Friday, August 18, 2006

Playing badly can make you free

Hi Pilgrims,

Ever wondered why you lose at chess, maybe even at the game of life itself?

What do you mean you never lose? And you gave up on introspection long ago as well? Maybe you're right. Self analysis ain't what it's cracked up to be.

However, in chess, it can help improve your play. Take the game below for instance. It made me realize that as a certified bunny-player I need to be, and stay, focused. Anything less than that and no more carrots, unless it's in the stew along with me.

Also, having a stronger position carries certain responsibilites, which can wear you down unless you stay resolute and even a little humble in the face of having an advantage. If you don't, the player with nothing to lose can find a creative freedom which carries the day.

Easier said than done, but one thing is for sure: Bunnies can never relax until the game is over, and if it's a win, then have an extra brace of carrots to go with the brandy.

George Eraclides (1338) VERSUS P. Crofts (1076)

Correspondence Chess League of Australia (CCLA), Tournament 7/1051, 1992. The player ratings are not ELO but peculiar to the CCLA.

This game is dedicated to the memory of that devilish imp, Dr Savielly Tartakower, chess duelist par excellence and champion wit.

This game features some clever play punctuated by gross errors on both sides, and illustrates the aphorism from that wit of chess, Tartakower, that ‘The player who makes the next to last mistake, wins the game’.

White makes a terrible blunder in this game (a feat in itself, when playing correspondence chess), thus placing the burden of winning upon Black.
Relieved of the pressure of having to maintain equilibrium or gain any advantage, White starts to gather his meagre forces and play more confidenly.

For his part, unable to cope with the pressure of having a winning position, Black succumbs to White's desperate and clever tactics.

White unashamedly wraps up a game he should have lost.

Pirc Defence

1. e4 d6
2. d4 Nf6
3. Nc3 g6
4. Bg5

The Byrne Variation. I play it because it seems to offer aggressive chances at relatively little risk - or so I thought at the time.

4 ...........Bg7
5. Qd2 h6
6. Bf4 g5
7. Bg3 Nh5
8. 0-0-0

Hoping (pointlessly) for Nxg3 so that after hxg3 the Rook file could be used for attack.

8 ............Nc6
9. Bb5 Bd7
10. Nge2

I think White has the better position here - he has the classic centre, more space, security, and the potential for an attack. From this point on, compacency sets in and white drifts, missing a key tactical stroke. The ‘Purdy Rule’ to check all threats, should be a mantra for all players; another one could be: If you have a superior position, redouble your efforts to check all threats.

10 ...........Na5?! (TN)
11. Bd3

This leads to unclear play, as the Bishop gets in the way of the Queen's Rook; 11 Bxd7 followed by Rhe1 was simple and good.

11 ............c5!

With the irritating threat of c4.

12. dxc5 Nxg3
13 Nxg3

Presuming the Rook would now need to come to the centre, making the opening of the h file a waste of time and structure.

13 ...........dxc5
14. Nd5?!

I think someone, somewhen, called this kind of move ‘creating an outpost’; 14 Rh1 was correct, followed by Bf1.

14 ............e6
15. Nc3

Not a very secure outpost after all; White's complacency has now assumed mamoth proportions.

15 ............a6!?

What kind of devilry is this? Securing the Queen-side before castling?

16. Nh5 Bd4
17. f4 Qb6!

This move has a sting in it's tail which White is oblivious to; Black's strategy is correct - he is allowing complications to occur. When your position is ‘structurally’ inferior, dynamism can be an effective antidote; this is different to another approach which some players take, which involves just toughing it out in case the better placed opponent makes a mistake.

18. fxg??!

An idiot's move (??), or a deeply penetrating insight (!) into the position? The point needs to be made once again: White is labouring under an excess of smugness brought on by his deluded perception of having ‘positional superiority’; the facts are that Black, cognizant of his inferior state, has embarked on interesting complications. Whit is playing too routinely.

18 ...........c4!
19. Be2 Be3

Not the sort of move you like to receive in the mail - it really spoils your whole day.

20. Nf6+!

The coincidental situation of this Knight at h5 (played to allow f4 above) is a stroke of luck, which allows White to make a fight of it. I now started to really concentrate, as I should have been doing all along. My previous desultory play prevents me from representing my stroke of good luck as insightful play.

20 ..............Kd8 (Necessary)
21. Nxd7 Bxd2+
22. Rxd2 Qa7

White has created some threats of his own. Nothing clears the head like a hand grenade going off in your mail-box. I have started to play really well, whereas poor Black finds the burden of 'winning a won’ game too much to bear. His nerves betray him into making inferior moves.

