Jon Speelman's Agony Column #6

by ChessBase
6/15/2016 – It is easy to suffer agonies in the opening, particularly so when your opponent surprises you on move five with a gambit that looks dubious but turns out to be surprisingly venomous. But what a delight it is to stick to one's favorite opening and convincingly counter attempts to overrun you. Jon Speelman presents both, the agony and the ecstasy.

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Agony Column #6

This week's two lively games are by Carl Portman who plays for the Banbury chess club in the Oxford League. This includes two clubs from Oxford University: Pieces and Pawns; and four decades ago when I studied maths I used to play for Pawns while John Nunn led Pieces.

Mr Portman, who is married and in his early fifties, served for 30 years in the Ministry of Defence and is editor of the Combined Services Chess Magazine Open File. He's done a great deal of chess organising, much of it charity work, including fostering the development of “Chess in Prisons” for which he received an award from the English Chess Federation as you can see in this photograph.

He's currently rated 152 which translates to just over 1800 though has been considerable higher.

His "Agony"  is strictly speaking hardly that since he finishes the annotations with the comment "What a fascinating game." But it is a battle he lost after a very hard fight.

[Event "British Chess Ch'ships 2012"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.07.31"] [Round "2"] [White "Portman, Carl"] [Black "Hempson, Peter"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A01"] [WhiteElo "168"] [BlackElo "188"] [Annotator "Carl Portman"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {CP: This will go down as one of the maddest opening phases to any game I have ever been involved in. Hempson has been around for a long time and is a good player.} 1. b3 Nf6 2. Bb2 d6 3. f4 e5 $5 {CP: Diagram [#] Wow, what is all this? I had to consider what was happening here. Obviously he wasn't going to give me a pawn for nothing but what's the deal? I am White and already caught cold, having to calculate at the board.} 4. fxe5 (4. e3 {JS: Was conceivable when if} exf4 5. exf4 Be7 {I don't much like the move f4 but I suppose White can try to pretend that it's useful.}) 4... dxe5 {Diagram [#]} 5. Bxe5 { CP: I looked long and hard at this and decided that a pawn is a pawn and that I could parry any threats. Interestingly Fritz likes the move 5.e3, refusing to take the gambit pawn. JS: This is a sort of From's Gambit (1.f4 e5 2. fxe5 d6) where White has wasted three moves with his bishop. It's therefore most unsurprising that Black has a way to punish him.} Ng4 6. Bg3 (6. Bc3 Bd6 7. Nf3 Bxh2 {even stronger than} (7... Nxh2 8. d3 Bg3+ 9. Kd2 Ng4 10. Bxg7 Rg8 11. Bd4 ) 8. Rxh2 Nxh2 9. d3 Nxf3+ 10. gxf3 Qh4+ 11. Kd2 {This would be a reasonable punt for White in a blitz game but is obviously nonsense really.}) 6... Qf6 7. Nc3 (7. c3 Bd6 8. Nh3 {JS: was much the best chance} (8. Nf3 Bxg3+ 9. hxg3 Qd6 10. Rh3 Nf6) 8... Nxh2 9. Bxd6 (9. Bxh2 Bxh2 10. Rxh2 Qh4+ 11. g3 Qxg3+ 12. Rf2 Bxh3 {leaves Black a clear pawn up with the safer king}) 9... Qxd6 10. Nf2 { and this isn't too bad at all - I could almost imagine Baadur Jobava playing it as White! - it's crucial that if 10...Qg3 11.Qc2 defends.}) 7... Ne3 $1 {CP: Diagram [#] I totally overlooked this move. He was just bashing out the moves so he knew this line well. I admit to having been well and truly bamboozled. Now Fritz has white as almost a whole piece down. JS: To be fair, you don't need to know the line to see that Ne3! is tremendous,} 8. dxe3 Bb4 $2 {CP: Played instantly but a bit too flashy. Easily better was 8...Qxc3+} (8... Qxc3+ 9. Kf2 Bc5 10. Qc1 (10. Bf4 Qf6 $1 {is disastrous}) 10... Nd7 11. Nf3 Nf6 12. Bf4 Ne4+ {JS: and White gets what his opening play deserved!}) 9. Nf3 Bxc3+ 10. Kf2 Bxa1 11. Bh4 {CP: Now I am threatening mate on d8. Cracking stuff. Mind you my white squared bishop is in dire straits.