After playing the Benko Gambit myself for a few years, and looking at the lines with Crafty, I think …Bxa6 in the Benko Gambit accepted deserves a ??, and yet …Nxa6, which I virtually never played, probably deserves a !!

This fianchetto variation by White kills the gambit in it’s tracks, IMHO, and it’s not just one line, all the main lines from there:

Portisch-Geller 1976

Look at move 15 of this position from the game above. ..e6 is the only logical break for Black, opening the position from a pawn down, whereas White is ready to absolutely pounce on it. Geller sacs the ..Rb4 because otherwise it’s connected passed a and b pawns after a …c4 push, which is really just a technical win (and I realize most class players probably aren’t good enough to convert this technical win even it is +2 for White, yes, but that’s not something to hang one’s hat on.)

For example White plays the important move b3, so that on …c5 there will be b4. Also Bh3 and Bb2 give the White bishops scope. However, with 5…Nxa6 with the idea of …Nc7 supporting an …e6 push, Black begins to get his center going, which is very important because that can turn into a good gambit for the activity.

Benko vs Gross

Note that White allows the Ba6 to be traded with e3, which is not necessary (strategic error, IMHO), but allows the ..Nac6-c7 idea to be shown.

The Benko Gambit “feels good” because one can play 10 moves in 5 minutes as Black, but I think it only works (…Bxa6) because so many as White play it poorly or don’t know how to play it.

A Battle of Nerves

This was my third meeting with Peter, my first time with the White pieces. The game started out as a reasonable looking Sicilian Dragon. Now, the real game was the game behind the game.

He should have known that I had been slacking on my theory when I played 7.f3. Anyone who knows the theory of this line knows it goes 7.Be3 and if 7…Ng4??, then Bb5+ wins the Ng4. I always forget that, but it’s a minor point.

He played 11..b5 and I immediately thought of “Kasparov’s Gambit”. My analysis was bad since I didn’t see that 12.Ndxb5 works, had only seen 13.Bb3 dropping b5, and not noticing the bishop could go back to say e2, still defending b5, but I was also worried about the pin of …Qb6 with the idea of …a6, Knight moves, Qb2 mate. Yes, I hadn’t seen that 12.Ndxb5 allows the Be3 to attack the b6 square, so no ..Qb6.

My longest think of the game was 15.g4, spending around 20 minutes deliberating over playing 15.h5, but then deciding to roll with the punches instead of giving him a possiblity of directly countering something. Around here the position is roughly equal no matter what I play.

He is the first one to flinch, saying after the game that “I wasn’t getting in my attack fast enough.” Hey, I don’t lead them to the cliff, just nudge them over the edge – or in this case, collect my treats on the b2 square. 😀

I sensed that I was doing real well after only the second move because I felt like cool-hand Luke. Nothing to lose and not too excited having cut back caffeine to two cups of tea a day. Once we entered the Open Sicilian, I could tell he was suddenly breathing heavy, older gentleman. Ironically, I didn’t get nervous until he sacked his rook on b2, then remembering I hadn’t won much lately, started to sweat a little myself, even knowing there was no way to lose this game after that sac.

He didn’t give me a chance to show off any of the pretty mates I had calculated, not even a line where he plays …Rb8, I play Rb1…QxNd4 (attacking the loose knight on c3), RxR+ followed by Kb2 defending c3. Nope, can’t show that off.

His rating has gone up to 1500, but my #1 nemesis opening to face is the Sicilian Dragon, so I was glad that it turned out okay. I figure that Black typically plays 150 points above their rating when playing the Dragon, just because the opening gives them so many chances and puts the bigger burden of proof on White with the more attackable king’s position. The prudent choice as White would have been Be2, f4, 0-0.

At the end of the game I had 34 minutes on my clock, and he just under an hour, but that is nothing to be proud of considering that he simply dumped his rook and queen into my lap on the b2 square.

This game seemed to prove the current trend of defense winning more games than offense.

This month I won 2, then lost 4, before winning another 2, so my new rating is 1705. I just looked over a bunch of scoresheets and it made me realize that virtually all of my lost games were due to bad time-management or not coping with the time-control. It’s funny, I lost that one game to John after having an extra cup of tea and feeling ‘spaced-out’ in that loss, and the next night I cut back drastically on the caffeine and made an impulsive error in the opening. It’s taken me a while to get my act together at G/90. One reason I still point this out is that my games are still the last ones done even when I finish after only 90 minutes or 120 minutes, a lot of games are over after only 60 minutes, a lot of people are blitzing.

