Monthly Archives: November 2014

Things fall apart

Pilfered as it was by the chemist from Brantham, and more productively appropriated by the great Nigerian novelist the Nobel committee studiously ignored, Yeats’ message in a bottle pitches up very nicely on the shores of the late middle game. Very often, the player who has dominated the middle game finds that, once he cashes his positional advantage in, the position explodes in his hands. He is still winning, but the play becomes randomised, time short, and the player is beleaguered by a sense of injustice that random tactics should be allowed to disrupt his strategy. I’ve lost plenty of games this way. I’ve read that getting an advantage is a different skill from keeping it, but they are both composites of many skills; the ability to keep control in the late middle game is completely different from endgame technique.

Two recent games for Pimlico and Dulwich illustrate this. In this first game, I was careful but still almost slipped; in the second, I was careless and lucky.

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{In the first game, I am playing White with 75 minutes for the game and a 15 second increment. I learned afterwards that my opponent&#8217;s experience was entirely in rapid and blitz, and he still had forty-six minutes left at the end of the game.} 1. c4 c6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. b3 Be7 (5... Bd6 {feels more normal to me in this semi-Slav structure}) 6. Bb2 h6 {My opponent was worried about Ng5 in some lines but it looks like a waste of a tempo.} 7. O-O Nbd7 8. e3 O-O 9. d3 a5 10. Qe2 Ne8 (10... Qc7 {may be better, as my opponent thought}) 11. e4 {If White allows Bf6 and the exchange of bishops his attacking chances are reduced.} 11... a4 12. Nbd2 Bf6 13. e5 {I felt this should give me an advantage.} 13... Be7 14. cxd5 cxd5 ({After} 14... exd5 {I was thinking of keeping the position closed and gradually pushing the majority though I think my opponent and the computer prefer e6.}) 15. Nd4 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> In this French-like structure this knight is very strong, supporting an f5 thrust while impeding Black&#8217;s queenside development.} 15... Qa5 {Black is angling for Nxe5 Qxe5 Qxd2, an idea I simply missed.} 16. a3 Qa7 {We both felt Black went wrong here.} (16... axb3 {looks better when Black gets some play on the queenside.}) (16... Nxe5 17. b4 Qc7 18. Nxe6 {is the computer&#8217;s preferred option for Black.}) 17. b4 g6 18. Kh1 Ng7 19. f4 Kh7 20. Rac1 Nb8 21. N2f3 ({I spent twelve minutes trying to make} 21. Nb5 Qb6 22. Nc7 Ra7 {work but couldn&#8217;t find anything clear enough e.g.} 23. Nf3 Nc6 {and felt my position was good enough not to need dubious complications. But I was now more than twenty minutes down on time.}) 21... Bd7 22. g4 {White wants to play f5 but it&#8217;s not so easy.} 22... h5 23. h3 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } 23... hxg4 {Probably a serious mistake. Black&#8217;s pieces are well positioned to deter f5 but not to contest the h file, especially the g7 knight. Black&#8217;s position was already difficult but it is now probably lost} 24. hxg4 Rh8 25. Kh2 {An important move, making it possible to contest the h file.} 25... Nc6 ({Here my opponent thought for five minutes, considering} 25... g5 {after which the computer thinks} 26. Nxg5+ {is winning though I was trying to see whether I could make f5 work.}) 26. Kg3 Qb8 {Now I thought for six minutes, and couldn&#8217;t see a good defence for Black against my h-file attack. The computer confirms this.} 27. Rh1+ Kg8 28. Rxh8+ Kxh8 29. Rh1+ Kg8 30. Nxc6 {The clearing of the diagonal deters f6 and makes it harder for the king to escape.} 30... bxc6 31. Bf1 {The point of my play, getting the queen to the h file as soon as possible.} 31... c5 32. Qh2 Nh5+ {Giving a knight to slow the attack .} 33. gxh5 g5 (33... cxb4 {runs into} 34. hxg6) 34. bxc5 {White is winning and I had more than twenty minutes, but the king&#8217;s position and the opening of various lines justify care.} 34... gxf4+ 35. Kxf4 Qf8 36. Rg1+ Kh8 37. h6 {Six minutes thought on this, which blocks the h6-c1 diagonal at the cost of tying the queen down.} 37... Bxc5 38. d4 f6 {Chucking another bishop on the fire, a reasonable approach in a desperate situation.} (38... Bxa3 {can be met by} 39. Bxa3 Qxa3 40. Qg2 ({or} 40. Qh4 Qc1+ 41. Kg3 Rg8+ 42. Kh2)) 39. dxc5 fxe5+ 40. Ke3 ({My opponent expected} 40. Kxe5 {which is also fine but looks a bit hairy. I had planned Ke3 but realised at this stage that I would allow Qxc5. Fortunately I saw a response}) 40... Qxc5+ ({My original analysis had been} 40... d4+ 41. Kd2) { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } 41. Nd4 {Not the only winning move, but a pleasingly emphatic one.} 41... Qc7 ({Of course} 41... exd4+ {losses the queen to} 42. Bxd4+) 42. Qg3 {Here my opponent resigned. I thought there might still be some fight and we looked at some amusing variations afterwards, but after Bc6 or Bb5 White can simply exchange queens with Qg7+ and then pocket the bishop, and the computer finds a mate on four with h7.} *
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The second game was played two days later. I started cautiously enough, but relaxed at a crucial moment.

