The Geezers Had a Chance

Michael Mockler’s preceding post to this blog was most interesting. It is a concise presentation of what goes on in the mind of a top local player as he practices this avocation of ours, and it offers insights that can improve your play. A long term goal of mine with all the writing I have done on the ENYCA Blog is to encourage other voices on the site. I’d like to see a half-dozen or more regular contributors to the conversations. For those readers seeking to improve your chess skill, remember Botvinnik’s recommendation: “Analyze, annotate and publish your games, it is the best way to improve.” We, the chess players of Eastern NY and surrounding areas, have this wonderful facility, the blog, where getting your annotations out to the chess public is relatively easy. Make use of it!

The Schenectady Geezers played an away match versus the Albany A team Wednesday, May 28, 2014. The “Old Guys” paid the price for not having Michelman and Liesner on the squad this year. Albany A won 3-1. The results by board were:

Board 1: Howard 1-0 Mockler. Michael played his usual French and Dean answered with the Advanced Variation. The opening was generally equal as is often the case in the Advanced, then just as it appeared Black would secure an advantage, Mr. Mockler sought to force matters by tossing an Exchange into the pot. A bit of very clear calculation, including retuning the Exchange, let White emerge a piece up for a pawn. Minus a Knight, and with only a Queen and a Rook, Black was not able to obtain any significant counter-play even though White’s King was a trifle exposed. The game ended on move 45. Material told in the end.

Board 2: Little 1-0 Magat. This was a complicated version of the Kan Variation in the Sicilian Defense. If anyone had an advantage it was Black through the first thirty moves of the game. Black made a pawn sacrifice that should have brought about a draw fairly quickly. An unfortunate follow-up gave White an extra pawn and that proved to be too much.

Board 3: Wright 1-0 Phillips. Mr. Phillips tried the Budapest Gambit against Mr. Wright’s 1 d4 debut. The first seven moves by each side were all normal book lines. Black had even gotten in .., a7-a5; and I had hopes of seeing Drimer’s Rook Attack (.., Ra8-a6; ..,Ra6-g6/h6; etc.). This innovative line leads to positions of great tension where Black may well win in spectacular style. Alas, it was not to be. Somewhere around move eight both sides began to improvise, and the game became very concrete as the Grandmaster commentators are fond of saying, meaning exact calculation of tactics is required. In a promising position John made a wrong choice or two and White ended up the Exchange. Making things more difficult for Black, besides the immediate material deficit, was the very active employment of White’s Rooks on the center files. The game was over on move 29 with mate or ruinous loss of material coming.

Board 4: Chu 0-1 Henner. This was an odd-ball Reti Opening where a couple of errors by White brought about a position where he had a chance to actually take the advantage. The sequence leading to this point was not logical, but that is the way things sometimes happen in chess. Black had played loosely. Mr. Chu did not grab the chance that was only fleetingly presented. From there his game went downhill in just a few moves. A piece was lost, and then Black broke-in near the White King and the game ended soon thereafter.

While on board 4 there was only a very brief moment when the Geezers’ side had a chance, elsewhere the “Old Guys” could have done better. On both boards 1 and 3 the outcomes could well have been different, and the Geezers might have drawn the match, or even won it.

Wright, Tim – Phillips, John [A52]
CDCL Match Albany A – Schenectady Geezers, Guilderland, NY, 28.05.2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 Ng4

Wright Phillips 1

As GM Viktor Moskalenko likes to call it: The Fabulous Budapest Gambit. Black takes the game out of the well-worn paths of the QGD/KID/QID/Gruenfeld/Dutch/Benoni lines and tries to create a very different kind of game. The Budapest is just about 100 years old and came on the elite chess playing scene in the 1918 Berlin tournament where Vidmar defeated Rubinstein in 24 moves. That was a sensation: The good, but not great, Vidmar crushed one of the top three players in the World at that moment. Had it been a stand-alone success the Budapest might have been forgotten, but in that four-player tournament Mieses (well-passed his prime) and Schechter (nearing the end of his stint as a world class player) garnered another 1½ points with the Budapest! It was clearly an invention with bite.

