If You Putter, Your Game Will Sputter
Franke: “This is a game I’m quite proud of, even though I came away from it with a half point fewer than I should have. With a USCF rating of 1984 and a recent peak at 2037, Ted is the strongest opponent by far whom I’ve ever achieved a draw against, and outcome aside, this is simply one of my best-played games. I’ve only recently returned to tournament chess after abandoning it while in elementary school, so I’m still working my way up from my old rating of 778. Although I’m therefore much stronger than my published rating, I feel that I typically play at about a 1650 level, which is quite a long way from Expert and makes this game a remarkable result. I do feel like I’ve improved enough recently that I’m starting to discover my style, which I’d characterize as ‘tactical but conservative.’ I can literally calculate all day (even at the longest time controls, the clock is my nemesis), but I’ll always chose a solid positional move over a possible brilliancy whose soundness I’m not confident in, and I avoid getting into positions that are out of my depth, no matter if they’re out of my opponent’s depth as well. I think all of these observations show through in this game.”
Ted Cross (1984) – D. Franke (1110), Somerville 2012
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6
The Modern Benoni has had periods of favor, and periods of abandonment. It’s a very dynamic opening, where Black gives White a clear central majority (which he will often use to crash through in the middle by e2-e4-e5), and Black enjoys a queenside pawn majority (thus the …b7-b5 advance is a basic, but very thematic, idea). In the late 50s and early 60s the great M. Tal used it with enormous success – it clearly suited his ultra-dynamic style. Then, with the advent of the terrifying Taimanov Variation, it almost vanished. However, it’s made a nice comeback and now is used regularly by very aggressive players like Gashimov and Topalov.
Franke: “This is the ‘Knight’s Tour’ variation of the Benoni. I knew its name, but had never studied or encountered it before, so I was on my own from here on out.”
This line achieved instant fame when it was used by Nimzovich to defeat Marshall in New York 1927. It’s still played from time to time, but other more fashionable setups have stolen its thunder. Nowadays 7.e4, 7.g3, 7.Qa4+ and other moves are all quite popular.
Here are two particularly virulent lines (Benoni fans shouldn’t freak out – black’s found some very playable ways to meet them):
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Bd3 Bg7 8.h3 0-0 9.Nf3 Nbd7 (9…b5 10.Bxb5 Nxe4 is a far more critical line) 10.0-0 Nh5 11.Bg5 Qb6? (11…Bf6 is correct) 12.Rb1 a6 13.a4 h6 14.Be3 Qd8 15.Qd2 g5 16.b4 b6 17.Ne2 Re8 18.Rfc1 Ne5 19.Nxe5 Bxe5 20.a5 bxa5 21.bxc5 Qf6 22.cxd6 a4 23.Rb6, 1-0, Ki Georgiev (2672) – M. Daels (2207) [A70], Blagoevgrad 2010.
The dreaded Taimanov System is still a critical threat to the Benoni:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Bb5+ Nfd7 9.a4 Na6 10.Nf3 Nb4 11.0-0 a6 12.Bxd7+ Bxd7 13.f5 0-0 14.Bg5 f6 15.Bf4 gxf5 16.Bxd6 Bxa4 17.Rxa4 Qxd6 18.Nh4 fxe4 19.Nf5 Qd7 20.Nxe4 Kh8 21.Nxc5, 1-0, G. Kasparov – J. Nunn [A67], Luzern ol 1982.
