My SC Senior Open critical game
Pirc Defense, Czech Variation
South Carolina Senior Open
White: Dan Quigley (1711)
Black: Michael Kliber (1971)
Round 4, Board 3, G/90, 30 seconds
I have in the past couple months done a deep study of the Pirc Defense because I wanted to play it myself. I haven’t been able to make it work out for me like I wanted and so don’t play it often now. At this point, as White, I took a couple minutes to consider what I wanted to play against the Pirc. I know the critical variation for White is the Austrian Variation, B09, which involves playing f4 before bringing out the King’s Knight: 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3, but now Black has two reasonable options, 5…0-0 and 5…c5. Both of these moves, especially the latter, lead to long series of often critical, sharp, and theoretical moves involving a well-timed e5 by White, both of which however give a Black player who knows the lines and what he’s doing good chances. If Black tries to wing it in the Pirc, on the other hand, the Austrian usually makes quick road kill of him. I figured Michael knew what he was doing, and would play the best defensive lines for Black. So I opted for the more positional main line approach popularized in the 1970s and early 1980s by Karpov.
2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 c6
This is the Czech variation. Main line Pirc is 5…0-0. I have just played, am still playing in fact, a thematic server-based tournament on Chess.com with 5…c6 as the starting position. Despite that, I don’t really understand what …c6 is supposed to do for Black. The Queen can play along the d8-a5 diagonal, I suppose, but I have yet to find doing so all that advantageous for Black. Maybe it’s the preparation factor that Black can play …d5 at a good time soon that gives …c6 its popularity. I don’t know.
I played this move in all my server-based games. It’s second most popular to the obvious 6.0-0. There’s some decent nuisance value in running the a-pawn into Black’s camp.
Black chose 6…0-0 in all my server games. Michael’s move makes good sense. I get no more annoyance value out of my a-pawn, and Black gets some decent squares, a6 and b4, for his Queen’s Knight, which seems preferable to its usual fate of going to d7 and being cramped. Besides, after White’s e5, it’s often Black’s King’s Knight that belongs on d7.
7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1
The move I would like to make is 8.Be3, but I didn’t know what to do in the event of 8…Ng4. Having come home and looked at a database of master games, I discovered that what the GMs do in this event is just move the Bishop again, usually with 9.Bg5. The argument apparently is that 8…Ng4 is not a useful move for Black if he has nothing to capture on e3, therefore White’s having to move the Bishop again is not really a loss of time for White since Black will eventually have to retreat the Knight with equal loss of time and a net effect of nothing accomplished. I considered 8.h3, so I could play Be3 without harassment, but I wanted to see if there was something useful I could do before resorting to h3. In this variation of the Pirc, White often wants to play a pawn to e5, but never f4, so Re1 supporting a future pawn advance seems logical.
The only reason I can see for this move is Black wants to play …e5 soon and needs Queen support to do so.
9.h3 Rd8!? TN
This move came as a surprise to me and is actually a theoretical novelty in this position. Black’s known moves in this position are 9…e5, 9…Nbd7, and 9…Na6. The text is designed to make …e5 sting when dxe5, dxe5 exposes a Rook threat to White’s Queen. It can hardly ever be wrong to put a Rook on the same file as your opponent’s Queen.
10.Be3 Na6 11.Qd2 Nb4 12.Rac1!? TN
We had actually transposed back into opening theory. Two games have been played from Black’s 11…Nb4, one a win for White, the other a win for Black. The position indeed has about equal chances for both sides. In both games, White chose to play the more logical looking 12.Rad1. I still prefer my unusual looking novelty though. In some ways it is akin to Nimzowitsch’s “mysterious Rook move” with similar ideas behind it. The c2 pawn requires protection if White’s Queen is forced to relocate to h6, which I would love to do. Also, Black’s Queen is on the c-file. (See the last sentence of my note to Black’s ninth move above.) Finally, if the Knight leaves c3, the pawn on c2 can launch and affect the center. The Rook behind it will have great purpose then. Also, I want to prove the Knight on b4 is not all that well placed after all. If its threat to c2 is cancelled, what really is it doing on b4? Keeping an eye on d5 maybe?
Black has a lot of moves to choose from here. Both 12…d5 and 12…e5 are possible. If it were me, I’d choose one of these central pushes and lock up the pawn position somewhat so that I could then decide what the best square for my Queen’s Bishop is. I’m not at all sure what it does for Black on d7.
Now we see another facet of Black’s ninth move. He has long planned this retreat to h8. I have seen this maneuver in GM play of retreating the Bishop to h8 in order to keep the long diagonal Bishop. I have even made the move myself a number of times in blitz games and some slower online games. It never turned out well for me though. White would just leave his Bishop on h6. I’d never be able to make much use of the h8 Bishop and would find myself later in the game invariably having to play the Bishop back to g7 to acquiesce to its trade. Don’t take my word over GM practice that this is an unpromising idea for Black though. Using Chessbase you can search for games in which White has a Bishop on h6 and Black one on h8 before move 20. It’s amazing how seldom Black makes more use of the h8 Bishop while White makes good use of the h6 Bishop. Knowing what I now know of these positions, I’d play 13…e5 instead if I were Black. Black won’t miss the “bad” g7 Bishop that much if a pawn is locked on dark square e5 anyway.
