A dead point ?

I played the English as a child but realised my grasp was defective when a weaker player had the choice of winning my queen or a piece on move 12. When I took it up again a couple of years ago, I read Tony Kosten’s repertoire book, which advocates a system, generally attributed to Botvinnik but owing a good deal to Nimzovich, where White puts pawns on c4, d3 and e4. The books tell you that Black’s natural Nd4 is dubious because Black gets a ‘dead point’ on d4. In a couple of games played for Pimlico recently I had to try to demonstrate this: which proved a bit trickier than it seemed.

I am White in both games, with 75 minutes plus a 15 minute increment.

In the first game I succeed in damaging his pawns quite early:

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2r1k2r/p4ppp/2pp1b2/8/2PpP3/1P3PP1/PB5P/R3K2R w KQk - 0 20

After Black’s 19th.

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1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 Nc6 4. Nc3 Be7 {Rather conservative. My opponent said he wasn't used to facing the English.} 5. e4 {The Botvinnik system should work reasonably well after Nf6 and Be7.} 5... d6 6. Nge2 Be6 {Already a new position in the chesstempo database.} 7. b3 Qd7 8. Nd5 {Trying to restrain possible play with Bh3.} 8... Nd4 {My opponent felt this was dubious and I am inclined to agree.} 9. Nxd4 exd4 10. d3 Nxd5 11. cxd5 Bg4 12. f3 Bh3 13. Qc2 Bxg2 14. Qxg2 {I hoped the better bishop and target on d4 might give me some advantage.} 14... Qb5 15. Qc2 Rc8 16. Bb2 Bf6 17. Qc4 Qxc4 {Perhaps the fatal mistake.} (17... Qb6) 18. dxc4 c5 19. dxc6 bxc6 20. c5 {! This is the crucial idea, disrupting Black's pawns.} 20... dxc5 {Played quite quickly.} ({I wondered if} 20... d5 {was worth trying when the computer likes} 21. O-O-O (21. exd5 {was my intention})) 21. Rc1 Rc7 (21... Be7 {is probably better e.g.} 22. Ba3 c4 23. Bxe7 Kxe7 24. Rxc4 c5 {and Black holds c5 for the moment.}) (21... a5 {is also possible.}) 22. Ba3 {! Now White gets the c5 square as well as the pawn, leaving the d4 pawn effectively isolated.} 22... Be7 23. Bxc5 Bxc5 24. Rxc5 Ke7 25. Kd2 Rd8 26. Kd3 f6 ({after} 26... Rd6 27. Rhc1 Rh6 {I planned} 28. R1c2) 27. Rhc1 Rd6 28. R1c4 {I had seen this setup some way back and thought it would be very hard for Black to defend.} 28... Kd8 29. f4 Kc8 30. Rxd4 Rxd4+ 31. Kxd4 {I think the extra pawn should be decisive.} 31... Rd7+ 32. Ke3 Kb7 33. Rc2 ({I wondered about the immediate} 33. e5) 33... Kc7 (33... Re7 {holds White up more}) 34. e5 Re7 35. Ke4 fxe5 36. fxe5 g6 {An ingenious fortress keeping the king out of f5 and d5. It never looks quite enough, though Black could still put up more resistance on the 42nd move. Possibly he should have tried to activate the rook earlier.} 37. Rd2 Re6 38. b4 {Trying to break the fortress with zugzwang.} 38... a6 39. a3 Re7 40. Rd6 Rf7 41. Rf6 Re7 ({I think I forgot to check} 41... Rxf6 42. exf6 Kd6 {but it's fine for White}) 42. Rf8 h6 (42... Kb6 {is tougher.} 43. Rf6 {, repeating the position, seems to work:} 43... Kc7 44. e6 Kd6 45. Kd4 Rxe6 46. Rxe6+ Kxe6 47. Kc5) 43. Rf6 Rg7 44. e6 Kd6 45. e7+ (45. Rf7 {also occurred to both players.} 45... Rg8 46. e7 Re8 47. Rf6+ {and White is winning but not better than the game.}) 45... Kxe7 (45... Kd7 46. Re6 ({or} 46. e8=Q+ Kxe8 47. Rxc6) 46... Rxe7 47. Rxe7+ Kxe7 48. Ke5 {also wins}) 46. Rxc6 {and Black had had enough.} *
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The second game was a tough fight decided by a tactic:

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4rrk1/3n4/1pbp2pb/p1p5/P1PpPP1q/3P2NB/1P1B2K1/R3QR2 w - - 0 24

After Black’s 23rd: White to play and win.