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1. d4 {I am playing Black with 75 minutes for 30 moves and twenty for the rest of the game (a big improvement on the previous 15-minute finish). I had played my opponent several years before, when he must have been about fifteen; he&#8217;s improved since.} 1... Nf6 2. Nf3 c5 3. d5 (3. dxc5 {is a reasonable alternative when} 3... g6 {is said to be risky because the pawn is hard to win back.}) 3... d6 ({I think my official repertoire is} 3... e6 {heading for a Blumenfeld after} 4. c4 b5 {but I forgot this and was trying for a Benko.}) (3... b5 {is another way to head for something like a Benko}) 4. Nc3 (4. c4 b5 {could lead to a mainline Benko}) 4... e6 5. e4 exd5 6. exd5 (6. Nxd5 {does very well in a small sample of games and may be an objection to Black&#8217;s play}) 6... Be7 7. Bf4 O-O 8. Bd3 {My opponent thought this was wrong, and I&#8217;m inclined to agree. White can ask for positional play with a4 and Nc4, or can cattle queenside and attack; my opponent had the second in mind, but this doesn&#8217;t fit.} (8. Qd2 {followed by queenside castling}) (8. Be2) 8... Na6 9. O-O Nc7 (9... Nb4 {seems not to achieve much e.g.} 10. Be2 Bf5 11. Rc1) 10. Re1 b6 {This steady approach seems to suit the position.} 11. Qe2 Re8 12. Rad1 Bb7 13. Bc4 {I was glad to have pushed his bishop here, but mine on b7 isn&#8217;t doing much either.} 13... Qd7 14. a4 a6 15. h3 Bf8 16. Qd3 {Continuing to restrain b5.} 16... g6 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> The position is delicately balanced, but now my opponent is afflicted by an idea.} 17. Ng5 Bg7 18. Nge4 {Attacking d6, but wrong.} (18. Ne6 {was suggested by the opposing top board but doesn&#8217;t work after} 18... fxe6 19. dxe6 Qc6) 18... Nxe4 19. Nxe4 b5 {I think my opponent had forgotten about this.} 20. Ba2 c4 21. Qg3 (21. Qa3 {is also possible.}) 21... Nxd5 22. Bxd6 ({After} 22. Nxd6 {the computer likes Black after} 22... Rxe1+ 23. Rxe1 Nxf4 24. Qxf4 Qc7 ({rather than my thought} 24... Bxb2 {which runs into} 25. Rb1 Ba3 26. Nxb7 Qxb7 27. axb5 axb5 28. Bxc4)) 22... Qc6 23. c3 {This looked sensible, but now I spotted a tactic.} (23. Nc5 Bxb2 {is good for Black.}) 23... Rxe4 24. Rxe4 Nxc3 25. bxc3 Qxe4 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> Black is a pawn up with well placed pieces, and quarter of an hour ahead on the clock, while White&#8217;s light-squared bishop is incarcerated. Unfortunately, this is where the fun starts.} 26. Bb4 Qe2 {Closing in for the kill.} (26... Be5 27. Qg4 {and Black has many good options.} ({I seem to remember expecting} 27. Qe3 {but this is not such a good idea})) 27. Rd7 {Short of time, my opponent spots his best chance.} 27... Bc6 ({At some point I had intended} 27... Qe1+ 28. Kh2 Be5 {but White has} 29. f4) (27... Be5 28. f4) 28. Re7 (28. Rc7 {loses to} 28... Qe1+ 29. Kh2 Be5 30. f4 Qxg3+ 31. Kxg3 Bxc7) 28... Qxa2 29. Qc7 Bd5 {Still thinking I had everything covered.