Thoughts on a Novel Approach

When I first encounteredThe Final Theory of Chess I was in the library looking for materials on cultural geography for a research paper. Spying the book from the corner of my eye, I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to open anything with such a title. Attempting the final analysis on anything reeks a bit of hubris doesn’t it? I found out later that the book is meant as a first step of sorts, and the actual title is more marketing ploy than chess death knell.

A few years later I’ve paid the book its due, and I find it intellectually honest as well as ambitious. The information is available in Wiki form available here. Part of my aversion to reading the book had been based on concern; any claim that the game I love will soon exist only in diminished form really shakes my tree. I came to chess later in life than most, and I don’t want to miss out on the process of incremental discovery that makes the game so rewarding.

The book’s principal idea, that chess is often a draw, one drawing line is claimed to be as good as another, makes solid theoretical sense, but may not necessarily be based on practical chess scenarios. Why might you need an expansive repertoire when it serves the same functionality as one that’s learned more easily?

1) Putting your opponent through the psychological paces can help you win a tournament!

2) You want to make your opponent go through the crucible of your preparation. Pose him interesting problem he’s not likely to have studied because they’re beyond the practical limits of what a chess player can do.

3) Good old variety.

4) To keep championship chess from continuing on the path it’s going down. We already see how a few lines dominate and fortune favors those champions who take few risks. If you could solve chess it wouldn’t be beneficial for the future of the sport at the highest levels (no doubt a determinant of how the game appears to chess mortals).

All this isn’t to say that going through the hundreds of pages of FTOC theory is easy; there are mind-boggling positions in the repertoire provided. Sometimes you want to stick with a particular chess theme and if you’re going to sit with a stranger for six hours you may as well indulge yourself to the extent the game lets you!



A Common Opening Error

The game below features a really common line in net chess. Black is doing well right off the bat but he risks being worse if he does not use his favorable imbalances (bishop pair and better central control). On the black side, and that’s the only side you should play, watch out for early missteps by white that expose his uncoordinated material. I missed one here that would have wrapped the game up earlier than I did.

