This is the last day of the month, and normally I would review my best and worst chess games of the month. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually finish any of my games. I play correspondence chess on chess.com, and I haven’t completed any. To be fair, I started most of my games halfway the month, so I didn’t have a lot of time. Next month should have a good selection to choose from.
Instead, I thought I would reach into the vault and pull out one of my best games. What follows is perhaps my favourite chess game.
Background: I played this game at the end of 2013, during a time I was trying to get back into chess. I performed about average, winning some and losing some. Actually, the games I lost I lost terribly, and most of my wins were unremarkable. This game, though, felt like a work of art. It also has perhaps the prettiest final position of any of my games.
Tomy – Pettit (that’s me)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5!?
This is the Ulvestad Variation. I’ll be completely honest, I haven’t studied this variation in any depth, but here’s the thing: most White players don’t even know it exists! This particular variation is very sharp and very obscure, and White needs to find 6.Bf1! to have any hope for advantage. As you can see, it’s very counter-intuitive. No one has played that against me, which is why my results are so good with this line.
This is really a fantastic variation, and I’ll write more about it in the future.
6.Bb3?! Nd4 7.c3 Nxb3 8.Qxb3 Qxd5 9.Qxd5 Nxd5 10.0-0?
Just looking at this position, we can see Black is doing well. He has the two Bishops in a wide open position. Black also has more space, and White’s Queenside is hard to develop. Black’s only weakness is the advanced b5-pawn, but it can easily be defended by a6 and it may even advance.
Actually, White’s position is very precarious, so much so that after 10…Nf4, White is almost losing. If he tries 11.d4, then 11…exd4 12.cxd4 Ne2+ 13.Kh1 Nxd4 and Black has won the pawn and still has his great position. White decided not to lose a pawn, but that led to something even worse.
I would say White is positionally lost here. I played a game once years ago that left a huge impression on me. I completely blockaded the b- and d-pawns on the initial square, and that meant my opponent couldn’t use his Queenside Bishop or Rook at all, and I won an easy game afterwards.
That lesson has always stuck with me, and when I get a chance to blockade pawns, I always do it, even if it’s not the best. If you ever play me, you know my weakness: bait me to blockade pawns.
12.Rf1 Bb7 13.Na3 a6 14.Nc2 Be7 15.Nh3?! 0-0-0 16.Rd1
How Would You Play Here?
Black was threatening Nxc1 and then Rxd2, winning a pawn. That’s why he played 16.Rd1, though honestly I would have tried to keep my bind. I felt White’s lack of space was more worth more than just a pawn. That said, White prevented it, and now I need a plan.
Black has achieved near maximum activity. The only piece that isn’t doing something is the h8-Rook. We should put it somewhere, surely, and then breakthrough. A superficial move would be 16…Rhe1, which certainly looks nice but doesn’t really do much. It has no plan. What would I do next? Advancing the e-pawn wouldn’t do much; if anything, it just blocks my light-square Bishop.
Honestly, I spent over 40min trying to find a good move. You see, I thought I had a great position, but I couldn’t see how to improve it anymore. Most moves did nothing or just marked time, and if I don’t hurry then White may untangle himself. At the end of those 40min I came up with a plan I’m incredibly proud of, and the computer agrees that it’s best play.
In my own annotations I gave this move the double exclamation mark, more for my perseverance than anything. Here’s the idea: Black has Bishops and Rooks, and everyone knows they need open lines to be effective. If the Kingside pawns were to disappear, I’d likely simply win. White would be defenceless. I thus started a pawn storm to open lines.
Why was this so hard? Because I needed to evaluate the position and then make a plan. I spent most of those 40min calculating, “I go here, he goes there, I counter, he counters, etc.” That didn’t get me anywhere. Finally I stopped and looked at the position more generally. If I could put my pieces anywhere, where would they go? Once I saw the potential power of open Kingside lines, the plan came together quickly.
The rest of this game I played with a buzz of adrenaline.
17.Kf1 g4 18.Ng1 Bc5 19.Ne3 f5
The pawns just keep on coming. White cannot take it, as 20.Nxf5? Rhf8 loses a piece due to the threat of Rxf2#. I’m getting closer to my goal of opening those Kingside lines.
20.b4 Bb6 21.f3?
This just makes my job easier. White needs try to get his pieces into the game, and 21.c4 or 21.a4 are the only way to do it. Black’s attack is still a thousand times faster, but at least you put up some sort of fight.
21…gxf3 22.Nxf3 f4 23.Nf5 Rf8
Note that Rg8?, normally an ideal spot, falls to Ne2+ fork.
The threat is e4 and then taking on h4. White is completely busted, as the Bishops are too strong in such an open position.
25.Ng5 Rg8 26.Nf7 Bxh4! 27.Nxd8
I calculated this out, and it allows for a very pretty finale.
27… Bxg2+ 28.Ke2 e4 29.Ne6 Bf3+ 30.Kf1 Bf2! 31.Re1 Rg1#
What a beautiful final position. Kudos to my opponent for allowing me to finish it off in style. He was understandably very frustrated with this game, but he admired the end position as well.
Why I Love This Game & Conclusions
First, White essentially played this game without his Queenside pieces. He couldn’t use his Bishop or Rook the entire game, and that cost him. I love blockading like that, and it works very well.
Second, this is one of the rare times I evaluated a position and made a plan. I never do that, or at least never in the past. I always calculate individual moves. Sure, I know basic plans like playing against the Isolated Queen Pawn, but everyone knows that. Here I realized I had Bishops and Rooks and thus needed open lines; I then created a plan to open those lines, and the victory came pretty much by itself in the end.
I don’t know if this was the best game I ever played, but it’s definitely one of my most special ones. It’s definitely my favourite game, at least right now, and if I ever made an anthology of my best games, it would be the very first chapter.