Speelman's Agony: Join the fun!

by Jonathan Speelman
4/19/2017 – The Agony and Ecstasy column offers readers a unique chance to have their games analysed by one of the greats, who was once world no.4, not to mention a prolific author. As if that weren’t enough, you get a free one-month Premium subscription to ChessBase Account. This month, Jonathan Speelman dissects one of his own recent painful losses, to share his Agony with you as well as what he learned.

ChessBase 14 Download ChessBase 14 Download

Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. Start your personal success story with ChessBase 14 and enjoy your chess even more!

Along with the ChessBase 14 program you can access the Live Database of 8 million games, and receive three months of free ChesssBase Account Premium membership and all of our online apps! Have a look today!


Over the past year, this column has provided  a showcase for people to demonstrate their triumphs and disasters. After the launch, I was inundated with games and most people I speak to imagine that there is still a huge backlog. But the tsunami has abated and in truth the water level is now quite low. I would therefore very much appreciate a further influx of games. Please do send them (a pair of Agony and Ecstasy games is best, preferably as a .pgn or a compressed ChessBase .cbv file). And if you're quick then the waiting time to publication could be quite modest.

For the moment, this week I'm going to temporise with my own modest Agony from the last round of the Polar Capital Open In Jersey.

Those not familiar with the names of this event, might think Polar Capital somehow indicated the whereabouts of the tournament, such as above, but far from it. Polar Capital is the investment firm that sponsored the competition.

Furthermore, nor is Jersey a reference to the state across the Hudson river from New York. It is rather the small island nation between Great Britain and France, and its temperatures are as steady as can be, with an average summer of just 14 C. (56 F.), but an average low in the winter of 4 C (38 F.). Cool, but nothing 'polar' about it.

This started with myself and IMs Jack Rudd and Alan Merry first equal. We all had Black but while they both won against relatively weak opposition I was playing Mark Hebden and had this rather disastrous game, which, in mitigation, did start at 10am. Rudd, who was first on tie-break, and Merry finished on 7.0/9 the excellent teenager Daniel Abbas made 6.5/9 and all three grandmaster, myself, Hebden and Tiger Hillarp-Persson finished on a modest 6.0/9

Before going to the game, which of course is the meat of the article, consider the position below:

Mark Hebden - Jon Speelman


Not realizing it, as he will explain in his game notes, Speelman misplayed this key moment. It is not a simple 'Black to play and win (or not lose!)', and serious calculation is required. Study it, jot down your main lines, and then go to the game to compare. It will be time well spent!

Agony (Mark Hebden vs Jonathan Speelman)

