A20: English Opening: 1...e5
1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 Alphonse: As has been suggested, I spend barely any time on studying openings. Needless to say, I did read Tony Kosten's "The Dynamic English" about a year and a half ago and have played the English ever since. My repetoire is quite simple. With White, always 1.c4. As Black, 1...Nf6 against d4 and c4 and 1...g6 against e4. This move, however, took me out of my "book" and forced me to start thinking on my own.
4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4? Alphonse: Whoops! At the time, this seemed like a great move. I would get my center pawn and even better, make my opponent waste time by moving his Knight twice. This move looked so perfect in theory, that I didn't think twice about it. Fritz points out the vicious tactic. Mig: If this move looks good to you, we have more problems than vicious tactics! There are two or three reasons why this is a horrible move, apart from the fact that it comes close to losing instantly. First, it blocks in the active g2 bishop. Why go to all the trouble to fianchetto the bishop and then block its diagonal? Two, the e4 pawn would be usefully directed at preventing central expansion by Black, for example stopping ..d5. But Black has already played ..d5 so the pawn doesn't really do much at all. Three, this move creates a massive hole on the d3 and d4 squares. d3 is particularly bad because Black can exploit this immediately with 5...Nb4. These are more subtle positional considerations, but they are important ones. Don't block in your own pieces unless you are confident you can free them soon. The bishop on g2 has little hope of escape because the e4 pawn isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Don't create big holes in your position. A hole is a square that cannot be protected by a pawn. After 5.e4 there are holes on d3 and d4. Combined with the relatively slow development plan of g3-Bg2, this allows Black to grab the advantage on move 5! Conversely, look for holes in the enemy position and try to exploit them. It is interesting that my old friend GM Boris Alterman doesn't do this here, but when giving a simultaneous exhibition it's best to be cautious if you're not 100% sure of the complications. [ 5.b3 Be7 6.Bb2 Bf6 7.Nc3 Nxc3 8.dxc3 0-0 9.Qc2 Qe7 10.e4 b6 11.Nf3 Ba6 12.Rd1 Nd7 13.Bf1 Bb7 14.Bc4 Nc5 15.Bd5 Bxd5 16.Rxd5 Rad8 17.Rxd8 Rxd8 18.Ke2 Qe6 19.Ba3 Nd3 Csom,I-Ruck,R/Paks 1996/EXT 98/1/2-1/2 (25); 5.d4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 exd4 7.Bxb4 Nxb4 8.Qa4+ N4c6 9.Nf3 0-0 10.0-0 Re8 11.Re1 Qf6 12.Na3 Nd7 13.Nb5 Nb6 14.Qd1 Re7 15.Nfxd4 Rd7 16.e3 a6 17.Nc3 h6 18.Nce2 Nxd4 19.exd4 c5 Tran Le Tu,U-Vo T Bich,L/Hue 2003/CBM 95 ext/0-1 (49)]
5...Nb6? Mig: Black misses a chance to gain a decisive advantage by playing against the hole on d3 with 5..Nb4!. Still, the weakness of d3 and d4 is PERMANENT, an important consideration. Pawn moves are forever, they can't go back! Black has all the time in the world to exploit this structural weakness, unless White can enforce the d4 push to eliminate his backwards d-pawn. A backwards pawn is one that cannot be protected by other pawns and cannot easily advance. The concept of permanent advantages (and weaknesses) is the key to understanding structural play. Black has a significant advantage in this position because the g2 bishop has no scope and the weaknesses of d2, d3, and d4. [ Fritz 8: >=5...Nb4 Black has the better game 6.d4 ( 6.Bf1?! N8c6 ) 6...Qxd4 7.Qxd4 Nc2+ 8.Kd1 Nxd4-+ ( 8...exd4? 9.Kxc2 Nc6 10.Bh3+- ) ]
6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0-0 Alphonse: I thought I had a nice setup and *felt* as if I had the advantage. Fritz says Black has a strong advantage here (-0.78 if I play the next six moves perfectly) though I'm not sure why. I do eventually lose the game, but is it so obvious at this point? Mig: Don't get carried away with computer evaluations unless they are quite high. Less than a pawn (1.00 in computerspeak) is often too subtle for a computer program to understand. But here Fritz is right for the reasons we mentioned above. Your backwards d-pawn is in for a very hard life and Black has no compensating weakness of his own.
7...Bc5 Mig: Hitting d4 again and also eyeing the king.
