Sunday, May 5, 2013
A trap in the Classical Sicilian
In the Classical Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6), 6.f4 is a fairly rare choice by White. Mega Database 2013 shows it as being only White's seventh most popular move, after 6.Bg5, 6.Bc4, 6.Be2, 6.Be3, 6.f3, and 6.g3. Black can respond with 6...g6, transposing to the Levenfish Variation of the Sicilian Dragon; 6...e5, intending to reach a Boleslavsky Sicilian-type position; and 6...e6, among others. According to Mega Database 2013, 6...e5 is the best-scoring of Black's major moves, with White scoring only 47.2% in 287 games. (White scores 51.1% in 321 games against 6...g6, and 55.5% in 267 games against 6...e6.) White's best response to 6...e5 is 7.Nf3. My opponent played instead 7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.fxe5, presumably intending to respond to 8...dxe5 with 9.Qxd8+ with a favorable endgame for White (58.3% in 12 games, according to Mega). I instead responded with the much stronger 8...Ng4! (White scores only 33.3% in 18 games), offering a gambit that White should decline (as almost everyone does) with 9.Be2!, when Black has a very pleasant position after 9...Nxe5. Instead, White greedily took the pawn with 9.exd6? After 9...Bxd6, White's position was very unpleasant, with Black's bishop and knight trained on White's kingside and Black threatening to introduce the queen into the attack with 10...Qh4+ or 10...Qc7. White should try 10.Bg5! f6 (10...Qxg5 12.Qxd6) 11.Bh4 0-0 12.Bc4+, when he stands much worse but could play on. Instead he found 10.h3?? and then resigned, evidently having realized that 10...Qh4+ is crushing (10...Bg3+ also wins), e.g. 11.Kd2 Bf4+ 12.Kd3 (12.Ke2 Qf2+ 13.Kd3 Ne5#) Ba6+ 13.Nb5 0-0-0+, winning boatloads of material. One should never play a blunder like 10.h3??, especially in a correspondence game. Alexander Kotov in his famous book Think Like a Grandmaster explained that once having decided on one's move, one should look at the position "through the eyes of a patzer" and ask questions like, "Does he threaten mate? Do I have a piece hanging? Am I overlooking a check he can play?" and so forth. This is not always possible in over-the-board games with fast time controls, but one should always do this in correspondence games. I'm now 69-0 on GameKnot, but will have to give up a draw soon.