My Best Chess Games, Part Two: Flipping the Switch

If I had to be honest, most of my chess games are unremarkable.  Usually one side makes a silly mistake, losing a pawn or a piece, and then the other side takes advantage and wins rather simply.  This is how most chess games work.  We like to think it’s because of smashing attacks and beautiful play, but usually it’s a simple blunder.  That’s okay, a win is a win, but it’s hard to call something like that one of your ‘best’ games.

Back in September I covered perhaps my best chess game, one where I obtain a perfect positional bind and then creatively opened lines for a mating attack even without Queens.  It’s original, in an unusual opening, and it was a lot of fun.  Completely different from most of my chess games, and the computer confirmed that most of my play was near optimal.  That makes me happy.

Today is something completely different: a game where I do not play accurately; in fact, I play based on emotion, basically saying ‘screw it, I feel like attacking now,’ and amazingly it worked!

Background: this game was played in 2006, near the time I gave up chess.  This perhaps explains my emotional volatility.  Like many players, I love middlegames and attack, and slow, blocked positions bore me to tears.  When my opponent tried to make a slow, blocked position, I basically said no.  I was rated about 1800 at the time.

This is a short one but a good one: let’s take a look.

“Parno” – Smithy, 2006

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3

I don’t know, would this be classified as a Closed Sicilian or not?  I think it is.  Regardless, it’s a very tame approach by White, and Black already has equality …

… but I didn’t want equality.  Nobody plays the Sicilian because they want equality.  They play it because they want to smash things, to see pawns fly across the board and both Kings face direct attacks and mortal danger.  That’s what makes the Sicilian great, not these types of closed, blocked structures.

As an aside, I studied the Sicilian Dragon for about three months around this time, as I wanted to play it so bad.  Do you know how often I made it to the main line?  Never.  Not once.  My opponents all did something different.  This is why studying openings below master level doesn’t make much sense.

4… e6 5.Bg5 Be7 6.0-0 Nc6 7.Nc3 a6 8.a3 b5 9.Ba2

This position angers me so much.  Sorry, let me explain.  I hate slow, blocked positions.  Well, not so much today.  I’ve become a stronger player and learned how to deal with them better, understanding them more, but back in 2006 they were the bane of my existence.

Look at this position: what will happen?  Black will castle and then likely prepare …d5, and White will play e5, blocking the centre.  Then Black will have to advance his pawns on the Queenside, trying to open some lines there.  White would normally play on the Kingside, but he’s in no position to do that.  The two sides will maneuver about, and for 30 moves all the pieces will be stuck behind pawns until finally a few get exchanged.

Boring.  Can we just call it a draw now?

I hated these types of positions, and I blamed White.  If White did any other opening moves, the game would be normal and fine.  But nope, White had to play a closed structure.  Seriously, I cursed White from behind my computer screen … and I began to dream of ways to punish him…

9… Bb7 10.Qd2 Qc7 11.Rfe1

As we can see, Black has placed all his pieces on the standard Sicilian squares, and White is preparing e5 with his last Rook move, just as we predicted.  Stupid White, playing for a blocked position …

And then I saw it.  If I simply castled Kingside, the game would continue in its blocked fashion, and I would get angrier and angrier.  Eventually I would either blunder or try some dubious sacrifice and lose.  That’s what would happen.  I needed to do something else, and that’s when I found …

11… h6 12. Bh4

If my opponent had played Be3, I would have done something else.  I wouldn’t have been able to justify the risk to myself.  Instead, he played this, and instantly my mood improved.  I was ecstatic, in fact.  Now, instead of playing a dumb standard closed position, we get to see some unique chess!

Can you guess what I played?  If not, don’t worry, because it’s not logical.

12… 0-0-0!?

Yeah, this ain’t your normal position anymore!

With this one move, the position completely changes from closed and blocked to one of opposite-side castling.  Black will advance his Kingside pawns, likely sacrificing one or both, to open lines.  If I can play g5-g4, then that will push White’s defending Knight away, allowing my Knight on c6 to jump to either e5 or d4, joining the attack.

White, by contrast, is not in a good position to launch an attack.  His pieces do not aim at my King.  In fact, his pieces are not well suited for any active operations.  His Ba2, for instance, blocks the a-file, meaning the pawn assault with a4 will take extra time to prepare.  It’s not easy to see how White starts his attack, whereas Black’s play is easy.

That said, my move wasn’t perfect.  When I ran this game through the computer, it thought Black had a slight advantage before castling, and now it favours White by 0.75, a considerable jump.  With perfect play, Black’s attack does not succeed.  With human play, though, Black has excellent chances, as this game proves.

