Festival International des Jeux – rounds 7 – 9

I had made a mediocre start to the tournament, but in round six I had won a nice game and had finally achieved a plus score.

Round 7 – White vs Andrei Lazo (2185)

Before this game I had never beaten anyone rated above 2150, and after this game I still hadn’t. Faced with the challenge of a much higher rated player I produced one of my worst games of the tournament.

We join the action after 13 moves of a game that began as a Semi-Slav defence, but has reached a position that very strongly resembles a Stonewall Dutch.

White to play
White to play

My play for the previous few moves has been dedicated to removing the knight from e4, and I now decided to do this. 14. f3 Nd6 15. c5 . And here I had failed to notice that after pushing this pawn the knight on d3 would pinned to my rook. 15…bxc5 16. Nxc5 I can’t really not take this pawn and expect to have a playable position. 16…Bxf1 Now I could have just played 17.Bxf1 and after 17…Qc8 Houdini thinks that this position is equal. Instead I spotted a more interesting alternative based on a rather basic miscalculation 17.Nxe6? Qc8 18. Nxf8

Black to play and blunder
Black to play and blunder

18…Bc4? My opponent thought for quite a long time here – his only significant think of the game and made a mistake. The error I had made when making my 17th move was in the variation 18… Bxg2 19. Nfg6+ hxg6 20. Nxg6+ Kh7 21. Nxe7 Qd7 here I had miscounted the number of pieces on the board assuming I was going to be level rather than a piece down. The game continued 19. Nfg6+ hxg6 20. Nxg6+ Kh7 21. Nxe7 Qe6. I assumed I was lost at this point, so I went for what I thought was the most active move 22. Qd1?, but I could have played 22. Qc3 with the point of picking up the a pawn after 22…Qxe7 23. b3 Be2 24. Qd2 Ba6 25. Qxa5. In the resulting position I’d rather be black, but white does have three pawns for the piece and the bishop pair. Instead I sacrificed a pawn to open lines on the kingside and generate some pseudo-activity. My opponent swiftly neutralised this and checkmated me after 13 further moves.

Round 8 – Black vs Laurent Papadopoulos (1813)

At 50% after seven rounds I needed a big finish for an acceptable result. After 20 moves of my round 8 game it wasn’t looking good.

White to move and it is looking very good for him
White to move and it is looking very good for him

Here white is a clear pawn up, and had he played 21. Rdc1 black has got nothing to look forward to except for a grim defence of an ending a pawn down. Instead white chose to defend the c pawn with 21. Rac1? which suddenly gives black some opportunities: firstly I can use a gain of tempo on the rook to unpin my bishop 21… Ba3  22. Rc2 secondly I can attack the c pawn with my knight 22…Nd5 23. Bd2 and thirdly there is now the possibility of a knight fork owing to the loose position of the rook on c2 23…Nb4! 24. Qe4 After the game my opponent suggested 24. Bf4 which I wasn’t able to refute at the time, but 24…Qc6 wins an exchange because 25. Ne5 would drop a piece: 25… Nxd3 26. Nxc6 Nxf4. The game continued 24… Nxc2 25. Ng5! (A good move – forcing me to weaken my kingside. I had been anticipating 25. Qxc2 h6) 25… g6 26.Qxc2. Black is now clearly better, but had white set out to draw from here I think this position would be quite difficult for black to win. White has a pawn for the exchange and it is hard for black to create a passed pawn. What happened in the game was that white tried to attack on the kingside, and in doing so weakened his own king’s position. Just after the time control we reached the following position:

White to play
White to play is in trouble

I am threatening Rxg4, so white defended with his king 44. Kh3 unfortunately it turns out that this doesn’t defend the g pawn because after 44…Rxg4! 45.Kxg4 Qd7+ leads to checkmate. My opponent found the best defence 45. Bh6!  which gave me a fright because I had missed it – I had been expecting to win in two or three moves however the white kingside is too weak to defend and the game finished 45… Rc4 46. Qe3 Qd7+ 47. Kg2 Qg4+ 48. Kf1 Re4 49. Qa7 Qh3+ and white resigned because it is checkmate next move.

Round 9 – White vs Arnaud Labarthe (1770)

In my experience last round games are often very strange. My opponent who is aged about 80 must have been feeling tired because he blundered badly in the opening. After 6(!) moves we reached the following position:

White to plan and win
White to play and win

Here I played 7.Ng5 after which there is no good defence of the f7 pawn. Later on in the game I won a second pawn and although I did have to work a little to defend against his active pieces I was able convert fairly easily, delivering checkmate on move 29.

