Jon Speelman's Agony Column #4

6/1/2016 – Which piece should you exchange, which piece should stay on the board? Knowing the right answers to this question is important for good positional play "the bedrock on which everything else stands", as Jon Speelman puts it in his fourth "Agony Column", in which he shows two examples of positional play. And congratulates a famous grandmaster who turned 51 today!

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In the course of its short life, this column has generated a gratifying amount of interest with a tidal wave of games at the beginning and a continuing steady flow.

The most dramatic and emotional moments in chess normally involve tactics and the majority of games I've received have consequently been fairly violent. But positional play is the bedrock on which everything else stands and today we look at a couple of at least initially quieter examples from one of the very first people to respond to my initial request : Barak Atzmon-Simon.

Mr Atzmon-Simon, who is 46, was originally from Israel but has lived in Sydney for 13 years with his wife and two daughters. A computer programmer with a Master's degree in Philosophy and currently completing another in Cultural Studies, his peak rating was 2182 thus far.

First though Happy Birthday to Nigel Short who is 51 today (Wednesday June 1st).

Nigel has professed to being sick of repetitions of perhaps his is most famous game of all - a wonderful king march in the middlegame from g1  to h6 against Jan Timman. But he also used a king march to superb effect against Garry Kasparov in a rapidplay game in London 1987 and here it is very briefly:

[Event "London m 25'"] [Site "London"] [Date "1987.02.04"] [Round "3"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Short, Nigel D"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2735"] [BlackElo "2615"] [PlyCount "100"] [EventDate "1987.02.??"] [EventType "match (rapid)"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1988.02.01"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Bg4 3. Ne5 Bf5 4. c4 f6 5. Nf3 c6 6. Nc3 e6 7. g3 Bb4 8. Bg2 Ne7 9. O-O O-O 10. Qb3 a5 11. a3 Bxc3 12. bxc3 Nd7 13. Nd2 a4 14. Qa2 Bg6 15. e4 Bf7 16. Rb1 Rb8 17. Qc2 b5 18. cxd5 cxd5 19. Qd3 Qa5 20. Re1 Rfc8 21. Rb4 Nc6 22. Rb2 Ne7 23. Rc2 Nb6 24. h4 Rb7 25. Bh3 Rc6 26. Rb2 Nc4 27. Rb4 Qc7 28. Nxc4 Rxc4 29. Bd2 Qc6 30. e5 f5 31. Bf1 Bh5 32. Qe3 h6 33. Reb1 Kf7 34. R1b2 Kg8 35. f3 Qa6 36. Rb1 Nc6 37. Bxc4 dxc4 38. R4b2 Ne7 39. d5 Nxd5 40. Qc5 Bxf3 41. Rxb5 Rc7 42. Rb8+ Kh7 43. Qf8 Qa7+ 44. Kf1 Re7 45. R1b2 {[#] Although White seems to have an attack, the Black king can escape via the white squares and then attack Black. This is possible mainly because of the opposite coloured bishops which render the white squares very much Black's territory.} Kg6 46. Bc1 Kh5 47. Ra8 Qc5 48. Rc8 Qxa3 49. g4+ Bxg4 50. Rxc4 Qa1 {and Kasparov resigned} 0-1


