Jon Speelman: Agony Column #35

by Jonathan Speelman
1/4/2017 – In his "Agony Column #35" Jon Speelman presents three games: one win, one loss, and a draw. The loss was agonising, the win mildly ecstatic, and the draw had both, agony and ecstasy.

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Jon Speelman's Agony Column #35

This week's games are by Istvan Biro a Hungarian in his early thirties. He writes:

“I was born in 1985 and my father taught me the rules of chess when I was 7 or 8, I can't remember exactly. I became a club player at the age of 15 at a local club which unfortunately no longer exists. I graduated as an engineer and have been working in a big international firm in Hungary as an engineer for 10 years. Due to a lack of time I have never played in a really big tournament, just in some local competitions. My current rating is 1991 and I'm working on my chess to get back above 2000.”

Istvan Biro after winning the Békés county championship in Hungary
with his team.

Istvan sent me a number of games right at this column's inception and I somehow managed to overlook them in the flurry of interest which followed. When I did revisit them a few days ago, I was staggered that I hadn't used them earlier since several are extremely interesting.

We start with an “Agonising” loss in which his opponent played dismally in the opening and Istvan, playing Black, soon had a huge advantage. But he missed his mark, ended up losing a piece and was still drawing until a final bad blunder at the end sealed his fate.

[Event "XXV Bacsur Emlékverseny"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.08.30"] [Round "5.4"] [White "Kakuk Sándor"] [Black "Biró István"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B72"] [WhiteElo "2164"] [BlackElo "2016"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "141"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 {BI: Being friends, we knew a lot of each other's play. In order to create some winning chances (and to improve the 2-0 negative record against my opponent) I decided to go for the Dragon - which I have never played in a rated game before.} c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 (5... a6 6. Be3 Ng4 7. Bg5 h6 8. Bh4 g5 9. Bg3 Bg7 {is a well known line of the Najdorf worth comparing to the game if White plays Nb3}) 6. Be3 Bg7 7. Qd2 $2 (7. f3 { is normal and correct.}) 7... Ng4 {BI I could not believe that he allowed me to play this move which gives Black an advantage.} 8. Bg5 Nc6 9. Nxc6 {Opening the b-file is very dangerous} (9. Nb3 {must be right when if he likes Black can try} h6 10. Bf4 g5 11. Bg3 {which looks like quite a good version for Black of the Najdorf line above.}) 9... bxc6 10. O-O-O $2 {And this is more or less suicidal.} Qb6 {BI After this move I was close to winning but one can never be sure - as I was about to experience.} (10... Qa5 {is also suggested by engines but after} 11. Bxe7 Bxc3 12. Qxd6 Be5 13. Qc5 Qxc5 14. Bxc5 { White can fight}) 11. f3 Rb8 {[#]} 12. Nb5 $1 {BI A nice move that I had missed. I was dreaming of b3 when Qc5 is strong. JS He had to try this or Bb5 though both should lose.} (12. Bb5 $1 f6 13. Nd5 Qb7 14. Qc3 Ne5 15. Ba6 Qd7) ( 12. b3 {was a reasonable punt but runs into} Qc5 {when} 13. Nb1 {looks plausible but is refuted by the very pretty} (13. Na4 {BI} Qa3+ 14. Kb1 Qxa4 15. fxg4 Bxg4 {JS is vile for White}) 13... Nf2 14. Be3 Bb2+ $3 15. Kxb2 Nxd1+ 16. Qxd1 Qxe3) 12... cxb5 $6 {BI The wrong way to handle the position. I should have tried f6 instead.