Monday, September 22, 2008

Benjamin on the Harding Variation

The September column in Joel Benjamin's excellent 'Ask GM Joel' contains an interesting entry about the Harding variation in the Ruy Lopez Marshall which I discussed in my last July entry. Benjamin seems to agree that a reason why the line isn't played more often may be that Marshall players don't like putting their dark-squared bishop on f6 rather than on d6.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 Bb7 12.d4

This is the established mainline and seems to force Black to look for long-term compensation for his pawn rather than the quick kingside attacks which sometimes results from the 11...c6 lines.
12...Qd7 (Dia)

This may transpose to 12...Bf6 lines but must primarily be considered an attempt to play for a kingside attack.

a) 12...Bf6, the mainline to which I will some day return superficially appears less attractive as it generally is associated with a queenside initiative.

b) 12...Nf6!? is suggested by Eric J and gets an additional improvement by Benjamin. Surprisingly no mention is made of the transposition 11...Nf6 (Marshall's original attempt) 12.d4 (White's clearly most popular reaction) 12...Bb7!? (12...Bd6 is almost exclusively played) which leads to the same position without allowing 11.Qf3.


a) 13.Qh5 Nf6 14.Qf5 Qxf5 15.Rxf5 Be4 16.Rg5 Bd6 17.f4 Rfe8 18.Nd2 Bb7 19.Nf1 Re1 20.Kf2 Rxc1 0–1 Gardner-Harding, corr 1975.

b) 13.h3 looks like a waste of time:

b1) 13...Bf6 seems somewhat inconsistent but sufficient for equality: 14.Re1 Rfe8 15.Bd2 Rxe1+ 16.Qxe1 Re8 17.Qf1 Ne7 18.Na3 c5 19.Rd1 cxd4 20.Be3 Nf5 21.Bxd4 Nxd4 22.cxd4 g6 23.Nc2 a5 = Krnan-Tseitlin, Montreal 2004.

b2) 13...Rfe8 14.Nd2 Bf6 15.Rxe8+ Rxe8 16.Nf3 Qd6 17.Bd2 c5 18.dxc5 Qxc5 19.Qc2 Re2 20.Be3 Rxc2 21.Bxc5 Re2?? (21...Rxb2 =) 22.Rd1+- Granada Velez-Hakimifard, Kemer 2007.

c) 13.Qf3 Rad8 looks like the principal alternative:

c1) 14.Nd2 c5 and now:

c11) 15.Qf5 Bf6 16.Qxd7 Rxd7 17.Re1 cxd4 18.Ne4 dxc3 19.Bxd5 Bxd5 20.Nxf6+ gxf6 21.bxc3 ½–½ Pieris-Sarfati, Dubai 1986.

c12) 15.dxc5 Bf6 16.Re1 Nxc3 17.Qg3 Na4 (17...Rfe8 18.Rxe8+ Qxe8 19.bxc3 Bxc3 20.Rb1 Bxd2 21.Bxd2 Rxd2 = Boguslavsky-Ketterer, Karlsruhe 2003) 18.Bxa4 bxa4 19.Nc4 Qd5 20.Nb6 Qxc5 21.Nxa4 Qc6 22.Nc3 Bh4 23.Qh3 Rd6 24.Bf4 Rf6 25.Ne2 g5 26.Bg3? (26.Rac1 Qb6 =+) 26...Bc8 0–1 Dimitrov-Hebden, Cappelle la Grande 1989.

c2) 14.Qf5 Qxf5 15.Rxf5 Bf6 (15...Rfe8 16.Be3 g6 17.Re5 f6 18.Re4 Kg7 19.Bd2 c5 20.Na3 Nc7 21.Re2 cxd4 22.Rae1 Bf8 23.Rxe8 Nxe8 = Harley-Hebden, Hastings 1988) 16.Bg5 Rfe8 17.Kf1 Bxg5 18.Rxg5 Nf4? (18...h6 or 18...Re7 look quite playable) 19.Bxf7+ Kxf7 20.Rf5+ Kg8 21.Rxf4 +/- Mihailov-O.Moen, Trondheim 2004.

13...Nf4 (Dia)

13...Bf6 still looks inconsistent but didn't work out too badly in Traut-Diaz Vega, corr 2002: 14.Re1 Rae8 15.Rxe8 Rxe8 16.Nf3 Qf5 17.Bc2 Qh5 18.Bd2 += .

14.Ne4 Bd6

This was Black's idea but it doesn't seem very tempting when White simply can capture the bishop. However, the knight on f4 is hanging so there are not many alternatives:

a) 14...Ng6 15.Nc5 Bxc5 16.Rxc5 Rae8 17.Be3 Kh8 18.Rh5 Be4 19.h3 Ne7 20.Re5 +/-Rogers-Djuric, San Bernardino 1988.

b) Benjamin mentions that 14...Nxg2 15.Kxg2 Bf6 16.Qf3 seems insufficient.

