Cruise Control

Cruise Control

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rvkoivu said: “I have one interesting game to offer. It was a 15 10 game played at against an opponent rated 2152. I was rated 1521 at that moment, currently 1596 (1930 in CC). I have played chess for three years, and I tend to play the Sicilian Kan in response to 1.e4 most of the time. I have studied that system quite a bit, and I’m comfortable with the resulting positions. However, in this game my opponent played some maneuvers I had not seen before, and I could not use my usual plans so much. However, despite the difference in our ratings, I felt that the game was approximately equal for a long time (at around move 15 my opponent actually accused me of using a chess engine), but at one point I missed a tactic from my opponent, leading to my defeat.”

Arlechin (2152) - rvkoivu (1521), Live Chess on 2011. B21

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.Qxd4

rvkoivu said: “I don’t find this move to be dangerous. Obviously, 3...Nc6 gains a tempo on the Queen. In practical play 3. c3 (Smith-Morra) has caused me more difficulties.”

This whole line for White is pretty bad. In fact, if Black plays with enough energy, it’s White who can easily find himself under the gun.

3…Nc6 4.Qe3















rvkoivu said: “I don’t remember seeing Queen retreat to e3 previously. I decided to develop normally. The e4-e5 push is not currently possible due to …Qa5+.”

This line is occasionally used by masters, but that doesn’t stop them from having terrible results with it (even against much lower rated players!).

4…Nf6 5.Nc3 d6

rvkoivu said: “Now e5 is possible, so I played d6. Already this is completely different from the Kan Sicilian (…Nc6 played so early, pawn on d6 before moving e6).”

Ah, you took him at his word that e4-e5 was a threat and allowed yourself to get bullied. The fact is your move actually stops White from hanging a pawn (e4-e5 is met by …Ng4). 5…d6 also doesn’t try and wring as much juicy goodness from white’s rather pathetic opening as possible since it just chooses to develop.

5…d6 showcases two very common amateur mistakes:

1) When they see a possible threat, they panic, give it respect, and defend against it rather than laugh at their opponent’s nonsense and then hunker down and try to prove to themselves why it’s not anything to worry about. The difference is huge: in one instance you find yourself doing things that you normally wouldn’t do, and this often leads to you falling under your opponent’s psychological spell. In the other instance, you laugh in his face, do what YOU want to do, and turn the psychological battle on its head!

2) The move is a bit lazy. It looks good (in fact, if Black was a Najdorf player he would be drawn to …d6), and it might be the first step in you rushing for a piece/pawn setup you’re familiar with. But by doing so you’re ignoring how badly your opponent is playing.  Thus, when given a golden opportunity to punish your foe, you instead act as if it’s business as usual and miss the chance to go for a knockout (or at least make as many gains as possible). 

5…e6 is a better alternative when 6.e5?? once again fails: 6…Ng4 followed by 7…Ngxe5. After 5…e6 6.Bd2 Be7 7.0-0-0 0-0 8.f4 d5 9.exd5 (9.e5?? d4) 9…exd5 Black was just better in the game G. Angelov (2257) – P. Drenchev (2477), Kirov Memorial 2010.















The brutal end was: 10.Qe1 d4 11.Ne4 Qd5 12.Nxf6+ Bxf6 13.c4 dxc3 14.Bxc3 Bxc3 15.Qxc3 Qxa2 16.Bc4 Qa1+ 17.Kc2 Bf5+ 18.Bd3 Qa4+ 19.Kc1 Nb4, 0-1.

The most dynamic (and interesting) try for Black is 5…d5! 6.exd5 (6.e5?? when both 6…d4 and 6…Ng4 are annoying) 6…Nxd5 7.Nxd5 Qxd5 8.c4 (8.Bd2 Bf5 9.c4 Qe4 favors Black due to the hole on d4. The game L. Zimniok [2198] – R. Cvek [2467], Czech Republic 2004, continued: 10.Qxe4 Bxe4 11.f3 Bg6 12.Ne2 e5 13.a3 a5















