23 January 2020

Facing the Breyer

Blitz can be useful for testing openings and finding new ways to play in tournaments. This morning, I opted to play the Spanish Opening. Of course, this choice was motivated by my current slow reading of Paul Keres, World Chess Championship 1948 (2016 [1949]), which has me studying a couple of lines in this opening.

Even though I have played both sides of this opening in tournament play, it is not my normal opening on either side of the board. Consequently, my experience against the Breyer variation is quite limited. This morning, an online opponent deployed it against me in a three minute game. A few moves later, I seemed to lose the thread of the game and gave up a pawn.

Somehow, I got the material back and could have exchanged into a an equal double rook endgame. I kept the queens on the board, and lost. These annotations were made quickly--almost as fact as the game. No engine was used. I did use an opening book: PowerBase 2016 (it may be time to buy a more recent version).

Stripes,J (1952) -- Internet Opponent (2096) [C95]
Live Chess Chess.com, 23.01.2020

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Nb8

Black expends some tempi to bring the knight to a better square. This maneuver is the characteristic feature of the Breyer variation of the Spanish.

White to move

10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.d5

12.Bc2 is the main line


White to move


13.dxc6 looks better Bxc6 14.Bc2

13...bxc4 14.Bxc4?

14.dxc6 looks better here, as well. The move I played dropped a pawn. 14...cxb3 15.cxb7 Rb8 16.Nxb3 (16.Qxb3? Nc5) 16...Rxb7 17.Bd2

14...cxd5 15.exd5 Nxd5 16.Nf1 N7b6 17.Bb3 Rc8

White to move


Perhaps 18.Bd2 with the idea of Ba5 would have been more sensible.

18...Nxe3 19.Nxe3 Kh8 20.Nf5 g6

White to move


There were better options for this knight.

21.Nxd7, eliminating the bishop pair.
21.Ne3, attempting to use d5 as an outpost.

21...Kg7 22.Ng4 f5 23.Ne3 Bf6 24.Nd5 Nxd5 25.Bxd5 Bxd5 26.Qxd5 Rc5 27.Qd2 Qc7 28.Rad1 Rc8

28...d5 and it seems that Black's central pawns will win the day.

29.Qxd6 e4

White to move


30.Qxc7+ R8xc7 31.Nd4 Bxd4 32.Rxd4=

30...Bxb2 31.Qxa6 Rc2 32.Rf1 Be5 33.g3 Bxg3 34.fxg3 Qxg3+ 0-1

20 January 2020

Study Position

A new book arrived Saturday and I spent some time going through the first game. Paul Keres, World Chess Championship 1948 (2016 [1949]) is an old classic now available in English. It was sent to me because I solved a chess history exercise on the cover of Chess Life (December 2019).  Keres had Black against Max Euwe in the first round. He was losing, according to his annotations, until Euwe failed to find the correct plan from this position.

White to move

Stockfish does not agree with Keres' assessment of the position. What should we make of his analysis if the computer disagrees?

18 January 2020

Near Perfect?

Scoring 99.6% accuracy on Chess.com's computer-generated assessment might be considered an achievement, even if the game was 100% preparation. However, the game in question featured several risky and dubious moves--a line that I play in blitz and other casual games, but would never attempt in a serious game.

Note in the image from the website's game report that Black had a slight edge early on, even though it was short-lived. During this phase of the game, both players were making so-called book moves. Not all book moves, however, have equal merit. It does seem that the methods of evaluation built into the website's analysis feature does not count dubious or refutable book lines against a player's accuracy score.

Stripes,J. (1838) -- Internet Opponent (1805) [C44]
Live Chess Chess.com, 16.01.2020

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.c3?! Bc5

4...Nxe4 5.Qe2 d5 is also "book" but White scores poorly.


This move is fun to play in blitz and often enough leads to games like the present one, but I doubt I would play it in a serious game.

5.d3 is better, and not surprisingly was played this week in Wijk aan Zee among Grandmasters at the Tata Steel Chess Tournament.

5...exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+

White to move


7.Bd2 Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Qb3 Na5 11.Qa4+ Nc6 seems about equal (11...c6 12.Bxd5 Qxd5 13.0-0)

7...Nxe4 8.0-0 Nxc3

Now White has an advantage

8...Bxc3! 9.d5 Bf6 10.Re1 (10.dxc6 bxc6 Black is clearly better) 10...Ne7 11.Rxe4 d6 12.Bg5 Bxg5 13.Nxg5 and White is worse.

9.bxc3 Bxc3

9...d5 10.cxb4 dxc4 11.Re1+ Ne7 White has a lead in development, and perhaps Black's advanced pawns are vulnerable. 12.Bg5


10.Ba3 is preferred by Stockfish 10 on my computer, but Chess.com's version likes my move better. 10...d5 (10...d6) 11.Bb5

Black to move


Now White is winning. I like showing this position from Greco to my students. Black is ahead a rook and two pawns when you count all the material on the board, but all of White's pieces are in the game. Most of Black's forces are locked up. They are spectators, rather than players.

