The Gazette - August 2021

Edited by Julie Leonard
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

A Matter of Time and Space

Many thanks to Paul Benson, who has kindly annotated one of his games from the BCA Remote Spring Tournament, 19th to 21st March 2021. He writes:

For some reason my games in this event were seriously lack-lustre. Perhaps the hotel policy of not serving a cooked breakfast suppressed the inspiration? So, no favourite game available, but not wishing to disappoint, here is the critical final round tussle. Note: Time control is 90 minutes each for the entire game.

P. Benson (1930) - S. Lovell (1615), BCA Remote Spring 2021 R5.

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 At this point the clocks read 15 - 1 minutes consumed. Why has White struggled to reproduce possibly the most popular line in the Caro-Kann system? Simple. A desperate sifting of the memory circuits for tricky lines to destabilise the Black thinking was occurring, with nothing positive surfacing. So, this will now have to be the usual strategic battle with the unnecessary loss of time on the White clock, not a good start.

6. ... Nd7 7. Bc4 e6 8. O-O h6 9. Qe2 Ngf6 10. Ne5 A poor move, hoping for a bad reply, never a good idea.

10. ... Nxe5 The correct response. White was hoping for the "knee-jerk" response of 10. ... Bh7 when 11. Nxf7 is crushing. The idea is after 10. ... Bh7 11. Nxf7 Kxf7 12. Qxe6+ Kg6 13. Bd3 mate, which means Nxf7 is winning at least an exchange and pawn.

11. dxe5 A sad necessity, the pawn structure imbalance disappears, the middlegame now becomes almost impossible to complicate, though the cramping effect of an e5 pawn might lead somewhere when the endgame begins. Instead 11. Qxe5 maintains the pawn formation imbalance but after 11. ... Bxc2 where is the compensation for the lost c-pawn?

11. ... Nd5 12. Bb3 Careless, a result of playing quickly to catch up on the clock. Instead 12. a3 keeps a minor piece out of the b4 square while offering the a2 square as a safe retreat for the c4 bishop.

12. ... Be7 13. a3 Qc7 14. c4 Nb6 15. Rd1 Black must not be permitted the luxury of castling queenside, however placing a rook on the d-file can only lead to a rook trade. Those much-desired middlegame complications become more remote than the event itself.

15. ... Rd8 16. Rxd8+ Qxd8 17. Be3 O-O When developing with 17 Be3 White needed to be certain that 17. ... Bd3 did not cost a pawn, some ideas run:

(A). 17. ... Bd3 18. Bxb6 Qxb6 19. Qxd3 White has won a piece.

(B). 17. ... Bd3 18. Bxb6 Bxe2 19. Bxd8 Bxd8 20. Nxe2 White again wins a piece.

(C). 17. ... Bd3 18. Bxb6 axb6 19. Qe3 O-O 20. Rd1 pins and wins the black d3 bishop, but this is not forcing.

(D). 17. ... Bd3 18. Bxb6 axb6 19. Qe3 Bh7 20. Rd1 Qc7 and White must now be wary of an opposite-colour bishop endgame.

18. f4 Qc7 Perhaps Black had 18. ... Bd3 when 19. Qf2 Nxc4 20. Bxc4 Bxc4 21. Bxa7 regains the pawn but how can White avoid further simplifications? Clock times are now about equal, White has a space advantage, fine, but how can it be exploited?

19. Rd1 Rd8 20. Rxd8+ Qxd8 21. Bc2 Bxc2 The only compensation of the simplifications is that an opposite-colour bishop ending is no longer possible.

22. Qxc2 Qc7 23. Ne4 c5 Perhaps played in order to prevent White pushing pawn c5 with a massive grip on the d6 square? Fine, but now it is Black who is falling behind on the clock without finding anything to ease the slight white pressure.

24. b3 Nc8 When a unit moves it vacates a square for someone else, Black is attempting to consolidate the queenside pawns.

25. Kf2 Anticipating a trade of queens the white king hopes to join in the fight. Fine, but as the pawn structure presently stands, he cannot make an entry into the black position.

25. ... b6 Black plans a static queenside pawn formation. Unfortunately this will be on dark squares and so vulnerable to the white bishop. But surely the white e5 and f4 pawns prevent any invasion attempt? For the moment this is true, but these pawns are not locked, there is mobility available, it is for White to find a way for the bishop to get at the black queenside pawns.

26. Nc3 Qd7 27. Qd2 Qxd2+ Played with an offer of a draw but with a suggestion that it will most likely be declined. Tournament ambitions of White demand the game continues. Black has handled the opening and middlegame well, fine, so now the test of endgame skill begins.

28. Bxd2 Kf8 Centralising the king with a specific plan in mind, activate the c8 knight. Fine, but maybe challenging White in the only area of the board where progresses can be made might have been better? Instead 28. ... f6 29. exf6 gxf6 intending 30. ... Kg7 and Black is better placed to absorb any white kingside expansion.

29. g4 Ke8 30. Kg3 f6 Sifting through a variety of ideas to find play has led to Black now being 15 minutes behind on the clock. Furthermore this game could easily last for another 30 or 40 moves, time is becoming a significant factor.

31. exf6 Bxf6 Activating the bishop, fine, but if it occupies the centre then it cannot defend the queenside pawns from the rear.

