06 November 2018

It could have been this ending

I reached an interesting position after some horrid play. First, I lost a bishop to save a fraction of a second through premove--an online blitz resource that has cost me many games. As the game went on, I dropped pawns with no concerns for the future. Then, my opponent returned the bishop and let me stop his passed pawn.

We reached this position after many more moves.

Black to move

I played the correct move without understanding my plan.

46...Rf4+ 47.Rf5

White loses with any other move.

47...Rh4?

Throws it away. Later in the game, my opponent missed a checkmate in one, and a checkmate in two on the following move. Then he missed a checkmate in three when time was critical, and five moves later ran out of time to give me a draw.

I could have earned the draw in this endgame.

47...Rxf5 48.Kxf5

Black to move

Both 48...f6 and 48...h4 draw.

a) 48...h4 49.Kg4

Black to move

49...f5+! 50.exf5 h3 51.Kxh3 Kg5 results in a position that is an elementary draw.

b) 48...f6 49.f4

Black to move

49...Kh7 draws if you are a computer.

Simpler for carbon life forms is 49...Kg7 50.e5 fxe5 51.fxe5 h4

05 November 2018

Planning

In 1864, Johannes Zukertort reached a level in his chess skill high enough that Adolf Anderssen no longer gave him odds. That year, the two played a number of games. David Levy and Kevin O'Connell, Oxford Encyclopedia of Chess Games, vol. 1 1485-1866 lists eight games between these two players in 1864. Zukertort had White in all eight. Levy and O'Connell list their source for the games as Neue Berliner Schachzeitung (1867). Zukertort began serving as principal editor of this serial in 1867.

Anderssen's play reveals weaknesses that were less frequent in his tournament play of the time. These games offer a number of interesting positions for exploring the elements of chess strategy.

Black to move
After 12.Qe2
What are the plans for both sides?

Anderssen castled and went on to lose after several errors.


30 October 2018

A Pig and a Fork

After executing an elementary tactic in a blitz game a few days ago, I started looking for training positions for my beginning students. A rook on the seventh (or second) rank is sometimes called a pig, perhaps because of its tendency to gobble up pawns. Sometimes a weak back rank that is not fatally weak--that is, there is no checkmate--can lead to a position where a rook becomes a pig with check that also attacks a pawn. This situation occurred in my game.

Black to move

26...Qd1+ 27.Qxd1+ Rxd1 28.Kf2 Rd2+

The fork

29.Ke3 Rxb2 30.Ra4 a5 31.Ra3 Rxh2

White to move

With a two pawn advantage, Black went on to win.

I used the Manoeuvres search tab in ChessBase to find some training positions with hopes that my students could learn to play similar positions easily. My search was not narrow enough and I had to go through a hundred games to find a few of the sort that I sought. But other tactics emerged in this batch of games as well, and I filed away several positions.

This position from Euwe,M. -- Kroone,G., Amsterdam 1919 is simple enough.

White to move

32.Rc8+ Kg7 33.Rc7+ Kg6 34.Rxb7

White has restored the material balance and has healthier pawns and an active king. The effort to create threats and counterplay led Black to reduce his own rook's mobility and White won. Whether White already has a clear advantage, however, is less clear. The ending may prove instructive for my students. In particular, it was from this position that Stockfish evaluated the game as going from an advantage for White to a decisive advantage.

Black to move

Black played 38...a2. The engine sees Black holding after 38...Ra2.

White more clearly gains a decisive advantage with the maneuver in Zukertort,J. -- Pitschel,K., Paris 1878. This game also featured a queen exchange to simplify matters, as in my game.

White to move

34.Rc8+ Kg7 (other moves lead to a quick checkmate and another elementary lesson for my students.

35.Qg3+Qxg3 36.Kxg3

Black to move

36...Rc1

And now the fork on the seventh. White won the rook ending easily, or so it seemed.

37.Rc7+ Kf6 38.Rxa7 Rxc2 39.Rd7 Rxc3+ 40.Kh4 e4

Black also has a passed pawn.

