Friday, October 20, 2006

Shock and Awe with the Vienna Gambit

Hi Pilgrims,

Here is a temporary break from the indignity of my getting thrashed by master level players, in the shape of another Vienna where I, and hopefully your good self, get to have some fun.

Recall if you will, the charms of Vienna. It has nothing to do with the modern city of Vienna. We have to go back to a seedier time; when the human dregs of the dying Austro-Hungarian Empire drifted through the city; when bohemians (ethnic or in lifestyle) played chess in coffee houses; when Steinitz was the past champion of the world, Tarrasch the great teacher, Lasker and Capablanca the colossi of the moment, and only Rudolf Spielmann was flying the lone flag of romanticism in the face of scientific chess.

In the end even Spielmann fell by the wayside as he also took up the scientific way of playing, albeit in the style of the so-called neo-romanticism of Nimzovich. But it wasn’t the old rock and roll that was playing. True romantic chess was as dead as the imagination of a player of the Queen's Gambit.

You don’t always have to play scientifically. Life is short, so don't die wondering. You can put a little adventure in your life by playing the Vienna Gambit.

Anyway, the Vienna has a science of it's own if the truth be told. But what an enjoyable way to be scientific. Just let the orchestra play those waltzes. Bring out the pieces and the champagne and let's have at it.

The following game is part of a series of Vienna’s played over 25 years by correspondence chess, email, and across the board (see previous posting 'The Vienna Gambit ~ more tricks than a dog has fleas'). I have always relied on the Vienna - especially it's wilder scion, the Vienna Gambit. And why not? It's fun; it's sound; people think it's rubbish and don’t study it; and therefore, it wins.

Apart from Spielmann, essentially a spirit of the 19th Century, the only other modern players to have tried it have been (in order of playing strength) Spassky, Larsen, and Harding. The latter wrote a wonderful monograph on the Vienna (and the Bishop's Opening) and I would urge you to find a copy and start reviving your stale chess repertoire, before you get too old to play chess. Do you really want to be known in the nursing home as a player who once played quiet, positional chess, or would you rather be known as a rakish, bold, gambiteer?

Do it now. Your wives and children will thank you for it. At the carrot eater level of play - somewhere around 1600 and below, I am the only person I know of who plays it regularly if given a chance. I have done so since the 1970's; even in the so-called ‘ultra accurate’ world of correspondence chess I have done well with it. More importantly, I have had fun with it.

In the absence of any other player of note, or another average oik like me willing to stick his furry neck out, the following game will have to suffice as an ersatz tribute to the Vienna.

Hope you have some fun playing over this latest offering.

Played by correspondence in the 4-2 Tournament 2570, 1996/97 of the Correspondence Chess League of Australia.

This game received only a runner-up award for ‘best game with sacrifice’ in 1997. I thought it was better than the competition, but then I would, wouldn’t I?

George Eraclides Versus M. S. Schmidt
Vienna Gambit

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. f4 d5
4. fxe5 Nxe4
5. d3

The Oxford Variation - the thinking players gambit line. Other variations start with Nf3 or even Qf3!?

5. .........Nxc3
6. bxc3 d4

Black tries to stop White from building a strong centre with d4 and Bd3. So far we are playing by the numbers.

7. Nf3 Nc6

The other main line is 7 ...c5; 8 Be2 but that's another story.

It’s time now to reflect upon the general idea of the Vienna and in particular, it's sly and seedier relation, the Vienna Gambit. It begins seemingly without passion or threat with 2 Nc3; a move many annotators have denigrated in their ignorance. However, that move is only a feint. Matters become feral very quickly after 3 f4! If Black is not careful and naively believes what the Opening's hacks tell him, he will very quickly become the victim of a whirlwind attack. Of the relative moderns, Spassky and Larsen have bludgeoned opponents to death with this opening. One awaits a further spiritual awakening among players like Kasparov, Shirov, Short, Morozevich, and other neo-romantic attacking players - what a wonderful surprise weapon it would make in their hands.

8. cxd4 Bb4+

This is better than the immediate 8 ...Nxd4. First some pieces are exchanged and Black is ready to castle.

9. Bd2 Bxd2+
10. Qxd2 Nxd4

According to the collected wisdom to date, White is supposed to play 11. c3 next. That’s the line given by Harding in his classic work ‘The Vienna Opening’ published by Batsford in 1976. Older players whose chess has become stale should try and get a copy - it’s Viagra for chess. My impression of the analysis hereabouts revealed only a relatively bleak landscape, where Black upsets White's pawns (11...Nxf3), develops apace, and White is left scowling and thinking ‘Is that all there is?’ So I tried something new and impulsive.