4.Nf3,..

Defending the pawn on e5 with 4 Bf4, is labeled the Rubinstein Variation, and is the most popular response for White. Defending it with the Knight is the Maroczy Attack, also popular but in second place to Rubinstein’s move.

4…, Bc5 5.e3 Nc6 6.a3 a5

Wright Phillips 2

Setting the stage for a most surprising idea: Romanian IM Dolfi Drimer’s invention of the .., Ra8-a6-h6; maneuver that has won many games. Either Mr. Phillips didn’t know the idea, or if he had it in mind, there was no point in the game where he felt confident enough to use it. Here is an example of Drimer’s idea executed in the 85th British Championship in 1998:

This time Black did not crash through. The illustrative game does showcase the current state of theory in this line. The game that gave the Drimer plan great popularity was this one from the EU Junior Championship, Groningen, 1984:

If the Budapest proper wrenches the game away from the common patterns of 1 d4, openings, Drimer’s idea shakes up the normal Budapest positions nearly as much. It is most unusual to see a Rook from the far corner of the board suddenly make its weight felt on the h-file early in the game.

7.Nc3 0–0?!

Not quite accurate, or perhaps Black has other ideas in mind.

8.Bd3?!,..

The usual place for this Bishop is e2. When it is so placed Black has to decide which Knight captures the pawn on e5. On d3 the Bishop prevents Qd1-d5, a move that often fits into White’s scheme. On the plus side, the Bishop at d3 creates a tactical possibility.

8…, Ngxe5!?

Here we begin to see one of the nuances of the Maroczy line: Timing the recapture of the pawn on e5 has to be exact. After Black castles he needs more protection on e5 before it can safely recaptured there. Here 8…, Re8; is normal.

9.Bc2?,..

Wright Phillips 3

This move lets Black equalize. The tactical approach is: 9 Bxh7+ Kxh7 10 Nxe5 Nxe5 11 Qh5+, recovering the piece and netting a pawn. Black certainly has some compensation; two Bishops pointing at the likely future home of the White King. However, it seems unlikely the half-open h-file will be of any use to Black in the short run. After the game move Black could have had a very satisfactory game with 9…, d6; and the position is taking on a configuration common to the Budapest.

9…, Qf6?

Black neglects his development with this move. He must believe his Queen roaming the White K-side will force some concession that will be useful. If general principles are correct, the lone Queen sortie should fall short of that goal.

10.Nxe5 Qxe5 11.f4,..

Wright Phillips 4

This is an important resource for White in this Knight variation. It is useful when Black makes a serious effort to bring out the Ra8 via a6. Vasily Smyslov used the f2-f4 attack several times with success back in the days of my youth. A few years later Boris Spassky improved on Smyslov’s attacking idea behind f2-f4.

11…, Qe7 12.Nd5 Qh4+!?

Fully committing to the idea the Queen will make the difference. Safer is 12…, Qd6 13 Qd3 f5; and while Black still has to get his Q-side pieces into action, the position is playable for him.

13.g3 Qh3 14.Qd3 d6 15.Bd2 Bg4 16.Bc3?!,..

Wright Phillips 5

Simple, safe and sane is 16 Kf2, because, with the Bishop guarding d3, sacrificing the Exchange there to allow the remaining Black Rook to occupy the e-file does not work very well at all. Black then must take a move to guard c7, and White can chase off the intruding Queen with Qd3-f1 when he wants to do so. If Black made clear his intention to go all out for a win with his questionable Queen sortie, putting the Bishop on c3 at this point says White is just as serious about trying for a win.

16…, f5?

