Explosions in the Closed Sicilian: Jon Speelman's Agony Column #18

by ChessBase
9/7/2016 – Most chessplayer wonder, at least occasionally, how good they are. Of course, rating offers an answer but this answer often seems wrong. Indeed, sometimes you play far worse than your rating indicates, sometimes you do much better. The latter games should encourage you as they indicate what you are able to do. You "only" have to play such games more often, more consistently. Which might lead to less agony and more ecstasy.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Agony Column #18

I’m currently in Baku as captain of the England women’s team and have been helping to organise the protest about FIDE’s extraordinary and obnoxious idea that players, like primary school children, should have to ask the arbiter’s permission to go to the toilet: an imposition which most arbiters have wisely ignored but still ought not to have been attempted.

Baku is of course manufacturing Agony and Ecstasy aplenty and I may produce a potpourri of it next week but for the moment we continue as usual with a couple of games from a reader.

He is Philippe Corriveau, a 42-year-old French Canadian from Quebec. Philippe, who started playing chess when he was 18, likes the Closed Sicilian as White and sent me two games with it.

Philippe Corriveau - ready for the Closed Sicilian

Philippe wrote very amusingly and I’m quoting him in full:

First, the agony. I was playing a young lady with Latino origins, Leonela Gutierez, in Montreal. 2008 was the first time I played a latina – Diana Barriga: she gave me a very tough game for a 1300 player and is now my wife! I certainly was on my guard when playing this 2090 rated latina Leonela Gutierez! But I failed to react correctly on the queenside, missing 22. bxc5, with a nice position for White, in which my pieces have good plenty of good squares and targets to attack.

After move 23 I lost the thread completely. I suffered a kind of tactical, strategic and positional blindness... a complete confusion of the mind. I had trouble evaluating the positions resulting from my calculations, and my calculations were flawed. With almost every move I played I made my position worse. Bien echo (Spanish, “well done” in english)  Mrs Gutierez!

My Ecstasy was against National Master Réjean Tremblay from Québec city. Réjean played the opening passively on the queenside and in the center. I have always thought that an opponent who wastes three tempos with Black or 4 tempos with white in an open or semi-open game against me, was going to give me a victory. I have many examples of this homemade rule in my 370 classical games. This game seems to confirm it once again.”

