A Still Unknown Trap

by admin on August 10, 2017

Eight years ago, when I was still recording for ChessLecture, I gave a lecture called “My New Favorite Trap.” I talked about a 100 percent risk-free trap in the Center Counter Opening that should be especially effective against players who are “booked up.” Amazingly, according to ChessBase the trap had only been sprung one time in tournament play. (That was a game played in 2005.) Today, out of curiosity, I checked again … and it has still only been played that one time.

Bummer. Obviously no one was listening to my ChessLecture. So I will try again!

Here is the stem position: 1. e4 d5 2. ed Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 (the classical main line) 4. Nf3 (my idea: White delays d4) Nf6 5. Bc4 Bf5 6. O-O e6 7. Re1 c6? (diagram)

center counter 1Position after 7. … c6? White to move.

FEN: rn2kb1r/pp3ppp/2p1pn2/q4b2/2B5/2N2N2/PPPP1PPP/R1BQR1K1 w kq – 0 8

So first let me talk about the thinking behind this line. White’s play is a little bit unusual because he has not played the usual d4. I have several reasons for this.

  1. The knight on c3 won’t be pinned.
  2. The d-pawn retains the option of going to d3 instead of d4.
  3. I’m setting a sneaky trap.

Black’s thinking, on the other hand, is that he’s not thinking. He’s just playing memorized moves. This is the way that a lot of players study openings: by learning moves without thinking about the reasons.

In particular, in the main line 1. e4 d5 2. ed Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Bc4 Bf5 6. Nf3 e6 7. Bd2, Black’s move 7. … c6 serves a purpose — it gives Black’s queen a route to escape from the imminent discovered attack Nc3-d5. In the “Mackenzie trap” the move 7. … c6 serves no purpose, and Black should play 7. … Nd7 instead.

But in ChessBase, the position after 7. … c6? has occurred more times than the position after 7. … Nd7! Why? Because to Black, it doesn’t look as if White is doing anything in particular, so he sees no reason to deviate from his normal plan of development.

So there’s a good chance, especially if your opponent is a theory hound, that you will be able to get to the position above, and then you can spring the trap:

8. Re5! …

White is basically winning in all lines except one. The idea is to sacrifice the rook on f5. Black’s three most reasonable responses are (a) 8. … Qc7, (b) 8. … Qd8, and (c) 8. … Qb4.

(a) 8. … Qc7 9. Rxf5! ef 10. Ng5 Ng4 was played in the stem game, and still only game with this opening in ChessBase, Zvedeniouk-Mortenson, Australian Open 2005. White was easily winning after 11. Qe2+ Qe5 12. Nxf7 Qxe2 13. Nxe2 Rg8 and White wins back the exchange with Nd6+.

I rediscovered this trap over the board while playing in a blitz chess tournament (game/7 minutes) in 2009. That game continued 8. … Qc7 9. Rxf5! ef 10. Ng5 Bd6 11. Bxf7+ Kd7. Here I played 12. g3, which was probably unnecessarily cautious. (Rybka says I should keep on attacking with 12. Be6+! It rates the position as +1.37 for White, which is close to winning.) Nevertheless, I won the game pretty easily, and wondered afterwards if my move had been a theoretical novelty. That’s when I looked it up online and found that it was a theoretical second-ity.

(b) 8. … Qd8 was played against me yesterday by Shredder. Of course I played 9. Rxf5! ef, but then I made an instructive mistake. I should play 10. Ne5! here, with the point that after 10. … Nd5 11. Nxd5 cd 12. Bb5+ Ke7 13. d4! Black has essentially no reasonable moves.

center counter 2Position after 13. d4 (analysis). Black to move.

FEN: rn1q1b1r/pp2kppp/8/1B1pNp2/3P4/8/PPP2PPP/R1BQ2K1 b – - 0 13

Black can’t develop his bishop. If he tries to develop his knight, he loses it (or the queen). If he tries to evict my knight with 13. … f6, I play 14. Qh5! g6 15. Nxg6. If he tries to develop with 13. … g6, I play 14. Qe2! Kf6 15. Ng4+!! winning.

Unfortunately, against Shredder I forgot my eight-year-old analysis. All I could remember was that the other time I played this variation I had played 10. Ng5, and so that is what I played here. I didn’t stop and think about the differences between Black’s 8. … Qc7 and 8. … Qd8. In essence, I was guilty of playing memorized moves, the same flaw I criticized in other players.

