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The four pawns attack as black likes it March 7, 2009

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, personal.
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The four-pawns attack of the Alechin defense arises after the sequence 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.d4 d6 5.f4. White goes all in for a direct attack, exploiting the wandering black knight to gain space in the center. This variation has received a lot of attention since the early days of the Alechin Defense, and it has seen in particular some interesting developments during the seventies, by the sapient hands of Jugoslav players.

I play the Alechin defense as black, and I often find myself struggling in extremely sharp positions when the four-pawns attack is played. It is white’s choice to enter that variation, and one should be prepared well on the main variations, since one faux pas may be fatal. However, these days I cannot afford the luxury of spending time on chess openings, so I have to rely on my experience on the general ideas of the positions that arise.

This evening I played a game that turned out to be a clear (although most probably not clean) example of the thematic tactical motives of the positions that arise in the four-pawns attack. It was a 5′ blitz game on the ICC, so I should be forgiven (as should my unnamed opponent) for any unchecked blunders -I have not fed the moves to a chess engine yet. So here are the moves of the game, with minimal commentary.

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.f4 dxe5 6.fxe5 Nc6 7.Be3 Bf5 8.Nc3 e6 9.Nf3 Be7 (see diagram below)

We have reached a tabiya, a standard position in the four-pawns attack. Here white has the choice of the solid, positional play that arises after 10.Be2 0-0 11.0-0 f6 12.exf6, or the more aggressive, bold play involving a central push and a swift assault on the black kingside. My opponent chose the second way.

10.d5 exd5 11.cxd5 Nb4 12.Nd4 Bd7 13.e6 fxe6 14.dxe6 Bc6 15.Qg4 Bh4+ 16.g3 Bxh1

We are still playing moves that are in most chess textbooks. White has given up the exchange -the difference in value between a rook and a light piece- but he has a positional advantage and the initiative for it.

17.0-0-0 Qf6 18.gxh4 0-0 19.Be2 Qe5!?N 20.Bh6

Here I vaguely remembered a game I played six or seven hundred years ago, at a national tournament, when I was taken by surprise by the last move of the white pieces. The most used move here, I recalled -and the only one I was prepared to answer- is 20.Bg5. I tried to squeeze my brains for the textbook variation, but I only recalled that the black rook used to end invading the second rank. The move 20….Rf2 did not look that bad, so I played it, letting my opponent spend time to think on its merits. However, I was wrong. The move 19….Qe5 was a mix-up of two variations, and turns out to be a novelty in this position: not a bad move, however.

20…. Rf2?! 21.Rxh1 Kh8 22.Bg5?

Black’s twentieth move was not good, since now, instead than 22.Bg5, white could have acquired a sizable advantage by 22.Nf3!, attacking the queen while she is still forced to defend the g7 square. Instead the move chosen by white justifies black’s sortie on the seventh rank: black has free hands to attack now.

I felt pretty sure of what I needed to do. The pivot of the white position is the Nd4: it is an octopus rather than a knight, but kick it away from there, and it causes white more trouble than benefits. The move I played is a thematic push in this position, aimed at taking control of the center, defending the black Nb4 from horizontal attacks by the white queen, and caressing ideas of a pawn storm of the white king. I felt it in my bones that this move should be played. Of course a computer might prove it a blunder: but at blitz, these moves bring home a lot of points.

22…. c5! 23.Nf3?

This move is very bad, and is the cause of white’s loss. Now, disregarding the attack on the his queen, black takes total control.

23…. Nxa2+! 24.Kc2? Rxe2+ 25.Nxe2 Qxe2+ 26.Kb1

And what now ? The black Na2 is under attack. Black is a pawn up, but he needs to be precise. On 26….Nb4 27.Qf5 white seems capable to hold. But here comes a silent killer:

26…. Nc4!

