Sunday, November 25, 2007

Seven Brutalities 5

The safety of one's king is an important factor in chess, but when assessing a position one must take a concrete approach and consider other factors as well. Sometimes there is an opportunity to win material or gain another advantage at the cost of some inconvenience to one's king. If this inconvenience amounts to only a few checks then the king was obviously not unsafe at all. Here is a game illustrating this concept.

Scoones D – Zimmer E
Victoria Winter Open 1983
Queen's Gambit Accepted D24
1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 dxc4 4.Nc3 a6 5.e4 e6 6.Bxc4 b5 7.Bd3 c5 8.e5 Nd5 9.Ne4 c4 10.Bb1 Nd7 11.Nfg5 Bb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ (diagram) 13.Kxd2 Qa5+ 14.Kc1 c3 15.bxc3 Nxc3 16.Qf3 Qa3+ 17.Kc2 Qa4+ 18.Kxc3 Qc4+ 19.Kb2 Qxd4+ 20.Qc3 Qd5 21.Nd6+ Ke7 22.Be4 1-0

The sharp variation beginning with 4.Nc3 was analysed by IM John Watson in a long article in the early 1980s, the main line going 4...a6 5.e4 b5 6.e5 Nd5 7.a4 c6 8.axb5 Nxc3 9.bxc3 cxb5 10.Ng5. At this point another 1983 game Scoones-Hunt saw Black go wrong with 10...e6? The idea was a good one: to meet 11.Qf3 with 11...Ra7, saving the rook and simultaneously defending f7. The problem was the shot 11.Nxf7! when Black was already busted. Instead of Hunt's 10...e6? Black must play 10...f6!? 11.Qf3 Ra7 with an extra pawn in exchange for White's lead in development.

In the main game, Black avoided complications with 5...e6, which allowed White to regain his pawn immediately.

White should meet 8...Nd5 with 9.Bg5! aiming for a favourable exchange of dark-squared bishops since after 9.Ne4?! Black could have tried 9...cxd4 10.a4 Nb4 with complications. Instead, 9...c4 took all of the pressure off White's centre.

After 11...Bb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ White could not resist the cheeky 13.Kxd2!? even though retaking with the queen was objectively stronger. The point was the obvious continuation 13...Qa5+ 14.Kc1 when the complications appear to favour White. Instead of 13...Qa5+?! Black could have played 13...Kf8!, defusing the knight check on d6.

Black went seriously wrong with 14...Nxc3?, allowing White to gain a decisive advantage with the double attack 15.Qf3. He could have stayed in the game with 14...Qa3+ 15.Kd2 b4.

After 20.Qc3 Black's checks quickly ran out and when 22.Be4 was played he decided he had seen enough.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Seven Brutalities 4

Sitting down to the board to begin play, you never know when you are going to be involved in a so-called miniature game (of 25 moves or less). If your opponent is relatively weak there could be some advance clue, but when you're up against a strong player there's no way of foreseeing the result, much less the number of moves you will play. It's just a roll of the dice.

Reeve J - Scoones D
Labour Day Open 1975
Spanish Game C68
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 Bd6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 f6 8.Nbd2 Be6 9.Nb3 b6 10.Be3 Ne7 11.Qd2 c5 12.Rad1 Ng6 13.Qe2 Qe7 14.c4 0-0 15.Nfd2 (diagram) 15...f5 16.exf5 Bxf5 17.Rfe1 Rae8 18.Nb1 Qh4 19.g3 Qh3 20.Qf1 Qh5 21.Nc3 Ne5 0-1

Jeff Reeve is a strong master who has won many impressive games on the White side of the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation. Before our last-round matchup in the 1975 Labour Day Open in Vancouver I was fiddling with a pocket set, trying to find something that would keep me in the game for awhile. Of course it was always going to be a sideline, and on this occasion my eye fell on the rare move 5...Bd6. I was sure my opponent would continue with 6.d4, which I intended to meet with 6...exd4 (7...f6 returns to one of the main lines) 7.Qxd4 f6.

On d6 the bishop is often vulnerable to exchange with Nd2-c4. But in looking at the position after 8.Nbd2 it occurred to me that Black could play the useful developing move 8...Be6. If White carries on with 9.Nc4 then Black wins a pawn with a minor tactic: 9...Bxh2+! followed by 10...Qxd4 and 11...Bxc4.

