Some Casual Excitement at Albany

One of the things that has worked to the advantage of the Albany Club is enough folks show up on meeting nights making getting in a skittles game easy to do. A few weeks ago Denham and Northrup played a casual game with clocks and turned out this theoretical entertainment:

Denham, Jason – Northrup, Cory [A40]
Casual Game, AACC, Guilderland, NY, 26.03.2014

1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6 3.e4 Bb7 4.Bd3 f5

Denham North 1

The English Defense! It is not terribly well known, and some chess writers have labeled it not quite sound. IM John Watson has recently broadcast a several part series on this line on ICC. His thesis is it is playable against 1 c4. The opening is not too hard to learn, and has the extra added attraction of being more or less unknown to many of our local players. To the general chess public, I don’t know how unknown it is, but I tried the opening in this year’s Saratoga Championship against Jon Feinberg. I had a decent game out of the opening and held the draw without great difficulty against a solid Expert. Afterwards Jon said the English Defense was a line he never really looked at in his preparation or study.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Click on any move to see a chess board, and then the following illusrative game can be played through.

This was the first time I have tried the English Defense. I did not completely understand the positions we got to. There were moments when according to Watson and Deep Rybka Black had a sizable advantage, but I just did not realize that was the case. I did not make the most of my opportunity in this game. Compared to Denham – Northrup Feinberg and I played in a less blazing tactical way, nevertheless, there was considerable calculation to do.

5.exf5!?,..

This move leads to all kinds of excitement. I am sure Mr. Denham was not particularly well prepared for this particular line of play. Here is how one GM dealt successfully with it:

EDITORIAL NOTE: Click on any move to see a chess board, and then the following illustrative game can be played through.

Playing through the Browne – Miles game clearly shows how having one more piece that can join in the attack makes a difference.

5…, Bxg2 6.Qh5+ g6 7.fxg6 Bg7 8.gxh7+ Kf8 9.hxg8Q+,..

Denham North 2

The critical moment in this line. Black could have hardly undertaken the English Defense without looking into the preceding sequence beforehand. This obvious capture on g8 tells me that Jason was having to work things out at the board. GM Miles brought another piece into play with 9 Ne2. The computer suggests 9 Nf3. Counting up material in the midst of a forcing sequence can’t play a central role in decision making in such extremely tactical situations. White is betting the house on mating the stripped bare Black King. Black believes he can fend off the all out assault, collect some material and hit back with his own counter-attack. Brining up the Knight via e2 or f3 made the difference in the GM game. Soon Mr. Denham finds the lack of reinforcements means the end of his attack.

9…, Kxg8 10.Qg6 Bxh1 11.Bg5 Qf8 12.Nd2,..

Denham North 3

A good decision. One piece more is put into play, and the way cleared for castling. While watching the game I wondered if 12 h4, was worth a try?

Analysis Position
Denham North 4

The line: 12 h4 Nc6 13 Nd2 Nxd4 14 Ne4 Bxe4 15 Bxe4!? Qe8; forces the Queens off and Black is ahead an Exchange.

Analysis Position
Denham North 5

Trying to improve with 15 Qxe4, has its own problems after: 15…, Qb4+ 16 Bd2 Qxb2 17 Rb1 (Not 17 Qxa8+ Kf7 18 Bg6+ Ke7 19 Bf4+ Kc5 20 Rb1 Qxb1+; and Black is winning.)

Analysis Position
Denham North 6

The analysis continues: 17…, d5 18 Qg6 Qa3 19 h5 Rxh5! (Not a move a human being would find easily.) 20 Bb4 Qxa2 21 Qxh5 Nc2+ 22 Bxc2 Qxc2 23 Rd1 Qxc4; with four pawns for the minor piece Black is comfortably ahead.

Analysis Position
Denham North 7

Finding the lines quoted, much less calculating all the variations is a daunting task. It would be particularly so if you had never looked into English Defense to see the typical tactics. That is one attraction of this Defense for Black. If you are going to use it, the least to be done is to look over some book on the line, or review Watson’s videos. A few hours work and the various tactical themes can be understood and remembered. As can be seen in my game with Feinberg and this game between Denham and Northrup, when White is not familiar with the standard tactics it is a hard game to play. Returning to the actual game, here is the position:

Denham North 8

12…, Rxh2

The material is evened up. Judging who is ahead is not simple. Black’s pawn structure is more compact, but his King is not so comfortable as one would like. Black can threaten the weak White pawns to bring more forces into action giving him the initiative. Black has some advantage.