} (12... f6 13. Bf4 Ne5 14. Be3 Qb7 15. Nxd6+ exd6 16. b3 O-O (16... Nf7 17. Bc4 Bf8)) (12... h6 $2 13. Bxe7 $1) 13. fxg4 Bxg4 14. Be2 Be6 {[#] BI This looked so nice to me because my bishops take aim at the enemy king. Not to mention that I'm a pawn up. JS Black is a pawn up with a winning position but at least White isn't getting mated (immediately).} 15. Bh6 Bf6 $6 (15... Be5 {immediately was better}) 16. Rhf1 Be5 17. a3 Rc8 18. Kb1 a5 19. h3 a4 20. Qb4 {BI I was happy to see this move. Instead of stopping my attack with c3 he made a mistake, overlooking my next move.} Bc4 21. Bxc4 (21. Bd3 {was a little better}) 21... Rxc4 22. Qd2 {[#]} Rd4 $2 {BI I played this move quickly - and it is a blunder. b4 was winning instead. My opponent was relying on Qd5 but then my king is safe on d7.} (22... Qc6 23. Qd5 Qxd5 24. exd5 {and now anything is good but Houdini immediately flags up} (24. Rxd5 b4 25. Rb5 bxa3 26. Bf4) 24... g5 $1 25. Bxg5 Rg8 26. Bc1 Rxg2 {which should be completely winning}) (22... b4 23. Be3 (23. Qd5 bxa3 {and if} 24. Qa8+ Kd7) 23... Qb8 $19) 23. Qe2 b4 24. Rxd4 Bxd4 25. axb4 Qxb4 26. c3 Bxc3 27. Qc2 Qxb2+ 28. Qxb2 Bxb2 29. Kxb2 f6 {[#] BI I was still hoping to draw the game but I knew that Sándor can play the endgame well - as he did in this game. JS Black must still be perfectly okay but now White has winning chances too.} 30. Bd2 Kf7 31. Ra1 Ra8 32. Kc3 Ke6 33. Kd4 a3 34. Ra2 Ra4+ 35. Ke3 {[#]} f5 {BI Immediately after playing this move I knew that Ke5 would have been better. I was kicking myself for missing this and the simple win earlier. JS Rather committal. If Black does absolutely nothing then I can't see how White can make progress since if say} (35... h5 36. Kd3 (36. h4 f5 {White now has a target on h4}) 36... g5 37. Bc3 Kd7 38. Bd2 Ke6 39. Bc1 (39. Ke3 Ke5 40. Bc3+ Ke6 41. Kf3 Kf7 42. Bd2 Ke6 43. Bc1 Ke5 44. Bxa3 (44. Rxa3 Rxe4 45. Ra5+ d5) 44... Rxe4) 39... Ke5 40. Bxa3 Rd4+) 36. exf5+ gxf5 37. Bc1 Kd5 38. Rxa3 Re4+ 39. Kf3 Rb4 40. Bh6 Ke6 41. Re3+ Kf7 42. Bg5 e5 43. Ra3 Rb7 44. Be3 Ke6 45. g3 Kd5 46. Ra8 Ke6 47. Ra7 Rxa7 48. Bxa7 h5 {[#] This should still be drawn since the white king will have to go miles to the queenside to disturb Black who can get well set up by then.} 49. Bb8 Kd5 {BI The losing move after a lot of suffering. JS Somewhat to my surprise, the engine now has a fit and jumps to nearly +100. Black's problem is that if White plays accurately White can outflank Black and keep the kingside sufficiently defended.} (49... d5 50. Ke3 d4+ 51. Kd3 Kd5 52. Ba7 e4+ 53. Kd2 Kc4 54. Kc2 {was holding}) 50. Ke3 Ke6 51. Kd3 Kd5 52. h4 Kc5 53. Kc3 (53. Ba7+ Kd5 54. Bf2 Kc6 55. Kc4 d5+ 56. Kb4 Kd6 57. Kb5 f4 58. gxf4 exf4 59. Bd4) 53... Kd5 54. Kb4 $2 {Istvan gave this two question marks and perhaps one and a half is about right.} (54. Kd3 Kc5 55. Kd2 Kd5 56. Kc3 Ke6 57. Kd3 Kd5 58. Ba7 Kc6 59. Kc4 {leads to lines like the previous note}) 54... f4 55. gxf4 exf4 56. Kc3 Ke4 57. Bxd6 Kf3 58. Kd2 {[#]} Kg4 $4 {BI Black was in time pressure but there was no need to blunder like this. I completely missed Sándor's nice winning idea. Kg3 is an easy draw. JS Now White is able to regroup the bishop on f2} (58... Kg3 $1 59. Be7 f3 60. Ke1 Kg2 61. Bc5 Kg3 62. Bf2+ Kg2 {is absolute zugzwang and hence a draw with White to play.}) 59. Be7 Kg3 60. Ke1 Kg2 ({or} 60... f3 61. Kf1 f2 62. Bd8 Kf3 63. Bb6 Kg3 64. Bxf2+) 61. Bc5 Kg3 62. Bf2+ Kh2 63. Kd2 Kh3 64. Ke2 Kg2 65. Be1 f3+ 66. Ke3 Kf1 {[#]} 67. Kxf3 $1 {Jettisoning the bishop to force a won pawn endgame.} Kxe1 68. Kf4 Kd2 69. Kg5 Ke3 70. Kxh5 Ke4 71. Kg6 {And Istvan resigned} 1-0

