Jon Speelman's Agony Column #9

by ChessBase
7/6/2016 – In last week's "Agony Column" Jon Speelman showed two games that were rather positional, and steeped in the importance of pawn structure and colour complexes. This week he gives a hint how Black might get active play after 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 and presents two games that have positional aspects but are rather more violent and feature two vicious attacks with nice tactics.

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.


Agony Column #9

This weeks pair of games are by Chris Farmer, who is from Pennsylvania. Aged 38, he was briefly an amateur boxer, has ridden real bulls without sustaining serious injury and declares himself a "TOTAL Chess junkie" with 145 rated games since August!

He reads a lot of chess books and has recently been studying Genrikh Kasparyan's Domination in 2545 Endgame Studies, Lev Psakhis' Advanced Chess Tactics ("love it"), John Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy ("lots of new ideas to absorb but I figured it would be more fun than My System) and The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal.

Chris Farmer at a recent tournament in New Jersey

We start with the "Agony" in which Chris was the victim of a vicious kingside attack though its roots admittedly were positional, being based on his lack of control of the crucial e5 square. 

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "2016.01.05"] [Round "?"] [White "Ashrey, M."] [Black "Farmer, C."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A46"] [Annotator "Jonathan"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 {In his original email Chris wrote: I have really struggled getting active play versus 1.d4 and 2.Nf3. Any suggestions for Black to get a more dynamic game against this opening set-up? This is a set up which is very common at club level - and indeed at the moment at the very top as well with many queen's pawn games in which White plays a very early Bf4. These systems are less effective when Black has played ...g6 but of course he has to choose between e6 and g6 first before White commits himself to Bf4/Bg5. Already committed to e6, Michael Adams played a very nice game against Sergey Karjakin in Wijk aan Zee this year in which he managed to get control of e4. It appears separately below.} h6 4. Bf4 c5 5. e3 Nc6 6. c3 Be7 7. Bd3 d5 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. O-O {[#]} cxd4 $5 {This helps White by opening the e file so that it's easier to maintain control of e5 but he could have justified the decision next move} ({If Black wants to play} 9... Bd6 {then iit was much better immediately when if} 10. Ne5 Qc7 11. Ndf3 Nd7 {is fine for Black}) (9... b6 { was also possible of course}) 10. exd4 Bd6 $2 (10... Nh5 11. Be5 {is much more challenging than} (11. Be3 Bd6 {and Black has control of e5}) 11... f6 $5 ( 11... Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Nf4 13. Bb1) 12. Bg3 Nxg3 (12... Qb6 13. Nh4 Nxg3 14. hxg3 Qxb2) 13. hxg3 e5 14. c4 Bg4 {Black is loose on the white squares but fighting hard}) 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. Re1 {This is already distinctly unpleasant for Black since White has the enormously simple plan of planting a knight on e5 and then attacking.} a6 (12... Nd7 13. Qe2 {White will get in Ne5 anyway} Re8 14. Ne5 Ncxe5 15. dxe5 Qb6 16. Nf3 Nc5 17. Bc2 {and White will put the knight on d4 with a nice edge.}) 13. a4 {Not bad but not necessary since ...b5 won't achieve much for Black.} Re8 14. Ne5 Nd7 15. f4 {[#]} Ndxe5 $2 {This gives White a ready made attack but for example} (15... Nf8 16. Qh5 Re7 17. Re3 { is also very dangerous}) 16. fxe5 Qf8 17. Rf1 Ne7 18. Qf3 Bd7 19. Rf2 Nc6 { The knight needs to be nearer the king but it must be lost anyway.} 20. Raf1 Re7 21. g4 {[#]} g5 $2 {Panic but White has a massive attack anyway and Black no play at all.} 22. Qh3 Qg7 23. Rf6 Na5 24. Rxh6 1-0