13.0–0–0 Nc6

Hitting d4.

14.Ne4?,..

White throws forward his cavalry. This a natural reaction, after all the Black King is not well protected by pawns. Maybe White just didn’t think about the Black Bishop in an unusual place, h1. Better is keeping things unclear with 14 Nf1, then 14…, Rh8 15 Be3, and the situation is complicated enough for the most bloodthirsty chess player. The computer still likes Black by a little bit, but the game is far from decided. After the text the initiative falls to Black. The initiative plus the Exchange makes a Black win very likely.

14…, Bxe4 15.Bxe4 Qxf2

Denham North 9

Black threatens mate at b2.

16.Bc2?

Better is 16 Bd2, then 16…, Rf8 17 Bxc6 dxc6 18 Qxe6+ Kh8 19 Qe7 Qf7 20 Qxf7 Rxf7; and Black has to be satisfied with a material superiority, the Exchange. The position actually favors Black by more than the 1½ pawns typically given as the value of an Exchange. It is going to take some great effort to get the Ng1 out and about, if it is at all possible. Play could continue: 21 Bc3 Bh6+ 22 Kb1 Rhf2 23 Nh3 Rf1; when the White Rook will come off the board and the White Knight is still in a bad situation.

16…Nxd4

Another mate threat.

17.Bd2 Rf8?!

Denham North 10

Motivated by the understandable desire to bring everything into action, but better is: 17…, Nxc2 18 Qxc2 Bh6!; and Black can force off the Queens, Bishops and a pair of Rooks leaving a simple win up the Exchange and two pawns.

18.Qe4 Nxc2 19.Qxc2 Rf6?!

Black misses the Bishop move again letting the game roll on for a few more move. Fortunately, for Cory his advantage is so great it does not make a difference to the outcome.

20.Qd3 Bh6 21.Qxd7 Bxd2+ 22.Rxd2 Qxg1+ 23.Kc2 Rxd2+ 24.Kxd2 Qg2+

Denham North 11

More accurate is: 24…, Rf2+; 25 Kc3 Qc1+; and mate comes soon.

25.Kc3 Qf3+ 26.Kb4 a5+ 27.Kb5 Rf5+ 28.Ka4,..

If 28 Ka6, Qa8; is mate.

28…, b5+ 29.cxb5 Rf4+ 0–1

Denham North 12

White resigned here because: 30 b4 Rxb4+ 31 Kxa5 Qa3 mate, or 30 Kxa5 Qa8 mate. Although it was a casual game, it was played with clocks – I am not certain of the time limits. It was not a speed game, not game in five or game in ten. I am guessing, but my impression was they had hour or forty-five minutes each. In any event, the play was interesting and educational. Both players plunged headlong into the complications and have to be commended entertaining us watchers very well.

For those who play 1 c4, it would be no bad thing to take a look at the English Defense. Black has many dangerous tricks. For those of us who have problems meeting 1 c4, because we are not so comfortable with more positional answers such as: 1.., c5; 1…, e5; and others, the English Defense can change the game into a tactical melee to the dismay of an opponent who wants a positional kind of contest.

More soon

Almost an Upset at Albany

Thursday February 27th a full slate of games were scheduled for the last scheduled round of the Schenectady Championship. Once more lousy weather interfered. There was not much snow, but what little fell was blown around vigorously by a nasty wind. Several games were rescheduled. Only two games were played:

Henner 1-0 Miranti. Peter Henner ran out his Bird’s opening, and as ratings predicted he won. This was Joel’s first serious tournament, while Peter has decades of serious chess behind him. It was no walk-over. Mr. Miranti has quite a bit of natural talent. He has given a good account of himself in most of his outings in this event. I hope he continues to play at Schenectady because with a couple of year’s experience Miranti can win some games.