41.Rxd6+ Ke5

White to move

42.Rxb6?

White let Black back into the game, but nonetheless went on to win. The lessons from this point in the game are for another day.

26 October 2018

Find the Error

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
                                                                    Seneca
Wilhelm Steinitz famously claimed, "by best play on both sides a draw ought to be the legitimate result" (The Modern Chess Instructor [1889], xxxi). I introduced to my students in an after school club this week the notion that a game of chess can only be won one way: someone must make an error. The good news is that their opponents all make errors. The bad news is that they also do so.

We then proceeded to examine this game. First we went through all of the moves on the demo board without comment. Then, after resetting the pieces, I asked students for their ideas concerning Black's decisive error.

After some discussion, we went through the game again considering the consequences and alternatives where they thought they perceived error. A student earned a chess pencil for suggesting the move given a question mark by John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev, Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King (1994).

Rubinstein,Akiba -- Heilmann,Ernst [D40]
Hauptturnier-A Barmen (2), 1905

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 c5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.a3

Black to move

6...b6

This move's weakening of the c6 square does not look so bad until Rubinstein demonstrates how to exploit it. Even so, it had been employed by Staunton and a few others prior to this game, and has appeared since in dozens more.

After claiming that chess is a draw with best play, Steinitz lists several types of errors that can be fatal, including "the mere weakness of any square on any part of the board" (xxxi).

7.cxd5 exd5

7...Nxd5 fares somewhat better for Black than the text, but White still wins a substantial percentage.

8.Bb5

Black to move

8...Qd6

This move was another of our candidates for the decisive error, but it was my suggestion rather than that of a student.

P. De Saint Amant -- H. Staunton, Paris 1843 continued 8...Bb7 9.Ne5 Rc8 10.Qa4 Qc7 11.Qxa7 In analysis with the youth players, I took it as far as Black's tenth move and suggested that Black was not in as bad of shape as Heilmann found himself.

9.e4 Bd7 10.e5 Qe7 11.0–0 Ng8

One student criticized this move, but every alternative we examined seemed worse. By this point, White has a decisive advantage.

White to move

12.Nxd5 Qd8 13.Qa4 Rc8 14.Bg5 Nge7 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.Rad1 a6 17.Qxa6 Nd4 18.Nxd4 cxd4 19.Rxd4 1–0

Rubinstein was given an opportunity, but it was one that could have been overlooked had he not been prepared.

04 October 2018

Informant 137

Chess Informant 137 arrived today. While quickly thumbing through, I noticed there is a Best of Hikaru Nakamura section, as well as several other interesting looking articles, and the usual games section. Then, I installed the CD version on my notebook and started poring through the games in Milos Perunovic, "The French Combats" (83-90). This position is from a game that Perunovic references with a line ending with 13.Bd3 and White has the upper hand, Van Foreest,J. -- Christiansen, J-S., Reykjavik 2017. The CD contains the entire game.

White to move

30 September 2018

Understand the Threats

This position arose in my fourth round game in this weekend's Eastern Washington Open. I had Black and won, then won my fifth round game as well, finishing with 4.5/5 and a tie for first in the event. This was the second time I won a weekend Swiss (see "Winning an Open").

White to move
After 20...Rf6
White played 21.Bb2? and resigned on move 25 when checkmate was inevitable.

23 September 2018

Beat Magnus

Chess Informant 136/166 has a diagram and analysis showing an opportunity that Georg Meier let slip past him.

White to move

From Meier,G. -- Carlsen,M., Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden 2018

22 September 2018

Attitude

After losing my first two blitz games on a lazy Saturday morning, and then dropping a rook in the third, it would be easy to give in to despair.

Black to move

However, I have been reading Erik Kislik, Applying Logic in Chess (2018). Kislik distinguishes between "mastery-focused (task-based)" goals and "result-focused (ego-based). Result-focused players tend to want to defeat specific opponents and be seen by their peers as winners" (9). He asserts that 90% of chess players are result-focused. He also claims that a task-oriented approach leads to more enjoyment of chess.

