Swinging for the Fences
Jared Collins (1528) - John Laning (1478), B12, Foolish Moves Mobile AL, 2009
45 minutes on the clock for each player
1.e4 c6 2.d4
Jared Collins said: “I tend to be aggressive, and when offered the entire center I will usually take it.”
I don’t consider that to be aggressive – it’s just sensible play. If someone offers you free extra space or the better pawn structure, it’s good for your overall chess development (and your result!) if you take it.
Jared Collins said: “Keeping my e-pawn on the board and possibly making it somewhat more inconvenient for black’s knight.”
This advance has become incredibly popular in recent years. White gains a considerable amount of central space. However, center-busting breaks like …c6-c5 and, at times, …f7-f6 will usually give Black sufficient counterplay.
The main line, and probably the best. However, there are still quite a few unanswered questions in the sharp 3…c5 line.
Jared Collins said: “Developing and clearing the kingside for castling.”
This simple move (quiet development intending to make use of white’s extra space as the game progresses) was shown to be quite dangerous by Nigel Short, and since that epiphany it’s become white’s main choice. Other lines are 4.Nc3 e6 5.g4 Bg6 6.Nge2 (a violent line that pretty much features an “all in” strategy), 4.h4, 4.g4, 4.c4, 4.Nbd2, and just about everything else.
Jared Collins said: “Offering a trade since there are not too many squares for the white bishop to use.”
Rather lame. On move two, White proudly proclaimed his desire to take space if it’s given to him (which is wise). But he now offers a soothing exchange for the side with less territory (which is usually not so wise). Seeking a particular structure isn’t useful if you don’t know how to make use of it.
Usually White prefers to ignore black’s f5-Bishop, or to hunt it down with a Knight (gaining the two Bs). A common example: 5.Be2 (not rushing to exchange pieces unless he feels he’s gaining something from the exchange) 5…Nd7 6.0-0 Bg6 7.Nbd2 Ne7 8.Nh4 c5 9.c3 Nc6 10.Nxg6 hxg6 11.Nf3.
Oddly, 5.Bd3 is one of white’s most popular moves in the database, but a closer look will tell you two things: 1) It scores badly; 2) Very few strong players ever make use of it!
Perfectly okay. However, simpler is 5…Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Qa5+ followed by 7…Qa6 with easy play for Black.
Jared Collins said: “Getting rid of my not so useful bishop and doubling some pawns for black.”
Black doesn’t mind the structure after 6…hxg6 at all. It’s solid, and giving Black the open h-file for his Rook can easily come in handy in some lines.
Jared Collins said: “After black’s last move, I had a plan on how I wanted this to go down, or at least something to work toward. At this point, with my queen on the d3-square, she’s aiming at the g6-pawn, which would then be looking dead at the queen if the f7 pawn isn’t there. So, I’m looking at the possibility of getting my knight on g5, then from there, using the knight to capture the e6 pawn. If black captures with …fxe6, then the queen captures the g6-pawn with check forcing the king to move. I then have play with the c1-bishop on the c1-h6 diagonal.”
The problem here is that you’re thinking in a purely tactical manner (and I must say that you already have a good eye for combinative patterns). However, you use positional phrases like “gaining space” and “doubling pawns,” but you don’t really have any intention of making use of these things. Instead, you just want to attack. Ideally, you would like to build on your positional gains, and attack from a positional or strategic strength.
Swinging for the fences from move 7 onwards will often work against low-rated players, but anyone with experience will easily sidestep your obvious threats. Here Black should make his own positional gains while White tightens his fist, hoping his opponent doesn’t see his “brilliant” tactical traps.
To be fair, testing your tactical eye is important in one’s early chess years, and this kind of tactical/attacking exploration is important. However, keep in mind that this is a temporary stage, and as you get stronger (and face stronger opposition) you’ll need to improve in all the game’s areas (an ever-expanding knowledge of positional concepts, tight openings, a solid understanding of basic endgames, etc.). Great attacking geniuses like Alekhine, Tal, and Kasparov all loved to let their tactical genius hang out, but in many instances, the opponent wouldn’t allow a tactical minefield to occur, forcing all these chess titans to show their positional and/or endgame talents too.
There’s nothing wrong with this move, but a couple of other choices also deserved serious consideration.
The well known maneuver 7…Qa5+ 8.c3 Qa6 would have ensured a good game.
Black’s main source of counterplay is usually ...c6-c5 followed by ...Nc6, but I’m guessing that he was frightened of a check on b5 by white’s Queen. Was this fear justified?
Jared Collins said: “41 min remaining My Opponent - 40 getting the king to safety to avoid letting black develop with check on the a5-e1 diagonal with either his bishop or queen.”
Jared Collins said: “In position, and now ready to roll. Black has even helped take away a run away square by putting his knight on d7. That makes the bishop diagonal on h4-d8 extra nice.”
Since you’re obsessed with the idea of Nxe6 followed by Qxg6+, your moves will mirror that obsession and ignore such important things like defending your center (don’t forget the extremely important rule: “The best reaction to an attack on the wing is a counterattack in the center.” I would have been more impressed if you had said, “His King is in the center and mine isn’t, so I want to rip open the middle and take advantage of his central King and my lead in development. To that end, 9.c4 looks right.”