Leisner 1-0 Clough. The experience difference in this game was not so great as the difference in Henner – Miranti game, nevertheless, Jon Leisner is very strong with several years of playing in the high Class A/Expert ranks. Mr. Leisner opted for the Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation, a technical debut if there ever was one. He brought home the point with patience and better knowledge.

The standings after the truncated final scheduled round are:

1 Leisner 9-1
2 Mockler 7½-2½
3 Northrup 6-3
4 Calderon 5-3
5 Adamec 6½-3½
6 Henner 7-4
7 Phillips 6-5
8 Clough 4½-5½
9 Canty 5½-6½
10 Chu 3-7
11 Hill 1-8
12 Varela 3-9 Withdrew, un-played games scored as forfeit losses.
13 Miranti 2-9

The standings are ranked by point lost because of the uneven number of games played by various individuals. Jon Leisner’s lead is becoming very clear. He has just two games to play; Henner and Miranti. In the unlikely event Jon scores only one of the two points, he will finish on 10-2. Michael Mockler also has played ten games scoring 7½-2½. If he wins his two remaining games his best score is 9½-2½. The rest of the field is out of the race or very nearly so. For Mr. Mockler to get a piece of first required is for Mr. Leisner to have rather dramatic collapse of form in his final two games. Leisner has been playing well this year. I expect to see crowed Champion shortly. This will be he first title at Schenectady.

On Wednesday March 5, one make-up game was played in the Albany Championship,

Howard 1-0 Perry. Mr. Howard once more took the field with his favorite line this year, the 2 c3, Sicilian Defense. In none of Dean’s games that I have watched this year has anyone tried the 2…, d5; answer. Black didn’t quite know the line he chose well enough to play it against an Expert. After move 8 White had a more comfortable position, and Black had a long term problem to solve; a really bad Bc8. By move 11 White’s development was very much better than Black’s. Then Black overlooked a center break, 12 12 d5!, after which White’s advantage grew. The lead in development turned into a direct attack on the un-castled Black King with pretty mate delivered on move 20. If you mean to play the Sicilian against Dean Howard, some serious study of the c3 Sicilian lines is necessary. Otherwise it may be a very short night for you.

After this game the standings based on point lost are:

1-2 Wright 9½-1½
1-2 Berman 6½-1½
3 Henner 5-2
4-6 Howard 7½-2½
4-6 Mockler 6½-2½
4-6 Perry 2½-2½
7 Denham 4-4
8-9 Jones 4½-4½
8-9 Magat 4½-3½
10 Lack 5½-5½
11 Northrup 3½-5½
12 Alowitz ½-6½
13 Stephensen 1-8
14 Eson 0-7

While Saratoga’s Champion is crowned – Jon Feinberg – and Jon Leisner is likely the winner at Schenectady this year, the Albany race still remains open. Tim Wright is leading, but Berman, Henner, Mockler, Howard and even Perry are not mathematically out of contention. The next full round of play is scheduled for March 12th . Maybe then we will get an idea of who is on their way to the title.

Here is a game that came close to making the ranks of upsets for this season. But for Gordon’s resourcefulness Jason would have taken another scalp in his run of surprising results. As I have said before, these Experts are difficult to beat. You may get them on the ropes, however, they fight hard especially when in trouble.

Denham, Jason – Magat, Gordon [D31]
AACC Championship 2013–14 Guilderland, NY, 26.02.2014

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 dxc4

The Semi-Slav Defense. This particular line is sometimes called the Marshall Gambit or the Noteboom Variation. It can arise from a plain Slav Defense if Black wants to come at the position from that direction. The tricky bits of the Slav/Semi-Slav set up are the possibilities for transposition from one line to another.

5.a4 Bb4 6.e4,..

Denham Gordon 1

This move is not very popular with the top flight players. It leads to lots of complications. Here is an example:

The key feature that distinguishes this line is Black does not play .., Ng8-f6; early on. Here is where I would wish for a GM to consult. It is my guess Black’s idea underlying holding back the Knight is to avoid the Botvinnik line where White pins the Nf6 with Bc1-g5, when a whole different set of complications come up after White pushes the e-pawn to e5.