White sidestepped this variation with 8.Nb3 but his knight was left in an offside position. After 13...0-0 Black had completed his development and was very comfortable.

After this White began to drift, which can be seen from the sequence 14.c4?! 0-0 15.Nfd2?!, which merely decentralises a key defender. Black struck immediately with 15...f5!, guaranteeing himself a clear advantage after 16.exf5 Bxf5.

In the sequel the key strategic factor is Black's unopposed light-squared bishop. After 18.Nb1? Qh4 19.g3, fatal weaknesses had appeared in White's kingside. The centralising move 21...Ne5 leads forcefully to the win of at least the exchange. White decided he had seen enough and called it a day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A touch of irony

I had an interesting online blitz game against a Russian chap today. As Black he tried to play me into a well-known book trap, but of course I avoided it. Later I set an oddly similar trap for him, and this time... but see for yourself.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4?!
A dubious but tricky move that everyone should try once or twice, if only in speed chess. The idea – the only idea -- is the following very plausible trap: 4.Nxe5? Qg5! 5.Nxf7 Qxg2 6.Rf1 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 (or else the queen is lost) 7...Nf3 mate!
Also possible is 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.0-0 as in Bird's Defence to the Ruy Lopez.
4...Nxf3+ 5.Qxf3 Nf6
More consistent is 5...Qf6; for example, 6.Qg3 d6 7.d3 Qg6 8.Nc3 Qxg3 9.fxg3 f6 10.Be3 c6 and Black does not stand too badly despite playing many pawn moves.
6.d4 d6 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Rd1 Bd6 9.Nc3! (diagram)
It is very important for White's strategy that this developing move holds up tactically. Less direct but also strong was the prophylactic move 9.h3.
9...Bg4 10.Qg3! Bxd1? 11.Qxg7
Here is the touch of irony. Instead of punishing White with a timely ...Qxg2, Black is being punished by a timely Qxg7!
11...Rf8 12.Bg5 Be7
If 12...Bxc2 13.Bxf6 Qd7 14.Be2 and White has more than enough for the exchange since Black's king is stranded in the centre and his pieces are disconnected.
13.Rxd1 Nd7 14.Bh6!
Correctly avoiding exchanges and simply intending to recover the sacrificed material.
14...Bf6 15.Qxh7 Qe7 16.Bxf8 Qxf8 17.Qf5
More incisive was 17.Bxf7+ Qxf7 18.Qxf7+ Kxf7 19.Rxd7+ Ke6 20.Rxc7 and wins. But over the years I have learned that in a blitz game a bishop is handier than a knight when ahead in the pawn department.
17...0–0–0 18.Nd5 Bg7 19.Rd3 Kb8 20.Nc3 Nb6 21.Qxf7!
It is better to simplify by exchanging queens than to take another pawn with 21.Bxf7.
If 21...Nxc4 22.Qxg7! Rc8 23.Qxf8 Rxf8 24.b3 Nd6 25.Rd5 and Black will not last long.
22.Qxf8+ Bxf8 23.Bxd3 Bb4 24.Ne2 Bc5 25.Kf1 a5 26.f4 Bd6 27.f5
From here on White's play is not always the strongest but he's so far ahead that it makes no difference.
27...Nd7 28.Kf2 Kc8 29.g4 Kd8 30.g5 Ke7 31.h4 Kf7 32.Bc4+ Kg7 33.Ng3 c6 34.Nh5+ Kh7 35.Be6 Nf8 36.Bc8 b5 37.Nf6+ Kh8 38.Ne8 Be7 39.Kg3 1–0

Monday, November 5, 2007

Chess Informant: a negative trend

It goes without saying that most serious chess players are regular readers of Chess Informant. The long-running Yugoslav publication founded by GM Aleksandr Matanovic (and known in Serbo-Croat as Sahovski Informator) will soon celebrate its 100th issue.

Chess Informant has been around for so long and has become so pervasive that it is now rather difficult to gauge its true impact on the chess world. Perhaps Garry Kasparov was closest to the mark when he characterised the players of his generation as “the Children of Informator.”