In summary

As a resident of Aberdeen I can highly recommend Cannes as a place to visit in February. The tournament is large (there were 372 players over three tournaments) and high quality: in the B tournament there were 109 players rated between 1700 and 2000 – exactly the sort of players I want to play. If you are a higher rated player (above 2100) the A tournament is very strong with 19 Grandmasters and 23 International Masters. The venue has a pleasing view of the Harbour and the Mediterranean sea which makes an agreeable change from the various School halls and Leisure centres I am used to playing in. The negatives: on the lower boards (where I spent most of the tournament) the tables are a little bit cramped (conditions improve as you play on higher boards). Also there are two days with double rounds, where the morning round starts at 9.00 am. This can be quite tiring – in the A tournament Alan Tate lost a game against an International Master in round 5 that took over 5 hours to complete and then had to play another strong player in round 6 less than an hour later (he also lost that game).

I would have taken my score of 5½/9 at the start of the tournament, however I started slowly and consequently didn’t face a particularly strong field. My tournament performance was 1867, compared to my FIDE rating of 1921 so I will have lost a few points. The feature of my play in the first part of the tournament was a failure to convert winning positions – I was objectively winning in rounds 1,2 and 5 and scored 1/3 from these games. I think part of the problem is a tendency to play passively in positions with extra material – one of my opponents described my play as too “comfortable” which is an acute observation. There is also a certain amount of luck involved – my opponents in the first two rounds defended bad positions very well where as in later rounds my opponents generally didn’t defend that well.

I enjoyed my time in Cannes and I might well play this tournament again.

Festival International des Jeux – rounds 4 – 6.

The  tournament thus far has not been a particular success. I have played six lower rated opponents and only won two games. Worse than that I have had positions that were more or less winning in rounds 1,2 and 5 and scored two draws and a loss. On the other hand I did win a very nice game in round 6. Anyway here are the results from round 4,5 and 6.

Round 4 – Black vs Jean De Lagontrie (1760)

Although the early middle game was quite interesting, but the position quickly became completely blocked. With the knights exchanged and the heavy pieces about to be exchanged on the single open file I could see no reason to decline my opponent’s draw offer.

Round 5 – White vs Yves Roche (1806)

I played quite well for much of this game, gradually improving my position in a typical Maroczy bind, but just when I had a winning position the game degenerated into a blunderfest:

White to play
White to play

I’d been grinding away for a while, and here I decided it was time to break through on the queenside 29. a5 bxa5? (The only move that holds the position together for black is 29… Nc5) 30. Qxa5? Here I automatically recapture the pawn, missing the obvious 30. Nxa7 winning a whole exchange.  30… a6? (black needs to get his rooks out of the way, so something like 30… Rd8 is required). 31. Nbc3?  (31. Na7 still wins an exchange) 31… Rcb8 32. b4 Rb7? the rook on a8 is now undefended, so I can carry out a decisive pawn break on the queenside. Black needed to play something like 32… Be8.

White to play is still winning
White to play is still winning in spite of his earlier efforts.

33. b5 Bxd5 34. Nxd5 Nc5 35. Bxc5 dxc5 36. bxa6 (36.Nb6 is the simplest win here – 36…Rab8 37. bxa6 Rxb6 38. a7 Ra8 39. Qxb6 and white is an exchange up with a pawn on the seventh) 36… Rba7 37. Qxc5 Bf8 38. Qb5 Rxa6 39. Nc7 Ra5

White to play and win easily
White to play and win simply

40. Qb6? (This was the last simple win in the game 40. Nxa8!? Rxb5 41. cxb5 white has two rooks for the Queen, and stopping the b pawn from promoting will cost at least the bishop) 40… R8a7 41. Nb5 R7a6 42. Qb7 Ra2 43. Qd5? (I decided that I wanted to get the Queens off the board, but the bishop combined with the rook is a really powerful combination 43. c5 is still winning according to Houdini.) 43… Bh6 44. Rb1 Rc2 45. Nd4? Rxc4 46. Rb8+ Kg7? (46…Bf8 is equal) and here I played 47. Qxf7+ and offered a draw, aware that I had messed the position up. What I wasn’t aware of  what that black’s last move was a major blunder  so here is a puzzle – white to play and win – answer at the end of the article.