We continue with a slight but pleasing victory before a battle royal to conclude.

[Event "IV Ancsin Emlékverseny"] [Site "Gádoros"] [Date "2011.06.18"] [Round "5.15"] [White "Szász János"] [Black "Biró István"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "1860"] [BlackElo "1962"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "54"] [EventDate "2011.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {BI In this event I had lost in round two and three and desperately needed to win to keep some chances to play for a prize. JS In this nice if fairly simple game, Istvan crushed an opponent who played meekly in the opening and then walked straight into a deadly sacrifice.} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. cxd5 {A meek move which gives Black a comfortable position immediately.} exd5 7. Bd3 Bd6 {BI I was happy to see this line because White can hope to make winning attempts here. Meanwhile Black can stir up trouble if White is not careful.} 8. O-O O-O 9. a3 Re8 10. b4 a6 11. Bb2 Nf8 12. Re1 { Allowing a somewhat annoying pin.} (12. Qc2 Bg4 (12... Ng6 {prevents a Ne5 sacrifice with at least equality}) 13. Ne5 $5 {gave White reasonable play if Black takes the pawn} (13. Nd2 Bh5 14. Rae1) 13... Bxe5 14. dxe5 Rxe5 15. Na4 Re8 16. Nc5) 12... Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. Be2 {BI I think going backwards is not the right way. The pin is somewhat unconvenient Rc1 was a better move but I liked my position here already. JS Yes Be2 is uninspiring but the position is uninspiring for White anyway.} Qe7 15. Na4 Ne4 {[#]} 16. Nd2 $4 {BI I could not believe my eyes when I saw this move. Now I can launch a direct attack against White's king. Qc2 was necessary but it is already hard to find a good plan for White. JS Yes, it's a horrible blunder.} Nxf2 $1 17. Qb3 (17. Kxf2 Qxe3+ 18. Kf1 Bh2 19. Nf3 Bxf3 20. Bxf3 Qg1#) 17... Nxh3+ $1 18. gxh3 Qg5+ 19. Bg4 (19. Kf1 {or Kh1 are both met by} Rxe3) 19... Bxg4 20. hxg4 Qxg4+ 21. Kf1 Re6 {BI After this the game is over. All these was forced so far since I played the sacrifice.} 22. Re2 {[#]} Bg3 $1 {Closing the net on the unfortunate king.} 23. Rg2 Rf6+ 24. Kg1 Bf2+ 25. Kh1 (25. Kf1 Bxe3+) 25... Rh6+ 26. Rh2 Rxh2+ 27. Kxh2 Qg3+ 0-1