23. Nb6+ Ke8
24. Nxa8 Qxa8
25. gxh5 Rxh5
26. h3

So that the Rook can move. The dust has settled, and white has Rook, Bishop, and Pawn, for his dull-witted Queen. Not a bad trade under the circumstances.

26 ..............Qb8
27. Rhd1 b5

Black is actually constrained to find a good move; perhaps
27 .............Qf4
28. Kb1 Kf8
may have been of more use.

28 Rd6!

28. Rd8+ Qxd8
29. Rxd8+ Kxd8
Leaves white the exchange down for a Pawn (no thanks).

28 ............Qa7
29. Kb1

A little nervous about
29 ............b4
30. Na4 Qe3
winning the Bishop.

29 ...........Nb7?

Black in turn is worried about the White Rooks and the poor position of his Knight; however b4 is more worthy of play:
29 ............b4
30. Na4 Qe3
31. Rd8+ achieves nothing because the Black King can escape via d7, while White has left himself exposed on his back rank. It’s a heavy burden to carry the mantle of material advantage.

30. Rd7!

With a nice pin, making the threats of e5 and Bf3 possible.

30 .............Qb6
31. e5

This is still good, because White needs to clear the diagonal; at the same time the Pawn closes the bolt-hole at f6 for the enemy King.

31 ............Nc5
32 Rd7d6!

Still pointless would be Rd8+.

32 ............Qa5

Black is effectively playing with Queen and Knight against all four of White's pieces. The move e5 has quarantined the Black Rook in an irrelevant pocket of the board.

33. Bf3 Rg6
34. Ne4?!

Needlessly provocative. Better, although still unclear was
34. Bc6+ Kf8 (Ke2 is the same in practice);
(i) 35. Ne4 NxN
36. BxN Rg5!
37. Rd7 Re5
38. Rf1 RxB
39. Rxf7+ with possibly a draw;
(ii) 35. Bb7 Rxe5
36. Rxa6 Re1
37. Rd6 Qc7
38. Rxe1 Qxd6
39 Bf3 is unclear;
(iii) 35. Rf1 Rf5! and Black's Queen still attacks e1;
(iv) 35. g4 Re1+
37. RxR Qc7
38. Bg2 Rh2!
As these variations show, Black had winning or drawing chances, while White's attempts to complicate, although successful, should have been inadequate. Again psychological factors have been allowed to dominate over the logic of the position.

34 ...........Nb7?

The pressure is getting to Black. The simple Nxe4 was best, with continuing uncertainty.

35. Rd7 Nc5??

Having an advantage is simply too much, and Black blunders:
35 ............Qb6
36. Nf6+! R XN
37. exf6 will win eventually, but it was still preferable to giving up a piece. Black has paid a heavy price for the splitting of his forces.

36. Nxc5 Qb6
37. Ne4 Kf8
38. Nf6 Qc5?

38 .........Rxf6 or a King move also loses. The old Tarrasch observation that when one mistake is made, you should expect more to follow, is borne out in this game.

39. Rd8+ Resigns

39 ...........Ke7
40. R1d7 is mate, OR
39 ......... Kg7
40 Rg8+ Kh6
41 Rh8+ Kg7 (Kg5, Ne4+ that square again!)
42 Rh7+ Kf8
43 Nd7+wins the house.

A game with grave psychological implications. Black lost because of a mishandling of the position; he was playing under the pressure of having to win because of a material superiority. In such circumstances one must try and remain calm and be patient; if they are available, simple moves which add positional pressure should be played. Time is on the side of the better structure, and as has often been said - there are no special prizes for finishing quickly.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

George against the Sicilians

Hi Pilgrims,

In chess I play e4 because I like the romantic openings of the 19th Century - slash, cut, thrust, tension, combinations, pyrotechnics. Recall that my first chess book was the Best Games of Paul Morphy (Dover Books), ‘the pride and sorrow of New Orleans’ and I was first attracted by that exciting kind of chess. Also, Bobby Fischer was the leading player of the 1970’s and he famously pronounced e4 is ‘best by test.’

The problem is, that in the modern era, very few opponents in crossboard or correspondence chess play symmetrically. So instead of for instance, being able to play my favourite Vienna Opening (I will post some Viennas soon), I found that I was facing the Sicilian, Caro Kann, French, Pirc and other less popular semi open defences. They were, and are, saturated in theory and I lack the patience to pursue that aspect of the game.