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Bxf7+ Kxf7 6. Nxe4 d5 7. Neg5+
Kg8 8. Nh3 {? Doesn’t look terrible as it anticipates h6. It actually loses.
The tactics are brutal! The finish is hard to see but what about the motif
black must use?} Be7 (8… Bg4 {This wins a piece after a crazy forced
sequence. This line comes up a lot in net chess so it’s worth remembering.} 9.
d3 e4 10. dxe4 dxe4 11. Qxd8 Rxd8 12. Nd2 Nd4 13. O-O Ne2+ 14. Kh1 Nxc1) 9. d3
Bg4 {Late to the party} 10. Qd2 Qd7 11. Qe3 Bxf3 (11… Nb4 12. Qxe5 Nxc2+ 13.
Kd1 Nxa1 {It looks like black has the problems but so much of chess is about
balancing offense and defense. One cannot count on winning material without
defending. A capable player will make you pay for your material advantage.})
12. Qxf3 Rf8 13. Qg3 Rf6 14. Bg5 Rg6 15. Qe3 Bxg5 16. Nxg5 h6 {Qg4 is better,
to set up the battery} 17. Nf3 Rxg2 18. Nxe5 Nxe5 19. Qxe5 Kh7 {If black isn’t
careful he could be in for a long game.} 20. O-O-O Re8 21. Qd4 Re2 22. Rd2 Rxd2
23. Kxd2 b6 24. c4 Qf5 25. Rf1 dxc4 26. dxc4 Rxh2 27. Kc1 Rg2 28. Qe3 {
Jockeying for position. White should look for ways to keep pieces on the board.
The best defense is to keep both heavy pieces on the board.} Qg5 29. f4 Qg6 30.
Qc3 Qf6 31. Qd3+ g6 {This moves looks premature. What good is weakening the
king when the pawns aren’t advancing any further? This also necessitates
covering the h7 – b1 diagonal with a piece.} 32. Qd7+ Qg7 33. Qb5 Qd4 34. Rd1
Qxf4+ 35. Kb1 Qe4+ 36. Ka1 Rd2 37. Rf1 Qe6 38. Qb4 Rd7 39. Re1 c5 40. Qc3 Qf7
41. a3 Rd4 42. Qh3 Rxc4 43. Rh1 Qg7 44. Qd3 Rd4 {I’m not making any progress.
Do I play against the king by weakening white’s queenside pawns?} 45. Qc2 Qe5
46. Qc1 Qf4 47. Qe1 Qe4 48. Qc1 Qf4 49. Qe1 Qf7 50. Qe3 Qg7 51. Kb1 g5 52. Rf1
Qg6+ 53. Ka1 Qg7 54. Qe6 Rf4 55. Rd1 Rf6 56. Qe4+ Rg6 57. Rd6 Qf7 58. Qd3 h5 {
Of all times to play this…I totally forget about the pin on my queen. It’s
playable but not pretty.} 59. Rd7 Qxd7 60. Qxd7+ Rg7 61. Qf5+ Kh8 {It’s just
passive. There’ll never be an opportunity to move the pawns to their
destination. The king can approach while black remains in virtual zugzwang.}
62. Kb1 h4 63. Kc2 Kg8 64. Kd3 g4 65. Qd5+ Kf8 (65… Kh7 66. Qh5+ Kg8 67. Qxh4
g3 68. Qc4+ Kh8 {A very interesting try! I dismissed the line after seeing
that it dropped material. Always calculate to the end!}) 66. Qf5+ Kg8 67. Qc8+
Kh7 68. Qf5+ Kh6 69. Qf6+ Kh7 70. Qxh4+ Kg8 71. Qg3 Kh7 72. Ke4 Kg8 73. Kf5
Rf7+ 74. Ke6 Rg7 75. Qb8+ Kh7 76. Kf6 Rg6+ 77. Kf5 Rg7 78. Qg3 {It seems easy
to draw this with passive defense although the computer thinks this is not so.
Watching an engine match involving this ending would be quite illuminating,
and is worthy of a future write-up.} Rf7+ 79. Ke5 Re7+ 80. Kf6 Rg7 81. Qh4+ Kg8
82. Qh6 Rf7+ 83. Kg6 Rb7 84. Qh4 Rg7+ 85. Kf6 Rf7+ 86. Ke6 Rg7 {With time on
my side I need to be careful of perpetual check. My opponent has mere seconds
remaining.} 87. Qd8+ Kh7 88. Qf8 g3 89. Kf6 Rg6+ 90. Kf5 g2 91. Qf7+ Rg7 92.
Qh5+ Kg8 93. Qe8+ 0-1


A Really Beautiful Line

I just came across the well-regarded radio match, Denker-Botvinnik, played in1945. It’s really colossal and I only wish my ability as an annotator were up to snuff. One striking feature here is the extent to which Rybka agrees with Botvinnik’s choices. To have scored above eighty percent during a retrospective analysis, in an era when an engine itself could not be consulted, indicated an unusual instance of profundity – even for a world champion. We all know Botvinnik was capable of utilizing a brilliant imagination, but here we see through to the skeleton of his fundamentals.

I need to learn the Botvinnik System to the Anti-Meran Gambit for my preparation as both white and black. If you follow the link you’ll see the gambit begins with Bg5. Looking a bit down the line black will be a pawn better. Further, it’s much clear. The first eleven moves, the territory with which we’re concerned, are really a microcosm of all the known theory. We know what the moves are but neither man nor silicon can tell the true story of what’s happening.

5…h6 is fine but both sides lack winning chances if white gives up bishop for knight. It’s not that this is a bad line, but the Botvinnik system preserves chances for both sides to get the full point. To some extent you are in league with your opponent during the opening; you must guide each other toward positions where each player can prove himself.

Dismissing the callow h6, play proceeds with white challenging the center and black’s newly-minted c-pawn. High-level chess is about the weight of one advantage against another, here the center against a material advantage.

Next, look at how black can tactically justify the immediate b5. It’s mostly a forced sequence, deviations like 8.Bxf6 lead nowhere. Black’s many dark-squared weaknesses are hard to exploit without the corresponding bishop, not to mention the move loses material.

The e5 pawn is used to punish the knight and grant white material superiority.This imbalance also has a price tag attached; black’s light-square bishop, usually with more than a tinge of Howard Hughes to it, promises to be quite powerful after the c5 break. It will oppose white’s bishop which goes (though not in this game) to his long diagonal.

