A voice from the past

by admin on January 21, 2010

A few days ago I got a very interesting and pleasant surprise, a comment on my blog from a player I used to know back in North Carolina. His name is Rich Jackson, and he was responding to this post where I analyzed a game we played in the 1987 state championship.

The game in question was a memorable one for both of us. We both had 3-1 scores, and the winner of the game would have an excellent shot at winning the title of North Carolina champion. As you can see from the post above, we got to an endgame that was just about as drawn as could possibly be, but he messed it up due to intense time pressure and lost. He was understandably dismayed to find one of the most traumatic losses of his career immortalized on the Web. Of course, the outcome was as sweet to me as it was bitter to Rich. In the final round I drew with NM Randy Kolvick and emerged with the state title (my second).

So what has Rich been doing since our dramatic encounter? As he told me in a subsequent e-mail, he has enjoyed a very successful career as a chess teacher, first in Roanoke, Virginia and then in Connecticut. He has coached 15 national champions! This puts him in the same league with great teachers like Elizabeth Vicary and Robby Adamson, but perhaps he is not quite as well known because he isn’t associated with a particular school. There are very few people who can make a living as a private chess teacher, but Rich has done it.

Rich wanted to know if I could make up for posting one of his most bitter defeats by posting one of his favorite victories. I’m happy to oblige, because the game also happens to be relevant to our second encounter, which took place only two months after the first one.

The game Rich Jackson–David Olsen was played in the 1998 North Bay Open, and I will put it in boldface type. The related game Rich Jackson–Dana Mackenzie was played in the 1987 North Carolina Invitational, which I qualified for by winning the state championship and Rich qualified for by being one of the top five rated players in the state. I will give the moves of that game in red type, after the two games diverge.

Both games began with the anti-Max Lange, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 ed (actually the move order was slightly different, but it doesn’t matter) 5. O-O Nxe4 6. Re1 d5 and now Rich played his home preparation, 7. Nc3!?

Diagram 1. Black to play.

I knew this move existed, but I had never faced it before, and so I played 7. … dxc4, reasoning that it was better to take the bishop than the knight. This is definitely the more popular option, but actually 7. … dxc3 is also playable and maybe better. (It has a higher success rate on ChessBase. Black has scored about 60 percent in 70 games, versus 50 percent in 100 games with the move Olsen and I played.)

Both games continued 8. Rxe4+ Be6 9. Nxd4 Nxd4 10. Rxd4 and now they diverged.

Diagram 2. Black to play.

In our game from the North Carolina Invitational, I played 10. … Bd6 here, while Olsen in 1998 played 10. … Qf6 instead. Rich says in his e-mail, “Without question 10. … Bd6 is to be recommended.” But after a little computer analysis, I’m not entirely sure of that! Our game continued 11. Bf4 Qe7!?, which at the time we both thought was an improvement over the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings recommendation, 11. … O-O. (I didn’t know the ECO line; I was just flying blind here.) The point is to break the pin as quickly as possible and force a decision on d6. Our game continued 12. Nxd6 cd and now comes the point where Rich may have missed his chance to get an advantage.

Diagram 3. White to play.

Here Rich played the obvious recapture, 13. Rxd6. After 13. … O-O 14. Qd4 Rfd8 mass simplification ensued and we reached another extremely drawish endgame. This time, unlike in our earlier game, he didn’t mess it up and a draw was the final result.

Instead, the computer spots the move 13. Qe2! The point is that White would like to win the c-pawn, not the d-pawn, and this will leave Black with a rather weak isolani on the d-file. If 13. … O-O White plays 14. Rxe4 immediately. If Black tries to avoid the inevitable with 13. … Rd8 14. Re1 Rd7, White can force the issue with 15. f4. In view of the threat of f5, Black will have to play something like 15. … Qf6, and then 16. Qxc4 becomes possible.

So actually, 11. … Qe7 was perhaps not such a good move after all! Perhaps ECO is right about 11. … O-O. Rich thinks that 12. Ne4 then leads to advantage for White, but I’m not convinced. I think that the calm 12. … Qc8 keeps Black in the game. The strategy, again, is to give up a pawn on d6 but in the process achieve some simplification. White may have a token advantage but I think it is very small.

Now let’s look at the game that Rich really wanted me to post. In the position of Diagram 2, Olsen played 10. … Qf6. Rich knew this move and knew that GM Paul Keres had recommended the reply 11. Nb5, which was supposed to give White a small advantage. But unfortunately Keres, as per his habit, had not given any analysis to support this evaluation. So Rich thought for about 40 minutes until he figured it out! The main thing he was worried about was the reply 11. … Qe5, but finally, he says, “only in the 38th minute did it dawn on me that 11. … Qe5 12. a4! is very annoying for Black.” The point is that now White is threatening 13. Bf4, and a move like 12. … Bd6 does nothing to stop it. So, with restored confidence Rich played 11. Nb5! and Olsen responded with the inferior 11. … Bc5? Rich played 12. Nxc7+ Ke7, and now ensues a nice finale:

Diagram 4. White to play and win.

Perhaps Black was happy here, seeing that the rook on d4 and the pawn behind it on f2 are both hanging. If so, he got a rude jolt when Rich played his next move.

13. Rd7+!! …

A simple deflection sacrifice. If Black takes the rook, then 14. Nd5+ forks the king and queen. Instead Black flailed around with 13. … Kf8 14. Nxe6+ fe 15. Be3! Bxe3 16. fe. And here, on move 16, with even material on the board, Black thought for 45 minutes and then resigned! He could see no defense against White’s onslaught with threats like Qd6+ and Rf1+.

Probably the line 7. Nc3 ought to be a little bit more popular than it is. I think that the main objection to it is probably that it trades off a little bit too much material too quickly, so even though White has a lead in development he can’t always make it count. However, in none of these lines (at least after 7. … cxd4) does White have any chance of losing, which is a point in favor of this variation, especially if you are facing a higher-rated player or if you are in a situation where a draw is an acceptable result.

Rich, thanks for the e-mail and comment, and good luck with your future teaching endeavors!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mr Arney January 22, 2010 at 5:26 am

Your friend Rich Jackson,does he know of or know any places for hiring K-12 chess teachers?

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Michael Goeller January 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Very interesting. There is analysis of this line by Gutman in Kaissiber 34 and Kaissiber 35.

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Kari Heinola January 22, 2010 at 7:40 pm

There is a huge article about this Canal variation (7.Nc3) in Kaissiber 34 and 35 by Lew Gutman and It mentions the game Jackson–Olsen. Some of the suggestion were 11.Nd5! and 11…Rc8!

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Rich Jackson August 21, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Dear Mr. McKenzie, Only today did I see the artickle that posted on line many years ago. My grandmother is turning 99 years old in the next week. When I return home I hope to look at your recommendation. I enjoyed our two or three encounters over the board. You won a state championship due to my time presssure, congratulations. I want a rematch as I know now how to handle time presssure, chuckle, chuckle!!!

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Rich Jackson August 21, 2013 at 8:02 pm

It was fun to get over Keres!

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