Jon Speelman's Agony Column #21

by Jonathan Speelman
9/28/2016 – This week's pair of games are from Ian Sellen who is originally English but now lives in Wellington in New Zealand. Aged 53, Ian is married with children, works in a financial software company and enjoys playing and listening to music, cryptic crossword puzzles, and learning foreign languages. As usual on Wednesdays GM Jonathan Speelman provides help to a strong chess amateur by commenting on his or her games. [Complete intro]. Like to submit some of your own?

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.


Jon Speelman's Agony Column #21

This week's pair of games are from Ian Sellen who is originally English but now lives in Wellington in New Zealand. Aged 53, Ian is married with children, works in a financial software company and enjoys playing and listening to music, cryptic crossword puzzles, and learning foreign languages.

Ian Sellen (left) during a game

Ian's "Agony" is a fascinating battle against Anthony Ker, an International Master who has won the New Zealand Championship by himself or jointly no fewer than 13 times since 1988. Ian produced some really good opening preparation and indeed a presumably computer suggested novelty, 17.Be3! However, when preparing with an engine you have, whatever your playing strength, to try to lead it rather than follow, since you will be playing the moves and coping with the responses. And Ian failed to consider a reply which the engine quite rightly discounts but was not so unlikely in a real game. After missing wins, he still had a decent position but was then outplayed for an agonising loss.

[Event "Julian Mazur Memorial 2016"] [Site "Wellington Chess Club"] [Date "2016.07.28"] [Round "3"] [White "Sellen, Ian"] [Black "Ker, Anthony"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B09"] [WhiteElo "1971"] [BlackElo "2280"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. d4 d6 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 c5 6. Bb5+ Bd7 7. e5 Ng4 8. e6 Bxb5 9. exf7+ Kd7 ({The computer prefers} 9... Kf8 {, but Anthony invariably plays this. JS And this is very much the main line in human play.}) 10. Nxb5 Qa5+ 11. Nc3 cxd4 12. Nxd4 Bxd4 13. Qxd4 Nc6 14. Qc4 Qb6 15. Qe2 h5 16. h3 Nh6 {[#]} 17. Be3 $1 (17. Bd2 {Anthony has faced this more than once.}) (17. Qd3 { This is the move I played back in 2013, the only time I ever beat Anthony in a standard length game.}) 17... Qxb2 {Believe it or not, I am still in my home preparation here} 18. Kd2 Nb4 $2 {I had not prepared for this move, probably stupidly. The reason I hadn't prepared for it was because my computer hadn't suggested it as a reasonable move! So I knew it must be a mistake - I just didn't realize how bad a mistake it was. JS When preparing with a computer, you have to be in control and look at the position "with your own eyes" rather than the alien silicon ones. So you must think: "What would I expect or be worried about" rather than letting the engine make the selections. Here Ian has discounted an appealing looking but in fact bad move and as a result was now on his own This is a big moment in a game and the old Soviet idea - not a bad one - was always that you should have a serious think.} 19. Qb5+ Ke6 20. Rhc1 Rhc8 21. Bd4 Nf5 {8 points up :(} 22. Rab1 $2 {JS I suppose this is "obvious", but in such a tense position you should always look at forcing moves and Ian really should ahve investigated f8=Q.} ({Not losing, but} 22. f8=Q $1 Rxf8 23. Rab1 Nxd4 (23... Qa3 24. Rxb4) 24. Qc4+ {a completely winning position for White}) 22... Nxd4 {[#]} 23. Qxb4 (23. f8=N+ $1 {is still probably winning for White, but the move played brings us back to near equality.} Kf7 {JS is the only defence} (23... Rxf8 24. Qc4+ d5 25. Qxd4 Qa3 26. Re1+ $18) 24. Rxb2 Nxb5 25. Nxb5 Nd5 26. Nh7 {JS and the extra knight escapes when White should win}) 23... Qxb4 24. Rxb4 Nc6 25. Rxb7 Kxf7 {[#]} 26. Ne4 (26. Nd5 {is slightly better. It's even now, but from now on my position gets steadily worse. JS Both knight moves were plausible and for the moment White is still fine.}) 26... Kf8 27. Rf1 Na5 28. Rb4 Nc4+ (28... Rc6 {JS looks slightly more worrying first, not committing the knight when it will have to move or be defended.}) 29. Kd3 d5 30. Ng5 Rc6 31. f5 Rac8 32. Ne6+ Kg8 33. Nd4 Rf6 34. Rb7 $2 (34. Re1 Rf7 35. Re6 {offers better hope. White may actually be slightly up here} gxf5 36. Rb7 Kf8 37. Rxa7) 34... e5 {[#]} 35. Nb3 $2 ({ After the game two of the stronger players in the room took great pleasure in pointing out} 35. fxg6 $1 Rxf1 36. Ne6 {which is a forced draw in every variation! I have to admit it's pretty nifty. JS Yes, a rook and knight working together can quite often force perpetual check (if not mate).}) 35... gxf5 36. Rxa7 f4 37. Na5 Ne3 38. Rf2 Nf5 39. c4 e4+ 40. Kc2 Ne3+ {White resigns. JS Yes, Black is now completely winning of course.} 0-1

