The_Rooky (1657) – Salander (1604), Chess.com, Aug. 2011
All notes in quotes with the initials TMS (The Mighty Salander) are, obviously, Salander’s.
1.e4 e5 2.a3
This looks like the move of an imbecile, but there’s actually some sense to it. Take the Four Knights Opening, for example: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 and now 4.Bb5 is thought to be white’s best move. The idea behind 2.a3 is that White intends to play a double king pawn from black’s side, but with the aside that “White” (who is now Black) won’t be able to play …Bb4. Thus: 1.e4 e5 2.a3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Nf3 and now 4…Bb4 is rather a poor move for Black. In general, having the pawn on a3 gives White all sorts of tiny perks – one is that after a later Bf1-c4, Black won’t be able to hunt the Bishop down with an eventual …Nc6-a5 since the c4-Bishop would be able to comfortably retreat to a2 which leaves the enemy Knight on a5 looking downright silly.
Grandmaster Duncan Suttles actually played 1.a3 (known as Anderssen’s Opening) against grandmaster Schmid in Lone Pine 1975 (seeking to be as bizarre as possible, White followed 1.a3 up with the outrageous 4.Ra2). This isn’t as good as The_Rooky’s 1.e4 e5 2.a3 since the immediate 1.a3 allows Black to avoid 1…e5 and instead seek out an opening setup where a2-a3 doesn’t have much point.
Since 1.e4 e5 2.a3 seeks an improved double king pawn (from black’s side), strong players occasionally give it a try in the hope of throwing their opponent off his stride (in a sound way) – Wilfried Paulsen gave it a go in 1880 (White lost), C.H. Alexander used it to beat Milner Barry in Hastings 1933, Mark Hebden defeated Ady in London 1986, grandmaster (and German Champion) Matthias Walls used it on a few occasions in the 1990s (with some success), the Indian grandmaster Ganguly played it several times in 2002 (another Indian grandmaster, C. Deepan, also made successful use of 1.e4 e5 2.a3 in 2008), and the Georgian grandmaster Tamaz Gelashvili used it in 2009 to defeat India’s number 2 female player, D. Harika.
2…Nf6 3.Nc3 Bc5
TMS – “Attacking the weak d4-square.”
High rated players will think this obvious, but it’s actually an important comment. In fact, most solid amateurs will think that this move develops, prepares to castle, and takes aim at the vulnerable f2-pawn. And all this is true! But would they also notice that it grabs control over the extremely important d4-square? In other words, one can’t just develop quickly and place their pieces on active squares (all very good things to do, of course), one must also strive to gain space, grab squares, and make various positional acquisitions.
TMS – “I wandered lonely as a cloud...”
Confucius says: “Chess player with head in cloud can no longer see the board.”
The most common move is 4.Nf3 when 4…Ng4 is rarely tried: 5.d4 exd4 6.Na4 d6 and now White can choose between 7.b4 Bb6 8.Nxb6 axb6 9.Qxd4, or the sharper 7.h3 Nf6 8.e5 Qe7 9.Nxc5 dxc5 10.Bb5+ (10.Bc4!?) 10…Nfd7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Bg5 Qe6 13.Qe2 Nc6 14.Bc4 Qe8 15.Rfe1 Nb6 16.Bd3 with serious compensation for the sacrificed pawn (the threat of Qe4 looms over black’s position).
Instead of 4…Ng4, Black usually plays 4…d6 when White can keep things in normal double e-pawn paths with 5.Bc4, or muck things up with a kingside fianchetto: 5.h3 Nc6 6.d3 a6 7.g3 0-0 8.Bg2 Be6 9.0-0 h6 10.Kh2 (Wahls  - Brueckner , Germany 1990) – Black obviously stands well enough, but White is hoping to create a position Black isn’t familiar with and outplay his opponent in the resulting complications.
An excellent choice. Before starting a fight, Black decides to tuck her King away in the corner and get that h8-Rook into the game. Note how she’s not giving white’s 4.Qf3 any respect at all.
TMS – “Unnecessary pawn move since I can retreat?”
Yes Salander, it is an unnecessary pawn push, but you didn’t need to go backwards.
This is a good, solid move. However, Black is ahead in development and her King in safe, while white’s King is still in the middle and his Queen might turn out to be quite vulnerable on f3. If I was going over this game with a student, I would be delighted if he showed an awareness of these things, and even more delighted if he was excited by them (once you understand the position’s plusses and minuses, you will be in a state of mind to take advantage of them)!