Can you pinpoint where white’s game falls apart? If you can’t, and if you can then there are blogs which will remind one far less of bicycle training wheels, then that probably means you’re at a tabiya worth playing. We have a rich position here, the merits of which are still hotly debated. I recommend playing this position for both sides and putting your imagination and technical still to the ultimate test. I know I will with the Botvinnik Variation to the Anti-Meran Gambit.

I would be remiss if I omitted the transpositional qualities of the opening. Black can steer white into a Cambridge Springs or Orthodox Queen’s Gambit with Nd7 or Be7 (vice dxc5). If you fear these lines as white, having learned them for black I am convinced they are excellent for the second player, then I hope you’ll find the preceding theory useful. You’ll find plenty more of it in the database to which I’ve provided a link. Happy hunting!

The Full Spectrum

This is from the final round of the Virginia State Champs. I had 2.5 points and was fighting for first. My opponent was Caijun Luo; he was rated 1700 USCF before this tournament. He was not in top form during this game. Note: I’ve mostly used the past tense here but chess belongs in the historical present; I suppose I deviated here for aesthetic reasons. I felt like I was was part of something virtually fait accompli, fully alive and in charge of my own destiny – it was my game to win or lose. I don’t normally feel that way but I suspect that good players often do.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. Qe2 {I’d never seen this move
before. It’s called the Worrall Attack. It is not critical due to its rarity
and the simplicity of fighting against it. Schiller plays it to good effect
however. See his game at
This denied me the Open Lopez lines, and I’d forfeited the opportunity to play
the Bird Defense however.} Be7 {Bc5 gives white some issues because the d4
push isn’t so easy.} 6. O-O d6 7. c3 b5 8. Bb3 O-O 9. Rd1 Na5 {White could
have had d4 in exchange for a great piece.} 10. Bc2 c5 11. d3 Re8 12. Nbd2 b4 {
This was bad and I knew it at the time. White’s pieces were poised for an
attack that looked to be long-lasting and ferocious. I was willing to create
some weaknesses in order to establish my own activity.} 13. Nf1 bxc3 14. bxc3
Bd7 15. Rb1 Rb8 16. Bg5 h6 17. Bh4 Nh7 18. Rxb8 Qxb8 19. Rb1 Qc7 20. Ne3 {
Never in a month of Sundays did I imagine I’d get to trade off the bastard son
on e7. I suppose white was eager to trade off one of my defenders. He was
missing pawn play however.} Bxh4 21. Nxh4 Rb8 22. Qd1 Rxb1 23. Qxb1 {I was
fine by this point. Around this time my competition for first place had
offered a draw to his opponent. I took that as kind of a slap in the face; he
was sitting right next to me and did not think I had a chance to win or draw.}
Nf6 24. Nhf5 g6 {My first real mistake of the game. I can’t trap the knight
like I supposed. Can you see why?} 25. Ne7+ Kg7 26. N3d5 Qb7 27. Qxb7 Nxb7 {
White’s position seemed superior but it is eminently reasonable for black.
Black’s bishop was a great piece.} 28. Bb3 Na5 29. Nxf6 Kxf6 30. Nd5+ Ke6 {I
was happy about this move. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to a real
“!” but since it isn’t strictly necessary I can’t apply that much sought-after
label. I’ve never moved into double check willingly!} 31. Nc7+ {I exhaustively
examined all of the variations during the game and determined white should
repeat.} Ke7 32. Nxa6 {? My opponent was extremely tired and did not allow
himself to check the lines over again. At an amateur level it’s often wise to
ignore Kotov’s advice and check your work.} Nxb3 33. axb3 Bb5 34. Nc7 {This
can’t be held with best play from black. I draw a lot of these but my play has
been insulted by two people in as many hours. I’m winning this one.} Bxd3 35.
Nd5+ Ke6 36. f3 f5 {I tried to create a weak pawn.} 37. Kf2 (37. exf5+) 37…
fxe4 38. Ne3 d5 39. fxe4 Bxe4 40. g3 h5 {Not the best. The plan was to lock up
the pawns in order to create zugzwang. Knights can’t lose moves.} 41. h3 g5 42.
g4 h4 43. Nf1 Bc2 44. Nd2 d4 45. cxd4 exd4 46. Ke2 Ke5 {White was forced to
give way.} 47. Nf3+ Kf4 48. b4 d3+ 49. Kf2 cxb4 50. Nd4 {Allowed d2} d2 51.
Ne6+ Ke5 52. Nxg5 d1=Q 53. Nf3+ Qxf3+ 54. Kxf3 b3 * 0-1