} ({Black can bale out here and keep a winning material advantage with} 29... Be8 30. Qb7 Qb1+ 31. Kh2 Rd8 32. Ba5 Qd3) 30. Qd7 Qb1+ 31. Kh2 {I thought he might resign at the time control. Then I realised I had completely lost control of the position.} 31... Qf5 32. Re8+ {I had missed this when I took the bishop but thought my defence still worked.} 32... Bf8 33. Qe7 {I had missed this too.} 33... Rxe8 34. Qxe8 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } 34... Qf4+ ({Not}34... Kg7 35. Bxf8+ Kf6 36. Qe7#) 35. Kg1 Qh6 ({Black can take a perpetual with} 35... Qc1+ {but I was relieved to find something better.}) 36. axb5 axb5 37. f4 {Trying to restrict Black&#8217;s queen. But in the queen ending, this pawn turns out to be vulnerable.} 37... Qg7 38. Kf2 Bc6 ({The opposing top board pointed out} 38... f6 {which should allow Black to unravel without giving up a piece; if the light-squared bishop is attacked it can eventually run to d3 as in the next note.}) 39. Qc8 Bb7 40. Qb8 f6 {Black can win like this by giving the piece back, but it&#8217;s not necessary.} (40... Be4 41. Qe8 Bd3 {followed by f6, Qf7 and Kg7 would be much simpler. For some reason I thought my light-squared bishop needed to defend the king- perhaps a correction from my earlier carelessness.}) 41. Bxf8 Qxf8 42. Qxb7 {Queen endings are distinctive in two ways; advanced passed pawns are particularly dangerous because the defending piece cannot blockade the pawn without help from the king: and king safety is important, as the defender plays for perpetual check or occasionally mate and the attacker tries to use a fork to get the queens off.} 42... Qd6 (42... Qc5+ {looks natural but is less sharp.}) 43. Qxb5 (43. Kf3 {might be better}) 43... Qxf4+ 44. Kg1 Qe3+ 45. Kf1 Qc1+ 46. Kf2 Qxc3 {Being two pawns up allows a pawn sacrifice to force a queen exchange and leaves the opposing king more exposed than my own.} 47. Qe8+ Kg7 48. Qe7+ Kh6 49. Qf8+ Kg5 50. Qc5+ Qe5 {Using the threat of a queen exchange to protect the c pawn.} 51. h4+ (51. Qxc4 Qf4+ 52. Qxf4+ Kxf4 {and the pawn ending is winning e.g.} 53. g3+ Ke4 54. Ke2 f5 55. Kf2 Kd3 56. Kf3 g5 57. h4 h6 58. Kf2 Kd2 59. Kf3 Ke1 60. Ke3 Kf1 61. Kf3 Kg1) 51... Kg4 ({not} 51... Kxh4 52. Qxc4+) 52. Qc6 {Reginam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.} (52. Qxc4+ Qf4+) 52... f5 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> I played this and then thought I was getting mated.} 53. Qf3+ Kxh4 54. g3+ Kg5 (54... Kh3 55. Qh1+ Kg4 56. Qh4# {was the line that had scared me. But the h pawn&#8217;s removal has given the king freedom.}) 55. Qh1 {A last mate threat.} 55... Qd4+ 56. Ke2 Qe4+ {and my opponent resigned.} *
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The best move

