Practicality and Tacticality

by on June 29, 2009

Yesterday Jim Parker organized a blitz tournament at Round Table Pizza in Capitola. This is yet another idea for keeping the chess “scene” going in Santa Cruz now that the Borders Chess Club is no more, and I think it was a big success. We had eleven players, although one of them had to depart early. The time control was game in 7 minutes, which I have always preferred to the more normal 5-minute blitz time control.

As you’ll see from the results, I was pretty happy with how I played. (I don’t know everybody’s last name — sorry. Ties are listed in alphabetical order of first name.)

  1. Dana Mackenzie — 8.5/10
  2. Thadeus Frei — 7.5
  3. Al Abraham — 7
  4. David ?? — 7
  5. Yosi Cohen — 7
  6. Jim Parker — 5.5
  7. Jewl ?? — 4
  8. Adi ?? — 3
  9. Cailen Melville — 2.5
  10. Ralph ?? — 2
  11. Yves Tan — 0 (withdrew after 3 games)

I think that success in a speed tournament requires a very loose attitude. As soon as you start getting nervous, you’re in trouble. It’s only speed chess, so whatever happens, happens. You’re going to overlook stuff. Your opponent is going to overlook stuff. Hopefully, your opponent’s mistakes will be worse than yours. If not, forget it and go on to the next game.

The other formula for success in speed chess is to have the right mixture of practicality and tacticality. Most of the time you just need to play good, practical moves instead of taking lots of time figuring out the best move. But you also need to keep an eye open for tactical shots, because you will get chances in almost every game.

So everything worked out well for me yesterday. I had two hiccups: a draw against Cailen Melville, who otherwise had a really rotten day, and a loss to Yosi Cohen, a young player (maybe 14-16 years old?) whom I had never faced before. To say I was impressed by Yosi would be an understatement. In our game, I made one really horrible move and then he set up a mating net in the center of the board that was a thing of beauty. Yosi was leading with two rounds to go (he had 7, Thadeus and I had 6.5) but he stumbled at the end with losses to David and to Thadeus. I’ll show you his game with Thadeus below — it’s very well played for a blitz game.

Thadeus has also improved a lot. He has great confidence, which is a big asset in blitz because it lets you play your moves fast. He also showed good sportsmanship. In our individual game, he called his own flag when it fell, even though I had only 25 seconds left and it’s conceivable (though not likely) that I wouldn’t have noticed.

David, who tied for third, said that this was his first tournament of any kind in 20 years! We had a wild game where I’m sure I was in trouble in the opening, but I improvised like crazy and somehow it all worked … I saw the tactics and he didn’t.

But the game I was proudest of was my game against Al Abraham.

Live by the Book, Die by the Book

I was apprehensive before the game because Al is a very experienced blitz player — he hangs out downtown and plays blitz all the time. One way to play fast is to know your openings very well. But here I changed the move order up on him a little bit, and he blitzed his moves out in his usual way. Suddenly, on move 9 I hit him with an exchange sacrifice. “Is that legal?!” he asked incredulously. Not only legal, but winning!

The PGN is here.

Dana Mackenzie – Al Abraham
Scandinavian Defense

1. e4 d5 2. ed Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. Nf3 Bf5 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. O-O e6 7. Re1 c6

The usual move order for White is 4. d4, and so the normal position that Al is familiar with would have the pawn on d4 and the rook still on f1. Does the difference matter? If White plays 8. d4 here, then we have a standard book position. But White has something much better! See if you can spot it.

While you’re thinking about it, I will mention that I did a search on Chess Base this morning for this unusual move order. It turns out that the above position has occurred in 21 games (compared to 1168 for the “normal” position with the pawn on d4 and the rook on f1). In those 21 games, White found the correct continuation only ONE time, in the game Ilya Zvedeniouk – Henrik Mortensen from the 2004 Australian Open. I would say that this qualifies as a little-known opening trap! I think I will probably do a ChessLecture about it.

The speed-chess mentality really helped me here. Instead of spending a lot of time analyzing this position, I just said, “Heck with it. I’ll sac the exchange and see what happens.”

8. Re5! Qc7?

According to the computer, 8. … Qb4 is a little better, but White still gets the advantage. 8. … Qc7 looks natural, and this is also what Mortensen played in the above-mentioned game from Australia.

9. Rxf5! ef

Of course I had no idea whether I was winning, losing, or what, but my attack looked extremely nasty. The computer says it’s not even close — White has a 1.6-pawn advantage!

10. Ng5 Bd6 11. Bxf7+ Kd7

The only move that doesn’t lose his queen. Al actually started to play 11. … Kf8 but then he saw 12. Ne6+.

12. g3 …

My only difficult decision of the game. I wanted to continue the attack with 12. Be6+, but here practicality won out over tacticality. I felt that the attack would still be there, and there was no harm in spending a move to completely defuse Black’s threats. See my ChessLecture “Switching Gears Between Strategy and Tactics.” It’s hard, when you have sacrificed material, to slow down and play positionally — but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

12. … Qd8

The computer says 12. … Kc8 is Black’s best, but it still gives White a 1-pawn edge. After the text move, the rest of the game is just a cakewalk for White, so I will give the remaining moves with no further analysis.

13. Be6+ Kc7 14. Bxf5 Qe7 15. Ne6+ Kb6 16. d4 g6 17. Bh3 Nd5 18. Na4+ Ka6 19. c4 b5 20. cd ba 21. Qxa4+ Kb7 22. dc+ Kb6 23. Be3 Nxc6 24. d5+ Bc5 25. Qxc6+ resigns

That game really made me feel as if it was going to be my day.

