February 2017

Perseverance

Mental discipline and hard work improves luck.
James Stripes
My success finally winning a club championship at the Spokane Chess Club included a lot of luck. I was strategically lost in the first round, but my opponent failed to find the correct plan (see "Fiddling with the London System"). In round two, play was balanced until I blundered. But, my opponent failed to calculate the winning combination and was then lost (see "Solve This"). In the third round, I secured a nice position out of the opening only to squander it in the middle game. However, my opponent got into such time trouble that he was unable to convert a rook ending with two connected passed pawns when I had only a rook. He lost one pawn and then let me force exchanges leading to lone kings.

I prepared extensively for my fourth round game against our city champion. I expected a long struggle, but there was one line that could give me a decisive advantage in the opening. He played that line (see "Home Preparation"). In the last round, I was thoroughly outplayed in the opening. That is something that rarely happens to me in the French Defense. My position slowly worsened, but I stubbornly labored to create counter-play while playing rapidly. At a critical point, my opponent missed a resource in my position. He had about three minutes on the clock to my thirty.

Karl Reutter (1853) -- James Stripes (1791) [A34]
SCC Winter Championship Spokane (5), 16.02.2017

1.e4 e6 2.c4

This is an interesting approach to the French Defense. I use it myself to transpose to the Exchange variation. For me, it is mostly a blitz strategy, but I used it a few months ago at the the Spokane Chess Club. See "Useful Knowledge".

2...c5

I usually play 2...d5 and it might have been a better choice as I'm familiar with the resulting positions, haviing played them over 500 times in online blitz and a few times over the board. It is the most popular move. However, the move that I played has a better score. I was aware of the statistics before the game. I let that knowledge guide me.

In the tournament that first lifted my rating into A Class, I played this game: 3.exd5 exd5 4.cxd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 (5.Bb5+ Nbd7) 5...Nxd5 6.Qf3 c6 7.Nxd5 Qxd5 8.Qxd5 cxd5 9.Bb5+ Bd7 10.Bxd7+ Nxd7 11.Nf3 Bc5 12.0–0 0–0 13.d4 Bb6 14.Be3 Rac8 15.Rac1 Nb8 16.Rfd1 Rc6 17.Rxc6 Nxc6 18.Rc1 f6 19.Kf1 Kf7 ½–½ Mathews,D (1786) -- Stripes,J (1764), Spokane 2009.

3.Nc3 Nc6

I spent about eight minutes considering my move, and kept looking at and rejecting a move that I had forgotten I played in 2010. 3...d5? 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nxd5 (5.Bb5+; 5.exd5) 5...Nc6 6.Bb5 (6.Nf3) 6...Bd7? (6...Nf6) 7.Ne2 (7.Nf3) 7...a6 8.Bxc6 Bxc6 9.0–0 Bxd5 (9...Nf6) 10.exd5 Nf6 11.Nc3 (11.Re1) 11...Be7 12.Qf3 Qd7 (12...0–0) 13.Rd1 0–0 14.d4 c4 15.Bg5 Rad8 16.Rd2?= Nxd5 17.Bxe7 Nxe7 18.d5 Qf5 19.Qxf5 Nxf5 20.a4 Rfe8 21.Kf1 Nd6 22.a5 Kf8 23.Na4 Re5 24.Nb6 Nc8 25.Nxc4 Rexd5 26.Rxd5 Rxd5 27.Ke2 Rd4 28.Rc1 f6 29.Ke3 Rd7 30.Rc3 Ke7 31.g4 Rc7 32.h4 Nd6 33.Nxd6? Rxc3+ 34.bxc3 Kxd6 35.Kd4 Kc6 36.Kc4 b6! 37.axb6 Kxb6 38.Kd5 a5 39.Kd6? Kb5 40.Kd5 a4 41.c4+ Ka6!–+ 42.c5 (42.Kd4 Kb6 43.Kc3 Kc5 44.h5 g6 45.h6 f5 46.gxf5 gxf5 47.Kd3 a3) 42...a3 43.c6 a2 0–1 Julian,J (2023) -- Stripes,J (1862), Spokane 2010.