Although this blog offers plenty of examples of a task-oriented approach in my study and play, the honest truth of my online blitz and much of my tournament play is that my ego and emotions rise when I win and suffer when I lose. I enjoy chess when I am winning and often play long periods of blitz because I am angry with myself for playing such junk. I nurture this anger with more junk.

I could beat myself up for missing the tactic that led to dropping a rook and likely losing a third game. Or, I could take a fresh look at the board, and see what I can learn about the game. I could resign with dignity, review my errors, and try to play better in game four.

My attitude this morning improved as I remembered what I read last week in Kislik's book, and I finished my morning playing session 2-2. But, the results matter less than the process.

18 September 2018

Whither Draw

Bobby Fischer has just played 28.Be3 and a draw was agreed. From Fischer,R. -- Ames,D., 1955.

Black to move

Would you play on?

16 September 2018

Knights before Bishops

Most chess players have heard the rule that one should deploy a knight towards the center before moving a bishop. The standard move order in the Spanish opening is a good example--for White, a center pawn, the king's knight, and then the king's bishop. The Italian opening follows the same sequence. Likewise, in many lines of the Queen's Gambit, White will deploy both knights before moving a bishop. In other lines one knight comes out and one bishop a move or two later, while the other minor pieces await developments that reveal their best square.

However, in the London System, White plays the queen's bishop on the second move, and may bring out both bishops before a knight moves. Likewise, Black's first minor piece to come out in the Caro-Kann is a bishop.

Erik Kislik states that knights before bishops, "is not a very useful rule" (27) in Applying Logic in Chess (2018). This rule is the first of ten that Kislik quotes from the work of some unnamed grandmaster, presented as rules for beginners. He makes an important point:
Rules in chess assume 'all else is equal',but all else rarely is equal, so we need to judge ideas based on specific circumstances. Most of the time, advice given to amateurs is in the form of rules. Chess is a concrete game though, and more often than not, this advice is too stereotypical to be of much applicable value.
Kislik, Applying Logic in Chess, 26.
Kislik runs through each of the ten rules, offering his views of how each develops principles in certain circumstances but falls short in others. His analysis is almost completely verbal, with few diagrams and analysis of specific positions.

The Review

John Hartmann sold me Kislik's book through his review in Chess Life ("Logical Ambition," CL, September 2018, 20-21). Hartmann calls Kislik's book "one of the most interesting titles to appear in recent years, ... also one of the most maddening" (20). Hartmann notes that the cover, with a flowchart for making decisions in chess, is "misleading": "There is nothing in the text that resembles a flowchart for thought" (21). Kislik's view of logic and reason is more modest.

Another book on my shelf offers flowcharts, Paata Gaprindashvili, Imagination in Chess: How to Think Creatively and Avoid Foolish Mistakes (2004). I reviewed it here on Chess Skills in February 2017. The core of that book is found in the quality and difficulty of the exercises. I have found the flowcharts marginally useful.

Hartmann's comments took me back forty years when some fellow undergraduates were taking a course on logic and making the efforts to systemize thought in terms like, "if p, then q". I did not find such an approach to logic any more useful for learning to think than studying semiotics for learning to read and write. The notion that seemed to represent this more modest view of logic, which Hartmann quotes from later in Kislik's book, that chess errors always can be explained clearly, was enough to interest me in the book.

Hartmann also notes that, "there are multi-page stretches unsullied by diagrams or analysis" (21).

Kislik's Assessment

After declaring the rule "not ... useful", Kislik highlights both its merits and shortcomings. He starts out noting that the corollary to the rules that, "developing bishops early on is suboptimal ... is definitely not true" (27). What matters, he suggests, are the reasons. Kislik highlights piece coordination, the principle of improving the worst-placed piece, and flexibility. The last is where the rule's merits become evident. The knight on g1 usually finds itself well-placed on f3 early in the game, but the optimal placement of the bishops is less certain.

