In Year 35 of this retrospective, I wrote a post called One for the Ages, in which I showed my lifetime masterpiece, Mackenzie-Pruess. In that game I debuted a new opening variation, the Bryntse Gambit (which had been played before in correspondence chess but never, to my knowledge, in OTB chess). The Bryntse Gambit is The Most Fun Opening in Chess, in which White sacrifices his queen on move six (!) to obtain an essentially unstoppable initiative. In that game I defeated Pruess, who was an International Master and, at the time, one of America’s top young players.

It took eight years for me to get the opportunity to play the Bryntse again, and when I finally did, it was in almost an identical situation. Same tournament: the Western States Open in Reno. Same round: round six, the money round. This time I went into the round with a score of 3.5-1.5 and a chance to tie for first place in the tournament, if I won. Even a draw would clinch the under-2300 prize.

But I would have to get past Grandmaster Sergei Kudrin, who had a 2608 rating, was a multiple-time winner of the Western States Open, and most importantly was a Grand. Master. That’s very important because I had (and have) never in my life beaten a GM. It’s probably the biggest thing left on my chess “bucket list.”

My last sentence probably gives away the fact that I didn’t win this game. I only drew it, and for that reason it does not compare with the Pruess game as a career highlight. Nevertheless, it is an extremely hard-fought and interesting game, a worthy companion piece to Mackenzie-Pruess, and an important game for anyone who wants to study or play this amazing opening variation.

Surprisingly, I have never given a full annotation of the Mackenzie-Kudrin game in this blog. Again, it’s because at the time I gave a ChessLecture on it and I didn’t want to duplicate the lecture. I will now rectify the omission, and even if you already heard my lecture, I still have some new things to say.

Dana Mackenzie — Sergei Kudrin, 10/19/2014

1. e4 c5 2. f4 d5 3. Nf3 …

The Bryntse Gambit, named after Arne Bryntse, a Swedish correspondence champion who pioneered it in the 1960s. It’s sort of a Budapest Gambit in reverse.

3. … de 4. Ng5 Nf6 5. Bc4 Bg4?! 6. Qxg4! …

This queen sacrifice is for me the main reason for playing 4. Ng5. Otherwise I would play 4. Ne5, which is also a very interesting move. Note that Black can avoid the queen sacrifice by simply playing 5. … e6. That is one reason I had to wait eight years for another chance to play this line.

In some places I have seen this gambit described as “dubious.” What can I say? I’ve played three tournament games with it: a win against a class-B player, a win against an IM rated 350 points above me, and a draw (this game) against a GM rated 400 points above me. Are these the kinds of results you would expect from a “dubious” opening?

6. … Nxg4 7. Bxf7+ Kd7 8. Be6+ Kc6 9. Bxg4 e6 10. Nc3 Nd7

I have given the first few moves with almost no comment, because I have written about them many times in this blog and elsewhere. I don’t want to turn into a bore. However, it’s time to wake up because Kudrin’s move is (for me, at least) a TN.

Position after 10. … Nd7. White to move.

FEN: r2q1b1r/pp1n2pp/2k1p3/2p3N1/4pPB1/2N5/PPPP2PP/R1B1K2R w KQ – 0 11

Black’s tenth move diverges from Mackenzie-Pruess. David played 10. … Na6, which the computers all agree is a stronger move than the one that Kudrin chose. In a way David was unlucky; because he played what the computer considers the “right” move, I was very well prepared against it. Because Kudrin played the “wrong” move, I was now in unfamiliar territory: the computer had never played 10. … Nd7 against me.

Nevertheless, I had a very good idea of how to proceed. In my post on the Pruess game I outlined the Five Commandments for White in the Bryntse Gambit. Those commandments are just as applicable in the 10. … Nd7 line as in the 10. … Na6 line, and as you will see I stuck to them faithfully. In fact, I drew (and should have won) primarily because I knew the Commandments and Kudrin didn’t. The Commandments are:

  1. Thou shalt not open files.
  2. Thou shalt exchange one of thy knights for Black’s bishop.
  3. Thou shalt keep Black’s queen under lock and key.
  4. Thou shalt not covet thy opponent’s material. (Or, “Thou shalt not cash in too soon.”)
  5. Thou shalt be patient, for time is on thy side.