[Event "Automn Swiss Rooty Hill"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.02.08"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Jain, Kamal"] [Black "Atzmon-Simon, Barak"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "1600"] [BlackElo "2100"] [Annotator "Jon Speelman"] [PlyCount "130"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. c3 e6 5. Ne2 Nd7 6. Ng3 Bg6 7. Be2 Nb6 8. O-O h5 9. Re1 h4 10. Nf1 Nh6 (10... h3 11. g3 {would weaken g2 but help White to prepare a possible kingside advance later with f4, g4 and Ng3 preparing f5 - so Black should very possibly better refrain from this move.}) 11. h3 { Preventing ...h3 but now Black gets very good control over f5} Be7 12. Nbd2 Nf5 13. a4 {[#]} a5 {This prevents the a-pawn's advance but weakens b5 if Black ever plays ...c5. If} (13... a6 {White can play} 14. a5 Nd7 15. b4 {gaining a grip on the queenside so perhaps Black should play}) (13... c5 {immediately.}) 14. Nf3 O-O 15. b3 c5 16. Ne3 cxd4 {Now White gets the d4 square for the knight. I wondered about} (16... Nxe3 17. Bxe3 c4 {when Black is a bit weak on the b-file but has plenty of activity on the queenside.} 18. bxc4 Nxc4 19. Bxc4 dxc4) 17. Nxf5 Bxf5 18. Nxd4 Qc7 {Rather cavalier against a lower rated opponent.} (18... Bg6 {looks more normal}) 19. Be3 (19. Nxf5 exf5 20. Be3 { looks clearly better for White - and White does not take risks.}) 19... Be4 20. Nb5 Qc6 21. Bd4 Nd7 22. f3 {This weakens the black squares.} (22. Bd3 Nc5 23. Bc2 (23. Bxe4 {is too soon because} dxe4 {is annoying}) 23... Rad8 24. Qe2 Bxc2 25. Qxc2 Ne4 {might be a tad better for White}) 22... Bf5 23. Kh1 f6 {[#][ Breaking open the centre. Over the next few moves, both players must decide which minor pieces they want to exchange and which to keep. White's next move is odd because the bishop on d4 is a potentially powerful force but White allows that it is exchanged for the knight.} 24. Bd3 (24. exf6 {was good and after} Bxf6 {White should continue with} 25. c4 $1 {to play this crucial move before Black can get in the desired ... e5}) 24... fxe5 25. Bxe5 {Which pieces to exchange?} Bc5 (25... Nxe5 26. Rxe5 Bf6 27. Re2 Bxd3 28. Qxd3 e5 {looks fine for Black. The bishop cements the kingside and d5 can be protected sufficiently.}) 26. Nd4 Bxd4 $2 {Not only weakening the black squares but also making the h4-pawn seriously weak.} (26... Nxe5 27. Rxe5 Qd6 (27... Bxd4 28. cxd4 Rac8 29. Bxf5 Rxf5 30. Rxf5 exf5 31. Qe1 Qf6 32. Qxa5 Qxd4 33. Qe1) 28. Re2 Bxd4 29. cxd4 {was absolutely fine.} Bxh3 $5 (29... Bxd3 30. Qxd3 Rac8 { looks okay but Black can also try the piece sacrifice}) 30. gxh3 Rxf3 {which would be incredibly dangerous in a game and is actually quite liked by engines. }) 27. Bxd4 Qd6 28. Qd2 Bxd3 29. Qxd3 {[#]} e5 $2 {If Black had a good position then advancing in the centre would be thematic but here this move is a mistake because it creates another weakness on d5 and now Black cannot avoid losing material.} 30. Bf2 Rf4 {Presumably the intention when playing e5 but insufficient. If} (30... Rac8 31. Rad1 Rf7 {simply} 32. Qxd5 (32. Qb5 Nf6 { is even stronger according to Houdini but a little messy for practical play especially if White is short of time.}) 32... Qxd5 33. Rxd5 Rxc3 {and White has a very pleasant ending.}) 31. Rad1 e4 (31... Nf6 32. Be3 e4 33. Bxf4 Qxf4 34. fxe4 dxe4 35. Qc4+ {wins}) 32. Rxe4 $1 (32. Qxd5+ Qxd5 33. Rxd5 Nf6 34. Rd4 Rf5 {is slightly messier}) 32... Rxe4 33. fxe4 Nf6 34. exd5 Re8 35. c4 Ne4 36. Bxh4 {With three extra pawns White is completely winning though Black did manage to thrash around a little.} Qf4 37. Be1 Rf8 38. d6 Rd8 39. Qd5+ Kh8 {[#] } 40. Qh5+ (40. Rd4 Qf1+ 41. Kh2 Qxe1 42. Rxe4 {would have ended the game immediately}) 40... Kg8 41. Qd5+ Kh8 42. Qh5+ Kg8 43. Qf3 Qe5 44. Bh4 Rxd6 45. Rxd6 Nxd6 46. Qd5+ Qxd5 47. cxd5 {Now it's down to two pawns and the Black king can control the d pawn but with a5 dropping off this is pretty easy.} Kf7 48. Bd8 Ne4 49. Bxa5 Nc5 50. d6 Ke6 51. Bc7 Nxb3 52. g4 Nc5 53. a5 Na6 54. Kg2 Nxc7 55. dxc7 Kd7 56. h4 Kxc7 57. Kf3 Kc6 58. Ke4 Kb5 59. Kd4 Kxa5 60. h5 { Personally I would have pushed the h-pawn a couple of moves ago but it makes absolutely no difference.} Ka4 61. g5 b5 62. h6 gxh6 63. gxh6 b4 64. h7 b3 65. h8=Q b2 {[#]An agonising game for Black who got a decent position but then ran into trouble which proved fatal, even against a much lower rated opponent, after he exchanged off the wrong minor pieces.} 1-0


