Coffee is waking me up, The full reality of playing the 2013 Class Champion of MetroWest Chess Club (largest in New England) is sinking in. I've played Calvin once before, he is an interesting opponent, very skilled obviously and with a few offbeat tools in his arsenal.
For example against 1.d4, as in our game from two years ago, he will play the A51 Budapest Gambit. That was before I switched to 1.e4 as White. I figure I should learn to play chess with 1.e4 before trying the fancy 1.d4 openings, lol. Here is the game. I didn't let the 500 point rating difference deter me. In the game below from a couple of years ago, I charged ahead, and not knowing the gambit managed to give back the gambit pawn on move 8 (reasonable), but then surprised him by nabbing a pawn on move 13 and holding on to it for a while. Obviously he wasn't expecting this, and doubled down. I held on to this extra material, until move 31, where I gave it back plus extra in a blunder. At least I made him squirm. That is a good goal!
However in Vortex September 2013 Round 2, I am Black, and for some reason I had a hunch he would play 1.e4 as White, and he didn't disappoint. I was eager to play Sicilian, especially since I've started trying to learn it for real after my DHLC Art of War intramural game with JagdeepSingh. Of course I am still very new to Sicilian, and wasn't sure what (if any) offbeat variation he would toss at me.
On to the game:
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 (B23, Closed Sicilian) d6. I've learned to get d6 in early and often otherwise I seem to have trouble developing my King Knight to f6, due to e4-e5 pushes. 3.f4 Nc6 transposes into a Sicilian Grand Prix Attack. 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.Bb5, I have not seen this before, but figured the move can't be too bad (trust my opponent?) plus the pin is bothersome, real, and so I decide to immediately rid myself of the pin with 5...a6. I probably should have ignored it and focused on developing my Kingside, and castle.
6.Bxc6, and so starts the steady drip of weakening my position.
6...bxc6 7.O-O Nf6 8.d3 e6 9.Qe1 Be7, and I enter the zone of "Checks, Captures, and Threats". I see the e5 push coming. The position demands that he pushes e5. What will I as Black do? I have one move before the e5 push to get my affairs in order. Consider the diagram below. The red arrows show the e5 push, and my likely response (which I did play). Now when ever you move a piece, you leave behind a wake of disturbance in the form of removing protection and structure.GM Maurice Ashley has a great DVD "Secrets of Chess" that delves into understanding the drawbacks to moves as well as the positive aspects that most authors and players concentrate on.
Here we can easily see that once e5 is played, and Black respondes with ...Nd7, the Black Bishop on g4 is undefended. This didn't seem important at the time, but later became the turning point of the game!
It is important for me to reflect on this so it can soak in. A simple "removal of the guard" tactic turned a slightly worse position into a bad, argueably losing position, down a pawn (we'll see why later). This isn't a complex four stage combination with a mind-blowing intermezzo which complicates "counting". No. This is removing (or really distracting) a guard of a piece, leaving the piece en prise. Then mischief can start. I had a full move to take care of the problem, perhaps with 9...Bxf3 instead, then I would be rid of the liability. Sure I give up two Bishops, but White did that himself long ago. No excuse.
10.e5 Nd7 11.exd6 Bxd6 12.Ne5 Nxe5 13.fxe5 Be7, relatively straightforward and somewhat forced. White has tons more space, is better developed, and has an obligation to attack. Yes, an obligation. Why? Because if he waits, then Black can regroup and equalize.
14.Qg3, the attack. Actually the double attack. Actually the double attack which is the basis for forcing moves in chess, as described in detail by Averbakh in "Chess Tactics for Advanced Players". This book is a great breakdown of what tactics are and how to exploit them. If only I understood 10% of it... but that is a good topic for another blog.
Black can slow White down with 14...h5. The idea is to protect the Bishop with a pawn, blunting the attack with the Queen. And now the tactics get complicated. For example, 15.h3 trying to force the issue, 15...Bf5 16.Qxg7, so if White still gets the g7 pawn, why not just 14...Bf5 immediately as in the game? We will see shortly. After 15.Qxg7, Black has to evacuate the King, so fortunately, there is a tempo saving Queen move, 16...Qd4+ 17.Kh1 O-O-O and the King is safe, and the Rook on h8 is protected. But isn't the f7 pawn still loose? Not really because if 18.Qxf7 Rh7 and White loses material, and the position is better for Black. And this is the point of ...h5. Even though the Bishop can still get kicked with h3, the f7 pawn is implicitly protected. Plus now both Black Rooks are free to attack along the g-file, and the White Queen needs to be careful. 18.Rf4 attacks the Black Queen, 18...Rdg8 attacks the White Queen, and Black has some compensation for the lost pawn. 19.Rxd4 Rxg7 20.Rf4 c4, as the position is roughly equal despite Black being down a pawn.
Now, despite the fact it is theoretically possible to respond with amazing tactics above in a tight situation to try and compensate for material loss, consider the difference in level of difficulty between the above complex sequences and hidden resources, and Black's earlier opportunity to simply avoid having a piece en prise in the first place.
Back to the game:
14...Bf5 15.Qxg7+ Qd4+ 16.Kh1 Kd7?? The "??" is from Houdini. 16...O-O-O does the same thing and more, and keeps the King safe. But no, instead I need to follow the rule that one mistake (losing the pawn) deserves another (leaving my King exposed in the center). See here for a compendium of typical chess mistakes.
17.Rf4 Qxf4, what else, the Black King is blocking the Black Queen's escape! 18.Bxf4 Rhg8??, should be 18...Rag8. 19.Qh6 and White has a huge advantage.
Black is wounded, in a panic, has little to lose, and in short is now desperate and dangerous.
19...Rg4 looking to use the g-file. 20.Bd2 Rag8, threatening 21...Rxg2. 21.Rg1 Bg5 22. Bxg5 R8xg5 23.Ne4 Bxe4 24.dxe4 Rxe5 25.Rd1+ Ke7, the position is starting to stabilize. Pawn count is equal, but Blacks pawn structure is fractured, and then there is the not so small matter of White being up a Queen for a Rook. But then again a Rook has been known to draw against a QUeen, so all hope is not lost. 26.Rf1 Rgxe4 27.Qf6+ Kd7. Of course, now here White can finish Black off with 28.Qxf7+, but it takes a few moves, and I think White is very confident and is looking for safe and easy ways to finish Black off. 28.Rd1+ Kc7 29.Qf7+ Kb6.
Now White has back rank weaknesses that force him to spend time creating an "air hole" with 30.h3.
30...Re1+ anyway. Simplify and push the pawn! 31.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 32.Kh2 e5. I should point out that by this time I have around 30 seconds on the clock, and my opponent has around 2 minutes. We are playing with 5 sec delay, so the simplification helps my time management strategy.
The Black Rook is immune from this double attack. Simply move the King, and if the White Queen takes, then ...e1=Q and the position is slightly in Blacks favor. Sure Black has only 20 sec left, but I should at least make him work for the point, rather than resign. Someone told me in blitz it takes around 20 seconds to mate, so even if you have a bare King against a Queen, you might be able to beat the clock. Now in this particular game, White is the Class Champion of the MetroWest CC, and he has 20 seconds to my 4 seconds... but still... it is the principle!