Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Reversed Openings

It's time to expand on 1.a3 and the theme of reversed openings. Unless Black has prepared the frequently recommended 1...g6, it’s quite likely your opponent will have a short think after 1.a3. Most likely he will be considering how his various options will fit into his normal opening repertoire (reversed or not).

In some ways 1...e5 is the obvious attempt to swiftly punish White for his non-developing first move. After all it’s possible that White is a pure beginner who has no ideas about development or the centre. 2.b4 can hardly worry Black as it should not be considered a reversed St. George opening (1.e4 a6 2.d4 b5) but rather a toothless Sokolsky line (1.b4 e5 2.a3?!). Nevertheless there are a couple of reasons for Black to reject 1...e5:

1) If Black doesn’t usually open his white games with 1.e4, it may seem illogical to play that move with Black, when White even has a small extra move. We will see one of these reversed lines today. Another is the Mengarini opening 1.a3 e5 2.e4 (or 1.e4 e5 2.a3) to which I will return later.

2) Even if Black normally opens 1.e4 and believes he may steer the game into lines where White’s extra move is irrelevant or even damaging, he may be worried because he doesn’t usually meet 1.c4 with 1...e5 and now fears that he could be lured onto unknown territory with 2.c4 (even though few English players plays 2.a3 after 1.c4 e5, it is not at all uncommon for White to play a somewhat delayed a3).

Z.Plenkovic (2240) - M.Zufic (2370)
Goodbye Summer open Omis 2004
1.a3 e5 2.d4!?
This seems to be a speciality of Plenkovic, who in MegaBase 2006 scores an impressive 4/4 with it. It is one of several reversed approaches that makes sense as it may lead to quite sharp play if White (normally Black) so desires.
2...exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6
One of Plenkovic wins went 3...Qf6 4.Qd3 b6?? 5.Qe4+ 1–0 Plenkovic-Bazant, Rabac 2004!
Also 4.Qa4 may lead to sharp Scandinavian positions where the extra a-pawn move is a very useful bonus. Compare with the line 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6?! which in practice has been scoring nicely for Black. But after 6.Bd2! Bg4?! 7.d5! Black's position is so difficult that he has started playing 6...a6 in order to continue developing quickly with ...Nc6, ...Bg4, ...Nf6 and ...0-0-0. With ...a6 already in place, the line could be quite attractive.
4...Nf6 5.Nf3 Be7
Here Black has also tried:
a) 5...h6 6.b4 a6 7.Bb2 d6 8.g3 Be7 9.Bg2 Be6 10.Nbd2 0–0 11.0–0 Qd7 12.Rfe1 Bf5 (12...Bh3 13.Bh1) 13.e4 += Plenkovic-Brkic, Split 2005
b) 5...d5 6.Nbd2 6...Be6 7.b4 Nd7 8.Bb2 f6 9.g3 Bd6 10.Bg2 Qe7 11.0–0 Nde5 12.Qb3 Qd7 13.Rad1 Ne7 14.Nxe5 fxe5 15.c4 += Plenkovic-Zvan, Pula 2005.
As can be seen from these examples, Plenkovic likes to play in positional style, with a kingside fianchetto in connection with a pawn expansion on the queenside, but also more primitive play with.Nc3 Bg5 and 8.0–0–0 should be possible.
6.g3 0–0 7.Bg2 d6 8.0–0 Bg4 9.Nbd2 Qd7 10.Re1 Rfe8 11.b4
White again has gone for his favourite set-up. Probably the position is roughly equal, but it is slightly imbalanced and probably feels more familiar to White than Black.
11...Bf5 12.e4 Bg6 13.Bb2 a6 14.Nh4 Ne5 15.Qb3 Qc6 16.Bd4 Qd7 17.Nxg6 Nxg6 18.Rad1
Probably White now has an edge thanks to his bishop-pair.
18...Rad8 19.Nc4 Qc8 20.Ne3 c5 21.Bc3 b5 22.Nf5 Qe6 23.Qb2 Ne5 24.f4 Nc4 25.Qa1 Bf8 26.Bh3!
This should be winning. If Black does nothing, White will play Kg2 and pick up material by a discovered attack on Black's king. But the tactical lines are complicated and White soon spoils his position.
26...Nxe4 27.Bxg7!? Qxf5!
A very good way to mix up things!
Probably the right course would have been 28.Bxf8 Qf6 29.Qxf6 Nxf6 30.Be7 with a decisive advantage to White.
28...Bxg7 29.c3 Nxc3 30.Qc1 Ne2+?
After this check White again gains the upper hand. 30...Nxd1 31.Qxd1 Bd4+ 32.Kh1 Nxa3 33.Bxh7+ Kxh7 34.Qd3+ Kg7 35.Rxe8 Rxe8 36.Qxa3 Re1+ would have given Black a relatively clear advantage.
31.Rxe2 Rxe2 32.bxc5 Bb2 33.Qb1
The position still is very complicated, but I trust Fritz when he claims that White should come out on top.
33...Bxa3 34.c6 Bc5+ 35.Kh1 Bb6 36.Bd3 Rb2 37.Qc1 Be3
This is hopeless but also 37...Rb4 38.Qc3 Ne3 39.Re1 Nd5 40.Bxh7+ Kxh7 41.Qd3+ Kg7 42.Qxd5 is winning for White.
38.Qa1 1–0
It's possible that Black lost on time, but his position is lost. He must save his rook, but then the a-pawn falls and the white c-pawn decides.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Chess Holidays