In my day when humans rode dinosaurs, I tried a couple lines against the Modern Benoni. One was the sharp 7.Bf4:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Bf4 a6 (7…Bg7 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qb3 Qc7 10.e4 0-0 11.Be2 Nh5 12.Be3 a6 13.Nd2 b5 14.a4 bxa4 15.Nxa4 Bb5 16.Bxb5 axb5 17.Qxb5 Ra5 18.Qb3 Nd7 19.Nc4 Ra7 20.0-0 Rb7 21.Qc2 f5 22.exf5 gxf5 23.f4 Kh8 24.Rf3 h6 25.Re1 Nhf6 26.Qxf5 Rb4 27.Qc2 Nxd5 28.Bd2 Rbb8 29.Re6 Rf6 30.Qe4 Nf8 31.Rxf6 Nxf6 32.Qf5 d5 33.Ne5 c4 34.Be3 Qa5 35.Nc3 Rxb2 36.Bd4 Rb7 37.h3 Ne4 38.Qxf8+ Bxf8 39.Nxc4+, 1-0, Silman – N. De Firmian [A70], San Jose 1982) 8.e4 b5 (8…Nh5 9.Bg5 f6 10.Be3 b5 11.Nd2 Ng7 12.Bd3 Be7 13.0-0 0-0 14.f4 Nd7 15.f5 Ne5 16.Bc2 g5 17.a4 b4 18.Na2 a5 19.b3 Ba6 20.Re1 h5 21.Nf3 Ng4 22.Bd3 Nxe3 23.Rxe3 Bxd3 24.Qxd3 Re8 25.Nd2 Bf8 26.Nc4 Qc7 27.Rf1 Qf7 28.Nc1 h4 29.Ne2 Ra7 30.g3 hxg3 31.Rxg3 Qh5 32.h3 Kh8 33.Rg4 Rd8 34.Rf2 Ne8 35.Rh2 Rdd7 36.Qg3 Rg7 37.Kf1 Kg8 38.Ng1 Kf7 39.Nf3 Ke7 40.h4 gxh4 41.Rxg7+ Bxg7 42.Rxh4 Qf7 43.Rh7 Qg8 44.Qh2 Kd7 45.Ne1 Qf8 46.Nd3 Qe7 47.Nxc5+ , 1-0, Silman – D. Fritzinger, Bagby Memorial 1983) 9.Qe2 Nh5 (9…Be7!?; 9…Bg4?? Believe it or not, the game is now over! 10.e5! winning on the spot. 10...Bxf3 11.gxf3 Nh5 12.exd6+ Kd7 13.Bh3+ f5 14.Qe6 mate. Silman – G. Sanchez, San Jose 1981) 10.Bg5 f6 11.Be3 Bg4 12.h3 Bxf3 13.Qxf3 Nd7 14.g4 Ng7 15.Qg3 Qe7 16.Bg2 0-0-0 17.0-0 h5 18.b4 h4 19.Qf3 cxb4 20.Nb1 Ne5 21.Qe2 Ne8 22.Bb6 Rd7 23.Nd2 f5 24.f4 Nf7 25.Nb3 Bg7 26.e5 dxe5 27.Rac1+ Nc7 28.Nc5 exf4 29.Qf2 Rxd5 30.Nxa6 Bc3 31.Nxc7 Rd2 32.Qxd2 Bxd2 33.Nd5+ Bxc1 34.Nxe7+, 1-0, Silman – V. McCambridge, [A70], Bagby Memorial 1982.
And the other was a placid positional line:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.Bg5 Bg7 8.e3 h6 9.Bh4 0-0 10.Nd2 Nbd7 11.Be2 a6 12.a4 Re8 13.0-0 Rb8 14.h3 g5 15.Bg3 Ne5 16.Qc2 Qe7 17.Rfe1 Bd7 18.a5 g4 19.hxg4 Nfxg4 20.Na4 Qg5 21.Nf1 Qg6 22.Qxg6 fxg6 23.Nb6 Bf5 24.f3 Nf6 25.e4 Bc8 26.Bxe5 dxe5 27.Ne3 Nd7 28.Nec4 Nxb6 29.Nxb6 Bf8 30.Rec1 Kf7 31.Bd1 h5 32.Ba4 Rd8 33.Kf2 h4 34.b4 Bh6 35.Rxc5 Bf4 36.Rc7+ Kf6 37.Bd7, 1-0, Silman – C. Mar [A61], San Jose 1983.
As always, lines that were once considered fearsome are eventually tamed, and my old standbys are no exception.
