Jon Speelman's Agony Column #8

by ChessBase
6/29/2016 – Which openings to play, going quickly all-out for an attack or patiently steering the game into quieter waters, which pieces to exchange and which to keep, where to put one's pawns, when to offer a draw and how to win a winning position against a higher-rated player. Questions that all come up - and are answered - in Jon Speelman's Agony Column #8.

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Agony Column #8

This week's pair of games are by Tomas Yttling (pictured) who is from Boden, a small town in the north of Sweden.

Tomas Ytting

Tomas, who is in his late thirties, was taught chess at about the age of five by his grandfather and soon joined the local chess club which will celebrate its centenary in November. He moved away from Boden and took a break from chess  from his late teens  onwards but returned to Boden in 2007 and rediscovered his love of chess. He has two sons Erik (b.2008) and Nils (b. 2010), whom ” I've both taught chess - they love the "Play Magnus" app!“.

A good club player - his current rating is 1922 and he has been about 2000, Tomas says that: “ My playing style was always quite wild - I loved the game of the old masters of the romantic era - but it seems that age has mellowed my taste and I find myself playing more positional games.”

Indeed, he has a good feel for pawn structure and both games feature black square binds. In the "Agony", he established a winning position against a higher rated player but then bottled it (*), offering a draw. In  the "Ecstasy" he carried out his positional plan to its logical conclusion in an endgame with a terrific knight against a terrible bishop.

(* I realise that bottled it is highly colloquial for an international forum. in English - rather than American English - it's slang for to lose your nerve at the last moment. I had to look up the etymology myself and it's a bit inconclusive)

[Event "Boden GP"] [Site "Boden"] [Date "2012.02.19"] [Round "?"] [White "Yttling, BSK."] [Black "Anders Öhman, Smarta Boden SS"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "1774"] [BlackElo "1974"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "63"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] {Tomas wrote: This is my favourite way of handling the Sicilian: Nc3, Bb5, Bxc6. I avoid the theoretical quagmire that is the main lines and still get a playable position. I was very pleased with how the opening went. The most agonizing thing about this game is the fact that I couldn't for the life of me find a win in the final position. I offered a draw - in no small part due to the fact that he was rated 200 points above me - and he of course accepted it. This game was played four years ago and looking at it now for the first time since then I can't believe I didn't play on - the position is a clear-cut win! } 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Bb5 e6 4. Bxc6 bxc6 5. d3 d6 {Perfectly reasonable but Black has tended to prefer ...d5. When I looked for a top level game I found this one where Ponomariov had more or less equalised round about move 15 and went on to win} (5... d5 6. f4 Nf6 7. Nf3 Ba6 8. e5 Nd7 9. O-O Be7 10. b3 O-O 11. Re1 c4 12. dxc4 dxc4 13. Ne4 Qc7 14. Qe2 c5 15. Qf2 Rfd8 16. Bb2 Bb7 17. Nfd2 cxb3 18. axb3 Nb6 19. c4 Rd3 20. Re3 Rxe3 21. Qxe3 a5 22. Ba3 Nd7 23. Nc3 Qc6 24. Qf2 f6 25. Nf3 fxe5 26. fxe5 Rf8 27. Nb5 Rf5 28. Bb2 Nf8 29. Nd6 Bxd6 30. exd6 Qxd6 31. Rxa5 Ng6 32. Qd2 Qxd2 33. Nxd2 Nf4 34. Nf3 Nd3 35. Bc3 e5 36. Ne1 Nc1 {0-1 (36) Hracek,Z (2595)-Ponomariov,R (2710) Calvia ESP 2004}) 6. f4 Rb8 $6 {This doesn't make sense given that White wants to play b3 anyway. } (6... Ne7 7. Nf3 Ng6 8. O-O Be7 {was normal when White might have a tiny edge.}) 7. b3 g6 8. Nf3 Bg7 9. e5 $1 {[#] Black is now under pressure on the black squares} Ne7 {It's already become quite sharp since Black needs to find something immediately to prevent a black square bind. Houdini suggested} (9... dxe5 10. fxe5 f5 {when White could just leave the pawn and it's also very possible to try} 11. exf6 Nxf6 {and now} 12. Bd2 {which keeps control.} (12. Bb2 $6 Nd5 13. Na4 Bxb2 14. Nxb2 Qf6 15. Nc4 Qc3+ {forcing} 16. Kf2 {is a real mess but}) 12... Nd5 13. Ne4 O-O 14. O-O {and I'd be delighted if Black took the rook.}) 10. Ne4 Nf5 11. g4 {Forcing matters} (11. Qd2 {also gave a clear advantage. Black could then try to randomise with} d5 ({not} 11... c4 12. Ba3) 12. Nxc5 Bf8 {but simply} 13. d4 $1 (13. Ba3 {is what he wants to play but then something like} Rb5 14. d4 Qa5 15. Qxa5 Rxa5 16. Bb4 Rb5 17. c3 Ne3 18. a4 Rb8 {is still messy}) 13... Bxc5 14. dxc5 {is pretty nasty.}) 11... d5 12. gxf5 dxe4 13. f6 Bxf6 14. dxe4 Be7 15. Qxd8+ Kxd8 16. c4 {[#] Fixing the weakness on c5} a5 17. Bd2 (17. Kd2 {looks better to me to get the b pawn securely protected. If then for example} Kc7 18. Kc3 a4 19. Be3 Rf8 20. Ne1 {en route to d3}) 17... a4 18. Ba5+ (18. Rb1 {looks better}) 18... Ke8 19. Rb1 h6 20. h4 Kf8 (20... Ra8 21. Bc7 axb3 22. axb3 Ra2 {would sow confusion and if} 23. O-O g5) 21. Bc7 Rb7 22. Bd6 Rd7 23. Bxe7+ Kxe7 24. Ke2 {Now White has control and since c5 is a permanent weakness, a serious advantage.} Ba6 25. Rhd1 Rb7 26. Kd2 Rhb8 27. Kc3 Rb4 {[#]} 28. Nd2 $1 {At first I thought that the knight might prefer to aim for d3 but of course if} (28. Ne1 $2 axb3 29. axb3 Bxc4) ( 28. Kc2 {was possible to prepare this by defending the rook but this might encourage a sacrifice on c4} Ra8 29. Ne1 axb3+ 30. axb3 Bxc4 31. bxc4 Rxc4+ { and Black is fighting}) 28... Rf8 $6 (28... axb3 29. axb3 {leaves White in full control with Rb1-a1-a5 imminent.}) (28... Ra8 {was slightly better than 28...Rf8 because if} 29. a3 Rb7 30. bxa4 Rxb1 31. Rxb1 Bc8 {White has to work to get organised but one very good line is} 32. Rc1 Rxa4 33. Kb2 Ba6 34. Nb3 Rxc4 35. Rxc4 Bxc4 36. Nxc5 {with excellent winning chances.}) 29. a3 Rb7 30. bxa4 f5 31. Rxb7+ Bxb7 32. Rg1 {[#] The tragedy of this game is that White, dazzled by his opponents 200 rating point advantage, now offered a draw! After} (32. Rg1 fxe4 33. Nxe4 Rxf4 34. Nxc5 {simplest though White can also win with} (34. Nd6 {aiming for a pin} Ba6 35. Rxg6 Rf3+ 36. Kd2 Rxa3 37. Rxh6 Rxa4 38. Rh7+ Kf8 39. Ra7 {and Black can try} Ra2+ 40. Kc3 Bxc4 41. Rf7+ Kg8 42. Kxc4 Re2 43. Kxc5 Rxe5+ 44. Kxc6 {but as you would imagine (and the seven piece Lomonosov databases confirm) this is winning}) 34... Bc8 35. Rxg6 {with an overwhelming advantage}) 1/2-1/2