Ghosts: Inside the Bestiary, Part One

Some ghosts serve their creators as carriers of transcendental truth, as visible or audible signs of Spirit. Other ghosts carry the burden of tradition and collective memory…ancestral apparitions often act as correctives to the insularities of individuality, as links to lost families and communities, or as reminders of communal crimes, crises, cruelties…. – Lois Parkinson Zamora Magical Romance/Magical Realism: Ghosts in U.S and Latin American Fiction

All tournament-goers believe in ghosts; threats that hold no true power. There’s a moment in every game where the limen between the real and unreal fades to nothing. Amateurs make minor concessions when not required, and surrender initiative without reason. True to the quote above, what we see in front of us is our own history- warped by past mistakes. Let’s get cozy with our cast of ghosts, in ascending order of malevolence. Later we’ll talk about how we can bust these phantasms like they deserve.

Casper the Friendly Ghost: It is a harmless one-mover without an ulterior motive. It drifts from move to move “booing” for no good reason. If your opponent is Casper, you can often use the inclination to chase you to your advantage. Keep your position fluid and open. Casper hopes that by making you move you’ll eventually slip up and give him a tactic with which to win. This is its only power.

The Headless Horseman: This one is a bit more dangerous. Its cognition is not fully there , being, sans head, but HH certainly is aggressive. Don’t worry about subterfuge; creation of a hole or another strategic weakness is not the goal. Material is the focus. The Headless Horseman baldly tries to pick on your overworked pieces, pieces that share one another’s squares, or lack of space. HH sees weaknesses even though it finds them difficult to exploit; it is terrible at creating multiple threats to undermine your defense. HH will pile everything but the kitchen sink onto an isolated pawn when he would be better off using the opponent’s immobility to attack another area. Naturally the more you respond to this knight errant the more powerful he becomes.

Ghost Dad: Bill Cosby played a father with a heart of gold, killed by a taxi-driving maniac. He has only a few days to become a better person and straighten out his priorities. His motivations are sincere and he has a definite plan to get a favorable result. Ghost dad threatens to use your vulnerabilities to aid his development, plunges his h-pawn forward, and plays a4 after you play a6. Not only does he make threats but he anticipates your responses. He is willing to consider positional aspects to achieve his goals.

Frederick Krueger – More intimidating than the previous because like a true ghost he gets into your head. In fact if you don’t wake up soon from the dreams he inspires you’ll certainly be lost. Kreuger inspires phatasmagoria and an inability to know which parts of the onslaught are real and which are fake. Robert Englund’s serial killer can stay with you between games and scare you whenever you see his likeness.

A Chess Concept

I was rereading Beowulf the other day and I found a kenning I really liked. This literary convention, ancient in origin, replaces a single noun with a compound one; arguably the most famous kenning is “whale-road,” meaning the sea. The one that really struck me was for a king, “breaker of rings.” The king of old was first and foremost a patron. He kept his retainers in check with wealth, giving bits of gold from his rings to reward loyalty.

As chess players we understand that our “slow-walker” has got to know his limits. One such situation is in queen endgames. Although there is but one piece to each side, a naked king will usually shift the position’s balance. In skittles chess the other day I saw my opponent erect a defense I could not solve. Now I know its value, but not how to undermine it. Perhaps you will face the same quandary. Examine the pictures provided and comment on your impressions of the positions.

The starting position is below, before my opponent implemented his plan. I’m white. I failed to realize the potency of black getting his pawns on one color (f7, g6, h5) and using his king to protect the weak squares in the formation. He set it up without an issue and I eventually made a strategic error. I did not want to move my own pawns to weaken his position, and tried to rely upon piece play alone. How would you have proceeded?