If White can have two more moves with no Black response, it’s mate in two with a Bishop! If only chess were so easy. This position is quickly becoming complicated and volatile.
14…e5 15.dxe5 dxe5 16.Qe3
White’s Queen has to move so that Black doesn’t do something nasty by moving his d7 Bishop as a free move. What a nice perch White’s Queen now has on e3, so much nicer than her counterpart on c7. The immovable pawns on h3 and e4 secure White’s Queen’s central home for perpetuity.
Protecting f7 and taking the d-file. Not bad.
My computer program prefers 17.Nb1, intending c3. Maybe if I really were Karpov I’d have even considered this option. Karpov made a career out of regrouping his pieces on the first rank to maximum effect. Not knowing what else to do in this position, I decided to try to simplify it by taking a set of Rooks off the board.
This was unexpected. If 17…Rxd1 18.Nxd1, my c-pawn could satisfy its “lust to expand” as Nimzowitsch puts it. Instead of simplification, we’re headed for even greater complications it appears.
Now my computer program “screams” for 18.Nb1. Since it threatens c3 and forces the desired simplification, I suppose my program is right. I chose the other Knight retreat to try to force …Rxd1.
Oh boy; I sure didn’t see that coming. 19.Nxd4 is out of the question now since the pawn recapture forks c3 and e3. For the first time in this game, I felt like I was losing my grip on and my understanding of the position. I had no idea what to do at first and so burned the most time I used in the entire game thinking here. 19.Rd2 and Rcd1 seems logical, but I don’t know what it accomplishes. After a while, I realized that 18…c5, brilliant as it was, had a down side. There are now serious holes in Black’s position, especially at b5 and d5, that weren’t there before. Maybe all I have to do is batten down the hatches with Nd2, f3, and b3, followed by Knight or Bishop to c4 and decent piece activity. After all, what can Black really do against my position? It would also be nice to increase my c3 Knight’s mobility. If I could move the Knight off c3 without losing the a4-pawn, then c3 forking two Black pieces was a small threat, especially after Nd2 when …Rxd1 would no longer be an escape for Black. On this somewhat flimsy reasoning then, I played…
19.b3 Rad8 20.Nb5?
I made this move thinking that after 20…Bxb5 21.axb5, I was forcing the simplification 21…Rxd1 since 21…Rxe4 was not possible for tactical reasons.
Black thought for a very long time on this move. I was certain he had seen that he could not take the e4 pawn. What could he be thinking about? Was he maybe going to retreat the Rook from d4 rather than play …Rxd1?
Black goes from a winning game to a losing game in one move! Incredibly, Black has a tactic that saves the day for him, one I never saw until my computer program pointed it out to me at home. After 21…Nxc2!! White is in serious trouble. White can’t play 22.Rxc2 because 22…Rxd1 wins Black the exchange. White would have to play 22.Qc3 Rxd1+ 23.Bxd1 Nb4 and try to defend the shattered pawn structure on the Queenside. I don’t think it can be done against good play by Black.
Since the Queen sacrifice can’t be accepted due to back rank mate threats White now has a winning position. There is a famous Capablanca game that made a profound impression on me from which I drew inspiration for planning this move. (If only my combination weren’t faulty because Black had a better 21st move.) 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bg5 O-O 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Rc1 b6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Qa4 Bb7 10.Ba6 Bxa6 11.Qxa6 c5 12.Bxf6 Nxf6 13.dxc5 bxc5 14.O-O Qb6 15.Qe2 c4 16.Rfd1 Rfd8 17.Nd4 Bb4 18.b3 Rac8 19.bxc4 dxc4 20.Rc2 Bxc3 21.Rxc3 Nd5 22.Rc2 c3 23.Rdc1 Rc5 24.Nb3 Rc6 25.Nd4 Rc7 26.Nb5 Rc5 27.Nxc3 Nxc3 28.Rxc3 Rxc3 29.Rxc3 Qb2 0-1 Bernstein - Capablanca, Moscow 1914. This is a game every student of chess should know well. Black should have admitted …Bh8 was a mistake and played …Bg7 long before this point.
22…Qb8 23.Rxd8+ Qxd8 24.Rd1 Qe8 25.Bc4 Bg7 26.Bxg7
26.Bxf7+ wins quicker 26…Qxf7 27.Qc8+ Ne8 28.Rd7 Qf8 29.Bxg7 Nxg7 30.Rd8 +-
Simplest is 27.Qc7+-
27…Rd4 28.Re1 Nd7?
This looks good: Black holds the e-pawn and attacks the Queen. But it has a tactical problem. White should still win after 28…Rd7 or 28…Qd7 with 29.Rxe5. White is a pawn up and controls most of the board, but more chess would be played.
29.Qxd4 Nxc2 30.Qe4 Nxe1 31.Qxe1 f5 32.Qxa5 Qe7 33.Qd8 Qd6 34.Qh8+ 1-0