[Event "BSK KM 2015"] [Site "Boden"] [Date "2015.01.30"] [Round "1"] [White "Tomas Yttling, BSK."] [Black "Stig Asplund, BSK."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C78"] [WhiteElo "1843"] [BlackElo "1802"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] [TimeControl "10/5400+30:1800"] {Tomas wrote: This game is from our local club championship. I selected this game because unlike most of my games where I go for the throat like a rabid dog, this time I took my time and developed a positional plan and managed to implement it (albeit with some help from my opponent) and win - maybe the first time in my life I won a game where in the end the material was equal! After I played 16. Bxg7 my plan took shape: fix his pawns on dark squares, trade the my remaining bishop for his knight, and then trade down the heavy pieces and win in the ending. I was so happy after this game!} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 (5... Nxe4 {is the normal way to play for the Open variation since b5 first gives White another option} 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5) 6. Bb3 Nxe4 7. Re1 (7. d4 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 {is the Open variation}) 7... Nc5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. Rxe5+ Ne6 10. Qf3 Rb8 11. d4 Be7 12. c3 Bf6 13. Re1 O-O 14. Bc2 g6 {This very slightly encourages White but is far from bad. Black could also play} (14... Re8 15. Nd2 d5 {when with the knight on e6 the potential weakness of c5 isn't a big deal.}) 15. Bh6 Bg7 16. Bxg7 Nxg7 { [#] White now has some advantage on the black squares but nothing special.} 17. b4 d5 $2 {Creating a nasty weakness on c5} 18. Nd2 Rb6 19. a4 Rf6 20. Qg3 {[#]} Nf5 $2 {This allows White to remain with a very good knight against a bad bishop.} (20... Bf5 {was much better though White certainly still keeps some advantage}) 21. Bxf5 $1 Bxf5 22. a5 $1 {fixing the a6 pawn as a permanent weakness.} Re6 23. Rxe6 Bxe6 24. Nb3 Bc8 25. Re1 Re8 26. Rxe8+ Qxe8 27. Qe5 Qxe5 {given how bad the ending is I suppose he should have kept the queens on with Qd8 though it's still grim} 28. dxe5 f6 (28... g5 29. f3 Kg7 30. Kf2 f6 31. exf6+ Kxf6 32. Ke3 Ke5 33. Nc5 {and White will drive Black back and should win}) 29. f4 Kf7 30. Nc5 fxe5 31. fxe5 g5 32. Kf2 Kg6 33. Ke3 h5 34. g3 Kf5 35. e6 $1 Kf6 36. Kd4 c6 37. h4 g4 {[#]} 38. Kd3 {Beginning a triangulation which hands the move to Black} Ke7 39. Ke3 Kd6 40. Kd4 Bxe6 41. Nxa6 {And Black resigned. An impressively smooth game.} 1-0

Many thanks for all of your games and comments and please keep them coming. However, I'm away this week at the World Senior Team Championship in Dresden and have only limited access to my email account so may not reply until the middle of next week.

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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