In the diagram below I’ve made progress but don’t know the promotion plan. Once my pawn gets to a7 how do I move my opponent’s queen? By intervening with my pawns and/or king I may set up a check that will allow black’s queen perpetual check. Does white’s king hide (if he can) or participate in the promotion of his pawn? I can’t imagine the latter option would work.

It should be noted that the only pure-queen endgames worth studying involve asymmetrical pawn structures. Had three pawns been on the same side the threat of opposing queens would have made defense a breeze.

Anything but Slight

You probably expect that I’m moralizing and self-righteous in real life, judging from the amount I go to the “civilization depends upon us being nice to one another” motif. Sandy Koufax had his four-seamer and I guess have my go-to pitch as well. I wasn’t planning on broaching this subject again, until something odd happened to me in the fourth round of a club tournament. My opponent and I were undefeated and I congratulated the young man, “Nice job on winning three in a row.”  Without missing a beat he deadpanned, “I’m about to make it four.” I haven’t been so taken aback by six simple words since, “Ahh, honey I’m late this month.”

So, now the game in front of us took on a different dimension. We play chess in a Jewish Temple, nice folks let out some space for us every Tueday. The divide that rose up was rawer and more expansive than old Moses’ Red Sea. Showdown in the Synagogue, The Beth Messiah Brouhaha, The Rabbi’s Rumble – I don’t know what you’d call it, but all I know is, shades of Rocky V, “My Yeshiva is in the street!”

I have been dismissed by few people as coldly as by that nine year old. Still, if he wanted to win he was going to have to go through me. You don’t talk back to Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, you don’t dance with the devil, and you don’t tug on Superman’s cape.That “S” on my chest may stand for “slow-mo” most of the time, but tonight his words left my ego a pus-filled wound. I became very motivated. I stood there in the brackishness of it all and I felt as Gaius Muzio Scaevola must have, his hand over the brazier.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 {I’ve been messing up this move order for
as long as I remember. Making the exchange early denies white the b1-h7
diagonal. He should get a piece on it before black. If black wants to seize it
white ought to make him spend time on g6 first.} exd5 5. Bg5 c6 (5… Bf5 {
This is the reason why the other move order, with an early Qd2, is better.
Black doesn’t have any problems, except of course f-pawns that can become
isolated and doubled.}) 6. Qc2 g6 7. e3 Bf5 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Bg7 {The light
squared bishop wasn’t that important. The Indian Formation makes it less
useful. White must take care to keep black’s bishop looked up at all costs. C5
from black needs to be calculated out every time white moves.} 10. b4 {
Beginning the minority attack. It’s a relief to not even have to prepare the
move with a3 or Rb1!} Qd6 11. Rb1 O-O 12. Nf3 Nbd7 {Black needs to get that
knight to c4} 13. O-O Rfe8 14. Bf4 Qe7 {Black sometimes sacrifices a knight in
these positions to pry open the king. This is usually after white plays f3 for
central space.} 15. Rfc1 Ne4 16. b5 Qa3 17. bxc6 bxc6 18. Nd2 Nxc3 19. Rxc3 Qe7
(19… Qxa2 {I wish!}) 20. Rb7 Qe6 21. Ra3 a6 22. Rc7 Reb8 23. Rxa6 Rxa6 24.
Qxa6 Rb2 25. Nf1 Bf8 26. Qxc6 Qxc6 27. Rxc6 Rxa2 28. Bd6 Bg7 29. Rc8+ Nf8 30.
Bxf8 Bxf8 31. h3 Kg7 32. Ng3 Ra1+ 33. Kh2 Bd6 34. Rd8 Bxg3+ 35. Kxg3 Ra5 {I
admit that I should not have gone to this endgame. Everything’s on the same
side and I shouldn’t have won.} 36. h4 Kf6 37. Kf4 Ke7 38. Rh8 h5 39. Ke5 f6+
40. Kf4 Ke6 41. Rg8 Kf7 42. Rd8 Ke6 43. Rc8 Ra2 44. Kf3 Ra6 45. g4 hxg4+ 46.
Kxg4 Ra2 47. Rc6+ Kf7 48. f3 Ra3 49. Rc7+ Ke8 50. Rg7 Rxe3 51. Rxg6 Rd3 52.
Rxf6 Rxd4+ 53. Rf4 Rd1 {I think my chances have improved. What is the king’s
role? How about the rook? Is it enough to keep black’s king out? There needs
to be some sort of finesse in order for the extra pawn to be conclusive. I
benefit from black’s inability to exchange down to a single pawn. If black’s
pawn were on the e,f,g or h files the road to a draw would be simple. Rook
endgames can sometimes be about qualitative factors rather than quantitative
ones (material).} 54. Kh5 (54. h5 {?} d4 {Black’s rook can harass the king
until he abandons the h-pawn.} 55. Kf5 {Avoiding the perpetual but losing time}
d3 56. Rh4 d2 57. h6 Rb1 58. h7 {Black to move and draw. Try this puzzle, but
be careful. White has some mate threats on the radar.}) 54… d4 55. Kg5 {The
only move. After Kh6? …Rh1 black gains time since white’s pawn defense is
obligatory. Black also gets his rook out of the way of his charging pawn.} (55.
Kh6) 55… d3 56. Re4+ Kf8 57. Kf6 {I’m hinking of mate threats from the side.
At least black will have to make a king move; I’m running low on time and this
is simple a spite check so I can get my bearings. Rf1 ends my night of chess.
It’s a dead draw.} Rf1 58. Rd4 Rxf3+ 59. Kg5 d2 60. Rxd2 {1/2/ 1/2} *



