Grudge match. Friendly grudge match, but serious chess nonetheless. Holmgren is a great guy, strong chess player, and out for chess blood! The reason is that this past summer, we played in an earlier Vortex event, and that was my first time back to OTB chess with that crew in a while. Maybe he had his guard down, not sure. In fact once my attack got going, he was a bit rattled, and made an illegal move, which I didn't catch either! I noted that "gee I didn't see that move coming", and afterwards I realized why. It wasn't a legal move.
In any case, somehow I managed to get a strong attack going, right down the e/f files, including sac'ing a piece. Fun for me but not for him. Here is a link to the blog where I wrote about it earlier. Note there are two game viewers because of the illegal move creating two game fragments...
As you can see in the picture below from that same event, it started as a Closed Sicilian. We are the board closest to the camera, and I am on the right wearing my MetroWest CC sweatshirt.MetroWest CC website is here.
The result of this game from last June was mate on White's 42nd move, with Black's King in the center. Not pretty, and Holmgren does not want to repeat that scenario.
If you look at the game from last June, you will see that White slowly developed into a Grand Prix style attack. In the grudge match game from September, White is trying to better learn the Grand Prix SIcilian, and is developing with 3.f4 straight away.
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 g6 3.f4 Bg7 4.nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 e6 6.O-O Nge7 7.e5 d5 8.exd6 Qxd6 9.d3 all book, although my knowledge of the Alberts' lines I'm trying to follow got mixed up as early as move 5, when White's recommended move is 5.Bb5. Later on move 11 I reposition the Bishop on b5 so perhaps this cost a move. The fact that we followed "book" till move 9 only means we were both finding "reasonable" moves, but does not indicate that I (at least) knew what the moves meant in terms of what is appropriate thereafter, typical plans, etc.
In my head I wanted to drive the f pawn down the f file, but I kept thinking it was missing it's e pawn companion. However, in many Closed Sicilian games, the f pawn is missing it's e pawn companion, and sometimes is joined by the g pawn. In my head I usually do not think of advancing the g pawn, but dacster13 (on chess.com) would say "Harvey, you are unnecessarily discounting moves before you critically analyze them!" (paraphrase)... and he is right.
In any case, my head is a jumble! Which sequence of operations? Below is a depiction of all the possibilities I am considering... Also keep in mind I am trying my best for a repeat performance so I'm eating up clock time too...
Back to the game... 9...b6 10.Ne4 Qd7 11.Bb5 (was 5.Bc4 a waste?) Bb7 12.Ne5 Qc7 13.Ng4, bringing forces closer, O-O 14.Ngf6+ Kh8 15.Rf3 Nd4 16.Rh3
Seriously, the buildup in the game has been increasing for a while, and we are at a "critica; position" where White could come crashing through, or Black could defend and White's attack is repelled... The lines of attack below look similar to what was anticipated earlier above. So far so good. Note that White has four pieces participating. His Queenside Bishop and Rook are not participating. This may be an issue as well.
First, how will Black defend? Is White's attack a big bust? The most obvious move for Black is 16...h6 or 16...h5. If 16...h5, then White can consider a Rook sac with 17.Rxh5+ gxh5 18.Qxh5+ Bh6 19.Qxh6# and White is better, lol. With this mate threat looming over Black, it is easy to see that Black will want to defuse the situation and trade pieces with White, and he chose 16.Bxf6?? Houdini gives this two question marks. Why? Because after recapture with 17.Nxf6 as in the game, White has a very strong attack. Instead 16...h6, and Black can hold. Maybe Black is even better, considering how uncoordinated most of White's pieces are.
Then Black has another choice under duress, again. This time 17...h5 holds White attack back a little, but instead, Black wants to consider trading, and plays 17...Kg7?? Again Houdini gives this two question marks because this helps White's attack.
Now it is White's turn. White knows there is a strong attack here, and White knows that this is the moment. White can choose to continue and strengthen the attack and win (then all those other uncoordinated pieces don't matter), or... White could pull back, play it safe and lose the game due to attrition.
What are White's candidate moves?
18.Nxh7, as in the game, captures a pawn, maintains attack
18.Rxh7, captures a pawn lose the Knight
18.Qg4, bring up a strong piece, lose the Knight
Gee, what do I do with my Bishop which is en prise? What about my undeveloped Bishop? My undeveloped Rook?
