Jon Speelman's Agony Column #47

by ChessBase
4/2/2017 – Earl Roberts is a chess player who lives in Levin in New Zealand. He loves unorthodox openings and is a big fan of Alapin: "I have tried almost all of his theoretical creations – the ones that work , the ones that shouldn’t work and the ones that just don’t." Earl has submitted a remarkable Internet blitz game, his Agony, he played against Yasser Seirawan and an over-the-board Ecstasy against a strong countryman. Jonathan Speelman has provided comments on Earl's play.

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Agony and Ecstasy with Alapin

This week's pair of games are by Earl Roberts, who lives in Levin in New Zealand. Earl who describes himself as an “ordinary chess player” writes:

While I really love to play chess, I guess I hated travelling even more. About the only travelling I would acquiesce to was forty minutes each way to a chess club once a week. Eventually I gave up that to care for one of my elderly parents after the other passed away.

Mind you even then this did not stop me playing chess. I used to play a lot of correspondence chess by snail mail before it, like its Internet equivalent, became a cesspool of digital demons masquerading as chess players. These days with the purchase of my own computer I stick largely to online chess and giving anyone who bothers to listen my musings on our great game.

I am a big fan of Alapin. And over the years I have tried almost all of his theoretical creations. The ones that work (1.e4 e5 2.Ne2 & 1.e4 c5 2.c3), the ones that shouldn’t work (Bb4 in the Lopez) and the ones that just don’t (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 b6).

Earl Roberts going over one of his favourite games as White

The two games he sent me are both in the Alapin Variation of the Ruy Lopez 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bb4...


...and both are against strong players: a blitz game against Yasser Seirawan, no less, and a standard game against David Paul, who is well known on the on the Coast of the North Island of New Zealand where Earl lives. He also sent me a .pdf of an interesting article he wrote on the Alapin for an Internet newsletter.

We begin with the Agony, in which he got a completely winning position against Seirawan in a blitz game but then blundered it all away. The notes to both games are mainly by him, with additions by me as JS.

