Saturday, May 02, 2015

Miles to go to find St George

One of my favourite players from the 1970s through to the 1990s was the English GM Tony Miles. He was the first English player to gain the GM title, a very difficult task in an era when there were not so many tournaments and Elo ratings were not as inflated as today. He had victories over World Champions Karpov, Spassky, Smyslov as well as Candidates like Larsen, Geller, Korchnoi and other giants of the game. At his best, he was in the top ten strongest players in the world. He did not prepare much off the board, not with the intensity of the average grandmaster, and this eventually counted against him in the era of computers and hordes of advisors employed by leading players. He never made it to a Candidates tournament and it is not clear that his low prep approach would have been sufficient in match play if he had made it.

Nonetheless, he was a superb player, positionally aggressive, tactically highly resourceful in the middle-game and an excellent player in the endgame. He liked to try off-beat but sound openings in order to get players out of their comfort zone (book theory). The annotations to his own games are very much worth reading for the average player because they show how to think about your position rather than what theory says should happen, and rarely does, in the real topsy-turvy battles on the board.

His most famous victory was against Karpov when he was World Champion and at his best. Miles as Black played the St George Defence (1.e4 a6!?). Apparently Karpov was not amused, perhaps insulted, that such a dreadful move would be played against a player of his stature. Miles obtained a reasonable position as Black and in fact when on to defeat Karpov when overreached (maybe wanting to teach Miles a lesson?) and blundered. Miles won a straightforward ending even you and I, dear reader, could have won.

Here is the game. Maybe the St George should be played more often.

Kapov V Miles Skara 1980 Euro Team Ch St George Defence. Annotations by Miles.

1. e4 (Karpov is always at home in well-known theoretical lines so it is best to avoid them. A couple of years ago I had a ridiculous!? idea of an all-purpose defence to anything but as yet had not found a suitable opponent to test it on. Now, I decided, was as good a time as any) 1 .... a6!? 2. d4 b5 (By this time the spectators' laughing was becoming embarrassing) 3. Nf3 Bb7 (It's only 1 ... b6 with a bit more space really!?) 4. Bd3 Nf6 5. Qe2 e6 6. a4 c5!? 7. dc (If 7 e5 c4 is unclear) 7 ... Bxc5 8. Nbd2 b4 9. e5 Nd5 10. Ne4 Be7 11. 0-0 (I expected Bg5) 11 ... Nc6 12. Bd2 (Now if Bg5 f6 and a quick 0-0-0) 12 ... Qc7 13. c4 bc 14. Nxc3 Nxc3 15. Bxc3 Nb4 16. Bxb4 Bxb417. Rac1 Qb6 18. Be4 0-0 (Black has a perfectly reasonable position. Now White tries to force matters prematurely) 19. Ng5 h620. Bh7+!? Kh8 21. Bb1 Be7 22. Ne4 Rac8 23. Qd3? (Presumably an oversight. The battery looks threatening but never gets time to operate) 23 ... Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Qxb2 25. Re1 (25. Rc7 was the alternative but even then Black has a wide choice of strong continuations) 25 ... Qxe5 26. Qxd7 Bb4 27. Re3 Qd5 (Forcing a winning ending. The rest is technique) 28. Qxd5 Bxd5 29. Nc3 Rc8 30. Ne2 g5 31. h4 Kg7 32. hg hg 33. Bd3 a5 34. Rg3 Kf6 35. Rg4 Bd6 36. Kf1 Be5 37. Ke1 Rh8 38. f4 gf 39. Nxf4 Bc6 40. Ne2 Rh1 + 41. Kd2 Rh2 42. g3 Bf3 43. Rg8 Rg2 44. Ke1 Bxe2 45. Bxe2 Rxg3 46. Ra8 (I now sealed ... Bc7 but Karpov resigned without resuming)
Source: 'Play the St George' by Michael Basman, Pergamon Press, 1982.

He also liked to play the English Defence against 1.d4 (1.d4 e6 2.c4 b6!?), not just as a patriotic gesture but because he believed it was quite reasonable and could catch out the average GM or IM who prepare for the more common defences. Be aware that if you want to play the English Defence after 1.d4 you need to be prepared to also play the French, should your opponent reply 2.e4 to your 1...e6.

