A DOG WAR AGAINST "ZACALOV"! Zachary "Zacalov" Ramsay is undoubtedly one of the "finds" of Jamaican chess in recent years. A unique talent, he combines his passion for the sport with great work ethic and tremendous fighting spirit, making him a formidable opponent. One of the "unofficial masters" in Jamaica, although in medical school his love for the "king of games" still sees him finding time to play competitively including the current national qualifier. We have had some bruising, uncompromising battles in the past exchanging wins on more than one occasion with a 70-move stalemate in our history, I had no doubt that this clash was going to see fireworks!
1.e4 c5 Zachary almost always plays this move in response to the king's pawn double hop.
2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 Ramsay swears by the Sicilian Najdorf. Why not ? He understands the opening well and has had good results with it, including a demolition job on Jamaican record seven-time national champion FM Shane "the Magician" Matthews in a memorable game from the 2007 Jamaican national championship.
6.Bc4 Nbd7 7.Bb3 g6 This move reminds me of the legendary Jamaican chess player and administrator, NM John Powell who died in 2007. John and I played a number of "friendly", training games and he usually played the Sicilian defence with the black pieces. Whenever he employed this set-up he referred to it as the "Drag-Dorf" - a hybrid of the Najdorf and the Dragon!
8.f4N Again, my database is screaming out "novelty". This is a surprise to me as this seems to be a natural move. [To demonstrate how dangerous this opening is for Black, White won against much "stronger" opposition with 8.Be3 Bg7 9.f3 Nc5 10.Qd2 0-0 11.0-0-0 Nxb3+ 12.axb3 Qa5 13.Kb1 Rd8 14.g4 e5 15.Nde2 Be6 16.Bg5 Rac8 17.h4 b5 18.h5 b4 19.Nd5 Bxd5 20.exd5 Rc5 21.Bxf6 Bxf6 22.hxg6 hxg6 23.Ng3 Rdc8 24.Ne4 Bg7 25.Rc1 Rxd5 26.Qh2 Rd4 27.Qh7+ Kf8 28.g5 Rxe4 29.fxe4 Qd8 30.Rhg1 d5 31.Rcf1 Qd6 32.Rxf7+ Kxf7 33.Rf1+ Qf6 34.Rxf6+ 1-0 Melgosa,M (2295)-Gausel,E (2525)/Dos Hermanas 2004/CBM 099 ext]
8...Bg7 9.Be3 0-0 10.Qd2?! A dubious opening "experiment". I thought of playing 10.h3 (the first choice of the engines) but did not want to "waste" a move.
10...Qc7 [A strong refutation of my last move was 10...Nc5! and after 11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 Ng4 it is clear that Black has dominated the opening.]
11.0-0-0 Nc5 A natural, but very strong, move. Black was very OK after this and, to my mind, might even be better.
12.Nd5 Nxd5 13.exd5 I hated to lock in the Bb3 but I think that this was the only way not to lose the e4-pawn. An additional benefit of capturing with the pawn was that it left Ramsay saddled with the backward e7-pawn. This pawn on e6 was to prove vital in the jousting to come.
13...Bd7 14.h4 Nxb3+ I was actually relieved at this exchange having regard to the limited scope of the religious figure.
15.axb3 h5 [Looking at the position after I had moved I did not like 15...Bg4! In fact, in a brief post-mortem (without sight of the board) I told Zachary that this was the move he should have played and he agreed acknowledging that this would have given him a tempo in attacking the Rd1 and then, if necessary, he could have played h5. In fact, 16.Rde1 is met by 16...a5! and Black develops a powerful initiative.]
16.f5! I was about to play this move without any hesitation as my intuition told me it was very strong; not only does it prevent Bg4, it also clears the c1-h6 diagonal with chances to exchange the Bg7 . My discipline held, however, and I looked at the position for a couple of minutes before playing it anyway!! Two powerful silicon beasts agree that the text-move was better than their second choice 16.Rhf1.
16...Rfc8?! ["Zacalov" also agreed with me outside the playing hall that Black has excellent chances to hold after 16...Bxd4 , the reason I hesitated before making my last move. 17.Bxd4 Bxf5 18.g4 hxg4 but it is understandable that Zachary did not want to part with his precious "Gufeld" bishop. Indeed, after 19.h5! Black needs to find 19...f6! 20.hxg6 Bxg6 preserving the dynamic balance. White has no time to play the immediate 21.Qh6 due to the mating attack on c2.]
17.fxg6 fxg6 18.Ne6 I wondered if this was too hasty. The computers like 18.Rdf1 or 18. Rhf1, each appearing to be an excellent preparatory move.
18...Bxe6 19.dxe6 Qc6 [With 30 minutes at his disposal Ramsay missed the strong, "Sicilian-freeing" move 19...d5! If I respond with 20.c3 (20.Qd3 is a useful option) then Black can play actively with 20...Rf8 21.Kb1 Rf5 22.Bd4 Raf8 23.Bxg7 Kxg7 24.Qd4+ Kh7 25.g4 hxg4 26.Qxg4 Qe5 and he has "dynamic equality"!]
