Defence

Emmanuel Lasker’s ‘Manual of chess’ is a strange book. Lasker, writing in the 1920s or early 1930s, spends much of his time praising the theoretical contributions of the player he had overthrown in the 1890s, Wilhelm Steinitz: and in particular contrasting Steinitz’s idea that the game has a natural balance, which can only be disturbed by dubious play, with Lasker’s own less pure but more practical approach. If this is Lasker’s Oedipus at Colonus, it’s a very rueful one.

While characterising the everyday experience that Steinitz had to see beyond to reach his theoretical insights, Lasker (who I suspect knew a bit of Nietzsche and Freud) says one of the truest things I have ever read about the psychology of chess:

“The ordinary experience is rather that he who has a slight disadvantage plays more attentively, inventively and more boldly than his antagonist who either takes it easy or aspires after too much; thus a slight disadvantage is very frequently seen to convert itself into a good, solid advantage”.

In each of the three games below, I am playing Black and have to do some defending. In this first game I always thought I was fine until I overreach at the end: in the second, I am lost after ten moves and rather outrageously escape: and in the third, it is my opponent who overreaches in a promising position.

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1. e4 {This was a league game for Pimlico.} c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Qb6 {The Grivas or Godiva variation. It&#8217;s reasonably sound and little known. White&#8217;s practical problem in the Open Sicilian is that Black has at least ten reasonable setups by move 5 and they each have their own wrinkles. This one barely makes the top ten.} 5. Nb3 Nf6 6. Nc3 e6 7. Be3 ({According to Grivas a more cunning move order is} 7. a3 {when Black should deter Bf4 by} 7... Qc7) 7... Qc7 8. a3 {This cuts out various Bb4 ideas and there&#8217;s nothing wrong with it, but it&#8217;s not the most aggressive way of playing against this structure.} 8... a6 9. f4 d6 10. Be2 b5 11. O-O Be7 12. Qd2 {In the Scheveningen this move is usually played when White has deterred b5 by playing a4. Now that Black has got b5 in he is fairly comfortable.} ({In his book Grivas recommends} 12. Qe1) ({or} 12. Bf3) 12... O-O {Throughout the middle name that follows Black has to defend against White&#8217;s threats, but he can end up with a positional advantage. I was happy with my position.} 13. Rad1 Bb7 14. Bf3 Rfd8 {Not the brightest of ideas.} 15. Qf2 Re8 16. g4 Rac8 17. g5 Nd7 18. Bg4 Bf8 19. Be2 {After five minutes&#8217; thought and with some frustration.} 19... b4 20. axb4 Nxb4 21. Rd2 Qb8 22. Bd4 Nc6 23. f5 Nde5 ({It&#8217;s nice to seize e5, but I&#8217;m not sure why I didn&#8217;t play} 23... Nxd4) 24. fxe6 fxe6 25. h4 Qc7 26. Ra1 Be7 {A neat indirect defence of a6.} 27. Bb6 (27. Bxa6 {is met by} 27... Rf8) 27... Qb8 ({Not} 27... Qd7 28. Nc5) 28. Nd4 Rf8 29. Qg3 Nxd4 30. Bxd4 Nc4 {Black gets the two bishops after all, but White&#8217;s dark-squared bishop is the more valuable one.} 31. Bxc4 Rxc4 32. Qd3 Qc8 33. Rf2 e5 34. Rxf8+ Bxf8 35. Bf2 Qe6 ({the computer thinks Black is doing well after} 35... d5 36. Nxd5 Rxc2) 36. Kh2 Rc7 37. Nd5 Bxd5 {I realised Black&#8217;s bad bishop could become a problem but felt my initiative outweighed this.} 38. exd5 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> Here my opponent offered a draw. But I felt the drift was in my direction.} 38... Qc8 39. c3 Rc4 40. Qh3 Qb7 41. Qe6+ Kh8 42. Ra2 (42. Qf5 {keeps more pressure.}) 42... Rf4 ({The computer thinks} 42... Qb3 {should win after} 43. Bg3 Qxa2 44. Qe8 Rxh4+ 45. Bxh4 Qxb2+ 46. Kg1 Qc1+ 47. Kg2) 43. Bg3 Rf1 {Now the position begins to swing against me. I had three minutes left plus increments; my opponent had four.} 44. b4 Qb6 45. Rg2 Rf3 46. Qc8 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } Qb5 {Losing.} (46... g6 {and the computer thinks it&#8217;s a draw}) 47. Rf2 {Seizing his chance.} 47... Rxf2+ 48. Bxf2 Kg8 49. Qe6+ Kh8 50. Qf7 {This was what I had missed.} 50... Qb8 {The last few moves were recorded inaccurately but roughly} 51. Kg3 e4 52. Bd4 Qd8 53. Kf4 Qe7 54. Bxg7+ {and I resigned.} *
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The second game was as Black against a somewhat lower graded player, but it didn’t look that way after ten moves.