14.h4 h5 15.Kf2 Bc5+ 16.Be3 Bxe3+ 17.Kxe3 0-0-0 18.Nc3 Nd4 19.Kf2 Nc2 20.Rd1 Rxd1 21.Nxd1 Rd8 22.Ke2 Bd3+ 23.Kf2 Bf5 24.Nc3 Rd2+ 25.Be2 Nd4 26.Rd1 Rxb2 27.Kf1 Be6 28.Bd3 Rb3 29.Ne4 Rxa3 30.Kg1 Kc7 31.Nc5 b6 32.Nxe6+ Nxe6 33.Bf5 Nc5 34.Rd5 g6 35.Bh3 f6 36.f4 exf4 37.Rd4 f3 38.Rf4 f5 39.gxf3 Ne6, 0-1) 8…Qd6 9.Bd2 Bf5 10.0-0-0 0-0-0 11.Be2 when Black can choose between 11…Qg6 (R. Hardarson [2278] – Luke McShane [2592], Greenland rapid 2003) and 11…Nd4 (which I prefer). Here’s a random sample (not necessarily the best moves, but it gives you a feel for some of the position’s possibilities): 11…Nd4 12.g4 Bc2 13.Bb4 Qxb4 14.Rxd4 Rxd4 15.Qxd4 e5! 16.Qxe5 Bg6 17.Qe8+ Kc7 18.Nf3 















Of course, White doesn’t have to play such a crass move as 12.g4. Instead, 12.Nf3 makes more sense: 12…Nxe2+ (12…e5!?) 13.Qxe2 f6 (taking e5 and g5 away from white’s pieces and intending …e7-e5) 14.Qe3 Qc7 15.b3 e5! 16.Qxa7 Bc5 17.Qa8+ Qb8 18.Qxb8+ Kxb8















Black wins his pawn back with an excellent position since defending f2 by 19.Be3 or 19.Rhf1 leads to the unfortunate 19…Ba3 mate. Good times!

6.Nf3 a6

rvkoivu said: “A normal move in Kan, but in hindsight I wonder if was worth the tempo here. Maybe …g6 intending …Bg7 was better? That would have prevented future weakness on d6.”

6…a6 is perfectly playable, though I might have preferred a comfortable Dragon setup with 6…g6 7.Bc4 Bg7 followed by 8…0-0. But I’m an Accelerated Dragon buff, so this has more to do with my personal tastes than 6…g6 being better than 6…a6. Both are fine.

7.Be2 e6

rvkoivu said: “A Scheveningen type structure, intending …Be7. However the pawn will become under attack as we shall see.”

This kind of structure is extremely common in the Sicilian. Yes, d6 is a bit tender, but it’s usually easy enough to defend. If you’re going to play positions like this, you need to be supremely confident that d6 will hold against anything White can throw at it. If you have any doubts about this, you won’t be able to play the resulting positions properly.

8.0-0 Be7 9.a3 Qc7 10.Qf4 0-0 11.Qg3 Re8?

rvkoivu said: “The Queen is now eyeing my King and I saw Bh6 was a threat. ...Re8 moves the Rook to a center file in preparation of a future breakthrough and enables …Bf8.”

Reacting to white’s Bh6. Okay, sometimes you do need to deal with enemy threats (though it always annoys me to do so – in general, you should be chomping at the bit to push your own agenda with each and every move, and having to defend should be a physically painful act), but if you become too comfortable doing so (on a subconscious level), you’ll discover that you’re always defending against threats and rarely taking the initiative for yourself.

Better was 11…Nh5! (this stops the enemy threat and forces the White Queen to move to a sub-optimal square) though after 12.Qg4 Nf6 13.Qg3 Nh5 you’ll have to be willing to accept a draw. White could also move his Queen to the slightly uncomfortable h3-square after 11…Nh5 12.Qh3 but Black can play for a quick …d5 push (thanks to the fact that the White Queen, which was on g3 but now is on h3, is no longer pinning the d6-pawn to the c7-Queen) and get a perfectly reasonable position: 12…Nf6 13.Be3 d5 (other good moves are 13…h6 and 13…e5) 14.exd5 exd5 15.Qg3 Qxg3 16.hxg3 Bf5 Black has comfortable equality thanks to his active pieces and the dynamic nature of the isolated d5-pawn (…d5-d4 is always in the air, as is a well-timed …Ne4 leap).

I should be fair and add that in many Scheveningen positions …Re8 is common and does indeed allow the Rook to come into play after a future breakthrough (advanced stuff!). So well done on that point! But this position is a bit different due to white’s Queen position, which adds to the pressure against d6 while also staring bullets at your King. Thus, you need to be a bit more energetic here.

12.Bh6 Bf8 13.Rfd1

rvkoivu said: “Increasing pressure on the d6-pawn. I still felt pretty comfortable here. ...b5 intending …Bb7.”

A strange choice of Rook. 13.Rad1 seems so much more natural.

I’m happy to hear that you’re not freaking out about d6! However, I feel you are underestimating white’s chances (on the other hand, it’s psychologically healthier to underestimate an opponent’s chances than to overestimate them).
