Since I started in a full-time job, my chess playing has mainly been restricted to my holidays. I have always made a point of finding a playing site that seems to be a nice destination even if it wasn’t for the chess tournament, and in addition to the Nordic countries, my tournament record includes Corinth, Belgrade, Budapest, Cannes, Barcelona, the Italian Riviera, Bangkok (where I met my wife) and the Tatry mountains.

My first 'holiday tournament' was in Prague in 1996 and I enjoyed the tournament as much as the city. My first lesson was to never arrive at the playing site the same day as the tournament begins, as I actually fell asleep during the final stages of my first round game. Fortunately I was well ahead on the clock and my travel companions noticed and waked me up. Now I prefer to arrive a few days ahead so I can relax and acclimatize myself before playing.

The following game proves not to be of very high quality when checked by Fritz, but I still am quite happy with it.

S.Johnsen (2175) - U.Schenk (2235)
Prague Cedok op (7), 1996
I have always had a weak spot for this move, and whenever I believe the Veresov opening (1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5) to be sound, I also start playing this first move more frequently. In this case I played it because I anticipated Black’s reply.
1...g6 2.h4!?
This is one of the independent ideas behind White’s first move.
I was amazed to find that there actually are 35 games with this somewhat bizarre looking position in MegaBase2006.
3.e4 c6
One of the more high-powered games continued 3...c5 4.d3 Nc6 5.g3 Bg7 6.Bg2 d6 7.Nh3 Bg4 8.f3 Bd7 9.Nf2 Rb8 10.g4 b5 11.g5 b4 12.Ne2 e6 13.f4 with an unclear position which White eventually won in Buhmann-Hodgson, Bundesliga 2001.
4.Bc4 b5
As far as I can remember I was totally unaware of the game Djurhuus-Bern, Norwegian Cht 1994 which continued 4...d5 5.exd5 b5 6.Bb3 b4 7.Ne4 cxd5 8.Ng5 Nh6 9.Qf3 e6 10.a3 Nc6 11.axb4 Bxb4 12.c3 Be7 13.d4 0–0 14.Ne2 Rb8 15.Bc2 with a pleasant edge for White.
5.Bb3 a5 6.a3 d6 7.d4 Ba6 8.Nf3 e6 9.Bg5 Qc7
Black is very reluctant to develop his kingside. Possibly he doesn’t like to return to “Pirc territory”, but more likely he is worried that ...Nf6 will be met by an annoying e5-break.
10.Qd2 Nd7 11.0–0
White is more active and doesn't need to worry about his weakened kingside.
11...Bg7 12.Rfe1 Ngf6 13.e5!
A less demanding continuation would have been 13.d5 cxd5 14.exd5 e5 15.Nd4 Qb6 16.Nc6 with a very clear edge for White, but I was provoked by Black’s slow development.
13...dxe5 14.dxe5 Ng4
Now White’s e-pawn will fall, but only if Black is willing to open the centre completely.
15.Rad1 Ndxe5?! 16.Nxe5 Bxe5
This allows a winning tactics. After 16...Nxe5 17.Bf4 c5 (17...f6 18.Bxe6), White probably will have to find 18.Nd5! if he wants to decide the game quickly, e.g.: 18...exd5 19.Bxe5 Bxe5 20.Rxe5+ Kf8 (20...Qxe5 21.Re1+-) 21.Rxd5 c4 22.Qc3 Rh7 23.Rd7 and Black is busted. White combines a kingside attack with some quite dangerous attempts to trap the black queen: 23...Qc6 24.R1d6 Qe4 25.Ba2 Qxh4 (after 25...Bb7 26.f3 Qxh4, 27.Rd4 Qg5 28.Rxb7 is the safest) 26.Rf6 Kg8 27.Qe5 g5 (27...Rg7 28.Rd4 traps the queen) 28.Rg6+! fxg6 29.Qd5+ and Black can safely resign.
