Jon Speelman's Agony Column #43

by Jonathan Speelman
3/5/2017 – This week's Agony is from a young Canadian filmmaker and producer, a childhood friend of Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor Drake, about whom he has made a documentary film. Jacob Stein submitted two Ecstasy games in the London System (Queen's Pawn Openings with Bf4), and when Jon Speelman requested some “Agony”, he added an obviously very painful loss.

Jon Speelman's Agony Column #43

This week's games are by Jacob Stein, a Canadian in his early thirties who now lives in New York. He writes:

I am a professional chess instructor based in New York City but originally from Toronto, Canada. I began playing chess in my childhood and became an 1800-level player by the age of 12. After an eight-year absence from the game, I began playing again at the Hart House Chess Club at the University in Toronto, which helped to rekindle my enthusiasm for the game. I am also a filmmaker and film producer, and some of career highlights include a recent short bio-pic I directed called "Growing Up Drake" (link: YouTube).

It chronicles the life of the hip-hop artist Drake (photo Wiki), a childhood friend of mine. A new feature film, "482-Love", in which I also star in, wrote, and directed, is soon to be released.

Chess has always spurred my creativity, helped me stay organized, and allowed me to see life more clearly. I try to impart my knowledge and love for the game to those students that I teach at a Success Academy, a network of charter schools in NYC.

Jacob originally sent me a couple of interesting wins in the London System (Queen's Pawn Openings with Bf4) and when I requested some “Agony”, added an obviously very painful loss in which he made a nice exchange sacrifice but then cracked up in time trouble.

Since we have the same initials I've referred to him as Jacob and inserted my own notes as usual as JS.