So over time I have drifted across to playing Queen centres based around d4, although I still ventured the Kings pawn in more than half of my openings as White, in the hope of getting symmetry and the chance to play a Vienna. What I needed was a generic way of playing against the semi open defences, where I would get a reasonable game without having to live my life with my nose buried in a book or worse, a database.

In a second hand bookshop some time back, I came across a book by Larry Evans the USA Grandmaster, who suggested using the Kings Indian formation as a generic opening for White, especially against opponents too cowardly or too savvy to reply symmetrically to e4. So I tried it and in many cases it worked.

So I offer for your amusement the following effort in a correspondence tourney where I first used what I like to call ‘The Smart Alleck Variation’.
I did not invent the variation, just the name.

George Eraclides (1338) VERSUS John Paul Fenwick (1339)

Please note these are Correspondence Chess League of Australia ratings; the conversion to the ELO standard did not occur until the mid to late 1990's.
CCLA Tournament 7/1051 1992

Closed Sicilian, Smart-Aleck Variation.

John Paul Fenwick, along with his brother Chris, is a very experienced and strong over the board player, as I have found to my displeasure. Correspondence chess is, of course, quite another kind of battlefield.
In this game, using the Smart-Aleck Variation, White manages to first frustrate his strong opponent, and then extinguish counter-play of any substance; after dominating the centre, White switches over to a successful attack with some attracive motifs.

1 e4 c5
2 Nf3 d6
3 g3

Introduces the Smart-Aleck Variation - Black, having been lulled into thinking he was going to play a conventional Sicilian, now faces a closed game requiring patience and supreme alertness, because any winning chances (and they are few in this line of the Sicilian) lie with White.

3 ...........g6

There are of course, many possible replies. In the system chosen, he hopes for a more normal Sicilian attack structure; the drawback is that he becomes loath to ever play e5 and thereby block the diagonal for his Bishop; consequently, White can aim for an f4 attack, similar to many King's Indian formations.

4 Bg2 Bg7
5 0-0 Nc6
6 c3

A natural response in these systems, in order to prevent Nd4.

6 ..........Qb6?!

This turns out to be a waste of time. The Queen ‘threatens’ b2 and d4 together with the Bishop on g7, as well as eyeing f2. However White is not obliged to play so as to open the position with a later d4. In fact opening the game is anathema to the kind of system White has chosen. Straightforward development was a better option.

7 d3 e6
8 Qe2 Nge7

At least he is consistent with the Qb6 idea, wishing to keep the Bishop's diagonal open.

9 Nbd2 0-0

Here Na5 was a possibility, in order to prevent an eventual Nc4; a consequence of having placed his Queen on b6, is that he does not have b5 - a useful counter-attacking line against a King's Indian formation.
If Na5 then,
10 Nc4 Nxc4
11 dxc4 Qa6
could lead to interesting possibilities; White seems to control the centre and restrict Black's play, but in return Black has some chances on the Queen side. White could try Be3, Nd2, and f4 with complications.

10 Nc4 Qc7
11 a4

Stopping b5. I astonish myself with a positional insight.

11 ............Na5

Too late, he cried.

12 Nxa5 Qxa5
13 Be3

I thought e5 was premature.

13 ............Bd7

Black is drifting into a passive position--a terrible condition for a player of the Sicilian.

14 Nd2

14 d4 just does Black a favour by opening up the position.

14 ............Nc6

14 ...f5 is not so good:
15 exf5 and 16 Bxb7 with Nc4 to come, extricating the Bishop after Black plays Rb8;
14 ...Bc6 was worth considering, with the idea that if Nc4, then Qc7-a6-b5 to drive White back; note here, that 16 a5 is unclear for White because of the possibility 16 ...Rb8 and 17 ...Bb5.

15 f4 Qc7

This is a second home for the Queen in the Sicilian, but this time Black is in trouble.

16 e5! dxe5
17 Bxc5

Best, capturing with tempo.

17 ..........Rfd8!

Allows the Bishop to go to e8 and defend f7; the open file is a bonus.

18 fxe5

White is opening up lines into the heart of Black's position. White has acquired a very strong initiative; time wasting manoeuvres like Qb6 above are too risky if you play Black; the lesson is: Don’t do it.

18 ..........Qxe5

Hoping by the Queen exchange to dampen the attack. However, an attack based on sound positional play is very hard to stop.