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1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nc6 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nc3 d6 5. e4 Nd4 6. h3 {Here I began to think that the Botvinnik has a snag with this move order.} (6. Nge2 Bg4 {looks awkward for White but} 7. h3 (7. O-O Bf3) 7... Bf3 8. Bxf3 Nxf3+ 9. Kf1 {is probably fine for White.}) 6... g6 {Black might make more of White’s slight awkwardness on the kingside.} (6... h5 {is worth considering and if} 7. Nge2 h4 8. g4 {I was worried about} 8... Nxg4 9. hxg4 Bxg4) (6... Be6 7. d3 ({trying to save this tempo with} 7. Nge2 Qd7 (7... Bxc4 8. Qa4+) 8. Nxd4 {fails to} 8... exd4 9. Ne2 Bxc4) 7... Qd7) 7. Nge2 Bg7 8. d3 (8. Nxd4 {Shying from complications such as} 8... exd4 9. Ne2 d3 10. Nf4 Be6 11. b3 (11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Qb3) 11... Nxe4) 8... O-O (8... c5 {would exploit White’s last move}) ({or} 8... Nxe2) 9. Nxd4 exd4 10. Ne2 c5 {This structure should favour White} 11. O-O (11. b4 {with this idea of bxc5 dxc5 giving a large kingside majority, an idea from Petrosian-Bertok 1965, might be better; I had this idea in mind but didn’t realise I needed to play it so quickly.}) 11... Rb8 12. a4 {With the idea of a5 and perhaps eventually b4, but Black stops this.} (12. b4) 12... a5 {Now (barring a trick with d5) the queenside is closed and I felt White’s kingside edge allowed me to play for a win, though the narrowed field of operations might be a problem. The machine gives Black a slight edge through much of the following play.} 13. f4 b6 14. Qe1 ({If} 14. g4 {I was a bit worried about} 14... Bxg4 15. hxg4 Nxg4 16. Qe1) 14... Bb7 15. g4 {This is already a little committal; later the threat of Qh4 will induce g5 before White is quite ready. Perhaps development with Bd2,Qf2 and Rae1 is better first.} 15... Qe7 16. Ng3 Rbe8 17. Bd2 Nd7 18. g5 {With twenty minutes more on the clock and the kingside play in full swing, I felt fairly confident. But White’s major pieces are less well prepared than Black’s for the lines to open, and improving them while restraining Black is difficult.} (18. Qf2 Qh4) (18. Qe2 d5) 18... f6 (18... f5 {allows White to enter endings where the f5 pawn is very weak e.g.} 19. exf5 Qxe1 20. Raxe1 Rxe1 21. Rxe1 Bxg2 22. Kxg2 gxf5) 19. h4 ({I didn’t trust} 19. e5 {e.g.} 19... Bxg2 20. exf6 Qxe1 21. Rfxe1 Bxf6 ({or} 21... Bxh3)) 19... fxg5 20. hxg5 h6 {! I think I hadn’t expected Black to open lines on the kingside, but I now have trouble restraining his play although the structure remains good for me. I now thought for twelve minutes.} 21. gxh6 (21. f5 {was one idea}) 21... Bxh6 22. Bh3 {Black’s d7 knight is a problem for White.} (22. f5 Bxd2 23. Qxd2 Ne5) (22. Kf2 Ne5) 22... Bc6 (22... Nf6 {takes the guard off e5 allowing} 23. f5) 23. Kg2 {Both making way for the rooks to reach the h file, and with a prophylactic idea that my opponent missed. I found this after considering several alternatives.} (23. Bxd7 Bxd7 24. f5) (23. Qe2 d5 24. cxd5 Bxd5 25. exd5 Qxe2 26. Nxe2 Rxe2 27. Bxd7 Rxd2) (23. Qd1 Qh4 24. Qg4 Qxg4 25. Bxg4) 23... Qh4 {? A fatal mistake in an interesting and double-edged position.} 24. Rh1 {The threat of Be6+ induces a retreat, but then the h6 bishop is attacked. I suppose this is a discovered skewer.} (24. Nf5 {is tempting but much less good e.g.} 24... Qxe1 25. Nxh6+ Kg7 26. Raxe1 Kxh6 27. f5+) 24... Qe7 {there’s nothing better.} 25. Bxd7 Bxf4 {Now it’s more than a piece.} (25... Qxd7 26. Rxh6) (25... Bxd7 26. Rxh6) 26. Bxe8 {?!} ({Wins a rook, but} 26. Bxc6 {would win two pieces}) 26... Bxe8 27. Bxf4 Rxf4 28. Qd2 Rh4 29. Rxh4 Qxh4 30. Rh1 Qg4 31. Qh6 {and Black resigned.} *
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