[Event "Berekfürdõ Tavasz"] [Site "Gádoros"] [Date "2012.03.19"] [Round "5.12"] [White "Biró István"] [Black "Csáti Olivér"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B80"] [WhiteElo "1996"] [BlackElo "1780"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {BI: 'Considering the fact that I was higher rated than my opponent at that time one might think that I was the one who tried to play for a win. But my opponent was a young teenager and I knew it was not going to be easy. I was right - it was a hell of a fight.' JS This incredibly complex game contains numerous "mistakes" but the position became so complex that it was almost unplayable at the board and if the world's two best (human) Najdorf players had been in combat - some monstrous attacking player such as Hikaru Nakamura against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave then there would still have been many mistakes from the point of view of a "silicon eye".} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e6 {BI: 'He was thinking here and was deviating from the Najdorf system I saw him playing earlier. This was and still is my favourite setup, the English attack.'} 7. f3 b5 8. Qd2 Bb7 9. O-O-O Nbd7 10. g4 {[#]} Nb6 {This is very much the main move in this incredibly sharp and highly theoretical line} (10... h6 {is the main alternative which has the advantage of preventing g5 for a tempo - White must play both h4 and a move to protect the rook such as Rh3 before g5 can be played - but weakens g6. I don't know anything much about the line but did want to get a rough idea. The solution was to filter for games between strong players, in my case specifically ones in which both were rated over 2500. The first few saw h6 but from the turn of the century onwards it was almost all Nb6 so clearly that's what Black should play (or rather current received wisdom is that Nb6 is correct).}) 11. g5 { But this is unusual and instead} (11. Qf2 {is normally preferred when many top level games have continued} Nfd7 12. Bd3 Rc8 13. Nce2) 11... Nfd7 12. Bd3 (12. h4 b4 13. Nb1 d5) 12... b4 13. Nce2 d5 {[#] This central break frees Black and is normal in this variation but of course there is a serious danger of tactics with the king stuck in the centre for at least two more moves.} 14. exd5 ({ These positions are too difficult for even the world's best players to play accurately. When I consulted Houdini (on a new machine much faster than my old one) it initially recommended} 14. Nf4 Ne5 (14... e5 15. exd5 {gives White a huge attack}) 15. exd5 Nxd5 16. Be4 {but cooled after} Nc4 17. Bxd5 Bxd5 18. Qe2 Bc5 {which seems to be about equal.}) 14... Nxd5 15. Bf2 {You often allow Nxe3 in this line since it clears the e file creating sacrificial possibilities.} (15. Nf4 Ne5 16. Be4 {led to the previous line}) 15... Qa5 $6 { BI: 'I felt that this was an inaccuracy. I was expecting a5 instead.' The queen isn't too good here because White can play Nb3 with tempo.} (15... Bc5 { JS may be better}) 16. Kb1 Rc8 17. Nb3 Qa4 $2 (17... Qc7 {was much better. On a4 the queen's in the way unless Black can arrange to make Nc3+ work}) 18. h4 ( 18. Bd4 $1 {was very nasty and indeed Houdini already gives it as winning continuing} Nc5 (18... e5 {BI} 19. Be4 {This is what I missed.} exd4 20. Qxd4 $16) 19. Be4 $1 (19. Nxc5 Bxc5 20. Bxg7 Be3 21. Qe1 Rg8 22. Bh6 {is also good for White but obviously Black would have serious chances in practice}) 19... Nxb3 20. axb3 Qb5 21. Ng3 a5 22. Bd3 Qd7 23. Nh5 {when White is first by a mile.