The Gentle Art of Persuasion

The last time I wrote, the material concerned Gurgenidze-Spassky from the fifties. I’d like to follow up that effort by showing you a game of my own, and one that I think is already being spoken of in hushed tones wherever chess is played. I have the white pieces, but not for long due to the battle’s quick culmination. My analysis is that my opponent’s nerves did not have the rigor to withstand my plucky strategic conceit in the opening. Daunted by the prospect of continuing play against an actual chess author my opponent, ostensibly looking for’s resign button, mistakenly offered a draw on move five.

Now I chuckled a little bit at his temerity. My rating is high enough so I don’t bother to politely decline. A scoff or a wry “WTF?” are all I need to convey my point. Etiquette is for people who don’t know chess, as any visit to a club tells you. Feel free to cry in Miss Manners’ lap because you don’t know the KID thirty-five moves deep, but when you come back to the board you’ll still be a patzer. Do you see me laughing? I’m regaling one of my lady friends with a tale of you once calling your mate in three a brilliancy, and she’s very impressed. Unfortunately she only dates titled players.

For those of you without a Slavic last name, an ability to spout precise valuations without a board – make that without owning a board, and a gift for standing over someone else’s board and speaking to them insufferably during their analysis, you don’t need to study the actual chess game that’s about to follow. This is like the red rope and I’m the chess bouncer. Somebody big is here, like Kanye or something. Now that we have people of a reasonable pedigree around we can continue.

1. e3?! Not theoretically an error but it is unambitious. If anyone else played this I would put a question mark on the move without hesitation, pity, or tinge of moral compunction. I wouldn’t just mark your score sheet with the symbol of your futility but I would write the number to a psychiatrist below, which I only have handy because I so routinely meet people inferior at chess.

Nonetheless I can get a French or QID Reversed, a Colle, or Larsen’s Opening out of this. All out of 1. e3! Actually, I can get anything I want because this one transposes to everything on move thirty-four. Oh, that’s not in Eric Schiller’s latest treatise? Poor guy.

1. e5: Black plays to exploit white’s failure to seize the center. It’s only a failure if you do something for which I have not accounted. The early e3 will keep the light-squared bishop locked away for a while, but that’s only to deceive you into committing to the dark squares so that I can bring the pain. I must look positively foolish when I win before presenting the strategy in full. Please trust me that the end would have been superb – for my ego.

2. e4 …Bf5: I’m black now and am probably going to transpose into a Two Knights or Italian Game.

3. Nf3…Pressuring the doomed e-pawn with aplomb, while developing a piece at the same time.

3…Nc6: Can a person be out of book when they do not own one? Philosophical riddles are all I am going to leave my opponent.

4. Ng1!? An offer of repetition. 1/2 – 1/2

So that’s the game. I hope you’re enlightened. You should be glad to learn that Everyman Chess, somewhere and some time, will dedicate one of its Starting Out books to you. Don’t be modest since you so truly deserve the honor.