Now I have to tell the truth: I did not get an advantage out of the opening this time. We’ll see that Kudrin missed a very good move on move 18, which would have given him the advantage. So we must ask what White could do to improve, and why the computer thinks that 10. … Nd7 is so much worse than 10. … Na6. The answer (according to Fritz) is that 11. Bxe6 immediately equalizes.

I don’t know if I agree. This move violates Commandment 5 for sure, and probably Commandment 1 as well. I prefer to take the e4 pawn but blockade the e6 pawn, because that keeps the position (and in particular the e-file) closed. After 11. Bxe6, if I later capture on e4 then the position and the e-file will be wide open, and this favors Black’s queen and his rooks.

I agree that 11. Bxe6 needs to be tested. We can’t discard the computer’s advice completely. But it makes me uneasy; as White, I don’t know if I can trust this move.

11. Ncxe4 Nf6 12. Bf3 Nxe4 13. Bxe4+ Kb6 14. d3 …

Here Fritz significantly prefers 14. a4. Aside from 11. Bxe6, this seems to be the main computer suggestion for improving White’s play in this opening. The idea is just to turn up the heat on Black’s king a little bit, to threaten a5+ and maybe even march the pawn to a6.

I didn’t play 14. a4 because my conception of White’s strategy has never included a quick, all-out assault against Black’s king. Instead, I was just playing simple developing moves. And I think that is a reasonable approach for the first time you play a variation. Next time, if there ever is a next time, I will try 14. a4 (unless I play 11. Bxe6 first!).

By the way, notice that I am not even tempted by a move like 14. Nf7, which would violate Commandment 4 (don’t cash in too soon).

14. … Qe8 15. Be3 Kc7 16. O-O h6 17. Nf3 Bd6 18. Rae1 …

This was a big decision for me. I really wanted to play 18. Ne5 but it violates Commandment 1: after 18. … Bxe5 19. fe Qe7 Black gets an open f-file for his rooks. I also thought seriously about 18. d4, but it seemed too risky and premature. It violates Commandment 5, to be patient. I finally decided to just continue developing and put my rook on the e-file, where it will eventually put pressure on the isolated e-pawn.

However, it’s possible that 18. g3 would have been a better choice. I played it on the next move anyway, and if I had played it first, then (spoiler alert) 18. … g5 would have been less effective. White would be able to play 19. fg hg 20. Nxg5, which was not possible in the game.

Position after 18. Rae1. Black to move.

FEN: r3q2r/ppk3p1/3bp2p/2p5/4BP2/3PBN2/PPP3PP/4RRK1 b – – 0 18

This is a very interesting position, because it’s the one place where I believe Kudrin missed a chance to get a clear advantage. If he had known the Five Commandments, he would have known how important it is for White to keep the position closed, and he would have realized that this is a great opportunity for Black to blast the position open, at the cost of a pawn, with 18. … g5! 19. fg hg 20. Bxg5 Qh5 21. h4. White’s position is barely holding together. Notice that none of White’s minor pieces can move, while Black can bring his remaining rook over to f8 or g8. The kingside has turned into the Critical Zone, and Black has a tremendous amount of firepower there, while his own king is completely safe on the queenside.

Why did Kudrin miss this? I think the reason was largely psychological. He still has the mindset that he is rated 400 points above me, that White has played a stupid and unsound opening, and that Black should win if he simply plays calm chess and develops his pieces in a normal fashion. As we’ll see, he was quite mistaken. If Black does not play energetically, White will obtain a complete bind on the position.

As you’ll see, I was very attuned to the danger presented by Black’s … g7-g5 pawn break, and over the next few moves my main goal was to shut it down.

18. … Rd8? 19. g3 Kb8 20. Bd2 …

The goal is to get my knight to e5, without allowing the opening of the f-file.

20. … Qe7 21. Bc3 Rhf8 22. Ne5 Bxe5 23. Bxe5+ …

Mission accomplished! Also notice that by trading my knight for the bishop I have checked off Commandment 2. Once I get the two unopposed bishops, they are essentially as strong as Black’s rooks. This is a fact that Kudrin probably did not anticipate. His only comment to me after the game was, “Two bishops, very strong.”

