Hooray! This is my first entry on our new blog site. Many thanks and more to Phil Ferguson, our fearless leader for all the hard work, and I'm sure some frustration, in making the switch over. Some of the new features will take getting used to for us writers on the blog, the look and feel so far is great.
I have a backup of posts to get out, so expect to see my byline often over the next few days or weeks. To begin with, here's an upset from the Capital Region team match with Albany A. This was one of the matches that had a profound effect on the results of the Albany A team.
Upsets are often interesting events. On paper the higher rated participant, if the rating difference is large, say about 400 points, is expected to win most of the games. In today’s game that is the situation; Henner is at 1899 and Northrup is 1538. Chess players learn early and often that ratings mean something, but rating does not guarantee victory. If you are not careful, what should be a routine win can be turned into a loss.
Cory plays a lot of chess. He is active in both the Schenectady and Albany clubs as well as participating in weekend events. I suspect his rating doesn’t quite represent his true strength, so this “upset” is not as big of a surprise as it first appeared to be.
Northrup, Cory - Henner, Peter [B09]
CDCL Match Capital Region v Albany A, Guilderland, NY, 04.04.2012
1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.f4 Bg7 4.Be3 Nf6 5.Nc3 0–0
This is the Pirc Defense, Austrian Attack. White has chosen to put a Bishop on e3 preventing my favorite answer to the Austrian; .., c7-c5. The c5 break is recommended by Grandmasters Alburt and Chernin as the way for Black to fight for the initiative. The Bishop on e3 forecloses the break, but it grants Black time to find other ways to do so.
The obvious and simple approach is Black’s choice. The idea uses up time by moving a developed piece twice. White can reply in a number of ways. He can develop, or save the Bishop by moving it. I have my doubts that Black should chase the Be3. In the Pirc, Black concedes central space for the chance to counter-attack the center from the flanks. In such situations, lacking space, falling behind in development can lead to serious problems.
Theory says Black has many other choices including; 6..., b6; 6..., c6; and 6..., a6. The latter is the beginning of the Byrne Variation, and is named for the American brothers who pioneered the line. It is sort of a slow motion flank attack on the White center.
This is reasonable way to preserve the Bishop. The retreat to g1 would continue the idea of preventing .., c7-c5.
7..., c5 8.d5?!,..
Better is 8 dxc5, even though Black gets some play with; 8..., dxc5 9 h3 Bxc3 10 Bxc3 Ne3 11 Qe2 Nxf1 12 Kxf1 Nc6 13 Kf2, and the position is full of fight. The line cited can be described as White attempting to extend his small lead in development. After the text, Black is keeping pace in development.
A doubtful decision to attack the center directly has good intensions but some problematic aspects; the Black King’s fortress is weakened. Black can effectively proceed in a couple of ways: going against prejudice about hanging on to the fianchettoed Bishop with 8..., Bd4; and then 9 Nxd4 cxd4 10 Nb5 Qb6 11 Qf3 Bd7 12 0-0-0 Na6; is full of tension, or 8..., e6 9 Bc4 exd5 10 Bxd5, transposing into a Benoni-like position where tactics on the e-file and the f-file and down the a1-h8 diagonal will be prominent.
Too cautious. The purpose of Austrian Attack is to use center dominance to engineer an attack on the Black King. One idea underlying the Austraian is moves like .., f7-f5; weaken the King’s defenses, and White can shift from trying to support his big center to opening lines for direct action against the King. Here; 9 e5 dxe5 10 h3 e4 11 hxg4 exf3 12 g5, does that at the cost of a pawn. In this line the game is messy, but such is the theme of the Austrian Attack. Black now destroys the big White center accomplishing the primary goal of the Pirc Defense.
9..., fxe4 10.Nxe4 Nf6?!
A tiny but telling mistake. Watch the Grandmasters, they seldom send a minor piece on a time consuming errand as Black did. It is even rarer for a GM to voluntarily retreat from such a foray without waiting for his opponent to at least spend a tempo to force the retreat. Black should have waited for White to play h2-h3 weakening the White King’s position a little bit.
Black is rewarded for his error. White will be a bit ahead in development after 11 Nxf6+. He will soon enough get in c2-c4 reinforcing the d-pawn. White just has to be careful in timing that move because the Black light squared Bishop can go to f5 annoying the Rb1, and then perhaps Black can pick off a pawn.
Single mindedly focused on cracking the White center, Black misses a simpler idea; ganging up on the d5-pawn with; 12..., Nbd7 13 Bd3 Nb6; setting problems for White. The text might be motivated by the wish to get at the White King before he has time to castle. That desire seems to be more an unformed hope than the basis of a concrete and calculated plan because we don’t see anything solid in the follow-up.