8.Qc2 Alphonse: Cool! Yet another opening move with tempo! Sure, he's not going to hang the Bishop, but now he has to do something to protect it. Plus, I thought I could now protect both d2 and e4. Mig: True, developing with tempo is cool. Black defends with tempo though, developing his queen and defending the bishop at the same time. Meanwhile, c2 is a vulnerable square for the queen. It can be attacked by a knight from b4 and d4.
8...Qe7 9.d3 Alphonse: Now I realized that my Queen was in a lousy spot. d4 could not be played play nor with eventual backup because I had given up control of my side of the d-file. Plus, it did not seem like a good idea to take my Rook away from guarding the f-pawn and stick it on the d-file.
9...0-0 10.Nbd2 Alphonse: Development time. I didn't want to put the Knight on c3 since it would take my pressure off of the Bishop at c5. To me, it looked like his Queen was "pinned" to the a3-f8 diagonal since, for now, she was the only protection the Bishop had. Plus, I really wanted to see my Knight on c4 helping to attack the e5 pawn and taking it there via a3 didn't seem as good as via d2. Fritz doesn't like this move at all, and I guess that's because it blocks my Bishop? Anyway, I also came up with a plan, and that was to mobilize everything I had, beginning with my Queen's Knight, against the e4 pawn. I saw, Nc4, b2-b3, Bb2, Rad1, Qd2, and finally d4. Mig: All right, a man with a plan! I'm not sure what hope there is against e5 when Black can always defend it with ..f6. Mobilization is always good of course. It's not that this move is so bad, but it allows ..Nb4, attacking the queen and d3 at the same time, which is very strong for Black. Lucky for White Alterman continues to play routinely. [ Fritz 8: 10.a3 Rd8=/+ ]
10...Bg4 Mig: The GM is playing for a clear, simple advantage instead of worrying about punishing White's mistakes immediately. This move prepares to capture the knight, which is the only piece defending the key d4 square. After he captures he will drop a knight on d4 with total domination. [ 10...Nb4 11.Qb1-/+ ]
11.Nc4 [ Fritz 8: >=11.Nb3!? Alphonse: I never thought of using the Knight to pressure the Bishop. Only using the Knight to pressure the e5-pawn. Mig: This isn't really to pressure the bishop, although it gains time by doing so, but to control the d4 square if the f3 knight is removed. 11...Bxf3 12.Qxc5=/+ ]
11...Bxf3-/+ 12.Bxf3 Nd4 13.Qd1 Nxc4 14.dxc4 Mig: Black has removed the weak white d-pawn, but has gained compensation. After the exchanges White has been left with a miserable bishop on f3 that has little hope of ever living a full life. The pawns on c4 and e4 block its best diagonals. Black has an incredibly strong knight on d4; it dominates the board. White might be able to trade it for his dark-squared bishop with Be3-Bxd4, but a black bishop on d4 will be almost as strong as the knight is. Imagine the position with the white bishop stuck behind its own pawns and black bishop powerfully posted on d4. It's also worth having a discussion here about the importance of Black having control of the piece that blockades the only open file, the d-file. Both sides can build up on the file, putting their rooks on it. Then it will be Black who will decide exactly when to open the file by moving his knight (or bishop, if it's on d4).
14...Rad8 15.Bg2 Mig: Black has no good discovered attacks with the knight since all of its forward squares are covered by the queen.
15...c6 Alphonse: This move really puzzled me. I try to figure out what my opponent is doing and this move left me without a clue. In hindsight, I'm thinking it may have something to do with fighting for control over the d5-square? Mig: Definitely a subtle move from the GM, who doesn't see any way to move forward directly and so improves his own position while waiting for a mistake. I've played many games against Alterman and he is tremendous at this sort of play. He's not interested in blowing you up when you can slowly push you off the board with almost no risk! ..c6 is not a pointless waiting move, however. It protects the b7 square in several lines in which Black opens up an attack with ..f5 and the g2 bishop's diagonal will be opened.
16.Be3 Alphonse: Now I'm thinking about pressuring the Bishop as I noticed I could attack him indirectly while at the same time developing mine. But, sorry to say, I also didn't see any better place for him. I also didn't want to move my Queen since I was afraid that sticking her on a4 would leave her offside and that g4 or h5 would just give my opponent the chance to gain more than one tempo by chasing her around with pawns. Mig: Not a bad square necessarily, and it has the threat of capturing the mighty knight. Alphonse might be right when he says moving his queen to the kingside won't achieve much, but the reasoning is faulty. You WANT your opponent to weaken his king by chasing your queen around with pawns. You can't have a successful attack unless you create weaknesses in the enemy position. With all the protecting pawns on their original squares the black king is safer than a bottle of water in a French wine shop.
