Jon Speelman's Agony Column #40

by Jonathan Speelman
2/10/2017 – This week the Agony/Ecstasy features none other than our columnist himself. He played a game against an old rival and friend, John Pigott, got outplayed and was faced with a clearly worse endgame. "I did something grossly stupid, and then he reciprocated, offering a draw in a position which turns out to be winning! A very lucky escape for me, and later he generously assented to my using the game here." There is a lot to learn from this week's column.

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Jon Speelman's Agony Column #40

I was a bit late with the column this week and wondering whose games to use (please do keep them coming, my reserves are finite and the waiting time for publication of interesting submissions shouldn't be at all excessive) when along came some Agony/ Ecstasy of my own.

This was in the London League on Tuesday night when my team Wood Green, the monster of the League, played one I used to play for many years ago King's Head (based originally in the famous chess pub in Moscow Road in Bayswater).

You never quite know who your going to play in London League games, though if you stick to the odd numbered boards you do at least know the format. This is due to an extraordinary compromise whereby on odd numbered boards the default option is for a quick play finish whereas on the even ones it's an adjournment! It doesn't have to be so if both players agree otherwise and in practice most games on the even numbered boards do go to the quick play anyway. But I've had quite enough adjournments in my life and always stick to the odd numbered boards.

In any case, this time my opponent was an old friend, slightly younger than me, who I must have played several times when we were young (though when I just checked my incomplete database I was most surprised not to find any): John Pigott.

An excellent player, he's recently retired and returned to chess. He outplayed me on Tuesday, reaching a clearly better endgame. It's there that the Agony/Ecstasy – or perhaps merely tragicomedy unfolded as I did something grossly stupid, and then he reciprocated, offering a draw in a position which turns out to be winning! A very lucky escape for me, and when we had a drink in the pub later and caught up (he has four kids and a grandchild), he generously assented to my using the game here.

I'll scoot fairly quickly through to reach what is a very interesting pawn endgame.

[Event "London League"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.07"] [Round "?"] [White "Pigott, J."] [Black "Speelman, J."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nf3 e6 5. Be2 Ne7 6. O-O (6. Nh4 Bg6 {isn't scary for Black}) 6... Nc8 7. c3 {Solid. I also wondered about} (7. b3 Nd7 8. c4) ({or} 7. Ne1 c5 8. g4 Bg6 9. f4 {though} Be4 {is okay then}) 7... Nd7 8. a4 Be7 (8... a5 {is perfectly sensible but White does lose quite a lot of time setting up the queenside bind.}) 9. a5 O-O 10. b4 f6 11. exf6 Bxf6 12. Bf4 Qe7 {[#]} (12... g5 {was possible but loosening.}) 13. Re1 Nd6 14. Nbd2 Rae8 ({ The rook isn't great on e8, and} 14... a6 {makes sense even though it prevents Black from trying to get in ...b6 and ...c5. since it does have the virtue of cutting out lines with a5-a6 once White has played Ne5.}) 15. Ne5 Ne4 $6 { This helps White coordinate.} (15... Bxe5 16. dxe5 Nf7 {isn't too bad}) 16. Nxe4 (16. Nxd7 Qxd7 17. Nxe4 Bxe4 18. Bg3 {is an engine recommendation since if } e5 19. Bg4 Bf5 20. Bh5 {when Black has to try} e4) 16... Bxe4 17. Qd2 { For some reason I got caught up in} (17. Nxd7 Qxd7 18. Bd3 (18. Qd2 e5 { is what Black wants.}) 18... Bxd4 $1 {which I guessed should be okay and indeed is.}) 17... a6 $6 (17... Bxe5 18. dxe5 Rc8 {is better for White but not unplayable.}) 18. Nxd7 Qxd7 19. Bf1 {[#] Now e5 has been prevented and so White has a clear advantage. I therefore began to randomise.} Bh4 $5 20. Re2 e5 $5 21. Bxe5 (21. dxe5 Qf5 {definitely causes trouble though I was more interested in Qg4} (21... Qg4 22. g3 g5 23. h3) 22. Bg3 Bxg3 23. hxg3 Bd3 { is perfectly okay.}) 21... Qg4 22. Bg3 Bxg3 23. fxg3 (23. hxg3 {was actually strong because after the obvious} Re6 24. f3 Qxg3 {Houdini and its friends go ping and instantly point out} 25. Rxe4 $1 dxe4 26. Bc4) 23... h5 24. Rf2 Rxf2 25. Qxf2 Rf8 26. Qe2 Qg6 27. Qe3 $6 h4 $1 28. Ra2 ({Of course if} 28. gxh4 $4 Rxf1+) 28... hxg3 29. Qxg3 Qxg3 30. hxg3 Rf6 {Reaching the time control after 75 minutes each. We now got twenty more minutes for the rest of the game.} 31. Re2 {[#] If Black sits then White will untangle with Re3 and Be2-f3 with a nagging advantage. I also wasn't that happy about 31...Kf7 32.Rf2. I thefore tried to convince myself that the pawn endgame would be drawn but simplified in a grossly stupid way.} (31. Rf2 $2 Rg6 32. g4 Rxg4 33. Kh2) 31... Rxf1+ $4 ( 31... Bd3 32. Rf2 Rxf2 33. Kxf2 Bxf1 34. Kxf1 {gets the same position but with the White king a square further back and obviously has to be correct if you're going to play the pawn endgame. In the post mortem afterwards I managed to convince myself that it was drawn, even with the king starting on e2. But this is wrong and Rxf1+ was a losing blunder, whereas Bd3 should hold with some fancy footwork.} Kf7 35. Kf2 Kg6 (35... Kf6 36. g4) 36. Kf3 (36. g4 Kh6 37. Ke3 Kg5 38. Kf3 Kg6 39. Kf4 Kf6 $11 40. Kf3 Kg6 41. Kg3 Kg5) 36... Kf5 (36... Kg5) 37. g4+ Kg6 $1 38. Kf2 Kf6 39. Kg3 Kg5 {we'll look at this zugzwang separately after the game continuation.}) 32. Kxf1 Bd3 33. Kf2 Bxe2 34. Kxe2 Kf7 35. Kf3 g5 {[#] With the White king so far advanced, Black has to block the kingside but it should lose.} 36. Ke3 Ke6 37. Kf3 {Here John offered a draw, not realising that after White plays g3-g4, he will have a spare tempo with g2-g3!} (37. g4 $1 Kd6 38. Kd3 Kc7 39. c4 {If Black does nothing then White will arrange to play b5} b5 (39... Kd6 40. Kc3 Kc7 41. cxd5 cxd5 42. b5 Kd7 43. Kb4 Kd6 44. g3) (39... dxc4+ 40. Kxc4 Kd6 41. g3 Kc7 42. Kc5 {is completely hopeless}) 40. axb6+ Kxb6 41. Kc3 dxc4 (41... a5 42. bxa5+ Kxa5 43. Kb3 { and the white king gets in}) 42. Kxc4 Kb7 43. Kc5 Kc7 44. g3 Kb7 {[#] Here in the post mortem we looked at lines where the White king runs to the kingside but this doesn't work} 45. Kd6 (45. d5 $1 cxd5 46. Kxd5 Kb6 47. Ke5 Kb5 48. Kf5 Kxb4 49. Kxg5 a5 50. Kf5 a4 51. g5 a3 52. g6 a2 53. g7 a1=Q 54. g8=Q Qb1+ { is unpleasant for Black but defensible.}) 45... Kb6 46. Kd7 $1 $18 Kb7 (46... Kb5 47. Kc7 {leads to the same thing}) 47. Ke7 Kb6 48. Kd8 $1 Kb5 (48... a5 49. bxa5+ Kxa5 50. Kc7 Kb5 51. Kd6 Kc4 52. Kxc6 Kxd4 53. Kd6 Ke4 54. Ke6 Kf3 55. Kf5) 49. Kc7 Kc4 50. Kxc6 Kxd4 51. Kb6 Kc4 52. Kxa6 Kxb4 53. Kb6 Kc4 54. Kc6 Kd4 55. Kd6 Ke4 56. Ke6 Kf3 57. Kf5 {[#] Black is totally busted. But the game itself ended in a draw:}) 1/2-1/2