12.Bc4 exd5 13.Nxd5 Kh8
Of course 13..., Re8+; 14 Ne3+ d5; favors Black. If White is just a little careful and creative by playing 14 Be3 Nxd5 15 Kf2, he is in decent shape.
Development is what Black needs. If he does not attend to that need, his game can be difficult. The shaky situation of the Black King makes finding the right moves to bring the Black forces into play hard to do.
14..., Be6 15.Bc3 Nc6 16.Ng5 Bxd5 17.Bxd5 Qd7
A big mistake would be 17..., Nxd5? 18 Bxg7+ Kxg7 19 Ne6+, hitting the entire Black “family”.
White is on top now. Converting his positional aces; an active pair of Bishops and an opponent’s King with weakened defenses, requires some serious work. More straight forward than the game move is; 18 Ne6 Rfc8 19 Nxg7 Kxg7 20 f5 g5 21 Qh5, when the imbalance becomes two Bishops with extra pawns versus two Knights and a dangerous attack on the Black King
18..., Qc7 19.Bd5,..
Renewing the threat of a fork at e6.
Repeating moves with 19..., Qd7; just allows White another chance to find the Ne6 move. Black decides preventing that threat is what has to be done. Very probably better is simplification with; 19..., Nxd5. If then White tries a combination; 20 Bxg7+ Qxg7 21 Ne6 Ne3 22 Qd3 Qf6 23 Nxf8 Nxf1; is winning for Black. The more reasoned approach; 20 Qxd5 Rae8 21 c3 h6; and 22 Ne6?!, is met by 22..., Qg8!; and then 23 Rbe1 Rf5; with a tricky struggle taking shape.
I wrote about higher rated players feeling obligated to try for victory against lower rated opponents in my last post on the Finnerman - Howard game and in other posts in the past. To extend those comments: There is a pecking order in any group of players. Why do we feel some opponents should be defeated? Because we have won repeatedly in other games with them, or our rating is significantly higher, or we think we are better for no particular reason. All these are things I have heard chess players give as to why they think they should or must defeat a particular opponent.
There are some specific player characteristics that lead us such feelings. Among the many that can be cited, I think the two that are crucial are; skill and confidence. Skill may well be a measurable element. How so, you say? GM Alburt made the case in a handy little book he wrote in 1991; the Chess Training Pocket Book, Chess Information and Research Center, NYC. In it he says the 300 positions included are the essential ones to know if you aim to be a strong tournament player. Other writers on intellectual matters have held that it takes 10,000 hours of practice and study to master various skills. Some chess writers have said chess Grandmasters have played and studied something like 100,000 positions to get to their titles. The conclusion seems to be; knowledgeable people see various ways to measure skill aside from the results of competition. Whether it is a specific set of positions, a number of hours used in study and practice, or a mass of positions played and studied, I don’t know which is the best measure, but it does seem skill can be objectively measured. When we believe our level of skill is greater than an opponent’s we think we should win the game.
Confidence is another matter. Firstly, the level of confidence may vary with the opponent across the board, and secondly, it will go up or down with the player’s general condition. What have been the results against this opponent? How critical is the current game to the outcome of the event? Did he have enough sleep the night before? Did some domestic crises interfere with the player’s concentration? How well has the player performed in previous rounds or events? All this is not so measurable and would seem to effect a player’s confidence.
Skill and confidence appear to me to be equal, or nearly so, in importance for a player’s success. Skill can be measured on some scale and compared. Confidence is much more difficult to judge. After the fact we often say; he played confidently. That is a very subjective statement based a number of things; if you are watching the game live, it can be your reading of body language or the speed with which the moves were made. If you following the game in some written work, it can be the impression the unfolding plan makes on you. Truly knowing how confident the player is in his heart is not possible at any given moment in a game. Over many games an impression can be formed about a player’s level of confidence.
To bring this long digression back to today’s game; Mr. Northrup’s play, in my opinion has as a hallmark; optimistic confidence. The optimism is not so much a belief that he has the right ideas, rather it is that even in a bad position there exist resources with which a fight can be made. The confidence is that hard work can uncover these resources. I can see the influence of Cory’s mentor, John Phillips in this. Mr. Phillips exhibits similar characteristics in his play, and he seems to have passed on this useful approach to Mr. Northrup. It pays off in the game under examination.