[Event "Ch. Elite du Québec 2013"] [Site "?"] [Date "2013.10.13"] [Round "5"] [White "Corriveau, Philippe"] [Black "Gutierez, Leonela"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "2031"] [BlackElo "2090"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 a6 3. a4 e6 4. d3 Nc6 5. g3 g6 6. Bg2 Bg7 7. Be3 d6 8. Qd2 Rb8 9. Nf3 ({Normally this position would have been reached without ...a6, a4 but of course they've transposed.} 9. Nge2 {is more common in this type of line than Nf3}) 9... Nd4 10. Rb1 Qa5 11. O-O Ne7 12. Nh4 O-O 13. f4 b5 14. axb5 axb5 15. Qf2 {[#]} Bb7 (15... b4 16. Nd1 b3 17. c3 Nc2 {would give Black a nice game with a target on d3}) 16. Rfc1 f5 17. b4 Qa3 18. Nd1 Nec6 {Black has failed to control the queenside.} 19. c3 (19. bxc5 dxc5 20. e5 {would have given White a very nice advantage}) 19... Nb3 20. Rc2 Ra8 {Of course there wasn't time for} (20... c4 {in view of} 21. Ra2) 21. exf5 gxf5 22. Rcb2 (22. bxc5 dxc5 {still gave White a good position}) 22... c4 23. d4 $2 {[#] This gives Black a beautiful square on d5.} (23. Qe2 {was still fine and if} d5 { White can even play} 24. d4 {if he likes}) 23... Qa6 24. Nf3 (24. d5 Ne7 25. dxe6 Bxg2 26. Qxg2 Qc8 27. Re2 Qxe6 {there is no killer discovery and Black is a little better}) 24... Ne7 25. Nd2 (25. Ng5 Rf6 {doesn't help White. Once Black has control of d5 she has a very pleasant advantage}) 25... Nxd2 26. Bxd2 Bxg2 27. Qxg2 Nd5 28. Ne3 {[#]} Bxd4 $5 {The tactics should now have been playable for White so perhaps she should have tried} (28... Nf6 {intending ... d5 and ...Ne4 when the knight is huge but it will be hard to make progress since the position is so closed.} 29. d5 (29. Rc2 d5 30. Nd1 Rf7) 29... Rae8) 29. cxd4 c3 30. Bxc3 $2 (30. Nxd5 cxb2 31. Nc3 Qa3 {was still very unclear for example} 32. Be1 Qxb4 33. Qd2 Qc4 34. Rxb2 Rfb8) 30... Nxc3 31. Rc1 Ne4 32. g4 $2 {This attempt to attack backfires} (32. d5 $5 Qb6 33. Rb3 {feels uncomfortable for White but should hold, at least according to Houdini.}) 32... Kh8 33. g5 Qa3 34. Qe2 Rac8 35. Re1 Qc3 36. d5 exd5 {[#]} 37. Nxd5 $2 {In an "Agonising" game everything can and will go wrong. After this White is in terrible trouble.} (37. Rd1 d4 38. Nd5 Qc4 {would still have been a battle}) 37... Qd4+ 38. Ne3 Rc3 39. Ra2 {[#]} Rc7 $2 {It's very natural to defend the second rank but} (39... Rd3 $1 {threatens Nc3 and keeps control} 40. Qf3 (40. Ra7 Nc3 41. Qh5 Qxa7) 40... Nd2 41. Qf2 Re8 42. Rc2 Kg8 43. h3 Re4 {and White is collapsing}) 40. Kg2 $4 {The final decisive blunder on what I presume was the last move before the time control.} (40. Rd1 Qxb4 41. Nd5 {was still unclear}) 40... Nc3 41. Qc2 Qxf4 42. Ra3 Qxb4 43. Rb3 Qc5 44. Nd1 Qd5+ 45. Kg1 Ne2+ 46. Qxe2 Qxb3 0-1

Philippe annotated his “Ecstatic” game in some detail and I’ve added comments marked JS.