Black's last move was a blunder - white to play and win.
Black’s last move (Kg7) was a blunder – white to play and win.

Round 6 – Black vs Pascal Pasture (1764)

This game started about two hours after the previous one finished. I was feeling somewhat traumatised having messed up so badly and in my experience when this happens usually punishment follows. I was expecting the worst, and was rather surprised to play a fairly smooth positional win.

1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qd6 4. d4 Nf6 5. Be2  this seems like a slightly contrived way of developing in this position compared to the normal Nf3. 5…c6 6.Bf3 Bf5 7. Nge2 e6 8. O-O Be7 9. a3 {I guess that white wanted to prevent Bf4 being met by Qb4, but 9. Bf4 Qb4 doesn’t seem like a great idea – for example 10. a3 Qxb2 11. Rb1 Qxc2 12. Rxb7 Qxd1 13. Rxd1 Nfd7 is  better for white. I would have played 9…Qd7.) 9… O-O 10. Bf4 Qd7 11. Qd2 Na6 12. Rad1 Rfd8 13. Qc1 Rac8 14. Ng3 this was a move I didn’t particularly like because it allows me to force the exchange of a pair of minor pieces, which I thought was desirable for black as I have less space. I thought white should instead play something like Rfe1 or h3, or perhaps b4 is an interesting move here. 14…g6 15. Rfe1 Nd5 and now white has to decide what to do about the threat of Nxf4

White to play has to decide whether to capture the knight
White to play has to decide whether to capture the knight

16. Nxd5 I was quite surprised he took this, as the change of pawn structure benefits black – the minority attack is going to be pretty quick, and white isn’t ready so start things on the kingside yet. I was expecting 16. Bd2 Nxc3 17. Bxc3 Nc7 18. Bd2 Nd5 19. c4 Nf6 which I judged as slightly better for white – he has more space, but black has exchanged a pair of minor pieces (a good thing with less space), has a solid position and can aim for a c5 or e5 break. 16… cxd5 17. c3 b5 18. Be2 Nc7 This was part of a plan to improve my worst placed piece. The knight is going to be moved to e8, and can then come to f6 if it is needed to defend the kingside or to c4 via d6 if the queenside attack needs support. 19. Bd3 white doesn’t normally want to trade the light squared bishop on this sort of pawn structure, but it is hard to find good plan for white here. The problem with his position is that his knight is very badly placed. 20. Ne8 20. Bxg6 hxg6 I wanted white to capture on g6 so that the pawn would restrict the knight on g3. 21. Qb1 a5 22. Rd3 b4 23. axb4 axb4 24. Bd2 Qb5 round about here I probably play inaccurately. Houdini thinks I should capture here immediately but I wanted to keep the tension in the position for the moment. I thought it might be an advantage if white could be persuaded to capture on b4 as he would then have weak pawns on b2 and d4, instead of a single weak pawn on c3. 25. Nf1 Rc6 26. Rh3 Rdc8 27. Qd3 Qxd3 it might have been better not to exchange queens here, but the temptation of playing for two results was too great for me to resist. 28. Rxd3 bxc3 29. Rxc3 Nd6 30. Rxc6 Rxc6 31. Bb4 Bf6

White to play and defend
White to play and defend

32. Bc3? (32. Bc5 would have been a stronger defence, but black can continue to grind away against white’s weak pawns and awkwardly placed pieces. For example 32…Ra6 33. Ne3 Nb5 34. Rd1 Ra2 35. Rd2 Bg5 and black is a bit better) 32…Nb5 Now I am just winning a pawn. 33. Re3 Nxd4 34. Nd2 Nb5 35. Bxf6 gxf6

White is lost
White is lost

As well as being a pawn down, white’s pieces are very badly placed, and this enough to win a second pawn and consequently the game. 36. Rb3 Nd4 37. Rb8+ Kg7 38. g3 Rc2 39. Nf1 Nf3+ 40. Kg2 Ne1+ 41. Kg1 Nd3 42. b4 Rxf2 43. b5 Rb2 (43… d4 immediately is even stronger because the knight then can’t move.) 44. Ne3 Nc5

White resigned

white resigned because he has no useful moves.

The schedule for the rest of the tournament is one round per day. Round 7 is tomorrow and I have white against Andrei Lazo of Moldova – at 2185 the highest rated player in the tournament.