If Black had realized that White was playing with fire, she might have given some thought to 5…Bd4! (With an accompanying mindset of “Kill, punish, kill, kill!”), pinning the enemy Knight. Let’s look at a couple fun possibilities after this move:
* 6.Bc4 d5! (starting a firefight while white’s King is still in the middle) 7.exd5? (better is 7.Bxd5 but terror is still in the air after 7…Nxd5 8.exd5 e4 9.Qg3 f5! 10.Nge2 f4 and white’s getting killed) 7…e4 8.Qe2 (8.Qg3?? Nh5 wins the Queen!) 8…Ng4 (I would be tempted to play 8…Bg4 just to see his Queen grovel some more with 9.Qf1) 9.Nh3 e3!! 10.fxe3 Nxe3! and the game is over.
* 6.Nge2 Re8 7.d3 (of course, 7.Nxd4? opens the e-file for black’s Rook after 7…exd4) 7…Nc6 8.Bg5 Re6 (also good is 8…Bxc3+ 9.Nxc3 Nd4 10.Qd1 c6 with a very nice, dynamic position for Black) 9.Rb1 (9.Qg3 h6 10.Bd2 Nh5 and black’s pieces continue to show that white’s Queen came out much too early!) 9…h6 10.Be3 a5 11.b5 Bxc3+ 12.Nxc3 Nd4 13.Qd1 d5 and it doesn’t take a genius to see who’s in charge.
Note that in all these lines, white’s Queen on f3 proved to be a serious liability. However, you can only prove it if you TRY and prove it, and that called for an aggressive effort to rip open the position and punish White for his various transgressions.
TMS – “Not sure why I made this move as it’s not a (semi) open file.”
The problem with this (and subsequent) moves is that Black isn’t aware of the white King’s potential vulnerability (which can only be taken advantage of with very sharp play, and the sense that the time to act is now!), nor the white Queen’s baggage (most amateurs would look at that Queen with fear, while masters would look at it as a potential punching bag).
More pointed was 6…Nc6 (threatening to punish white’s Queen with …Nd4) 7.Nge2 Nd4 8.Nxd4 exd4 9.Nd5 Nxe4 10.0-0 (not 10.Qxe4?? Re8 when both the poor position of white’s Queen and central white King lead to his undoing) 10…Nf6 11.Nxf6+ Qxf6 12.Qxf6 gxf6 and black’s a pawn up (white’s dream result would now be a draw).
Once again, if you don’t read the position and grasp the imbalances, your moves will be just that: moves. Most likely, they won’t cater to the position’s needs since you, the general, aren’t aware of those needs and thus can’t give your men (pieces) proper orders.
TMS – “Knight to edge of board? Hasn’t he heard of the Octoknight?”
Placing the Knight on this side-of-the-board square is indeed a poor move since the Knight has limited mobility there and it also fails to address the weakness of the d4-square. However, I suspect that all these thoughts of squares and the vulnerability of the white Q/K didn’t mean much to The_Rooky. He was thinking of attacking black’s King, and I think he got Salander to fear this a bit too. In fact, she begins to react to her opponent’s moves from this point on – a pity, since she should have done her best to make The_Rooky fear black’s stuff.
Instead of 7.Nh3, White should have gone for approximate equality by 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.Bxd5 Qe7.
TMS – “Preventing white’s Knight from moving to g5.”
I’m not worried about black’s move as much as I’m worried about her comment – she reacted to a non-threat (don’t accept that something is a threat, make sure you know whether it is a threat or not!), and didn’t say anything about her position’s dreams and aspirations.
Instead of 7…h6, Black had a couple interesting choices:
* 7…Nc6 8.Nd5 (8.Ng5 Rf8 is fine since 9.Nxf7 Rxf7 10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 is losing for White – the two minor pieces are far more valuable than white’s Rook and pawn) 8…Nd4 9.Nxf6+ Qxf6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11.Ra2 d6 13.c3 Be6 14.Bxe6 Nxe6 and Black has the better chances due to the white Knight’s banishment to the side of the board and black’s potential pawn breaks (…a7-a5, …d6-d5, and at some point …f6-f5).
* 7…c6 8.Ng5 d5! 9.exd5 e4 10.Qf4 h6 11.Nxf7 Kxf7 12.dxc6+ Kf8 13.cxb7 Bxb7 and White doesn’t have enough for the sacrificed piece.