Sharpest. Black can also hold off on this (thus leaving the dark-squared Bishop to give support to d6) with 7…Nbd7, which was Marshall’s choice in the aforementioned game:
1.c4 Nf6 2.d4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.d5 d6 5.Nc3 exd5 6.cxd5 g6 7.Nd2 Nbd7 8.Nc4 Nb6 9.e4 Bg7 10.Ne3 0-0 11.Bd3 Nh5 (11…Nbd7!?) 12.0-0 Be5 (12…Nf4 13.Bc2 f5? 14.exf5 gxf5 15.a4! Bd7 16.a5 Nc8 17.Qf3 Ng6 18.Nxf5 Nh4 19.Nh6+! Bxh6 20.Qh5 Bf5 21.Bxf5 Nxf5 22.Bxh6, 1-0, Gelfand - Cvitan, Saint Vincent 2005) 13.a4 Nf4 14.a5 Nd7 15.Nc4 Nxd3 16.Qxd3 f5 17.exf5 Rxf5 18.f4 Bd4+ 19.Be3 Bxc3 20.Qxc3 Nf6 21.Qb3 Rxd5 22.f5 gxf5 23.Bg5 Rd4 24.Nb6+ c4 25.Qc3 axb6 26.Qxd4 Kg7 27.Rae1 bxa5 28.Re8 Qxe8 29.Qxf6+ Kg8 30.Bh6, 1-0, A. Nimzovich – F. Marshall [A61], New York 1927.
8.Nc4 O-O 9.Bf4
9.Bg5 is also played from time to time.
Franke: “I thought that being forced into this gross-looking move meant that one of my two previous moves was a mistake, but apparently this is the main line.”
The main line. Going after d6 is too greedy and just doesn’t work:
* 10.Ne4 b5! 11.Ncxd6 Nxd6 12.Nxd6 (12.Bxd6? Re8 wins material for Black.) 12...Bxb2 13.Nxc8 Qf6 and white’s lack of development and central King will come back to haunt him.
* 10.Nb5 Bd7 11.Nbxd6 (11.a4 is better, but white gets nothing after 11...Bxb5 12.axb5 Nd7 followed by ...Nb6.) 11...b5 12.Nxe8 Bxe8 13.Ne5 Qd6! 14.Nd3 Qxd5 is good for Black - Psakhis.
Franke: “The main line is ...b6. This is a good move too (it’s the second-most popular), but not for the reason I played it: I was afraid of white playing Ne4 and winning my d6 pawn. It turns out that this is refutable, but the refutation (or at least Stockfish’s choice of refutation) is tricky: 10...b6 11.Ne4 Ba6 12.Ncxd6 Nxd6 13.Nxd6 g5 14.Bg3 f5 15.Qe3 f4 16.Qe6+ Kh8 17.e3 fxg3 18.hxg3 Qf6 19.Ne4 Qxe6 20.dxe6 Bxb2.”
After 10...b6 White should avoid the ultra-greed tries and instead play 11.e3, which leads to an interesting game with chances for both sides: (11.Nb5?! Ba6 12.Nbxd6? [12.a4 is better] 12…Nxd6 13.Nxd6 g5! 14.Bg3 f5 when white is forced to try 15.Nxf5 Rxf5 16.e4 Bxf1 17.Kxf1 with some, but not quite enough, compensation; 11.a4 Ba6 12.Nb5 Bxb5 13.axb5 f5 14.h4 Bf6 15.e3 Rf7 16.Be2 a6 17.bxa6 Rfa7, =. Analysis by Watson) 11…Ba6 12.a4 Bxc4 (12…f5 13.Bg3 Qe7 14.0-0-0 Bxc4 15.Bxc4 a6 16.Kb1 Nd7 17.Rhe1 b5! ripping open the queenside; 13.Be2 Qf6 14.Bg3 Bxc4 15.Bxc4 a6 16.0-0 Nd7 when Black will thematically prepare ...b6-b5 by ...Nc7, ...Rab8, etc.) 13.Bxc4 Nd7 (13…f5 14.0-0 Nd7 15.e4 Qf6 16.Rae1 Kh8 17.Bb5 Ne5 18.Bg5 Qf7 19.f4 Ng4 20.h3 Bd4+ 21.Kh1 