An example of an interesting phenomenon: At the critical moment in a sequence where concrete tactical play is ongoing, a player makes an ordinary move when cold logic tells us it is time for chess fantasy. It has happened to me more than once, and I can attest that I have found this kind of slip fairly often in our local games. Here blocking out the White Q+B battery freeing the Black Queen from guarding h7 is not as important as is putting more pressure on e3 with 16…, Rae1! A logical line of play then is: 17 Kf2 Ne7! 18 Nxc7 Nf5 19 Bd4 Rxe3 20 Bxe3 Bxe3+ 21 Ke1 Qg2 22 Rf1 Qxh2; and Black is winning by a bunch in the resulting position:

Analysis Position
Wright Phillips 6

I am pretty sure few if any of us of only local talents could or would calculate all of the above and the potential sidelines. But if you are familiar with the Budapest and the Maroczy Varaition, the ideas and these tactics in this particular line are not that unusual. Intuition could very well guide one of our sharper attacking players through this combination.

17.Nxc7 Bf3 18.Rf1 Be4 19.Qd2 Bxc2 20.Nxa8?,..

Wright Phillips 7

Once more Mr. Wright foregoes a safe and simple move, 20 Qxc2, then if, 20…, Rac8 21 Nd5 Rfe8 22 0-0-0, and if Black tries to snatch back the pawn with: 22…, Bxe3+ 23 Nxe3 Rxe3 24 Qb3!, and White a strong attack, maybe even a winning one.

20…, Rxa8?

Another ordinary move when fantasy is called for. Better 20…, Re8 21 Rf3 Be4 Nc7; Black is no worse than equal in a very unbalanced sort of position. Now White takes control.

21.Qxc2 Bxe3 22.Qe2 Nd4 23.Bxd4 Bxd4 24.0–0–0,..

Wright Phillips 8

Black may have forgotten White still has the right to castle. White’s domination of the center files is too great of a positional plus when added to the extra material for Black to last long.

24…, Bc5 25.Rfe1 Rb8 26.Qe6+ Kf8 27.Rxd6 Qh5 28.Rd5 Bf2 29.Rxf5+ 1–0

FINAL POSITION
Wright Phillips 9

As Tim Wright said after the game was over: “That was fun!” It was fun also to watch what little of the game I got to see. It was a cut and thrust battle with no quarter given or asked. And, the game is not a bad example of some of the finesses of the Maroczy Attack in the Budapest Defense, albeit the illustrations were in the misses.

The general lesson to be found in this game is about recognizing when ordinary moves will not do and only fantastic moves will fill the bill. It is easy to search for chess fantasy in the calm of ones study with a 2900+ engine purring away at your elbow. In the midst of battle with the clock marking the passing minutes, driving yourself to seek out unordinary moves that ignore relative piece values is difficult. If you take up dramatic openings like the Budapest, then the adventurous mind set has to be part of your preparation. There is an old Middle Eastern curse: “May you live in interesting times.” It can be re-worked here: If you play the Budapest, you will have interesting chess games.

This game finished up just before my game ended. By the time I saw John tip over his King signaling resignation, I was finding the final maneuvers to bring my game to a close. I knew by that point the match was beyond reach. Scoring the point against Gordon only salvaged a little pride; the Geezers avoided a whitewash.

More soon.

A Lesson in Fighting Back

The games played at the AACC on January 15th answered some of my recent questions. Here is a summary of what took place:

Denham ½-½ Mockler. Mr. Mockler was unable to generate his desired complications in the Exchange Slav. He and I discussed this line once not long ago. Our conclusion was it is a decent try for a lower rated player when faced with a stronger opponent. The trade of the White c-pawn for the Black d-pawn yields a rather balanced pawn structure where White does not have many winning chances, but Black is hard pressed to generate complications. Mockler strove to do so, but in the end White was fine and the game drew on move 21.

