The Tale of a Technical Wizard

The Tale of a Technical Wizard

| 17 | Amazing Games

Mr. BallsofSteeel brings us yet another movie-based name (for some reason, with a 3rd "e"), this time from Christopher Walken’s ping-pong film, BALLS OF STEEL.

BallsofSteeel (1512) vs. The Butcher’s Daughter (1879), Tournoi De Culo 2011 (B13)

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6

BOS said: “I always think this knight is misplaced on c6 if white plays c3 in this structure... Maybe it’s just a personal thing, but it always seemed to me like it has no future. I wonder if there’s any sense to it or it is just my hallucination?” 

And where would you like it? The d7-square doesn’t seem thrilling, and a6 is a joke. According to my math, that leaves c6. Pushing this aside, I am impressed that you are looking beyond the old “I’m developing” paradigm and you’re asking, “If I move the piece there, does it have a future?” That’s just excellent!

Returning to whether or not c6 is a good square for the Knight, it’s actually an excellent square for the Knight! Let’s take a look at what 4…Nc6 does:

* It threatens to chop the d-pawn.

* It threatens …Nb4.

* These threats pretty much force c2-c3, which is a perfectly good move in itself, but the Knight move did cut down white’s options.

* The c6-Knight controls the critical e5-square.

* The c6-Knight stops checks from Qa4 or Bb5.

* If Black makes use of his most common plan – the Minority Attack (creating a weakness in white’s structure via …b7-b5-b4xc3), the c6-Knight makes this easier to achieve due to its control over b4.

BOS, what more do you want from this Knight? Isn’t that enough?
















I’ve called this system – which was a favorite of Bobby Fischer – the “Schoolgirl Variation” for over 20 years. Why? Back in the day when I used to coach the U.S. junior teams (taking them to places like East and West Germany, Slovakia, Spain, Hungary, and Brazil), I discovered that the Caro-Kann was a very popular line for Black among the girls we were playing (our girls often played the Caro-Kann too). Sadly, many of the very young girls on our teams had nothing whatsoever prepared for the Caro-Kann, so (having only 20 minutes to teach them a line) I taught them this system! Oddly, when our girls played the Caro-Kann, all the girls on the other teams ALSO responded with this system (cause it’s very easy to learn and effective). Thus: the Schoolgirl Variation.


The main line, but I always preferred 5…g6 and 5…Qc7 (both of which are also very popular).


Usually White plays 6.Bf4 (Fischer’s choice) so as to avoid the pin that can occur after 6.Nf3 Bg4. And some players go so far as to toss in 6.h3, which is also more popular than 6.Nf3.

Here’s Fischer’s famous game against Petrosian in the World vs. the USSR match: 

R. Fischer – T. Petrosian, Belgrade 1970

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Bg4 7.Qb3 Na5 8.Qa4+ Bd7 9.Qc2 e6 10.Nf3 Qb6 11.a4 Rc8 12.Nbd2 Nc6 13.Qb1 Nh5 14.Be3 h6 15.Ne5 Nf6 16.h3 Bd6 17.0-0 Kf8 18.f4 Be8 19.Bf2 Qc7 20.Bh4 Ng8 21.f5 Nxe5 22.dxe5 Bxe5 23.fxe6 Bf6 24.exf7 Bxf7 25.Nf3 Bxh4 26.Nxh4 Nf6 27.Ng6+ Bxg6 28.Bxg6 Ke7 29.Qf5 Kd8 30.Rae1 Qc5+ 31.Kh1 Rf8 32.Qe5 Rc7 33.b4 Qc6 34.c4 dxc4 35.Bf5 Rff7 36.Rd1+ Rfd7 37.Bxd7 Rxd7 38.Qb8+ Ke7 39.Rde1+, 1-0.


Most logical – White allowed the pin to happen, so Black happily obliges. However, black’s also done well with 6…g6. The game V. Ivanchuk (2748) – A. Kovchan (2595), Russia 2010 went 7.h3 Qc7 8.Nbd2 Bf5 9.Nb3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Bg7 11.0-0 0-0, = (drawn in 44).


