Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Fortress Defence, or how to give up your Queen and still survive the game

Hi Pilgrims,

Draws can be very interesting, if you extract a 'moral victory of sorts or the game is particularly exciting. Such was my draw in the following game. As the underdog I claim the moral victory, and while I am at it, I might as well claim this is a really exciting game.

It was part of a 'thematic' tournament on the IECG web site (, and because I play the French Defence, I decided to participate. The IECG is an email based chess club, and I highly recommend it.

However, you must be prepared with the latest knowledge, in order to play at a high level in correspondence or email chess. I went into this using only my wits, which is a mistake in my case.


I was out of my depth in the IECG: I had no up to date computers, databases, or openings books. When players are of a high standard, and also have these latest 'aids', you are at a disadvantage, unless you have similar aids to assist your play or are a genius with a surname starting with 'K'.

I was knocked about a fair bit in this tournament, but I did manage to play one particularly good ending which I would like to share with you.

Guy Deschamp VERSUS George Eraclides

IECG TE-2004-P-01504

French/McCutcheon Defence
June 17, 2004

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bb4 5.e5 h6 6.Bd2 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Ne4 8.Qg4 g6 (I prefer this to Kf8; it's also Capablanca's recommendation) 9.Bd3 Nxd2 10.Kxd2 c5 11.Rb1 Nc6 12.Nf3 cxd4 13.cxd4 Qe7 (I like the Queen sitting e7, protecting the black squares and with dynamic potential) 14.Qf4 b6 15.Rhc1 (planning a future attack via c4 if Black risks castling either way) Qa3 (a critical position; a few choices present themselves and I had visions of variations following g5, Bd7, even Kf8/g8; I opted for a risky line. If you don't counter-attack in the French, you will be ground to dust) 16.Bb5 Bd7 17.Ke1 (he gets his King into safety and the game picks-up; I saw a way to take the Pawn and sacrifice my Queen, as you would) Qxa2 18.c4 a6 19.Ra1 (this is it; I thought I would come out of my sacrifice with real chances after winning some more pawns, but...) axb5 20.Rxa2 Rxa2 21.c5 Nb422.Rd1 bxc5 23.dxc5 Nc2+ 24.Kf1 b4 25.Rb1 Bb5+ 26.Kg1 b3 27.h4 (White gets some air for his King; note that Rxb3, Ra1+ wins) b2 28.Qd2 Ba4 (Black is labouring because of his Rook on h8 being out of the action) 29.Qc3 0-0 (I castle too late in order to win, but maybe I can save the game?) 30.Rxb2 Rxb2 31.Qxb2 Rc8 32.Qb7 (an error; he should hang onto the c5 Pawn with Qc3, but he was greedy) Rxc5 33.Qa8+ Kg7 34.Qxa4 Rc4 (I was already thinking about how to build a fortress defence) 35.Qa7 Re4 36.Qc5 Rc4 37.Qe7 Rf4 38.Kh2 Nd4 39.h5 (39. Nxd4 Rxd4 40. Qf6+ Kg8 41. h5 Rf4 was a better try although White still has a battle; now he gets doubled pawns which helps Black) Nxf3+ 40.gxf3 g5 (an absolutely key move in the viability of the fortress defence; as with a real castle, we can consider g5 a 'keystone'; White's doubled Pawns prevent him from breaking through; my position is unshakeable) 41.Kg2 Rf5 42.Qc5 Rf4 (obviously not Rxe5, Qd4 is good for White, but Black is not greedy – an important stratagem) 43.Qa3 Kg8 44.Kf1 Kg7 45.Ke2 Kg8 46.Qe7 Kg7 47.Ke3 Rf5 48.Kd4 Rxf3 49.Kc5 Rxf2 50.Qa7 Rf5 51.Qa4 Rf4 (Rxe5 may have won or lost – I was happy with my fortress and the moral victory) 52.Qd1 Drawn by Agreement. White cannot break through, while Black uses White's own pawns as part of the 'fortress'.

A well played ending after the sacrifice of a Queen failed to yield the victory I expected. I was following the Tal principle: ‘When I sacrifice, I win!’ but, of course, this principle is applicable to the extent that one's ability approaches the great Tal.

Guy said he liked endings and wanted to play on, but he was unable to break through and offered the draw. My secret strategy was not to get caught up with any attempt to win in the last few dozen moves and to keep my Rook on the f-file.

You have to love 40...g5 by Black after White allowed the exchange of Knights.

What a structure, what a fortress.

We build well at Castle Eraclides.

See you later Pilgrims.