23. … Ka8 24. Bg6 …

Shutting down the … g7-g5 pawn break.

Position after 24. Bg6. Black to move.

FEN: k2r1r2/pp2q1p1/4p1Bp/2p1B3/5P2/3P2P1/PPP4P/4RRK1 b – – 0 24

Another key moment in the game. Although I have shut down one pawn break, Black does have another pawn break in this position, and the chess engines think that now is the time for him to play it: 24. … c4! The main idea is that after 25. d4 Qb4 26. b3 cb 27. ab Rxd4! 28. Bxd4 Qxd4+ Black certainly has taken the initiative, and White is at best fighting for a draw.

My thinking about this has changed since my ChessLecture. I agree that 24. … c4 is a move Black should think seriously about. It’s the same principle as on move 18 — Black needs to open lines in order to get any sort of counterplay. However, Black’s next move, 25. … Qb4, is not the sort of move that makes me quake in terror. What is the queen doing here? Just tickling the b-pawn and trying to set up a cheapo sacrifice on d4. But instead of playing into his hands with 26. b3, I can avoid creating any weaknesses with 26. Rb1. This will be followed up with c3, chasing the queen away and fortifying the d-pawn, and I will gradually re-establish the sort of impregnable fortress that I’m aiming for. The position might be slightly better for Black than the game, but it’s not drastically different. Remember Commandment 5: Time is on my side.

Anyway, Kudrin is still under the mistaken impression that his extra material will just win the game automatically. It won’t. Over the next few moves his position gets more and more lifeless.

24. … Rd7 25. Re4 …

I don’t want to give him a second chance to play … c4! Among other things, this game is a great example of prophylaxis. White systematically takes away Black’s chances for counterplay.

25. … a6 26. h4 Qd8 27. a4 …

More prophylaxis.

27. … Rf6

Kudrin is starting to see that he won’t get anywhere without offering up a little bit of material.

28. h5! …

Commandment 4. I have no interest in grabbing the exchange with 28. Bxf6 Qxf6 29. h5 Qxb2, which allows Black to activate his queen and damage my pawn structure.

28. … Qb6

I was hoping for 28. … Rxg6 29. hg Qe8 30. f5 ef 31. Rxf5, when Black has back-rank issues (in spite of his attempt to avoid them with 25. … a6). For example, 31. … Qxg6 32. Rf8+ Ka7 33. Bb8+ Kb6 34. R8e8! However, the computer comes up with the remarkable 31. … b6!, giving luft to the king. I still can’t defend my g-pawn, so Black is probably a bit better here. 31. … b6 is the sort of quiet move, four moves deep into a tactical variation, that is really hard to see over-the-board.

29. Kg2 Rd4

Position after 29. … Rd4. White to move.

FEN: k7/1p4p1/pq2prBp/2p1B2P/P2rRP2/3P2P1/1PP3K1/5R2 w – – 0 30

The most picturesque moment of the game. Kudrin dangles all of his rooks in front of my bishops, trying to persuade me to take one of them. But I refuse to do so! Actually I probably could get away with playing 30. Bxd4 cd, but I was afraid that there would be some mischief on the c-file. In the end I stuck with Commandment 4 (Don’t cash in too soon!). I didn’t see any good reason to trade off my beautiful bishop for a useless rook, unless I absolutely had to.

30. b3! Rxe4 31. Bxe4 Rf7

Chastened, the rook creeps back into its hole.

32. Bc3 …

More prophylaxis, keeping the queen out of the dark squares (Commandment 3) while preparing to bring the rook to the e-file. Black’s complete paralysis is becoming more and more apparent. The only problem for White is that it’s not really clear what my winning plan is. I still have “only” two bishops and a pawn for the queen. There are tons of weak points in Black’s position, though: e6, g7, c5, b7. Basically my plan is to keep pressure on all these points, wait and see what develops. Time pressure is also going to become a factor. We were both getting low, but Kudrin’s time pressure was worse than mine.