Ian's "Ecstasy" is a fine fighting game in which he transformed a complicated positional battle (which I've somewhat glossed over) into hand to hand warfare. I liked his brave decision to change the position with 21...Bxf3 and especially his very assured play with a queen against pieces afterwards.

[Event "Julian Mazur Memorial 2016"] [Site "Wellington Chess Club"] [Date "2016.08.11"] [Round "5"] [White "Aldridge, Alan"] [Black "Sellen, Ian"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "1872"] [BlackElo "1971"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. e3 {JS Of course this perfectly playable though} (5. Bg5) (5. Bf4 {are much more common}) 5... Nbd7 6. Bd3 O-O 7. O-O b6 8. b3 {JS Given you intend to play this, it's worth wondering whether to do so before castling, since it is possible for Black to play 7... dxc4.} Bb7 9. Bb2 c5 10. Qe2 a6 (10... Bd6 11. cxd5 exd5 12. Ba6 Bc6 {is the book continuation. JS I'm not sure which book. In fact 10...Rc8 and 10...cxd4 are much the most common moves.}) 11. Rac1 dxc4 {From now I started worrying about losing control of the d5 square.} 12. bxc4 Qc7 13. Ng5 h6 14. Nge4 Nxe4 15. Nxe4 Nf6 {Not the best, I move it back next go} 16. f3 {[#] JS Not a bad move but White might for example consider} (16. d5 Nxe4 17. Bxe4 f5 18. Bf3 exd5 19. cxd5 {which is more incisive and if} b5 20. e4) 16... Nd7 {JS Taking back a move you don't like is impressive and normally something only considerably stronger players can bear to do. But in fact Ian was spooking himself.} ({I was concerned about} 16... Rad8 17. Nxf6+ Bxf6 18. dxc5 $2 Bxb2 19. cxb6 Qxb6 $2 (19... Qe5 $1 $19) 20. Rb1 {But Black does not have to take on b6.} Qxe3+ (20... Qd6 21. Rfd1 $1 (21. Rxb2)) (20... Rd7 21. Rxb2 Qa5) 21. Qxe3 Bd4 22. Kf2 $1 Bxe3+ 23. Kxe3) 17. Bb1 f5 {An ugly move, weakening several squares around the king, but I felt I had to remove that knight} 18. Nc3 Bf6 19. Rfd1 Rfe8 20. Qd3 {Moving the queen away from the same file as the rook and hoping to set up some threats along the diagonal to the king. But d5 may have been better.} Rad8 (20... cxd4 21. exd4 Bg5 22. Rc2 Rad8 {JS would leave White a tad discoordinated.}) 21. Ne2 $2 {[#] Understandable, but Alan had not seen my next move.} Bxf3 $1 {I thought a long time about this. In the end I just did it because it is the "principled" move, as they say. It has the advantage of making White have to think. JS Well done! When you have a chance to make a decent sacrifice you should normally take it since it's bound to put pressure on the opponent.} 22. gxf3 Ne5 23. dxe5 ({White understandably chooses not to go for} 23. Qc2 Nxf3+ 24. Kf2 Qxh2+ 25. Kxf3 g5 {when he is in a lot of trouble, e.g.