Magat 1-0 Berman. This was a KID, Samisch. Mr. Berman found a trick that surprised Gordon early on. However Mr. Magat did what he is good at doing; fighting back. Although he was significantly worse out of the opening (move 15) at move 20 Mr. Berman indulged in some questionable play on the Q-side instead of using his Bishop pair immediately. By move 24 the game was level. In the two Rooks + minor pieces ending that came about both sides missed chances. It resolved into an ending featuring a Rook and two pawns for White against a Rook and Bishop for Black. The problem for Black was the two pawns were the a and b-pawns and far away from his King, and White’s King and Rook supported the pawns well. Although Berman had a couple of chances to make things difficult for Magat, he missed these opportunities. The b-pawn Queened and the game was over for all intents and purposes. At the end Mr. Berman was down to only seconds on his clock which made finding just the right move impossible. A good win for Gordon. The loss for Jeremy drops him back and allowed Tim Wright to overhaul him in the standings. The win brings Gordon back up to fifty percent for the event so far.

Wright 1-0 Perry. The opening was a Semi-Slav and neither player quite had a handle on the opening tricks. Around moves 9 and 10 both overlooked chances to cross the opponent’s plans. Mr. Wright capped this interlude with an oversight that cost a Bishop. Mr. Perry proceeded to logically improve his game and to increase his clearly winning advantage until.. On move 28 he returned Wright’s favor only with much, much interest attached. This mistake left Black down the Exchange and with problems on the back rank. That was enough to bring home the full point for Wright. Mr. Wright now has a score of 8-1 and the most games completed of any of the participants. It is true he has not gotten by all the high rated opponents, but he has been lucky a time or two up to here. If Wright’s luck holds, there is a chance for him to capture the Club Championship once more.

Northrup 1-0 Alowitz. This win comes at a good time for Cory. He has been doing well in the Schenectady event and not nearly as well in Albany. While he is trailing Denham for the under 1800 prize in the Albany tourney, it is now only by one-half point, and anything can happen. So far this year Art Alowitz, out distinguished President, has not had good fortune. This is a bit of a surprise because he often upsets one or more of the contenders. There is still many games to be played, and I expect Art’s “Giant Killer” will emerge again to shake things up.

Stephenson 0-1 Lack. Will continues to fight hard against players with decades of experience. Jonathan did not conduct a flawless game by any means. He just collected bits of material until he had so large of a material plus there was no defense possible. Mr. Stephenson’s tournament experience contains a lesson for all new and improving players: These stronger, more experienced guys don’t always put out a great creative effort against opponents they expect to defeat. Rather they just wait and take the low hanging fruit of pawns and pieces not well guarded. Gather in enough material and the win plays itself. This observation suggests for the new and improving player two things; checking carefully at every move if there are pieces hanging, forks, pins, skewers, etc. on the board after the planned move is made, and it is good technique to try at all time to have all you pieces defended by pawns or other pieces. As one of the British Grandmasters is fond of saying; LPDO – loose pieces drop off. Follow those two suggestions and even the very strong guys will have to work to beat you.

After this round’s play, based on points lost, the standings are:

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

Wright surged to the front and Berman dropped back. Perry was checked and Denham continues to do well. Mockler, Jones and Magat remain stalled in the middle of the pack. That is plenty of action for a single round of play. Bit by bit as the early leaders play more games, Mr. Howard, our highest rated contestant climbs towards the top of the table. Notwithstanding his shaky start, Dean will likely be in the hunt at the finish. The Albany Championship is maybe the tightest race of the “Big Three” clubs.

Just before the holiday break there was an interesting game at Schenectady. Former club champion John Phillips had gotten off to poor start, and was lingering in the middle of the pack at -1 for the event. On December 19th he played Zachary Calderon. Zack has done very well thus far, excepting a forfeit loss to Northrup, he is staying in close contact with the leaders at +2. Mr. Phillips no doubt saw this game as a chance to get back to even for the event, and he was willing to take risks to make that happen. With that background to help understand some of the decisions taken, here is the game.

Calderon, Zachary – Phillips, John [D35]
SCC Championship 2013–14, Schenectady, NY, 19.12.2013

1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.Qc2 Bg4!?

Zack Phillips 1

Although the position does not appear all that strange, after Black’s last, I can find nothing in the databases. Just what the Bishop at g4 does for Black is unclear to me.

7.e3 c6!?

Is this a subtle error? Better perhaps is 7…, 0-0.

8.Bd3,..