32. … Qd8 33. Re1 Rd7 34. Bf3 Re7 35. Re5 Qd6 36. Bb2 …

Looking to increase the pressure on c5. I knew that this was a bit of a risk because Black could try … c4 here.

36. … Rc7 37. Re4 Re7 38. Re5 …

Chess psychology and the clock situation are all playing a role here. A better move for White would be 38. Be5!, which might be followed by 38. … Qb6 39. Rc4 when both b4 and d4 are threatened. Fritz comes up with an insane defense: 39. … Rd7 (preventing d4) 40. b4 Ka7 41. bc Qb1! (an important point: Black is finally getting some queen activity) 42. c6 bc 43. Bxc6 Qd1!! 44. Bxd7 Qe2+ with a perpetual check. I don’t quite know whether to believe this, but even if it’s true, a line like this would be impossible for a human (even GM) to find in a time pressure situation, with less than a minute left to make three moves.

With 38. Re5 I am showing a possible willingness to accept a draw by repetition. I’m not sure whether I would have actually taken a draw if he had played 38. … Rc7; it’s possible that I would then have played 39. Re4 Re7 40. Be5, going into the line above. However, Kudrin has to take the possibility of a draw very seriously. To understand the last ten moves of the game, for both players, you have to understand the tournament situation. I’m essentially playing this game with draw odds. If I draw, I know I will win a big money prize for top under-2300 player. Kudrin, being a 2600 player, is not eligible for that prize. For him, as a professional chess player, it’s win or bust. If he wins, he ties for first and gets a decent payday. If we draw, he would get less than $100 — not even enough to cover his entry fee. (Titled players do not have to pay an entry fee in advance, but if they win a prize, the entry fee is deducted from it.)

So for Kudrin, a draw is absolutely not acceptable, and he has to look for a different plan than 38. … Rc7. That explains his next two moves, which came as a great surprise to me.

38. … a5 39. Bc3 Ka7?!

Position after 39. … Ka7. White to move.

FEN: 8/kp2r1p1/3qp2p/p1p1R2P/P4P2/1PBP1BP1/2P3K1/8 w – – 0 40

What?! He’s just giving me a free pawn? Well, no, it isn’t free. Kudrin has finally decided that it’s time to sacrifice a pawn to activate his queen. If he had played 39. … Qc7 or 39. … Qb6, I haven’t found a way to force the win of a pawn. I think that the game would have ended in a draw because Black has no threats either. With 39. … Ka7 Kudrin turns up the risk-reward dial for both sides. We’re now playing for “three results” — a White win, a draw, or a Black win are all possible. His risk of losing is now greater than it was, but he had to do it in order to have a realistic shot at first place.

40. Bxa5 …

Unlike my earlier chances to win material, on moves 27-29, I had no qualms about taking the material this time. I thought I was simply winning.

40. … Qd4

Both sides are past the time control now, and things are about to get interesting. By taking on a5 I violated Commandment 3. Kudrin’s queen will now penetrate to my back rank, and the question is whether she can cause enough mischief there to frustrate my attempts to win the endgame.

41. Be1 b6 42. a5 Qb2!

Of course, 42. … ba 43. Bf2 would win for White.

43. ab+ …

To me, this was almost a no-brainer. I wanted to rip away the barrier of pawns and expose Black’s king. So it was surprising to me when I went over the game with my friend Gjon Feinstein, and for him 43. b4 was a no-brainer! It just shows how different people can have different conceptions in chess. I think that 43. b4 is very much a Gjon move because it ratchets the tension up to almost unbearable levels, and really takes the position to a place that is beyond human comprehension. I will skip the computer analysis and just leave it as a question for the reader: which is better, 43. ab+ or 43. b4 — or does it not really matter?

43. … Kxb6 44. Bf2! …

This move seemed very efficient to me. I don’t need to worry about 44. … Qxc2 because 45. b4! is now decisive. After 45. … Rc7 46. bc+ followed by 47. Rxe6 White’s queenside pawns are off to the races. Or if 45. … Re8 46. Rxc5 White threatens two devastating discovered checks, and Black can’t defend them both.