Ngf6 22.e5 Nh5 23.Rf3 Qg7 24.Bc6 Rb8 25.Nb5 h6 26.Nxd4 cxd4 27.Bh4 Nxf4 28.Qxf4 g5 29.Qxd4 gxh4 30.Qxh4 dxe5 31.Rg3 Qf6 32.Qxf6+ Rxf6 33.Rxe5 Ng7 34.Re7 Nh5 35.Rge3 a5 36.R3e6 Rd8 37.Re8+ Rxe8 38.Rxe8+ Kg7 39.Rb8 f4 40.Rxb6 Rf5 41.Kg1 Re5 42.Kf2 Re3 43.g4 Nf6 44.d6 Rxh3 45.d7 Rd3 46.Rb8, 1-0, K. Sundararajan (2516) – S. Prathamesh (2382) [A61], Mumbai 2009) 14.0-0 Be5 15.Bxe5 Nxe5 16.Ba6 Nc7 17.Be2 a6 18.f4 Nd7 19.e4 Rb8 20.Bg4 Nf6 21.Bf3 b5 22.axb5 axb5 23.b4 cxb4 24.Ne2 Ra8 25.Qxb4 Re8 26.Nc3 Na6 27.Qxb5 Nc5 28.Rxa8 Qxa8 29.Qb4 Nfd7 30.Qd4 Nb3 31.Qe3 Qa5 32.Rb1 Nbc5 33.Qd4 Rb8 34.Rxb8+ Nxb8 35.h3 Nbd7 36.Kh2 Qa1 37.e5 dxe5 38.fxe5 Qe1 39.Be2 Nb3 40.Qc4 Nd2 41.Qc7 Nf8 42.e6 fxe6 43.dxe6 Nxe6 44.Qe7 Nf3+ 45.Bxf3, 1-0, Vl. Akopian (2698) – E. Bacrot (2709) [A61], Ohrid 2009.
Franke: “The threat of Bh6 (trapping my rook) needs to be addressed, but first I can slip in a highly thematic Benoni move.”
I like this better than 11.bxc3, which has also been played on various occasions:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.Nd2 Bg7 8.Nc4 0-0 9.Bf4 Ne8 10.Qd2 Bxc3 11.bxc3 b5 12.Nb2 Bb7 13.g3 Nd7 14.Bg2 f5 15.0-0 c4 16.Rae1 Ndf6 17.h4 Qd7 18.e4 fxe4 19.Bxe4 Nxe4 20.Rxe4 Nf6 21.Re6 Nxd5 22.Rxd6 Qh3, 0-1, Van den Berg (2450) – V. Korchnoi (2660) [A61], Wijk aan Zee 1971.
Franke: “This, I realized, is the right reason for …Bxc3, and my compensation for the bishop pair.”
Franke: “I should have played ...b4 instead. Exploiting the weaknesses created by the ...f6 push is difficult, but there was no good reason to offer the opportunity.”
An unfortunate move. With a bit more experience with his Benoni, Mr. Franke will realize that the Benoni is an all-action opening that calls for brave, dynamic play. His earlier fear of losing his d-pawn (see black’s 10th move) wouldn’t scare a player with lots of Benoni experience since he would know that while White is moving the same pieces over and over again so he can win that pawn, Black will be developing his forces and acquiring a significant lead in development. In the case of 10…Bxc3, Franke did something that most would be afraid to do, alas not with the idea of speeding up his counterplay (it would be a brilliant, bold choice in that case), but rather to prevent threats to his d-pawn (not good). In other words, he bowed to his opponent’s pseudo-threats and did something that, in many cases, would prove counterproductive.
We see the same incorrect mentality with his 12…f6. He is so worried about Bh6 that he plays a move that hurts his position (actually reduces black’s activity) rather than enhances it.
