Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Two bishop moves

Here is a nice game won by the future grandmaster Peter Leko when he was only 12 years old. Keep an eye on White's light-squared bishop!

Leko,P (2460) - Ruzele,D (2340)
Debrecen 1992
French Defence C11

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5 9.Qd2 Bxd4 10.Bxd4 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 Qb6

This plan involving massive exchanges on d4 was introduced by Gideon Stahlberg in 1960. Over the years it has attracted sporadic attention, notably from Mikhail Gurevich and Viktor Korchnoi. At the grandmaster level it is a fairly safe way to play for a draw with the Black pieces, but anyone at a lower level is not going to have an enjoyable time. By the way, Stahlberg lost that first game -- to Mikhail Tal.

12.0–0–0 Qxd4 13.Rxd4 Ke7 14.h4!

A nice, thematic move. If unopposed, White will set up his pawns on e5, f4 g4, and h5, and threaten a breakthrough at an appropriate moment. Black's next move opposes this plan but it has the disadvantage of fixing his kingside pawns on light squares.


Leko mentioned 14...f6 in Informant 56, but this lets White get a clear advantage after 15.exf6+ gxf6 16.f5! Nb6 17.fxe6 Bxe6 18.Bd3.

15.Be2 Nb8 16.Rd2 Bd7 17.Rhd1 g6

This must be played sooner or later; otherwise Black will be unable to move his rook from h8.

18.b3! Bc6!?

And not 18...Nc6 on account of 19.Ne4! with advantage to White, for example, 19...Rhd8 20.Nd6 b6 21.c4! and Black is in difficulties.

19.Bf3 Nd7 20.Ne2 Rhc8

Pressure along the c-file is Black's only active plan. Almost everything else will create weaknesses. But with White's king on hand to defend the queenside it is unlikely that Black will achieve anything concrete.

21.Nd4 Rc7 22.Kb2 Nb6 23.Rd3!

Not 23.a4? Bxa4! 24.bxa4 Nc4+ followed by 24...Nxd2 with decent play for Black.

23...Bd7 24.a4! a5 25.Be2

White has taken control of the key square b5 and now has possibilities on both wings.

25...Rac8 26.Rh3 Bc6 27.Rg1 Rh8

It was probably better to recycle the knight with 27...Nd7.


Threatening to attack the pawn on a5.

28...Nd7 29.Rh1 Rcc8 30.Rhh3 Rhg8

By alternating play on both wings, White has brought all his pieces to active positions while Black has been forced into passivity. It is now time to strike.


A nice combination of tactics and strategy, opening up the position and exposing Black to further attack. "A weakness of the dark squares is also a weakness of the light squares," wrote David Bronstein.


Black is losing a pawn, so he tries to gain some activity. If 31...Nb8 then 32.Nxc6+ Rxc6 33.Bxb7 Rxc3 34.Rxc3 Kd7 35.Ka3 with the idea of 36.b4 with a winning position for White.

32.exf6+ Nxf6 33.Nxc6+

Now that e6 has been weakened, it was also possible to play 33.Rce3 Ne4 34.Bd3 Nc5 35.Rhg3 with continuing pressure for White.

33...Rxc6 34.Bxb7 Rb6 35.Rc7+ Kd6 36.Rhc3 Ne4

In Informant Leko gave the line 36...Rb8 37.Rf7 Ne4 38.Rcc7 as winning for White, but there is a huge flaw in this: 38...Nc5! 39.Bc8 Nxa4+ 40.Kc1 Nc5 and Black is suddenly much better.

After 36...Rb8 the right idea is 37.Bc8! d4 38.R3c4 Kd5 39.Re7, when Black is more or less in zugzwang; for example, 39...Ke4 (or 39...Ne4 40.Kc1 Nc5 41.Rc7 Ne4 42.Bd7) 40.Rxe6+ Rxe6 41.Bxe6 Kxf4 42.Bf7 Rd8 43.Bxg6 Kg3 44.Rc5 Kxh4 45.Rf5 Nd5 46.Bxh5 Ne3 47.Rxa5 Nxg2 48.Be2 and White must be winning.

37.R3c6+ Rxc6 38.Rxc6+ Kd7 39.Ra6! Kc7

Leko gave 39...Nc5 40.Rb6! and wins. One should also mention 39...Rf8, on which there could follow 40.Bc6+ Kc7 41.Bb5 Rxf4 42.Rxe6 Rg4 43.Be8 Rxg2 44.Rc6+ Kb8 45.Rxg6 Rh2 46.Ra6 Rxh4 47.Rxa5 Nf6 48.Bf7 d4 49.b4 Rh3 50.Rf5 and wins.

40.Ba8! Rf8 41.c4! Rxf4 42.cxd5 e5 43.Rxa5

Another way forward was 43.Rxg6 Rxh4 44.Re6 Nf2 45.Kc2, etc.


If 43...Rf2+ 44.Ka3 Rxg2 then 45.d6+.

44.d6+! Nxd6

Or 44...Kxd6 45.Ra6+ Kc7 46.Rxg6 Nd6 47.Rg5.

45.Rxe5 Kb8

If 45...Rxa4 then 46.Rc5+, etc.

46.Bd5 Rg4 47.a5 Rd4 48.Bf3 Nf5 49.Kc3 Rf4 50.Re4 Rh4 51.Rxh4 Nxh4 52.Be4 1–0

In many ways a typical game from the modern era. Strategically, White's play was not too complicated, but the key to success was the exploitation of Black's weaknesses with exactly calculated tactical play. White got his attack in first and Black's counterplay was just too slow. Bobby Fischer won a lot of games this way!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Geller vs Suetin, Moscow Team Ch. 1981

Today we present a little-known but pleasing attacking game by the Ukrainian grandmaster Efim Geller, a perennial world championship candidate but arguably never a serious contender for the title. His opponent, the second-tier Russian grandmaster Alexei Suetin, famously had his face slapped by Mrs Rona Petrosian after failing to match the depth and accuracy of Bobby Fischer's adjournament analysis during the 1971 Candidates Final in Buenos Aires. However, Suetin's book A Contemporary Approach to the Middlegame is an acknowledged classic, so we'll cut him some slack and thank him for his unintended role in Fischer's ascent to the throne in 1972.

A personal view: when forced to defend against 1.e4, the Sicilian Defence is best deployed against the relatively weak or the very strong. Anyone possessing a modicum of chessic common sense knows that playing 1...c5 demands a good theoretical knowledge base, a storehouse of experience, and a willingness to take calculated risks. All fine if you have those things, but otherwise you're just asking for trouble. If proper preparation prevents poor performance, then mutatis mutandis insufficient investigation involves inevitable inadequacy.

Despite his reputation as something of an also-ran, Efim Geller made a number of contributions to opening theory, one of which is seen in our game today. Most Black warriors are pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the move c2-c3 in the Sicilian Defence because it takes away the natural square from White's queen knight, thereby diminishing the first player's control over the squares e4 and d5. It also signals that White is perhaps a denizen of the lower chess classes. Of course Black will usually try to punish this lacklustre approach with a well-timed d7-d5, but in today's game there is something about his previous moves ...a6 and ...Bc5 that doesn't quite square with this simplistic program. Geller had already taken note of this back in 1969 when he successfully introduced 6.c3 against Mark Taimanov in that year's Soviet Championship. So... 12 years on and time for another outing...

Geller – Suetin
Moscow Team Championship 1981
Sicilian Defence B42

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Bc5 6.c3

White can play for an edge with 6.Nb3 Be7 7.Qg4!? g6 8.Qe2 d6 9.0-0 Nd7 and now 10.Na3!? is interesting.

6...Ne7 7.0-0 Nbc6 8.Be3 Qb6?

When Black wants to punish or at least annoy White in the opening, he often forgets about castling and reaches for his queen. This particular expedition cannot end happily. Normal would be 8...d6 9.Nd2 0-0 and Black seems to be OK.


I like a game with interesting moments. One guy makes a threat, the other guy makes a move that allows the threat, and then the first guy realises that the threat doesn't work. Have a look:
A. 9...Qxb2? 10.Nc4! Qxc3 11.Rc1 Qb4 12.a3 and wins;
B. 9...Nxd4? 10.cxd4 Bxd4 11.Nc4 Qa7 12.Nd6+ Kf8 13.Qh5 and wins.