7.0-0 is a bit more flexible (and more popular), though Black doesn’t have any problems here either. An example (featuring the Minority Attack and rating overkill!):

7.0-0 e6 8.Bg5 Bd6 9.Nbd2 Qc7 10.h3 Bh5 11.Re1 0-0 12.Qb1 Bg6 13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.Re2 b5 15.Qd3 Rab8 16.Rc1 Nd7 17.h4 Na5 18.g3 Nc4 19.Nf1 Rfe8 20.Rd1 a5 21.Kg2 b4 22.b3 Na3 23.cxb4 axb4 24.Rc1 Qb7 25.g4 Nf8 26.h5 f6 27.Bd2 gxh5 28.gxh5 Nb5 29.Nh4 Qa7 30.Rc6 Qxd4 31.Qh3 Qa7 32.Qg4 f5 33.Qg5 Be7 34.Qg3 Nd4 35.Rexe6 Bxh4, 0-1, A. Wasim (2054) – I. Ivanisevic (2613), 39th Olympiad 2010.

The problem with 7.h3 is that it chases the Bishop to h5 where it will happily continue on to g6, completely nullifying white’s attacking d3-Bishop. Here’s an example that shows Black is completely comfortable after he retreats his Bishop to h5:

7.h3 Bh5 8.Bf4 Qb6 (a good move, but 8…e6 followed by …Bd6 is also completely equal) 9.Qb3 Bxf3 10.Qxb6 axb6 11.gxf3 Kd7 12.Nd2 e6 13.0-0 Nh5 14.Bg3 f5 15.Be5 Nxe5 16.dxe5 Nf4 17.Bb5+ Ke7 18.Kh2 g5 19.Rfe1 Bg7 20.a3 Ng6 21.f4 Nxf4 22.Re3 Ng6 23.Rae1 g4 24.hxg4 fxg4 25.Nb3 Raf8 26.Kg1 Rf5 27.Bd3 Rxe5 28.Bxg6 Rxe3 29.Rxe3 hxg6 30.Rg3 Rh4 31.Nc1 Be5 32.Rg2 Kf6, 0-1, V. Kuznetsov (2224) – R. Ovetchkin (2534), Russia 2007.


BOS said: “To leave that monster on d3 unopposed? Blasphemy!”

I’m not fond of this move, but it’s not the end of the world, though (as mentioned above) 7…Bh5 makes a lot more sense.

8.Qxf3 e5?















BOS said: “This feels premature, the fork’s an illusion because the knight gets pinned. I’m also closer to castling.” 

Black should play 8…e6 9.Bg5 (9.Bf4 Bd6, =, but the more flexible 9.0-0 probably gives White a small plus) 9…h6 10.Bh4 (10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Qxf6 gxf6 is absolutely nothing for White) 10…Qb6 (10…Be7 is also fine) 11.b3 Be7, =. 

9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Qe2 Qe7 11.Bb5+

BOS said: “Bah, I can’t help it – I just love bishops! Probably continuing to develop starting with 0-0 would have been stronger and just let him take on d3, as that loss would probably be compensated by smashing a rook on e1 asap!”

Ooookay. I see you’re full of Bishop-loving fire and vinegar. Though I’m not sure that you should do any “smashing” during a chess game (unless you’re the Hulk), I have to agree that 11.0-0 Nxd3 12.Qxd3 is the way to go since I don’t believe in black’s position after 12…0-0-0 13.Be3.

Your 11.Bb5+ isn’t particular good (though your emotional attachment to Bishops and general smashing clearly made you do it).

11…Nc6 12.Bg5?!

BOS said: “Why don’t I castle and… well... smash a rook on e1?!?!”

Down boy, down! Really … MORE smashing? Does a guy that loves to smash really enjoy positions like 12.0-0 Qxe2 13.Bxe2? Perhaps more to your taste would have been 12.Be3 Qe6 13.Nd2 Bd6 14.0-0 0-0 15.Rfe1 with a small but lasting edge for White. No… that’s more to my taste, not yours. I think the move you played (12.Bg5) suits your temperament, but it’s not particularly good.


BOS said: “I don’t know why this shocked me so much, but it just seemed ridiculous at first sight considering the open queenside... Of course I forgot that my queen’s pinned and he can trade it at his leisure, so there’s no attack.”


Unfortunately for you, 13.Be3 (trying desperately to retain the Queens) doesn’t work due to 13…d4 14.cxd4 Nxd4 15.Qc4+ Qc5 with an excellent position for Black.