} 26. Rg1 g4+ 27. Rxg4+ fxg4+ 28. Ke4 Qh5 29. Kd3 cxd4 30. exd4 Qh3+ 31. Kd2 Bg5+ $18 {etc}) 23... Rxd3 24. Rxd3 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 Qxe5 { So after the dust has settled, material is theoretically even, but I like my position because of my nicely placed queen, the lack of coordination of white's pieces, and the slightly exposed position of his king. JS I very much like Ian's assessment. This is a difficult position to judge, but the main thing is that White is loose and it will be very difficult to get stable squares for the minor pieces. (If White could somehow cement the knight on e5, defended by the f4 pawn, then he would be better. But that's far too much to ask for.)} 26. Rcd1 g5 (26... b5 {To improve the safety of the queenside pawns is also a good plan.}) 27. Ng3 $6 (27. a4 $1 {puts up a decent fight}) 27... Kf7 28. Kf2 Re7 ({A bit of a waste of time -} 28... b5 {is better}) ({or} 28... h5) 29. R3d2 h5 30. Bd3 (30. h4 $1 {JS Indeed looks better fighting for squares on the kingside but is psychologically perhaps a bit difficult to play in fornt of the king.}) 30... h4 {[#]Now White is getting squashed.} 31. Nf1 Rd7 32. Be2 Rxd2 {I was very happy not to be facing two rooks working together. } 33. Rxd2 Ke7 {(#) White sort of seems to give up at this point, shuffling his rook around and not achieving anything, rather than trying to activate his pieces.} 34. Rd1 Qb2 35. Rd2 Qb4 36. Rd1 Qa5 37. Rd2 b5 {Finally!} 38. cxb5 axb5 39. Rb2 c4 {The correct pawn advance.} 40. Bd1 b4 41. Rc2 {White is in serious trouble now.} b3 42. axb3 cxb3 43. Re2 (43. Rb2 Qa2 $1) 43... Qc3 44. Nd2 b2 45. Nb1 Qc1 46. Bc2 {and now there is new target to attack} Qh1 47. Bd3 Qxh2+ {[#]} 48. Ke1 $2 {Mate in 2, but White was lost anyway.} (48. Kf1 Qh1+ 49. Kf2 g4 50. fxg4 fxg4) 48... Qg1+ 49. Kd2 Qc1# {A very good game by Ian, who bravely took up the cudgels with 21...Bxf3 and then played the resultant position with queen v pieces very confidently.} 0-1

Did you enjoy the column and instructive analysis by GM Jonathan Speelman? Do you wish you could have a world-renowned grandmaster analyzing your play? You can! Just send in two of your games: one success story (Ecstasy) and one loss (Agony). Tell why you chose them, where or when they were played, and if they are selected, not only will you get free detailed commentary of your games by one of chess’s great authors and instructors, and former world no. 4 player, but you also win a free one-month Premium subscription to ChessBase Account.

A one-month Premium subscription to ChessBase Account, means that for one month you get:

  • Premium access to the Playchess server with ratings, simuls, lectures, and live commentary of top games.
  • Access to all Web apps with no restrictions, such as the Cloud database (, and more!
  • Full access to the Video archive, which not only includes all the past lectures by Daniel King, Simon Williams and others, but also a large number of full ChessBase products you would normally need to buy in the ChessBase Shop, but that you can view for free as a Premium subscriber.

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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register