GM Smirnov mentions this in one of his courses, that you can almost always find ways to complicate a position, to turn it on its head.  That’s basically what I did here; I muddied the waters, and White reacted badly, allowing me to win quickly.

13.d4?

How would you respond as Black?

This was my opponent’s only real error in the entire game, notwithstanding his meek opening play.  It’s a completely understandable and normal move: he wants to open the position up to get at my King, especially as I’ve moved all my Queenside pawns.  He probably looked at a simple variation like 13… cxd4 14.Nxd4, thinking this was obvious, and now he can either push in the center or maybe even sacrifice a Knight on b5 for two pawns, opening up my King while simultaneously attacking my Queen.

That sounds great, but he didn’t calculate well enough.  Black has a powerful reply, which instantly puts me ahead.

13…g5! 14.Bg3 g4! 15.Nh4 cxd4

Hilariously, Black managed to simply win the d4-pawn, and more importantly, White’s forces are now scattered.  If 16.Nd1 now, trying to keep material, Black has the super-easy plan of Nh5 and then f5-f4, ripping open the Kingside and likely crushing White shortly.  White didn’t like this variation, but his choice of giving up a second pawn wasn’t much better.

16.Ne2?! Nxe4 17.Qd3 Nxg3! 18.hxg3

White must recapture with the pawn, as otherwise his Knight on h4 hangs.  True, White could recapture with the Queen, but then the Queen will be stuck defending the Knight forever, as it has no squares to go to.  Black could simply move the d8-Rook and then play Qd8, attacking the Knight again and winning it.

This compromises his pawn structure, though, and allows for …

18… Ne5!

Bringing another piece into the attack.  True, White can take the pawn on d4 now, but whether he does so or not, the following combination still holds.  I’m happy to say that I say all of this rather instantly.  Positionally, I was not a great player back in 2006, but my tactics and combinational ability were as high as ever, maybe even better than the present, and I’m 150 rating points higher.

Can you see Black’s attack?  How would you play?

Whited played 19.Qd2, which allowed me to use a different attacking plan.  19.Qxd4 was the best move, and it looks the most obvious.  Nonetheless, Black’s attack proceeds very similarly.  The main advantage of Qxd4 is, besides winning the pawn, it allows White to play Qc3, exchanging Queens.  White still faces a completely lost endgame, but he doesn’t fall to a mating attack.

After 19.Qd2, I unleashed the following finale, 19…Bxh4! 20.gxh4 Bxg2!

Complete destruction! Technically, 20.Qc6 works just as well, but it’s not as pretty.  For a game that had Queenside castling in the Sicilian because I didn’t feel like a boring game, I had to choose the prettier option.

21.Kxg2 Qb7+ 22.Kf1 Qh1+ 23.Ng1

I’m dominating, and now, another pretty move, 23… Qxg1! Yes, 23…Nf3 wins more material, but it’s not as pretty. Also, this move should get the Queens off the board, except White declined … before resigning two moves later, which I found strange.

24.Ke2 Qg2 25.Qxd4 Qf3+ 0-1

At the time I considered this a strange spot to resign, as Black has no killer continuation, and more importantly, Black needs to stop White’s threat of Qb6, entering the position and causing some problems.  Of course, I’m up two pawns with absolutely no compensation for White, who will still face a fierce attack with his King in the center.

Conclusions

In terms of quality or accuracy, this is not my best game.  This is not perfect chess.  It’s something different.  Not better, but different.

For me personally, it was an emotional release.  I kept referencing my emotions throughout the game, starting with my anger and then my ecstasy as the position opened up and my attack started rolling.  That’s the value of this game, for me.  I turned a position I hated into a position I loved, all with basically one move.

It also shows the power of creativity in chess.  How often do we get stuck playing the same moves, the same ideas all the time?  Instead, I thought of something new, at least to me, and that creative rush was almost better than actually winning the game.

I have another game in a similar vein.  I dislike blocked positions, and that includes facing the Stonewall attack as Black.  It’s such a slow, blocked game, it’s terrible.  I reacted in a similar way, castling Queenside and starting a pawn assault against White … in the Stonewall attack.  I don’t think that’s ever been done before, ever.  That game was older and even less accurate than the game I showed today; I don’t know if it’s worth a full blog post, but it did serve as at least unconscious motivation for my plan in this game.

Unlike my other games, there are no obvious take-away lessons.  If I had to pick one, it would be the ability to add complications to a game.  I took a normal, closed position and, with basically one move, turned it into something much more unique and chaotic.  My opponent reacted badly and I won quickly, if not easily.  It’s a useful idea to keep in mind, especially in blitz, where it likely works very well.

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