His views on this rule and those that follow are thought provoking and worthy of attention. Nonetheless, his discussion seems incomplete. He laments the instruction methods for beginners that proclaim these rules without, "making sense of the principle or idea, or understanding where it came from" (26). My way of thinking about "where it came from" drives me towards historical explanations. Kislik does not offer any history of these rules.

In Common Sense in Chess (1917), Emanuel Lasker offers the text of lectures that he presented in London in 1895. In the first of these lectures, he develops four rules--including knights before bishops--through concrete analysis of several short model games. Five years ago, these rules and games, as well as a few others that I selected, comprised the core of my lessons for youth players over several sessions (see Lasker's Rules).

Rule Independence

Erik Kislik is not original in his suggestion that concrete analysis of specific positions should take precedence over abstract and universal rules. This idea was well-expressed in John Watson, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy: Advances since Nimzowitsch (1998). Even so, strong Grandmasters who teach young players still promulgate these rules with the understanding that their pupils will need to learn how and when to violate them. I recall during a tournament broadcast a few years ago, hearing Peter Svidler discuss his struggle with both promoting and resisting the teaching of such rules. These rules have a purpose even though in the long-run they can retard development.

Consider the very common position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5

White to move

Many youth players will not reach this position because they would have played 3.Nc3. While this move is not inherently bad, young players will make it by rote, often oblivious to the moves played by Black. They will often play it without thinking. Kislik's underlying notion, it seems to me, is that even at this early stage of the game, it is critical that reasoning must be part of every move. Whether one plays 3.Nc3, 3.Bc4, 3.Bb5, 3.d4, or some other move, it must be rooted in understanding.

From the diagram, most of the youth games that I have witnessed continue 4.Nc3. Master games, on the other hand, more often proceed with 4.d3 or 4.c3 (which violates one of Lasker's rules). In my play, I favor 4.c3 as more dynamic, and I usually will follow it with 5.d4. However, as more and more opponents fail to exhibit the greed that leads to disaster in the Greco Gambit, I am shifting towards 5.d3.

In my play and in my teaching, I teach students that it is okay to play 4.Nc3 (or 3.Nc3), even though I think there are stronger moves. What is critical, I urge is that these moves are made with thought and understanding, not simply played by rote. In the end, that's the point of these rules for development: they are guidelines that assist our thinking, not rules that direct our play. I think Kislik agrees.

13 September 2018

Irony

If I could simply always remember everything that I once knew, my chess play would be stronger. Among the dozen or so miniatures that I regularly show to my chess students is one that I won in thirteen moves after showing up twenty minutes late for round two. From this position, I played my move, and after a few minutes thought, my opponent resigned.

White to move

Despite knowing every move in this game, I somehow failed this tactics exercise last night.

Black to move

12 September 2018

Slight Advantage?

Sometimes the variations in published analysis sends me off in pursuit of an idea. Such was the case today while reading through annotations to Akobian,V. -- Shankland,S., St. Louis 2018, one of Shankland's victories enroute to winning the US Championship (Chess Informant 136). To Akobian's ordinary looking twelfth move, placing his bishop on the diagonal to oppose Black's, Danilo Milanovic gives the evaluation ?!, suggesting instead an intermediate attack on Black's queen. There are three options offered for Black with the longest line going another ten moves to reach this position.

Black to move

Milanovic states that White has a slight advantage? Why? Control of the c-file? The bishop's greater mobility over the knight?

Surely such an ordinary looking position has occurred in countless games. This exact position cannot be found in the database, but searching for games where both sides have two rooks, there is a bishop versus knight imbalance, and 4-6 pawns each, turns up hundreds of games.

I searched the database of my online games and found many entertaining blunders in seemingly routine positions. For example, I lost this game three days ago because I was oblivious to the creation of exploitable weaknesses.