13…a6 14.Bd3 

You should have considered 14.Bxc6 Qxe2+ 15.Kxe2 bxc6 16.Bxf6 Re8+ 17.Kd3 gxf6 18.Nf3 with an edge due to your vastly superior pawn structure. I would guess that you didn’t take this path because the idea of giving up your beloved Bishops was abhorrent to you.

Due to this, may I suggest your change your handle to “le petite Janowski”? This very sharp player, born in 1868 and died in 1927, was madly in love with Bishops – he handled them brilliantly, but his passion for these minor pieces often turned into a weakness due to his refusal to trade them, even if the exchange was very much in his favor.

Frank Marshall wrote (in his classic book of best games) that Janowski “could follow the wrong path with greater determination than any man I ever met!” In his day, his attachment to Bishops was so well known that a pair of Bishops was usually referred to as, “Two Jans.”
















A very strange move! Black would have zero problems after 14…d4.

15.Nf3 Rd6?

BOS said: “Me threaten pin! He not gonna see it! He not gonna see it!”

You’re actually laughing at the other guy for being a caveman? In England, they call this the “kettle calling the pot black.”

Of course, 15…Rd6 isn’t a particularly good move. Instead, 15…Qxe2+ 16.Bxe2 Be7 17.0-0 Rhe8 was fully playable.


Black’s “laughable” 15th move would actually look like a stroke of genius (instead of just a stroke) after 16.Be3 Re6 17.Ng5 Re5 18.0-0 (18.0-0-0) 18…Bh6. Who is laughing now, petite Janowski?


He should have played 16…Qxe2. Now White gets the chance to avoid the exchange.


Nope, he allows the trade. Instead, 17.Be3 was clearly better for White.

I suppose that if The Butcher’s Daughter was annotating this game, he/she might have emulated your note to black’s 15th move in the following way: “Me threaten Rook! He not gonna see it! He not gonna see it!”

17…Qxe2 18.Bxe2 Re6

Black saw it.

19.Bd3 Bg7 20.Be3 Ree8?

BOS said: “I can’t even imagine what he was thinking here.” 

It’s beyond me too.

21.Rfe1 Ne4 22.Rad1 Nd6 23.Nd4?















BOS said: “Okay, this may sound ridiculous, but I wanted to play Bc2 and was thinking what counterplay he might have... and then I just smacked out this move thinking my bishop was already on c2. This happens more often than I’d like. Is there a remedy to this or should I visit a psychiatrist?” 

Psychiatrists have created some powerful drugs for this condition, so a visit to a shrink might prove fruitful. You can also try the old “sit on your hands” cure.

What intrigues me is your desire to play Nd4. Why does having the Bishop on c2 make Nd4 good, while having it on d3 make it bad? To me, 23.Bc2, which is an excellent move, has nothing to do with Nd4 and everything to do with striking out at d5. The main line goes 23.Bc2 Nc4 24.Rxd5 Nxb2 35.Bb3 with interesting complications that always favor White, though by how much remains to be seen.


BOS said: “That c4 square probably looked juicy to him.”

No doubt, but 23…Nxd4 24.cxd4 Kd7 is more or less equal.


Not bad, but better was 24.Be2. The Bishop on c2 won’t be able to attack d5 with an enemy Knight sitting on c4, but it will be able to do so from e2. Thus, 24.Be2 Nec4 25.Bc1 and an eventual Bf3 is clearly better for White.

24…Nec4 25.Bc1 Rxe1+ 26.Rxe1















Black’s worse, but not dead by any means. In such situations, the defender should patiently defend (or rid himself of) all his weak points and, as they say somewhere or other, hunker down.


That’s not good! Instead, 26…Kd7 keeps body and soul together. 

27.Nxb5 axb5 28.Re7 Nd6 29.Bf4 Bf6

Hopeless, but 29…Rd8 30.Bxg6! is also grim.

30.Bxd6 Bxe7 31.Bxe7














BOS said: “I was expecting …Re8 as the only natural move to get any kind of counterplay, after this it’s just a thankless defense.”

He needed to try 31…Re8, but it was still very bad after 32.Ba3 Re1+ 33.Kh2 Re2 24.Bb3. Two Bishops versus a Rook is a no-contest.

32.Bc5 Ra8 33.a3 f5 34.Be3 h5 35.h4 Kc6 36.Kh2 b6 37.Kg3 Re8 38.Kf4 Kc7 39.Kg5 Re6 40.Bd3

BOS said: “Please note, this is the phase where I start playing really, really slowly, even though I might have (and quite probably did, as this is a recurring mistake in my games) missed LOTS of killer blows down the way and lost some part of the advantage.”