[Event "Stein's Marshall Chess Club Games: Jaco"] [Site ""] [Date "2017.01.26"] [Round "?"] [White "Stein, J."] [Black "Farrell"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A47"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {The notes in this game are mostly all mine (JS), his remarks are marked as Jacob.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 e6 3. e3 b6 4. h3 {Making absolutely sure that Black can't snag the bishop with ...Nh5} Bb7 5. Nf3 Be7 6. Nbd2 O-O 7. Bd3 d6 (7... Nd5 8. Bh2 Nb4 9. Be2 c5 10. c3 {hasn't especially helped Black}) 8. c3 (8. Qe2 $2 Nd5 $1 {Jacob: and Black wins bishop for knight.}) 8... Nbd7 9. Qe2 c5 { [#] Black has lots of different ways to play against White's fairly slow line.} (9... Re8 10. O-O {is one fairly sensible approach. If} Bf8 {then} 11. e4 e5 12. dxe5 dxe5 13. Bh2 {Black looks very comfortable} (13. Bg5 h6 14. Bxf6 Qxf6 15. b4 (15. Ba6 {In principle White is usually pleased to exchange off the white squared bishops with this pawn structure, but after} Bxa6 16. Qxa6 Nc5 17. Qe2 Rad8 18. Rfd1 Qc6 {White is tied to the e-pawn which means that Black is doing well.}) 15... a5 16. a3 g6 {given by Jacob and reasonable for both sides, though the two bishops might become a serious factor later if things went wrong for White.})) 10. O-O Rc8 (10... d5 {is playable even though it loses a tempo. If White replies} 11. Ne5 Nxe5 {then neither recapture is especially scary, though Mark Hebden often does well in "similar" positions after playing dxe5.}) (10... Re8 11. e4 cxd4 12. cxd4 e5 $5 {is interesting since if White gets in e5 then he has chances to be better} 13. dxe5 dxe5 14. Nxe5 Nxe5 15. Bxe5 Bb4 16. Nf3 Bd6 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. Rad1 Qc7 {and having held the pawn White must be at least somewhat better.}) 11. Rfd1 {This looks odd because White would normally want a rook on e1 to support e3-4-5} Qc7 12. Bh2 Qd8 $6 {It obviously isn't best to lose two tempi} 13. a4 $6 {This clamps down on the queenside but weakens b4 and} (13. a3 {given by Jacob looks like a good idea.}) 13... Nb8 $6 {Very double edged because White can get in e4-5.} 14. e4 Nc6 $2 (14... cxd4 15. Nxd4 {Apparently Houdini doesn't like Hedgehogs, since it's giving White a clear advantage. But it's certainly true that d6 is under pressure here.} (15. cxd4 Nc6 16. e5 Ne8 {If the pawn were on a3 then White would have a very nice advantage, but here it's much less clear.}) 15... Nc6 16. Nxc6 Bxc6 17. Nf3 $16) (14... d5 15. e5 Nfd7 16. Nf1 (16. g4 $5 {is given by Jacob. This looks early to me before the centre is clarified completely but might be okay.}) 16... Nc6 17. Bf4 $5 cxd4 18. Nxd4) 15. e5 $1 {[#]} Ne8 $1 ( 15... Nd5 16. Ne4 dxe5 17. dxe5 {If White can clarify the centre with e5 in and the c-pawns both on the board (so that Black doesn't have the b4 square) then he should always have the advantage).}) 16. dxc5 {This nice move keeps control with a clear advantage.} dxc5 $2 {Fixing the centre in a bad way.} ( 16... bxc5 17. exd6 Bxd6 18. Bxd6 Qxd6 {and White has several enticing ideas but Black can fight.}) 17. Nc4 Qc7 (17... h6 18. Qe4 g6 19. Qe3 Kg7 20. Bxg6 { is easily winning.}) 18. Ne3 $5 (18. Nd6 Rd8 19. Qe4 g6 20. Nxb7 Qxb7 21. Bb5 Rc8 22. Nd2 {is pretty dire for Black who is weak on both sides of the board and has no counterplay.}) 18... Na5 {Jacob: My opponent has played passively up until this point, but sometimes this can be the "rope-a-dope" approach.} 19. Qc2 {Jacob: I'm down to 13 minutes on the clock.} (19. Bf4 Nb3 20. Rab1) 19... g6 $2 {This will be my opponent's Achilles heel.} (19... Bxf3 20. gxf3 g6 21. Ba6 $1 {If Black could get in ...c4 then he might pretend to have a position. But he's not in time.} Ra8 22. Qe4 Ng7 23. b4 Nc6 24. Bb5 Rac8 25. Bxc6 Qxc6 26. Qxc6 Rxc6 27. Rd7 {with excellent winning chances despite the bad kingside pawns.}) 20. Nd2 Nc6 $2 {[#]} (20... Rd8 $1 {was better the point being that if } 21. Be4 Rxd2 $1 22. Rxd2 Bxe4 23. Qxe4 Nb3 24. Rad1 Nxd2 25. Rxd2 Bg5 { isn't too terrible.}) 21. Nf3 {Searching for a concrete plan...} (21. Ng4 $1 h5 22. Nf6+ Nxf6 23. exf6 Bd6 24. Bxd6 Qxd6 25. Bxg6 Qf4 {and Black will get the pawn back but has a pretty rotten position after} 26. Be4 ({Engines point out that} 26. Nc4 $1 {is much stronger because} Qxc4 {is impossible but this would be very hard to see and indeed understand during a game.} 27. Bh7+ Kh8 28. Qd2) 26... Rfd8 27. Nc4) (21. Ndc4 Bg5 22. f4 Be7 23. f5 $1 {In this line given by Jacob the piece sacrifice is overwhelming.} gxf5 24. Nxf5 exf5 25. Bxf5 Rd8 26. e6 $1) 21... Ng7 (21... Na5 {was more active.}) 22. Qc1 $5 {Starting to play for Tricks.} (22. Ng4 $1 {is much stronger}) 22... Na5 (22... h5 $1 {would frustrate the immediate attack. White certainly remains better but it's very far from over.} 23. Nc2 (23. Qc2)) 23. Ng4 $1 {Jacob: Practically speaking I think I made the right decision. My opponent would have needed to see the whole line to play 22...h5! stopping all threats.} h5 $2 {This just gets mated. } (23... Bxf3 24. Nf6+ $1 Bxf6 25. exf6 e5 26. fxg7 Rfd8 27. gxf3 Nb3 28. Qe3 Nxa1 29. Rxa1 {and the two bishops are much better than the rook, but the game does continue.}) 24. Nf6+ $1 $18 Bxf6 25. exf6 Qc6 26. Qh6 $1 {[#]Of course there is no reason on earth to take the piece with fxg7, given that White can easily prepare a mating attack.} Ne8 27. Bb5 $1 {Preparing Bxe8 and Qg7 mate. and so forcing resignation though obviously White had numerous other ways to win.} (27. Be5 Rc7 28. Bf1 {for instance (to protect f1 and so tee up Ng5) was equally terminal. After quite a slow opening neither player immediately got to grips with the middlegame, but Jacob seized the advantage when he got in e4-e5 and then dxc5! and then cleaned up nicely when given the chance.} ({or for that matter} 28. Bb5 {now})) 1-0