A freeing move? Not really – Black's king is still in the centre.

10.N2b3! Bxd4 11.cxd4 dxe4

Black should castle and hope for the best.

12.Bxe4 Qd8?!

If 12...Nd5 then 13.Qg4! Kf8 (13...0-0? 14.Bh6 winning the exchange) 14.Qf3 and Black will find it very difficult to untangle himself.

13.Qh5! Nd5 14.Bg5 Nce7 15.Rfe1 h6 16.Rad1 Qd6

In Informant 32 Minic and Sindik gave the cryptic 16...0-0 17.Bxh6! without further comment. White has very good compensation for the piece after 17...gxh6 18.Qxh6 f5 19.Bxd5 Nxd5 20.Rd3 Qf6 21.Rg3+ Kf7 22.Qh7+ Ke8 23.Nc5, but it's not clear that he's actually winning.

After 16...0-0, Black is not in fact threatening to capture the bishop, so White should take the opportunity to bring another piece into action. After 17.Rd3! there are two main variations:
A. 17...f5 18.Bxd5 hxg5 19.Rxe6 Qxd5 20.Rxe7 f4 21.Qg6 Rf7 22.Re5 Qd8 23.Rxg5 and White is winning;
B. 17...Qe8 18.Bxh6 f5 19.Qg5 Rf7 20.Bxd5 Nxd5 21.Rg3 Qe7 22.Qg6 f4 23.Rg4 Qf6 24.Qh5 f3 25.Re5 fxg2 26.f4! and the assault on g7 spells doom for Black.

After the text move 16...Qd6 we are at another interesting moment. Geller knows what to do.

17.Bxe7! Nxe7 18.d5! exd5

Or 18...e5 19.Bb1, etc.

19.Bxd5 Qf6

The alternative 19...Qg6 does not help in view of 20.Bxf7+! Kxf7 21.Rxe7+ and wins.


Seeing that 20...Qxf7 loses immediately to 21.Rd8+, Black threw in the towel here.

Wonderful play from Geller to down a lower-ranked colleague. Unfortunately for him, his higher-ranked colleagues Korchnoi, Spassky, and Tal did not allow such things to happen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Capablanca vs Vidmar, New York 1927

We return again to Alexander Alekhine's book of the New York 1927 international tournament. The fourth-round game between J.R. Capablanca and Milan Vidmar quickly reached a "hedghog" type position that would become familiar territory in the later stages of the 20th century. Alekhine's notes are interesting as always, but there is an improvement, of which more later.

Capablanca – Vidmar, New York 1927
Queen's Indian Defence
Commentary by Alexander Alekhine

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 b6 4.g3 Bb7 5.Bg2 c5

I have always considered this move to be unfavourable in this position because of the possible reply 6.d5. I prefer both 5...Bb4+ and 5...Be7.


Though quite playable, this reply is rather inoffensive in nature and allows Black to equalize the game in a number of ways.

6...cxd4 7.Nxd4 Bxg2 8.Kxg2 Be7

But this is inconsistent, because Black should be striving to rid himself of the weakness along the d-file as soon as possible. Although this aim would not be served by the immediate 8...d5 in view of 9.Qa4+ (as in the third match game Capablanca-Alekhine, Buenos Aires 1927), Black could make an effective preparatory move here: 8...Qc8!, for example: 9.b3 (9.Qd3 Nc6!) 9...Be7 10.Bb2 Qb7+ 11.f3 d5 12.cxd5 Nxd5 13.Qd2 0-0 14.e4 Nf6, etc.

9.Nc3 O-O(?)

Here too 9...Qc8 very much deserved attention, and if 10.b3 then 10...d5!

10.e4! Qc8

One move too late!

11.b3 Qb7 12.f3 Nc6 13.Bb2 Rfd8 14.Re1 Nxd4

Vidmar is playing the entire first part of the game inaccurately. Why, for example, does he develop the White queen in this position? Simpler was the immediate 14...d6.

15.Qxd4 Bc5(?)

Another obvious tempo loss!

16.Qd3 Be7 17.Rad1 d6

In spite of the multitude of inaccuracies committed by Black, his position is quite sturdy since in this varation the point d6 can, as is well-known, be defended without difficulty in the middlegame.

In the sequel Capablanca tries to make use of his last serious chance -- a flank attack. And indeed, this will demand exceptional accuracy from his opponent, who is very restricted in his freedom of action.

18.Re2 Rd7 19.Red2 Rad8 20.Ne2

Conclusively preventing – in the simplest way – the move ...d6-d5 (because of Bb2xf6 etc.)


In order to retreat the knight to e8, which at the moment would be met by 21.e5!

21.Qe3 h6 22.h4 Qb7 23.a4

In order to prevent the freeing move b6-b5 once and for all.

23...Ne8 24.Nf4 Bf6 25.Bxf6 Nxf6 26.g4 Nh7

After this White's attack has very little chance of success because the knight on f4 is restricted by the necessity of keeping the square d5 under observation. As soon as the White knight gives up control over this square (for example, after Nf4-h5) then the move e6-e5 would immediately follow, creating interesting attacking possibilities for Black's knight.

27.Qc3 Nf8 28.g5 hxg5 29.hxg5 Ng6!

Completely correct. If now 30.Nh5, then 30...e5 31.Kg3 Qc7 followed by Rd8-f8, Qc7-d8, etc. Thus White has nothing better than to exchange.

30.Nxg6 fxg6 31.Qd4 Qc6

The square c5 is now a sufficient counterargument for Black.

32.Kg3 Qc5 33.f4 Kf7 34.Kg4 a5 35.Rh2 Qxd4?

Because it not to White's advantage to exchange queens (over the last few moves because of ...b6xc5 with pressure on the b-pawn, and at this moment because of ...d6xc5 followed by an invasion along the d-file), and retreating the queen (to c3 or b2) is also not good for him on account of ...d6-d5!, etc, then the simplest way for Black to draw here was to adhere to waiting tactics. Correct therefore was ...Kf7-g8-f7-g8, etc., leaving it to White to make a decision about transforming the position. That Vidmar willingly goes into an endgame that is very dubious (to say the least) can only be explained by time pressure.

36.Rxd4 Re7 37.Rhd2 Red7 38.f5

In my opinion this tempting advance should have been delayed for one move: 38.R4d3! Ke7 (or Ke8) 39.f5 gxf5+ (if 39...Kf7 then 40.fxe6+ followed by 41.Rd5 and then Rd5-b5, or e4-e5 when convenient, with advantage to White) 40.exf5 exf5+ [stronger is 40...e5!?, when Black should hold – tr.] 41.Kxf5 Kf7 42.g6+ with a winning position. And in other variations too it would be easier than after the move in the game to transform White's positional advantage into material gain.

38...gxf5+ 39.exf5 exf5+ 40.Kxf5 g6+ 41.Kg4 Kf8

The only defence – and a temporary one at that – against the threat of Rd2-f2-f6 with a winning position. If 41...Ke8 then 42.Rh2!, etc. (see below).


This leads only to a draw. The proper way to realize the advantage that has cost White so much effort was – again – the win of a tempo: 42.R4d3!; then 42...Ke8 is met by 43.Rh2!, and after the exchange of a pair of rooks the remaining White rook penetrates to f6 or b8: 43...Kf8 (or 44...Rf7 44.Rh6, etc.) 44.Rf3+ Kg7 45.Rf6 (threatening 46.Rh6) 45...Rf8 46.Rxf8 Kxf8 47.Rh8+ followed by Rb8, etc. However, Capablanca forces the exchange of rooks under a different – and less advantageous – pawn configuration, after which Vidmar is able to save the game without difficulty.

42...Rf7 43.Rf6

If 43.Rfd2, then 43...Ke7 with a draw.

43...Rxf6 44.gxf6 Kf7 45.Kg5 Re8 46.Rxd6 Re5+ 47.Kf4 Re6

Much simpler than 47...Rf5+ and 48...Rxf6.

48.Rd5 Kxf6

Here it was possible to quietly draw the curtain.