As can be seen from the further course of the game, this was not the result of exact calculation, but more a general feeling that the bishop was a more important piece than my rook.
17...Nxe5 18.Ne4?!
Obviously not 18.Bf6?? Ng4. But a computer finds the winning 18.Qf4 in a fraction of a second. But my gaze was fixed on the weak dark squares around Black’s king.
18...0–0 19.Nf6+?!
Now 19.Qf4 is a bit more complicated, but still an easy win: 19...a4 20.Bh6 Rfd8 21.Re1 and the game is over.
In case of 19...Kh8, however, I was ready to play 20.Qf4!, (it is so much easier to see when the king is the target!) e.g. 20...a4 21.Nxh5! Kh7 (Black is mated after 21...gxh5 22.Qf6+ Kh7 (or 22...Kg8 23.Bh6) 23.Qh6+ Kg8 24.Bf6) and now 22.Rd7! works just as well as in the game continuation.
Actually, 20.Bh6+! was slightly more accurate.
20...Rfc8 21.Nxh5+ Kh7
Again 21...gxh5 leads to a quick mate after 22.Qf6+ Kg8 23.Bh6.
This small tactics immediately decides the game.
22...Qxd7 23.Nf6+ Kg7 24.Nxd7 Nxd7 25.Qd4+
If it hadn’t been for this final piece win, the game could have dragged on for quite a while.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Favourite Game

Although I consider myself a chess player, I have for the last 15 years been more of a children’s coach. On occasion I give lectures for grown-up players too, but generally I prefer a younger audience as children are somewhat more likely to pay back by becoming new chess stars.
One of my favourite lectures is based on this brilliant game, which almost perfectly illustrates the concepts of rapid development and forcing moves. In addition it’s a nice advertisment for the Rossolimo variation by its originator. I was really surprised when I couldn’t find the game in MegaBase 2006:

Rossolimo-Romaneko 1948
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5
This is known as the Rossolimo variation. White normally develops his pieces quickly and tries to build a pawn centre with a delayed c3 and d4.


This is Black's most popular reply, but 3...e6, 3...Nf6 are respected alternatives. Even moves like 3...Na5 and 3...Qb6 are possible.

4. O-O Bg7 5. Re1 Nf6 6. Nc3
Two more popular lines are 6.c3 and 6.e5.
After 6...O-O Black would be perfectly OK.
7. e5!
Now Black will not be able to castle for a few more moves.
7...Ng8 8. d3 Nxb5 9. Nxb5 a6?!
Naively expecting Black to retreat his aggressively posted knight.

10. Nd6+! exd6?
10...Kf8 11. Ne4 was not very tempting but still Black’s last chance to play on.
11. Bg5!
This is considerably more accurate than the obvious 11. exd6 (which should give roughly sufficient compensation for the knight but no more).
Except for 11...Qb6, which comes more or less to the same, all alternatives lose material immediately.
12. exd6+ Kf8

13. Re8+!
A rook for a tempo! The point obviously is that the queen can do more damage in the e-file than the rook can.
13...Kxe8 14. Qe2+ Kf8 15. Be7+ Ke8
15...Nxe7 16. Qxe7+ Kg8 17.Ng5 loses even more quickly.
16. Bd8+!