Answer to the puzzle

47. Ne6!+ wins because 47…Qxe6 48. Qd8! and black has to give up a bunch of material to avoid being checkmated. The most reasonable line seems to be 48…g5 49. Qh8+ Kg6 50. Rg8+ Kh5 51. g4+
Kh4 52.Rg6, so instead of this he has to play 47…Rxe6 but then 48.Qxc4 and white has won an exchange.

Festival International des Jeux – rounds 1 – 3.

I am currently playing in the 30th International games festival at Cannes. The chess tournament is part of the festival which also includes a draughts tournament and a very large scrabble tournament in the hall downstairs. The tournament is played in the palais des festivals and the view, looking out over the marina to the Mediterranean sea is spectacular

The playing hall at Cannes
The playing hall at Cannes

There are three tournaments. The A open is very strong, with the top seed being the former world championship candidate and multiple US champion Gata Kamsky. Former Scottish champion Alan Tate is also playing in the A tournament. I am playing in the B (under 2200) tournament.

My tournament has not exactly gone well thus far. I managed to draw in round 1 as white against Guy Cornut (1668 France), when my opponent offered me a draw in a position I had thought (and Houdini agrees with me) was basically lost for me. In his defence we were both playing on the increment at that point, but even so I would have carried on his position.

I was paired with black against Driss Daif (1562 France) in round 2, and I won a pawn when my opponent mishandled the opening. Then this happened

White to play
White to play

Here I had been happily contemplating something like 20.Ne4 Be3+ 21.Kh1 f6 when black’s king is fairly safe, and he will probably be able to convert his extra pawn. Instead my opponent found 20.f6! after which black is in serious trouble. For example white has a winning attack after 20…Bf6 21. Rxf6! 21.gxf6 22.Qh5 Rfe8 23.Qxh7+ Kf8. I found the only way to continue 20…g6 21.Bc1 Be3+ (another way to lose is 21…Bxc1? 22.Bxc1 Kh8 23.Qh6 Rg8 24.Ne4 g5 25.Nxg5 Bf5 26.Bxf5 and checkmate next move) 22.Bxe3 dxe3 23.Qf3 Qb6 24.Kh1 Kh8 25.Rae1 Rde8 26.Rxe3 Nd4 27.Qe4  Bc6 28.Qh4 Nxc2 this was based on a tactical oversight, but Houdini thinks the position is already lost.

White to play
White to play

29.Qh6? (29.Re2 is winning) and here I missed a miraculous resource 29…Rg8? (I assumed this was completely forced, but black would actually be winning after 29…Bxg2+! 30.Kxg2 Nxe3+ 31.Kh1 Rg8) 30.Bxc2 Bxg2+ 31.Kxg2 Qc6+ 32.Be4 1–0

In round 3 I was given the white pieces against Sergio Nanni (1745 Italy). I proceeded to misplay the opening, and reached the following position after 17 moves with black to play.

Black to play and place his Queen on an unfortunate square
Black to play and place his Queen on an unfortunate square

Here signor Nanni moved his queen to a very unfortunate square 17…Qe7? and I was now able to grab a pawn with 18.Bxg7 because 18..Kxg7? loses to 19.Nf5+. Twelve moves later we reached the following position:

Black to play
Black to play

Here black should have played 29… Ne6 30. Nxe6 Bxe6. White can then make progress with 31.Qa7 attacking the Queenside pawns, but the game would continue for a while. Instead he blundered with 29…Ne4 30.Bxe4 Bh3 31.Bg2 when white was a knight up. I think his idea had been 30…Rxe4 31.Rxd7 Rxh4, but it doesn’t work because white attacks first. 32. Rd8+ Kg7 33. Qf8+ Kg6 34. Rd6+ Kg5 35. Rxd5+ Kg6 and now 36. Rxh5 R4xh5 37. Qa8 is one of several ways to win.

Finally like most experienced chess players I have spent a small fortune on chess books in the (mostly vain) hope that they will somehow improve my game. Today however I made the most optimistic chess purchase to date.

An optimistic purchase
An optimistic purchase

Not only am I hoping it will improve my chess, I am also hoping it will improve my French. Here’s to optimism!

Prague summer open rounds 8 and 9

Hamish Olson and Neil Irving finished their tournaments in Prague with 1.5/2 in the final rounds.

In the A open Hamish drew his round 8 game with white against Egor Chekletsov of Russia (rated 1912 and aged 12) and in the final round miniatured Czech player Tomas Kucera (1995) with the black pieces to finish on 5/9. His full results can be seen here.