Going back to the start of the pawn endgame if I had still had a brain and played Bd3 then I could have held since Black can defend while keeping the kingside open. The critical position is this zugzwang.

[Event "Analysis - zugzwang"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Pigott, J."] [Black "Speelman, J."] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p4p1/p1p5/P2p2k1/1P1P2P1/2P3K1/6P1/8 b - - 0 42"] [PlyCount "5"] {Black to play is dead lost.} 42... Kf6 (42... Kg6 43. Kh4 Kh6 44. g5+ Kh7 ( 44... Kg6 45. Kg4 Kf7 46. Kh5) 45. Kg4 Kg8 46. Kf5 Kf7 47. g3 Ke7 48. Kg6 Kf8 49. Kh7) 43. Kf4 g5+ 44. Ke3 Ke6 {leads to the lost blocked position analysed earlier.} *

[Event "Analysis"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.08"] [Round "?"] [White "Pigott, J."] [Black "Speelman, J."] [Result "*"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/1p4p1/p1p5/P2p2k1/1P1P2P1/2P3K1/6P1/8 w - - 0 42"] [PlyCount "10"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] {But with White to play it's a draw.} 42. Kf3 Kg6 $1 43. Kf4 Kf6 44. Kf3 Kg6 45. Kg3 Kg5 46. Kf3 (46. Kh3 Kf4 47. Kh4 Ke3 48. Kg5 Kd3 49. Kg6 Kxc3 50. Kxg7 Kxb4 51. g5 c5 52. dxc5 d4 53. Kf8 d3 54. g6 d2 55. g7 d1=Q 56. g8=Q) 46... Kg6 *

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.
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and a happy new year and a happy new year 2/10/2017 07:36
There are lots of GM and IM games played in the London League that never make it into databases.
koko48 koko48 2/9/2017 09:53
Very instructive endgame Mr. Speelman....On a related note, in 2010 I played in an unrated quickplay tournament at the Kings Head Pub, which if I recall correctly is on the West End....As I often do when I arrive in a new city I look online for the chess clubs...and it was mentioned that a club met once a week at the Kings Head and had an impromptu tournament

As it turns out I took first place in the tournament (my only 'international' tournament win!) and first prize was....A free pint of beer!