The ability to refuse to cower in the face of enemy threats is an advanced one (most people don’t realize they are cowering even when they are on their knees and drooling all over the floor). The following simple advice might help those that repeatedly cower: Try to push your own agenda with each and every move. If you must defend, do your best to find a way to find a move that not only ends the enemy threat (or ignores it altogether), but also makes significant gains for your side.
12…f5 (12…b4!?; 12…Nf6!? 13.Bg5 [13.e4 Re8 14.Bxb5 Nxd5] 13…Nbd7) 13.h4 Nf6 14.Bg5 Nbd7 15.h5 Bb7 16.hxg6 hxg6 17.e4 fxe4 18.Bxb5 Ne5 19.Qh3 Bxd5 20.0-0-0 Kf7 21.f4 Neg4 22.Bc4 Bxc4 23.Nxc4 Rh8 24.Qb3 Kg7 25.Rxh8 Kxh8 26.Ne5, 1-0, N. Dzagnidze (2534) – I. Krush (2490) [A61], 39th Women’s Olympiad 2010.
In the only other game that I could find with 12…f6 13.e4, Black played 13…b4 instead of Mr. Franke’s 12…Ba6 13…b4 14.Qg3 Qe7 15.Bc4 Nd7 16.0-0 Ne5 17.Rfe1 Nc7 18.Qe3 Kh8 19.Bg3 Bd7 20.f4 Nxc4 21.Nxc4 Bb5 22.Qb3 Bxc4 23.Qxc4 Qd7 24.b3 Rac8 25.Rad1 Nb5 26.e5 Nc3 27.Rd2 f5 28.Bh4 Rce8 29.e6 Qg7 30.e7 Rf7 31.Re6 h6 32.Qa6 Ne4 33.Rd1 g5 34.fxg5 hxg5 35.Bg3 Rfxe7 36.Rxe7 Rxe7 37.Bxd6 Rd7 38.Qc8+ Kh7 39.Bxc5 Kg6 40.Qc6+ Kh5 41.Bxb4 Qf7 42.d6 a5 43.Bxa5 Ra7 44.d7, 1-0, J. Kozma – B. Sandor [A61], Bratislava 1957.
White starts playing passively (no doubt psychologically destroyed by the unexpected 12…f6). Instead, 14.h4 is the way to play these positions, and 14.Qg3!? is also extremely tempting (stops …Nd7 due to Bxd6, but also intends h2-h4 in another move or two. For example, 14.Qg3 f5 15.h4 fxe4 16.Bg5 Qc7 17.h5).
Faced with passive play by his opponent, White needs to take matters into his own hands and dictate the tempo of the game. Instead he moves his Queen to c2 (a passive square) and quietly develops, which gives Black time to get his own pieces out and create some play for himself. After pointed moves like 14.h4 and 14.Qg3, Black will find that he’s in very serious trouble.
14…Nd7 15.Be2 Ne5?!
Franke: “Stockfish hates this move but I have no idea why. To me it seems entirely logical and thematic.”
Was Stockfish having a bad oil day? Or perhaps it realized that a pretty square isn’t always a permanent one. The problem with the visually appealing 15…Ne5 is that it can easily be chased away with gain of time by an eventual Bg3 followed by f2-f4 kick. Another gripe that Stockfish probably had towards 15…Ne5 is that it doesn’t seek active play (it poses, but it’s all gloss and no glory). Instead, you had to strike before you get struck. The only way you can do this (like it or not) is 15…f5 16.Bh6 Rf7 17.0-0 Qh4 18.Be3 Nc7 (and not 18…f4? 19.g3). White’s still better, but at least black’s army is starting to get a bit perky.
Remember: one nice piece doesn’t make a plan. You need all your pieces to work together if you want to get something done.
Franke: “Not at all a bad place for this knight, protecting a6 and b5, and pressuring d5 if I play ...f5. This made me feel a lot less bad about 9...Ne8.”
Franke: “This got my hopes up for a cheap win via ...g5 and ...Nf7.”
White’s floundering, and has no plan. This misguided leap to h6 forces black’s Rook to the e-file (not a bad fate for the Rook!), and it also sticks the Bishop on a somewhat vulnerable square since 17…Re8 18.f4? Nf7 is, as my 97 year-old mother-in-law would say, “Unfortunate.”