After 8. … Qd8 9. Rxf5 ef 10. Ng5? Nd5! 11. d4 Be7 we actually got a very interesting position that I might discuss in my next post, but it is unfortunately of no theoretical significance because 10. Ne5! is so much better.

(c) Finally, 8. … Qb4 is worth mentioning because it is the only Black move that is somewhat playable. After 9. Rxf5! Black should take the bishop instead of the rook: 9. … Qxc4! 10. d3 Qa6. Although White is way ahead in development, Black might survive because there are no obviously exploitable weaknesses in his position.

So, if you’re playing against the Center Counter, why not give it a try? Just delay d4, castle, move your rook to e1, and see what happens. There is absolutely nothing to fear, because you are always just one move away from the main line. If Black plays the correct 7. … Nd7, you can play 8. d4 and you’re back in the main line again; or you can play 8. d3 if you want to be more original.

Roman Dzindzichashvili once gave a lecture at chess.com about “good traps” and “bad traps.” Good traps are the ones you set while playing normal, strong moves. So even if your opponent doesn’t fall into the trap, you still have a good position. Bad traps are the ones you set by playing inferior moves. Bad traps are a form of “hope chess,” and should be avoided. In this classification, the Zvedeniouk-Mackenzie trap is definitely a good one.

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Different Kinds of Equal

by admin on July 30, 2017

Inspired by Eric Rosen’s victory in the London System in my last blog post, I decided to give it a try against the computer. And guess what happened? I won my shortest game ever against Shredder.

To be honest, the win had much more to do with Shredder’s awful play than my good play. Although I had its rating set at 2178, in this particular game it played one bad move after another. Still, there was one interesting position I’d like to show you.

london 1Position after 11. … O-O. White to move.

FEN: r2q1rk1/1p1bbpp1/p1n1pn2/3pN2p/3P1B2/P1NQ4/1PP1BPPP/2KR3R w – - 0 12

I had followed a somewhat similar plan to what Rosen did against Agdestein,with an early Ne5 and O-O-O. The computer has thrown in an early … h5, a move I considered to be nonsensical. But as a general rule I think one should not try too hard to “refute” this kind of flank advance in the opening. It’s best to just consider it a wasted tempo for Black and a future target for White.

Now that Black has castled kingside, though, that pawn becomes a much more immediate target. The moves I wanted to play here were 12. Qg3 or 12. Qh3. However, I decided that this would be a good time to take a time-out (I allow myself one time-out per game against Shredder).

The first thing I noticed was that 12. Qg3 or 12. Qh3 are both met rather effectively by 12. … h4! The idea is that after 13. Qxh4 Ne4, Black wins the exchange.

After that I looked at a variety of possibilities for White: my complete list of candidate moves was Qg3, Qh3, f3, h3, h4, Kb1, and Bg5. I came pretty close to playing 12. Bg5. Even though I lose a tempo by moving an already developed piece, it’s not so easy for Black to hold onto his h-pawn. The thing that finally decided me against this move was that I felt that in a line like 12. Bg5 b5 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 15. Bxh5, I was giving away my best pieces and my initiative merely for the chance to snatch a pawn.

The move I ended up choosing was 12. h4! Even though Rybka still says the position is roughly equal, I really like this move for a variety of reasons. First, it prepares Qg3 by taking away Black’s answer … h4. More generally, it fixes Black’s pawn weakness on h5 so that it can’t get away. It also controls the g5 square, which was important in some variations. Finally, it allows White to activate the one piece in his position that isn’t doing anything — the rook on h1. As I’ve written many times before, one of the key questions to ask yourself in strategic planning is, “What is my least effective piece and what can I do about it?” The rook can now lift to h3, where it is tremendously valuable for both defense (defending the knight on c3) and attack (moving to the g-file).

Shredder played 12. … Rc8, which I considered to be one of the two most likely possibilities (the other being 12. … b5). I replied 13. Qg3, which was my idea all along. The threat, of course, is Bh6, and if the knight moves to protect the g7 pawn, then the h5 pawn drops. Shredder played a clever defense that I had considered during my time-out, 13. … Kh8, which prevents Bh6. Now I played a risky move that I thought might be a blunder. However, I couldn’t find a refutation of it and I wanted to see what Shredder would do: 14. Qg5!

london 2Position after 14. Qg5. Black to move.