20.Bg5 [Interesting was the prompt 20.Qd3 and White consolidates his position. For instance, 20...Kh7 (of course the pawn is taboo as after the greedy 20...Qxg2?? White wins with 21.Rhg1+- ) 21.Rhf1 Rf8 (21...Bf6? runs into 22.g4! hxg4 23.h5!+- winning for White.) 22.Bg5 Rxf1 23.Rxf1 Rf8 24.Rxf8 Bxf8 25.Qe2 Bh6 with a likely draw.]
20...Rc7 21.Rhf1 I had 48 minutes left after making this move. Having regard to the threats I saw on pondering my next move, I should have immediately played 21.Qd3!
21...Rac8! Zachary spent three minutes thinking before making this strong move - he now had 24 minutes left. The 4th world champion, Alexander Alekhine, would have been proud to see the heavy artillery lined up like this especially with the king in the line of fire.
22.Rf2? I spent twelve minutes thinking about my options before selecting an inferior choice. I saw all kinds of "demons" coming at me. [I did not like 22.c3 because I saw the strong riposte 22...Qe4 (the suggested 21.Qd3 would have denied Black this option) and Black not only threatens to win the e6-pawn but his troops are ideally placed to rip c3 apart. For example, if 23.Bh6?? (23.Rde1 is necessary) Black wins with 23...Bxc3! 24.bxc3 Rxc3+ 25.Kb2 Rc2+-+ ; The move I considered agonisingly (and the best defence suggested by the engines!) was 22.c4! but I genuinely found it hard to play that move in light of 22...b5! The emotionless silicon monsters have the calm defensive response 23.Qc2! Now let us consider a few variations - I prefer Black's position after 23...bxc4 (the defensive retreat by her majesty 23...Qe8?! seems dubious as it allows White a crucial tempo to play 24.Kb1! and now if 24...bxc4 25.Rf7! Kh7 26.b4 and White seems to be past the worst and, indeed, with the advantage.; 23...Kh7!? also leads to tense play particularly after 24.Rf7 bxc4 25.Qc3! the pin is aesthetic. 25...Rg8 Only move. (25...cxb3?? loses material to 26.Rxg7+ Kh8 27.Rxe7+ Qxc3+ 28.bxc3 Rxe7 29.Bxe7+- ) 26.b4 Qe4! 27.Re1 Qxg2 but in this line I think that Black is really walking a tightrope especially after 28.Bd2, with the idea of 29.Qe3 hitting h6.!) 24.b4 The only feasible option. 24...c3 25.b3 Qb5! After this move (instead of the viable option 25...Kh7) the computers reveal a spectacular draw in the variation - 26.Qxg6 Qe2! 27.Qf7+ Kh8 (27...Kh7!? 28.Qf5+ Kh8 29.Rf2 Qb5<=> ) 28.Rf2 Qg4 29.Rf4 Qxd1+!? (29...Qe2 30.Rf2= ) 30.Kxd1 c2+ 31.Ke2 (31.Kc1?? loses to 31...Bb2+! 32.Kd2 (32.Kxb2 c1Q+ 33.Ka2 Rc2# ) 32...c1Q+ ) 31...c1Q 32.Qxh5+ Kg8 33.Qf7+ with a perpetual.]
22...Qb5? After sixteen minutes in the think-tank, Ramsay goes astray in the complications and I heaved a sigh of relief. [The move I feared the most (as I told Zachary after the game) was 22....Qe4 as, inter alia, White is now threatening to win the e6-pawn. 22...Qe4 23.Qd3 In reality the "only" move. 23...Qe5 24.c4 Qxe6 and Black must be winning, or close to it ,here.]
23.Qe3! After spending nine minutes I played a move that not only defends but simultaneously maintains chances of an attack! This move was also crucial as Zachary was threatening to play Qe5 with poisonous threats along the a1-h8 diagonal. For the record, I also looked at 23.Qd5 but did not like 23...Rc5!
23...Qa5 Down to less than five minutes I felt that Zachary would have problems with the position still very dynamic.
24.Kb1 The only move. I had all of 27 precious minutes left and felt absolutely safe after getting in this thematic, prophylactic move so late in the game!
24...Qb4 25.Bh6 After worrying for some time at the potential threat of the bishop along the long diagonal, the desire to exchange this piece is understandable. Very strong was 25.Rdd2, that was to come next, to shore up my second rank and remove all hope of counterplay for Zacalov!
25...Qg4! To his credit, although down to 2 minutes on the clock Ramsay still found, in my opinion, the best move.
26.Rdd2 Bf6?? With just one minute left on my worthy adversary's clock the inevitable happened. Disastrous also for Black was 26... Bxh6 27.Qxh6 Qxe6 28.g4! with a winning attack. Only 26...Be5 would have preserved the dynamic balance.
27.Rf4! The queen is dead...long live the queen!
27...Rxc2 28.Rxg4 Rc1+ 29.Ka2 hxg4 30.Rf2 R8c5 I immediately saw that 31.b4 averted the Ra5 mate threat but could not resist ending with the queen sacrifice
31.Qxc1! A truly tense struggle. 1-0