[Event " - Blitz"] [Site "Boston, MA USA"] [Date "1999.11.07"] [Round "?"] [White "Seirawan, GM Y."] [Black "Roberts, Earl"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C60"] [WhiteElo "2468"] [BlackElo "1859"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "53"] [EventDate "1999.11.07"] [EventType "game"] [EventCountry "USA"] [SourceTitle "OTB Career"] [Source "N Earl Roberts"] [SourceDate "2006.05.05"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 {I guess when you climb a top Mt. Olympus to do battle with the Gods, you should at least bring you own weapons. Thus} Bb4 $5 { A personal favourite. Alapin's idea first mooted in print in 'Deutsches Wochenschach 1898'. Principally the idea being that the bishop is sometimes better on a5 or b6, depending on the circumstance. I like 3...Bb4 because it allows for active play with the black peices.} 4. c3 Ba5 5. O-O ({At this point, from a theoretical point of view. It is held by a number of volumes that } 5. Na3 {refutes Alapin's idea out of hand based upon} Bb6 6. Nc4 d6 7. d4 exd4 8. a4 {as in the game Behing-Lebedew, Postal 1903. But all of these volumes fail to mention} Be6 $1 {as cited by Alapin circa 1898}) ({Now however the focus is on} 5. Qa4 $5 {in that after} Nge7 (5... Bb6 6. d4 exd4 (6... Nf6 $5) 7. cxd4 a6 8. O-O Ba7 9. Be2 d6 (9... b5 10. Qd1) 10. d5 b5 11. Qc2 $1 { Alapin}) 6. Nxe5 $1 ({and not} 6. Bxc6 {first because} Nxc6 7. Nxe5 {allows} Qg5 $1 $17) 6... Nxe5 7. Qxa5 N7c6 8. Qa4 Qg5 9. O-O $6 $11 {used to be the given move} ({until the unlikely} 9. Kf1 $5 {[#] was mentioned by S.Bucker. JS: However, 9.Kf1 does look rather good which means that theoretically speaking, I suppose Black needs an improvement in this line. Not that it would often matter in practice. Playing ...Bb4 constantly would be very dangerous but as a surprise weapon it looks a lot of fun.} Ng6 10. Na3 O-O 11. h4 Nxh4 12. g3 Ng6 13. d4 Qg4 14. Qc2 {is one line}) (9. Bf1 d5 {JS: gives Black huge play and would be utterly terrifying to meet in a game unless you were very well prepared.} 10. Na3 (10. exd5 Bf5 11. dxc6 O-O {and White should get what he deserves})) 9... Nf3+ 10. Kh1 Qf4 11. gxf3 (11. g3 $2 Qg4 12. Qd1 Nce5 13. Rg1 h5 {JS: is disastrous}) 11... Qxf3+ 12. Kg1 Qg4+ $11) 5... Nge7 6. d4 ({ With the knight on e7} 6. Qa4 {seems less effective in that Black now has Ng6 at his disposal} Bb6 7. d4 Ng6 8. Bxc6 dxc6 9. Nxe5 Nxe5 10. dxe5 Qe7 {with some play for the pawn}) 6... exd4 7. cxd4 d5 {[#] The main line position. White now has two obvious choices at hand} 8. exd5 $1 {which I think is best} ( {and} 8. e5 {which is seen in the next game, is the other.}) 8... Qxd5 9. Ba4 $6 {By all accounts, a new move in the position. Now I am not the one to question my betters but I have to wonder about this move. I agree that as the game moves on the white squared bishop has a significant part to play in the game, but moving to intend to control the White sqaures on the queenside and or from c2 to h7 is somewhat premature, given that the black queen's bishop is still yet to be placed. JS: This isn't especially good, but it was a blitz game. .. .} ({Other moves are (a)} 9. Nc3 $1 {which I think is best and more in line with the bishop v knights theme in the open position of the Alapin.} Bxc3 10. Bxc6+ Nxc6 11. bxc3 O-O 12. Bf4 Bg4 13. Bxc7 Rac8 14. Bf4 Na5 15. Qd3 {JS or} Bxf3 (15... Bf5) 16. gxf3 $11 {/+/= JS: With superb white square control and a beautifully unblemished queenside, Black should be absolutely fine in this position the more so since White's kingside is something of a mess.}) ({(b)} 9. Qa4 $5 O-O 10. Nc3 Qh5 11. Rd1 Bb6 12. d5 Ne5 13. Nxe5 Qxe5 14. Bf4 Qf6 15. Rd2 Ng6 16. Bg3 $11) ({(c)} 9. Be2 $1 Be6 10. Nc3 Qd6 { Bernhard Lach}) 9... Bg4 10. Be3 ({Again} 10. Nc3 $5 {could be tried, but with Bc8 now out, Black has the option of 0-0-0 after the thematic bishop for knights trade-off.