The Kids Battle it Out

The two youngest players, Thadeus and Yosi, battled in the last round for second place. Thadeus won with a great comeback. He gave me permission to post the game in my blog. Yosi did not seem so enthusiastic about the idea, understandably; he asked “What’s the point?” Well, the point is that it’s a very nice game and instructive, too. The PGN is here.

I’ll start with the position after Black’s 26th move. It was a Dragon Variation, and Thadeus (who was playing Black) made one small mistake that allowed Yosi to win the exchange. However, Thadeus has a pawn and a lot of compensation. Now Yosi gets too greedy.

27. g4? …

White’s position already has a lot of weaknesses, and this move just adds to them. I think that this is another good place to talk about practicality versus tacticality. Jesse Kraai would talk about objectivity here. The thing that White has to realize is that even though he has won the exchange, he is not automatically winning the game. In fact, it’s going to be quite hard.

The one Black piece that is really dominating the board is the bishop. And therefore White’s paramount objective should be to reduce the bishop’s scope. Also, after chasing the bishop away from e5 White will be able to trade rooks, which I think is a good idea here because it will emphasize the advantage of the remaining rook over the bishop.

Therefore the correct plan for White is to play, in some order, the moves Rce1, g3, and f4. White still may not be winning, but he has winning chances and he’s definitely not losing. After the text move, his position is full of holes.

27. … hg 28. fg Qd7 29. Rcg1 …

Yosi is still thinking about attack, but Thadeus’s next move is a rude awakening.

29. … d3!

“Triple exclam!” Thadeus said in our post-mortem. He was just joking, of course — teasing Yosi because Yosi was the one who didn’t understand the point of my writing about this game in a blog. Though three exclams would be extreme, this is a tremendous move, and even more powerful than it looks at first glance. After 30. Qxd3 the obvious followup is 30. … Bd4+ 31. Kf1. But now Black should not settle for merely winning back the exchange with 31. … Bxg1. Instead, he should play 31. … Qe6! and there are too many threats for White to deal with. The main one is 31. … Qe1+ followed by 32. … Re2+. If White parries that with, say, 32. Qd2, then 32. … Qe4 with the threat of … Qf3+ is murderous. Note that the weakness of the g4 pawn keeps White from ever seeking shelter on the g-file.

It’s fantastic how with one little pawn sac, Black not only activates his bishop but also turns his other two attacking pieces, the queen and the rook, into monsters. Yosi declines the pawn, but unfortunately all of his other problems remain.

30. Kf1 Bd4 31. Rg2 …

White is still thinking materialistically, trying to save the exchange. I would say take the pawn on d3 and PRAY that Black settles for just winning back the exchange!

31. … Qe6 32. Rh3 Qf6+

Oh yeah, there’s that check, too.

33. Rf2 …

And now Black is glad to settle for “just” winning back the exchange, because he has a winning endgame at the end of it.

33. … Qxf2+ 34. Qxf2 Bxf2 35. Kxf2 Re2+

Although it’s an obvious move, this is neat, too. White either moves forward to the third rank, which blocks his rook and allows Black to keep his passed d-pawn, or he has to move back  to the first rank, which allows Black to promote the a-pawn.

36. Kf1 Rxa2 37. Rxd3 Rb2 38. Rxd6 …

It’s hopeless. Notice that if White plays passively with 38. Rd1, Black still wins with 38. … a2 39. Ra1 Rb1+! That’s why it is important that White’s king is on the back rank. In one of my ChessLectures I called this tactic the “Back Rank Blockade Buster.”

38. … a2 39. Ra6 Rb1+ 40. Ke2 a1Q 41. Rxa1 Rxa1

The game went on for a few more moves after this, but with an extra rook Black won, of course.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt July 21, 2009 at 3:10 am

Hi Dana,

I had a chance to try out some of your line in the Scandinavian last night. Unfortunately, my opponent played the best move (7 … Nbd7), but I did still end up drawing and that’s not bad against a 2100 player.

It’s funny because I watched my opponent play a week or two ago and I noticed he played the Scandinavian. At the time, I thought to myself “hmm, it would be kinda nice to be paired up against him with the white pieces and maybe I can try out this line of Dana’s”. Yet when we sat down at the board last night, I had forgotten all about that until he replied 1 … d5 to my “best by test” 1 e4.

After 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. Nf6 Bf5 5. Bc4 e6 6. 0-0 c6 7. Re1, his hand almost instinctively moved to his c-pawn. But he hesitated and sensed the danger in the position, took a while to think about it, and played the correct 7. … Nbd7 instead. I was disappointed, of course, not to get to try out the excitement of 8. Re4 but, as you say, white gets a perfectly solid position anyway. The game continued 8. d3 Bb4 9. a3 Bxc3 10 Bxc3 Qc7 11 Nd4! Qf4! with some interesting tactical ideas for both sides. Queens were eventually traded and I actually blundered a pawn, only for my opponent to overlook some nice tactics in the endgame that won back the pawn.

Anyway, I will certainly play this line again. Question: if black plays Bg4 instead of Bf5, presumably white can play h3 and possibly g4 later depending on the position. I know this is a fairly common theme in the Scandinavian but I am really not that well versed in the opening in general (which is why I always disliked playing against it until now). Should white just play d3, Bd2, Qe2 and castle queenside?


Matt August 3, 2009 at 10:58 am

I should correct my game above. The moves I gave previously are not correct, sorry. I was doing it from memory!

1. e4 d5
2. exd5 Qxd5
3. Nc3 Qa5
4. Nf3 Nf6
5. Bc4 Bf5
6. 0-0 e6
7. Re1 Nbd7
8. d3 c6
9. Bd2 Bb4
10. a3 Bxc3
11 Bxc3 Qc7
12. Nd4 with interesting play


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