16...Ne6 Mig: No, you can't have my lovely knight! And if the dark-squared bishops are exchanged the knight can come back and be completely immune to attack.
17.Bxc5 Mig: This is a little too cooperative. There's not much to be about the exchange of bishops but why help Black by putting the queen on the powerful c5 square? Make Black do the work and spend a tempo to capture. Note that if Black captures BxB on e3, White can recapture with the f-pawn, which will keep the knight out of d4. The doubled pawns will be ugly, but things would be worse with a knight on d4. [ Alphonse: 17.Qg4 Bxe3 18.fxe3 Qc5 x c4, e3; 17.Qe2 Bxe3 18.fxe3 ]
17...Qxc5 [ 17...Rxd1?? 18.Bxe7 Rxa1 19.Rxa1 ]
18.Qg4 Alphonse: I really thought that this was not only the only place for my Queen, but also a way to be able to make some sort of progress with Kh1 followed by f2-f4. Fritz says I should have moved to the queenside instead, but I thought that a GM would certainly know how to punish me for trying to gobble pawns. Mig: Forget gobbling them, what about the pawn on c4?! Material is material after all. Qb3 at least protects the c4 pawn even if you don't capture on b7. [ Fritz 8: 18.Qb3 Nd4 19.Qxb7 a5-/+ Alphonse: I still don't care for this as now my Queen has no way to help in any defence of my center pawns or my kingside.]
18...Rd2 [ 18...Qxc4 Mig: There's no reason not to take this pawn, but Alterman continues to play for domination.Eventually the white position will crack to pieces.]
19.Kh1?? Alphonse: Stupid...just stupid. I can't even blame this one on zeitnot or my kids or my dogs howling in the background. I saw an immediate crisis taking place on f2 and g2 and felt that breaking the pin along the g1-a7 diagonal was more important than a pawn. In hindsight, and Fritz agrees, better was a calm b3 as I was in no immediate danger. Fritz moves Black from the strong advantage column to the winning column with this beauty of mine. The question mark is also mine. Mig: A pure and simple blunder that gives away a full pawn for nothing at all. I added another question mark! But don't think that White wasn't lost already. It would have taken awhile, but Black's domination of the board is nearly complete even after b3. Black will double rooks on the d-file and play his knight to the d4 square. [ Fritz 8: >=19.b3!?-/+ ]
19...Rxb2-+ Mig: The f2 pawn was also available, but removing the b-pawn means the c-pawn won't be able to be defended.
20.f4 Alphonse: Now, the word counterplay came to mind. Silly me. Ten moves from here, I would find myself wishing badly for that pawn to be back on f2. Mig: Nah, go for it! White is losing by position and losing by material. Sitting around waiting for the GM to clean up isn't going to be interesting at all. Desperate measures rarely work but they are better than nothing. As we often say around here, a 95% chance of a quick loss with a tiny ray of hope is better than a 100% chance of a slow death with no counterchances. GIVE YOUR OPPONENT A CHANCE TO MAKE A MISTAKE. If passive defense in a bad position has no chance of success (like here), you might as well throw the kitchen sink.