[Event "Rooty Hill Championship"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.12.07"] [Round "9.5"] [White "Montenegro, Jesson"] [Black "Atzmon-Simon, Barak"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A01"] [WhiteElo "1842"] [BlackElo "2095"] [Annotator "Jon Speelman"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. Nf3 Nc6 2. b3 e5 3. Bb2 e4 {Advancing so early can be double-edged but here Black gains sufficient time to support the pawn.} 4. Nd4 Nxd4 5. Bxd4 Nf6 6. e3 Be7 7. Be2 O-O 8. O-O d5 9. d3 c5 10. Bb2 Bf5 {[#] This may be a novelty but Black has plenty of sensible moves in this comfortable position.} 11. Nd2 { After this c4 would run into exd3. But as c4 is the break that White normally wants to play I looked at} (11. c4 {immediately. Black can try:} exd3 {is sufficient for a small edge} (11... d4 {is a radical attempt to refute or at least seriously challenge c4.} 12. exd4 cxd4 13. dxe4 Nxe4 14. Qxd4 (14. Bd3 $1 Bg6 {not} (14... Bf6 $4 15. Qf3) 15. Bxe4 Bxe4 16. Qxd4 Qxd4 17. Bxd4 Rad8 18. Bb2 Bc6 {and Black will easily regain the pawn but White should get organised while this is happening, for example} 19. Nc3 Rd2 20. Bc1 Rc2 21. Nd5 Bxd5 22. cxd5 Bf6 23. Rb1 Rxa2 {and the d-pawn can be defended so White should be able to get enough play even if the pawn is eventually surrounded.}) 14... Qxd4 15. Bxd4 Rad8 16. Bb2 Nd2 $1 {is Black's idea}) 12. Bxd3 Qd7 13. Bxf5 Qxf5 14. cxd5 Nxd5 15. Nc3 Nxc3 16. Bxc3 Rfd8 {and Black is a tad better but if you changed the colour of all the pieces then "Black" wouldn't be unhappy.}) 11... Qb6 12. dxe4 Nxe4 $6 {Now the white queen gets a square.} (12... dxe4 {was more challenging} 13. Nc4 Qe6 14. Qe1 Rfd8 15. Rd1 {and Black maintains the e4 pawn with the more comfortable position.} Nd5 $15) 13. Nxe4 dxe4 {If} (13... Bxe4 14. f3 (14. Bf3 Rfd8 15. Bxe4 dxe4 16. Qg4 Qg6 17. Qxg6 hxg6 18. Rfd1 {is equal }) 14... Bf5 15. Qxd5 {forces Black to try} Bxc2 16. e4 {when} Rad8 17. Qc4 Qb4 {is apparently alright but this is a computer line and during a game you'd worry about the bishops' fate.}) 14. Qd5 Qg6 15. Rfd1 (15. Be5 {was interesting and offers an exchange for which White gets good compensation:} Rad8 16. Qxb7 Bf6 17. Bxf6 Bh3 $1 18. g3 Rb8 19. Qxa7 Bxf1 20. Rxf1 Qxf6 21. a4 ) 15... Rab8 16. Be5 Be6 17. Qd2 Rbc8 {[#]} 18. c4 {Preventing the rook from entering the game via the c-file. Instead} (18. Qa5 $5 {was critical but extremely risky without very exact analysis} Bh3 (18... c4 $5 19. Qxa7 cxb3 20. cxb3 Rc2 21. Qxb7 {This move looks risky but the queen can now return to a6} ( 21. Bf1 Bh4 22. Bg3 Qf6 (22... Bxg3 23. fxg3 Qf6 24. Qxb7 Qf2+ 25. Kh1 Bg4 26. Rdc1 Rxc1 27. Rxc1 Qxe3) 23. Qd4 Bxg3 24. Qxf6 Bxh2+ (24... gxf6) 25. Kxh2 gxf6 26. Kg1) 21... Bh4 22. Qa6 Bxf2+ 23. Kxf2 Qf5+ 24. Bf4 g5 25. Rac1 Rxc1 26. Rxc1 gxf4 27. Qd6 fxe3+ 28. Kxe3 Qg5+ 29. Qf4 Qxg2 {and Black's king is at least as vulnerable as White's. In any case if White's worried he can simply play} 30. Qg3+) (18... a6 19. Qb6 $1 {leaves White in control since Bh3 has been prevented.}) 19. Bg3 Bg4 20. Bxg4 Qxg4 21. Qxa7 Rcd8 22. Rxd8 Rxd8 23. h3 {and the d-file gives Black some compensation for the pawn though it does not seem to be enough to convince.}) 18... b6 19. Qc2 h5 {Initiating a white square attack.} 20. Rd2 (20. Kf1 {to meet ...h4 with h3 made a lot of sense.}) 20... h4 21. Rad1 Bh3 22. Bf1 (22. g3 {kept the kingside cleaner. I still slightly prefer Black but his advantage is probably nothing.