I just realized something rather pathetic. The USCF rating calculator is almost dead accurate for my 2 tournaments this month, it is only off 1 rating point on Thursdays and exactly accurate for the Wednesday’s one. Okay, so I thought beating these 1200 and 1300 level players counted for something, it barely does at all.

Beating the 1500 rated guy tonight, 5 rating points, beating the 1296 and 1300 level guys on Wednesday night, 2 and 3 rating points respectively. I don’t have to mention that beating the 300 level kid (who actually won against the 700 level girl) only got me one rating point – naturally a draw was worth -18 and a loss worth -30. Shoot, all he needed to do was fib a little and call touch move when I brush over a piece, and I am toast.

Let’s finish the math. For those 4 wins combined, I get a grand total of 10 rating points, which means that for losing the other 4 games, I lost 48 rating points! Shoot, I was bleeding 12 points a game even though that John is around 1950. One of those losses counted for more than all 4 wins put together. I did the calculation, not playing them wouldn’t have cost me anything, I simply wouldn’t have gotten those combined 10 rating points. sheesh. They may as well be blundering queens and rooks for all I am getting out of it. hehe. 😉

Here is what my opponent was trying to do to me, in vivid detail:
b2 Sac

I hate to admit it, but the thing that helped me most in this game was spending 20 minutes on that one move. Naturally, that is not desireable, but against < 1600 players that usually has a positive side-effect, and that is they are used to wrongly correlating time on the clock to time on the board. "We've been here an hour now, aren't I supposed to be getting my attack in already?" Of course, the wily veteran realizes that only 15 moves or so have been played and it's not yet time to attack in terms of time in moves on the board.

I could take that b-pawn and win, but it has to be done in the utmost circumspect way, tactically speaking. I was flipping through John Nunn’s book on “Beating the Sicilian 3” last night, and he mentions how ..a6, ..b5 is usally too slow, and that Black tries to get ..b5 in on one move. Well, this opponent knew what he was up to, apparently! All I had to do is walk into that snare that he set and it’s all over.

I just realized how hopeless that G/90 is for me. Alex beat me for the 4th straight time and then loses to the 1300 player, which unfortunately is not surprising, so now he drops down to 1585, his only win against me, plus he even drew the 1200 player that I beat on Wednesday.

If I lose to Alex, I lose 20 rating points, so I have to beat him 2 1/2 times for every loss, and a draw against him merely negates the win I had last night vs. the 1500 player. lol. It’s freaking hopeless. I like when a player actually climbs in rating, really puts a serious effort into that. It sucks when there are slackers that just want to beat the top guys, carelessly lose to their under-classment, so that beating them is never a fair trade-off.

These underclass players, even Alex, they’ve all had these tournaments if not more than one, and it’s usually more than one, where they play in a super low section, _and_ dump all of their games. Then they come back and try their best to beat me after all that. It’s tough getting rating points because even the 1700’s are gunning for me. There aren’t any more players that take me for granted like there once was. I remember, ah the days when opponents took me for granted, not suspecting anything, and now it’s just the opposite.

What I need to do is drop down to 1300, that way every time I win against a 1500 it will be +20 and a loss will be -5, and I can feel good about myself again. hehe. Kidding. But like I say, many of my 1700+ level opponents are already doing it. Katie 1700’s loses to Gene, whom I’ve beaten all 5 times, he’s 1500’s – quite a bit of 1700’s lose to him, but I haven’t. John dropped a a game to a 1500 player, so he’s already drinking the cool-aide, and even had a sloppy game/win against a 1300 the other night and would have taken a draw if the 1300 (whom I’ve beat every time) had asked him for one. Last time I dropped a game to a 1500, besides Alex, was a year ago to Jerry, whom I mistakenly thought was an A player when I was playing him. It just means when I do play 1700+, they are all looking to make up their ratings misfortunes by beating me. Like I say, I am more consistent against lower-rated than any Class player I’ve ever met, the problem is they look at me as their rating-points bag, the ones a little higher – the game with me is their “make up” game.

Scotch Game

I played Tom for the third time, I believe it is, this was the first time I was Black. Early on in this game, I went for the wrong attack, he defended well with …Qe2, forcing a queen trade, which I didn’t see and so I spent 15 minutes suddenly, contemplating switching over to the defensive.

The game got technical after the queen trade, but I was glad that he didn’t pressure me in the center with his rooks and choose a queenside attack on my king instead. When he played a4 (I was expecting a3), I knew he hadn’t considered my rather obvious …Nc6 move, which attempts to either win the e-pawn or bring his king out into the open, which would help shield my own position a little better as well. However, he sacked a piece instead of taking another pawn loss (I asked him why he did this, beat himself, and his reply was “I was going to lose anyway.”), but I told him he played some nice defense and had some better tries for a draw by centralizing a rook.