Instead of the sad 17.Bh6, White should play 17.Bg3 followed by h3 and f4 (kicking your Knight off e5 and taking over the center). Another interesting plan is 17.b4 (stopping black’s dreamed of …b5-b4, which means he’s stuck with that a6-Bishop!) when 17…cxb4 18.Rfc1 Rc8 19.Qb3 with Qxb4 is quite strong. Then Nd2-b3-d4-c6 is rather annoying for Black, as is Qb4-a5 in some lines. Both 17.Bg3 and 17.b4 leave White with all the play.
Franke: “White realizes his error and rectifies it.”
18...b4 19.Bxa6 Nxa6
Franke: “With white’s light-squared bishop gone, my ...f6 sin is forgiven.”
Hey guy! I haven’t forgiven it! But I don’t look at your …f6 as just a bad move. Rather, I look at it as a misunderstanding about how to play chess. Meekly defending against perceived threats will ensure you never become the player you want to be. Refusing to bow to your opponent’s wishes will (faster than you imagine) change the way you look at chess, and propel you far ahead of the masses.
Horrible. For the last several moves, white’s refused to play with any energy. In fact, he hasn’t achieved anything at all. This move is particularly bad because: 1) Knight and Bishop work better together than two Knights. The trade creates a more manageable Knight vs. Bishop. 2) White’s Knight would love to live on c4 forever. On the other hand, black’s e5-Knight can be kicked by f2-f4. Thus, 20.h3 intending f4 and only then Nc4 (after the enemy Knight on e5 has been chased back) is the way to a long life, happiness, and wealth.
20…Nxc4 21.Qxc4 Qb6 22.Bf4
White was clearly having an off day. Or, as is common for players of all levels, he just wasn’t in tune with the nuts and bolts of this type of position. White needs to generate some activity, he needs targets (and hitting d6 by itself isn’t going to get the job done), and he needs to get his Rooks into the action. Thus, 22.a3 bxa3 23.Rxa3 Nc7 24.f3 Qxb2 25.Rb3 Qe5 26.Rb7 Rec8 27.Bf2 (heading for g3) and at least we’re having a bit of fun! That’s what active piece are – movable bundles of quivering fun. (None of that was forced, of course, but it does give you an inkling of what I’m trying to achieve).
22…Nc7 23.a4 bxa3 24.Rxa3?
This isn’t quite the same as the line I was cooing over on move 22. I think it’s time to tighten things up with 24.bxa3 (getting the pawn off the b-file) 24…Nb5 (24…Qb5 25.Qc2) 25.f3 (shoring up e4) 25…Rab8 26.Rfb1! (initiating a little tactical operation for renewed piece activity) 26…Nxa3 27.Rxb6 Nxc4 28.Rba6 when a7 is doomed and white’s Rooks are starting to rock!
Franke: “I was expecting Rb3 and planned to reply with ...Rxe4. Instead, this surprising exchange sacrifice gives white a very nasty passed pawn. It turned out to be unsound, but proving it was a struggle.”
It’s clear that Franke is tactically astute. If he can add a bit more positional energy to his ability to calculate, and if he beats back his fear of enemy threats, he might find himself on a regular diet of baked/fried/boiled Expert (or Expert tartar, for those that like their meat fresh).
No doubt frustrated (we all have bad nights), White lashes out with 25.Bxd6 which just makes things worse. However, I’m not liking white’s game anymore. The best I can find is 25.Ra5 Qb6 26.Rfa1 a6 27.h3 Nb5 28.Kh2 with some pressure for the lost pawn. It’s better for Black, but at least black’s pieces are tied down to a6 and d6.
25...Qxa3 26.Bxc7 Qb4 27.Qxb4
Franke: “Even at a loss of tempo, I think white would have been much better off keeping the queens on.”
Since the d6-passer isn’t really going anywhere, this move amounts to the loss of a pawn.