15.Nxd6 cxd6 16.Rg5 Ng6 (Dia)


Benjamin only gives this move and concludes that White is better. 17.Be3 seems at least as strong. Henao-Djuric, Saint John 1988 continued 17...Rae8 18.a4 Be4 19.axb5 axb5 20.Bc2 d5 21.Bxe4 Rxe4 22.Qc2 f5 23.g3 += but it's easier for White to improve than for Black. One relatively obvious try is 20.Qh5.

17...Rae8 18.Bg5 Qf5

Or 18...Be4 19.h4 d5 20.h5 Ne7 21.Bh6 Nf5 22.Qg4 g6 1–0 Conquest-Lane, Cappelle la Grande 1990.

19.Bc2 Be4 20.Bxe4 Rxe4 21.a4 bxa4 22.Rxa4 +/- Kudrin-Hebden, Las Palmas 1989.


12...Qd7 doesn't seem sufficient to turn 11...Bb7 into an attacking line and Black may as well admit that with 12...Bf6.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Another Claim to Fame

I have already demonstrated my longest chessgame. I also have a game in 'The Quickest Chess Victories of All Time' (Graham Burgess, Cadogan 1998). A very nice book in my opinion but I may be biased as I luckily am on the winning side:

Sv.Johnsen - G.Nesheim
Gausdal Open Ch NOR, 1985

1.e4 c5 2.c3 Nf6

Recently Tarrasch' old 2...Qa5 has had a small boost in popularity. After 3.Nf3 Nc6 some notable continuations are:
a) 4.Na3 e6 5.Nc4 Qc7 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 a6 8.Bd3 b5 9.Ne3 Nf6 = Alapin-Tarrasch, Vienna 1898.
b) 4.Bc4 d6 5.Qe2 Nf6 6.h3 e5 7.0–0 Be7 = Rainfray-Movsesian, France 2003.
c) 4.g3 Nf6 5.Qe2 d5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.Bg2 Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.0–0 e6 = Rozentalis-Movsesian, Hastings 1996.

3.e5 Nd5 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nf3 Qa5?!

6.Qxd4 appears less logical. After 6...Nc6 7.Qe4 e6 8.Bd3 f5 9.Qe2 Qa4 10.h3 Nf4 11.Bxf4 Qxf4 chances were equal in Tzoumbas-Skembris, Liosia 1991.


I think I had a faint hope of 6...Nc6 7.Nb3, which actually happened in Arslanov-Nozdrachev, Russian Ch U12 2004.


This appears more logical than 7.Bc4 Nb6 8.Bb5 a6 (8...Nc6 9.a4 Nd5 10.0–0 a6 11.Bxc6 bxc6 12.Na3 += Donets-Khatenever, St Petersburg 2005) 9.b4 Bxb4 10.cxb4 Qxb4+ 11.Qd2 Qxd2+ 12.Bxd2 axb5 13.Nxb5 Na6 14.Nd6 += Stojic-Edwards, Canberra 2003.


Burgess notes that White is better after 7...a6 8.Nc4 Qc5 9.Qg4 as well as 7...d6 8.Nc4 Qd8 9.Nxd6+ Bxd6 10.Bb5+.

8.Nc4 Qd8 9.Nb5 Bc5

9...Be7 10.Nbd6+ Kf8 11.Qh5 g6 12.Bh6+ Kg8 13.Qf3 Bxd6 14.Nxd6 transposes to 9...Bc5 10.Nbd6+ Kf8 11.Qh5 g6 12.Bh6+ Kg8 13.Qf3 Bxd6 14.Nxd6 (note to Black's 11th move).

10.Nbd6+ Kf8 11.Qh5

This loses a piece. Black had to try 11...g6 12.Bh6+ (12.Qh6+ Kg8 13.Bg5 Qf8 14.Qxf8+ Kxf8 15.Ne4 Be7 16.Bh6+ Kg8 17.f4 is good too) 12...Kg8 13.Qf3 Bxd6 when Burgess considered 14.Nxd6 dubious because of 14...Nxe5 but actually 15.Qe4 Nc6 16.0–0–0 is very good for White. An important line is 16...Qe7? which surprisingly loses to 17.Rxd5! exd5 18.Qxe7 Nxe7 19.Bd3 when Black is helpless. Instead Black must try 16...f5 but 17.Qc4 Nf6 18.Be2 clearly is better for White. Thanks to Rybka for assisting me with these lines!

12.Bg5 f6 13.exf6 1–0

(after 13...Nxf6 14.Bxf6 gxf6, White picks up the loose piece with 15.Qxc5)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Defensive Resources

Probably the weakest aspect of my chess is my defensive skills. Not only have I problems with spotting my own defensive resources, I also miss my opponents' resources when I sacrifice material to get to his king. This weakness I know I have in common with many players. Computers on the other hand have no such difficulties; they calculate all moves with equal accuracy. Going through what you think was a nice attacking game with the newest piece of chess software can sometimes be a frustrating experience. Can it be that young players who grow up with Fritz as a correction to their optimistic sacrificial tendencies will develop a keener eye for defence and counter-attack? Time will show!