32. Ne4 Ke7 33. h4 Important changes have just occurred. The cramping white e5 pawn has gone, the black minor pieces suddenly have options of activity. White now has a mobile kingside pawn majority, chances of creating an outside passed pawn are in the air. Who is gaining more in this positional evolution? Even allowing for "Annotator-Bias", it is Black who has the more difficult questions to answer. If White manages to create an outside passed pawn on the kingside, or maintain the threat of creating such a monster, then Black must find a means of coping with it. And while finding a setup capable of doing this, must also prevent White from gaining access to the black queenside pawns.

33. ... Nd6 A critical move which also consumed a significant portion of time. Black has been space-deprived for much of the game so seeking activity is understandable. However just sitting there, doing nothing committal, meaning king-shuffling with Kf7, would force White to find a means to make progress, instead costing White time on the clock. Important decision to be made here by white, choosing from:

(A). Retreat to avoid an exchange of knights, fairly easy to assess.

(B). Exchange knights, again fairly easy to assess.

(C). Exchange knight for bishop, difficult to assess, this will cost White time.

(D). Defending is a mistake as 34. Kf3 Nxe4 35. Kxe4 Bxh4 and it is now Black thinking of how to win.

34. Nxd6 Fritz and friends could easily offer a definitive assessment of this exchange of knights. Ageing bio-organic grey cells computing away over the board thought White should be winning, if so then the only trick was to work out how. Instead backing-off with Nc3 or Nf2 do little to either test Black or make progress. Much harder to assess was Nxf6, leaving white bishop against black knight, what would happen if the knight managed to infiltrate the white queenside, and rejecting this trade did indeed cost White time?

34. ... Kxd6 35. g5 A doubler. Firstly, the g4 square is vacated giving the white king a potential entry route into the black kingside. Secondly, the kingside campaign to create an outside passed pawn begins, Black now has a tricky 3-way decision to consider, more precious time will tick away.

35. ... hxg5 Black had to spend precious time sifting the complications arising from:

(A). Trading pawns before moving the bishop which gives White excellent chances of creating an outside passed pawn.

(B). Advancing the bishop into the centre when White has the plan pawn h5 - Kf3 - Ke4 - hxg6 - pawn f5 and the fixed black h6 pawn is a problem.

(C). Retreating with Bd8 when White has the same kingside plan just outlined.

36. fxg5 Bd4 Retreating with Bd8 will secure the queenside but loses control of the h8 - a1 diagonal. If white then creates an outside passed h-pawn and grabs the long diagonal with Bc3 there might not even be a chance for black to give up the bishop to prevent promotion.

37. h5 A curious clash of advantages and disadvantages has arisen. White has a mobile kingside pawn majority capable of creating an outside passed pawn. Black has a central passed pawn ready to run, though how it can be supported is not obvious. The white king is free to roam, the black king seems to be forced into defensive duties. Who is better? Wrong question. Instead ask: “Who has the trickier problems to solve, and who has more time available to answer the questions?”

37. ... Ke7 Black is trying to hold the kingside with both king and bishop. The alternative was activity with 37. ... Ke5 38. Bf4+ Ke4 sending the black king in amongst the white queenside pawns. Play might continue 39. Bb8 Kd3 40. Bxa7 Kc3 41. Bxb6 Kxb3 42. h6 gxh6 43. gxh6 Kxa3 and the big question is whether or not White can force the black bishop off the long a1 - h8 diagonal, if so, the h6 pawn promotes. Tricky to calculate in your head, all taking up more time. Having chosen passivity Black is hoping to find shuffle-moves to hold the position, distinctly easier to play when only about 5 minutes remain on the clock.

38. Kf4 Kf7 39. Ke4 a6 40. a4 A tripler. Firstly, any black activity arising with pawn b5 is denied. Secondly, all the white queenside pawns are now on light squares and so automatically out of danger from bishop attack. Thirdly, the most likely pawn to offer opportunities of queenside promotion, the a-pawn, is a tempo closer to achieving this aim.

40. ... a5 41. Bf4 Heading queenside, the b6 pawn cannot be saved though in the short term Black can guard the remaining queenside pawns.

41. ... Bb2 42. Be5 Yes, the black b6 pawn is to be consumed, but not quite yet. White must secure the kingside advantage before switching queenside. Black dares not exchange bishops, the threat of creating an outside passed pawn on the kingside will mean the subsequent mutual king sprint into the queenside will be easily won by White.

42. ... Bc1 43. g6+ Kg8 Perhaps fearing placing the king on f8, a dark square, might run into an unfortunate check somewhere down the line? Instead 43. ... Kf8, taking the risk, would force White to work much harder in a couple of moves time, the e6 pawn could then easily be defended with Ke7.

44. Bc7 1-0 Accompanied with a comment along the lines of: “I'm sure you will work out how to win this.”

Just so, the times are 20 - 3 minutes respectively, more than enough. Simply 44. ... Bd2 45. Bxb6 Bb4 46. Ke5 picks off the black e6 pawn due to the black king being on g8, to be followed by the white king moving queenside to win more material. Instead 44. ... Kf8 45. Bxb6 Ke7 will save the e6 pawn while keeping the white king passive but allows 46. Bxa5 and the white a-pawn is ready to roll.