In the last round game Hamish (as black) reached the following position after white’s 11th move.

Kucera vs Olson Prague 2015. Black to play and win
Kucera vs Olson Prague 2015.
Black to play and win

The solution is at the end of this article.

In the B open Neil defeated the Czech player Jiri Svelty (1919) in round 8. His notes are as follows:

1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 d6 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. e4 O-O 6. Be2 Nbd7 7. Be3 e5 8. d5 Nc5?!

I think this is an inaccurate move because it allows white to re-deploy the kings knight onto d2 while the bishop stays active on e3. The database confirms that white scores about 70% from this position. Having said that a few grandmasters (Fier, Markos) have played the black side of this position. 8… Ng4 is better.

9. Nd2 a5 10.a3

Black to play
Black to play


I like this idea of sacrificing a pawn in exchange for the dark squared bishop. It may not be correct but it is a justification for black’s move 8. 10… Ne8 aiming for f5 is the most popular move in this position but then white can get on with his queenside play with 11. b4 axb4 12. axb4 Rxa1 13.Qxa1 Na6 14. Qa3 f5 15. O-O (After 15. f3?! which I have played once black has the tactic 15…Bh6 16.Bxh6 Qh4+ equalising) 15… f4 16. Ba7 b6 (16… Bd7 17. f3 and white’s attack on the queenside is very strong) 17. Ra1 followed by c5 is good for white.

11. Bxc5 dxc5 12. Nxa4 Qe7 13. O-O Ne8 14. Qc2 f5 15. Nc3 f4?!

I didn’t think this move was positionally very good because it closes off the h6 – c1 diagonal for the black bishop I prefer  either 15… Nd6 or 15… Bh6. Now I decided it was time to grab the initiative

White to play and seize the initiative
White to play and seize the initiative

16. b4!? g5!?

Black decides he isn’t interested in taking any of these pawn things and goes for the attack on the Kingside. If black had taken the pawn then I was planning after 16… cxb4 17. axb4 Rxa1 18. Rxa1 Qxb4 to play 19.Rb1, but Houdini finds the stronger 19.Nb3 Qe7 (19… Nf6 20. c5 and the Queen is getting trapped) 20.c5

17. h3

I played this on the basis that it slows black’s attack down by a move because he has to play Nf6 and h5 before he can get g4 in.

17… Nf6 18.bxc5 g4 19. d6!?

I was determined to try and seize the initiative somehow, so I again try returning a pawn.

19… cxd6 20. cxd6 Qxd6 21. hxg4

Black to play
Black to play


I was very surprised he allowed me to swap off the light squared bishops. The light squared bishop is often a key attacking piece in this type of pawn structure, plus this reduces the number of attacking pieces black has by one. 21… Nxg4 is much more dangerous.

22. Bxg4 Nxg4 23. Qd1

After the game Hamish suggested 23.Nf3 because it doesn’t allow black any ideas based on a pawn sacrifice on f3

23… h5

So here I hadn’t considered 23… f3 24. Nxf3 Qh6 25. Re1 Rxf3 26. Qxf3 Qh2+ 27. Kf1. It doesn’t work but I should have considered the possibility.

24. Nf3 Qc6 25. Nd5 Qc5  26. Qb3 Rf7 27. Ng5

White is winning
White is winning

The white knights are too powerful in this position so black is lost. I thought now he might try 27… Rd7 28. Nb6 Rd2 29. Nxa8 Rxf2 which Houdini tells me is winning for white, but looked scary at the time. If he had played 27…Rd7 I would just have followed up with 28. Qb6

27… Re7 28. Nxe7+ Qxe7

I am now an exchange and a pawn up but fairly short of time. The rest of the game isn’t particularly accurately played, but there were no major blunders either.

29.Nf3 Bf8 30. Rab1 Rb8 31. Qb6 Kg7 32. Qa7 Qc7 33. Qb6 Qe7 34. Rbd1 Ra8 35. Qb5 Kg6 36. Rd7 Qc5 37. Qxb7 Rxa3 38. Qd5 Nxf2 39. Qf7+

And black resigned because of mate next move, although Qe6 checkmate would have been an improvement for white on move 39!

In the last round Neil agreed a quick draw with black against Czech junior Daniil Bystrickiy (1877) to achieve a final score of 6/9. His results can be seen here.