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1. Nf3 {This was in the Public Service league for Pimlico but with analogue clocks at 75 minutes for 30 moves plus 15 minutes&#8217; quickplay.} 1... c5 2. b3 d6 3. Bb2 e5 {Trying to shut White&#8217;s bishop out} 4. Nc3 (4. e3 {has been played, aiming to break up Black&#8217;s centre with d4.}) 4... g6 5. e4 Nc6 6. Bc4 Bg7 {The structure resembles some open games or closed Sicilians. Black&#8217;s pawn moves have left him behind in development, so he has to be careful.} ({Avoiding} 6... Nf6 7. Ng5) 7. h4 Bg4 8. Nd5 (8. Bxf7+ Kxf7 9. Ng5+ Qxg5) (8. Ng5 Bxd1 9. Bxf7+) 8... Nge7 {Not careful enough.. After moving I realised he was likely to have Ne3 in mind, a manoeuvre justified by Black&#8217;s loss of time on pawn moves.} (8... Nd4) (8... Nf6) 9. Ne3 {Now Black has some problems. I spent six minutes seeing the flaws in most of my options and then feeling rather glad to have found a good move.} 9... Qd7 {?? <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> This manages to be worse than all the unsatisfactory alternatives. Black must defend or move the bishop, but there is nothing very appealing.} (9... Bxf3 10. Qxf3) (9... h5 10. Nxg4 hxg4 11. Ng5) (9... Be6 10. Bxe6 fxe6 11. Ng5 Qd7 12. Qg4 Nd8) (9... Bd7 {may be best.}) 10. Bxf7+ {This was a shock.} ({After making my move I got worried about something, maybe} 10. Nxg4 {which is also good for White:} 10... Qxg4 11. Bxf7+) 10... Kd8 {Black loses a pawn and the right to castle, and is about ten minutes down on time. But move 10 is too early to resign.} (10... Kf8 {looks worse}) ({Of course if} 10... Kxf7 {then} 11. Ng5+) 11. Bc4 ({If} 11. Nxg4 {Black can put up a fight with} 11... Qxg4 12. Ng5 (12. O-O) 12... Qxg2 13. Rf1 Bf6) 11... Rf8 {Deciding that the f file had better serve as my compensation.} 12. Be2 Bxf3 {Reluctantly giving the bishop pair to stop the tactical tricks.} 13. Bxf3 h5 14. c3 (14. g4 {might be met by} 14... Nd4) 14... Kc7 15. Qe2 {It&#8217;s natural to castle but it gives Black some breathing space.} ({I was worried about} 15. g4) ({The computer suggests} 15. g3 {followed by kingside castling, which deals with the f file pressure.}) 15... Rf7 16. O-O-O Raf8 {Now White will have to find a plan, which felt like progress on my part.} 17. Qb5 a6 18. Qe2 {Another small moral victory.} 18... Kb8 19. Nc4 Ka7 20. Qe3 b5 {Perhaps it would be better to avoid this as it might give White a target &#8211; Black&#8217;s best chance is to make it hard for White to make progress.} 21. Na3 Kb7 22. Nc2 Nc8 {This probably makes things worse.} (22... Qc7) (22... Rf4) 23. d4 cxd4 24. cxd4 Nb6 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> }(24... exd4 {might be better.}) 25. dxe5 {So far White has played well, and it&#8217;s understandable that he wants to open some lines, but Black begins to get some resources.} (25. d5 {is probably better with a big advantage for White}) (25. Qg5 {also tightens the screw.}) 25... Bxe5 {In this position the knight is worth preserving because it will be annoying on e5.} 26. Bxe5 Nxe5 {Nxf3 is already a threat.} 27. Nd4 Qe7 {Putting the queen on two potentially useful diagonals. White misses his dark-squared bishop.} 28. Rh3 {White tries to hold the extra pawn, but the decentralisation of this and the next move is ominous.