49.Rb5 Ke7 50.Kg5 Rc6 51.Kh6 Kf8 52.Rg5 Kf7 53.Rg3 Re6 54.Rd3 Re5 55.Rd7+ Kf6 56.Rd6+ Kf7 1/2-1/2

With this we conclude our extract from Alexander Alekhine's book of the New York 1927 international tournament. But wait - there's an improvement!


After Black's move 29...Ng6, Russian GM Sergei Shipov demonstrated the following imaginative continuation for White:

30.Nh5! e5 31.Rh1 a6 32.Rd5!! Rc8

If 32...b5 33.axb5 Ne7 34.f4 Nxd5 35.exd5 f6 36.g6 Kf8 37.Qh3, etc.

33.f4 b5 34.axb5 axb5 35.f5 bxc4 36.b4!

Thus far Shipov's analysis in his book The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1. Here is a likely conclusion:

36...Ne7 37.Nf6+ gxf6 38.Qh3 Kf8 39.Qh6+ Ke8 40.Qh8+ Ng8 41.Qxg8+ Ke7 42.gxf6+ Kxf6 43.Rh6+ Ke7 44.f6+ Ke6 45.Qg4#!

Posting a rook on d5 in order to stabilize White's central position was unusual but very strong in this particular case.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The wandering king 2

In an earlier article we looked at a madcap king rush through the centre by Boris Shashin from a 1973 game against Viktor Korchnoi. Today we present another, even crazier example played in a Dutch open tournament a few years ago.

T.Burg (2268) – W.Spoelman (2461)
Scotch Game C45
Amsterdam (ACT) 2006

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6

Also possible is 8...Nb6, which I believe is the best move here. The problem with 8...Ba6 is that Black must play very accurately if the bishop is going to stay in play and not get stranded, so to speak.

9.Qe4 Nf6 10.Qe2 Nd5 11.Qe4 Nb6

As the higher-rated player, Spoelman has no interest in making a quick draw by repetition.

12.Nc3 Qe6 13.b3 Bb4 14.Bd2 Bxc3 15.Bxc3 d5 16.Qh4 dxc4 17.Rc1

Simpler is 17.Be2; for example, 17...0–0 18.0–0 Qf5 19.Rfe1 Rfe8 20.bxc4 Na4 21.Bd2 Rxe5 22.Bf3 with a slight edge to White. With the text move Burg is playing for complications – often a good policy if one is trying to win against a stronger opponent, but of course the opposite result is equally possible.

17...Qg6 18.bxc4

It is tempting to try to nail down the opposing king with 18.Bb4!?, but Black is doing fine after 18...Nd5 19.Ba3 Rb8 20.bxc4 Nb4 21.Bxb4 Rxb4 22.Rd1 Rb8; for example, 23.Bd3!? Qxg2 24.Be4 g5! 25.Bxg2 gxh4 26.Bxc6+ Ke7 27.Rd4!? Rb2! and Black is better.

18...0–0 19.Be2 Qxg2


Objectively speaking this is leading with the chin, as they say in boxing. But psychologically – well, it's something else entirely. It's a bold attempt to freak out the opponent... and it works!

White could maintain equality with 20.Bd3 h5 21.Be4 Qg4 22.Qxg4 hxg4 23.Rg1 Bc8 24.Bxc6 Rb8 25.c5 Nd7 26.Rxg4 Nxc5 27.Rd4.

20...Rad8+ 21.Ke3 Qg6 22.Rcd1 Rxd1?!

Here is where Black starts to go wrong. He should not exchange rooks but instead he should open more lines with 22...f6! It is hard to see how White could survive after that.

23.Rxd1 Qc2?

Here too 23...f6 was stronger. The text is a bad mistake which is clearly based on a miscalculation – almost a hallucination in fact.

24.Bd3 Nxc4+

Black has seen this far, but unfortunately White doesn't have to take the knight.


Even stronger is 25.Kd4! when Black is pretty well forced to resign immediately.

25...h6 26.Bxc2 g5+ 27.Kf5 Bc8+

27...gxh4 28.Rg1+ Kh8 29.e6+ f6 30.e7 Nd6+ 31.Kf4 Rf7 32.Bb3 and White wins.

28.Kf6 gxh4 29.Rg1+ Kh8 30.Ke7!

Completing the king's epic journey in triumphant fashion. Black has no defence and was forced to resign here. 1-0

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Alekhine vs Levenfish, Moscow 1920

It is a little-known fact that the winner of the first Soviet Championship in 1920 was none other than Alexander Alekhine. The contemporary title of the event was the First All-Russian Chess Olympiad, and it was only after 1922 – when the Soviet Union was formally established – that it was subsumed as part of the continuing series. Alekhine, of course, left his homeland in 1921, never to return. After his match victory over Capablanca in 1927, he reportedly made some anti-Soviet statements to a gathering of emigre Russians in Paris. His former compatriots immediately declared him persona non grata, and he was not rehabilitated until after the death of Stalin.

Along the way to winning the title in 1920, Alekhine had to survive a very difficult encounter with Grigory Levenfish (who won the title himself in 1937). Today we present an extract from Sergei Voronkov's 2007 book Masterpieces and Dramas from the Soviet Championships, 1920-1937. We pick up the action after Levenfish's 31st move ...Kg8-h7. From now on the commentary is by Voronkov.


“The only way to draw,” exclaims Alekhine [in his 1921 book Schachleben in Sowjet-Russland - tr]. “If first 32.Qd3+ g6 and now 33.Kg4, then 33...f5+ 34.exf6 h5+ and wins.”

Alexander Kotov in his book Alekhine's Chess Heritage (1982) shows exactly how: “After the only move 35.Kh4! (35.Kg5 Rc5+) the win is achieved as follows: 35...Qxf6+ 36.Kh3 Qb2! 37.Kh4! Kh6! 38.Rh8+! Kg7!”

Go ahead and laugh, but this is just not true! You don't believe me?

If we extend the variation with the five exclamation marks for one more move – 39.Qd8! – the draw becomes obvious: 39...Rc8 40.Rg8+ Kh7 41.Qxc8 Qxh2+ 42.Kg5 Qxg3+ 43.Kf6 Qxf4+ 44.Ke7 Qe4+. Or 39..Qf6+ 40.Qxf6+ Kxf6 41.Rf8+ Ke7 42.Ra8 Rxh2+ 43.Kg5 Rg2 44.Rxa7, etc.

What's more, the alternative move 35.Kg5, which must seemingly be rejected in horror due to the “fatal” check 35...Rc5+, is in fact winning for White:

36.f5 Rxf5+ 37.Qxf5!! (and not 37.Kh4 Qxh2 mate) 37...gxf5 38.Rd7+ Kg8 39.Kg6! and it suddenly becomes clear that Black can avoid immediate mate only by giving up his queen! (By the way, I was very proud of my discoveries until I found out they had already been made in 2002 by the trainer L. Veretnovy from Krasnoyarsk.)

The most striking thing of all is that Alekhine's variation is doubly wrong. In the first place, as we have seen, it leads not to a win, but to a loss! In the second place, after 32.Qd3+ g6 33.Kg4 f5+, Levenfish in annotating the game in the Newsletter of the Petrograd Commune had already indicated a simple drawing line: 34.Kf3! Rc3 35.Rd7+ Kh8 36.Rd8+ with perpetual check. However, he too thought that 34.exf6 would lose on account of 34...h5+.


“Such a pity!” is Levenfish's lament in his book Selected Games and Reminiscences. “By continuing 32...h5+ 33.Kxh5 (33.Kxg5 f6+) 33...Rxh2+ 34.Kg4 Qg2 35.Qd3+ (if 35.Rd7 then 35...Rh6!) 35...g6 36.Rd7 (or 36.Kg5 Kg7 37.Rd7 Rh5+ 38.Kg4 Rh4+! and mates) 36...Kh6! 37.Rxf7 Rh4+! 38.Kxh4 Qh2+ 39.Kg4 Qh5#, Black would have brought this combative game to a beautiful conclusion.”

Indeed, it's a beautiful conclusion. Why then did Alekhine, in citing the alternative variation 32...g6 33.Rh8+! Kxh8 34.Qd8+ Kh7 35.Qe7! with a draw, restrict himself to the laconic comment, “If 32...h5+ then simply 33.Kxh5!” Was he mistaken yet again?