}) 22... Rfe8 { But not} (22... Bxg2 $2 23. Bxg2 h3 24. Qxe4) 23. Kh1 $6 (23. f4 {was possible. If now} exf3 $4 {White wins after} 24. Qxg6 fxg6 25. gxh3) 23... Bg4 24. Be2 h3 $1 {Breaking up the kingside. Although the bishop can defend on g3, Black is now clearly happier than White.} (24... Bxe2 25. Rxe2 Bf6 26. Bxf6 $11) 25. Bxg4 hxg2+ (25... Qxg4 26. Bg3 hxg2+ 27. Kxg2 {comes to the same thing}) 26. Kxg2 Qxg4+ 27. Bg3 Rc6 28. Rd7 Bh4 {[#]} 29. Qd2 $6 {Now the rook gets across and the attack begins to bite.} (29. Rxa7 Rf6 30. Kg1 Bxg3 31. fxg3 Rf3 { is dangerous but}) (29. R1d6 {was correct to prevent Black keeping all the rooks on the board. If then} Rxd6 30. Rxd6 Qf3+ 31. Kg1 Bxg3 32. hxg3 Re5 33. Rd8+ Kh7 34. Qd1 {defends. Black will surely leave the queen exchange to White so that he gets a powerful pawn on f3 but the White rook is active and he should be okay.}) 29... Rh6 30. Kg1 Ree6 $1 {Now both rooks enter the attack and it becomes critical.} 31. Rxa7 {[#]} Qf3 $5 {As Mr Atzmon-Simon points out himself,} ({"I should have played"} 31... Reg6 $1 32. Ra8+ Kh7 33. Qe1 Bxg3 34. fxg3 Rxh2 35. Rdd8 Rgh6 36. Rh8+ Kg6 37. Rxh6+ Rxh6 {which (JS) is clearly winning for instance after} 38. Qf1 Qh5 39. Qg2 Qd1+ 40. Qf1 Rh1+) 32. Bxh4 Reg6+ $1 (32... Rxh4 $6 33. Qd8+ Re8 $1 34. Qxh4 Qxd1+ 35. Kg2 {and despite White's open king, Black can do no better than give perpetual check.}) 33. Bg3 Rxh2 $1 34. Qd8+ Kh7 35. Kxh2 Rh6+ 36. Bh4 Qxf2+ 37. Kh3 Qxe3+ 38. Kh2 Qf2+ 39. Kh3 Qf3+ 40. Kh2 {[#]} Qg4 {Engines show the best path:} (40... Qf4+ $142 $5 41. Kh3 Rg6 42. Bg5 Rxg5 43. Qxg5 Qxg5 {winning easily.}) 41. Rdd7 $6 {Missing a difficult resource:} (41. Rh1 $1 Rg6 42. Bg5 Rxg5 43. Qxg5 Qxg5 44. Rxf7 { and White can at least try to fight.}) 41... Rxh4+ 42. Qxh4+ Qxh4+ 43. Kg2 Qg4+ 44. Kh2 $6 {This makes it slightly easier for Black but} (44. Kf2 {can be met most simply by} f5 {and White is completely gone since the pawn ending after} 45. Rxg7+ Qxg7 46. Rxg7+ Kxg7 {is dead lost.}) 44... e3 45. Rxf7 e2 {and since the pawn is winning a rook White resigned, A nice game in which Black built up his attack on good positional lines.} (45... e2 46. Rae7 Qh5+ 47. Kg3 Qxf7 48. Rxe2 g5 $19) 0-1

About the author

Jon was born in 1956 and became a professional player in 1977 after graduating from Worcester College Oxford where he read mathematics. He became an IM in 1977 a GM in 1980 and was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980-2006. Three times British Champion he played twice in the Candidates reaching the semi-final (of what was then a knockout series of matches) in 1989 when he lost 4.5 - 3.5 to Jan Timman. He's twice been a second at the world championship for Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995. He's written for the Observer (weekly) since 1993 and The Independent since 1998. With its closure (going online, but without Jon on board) he's expanding online activity and is also now offering online tuition. He likes puzzles especially (cryptic) crosswords and killer sudokus. If you'd like to contact Jon, then please write to

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firestorm firestorm 6/1/2016 07:22
John Speelman is simply an excellent commentator, and offering a service to annotate games of users of Chessbase is a great idea.
sachinsabnis sachinsabnis 6/1/2016 06:32
Good Column. Chessbase should have more of such columns.