Black to move

Play continued from this position 22...Rd1+ 23.Re1 Rad8 24.Kg1 b4 25.cxb4 Bxb2 26.Kf2 Rxe1 27.Rxe1 Bc3 28.Re4 Bd4+ 29.Kf3 Bb6

White to move

Perhaps White has a slight advantage with the queenside pawn majority and a more active king. But, an active king can be a vulnerable king, too. Inexplicably, I played 30.a4??

Black wasted no time pointing out the error and I resigned four moves later.

09 September 2018

Attack with Simple Moves

The past two days I have been going through games and analysis in Mihail Marin's column in Chess Informant 136, "Attack with Simple Moves" (47-58). The 1967 game Portisch -- Petrosian, in particular, captured my interest.

Portisch,Lajos -- Petrosian,Tigran V [D13]
Moscow 3/584, 1967

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bf4 e6 7.e3 Bd6 8.Bg3 0–0 9.Bd3 Re8 10.Ne5 Bxe5 11.dxe5 Nd7 12.f4

Black to move

12...Qb6

Mikhail Yudovich, who annotated the game for Informant 3, gave this move a question mark. Marin adds, "A curious 'pawn grabbing based' plan with incomplete development" (53). Curiously, the diagram position has occurred in at least 18 games (Portisch -- Petrosian was the second) and 12...Qb6 has been played in 13 of these.

In the one previous game, Max Euwe won from the Black side in 20 moves after 13.Qe2. But White has a healthy 65% score over the 13 game batch.

13.0–0 Qxe3+

Yudovich recommends 13...Nc5, which still remains unplayed in subsequent games.

14.Kh1 Qb6

After 14...a6, Black went on to win in Stobik,D. -- Hoffmann,H., Germany 1977, and also in Pira,D. -- Van Rompu,A., France 2008.

White to move

15.Qh5

15.Nb5 was played in the only other game to reach this position, and Black won, Dreyer,M. -- Mohammad,S., Yerevan 1996.

15...Nf8

Marin offers two alternatives: 15...h6 and 15...g6. My computer suggests that 15...g6 is Black's only hope for eqauality.

16.Rf3 Ng6 17.Bf2 Qd8 18.Nb5

Marin notes Black's "chronic weaknesses" (54). This position is the sort that I am always in search of to present to my students for illustrating the consequences of pieces that are mere spectators. All of White's pieces are in the battle on the kingside, or will be soon. Most of Black's pieces are doing nothing.

18...Nce7 19.Nd6 Bd7

White to move

20.Bh4

20.Nxe8 wins the exchange, but gives Black time to bring the rest of his pieces into the game. It is a grave error to exchange a strong attacking piece for a spectator.

20...Qb6 21.Rh3 h6 22.Bf6 Qxb2 23.Rf1 Nf5 24.Bxf5 1–0

Checkmate comes soon.

08 September 2018

Floating Square

This position occurred in yesterday's tactics training. I solved it quickly because it is elementary. However, the 51.1% pass rate suggests that not everyone finds it so. I post it to remember to use it with my students.

White to move

07 September 2018

In a Heartbeat

I would play Black's move here in a heartbeat, but it takes longer for me to see the ramifications with clarity. From a blitz game.

Black to move

Aronian,L. -- Anand,V., Zurich 2016.

31 August 2018

Anatomy of a Miniature

Miniatures (games ending in fewer than 25 moves) occur because one of the players makes a catastrophic error. This game was played with each player having three minutes for the whole game. With such a time control, errors abound.

Internet Opponent (1952) -- Stripes,J (1967) [D30]
Live Chess Chess.com, 24.08.2018

1.Nf3 e6 2.d4 c5 3.c4 d5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Qc2

5.Nc3 is the main line.

5...Nc6 6.a3

6.dxc5 was played in a game in the database 6...Bxc5 7.a3 Bd6 8.Nc3 0–0 9.Be2 dxc4 10.Bxc4 a6 11.Bd3 Bd7 12.0–0 Rc8 13.Rd1 Qc7 and drawn in 28 moves, Nyzhnyk,I (2544) -- Slugin,S (2427) Kiev 2010.