After that, just a nice technical finish was required. One move of mine that I liked was 28…Ra8, this was a finesse. Naturally he should play 29.Ra6 (otherwise I trade a pair of rooks), but then I can play 29…Rc8, d8 or e8 for instance and I have improved my position, also giving him a chance to go wrong.

I finished the game with 49 and a half minutes on my clock and him around the same. It took me a long time to catch back up on the clock after my one long think, I noticed.

If I had played 9…Nf6, 10.Nc3 Nxe4+, 11.NxN QxN, 12.Qf3 Qe7 I would have had a true advantage of -1. Crafty points out that I should have played 7…Qxb2, 8.Nbd2 g6, 9.Ng3, but I went with the safer looking line. I didn’t want to bother spending much time on rook sack lines. I guess that’s pretty horrible, only going for the -1 attack instead of the -2 attack, which of course at first I was going to do.

9…NxNd4? probably doesn’t make any sense, from looking at what became of it, but I changed my mind, the idea was not to follow up with 10..Qxe4, but rather play 10..Qf4+. It’s quite amusing that Crafty rates the position as only -.10 (basically even) after 11.Kd3 – okay now it’s at -.3 with 11..d5 after another 2 minutes.

I could play a more decisive attack in the opening when I get the chance, that is a weakness in my game right now, although it worked out well here, where it was hard to go wrong. I pointed out to him after the game that if he had played 13.Rhe1 instead of g4, and I play 13…Be6?, that he can make my extra pawn a backwards one with 14.Bg4! Of course, 13..Ne7 is correct, but White can keep me on the ropes a while longer by keeping up the pressure that way. As Black, I should eventually win, IMHO, but strong chess would have hurt me severely on the clock in comparison to the game’s sort of tongue-in-cheek attack, which I was glad to see.

Chess Study

I have discovered some interesting things. First note is more of an aside, I just logged into FICS, haven’t played a game there in almost 2 weeks it seems. I start a game and immediately my internet connection, which used to go out multiple times a day (when I played on FICS) and require me to reset the router, suddenly goes out again after not having gone out in nearly 2 weeks. Gee, I wonder why.

More important note, I have come to some conclusions about chess study. Most important thing is playing solitaire chess, you take a game, cover the moves with index card(s) and try to guess for one side. I liked the Bronstein book for this because the Veinstein author would typically point out where the losing side last had a drawing variation. Whereas, the Geller book had awesome games as well, but IMHO Geller doesn’t wring his hands exactly about where his opponent threw away the draw, just the opposite I don’t think he cared too much, if at all, unless it was a teachable moment regarding his attack. So for that reason, I didn’t like it as much (yes, I realize you had a quicker win with blah blah, but that wasn’t what I was interested in, nor the opening theory so much since the rest of the game anlysis didn’t draw me in enough other than to rifle through it)

But getting back to the point about “solitaire chess”. It forced me to look at threats, and threat evaluations that I was simply missing, but mostly just noticing the threats for both sides. I used to think chess was top-down where, like most endeavors, you start with a goal, and then implement that goal. No, chess is not like that! Chess is bottom-up, forget where you are going, where is it safest to cross the street? (that analogy again) One starts with the details and from there works their way up to what could be passed off as a concept, but not the other way around. It does help to evaluate a position conceptually, particularly in endgames for example, but that is not how one crosses the street, and in chess the big accomplishment is crossing the dangerous street! (for both players)

So, when I play solitaire, it is not for “ideas” from the game, it is for recognizing threats, evaluating them, and making calculations that lead to a plan based on that. Sure, there is intuition, but that is more about just noticing the features on the board, such as where all of the pieces are and how immobile they are (blocked out of play for how many moves).

As far as the ChessTiger posts about visualizing during a game, yes, it does help me to close my eyes and visualize a sequence if my eyes get too nervous looking at the board, and to some extent that is natural to have that problem. Two of my opponents who won against me recently also closed their eyes during the game. I don’t know if they picked it up while watching me do it or not. But aside from the “nervous eyes” deal, it is not necessary to close one’s eyes. I looked at tht pictures of that GM on Ivan’s site the other day, looking past his opponent, and no doubt he is visualizing the position, and I think this is probably more common way to do it, although sometimes closing one’s eyes is easier at first.