Both Hamish and Neil enjoyed playing in Prague and would recommend Czech tour events for other players.

The conclusion of the game Kucera – Olson was 11…Nxd4 12. Bxd4 a6 13. Bd3 Nc6 14. Be3 d4 15. Bg5 Bxf3 16. Bxd8 (if 16.Bxh7+ then 16…Kh8 still wins a piece) Bxe2 17. Bxe2 Raxd8 resigns.

Prague summer open rounds 5, 6 and 7

Hamish and Neil started the tournaments in Prague with an excellent series of results (see post here). In the middle rounds of the tournament both found life a bit tougher.

In the A open Hamish had the following pairings:

  • Round 5 – Black vs Roman Vogel (Germany 2420)
  • Round 6 – White vs FM Boris Furman (Russia 2227)
  • Round 7 – Black vs Alexander Chudinovskikh (Russia 2275)

He lost the first two games and had a very complicated draw in round 7, which Hamish has posted on the Bon Accord chess club facebook page. He now has 3.5/7 and in round 8 he has white against Russian junior Egor Chekletsov (1912).

In the B open Neil also ran into tough opposition:

  • Round 5 – White vs Damir Marinc (Slovenia 2016)
  • Round 6 – Black vs Karsten Bertram (Germany 2131)
  • Round 7 – Black vs WFM Tanya Shevchenko (Ukraine 2005)

In round 5 having played a nice attack and won a piece he unfortunately blundered in the endgame and lost. In round 6 he reached the following position with black to move

Black to play and make progress
Black to play and make progress

This position was reached shortly after the time control. Neil had managed to see off white’s attack early in the game and has won an exchange. In the meantime white has been trying to set up a fortress. The only way Neil could find to make progress was to return the exchange

44… a5 45. Rxb5 Rxd4 46. Qxd4 Qxg5+ 47. Kh3 Qf5+ 48. Qg4 Qd3

White is lost!
White is lost!

In this position white thought for over three quarters of an hour! After about fifteen minutes Neil suddenly realised that white is completely lost.


  • 49. Qxh4 Qxf3+ (and not 49…Qxb5?? 50.Qf6+ which allows white to give a perpetual check despite being a rook down) 50. Qg3 Qf1+ and now black can take the rook.
  • 49. Kxh4 Rc4 or 49… Qxb5 winning material
  • 49. Kg2 Qxb5 wins a rook
  • 49. Rxa5 Rc4 (this was the move Neil had missed initially) 50. Qg2 Qf5+ 51.Qg4 Rxg4 52. fxg4 Qf1+ 53. Kxh4 Qf2+ 54. Kh3 g5 and checkmate next move

The game continued 49. Rb2! (the only move that doesn’t lose on the spot) Rc4 50. Rd2 Qxc3 51. Qg2 Qxe5 and with two extra pawns and and an attack black won quite quickly.

In round 7 he lost a complicated game against WFM Tanya Shevchenko which at one stage he was winning. He now 4.5/7 and white in round 8 against Jiri Svetly (1919) of the Czech republic.

Prague Summer Open rounds 1 – 4

After four rounds of the Prague summer open Hamish is on 3/4. His first round game was black against the top seed Grandmaster Evgeny Vorobiov of Russia (rated 2575). Hamish held on for a long time, but blundered a pawn in a time scramble after which the Russian’s formidable technique won the game. He followed up with three consecutive wins against Ieyessa Bin-Suhayl of Italy (rated 1934 and 11 years old!), Petr Tichy (1889) and Daniel Rous (2201) both of the Czech republic. He should be on the live boards tomorrow.

His game as black against Petr Tichy reached the following position after 20 moves.

Black has a thematic pawn sacrifice
Black has a thematic pawn sacrifice

Here having already sacrificed one pawn for an attack, Hamish now gives up another pawn to get at the king.

20…e5! 21. Qxe5 f4 22. Kh2 (otherwise Qxh3 wins. The only defence was 22.g4 but then 22…Bxg4 is good for black)

The game proceeded 22…Qd3 23. Re1 fxg3+ 24. Qxg3 Rf7? (a slight mistake 24.Be4! removes some defences based on e4) 25. b3 Qc2 26. Ba3 Bb7 27. Kg1 Rf6 28. Rec1 Qe4 29. Qh2?