29.d7 would be greeted by pain and suffering after 29…Rd4 30.d8+Q+ Raxd8 31.Bxd8 Rxd8 and black’s two extra pawns should make White give serious consideration to resignation.
Black’s 29…Rc4 kills all counterplay and is an excellent move. Of course, White can always rush his pawn to d8, but after 30.d7 Rxc7 31.d8+Q+ Rxd8 32.Rxd8+ Kf7 the game is pretty much over.
30.Kf1 Kf7 31.Ba5 b3 32.Rb1 Ke6 33.Bc7 Rb4 34.Ke2 Rc8 35.Kd3
At this point Black needs to take a long look at the position and try and find the simplest, safest, and most deadly way to end the game. No need to be creative – keep it simple while simultaneously leading White to the slaughterhouse:
35…Kd7 36.Kc3 Rb7 37.Kb2
Franke: “37.Rxb3 Rxb3+ 38.Kxb3 Rxc7 39.dxc7 Kxc7 and here my outside passed pawn leads to a simple textbook win.”
Now that you allowed him to block the pawn with his King, you need to have a deep think and find a way to follow the old, “simplest, safest, and most deadly way to end the game” formula. The fact is that in endgames, just puttering about will often allow your opponent to creep back into the game. You really need to hunker down at this final stage and look for the most incisive way to take home the point.
Yes, this is indeed winning. But you get two question marks because taking on c7 is a lazy decision that also creates a very bad mindset: you thought the game would win itself after this trade.
Think about it: white’s Bishop and d6-pawn are going nowhere – they are literally dead pieces. On the other hand, your b7-Rook is playing a part in the winning process, but your other Rook isn’t. So, why not 37…Re8! when White would have probably resigned! This is another example of making your pieces work together (something you don’t do very well) – Black wants to play …b3-b2, so 37…Re8 not only stops White from taking that file but also intends to break the blockade against his passed b-pawn by …Re2+. I won’t give any analysis since White doesn’t have a reply (other than openly weeping at the board).
Let’s say 37…Re8 wasn’t possible. However, we still want to dislodge white’s King from its blockade of the b-pawn. Thus: 37…a5 (intending …a5-a4-a3+) 38.Re1 (Passing doesn’t save White: 38.h3 a4 39.f3 a3+ 40.Kxa3 b2! [threatening a mate by 41…Ra8+ 42.Ba5 Rxa5 mate] 41.Ka4 Ra8+ 42.Ba5 and now there are various mates in the position, but suffice it to say that White wouldn’t continue if you played 42…Rba7 leaving Black with an extra Rook; Also note that 38.Bxa5 fails to 38…Rc2+ 39.Ka1 Ra2 mate) 38…a4 39.Re7+ (39.Ka3 Re8) 39…Kc6 40.d7 a3+! (Most precise. Easiest is 40…Rbxc7 41.dxc8=Q+ Rxc8 42.Rxh7 Kb6 and that’s the end.) 41.Kxa3 Ra8+ 42.Kb2 Rxc7 43.Re8 Ra2+ 44.Kxb3 Kxd7!, 0-1.
38.dxc7 Kxc7 39.Rc1+ Kd6 40.Rc8 Ke5
Franke: “Depending on what white does, my king can come up and either attack white’s kingside pawns or help escort my b-pawn.”
41.Re8+ Kd4 42.Rd8+
Franke: “With white’s rook on the d-file my king can’t penetrate his pawns, so the b-pawn it’ll be.”
42...Kc4 43.Rc8+ Kb4 44.Rc3 Ka4 45.Rc4+
Franke: “I knew I probably needed to play ...Rb4 here, but the thought of abandoning my second rank terrified me. I feared that if I let white gobble up my kingside pawns, then any inaccuracy in bringing my b-pawn to its destiny would cost me the game. The fact that I was low on time set me over the edge and, thrilled anyway to have done this well against such a high-rated player, I decided to just deposit the half point.”