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.01.30"] [Round "?"] [White "Stein, J."] [Black "Mendosa, AJ."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {The notes in this game are all mine (JS).} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 e6 3. e3 b6 4. Nd2 Bb7 5. Ngf3 g6 {g6 systems tend to work better against the London System than e6 ones, so this is an interesting idea. However, Black has potentially lost a tempo if he intends ...e7-e6-e5 and the move e7-e6 slightly softens d6 which is good news for White's f4 bishop in a battle which often revolves around the two bishops on the h2-c7 diagonal and g7 vying to assert their dominance.} 6. h3 Bg7 7. a4 O-O 8. Be2 d6 9. O-O {[#]} Nbd7 (9... a6 {prevents a5-a6}) 10. a5 Nh5 11. Bh2 f5 12. a6 Bc6 13. b4 Rc8 14. Ne1 Nhf6 15. b5 Ba8 16. Nd3 Nd5 { This doesn't greatly help.} ({The clamp on the queenside is potentially unpleasant and Black probably ought to aim for ...c6 starting with} 16... Qe7) 17. Ra3 {[#]} e5 $2 {This allows White to fix the queenside.} 18. c4 Ne7 ({ unless Black sacrifices a piece with} 18... Nxe3 19. fxe3 exd4 {Engines quite rightly think that this is "nonsense", but from a human perspective it would surely be better to fight, albeit in a bad position, than to play "a piece down" after d5.}) 19. Nb3 (19. d5 {surely ought to be winning in the long term, since with the bishop incarcerated White is effectively a piece up and sacrfiicng on d5 is extremely unconvincing. White will aim to open the kingside with care and then exchange as many pieces as posisble ideally ending up with a minor piece against the moribund bishop on a8.}) 19... f4 20. exf4 ( 20. d5 {now didn't work} fxe3 21. fxe3 Nf5 22. Rxf5 gxf5 {Houdini tells me that Black is much better here and indeed ...Nxd5 would now be fine in many circumstances. So perhaps it's correct.}) 20... exd4 21. Nb4 {The bishop is alive, but White still has a very nice advantage, since the d4 pawn will fall.} g5 ({If} 21... Nf5 22. g4 Qh4 23. gxf5 Qxh3 24. Nc6 {kills the long diagonal, and with the king safe White is winning}) 22. Nxd4 Nc5 23. Bg4 ({Simply} 23. fxg5 {was more than good enough.}) 23... gxf4 24. Ne6 Nxe6 25. Bxe6+ Kh8 26. Qg4 Rb8 (26... Ng6 $1 {would have caused some confusion} 27. Bxc8 Ne5 28. Qe6 Re8 29. Qf5 Rf8 30. Qh5 Qxc8 {[#] and this looks very messy at first glance, though in fact} 31. Nd5 $1 {and if} Nxc4 32. Nxf4 {keeps control.}) 27. Bxf4 Rf6 28. Bg5 Rg6 29. Bf7 Rxg5 30. Qxg5 Qf8 31. Re3 Ng8 {[#]} 32. Bxg8 ({ Anything sensible should win. Another idea was} 32. Bd5 Bh6 33. Qh4 Bxd5 34. Nxd5 Bxe3 35. fxe3 Qg7 36. Rf5) 32... Qxg8 33. Rg3 Qf7 34. Nd5 Be5 35. Rf3 Qe6 36. Nxc7 Qxc4 37. Nxa8 Rxa8 38. Rc1 Qxb5 39. Qe7 Bg7 40. Rf7 Qb2 41. Re1 h6 42. Qb7 Rg8 43. Qxa7 Qd2 44. Qe7 Qd3 45. a7 Qg6 46. Qb7 d5 47. a8=Q {[#] An interesting battle in which Jacob got a nice space advantage on the queenside and kept pretty good control when things boiled up.} 1-0