* 7…d6 8.Nd5 (8.Ng5 Rf8 is fine since 9.Nxf7 Rxf7 10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 is losing for White – the two minor pieces are far more valuable than white’s Rook and pawn) 8…Nbd7 9.d3 h6 (preventing Bg5) 10.0-0 Nxd5 11.Bxd5 Nf6 12.Be3 Bg4 13.Qg3 c6 14.Bb3 d5 with a clear advantage for Black due to his more active pieces, control of the center, and more harmonious development. One big negative for White is his offside horse on h3.
Compare these 7th move alternatives to black’s 7…h6. Two of the three allow Ng5 but make it clear that the Knight leap is nothing to worry about. Thus, instead of worrying, Black makes moves that aim to make certain gains.
I think White should still trade a couple pieces by 8.Nd5 Nxd5 9.Bxd5, though after 9…Qe7 black’s for choice due to the horrible placement of white’s Knight.
TMS – “Developing the Knight, which is on its way to a nice outpost on d4.”
That’s very good! Though 8…Bd4 was stronger, it’s impossible to say nay to the logic that Salander shared with us in her note. If all your moves are based on simple logic like that, you’ll do very well.
As for 8…Bd4, it’s based on black’s desire to get something cooking before White castles: 9.Bd2 (9.Bb2 c6 followed by …d5 when Black is boss) 9…d5! (striking while the iron is still hot) 10.Bxd5 (10.exd5 e4 11.dxe4 Bxc3 12.Bxc3 Rxe4+ 13.Be2 Bg4 14.Bxf6 Qxd5 15.Nf4 Bxf3 16.Nxd5 Rxe2+ 17.Kf1 Bxd5 18.Kxe2 gxf6 19.Rhd1 c6 20.Rd4 Nd7 21.c4 Be6 and black’s two minor pieces will beat white’s Rook.) 10…Nxd5 (10…g5!?) 11.exd5 a5 12.b5 (12.0-0 Ra6 13.Kh1 Rf6 with a kingside attack for Black) 12…Nd7 (Black has other tempting choices here too!) 13.0-0 Qh4 14.Qg3 Qxg3 15.hxg3 Nf6 16.Rae1 Bf5 and, as usual, black’s better (he’ll play …Rad8 and capture the pawn on d5).
For the last time, White really needed to swap some pieces by 9.Nd5 and then hope for the best.
Now we come to Salander’s most important note of the game:
TMS – “No choice.”
Such a key admission! In one move she bought into her opponent’s misguided sense of reality, exchanges pieces, completely loses her control over the critical d4-square, and after fxe3 hands White’s (previously inactive) Rook use of a semi-open f-file. Why was there no choice? Even if Black passed, White doesn’t threaten Bxb6 since …axb6 is an easy answer.
Please remember to do this before you make any move: Always ask, “What wonderful thing(s) does this move do for my position?” Clearly, 9…Bxe3 did many wonderful things for white’s position, while giving Black nothing in return. (hmm … perhaps she was bribed? I see it happening this way: Her opponent looks around to make sure nobody is watching and then whispers, “Psst, Salander! If you play 9…Bxe3 I’ll give you 5 gold bricks, a new car, and 3 wishes. How about it?” Who could resist? Hell, I’d take that bribe myself! Okay Salander, you’re off the hook.).
So, returning to the position before the unfortunate capture on e3, let’s try and figure out what Black should have done. To answer this, all we need do is revisit Salander’s comment to black’s 8th move: “Developing the Knight, which is on its way to a nice outpost on d4.”
Okay Salander, since you wanted to move your Knight to d4, let’s give it a try! 9…Nd4! 10.Qd1 (10.Bxd4 Bxd4 11.Kd2 c6 intending to rip open the center with …d7-d5 doesn’t look very healthy for White, who will surely get wiped out). After 10.Qd1 we have once again proved to White that moving one’s Queen out too early is usually a bad idea. Now we need to choose between a lot of crushing continuations. My favorite is 10…c6 11.0-0 d5 12.exd5 cxd5 13.Ba2 Bg4 14.Qb1 (14.f3 Nxf3+! 15.gxf3 Bxe3+) 14…Qd7 (14…Rc8 is also crushing, as is the immediate 14…Bxh3) and now, after wishing he never played 4.Qf3, White will also be wishing that he never stuck his Knight on the godforsaken h3-square by 7.Nh3. After 14…Qd7 White would be wise to resign and head for the nearest bar.
Suddenly White has a good position!
Say what? White has to know about the castling rule since he allowed his opponent to castle on the 4th move. Or perhaps he thought she cheated and, as any true gentleman would, let her get away with it?
I suspect he was hoping to play an eventual g2-g4, though proper play by Black would never allow this to occur. Obviously 11.0-0 was correct, when white’s King is out of the way and the Rook rules the f-file.
