Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Love Not Returned

I can understand why I score badly when I am tricked into opening variations that I don't like and have not prepared. It's more surprising when the same happens in my favorite variations.

As far back as I can remember I have had a weak spot for the Kan variation: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6!? Or actually for three sub-variations that can arise from it:

a) 4.Nc3 b5 5.Bd3 Bb7

b) 4.Bd3 Bc5 5.Nb3 Ba7

c) 4.c4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Bb4

I cannot recall exactly when I first saw saw these variations but they must have been among of the first Sicilian variations I came across.

Unfortunately these very variations seem to be weak spots in my chess understanding. I have played them in a few tournament games with catastrophic results and my blitz results have not given me any reason to give them a new chance.

I cannot say exactly why my score is so miserable. It's hardly the variations' fault as they according to MegaBase 2008 score very well for Black. It more likely is due to the fact that those bishops in the long diagonals - normally pointing towards White's king - tempt me to play for a king's attack with moves like ...h5 and ...Nf6-g4 when patient consolidation and queenside play are called for.

Maybe some day I will find the time to write a repertoire book based on these lines - just for myself. In the meantime I will start posting a few annotated games here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Leningrad Investigations III

My apologies for neglecting this blog for almost three weeks. I expect my posting frequency to increase for the next few weeks.

I still don't know how sound the 6...c6 variation in the Dutch Leningrad is. But it's obvious that it will be a more tempting repertoire choice if it's also playable against the Nh3 system. My preliminary investigations hint that it seems fully playable but that it takes some inventiveness and courage to keep the line's independent character:

1.d4 f5 2.g3

2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 can lead to the same lines.

2...Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.c4 Bg7 5.Nc3

This is roughly twice as popular as 5.Nf3. Yet the position arising after 5.Nf3 occurs almost as frequently as the one after 5.Nc3. The explanation of course is that there are many paths to the Nf3-set-up where the knight arrives earlier on f3.

5.Nh3 is a considerably rarer move but after 5...0–0 6.0–0 c6 7.Nc3 Na6 play will generally transpose to the main line after 8.Nf4. In addition White can try:

a) 8.d5 Qe8 9.Rb1 d6 10.b3 c5 11.Bb2 Rb8 12.Nb5 Bd7 13.a4 Ra8 14.Nf4 Qc8 15.h4 Nc7 16.Nc3 += Andonovski-Nikoloski, Struga 2002.

b) 8.b3 d6 9.Bb2 Nc7 10.Qc2 e5 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Ba3 Re8 13.Rad1 += Bisguier-Chernin, USA 1990.

c) 8.Rb1 d6 9.b4 Nc7 10.e3 Bd7 11.a4 a6 12.Qb3 Kh8 13.Rd1 Qe8 14.b5 axb5 15.cxb5 Ne4 unclear Vorisek-Danner, Prague 1995.

5...0–0 6.Nh3

This is the characteristic move. But 6.Nf3 is almost equally popular.

6...c6!? (Dia)

Is it possible that this move can have independent value against the Nh3 systems too?


7.0–0 Na6 8.Nf4 is just an alternative move-order.


7...d6 immediately leads to positions normally arising from 6...d6.

8.0–0 Nc7 (Dia)

Black is determined to stay away from well-trodden Leningrad paths. 8...Qe8 is an interesting alternative:

a) 9.e4 fxe4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Bxe4 d6 12.Bg2 e5 13.Ne2 Nc7 14.Be3 Bg4 =+ Kaminik-G.Danner, Graz 1996.

b) 9.b3 d6 10.Ba3 Nc7 11.Rc1 g5 12.Nh3 Qg6 13.f4 g4 14.Nf2 h5 unclear Thallinger-G.Danner, Austria 1995.

This is the point where White must decide: Should he play a neutral developing move which may prove irrelevant when Black at long last plays ...d6? Or should he play 9.d5 before Black has played ...d6 (when there is no genuine weakness to nail on e6)?


This is relatively noncommittal.

a) 9.b4 d6 10.Qb3 e5 11.c5+ d5 12.dxe5 Ng4 13.Bb2 Kh8 14.Nd3 Qe7 15.f4 Ne3 =+ Amura-Ad.Rodrigues, Merlo 1990.

b) 9.Qb3 d6 (9...Qe8!?) 10.d5 cxd5 11.cxd5 Nd7 12.Rd1 Nc5 13.Qc2 a5 14.Be3 N7a6 15.Bd4 and White had won the opening duel in Stimpel-Meier, Wiesbaden 1993.

c) 9.d5 cxd5 10.cxd5 and now:

c1) 10...d6 11.Be3 Bd7 12.Rc1 g5 13.Nh3 h6 14.f4 g4 15.Nf2 += Moschell-Neubert, Potsdam 1997.

c2) 10...e5 awaits practical tests, e.g. 11.dxe6 (11.d6!?) 11...dxe6 12.Qb3 Kh8 13.Rd1 Qe7 14.Nd3 e5 15.Be3 Rd8 16.Bc5 Qe8 with unclear play.