45...Ka5 46.Rc5+ Kb4
Franke: “Right after my opponent accepted my draw offer, I said to him, ‘I am probably going to shoot myself. I am going to get home, open up Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, take one look at it, and then I am going to shoot myself in the head.’ IM Marc Esserman overhead this and looked at the position. After a single glance he said, ‘This is won.’ Then he sat down for five minutes pondering how he was going to back up that assertion. This made me feel a lot better!” 1/2-1/2.
As they say, “Grandmaster or beginner, time pressure makes fools of us all.” Of course, I’m not quite sure what you meant by, “low on time”. Also, what did you expect to find in Dvoretsky’s book? Your exact position? No, you won’t get any help there.
Let’s have a look at the key position:
I hope you understand that you are two pawns up and White would give you his first born if you promised to offer a draw. You can play forever, and all White can do is check your King and plead and run about praying that you won’t find a way to break through. In other words, you had nothing to lose by playing on (even if you were low on time). We’ll start with your recommendation of 45…Rb4. Since you were freaked out that white’s Rook would zip to the 7th rank, eat all your pawns, and then teleport back to the queenside and defend against all threats there, we’ll look at 46.Rc7 a5 47.Rxh7 Rc4 and … oh, White has to resign. How about 45…Rb4 46.Rc6 a5 47.Rxf6 Rc4 48.Ra6 Rc2+ 49.Kb1 Kb4 50.Rf6 a4 51.Rb6+ (51.Rf4+ Rc4, 0-1) 51…Ka3, 0-1.
Okay, let’s forget about going after black’s kingside pawns and instead try to defend: 45…Rb4 46.Rc1 a5 47.f3 Rh4 (getting the Rook off of b4 with gain of tempo) 48.h3 Kb4 49.Rc7 Rc4 (there are many other ways to win too) 50.Rb7+ Ka4 51.Rh7 (51.Rxb3 Rb4, 0-1) 51…Rc2+ 52.Kb1 Ka3 53.Rd7 Rxg2 54.Rd1 a4 55.Re1 Kb4 56.Re4+ Kc3 57.Re3+ Kd4 58.Re4+ Kd3 59.Rxa4 (59.Re7 a3, 0-1) 59…Kc3 60.Rg4 (no choice) 60…Rxg4 61.fxg4 g5 (61…f5 also does the job) and it’s time for White to resign.
Mr. Franke, you played very well and you fully deserved the victory. However, fear got in the way of your earlier play, then it got in the way of you icing the endgame (you were afraid to commit to a pointed line that would have ended the “festivities”), and then fear once again raised its head in the form of “rating terror”. Clearly, if your opponent was rated 1000 you would never have given him the draw and you would have easily won in the end.
Get over your fear of threats, and your fear of losing. Nobody likes to lose, but everyone does … by playing with courage, you’ll certainly lose some here and there, but you’ll win far more – and against high rated players too!
~ Lessons From This Game ~
* Remember: one nice piece doesn’t make a plan. You need all your pieces to work together if you want to get something done.
* Meekly defending against perceived threats will ensure you never become the player you want to be. Refusing to bow to your opponent’s wishes will (faster than you imagine) change the way you look at chess, and propel you far ahead of the masses.
* Puttering about will often allow your opponent to creep back into the game. White puttered and played so poorly (planlessly) that he eventually sputtered. You also puttered about in the endgame, and by doing so made the win harder and harder to reel in.
* The ability to refuse to cower in the face of enemy threats is an advanced one (most people don’t realize they are cowering even when they are on their knees and drooling all over the floor). The following simple advice might help those that repeatedly cower: Try to push your own agenda with each and every move. If you must defend, do your best to find a way to find a move that not only ends the enemy threat (or ignores it altogether), but also makes significant gains for your side.
* It's extremely important to be in touch with the philosophical soul of your opening. If it's a samurai soul, you should be ready to play accordingly. The Modern Benoni calls for a samurai soul.
* When facing an “easily” won endgame, don’t take a break! Instead, hunker down, take a long look at the position and try and find the simplest, safest, and most deadly way to end the game. No need to be creative – keep it simple while simultaneously leading your opponent to the slaughterhouse