does not exist. Usually, there is more than one move that leaves the theoretical result of a position unchanged (whereas mistakes alter it). The difference between theoretically correct moves lies in the difficulty of the problems they pose the opponent. Which depends on who, or what, the opponent is.

Imagine a computer that had solved chess. It would always draw against itself, unless the theoretical result of the game is a win for White or Black, which seems unlikely. But put that computer in a round-robin against other, less capable machines. It might not win the tournament. And in order to win, it might have to take some risks; play some theoretically losing moves. Theoretically sound chess might be too quiet to win enough games.

At the human level, there is a kind of ethic of correctness: some risks one is ashamed to take. One feels guilty playing an objectively bad move on the assumption that the opponent will not see the refutation. But the level of risk one takes probably varies according to the opponent: both what one knows beforehand, and how one senses their play at the board. I doubt if absolute neutrality is psychologically possible; you are, much of the time, riding a wave.

In this game from the Central London League my 23rd and 24th moves constitute a pawn sacrifice which has a positional rationale but incurs some risk. I have no idea whether it loses against best play; and I don’t know whether I would have been more cautious against a different player. It gave my opponent something to think about, anyway.

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1. d4 {I am playing Black, with 75 minutes for the game plus 15 second increment. I didn&#8217;t know my opponent&#8217;s grading but knew the opposing team&#8217;s lower boards were likely to be ranked rather below ours.} 1... Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. e3 {I had nothing prepared against this move and wanted to keep the game strategically complex.} 3... e6 4. Nf3 b6 5. Nc3 cxd4 6. exd4 d6 {Black&#8217;s setup is like a Hedgehog, but against the c4-d4 centre rather than c4 and e4.} 7. Be2 (7. Bd3 {seems more natural and has better results though in a small sample of games.}) 7... Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Qc2 Bb7 10. Be3 Nbd7 11. b3 Rc8 12. b4 Qc7 13. Nb5 Qb8 14. a3 Rfe8 (14... Ba6 15. Qa4) 15. Nd2 {My opponent stakes out space with his pawns but plays a little cautiously with his pieces; a slight preference for statics over dynamics ?} Qa8 16. f3 Nd5 17. Qb3 ({or} 17. Bf2 Nf4) 17... Nxe3 {Hoping the two bishops and White&#8217;s dark square weakness will tell.} ({I considered} 17... a6 18. Nxd6 ({not} 18. Nc3 Nxe3) (18. cxd5 Bxd5 19. Qb2 axb5 {is possible.}) 18... Bxd6 (18... Nxe3 {fails to} 19. Nxc8) 19. cxd5 Bxd5) 18. Qxe3 h6 19. Rac1 e5 {Feeling I had to start doing something, and hoping my majority would be more mobile than his.} 20. d5 a6 21. Nc3 f5 22. Bd3 Bg5 23. Qe2 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> Now I transform the position} e4 24. fxe4 f4 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> Black gets a dark-squared blockade. I liked this Petrosian-inspired idea, but it&#8217;s a big commitment and I had fallen quarter an hour behind on the clock over the last few moves. Moreover, White has a strong pawn centre and Black&#8217;s queenside pieces are not so easy to mobilise. The computer doesn&#8217;t like the pawn sacrifice but I am not sure how grave a risk I was running.} 25. Nf3 {I think I&#8217;d missed this but fortunately it doesn&#8217;t matter too much.} 25... Bf6 26. Qf2 b5 27. Ne2 bxc4 28. Rxc4 Rxc4 29. Bxc4 g5 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } ({Reluctantly deterred from} 29... Rxe4 {by} 30. Nd2) 30. h3 {?} (30. Nd2 {is better and the computer still prefers White.}) 30... Rxe4 {The disappearance of the pawn revives Black&#8217;s queen&#8217;s bishop.} 31. Nd2 Re3 {Possibly too loose.} (31... Re5 {may be better}) 32. Kh1 {? After playing fast and keeping ahead on the clock my opponent now started thinking a lot and had overtaken me by move 37. But this move is again too passive, and from now on Black&#8217;s activity overwhelms White. I miss some better options but keep a winning position.} ({After} 32. Nxf4 {!} gxf4 33. Qxf4 {I think I was planning} 33... Qe8 {but the machine thinks White is doing OK. I don&#8217;t know if my opponent considered the knight sacrifice.}) 32... Bxd5 33. Rc1 Ne5 {In such a sharp position, the trick is to combine a bit of analysis with recollection of the basic positional imperatives. Here it&#8217;s important to activate all the pieces.} 34. Rc2 Nd3 35. Bxd3 Rxh3+ (35... Rxd3 36. Nxf4 {is not good for White but short of time it seemed worth preventing.}) 36. Kg1 Rxd3 37. Qf1 ({Now if} 37. Nxf4 {then} 37... Bd4) 37... Qe8 38. Nc4 Bxc4 (38... f3 {is crushing according to the machine. But I was happy to simplify a bit while keeping control.}) 39. Rxc4 Qe3+ (39... Rd2) 40. Kh1 Rd2 41. Qb1 {At last an active move, but I had it covered.} (41. Ng1) 41... Qd3 (41... Qxe2 {??} 42. Qg6+ {would be sad}) 42. Rc8+ Kg7 43. Qxd3 Rxd3 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> The ending is clearly winning for Black. I had four minutes on the clock and was playing mainly on the fifteen-second increment, but the position is not too difficult.} 44. Rc6 Be5 45. Rc7+ (45. Rxa6 {loses to} 45... Rd1+ 46. Ng1 Bd4 47. Rxd6 Rxg1+ 48. Kh2 Be3) 45... Kg6 46. Rc1 Rxa3 47. Kg1 Ra1 48. Rxa1 Bxa1 49. Kf2 Kf5 50. g3 Ke4 {Still trying to restrict his pieces.} 51. gxf4 gxf4 52. Nc1 Bd4+ 53. Ke2 f3+ 54. Kf1 Bc3 {Here White resigned. After 54 Na2 I was planning Bd2 when both knight and king are tied down and simply advancing the h pawn will win.} *
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Reproducing the classics