White is powerless: he has no means to defend the b2 square from the simple threat of Qxb2 mate. White played

27.Bc1 Nxc1 28.Kxc1

but after the precise


he had to resign. There is no way to avoid Qb2 mate, other than sacrificing the queen. Note that 28…. Nb4! would also have been an excellent move. Here many continuations win for black.

I was pleased with this short game, which shows that the position arising from the four-pawns attack is dangerous for white just as much as it is for black!

A pretty knight journey February 21, 2009

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, personal.
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I give below the moves of a blitz game I played tonight on the Internet Chess Club. The moves are not accurate, as we had just five minutes each to complete the game, and we are both dilettantes. But the attack I played was so simple it played itself, so maybe this is a good training example… I am white against a first-category player (HerrTrigger his ICC handle).

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Nc3 Bb4 7.Bd3 0-0 8.0-0 d5 9.exd5 cxd5 10.Bg5 c6 11.Qf3,
Up to now, nothing of our own making – you can find the above sequence on any chess opening book. It is called “Scotch game”; this particular variation is not known for causing black any particular opening problem, but white’s setup is solid and lends itself to a quick kingside surge, if black does not play the most accurate moves.

Sub-optimal. Black has to be careful of his dark squares, and the pin of the Nf6 required more attention. Now white gets a clear initiative.
The start of a straightforward idea – Ne2-d4-f5 will further weaken the dark squares around the black king.
12…. Rb8 13.Nd4
Now Nxc6 is threatened, and the queen cannot defend the pawn since it is tied to the defence of the Nf6.
But this is surely a mistake. Black places the lightsquared bishop on a passive square, blocking the open b-file for some counterplay by the Rb8, and totally leaves the f5 square undefended.
14.Nf5 Be5

This is the position bfore the  start of the final attack. First of all, the black bishop is targeted, gaining a tempo with the rook.
15.Rfe1 Qc7
Now black threatens Bxh2+, but this is not really a problem for white. Instead, the logical conclusion of the knight manouver is in the air…
If now black takes the N, white wins both by 17.Qf5 and by means of the pretty 17.Rxe5! Qxe5 (17…. hxg5 18.Rxg5+ Kh8 19.Qxf6 mate) 18.Bxf6, and black is soon mated (18…Qe6 19.Qg3+).
16….Kh8 17.Bxf6!

The simplest way to win. Black resigned, since on both 17….Bxf6 and 17….gxf6 there follows 18.Qf5 and there is no way to avert Qxh7 mate, while on 17….Bxh2+ 18.Kh1 Qf4 19.Qh5 Qxf6 (19….Qxh6?20.Qxh6) 20.Nxf7+! Kg8 21.Bxh7+ is mate. The Nc3-e2-d4-f5-h6 manouver is pretty in this game, since all the moves are active, and by threatening in turn the c6 pawn, the d6 bishop, and the king the knight takes the lion’s share of merit for the attack.

One word of warning: the above variations are the result of some thoughts on the game diagram, without even moving pieces on a real chessboard, let alone running a check with Fritz. So I am most likely going to be refuted by deeper silicon analysis… To me, the game and the variations still look quite logical in their development and conclusion!

Small satisfactions February 12, 2009

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, personal.
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This evening I worked out some small satisfaction for myself by routing in turn an international master, Guido Kern (Dorot his ICC handle), and the South Carolina State champion of 2007, Timur Aliyev (gatorchess his handle), at blitz chess on the Internet Chess Club.

The game with Kern was not very correct: we both committed several mistakes. Normal stuff, when you have an average 5 seconds per move. Here is a position from the game:

I am white, and it is my turn to move. The move sequence is very simple to guess, so I will give it without further ado. I played simply 17.Nxe4! Nxe4 18.Bxe4, having seen from the start that after 18….Rae8 19.Bxd5+ Kh8 20.Qg5 I would end up with a large advantage. The game continued 20…. Bg6 21.Bf7! Qe7 22.Bxe8, and with an exchange and two pawns of advantage I converted to an easily won ending in a few more moves.