No, this time his analysis was accurate. It turns out that White is not obliged to play 36.Rd7? (also bad is 36.Rf8? Qh3+ 37.Kf3 Rg2 38.Rxf7+ Kh6 39.Ke4 Rxg3). One of Levenfish's parenthetical variations in fact leads to a draw: 36.Kg5! Kg7, and as before not 37.Rd7? but 37.Qa3! Rh5+ 38.Kg4 Qd2+ (or 38...Kh7 39.Rh8+ Kxh8 40.Qf8+ Kh7 41.Qxf7+ Kh6 42.Qf8+) 39.Qf3 Qh2 40.Qa3 with a repetition of moves.

33.Qd3+ g6 34.Rd7! Kg7

If 34...Rh4+? then 35.Kf3!



With this we conclude our extract from Voronkov's book.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Euwe vs Geller, Zurich 1953

Here is a position from the game Euwe – Geller, Zurich (ct) 1953. It is on the menu today because it shows that the late middlegame is often characterised by inaccurate play, especially when the time control is approaching.

Black has the initiative and is trying to turn it into a decisive attack on White's king, which is the more exposed of the two. First, let's see how the game went:

55...Be3 56.Rf1 Qd2 57.Rf7 Qxe2+ 58.Kg3 Qe1+ 59.Kf3 Qh1+ 60.Kg3 Qg1+ 61.Kf3 Qf2+ 62.Ke4 Re8+ 63.Re7 Qh4+ White resigned (0-1).

The first impression is that the game took a normal course and ended in victory for Black. David Bronstein, for example, writing in his book Mezhdunarodny Turnir Grossmeisterov, does not query any of the last eight or nine moves. However, a closer examination reveals a dramatic exchange of blunders.

Peelback No. 1

Instead of 56.Rf1?, White should play 56.Rf7!, setting up the threat of 57.Rxb7 mate. Now Black is forced to work with checks; there is no time for a quiet move. Thus: 56...Qg1+ 57.Kf3 Qf1+ 58.Kg3 Bf4+ 59.Kg4. Bronstein reaches this position in his analysis and gives 59...h5+! “et cetera,” with the clear implication that Black is winning.

I always get suspicious when I see a note ending in “et cetera.” I like to carry on the analysis until the win is obvious. In this case there is a problem. After 59...h5+ 60.Kh4 Qf2+ 61.Kxh5 Qxe2+ 62.Kh4 Qe1+ 63.Kh5! there is no forced mate, no forced win of material, and no time for a quiet move. Black can even go wrong: 63...Qe5+?? 64.Qxe5 Bxe5 65.Nd7+ and wins. The first conclusion: 56.Rf7 draws. The second conclusion: 56.Rf1? is a weak move. The third conclusion: 55...Be3 is probably a weak move too.

Peelback No. 2

There is no good reason for Black to allow the move Rf3-f7 until he is ready with a winning continuation. Black can play a move that takes the square g4 away from the White king, so that if White does nothing significant, the attack beginning with Bf4-e3 will be far more dangerous. The move is:


Now White has:

A. 56.Qf7 Bc7! (changing direction in order to give Black's queen access to g5 in some lines) 57.Nd7+ Ka7 58.Nf8 Qg5+ 59.Kf2 Bh2 (also possible is 59...d3 60.Qxc7 Qh4+ 61.Qg3 Qd4+ 62.Kg2 d2 63.Rf1 d1Q 64.Rxd1 Qxd1 and Black is winning) 60.Qg6 Bg1+ 61.Kf1 Qc1+ 62.Kg2 Rd5 63.Ne6 Re5 64.Nf4 Be3 65.Rf1 Qd2 66.Qf7 Bxf4 67.Qxf4 Rxe2+ 68.Kg1 Qxb4 with a winning ending for Black;

B. 56.Qg6 Qd2 57.Rf2 Bc7 58.Qg7 Qe3 59.Qg6 Ka7 60.h4 Qe7 61.Nc4 (unavailing is 61.Qxh5 Rg8+ 62.Kf1 Qe4 and wins) 61...Qxh4 62.Nd6 Qe7 63.Qf6 Bxd6 64.cxd6 Qxd6 65.Qxd6 Rxd6 66.Rf5 Rd5 67.Rf4 d3 68.exd3 Rxd3 69.Rc4 Rd5 70.Kh3 b6 71.Rxc6 bxa5 72.bxa5 Rxa5 and White will have to give up his rook for Black's a-pawn.

I believe the moves 55...Qd2 and 55...Re8 also lead to a win for Black, but the pawn move is less complicated. The conclusion is that Black's move 55...Be3? threw away the win, but White's move 56.Rf1? gave it back.

When preparing his book The Application of Chess Theory for publication, Efim Geller found Bronstein's error, but did not notice his own error.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bird vs Chigorin, Vienna 1882, Part Two

Last time we presented the game Bird – Chigorin, Vienna 1882, with analysis by Solomon Lipschutz and supplemental comments by Mikhail Chigorin. Today we present the same game with annotations from the modern era by the Soviet grandmaster Evgeny Vasyukov, extracted from his 1973 book Mikhail Chigorin, co-authored with Alexander Narkevich and Alexander Nikitin.

Bird – Chigorin, Vienna 1882 Two Knights Defence C59

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Qc7 11.Ng4

This retreat is not considered the strongest. Instead of making the useful developing move 11.d4 or reinforcing his central position with 11.f4, White trades off his only active piece.

11...Bxg4 12.Bxg4 Bd6

A standard move in this system, and strong enough here because it stops White from castling. But 70 years after this game was played, one of our best masters of attack Rashid Nezhmetdinov suggested an even stronger plan in which both h2 and f2 are subjected to attack: 12...Bc5! 13.Be2 Rd8 14.c3 Nb7 15.0-0 h5! 16.d4 exd3 17.Bxd3 Ng4! The game Ciocaltea – Nezhmetdinov, Bucharest 1954, continued 18.Qe2+ Kf8 19.g3 Qd7 20.Be4 h4 21.Bf4 Nxh2! and Black won shortly.


In a 1953 training game against Smyslov, Bronstein retreated his bishop to h3 with the idea of relocating it to g2. However this manoeuvre requires a lot of time and allows Black to increase the pressure: 13.Bh3 0-0 14.g3 Nd5 15.0-0 Rae8 16.d3 e3.

13...O-O 14.Nc3

Steinitz considered that 14.b3 was necessary here, hindering the transfer of Black's knight to the centre. But this move, which does nothing to aid White's development, can hardly change the nature of the struggle. Black would develop strong pressure on the central files, for example: 14...Be5 15.Nc3 Rad8 16.Bb2 e3! 17.fxe3 Bxc3 18.Bxc3 Ne4!

14...Nc4 15.b3?
White is playing the opening rather carelessly. Developing the bishop on b2 is a mistaken idea. The main events are bound to take place over on the kingside, where Black has directed all of his pieces. Therefore the following plan of development deserved attention: 15.Be2 Ne5 16.d3! (16.d4 Ng6 17.0-0 Nh4) 16...exd3 17.cxd3 Rad8 18.0-0. Of course, even here Black's edge in development would guarantee him the initiative, but it would be far easier for White to defend than in the game.

15...Ne5 16.Bb2 Rfe8 17.O-O

It is too late for White to retreat his bishop (17.Be2 Nf3+! 18.Kf1 Nh4) so he hurries to get his king out of the centre. However, this loses a pawn.

17...Nexg4 18.hxg4 Qd7 19.Qe2

Defending the pawn on g4 would lead to the creation of other weaknesses: 19.f3 Bc5+ 20.Kh1 Rad8 21.Na4 Bd4!



A critical moment. With material being equal White can hardly count upon a successful defence. But can he capture the pawn on e4? This makes use of the fact that after 20.Nxe4 Black cannot play 20...f5 because of 21.Qc4+. The risk appears to be substantial. The pin on the knight is very unpleasant and enables Black to obtain the advantage in two ways: 20.Nxe4 Bh2+ 21.Kh1 Bc7 22.f3 f5 23.Qc4+ Kh8 24.Nf2! Qd6 (for example, 25.Nxg4 fxg4 26.f4 Qg6) or 20...Qf5 21.f3 (sacrificing the queen does not work: 21.Nxd6 Qh5 22.Qxg4 Qxg4 23.Nxe8 Rxe8 24.Rfe1 Rxe1+ 25.Rxe1 Qf5 26.d3 Qa5!) 21...Qh5! 22.fxg4 Qh2+ 23.Kf2 Qf4+ 24.Kg1 Rxe4 25.Rxf4 Rxe2 26.Rf2 Re4 (Chigorin). Nevertheless, if White wants to choose the least of evils, he should try to find salvation in this endgame. In declining to take the pawn he dooms himself to a prospectless defence.