But again, here is the point, I am lets say conceptualizing the position through visualization. For example, I notice that Nb3-a5 (dark square) is controlling the light squares c6 and c4. Wait, stop right there, I am “conceptualizing” the position. Who does that when they are looking at the board? They may notice that instantly by looking, without making a visual error (which is easier to do with ones eyes open and looking at the board!), but they aren’t going to internalize that in the same way necessarily, it was just a glance after all (I am sure great blitz players learn to internalize the position, but that only makes my point), a glance is something easily forgotten, requring a second or third glance, and then perphaps still forget all about or ignore it, and then wonder where their “concentration” went.

BTW, when starting out trying to visualize, I recommend closing the eyes because it immediately gets rid of “retained image” mistakes (continuing to see pieces where they are currently at). At longer time controls, it’s not necessary to do this and I think it can also be convenient do it away from the board if your opponent is breaking your concentration by giving you “looks” and such. Some opponents are much more “naturally” annoying than others with all the weird crap they do that breaks their opponent’s concentration (IOW, you have to re-analyze a line every time you start paying attention to their bad mannerisms).

I guess a funny aside to this is that when I think of a chessplayer who really visualized the board, “conceptualized it”, I think of Frank Marshall. Google images or look at any famous photo of Marshall. I used to think he was just reminiscing about his chess career in this one famous photo, but then it hit me that while he may have been doing that, he was also conceptualizing a chess position at the time, most likely.

Four Game Collections Left

So I read “Viktor Korchnoi’s Best Games”, all 60 games. When I was done, I read Geller’s “The Application of Chess Theory”, all 100 games I went over. To be honest, I think those collections had too many games. hehe. Like they picked a number and had to include that many.

Now I have four books left, the ones to savor:
The Test of Time, Gary Kasparov
Smyslov’s 125 Selected Games
Paul Keres Best Games Vol II, Open and Semi-Open Games
David Bronstein, Chess Improviser

I can hardly decide on which one to start with.

A Great Game

Although not a great result.

I played Katherine for the third time, this time as Black. I last played and won against her at the Class Championships. This time she avoided my Open Variation to the Ruy and played the Worral attack instead.

I played 12..g5 rather quickly, but she accepted it. I was simply going to take with the pawn, but this sent me into a very long think, perhaps 25 minutes. I did not like my position, but the only alternative was 13..d5, when I can expect 14.Nf3, so the only move was to accept it – of course, I looked at other tricky replies which don’t work.

Both of us showed uncertainty, her with g2-g3-g4, and me with never getting …c6 in. I prepared ..c6, but then played …c5, but it was losing in any case because I took too long to play it, deciding where to place my rooks. ..Rh6 was a blunder and a waste of a tempo, for instance.

Turns out the …c6 idea was not going to work anyway, and I knew that it was quite involved, which is why I hemmed and hawed and never quite played it.
e.g. 23…c6, 24.dxc6 d5, 25.cxNd7 dxNe4, 26.dxe4! Ra7, 27.Rad1 Bd8 and now 28.h6+ Kg6 (to guard the Nf6), 29.Qf5+!, the point of move 26, leads to mate.

Crafty suggests playing …b4 in there somewhere but it’s evaluation of the position bounces around a lot, ending in favor of White. I didn’t develop smoothly, and that is what cost me most. I played …g5 mostly because I didn’t want to see BxNf6 followed by Bd5. I would have replied …Bd7 correctly though and Crafty gives Black an edge.

I thought White was fine without playing the sac on g4, but she was worried about me playing …g4, which I wasn’t even considering. I told her that after hxg…Bxg she would have been fine, and that I was looking to play …a4, and Crafty agrees with me there on both counts.

Omigosh, I can’t freaking believe this, the way she played that attack was over Crafty’s head! Crafty agrees after seeing the moves, but not beforehand. She played g3! If she had played g4? at the time, I was going to play …Rg8, which refutes her attack, king pulls back to f8. Oh my, I had seen that. But she played g3, Kg2!, h5! I just thought I wasn’t paying attention, but it was more than just that, she was attacking unstoppable. She didn’t want to court my ..c6 complications (even had I played it earlier). The tigress knew what she was doing!

When I played 16…BxBd5?, I thought to myself “This is either a blunder, or this is going to help me out.” Technically, I think that was the game losing blunder. After 16…Bd7, Black has a -0.5 advantage according to Crafty. Giving up that Ne4 square led to a strategically busted position for Black.

The end of the game could have gone 28…Kf8, 29. gxNf6 Qd8, 30.Qg3 Rg8, 31.Qg7! RxQ, 32.hxR followed by 33.Rh8 mate. White could also have taken the d6 pawn with 30.Nxd6 and something like a +6 score, although that introduces complications after 30…Qa8, so need for that.

I’m glad I told her that she played a great game, she is talented and really deserves to hear that. Sometimes I lose some stupid games to some average players, but in her case she really deserved the win.