4.g3 Nge7

When I arrived home, I first entered the game in Hiarcs on the iPad. I was pleasantly surprised that its opening book prefers my move. Of course, its presence in Hiarcs' opening book means that it is a good line for the computer and I am not a computer.

4...Nf6 is the most popular move, and I considered it. It may be easier for the human player.

5.Bg2 Nd4 6.Nge2 Nec6 7.d3 g6N

White to move

I think that my novelty is unsound. I recall aiming for a set-up that I have used with success against the Grand Prix Attack in the Sicilian, but there are several differences in the position that I failed to appreciate.

7...d6 was a move that I thought about, but not seriously enough until a move or two later. 8.0–0 g6 9.a3 Bg7 10.Rb1 0–0 11.b4 a6 12.h3 Rb8 13.Be3 b5 14.bxc5 dxc5 Meijers,V (2496) -- Halkias,S (2579), Kavala 2008 and Black won in 32 moves.

8.0–0 Bg7

8...d6 transposes to Meijers -- Halkias above.

9.f4 h5!?

Harry the h-pawn starts his charge! At least I can blame Simon Williams and his video lectures on h-pawn attacks for my faulty strategy.

9...Nxe2+ 10.Qxe2 Bd4+ 11.Be3
9...d6 still is probably best.

10.e5

White's move ends my fantasies of using my dark-squared bishop to make trouble for White's king, cramps my center, and creates a nice outpost for White's knight.

10.h4 d6

10...h4

I considered 10...d6 and it is still best.

11.Ne4 d5?

11...hxg3 12.hxg3 Nf5 was probably better. Black's pawn belongs on d6.

12.cxd5 exd5

Now was the time for 12...Nxe2+ but White is clearly better in any case.

13.Nd6+ Kf8 14.Nxd4 Nxd4 15.Bxd5

15.g4 h3
15.Be3 Be6

Black to move

15...hxg3 16.hxg3 Qd7

I made this move and then went to the toilet, thinking that I could get a perpetual with Qh3-g3. While taking care of business, I realized that the bishop could block the check. Back to the board to find a new plan.

I do not recall considering 16...Nf5 17.Nxf5 Qxd5 when Black has a playable game.

17.Bg2

I expected 17.Nxf7 Rh5 18.Nd6 Qh3 19.Rf2
17.Bxf7 would be an error due to 17...Qh3–+

17...Nf5

17...Kg8

18.Nxf5 Qxf5

My pieces are awkwardly placed. White's greater mobility and superior coordination are far more significant than his extra pawn.

19.Be3+- Bd7 20.Bxc5+ Kg8 21.d4 Rc8 22.Rf2 b6 23.Bb4

Black to move

23...Bc6

23...g5 24.fxg5 Qxg5 25.Qf3 Qg6 (25...Qh6 26.Qxf7+ Kh7 27.Be4+ Qg6 28.Bxg6+ Kh6 29.Bd2#)

24.Bxc6 Rxc6 25.Bc3 Rh3 26.Qf3 Rc7 27.Kg2

Black to move

I considered resigning. I am two pawns down with no play. Even so, my opponent still has work to do, so I should do my best to create complications and make him do the work.

27...f6 28.Rh1 Rxh1 29.Kxh1 Qb1+ 30.Kg2 Bf8

30...Qxa2 31.f5 g5 32.Qa8+ Kh7

31.Qd5+ Kh8 32.Qd8 Rf7

32...Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Rf7

33.Re2 Qd3 34.Kf2 fxe5 35.Qh4+

35.Rxe5 Qc2+ 36.Re2 Qf5

35...Kg8

White to move

36.dxe5??

This blunder gave me the Spokane Chess Club's 2017 Winter Championship.

36.Rxe5+-

36...Bc5+

My opponent told me after the game that he missed this move. Perhaps it was easy to overlook this bishop's ability to come to life. It has been a sorry piece for most of the game.