[Event "Carnaval 2015"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.02.22"] [Round "5"] [White "Corriveau, Philippe"] [Black "Tremblay, Réjean"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B25"] [WhiteElo "2045"] [BlackElo "2230"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "115"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. d3 Nc6 6. f4 e6 7. Nf3 Nge7 8. O-O Rb8 9. Be3 O-O 10. Qd2 b6 $6 {[#] Mixing things up. 10...b6 solidifies c5 and would allow Black to play for d5, since c5 would not be hanging, but then, what's the purpose of Rb8? ...b6 also removes Qa5 possibilities. Black kind of lost a tempo by playing both b6 and Rb8.} (10... b5 {JS is much more normal but b6 is also playable.}) 11. d4 $5 {If Black was not going to play Nd4 himself, I will certainly play d4 myself. # JS White wants to play this move but its evaluation depends on how good 11...d5 is.} f5 {I now felt the struggle was going to be in the center. It is still possible for white to initiate some action on the kingside sometimes after this black pawn structure arises, but now, it is clear that central control will dictate the result.} ( 11... d5 $1 12. e5 Nf5 13. Ne2 Nxe3 14. Qxe3 Ba6 15. c3 {is a battle in which Black may suffer against g4 and f5 but should be able to make some trouble on the queenside}) 12. Bf2 h6 {guarding g5, but I do not think the move is very active and fighting for the center, or useful for development.} (12... fxe4 13. Nxe4 d5 14. Nc3 {JS gives a complicated position which now looks a bit like some lines of the French Defence. Houdini now suggests the exchange sacrifice} Nf5 15. dxc5 bxc5 16. Bxc5 Rxb2 17. Bxf8 Qxf8 {when White's queenside is shattered and Black has a lot of black squares.}) 13. Rfe1 Kh7 {Black is clearly neglecting his development now.} 14. Rad1 {I am continuing my idea of central control and domination.} Bb7 $2 {[#] JS Black really had to make a decision about the centre one way or another before this. Now White transforms the central structure favourably.} 15. dxc5 dxc5 16. e5 {I have more space, control of the d-file, and jumping squares on b5 and c4. Also, the f2 bishop exerts a nice pressure on the black pawns, which makes their advance more difficult. The g7 bishop is out of the game for now, and Black will require a few moves to reactivate it. Already clear advantage for white. JS I agree absolutely. After e5 from White Black is in trouble.} Qxd2 17. Rxd2 Bc8 $2 { Black should contest the d-file.} (17... Rbd8 18. Rd6 Bc8 {JS is unpleasant for Black but considerably better than the game.}) 18. Nb5 Rd8 19. Red1 Rxd2 20. Rxd2 Kg8 {[#] For the next few moves, I will play top engine moves and reach a positionally won position... JS Good natural moves by Philippe do indeed now lead to a crushing advantage.} 21. Ne1 a5 22. Rd6 Nb4 23. a3 Na6 24. Rd8+ Bf8 25. Nd6 Nc7 26. c4 Na6 27. Nd3 Kg7 28. h4 Nc7 29. Kf1 {If I reach c2 with my king, I will have total control over the game. The last card in black's hand is b5. I have to be ready for it.} b5 {Better now than later... Amazingly, material is even, but engines give a +5 score.} 30. Nxc5 bxc4 {[#]} 31. Bb7 $1 {It took me 17 minutes to eliminate other candidate moves, see Bb7 and calculate it.} (31. Nxc8 Rxc8 32. Rd7 {JS was equally decisive}) 31... Bxb7 32. Rxb8 Bc6 33. Nxc4 Ned5 34. Rc8 Bb5 35. b3 a4 36. Nxa4 Bxa3 37. Kg1 { [#] JS With the exchange and a pawn up White is completely winning though it does take a few moves to make it so bad that Black had no choice but to resign. } Bb4 38. Nab6 h5 39. Nxd5 Nxd5 40. Rb8 Bc6 41. Nb6 Nc3 42. Na4 Nd5 43. Nb6 Ne7 44. Nc4 Nd5 45. Ne3 $1 {I'm seeking exchanges} Ba3 46. Nxd5 Bxd5 47. b4 Kf7 48. Bc5 Be4 49. Kf2 Bc6 50. Rc8 Bb5 51. Rb8 Bc6 52. Ke2 Bd5 53. Rf8+ Kg7 54. Re8 Bc4+ 55. Kd2 Bd5 56. Re7+ Kg8 57. Ra7 {The bishop will be trapped} Bxb4+ (57... Bb2 58. Kc2) 58. Bxb4 {JS A nice positional game in which the critical phase was round moves 11-16. When Black vacillated he allowed White to transform the centre in exactly the way he wanted to.} 1-0

Did you play agonising/ecstatic games that you would like to share? Send them in to jonathan@speelman.demon.co.uk! For his games and efforts Philippe receives a free three-month ChessBase Premium Account - which is also the prize for next week's winner.

Do you want to avoid agony in games? Let Nicholas Pert help you.

Nicholas Pert:
Typical mistakes by 1800-2000 players

GM Nicholas Pert about his DVD: “After the success of my previous DVD Typical mistakes by 1600-1900 players I decided to produce a follow up DVD aimed at players of a slightly higher level. The examples all come from games played by players with a rating between 1800 and 2100. This DVD offers slightly more complex material than the previous DVD, and will hopefully provide an insight into what I believe are the main errors which stop players of this level to be more successful. I divided the material into categories such as “when to exchange pieces”, “how to convert an advantage”, “passive pieces”, “anticipating your opponents plan”, “openings and pawn structure”. Each section contains several examples which illustrate the theme and practical examples which allow the viewer to test his skills. This DVD provides a useful training tool for ambitious players and may highlight mistakes that the viewer should be aware of.”

  • Video running time: 3 hours 50 min. (English)
  • With interactive training including video feedback
  • Extra: 50 additional examplesIncluding CB 12 Reader
  • ISBN: 978-3-86681-513-1
  • Delivery: download, post
  • Price: €29.90; €25.13 without VAT (for customers outside the EU); $28.41

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 jonathan@speelman.demon.co.uk

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register