6…, b5

Alternatively, Black can now bring the Knight out to f6, and if 6 Bg5 Bxc3+ 7 bxc3 Qa5; is complex in its own right. Black is saying with the text he means to hang on to the pawn if he can.

7.axb5!?,..

Whether it was his intention or not, White sacrificed the pawn to first obtain a predominance in the center, and second to pressure the Black Q-side pawn mass with his pieces. After the game move the position is one that can arise in the Geller Gambit of the Slav. White has several alternatives here: 7 Bd2, 7 Ne4, and 7 Rfd1, or the adventurous 7 Ng5!?, trying to provoke some K-side weakness that can be attacked.

7…, cxb5 8.Be2 Nf6 9.Qc2?,..

Denham Gordon 2

This is wrong. Better 9 Bg5, now that .., Qd8-a5; is precluded. Reversing the order of the moves lets Black get in some vital developing moves.

9…, Bb7 10.Bg5 Bxe4 11.Bxf6 Bxc2?

Denham Gordon 3

Black either ran out of his opening knowledge, or he just calculated wrongly here. Best is 11…, Qd5 12 Qd2 gxf6 13 Qe3 Qc6 14 0-0 bxc3 15 bxc3 a5; when Black’s advantage is close to winning.

12.Bxd8 Kxd8 13.Ne5!,..

The point. The threatened fork at f7, and another on c6 if the Nb8 moves, along with the wide open h1-a8 diagonal are bleeding wounds in Black’s position. He will lose material. How much is the question.

13…, Ke7?

Denham Gordon 4

This move tell us Black had not anticipated the sudden turn of events. Best here is 13…, f6; when a) 14 Bf3 fxe5 15 Bxa8 exd4 16 0-0 dxc3 17 bxc3 Bc5; ; and Black has the Bishop and Knight plus two pawns for the Rook. He is winning. The alternative b) 14 Nf7+ Kd7 15 Nxh8 Nc6 16 d5 exd5 17 Bf3 Rxh8 18 Bxd5 a5; leaves Black better but not yet clearly winning. He has two pawns for the Exchange. The pawn mass Black has on the Q-side is not particularly mobile, therefore White may be able to mount a defense.

Neither variation is very long or complex. A player of Gordon’s strength can certainly calculate them. That is why I think he had not foreseen the position.

14.Bf3 Nd7?

Ills come in bunches sometimes. With 14…, Bxc3+ 15 bxc3 Nd7 Black could limit the damage to some extent.

15.Nc6+ Kf6 16.Nxb4 Bb3 17.Bxa8 Rxa8

White is up a Rook for two pawns. Black may have saw a glimmer of hope in that, if he can win one more pawn, three pawns may be able to cause trouble for the Rook.

There are several players in the mix locally who play their best when in deep trouble: John Phillips, Jon Leisner, Dean Howard and Tim Wright are the names I think of with that characteristic. Gordon has a place in that group. His aim seems to be over the next several moves to be to keep the game going hoping for an error by Jason.

18.0–0 a5 19.Nxb5 Rb8

This is Black’s best chance. He will recover some material.

20.Rxa5 c3 21.bxc3 Bc4

The point of the sequence; Black cuts the material deficit to the Exchange and a pawn. That is a big improvement, but his game is still lost.

22.Rxb5 23.Re1 Rb3

Black is making concrete threats, the c3-pawn in this case. What should White do? At the highest levels of competition annotators dismiss play after such a material imbalance occurs as no more than a matter of good technique. In our club level battles we have all experienced desperate fights against determined opponents who just will not believe their opponent can see these kind of advantages through to the end without error. One of the problems White has in this position is back rank weakness. Solving that problem with 24 g4!?, makes taking the c-pawn dangerous. For example; 24 g4 Rxc3? 25 g5+ Kg6 26 Ne7+ Kh5 27 g6+ Kh6 28 gxh7 Kxh7 29 Rh5, checkmate. Black can improve by not taking the c-pawn, but with a little work it is easy to see White has a significant edge, probably sufficiently large to say it is enough for a win.