6...Bd7

The only other game I found reaching this position continued 6...cxd4 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.e4 Nf6 9.Bb5?? Qa5+ 10.b4 Qxb5 and White gave up after move 30, Hennemann,H -- Zolanwar,F Heroldsbach 1997.

White to move

7.Be2 dxc4 8.Qxc4 cxd4

8...b5 9.Qxb5 Nxd4

9.Nxd4 Qa5+ 10.Bd2 Qg5 11.0–0 Be7 12.e4 Qh4 13.Nc3

Black to move

13...Ne5?

13...Nxe4 wins a pawn.

14.Qb3

14.Qc7 Nxe4 15.Qxb7 Nxd2 16.Qxa8+ Bd8 17.Qxa7 Nxf1 18.Bxf1±

14...0–0 15.g3 Qh3

Black's idea is clear and simple.

White to move

16.Ncb5?

16.f3 and no knight will occupy g4. Black needs a new idea.

16...Nfg4 17.Bxg4 Nxg4 18.Nf3

Black to move

18...Bc6

18...f5 is the best way to dislodge the knight.

19.Rfe1 Bc5 20.Be3 Bxe3 21.fxe3 Bxe4 22.Nbd4

Attempts to secure the knight.

22...e5

Low on time and losing a knight, White resigned.

22...Nxh2 was a better way for Black to finish the attack. 23.Kf2 (23.Nxh2 Qg2#; 23.Re2 Nxf3+ 24.Nxf3 Bxf3 25.Qd3 Qh1+ 26.Kf2 Qg2+ 27.Ke1 Qg1+) 23...Ng4+ 24.Ke2 Qg2+ 25.Kd1 Bxf3+ 26.Kc1.

0–1

29 August 2018

Promote the Pawn

Chess Informant 136 came out last month, but I'm still spending my study time with the previous issue. In CI 135 the article "Endgame Blunders" by Zoran Petronijevic presents some interesing positions where strong players went wrong. This position would have occurred had Samuel Sevian found the winning idea and then Robert Hess played the computer's top choice.

White to move

Variation from Sevian,S. -- Hess,R., Las Vegas 2017

27 August 2018

A Warning

When I'm trying to show young players and even adults how to think about material on the chess board, I often show a Greco game that I've played in its entirety in online blitz. It, along with Paul Morphy's Opera game, illustrates that the pieces in the battle matter, while those on the board who are watching the game do not count.

There is another relatively famous game that I've played in its entirety multiple times. Alas, these games have been quick and embarrassing losses. The players of this famous game are not well known. They seem to have surnames only everywhere I've seen the game referenced.


Silbermann -- Honich [A40]
Czernowitz, 1930

1.d4 e5 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7 4.Bf4?!

A risky move.

4.Nc3;
4.Qd5

4...Qb4+ 5.Bd2

forced

5...Qxb2

White to move

6.Bc3??

The White pieces have a mutual protection pact. Alas, Black can crush it with a pin.

6.Nc3 is White's only reply

6...Bb4+- 7.Qd2

Better is 7.Bxb4 Nxb4–+

7...Bxc3 8.Qxc3

8.Nxc3 Qxa1+ 9.Nd1 and Black is winning.

8...Qc1# 0–1

25 August 2018

Equality?

I scrolled through the moves of this blitz game a little faster than they were played, and quickly found the critical error. It was made from this position.

White to move

From Mikhalevski,V. -- Sutovsky,E., Internet blitz 2002. This game appeared in Chess Informant 135 as a reference game in Baadur Jobava, "Chess in the Fast Lane," 32-42.

23 August 2018

Exchange into Rook Ending?

Is it time for White to exchange bishops? In a rook ending, Black's king is perfectly positioned to avert the customary tactical shots. Does White have a way of forcing a win?