In one of his games, Alekhine notes with pleasure that he had for once come up with a new conbinational idea. If this was rare for him, it is virtually impossible for most of us. Of course, each new game creates a new configuration, but the basic tactical motifs our games are built of are usually familiar.

But orginality is not all. There is a satisfaction in reproducing a classic tactical finish. Even this doesn’t happen all that often. Recently, I’ve had the chance to reproduce a couple of familiar but spectacular ideas.

First, one of my blitz games produced a double bishop sacrifice of the kind famous from Lasker-Bauer or, more recently, Polgar-Karpov (though Karpov resigned before the second prelate weighed in):

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1. c4 {I am playing White online, with 3 minutes for the game and a 3 second increment.} b6 2. Nc3 Bb7 3. e4 e6 4. d4 Bb4 5. d5 Nf6 6. Bd3 O-O 7. Ne2 e5 8. a3 Be7 9. O-O d6 10. f4 exf4 11. Bxf4 Nbd7 12. Nd4 Nc5 13. Bc2 a5 14. e5 dxe5 15. Bxe5 Nfd7 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } 16. Bxh7+ {Here we go.} Kxh7 17. Qh5+ Kg8 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. Nf5+ Kg8 20. Rf3 Bg5 21. Rg3 f6 22. Qg6+ 1-0
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The second game was played in the Civil Service League and features a queen sacrifice from somewhere deep in the romantic age.