20...Rd8?! Mig: A bit of a slip by the GM since now White's desperation attack can get a little something going with f5-f6. Now, it won't work in the long run but it's more than he should allow in such a dominating position. [ 20...Nd4 21.Rfc1-+ ]
21.Rad1? Alphonse: I thought I had to do something to challenge both Rooks coming at me on the 2nd rank. Now, I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunity to at least give my king a little play in case this game actually made it as far as an endgame. [ Fritz 8: 21.f5 Nf8-+ 22.f6 g6 23.Qh4 Qxc4 24.Qh6 Ne6 Mig: Black has everything defended, but at least he had to think a little.; Alphonse: 21.Rg1 Rdd2 22.h4? intending Kh2]
21...Rxd1-+ 22.Qxd1 Alphonse: It did not seem exceptionally bad to recapture with the Queen. The a2- or c2-pawns were going to fall anyway, and it seemed like a better idea to have my Queen around to help out in case he would eventually get his Queen on to the 2nd rank and start pushing his queenside pawns. Mig: Not exceptionally bad, but taking with the rook would have given White two active pieces instead of one. [ Fritz 8: 22.Rxd1 Qxc4 23.f5 Qc2-+ ; 22.Rxd1 Rxa2 23.f5 Qf2-+ ]
22...Qd4 [ 22...Qxc4!? 23.a4 Qe2 24.Qxe2 Rxe2 25.Rb1-+ ]
23.Qc1? Alphonse: The question mark here is Fritz'. I thought I was doing a nice job bringing my Queen into the defence, protecting the c4- and f4-pawns, and giving the Rook some assistance. [ Fritz 8: 23.fxe5 Qxc4 24.Qh5 Nf8-+ ]
23...Qd2 24.Rg1? Alphonse: This is another move that seemed just fine to me. Granted, I'm lost, but it appeared to me that either my Bishop went, or the f4-pawn went. If I traded Queens, like Fritz wanted me to do, I expected a quick loss because I'd have no fire-power and a passed pawn was not too far off for Black. Mig: Don't worry too much about Fritz's opinions at this point. White has different ways to lose at this point and Fritz just like to point out the slowest one. Trading queens is obviously lost and in general you want to keep material on to increase the chance of of a swindle. [ Fritz 8: 24.Qxd2 Rxd2 25.fxe5 Rxa2 26.Bh3-+ Alphonse: Had I gotten to this position, there would be nothing else for me to work with. Black's King would come into play, my King would stay trapped on the 1st rank, and who knows how many passed pawns Alterman could make on the queenside, or, as I find out later, in the center?!; 24.Qxd2 Rxd2 25.a3-+ ]
24...Qxc1 25.Rxc1 f6 [ 25...exf4 26.Ra1-+ ]
26.a3 Alphonse: It seemed more expedient to me to keep two pawns on the queenside than to lose one on the kingside. Mig: Okay, but why not capture on e5 first? Note that Alterman doesn't win the pawn on f4 because he's happy to make sure the g2 bishop will continue to be blocked by the e4 pawn. [ Fritz 8: 26.fxe5 fxe5 27.a3 Nc5-+ ]
26...Kf7 [ 26...exf4 27.gxf4 Nxf4 28.Bf1-+ ]
27.f5 [ 27.fxe5 fxe5 28.Bh3-+ ]
27...Nc5 28.Bf1? Alphonse: A very silly move. Now my King would be stuck ad infinitum. I thought better would have been h4 again intending to get my King into the endgame. [ Fritz 8: 28.Kg1 Rb3-+ ]
28...Ke7 29.Ra1 [ 29.Re1 Rb3-+ ]
29...Nxe4 30.a4 Alphonse: I wanted to try and get some of my pawns out of way. I thought that as long as my Rook was behind my a-pawn, I could at least stop a pawn of his from advancing to a dangerous point. I wasn't worried about Rb4 because of my Bishop's protection of the c-pawn. Mig: Black is "only" two pawns up, but his pieces still dominate and more pawns will fall.
30...a5 31.Re1 Nc5 32.Ra1 Rf2 [ 32...Rb4!? 33.Kg2 Rxa4 34.Rxa4 Nxa4 35.Kf2-+ ]
33.g4 Kd6 34.Kg1 Alphonse: I saw the check but thought that it would have been a "spite check," as he couldn't get through right then anyway. It simply looked like a way to leave my a4-pawn unprotected. Mig: It looks reasonable to push delay the Black king's entrance for as long as possible by checking. [ 34.Rd1+ ]
34...Rd2 35.h3 [ 35.Ra3 b6-+ ]
35...e4 Mig: Black makes a pathway for his king after making sure White has no way at all to complicate.
36.Bg2 Ke5 37.Kf1 Alphonse: The end is very near. It dawns on me that Boris Alterman has generously left me the choice as to which pawn of his he would queen. [ 37.Rb1 e3-+ ]
37...Kf4 Alphonse: I choose...none! I resigned instead. Mig: Not early I suppose, but there's no harm in forcing him to queen a pawn. It's a simul, you never know what might happen. He might blunder. Plus, as long as YOU are still thinking and working there is a reason to play on. [ 37...Kf4 38.Kg1 e3 39.Rf1+ Ke5-+ 40.Bf3 Mig: White would like to give up his bishop for the pawn and try to get his rook active against the black pawns. 40...Nd3 41.Rd1 Kd4 42.Rb1 Kxc4 ] 0-1