The point is that White needs to go all out, or the "positional debt" built up over the last few moves will take its toll. How do I decide which move to make? How should I make the decision? Based on accruing material? Or based on activity, threats, and mate? Well, let's see... if I focus on my en prise Bishop which isn't and can't in the near future do anything, that is materialistic, and clearly a wasted move to boot. Rejected. If I bring up the Queen with 18.Qg4, I lose a Knight before I have a chance to protect it. Rejected. If I play 18.Rxh7+ then the King takes the Knight, lose material. Rejected. That leaves 18.Nxh7 which I played, to make a safe move. I was thinking materially. But with 18.Nxh7 Rh8 White is busted due to simple tactics. Yes, we were both heading into a time scramble, but there is no excuse for missing such a simple tactic. And if I do nothing I lose the Bishop on b5 anyway, and the long attrition starts.
What I missed is that 18.Rxh7 actually works, not due to material gain, but because it forces the Black King out into the open, as in 18.Rxh7+ Kxf6 19.Qg4, now the Queen move is more threatening Ne2+ trying for anything to slow down the attack. 20.Kh1 e5 perhaps 21.Qxe2 Ke6 22.Bd2, develop the Rook a6, make threats 23.Bc4+ Kd7 24.fxe4 and White continues to encroach and attack.
In stark contrast to the above, White played 18.Nxh7 Nxb5, also thinking materialistic, and then 19.f5 instead of 19.Nxf8 trying to get material back now that the attack is fizzling. The rest is attrition and time scramble, 19...Nxf5 20.Bg5 Rh8 21.Bf6+ Kg8 22.Bxh8 Kxh8 23.Nf6 Kg7 and mercfully time ran out.
The big takeaway in this whole tournament that I need to try and fully understand the position I am in, and then not to artificially constrain choices that I allow myself. Why should I dismiss 18.Rxh7 immediately because it "loses a piece", when in reality it was the only move that "wins the game". Both can be true. Losing material might mean losing, might mean winning, you need to fully consider and evaluate.
Maybe if I played chess on a giant chess board, I could learn to think big and out of the box?
Maybe if I learned from Magnus Carlsen, I could learn to think big and out of the box?
Quote from Magnus Carlsen:
"Self-confidence is very important. If you don’t think you can win, you will take cowardly decisions in the crucial moments, out of sheer respect for your opponent. You see the opportunity but also greater limitations than you should. I have always believed in what I do on the chessboard, even when I had no objective reason to. It is better to overestimate your prospects than underestimate them."
Which is what dacster13 (chess.com) is always telling me (above)...
Vortex September 2013, Round 5: Marthi v Reed (1-0)
G/30, d5, lose - Black with Sicilian, failed to steer to Najdorf, fairly solid, this was against the strongest player in the tournament and he said he thought my performance level in the game was ~1600-1700.
Just finished an exciting win, albeit low on time, in the last round. I am now playing the strongest player in the tournament, and my goal is to play solid, and try to understand where I go wrong.
1.e4 c5. Recently I am learning the Najodorf, so in my head I try to steer it that way, although equally bad will be to try and steer it that way when that is not appropriate...
2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 (oops, not Najdorf) 5.Bb5 (doh) Bd7 6.Nc3 Nf6 (trying to get back on track) 7.O-O g6 (why am I mixing systems?) 8.Kh1 (now we are definitely out of book) Bg7. 9.Be3. Let's take a look, White is very active, and has a better center. 9...O-O 10.f4.
At this point, I am facing a player 500 rating points my senior, and who others in the tournament were betting would sweep the tournament, which he almost did. Six rounds, 4 wins, 2 draws, no loss. And what do I see? Can I win a pawn? Maybe...
I see that 10...Nxd4 seems to work (within my calculation horizon), so I go for it, and indeed I nabbed a pawn! Even Houdini afterwards says Black has some advantage (less than half a pawn) which tells me there is some advantage, but White has other plusses in his favor, such as space and activity. Which honestly is more important than a pawn. Nonetheless, Marthi did tell be after the game that he did not see that tactic.
11.Bxd4 Bxb5 12.Nxb5 Nxe4 13.Bxg7 Kxg7. Slight digression. Often in the Sicilian Black wants to develop his Knight on g4 to attack White's Bishop if developed on e3, which only works if White didn't play h3 or f3. In this game I could have played 9...Ng4 instead of 9...O-O but I was worried about King saftey playing such a high rated player. However I should play the board instead, lol. If I traded White's Bishop on e3, then perhaps I could have kept my fianchetto Bishop? On the other have maybe this whole tactic wouldn't have happened.