} Bxf3 11. gxf3 Bxc3 {JS You can also just move the queen to d6 for example} (11... Qd6 12. Ne4 (12. d5 O-O-O {is simply good for Black}) 12... Qg6+) 12. bxc3 $15) (10. Nbd2 $5 Bxd2 11. Qxd2 (11. Bxd2 O-O-O) 11... Bxf3 12. Bxc6+ Qxc6 13. gxf3 O-O-O $15) 10... Bxf3 11. gxf3 {[#]} O-O $5 { Inaccurate!} ({I think} 11... O-O-O $1 {was more to the point. JS: Yes agreed. With Black's king safe, White's not and the d4 pawn very vulnerable, this opposite sided castling position is clearly better for Black.}) 12. Nc3 Qh5 13. f4 Qh3 14. Ne4 Bb6 15. Ng5 Qh4 16. d5 $5 {A dual purpose move that attempts to (1) push Black back and (2) ask Black to fix White's weaknesses in the centre with BxB.} Rad8 $1 {Whether or not a good move, it does make White go on the defensive (somewhat). JS: It is an excellent move. White is in deep trouble now.} 17. Bb3 {The point of 9.Ba4!? I guess. JS: Ba4 was a move in a blitz game played on the spur of the moment. it was far from great. And now Yasser is just fighting for his life.} h6 (17... Na5 {was posisble here and a couple of moves later, when the d5 pawn will soon be annexed.}) 18. Nf3 Qh3 19. Kh1 { This should have been a warning bell of what was to follow. White makes ready to use his open lines to the black king} Nb4 $1 {and now the d5 pawn lost with 3 minor peices baring down on it. Unfortunately the errant pawn comes at a price, the increased scope of the b3 bishop.} (19... Na5 {was even stronger}) 20. Rg1 Nbxd5 {Sticking doggedly to the plan of whipping off the free pawn} 21. Bd4 {This just allows a swiping of another pawn} ({Maybe} 21. Bxb6 {first to try for some active play after} axb6 {intending} 22. Ne5 Nxf4 (22... c6 $1 { JS: as suggested by Earl is indeed a very sensible way to keep control.}) 23. Bxf7+ Kh8 (23... Rxf7 24. Qxd8+) 24. Qc2 c6 {I think still looks good for Black. JS: It certainly should be, but could easily become totally random at blitz.} (24... Qf5 25. Qxc7 Nc6 $17)) 21... Bxd4 22. Nxd4 Nxf4 {Black is two pawns up and White is tied down in the center...Surely this can not go wrong?} 23. Rg3 Qd7 ({Maybe} 23... Qh4 $5 {was a better idea, switching the attack to the dark squares, intending to pressure the pinned knight on d4 with} 24. -- Qf6 {if possible.}) 24. Nf3 Nfg6 ({Maybe the simpler} 24... Qxd1+ {was the better try} 25. Bxd1 (25. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 26. Bxd1) 25... Nd3 26. Bc2 Nxf2+ 27. Kg1 {Earl was underestimating his advantage here. With three clear extra pawns Black is totally winning, though of course in a blitz game something could easily still go wrong.}) 25. Qxd7 Rxd7 26. Rag1 {[#]} Nf5 $4 {Oh the joys of blitz....} ({The obvious (to me now)} 26... Kh8 {is clearly the better move} 27. h4 {JS: is surely what White would try, but after} Nf5 28. Rg4 Rd3 {Black "should" win.}) 27. Rxg6 {Oh poop, all that hard work wasted. In trying to work out if I could make something out of this I lost on time.} ({However in sitting down with the position and one of those accused binary monsters from ChessBase, it pointed out the right plan. After} 27. Rxg6 Rd3 $1 {The idea is to undermine the pinning peice. It will cost the exchange but Black would still be in the game} 28. Bxf7+ ({or} 28. Nh4 Rxb3 29. Rf6 Nxh4 30. axb3 Ng6) 28... Rxf7 29. Ne5 Rd2 30. Nxf7 Kxf7 31. b4 Rxa2 32. R6g4 $15 {[#] A sad end for Earl to an interesting game against a very strong opponent. Had he reached this position then Earl would still have been at least equal, but in practice Yasser, who is a fearsomely strong blitz player as I know from playing quite a lot of blitz against him over the years, would neverthess have been favourite.} (32. R6g2 Rb2 33. Rg4 $15) (32. R1g2 $5)) 1-0