[Event "Tough Losses: Stein, Jacob vs. Humphrey"] [Site ""] [Date "2017.01.27"] [Round "?"] [White "Stein, J."] [Black "Humphreys"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A46"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {Most of the notes to this one are by Jacob and I've pitched in as JS from time to time.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 {Even though it has been many years since this loss, it still stings. I was running late. When I sat down at the board, 25 minutes had already elapsed. I decided to play the Tromp for practical reasons, not wanting to spend time in the opening. I proceeded to blitz out my moves against a superior player, a Canadian Master at the time, now an FM.} e6 3. e4 h6 4. Bxf6 Qxf6 5. Nf3 d6 6. Nbd2 Nd7 7. c3 g6 8. Bc4 Bg7 9. Qe2 a6 10. h3 { A waiting move. I was feeling the time pressure begin to weigh on me so I felt h3 couldn't hurt.} O-O 11. O-O c5 12. a4 b6 13. Rfe1 Qe7 14. b4 cxd4 15. cxd4 Bb7 16. Rac1 Rfc8 17. Bd3 Qf8 18. b5 {I felt there was no reason to be shy here.} a5 {I was planning to recapture with the bishop on b5. I just wanted to get my pieces on to good squares.} (18... axb5 19. Bxb5) 19. Bc4 {Perhaps I anticipated 19...Rc7, in which case I could capture the e6 pawn, damaging Black's pawn structure, or play d5 myself. I wanted to impose my will on the position and not wait for Black's forces to mobilize.} Rc7 20. d5 e5 21. Bd3 Rxc1 22. Rxc1 Nc5 {[#]} 23. Rxc5 $1 {This positional sacrifice was intended to act as unexpected "body blow." I can recall looking at Tal games in weeks prior to this game. JS: I like this a lot. By radically changing the postion White puts a lot of pressure on Black. Had he not played Rxc5 then the knight would have been a monster.} bxc5 ({Of} 23... dxc5 24. Nc4 Qd8 25. Nfxe5 Bxe5 26. Nxe5 Qf6 27. Nc4 {JS: White has a massive centre and very good control.}) 24. Nc4 Bf6 {Black is in trouble. Bf6 is accurate and necessary.} 25. Nfd2 Bd8 26. Nb3 Bc8 {[#] JS: In this tense and difficult position, White will be able to capture Nxa5 but his pieces will then temporarily be loose and clumsy and he will have to defend the a4 pawn before the knight can move safely.} 27. Qd2 (27. Qe1 $1 {JS: was much better because if ...f5 immediately Black won't then be able to win a tempo with ...Qf4.} f5 (27... Qe7 28. Bc2 Kg7 29. Qd2 $1 { As Houdini points out, White now has time for this to prevent Qg5.} (29. Nbxa5 Bxa5 30. Nxa5 Qg5 31. Nc4 Bxh3 32. Qf1 (32. Ne3 f5) 32... Bxg2 33. Qxg2 Qc1+) 29... f5 30. Nbxa5 Bxa5 31. Nxa5 fxe4 32. Nc6) 28. Bc2 fxe4 29. Nbxa5 Bxa5 30. Nxa5 Bf5 31. g4 Bd7 32. Nc6) 27... f5 28. Nbxa5 $6 {[#]} (28. Ncxa5 fxe4 29. Bxe4 Bf5 30. f3 Qf6 31. Nc4) (28. exf5 Bxf5 29. Qc2 {JS: kept good compensation for the exchange but wasn't what White wanted when playing Rxc5.}) 28... Kg7 $2 (28... fxe4 $1 {JS: was more challenging with some very messy lines which I've sketched out with Houdini's help:} 29. Bc2 $1 (29. Bxe4 Bxa5 30. Nxa5 Qf4 31. Qe1 Bf5 32. Bxf5 gxf5 33. b6 Qxa4 34. Qb1 Qe4 $1 35. Qb5 (35. Qxe4 fxe4 36. b7 Rb8 37. Kf1 Kf8 38. Ke2 Ke8 39. Ke3 Kd7 40. Kxe4 {this ending is teetering on the brink of winning for Black.