} Qd6 12. Qxa1 O-O {Diagram [#]} 13. g4 {CP: Very bad, but I wanted to release my bishop. I thought if he took it I could have an open file for a rook towards his king but actually I had superior options. JS: Personally I like g4 even if the engines don;t. White needs to create play and in a blitz game I could easily imagine bashing the move out in an instant.} ( 13. Qd4 Qc6 14. c4 Nd7 15. g4 Nc5 {JS: and White's compensation is very questionable anyway}) 13... f6 14. Bg2 Nc6 15. Rd1 Qe7 16. Nd4 (16. h3 { was better}) 16... Ne5 17. h3 {[#]} c6 $6 {JS: A perfectly good move but there was a much better one} (17... Bxg4 $1 18. Bxb7 (18. hxg4 Nxg4+ 19. Kg3 Nxe3 20. Rd3 (20. Bxb7 Rad8) 20... c5 {and White is blown away}) 18... Rad8 19. Bg2 c5 20. Nf3) 18. Qc3 Bd7 19. Kg1 Rae8 20. e4 g6 21. Bf2 {JS: The two bishops now give White decent compensation for the exchange but he is heavily burdened by the damaged pawn structure - were the e2 pawn on f3 then he would be quite comfortable.} c5 22. Nf3 b6 23. Nxe5 {JS: Fixing a target on e5 but opening the f file.} fxe5 24. Bg3 Bc6 25. b4 $5 {JS: My first impression is that I don't much like this because it weakens White's queenside, creating targets for Black's pieces later. If lines open then that will generally be good for Black's rooks. Perhaps he should have curled up in a ball with} (25. Bf3 Qc7 26. Kg2 Rf7 27. Qc4 Kg7 28. Rd3 $1 {an exchange of rooks will be fine if White can repair the pawn structure - otherwise it would be terrible} Rd7 {and here Houdini wants me to play b4 though I'd be inclined to sit with} 29. a4 a5 30. Qc3) 25... Bb5 $2 {JS: A bad mistake} (25... Rd8 $1 {was strong contesting the d-file before White is ready. If then} 26. Rd3 Bb5 $1 27. Rxd8 (27. Rd5 Rxd5 28. exd5 cxb4) (27. bxc5 {even occurred to me (JS) as a fighting chance} Bxd3 28. exd3 Qxc5+ 29. Qxc5 bxc5 30. Bxe5 {and although the two bishops are potentially splendid, White is certainly dead lost.}) (27. Bxe5 Bxd3 28. cxd3 cxb4 29. Qb2 Qc5+ 30. Kh2 Rf2 31. Bg3 Qc3) 27... Rxd8 {and White looks in trouble though he can certainly try to create threats down the long diagonal after e5 falls.} 28. bxc5 (28. Bxe5) 28... Qxc5+ 29. Qxc5 bxc5) 26. Qb3+ $2 ( 26. Rd5 $1 {would have annexed e5 and when White retains enough pieces this can be really dangerous. A plausible continuation is} Rc8 27. Rxe5 Qf7 28. Bf3 {which is thoroughly unclear.}) 26... Qf7 27. bxc5 Bxe2 28. Qxf7+ Rxf7 29. Rd2 Bc4 30. cxb6 axb6 31. Bf2 b5 {[#] JS: Black now has a clear advantage partly because of his material advantage but mainly because his pieces are so good and especially the wonderful bishop on c4. As a great deal of chess does, it comes down to pawn structure. If the white pawn on a2 were on b2 then he would be about equal. Nevertheless as long as White retains his rook he should be able to create chances.} 32. a3 Rc7 33. Bb6 Rc6 34. Ba5 g5 35. Bb4 Rf6 36. Bc5 Ree6 37. Be3 h6 {[#]} 38. Bf2 $4 {CP: I knew when I played it that I should have gone to c5 to prevent Black's next move. JS: This is a terrible move (easily his worst of the game) because it allows Black to exchange rooks after which White has no counterplay. The king can go to e6 to defend the e pawn and then the rook and bishop can probe.} (38. Bc5 $1 {would have prevented this and left the outcome very much in doubt.}) 38... Rd6 $1 39. Be3 Rxd2 40. Bxd2 Kf7 41. Bc3 Ke6 42. Bb4 Rf7 43. Bc5 Kf6 44. Bb4 Rd7 45. Bf3 Ba2 46. Be2 Bc4 47. Bf3 Rc7 48. Kf2 Ba2 $1 {Inducing White's next move to create another entry square for the rook.} 49. c3 (49. Bd1 Bb1) 49... Bc4 50. Bf8 Rc8 51. Bd6 Rd8 52. Bc5 Rd2+ 53. Kg1 Rd3 54. Be2 Rxc3 55. Bxc4 Rxc4 56. Bb4 Rxe4 57. Kf2 Rc4 58. Kg3 e4 {CP: Diagram [#] What a fascinating game. JS: A very interesting battle. Hit in the opening as early as move 3, White overestimated his chances when he took the bait but found a nice way to bail out to an inferior but still playable position. After many adventures, he was still defending himself before the crucial blunder of allowing the exchange of rooks which effectively ended the game.} 0-1

Mr Portman's "Ecstasy" is a nice crisp win against an opponent who tried for too much in the opening and paid the price.

