Threats, Real & Imagined

| 18 | Amazing Games

Mr. O’Dowd said: “I’m struggling to get to my best form at the moment, and this game may encapsulate some of my worse thinking – it certainly shows some of my lower areas of positional understanding (I wouldn’t send you anything I played as Black with 1.e4 e5, since I win most of those and at least fully understand what I’m doing). I’m reading a lot of work on pawn breaks and pawn structure as a general guide, and I seem to be seeing too much for the opponent without accurately realizing what I myself can do therefore playing overly defensively or just being inaccurate. I was Black in this 90 minutes each game, from England.

Jeremy Handley (1728) – Daniel O’Dowd (1742), Tynedale League 2011 [D15]

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 a6 5.e3 Bf5

Black commonly tries quite a few different moves here. 5…b5 is the mainline (and makes the most sense due to 4…a6), while 5…e6, 5…Bg4, and just about everything else has also been played. Black’s choice (5…Bf5) also holds a solid place in the repertoires of lots of strong players. 


Once again, grandmasters have tried everything here: 6.Bd3, 6.Be2, 6.Ne5, 6.Bd2, 6.c5, and 6.Nh4. Most popular is 6.Qb3 when black’s best reply is probably the odd looking 6…Ra7. Here’s a fun game that featured 6.Qb3 b5:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 a6 5.Nf3 Bf5 6.Qb3 b5 7.c5 a5 8.Ne5 a4 9.Qd1 Nfd7 10.Nxf7 Kxf7 11.Qf3 Ke6 12.g4 Bg6 13.g5 Bf5 14.Bg2 Nxc5 15.dxc5 g6 16.0-0 Bg7 17.Rd1 Bxc3 18.bxc3 Na6 19.c4 bxc4 20.e4 Bxe4 21.Bh3+ Bf5 22.Bxf5+ gxf5 23.Re1+ Kd7 24.Qxf5+ Ke8 25.g6 hxg6 26.Qxg6+ Kd7 27.Qe6+ Ke8 28.Qxc6+ Kf7 29.Qe6+ Ke8 30.Bg5 Nxc5 31.Qc6+, 1-0, R. Kempinski (2601) – E. Postny (2647), Kallithea 2009.

6…cxd5 7.Ne5

Mr. O’Dowd said: “I realized I had a choice: 7…Nbd7 seemed a bit awkward (but wasn’t actually), ...Nc6 seemed a little compliant. I chose the other Knight, and got into a novel position.

7.Qb3 is white’s other main choice. As it turns out, after 7.Ne5 Nc6 is a natural choice for Black (see notes to 7…Nfd7). And 7…Nbd7 doesn’t lose a pawn due to 8.Qb3 Ra7 9.Nxd5 Nxe5 10.Nxf6+ exf6 11.dxe5 fxe5. However, 7…Nbd7 has other issues which make it, in my view, a bit dubious.


A bold move that simply doesn’t work here. I suspect Mr. O’Dowd mixed up this position with the very similar 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 Bf5 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Nc3 e6 7.Ne5 (see diagram below) when 7…Nfd7 is black’s best response!















A better move is 7…h6 (which takes the sting out of white’s g2-g4 …Bg6 followed by white pawns flowing over the Bishop via h2-h4), which has proved itself in a few testing encounters:

7…h6 8.Qb3 Ra7 9.Bd2 e6 10.Rc1 Nbd7 11.Nxd7 (11.f4 Be7 12.Be2 Nxe5 13.fxe5 Nd7 14.0-0 Bg6 15.Nd1 b5 16.Nf2 0-0 17.Nd3 Nb6 18.Ba5 Qb8 19.Bb4 Nc4 20.Bxe7 Rxe7 21.Nc5 Nd2 22.Qb4 Nxf1 23.Nxa6 Qb6 24.Bxf1 Qd8 25.Qxb5 f6 26.exf6 Rxf6 27.b4 Rf8 28.Nc5 e5 29.a4 exd4 30.exd4 Qd6 31.Nd3 Qf6 32.Qxd5+ Kh8 33.h3 Re3 34.Qc4 Be4 35.d5 Qf5 36.Qd4 Rg3 37.Nf2 Bxg2 38.Bxg2 Qf3 39.Qe4 Rxg2+ 40.Kh1 Rxf2+ 41.Qxf3 R8xf3 42.a5 Rf1+, 0-1, N. Dzagnidze (2458) – D. Svetushkin (2587), Athens 2008; 11.Bb5 Bd6 12.Bxd7+ Nxd7 13.Nxd7 Kxd7! 14.Na4 b5 15.Nc5+ Ke7 16.f3 Re8 17.e4 dxe4 18.fxe4 Bg6 19.e5 Bxc5 20.Bb4 Kd7 21.Bxc5 Qh4+ 22.g3 Qe4+ 23.Kf2 Qf5+ 24.Qf3, 1/2-1/2, Peter Heine Nielsen (2625) – Sune Berg Hansen (2537), Malmo 2003.) 11…Nxd7 12.Ne2 Nb8 13.Nf4 Bd6 14.Bb4 Bxb4+ 15.Qxb4 Nc6 16.Qc5 Ra8 17.Bd3 g5 18.Bxf5 gxf4 19.Bh3 fxe3 20.fxe3 Qe7 21.Ke2 h5 22.Rhf1 Qxc5 23.Rxc5 Ke7 24.g3 f5 25.Rf4 Kd6 26.Rc1 Ne7 27.Bg2 Rag8 28.Rf2 h4 29.gxh4 Rxh4 30.Rh1 f4+ 31.e4 f3+ 32.Bxf3 dxe4 33.Bg2 Nf5 34.Rd1 e3, 0-1, T. Radjabov (2610) – A. Morozevich (2716), Russia 2002.

And finally, the more routine (and common) 7…Nc6 is also okay:

7…Nc6 8.Nxc6 (8.g4 is the sharpest move, when both 8…Nxe5 9.gxf5 Nc6 and 8…Bc8 have given Black reasonable results) 8…bxc6 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 11.0-0 c5 12.b3 cxd4 13.Qxd4 Be7 14.Qa4+ Qd7 15.Bb2 0-0 16.Qxd7 Nxd7 17.Na4 Rfc8 18.Rac1 f5 19.Rfd1 Kf7 20.Kf1 g5 21.Ke2 Bd6 22.h3 h5 23.f3 Ke7 24.Rxc8 Rxc8 25.Rc1 Rxc1 26.Bxc1 f4 27.Bb2 Nf8 28.Bd4 e5 29.Bb6 Kd7 30.Nb2 Ne6 31.Nd3 Kc6 32.Ba5 fxe3 33.Kxe3 h4 34.Bd2 Nf4 35.Nxf4 gxf4+ 36.Kd3 Be7 37.Bc3 Bd6 38.Be1 Be7 39.Bc3 Bd6, 1/2-1/2, Wu Shaobin (2504) – Peter Heine Nielsen (2663), Mallorca 2004.


Mr. O’Dowd said: “This is just awkward to me. White hasn’t got locked Knights though he still threatens nasties like g2-g4 and a storm of pawns. The absence of c-pawns gives me some potential counterplay, but I fail to see what I should be doing here asides removing defenders of e4, and defending my kingside. Ideally I want the light Bishops off (since my light squares aren’t weak like his). I decided just to remove his better Knight, and concentrate on the ensuing position, whether it was difficult or not. I spent 9 minutes looking around though, at f6 first, and other stuff, not finding any positive conclusion.















8...Nxe5 9.fxe5

9.dxe5 is worse. After 9…e6 black’s ability to toss in …d5-d4 at some point, or pile up against e3 via …Bc5/…Qb6, or hit White with a timely …f7-f6, offers him excellent chances.
















Mr. O’Dowd said: “I decided I had to act against his Knight, which is panicking about a horse who hasn’t bolted the stalls. 9…Be7 is fine, and 9…e6 is fine, but my thinking was a little airy. In terms of Silmanizing, the centre is fixed until I break with ...f6 – the only break possible in fact. This break is desirable for two reasons – it activates my dark Bishop, and allows my Knight to hop over to f6 possibly, controlling the juicy e4-square. Remove the e5 pawn and Black would be very happy here.

The …f7-f6 break is important, but Black has other options too. For example, if he just develops and castles (…Be7, …0-0, …Nc6) he can play for the c-file (…Rc8) and queenside expansion (…b7-b5) followed by the potential Knight maneuver …Nc6-a5-c4.