[Event "78th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2016.01.27"] [Round "?"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Adams, Michael"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jon"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2016.01.15"] [SourceDate "2015.07.13"] {These are just my brief annotations at the time chucking in a few allegedly salient "variations" in conjunction with an engine.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 d5 3. e3 e6 4. Nf3 c5 5. c3 Nc6 6. Nbd2 Bd6 7. Bg3 O-O 8. Bd3 b6 9. Ne5 Bb7 10. f4 Ne7 11. Qf3 Nf5 12. Bf2 Be7 $1 {[#] The crucial point is that Adams was in time to get control of e4 after which Karjakin was always going to struggle to attack.} 13. g4 Nd6 14. g5 Nfe4 15. O-O-O c4 16. Bc2 (16. Bxe4 dxe4 17. Qg4) 16... b5 17. Qh3 b4 18. Nxe4 dxe4 19. Be1 Bd5 20. Rg1 (20. cxb4 Qc7 21. Rg1 c3 22. Bxc3 Nb5 23. Be1 Bxa2) 20... b3 (20... bxc3 21. Bxc3 Nb5 22. Kd2 Nxc3 23. bxc3 Qa5 24. Nd7) (20... Qa5 21. cxb4 Qxa2 22. Bc3 Nb5 23. Nd7 Nxc3 24. Nf6+ Bxf6 25. gxf6 Ne2+ 26. Kd2 Nxg1 27. Rxg1 c3+ 28. bxc3 Rfc8 29. Rxg7+ Kf8 30. Qxh7) 21. axb3 cxb3 22. Bb1 f5 23. gxf6 Bxf6 24. Rg4 (24. Qg2 Qc7 25. h4 a5) (24. Bf2 Qc7 25. Rg2 a5) (24. Ng4 Qc7 25. Qg2 a5) 24... Nf5 25. Kd2 Qa5 26. Ke2 Bxe5 27. dxe5 (27. fxe5 Qa1 28. Bd2 Qxb2 29. Rxe4 Bxe4 30. Bxe4 Rac8 31. Bxf5 Rxf5 32. e4 Rff8 33. Qxe6+ Kh8 34. Rf1 Qc2 $19) 27... Rad8 28. Kf2 Qa1 29. Bd2 Bc4 30. Qh5 {[#]} (30. Qh5 Qxb2 31. Ke1 Rxd2 32. Rxd2 Qxb1+) 0-1


[Event "New Jersey"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2009.09.27"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Chen, A."]
[Black "Farmer, C."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B75"]
[Annotator "Jonathan"]
[PlyCount "68"]
[EventDate "2009.??.??"]
[SourceDate "2015.07.13"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Qd2
Bd7 9. O-O-O h5 {Chris wrote: I picked up the delayed castling idea from
Andrew Martin's Starting Out: The Sicilian Dragon.} 10. Be2 Ne5 11. g3 Rc8 12.
h3 Nc4 13. Bxc4 Rxc4 14. g4 h4 15. Nde2 Qa5 {[#]} 16. g5 $2 {This helps Black}
(16. Kb1 Be6 17. Bd4 {is more ambitious and must be at least a bit better for
White} (17. Nd5 $5 {is simpler and "safer" in the short run at least} Qxd2 18.
Rxd2 a6 19. Nb6 Rc6 {and White has some space and h4 needs looking after but
 Black has the two bishops which could become the dominant factor if White
played weakly.})) 16... Nh5 17. Bf2 Ng3 $1 18. Bxg3 hxg3 19. h4 b5 20. Kb1 Be6
{[#]} 21. a3 $2 {givng Black a target} (21. Nd5 Qxd2 22. Rxd2 g2 23. Rh2 {
is nevertheless clearly better for Black especially if he finds} Rd4 24. Rxd4
Bxd4 25. Rxg2 Rxh4) 21... O-O (21... b4 $1 {was more forcing and "stronger" in
theory though very hard to calculate with confidence in practice.} 22. Nd5 (22.
Na2 Bxb2 $1 23. axb4 Rxb4 $1) 22... Bxd5 23. Qxd5 Qa6 $1 {not at all an easy
move to foresee} 24. axb4 g2 25. Rhg1 Rxb4 26. c3 Qxe2 $1 27. Qc6+ (27. Qa8+
Kd7 28. Qxa7+ Kc6 $1) 27... Kd8 28. Rxd6+ exd6 29. Qxd6+ Kc8 30. Qc5+ Kb7 31.
Qxb4+ Ka8 {and Black should win}) 22. Rdg1 Rfc8 23. Rxg3 Rxc3 24. Nxc3 Rxc3 {
[#]} 25. Kc1 Qa4 (25... b4 $1 {was an easy win} 26. bxc3 Bxc3 27. Qe3 bxa3 {
is completely over}) 26. bxc3 Qxa3+ 27. Kd1 Bxc3 28. Qg2 $2 (28. Qe3 {was
necessary to retain Qc1 as a defence though Black is winning if he realises
that he has complete control and can often simply advance the a pawn} Qa1+ 29.
Qc1 Qa2 30. Rhg1 {to protect the rook since if} (30. h5 Bb2 31. Qe3 Qb1+) (30.
Rgh3 b4 31. f4 Bg4+) 30... b4 31. Qe3 {else b3} (31. f4 b3) 31... Bc4 32. f4 (
32. h5 Qa1+ 33. Qc1 Qa6 34. Qe3 Be2+ 35. Qxe2 Qa1#) 32... a5 33. f5 a4 34. fxg6
fxg6 35. e5 a3 {[#] and the a-pawn decides matters}) ({not} 28. Qc1 $2 Bb2)
28... Qa1+ 29. Ke2 Bc4+ 30. Ke3 Bd4+ 31. Kd2 Bc3+ 32. Ke3 Qa3 $1 {and the king
is defenseless} 33. f4 Be1+ 34. Kd4 Qc5# {[#] Checkmate} 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

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register