[Event "Jersey op"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.04.08"] [Round "9"] [White "Hebden, M."] [Black "Speelman, J."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E14"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2017.02.19"] {Mark and I have played quite a lot of games over the years and in recent times White, which admittedly I've had much more often than him, has scored very heavily. In the blitz tournament a few days earlier, I'd played a Modern Defence but this time I went, as I fondly hoped, for "solidity".} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. e3 {Mark most often plays 3.c3 here followed by Bg5 and indeed I had prepared that in some detail. Of course he also plays the Tromp and systems with an early Bf4.} b6 4. Bd3 Bb7 5. O-O Be7 ({If you want to play ...d5 then it's a good idea to play it now when if} 5... d5 6. c4 {you can simply play dxc4.} ({or otherwise White can play a system with} 6. b3)) 6. c4 c5 (6... O-O 7. Nc3 d5 8. cxd5 exd5 {gets a perfectly playable position of course if Black likes.}) 7. Nc3 cxd4 (7... O-O 8. d5 exd5 9. cxd5 d6 (9... Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Bxd5 11. Bxh7+ {is far from great for Black.}) 10. e4 Nbd7 11. h3 a6 12. a4 { is a Benoni type position where White must start with a clear edge.}) (7... a6 {prepares to exchange on d4 and play ...d5 but White can if he wishes make it a Hedgehog with} 8. e4 cxd4 9. Nxd4) (7... d5 8. cxd5 {is of course also possible}) 8. exd4 d5 9. cxd5 Nxd5 10. Ne5 O-O 11. Qg4 Nf6 (11... f5 12. Qe2 Bf6 {would certainly avoid the atack but is a bit ugly for Black.}) 12. Qh4 { [#]} Nc6 $4 {I bashed this out quite quickly but it's actually a very bad mistake.} (12... Ne4 13. Qh3 Qxd4 14. Bf4 Nf6 15. Ne2 {is critical but White gets a huge amount for the pawn and if you analyse with an engine for sufficiently long it turns out that his initiative should win at least the exchange:} Qa4 16. Rfc1 {played by Mark a couple of times} Na6 ({it's possible that} 16... Ba6 {is better but it's such an ugly move that I'd be very loth to repeat this line unless 16...Na6 were playable and sadly it's a bit dodgy.}) 17. Bg5 $5 (17. Rc4 {is the more obvious alternative but after} Qa5 {Black is alright according to my learned silicon friends.} (17... Qe8 18. Ng4 g6 19. Nh6+ Kg7 20. Be5 Nc5 21. Rxc5 bxc5 22. Qh4 {is one disastrous line})) 17... Rfd8 $1 ({If} 17... Rfc8 18. Nc3 $1 Qe8 ({if} 18... Qd4 19. Bxf6 Bxf6 20. Qxh7+ Kf8 {then White has the diabolically anti-positional} 21. Bxa6 $1 Bxa6 22. Qh8+ Ke7 23. Nc6+ Kd7 24. Qxc8+ (24. Qh5 $1 {is actually even stronger.}) 24... Rxc8 25. Nxd4 Bxd4 {and although Black can fight with the two bishops, without a single pawn of compensation it's bound to be an up hill struggle.}) 19. Bxf6 Bxf6 20. Qxh7+ Kf8 21. Bb5 {wins.}) 18. Nc3 Qe8 19. Bxf6 Rxd3 $1 20. Qxd3 Bxf6) (12... Nbd7 {takes the pressure off d4 but may be playable. Even if it is, it's not a position I'd aim for as Black in a hurry.} 13. Rd1 (13. Qh3 Re8 14. Bg5 Nf8 {is what Black wants} 15. Bb5 Qxd4 {looks perfectly playavkle.}) (13. Bg5 h6 14. Nxd7 (14. Bxh6 Nxe5) 14... Qxd7 15. Bxh6 gxh6 16. Qxh6 Qxd4 { is just a draw.}) 13... Ne4 (13... g6 14. Bh6 Re8 15. Bb5 a6 16. Bc6 Qc8 17. Bxb7 Qxb7 18. Bg5 Nxe5 19. dxe5 Nd5 20. Ne4 Rac8) 14. Qh3 Ndf6 15. d5 Nxc3 16. bxc3 Bxd5 (16... exd5 17. Nd7 g6 18. Nxf8 Bxf8) 17. Bg5 g6 18. c4 (18. Qh4 h6 19. Bxh6 Nd7 20. Qg3 Nxe5 21. Qxe5 Bf6 22. Qg3 Qb8) 18... Qc7 {and Black survives and hence is perfectly okay.}) 13. Bg5 $1 {[#] For some reason (it being 10.30ish in the morning is one charitable explanation) I'd completely failed to realise how devastating this is, initially missing that if Nxe5 Bxf6! } ({If} 13. Rd1 Qxd4 $1 {which I absolutely didn't see, gives Black the advantage.}) 13... Re8 $2 {Trying to tough it out but I should have attempted to make a game of it with Nxe5} (13... g6 14. Ba6 $1 {is a well known trick. Black can struggle on with} h6 $1 {but after} 15. Bxh6 Nxe5 16. Bxb7 Nfg4 17. Qh3 Qxd4 18. Bxf8 Rxf8 19. Rad1 {White should win fior example} Qb4 20. Bf3 Nf6 21. Rd2 Kg7 22. Be2 Rh8 23. Qg3 Bd6 24. a3 Qc5 25. b4 Qc7 26. f4 Nh5 27. Bxh5 Rxh5 28. Nb5 Bc5+ 29. bxc5 Qxc5+ 30. Rdf2 Nc4 31. Qc3+ Kh7 32. a4 a6 33. Nd4 Rd5 34. Nf3 {1-0 (34) Gausel,E (2500)-Wilde,P (2285) Recklinghausen GER 1999}) (13... h6 $2 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Qe4 g6 16. Nxc6 Qd6 17. Qf3 Bxd4 18. Be4 { and White has simply won a piece}) (13... Nxe5 $8 {was the only way to put up a decent fight.} 14. Bxf6 Nxd3 15. Bxe7 Qc7 16. Bxf8 Rxf8 17. Qg3 {and for example} Qc4 18. Rab1 Qxd4 19. Rbd1 $1 {rather than Rfd1 keeps f2 protected so that if} Ba6 (19... Rd8 20. h3) 20. Qc7 {is possible}) 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 15. Qxh7+ Kf8 16. Be4 {[#]} Qc8 $6 (16... Nxd4 17. Bxb7 Bxe5 18. f4 Bf6 19. Bxa8 Qxa8 20. Ne4 Ke7 21. Nxf6 gxf6 {is surely lost but better - or rather less bad - than what happened.}) 17. Bxc6 Bxc6 18. Rac1 Qb7 (18... Bxe5 19. dxe5 Qb7 20. Rfd1 { is absolutely terrible. White is in no hurry whatsoever to play Qh8+ and if} Bxg2 21. Nb5 Bh1 22. Qh8+ Ke7 23. Rc7+ Qxc7 24. Qh4+ {Black gets what he deserves.}) 19. Nxc6 Qxc6 20. d5 $1 exd5 $6 {[#]} ({If} 20... Qd7 {there are many winning lines most notably} 21. Nb5 Rac8 22. Rxc8 Rxc8 (22... Qxc8 23. Nd6 ) 23. Qh8+ Ke7 24. d6+ Qxd6 25. Qxc8) 21. Nb5 $1 Qe6 ({Of course if} 21... Qxb5 22. Rc7 {and mate follows.}) 22. Nc7 (22. Rce1 Be5 (22... Qxe1 23. Qh8+) 23. f4 {also won outright.}) 22... Qe4 23. Qh8+ Ke7 24. Qh3 {And here I resigned.} ( 24. Qh3 Rh8 25. Qa3+ Kd7 26. Nxa8 Rxa8 27. Rfe1 Qf4 {is obviously totally busted. In fact} 28. Qa6 {is the most decisive move of all.}) 1-0

Submit your games

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.

Send your games either directly to ChessBase via the Feedback form below, or directly to the author's email.

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 (MyGames.chessbase.com), 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.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register