I think taking tons of time in such technical situations is a good thing! When I was an active player, I used to relish reaching an interesting endgame and taking as much time as possible trying to fully understand its secrets. And if you have the time to spare, then why not use it so you milk the position for all its worth?

40…Kc6 41.g3 Kd7 42.Bxb5+ Ke7 43.Kf4?!

I don’t know why you went backwards with your King. Perhaps you worried that Black would march his King to g7, and then mate you by …Re6-e4-g4. But that’s just not going to happen!

Just about everything wins, I would have first tied Black down to the defense of his weaknesses on d5, b6, and g6: 43.Be2 Kf7 44.Bf3 Rd6 45.a4 (freezing the enemy b-pawn) 45…Kg7 46.Bd4+ Kf7 47.b4 and black’s helpless (note how white’s dark-squared Bishop also defends c3 and f2). That’s all it takes: make sure your stuff is guarded, and target all his weaknesses.

43…Re4+ 44.Kf3 Re6 45.Ke2














In positions that are this won, I would tune out (after I fully understood what my basic winning themes would be) when my opponent was thinking and instead let everything around me turn into entertainment. Quick mental hits like, “Who is that guy in the pink tutu?” or “Didn’t I see the guy playing Black on the board next to me looking at an opening book in the bathroom?” or “Why did that guy 9 boards away put one of his captured Bishops back on the board while his opponent was walking around the room?”

However, once it was my move I would snap back to full attention. The first questions being, “Why did he play that move?” “Does he threaten anything?” and, “Is there any plan at all for him in this pathetic position?”

45…Rd6 46.Kd3 Ke6 47.Kc2 Kf6 48.Kb3 Ke7 49.Kb4 Kd8 50.Ba4 Kc8 51.Be8 Rf6 52.Bb5 Kb7 53.a4 Re6 54.Bd7

BOS said: “Playing so slow and inaccurate instead of pulling the plug... these are simply random moves to see if he does something stupid.”

Oh, it’s not so bad! You’re toying with an opponent that won’t give up. They call this, “Cat and Mouse.” The general rule in positions where you’re opponent is helpless is, “Never do in 2 what you can do in 12.” In other words, take forever – this exhausts the opponent and, to be honest, makes an agonizing situation even more painful for the guy that wants to play on to the bitter end.

54…Re7 55.Bb5 Re4+ 56.Ka3 Kc7 57.b4

Courageous stuff! You finally decided that enough was enough.

57…Re7 58.a5

BOS said: “Well, this had to happen eventually after I munched on b5 (but gosh it took a while!).”

58…bxa5 59.bxa5 Kd6 60.a6 d4 61.Bxd4 Rc7 62.a7 Rc8 63.Kb4 Rd8 64.Ka5 f4 65.gxf4 Ra8 66.Kb6 Ke6 67.Kb7 Rf8 68.a8=Q, 1-0. Black has suffered enough.

BOS said: “Overall, I am fairly dissatisfied with my game, there were a lot of inaccuracies and some big mistakes... However the focus remains the same – how to get rid of the plight of always trying to play securely in a technically won position, even if the position needs to be opened eventually? It almost feels like I just want to prevent counterplay even if it would mean not winning the actual position! Please help!”

What’s wrong with playing securely in a technically won position (I wish my students would play securely in a technically winning position)? You can open the position up whenever you wish to (on your terms), so take as long as you want, learn to be proud of your mastery of Cat and Mouse, and don’t be so hard on yourself.

Yes, the game had inaccuracies and mistakes, but you’re 1500 rated! What in the world do you expect? And didn’t you completely outplay your far higher rated opponent? No, instead of the slap in the face you seem to want to give yourself, you should be getting a pat on the back.

Lessons From This Game

* It’s fine to prefer Bishops over Knights, but don’t fall in love with them.

* You seem to want to play dynamically (to “smash”), but you might find that you’re actually a technical talent. Figure out what your strengths are and then hone them until they are world-beaters.

* The ability to calmly bore your opponent to death in a technical endgame is actually a rare and wonderful talent (seriously!).

* Cat and Mouse is an advanced torture technique which sports the credo: "Never do in 2 what you can do in 12."

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