White to move

From Damljanovic,B -- Esen,B, Warszawa 2013.

22 August 2018

Calculation

Some annotations in Chess Informant 129 brought home to me the level of calculation that is necessary in Grandmaster play. While running a local chess tournament last weekend, I spent some idle time reviewing an issue of Informant that I happened to have on the computer that I was using for pairings. I took this position into the skittles room for some participants to work on between rounds.

White to move

It is White's move 24, and SP Sethuraman, who won this game enroute to the Asian Championship, said that his opponent missed this tactic when playing a7-a5 three moves earlier.

Black to move

Sethuraman suggests 21...a6 22.e5 Nd5 23.Nxd5 cxd5 Qh5 "is given by the computer as equal, but I would prefer White here" (SP Sethuraman, "Through the Fire," Informant 129, 71).

After 21...a5 22.e5 Nd5 (22...Nd7 was played in the game) 23.Nxd5 cxd5, the b5 pawn is weak.

The game continued:

21...a5 22.e5 Nd7 23.Bf5 Nxe5 and we have the diagram at the top of this post, where Sethuraman played what he called a "cute little tactic" (71).

21 August 2018

Morra Miniatures

This morning I won a short game employing the Smith-Morra Gambit. The Morra fascinates me because I lost to it in eight moves in a chess tournament twenty years ago. I also have faint recollection of struggling against it in an email game several years later. In junk chess, that is, the online blitz that I play most days, I often employ a variation of the Morra Gambit that mimics the Danish Gambit. However, in the Danish Gambit, Black cannot play e7-e6. Against the Morra, that move is quite normal.

After winning this short game this morning, I spent some time looking at other Morra games, but between masters, using the ChessBase iOS app on my iPad. That program tends to crash, but it does give me access to the ChessBase online database. The game that caught my interest is not available at 365.com, chessgames.com, or other free game collections online. However, via the winning player's name, I was able to download a PGN file of all the games from the event from FIDE's website.

Stripes,J (1968) -- Internet Opponent (1995) [B21]
Live Chess Chess.com, 21.08.2018

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Bc4 Nc6 4.c3 dxc3

This move order confuses the database. It shows eight games with 5.Nxc3 and a horrid score for White, but entering 5.Nxc3 brings up nearly one thousand games. The two most popular Black replies--5...e6 and 5...d6–-both increase the number of reference games. White's score remains such that the line might be considered a poor choice in serious competition.

5.Nf3

My intention was to play an obscure Morra variant akin to the Danish Gambit.

White normally plays 5.Nxc3 e6 (5...d6)

5...e6 6.0–0 a6

I think that Black wastes time driving the bishop to a square where it will not need the queen's protection.

7.Qe2

7.Nxc3 transposes to somewhat normal Morra.

7...b5 8.Bb3 d6 9.Rd1 Qc7 10.Nxc3

Now that White has played this move, there are reference games in the database.

10...Bb7 11.Bf4 Nf6

Black is finally beginning to get the kingside developed. White is ready to attack with all of his forces and the Black king remains in the center. Already, Stockfish sees White as having the edge.

White to move

12.Rac1 Qb8 13.e5

13.Nd5! As in the King's Gambit, players of the Morra Gambit should be prepared to sacrifice a piece or find another opening.

13...dxe5?

Does not help Black's defense.

Necessary was 13...Nh5 14.Nd5 Nxf4 15.Nxf4 d5 (15...dxe5 16.Rxc6 Bxc6 17.Nxe5 Bd6 18.Nxc6 Qc7 19.Nxe6 Qxc6 20.Nd4+) 16.Nxd5 exd5 17.e6 White's attack is strong and should prevail, but Black has faint hopes.

14.Nxe5+– Nxe5

14...Bb4 is the engine's top choice

15.Bxe5

Black to move

15...Qa7

15...Be7 Stockfish would give up the queen.

