Oct 302019

The same, but different. Today’s post features an interesting pair of games played in the Two Knight’s variation for your interest.

Sometimes in chess you see a pair of games that bear a striking resemblance to one another in terms of strategic ideas and tactical motifs. Of course, it makes more sense when the games stem from the same opening variation, but when they’re played almost exactly 18 months apart and played against the same opponent, it’s a bit uncanny.

A couple of Saturday’s ago I played for Calderdale ‘A’ in their first match of the new Woodhouse Cup season against York ‘B’. I played on board 4 and found myself operating the White pieces against Paul Johnson. As far as I can recall, I’d only played Paul once before. That was in the Leeds League a couple of seasons back. I’m blessed with a fairly good memory (for the moment at least) and can recall some details about games I’ve played against a great many players but this one is imprinted on my memory particularly strongly because I considered it to be a game in which I played pretty well – as it turns out I was pretty wrong – I didn’t play it at all well! This wasn’t a typical ‘Dave Shapland’ hallmark game full of complications and chaotic tactics. This one was quite positional and reasonably controlled. Perhaps because of that, I remember it even more keenly.

That game was played on the 4th of April 2018. The game the other week was played on the 5th of October 2019. Almost 18 months later to the day. The similarities didn’t end there though. In both games Paul played the Two Knights Defence and we entered what is sometimes called the Modern Variation where White plays 4.d4 and 5.e5. This is a line I’ve been playing consistently against the Two Knights for a few years and have been learning its subtleties. It’s an interesting variation.

Perhaps remembering something of that game 18 months ago, and also taking advantage of a sub-optimal move order on my part, Paul played a slightly different line in the second game. However, the strategic themes that emerged were very similar to the first game. White gained a king’s side pawn majority which became more of a telling factor as the game progressed. Black had a majority on the queen’s side but his structure was damaged because he had a doubled c-pawn. On the credit side, Black used the half open b-file for counter play.

Another theme of this variation is White’s attempt to establish strong control of the dark squares. Especially important are the squares on c5, d4 and e3. White aims to control these squares in order to blockade Black’s potentially mobile c and d-pawns so that he can then launch his own attack on the king’s side using his pawn majority there. It’s a classic endeavour to strangle the opponent’s counter play on one wing in order to buy time for an assault on the other.

Of course, that sounds very simple, but in any game it is impossible to maintain complete control throughout and at some point tactical operations will be necessary. Such was the case with both these games. In both games found I needed to make a judgement and take a clear decision to abandon the positional approach in favour of a more concrete method at some point. You’ll see that happen quite clearly in each example I think.

But, going beyond the strategic ideas, the two games that are the subject for today’s post even have tactical motifs that carry more than a passing likeness. Take a look at what I would consider to be critical positions from each game and compare them.

Shapland vs. Johnson, Leeds League, 2018

In the first position (top) from the game in 2018 it’s White to move. I’d sacrificed a pawn in order to centralise my king and queen and set up the tactical sequence that now follows. I played 43.f6+ Kg8 44.Qe8+ Kh7 (note that if 44…Qf8 then 45.f7+ forces the king away and wins Black’s queen) 45.f7 Qa3+ and there followed a short sequence of checks from Black which I had carefully calculated an escape from. After that it was impossible for Black to prevent me making a second queen and winning the game.

In the second position (bottom) it’s Black to move but he’s threatened with exactly the same tactical idea. White wants to use a discovered check and play 47.e7+ which will force home the e-pawn rather than the f-pawn on this occasion. So, to avoid this my opponent found the tricky move 46…Qd3. Now 47.e7+ doesn’t work because then …Qxd5+ 48.Re4 Qxe4 is mate! But instead White wins with 47.Qxd3 exd3 48.e7! dxe2 49.e8=Q+ Kh7 50.Qxe2.