Black must now use a move if he wants to castle short. If 8…, 0-0 9 Bxf6, and the pawn at h7 falls. Logical is 8…, h6; but White can make some progress with 9 h3. The retreat .., Bh4; .., Bg6; costs a pawn once the Black h-pawn is advanced so the Bishop must go to e6. That is not a particularly active place for a Bishop. All this fairly minor positional jockeying really does not tip the balance one way or the other by any great margin.

8…, Na6?!

Black challenges White’s confidence. He offers to accept a wrecked Q-side pawn formation in trade for White’s best Bishop. A bold decision, but questionable. More conservative is 8…, Bh5; intending 9…, Bg6; to eliminate the light colored Bishops. Black should not be worried about: 8…, Bh5 9 Bxf6 Bxf6 10 Bxh7? g6 11 g4 Rxh7; when Black has a small but comfortable edge.

9.Bxa6,..

White does not shrink from the challenge. Black takes on two glaring weaknesses; the doubled a-pawns and c6. He has however a pair of Bishops, the half-open b-file and some possibility of controlling the light squares. Objectively, this is not enough to upon which to build a win. In a game where winning is important, I can see accepting such an imbalance would be tempting.

9…, bxa6 10.Nge2 Nd7?

Zack Phillips 2

This has to be wrong. In the first place, why trade off the better of his two Bishops? Secondly, there is an immediate tactical danger on the Q-side after 11 Bxe7 Qxe7 12 Qa4, hitting a6 and c6 at the same time. Black is left with choices that will likely concede a pawn in short order, in which case White will have increased his advantage.

11.Bxe7 Qxe7 12.h3,..

As mentioned above 12 Qa4, probably better. The text is slower, but moving the Queen to a4 remains an available threat..

12…, Be6

Possibly better is 12…, Bxe2; trading a not-so-great Bishop for a potentially strong Knight.

13.0–0 Qb4

Zack Phillips 3

Understandably motivated by concerns about Qc2-a4, Black takes steps to meet that move. While I am not certain it is a better path to follow, I am inclined to write-off one of the Q-side pawns about here. This looked good to me: 13…, 0-0 14 Qa4 Nb6 15 Qxa6 (Not 15 Qxc6?? Rac8; wins the Queen for a Rook.) 15…, Bc8 16 Qd3 a5. White certainly has the advantage, but Black may be able to get full value for his Bishop by putting it on a6, and it is not easy for White to drop a Knight into c5.

14.Qa4 Qxa4 15.Nxa4 Ke7 16.Rfc1 Rhc8 17.Nc5 Nxc5 18.Rxc5;

Deep Rybka says White’s edge is somewhat less than in my suggested line above. While watching the game I was sure my suggestion was the best course. Sober reflection tells me Mr. Phillips and Rybka were likely more correct than my choice. Black is defending in a passive way, but it is effective. White’s best chances lie in getting his Knight to c5 and using his Rook on the K-side. Instead White tries to attack a6 with his Rook and Knight. Black can meet the threat to a6 even though his pieces get tied up to do so.

18…, Rab8 19.b3 Rb5 20.Rac1 Kd7 21.Nf4 Bf5 22.Kf1 Kd6 23.Ke2 Rxc5 24.Rxc5 Rb8 25.Ra5 Rb6 26.Kd2 Kc7 27.Ne2,..

So far so good, the Knight is headed for c5 via c3 and a4.

27…, Bc8

Very probably the best move even though the Bc8 hinders the Black Rook going to the K-side if threats develop there.

28.Nc3 Rb8 29.Ke2?!,..

Seemingly White can’t quite find the handle on this position. The correct idea is to return the Rook to c5, then play Nc3-a4, and if .., Rb5; retreat the Rc5 to c1. White will then threaten to open a file on the K-side or in the center with a possible incursion of his Rook. The Knight goes to c5 to worry Black about a6. The structural pawn weaknesses can be defended by Black. White’s advantage is the greater freedom his pieces may obtain: good Knight versus bad Bishop, active Rook versus passive Rook. These are not quite permanent pluses in this position and accuracy is needed to get the most out of this activity.

