How Much Fun is Enough?

In a more casual setting at a local G/45 tournament last weekend, I took the opportunity to play some stranger openings that I don’t attempt in more serious play. Unfortunately, I took this a little too far when I barely managed to draw a 1192 (he was playing quite well for his rating, but still). In fairness, I wasn’t the only one (a fellow master lost to a 1377 who wasn’t scared off by an unsound Scandinavian gambit), and this incident was not really because of the opening (which began with 1. g3 h5!? 2. e4 h4). Ultimately, everything seems to come down to how one plays regular chess.

That disaster left me a chance to redeem myself against the only sane high-rated player left in the field, NM Franklin Chen. However, I was intrigued by his assumption that I would play the Closed Sicilian as White, and wanted to switch things up a little. But Franklin turned out to be a step ahead, surprising my 1. e4 with 1…e6.

Psychologically, that was not acceptable, and Franklin knows his openings very well, so I had to think up a good alternative to 2. d4. I ultimately settled on 2. Qe2!?.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.06.29 PM
Li – Chen: after 2. Qe2

I’ve only seen one game in this line, but from what I understand the point is to hinder …d5, as Black would much rather take back with the e-pawn. In the only game that I’ve seen, the game continued 2…Be7 3. b3 d5 4. Bb2 Bf6 (4…Nf6 5. exd5 exd5 6. Bxf6 gxf6 leaves Black with riddled pawns) 5. e5 with a lot of space for White.

2…c5

So Black decided to go back to a “closed” Sicilian after all, and after a few moves it’s clear I lost the opening battle (at least psychologically). Qe2 makes White’s development a bit smoother after g3/Bg2/O-O/etc. but that didn’t look very interesting. I tried to play for d4.

3. b3?! Nc6 4. Nf3 e5

I usually don’t think very highly of locking up the dark squares like this, but it’s so hard for White to play d4 here that it makes a lot of sense. Again, I still tried to stick to d4.

5. Nf3 d6 6. h3 g6 7. Na3?

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.13.49 PM
Li – Chen: after 7. Na3

Consistent at least, but admittedly way too slow (still going for Na3-c2/d4). However, …f5 is coming.

7…Bg7 8. c3 Nge7 9. Rd1

White is almost ready to play d4, but Black can play 9…f5!, threatening …fxe4 followed by …d5 with a big advantage. This can be done over the next few moves, but ultimately Black delays it too long.

9…O-O 10. Bg2 a6 11. O-O b5?! 12. Nc2 Bb7?

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.17.14 PM
Li – Chen: after 12…Bb7

This was Black’s last chance to get ahead with …f5, and with the d4 push, White is equal again.

13. d4 exd4 14. cxd4 Re8 15. Qd3 f5?!

Would have been a great idea little earlier, but now this looks rather suspect. Since Black’s bishop isn’t defending the weak light squares on the kingside, White has a lot of potential Ng5/Bd5/similar ideas.

16. Ng5

Threatening the devastating Ne6/Nxg7; relatively best, in hindsight, is 16…Bf6.

16…Nc8?

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.27.46 PM
Li – Chen: after 16…Nc8

Since this was a pretty fast game, I totally missed this, which is bad because White’s knight is nearly trapped; even if it moves (e.g. 17. h4 h6 18. Nh3) Black wins the e4-pawn because of the Bb7’s indirect attack on the e4-pawn. Of course, Black’s kingside is not held together very well, so simply sacrificing the knight and opening the f/g-files gives White (at least) decent compensation. I decided to sac the knight and hope for the best. It turns out that this is very sound.

17. f4! h6

Probably not objectively best, but it’s reasonable for Black to make White prove the attack at this point. Bailing out with 17…fxe4 leads to 18. Bxe4 Nb4 19. Nxb4 Bxe4 20. Nxe4 cxb4 where 21. f5 is unlikely to end well for Black.

18. exf5 hxg5 19. fxg5 Qxg5

Otherwise, it’s virtually impossible to defend g6 after 20. f6.

20. h4!

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.55.15 PM
Li – Chen: after 20. h4

A few other moves work too, but this, which I first saw after 19. fxg5, looks the simplest. If Black tries to hold onto g6 (as in the game), White just storms ahead with the f-pawn. Otherwise, f5-f6 followed by Qxg6+ is game over.

Black chose to just give up the e8 rook, but this leaves White up the Exchange with a still massive attack, so the rest of the game was relatively straightforward.

20…Qg4 21. f6 N8e7 22. f7+ Kh7 23. fxe8=Q Rxe8 24. Rf4 Qd7 25. Rf7 Kg8 26. Raf1 Nd8

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 12.58.41 PM

Rxg7+ have been rather tempting for a while, but allowing Black to block the a1-h8 diagonal complicated matters a little. With that option gone, White mates in a few moves.

27. Rxg7+ Kxg7 28. dxc5+ Kg8 29. Qc3 Nf6 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Qg7+ Ke6 32. Qf6#

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