Black to play and checkmate
Black to play and checkmate

And in this position white gets checkmated after 29…Rg6+ 30. Kf1 Qd3+ 31. Ke1 Ba6 32. f4 Qxe3+ 33. Kd1 Qd3+ 34. Ke1 Re8+

In the B open Neil began with a win against local player Karel Tomanek (rated 1418), and was faced in round 2 with black by top seed Israeli Semyon Karasik (2187). In a level position after 15 moves Neil was the recipient of a draw offer (presumably a swiss gambit) and accepted.

In round 3 against Klaus Thalhammer (1946 from Austria) as white Neil reached the following position.


White needs to find a good move
White needs to find a good move

White’s opening has gone a bit wrong and black is now threatening to play c5 when his knight on d4 will dominate the position. Here Neil found the only good move the pawn sacrifice 13.c5 dxc5 14.Bc4 when as compensation for the pawn white has the bishop pair, an excellent square for the light squared bishop on c4 and black has weaknesses on c5, c6 and a6.

The weaknesses proved to be decisive and the game reached this position on move 29.

White to play and win
White to play and win

here white won after 29.Bc4 Qf6 30.Bxg8 Rxg8 and now black resigned after 31.Qa6 Nc8 32.Qb7+

A win in round 4 against Women’s International Master Nora Mohd Saleh (1907 of the UAE) leaves him on 3.5/4.

Gibraltar round 5 report

I feel that any tournament in which I have a game for prize money can basically be deemed to be a success regardless of the result of that game. Going into the last round of the Gibraltar Amateur a win would have secured (as it turned out) a share of second place and £400 prize money. Unfortunately my game as black against Klaus Kuenitz (1680) of Germany went wrong more or less straight after the opening, and although my opponent did make some mistakes which I could have exploited to get back to an equal position I missed the opportunities and was defeated.

Black to play
Black to play

In this position I considered three plans. Firstly I could push the c pawn with 10…c4 11.Bc2, but I was concerned that white’s central pawn majority would give him a long term advantage. What I probably should have done was play 10…b4 giving up the c4 square, but controlling c3, and preventing white from opening the a file. Instead I decided to give white an isolated Queen’s pawn, and then play against it.

10… cxd4?! 11. axb5

I was surprised when he did this, as I had calculated this through to an endgame where I thought I would be better.

11…dxe3 12. Bxe3 axb5 13. Rxa8 Qxa8 14. Bxb5

Black to play has made an unpleasant discovery
Black to play has made an unpleasant discovery

Now I made an unpleasant discovery. Here I had intended 14… Bxf3 15. Qxf3 Qxf3 16. gxf3 which I assumed would be better for black. My reasoning was that although white has the bishop pair, but his pawns are so weak I couldn’t possibly be worse. I belatedly discovered that it is very difficult for black to complete development because of the pin on d7. For example after 16…Nd5 17.Nc3 threatening to take twice on d5 and then on d7 is just winning, or 16…Bb4 17. Bg5 Nd5 18. Rc1 N5b6 19. Rc7 Be7 20.Be3 is losing a piece. The only line that works for black is 16…Kd8, which I did see, but didn’t believe in because the king is walking into an attack by the two bishops and the rook. What is even worse is that instead of 15.Qxf3, 15.gxf3 is stronger. So after much cogitation I gritted my teeth and played

14…Bc6 15.Qc4?

After the game my opponent was very critical of his play.  He felt he played too fast, and gave me some chances to escape. This was the first opportunity. He should have played 15.Nd4 Bxb5 16. Qxb5 and there is just no way for black to develop.

15… Bd5?

Here I looked at the line 15… Bxb5 16. Qxb5 Be7 17. Ne5, but I missed that 17…Qb8! hits the queen and knight, and therefore forces 18. Qxb8+ Nxb8 equalising.

16. Qc7 Qd8 17. Qa7 Bd6


White to play
White to play

18. Bg5?

White should have played 18. Nc3, after which the best idea for black is to abandon the d pawn with 18…O-O 19. Nxd5 exd5 20. Bxd7 Nxd7 21. Rxd5. Obviously this is lost.

18… Ke7??

And I miss opportunity number two. For some reason I cannot now understand I thought if I castled I would be losing material. In fact the position after 18… O-O 19. Nc3 is more or less equal.

The game now finished

19. Nc3 Re8 20. Nxd5+ exd5 21. Rxd5 Ke6 22. Bc4 Ke7 23. Bb5 (23. Rxd6 is a quicker win here) 23… Ke6 24. Qd4 Qc7 25. Bc4 Ke7 26. Bb5 Rb8 27. Bxd7 Qxd7 28. Ne5 Qc7 29. Ng4 Rb6 30. g3 Kf8 31. Nxf6 gxf6 32. Qxf6

The final position - black resigned.
The final position – black resigned.