More forceful is 20 f5, continuing in a principled fashion to emphasize the weakness of the Black King’s position. The likely continuation is; 20..., Nxd5 21 Qxd5 Bxc3 22 bxc3 Rxf5 23 Rxf5 gxf5 24 Qxf5 Qe7 25 Rf1 Qe3+ 26 Kh1 Qe7 27 Qf8+ Qxf8 28 Rxf8+ Kg7 29 Rxd8, winning a piece because of the fork on e6. The move played in the game hangs on to some advantage.
20..., Nxd5 21.Bxg7+ Kxg7 22.Qxd5 Rf5 23.Qd2 h6 24.Qc3+ Kg8 25.Ne4 Ne6
White has kept the advantage while both sides maneuvered. White now has a chance to extend this advantage. Black has been angling to bring pressure on the pawn at f4, and trying to prepare an advance of the d-pawn.
A routine move in a position that requires a more active response. Here White should play; 26 g4, intending to continue working on the weakened position of the Black King. With 26 g4 Nd4 27 Qd3 Rf7 28 c3 Nc6 29 Nxd6 Rxf4 30 Nf6+, and White is well ahead.
A double query because this error does two bad things; most obviously it drops a piece, and it also fails to continue what seemed to be Black’s plan - attacking f4. Finding a reason for this error is hard to do. Time was not yet critical although Northrup did have an edge on the clock. I have made similar mistakes. Sometimes you have a logical continuation, in this case attacking f4 with 26..., Raf8 27 Nxd6 Rxf4 28 Qe5 Rxf1+; when the game is about equal. The bugaboo of the higher rated player striving for victory at all costs may have played a part leading to the mistake. The logical line cited moves the game towards a drawn outcome. Searching for alternatives seems to have led Black to look for anything other than simplification, and insufficient checking for obvious counters caused the oversight. Often you spend much energy first analyzing things don’t work. Then, more analysis using more energy is used chasing fantasies followed by a look at the clock and the realization that some decision has to be made. At that moment, your attention can be caught by a move looks active, and with a sense of relief, the move is played. Almost at the moment your hand leaves the moved piece on its new squared you know it was the wrong move.
When you play such a blunder it is extraordinarily difficult to regain composure. Even if you do so, the harm done may not be repairable. That is the case here.
27.Rxd4 Qe7 28.Qc4+ d5 29.Rxd5 Rxd5 30.Qxd5+ Kh8 31.Qe5+ Qxe5 32.fxe5 Re8 33.Nd6 Re7
Of course not 33..., Rxe5 34 Nf7+, wins immediately.
34.Re1 Kg7 35.Nc8 Re6 36.a3 a6 37.c4 Kf8 38.Nd6 b6 39.Rf1+ Kg8 40.Re1 Kf8 41.b4 Ke7 42.bxc5 bxc5 43.Kf2 Kd7 44.Kf3 Kc6 45.Ke4,..
White has proceeded logically centralizing his King. In an endgame with no pawns on the board, a Rook and Knight versus a lone Rook is drawn in most cases. With many pawns in the mix, this is not true, particularly when the stronger side has an extra pawn. Even the big difference in experience between these players can not balance the material deficit.
White embarks on a long winded maneuver on the Q-side to close out the game. It is an interesting way to win the game, but the straight forward 46 Rf1, threatening to execute the Black K-side pawns will force off the Rooks and allow the White King access to d5 spelling the end to effective resistance. Simple and clear is superior to complicated and pretty especially when you are hunting the scalp of a higher rated opponent.
46..., Rd7 47.a4 a5 48.Rb5 Ra7 49.Rb7 Ra8 50.Re7 Rf8 51.Rf7 Rb8 52.Nb7 Ra8 53.e6 Ra6 54.Ke5,..
White has been creative by offering material to eliminate the Black Rook, and Black, correctly did not accept the material. Now it is easy to see the pawn will get through to the 8th making a Queen in short order.
54..., Ra8 55.Nd6 Rb8 56.e7 1–0
Now 56..., Kd7 58 e8 (Q), is mate by discovered double check. Mr. Northrup did a very creditable job after Black gave him a piece. That is not always the case when a lower rated player is so blessed. He recognized the advantage and found the right plan allowing Black no chance to complicate matters. My quibble about the choice of finishing lines notwithstanding, it was a very good performance indeed.
Sadly for Peter Henner, the position after the error did not offer much opportunity to complicate play, and his opponent struck on a correct plan right away. It is a lesson for higher rated players; a rating bulge may mean you have some edge in experience and skill, but checking for counter-strokes can not be neglected. Very probably, the higher rated player has to force himself to do this checking with intensity when facing a lower rated opponent. Playing a peer there is a naturally heightened alertness to tactics. They are expected to lay traps. Facing someone 400 points below you in rating, it is easy to forget that very simple tactics decide a surprisingly large number of games in the world of club chess.