44. … Rc7 45. Rxe6+ …

It’s always exciting in the Bryntse Gambit when, 39 moves after the initial queen sacrifice, you get back to material equality. Here, Q vs. 2B + 3P.

45. … Kb5 46. Re2 Qa1?

A serious mistake. Black needed to maintain contact with the c-pawn by playing 46. … Qb1. After that White has winning chances but I doubt that he has a forced win. The computer rather adamantly evaluates the position at 0.00, but that is too black-and-white an evaluation for such a complicated position.

47. Be1? …

Failing to take advantage of the opportunity to improve the position of my rook with 47. Re4! followed by 48. Rc4, when White is probably winning. On c4 the rook is able to combine attack with defense. One of the pawn breaks b4 or d4 is coming, and White will be able to get connected passed pawns on the queenside.

47. … Qf6?

Boy, both players just collapsed at the end. I guess the difficulty and strain of the game was too much for us.

Position after 47. … Qf6. White to move.

FEN: 8/2r3p1/5q1p/1kp4P/5P2/1P1P1BP1/2P1R1K1/4B3 w – – 0 48

Black’s move was both very poor and very smart. It’s poor because after sacrificing two pawns to activate his queen on my back rank, he voluntarily relinquishes that activity. The smart thing, though, was that he accompanied this bad move with a draw offer!

While I considered his offer, I thought about a million different things. The prize money that I would win for sure if I accepted his offer. My “bucket list” wish to beat a grandmaster — this was surely the best opportunity I would ever get. The clock, because this will likely come down to a long and very technical endgame, and we are now in a sudden-death control, each of us with about 35 minutes left. Among all of these considerations, I forgot to do the most important thing: look at the chessboard.

It’s a known phenomenon that draw offers are often accompanied by inferior moves, and I had to at least think about the possibility that 47. … Qf6? might be a game-losing blunder. Indeed, after 48. c4+! Kb6 (this is forced because 48. … Ka6? 49. Ra2+ Kb6 50. Ba5+ Ka7 51. Bxc7+ is near-mate: something I definitely did not see) 49. b4! is crushing. Black cannot take because 49. … cb 50. Bf2+ either leads to mate or the win of Black’s rook after 50. … Rc5 51. Re5. After 49. … Rd7 50. bc+ Kxc5 51. Re5+ the computer shows White with a 5-pawn advantage.

Even so, these computer-proclaimed 5-pawn advantages can be very misleading. With one false step by White it can drop to a 1-pawn advantage or a draw — and especially when Black has a queen, there will be lots of ways to go wrong. In view of everything, I think it was not unreasonable for me to take the draw offer. My only regret, really, is that I did not calm down and control my emotions enough to see the mate threats after 48. c4+ and 49. b4. That might have given me the courage to play on. But instead…

48. Draw agreed.

Obviously this game can’t compare with Mackenzie-Pruess. Even if I had won, it wouldn’t have been quite as convincing. The Bryntse Gambit gets an A- in this game. I was never really in trouble, but I also never had an actual advantage until move 46. My possible improvements on moves 11 and 14 need to be tested. The Five Commandments get an A+ in this game. They enabled me to play the first 40 moves with conviction, and Kudrin was seriously hampered by the fact that he didn’t know the Five Commandments. He should have watched my ChessLecture! My courage and emotional self-control get a B-; great for the first 40 moves, but very wobbly at the end. Kudrin’s play was surprisingly poor and gets a B. He missed chances early on, didn’t properly appreciate the need for Black to play energetically and open lines, and then really messed up on his last two moves. His draw offer gets an A for perfect timing, but of course he couldn’t be too happy with that for the reasons I’ve explained. Finally, White’s two bishops get an A+++++! Bishop lovers everywhere should rejoice in this game.

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50 Years of Chess: Year 42

by admin on July 18, 2021

Wow! We’re moving on up to 2013 in this retrospective, and in this year I have a rich selection of interesting games to show you. But — here’s the catch — I’ve already written about almost all of them on this blog. Here are some of the “greatest hits” from that year:

Zildzic-Mackenzie: I sacrificed a bishop to get my opponent’s king in a mating net.