11. 0-0-0!? (TN)

This appears not to have been seriously attempted before. No doubt because it seems so obviously a stupid move. No one with a modicum of chess talent would bother with 11. 0-0-0. Given that my chess talent is ‘negligible-to-the-vanishing-point’, I seriously examined and then played this theoretical novelty (TN). It exposes the White King somewhat, but it also forces Black to play on his or her own terms in what is a very complicated position. The Queen's Rook is swiftly centralised, and any attack by Black will increase the quanta of complexity to chaotic proportions. Meanwhile passivity by either side will be met with swift retribution, for instance White can work up an attack on any part of the board. Those are the objective reasons for playing this move. The other important reason is that no one with any brains would play this way!

11 .........Be6!?

The possibilities here are, of course, practically endless, each unleashing a totally different chain of complicated play:
11...Bg4 and White has:
12. Qe3 or 12. Qb4 or 12. Qf2 or 12. Qc3 or even 12. Qf4; Black can be hit with c3 if he does not exchange; after 11...0-0 we have 12. c3 or 12. h4 - what complicated fun. Black decides not to sit on his hands and gets on with it; he now has Bxa2, Qd7 and 0-0-0 as serious options.

12. Qe3!?

Also possible was:
12. Qb4 Nxf3
13. gxf3 Qc8 (or Rb8)
14. Rg1
14. f4
and the world is still a very dangerous place. With 12. Qe3 I wanted to force an exchange and open lines for the King's Rook, in order to attack the kingside.

12 .........Nxf3

Black obliges White. 12...Nf5 was perhaps safer, with one line 13. Qe4 and if 13...Qd5 white can try for the ending after 14. Qxd5 Bxd5; 15. Kb2 but
15. c4?! Bxf3; 16. gxf3 Nxd4 seems good for Black; also possible is the riskier 14. Qa4+. Every line seems to be unclear.

13. gxf3

It is important to keep the White Queen on this black diagonal (13. Qxf3 Qg5+), where she also threatens a7 restricting the opponents options. Notice that White is poised to play moves like Rg1, Bg2, or d4 depending on Black’s actions. My opponents lack of development and White’s piece placement will soon start to tell. In particular, Black’s Rooks remain frustrated onlookers.

13 ...........Qe7

A cautious move, making possible O-O-O at some future time and threatening to check on a3. White has offered a speculative Pawn sacrifice for development, which is temporarily declined. Pity the humble infantry, always singled out for sacrifice.

14. Rg1

Again offering the a2 pikeman in return for time to attack.

14 ............O-O

Black is reacting to the accumulating threats by simple but inappropriate development. This is an example of the clash between routine thinking (development must take place in the opening) and the needs of the actual position. He wants to take the offered Pawn and mix it with White, while also achieving the requisite level of development so he can feel safe - desires which are basically incompatible. Perhaps 14...Qa3+; 15. Kd2 O-O-O; 16. f4 was better. If 14...O-O-O immediately, the a7 and g7 pawns are loose, while 14...g6; 15. d4 stops any a3 Queen check. White is unafraid of a few checks on his King as the sequel shows, and in the meantime thereis a definite target of royal proportions for his aggressively inclined pieces.

15. d4

Stopping the a3+ and planning to develop the Bishop on d3, from where he will menace the opponent’s King-side while also defending c2.

15 .........Bxa2

Finally - but what a time to go Pawn-grabbing. I should mention that the White a2 Pawn left the board with a very sullen expression directed at his King. Perhaps it was not too late for Black to play 15...c6 or even 15...Bf5.

16. Bd3

All kinds of combinative visions swam before my eyes but I lacked the ability or the organizing skills to place them in any coherent order. I thought it was best not to rush, as now the Bishop eyes h7, the Rook g7, and the White centre is made more secure. I was concerned at the lack of a dashing Knight (so complementary to a Queen, with perhaps a little dalliance on the side), but the pious Bishop would do. Notice that 16. Qh6 is superficial and bad; Black plays 16...Qa3+ spoiling the fun.

16 ...........Rad8

Now that he has ‘won’ a Pawn Black tries to consolidate by restricting the White centre and lining up on the King. But too much time has been lost. 16...f6 allows 17. Qh6 now that the Bishop has been played to d3.

17. Rg5

Intending either Rh5 or Rdg1 depending on Black’s reply.
I thought that 17. Rxg7+ was a flamboyant gesture which just fails. I was not concerned about Queen checks, believing in Steinitz’s dictum that the King is a strong piece and can look after itself while Black wastes time.

17 ...........f6

If 17...h6; 18. Rxg7+ is decisive after 18...Kxg7; 19. Rg1+
Interesting is 17...Qa3+; 18. Kd2 Qb4+; 19. Ke2 transposing to similar themes as in the actual game below.