20.g3 Qf5 21.Kg2 Re6 22.Rae1

Exchanging the e-pawn with 22.f3 exf3+ (22...Qe5 23.f4!) 23.Qxf3 does not save White from the attack after 23...Qg6!

22...Rae8 23.Rh1 h5!

Winning the exchange with 23...Qxf3+ 24.Qxf3 exf3+ 25.Kxf3 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 Rxe1 27.Kxg4 Be5 would also guarantee Black victory, but it would take much longer. He still has ways of strengthening the attack, and Chigorin decides to press on with them. The threat now is 24...Qf3+, winning a rook since the knight on g4 is defended.

24.Ref1 Qg6! 25.Nd1


Black has apparently retreated his queen in order to make way for his f-pawn, and here in fact 25...f5 26.Ne3 f4 would also give him an irresistible attack. But Chigorin demonstrates an unexpected combinative possibility.


Now it becomes clear that the square g3 cannot be defended against intrusion by the Black queen, since after 26.Nxe3 Nxe3+ 27.dxe3 there follows 27...Rxe3 28.Qxh5 Rxg3+ and mate on the following move.

26.Bd4 Nxf2 27.Rxf2 Qxg3+ 28.Kf1 exf2 29.Ne3 c5 30.Bc3 Rxe3! 31.dxe3 Rxe3 32.Qd1 h4 33.Bd2 h3!

White resigned (0-1).

Here we conclude our extract from Vasyukov's 1973 analysis as well as our two-part excursion into master chess of the late 19th century.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bird vs Chigorin, Vienna 1882, Part One

The Russian master Mikhail Chigorin compiled an amazing record on the Black side of the Two Knights Defence. Over the course of his career he employed this counterattacking system in a total of 17 games, mostly against the world's elite. He scored 13 wins, 1 draw, and only 3 losses for a winning percentage of 79%, far in excess of the standard 45% that Black can expect from the starting position. In particular his great rival Wilhelm Steinitz was bested by a score of four games to one.

Why was Chigorin so successful with the Two Knights Defence? In the first place, he was a fine attacking player with a strikingly modern feel for the initiative and the importance of piece activity. He was also aided by the generally low reputation enjoyed by the Two Knights Defence in those days. This reputation was based in large part on the writings of his rival Steinitz, who famously believed that “a pawn is worth a little trouble.” In particular, Steinitz believed that Black did not have the right to sacrifice a pawn in the opening. For his part, Chigorin didn't care what Steinitz (or anyone else) thought was right or wrong. He saw the assets in Black's position and worked hard to make them count.

Today we present a lesser-known but particularly fine example of Chigorin's play in the Two Knights Defence – his game with the English master Henry Bird from the great Vienna tournament of 1882. This event, by the way, was won by Steinitz after a playoff match with Simon Winawer. Chigorin finished 12th and Bird 15th out of 18 participants.

The Bird-Chigorin encounter did not go unnoticed by the contemporary chess press. It appeared in the Russian magazine Shakhmatny Vestnik in 1885, and later in The Chess-Player's Manual by Gossip and Lipschutz (1888). It also came to the attention of Wilhelm Steinitz, who included it in Part 1 of his two-volume opus The Modern Chess Instructor (1889).

While preparing his 1950 commemorative book on Chigorin, Nikolai Grekov gained access to the Russian master's archives, including a copy of The Modern Chess Instructor. There he found some pencilled comments to the Bird-Chigorin game in which Chigorin expressed disdain for aspects of Steinitz's analysis. Needless to say, these comments were included in Grekov's book in order to demonstrate that, even in analysis, Chigorin could hold his own against his rival.

In preparing this article I had occasion to refer directly to The Modern Chess Instructor, where I found the following caveat by Steinitz, which had been conveniently omitted from Grekov's book: “Our notes to this game are chiefly quoted from the Appendix to Gossip's Manual by S. Lipschutz.” Chigorin would have known this, so his disdain would have been largely directed at Lipschutz instead of Steinitz. However, Steinitz was ultimately responsible for the content of his book. In our article today, the comments by Steinitz/Lipschutz have been slightly edited for clarity. Chigorin's pencilled comments appear in italics, and there are two further comments of his from Shakhmatny Vestnik.

Bird-Chigorin, Vienna 1882 Two Knights Defence C59

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Qc7 11.Ng4

11.d4 exd3 (and if one does not capture en passant?) 12.Nxd3 Bd6 13.Nd2 followed by Nf3 would give White an excellent game with a pawn ahead. For should Black then attempt 13...Bxh2, then would follow 14.g3 Bxg3 15.fxg3 Qxg3+ 16.Nf2 and should win.

11...Bxg4 12.Bxg4 Bd6 13.h3 O-O 14.Nc3

White would have done better first to prevent the entrance of the hostile knight by 14.b3. Rubbish; then comes 14...Be5 15.Nc3 e3 16.fxe3 Bxc3, etc.

14...Nc4 15.b3 Ne5 16.Bb2 Rfe8 17.O-O

17.Be2 Nd3+ (or 17...Nf3+ 18.Kf1, etc.) (Just so: “et cetera.” And how will things turn out for White after 18...Nh4?) 18.cxd3 exd3 19.0-0 was far more favourable for White.

17...Nexg4 18.hxg4 Qd7 19.Qe2

If 19.f3 Bc5+ 20.Kh1 Qe7 with a winning attack.

19...Nxg4 20.g3

20.Nxe4 Qf5 21.f3 Qh5 22.fxg4 Qh2+ 23.Kf2 Qf4+ (or 23...Qh4+ 24.g3 Bxg3+ 25.Kg2 and should win; if here 24...Qh2+ 25.Kf3 Qxe2+ 26.Kxe2 Rxe4+ 27.Kf3 with a pawn ahead) 24.Kg1 was by far better play, for Black's best plan would be now to draw by perpetual check. What on earth for? After 24...Rxe4 25.Rxf4 Rxe2 26.Rf2 Re4! Black's position is better – perhaps significantly so.

20...Qf5 21.Kg2 Re6 22.Rae1

Ill-judged. 22.Rh1 followed by 23.Raf1 was much better.

22...Rae8 23.Rh1 h5!

Black could win the exchange by playing 23...Qf3+ but after 24.Qxf3 (24.Kg1 Bxg3!) exf3+ 25.Kxf3 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 Rxe1 27.Kxg4 play would continue for quite some time. Now, having defended his knight, Black threatens 24...Qf3+ (Chigorin, Shakhmatny Vestnik, 1885).

24.Ref1 Qg6 25.Nd1

Premature. 25.Rh3 was necessary for the defence. Black was threatening 25...e3 26.dxe3 Nxe3 (Chigorin, Shakhmatny Vestnik, 1885).



A real master coup which forces the victory in elegant style.


If 26.dxe3 Nxe3+ 27.Nxe3 Rxe3 threatening 28...Rxg3+ and wins.

26...Nxf2 27.Rxf2 Qxg3+ 28.Kf1 exf2 29.Ne3 c5 30.Bc3 Rxe3

Beautiful play, which finishes off the quickest way.

31.dxe3 Rxe3 32.Qd1 h4

32...Rxc3 followed by 33...Kf8 (if White reply 33.Qxh5) was also good enough.