Mackenzie-Narayanan: A fantastic, thrilling rook endgame where my king ended up “in jail” on the back rank but my connected passed pawns saved the day. Narayanan was a very active follower of my blog at that time, and his comments on the endgame are also well worth reading.

Mackenzie-Anchondo: What do you play against a guy who likes to play gambits? Answer: You offer a gambit first! I played my trusted King’s Gambit, Anchondo declined it and played a tricky trap, I sniffed it out and won in fine King’s Gambit style. He actually asked me to write this post; he said it was the first time in his life he had ever lost as Black in the King’s Gambit. I think it’s a great honor when the person you beat asks you to show the world how you did it.

Mackenzie-Barnard: A high-quality game that I had completely forgotten. I played a speculative pawn sac on move 19 and managed to outplay my opponent tactically.

Jain-Mackenzie: A wild and original game in which I sacrificed an exchange and then sacrificed a knight by never moving it. It stayed on b8 the whole game, and was eventually taken by White’s king (!), which then was checkmated in two moves.

Mackenzie-Bykovtsev: Played on the same day as Jain-Mackenzie, but this game was its exact opposite. A smooth positional domination in which the only tactic was a little deflection sacrifice at the end. This game was probably my #2 favorite for 2013, and I may even write an extra post on it.

Traub-Mackenzie: In the 2013 CalChess State Championship I had three miraculous draw saves. This one was the third, a great lesson on corresponding squares in king endgames.

But somehow or other, I completely failed to mention one other really nice game in this blog, so that is the one I will show you today. Actually, I know why I omitted it. At that time I was still doing video lectures for chesslecture.com, and I tried to avoid duplicating material in my blog and my videos. This one was the subject of a lecture called “Help! A Knight Ate My Position!”

Stephen Fairbairn — Dana Mackenzie, 9/1/2013

1. g3 Nf6 2. d3 d5 3. Bg2 Nbd7 4. Nc3 …

One important point about this game was that Fairbairn played very quickly, as if he had to catch a train. In my video I talked about the psychology of playing an opponent who blitzes out his moves. In my opinion you should not attempt to match his speed. Stay calm and look for tactical finesses — if he’s moving too fast, sooner or later he is going to overlook something. As you’ll see, Fairbairn missed a bunch of tactical tricks in this game.

White’s choice of opening is typical for a player who wants to conserve time. He is playing a “system,” a King’s Indian Reversed, where his moves won’t change much no matter what his opponent plays. That being said, 4. Nc3 is unusual (4. Nf3 would be more normal), and at that time this position had zero matches in ChessBase!

4. … e6 5. e4 Bb4 6. Bd2 c6 7. Nh3 O-O 8. O-O d4

Position after 8. … d4. White to move.

FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1n1ppp/2p1pn2/8/1b1pP3/2NP2PN/PPPB1PBP/R2Q1RK1 w – – 0 9

This was a pretty big decision. On one hand, I’m giving my opponent what he wanted — a King’s Indian Reversed pawn structure. And I’m losing tempi by pushing my pawns to d4 and e5. But I felt that it was justified positionally for two reasons. First, I can trade off my dark-squared bishop and then put all my pawns on dark squares, possibly (in the long run) saddling my opponent with a bad bishop. Also, I felt that his knight on h3 is not really correctly placed, so his typical kingside avalanche might not be as effective as usual.

9. Ne2 Bxd2 10. Qxd2 e5 11. f3 …

He didn’t want to play 11. f4 right away because 11. … Ng4 would take aim at the weak square on e3. So his idea is first to play f3, then Nf2, and finally f4. In the tempo battle, he’s taking two moves to play a pawn push he could normally execute in one move. And even after he gets that push in, his knight will be on f2 rather than f3, where it would “normally” be.

11. … Re8

I’m not sure if this was such a great idea. Perhaps … a5 followed by … Nc5 would be more thematic.

12. Nf2 Nf8

The legend of “Super Knight” must, of course, have humble beginnings. It’s hard to believe at this point that this knight is going to acquire super powers before the game is over.

13. f4 ef?!