16.Bxf6

16.Nxb5 is stronger, but White's move is good enough 16...Be7 (16...axb5 leads to a forced checkmate 17.Qxb5+ Bc6 18.Qxc6+ Nd7 19.Rxd7 Qa6 20.Rd8+ Kxd8 21.Rd1+ Bd6 22.Rxd6+ Ke7 23.Qd7+ Kf8 24.Rxa6 Rb8 25.Ra7 and checkmate in one) 17.Nxa7

16...gxf6 17.Bxe6

17.Nxb5 remains best

17...Rg8 

Moves into checkmate in five.

17...fxe6 18.Qxe6+ and checkmate in nine 18...Be7 19.Rd7 Qc5 20.Re1 etc.

White to move

18.Bd7+ Kd8 19.Qe8+ Kc7 20.Nd5+ Kd6 21.Nxf6+

21.Nb6+ prevents a delaying move

21...Bd5

21...Qd4 22.Rxd4+ Bd5 23.Rxd5#

22.Rxd5# 1–0

Georgy Pilavov was not known to me before this game, although he is in FIDE's list of the top 200 active players.

Pilavov,Georgy (2611) -- Poliakov,Vladimir (2401) [B21]
Crimean Dridge Golubitskaya (3), 26.05.2018

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 dxc3 4.Nxc3

The normal moves in the Smith-Morra Gambit.

4...Nc6 5.Nf3 d6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Qe2

Until this move, both players have played the most common move order.

7.0–0 is the normal move order.

Black to move

7...a6

Two moves that occur more often also seem more in keeping with Black's need to get the king out of the center: 7...Nf6 and 7...Be7.

8.0–0 Qc7 9.Rd1 Nf6 10.Bf4 Ne5

Black's second most popular move in the position.

10...Be7 is the most popular.

11.Bxe5 dxe5 12.Rac1 Qb8

White to move

13.Nb5!

This move appears in two prior games in the database, one between juniors in 1997 and a more recent game between class players. White lost both games. According to my chess engine, Black can draw with best play. However, an International Master failed to find the necessary defense. Those who play the Smith-Morra in serious games might find benefits from studying this game.

13...Bd7

13...axb5 14.Bxb5+ Bd7 Both ways to capture the bishop lead to equality, according to Stockfish.  Nanni,S (1709) -- Bozzao,F (1883) Arco ITA 2015 was won by Black in 28 moves.

14.Rxd7!

Although Morphy's Opera game differed in substantial ways with Rxd7 keeping most of Black's pieces pinned, there is a way this game is similar. All White's pieces are participating in the attack, while Black's forces are spectators. In this game and Morphy's Opera game, Black's king is stuck in the middle.

14.Qd3 Eissing,C -- Philipowski,R Hiddenhausen 1997 was won by Black in 30 moves.

14...Nxd7 15.Bxe6!

Black to move

15...fxe6?

15...Nc5 16.Bxf7+ Kxf7 17.Ng5+ Kg6 18.Qf3 Kxg5 19.Qf5+ White can force a draw by repetition.

16.Nc7+ Ke7 17.Qc4 Kd8 18.Ng5

18.Nxe6+ Ke7 19.Neg5

Black to move

18...Nc5

18...Bc5 19.Ncxe6+ Ke7 20.Nxc5 Qg8 21.Qb4+–

19.Ncxe6+ Nxe6 20.Qxe6 1–0

I really enjoyed playing through GM Pilavov's game.

19 August 2018

Decision

Ten years ago this weekend, I played a four game match in the Spokane City Championship against reining champion, FM David Sprenkle. I lost game one rather quickly, then missed good drawing chances in game two. This was the critical position in the second game.

Black to move


This weekend, David Rowles is the challenger against current champion Michael Cambareri. I am directing the concurrently running Spokane Falls Open, an event that I won three years ago. This year's event is the largest in memory with 35 players.

23 July 2018

Free Bishop

R. Schulder opted to save his bishop and lost quickly to a checkmate that now bears the name of his opponent.

Black to move