19 Nxe4

High art or low cunning?
Low cunning: 19 Qf2 was reasonable and perfectly sound, but lacking ambition; then
19 ...f5 would be answered by 20 Rae1;
19 ...Qf5 by 20 Qe2 (20 Qe3 Bh6 is unclear) and Black plays 20 ...Qe5 with a draw offer or White risks Bh6 at some stage.

19 ...........Be8

Defending f7 (see note above to Black's 17th move) and d6; if 19 ...f5 White plays 20 d4 and then 21 Nd6 and the Bishop cannot move from d7 due to 22 Qxe6.

20 d4 Qc7 (This Queen likes her familiar haunts).
21 Qf2

This is best now.

21 ...........b6
22 Ba3 Rac8

What else? White's a3 Bishop slices through the Black position like a death-ray. Desperado moves like f5 allow the Knight to dance away to g5 where it will be particularly obnoxious. Perhaps 22 ...e5 was worth a try, although 23 d5 in reply seems dangerous:
23 .......Rxd5
24 Nf6+ or
23 .......Na5
24 d6 Qd7
25 Ng5!? and if 25 ...Nc4, 26 Bd5 is hard to meet;
Also, in reply to 22 ...e5, White has
23 Nf6+ Bxf6
24 Qxf6 with the threats of 25 Bxc6 and 26 Be7 (Barrier motif) is decidedly unpleasent.

23 Nf6+ Bxf6
24 Qxf6

Thus the black square defender is eliminated.

24 ..........Na5

Black has to try something; c4 and b3 are the only weak points in White's position he can attack - but so what? The action is in the other quadrant North by North-East.

25 Rae1

You can never have too much heavy artillery. Note that 25 Be7 or Bf8 are ineffective.

25 ..........Nc4

Black is in virtual zugzwang. When this happens in the middle-game you have big problems.

26 Be7

Forming a barrier to the Queen's defence of the second rank. I consider this idea to be almost the pinnacle of White's strategy in this game - evidence that even a mediocre player can on extremely rare occasions play with a little intelligence.

26 ..........Rd7
27 Rxe6! Nxb2

If 27 ...fxe6?? 28 Qf8 ++

28 Rc6! Resigns

(i) The Bishop on e8 has to guard f7;
(ii) 28 ............Qb8
29 RxRc8 Qxc8
30 Bh3 Qc7
a) 31 BxRd7 Qxd7 wins the exchange; White does a re-organisation to place the Bishop on f6 (say with Qg5) to mate or win more material; or
b) 31 Be6! (the brilliant alternative - can you see the gold coins tossed by admiring fans White?); or
c) 31 Bf8 Kxf8
32 Qh8+ Ke7
33 Re1+ Kd6
34 Qe5+ Kc6
35 Bg2+ Rd5
36 Bxd5++ This is the more vulgar - sadistic - denouement.

White managed to play well and was very pleased to defeat such a strong player in over the board and correspondence chess.

The Smart-Aleck Variation has proved itself a solid line against the Sicilian, with just enough venom in it, should Black become overconfident and stray from the dictates of sound play.

Try it yourself and frustrate a player of the Sicilian.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Marshall attacks Eraclides

Hi Pilgrims,
Yes, I once had the pleasure to cross swords with the great Marshall. No, I am not that old! I refer to Kate Marshall, whom I played in 1978. Wow - that does feel so long ago. It was 1978 BI (Before Internet). Imagine that.

City of Melbourne Under 1600
October 1978

This was my first crossboard tournament. At 26 years of age, I was a late non bloomer, and I got smashed around a lot. I had trouble with the chess clock (why does time have to move so quickly?) not to mention the other chess players. I only have the scoresheets of a few games.

Kate Marshall (you have to love that surname if you care for ‘real chess’) and I had already played correspondence chess against each other. A King’s Gambit and a Sicilian, both of which I won (see later), but in crossboard chess she was much the better player. Eventually she became one of Australia’s best female players in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

In this game I played tentatively because I had been belted a few times already in this tourney. I used the ‘scared rabbit’ technique, to see if I could improve my tournament position and lift myself up from the bottom of the scorecard.

Kate took a bit too long to use her opening initiative. I gave up the centre (who needs all that space? The world is too crowded for such selfishness) and tried to use my pieces to hold the key squares. I fought back well and the game was drawn by agreement. I stood reasonably well at the end, but time trouble was devouring me as usual, and besides, I needed to replenish my supply of carrots.