Shapland vs. Johnson, Woodhouse Cup, 2019

The two positions are remarkably alike aren’t they? In both, White has been able to exploit his king’s side pawn majority to break through. In both, White’s pieces are very well placed on central squares and operating harmoniously. In both, Black has an opportunity counter play with his passed pawns or pawn but doesn’t have time to exploit their potential. In both, White’s discovered check with a pawn advance is a deadly threat.

I know these kinds of thematic ideas crop up all the time in chess but in two games against the same opponent it feels a bit spooky.

I’ve published both games in full below. I hope you’ll enjoy them. I think they are quite interesting, both individually and as a pair.

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Sep 292019

I’d better start this post by explaining the first part of the title for the uninitiated. Several years ago there was a Yorkshire Chess website. Sadly, it is no longer with us as it was pretty good and even won the ECF’s ‘Website of the Year’ Award in 2014-15. I was one of the writers for this website and published, amongst other things, a blog column called ‘Travial Pursuit’ – no it’s not a spelling mistake. The blog reached episode 69 before the website disappeared.

The series was always primarily and unashamedly a blog of my own chess games and experiences. It was, as all blogs have to be, self-centred and biographical, although I also hoped that it was sometimes interesting and entertaining perhaps even, on very rare occasions, insightful. Regular readers may well wish to have disagreed, but I tried to strike a balance between publishing my triumphs and my travails – hence the name of the blog!

So, now I’ve decided to resurrect Travial Pursuit on this website. It should hopefully mean that there will be a regular flow of content as I will, more than likely, publish games I play from other leagues and not just the Calderdale League. Believe it or not our little Hebden Bridge Chess Club website has been going for 10 years this September. When I first started it, at least as many of the posts were for entertainment purposes as there were posts for match reports. Maybe it’s time for the Hebden Bridge Chess Club website to return to its roots then!

There’s another significant anniversary for me to celebrate this year. 2019 marks my 25th year as a ‘competitive’ chess player – in other words 25 years of me playing in evening leagues and congresses etc. So, just as I did when I started the Travial Pursuit series for Yorkshire Chess, which was intended initially to give me an excuse to revisit my back catalogue of games from the first 20 years of my chess playing career, there is a very selfish reason for re-starting this blog series here on the Hebden Bridge website.

Were else can we begin then than with the anniversary of a significant and worthwhile game from my portfolio? Today’s game was played 9-years ago today. And what a game it is, even if I do say so myself! I think this game is one of the wildest, craziest and richest games that I’ve ever played. Is it a game of high quality? Nope! Indeed, I find that rarely are the most entertaining games error free. If they are complicated, then our computer friends will always point out where we went wrong and in tactically complicated games humans simply make more mistakes. That error count goes up significantly when the players have very little time to select their moves and that is one of the themes from this game: zeitnot – time pressure!

In fact, most of the critical part of this game was played in extreme time pressure by both players. I don’t tend to get into time trouble too often over the board, but in this game I did, and so did my opponent. Indeed, I would say that my use of his time trouble was a significant practical factor in the outcome of the game and those of you who know me know that I am nothing if not a practical chess player! To make the situation even more stressful the game spiralled into some absolutely skull splitting complexity just at the point when we were both running out of time. So much so that I’d say they even put the lunacy of the current Brexit deadlock into perspective.

I’m fed up of hearing on the news about how Brexit is as or more complicated than than 3D chess. It’s about time we reclaimed our game by publishing a match up that can rightly claim to be more complicated than Brexit. Here it is!

The whole game with annotation is in the game viewer at the end of this post but let’s visit a few key moment’s in it first to try and give you readers a few positions to assess.

Position 1

In this first position (right) White has just played 10.0-0. What would be your plan here with the Black pieces? I played 10…0-0 myself, but now, looking back at this game afresh I can’t believe that I didn’t fancy trying for a direct attack on the White king by taking on f5 to open the g-file and then playing something like Rg8-Bc6-Qd7 and 0-0-0. What was I thinking?! And how unlike me to pass up such an opportunity. My maybe I was having one of those days when I was trying to play sensibly. If I was then it didn’t turn out too well as we shall see!