37.Kf1-+

37.Ke1 Qb1+ 38.Kd2 Rd7+ 39.Bd4 Rxd4+ 40.Ke3 Rxf4+ 41.Kd2 Bb4+ 42.Ke3 Qe4#
37.Re3 Qxe3+ 38.Kg2-+

37...Rh7 38.Qg4 Rh1+ 39.Kg2 Qd5+ 0–1

16 February 2017

The Whole Board

This position has occurred in at least 21 games, including Ree,H -- Piket,J, Breda 2001, which appears in Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2015).

White to move

The best move, which has been played in 19 of those 21 games, is quite elegant.

15 February 2017

Basic Tactics: Pins and Forks

Yesterday, my beginning chess club saw an obscure miniature and then completed the worksheet Beginning Tactics 3.

Beginning Tactics 3

Find the correct move for White in each diagram. Draw an arrow showing the correct move.







These positions all employ pins and forks--some use pins, some forks (the links offer definitions and examples of these tactical themes). Pins and forks are also evident in the miniature that I showed the students on the demonstration board.

Soultanbeieff,V -- Dybina [E14]
Liege, 1950

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.Bd3 Be4 6.Nc3 Bb4

In the battle for the e4 square, Black pins White's knight.

7.Qc2 Bxd3 8.Qxd3 d5 9.cxd5 Nxd5 10.0–0

Castling eliminates the pin.

10...Nxc3 11.bxc3 Be7 

White won the battle for e4 and now controls the center.

12.Ne5 0–0 13.f4 c5 14.f5 exf5 15.Qxf5 Qd5?? 

Black should have played 15...Bf6 and fought on in a slightly worse position. Now, White wins material by force.

White to move

16.Ng6!

This discovered attack against the queen also threatens the bishop at e7. If Black captures the knight, he loses his queen (16...hxg6 17.Qxd5 Na6). If he captures the queen, then the knight captures the bishop with check, forking queen and king (16...Qxf5 17.Nxe7+ Kh8 18.Nxf5).

16...Qb7 

Black tries to escape the unfavorable exchanges.

17.Qd5 

Again, White seeks to exchange queens and gain the bishop (17...Qxd5 18.Nxe7+ Kh8 19.Nxd5).

17...Nc6 18.Qxc6 1–0

After 18...Qxc6, White's knight forks still pick up additional material. 19.Nxe7+ Kh8 20.Nxc6. Seeing this, Black opted to resign.

I found this game in Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2015), but not in the other usual sources. Some information is available about Victor Soultanbeieff, the player of the White pieces. The Oxford Companion to Chess (1996) has a short entry on a variation of the Slav Defense that bears his name, and Wikipedia has an entry on him. I could find no information about his opponent, who was probably a local player who was below master strength.

Tomorrow, barring another weather incident. my advanced students will get last week's planned lesson (see "Inspired by Morphy"). Last week, we had a snow day.

14 February 2017

The Fighting Dragon

A Book Review

The Fighting Dragon: How to Defeat the Yugoslav Attack (Boston: Mongoose Press, 2016) by Paul Powell is not a repertoire book. It does offer suggestions to meet White's normal lines of play against the Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defense. Unlike repertoire books, however, it does not offer a large number of heavily analyzed lines of seemingly endless variations. The book consists of ten main chapters--the first nine each cover one particular variation, and number ten covers "odds and ends". The shorter second part offers quizzes, a series of positions to solve. Something more than half of these positions occur in games found in the ten chapters.

The Fighting Dragon offers 52 games, all of which end with victory for the player of the Black pieces. Despite this record, these games do not reveal that White's ideas against the Sicilian Dragon are refuted. Rather, both sides have chances until a fatal error by White. Black's play, too, could be improved upon in some of the games.

With one exception, all of the games are shorter than average. More than half are miniatures (25 moves or less). Thirty games conclude by move 25. Ten games are decided in 20 moves or fewer. Only one game lasts longer than 35 moves. Powell, who is a USCF Life Master, explains that he intends his focus on short games to cultivate "inspiration and pattern recognition instead of memorization as a critical element of [the reader's] opening study" (9). Short games reveal catastrophic errors. Learning to identify these errors develops the reader's understanding of tactical themes.