Here is a little gem of Miles with 2...b6.

Ogaard V Miles, Reykjavik, 1978 English Defence

1. d4 e6 2. c4 b6 3. d5 Qh4 4. e3 Nf6 5. a3 Bb7 
6. Nf3 Qh5 7. de6fe6 8. Be2 Qg6 9. Nh4 Qh6 10. Bf3 
Nc6 11. g3 g5 12. e4 Ne513. Bg2 Qg7 14. f4 gh4 
15. fe5 Ng4 16. Bf4 O-O-O 17. Nc3 Bc518. Qd2 Ne5 
19. b4 h3 o-1

What can we average players learn from the games of Miles? How to form and execute a strategic plan; simply marvel at his tactical endings; that there is life after computers just as there was before computers (BC); innovation and surprise can unsettle any player; and many opening the ‘authorities’ deem questionable are no such thing in the real world of weekend tournament chess with quick time controls; lastly, his resourcefulness in difficult positions.

Geoff Lawton has edited a superb book on the life and games of Tony Miles, titled ‘Tony Miles: It’s only me’ published by Batsford in London, 2003. If you can find a copy, get it.

Miles suffered from diabetes and was taken away from us in 2001 at a relatively young age (1955-2001). He was a player eschewing much preparation and computer analysis, preferring to mix it on the board, and producing some marvellous games that are his legacy for all time.

Inspired by Miles I tried his English Defence as Black in a server game. Alas I am no Tony Miles and I only obtained a draw. I had a safe position and all the winning chances. Not bad for Black.

The game was played in a Team Event, Argentina versus Australia in 2013 played on the ICCF Webserver.

German Fernadez (1971) Versus George Eraclides (1971) Board 18

English Defence

1. d4 e6 (Miles played this only when he was confident his opponent would not go into a French Defence, which he did no like) 2. c4 b6!? (The !? marks are a tribute to Tony Miles; they describe both his style and the status of the English Defence) 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Bb7 5. g3 Be7 6. Bg2 Ne4 (Both players have played sensible, solid, moves. Correct now is either Qc2 or even Nxe4) 7. O-O (Apparently he does not mind the doubled Pawns but in fact they are a great weakness in almost all cases. In the rest of the game I simply followed Nimzovich’s advice on how to deal with such a ‘Pawn Complex’, reminiscent of the Samisch Variation in the Nimzo-Indian) Nxc3 8. bxc3 O-O 9. Qd3 (Intending a quick, central development and advance but it does not work out that way) Nc6 10. d5 Na5 11. Bf4 Ba6 (I could feel the presence of the shade of Nimzovich as I made this move or perhaps it was just a trick of the light) 12. Nd2 Rc8 13. e4 Bg5 (A clever plan to neutralise the White centre, leaving behind the doubled Pawn weakness) 14. Bxg5 (Necessary. Already the problem of defending the doubled Pawn  restricts White’s strategic options) Qxg5 15. f4 Qe7 16. Rf2 (He wants to be able to play a Bf1 to defend the weak Pawn complex and still be able to get Rooks into the centre to generate some play) exd5 (We are taught to capture towards the centre but here the Ba6 pin makes it impossible) 17. exd5 Rfe8 18. Bf1 Qe3 19. Rc1 d6 (Black now cannot lose and he may even win. 19...Qxd3 first is not better: 20. Bxd3 Re3 21. Bf1 Rae8 22. c5 seems unclear) 20. Qxe3 Rxe3 21. Re2 Rxe2 22. Bxe2 Re8 23. Kf2 f5 (Taking e4 away from the White Knight) 24. Bd3 g6 25. Re1 Rxe1 26. Kxe1 (draw offered by White and accepted) 1/2-1/2

I accepted a draw because I thought the pieces were locked into entrenched positions in a demilitarised zone where any move by one frees the other to move or capture material. Therefore no piece moves, and the Kings and Pawns also counter each other, with no chance to penetrate. Perhaps Black could have done better earlier; maybe he should have played on.

Still, a half point from a position of strength with Black, having played a supposedly dubious defence, is achievement indeed.

Thanks Tony Miles (RIP).

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