Other checks are only good for a draw by repetition.
16...Kxd8 17. Ng5 1-0
The only way to stop Nxf7#, is 17...Nh6, which allows 18. Qe7#.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Greatest?

A favorite pastime for chess fans (as for most other fans of competitive activities, I guess) is discussing who was "the greatest player of all time". I plan to return to that subject as soon as I have worked out my own lists.

For the moment I only want to share some thoughts on method:

I believe that "greatness" consists mainly of three components:
  1. Relative strength compared to one's own generation of competitors. I will call this factor 'R'.
  2. Absolute strength (the quality of moves when the complexity of positions is taken into account). I will call this factor 'A'.
  3. Potential strength (estimated strength if given the same conditions as players from other epochs or areas). It should be noted that this is not exactly the same as talent, as work ethic is an important ingredient in potential strength. I will call this factor 'P'.
At least for the two first of these components it should be possible to work out a list based on fairly objective criteria. When it comes to potential strength, there obviously is more room for discussion, but that's after all part of the charm.

I suppose the main question is how these factors should be weighted and combined into one final ranking. For starters you could just give all three the same weight, simply to see whether the result looks reasonable. Then I suppose you must decide whether to add the numbers or multiply them. Probably the results for the top contenders will not be too different however you choose to do it, but instinctively I prefer multiplication (if for no other reason, because I called them 'factors').

Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Books

I have fairly recently co-authored two chess books for Gambit Publications. In September 2005 “Win with the London System”, written together with Croatian GM Vlatko Kovacevic, arrived from the printers. It was generally well received, although quite a few reviewers didn’t try to hide their contempt for the ‘dull’ subject. For some reason the London System isn’t considered a serious attempt for White to fight for his opening advantage. I find this attitude somewhat peculiar. It may be true that the London isn’t fighting for a structural or central advantage - rather White is relying on quick development and harmonious deployment of his forces. But that could be said about quite many 1.e4 lines too.

My next book, "The Ruy Lopez: A Guide for Black", which will be released in a few weeks, is based upon the Zaitsev variation in the Closed Ruy Lopez. This in most respects is an entirely different work. Actually one of my main goals when looking for a fitting subject was to find something as diametrically opposite of my previous project as possible. I believe I succeeded quite nicely:

The London book presents a repertoire for White starting 1.d4.
The Ruy Lopez book is a guide for Black against 1.e4.

The London book was on an opening that I felt was underestimated and needed a serious theoretical work in order to become a little more accepted.
This time the subject is one of the most popular mainlines among the chess elite for the last 30 years. The main challenge was not to find new ideas but to understand the ideas of the game’s greatest geniuses.

My first co-author was a Croatian veteran grandmaster who I have never met in person.
My co-author this time, Leif Johannessen, is a grandmaster too, but he is a young Norwegian player from my chess club who I have known since he was a small boy.

GM Kovacevic has been playing the London system for a life-long chess career (along with most other queen’s pawn openings without a quick c4).
GM Johannessen only recently started meeting 1.e4 with 1...e5, and took the book project as an opportunity to add a new opening to his repertoire.

For GM Kovacevic English is something like his forth language. While I could easily understand his meaning, I don’t think I left one single of his sentences unchanged in the book.
GM Johannessen’s grasp of the English language is at least as good as mine, but his prose still is quite different from mine, and only the help of Gambit’s editor made the style generally consistent.

So for my personal development, I believe I succeeded quite well - this is about as far from a ‘sequel’ as it is possible to come. But whether the buyers and reviewers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Reversed or Not?

I always have had a special interest in what you (a little pretentiously) may call ‘existential opening questions’. That is opening questions that may influence your entire understanding of the game of chess.

One such theme is the idea of playing reversed opening systems. At a theoretical level, this may tell something about the nature of White's initial advantage. Several sharp opening lines for Black would be virtually winning if he only had one extra tempo. The practical problem, of course, is that if you try to achieve this by obvious means, Black will play a quieter set-up and assume that he will still be at least equal.