18. Rh5 g6

I thought a better chance was 18...Kf7 but 19. Rxh7 Rg8; 20. Rg1 (or Bg6+) threatening 21. Bg6 keeps the initiative with a Medieval ‘hack and slash’ in prospect. If 18...Qa3+; 19. Kd2 Qb4+; 20. Ke2 Qd4 (or Rxd4); 21. Bh7+ wins.

19. Rg1 Qa3+

Hoping the checks will stop some of the relentless pressure.

20. Kd1!

If 20. Kd2 Qb4+ and White must play 21. c3 or alose a Pawn and the game.

20 ............Bd5!

Black has to do something to meet White’s smorgasboard of threats, including the brutal Rxg7+ or Rxh7 with a final, deadly, embrace to come. The move played is relatively best and ‘threatens’ the Rook at g1, but White has anticipated this position and is prepared for more sacrifices.

21. Rxh7! Bxf3+
22. Qxf3 Qxa1+
23. Ke2!

The best square as will soon become evident.

23 ...........Qxg1

It looks as though Black has saved his game, but...

24. Qh3!

The immediate threat is Bc4+ and checkmate to follow soon after. Notice that Black has no useful checks at all with the White King on e2.

24 ...........c6

Despair. If 24...Rd7; 25. Bc4+ wins.
If 24...Rf7; 25. Rh8+ Kg7; 26. Qh6/h7++
If 24...Qxd4; 25. Rh8+ Kf7; 26. Bg6+! Ke7; 27. Rh7+ Rf7; 28. Rxf7+
If 24...Rxd4; 25. Bc4+! Rxc4; Rh8+ Kf7; 27. Qd7++
If 24...Rd5 then simply 25. Rxh8+ and 26. Qh7+ or even the piquant 25. e6!
Could the soul of the humble Pikeman at a2 become reborn at e5 I wonder?

25. Bc4+ Rd5
26. Rh8+ Resigns

If 26...Kg7; 27. Qh7 brings down the curtain. Similarly after 26...Kf7; 27. Qd7++

You can see what fun the Vienna has been for me over the years, and how I regret not being able to play it more often.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Eraclides versus the Masters Part 1 ~ Slam Dunked by Ian Rogers

Hi Pilgrims,

Sometimes an average player can have the opportunity to play against some of the world’s best players. In Melbourne I was fortunate to watch world champions, such as Spassky and Karpov, give simultaneous diplays. Spassky delighted everybody with his play, good grace and manners.

Karpov received a standing ovation when he entered the auditorium to play, because he had just drawn the 1987 world title match with the rampaging Kasparov. The audience knew that Karpov would never be as good as he had been while world champion, but they admired his fighting spirit, the way he drew and almost won that match. For that period of time, they considered him co-equal champion with Kasparov.

Usually only a celebrity or club champion would be nominated to play in a simultaneous exhibition. For instance the great Australian Rules footballer Ron Barrassi got to play against Spassky (Barrassi lost), and the club champion of my chess club, Essendon, Alex Lemesz (ex Latvia, rated over 2100) played against both Spassky and Karpov. He drew both games with his trusty Modern Defence. It is interesting that Alex was into his late 60’s and early 70’s when he played these titans, which gives you some idea how strong a player he was in his day.

I have been lucky enough to play against a master, international master and a grandmaster. I would like to say that I gave them a few scares (I glared at them over the board - I am almost big, and mean looking, although I am really a gentle, caring person), but in the end their damnable talent won the day.

However, I did not lose quickly, the games were interesting, and for any fellow carrot-eaters, highly instructive. All the games illustrated the ability of the master player to keep to a minimum any errors during the game, take advantage of opponent errors, and demonstrate excellent technique. They also show the different styles of these players. One combinative, one effortless, one complicated.

Among the next few Blog postings, I will show you these games, begining this posting with a Grandmaster, then at some future time my games against an International Master, and finally a Master player.

The first game is against the Australian International Grandmaster, Ian Rogers. It was played in 1981 at a simul I helped organise at my then chess club in Glenroy (Melbourne, Australia). Ian was rated at 2440 which was about 100 points below his real strength. In those days, players from Oz were underated compared to their international counterparts. The reason was that our players did not get many chances to play in overseas tournaments, but visiting ‘big name players’ from overseas usually got a hiding from local strong players if they made the mistake of underestimating their ability based on a dubious rating.

Ian was then about 19 or 20 and was studying Meterological Sciences at the University of Melbourne. I was 28 and the Secretary of the Glenroy Chess Club, an amateur outfit for which we were trying to get publicity in the hopes of increasing membership. We met every Thursday evening at the Glenroy Public Library, and apart from me, most of the players were East Europeans who had come out to Oz as refugees after WWII. Our collective style of play is best described as mad coffee-house.