Chess players in general, no matter the skill level, have a common tendency to think a winning advantage plays itself more or less. Chess teachers and Grandmasters, whether in writings, lectures, videos, or one-on-one lessons seem always to make a point about winning won games. That to do so takes hard work and concentration and just as much effort and creativity as it does to obtain an advantage in the first place. At this moment in today’s game White faces a choice: routinely defend against a threat, or look deeply for some way dynamically increase his advantage. White routinely defends as most of us would have done in the same circumstances. It is a position useful for teaching us a lesson about chess judgment.

24.Rc1 Nb6 25.Nb4?,..

Denham Gordon 5

Another lesson, this time it is about activity of pieces. Setting up the “chunk” made up of Rc1 defending c3 and Nb4 defended by c3 appeals; everything is defended except the Rc1, and there is no easy road by which Black can attack the Rc1. However it is the complete opposite of seeking activity. Much better is: 25 Ra7, then if 25…, Bb5 26 Ne5 Be8 Rb7; and the c-pawn threatens to advance

Compare this position to any of the positions White achieves subsequently in the game. The difference I see is much greater activity of the White pieces.

ANAYSIS POSITION

Denham Gordon 6

In balance of the game it is the Black pieces becoming more and more active while White reacts to threats. This concession of the initiative is what makes the difference in this contest.

25…, Be2 26.f3 Nc4 27.Rc5?,..

Denham Gordon 7

Even though I have recommended emphasizing activity for the White pieces for the last several moves, White elected to play to just maintain his material advantage. Here he ought to continue in that vein with 27 Ra2! That move keeps the Black Rook off the 2nd rank for sure. There is a nice extra added attraction in that 27 Ra2, hits the Be2. The direct defense 27…, Rb2 28 Rxb2 Nxb2 29 Rc2, will leave White up a full Rook. Black’s only choice is then 27…, Bxf3; which is also sees Black down a full Rook.

27…, Rb2 28.Kf2?,..

Here is a bit of chess theory: White has an extra pawn and the Exchange. What should his general plan be? According to Soltis it is; trade off a pair of Rooks. The game would then be close to the situation Capablanca identified a long time ago. The late World Champion proved the best way generally to win up the Exchange is to sacrifice the Rook for a minor piece. With the White Knight on the board such a sacrifice can easily bring another pawn with it.

Best here is: 28 Rc2, then if 28…, Rb1+ 29 Kf2 Bd1 30 Ra2 Bb3 31 Re2, and if 31…, Bd1; perhaps hoping for a repeat of moves, 32 Rxc4, leaves White clearly winning.

28…, Bd1+ 29.Kg3 Ne3!?

Not objectively the best, but Black has put all his marbles on the line with aggressive play. The decision is completely understandable. The other possibility; 29…, Bb3 39 Re1 Nd6 40 Nd3, tapping the Rb2 while on the way to e5 threatening f7 and the rest of the Black K-side. The situation would then become very similar to the suggested improvement on move 25; the White pieces achieving a really dangerous level of activity.

30.Kh3?,..

Up to this move the criticism has been White is not making the most of the possibilities. This move lets go of a large part of the advantage White has held from the end of the opening. White seems to want to secure his King against any possible threat. Laudable, but not always possible. This is another case of offense being better than pure defense. It would be better for White to try: 30 Re5, to take advantage to tangle of Black pieces behind the lines. One possible line is: 30 Re5 Nf5+ 31 Rxf5+, simplifying the ending to R+N versus lone Rook, and White retains the extra pawn. This a fairly easy win for White. I don’t think 30…, Rxg2+ 31 Kh3 Re2; is at all tempting for Black, the Bd1 falls and White is a Rook up. It is very much the same for 30…, Nxg2. If the Knight goes back to c4, then 30…, Nc4 31 Rxd1 Nxe5 32 dxe5+ Kxe5 33 Nd3+ forks the K&R.

Neither player was in time trouble here. In fact Mr. Denham had managed his clock quite well and had the better part of one hour remaining. There was a glimmer of impending time problems for Mr. Magat. He was down to 18 minutes, but that is not really time trouble for Gordon. He can play very well when under the gun. Jason may have fallen into the trap I have stumbled into against Gordon, Phil Sells and a string of others over the years; everything is going your way so almost any quickly played move will do. If you ever find that sort of mind set arriving, you have to fight hard to eliminate it. It can, and often will, lead to something like what follows.