The game below to some extent illustrates these ideas:

R.Gerbery (2307) - J.Tajti (2147) Zemplen Cup-A, Sarospatak 2000
1. a3
This is sometimes called Anderssen's Opening and is one of White’s most obvious ways of heading for a reversed opening with an extra move. The move isn’t really weakening (although White may not want to combine it with long castling) and quite useful in several of Black’s most popular defences (in particular the Sicilian comes to mind, where ...a6 is a regular ingredient in most lines).
I will return to Black’s other replies in a later entry. However, I have several places seen this move recommended as the best antidote to 1. a3, and indeed it appears logical. Black discourages 2.b4 while refusing to take on ‘white clothes’ as he would with 1...e5 or 1...d5. In most Pirc/King’s Indian systems a3 is a wasted (or at least harmless) move that contributes little to White’s queenside play.
2. e4!
In theory this position could also arise from the move-order 1.e4 g6 2.a3. I practice that rarely happens as White has many other tempting moves. The Modern Defence (1.e4 g6) is one of Black’s most challenging opening systems, but I am no great believer in its practical value. Black’s position tends to become somewhat cramped and with a few weaknesses. That may not be such a bad deal if you are genuinely stronger than your opponent and give priority to unbalancing the play. But against an opponent of equal strength I believe Black is handicapping himself. As a matter of fact I would be willing to meet 1.e4 g6 with 2.a3 on a regular basis if I knew that this would significantly increase my chances of meeting 1...g6!
The obvious move. 2... c5 is logical too, and leads to positions that have lately arisen frequently after 1. e4 c5 2.a3 g6. White has reasonable chances to gain an advantage after 3. b4 Bg7 4. Nc3.
3. Bc4

3.Nc3 may be a slightly more flexible way to play for the same positions that arise in the game (knights before bishops). But if White is to have any use of his a-pawn move, it seems that the bishop should take the a2-g8-diagonal.
3... c6 4. Nc3 probably would lead to a similar position.
4. Nc3 Nf6 5. d3 c6
It may appear that White after 5... c5 6.f4 would have an inferior version of a Sicilian Grand Prix attack, as White has spent a move on the quiet a3 in a position where he normally is in a hurry to attack on the kingside. But a3 is quite useful as it helps White keep his important light-square bishop and in addition there is a trade-off: a3 is slow, but so is ...d6, as ...e6 and ...d5 is an important counter-attacking idea against GP-Sicilians with Bc4.
6. f4
Now the position takes on distinct features from the Sicilian GP Attack, even with Black’s c-pawn still on c6.
6...b5 7. Ba2 Nbd7 8. Nf3 O-O

9. Qe2
In the similar Sicilian GP-attack positions, White usually plays 9. O-O followed by Qe1-h4 and f5. That might well have been a good plan here too.
9... Nb6 10. h3 a5 11. Be3 Ba6 12. Qf2 Nfd7 13. Rb1!?
The idea of this move would probably never have crossed my mind. But human minds work in different ways and that’s one thing that makes chess such a charming game.
13...b4 14. Ne2 Rb8 15. f5

Now the full force of White’s attack is obvious. The soon-to-be open f-file in combination with the diagonals a2-g8 and c1-h6 ensures White free access to Black’s kingside.
15...d5 16. fxg6 fxg6?
This recapture away from the centre weakens the e6-square. After 16... hxg6 White still has a promising kingside attack, but there is nothing concrete.
17. Ned4 Qc8 18. Ne6 Rf6 19. Nxg7 Kxg7 20. Qh4 e6?
This loses material. With 20... e5 21. O-O Qe8 Black could still have fought on from a difficult position. But without his dark-squared bishop it would probably be a hopeless task to defend his weakened king’s position in the long run.
21. Bd4 c5 22. Bxf6+ Nxf6 23. e5 Ng8 24. O-O c4 25. Ng5 Nh6 26. Rf7+!
This short combination decides immediately.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

A Chess Addict's Corner

Welcome to my chess corner

I plan to fill this blog with some small chess thoughts - quite likely on openings and chess literature. I promise to add some genuine chess content one of the next few days. But for now I just want complete this first text and have a look at my page.