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!

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.