In this position I was unable to think of a sensible move as both 32…Be7 and 32…Qe7 allow 33.Qh8# so I resigned. The line of greatest resistance is 32… Ke8 33. Rd1 Rb5 34. Qh8+ Kd7 35. Bf4 and appropriately the pin on the bishop wins the game.

So my tournament ended on 3/5. This is probably a fair result – I didn’t play any particularly good games, but I didn’t on the whole play terribly. As a result of the tournament my FIDE rating will go down a little bit, and my Chess Scotland rating will go up slightly. I guess the result was about par.

Gibraltar is a fascinating place to visit, and has a much nicer climate than Scotland in winter. The tournament is very professionally organised, and is held in an excellent venue. The masters tournament gives the opportunity for ordinary players to complete with the world’s best. The morning challengers and amateur tournaments give the opportunity for ordinary players to play internationally rated games in the morning and watch the Grandmasters in action in the afternoon. Players with excessive enthusiasm can do both. There is live commentary of the games and chess activities organised in the evenings, such as blitz tournaments, and master classes with well known Grandmasters such as Veselin Topalov and Richard Rapport.

Gibraltar in January
Gibraltar in January

I would highly recommend  the Gibraltar chess festival to just about any chess player. I hope to be able to participate again next year.

Gibraltar Round 4 Report

Yesterday I managed to make it to the top of the rock and took the following picture of the tournament venue.

An ideal venue for some serious chess
An ideal venue for some serious chess

Today I made it onto the live boards. To celebrate this fact I played my dullest game of the week

I was white against Frenchman Romain Christophe-Hayot (1793), and after 21 moves we reached the following position

White to play
White to play doesn’t understand the position

Here my idea had been to play f3 followed by e4. This would be fine if black exchanges his f pawn after for example 22. f3 Ng7 23. e4 fxe4 24. fxe4 dxe4 25. Bxe4 or 23… dxe4 24. fxe4 f4, but I started to wonder what would happen if he just played pushed his pawn to f4 and kept it there – say 23…f4 24. exd5 exd5 and then say 25. Re1 Ne6. (See diagram)

Analysis Diagram
Analysis Diagram

His knight seems to be the best piece on the board. Houdini thinks white still has a small edge after 26.Bb2, but I wasn’t convinced. Instead I played

22. f4

This move was an attempt to close the game down and force a draw. I had found it hard to find good moves early in the game, and was now down to about twenty minutes.

22… Ng7 23. h4 Kh7 24. Kf2

Here I made a draw offer, which was declined. In hindsight black should have accepted the draw here, or played h5 on one of the next two moves to seal up the king side. Instead by playing for a win he gives me an opportunity that I do not take.

24…Rh8 25. Rh1 Nh5?! 26. Bf3 Rcf8

White to play and, to his great surprise, win
White to play and, to his great surprise, win

I had assumed this position was dead drawn. After the game to my great surprise I discovered that 27. g4 is a decisive breakthrough. For example  27…fxg4 28.Bxg4 Ng7 29. h5 Rhg8 30. hxg6+ Qxg6 31. Qxg6+ Kxg6 32. Rh2, and the h pawn is incredibly weak and will drop, and black also has a very bad bishop.

Instead the game continued.

27. Rag1 Rhg8 28. Qd2 Ng7 29. Qd3 Kh8 30. Qe2 Ra8 31. Ra1 a5 32. Qb2 axb4 33. axb4 h5 34. Rxa8 Rxa8 35. Ra1 Qe8 36. Ra3

The final position - a dead draw
The final position – a dead draw

The computer thinks that white still has a small advantage in the final position, but I am pretty sure after 33…h5 it is totally drawn.

This pusillanimous performance leaves me on 3/4. I am out of the running for the first prize, but I may get something if I play a decent game tomorrow.

I spent much of the afternoon watching the live commentary of the masters given by Grandmaster Simon Williams and International Master Elisabeth Paehtz. A particular highlight was a brilliant attack in the game Harikrishna vs Chrilia which can be seen https://arena.chessdom.com/games/show/stream/72711?embed=580&ba=1″style=”width:567px;height:720px;border:none;margin-top:30px;