FEN: 2rq1r1k/1p1bbpp1/p1n1pn2/3pN1Qp/3P1B1P/P1N5/1PP1BPP1/2KR3R b – - 0 14

This is a really tricky position. It looks foolish for White to put his queen on the same diagonal as Black’s e7 bishop, but Black has no way to take advantage of that because any knight move is immediately answered by Qxh5+. On the other hand, White’s threat to play Bxh5 next move is only a bluff. I can’t actually take that pawn because then the move Ne4 would be a strong answer. White’s real plan is Rh3-g3 or Rd3-g3, turning up the pressure on g7. Notice that Black would not be able to answer … Rg8 because of Nxf7+.

However, Black can forestall that threat and also create threats of his own with 14. … Nxe5, which is the move I expected. However, after either 15. de Rxc3?! or 15. de Bxa3?!, White wins a huge tempo with 16. ef!, threatening checkmate. This gives me the chance to have my cake (win the knight on f6 and the pawn on h5) and eat it too (taking the rook on c3 or the bishop on a3). Still, Black should have taken on e5 and followed up with … Nh7. After 14. … Nxe5 15. de Nh7!, 16. Qxh5 doesn’t even win a pawn because Black can play 16. … Bxa3. Best is 16. Qg3, with at best a minimal advantage to White, according to Rybka.

More aggressive options don’t work out for Black, like 14. … Qa5 15. Rh3! or 14. … Nxd4?! 15. Rxd4 Bxa3 16. ba Rxc3 17. Rh3!These variations show why White’s rook lift is so critical for defense as well as for attack.

Instead of playing any of these reasonable moves, Shredder lost its mind in the diagrammed position and played a really weak move that I never expected: 14. … Nb8? The goal, of course, is to open the c-file, but Black does so in a way that undevelops an active piece. Terrible, terrible. I played 15. Rd3 and Shredder followed up with the even worse 15. … Qb6??

london 3Position after 15. … Qb6. White to play.

FEN: 1nr2r1k/1p1bbpp1/pq2pn2/3pN1Qp/3P1B1P/P1NR4/1PP1BPP1/2K4R w – - 0 16

Now how does White end the game?

If you said 16. Rg3, go to the head of the class! This simple tactic is an absolute gut punch. 16. … Rg8 would allow 17. Nxf7+. Knight moves allow either Qxe7 or Qxh5+. And 16. … g6 loses to 17. Nxg6+ fg 18. Qxg6 Rg8 19. Qh6+ and Black can resign here, because it’s a forced mate after 19. … Nh7 20. Be5+.

Ironically, even though this game was my fastest win ever against Shredder, I played too slowly here! I missed the crushing 16. Rg3 and played the cautious 16. Rhd1, making sure that the d-pawn is protected before moving the rook to g3. I think that I was “seeing ghosts.” Playing the computer too often will do that to you; you start thinking it has threats even when it doesn’t.

Fortunately, this move doesn’t really spoil anything, as White’s threats are still huge. In fact, Shredder could find nothing better than 16. … g6?, allowing me to break through with a smashing sacrifice: 17. Qh6+ Kg8? (One mistake after another. 17. … Nh7 fights harder, but the computer probably didn’t play it because 18. Bxh5! just picks off a pawn. If 18. … gh 19. Nxd5 Qd8 20. Rg3 Bf6 21. Nxf6 Qxf6 22. Ng6+ fg 23. Be5 skewers the queen and king.) 18. Nxg6! Qxb2+ (this queen giveaway doesn’t change anything) 19. Kxb2 fg 20. Qxg6+ resigns.

All in all, Shredder’s unusually feeble resistance made the last part of the game easier than it should have been. However, I was pleased with the maneuver 12. h4, 13. Qg3 and 14. Qg5, which posed the maximum possible difficulties for my computer opponent.

Even though the computer says the position after 12. h4 was equal, there is more to successful chess than the symbol “=” can convey. In some positions your opponent may be able to play practically any move. In others, he may have lots of choices but only one that works. The computer will tell you that both positions are equal, but the latter one is obviously a much better one to play.


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The Best Way to Beat a GM

July 26, 2017

This title sounds like the beginning of a joke: The best way to beat a grandmaster… is ANY WAY YOU CAN. (This is spoken by somebody who has never done it.) Nevertheless, if I ever beat a GM, I would want to do it the way that IM Eric Rosen did today. At the Xtracon […]

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Through the Shadowlands

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What Do You Do When You Can’t Get an Advantage?

June 17, 2017

This weekend I ought to be in Las Vegas, playing at the National Open, but instead I’m at home playing my computer. The nice thing about playing the computer is that I can forget all of my losses and show you only┬ámy wins. So after losing about ten in a row against Shredder, I finally […]

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