[Event "Kapiti Chess Club"] [Site "?"] [Date "2006.05.17"] [Round "?"] [White "Paul, David"] [Black "Roberts, Earl"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C60"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2006.05.17"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Bb4 4. c3 Ba5 5. O-O Nge7 6. d4 exd4 7. cxd4 d5 { The same mainline position, but this time White tries the other major alternative.} 8. e5 $5 {In all the times I have managed to achieved the postion after 7...d5, this move is seen the most.} O-O $5 {There is nothing wrong with this move as such, but the issue with it is that allows the irritating Bg5} ({For instant (as taken from Die Alapin-Variante in der Spanischen Eroffnung by B Lach)} 8... Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 (9... Bxf3 10. Qxf3 O-O { intending} 11. -- f6) 10. Bg5 O-O 11. Nc3 Bxf3 12. gxf3 Qc8 $2 13. Kh2 Qf5 $2 14. Rg1) ({Which is why Alapin himself was known to prefer} 8... h6 $1 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Be3 f6 11. h3 Bb6 $11 {Alapin 1896 (NIC Yearbook 19)}) 9. Nc3 $5 { Again not a bad move but it does allow Black to settle his pieces actively} ({ Given what follows maybe some circumspection with} 9. h3 $5 {was better. JS: I tend to like prophylactic moves like h3, and it's certainly very possible, though White has to be quite accurate.} a6 10. Ba4 (10. Bd3 {is what you'd like to play, but apparently the tactics work for Black after the very irritating Nb4.} Nb4 11. Be2 Bf5 12. a3 (12. Nc3 Nc2) 12... Nc2 13. Ra2 Nxd4) 10... Bf5 11. Nc3) 9... Bg4 10. Be3 ({White still could have availed himself of } 10. Bg5 $1 {as it would more or less encourage} Bxf3 ({Not} 10... h6 $2 11. Bxe7 $1 Nxe7 12. h3 $1 {because now} Bxf3 ({but} 12... Bh5 {JS isn't at all bad }) {can be met with} 13. Qxf3) 11. gxf3 h6 12. Be3 $1 {intending} -- 13. Kh1 -- {and} 14. Rg1 {JS: Indeed the fact that Black has played ...h6 creates a potentially serious problem along the g-file.}) 10... Bb6 11. Bd3 $6 {[#]} (11. Be2 f6 $11) 11... h6 {Better late then never, as White was threatening Bxh7+.} (11... Bxf3 12. gxf3 Bxd4 $1 {JS: is absolutely fine here for Black, who is indeed clearly better after} (12... Qd7 {was given by Earl and also isn't bad but Bxd4 gets to a clear advantage.} 13. Re1 $15) 13. Bxd4 Nxd4 14. Bxh7+ Kxh7 15. Qxd4 c6) 12. Ne2 Nf5 (12... Bxf3 $5 13. gxf3 {makes some sense of White's position though} f6 14. f4 (14. Nf4 fxe5 15. Ne6 Qd7 16. Nxf8 Rxf8 {is very good for Black}) 14... fxe5 15. fxe5 Nf5 16. Bxf5 Rxf5 17. Kh1 Qh4 18. Rg1 Raf8 19. Rg2 {is just a fight.}) 13. Bxf5 Bxf5 {[#] JS: With the two bishops, good control of f5 and some pressure on d4, Black is now extremely comfortable.} 14. a3 $6 {The point of which was to prevent Nb4. However with pressure being applied to the base of the central pawn chain with Nc6 and Bb6, it was time to apply the next part of the Alapin plan} f6 $1 15. exf6 $6 ({Is there anything better? One of the many free binary demons suggest that} 15. Nf4 {is worth considering, but the simple} Bg4 {starts the irritation for White all over again.}) 15... Qxf6 16. h3 $2 {White moves to prevent the bishop from casuing any further issues, but the problem is} (16. Re1 $5 $17) 16... Bxh3 {It does.} 17. gxh3 $4 {Dubious moves usually travel in packs. This is just simply too obliging and White's game collapses faster than a NZ cricket batting lineup.} Qxf3 ({And not} 17... Qg6+ $4 18. Ng3) 18. Nf4 $4 {and this is just an extra piece} (18. Kh2 $19) 18... Rxf4 {So sue, I am a greedy sod} 19. Qxf3 (19. Bxf4 Qxf4 20. Qg4 Qxd4 21. Qe6+ Kh8 $19) 19... Rxf3 20. Kg2 Raf8 21. Rad1 Ne7 22. Kh2 Nf5 {And White threw in the towel. To put this game in perspective: of the five games over the board I have recorded against David Paul, this is the only win I have. Since I retired from club chess, David Paul has gone on to win the Kapiti Chess Club A Grade multiple times. Locally, he is one of the best players around. JS: A very good outing for the Alapin. Earl played very well but his opponent did indeed have very much an off day.} 0-1

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