Nearly one year ago I wrote a small piece on a surprising tactics in the Alekhine's Defence. It's time to return and see what happens if White doesn't fall for the trick:

(1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.c5 Nd5 5.Bc4 e6 6.Nc3 Nf4!?)
7.d4! (Dia)

This is supposed to be the refutation of Black's unsound play. Whether White gets a major advantage or not is not entirely clear to me but it's absolutely clear that Black must show some defensive skill in order to survive the next dozen moves.

a) For the 'natural blunder' 7.Qg4? , see my entry of September 6th, 2007.

b) 7.g3?! is less useful than d4 and White must be careful not to have his extended centre annihilated. There are no high-level tests but 7...Ng6 8.d4 b6 9.cxb6 (9.Nf3!?) 9...axb6 10.Nf3 Bb7 11.h4 Nc6 12.h5 Nxd4 13.Nxd4 Bxh1 14.hxg6 hxg6 15.Be2 Bg2 =+ B.Seres-Braun, Hungary 2003 could be a starting point for further investigations.


This must be the only critical line.

8.Kf1 Nh4 (Dia)

Now White can try:

a) 9.Ne4!? is the subject of the game below.

b) 9.Qg4 looks active but doesn't threaten anything particular. The only practical example was rather one-sided: 9...Nf5 (9...h5!?) 10.Nf3 b6 11.Ng5 Ba6 12.Nb5 (12.Bxa6 Nxa6 13.Rg1 h6 14.Nf3 bxc5 15.d5 Nb4 also looks good for Black) 12...Nc6 and Black was already clearly better: 13.Nxf7? Bxb5! 14.Nxd8 Bxc4+ 15.Ke1 (Black is clearly better after 15.Kg1 Rxd8 16.Bg5 Rb8) 15...Rxd8 16.cxb6 Nfxd4 0–1 Coupet-Westerinen, Metz 1985 (17.bxc7 Rc8 18.Be3 Nxe5! 19.Qh5+ g6 20.Bxd4 gxh5 21.Bxe5 Rg8 –+).

c) The normal developing move 9.Nf3! probably is best and deserves a separate entry - maybe next year?!

Wetzel-Aldrich, Minnesota 1997:


This looks active and strengthens White's central grip but has only been tested in this relatively low-powered (but entertaining) game.


Black is poorly developed but has no pawn weaknesses. 9...Nc6 seems playable too.

10.d5 d6

The game is quickly losing its theoretical significance. 10...Qh4!? may well be best. After 11.Qd3, 11...b6 as well as 11...Na6 are interesting options.

11.Bg5 Be7 (Dia)


Both players are rated USCF 2000+ and could probably have played a better game if they had tried to keep things under control. Instead they are sharpening the game to a point where they lose control.

12...Bxg5 13.Qg4?!

Better is 13.Qh5 Bxe6 14.Bxe6 g6 15.Qxg5 fxe6 16.Qxd8+ Kxd8 17.exd6 Rf8 with roughly equal chances.


13...Bxe6 14.Bxe6 fxe6 15.Nxg5 Qd7 16.cxd6 cxd6 =+.

14.Nxg5 d5 15.Bd3 0–0 16.N1f3 Nc6?!

This appears somewhat irrelevant to White's kingside attack. 16...h6 would have forced White to immediately demonstrate his idea.


This mainly helps Black defend. After 17.Qh5 Nh6 (17...h6? 18.Qg6 hxg5 19.Nxg5 Rf6 20.exf6 Qxf6 21.Qe8+ Qf8 22.Qh5 +-) 18.Bxh7+ Kh8, it seems White has a promising attack, e.g. 19.Rg1 Bd7 20.Rg3 b6 21.Bg6 and it seems White will break through.

17...Rxf5 18.Qh5 h6 19.h4 Nxe5?

19...Qf8 and 19...Bd7 are among the natural moves that probably win.

20.Nxe5 Rxe5?

Here the rook is very exposed. Far better is 20...b6 which allows a useful check on a6: 21.Qg6 hxg5 22.Ng4 (22.hxg5 Ba6+ –+) 22...Ba6+ 23.Kg2 Kf8 24.hxg5 Qxg5 25.Rh8+ Ke7 26.Qxg5+ Rxg5 27.Rxa8 Rxg4+ 28.Kf3 Ra4 29.b3 Ra3 30.cxb6 axb6 31.Kf4 unclear.

21.Qf7+ Kh8 22.Qg6?!

This wins but as the game develops it seems 22.Qf4 would have been a wiser choice with these typical variations:

a) 22...Re4 23.Qxe4 +-.

b) 22...Qf6 23.Qxe5 +-.

c) 22...Rf5 23.Qxf5 +-.

22...hxg5 23.hxg5+ Kg8 (Dia)


Probably both players thought this was winning. Correct would have been 24.Qh7+ Kf7 25.g6+ Kf6 26.Qh4+ Rg5 27.f4 Kxg6 28.fxg5 and Black is defenceless.


A computer would in a second have spotted the saving move 24...Qd7! exploiting White's exposed king 25.Qh5 (after 25.c6 bxc6 there is a bishop check on a6) 25...Qb5+ 26.Kg2 Rxg5+ 27.Qxg5 Kxh7 and White must be happy with a perpetual check.

25.Qh5 1–0.