29…, h5?

Pawn moves on the K-side just will help White open files.

30.f4?,..

Zack Phillips 4

But not this way. Best is 30 e4!, then if 30…, dxe4 31 Rxh5, and at least one more pawn will fall. Add the coming material deficit to the activity of the White Rook and White’s advantage is winning.

30…, Kd6?

Black does not see the threat along the 5th rank. Better 30…, g6; to guard h5.

31.Kf3?,..

Zack Phillips 5

Rook, minor piece and pawn endgames are seldom easy to calculate, but accurate and sometimes long calculations are just what they require. Here White should play: 31 e4! Bb7 (To meet the threat d5.) 32 Ke3 g6 33 e5+ Ke6 34 Na4 Bc8 35 Nc5+ Kf5 36 Nxa6, collecting the pawn with a winning edge.

31…, Rb4!

Now White will have a hard time keeping the Rooks on the board.

32.g4,..

A good idea but too late to make a difference; without Rooks open files have far less significance.

32…, hxg4+ 33.hxg4 g6 34.Na4 Rb5 35.Rxb5 axb5

Almost all of the potential winning chances for White in this endgame disappeared with the Rook trade. Someone recently wrote: Even “bad” Bishops defend good pawns. As bad as is Black’s Bishop right now, it is hard to see how White will stop a gradual freeing of the cleric.

36.Nc5 a5!

Another good move. It threatens .., b5-b4; freezing the White a-pawn on a light square where the Bishop can get at it. Mr. Phillips took maybe too many risks early in the game and found himself in a bad situation. With a stubborn defense he has held things together posing his young opponent subtle problems to solve.

37.e4?,..

Wrong on two counts: first 37 a3, is necessary to prevent .., b5-b4; and secondly the following pawn trade is just wrong.

37…, dxe4+ 38.Kxe4?,..

White could have recaptured with 38 Nxe4+, and the game is level. White has his eye on a pawn that might be won on the Q-side. Giving up his g-pawn more than offsets material won on the other side of the board. Another benefit of taking on e4 with the Knight is that some of the King and pawn endings that may come about if the minor pieces are traded favor White because of the slight space advantage he has.

38…, Bxg4 39.Nb7+ Kc7 40.Nxa5 Kd6!?

Zack Phillips 6

John’s clock showed just six minutes remaining here. With little time to consider alternatives, it is no surprise Black elects to keep the White King at bay rather than chase the Knight. Going after the Knight: 40…, Kb6 41 b4 Be6 42 a3 f6; would allow Black to eventually make a passed pawn on the K-side. Whether or not that is enough to win the game is an open question. Playing that way would have put some pressure on White. Equally good is the idea of keeping the Knight stuck on the rim; 40…, Be6 41 a3 Kb6 42 b4 f6; preventing any entry of the White King. Either way Black has some advantage, but converting that edge to a win is no easy thing. If the Black King goes away from guarding b7, the White Knight can transfer from a5 to c5, a much more attractive post. I like Black better but have doubts his advantage is enough to win particularly in a time pressure situation.

41.Nb7+ Kc7 42.Nc5 f6 43.a4,..

Black is set to create a passed K-side pawn at any opportune moment. The White King will have to measure carefully how far away he can go lest this potential passer becomes a game winner. This break on the Q-side brings the game to a drawn position quickly. The Black King is at hand and the passed a-pawn is easily controlled. The concluding moves were accurately played by both sides and the draw was agreed.

43…, bxa4 44.bxa4 Bf5+ 45.Ke3 Kb6 46.Kf3 Ka5 47.Kg3 g5 48.fxg5 fxg5 49.Kf3 Bc2 50.Kg4 Bxa4 ½–½

Mr. Calderon still has some distance to go before he begins winning from the top local guys. His improvement over the passed two years has been impressive. Of the new generation of players coming up at Schenectady; Dilip Aaron, Calderon, Clough and Northrup, I think Zack has made the most progress.

More soon.