Although I am more likely to find myself on the White side of the Yugoslav Attack, this book has inspired me. Powell's prescriptions to avoid "the rut" have helped me maintain a somewhat healthier focus both in play and in study.
Let us consider the Dragon player who is stuck in a rut. He revels in showing you his favorite game from 2002 where he crushed a master in the main-line Dragon. Great result, but sadly for him he's been playing the exact same line for over a decade in the hopes that another strong player will fall down the same rabbit hole. (16)
Start thinking sooner, even after the first move, even while playing your pet lines, Powell urges. "Comfort turns into complacency," he notes (15). He lays out a plan for reading this book and profiting from it. Take several ideas from each chapter. Play them fearlessly--intending to learn whether winning or losing. Play them in blitz and in slow games. As the reader tries new ideas, some will fit better than others. Refine those.

In The Fighting Dragon, Powell offers light annotations, emphasizing verbal explanations of the core ideas more than alternate variations. After the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 O-O 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.O-O-O Rb8, he notes, "The historical main-line Dragon finds the rook on c8 with pressure on the semi-open file. With ...Ra8-b8 instead, Black intends to use his b-pawn as a battering ram to open up White's castle" (120).

White to move

In his notes to the longest game in the book, Domínguez Pérez,L -- Carlsen,M, Linares 2009, he suggests, "If 10...Rb8 is worthy of being part of a world champion's repertoire, it should be one of the tools at your disposal too" (130). The skeptical reader might note that Magnus Carlsen was not yet world champion in 2009, but the point has merit.

The book uses figurine algebraic notation and prints the diagrams upside down--Black on bottom. This unorthodox printing of diagrams might bother some readers, but may comfort others. For some readers, it might have been helpful to have the coordinates included with the diagrams. These coordinates are missing in The Fighting Dragon.

The writing is mostly lively and interesting. Powell offers fresh metaphors ("One of the most difficult things in chess is deciding whether to paint your house or to go on vacation" [27]), but also weak and tired similes ("they avoid these lines like a zombie virus" [9]). The book reveals Powell as a person who would be entertaining during the social times at a chess tournament and who might say useful and memorable things during post-game analysis.

Chess players looking to start playing the Dragon will be well served reading this book. It facilitates quick grasp of the main ideas. A Dragon player who has studied a shelf full of repertoire books for years could still benefit from reading through this short book (183 pages) as much from the discussion of chess psychology as from the selection of entertaining games. Even players of other opening systems should consider Powell's approach to studying openings via tactical themes revealed through miniatures. The Fighting Dragon deserves some credit for cultivating habits of study that led to a nice win against our City Champion and his Queen's Indian Defense (see "Home Preparation"). After reading this book in December and early January, I began to apply some of its methodologies in my study of other openings.

I heartily endorse this book.

13 February 2017

Decisive Advantage?

When do you resign? Losing an exchange should not be sufficient cause for resignation. But, what if you are down an exchange and your opponent is rated 300 Elo higher? What if you are down an exchange and your position is passive?

Going through the games in Branko Tadic and Goran Arsovic, Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures (2015), I came across a game where it seemed that Black might have resigned a little early. It did seem as though White's play from the position at the end of the game was relatively straightforward and that Black was consigned to passive defense. Even so, most players would play on in such a position.

I searched for the game online and found that 2700chess.com has it. That site offered me the option of playing against the computer from the final position. Of course, I could easily set up the game on my computer and play Stockfish 7, but it was coffee time. While drinking my coffee, I like to sit in the living room with my dogs and use my iPad. The strongest chess engine setting that seemed available to me on the website was 2200--good enough that it will exploit tactical blunders or force a draw if the opportunity arises.