}) 18... Nc5 19. h5 {[#]} h6 $2 {BI: 'I think this is a mistake.' JS: Up to here, the game has been within the normal bounds of what happens when we try to play such fiendishly complex positions but this is a horrible weakening of the white squares.} (19... Nxd3 {(BI) I expected him to take the bishop JS Yes, this was much better.} 20. Qxd3 Qb5 21. Qxb5+ axb5 22. Ned4 (22. Bd4 {JS is preferred by Houdini}) 22... Be7 23. g6 O-O 24. gxf7+ Rxf7 25. Nxe6 Rxf3 $13 { With great complications.}) 20. g6 f6 21. Ned4 Bd6 22. Nxc5 (22. Bc4 {was utter murder too - the white squares collapse.}) 22... Rxc5 23. Nxe6 {BI: 'Again a mistake. I simply missed an important detail after Nc3. Qe1 was way superior.' [#]} (23. Qe1 {JS is indeed a very simple way to get a winning position} Nc3+ 24. bxc3 Re5 25. Qd2 Ra5 (25... Bd5 26. c4) 26. Bc4) 23... Nc3+ $1 {The best chance since if} (23... Ra5 24. Bc4 {is slaughter}) 24. bxc3 bxc3 {[#]} 25. Qc1 $6 (25. Nxg7+ $1 {was winning if very complicated} Kf8 (25... Kd7 26. Bf5+ Rxf5 27. Qxd6+ Kc8 28. Qe6+ Kb8 29. Nxf5 {is fairly simple}) (25... Kd8 {and now Houdini's top choice is the quite extraordinary} 26. Qf4 $3 ({ but human beings would find} 26. Rh4 Qxh4 27. Bxh4 cxd2 28. Ne6+ {and the g pawn will decide}) 26... Bxf4 (26... Rb5+ 27. Ka1) 27. Bb5+) 26. Ne6+ Kg8 27. Nxc5 Qb4+ 28. Nb3 cxd2 29. Rh4 Qa3 30. Rd4 $18 {and Black is busted. PS When I looked at this again then it's certainly true since White gets in Rxd2 and moves the d3 bishop and Black can't withstand this: but  far from obvious. Instead in this line 27.Rh4! is much cleaner.}) 25... Ra5 $6 {BI: 'I was afraid I might lose the game and I was kicking myself for entering into complications instead of keeping it simple.'} ({JS} 25... Bd5 26. a3 Bxe6 {was a better line though engines soon find} 27. Bxc5 Bxc5 28. Bf5 $3 Bxa3 29. Bxe6 Bxc1 30. Rhe1) 26. a3 Bxa3 {[#]} 27. Nxg7+ $2 {BI: 'A miscalculation. I had only little time left and did not see that Rh4 was winning. After the text-move White is losing.' JS Instead} (27. Rh4 $1 Rb5+ 28. Bxb5+ Qxb5+ 29. Ka2 Bxc1 30. Nc7+ {was winning}) 27... Kf8 28. Ne6+ Kg8 $2 { BI: 'He also miscalculated. Ke7 was winning. I did not see White's next move when playing 23.Nxe6. But better to find a good move late than never.'} (28... Ke7 $1 {JS was indeed winning} 29. Nc5 Qb4+ $1 30. Nb3 Bxc1 31. Rhe1+ Kf8 { and White runs out of ammo while Black keeps the queen and threatens mate starting with Ra1+.}) 29. Bc4 $1 Be7 30. Nc5+ Qxc4 31. Nb3 Rb5 $6 (31... Qa4 32. Nxa5 Qxa5 33. Rhe1 Qb4+ {was a simple draw}) 32. Rd4 Rxb3+ $6 (32... Qe6 33. Re1 Qf5 34. Rxe7 Rxb3+ 35. Ka2 Qa5+ 36. Kxb3 Bd5+ 37. Rxd5 Qxd5+ 38. Kxc3 Qc6+ {is apparently perpetual check}) 33. cxb3 $2 (33. Ka1 $1 Ra3+ 34. Qxa3 Qxd4 35. Bxd4 Bxa3 36. Bxf6 {is winning for White although he is a piece down.} ) 33... Qxb3+ 34. Ka1 Bd5 $1 35. Rxd5 Qa4+ 36. Kb1 {[#]} Qb3+ {Settling for a draw. But instead} (36... Kg7 $1 37. Ba7 Qb3+ 38. Ka1 Qxd5 39. Qxc3 Rd8 { was very nasty for White in view of the naked king. Houdini gives this as over -2 continuing} 40. Re1 Rd7 41. Bd4 Bd8 42. Rd1 Qxh5) 37. Ka1 Qa4+ 38. Kb1 Qb3+ {BI: 'We were playing these moves relatively quickly because we both had almost no time left on the clock. Here my opponent wanted to continue with Kg7 which is strong, but luckily for me he had repeated moves and the the game was drawn by default. A crazy game but the result is probably just.'} 39. Ka1 { JS A (relatively) peaceful end to an incredible battle. Bravo to both players!} 1/2-1/2


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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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