Oh, if you’re wondering why this game was played so poorly: my computer, or the chess site’s server, wasn’t letting me drag the pieces to the right spots. I figured I’d roll with it 🙂

Just off the Beaten Path

This is Gurgenidze versus Spassky, 1959. The opening is the Bird Defense to the Ruy Lopez. I like how Spassky acquits himself here. I’ve made some annotations, since I’m an aficianado of the opening. Spassky is one of my favorite players because it’s rare to see someone so skilled play sidelines not highly regarded by theory.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nd4 4. Nxd4 exd4 5. O-O c6 6. Be2 {The bishop can
go just about anywhere. I didn’t see this line in the MCO but white still
enjoys an advantage here.} (6. Bc4 h5?! {There is a creative Indonesian master
who plays this move reguarly. I adopted it immediately after looking at his
games. It leads to interesting play. It’s hard for white to get his queen and bishop into
the game. See the picture below.} 7. d3 Bc5 8. Nd2 d5 9. exd5 cxd5 10. Bb5+ Kf8 {Not Bd7 where white just has a superior endgame. This is a position that I reach a lot and like
very much. I like black’s space and the weakness of white’s light square
bishop. An attack on either wing is possible.})

6… Bc5 {The bishop isn’t so bad here. White usually plays c3 later.} 7. d3 Ne7 8. Nd2 d5 9. e5 {I don’t like this move. By occupying e5, a weak square, with a pawn white loses the
ability to put a piece there. The position is equal now.} Be6 10. Nb3 Bb6 11.
a4 a5 12. Bg4 O-O 13. Bg5 {The knight is misplaced on the queen wing.} Qd7 14.
Bxe6 fxe6 15. Bxe7 Qxe7 16. Qg4 Rae8 17. Nd2 Rf5 18. f4 Ref8 19. g3 Qb4 {Even
though the position is closed the knight isn’t necessarily superior to the
bishop. To get the knight in the game white will have to try a pawn break with
c4, or try to use the h3 square.} 20. Nf3 Bd8 21. b3 Qc3 22. Rac1 b5 23. Rf2
Qb4 24. Rcf1 bxa4 25. bxa4 c5 26. Nh4 Bxh4 27. Qxh4 Qxa4 28. g4 R5f7 29. f5 Qe8
30. f6 Rb7 31. g5 a4 32. Kh1 Ra7 33. g6 Qxg6 34. fxg7 (34. f7+ {!?} Raxf7 35.
Rxf7 Qxf7 36. Rxf7 Kxf7 37. Qe1 Ra8 38. Qb1 Kg6 {I like black here, but the
engine says that he’s lost. It’s hard for me to see how white can prove a win
here. Everything’s defended for black. I’m sure white must have seen this
continuation and rejected it.}) 34… Rxf2 35. Qd8+ Kxg7 36. Rxf2 Rf7 37. Rxf7+
Qxf7 38. Qg5+ {Perpetual check} *

Whether you like my pet line or not, I think we can both agree that the Bird Defense, with its doubled central pawns for black (nearly always), offers imbalances right away. Those of you who follow Silman’s approach to the game may appreciate the clearly drawn lines that the opening creates. Give it a try and let me know how it goes. It’s an interesting theme.

The Whole Board

This one is a bit of a stinker by any technical standard; it does feature several creative flourishes in the notes however, found afterward by the silicon genius. The lesson for today is short and simple: be situationally aware at all times, using the whole board. The hidden key to springing a tactic can often be found in a different quadrant than the one on which you’re focused. It is a Game 30 and I’m playing as black.