Other options would be 13. … Ng4 or 13. … Bg4. The idea behind my pawn trade was to loosen up White’s kingside pawn formation and combat his pawn storm with piece activity. It’s a gutsy idea, and at least against this opponent it was perhaps a good one. Against an opponent who is blitzing his moves, it might be a good idea to head into a tactical position where he is more likely to overlook something. Just make sure that you’re not walking into a position that is just plain bad.

14. gf Ng4 15. Nxg4 Bxg4 16. Ng3 …

Position after 16. Ng3. Black to move.

FEN: r2qrnk1/pp3ppp/2p5/8/3pPPb1/3P2N1/PPPQ2BP/R4RK1 b – – 0 16

Here, I won’t lie, I started to get a little bit worried. First, we already see one unfortunate consequence of the pawn trade on move 13. If I had not traded pawns, White’s knight would not have had the square g3 available and would have had to go to c1. Now my bishop on g4 is in great danger of being trapped after f4-f5. Of course I had foreseen that and planned to play 16. … Qh4, but when we got to this position I realized that 16. … Qh4 would commit me to a pawn sacrifice after 17. Qb4. The more I looked at it, the more uncertain I became. In particular, after 17. … Re6 18. Qxb7 Rh6 I had the sudden awful realization that White can just play 19. Kf2! when 19. … Qxh2?? 20. Rh1 loses the queen!

Actually, the computer says that Black is doing great after 16. … Qh4 17. Qb4 Re6 18. Qxb7 Rh6 19. Kf2 Re8! But this is really tough for a human to assess. So I started looking for a Plan B. It’s pretty clear that my idea as Black is to play … Qh4 and … Re6, but when you have two “obvious” moves you should always make sure to look at playing them in the opposite order. I realized that 16. … Re6 was a little bit less risky because the queen stays at home a little bit longer, where it defends the d4 pawn. Now 17. Qb4 would make no sense for White.

16. … Re6

When I gave my lecture I said that this was perhaps my favorite move of the game because it was a case of keeping calm when things didn’t quite go the way that I planned.

17. h3 …

The position is now getting very tactical and very concrete. White had to also consider 17. f5 Rh6. I spent most of my time looking at 18. Qf4 Qh4 19. Kf2, when 19. … Ne6! is an excellent resource. But 18. Rf4! is probably better for White. Now 18. … Qh4 simply loses a pawn to 19. h3! Qxg3 20. Rg4 Qe3+ (force, otherwise the rook on h6 hangs) 21. Qxe3 de 22. Rg3 etc. Instead Black has to play 18. … Qg5, but this is not as threatening as 18. … Qh4, and the computer gives White a 0.7-pawn advantage after 19. R1f1. A highly entertaining computer-inspired variation is (after 17. f5 Rh5 18. Rf4 Qg5 19. R1f1) 19. … Nd7 20. Qf2 c5 21. e5 Rxe5 22. Ne4 Qh5 23. h3 Bxh3 24. Bf3 (the queen is trapped, but Black gets a lot of material for it) 24. … Qxf5 25. Rxf5 Rxf5 26. Re1 b6. It’s anyone’s guess what is happening here, as White has a queen against Black’s rook and three connected passed pawns.

17. … Qh4 18. hg? …

After this move I felt comfortable. Again the most consequential move is 18. f5, when 18. … Rh6? 19. Rf4 Qxg3 20. Rxg4 wins a pawn as mentioned above. A better try for Black is to give up the exchange for a pawn with 18. f5 Qxg3 19. fe Bxe6. Black will get an excellent outpost for his knight on e5, blockading White’s pawns and locking up White’s bishop. So I think Black has good chances to hold a draw — but a win is out of the question.

18. … Qxg3

Position after 18. … Qxg3. White to move.

FEN: r4nk1/pp3ppp/2p1r3/8/3pPPP1/3P2q1/PPPQ2B1/R4RK1 w – – 0 19

A picturesque position! White has an optically impressive armada of pawns, but Black’s queen has penetrated behind enemy lines and chases the White foot soldiers to their doom.