33.Bd2 h3

White resigned (0-1)

Next time we will present this game with more modern annotations. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Marshall vs Alekhine, Bradley Beach 1929

A couple of weeks ago, Eduardo Moura and I were analysing some tournament games played by Alexander Alekhine. One in particular – a queen ending – caught our eye because of the way Alekhine managed to fashion a win out of very thin material. The opponent was Frank Marshall, and the venue was the Bradley Beach tournament of 1929. (This, by the way, was Alekhine's first official event following his defeat of Capablanca in 1927.) Here is the game with annotations by Soviet GM Alexander Kotov, taken from Volume 2 of his book Shakhmatnoe Nasledie A.A. Alekhina:

In queen endings, as in other types of endings, an outside passed pawn sometimes plays an important role. Thus in the following game of Alekhine's, White's queen was deflected by a strong Black passed pawn on the a-file while White's own passed pawn on the d-file was easily held in check by the centralised Black king.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 c5 4.Bd3 d5 5.c3 Bd6 6.O-O Nbd7 7.Nbd2 O-O

A well-known variation of the Colle System. This opening was once considered rather threatening, but after several equalising methods were found for Black it was eventually reassessed as insufficient for advantage.


White has to acquiesce to an isolated pawn on d4 because the preliminary exchange on c5 does not work. It was precisely for this reason that Black developed his knight on d7.

8...cxd4 9.cxd4 dxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 Qb6!

This move is considered strongest. Black attacks the b-pawn and prevents the development of White's bishop on c1.


This advance is tactically justified by a double attack: 12...Bxe5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Bxh7+ followed by 15.Qh5+. However, stronger was the natural 12.Qe2 followed by 13.Be3 or 13.Bg5.


Decisively preventing any White attempt to attack on the kingside. In the sequel Alekhine skilfully defends the resulting weakness on e6.

13.Nxd7 Bxd7 14.Bf3 Bc6 15.Re1 Kh8! 16.Bg5

Not falling for the trap 16.Rxe6? Bxf3 17.Qxf3 Bxh2+.

16...Rae8 17.Rc1

This enables Alekhine to seize the initiative and obtain the better position. More promising was 17.Bxc6.

17...Bxf3 18.Qxf3 Qxb2 19.Rb1 Qxa2 20.Rxb7 Rb8 21.g3

Marshall makes an escape square for his king so that he can follow up with 22.Reb1, which at the moment is not possible because of 22...Qxb1+! However, this pawn move gives Alekhine the opportunity to exchange bishops and at the same time inflict serious damage on the pawn cover in front of Marshall's king.

21...f4! 22.Bxf4

Capturing on f4 with the pawn is worse because of 22...h6.

22...Bxf4 23.gxf4 Rxb7 24.Qxb7 Qd2

The heavy piece ending is favourable for Black. All four of White's pawns are isolated and weak, and his king is exposed. However, the reduced material does not allow Alekhine to decide matters in the so-called “fourth stage” of the game [i.e., a mating attack in the endgame – tr.]. Eventually he has to agree to an exchange of rooks.

25.Qe4 h6 26.Qe3 Qb2 27.Qe5 Rf6 28.Re3 Qb1+ 29.Kg2 Qb7+ 30.Kg1 Qf7 31.Qb8+ Kh7 32.Qb1+ Rf5 33.Qe4 Qf8 34.Re2 a5

After some extensive probing manoeuvres, Alekhine finally sets his passed pawn in motion. This forces Marshall to start thinking about creating his own passed pawn.

35.Qxe6 Rxf4 36.d5 Rd4 37.Re4 Rd2 38.Re2 Rxe2 39.Qxe2 Qf5

On the surface the queen ending appears to be absolutely equal, but this is not the case at all. There is no doubt that Black stands better. In the first place, his king is much more secure than White's, although this is not the decisive factor. The main thing is that Black's passed pawn is the cause of many worries for White's queen, distracting her from any sort of attack on Black's kingside. Meanwhile, White's pawn on d5 will be held in check by Black's soon-to-be centralised king. It is interesting to follow how the World Champion is able to realise an apparently insignificant advantage against such a strong player as the American grandmaster.

40.Qd1 Qg6+ 41.Kf1 Qa6+ 42.Kg2 Qd6 43.Qd4 Kg8

The king sets off toward the pawn on d5 in order to assist the queen in either holding up this dangerous pawn or even capturing it.

44.Qc4 Kf7 45.Qb5 Qd8 46.f4

In order to deprive the Black king of the square e5 in case he decides to settle on d6.

46...Qc7 47.Kf3 Qc3+ 48.Kg4

Here is the first indicator of the power of the outside passed pawn. The White king cannot go to e4 because then 48...Qb4+ would lead to an easily-won pawn ending.

48...Ke7 49.Qb6

Marshall does not notice the World Champion's clever tactical trick. He had to play 49.h4, preventing the following “hammer blow” by the Black pawn. But even then 49...Kd6 would leave Black with reasonable winning chances.


This forces White's destruction within a few moves.


White has to take; otherwise Black forces the exchange of queens with a check on f6.

50...Qh3+ 51.Kg5 Qg2+ 52.Kf5

Or 52.Kh4 Qxh2+ 53.Kg4 Qg2+ 54.Kh4 Qxd5 and with his extra pawn Black must win.

52...Qxd5+ 53.Kg6

White cannot avoid the pawn ending in any case.

53...Qd6+ 54.Qxd6+ Kxd6 55.f5 a4 56.Kxg7 a3 57.f6 a2 58.f7 a1=Q+ 59.Kg8 Qg1+

White resigned.

With this we conclude our extract from GM Kotov's book.

I will only add the observation that Alekhine was particularly skilled in his conduct of queen and pawn endings. Anyone who looks up his games will find many similar examples.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beating the Petroff

At the highest level of play the Petroff (or Russian) Defence is generally regarded as a problem for White. Quite often a symmetrical pawn position is obtained, and White struggles to convert his extra tempo into something more concrete. In some quarters the notion of banning the Petroff Defence from tournament play has been suggested. But what do the Petroff experts say?

A more skilful strategic player triumphs in the Petroff Defence regardless of the colour of his pieces and the position's symmetry.” -- Alexander Raetsky and Maxim Chetverik

That is certainly encouraging. And how about this quote from the noted author of Think Like a Grandmaster:

When I stayed behind at school with my school friends after lessons, and managed to play up to a hundred games in a single afternoon, the strategy was simple enough: I castled on the opposite side in the middle of violent (and mutual) King attacks. Whoever got his attack in first, won. [When] the Kings find themselves at opposite corners of the board... the attacker not only can but must carry out the attack with pawns...” -- Alexander Kotov

The message is clear: let's castle queenside against the Petroff!

dadian - lox1900, G/5 Chess Assistant Club 2010, Petroff Defence C42

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3 d5 [7...Nc6 8.Qd2 Be6 9.0–0–0 Qd7 10.Kb1 a6 11.h4] 8.Qd2 c6 9.0–0–0 [9.c4!?] 9...Bg4 10.Be2 0–0 11.h3 Bxf3 12.gxf3 (first diagram) 12...b5 13.Rhg1 Bf6 14.Rg4 [14.Bd4 Nd7 15.Qh6 g6 16.h4 Re8 17.Bd3 Ne5 unclear] 14...Nd7 15.Rdg1 [15.f4!?] 15...g6 [15...Ne5 16.R4g3 Re8 17.f4 Ng6 18.f5 Nh4 19.Bd4±] 16.f4 Bg7 17.f5 Ne5 [17...Nf6 18.Bg5 (18.R4g2 Qa5 19.Kb1 Ne4 20.Qd3 b4) 18...Qa5 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Kb1 d4 21.Qd3 dxc3 22.fxg6 and White wins] 18.R4g3± Nc4 19.Bxc4 bxc4 20.Bd4 Qd6?! [20...Rb8! with counterplay] 21.h4 c5 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 (second diagram) 23.h5 f6 24.hxg6 h6 25.Rh3 Rh8 26.Rgh1 Qe5 27.Rxh6 Qxf5 28.Rxh8 Rxh8 29.Rxh8 1–0

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Find the continuation 3

A couple of weeks ago I was spectating at an active tournament at the Milwaukee Market Creamery on Hornby Street in Vancouver. One of the games attracted particular attention when it arrived at the position shown in the diagram.

White, an A-class player, had uncorked the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit against his Expert-class opponent, and had sacrificed the exchange to speed up his attack. His last move was Ne2-g3, bringing his knight into action. His opponent had replied with ...Rd8-d5, trying to deal with White's massed pieces.

It was now White to play, and White was thinking.

Here I recalled something that Emanuel Lasker once wrote: there are certain moves you either see right away, or you do not see at all.