TMS – “Developing and challenging my opponent’s Bishop.”
Logical and good. However, I would have preferred 11…Qe7 which gives f7 some much needed support. Retaining the black’s light-squared Bishop also stops White from playing g2-g4.
Missing his chance to get something going on the kingside by 12.Bxe6 followed by g2-g4.
TMS – “The Octoknight? Why have eight possible moves when you can limit it to three?”
Instead of retreating the Knight, why not turn it into a monster? 12…Ng4, threatening …Nxh2, would once again leave Black in charge of the game.
TMS – “Marvelous! Out comes the King in search of my Queen.”
TMS – “Preventing Bb5 and the subsequent pinning of my Knight.”
Not very good, in particular because it shows Black slipping completely into the dark side – Black’s entering a gloomy realm where all her ideas are purely based on reactions to her opponent’s real and imagined threats. This happens to everyone, and when it happens to you it’s critically important to recognize the problem (sadly, very few realize when it happens) and do something to stop it. What that “something” is varies from person to person – I used to get up from the board, go outside, and rave at myself in an expletive ridden tirade. Others simply look into a mirror and say, “You’re good enough, smart enough, and god darn it, people like you.” To each his own, but you MUST put a stop to subservient thinking as quickly as possible or you’ll lose game after game and never really understand why.
So why is Black afraid of Bb5? A moment ago she was worried about white’s Bishop trolling along the a2-g8 diagonal. So shouldn’t Salander be happy if White moves his Bishop off that diagonal? Also, if White does play Bb5 and Bxc6, after Black recaptures with …bxc6 white’s well-placed Knight will have to move off of d5. The fact is Black should WANT White to play Bb5 followed by Bxc6.
And this takes us to another useful bit of advice: Never stop your opponent from making a bad move! When you defend against bad moves, you’re the one that’s making them.
TMS – “To help defend my King or exchange his Knight on d5 which is closer than I would like.”
More solid reasoning, though I would prefer to avoid the trade of Knights by 14…Nb8 or 14…Na7 followed by …c6 when the d5-square is no longer available to white’s pieces. I should add that I don’t see any serious kingside attack for White (as long as Black watches out for tricks), but after chasing the d5-Knight away Black can seek some queenside or central pawn breaks that might well annoy white’s King.
Not a bad move, but 15…Nxd5 16.Bxd5 Bxd5 17.exd5 e4 adds a bit of zest to the proceedings by the acquisition of central counterplay and the loosening up of the white King’s protective pawn cover.
TMS – “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling aka GLOW.”
I must be very, very old because I have no idea what TMS is talking about. Be that as it may, black’s 16…Rf8 walked into some mild tactics that let White equalize the game. Another tactic that had to be avoided is 16…c6 17.Rxf7! Bxf7 18.Rxf7 Kxf7 19.Qf3+ Kg8?? (19…Nf6 was forced) 20.Ne7+ Kh8 21.Nxg6 mate.
I think Black needed to tighten her position and end white’s silly tricks by the craven looking (but effective) 16…Nh8! giving iron protection to f7: 17.Bb3 c6 (17.Kc1 a5) 18.Nf6+ Nxf6 19.Rxf6 Bxb3 20.cxb3 Kf8 21.R6f2 a5 and suddenly white’s King looks to be in serious danger!
White misses 17.Nf6+! Nxf6 18.Bxe6 fxe6 (Better than 18…Kh7 19.Ba2 c6 20.Rxf6 gxf6 21.Nf2 with a serious attack) 19.Qxg6 Qe8 20.Qg3 Kh8 with equality.
TMS – “I am playing a very defensive game and trying to get rid of some of the attacking pieces by exchanging Queens.”
Once again Black fails to look around and see if there’s something tasty in the position; her move is based on worry about white’s potential. Instead, 17…Ng5 forces the win of material since white’s f3-Rook has no safe square to move to.
The rest of the game is filled with blunders that no longer illustrate most of the earlier instructive points, so I’ll present it with minimal notes:
May I ask what’s wrong with 18.Nxc7?
19.Nxc7! Nxf3+ 20.gxf3 Rab8 21.Nxe6 fxe6 22.Bxe6+ Kh8 23.Ke2 Rbe8 25.Bd5 leaves White with all the chances.
19…Bxd5 20.Bxd5 c6 21.Bb3
20…c6 deprived White of the use of d5, and 21…c5 gives it right back! Black had to defend a few kingside points and all would be well. Thus 21…Kh7 (giving g6 support) was playable.