[Event "Daventry v Banbury"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.11.26"] [Round "?"] [White "Lawson, Tim"] [Black "Portman, Carl"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "146"] [BlackElo "151"] [Annotator "Carl Portman"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {CP: Tim can be a bit gung ho - often with good results, so I stuck to what I knew in the face of uncertainty. I played the French Defence a lot at that time so why change?} 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 {CP: The French Tarrasch. There are some tremendous lines in this opening. Tim said after that he was thinking of just playing the exchange variation, I am so pleased that he didn't.} Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ndf3 Qb6 8. Ne2 Be7 {[#]} 9. g4 $2 {JS: In this line, White sets up a huge centre but lags in development. If he can keep the centre intact then he should have an excellent position. But this is far from easy since Black can snipe at it either with ...f6 as in this game or sometimes even ...g5. Black sometimes arranges to give check on b4 and this can be very disruptive since Bd2 will interrupt the defence of the d-pawn while if Kf2 and an exchange on d4 the d pawn will be pinned. If fxe5 fxe5 has already occurred then Nxe5 will simply win a pawn while there are also lines in which Black sacrifces a knight to detonate the centre and attack. The conclusion, without going into huge theoretical details, is that White needs to be extremely accurate over the next few moves and g4 is much too gung-ho. The main alternatives are:} (9. g3 O-O 10. Bh3 cxd4 11. cxd4 f6 12. Bxe6+ Kh8 13. exf6 Nxf6 {has been played in a number of games Black has good compensation for the pawn but not necessarily more.}) (9. a3 a5 {and now somewhat to my surprise I see that White often plays} 10. f5) (9. h4 {is also sometimes played definitely preventing ...g5 and preparing to develop the rook on h3} cxd4 10. cxd4 f6 11. a3 O-O 12. Rh3 {Now the piece sacrifice looks unsound since White gets too much central control} fxe5 (12... Na5 {however is perfectly reasonable}) 13. fxe5 Ndxe5 14. dxe5 Nxe5 15. Nxe5 Qf2+ 16. Kd2 Qxf1 17. Qxf1 Rxf1) 9... f6 10. Ng3 cxd4 11. Nxd4 (11. cxd4 fxe5 12. fxe5 O-O { is disastrous for White. The knight does absolutely nothing on g3 and if for example} 13. a3 Rxf3 14. Qxf3 Nxd4 15. Qd1 Nxe5 {Black already has two centre pawns for the exchange and will certainly get more if White escapes total destruction}) 11... Nxd4 12. Qxd4 $6 {This should lose. If} (12. cxd4 fxe5 13. fxe5 O-O 14. Qd3 Nb8 $1 {when} 15. Bd2 Qxb2 16. Qc3 {os the least bad option.}) (12. exf6 Bxf6 13. g5 $1 {was much the best chance since at least Black has a confusing variety of options though several are good including simply} Nc6 14. gxf6 Nxf6) 12... Bc5 13. Qd2 fxe5 14. f5 {[#]Less awful than capturing on e5} Nf6 {White's position is such a mess that Black really doesn't have to do much more than get developed and fthere were plenty of other good moves for example} (14... O-O 15. b4 Be7 16. Be2 Qc7 17. O-O Nb6) (14... e4 {was also a more forcing way to play and if} 15. b4 Be7 16. fxe6 Qxe6 17. Nf5 Bf6 18. Be2 O-O) 15. Qg5 $6 {Not a real threat but it was awful anyway} exf5 (15... Bf2+ $1 16. Ke2 O-O 17. Bg2 Bd7 {was murder}) 16. Nxf5 Bxf5 17. gxf5 Bf2+ 18. Ke2 O-O-O ( 18... O-O 19. Bg2 e4 20. Qf4 Bc5 {was also tremendous}) 19. Bg2 h6 20. Qg6 Rd6 (20... d4 {was even cleaner since if} 21. Kxf2 dxc3+ 22. Be3 Rd2+ {and White loses the bishop sicne if} 23. Kf3 e4+ 24. Kf4 Qd6#) 21. Rf1 {Diagram [#]} Bh4 $6 (21... Qb5+ 22. Kxf2 Ne4+ {or the immediate}) (21... Ne4 {were both completely winning}) 22. Kd3 $6 {CP: After a long think, but it is poor. Something like 22.Rf3 was called for. JS: This does make it easy for Black but everything was lost anyway.} Qb5+ 23. Kc2 Qe2+ 24. Bd2 Ne4 25. Bxe4 Qxe4+ { Diagram [#] White resigned. CP: I was pleased with this game and sticking to my guns in the French. Importantly though I had not played against the g4 thrust before I kept the opening PRINCIPLES in mind rather than just trying to remember the moves. JS: A nice game in which Black punished White's over ambitious opening play with a powerful attack.} 0-1

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

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