10.Be2 Bb4

Playable, but I would prefer the more flexible 10…Nc6 or the solid 10…Be7, =.


Mr. O’Dowd said: “11.a3 might save time.

11.a3 loses (not saves) time after 11…Bxc3+ 12.bxc3 0-0 when Black has an easy (and safe) game. The alternative is 11.Qb3, though 11…Nc6 12.0-0 (threatening Nxd5) 12…Bg6 13.a3 Be7 gives White nothing since 14.Qxb7?? Na5 traps the Queen and forces White to part with decisive amounts of material to save it.
















Mr. O’Dowd said: “I should perhaps be castling first. Is this another case of being too impatient? If I had castled first, I could bring the Knight to d7 because I don’t have to defend the Bishop. 11...0-0 12.e4 is why I didn’t castle. This isn’t necessarily bad though, since his d4 is now very weak. Over-worrying?

Over-worrying? Yes, very much so! Once you castle, you’re ready to start a fight since your King is safely tucked away. So be confident that odd tactical displays shouldn’t have much (if any) effect on you. In the case of 11…0-0 12.e4, just 12…dxe4 picks up a free pawn and threatens the d4-pawn to boot! Thus, in effect, you went out of your way to stop your opponent from losing the game. As I endlessly say, “If you see a threat, laugh at it and then analyze to find out the truth.” Emotion is always a poor guide, but confidence mixed with concrete analysis will serve you well throughout your chess career.

We’ve determined that 11…0-0 was an excellent move. But what about the far sharper 11…f6? This move isn’t going away (he can’t stop it), so why not safety your King first and only go after adventures afterwards? Instead of 11…f6, you should play 11…0-0 12.0-0 Nc6 when your King is safe, your pieces are developed, and life is good. Clearly, chess doesn’t always have to be hard. In this case the safest, most logical, and easiest moves to find were also the best.

In general, first make sure your King is safe, and only then go for your opponent’s throat!

12.exf6 gxf6?

Man, are you asking for it (perhaps you’re one of those “extreme sports” people who live for the rush of teetering on the edge of an abyss)! Your position is still playable after 12…Qxf6 13.0-0 (threatening Nxd5!) 13…Nc6 (developing and giving your b4-Bishop some support) 14.Bd3 g6 15.Bxf5 (15.g4 Qg5) 15…gxf5. 

13.0-0 Nc6

Mr. O’Dowd said: “To stop e4. 13...Qe7 removes focus from d4, therefore making 14.e4 possible. I didn’t see far enough to see that he would/could play it anyway; so this might be better in some configuration by keeping the light Bishops.

Ah Mr. O’Dowd, you’re doing it again – you’re so focused on preventing any threat, potential threat, or even imaginary threat, that you’re missing real threats, or simply hurting your game in other ways (as with 12…gxf6). 13…Qe7 (which is bad for a number of reasons) gets wiped out by 14.Nxd5!. White pushing his e-pawn would have been the least of your problems! I should add that 13…0-0 14.Bg4 is very strong for White.

Your 13…Nc6 is the best choice.


Mr. O’Dowd said: “Very good, though I knew it was coming."

14…Bxg4 15.Qxg4 Qe7 16.a3 














Mr. O’Dowd said: “At least I realized not to swap that Bishop.

Welllll … I think you should have swapped the Bishop! The problem with your position is your central/vulnerable King and your loose central pawn structure. And you’re right that e3-e4 is indeed a big move for White, since if he can advance that pawn, he’ll smash open central lines which, in turn, will allow his Rooks to nibble on the tall critter on e8.

This means that 16…Bxc3 gets rid of a white attacker on c3, and also gives you the chance to prevent e3-e4 thanks to the gain of time that the capture on c3 creates (since White has to expend a tempo to recapture).

Best was 16…Bxc3 17.Bxc3 f5! (clamping down on e4) 18.Qh5+ Qf7 19.Qe2 0-0 20.Be1! followed by Bg3 when white’s better (the Bishop is better than the Knight and White enjoys the more secure King), but there’s still a long, hard fight ahead.


Mr. O’Dowd said: “Best, and which I didn’t think he would play. This was lazy calculation and lazy danger sense. White has maintained a strong advantage through Black’s compliance.
