}) 35... Qe1+ 36. Kh2 Qxa5 37. b7 Qd8 38. bxa8=Q Qxa8 39. Qd7 {and White is fighting hard but certainly worse} ) 29... Bxa5 30. Nxa5 Qf4 31. Qe1 Qg5 32. Nc4 (32. Kh1 Rxa5 33. Qxa5 Qc1+ 34. Kh2 Qf4+ $10) 32... Bxh3 33. Ne3) 29. b6 fxe4 30. Bxe4 Qe8 (30... Qf4 31. Qc2 $16) 31. b7 {I b-lieve in this pawn!} Bxb7 32. Nxb7 $18 {JS: Now White is winning easily, but in time trouble Jacob blew it.} Qe7 $4 33. Qc2 $2 {I couldn't "do the math," in time pressure, and without prophesying checkmate decided to play it safe. JS: This isn't really playing it safe since although White gets a nice attack he now has to be careful and accurate. Both knight captures were winning:} (33. Ncxd6 {JS: looks awkward to me but actually is pretty simple.} Bb6 (33... Rxa4 34. Qc2 Ra1+ 35. Kh2 Bb6 {and in a scramble I'd probably play} 36. Nc4 Qxb7 37. Qb2 {when Black is totally busted and it will be White who is giving check.}) 34. Qb2 Ba7 35. Nc4) (33. Nbxd6 Ra6 34. Nb5 Rxa4 35. Qc3 Qh4 36. Nbd6 Bf6 37. g3 $1 Qxh3 38. Ne8+ Kf7 39. Nxf6 { JS and Black is blown away}) 33... Qxb7 34. Bxg6 Rb8 {[#] The threat is sometimes scarier than the execution. Black plants the seed of big bad checks along the black rank.} 35. Bh7 (35. Nxd6 Qb2 36. Ne8+ Kg8 37. Qd1 $13) (35. g3 {JS: was my first thought, but of course then Black has} Qxd5) 35... Qf7 $2 36. Be4 $2 (36. Nxd6 Qh5 37. Be4 {keeps complete control. You really don't have to continue this line because once White's king is safe then with so many pawns for the exchange and the white squares the game should "play itself".}) 36... Rb4 $4 37. a5 {Why didn't I take the pawn? I tell my students "when there is food at the table, eat." I was too worried about indigestion.} (37. Nxd6 Qf4 38. a5 (38. g3 $1 Qg5 39. Kg2 {JS and Black is totally crushed}) 38... Bxa5 39. Nf5+ Kg8 40. Qxc5 Rxe4 41. Qc8+ Kh7 42. Qd7+ Kg6 43. Qe6+ Kg5 44. h4+ $3 { JS: This line by Jacob is very nice, but I would simply have safeguarded the king with g3 and Kg2 before taking whatever then dropped .off.}) 37... Qf4 $2 38. Bh7 $2 {Take the pawn! The agony of hindsight.} (38. Nxd6 Bg5 39. a6 Qc1+ 40. Qxc1 Bxc1 41. a7 Ra4 42. Nc8 $3 $18) ({or again} 38. g3) 38... e4 39. g3 Qf6 {[#]} 40. a6 $4 Kxh7 {I resigned in light of Qa1+ forking the king and the almost-promoted pawn. A precious win against a "strong player " proved elusive. JS: This was a very tough battle in which Jacob showed great imagination in playing Rxc5 but then stumbled horribly in time trouble. I doubt if he had time to make any assessment let alone a good one during the mayhem, but what he needed to understand was that with so many pawns for the exchange and the white squares it ought to be winning rather easily if the position became quiescent - at least certainly after d6 had fallen - and so it was most practical quietly to improve his king.} 0-1

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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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Kurt Utzinger Kurt Utzinger 3/8/2017 05:50
It's somewhat a pity that the games are seldom complete with missing
- full name of players
- event
- round
- site