Position 2

In this next position (position 2 on the left)  I’ve just played 15…gxf5? What’s all that about? Having castled short, I then went crazy and played for the aforementioned attack on the White king’s side. Madness! This is the moment I should have been punished by my opponent. What should he be playing here instead of the game move 16.exf5? In fairness, the best move here does require a fair bit of calculation already, so no wonder both players missed it.

Position 3

Just a few moves later and we have our next position (position 3 on the right) after I’ve played 17…Qxf6. This time I think White’s best move and subsequent plan is easier to find. What should White have played here to develop a strong initiative instead of the game move 18.Nd2?

Position 4

By move 25 we were both beginning to get a bit short of time and the sanctuary of time control was still ten moves or so away. Here, White has just played 25.Qe4 (see position 4 on the left). This is a good move which prevents my intended 25…f5 and also keeps and eye on the g2 square. In this position, sensing that I was taking too long on the clock I tried to speed up and made another awful move in the form of 25…c6? This was well intentioned as I wanted to threaten 26…Bb6 and also to undermine White’s d5 pawn. Of course, White responded by winning his pawn back with tempo with 26.Rxf7! What should I have played instead of 26…c6?

Position 5

Yet another crucial decision came for White in this position. After 26.Rxf7 I took the opportunity to pop in an intermezzo with 26…Bb6+. (See position 5 on the right.) White now needs to decide which square to put his king on. Normally, one would tend towards h1 I suppose but it looks like there may be some back rank tricks in the air for Black. Are those real or illusory. Why don’t you decide which square the king should go to?

Position 6

By move 30 we were both down to our last few minutes to reach the time control at move 35 but the position had become exceedingly concrete! In this position (position 6 on the left) I’ve just played 29…Bd4? It’s another mistake that could have been punished but you’ll have to calculate some tricky forcing lines to find the win for White. He let me off the hook again by playing 30.Nb3? here. What should he have gone for?

Position 7

I could very well ask you to find the best move for either player for all the remaining moves of the game from here on in! I’ll refrain from doing so and just give you a three more positions to consider. In this next one (position 7 on the right) White has just played 31.Qh3 and with some justification. It threatens mate in one and sustains the threat to win the bishop on d4. However, it loses. Can you find the correct path for Black? If you want to recreate the game conditions, give yourself about 45 seconds to conduct your search!

Position 8

This is the position (position 8 on the left) at the time control on move 35. Black has just played 35…Bg1. Having been given an extra 15 minutes to add to the 30 odd seconds he had left, my opponent now spent 10 minutes (!!) calculating his next move. He found the best one, but it took him way too long. Can you do better?

OK, here’s the last one! (Position 9 below and on the right) This is the position after Black has just played 38…e1=N+!! We now have three queens on the board and Black has just under promoted to a knight with check! Did you ever imagine a position like this could have been reached from the rather torpid opening position I gave to you above? It’s monstrous!

Position 9

Where should White put his king? What in heaven’s name is going on? My poor opponent had only a minute or so to finish the game by this point. I remember seeing a look of total panic and confusion in his eyes the like of which I would perhaps have expected to see in the eyes of someone who was in fear for their very life! Then I realised that I probably had exactly the same crazed expression on my own face!!

I won’t trouble you with anymore positions from the game but will instead let you find the answers to the questions I posed above and enjoy the finale in the game viewer below. I’m not going to try and draw any real wisdom from such a chaotic game other than this:

  1. Try and manage your clock sensibly folks. Even in complicated positions you have to try and play as quickly as you can when you’re in time pressure. In this game my opponent was hanging on and even winning the game until he took those fateful 10 minutes to decide on his 36th move. After that he really had no chance even though objectively, he was winning. Moliere said it best: ‘Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error.’
  2. What a crazy, ridiculous and marvellous game chess is when things like this can happen.

I hope you enjoy this game as much as I’ve enjoyed re-discovering it!

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