I collected Ian from his home at Malvern and remember discussing the ideas of Nimzovich with him. I had just discovered Nimzo (I told you I was a late starter - see the first few Blog postings) and was hoping some of his ideas would soak through my cranium and into the grey matter (I’m still waiting). But for Ian, it was all terribly old hat. He had been playing at such a high level for years, that the ideas of Nimzo were kind of obvious and kind of boring.

Ian had a party trick he used to do when playing a simul. He was a very good draughts player, and would play young kids at draughts, while playing chess against the rest of the bunnys with his back to the chess boards. In effect without sight of the board and the moves called out to him. In the present simul, he just played chess.

The game he played against me is a Sicilian, and it was wild, as befits his style and to some extent my own.

Ian Rogers (GM 2440) VERSUS George Eraclides
(My Bunny rating was: Too embarassing to mention)

1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 g6

You’re kidding right? George is going to play a Dragon against Ian Rogers. the Sicilian is bad enough, but a Dragon? Someone get a psychiatrist.

6. Be3 Bg7
7. f3

The Yugoslav Attack, the strongest against the Dragon.
But is George afraid? Is he?

7 .........0-0

Oh well, about here was the end of what I could remember of opening theory. How about Ian?

8. Qd2 Nc6
9. 0-0-0 Bd7

I was not sure if I was doing the right thing, but I had a secret advantage. Ian had no real idea how strong or weak I was as a player. After all I was playing the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian, which only experienced, tough competitors (like Larsen) would play. So could George be secretly Danish?

10. g4

I knew with this move White was about to go for Black’s throat, so I decided to try something daring myself.

10 ...........Nxd4!?
11. Bxd4 Bc6

Looks like a good position for the Bishop, with the possibility of some future
threats. The Sicilian is after all a ‘fighting defence’, according to the openings hacks, but I suspect that just means you go down fighting. But you still go down.

12. Kb1

Getting his King into safety. Has Black scared White with his profound 11th move, or is Ian just having a yawn?

12 .........Qa5

Black is still trying to develop some counterplay, and hatches a little aggressive plan.

13. h4 b5!?

Goodness me, this is going to be a savage little game.
Mother’s please take the children away.

14. h5 b4
15. Nd5 Bxd5

I did not want to give up my g7 Bishop, because I was hoping to use his holyness in some kind of attack. Why else fianchetto in a Sicilian?

16. exd5 Qxd5

I win a Pawn against a Grandmaster - temporarily. Should I go for a win based on pure technique?

17. hxg6 fxg6

I know that in general you should capture towards the centre, but I felt that my King’s position would be too drafty on the h-file. Plus I wanted my Rook to have a chance to land a few blows on the f-file.

18. Qxb4 Qxf3
19. Bc4+

Ooops. Things are looking crook in Tootgarook.

19 ...........d5

Take that, you insufferable prelate!

20. Ba6

Note that Bb3 gives up the important diagonal a6/f1 which Ian wants to control.

20 ...........Qxg4
21. Qxe7 Rfe8
22. Qc7!

The White Witch is going to hang onto that seventh rank.

22 ............Qe6

I read somewhere that centralization was a good thing.

23. Bb7!? Re7!?

Touch my Rook and the Queen-Witch is history.

24. Qxe7!?

Don’t you hate it when they call your bluff? Okay, White had to do something, because swapping Queens is kind of bland when you are a Grandmaster playing a windbag.

24 ...........Qxe7
25. Bxa8 Qd7?!

I had trouble deciding what to do in the time available. I was the last player left and as honour demands in a simul, had to play reasonably quickly. Maybe h5 was better and if Bxf6 Qxg6 threatens something.

26. Bxf6 Bxf6
27. Bxd5+

Now I am losing. Did I have a chance to save this game? Could a halfway decent player have done better? Your task, dear reader, is to go back and play over the critical phases of this somewhat complicated game, and see if you could have improved on my play against the Grandmaster. I suggest you do not have an onerous task.

27 ...........Kg7??

What a Gazoo! Kf8 is better, but Black still loses.

28. Rxh7+!

Good players are so much better than the rest of us at seeing the simple, obvious tactics, most of the time. I have often gone into esoteric lines of thought only to be tumbled by simple tactics. That’s the definition of a Gazoo, in case you were wondering: Not seeing the obvious because of the pursuit of the esoteric and complicated. Unlike a dunce who is not capable of any substantial thought.

28 ...........Kxh7
29. Bg8+ Kxg8

It’s all over red rover.

30. Rxd7 g5
31. Rxa7 g4
32. Ra4 Resigns

The late Australian International Master and great human being, Terrey Shaw, once told me during a lecture, that the ordinary player would do better to study endings and tactical themes. Improving your tactical sight of the board, through pattern recognition, is far better than trying to study the openings all the time. So you would do better to work your way through ‘Play to win’ tactical or endgame exercises rather than loading up your memory with opening lines. Rogers has also said that chess is mostly tactics, so you would do well to try and master tactics.