You’re still playing common “setup moves” while Rome is burning. You should address the central and kingside issues by 13…Nh5! 14.Qh4 Nf6 15.Bg5 (15.h3 Bd7 is playable for Black, who can follow with …Nc6-e5-g6 and then …Bc6) 15…Be7 16.Qg3 Nh5 17.Qg4 Nf6 18.Qf4 Ne5 and black’s okay.


rvkoivu said: “Hoping that I don’t see the threat Bxf6 and taking is impossible because of the pin. I feel that my opponent underestimated me with this unproductive one-move threat.”

Actually 14.Bg5 is probably his best move. The Bishop was vulnerable on h6 and the white Queen was stuck on g3 so it would retain the pin. By moving the Bishop to a safer square (with tempo) the Queen is freed and black’s …Nh5 tricks no longer exist.

14…Nd7 15.Bf4 Nde5

rvkoivu said: “Again, I felt that the threat against the pawn is parried. But now my opponent starts to advance his h-pawn, and I found only one way cope this idea.”

You said your opponent accused you of using a chess engine here, which royally ticks me off. I really hate it when someone (in this case, you) tosses out a bunch of good, reasonable (but far from special) moves, only to be greeted with the accusation of cheating. It’s sick and it’s rude and it’s a massive demonstration of ignorance.

What’s particularly galling is that all of white’s moves from move 16 on ARE highly recommended by the computer. Quite odd, when you consider that White was playing at an 1800 clip before move 16, and then a 2500 clip afterwards. If accusations were to be tossed, they would be tossed at White.

However, instead of doing so, we’ll just congratulate White on a powerful attacking game and leave it at that. His play from here on out is nothing less than exemplary.

16.h4! Bb7 17.h5!

Aside from the opening, white’s played quite well and is intending to weaken the dark-squares around black’s King with h5-h6.

17…Kh8 18.h6















rvkoivu said: “This causes g7 to be a weak square but I did not see any way for my opponent to exploit that, or to continue his attack.”

This really leaves Black with that old disease “dark-squareous dieus”. Instead of this (which is just what White wanted) Black needed to talk like a caveman and swagger in a macho fashion with 18…gxh6! 19.Qh3 Bg7 20.Nxe5 Nxe5 21.Bxh6 Rg8 22.Bf4 (22.f4 Nc4 is very nice for Black) 22…Nc4 (22…Bf6!?) 23.Bxc4 Qxc4 24.Bxd6 Bxe4 25.Nxe5 Qxe4 26.c3 Rad8 and his game isn’t half bad.

The problem with 18…g6 is that the h6-pawn is a serious bone in black’s throat (it will hurt the Black King in the middlegame and also the endgame). Also, though g7 won’t be the death of you right away, it can easily prove fatal later if White mixes central pressure with your unfortunate dark-squares.

19.Rd2 Rad8 20.Rad1

Poor Black – white’s central pressure increases move by move, while the kingside dark-squares hint at a bloody debacle on that wing.


There was no rush for this. Instead, a tightening move like 20…f6! seems to offer greater chances for survival. It’s important to retain that monster Knight on e5!

21.gxf3 Ne5??

It seems that Black is alive, but white’s prepared a crushing tactical blow (Black missed it, but most masters would also have missed it). Black could still put up serious resistance with 21…e5! 22.Bg5 Nd4! when the tempting (but bad) 23.Bxd8? (23.f4! is correct) allows Black to rid himself of all his worries: 23…Qxd8 24.Rxd4 (White had to do something since …Bxh6 was a threat when Black would have had more than enough compensation for the sacrificed Exchange) 24…exd4 25.Rxd4 Qf6 26.Rd1 Re6 intending …Bxh6 after which White will have less than nothing.

After 21...Ne5?? we'll end the game as a chess puzzle.















Mr. rvkoivu, you didn’t play badly at all (you seem far stronger than your rating). However, in this case you just ran into a buzzsaw! 

Lessons From This Game

* Understanding the basic setups in your chosen openings is extremely important. However, this little bit of knowledge can end up as a curse if you don’t take your opponent’s moves into account.

* Treat every position as if it was fresh and interesting. Never let yourself fall into cruise control.

* If you see a potential enemy threat, train yourself to treat it with disdain until serious analysis proves that it’s worth your respect. This is far from easy to do (most players never get out of “I see a threat and I have to stop it!” mode), but if you wish to reach master (or move quickly up the rating ladder), this change in mentality is a virtual must. 

* An honest appraisal of every position is best, but if you’re going to be stilted in any direction it’s far better to be overconfident than fatalistic.

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