10...d5 is Black's last chance for equality 11.Bxd5 0-0 12.Bxf7+ Rxf7 (12...Kh8 13.Ba3 Bxa1 14.Bxf8 Nxd4 15.Nxd4 Bxd4) 13.Ng5 Be6 14.Qxc3

11.Bxf7+ Kf8

11...Ke7 12.Bg5+ Kf8 (12...Kd6 13.Qa3+ Nb4 14.Qxb4+ Kc6 15.Qc5#) 13.Bxd8

12.Bg5 Ne7

12...Nxd4 tests White a little more, but I won a long game from this position last month. White had an easy game.


I've had this position in at least two other blitz games. It appears in several of Greco's model games and is one I've used often for instructive purposes.


White to move

This was a new move to me, but I find that it appears six times in my copy of the ChessBase database.

13...Bxd4 14.Bg6 d5 15.Qf3+ Bf5 16.Bxf5 Bxe5 17.Be6+ Bf6 18.Bxf6 Ke8 19.Bxg7 is in Greco.


Is a response suggested in Greco's models, despite the absence of Black's d6 move there. The checkmate threat is simple enough.

14...d5 15.Qf3+ Bf5 16.Bxf5

Black to move


16...Bxd4 17.Bg6+ Nf5 (17...Kg8 18.Qf7#) 18.Qxf5+


Another move that exists in Greco, but with a small difference in the placement of one or two other pieces.


17...Kg8 18.Be6#

18.Bxg6+ Nxg6 19.Qf7# 1-0

Black's errors offered an opportunity to reproduce one Greco's instructive model games with a new twist. Such minor alterations to the basic idea were his method as near as I can discern from the several books that have been made from his manuscripts.

The evaluation of my performance by Chess.com's software highlights that such resources should be treated with skepticism and using sparingly.

09 January 2020

Seeking Truth

What if? Central to every game of chess even played are the moves that were rejected. Immature chess players care only for the moves that were played, rather than what might have been played.

Several years ago, I was going through a game with a friend who had just finished playing it. As we were examining what might have taken place, his opponent came by and redirected our attention to the game as played. My friend and I were laboring to improve our understanding of the game--the tactics and positional ideas--as preparation for the future. We were seeking missed opportunities where he might have gained an advantage or refuted an attack. I cannot recall the specifics. His opponent seemed to care only for the result of the game just played (he probably won). I have long remembered this event because I believe the attitude of my friend's opponent is the core reason that particular player will never rise above a certain level in his chess skill.

Regularly I see the same attitude among young children. For the past several years, several of the strongest players in our community have staffed an analysis table at youth tournaments. Youth players who bring their game score to the analysis table get a raffle ticket and a free lesson, often from a chess master (FM Jim Maki has been the most consistent analyst since moving to the area). Every child who collects five raffle tickets in a five round tournament earns a pawn key chain, and then there are the prizes that are raffled off--rook, knight, etc. key chains, books, chess sets. In pursuit of the raffle tickets, children sometimes show impatience with the lessons.

I usually run the pairings at these tournaments, but sometimes also spend time at the analysis table. Several times after the next round begins, I've spent time playing through variations on a child's game with one of the other coaches. These are the best moments of the tournament.

Last night, this quest for the truth of a position brought me back to a game that I posted in November (see "Crushing Attack"). I had also posted the game in a forum at Chess.com, where I had highlighted Nana Dzagnidze's brilliant 17...Rxd5 from this position.

Black to move

The game continued 18.Bxd4 Rxg5 and Antoaneta Stefanova resigned. However, she might have played 18.cxd5.

A poster questioned whether 17...Rxd5 was such a brilliant move. What if White had responded differently? First, Black's second best move from the diagram is 17...Nxh3 and then 18.Bxh3 Qd3 leaves Black with some pressure against the king as compensation for the piece.

When I first looked at this game with a group of children in an after school chess club, I liked White's 17.Nd5 because it appeared to solve White's problems and at the same time render Black's attack somewhat critical. Discovering how giving up the queen leads to a unstoppable attack, however, showed me that White's position after 17.Nd5 was not so good.

But, White is not forced to capture the queen.

After the alternative, 18.cxd5, it seems that Black must play 18...Qxd5.

White to move

I spent more than an hour playing against Stockfish from this position this morning. Continuing Black's attack proved challenging.

Stockfish played 19.Qg4, which appears to be White's best option.

19...Nxg2 20.Kxg2

20.Qxg2 Rh5 leads to a version of what transpired against Stockfish that is even better for Black.

I did not easily find the best move here, so took the advice of the engine.

20...Bd7 21.Bxg7 Rh5

White to move


22.h4 Bxg5

22...exf3+ 23.Qxf3

Black to move

I tried a lot of different moves here. In every case, I eventually faltered and reached a position that was either equal or clearly worse for Black. I found that I needed to maintain some pressure against White's king and grab some pawns as long as it could be done without loss of time.

It is clear that Black has a nice position. Nonetheless, with the sort of skill Stockfish brings to the position, White's pieces become coordinated and counter-pressure against Black's king makes it difficult to find a clear win.


This move kept me in the game longest.


Running in the database program, instead of the playing program, Stockfish prefers 24.Rf2 Qxg5+ 25.Kh1 when Black at least has two pawns for the sacrifice of the exchange.

24...Qd7 25.Rfd1 Qc8 26.Rd3

Black to move

I played on for awhile, and may try from this position again. Although Black might be objectively better, White's position seems a little easier to play.