1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 Bc5 4. h3 O-O (4… c6 {Black can effectively play the white
side of the Italian Game in which h3 is useless.} 5. Nf3 d5 6. exd5 cxd5 7.
Bb5+ Bd7 8. Bxd7+ Nbxd7 9. Nc3 e4 10. dxe4 dxe4 11. Qe2 O-O 12. Ng5 h6 13.
Ngxe4 Nxe4 14. Nxe4 Re8 15. O-O Qh4 {Black has to be careful to make the most
of white’s knight problem.}) 5. c3 a6 {This wasn’t necessary; the real benefit
of a6 comes from being able to preserve the bishop from being exchanged for
the queen’s knight. White may choose Nd2-f1 instead and allow black to delay a6.}
(5… d5 {Both lines given here give black a great game.} 6. exd5 c6 7. dxc6 (
7. d4 cxd5 8. dxc5 dxc4 9. Qxd8 Rxd8) 7… Nxc6 8. Nd2 b5 {Exploiting the
weakness of the f2 square.} 9. Bxb5 Bxf2+ 10. Kf1 {?! Not markedly different
than capturing the bishop, though this is a bit unexpected.} Ne7 11. Kxf2 Qb6+
12. d4 exd4 13. cxd4 Qxb5) 6. Nf3 d6 7. Nbd2 Nc6 8. a4 h6 9. b4 Ba7 10. Bb2 Be6
11. b5 Na5 12. Ba2 Bxa2 13. Rxa2 {…Nh5-f4 is good here because the dark
square bishop is off its home diagonal. This one of the reasons the bishop
infrequently visits b2.} c6 14. bxc6 bxc6 15. Nh4 Nxe4 {Wins a full pawn.} 16.
Nxe4 Qxh4 17. Qf3 d5 18. Ng3 e4 19. dxe4 dxe4 20. Qh5 Qxh5 (20… Bxf2+ {! A
beautiful temporary sacrifice. One would need to see that f3 is under black’s
control. I considered it, because it’s forcing, but didn’t understand it’s
true value. The rook is shut out too.} 21. Kxf2 Qf4+ 22. Kg1 Qxg3) 21. Nxh5 c5
{The plan is correct, control c4, but there’s no reason to make two pawn
moves when the knight is immobilized.} 22. O-O c4 23. Re1 f5 24. Bc1
Rfd8 25. Ng3 g6 26. Bxh6 Rd3 {I thought to win a pawn here on c3 and secure a
passer. In my initial evaluation I underestimated his defensive resources.} 27.
Ne2 Nb3 28. Nf4 Rxc3 29. Nxg6 Kh7 30. Ne7 Kxh6 31. Nxf5+ Kg5 32. Nd6 {An
interesting sacrifice. White has many resources available despite being down
material.} e3 {I missed a resource and this is a blunder. I did see the knight
fork, but what I didn’t see was the ability of the a7 rook to interfere with
the plan.} 33. Ne4+ Kf4 34. Nxc3 exf2+ 35. Kf1 (35. Rxf2+ {Doesn’t even
warrant an exclamation mark, should have been easy to see for both of us.}
Bxf2+ 36. Kxf2 {White has two connected passers in the vicinity of his king.
This is tricky for black.}) 35… fxe1=Q+ 36. Kxe1 Re8+ 37. Kf1 Be3 38. Nd5+
Kg3 39. Re2 Rf8+ 40. Ke1 Bd2+ {Visions of checkmate danced in my head!} 41. Kd1
Rf1+ 42. Kc2 {It may be simpler to just win material with the pin…} Rc1+ 43.
Kb2 Bc3+ {? Bishops enjoy their checking distance too! What a terrible
blunder!} 44. Nxc3 Rg1 45. Re4 {?} Rxg2+ 46. Ka3 Kxh3 47. Rxc4 Nd2 48. Rc6 Rg3
49. Kb2 a5 50. Rc5 Rg2 51. Kc1 {?? Loses to the fork} Nb3+ 52. Kd1 Nxc5 53. Nd5
Nxa4 {!? Allowing yet another fork seems fitting somehow.} 54. Nf4+ Kg3 55.
Nxg2 Kxg2 56. Kc2 Nb6 57. Kb3 a4+ 58. Ka3 Kf3 59. Kb4 {Black must remember not
to get the pawn to the 7th rank before preparations are taken.} Ke3 60. Ka3 Kd3
61. Kb4 Kc2 62. Ka3 Kc3 63. Ka2 Nc4 64. Ka1 Kb3 65. Kb1 Na3+ 66. Ka1 Nc2+ 67.
Kb1 {Remember the bishop and knight endgame? The winning side must start by
controlling the corner.} a3 68. Kc1 a2 69. Kd2 a1=Q 70. Kd3 Qa6+ 71. Kd2 Qd6+