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.

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