I remembered this because I could see a forced win for White, but White was still thinking.

After what seemed like forever he picked up his c-pawn and played 1.c4? Black immediately replied 1...Rf5!, returning the exchange and effectively killing off White's attack. White made a few more attacking gestures but was eventually was forced to capitulate.

In the diagram position White has a very powerful follow-up to his previous move:


Black is forced to take this knight because he is threatened with mate on g7 and 1...Qf8 doesn't help.


This has the drawback of opening the b1-h7 diagonal for White's bishop, but taking with the knight is even worse: 1...Nxh5 2.Qxh7+ Kf8 3.Qh8 mate.

2.Bxh7+ Kh8 3.Rxf6

Black is now completely helpless. His next move is as good or bad as any other.

3...Rxg5 4.Bg6+ Kg8 5.Qh7+ Kf8 6.Qh8 mate.

We've already quoted the World Champion Lasker, so let's finish off with a quotation from his successor Jose Raul Capablanca:

...the games of the great masters are not played by single moves, but must be played by concerted plans of attack and defence...”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The right execution

Here is a tense position from the game Fine-Reshevsky, A.V.R.O. 1938 (first diagram). White – to play – is a pawn down, and he obviously wants to win it back before Black can consolidate. The pawn on a6 is the natural target.


Theatening 17.Bxa6, which is not easy to meet directly because of the pressure against Black's e-pawn.


A counterattack against the central light squares, and against White's queen in particular.


In the actual game, Fine prevented the threat of ...Nf4 by playing 17.g3. The matter of interest today is Reshevsky's analysis of 17.Bxa6. In his book Reshevsky on Chess (1948) he gave the following line:

17...Nf4 18.Qf1 Rxa6 19.Qxa6 Rb8 (second diagram)

and wrote that “White is helpless against the threat of ...Bb5.”

It is obvious that White cannot prevent ...Bb5, so things are certainly looking grim. What is not obvious is that White has a defence – more precisely, a counterattack. How about this:


Making a square for the queen on a5, and also attacking the knight.


Pushing ahead with the plan of trapping White's queen. The alternatives are less promising:

A. 20...Nb3? 21.Nxb3 axb3 22.Bxf4 exf4 23.Qa3 and White is simply the exchange up with a clear advantage;

B. 20...Rxb4 21.Ba3 (or the more complex 21.dxe5 Bc8 22.exd6 Bxd6 23.Qf1 Rb6 24.e5 Bc5 25.Re4, etc.) 21...Bc8 22.Qf1 Rb6 23.Rec1! (winning time to make space for the queen) 23...Qd7 24.Nc4 Nxc4 25.Qxc4 Ba6 26.Qc7 Ne2+ 27.Kh2 and White is again up the exchange, although Black's bishop pair is also a factor;

C. 20...Nc6 21.Qxa4 Nxd4 21.Qa5 with equality.

21.Qxa5 Qd7

Now Black is threatening 22...Bd8, so White needs to find another resource.


White does have an extra rook, so that gives him the option of returning it in order to extricate his queen.


White's queen escapes after 22...Bd8 23.Qa7 (also interesting is 23.Qa8!?, aiming to get two rooks for the queen) 23...Rb7 24.Qa8 (here too 24.Qxb7!? is possible) 24...Bxa4 25.dxe5. Here White must still tread carefully but having all the pawns on one side of the board is the key leveling factor.

23.dxe5! Nd3 24.Rf1

White has survived the complications and reached an equal position.

Does this mean that White can recover the pawn with 17.Bxa6? Of course not. After 17...Nf4 18.Qf1 Black has a much stronger way to exploit the light squares:


Now if 19.Bxc8? then 19...Bb5 wins easily for Black. White must retreat his bishop:

19.Bd3 exd4

White is again a pawn down but can play to win it back by gaining a tempo on Black's knight.

20.Nc4 Nxc4 21.Bxc4 Be6!

The most accurate way to preserve the advantage. Now if 22.Bxe6 then 22...Nxe6 and Black keeps the extra pawn. Of course White cannot contemplate 22.Bxf4? Bxc4 and wins.

22.Bb5 Ng6 23.Rd1

With this move White clears a square for his queen and renews the threat to recover the pawn.


Consolidating the more important pawn.

24.Rxa4 Rxa4 25.Bxa4 Bc4 26.Qe1 Qa6!

Taking control of the key diagonal without loss of time.

27.b3 Be2! 28.Rd2 Bxf3 29.gxf3 Nh4! (third diagram)

The culmination of Black's strategy commencing with 18...Qb6! The strategic advantage of controlling the a6-f1 diagonal has been transformed into a decisive advantage in pawn structure.

One might say that Reshevsky had the right idea, but did not show the right way to execute it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mystery annotations

Every so often you come across an annotation that you just can't believe. Today's example is taken from Larry Christiansen's excellent book Storming the Barricades, published by Gambit in 2000.

The position in the first diagram arose in the game V. Ciocaltea – L. Christiansen, Torremolinos 1976 after Black's 15th move. White decided it was time for an unwarranted attack, and came up with the aggressive-looking:


Black can safely ignore this pawn advance with 16...Bb7 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 Rfd8, when it looks like all White has done is weaken his position. But Christiansen has a somewhat different idea.


At first this too looks fishy. Why not 17.Qe4 threatening mate and the rook? Of course Christiansen had seen all this, and he wrote that 17...f5 18.Qxa8 Nxe5 would give Black a “crushing counterattack.” That is certainly true, but White can do better with 18.gxf5 exf5 19.Qd5+ Kh7 20.Nc4 Qh4 21.Be3, which could be just equal.

More critical for Black's idea is 17.Be4 Nxe5 18.Bxa8. Christiansen gave 18...Qh4 19.Bf4 Ba6 20.Qxe5 Qxf2+ 21.Kh1 Rxa8 22.Qe4 (second diagram) and now “22...Be2! 23.Qxa8+ Kh7 24.Rd3 Qxf4, when Black's raging bishops rule the board.”

Here is the real mystery. Well, two mysteries actually. Black's bishops can do all the ruling they want, but if all they can do is win back the double exchange, then it doesn't add up to much. Try to find a win for Black after 24...Qxf4 25.Qg2! I don't think it's there.

The second mystery – and the true subject of today's article – is why on earth Black should give up his rook with check. After 22.Qe4 he should forget about abstract ideas of ruling the board and instead play the simple 22...Rc8! The threat is Bb5-c6 with disaster on the long diagonal. White can grovel, but in the long run Black must prevail.

For the record, the game continuation was:

17.g5 Nxe5 18.Qxe5 f6 19.Qe4 f5 20.Qh4 Bb7 21.Qh5 Qc7 22.Bb5 Rad8 23.Rxd8 Rxd8 24.gxh6 Qe5 25.Qg5 Qe1+ 0–1

Monday, May 17, 2010

The sacrifice

I'm not talking about giving up material for the initiative or an attack. I'm talking about accepting the inability to think too deeply that goes along with entering an “active” (30-minute) chess tournament. With life's many demands, it is often more convenient to play a tournament that lasts one day instead of two or three. But there is a price. If you treat active chess like classical chess and try to find the best moves as much as possible, you will inevitably fall behind on the clock. We all know what can happen then.

Here is an illustration of this theme from a recent active game of mine. The result was favourable for me, but later analysis showed the creative aspect to be anything but satisfying.

The diagrammed position arose in the game Scoones-Milicevic, Vancouver Express Open 2010, a 16-player Swiss System event hosted by Metro Vancouver's official Russian-language newspaper. This encounter was played in the last round and was crucial for deciding who would finish in second place behind the winner of the event, IM Stanislav Kriventsov.

White has two bishops against a rook and pawn, but more important than that, he has the ability to start a dangerous attack against Black's king. The downside is that White has only 90 seconds left on his clock.

37.Bc4+! Kg7 38.Ne6+ Kh6?!

With 2 minutes on his own clock, Black goes wrong – by the standards of active chess. He had to try 38...Kg8!? 39.Nd8+ Kg7 40.Nxb7 Ra8 and hope that White ran out of time while trying to promote his queenside pawns. The text leads instead to a mating attack.

39.Bf8+ Kh5?!