Kindly bringing white’s Knight right into your own face. Remember: whenever you’re about to make a move, always ask, “What wonderful thing does this move do for my position?” If the answer is nothing, or if the move is doing something wonderful for your opponent (as is the case here), then why in the world are you playing it?

Like it or not, you had to try 17…Nxd4 18.exd5 0-0-0. It looks scary, but black’s still fighting, and his King will be more or less secure after an eventual …Kb8!

18.Nxe4 f5? 















Mr. O’Dowd said: “Too loosening by far! 18...Rf8.

I agree that 18…f5 is begging for death, but your recommended 18…Rf8 isn’t any better. Black has to play 18…0-0-0 19.Rxf6 Nxd4 and hope that he has some good karma stored up from some kind act in the past. However the position after 18…0-0-0 pans out, one just can’t survive with the King in the middle getting kicked from pillar to post.


If White had time in this position, he needed to use it and search for a way to put Black away right now. When you have a “huge” position like this, you must put everything you have into finding the knockout punch that you know is there!

19…Qxd6 20.Qh5+ Kd7


Mr. O’Dowd said: “21.d5 is harder for me to cope with simply because I’m so open.

White has turned his Bishop into a tall pawn. Yes, there’s that one move threat along the a1-h8 diagonal, but one would guess that Black would notice it. Better ways to retain a dangerous initiative/attack were:

* 21.Bf4 Qxd4+ (21…Qd5 22.Rac1 Raf8 23.Be5 Rhg8 24.Qxh7+) 22.Rf2 Kc8 23.Rd1 Qg7 24.Rd6 and black’s getting mugged. 

* 21.d5 Qxd5 22.Rfd1 Kc8 23.Bc3 Qc5+ 24.Kh1 e5 25.Rac1 Kb8 26.Bb4 Qb5 27.Bd6+ Ka7 28.Bc5+ Kb8 29.Qxf5 and white’s winning.

There are quite a few other ways to torture Black, but they all require energetic play. White should feel that he deserves to wipe Black out, and every move he considers should be directed at this sense of entitlement.


Mr. O’Dowd said: “While the only move; he is better – his Bishop ties my Queen down.

Yes, 21…Qd5 is very logical. Also worth consideration was breaking the attack by sacrificing the Exchange: 21…Kc7!? 22.d5 Qxd5 23.Bxh8 Rxh8 24.Rad1 Qc5+. 















White’s probably winning (though Black has a pawn for the Exchange, White still has quite a bit of pressure against the black position), but black’s King is fairly safe now and he can play for a long time and see if he gets lucky. I’ve turned many bad positions around with this kind of Exchange sacrifice (with a safe King and trumps of your own, you can achieve anything!).
















Not very energetic. Instead, the not-very-subtle 22.Qf7+ was the way to go. Then 22…Kc8 can be met by 23.Rae1, while 22…Ne7 (best) 23.Bb4 Rae8 24.Rf2 still leaves Black having to deal with white’s (considerable) pressure. The key to black’s defense is to break the pin against his Knight and, eventually, get that horse to d5 where it will lord over its domain (yes, I’m thinking of creating a superior minor piece even in this kind of sharp position!). Even if Black ends up a pawn down, a super-Knight on d5 will give him real chances to save himself. Here’s an example of what I’m thinking about: 24.Rf2 Rhf8 25.Qxh7 a5! 26.Bc5! (26.Bc3 Rh8 27.Qf7 Ref8 28.Qg7 Rfg8 29.Qe5 Qxe5 30.dxe5 b6 31.Bd4 Nd5 and though Black is a pawn down, his mighty horse gives him hope of holding on.) 26…b6! 27.Bxe7! (not 27.Bxb6?? Rh8 28.Qg7 Qd6 with the twin threats of 29…Qxh2+ and 29…Qxb6) 27…Rxe7 28.Qh4 and White has prevented the “super horse” scenario. Black’s a pawn down and his King is permanently insecure, but he can generate a bit of heat against white’s King, and also torture white’s weak d4-pawn. All in all, White has excellent winning chances, but Black can still put up a protracted fight.

22…Raf8 23.Rf3 Kc8 24.Rg3 















White lost the thread and his once imposing position has become a bit tame.