14.Qd4+ Nf6 15.f5 Qb6, simply trying to exchange material, especially the Queens. 16.Qd3, keeping the Queens on the board 16...a6, still thinking about the pawn, and forcing my popponent to do what he wanted to do anyway which is centralizing his Knight. Instead I should push my own agenda as Silman would say, with 16...Rac8, and Black retains an advantage. Psychologically I understand I nabbed a pawn against a higher rated player. That was due to "taking the chance", and "pushing my agenda", so why all of a suddent get defensive when I know that ...Rac8 is thematic? Such is how we slowly let advantage slip through our fingers!
17.Nd4 Nd7, again I need to use my Rooks to retain any advantage, or stay equal, for example 17...Rae8. 18.Qc3 (mate threat) Ne5 19.fxg6 hxg6, and miraculously Black is still ok. 20.Rae1 Rac8 21.Qe3? instead of 21.Qd2 and here is where the mistakes start piling on for both players, but most severe, by a lot, for Black.
For example I see b2 at risk, but I also see Rb1, deflecting the Black Queen and regaining the pawn, but I do not see that in the process, the deflected Black Queen can force an exchange with the White Queen, leaving a Black Rook on c3, threatening another pawn. And so it goes, more complications, and increasingly feeling on the defensive, respecting my opponent's rating too much, plus that pesky G/30,d5 clock, and running out of time...
Black must remain active! However, the emotional need for safety won out, and Black played 21...Kg8. Not the worst, but simply taking the b2 pawn would be better, then White would be down two pawns! And after forcing exchanges (which Black didn't calculate enough to see) would retain a small but important advantage.
White responded with 22.Rf4, missing a change to neutralize with 22.b3. Black returned the favor with a bigger error 22...g5?? when again, 22...Qxb2 would leave Black with an advantage. Sure time is a factor in G/30, but Black really needs to do better with tactics in a game, real time.
23.Rf4, encroaching, 23...f6 24.Rg4 and then the fatal 24...f7?? when 24...fxg5 might have salvaged an approximately even position. Again, tactics, what Black didn't see was that after ...fxg5, and Qxg5+, if the Black King stays on the g and h files, hard as it is to see, he can maintain roughly an even position. Again, Black needs to work on tactics.
25.Rg7+!! which Black never saw coming, 25...Kxg7 26.Nf5+ and Black resigned.
Lunch is done. I am determined to do better. I have White against Bird. We have started playing online at chess.com, and where I am stronger online, he is stronger OTB, usually. So, this is closer to an even match.
I stick with 1.e4, Bird is a Two Knights players, so I take him to Two Knights via the Scotch Gambit. I need to study the opening a bit, not sure I'm exactly following the Alberts' book, but here it is:
Now for late opening and middlegame positioning: 10.Re1 c5 11.Nf3 Bg4 12.h3 Bh5 13.Nc3 c6 14.Qd3 Bg6 (not sure my Queen move was a mistake or not...) 15. Qd1 Na6. Now, usually at this point, I don't have a pawn on e5. I am determined to make the most of it!
Push! 16.e6. At this point I expected 16...fxe6, but then after 17.Rxe6, 18.Bg5, etc. Black's problems increase. The game continued 16...f6, Preventing the immediate rapid buildup, but giving White a passed pawn on e6. White knows he may not be able to hang on to the pawn and promote, but White will seek to trade for some other kind of advantage.
First job is to trade minor pieces, to make the passed pawn harder to handle: 17.Nh4 Qd6? (better to castle?) 18.Nxg6 hxg6 19.Qg4, ugh! Better to play simple chess with a double attack, 19.Qd3. Pressing on, 19...g5 20.f4 Rh4 21.Qf5 O-O-O 22.fxg5 fxg5 23.Bxg5 Rf8.
At this point, White can grab more material (two Rooks for Queen) with 24.Qxf8+ Bxf8 25.Bxh4. However, White (perhaps because both players were so low on time) played "safer", but allows Black to technically equalize a bit, however psychologically White still has a big initiative, if only because White has been calling the shots for so many moves.
24.Bxe7 Qxe7 and Black is equalizing 25. Rf1 Rxf1+ 27.Rxf1 Nxe6 however, Black is so eager to turn the game around, he gives White an opening to check the Black King and take the initiative, plus Black is exceedingly low on time, as is White. 27...Nxe6 28.Ne2 Re4 29.Qh5, and the rest of the score is lost.
The remaining moves were spent by White chasing the Black King over to the Queenside, where it got mated, see the picture below.
I'd like to say Black was mated due to superior play, but I think here that time was a big factor. Nonetheless I happily took the point.
Photo of final position. Personal photo taken by author immediately after the game at Vortex CC, Framingham MA.