In the game with Aliyev, I played a much more impressive kingside attack. Here is the position after black’s 26th move. I am white.

The plan plays itself, and in fact here is how the game finished: 27.Rc1, Rgg8; 28.Rcc7, Rgf8; 29.Re7, Qd6; 30.Rcd7, Qc6; 31.Rxf7, resigns. In fact, there is no way to parry the mate on h7.

So, it is true that at the mature age of 43 years I feel my neurons abandoning me one by one… But those left can still give me some small satisfactions now and then!

Sunday chess riddle February 8, 2009

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, internet, personal.
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Here is a rather simple chess riddle for you, taken -as I’ve taken a habit of doing- from a blitz game I played a minute ago on the Internet Chess Club. Below I give you all the moves of the game leading to the position:

1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nc3 Nxc3 4.dxc3 d6 5.exd6 exd6 6.Be3 Be7 7.Qd2 0-0 8.0-0-0 a5 9.Nf3 a4 10.a3 Nc6 11.Bc4 Be6 12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.Nd4 Nxd4 14.cxd4 d5 15.Bf4 c5 16.Kb1 Qb6 17.Be5 c4 18.Ka2 Ra5 19.f3 Rb5 20.Qc3 Rc8 21.h4?

I am black. Can you guess the move I played and the possible followup ? I will give the remainder of the game tomorrow.

(A disclaimer: the moves of the game listed above are not to be taken too seriously: as I said this was a blitz game played on the internet, and I am sure there are imprecise moves from both sides leading to the diagrammed position…)

White to move and win February 3, 2009

Posted by dorigo in Art, books, chess, games, internet, personal.
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Minutes ago I logged on the Internet Chess Club for some evening fun, after an evening spent playing with my kids, feeding them, and reading them a chapter of the first book of the Harry Potter saga (which, I hate to say, is excellently written). And here is the position I worked out with a similarly rated player (I am white):

White to move. Can you spot the move I played ? Mind you, I did not analyze with a chess engine the position yet, and I just spent a minute looking at it post-mortem, so I do not claim that my move is the best one in this position. It might even be flawed. But I am darn proud of it… The game ended two moves later. I will leave this little riddle on for tonight, and will give the solution tomorrow. In the meantime, do write below what you’d have played. But beware: this was a 5′ blitz game, and I had less than two minutes left for all my moves – investing more than 30 seconds of thought on the position would cost you the game in most situations.

Mate in eight January 19, 2009

Posted by dorigo in chess, games, internet, personal.
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The biggest upsets are really emotionally repaying, in chess as in any other sport. I was down a rook and a piece in a horribly hopeless game played on the internet chess club this evening, when I could exploit to the fullest a silly move by an already relaxed opponent, to give a funny mate-in-eight. Here is the starting position (I am white). White is to move.

Rather than trying to defend from the many threats of black, I throw in one more piece with 1.Bf4! Black answers with the logical 1….Nxf4, but after 2.Qxg7 he needs to choose. A safe 2.Qf8 would see me resign (2….Qe5 3.Ne6 and white does not have any more bullets to fire), but black thinks there must be surely a quick mate: so he plays 2….Nh3+ 3.Kf1.

What to do now ? Black has three minutes to think this over, but he sees no better defence against Qxh8 than 3….Qh6??

I was unable to announce mate in eight -over the internet these luxuries are impossible unless one uses the chat window (considered highly inappropriate during a game), but I did calculate everything to the end in less than half a minute. Here is the sequence, which was played to the bitter end over the board:

4.Re1+ Kd8 5.Qd4+ Kc7 6.Re7+ Kc6

7.Be4+! Kb5 8.Qb4+ Ka6 9.Bd3+ Nc4 10.Bxc4+ b5 11.Qxb5 mate.

A really enjoyable end to a game started with a bad string of blunders on my side!