Komarov,Dimitri (2541) -- Bogdanov,Emil (2249) [E12]
FRA-chT N1 Drancy (3), 06.02.2005

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 b6 4.a3 Bb7 5.Nc3 Be7 6.d5 0–0 7.g3 d6 8.Bg2 Re8 9.0–0 Bf8 10.b4 c6 11.Nd4 cxd5 12.cxd5 Nxd5 13.Nxd5 Bxd5 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.Bxd5 Nd7 16.Bxa8 Qxa8 17.Bb2 Be7 18.Rc1 1-0

Black to move

After playing against the computer, my coffee was finished. I went to my computer, entered the moves into a database, and ran quick analysis with Stockfish 7 at full strength to observe what I or the weakened engine on 2700chess.com might have missed.

Stripes,J -- Stockfish (2200 strength)
2700chess.com

18...b5 19.Qb3 Bf6 20.Rc7

Stockfish seems to prefer that I play Rc7 before Qb3. 19.Qd3 was also an option. All of these moves offer white an advantage of 2.5+, a little more than the material difference.

20...Ne5 21.Bxe5

I did not want this knight plugging the c-file.

21...Bxe5 22.Qe3 Qd5 23.Qxa7 Bb2

White to move

One improvement Stockfish 7 noted up to this point was that I might have played Rfc1 on any of several moves. Now, Black prevents bringing the second rook to the open file.

24.Qb7

Is it beneficial to exchange queens when ahead a rook for a bishop, and with more active rooks? I thought so here.

24...Qe5 25.Re7

At first, Stockfish prefers 25.e3, but as it examines the position longer, it likes my move almost as much as its first choice.

25...Rxe7 26.Qxe7

Threatening checkmate in one.

26...h6

26...h5 might be a little better.

27.Rb1

This move drops the computer's assessment of White's advantage from near 5.0 to 3.5. Even so, it seems that I have improved White's advantage from the end of Komarov -- Bogdanov.

Stockfish likes 27.Qe8+ Kh7 28.a4.

I did not look at this variation during the game. The central Black pawns had been my focus when considering why Bogdanov resigned.

27...Qxe2 28.Qxd6 Kh7

White to move

29.Rxb2!?

The point of my move 27. Giving back the exchange to enter a queen ending with only a one pawn advantage would normally seem the way to convert a win into a draw.

29...Qxb2 30.Qd3+ Kh8 31.h4?!

I had originally planned 31.Qxb5 Qb1+ 32.Kg2 Qe4+ but was not prepared to play 33.f3 Qc2+ 34.Kh3. This unplayed line is Stockfish 7's preference.

31...Qe5

White to move

My advantage has diminished to 1.27, but my confidence is now rooted in the observation that Black's queen can defend both e6 and b5 from relatively few squares.

32.Kg2 Kg8 33.Qf3 g6

Stockfish 7 sees this move as half a pawn worse than 33...g5. Was 33...g6 Black's critical error? It seems to me that I now have a third pawn for my queen to attack. How can Black defend everything?

34.Qb7 Qe2 35.Qb8+ Kg7 36.Qc7+ Kh8

White to move

37.Qd8+

37.Qf7 seems faster.

37...Kg7 38.Qe7+ Kg8 39.Qf6

Black to move

39...h5

39...Qe4+ at first seems to refute my plan to convert a queen ending 40.Kh2

a) 40...Qf5 41.Qxf5 exf5 42.Kg2 should be a simple win for White
b) 40...Qc2 41.Qxe6+ Kg7 42.Kg2 increases White's advantage to two pawns and weaknesses remain in the Black position.

40.Qxg6+ Kh8 41.Qf6+ Kh7 42.Qf3 Qe5 43.Qe3 Qd6

43...Qd5+ 44.f3 Qa2+ 45.Kh3 Qa1 complicates my task.

44.Qe4+

Black to move

44...Kh6

44...Kg7 45.Qb7+ Kf6 46.Qxb5 and now three pawns to the good for White.

45.Qf4+ Qxf4 46.gxf4

Black to move

The rest is simple.

46...Kh7 47.Kf3 Kg6 48.Ke4 Kf6 49.f3+-

Checkmate was delivered on move 69.