Strange. More to the point was 24…Rhg8 25.Qxh7 Rxg3 26.hxg3 Rd8 with equality.


Another uninspired move. 25.Qe2 Rf6 26.Rg7 gave more.


Mr. O’Dowd said: “My only chance is to get to an endgame, it was a mistake for him to allow this.

I think that’s a good practical decision (after the Queen exchange, white’s Bishop will be a rather sorry piece), all the more so since you mentioned that you were low on time at this point.

On the other hand, I don’t think this was your “only chance.” For example, 25…Rfg8 (25…Rd8 is also very interesting) 26.Rxg8+ Rxg8 27.Rd2 Rh8 (Black asks White how he intends to improve his position. In the meantime, Black will shuttle his King to a7 if given the time) 28.Qf7 Rd8 29.Qg7 Qe4 and White has nothing.















Notice the difference in mentalities: You are constantly worrying about enemy threats and you focus heavily on what your opponent has, while not pushing your stuff at all. In contrast, I’m looking at the position after 25.Rd1 in a more positive light (from black’s perspective). I see my nicely placed Queen, a Knight that could well prove better than the enemy Bishop, and serious pressure against d4.

When you only see what you’re opponent has, you tend towards defensive moves that fail to kick-start your own game. When you focus on what you have, you tend to find moves that make use of your plusses, thus pushing your own agenda and laughing at your opponent’s.

This kind of positive outlook allows you to play for a win and, more importantly, often achieve it! Here’s a sample of what might occur with this improved attitude: 25…Rd8 26.Rg6 (26.Rd2, placing the Rook on a protected square, is better)















26…Ne5! 27.Rxh6 (White should play for a draw with 27.Rf6 when 27…Ng4 28.Rg6 Ne5 29.Rf6 halves the point, but 27…Rhg8! tries for more: 28.Qe2 Rg4 29.h3 Re4 with serious pressure) 27.Rg7 Rhg8 28.Qxh6? [28.Rxg8 Rxg8 29.Qe2 Nf3+ 30.Kh1 Nh4 31.Rg1 f4 and black’s the one trying to win, not White!] 28…Ng4! 29.Qg5 Qe5!! 30.Rxg8 Qxh2+ 31.Kf1 Qh1+ 32.Ke2 Qxg2+ 33.Kd3 Nf2+ 34.Kc2 Rxg8 35.Qxg2 Rxg2 36.Rd2 f4! 37.d5 f3 and black’s winning) 27…Rdg8 28.g3 Rxh6 29.Qxh6 Nf3+ 30.Kf2 Ng5 and Black has a strong initiative.

26.Qxd5 exd5 27.Rg6 h5 28.Kf2?!

28.Rg5!, showing amorous intentions towards the d5-pawn, was much stronger.

28…Rhg8 29.Rxg8 Rxg8 30.Re1 Kd7 31.Re2 b5 32.Kf3 Rf8 33.b4, draw agreed.















This final move is horrifying since it fixes the queenside, creates a hole on c4 (the Knight would love to live there), and places yet another pawn on the same color as the Bishop. The position is now completely equal since White doesn’t have any way to make progress.

Mr. O’Dowd, noting the pawn breaks is just one piece of the puzzle. You must also groom your minor pieces for greatness (at every opportunity!), make sure your Rooks are doing a good job, be on top of the position’s potential tactics, and make sure your King is not in distress! Your …f7-f6 pawn break was indeed a good idea, but NOT when you did it. FIRST King safety, and only then the pawn break! Most importantly, a positive outlook where you know your position’s good points and are always trying to make use of them will take you to a whole new level.

Thanks very much for being honest about your thoughts and weaknesses. I wish more people were less egocentric and more interested in ironing out their shortcomings.

-- Lessons From This Game --

* Don’t obsess on your opponent’s threats. Instead, laugh them off and try to get your own ideas/plans under way.

* Whenever you’re about to make a move, always ask, “What wonderful thing does this move do for my position?”

* When you have a “huge” position, you must put everything you have into finding a way to land the knockout punch that you know is there!

* In general, first make sure your King is safe, and only then go for your opponent’s throat!

* A positive attitude where you are always trying to push your position’s plusses is an extremely important thing to develop.

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