I tried switching to the English, but that wasn’t enough, so eventually I went whole hog and decided to switch to 1.e4 (a decision from which my rating has still not recovered). Anyway, my main fears about this shift were assuaged when I bought Nunn & Gallagher’s Beating the Sicilian 3. I have never been able to understand why Black doesn’t just always get mated in the Sicilian, but the statistics are very clear that there must be some reason. So I figured I’d by buy the book, use it in an email tournament (with the IECG) and by the time that was done I’d have enough quality experience to play it over the board.
Shernoff-Dunn, IECG Cup 1997
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f4
N & G’s recommendation against the Najdorf.
I was happy with it because I figured it wouldn’t have as much theory as the Bg5 lines, and because I’d seen a game with it where Korchnoi beat Geller in a style similar to that which I was hoping to achieve by switching to 1.e4.
Okay, now we’ve got all the knights developed on normal squares, just like I was taught as a wee lad when I was first learning about chess. Let’s be good and look in the book...
What? This is not a normal move? In fact, it’s so much of a sideline that it gets kissed off with “7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Nd7 9.Bc4 dxe5 10.0-0 e6 11.f5 Bc5+ 12.Kh1 and White has good attacking chances.”
What? I paid $23.95 for one little line, and to be told that I have good attacking chances?
7.Nxc6 bxc6 8.e5 Nd7 9.Bc4 dxe5 10.0-0 e6 11.f5 Bc5+ 12.Kh1
Son of a gun, he played into it. And now, as so often happens, that little untested line turns out to have a completely incorrect evaluation. On my very first use of that expensive book. Thanks, N & G!
12...exf5? 13.Rxf5 f6
My opponent, in New Zealand, always played very quickly (on a couple of occasions we exchanged three move pairs in one day) and was always happy to play “anti-positional” moves like this in order to hang on to material. Characterizing his play as quick, materialistic, and anti-positional, I decided he must be using a computer. (This is how they played, back in the day.)
In retrospect, I’m not sure why I thought that, since Black (from the diagram) has the much better and more materialistic move 12...Nb6!, after which White will either have to exchange queens or sac unsoundly in order to remain only one pawn down – for example 13.Bd3?! exf5 14.Bxf5?? Qxd1. I also don’t think much of 13.Qf3 Nxc4 14.Qxc6+ Bd7 15.Qxc5 Rc8 and exf5. This is not why White opens with the e-pawn.
Okay, so I’ve dodged a bullet here, but I still have to address the threat of Nb6, and I have to find a constructive place to develop my queen’s bishop, otherwise my lead in development will just melt away.
My first Sicilian, and I get to sac a knight at d5. Sweet!
This was what I had expected, but 15...Rb8 is a much more constructive way to threaten to take the knight.
On 14...Nb6, White does not play the humorous line 15.Nxb6? Qxd1+, but instead 15.Nxf6+ Ke7 (15...gxf6 17.Qh5+ with widespread devastation) 16.Bg5! with that nice bishop development that I’d been aiming at – for instance, White has a nice checkmate after 16...Qxd1+ 17.Rxd1
The easiest is 17...gxf6 18.Bxf6+ Ke8 19.Rd8#
Then there's 17...Bxf5 (covering d8) 18.Nh5+ Ke8 19.Nxg7#
And the prettiest one is 17...Nxc4 18.Ne8+! Ke6 19.Nxg7#. It would have been difficult to spot this over the board...
And there’s that nice bishop development that was the whole point of the combination. I was glad I was playing this game via correspondence. It would have been tough and stressful to find all of this over the board.
At the time, coming off all those Rétis of mine, this seemed like a completely crazy position to me, but now as an experienced 1.e4 player, it seems completely normal! Well, not. But I certainly feel quite confident in saying that White has good compensation for the piece.
Again, I felt that this was an inappropriately materialistic move. On the other hand, 19...Nb6 20.Qg7+ Kd6 21.Qxf8+ (21.Be4 Bxf5 22.Bxf5 Rg8 23.Rd1+ Bd4 and I don’t think I have quite enough) 21...Qxf8 22.Bxf8+ Kxd5 23.Rxf6 and I should be able to win this endgame.
The rook will be very active on the 7th rank. Meanwhile, my Qg6 is active enough; and it defends c2, keeping the Rb2 confined.
See my comment above about this position now looking normal. In Rétis, the whole point is not to give your opponent any counterplay whatsoever. Umm, not that Black really has any here. But one never has to calculate as many tactical lines in the Réti as I’ve had to do here, unless you’ve screwed up badly and let Black off the hook. So although I kept telling myself that things were fine, my positional alarm bells kept giving off danger signals. And there were certainly a lot of tactics here that I might have missed over the board.
on 26.c3 Bd5, the weakness of g2 may cause me some problems. Better to not touch anything major, and just push my h-pawn.
26...Ra2 An unusual way to defend the a-pawn.
I have no idea why I did this.
I have no idea why he did this.
What is Black doing with his king?
I have no idea what came over me. It is foolhardy to open the second rank, and I soon get into trouble because of it. I should just push the h-pawn, of course. I think I was motivated by the fear that his queen might move off the d-file and I’d lose the pin, and also that 32...Bd5 can currently be met by 33.c4+
32...f5 In an over-the-board game, I might have missed the threat of Qd8-h4. This is why he ran with his king – so that Qxe6 isn’t check.
Because I was so upset over the course of the game, I decided afterwards that this was a mistake, and I should have played 34.Rb1. This seems correct, although the position has still gotten even more nerve-wracking than it needs to be.
This was all part of my plan when I played 32.c3, and I was expecting Black to resign now. After all, I’ll be a full rook up in a moment.
Huh! Sort of like a spite check! A spite mate threat. I just defend, and then... he... takes my rook on b3. Son of a bitch! Emotional pandemonium!
Luckily, in correspondence chess one can go downstairs and watch back-to-back episodes of Wings and Bewitched to calm ones nerves.
You might want to take a bit of time now and figure out how White gets out of this situation.
After 37...Qxb8 38.Qxf5, saving the bishop loses the rook to Qe6+, and 38...Qg8/g3 is met by Qxe4+ and cxd4, when Black is in a world of hurt, since White’s queen covers the perpetual (after 38...Qg3) by Qf2-h4 and back. This last is also quite hard to notice over the board, since my main focus for Qxe4 is guarding g2.
37...Qg5 may be the best swindling try (38.Qf1?? Qh4#) but 38.Qh3 holds things down surprisingly well.
38.Rxg8 And the rook covers g2
And here I thought that 38...f2 39.cxd4 Re2 was a better chance, though in correspondence it’s not difficult to find 40.g4 with Kg2 to follow.
41.h7 a4 Around here, I decided that a computer would not have shed material so fast, and gave up the idea that he was using one.
42.Ra1 42.Rd3 may be more accurate, chasing the bishop instead of the rook. His rook can (and should) just move back and forth on the 7th rank.
After the game, I mentioned the quick play and the computer idea, and he said “Oh, no! It’s just that I play at work, so I always have to move very fast, before someone sees me.”