Selected holiday links December 27, 2008

Posted by dorigo in astronomy, Blogroll, chess, cosmology, internet, italian blogs, news, physics, politics, science.
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Being too lazy to generate content while relaxing after a day on the ski slopes in Padola, I am offering you a few selected links that are worth a visit. Not all about physics, and not all recent -that’s what you get from a very erratic web surfer.

  • Tim Krabbé, the dutch novelist and chessplayer, has a very interesting piece on the very peculiar chess problem stipulation called the worst possible move. It now appears that, while the game of chess is virtually unexhaustible -at least for us humans-, we now have an answer to what is the worst possible move you can make in a chess game. Or, at least, we get very close to the best of the worst, with Sampsa Lahtonen’s 1.Qxc4+, a move by white that forces black to administer mate in one, when all the other 52 possible moves by white would have mated black.
  • David Orban, my futurologist friend, spoke at the italian parliament on December 12th on internet and new technologies and their use. He offers a report (which includes two video clips), but it is currently only in the italian version of his blog. You can easily translate the text using the web’s http://translate.google.com powerful tools, while for the video… hehm. Maybe in the web 3.0.
  • Michael Schmitt, a professor at Northwestern University and a colleague in CMS and CDF, is back in blogging mood, hopefully to stay. He has started back with momentum with a few very interesting posts, the last of which is about Dark Matter as a Quantum Liquid. Welcome back Michael!
  • The always excellent Resonaances has yet another post on the Pamela/Atic anomalies out, and this one can’t be missed any more than could the previous ones. Highly recommended.

A nice miniature December 14, 2008

Posted by dorigo in Art, chess, games, internet, personal.
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Just played a quick 5′ game on the Internet Chess Club. I was rather pleased to play a nice miniature (a game lasting very few moves, and usually concluding with a fine mating combination). The game tactics centers around the theme of the pin. On a diagonal, on a file, and even on a rank!

Here is the transcript, with very few comments. My handle is Tonno, and I am black. I feel compelled to say that I did not check the moves on a computer, since my Fritz 8 has stopped running until I show it the original CD again… Oh well. A 5′ game is not too meaningful to analyze with a computer anyway!

Nyudrev (1929) – Tonno (1931)

1.g3 d5 2.Bg2 Bf5 3.d3 Nf6 4.Nd2 e5 aggressive. Black should be ok in this system already now.

5.e4 dxe4 6.dxe4 Bg4 7.Ne2 Nc6 sort of threatening Nd4…

8.c3 Qd3! A very ambitious move, showing that black is in a fighting mood. Move 8 by white was a weakening of the d3 square, and black exploits it at once. Now white cannot castle, and the pin of the Ne2 is very unpleasant, so…

9.f3 trying to get rid of the assault, but I feel inspired…

9…. 0-0-0!

A piece sacrifice that grants black a continuing initiative against the exposed white king.

10.fxg4 Nxg4 Now if white castles, black can either check on e3 with the queen, and then on f2 with the knight; or even better, play Ne3 forcing the white queen away, after which the Ne2 is lost.

11. Bh3 pinning the knight and preventing its use for a while.

11… h5 12.0-0 white has managed to castle, but his troubles are by no means over.

12….Bc5+ 13.Kg2 Be3 Suddenly, white is in danger of losing the Nd2, which is pinned on the d file.

14.Rf3 appears to save it, since the Be3 is now pinned on the black queen on the third rank, but

14….f5!! frees the activity of the Ng4, at the same time threatening fxe4 which would force the Rf3 to move away. If now Rxf5 the Nd2 is lost, and if instead exf5 e4! the rook has to move with the same effect.

15.Bxg4 hxg4 opening a deadly file aiming at the white king.

16.Rxe3 Qxe3 17.Ng1 if white can now play 18.Qe2, he will soon untangle, and a draw might be fought for. But black has a winning move:

17…. Rxh2+! a final sacrifice decides the game. White resigns.