Round 6
Kate Marshall VERSUS George Eraclides
Queens Gambit Irregular
1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. cxd5 Nxd5?!
5. e4 Nxc3
6. bxc3 Be7
7. Bc4 O-O
8. Ne2 a6
9. O-O b5
10. Bb3?! Bb7
11. Ng3 c5
12. Be3 c4!?
13. Bc2 Nd7
14. f4 Qc7
15. f5 e5!
16. Nh5 Nf6
17. dxe5 Nxh5
18. Qxh5 Qxe5
19. Bd4 Bc5!
20. Bxc5 Qc5+
Drawn by agreement

Tell us more about yourself and your chess games

Hi Pilgrims,

You are hereby warned that the chess career of George Eraclides has so far managed to escape the attention of the great players, such as Kasparov, Karpov, Fischer, and others of their station. Even those below their august level - the merely talented grandmasters - have not heard of Eraclides.

That is probably a good thing, because their time is valuable and they will not have learned very much by studying Mr Eraclides’ games. In fact, they may have had their own abilities undermined by his insidiously bad style of play.

The Eraclides collection of stories and games is intended to provide light amusement to the chess fan who is also looking for honest and humorous writing related to chess. The games have their moments, it is true, but the writing is so much better.

Mr Eraclides, realizing the paucity of his chess ability, and the meagreness of his successes, has endeavoured instead to write and annotate with humour, providing a few moments of fun as he blunders, and continues to blunder, his way across chessboards since 1965.

Do not delve too deeply into the intricacies of his games, although it is true that the occasional insight may be of use to the ordinary reader.

If you are one of those types who will not open a chess book or play a game over, unless you think you can derive some measure of self-improvement from the experience, then I suggest that you do the following: Play over the games of Mr Eraclides, examine his annotations (try not to laugh too much except in places where he intends that you laugh) and then see if you can discover improvements to the lines of play.

In other words, use his collection of games as a manual of poor play, and enhance your skill by discovering better, winning, moves. What a stout fellow you will become. A good player, but perhaps somewhat humourless.

For the rest of you who are much more sensible, and realize that we cannot all become great players through self improvement and the lack of a sense of humour, you are urged to play these games over for fun, enjoy the writing, and read the whole thing with a glass or three of brandy.

You are bound to enjoy the brandy!

Games and stories will be added to this Blog over time in no particular chronological order. Please be patient (a good trait in a chess player) as I have a day job, a loving partner who insists on her share of attention, I am a slow chess player and an even slower annotator.

I also wish to check what I publish, just in case I actually played better than I realised at the time.

What is this Blog about and who is this George Eraclides

Hi Pilgrims.

The dude on the left is George Eraclides trying to look hip. Hip that is, for a chess player and writer.

I learned to play chess at the age of twelve in London, England. The game was taught to me by the two older sons of a Greek-Cypriot family from whom we were renting a miniscule bed-sit (the immigrant dream not quite realised).

I astounded my immediate circle with the slowness of my development and it became obvious in hindsight that I would not be a player of any significance. I did however learn the moves quickly enough and developed a penchant for complications and occasional attacking play that have distinguished my style to this day. I did not play very much at all, especially after we re-emigrated, this time to Australia. Apart from some play now and then onboard the P&O Orient liner Himalaya, or against the odd friend at school, I left chess alone until my 19th year.

I blame this lack of developmental experience for not having played off in a world chess championship or three. Mr Karpov, you are so lucky.

I did however develop other characteristics from a combination of my nature and the migrant experience, that have helped me in life’s combat zones: A commitment to struggle, fight, never give in, use lateral thinking, and employ an ability to write well and humorously about my chess in the absence of any shred of talent.

In 1972 the great Bobby Fischer was fighting for the world championship and I became interested in chess again. I bought books - all the early Dover books including Morphy’s games, which was my very first chess book (and I have no complaints about beginning with Morphy); I played correspondence chess a lot (I was a university student and lacked time for crossboard), joined chess clubs, played interclub, tournaments, more correspondence chess, and eventually managed to rise to the level of an average club player with a rating in the ranges of 1450-1630 depending on which way the wind was blowing.

I was, and am still, the kind of player that plays aggressively, gets into time trouble, and is predisposed to the complicated lines of play.

If you’re a strong player and come up against me across the board or on the internet, you will probably beat me, but you will need a tranquilliser after the game.

Enough of my boring, non-epoch making, biography in chess.

Further posts will feature my games and chess writing, Believe me, you are in for a treat. Look at the photo above. You know you can trust me.