Can it be that ...Nc7 is more useful than Rb1? If nothing else the knight move is more relevant for Black's weaknesses in the e-file.

a) 9...d5 looks independent but I doubt it’s sufficient for full equality.

b) The untested 9...Qe8!? 10.d5 e5 is worth a try, e.g. 11.dxe6 dxe6 12.Qd6 Rf7 13.Nd3 Ng4 14.h3 Bf8 15.Qf4 e5 16.Qd2 Nf6 looks roughly even.

10.d5 (Dia)

White is trying to steer play back to well mapped terrain.


10...Bd7 as well as 10...e5 11.dxe6 Nxe6 return to known Leningrad lines with ...d6 (one move-order leading to the latter line is 1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nh3 d6 6.d5 c6 7.Nf4 e5 8.dxe6 Na6! 9.Nc3 Nc5 10.0–0 0–0 11.Rb1 Nxe6 of Salov-Illescas Cordoba, Madrid 1996).


a) 11.c5!? should be tested.

b) 11.dxc6 bxc6 12.c5 d5 13.e3 e5 14.Nfe2 g5 15.b4 a6 16.Na4 Be6 17.Nb6 Rd8 =+ Arva-Albert, Goed 2004.


This risky pawn push fits well with Black's previous play but the timing can be discussed. Alternative tries are:

a) 11...Rf7 12.dxc6 bxc6 13.b5 Bd7 14.Qa4 cxb5 15.Qa5 Rc8 16.cxb5 Ne4 17.Nxe4 fxe4 18.Bxe4 Nxb5 unclear Zeller-Ennenbach, Schwaebisch Gmuend 1993.

b) 11...cxd5 12.Nfxd5 Ncxd5 13.cxd5 Bd7 14.Be3 Rc8 15.Bd4 Rc4 16.e3 Ng4 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Qd2 += M. de Souza-Miguel, Pouso Alegre 1998.

c) 11...Bd7 and now:

c1) 12.Bb2 g5 13.Nd3 e5 14.dxe6 Bxe6 15.c5 d5 16.e3 Rd8 17.Ne2 Bc8 18.Be5+= Goy-R.Schmidt, Cologne 1991.

c2) 12.dxc6 bxc6 13.b5 Rc8 14.a4 Ng4 15.Qb3 Kh8 16.Bb2 g5 17.Nd3 Ne6 18.Nb4 Nd4 19.Qd1 c5 20.Na6 Qh5 (-/+) 21.h3 Ne5 22.Re1 f4 23.g4 (23.Ne4) 23...Bxg4 24.hxg4 Nxg4 25.Ne4 Qh2+ 26.Kf1 Ne3+ 27.fxe3 fxe3+ 0–1 Landenbergue-Klauser, Kecskemet 1988.

12.Nd3 cxd5

12...h6 13.Bb2 e5 14.dxe6 Bxe6 15.c5 d5 16.e3 Rd8 17.Ne2 a6 18.a4 Bc8 19.Nd4 += Biliskov-Zelic, Sibenik 2005.

13.cxd5 Qg6 14.Rb3 Bd7 15.a4 Ne4 16.Nxe4 fxe4 17.Nb2 Rac8 18.Re3 Bf5 19.h3?!

White's pieces are strangely placed and he doesn't have time for this preparatory move. The immediate 19.g4 was necessary, leading to a very messy position.


Now the pawn on d5 is doomed and Black takes over the centre.

20.Bxe4 Bxe4 21.Rxe4 Nxd5 22.Rg4 h6 23.b5 Nc3 24.Qd3 (Dia)


I like this strange move. It probably can only be found by calculation and is the kind of move I keep missing all the time.

25.Rc4 Nxc1?!

Even stronger was 25...Rxc4 26.Nxc4 Rc8 with a winning position.

26.Rfxc1 Qxf2+ 27.Kh1 Rcd8 28.R4c2 d5

Black keeps a clear - perhaps winning advantage but his play is less exact in this phase. I assume both players were short of time by now.