Okay, I don’t know if 9.c4 gives White anything to crow about, but the raw logic of the move pleases me: White’s King is safe on the kingside and White has a lead in development, so if he can crack open the center, he should have good chances due to his opponent’s unfortunate King position. Here’s a sample of what might occur if White follows this mindset: 9.c4 dxc4 10.Qxc4 cxd4 11.Qxd4 Ne7 12.Nc3 Nc6 (the e5-pawn is both an attacking strength and a weakness that needs constant babysitting) 13.Qf4 Be7 14.Ne4 Nb6 (14…Rh5!? intending to meet 15.g4 with 15…Rxe5! 16.Nxe5 Ndxe5 is interesting. Note that 14…Rh5 15.Ng3 Rh8 ends any thoughts of Black castling kingside, but the white Knight on g3 isn’t exactly burning down the barn) 15.Neg5 (15.Be3! Nd5 16.Qg3 is better, when White retains a mild initiative after 16…Qc7 17.Nd6+ Kf8 18.Rac1 Rd8 19.Rfd1 Qd7 20.h3 Rh5 21.Ne4) 15…Bxg5 16.Nxg5 Qc7 17.Re1 Rd8 and black’s fine.
Jared Collins said: “37 min remaining My Opponent - 36 only 2 more moves to that smother check mate. I don’t really expect that to happen, but getting one more member of my army into the fight should help me a good bit.”
This move accepts the total destruction of your center. Of course, you pretty much abandoned it with 9.Ng5, but 10.Nc3 continues the “to hell with my center, I want mate!” approach. White should have given his center some support with 10.c3 or 10.Nb1-d2-f3.
Jared Collins said: “One more move to a checkmate if he doesn’t move something. Black’s position is very cramped at this point and his pieces are really just working against him.”
I guess that’s one way to look at it. However, if I was Black I would be thinking, “White’s doubling down with obvious threats. Does he think I’m an idiot? He’s also letting me rip his center to bits. My victory will be swift, crushing, and (for White) painful.”
Of course, white’s position isn’t quite that bad, but in a game situation I would think that white is already road-kill (If you don’t get excited about your own position, who will?). In other words, both sides would be celebrating the opponent’s imminent demise!
Losing on the spot. Black had two good replies to 11.Nb5:
11…Nf5 (stopping Nd6+ and also ending any Nxe6 tricks) 12.g4 (12.Re1 Nc5 13.Qd2 Be7 14.Nf3 Ne4 15.Qd3 Bc5 16.g4 Nh4 and white’s in trouble) 12…Nxe5 13.Qe2 Nd6! 14.Nxd4 Ne4 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Qb5+ (16.Qxe4?? Qxd4 17.Qxd4 Nf3+) 16…Nd7 17.Qxb7 Qb8 (threatening …Qxh2 mate) 18.Qxb8+ Rxb8 19.Kg2 Bc5 when black’s a tad better, but white’s okay.
11...Nxe5 (Why not? This stops the silly Nd6 mate threat, eats an important pawn, gives more support to f7 and g6, and attacks the white Queen.) 12.Qg3 (12.Qxd4 N7c6 is just bad for White) 12…Qd7 13.a4 a6 14.Nxd4 N7c6 (14…N5c6!?) and black’s obviously better (all of white’s mating dreams have vanished).
Jared Collins said: “35 min remaining My Opponent – 26. This is just devastating at this point, even more than I had hoped for when I first came up with this plan thanks to black’s d7-knight. In addition to the badness on black’s king side, there is now a possible king-rook fork by putting a knight on c7.”
Yep, black’s almost toast.
With this blunder, full toast status has been achieved! Black, in a state of despair, leaps off the cliff. Instead of slitting his own throat in this manner, he had to try 12…Ndxe5 13.Nbc7+ (Or 13.Nec7+ Kd7 14.Qb3 Rb8 15.Bf4 [15.Qxd5+ Kc8] 15… a6 when things aren’t so clear. For example: 16.Bxe5 Nxe5 17.Qxd5+ Kc8 18.Qxe5 Rh5 when Black, though clearly worse, is still plugging away) 13…Kd7 14.Nxd8 Nxd3 15.Nxf7 Kxc7 16.Nxh8 Nde5 17.f4 Ng4 (17…Nc4!?) 18.Nxg6 Bc5 19.Kh1 d3 20.cxd3 Nf2+ 21.Rxf2 Bxf2 22.f5 Re8 and though black’s two pawns down, his pieces are very active. Of course, black’s still much worse, but he’s putting up a fight (which 12…Qh4?? doesn’t do).
13.Nbc7+ Ke7 14.Bg5+, 1-0.
~ Lessons From This Game ~
* If someone offers you free extra space or the better pawn structure, it’s good for your overall chess development (and your result!) if you take it.
* If you put all your positional marbles into cheap threats, you WILL win some fun games. However, a skilled opponent will dissect your position and leave its remains in the toxic waste container.
* White proudly proclaimed his desire to take space if it’s given to him (which is wise). But he now offers a soothing exchange for the side with less territory (which is usually not so wise). Seeking a particular structure isn’t useful if you don’t know how to make use of it.
* The best reaction to an attack on the wing is a counterattack in the center.
* Swinging for the fences from move one onwards will often work against low rated players, but anyone with experience will easily sidestep the obvious threats.
* Testing your tactical eye is important in one’s early chess years, and this kind of tactical/attacking exploration is important. However, keep in mind that this is a temporary stage, and as you get stronger (and face stronger opposition) you’ll need to improve in all the game’s areas (an ever-expanding knowledge of positional concepts, tight openings, a solid understanding of basic endgames, etc.). Great attacking geniuses like Alekhine, Tal, and Kasparov all loved to let their tactical genius hang out, but in many instances, the opponent wouldn’t allow a tactical minefield to occur, forcing all these chess titans to show their positional and/or endgame talents too.
* “You may be ever so gifted in the realm of tactics and calculating variations, but if you drift aimlessly from move to move against a strong opponent with a good grounding in strategy, you are doomed to fail.” – GM Pavel Eljanov from the very interesting book, Grandmaster vs. Amateur (Quality Chess, 2011).