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1. c4 {I am playing White, with 75 minutes for the game and a 15 second increment.} e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nf3 d4 {Perhaps a little committal.} 5. b4 {!? Very much a spur-of-the-moment idea after which we are both outside our theory, though it&#8217;s a little like a reversed Benko.} 5... c5 ({After} 5... Bxb4 6. Qa4+ Nc6 7. Ne5 {I thought I was doing very well but the computer likes Black after} 7... Rb8 8. Nxc6 bxc6 {.It turns out} 9. Qxa7 Rb6 10. Qa4 {was played in Karjakin-Anand in the rapid world championship this year. Black got an active game and drew comfortably.}) ({I was looking at} 5... a5) 6. Bb2 Na6 {Now White gets an edge because Black&#8217;s queenside is hard to develop.} 7. b5 Nc7 {I was thinking of three plans here: a4-a5-a6, opening the d file with e3 dxe3 dxe3 and hoping his poor queenside development would make the ending difficult for him, and the central play I go for in the game.} 8. O-O ({In the ending after} 8. e3 dxe3 9. dxe3 Qxd1+ 10. Kxd1 Ne4 11. Ke2 Nd6 {I felt the c4 weakness reduced White&#8217;s initiative.}) 8... Be7 9. e3 {It seems important to get the central play started before Black finishes his development. It&#8217;s still not clear where White&#8217;s pieces should go.} 9... dxe3 10. fxe3 (10. dxe3 {is the computer&#8217;s preference.}) 10... O-O 11. a4 {Prophylactic here.} ({If} 11. Qe2 {Black can play} 11... a6 {and if} 12. b6 {then} 12... Nce8) 11... a5 ({Now if} 11... a6 {then} 12. b6 Nce8 13. a5) 12. Qe2 Nce8 13. d4 Qc7 14. Nc3 {My main idea was to play Rd1 and d5. But the weakness of c4 takes the game in a different direction.} 14... Nd6 {A surprise, as I thought I had prevented this.} 15. Ne5 {?! Probably not the sharpest.} ({After my planned} 15. dxc5 {I now saw Black could fight for c5 with} 15... Nde4 ({I had initially considered only} 15... Qxc5 16. Ba3 Qxc4 17. Qxc4 Nxc4 18. Bxe7 {and White is winning}) 16. Nxe4 Nxe4 {but missed the computer suggestion of} 17. b6 {when White is doing very well} ({or} 17. c6 {and if} 17... bxc6 {then} 18. Ne5 {is tremendous.})) 15... Nf5 {! Another surprise.} ({I was enjoying myself looking at lines like} 15... Bd7 16. b6 Qxb6 17. Rxf6 Bxf6 18. Nxd7) 16. Ne4 {Here I was a bit worried I had overreached, but then saw I could give the e5 knight added protection and that my pieces were still much more active.} ({After} 16. Rad1 {I was worried about} 16... cxd4 17. exd4 Nxd4 18. Rxd4 Bc5 {though the computer gives White a big advantage after} 19. Qe3 Bxd4 20. Qxd4 Rd8 21. Qe3) 16... Nxe4 17. Bxe4 Nd6 18. Bd3 {An unusual redeployment of the fianchettoed bishop. Black&#8217;s kingside is becoming a target.} ({The computer prefers} 18. Bc2 cxd4 19. exd4 f6 20. c5) 18... Bf6 {? A welcome surprise, as the exchange sacrifice looks very dangerous here. I think my opponent was feeling the pressure.} ({After} 18... f6 {White has an edge, but no clear win, after for instance} 19. Qh5 Nf5 20. Ng4 ({rather than} 20. g4 fxe5 21. gxf5 exf5)) (18... Nf5 {is also possible}) 19. Rxf6 {This move plays itself, but I spent eight minutes looking at the follow-up. I think I glimpsed the final position about here, but thought it was too much to hope for. But Black turns out to have no satisfactory defence.} 19... gxf6 20. Qg4+ (20. Qh5 {gives the king slightly better chances of escape.}) (20. Ng4 {is rather less direct.}) 20... Kh8 21. Qh4 f5 (21... Nf5 22. Bxf5 exf5 23. Qxf6+ Kg8 24. dxc5 {is much the same}) 22. Qf6+ Kg8 23. dxc5 Qd8 {My opponent had a long and rather despondent think here. I am not sure if he saw the finish, but even the queen exchange is obviously winning for White.} ({Against} 23... Re8 {I was planning} 24. Nd7 (24. Nxf7 {is faster}) {but} 24... e5 {makes the mate a bit messier}) { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } 24. Qh8+ {I was glad to get the chance to play this.} 24... Kxh8 25. Nxf7+ Kg8 26. Nh6# 1-0
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