Here too Black should give up further material with 39...Rxf8 and hope that White cannot convert within the time limit.

40.Be2+ Kh4 41.Bg7?!

When I played this move I believed it was quite brilliant. White threatens both 42.Bxf6+ followed by mate, and 42.Bxh8 winning a rook. However, much stronger was 41.Bc5!, when Black can stave off mate for only a couple of moves.


Here 41...Rf8 was slightly stronger but by now it would not change things much.


It isn't too often that capturing a free rook merits a question mark. But it does happen, and this is one of those times. Much, much stronger was 42.Nf4! threatening 43.g3 mate. The only defence is taking the knight with 42...gxf4, but then White mates with 43.Bxf6.

After taking the rook I was down to 60 seconds on the clock. Fortunately (for me) I managed to exchange off my opponent's remaining knight and then queen my b-pawn, ending the game quickly.

There is only one way to improve at active chess: practise, practise, practise!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Alonso vs Suttles, Gijon 1965

Here is an early tournament game by GM Duncan Suttles, which remained undiscovered at the time of publication of Chess on the Edge, the monumental three-volume work by FM Bruce Harper and GM Yasser Seirawan.

Jose Ramon Alonso - Duncan Suttles, Gijon 1965 Modern Defence [A42]

1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 Nc6 5.Be3 e5 6.Nge2 Nh6 7.d5 Ne7 8.f3 f5 9.Qd2 Nf7 10.h4

White has no real attacking prospects on the kingside, so perhaps he is merely looking for complications. If so, he has met a worthy associate in Mr Suttles!


Radically forestalling a possible c4-c5 pawn break by White.

11.Ng1 h5 12.Nh3 f4 13.Bf2 Bh6 14.Bd3 a6 15.Ke2

Black is not well-placed for a queenside attack, so White should consider castling long, perhaps following up with Rdg1 and g2-g3!?

15...Bd7 16.a4 Qa5 17.b4 cxb4 18.Na2 Rc8 19.Rhb1 Bxh3 20.gxh3 Qxa4

With White's king still in the centre, Black should not be thinking about exchanging queens.


Stronger was 21.Qxb4! with queenside pressure for White.

21...Qd7 22.Rab1 Nd8

Here Black could make White's life difficult with 22...Qxh3! and if 23.Rxb7 then 23...g5!

23.Rb6 Rc7 24.c5 Nc8 25.cxd6 Nxd6 26.Qb2 N8f7 27.Rg1 Rg8 28.Nc3 Bf8 29.Qb3 Be7

Here too 29...Qxh3 would have posed problems for White.

30.Na4 (diagram) 30...Qxh3!?

But now it seems better to play 30...Qc8 and if 31.Qb1 then simply 31...Kf8 with advantage to Black.

31.Nc5 Rxc5?

This looks like a time trouble error. 31...Bxh4! was still good for Black. Now things turn around dramatically.

32.Bxc5 Bxh4 33.Rxb7 Nxb7 34.Qxb7 Nd8 35.Qh7! Rf8 36.Qxg6+ Rf7 37.Bxa6 Qh2+ 38.Rg2 1-0

In many ways a typical Suttles game: strategically deep, but tactically... not so deep!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Forklift

From humble beginnings in the early 1950s, chess-playing computers have now surpassed the strongest human players. Less than $100 is needed to buy one of the electronic warriors that gave so much trouble to GMs Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, and Michael Adams in specially-arranged test matches.

Twenty years ago, when chess computers were first approaching master strength, an initiative was started to prohibit them from entering human tournaments. It was argued that trying to defeat a machine at chess would eventually be as futile as trying to win a powerlifting contest against a forklift.

In 2009, a FIDE Category 6 tournament with a mostly human entry was won by a mobile phone.

These days many authorities proclaim the futility of trying to defeat a top chess-playing program. Instead it is recommended that players use such programs to analyse their own games and identify and perhaps correct their mistakes.

I recently acquired a copy of Fritz 12, the newest version of one of the best-selling chess programs of all time. Never mind the advice from the experts. When the DVD arrived at my study, I installed the program, set the time control for 5 minutes each, and banged out my first move 1.e4. Here is the resulting game:

Dadian-Fritz 12, G/5, Port Coquitlam 2010

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.0-0 0-0 9.h3 a6 10.a4 Nh5 11.Bh2 Bh6 12.Re1 Bf4 13.Bxf4 Nxf4 14.Bc2 f6 15.Qd2 (diagram) 15...e5 16.dxe5 fxe5 17.Nxe5 Qg5 18.Ng4 h5 19.Ne3 Ne5 20.Kf1 Bxh3 21.gxh3 Nf3 0-1

Well, that was a sobering experience. I thought the exchange variation of the Caro-Kann was supposed to be a safe way for White to play, but I guess not.

Of course my first big mistake was 16.dxe5, which opened the f-file and also allowed Black's queen to get to g5. Replace 16.dxe5 with 16.Qe3 and White should be fine.

On the very next move I made my second big mistake 17.Nxe5, which allowed Black to set up a winning attack with 17...Qg5. Instead of taking the e-pawn there was the interesting option of counterplay with 17.Bb3.

After 17...Qg5 I managed to grovel for a few moves but the issue was settled after 20...Bxh3!

I suppose there is some risk of embarrassment in publishing this game, but here I will appeal to the reader's conscience.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Find the best continuation

This position came up in a recent blitz game at Delaney's Coffee Bar, a popular meeting place for chessplayers in West Vancouver, B.C. It is White (Dadian) to play. It was obvious to me that Black's situation is critical and in fact I was looking for the best way to finish things off.

All of White's previous play has been aimed at conquering h7. It may appear that success is at hand, but there is a problem. When the knight on h5 moves away, Black will capture on f6 and defend the mate. And if White sacrifices a piece somewhere, Black will have the defensive resource Bc5-f2+, returning the piece and exchanging queens. On top of that Black is threatening a5-a4.

After a few seconds' reflection (this is a blitz game, remember) I noticed my hand reaching out to defend the f-pawn with 1.Rf1?! My opponent immediately went wrong with 1...Rad8? and after 2.Rxd8 he was soon forced to resign because of a general collapse on f7.

The next day I reconstructed the position and started looking for the best line for White. It turns out that mate on h7 is a chimera of sorts. In the diagram position White should abandon the original focal point and shift his attention to g7.


The threat is obvious: 2.Nxf7+ Rxf7 3.Bxf7 Qxf7 and now 4.Qg7+ followed by 5.fxg7 mate. This is how things would go after, say, 1...a4? Instead, Black must get off the mate by clearing g8 for his king:


Now White can win the exchange with 2.Ne6!? fxe6 3.Qg7+ Qxg7 4.fxg7+ Kg8 5.gxf8+ Rxf8 6.Bxe6+ Kh8 but then Black's bishop pair would give him quite a bit of compensation. Happily for White there is something stronger:


Black's reply is forced because of the continuing threat of Qg7 mate.

2...Rxf7 3.Bxf7 Qxf7

The first wave of the assault appears to be over, and White has given up a rook for two bishops. He must press his attack before Black can consolidate.

4.Qg7+! Qxg7 5.fxg7+ Kg8 6.Rd7!

The point of White's combination. Black's king is short of squares and is facing a deadly check on f6. Playing the rook to f8 doesn't help so there is only one defensive try left:


With Black's knight cutting off the defence of White's g-pawn, it is starting to look like White's attack has run out of steam. To renew the threat of Nf6+ White must protect the g-pawn with his other rook. The square g1 is covered, so there is only one way forward:


The beauty of this move is that White can calmly leave his important-looking d7 rook to be taken after, say, 7...Bc8. With Black's king completely entombed, 8. Rg2 will renew the threat of mate with Nf6. Black must rush over a piece to defend f6 against the deadly check, and his rook on a8 is the only viable candidate.

7...Re8 8.Rg2 Re6

Black's defensive exertions have prevented an immediate mate, but they have also weakened his back rank. This adds a final resource to White's arsenal:


The rook cannot be captured because of 9...Kxf7 10.g8Q+, so White recovers a piece. He is now up the exchange and is threatening 10.Rd7 with further destruction. There are no realistic defensive chances left and Black can safely resign.

I hope the reader has enjoyed these variations as much as I did while working them out.

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.