Against this backdrop it is not surprising that whenever Chess Informant is mentioned by chess book reviewers, it is uniformly praised. Here are some examples:

Chess Informant has a tremendous amount of interesting material to offer, whether for opening studies, or for general training purposes. I for one would not want to be without it. -- Carsten Hansen

The main games are still the heart of Informants; they are brilliant and/or essential to following the latest developments in hundreds of openings. It is indicative of their quality that Chess Informants are used by every titled player that I’ve met over the years, and by most other serious players. -- John Watson

I have to agree that Chess Informant is a great publication and, when used properly, has a positive influence on one's playing strength. But in this article I want to draw attention to a surprising negative trend that until recently has only nagged at the periphery of my awareness. When I sat down and did some serious background work, it practically jumped out at me.

Chess Informant is shrinking. Getting smaller. Publishing fewer games. And charging the same price for it all. Meanwhile, chess activity around the world is increasing, year by year.

What exactly is happening? The numbers tell the story. Here are the total number of pages and games for each year between 2001 and 2006. For comparison I have included the total number of games for each year published by The Week in Chess.

Year: 2001. Total pages: 1144. Total games: 1599. TWIC games: 63,296
Year: 2002. Total pages: 1088. Total games: 1516. TWIC games: 63,227
Year: 2003. Total pages: 1128. Total games: 1474. TWIC games: 74,649
Year: 2004. Total pages: 1176. Total games: 1518. TWIC games: 75,255
Year: 2005. Total pages: 1094. Total games: 1334. TWIC games: 80,827
Year: 2006. Total pages: 1022. Total games: 1287. TWIC games: 91,044

In other words, between 2001 and 2006 there was a 44% increase in the number of games reported in The Week in Chess. In the same period there was a 20% decrease in the number of games published in Chess Informant. If that isn't a negative trend, I don't know what is.

Back in the 1980s Chess Informant used to publish around 1400 games per year in two volumes. Starting in 1991, Informant began to publish three volumes per year. Here we are in the 21st century and Informant is now publishing fewer games in three volumes than it used to publish in two volumes!

I don't accept the argument that there has been an offsetting increase in the number of game fragments cited within the main games. These fragments are no more than a species of annotation. They don't alter the fact that Chess Informant is getting smaller.

It is up to Chess Informant's customers to decide how important this trend is to them. I have a complete set of Informants and do not intend to stop buying them. But I do wish the publishers would take note and respond to this trend in a positive way.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Seven Brutalities 3

At the time of this encounter, my opponent was a young B-class player. Today he is a rated master.

Scoones D - Vitko G
Portland 1976
Sicilian Defence B22
1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6 3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4 e6 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Qe4 d6 8.Nbd2 Qc7 9.Nc4 dxe5 10.Ncxe5 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 (first diagram) 11...Nxc3 12.bxc3 Qxc3+ 13.Kd1 Qxa1 14.Bb5+ Ke7 15.Qb4+ Kf6 16.Ng4+ Kg6 17.Qe4+ Kh5 (second diagram) 18.Nf6+ Qxf6 19.Be2+ 1-0

Theory and practice have established that 7...f5!? is the strongest reply to White's move 7.Qe4. I think anyone coming upon this position for the first time would have a hard time agreeing to take on a backward d-pawn. It looks far more natural to exchange White's advanced e-pawn than to set it up as a future target.

In the position of the first diagram Black should play the defensive move 11...a6, preventing a bishop check on b5. Instead he is drawn into a tactical operation that wins the exchange. Unfortunately, it also leaves Black dangerously behind in development. After 13...Qxa1 White is able to strike immediately.

Instead of 15...Kf6 Black can play 15...Kd8 but this does not get him out of trouble. White follows up with 16.Nxf7+ Kc7 17.Qc4+ Kb8 18.Kc2! intending a decisive bishop check on f4. Black can then resign with a clear conscience.

After 17.Qe4+ Black may have been planning to put up a defence with 17...f5. Unfortunately for him this fails to the non-standard mating move 18.Be8.

White's final task is to jettison his knight in order to clear the way for his bishop. That is accomplished with the desperado move 18.Nf6+. After 18...Qxf6 the attractive switchback 19.Be2+ ends the game immediately.

About Me

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.