22.bxc5 dxc5 23.Nh3! Nxh3 24.Rxg6 was very strong for White.
22…Ne7 made more sense since it ends tricks on g6 and stops White from planting his Bishop on d5.
23.bxc5 dxc5 24.Bd5 was clearly better for White.
23…Ne6 24.Nh3 b5 25.h5 Ne7 26.Rf3 g6??
Activating all of white’s pieces and creating targets and holes on h6, f5, f6, and f7.
28.Rf6! was very strong.
28…Rae8 29.Nf2 h5??
The creation of a new weakness on h5 takes black’s position to the brink. Instead, 29…Ng5 30.Bd5 f6 was perfectly playable. Shore up weaknesses, don’t create them!
30.Rh3 Ng7 31.Nh1 f5??
The final mistake.
32.exf5 Rxf5 33.Ng3 Rf2+ 34.Kc3
34.Ke1, attacking the Rook, was even stronger. 34…Rxg2 would have been met with the same idea as in the next note.
TMS – “I think I planned to take the Pawn on g2 when I moved the Rook and then forgot my plan when I came to make the move the next day. I know I should make use of the notes box when playing over a number of days! I think this was the turning point in the defeat and I lost an opportunity. Making that move would have pinned his Knight.”
Well, you missed a trick, but perhaps White didn’t see it either!?
After 34…Rxg2 you get butchered by 35.Nxh5! (So much for the pinned Knight! Several other moves also win, but this is the most crushing and the prettiest!) 35…Rxg4 36.Nf6 mate.
Hanging the Rook, but White was winning easily in any case.
36.Nxf2 and Black resigned in a few more moves. She said: “I very, very rarely resign even when losing but I felt very disheartened and gave up.”
Salander, don't be disheartened! You had this guy by the throat, and if you make a few adjustments you'll start winning games like this.
TMS – “So…. My problem is that I tend to play a lot of defensive games, which lack deep analysis; I find it hard to look several moves ahead and often lack a plan. Whilst I really enjoy your books and understand the key ideas whilst I am reading them I find it very difficult to apply the concepts in my own games. This is partly because I don’t only play one game at a time, giving it my full attention. My intention is to bring number of games down to about three, and analyze the position properly as I know I should.”
You just gave yourself some very good advice, Salander! When you’re playing these slow internet games, you should keep a notebook that lists the imbalances and ideas in any given position. This way, over time, you’ll learn to see these things quickly and easily. With a little practice, you’ll find that you’re suddenly taking advantage of the position’s imbalances and winning lots of games in a free wheeling romp.
LESSONS FROM THIS GAME
* The Queen should not come out early.
* A Knight on the rim is dim/grim/starving and slim.
* Stop worrying about your opponent’s play and instead concentrate on your own goals.
* A lead in development is a dynamic (temporary) plus. That means you need to use it or lose it!
* Never stop your opponent from making a bad move! When you defend against bad moves, you’re actually stopping your opponent from losing the game!
reasonabledoubt (2325 at quick chess) said: “... instead it sets the bar much lower by looking at internet games played by 1300s...”
Nerv (2105 at blitz) said he was “disappointed because of the low quality of the game presented.”
Over the years, I’ve had students in the (USCF) 1000 to 2400 range (serious tournament ratings). I view the problems these players had to be of equal importance – I was just as passionate about turning a 2400 into an IM as I was about turning a 1000 into a solid 1500. And, the fact is that many mistakes by the under 1500 crowd are extremely valuable since the vast majority of chess lovers suffer from the same weaknesses.
I’m having trouble with players who are demanding instruction that’s useful to them, and want me to ignore everyone else. Here you’ll find games from many levels – perhaps some will prove beneficial for higher rated players, and some won’t. But here’s a little something to think about: many of the “basic” things I point out in low rated games are actually critical for much higher rated players too (the higher rated players just aren’t aware of it). I’ve taught many 2100s in my time, and when I tried to explain some “basic” thing to them, they would get upset and say, “Yeah, I already know that!” Yet, when I went over their games, they would be oblivious to that very thing. In other words, they knew of it, but were not able to integrate it into their over-the-board battles. By trying to shut me up, the 2100s were (unconsciously) actually trying to stop me from fixing their game!
There are lessons in this game that 2100 players and even 2300 players can learn from. You can push your egos aside and try to learn something, or you can sneer at it. I don’t care. But please don’t put down the vast majority of players that DO want to improve.
There are endless columns and articles that feature annotations to high rated games. Enjoy them. This column isn’t that.