Saturday, April 27, 2013

At last, a good game

The few people who have commented on my silly Internet games have mostly observed that they suck, and that their dog could play better - blindfolded. But I think that this is a really nice game. Even my harshest critic, Houdini, which usually finds a big improvement for me somewhere, came up empty.

I've always found the "Brand X" 2.Bc4 against the Sicilian, a staple of Internet players, a bit annoying. It gives White no advantage, and sometimes he even manages to hang a piece. (The link is to my YouTube video "Sicilian Defense: The Most Useful Trap You've Never Seen." Commenters have said that it sucks, I'm stupid, and I have the voice of Kermit the Frog. Thanks, everyone.) But if White doesn't hang a piece, I play ...e6 and ...d5 and White exchanges pawns, we end up with an Exchange French pawn structure. Borrring! But IM John Watson says that as far as he recalls he has a perfect score from the Black side of the Exchange French, so I might want to learn to play such positions.

I often try to squeeze White's king bishop out of play with ...c4, but White usually manages to resuscitate it by playing c3 and repositioning it on the b1-h7 diagonal. In this game, though, I was surprised to realize that I could play ...cxd4! and initiate an attack against f2, taking advantage of White's laggard development. My bishop was the star of the game, executing a double switchback from b8 to a7 and back again. The game concluded with a fun king hunt.

This game raised my record on GameKnot to 63-0. One more win will give me 64, the most significant number in chess. That's right, kids - the age at which Fischer, Steinitz, and Staunton died.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Greek gift redux

Earlier in the month, I posted a game where I'd unaccountably overlooked - thrice! - an opportunity to play the classic "Greek gift" bishop sac on h7. This time Houdini says that my 10.h4!?, setting up the sac, was overexuberant. Despite Black's passive play, he could have gotten a playable game if he'd responded with 10...f5! Instead, he sent me an engraved invitation to play the sac. The final position is amusing: Black has seven pieces lined up on his back rank, and they're about to be joined by an eighth - White's queen. Now I'm 58-0 on GameKnot.

King hunt!

In the olden days, everyone responded to the Queen's Gambit Accepted (1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4) with 3.Nf3, and the game usually continued 3...Nf6 4.e3. Reuben Fine explained in his classic Ideas Behind the Chess Openings that 3.Nf3 was necessary in order to avoid the freeing 3...e5. For example, if White played 3.e4 e5! 4.dxe5, Black could quickly get at least equality with 4...Qxd1+ 5.Kxd1 Be6. Larry Evans in MCO-10 accordingly pronounced 3.e4 "premature."

In more recent times, strong GMs including world champions Anand and Kasparov have shown that it's hard for White to get much against exact play by Black. Attention has accordingly shifted back to the sharper 3.e4. The Danish GM Lars Schandorff in his book Playing 1.d4 - The Queen's Gambit, in explaining the need for a sharper weapon against the QGA, quotes Chief Brody in the movie Jaws: "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Mega Database 2013 shows both 3.e3 (60.4%) and 3.e4 (59.9%) outscoring the staid 3.Nf3 (57.7%). Although all three moves are commonly seen, ChessBase says that 3.e4 is the "hottest" these days (i.e., most popular in recent grandmaster games).

The main line of the Central Variation (3.e4) runs 3...e5 4.Nf3 exd4 5.Bxc4!, gambitting the d-pawn. White usually, but not always, gets it back. The most important line is 5...Nc6 6.0-0 Be6!?, leading to sharp play where, as Schandorff says, the resultant positions "are very double-edged and all three results are possible."

My opponent in the following game tried the immediate 5...Be6? This works much less well: without Black's knight on c6, White wins back the pawn on d4 with 6.Bxe6 fxe6 7.Nxd4, with two immediate threats - 8.Nxe6 and 8.Qh5+ g6 9.Qe5. There is no effective way to meet both. Two of Black's most plausible moves, 7...e5 and 7...Bc5, are both blunders that hang material to 8.Qh5+. Black in fact played the former move. After a further blunder, the game concluded with an entertaining king hunt. The moral(s) of the story: think carefully before weakening your kingside with an early move of your f-pawn, and watch out for queen checks (especially Qa4+ and Qh5+ by White, and Qa5+ and Qh4+ by Black).

This game raised my record on GameKnot to 55-0 and my rating to a walloping 1787. I'll be an A player before the week is up. Woo hoo!