29.Rg1 Qf7 30.Nd1 e5 31.e4 dxe4 32.Qxe4 Rd4 33.Qg2 Rxa4 34.Ne3 Qb3 35.Nd5 e4 36.Rd1 Rf7 0-1 Saulin-Sambuev, Moscow 2006. It seems likely White lost on time but objectively his position is hopeless.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Extreme Symmetry

I will be very busy until the 15th or so but I will try to fill the silence with some mini entries. In my entry of February 22nd I offered two reconstruction tasks:

1) Black's 5th move is to promote a pawn to a bishop with mate.
2) Black's 5th move is to promote a pawn to a knight with mate.

Here are the solutions:
1) 1.c3 d5 2.Qb3 d4 3.Kd1 dxc3 4.Kc2 cxd2 5.Qc3 d1B mate (Dia)

2) 1.d4 e5 2.Kd2 exd4 3.b3 d3 4.Kc3 dxe2 5.Kb2 exd1N mate (Dia)

Today's task can be seen as a prelude to a theme to which I hope to return shortly: Symmetrical positions and the advantage of moving first.
Can you construct a symmetrical game in which White's 4th move is mate?

The usual conditions apply:

All moves must be legal but obviously they don't have to make sense by conventional chess standards.
Unfortunately there are two and a half solutions. There are two different mate positions and one of them can be reached via two slightly different routes.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April's Fool

This item I have been saving for some months now:

Below is a game I more than once have used in chess classes as it's rather thematic, short and finishes with a nice tactical blow.

Jan Plachetka - Lothar Zinn, Decin, 1974

1.Nf3 c5 2.b3 Nc6 3.Bb2 Nf6 4.e3 d5 5.Bb5 e6

It's a kind of reversed Nimzo Indian and White has got a good grip on the a1-h8 diagonal, including the central squares d4 and e5.

6.Ne5 Qc7 7.0–0 Bd6 8.Bxc6+ bxc6 9.f4 0–0

Now also Black's king is close to that long diagonal.

10.Rf3 Nd7

Black challenges White's grip on e5.

11.Rh3! g6? (Dia)

This now is a famous mistake. I am not sure how the position should be evaluated after 11...f6. There are at least two practical tests:

a) 12.Qh5?! doesn't quite convince: 12...fxe5 13.Qxh7+ Kf7 14.Rg3 Ke8 15.Rxg7 Ba6 16.Na3 exf4 17.exf4 Kd8 18.Bc3 Kc8 –+ Rogers-Bacrot, Cap d'Agde rapid 1998.

b) White probably should content himself with 12.Nxd7 Bxd7 13.Qh5 h6 14.Qg4 Kh8 15.Nc3 Rae8 16.Ne2 Re7 17.Rf1 e5 18.f5 and White had nice attacking prospects in Baeumer-Ripperger, Ludweiler 1994.


A very visual move.


Obviously not 12...gxh5? 13.Rg3+ Kh8 14.Nxf7 mate.


This is slightly more exact than 13.Qh6 when Black can prolong the struggle with 13...d4! 14.exd4 (14.Ng4 Nh5 15.Rxh5 f5! 16.Ne5 Bxe5 17.fxe5 gxh5 18.exd4 cxd4 19.Bxd4 Qg7 +=) 14...Re8 15.Ng4 Nxg4 16.Qxh7+ Kf8 17.Qh8+ Ke7 18.Qh4+ Kd7 19.Qxg4 +-.

13...gxh5 14.Nxf6+ Kh8

Or 14...Kg7 15.Ne8+ Kh6 16.Bg7+ Kg6 17.Rg3+ Kf5 18.Rg5+ Ke4 19.Nc3.

15.Rxh5 h6 16.Nxd5+ Kh7 17.Nxc7 Bxc7 18.Rxc5 1–0

Interestingly there is a quite amusing tag to the game. In John Pajak-David Norwood, Toronto 1985 Black instead tried the clever 10...Ne8(!!) 11.Rh3 g6 and was rewarded with 12.Qh5?? gxh5 0–1. This game concluded Norwood's very readable book "Winning with the Modern" (Batsford 1994) on a humorous note. I am not quite sure what should be the lesson to learn. Probably something like: Always check twice before you give your queen away.

His 12th (and last) move is sufficient reason for Pajak to get an honorable mention on a 1st of April's chess column. But that's not all. According to MegaBase 2008 the game was actually played on the first of April! When I noticed this, my first reaction was to check whether John Pajak was a real chess player or if the entire game was an invention by Norwood. And he indeed is - at the time when the game was played Pajak was unrated but he soon gained a respectable rating of 2310. There also obviously was a tournament in Toronto 1985 with, among others, GMs Joel Benjamin and Kevin Spraggett. The date, however, appears somewhat questionable as according to MegaBase all games were played on April 1st.

I will leave my research there - this game may well have been played on April 1st - and in my mind that's when it should have been played!