19. g5 h6 20. f5 …

Maybe a bit too hasty. Throughout this middlegame White has been missing the sharpest moves, which is to be expected from a player who is moving too rapidly. A true “maximalist” approach would be 20. Rf3 Qg4 21. f5 Rd6 22. e5 Rd5 and who knows what’s happening?

20. … Rd6 21. gh Rxh6 22. Qf4 …

Time to get rid of the intruder.

22. … Qxf4 23. Rxf4 Nd7

Ah yes. Remember this knight? So far he has been biding his time on f8, far away from the kingside action. But now he goes into a phone booth, puts on his cape and becomes Super Knight. Obviously he is aiming for the beautiful post on e5. If White allows that, Black’s knight is clearly the better minor piece in the position. So White takes his last opportunity to free his bishop.

24. e5 Nxe5 25. Rxd4 Rh5 26. Be4?? …

Played with at most ten seconds of thought. So far White’s mistakes have not been too costly, but this one is a tactical oversight that leads to the collapse of White’s whole position. 26. Rf1 was necessary, with roughly equal chances.

Position after 26. Be4. Black to move.

FEN: r5k1/pp3pp1/2p5/4nP1r/3RB3/3P4/PPP5/R5K1 b – – 0 26

26. … Rxf5!

Completing the destruction of White’s pawn phalanx. Of course, if 27. Bxf5? Nf3+ (Fork #1). But the outcome is not yet completely clear.

27. Rb5 …

Suddenly Black has a lot of hanging pieces — the rook, the pawn at b7, possibly the pawn at c6 (depending on what Black does). And the knight is no longer secure on e5.

27. … Rg5+ 28. Kf1 …

If White plays 28. Kf2, then 28. … b6 29. d4 Ng4+ allows the knight to escape with a tempo, so that Black does not lose the c6 pawn. But the f1 square proves to be not immune to knight checks either…

28. … b6!

Although 28. … Rb8 29. d4 Nd7 is also playable, it’s very passive. As I said in my ChessLecture, I always like to play actively if I can… and here I can.

29. d4 Ng4 30. Bxc6? …

Again White walks right into the tactics instead of taking his time and thinking about the position.

30. … Rc8 31. Be4 …

Another move that looks as if it defends, but doesn’t. It’s worth pointing out that the alternatives don’t work any better. 31. Rc4? walks into 31. … Ne3+ (Fork #2). 31. d5 walks into 31. … Ne3+ (Fork #3) 32. Ke2 Nxc2 (Fork #4).

31. … Rxc2!

Perhaps White was expecting 31. … Ne3+ 32. Kf2 Nxc2? 33. Rc1, when Black walks into a lethal pin. This is another example of a position where Black has two moves that are “connected,” namely a check on e3 and a capture on c2. As I said after move 16, whenever you are planning a one-two punch, move A followed by move B, you should always stop and ask whether it might be more effective to play move B first and then move A.

32. Bxc2 Ne3+

Fork #5.

33. Ke2 Nxc2

Fork #6. (Although you could say it’s the same as Fork #4.)

34. Rc4 Nxa1 35. Rc1 …

And now a sweet little move to end the game.

35. … Nc2!

Besides its ability to fork two pieces in a single bound, Black’s knight has just acquired a new superpower: immunity to capture. If 36. Rxc2 Rg2+ 37. Kd3 Rxc2 38. Kxc2 Black has a king and pawn endgame he can win with his eyes closed, thanks to his two connected passed pawns on the kingside.

Seven of Black’s last 13 moves, and all of his last four moves, were made by the Super Knight.

36. White resigns

Fairbairn stopped his clock and dashed from the tournament room. Who knows, maybe he really did have a train to catch.

Lessons:

  1. When your opponent is blitzing his moves, for whatever reason, don’t blitz yours. Take your time and look for the tactical oversights that will almost inevitably occur (unless he is Walter Browne, in which case good luck).
  2. When you have a “one-two punch” planned, move A followed by move B, always stop and ask yourself whether it might be more effective to play move B followed by move A. (See Black’s move 16 and 31.)
  3. Watch out for pieces that look as if they are defended, but aren’t really. This can happen, for example, if the defender is pinned or overloaded or can be deflected or captured. (See White’s move 26 and 31.)
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