30…, g5!

A very good move. It does not change the evaluation of the position that much immediately, but it does introduce real danger to the White King. Further, White must now calculate carefully lest something is missed and mate follows.

31.Rxd1?,..

This move is very nearly worthy of a second query, an annotation I use almost never. White is worried about .., Nxg2; .., Nf4+; and .., Rg2; checkmate. The sudden change of fortunes is hard to take. Mr. Denham sees the threat but not the solution. Best for White is; 31 Ra1!, then 31…, Nxg2 32 Ra2!, killing the mate threat and just about forcing a Rook trade. Black has won back the extra pawn, but White is still holding the winning cards. If Black continues 32…, Nf5+ 33 Kg3 Rb1; which may be the best course and continues in the manner that got him here, then, 34 h4, allows the White some room and reduces the danger of mate. White is still holding a large edge, but Black has gotten some counter-play.

The game move gives Black some small edge mainly in the form of danger to the White King.

31…,Nxd1 32.Rb5?!,..

A bit of trickery. White hopes for 32…, Nxc3? 33 Nd5+. Obvious and Black is too good to fall for it. Best for White seems to be 32 Nd3, and if 32…, Rc2 33 f4, breaking up the looming Black pawn charge.

32…, h5!

Quite a nice move and concept. When you one of these strong Class A/Experts down, finishing them off quickly is crucial. Dawdle and they will find something to make your day lousy.

33.Kg3,..

The alternatives; 33 g3, and 33 g4, are about as bad as the text each in their own way.

33…, h4+ 34.Kg4 Rxg2+ 35.Kh5 Nxc3 36.Rc5 Ne2 37.d5 Nf4+ 38.Kh6 g4 39.fxg4 Rxg4 40.d6,..

White seems to have lost heart here. A much more stubborn defense is possible with: 40 dxe6, and then 40…, Rg8!? 41 Kh7, and while Black has what looks like a winning endgame, there still a way to go. Black could improve with the straight forward 40…, fxe6.

40…, Rg8 41.d7,..

If 41 Kh7 Rd8 42 Rc6 Ng6; spells the end; it is mate from h8, or the Knight will have to be sacrificed on d5 to prevent it. Unappetizing is 42 Nc6 Rxd6. White might string out the game for some moves, but it looks hopeless.

41…, Rh8# 0–1

It was a fascinating struggle. Seldom do we see Gordon outplayed in the opening. One must admire his resilience. Mr. Magat gave us who tend to give up too quickly a lesson in how to fight back. The negative lesson drawn from Jason’s play is two-fold: Don’t become complacent after winning the opening battle, and trying to defend even a material advantage with passive play leads to trouble. In the property business the watch words are: location, location, location. Similarly in chess the watch words are: activity, activity, activity. It is a very rare occurrence that making your pieces more active is not the correct path.

More soon.

The Latest News and a Game

Somehow the week following the Christmas and New Years holidays turned into a socially demanding time for me. A series of family obligations kept me on the hop and I have not posted since January 3rd , a rather longish break from my usual twice weekly output. Well things are heating up on the local chess scene, and you can expect a number of posts in the next few days to catch up on all of what is going on.

Last Thursday, the 3rd of January two make-up games were played at Schenectady: Matt Clough lost to Dilip Aaron and Philip Sells won from Richard Moody. There are still a couple of games to be played in both of the preliminary Sections, and Continue reading “The Latest News and a Game”

This Week’s Update from AACC and SCC

There was not quite a full slate of games Wednesday at the Albany Club. The three games played were; Wright – Northrup 1-0, Denham – Henner ½ – ½ and Lack – Caravaty 1-0. Mr. Denham’s draw with Peter Henner has to rank as an upset on rating difference, but while Jason trails the field his play has been solid for the most part. Continue reading “This Week’s Update from AACC and SCC”

The Beginning of the Season is Winding Up

While Wednesday evening saw a good turn out at AACC, only single game was played in the club championship, but a good many casual games were played while it was going on. This week was scheduled for make-up games. The one played featured Jason Denham against Tim Wright, and for some time it looked as if we might have another upset. Continue reading “The Beginning of the Season is Winding Up”