} 28... Rf4 29. Rdh1 {Black may now have enough to draw.} ({After moving I realised I had overlooked} 29. Nf5 {when Black can save the exchange with} 29... Qc7+ 30. Kb1 Rxf3 31. Rxf3 gxf5 {but} 32. Rxf5 {still looks good for White.}) ({The computer prefers} 29. Kb1) 29... d5 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> I spent about eight minutes here and wasn&#8217;t sure what was happening, but this is an unpleasant move for White close to the time control.} (29... Ng4 30. Qd2) (29... Nxf3 30. gxf3 {would have been worth considering.}) 30. exd5 {My opponent wondered if this has been a mistake, but there may be nothing better..} (30. Ne2 Ng4) 30... Qc5+ {Another difficult choice on the time control, forcing an endgame where I start two pawns down.} (30... Qc7+ 31. Kb1) ({After} 30... Qa3+ {the computer likes White.} 31. Kb1 Nxf3 32. Rxf3 Nxd5 33. Qe5) 31. Nc2 {My opponent had five minutes more than me for the quickplay finish.} 31... Rc8 (31... Qxe3+ {is met by} 32. fxe3 ({not} 32. Nxe3 Nd3+)) 32. Qxc5 Rxc5 33. d6+ (33. Rd1 Nxf3 {is similar.}) 33... Nxf3 34. Rxf3 {At this point my opponent caught up with me on time.} (34. gxf3 {seems clearly worse to me as the h3 rook is terrible.}) 34... Rxf3 35. gxf3 Rd5 36. Rd1 Rxd1+ ({I had thought about} 36... Kc6 {and missed} 37. Nb4+) 37. Kxd1 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> } Nd5 {An important move. Black&#8217;s knight is now very strong and the d6 pawn will fall, after which the endgame is no worse for me though there are pitfalls for both sides.} ({Not} 37... Kc6 38. Nb4+) 38. Kd2 (38. Ne3 Nf4 {should be drawn.} (38... Nc3+ {is riskier after} 39. Kd2 Nxa2 40. Nd5 (40. Nc2 {is interesting but can&#8217;t be bad for Black.}) 40... Kc6 41. Ne7+ Kxd6 42. Nxg6)) (38. Nd4 {can be met by} 38... Kc8 ({or} 38... Nf4 39. Kd2 Ng2 40. Kd3 (40. d7 {runs into} 40... Kc7 41. Ne6+ Kxd7 42. Nf8+ Ke7 43. Nxg6+ Kf6) 40... Nxh4) (38... Nc3+ {is too risky})) 38... Kc6 39. Kd3 (39. Ne3 Nf4 {looks like a draw.}) 39... Kxd6 40. a3 {With four minutes left, White starts to allow Black some slight winning chances.} (40. Ne3 Nb4+ {is all right for Black.} (40... Nf4+ 41. Ke4 {gives White some chances})) 40... Nf4+ 41. Ke4 Ng2 42. Nb4 a5 43. Nd3 Nxh4 {An outside passed pawn in a knight ending is usually dangerous. As the proverb reported by the weepy mystic and autobiographer Margery Kempe says, &#8220;He is wel blessed that may sitten on his wel-stool and tellyn of his wo-stool&#8221;.} 44. f4 Nf5 45. Ne5 Ne7 (45... h4 46. Nxg6 h3 47. Kf3 Nd4+ 48. Kg3 Nxb3) 46. Nf3 Nf5 47. Ne5 Ne7 48. Nf3 Nd5 49. Ne5 Nc3+ 50. Kd4 {White&#8217;s flag fell while making this move. This particular model of clock is rather treacherous as one can think one has a minute left when the flag falls: I once lost a won game this way and I think it may have affected Nigel Short when he lost on time to Kasparov at the start of their 1993 match. I think White should still hold though a brief post-mortem showed that it&#8217;s tricky, since Black can try to create another passed pawn on the queenside. My opponent was very gracious but I had to feel sorry for him.} (50. Kd3 {is safer.}) *
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The third game was a less radical peripeteia, but reasonably cathartic all the same:

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1. d4 {Played in the London League for Dulwich.I am playing Black.} Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 b5 4. b3 {There are various ways of rejecting the Benko. This isn&#8217;t one of the most highly regarded but I couldn&#8217;t remember what to do against it.} 4... e6 {This is a reasonable move against many of the sidelines in the Benko, and turns out to be recommended by both Aveskulov and Tay.} 5. g3 (5. dxe6 fxe6 6. cxb5 {is a bit like a Blumenfeld.}) 5... exd5 (5... bxc4 6. bxc4 ({perhaps better} 6. dxe6 fxe6 7. bxc4) 6... exd5 7. cxd5 {might be better because if the bishop then goes to b2 it will be vulnerable.}) 6. cxd5 Bb7 {The light-square bishop is often a problem piece in this Benoni structure. It might have been better to keep it on c8 and take the knight if it goes to h3. But I wanted to be ready to meet a4 with a6 and hoped the bishop&#8217;s pressure on d5 would be useful.} 7. Bg2 g6 8. Bb2 Bg7 9. e4 d6 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> We reach a Benoni where Black has got b5 in before White has played a4. I liked the look of this but in the event it wasn&#8217;t easy to play. Most of my experience with this structure is with White and I may have played the black side too cautiously. Also, the b2 bishop is quite effective in neutralising Black&#8217;s g7 bishop, usually one of his main assets, and the omission of a4 arguably makes it harder for Black to generate queenside play.} 10. Nh3 {f2 is sometimes a good square for the knight in this structure.} 10... O-O {Here I noticed my clock wasn&#8217;t working and we replaced it with allowance for the time I had spent when it was stopped.} 11. O-O Nbd7 12. Re1 Re8 13. Na3 {This strange-looking move does keep the long diagonal and d file open, but the knight never recovers. I sometimes wondered about c4 bxc4 b4 to embarrass it further.} 13... a6 14. f4 Nb6 {Black deters the e5 break by attacking d5. But this leaves the queen short of good squares.} 15. Rc1 Rc8 {Planning Rc7-e7. But now I wondered if I&#8217;d allowed e5 dxe5 d6 which is an important trick in the Benoni, and spent quite a bit of time on the next two moves.} 16. Rc2 (16. e5 dxe5 17. fxe5 Nfxd5 {is good for Black though it wasn&#8217;t easy to be sure that the White couldn&#8217;t exploit the pin on the diagonal.}) 16... Rc7 17. Nf2 {The possibility of Bh3 further cramps Black.} 17... Rce7 18. Rce2 Qb8 {Here I couldn&#8217;t see any move that improved my position.} ({A move or so later I wondered if I should have played} 18... Nxe4 19. Nxe4 ({not} 19. Bxg7 {when} 19... Nxf2 {exploits the position of the knight on f2.}) 19... Bxb2 20. Rxb2 Nxd5) ({The computer suggests} 18... h5) 19. g4 ({About here I think I saw} 19. Qa1 {which the computer likes for White e.g} 19... Nbd7 (19... Nbxd5 20. Bf3) 20. Bh3 Qd8 {with strong pressure.}) 19... Qd8 {This manoeuvre may have won me the game as my opponent now overreaches.} 20. g5 ({Now if} 20. Qa1 {Black has} 20... Nbxd5 21. Bf3 Nxf4 22. Bxf6 Nxe2+) 20... Nh5 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> Feeling, rightly in the event, that it was worth keeping the knight&#8217;s pressure on f4.} 22. f5 {I had been so focused on the e5 break that I had not considered this. Fortunately it isn&#8217;t good. I found a recent game by my opponent online where he&#8217;d won with this break in an exchange Gruenfeld, but here it&#8217;s too loosening.} ({If} 22. Qd2 {the computer suggests} 22... f5 ({I was considering} 22... Nxd5 23. exd5 Rxe2 24. Rxe2 Rxe2 25. Qxe2 Nxf4 26. Qb2+ Kg8 {but} 27. Ne4 {is strong.})) 22... gxf5 {I sensed my opponent had concentrated on other moves.} 23. exf5 ({The computer suggests} 23. Nh3 Kg8 {with an edge for Black, but this isn&#8217;t why White played f5.}) 23... Rxe2 24. f6+ Kg8 25. Rxe2 Nf4 {Keeping the e file.} (25... Rxe2 26. Qxe2 Nf4 {runs into} 27. Qe7 {when} 27... Qxe7 {loses to} 28. fxe7) 26. Rxe8+ Qxe8 { <span class="PgnWidget-anchor-diagram">[]</span> White&#8217;s minor pieces are scattered and he cannot hold the d5 pawn. The Black king is safer than it looks; even if White gets the queen to h6 Black can often just play Qf8 or Qg6.} 27. Qg4 {White was already clearly worse, and now collapses.} 27... Nxg2 28. Kxg2 (28. Qxg2 Bxd5 {forces} 29. Qf1 {e.g.} 29... Qe3) 28... Nxd5 29. Kg3 Qe5+ 30. Kh3 {and having reached the time control White resigned. I hadn&#8217;t seen how to finish it but had in mind 30...Nf4+ followed by Ng6+ or Ng2+. The computer finds a forced mate after Ng6+ but even if Black doesn&#8217;t find it he should reach a good ending.} *
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