Match Report: Cumnor 1 v. Cowley 1

I’m not a great fan of memorizing the names of mating positions. I don’t see what it gains you. It’s the experience needed to recognize the possibility of reaching the setup which is important, not the label it has been given. So when Jon d’Souza-Eva told me earlier in the week “It’s only taken me 30+ years to land a Canal’s Mate” I really couldn’t have told you what that position was, or that¬† the position Jon had reached is in fact “Boden’s mate”. But … some things stick in your mind, and the name “Arabian mate” is one of them

It’s so called because it’s one of the few checkmating positions that is valid in both the older Arabian version of the game, and the modern form; around 1500 the Bishop and Queen’s moves changed from the older, slower form to the long range terrors we know and love today, but the Knight and Rook stayed the same. A related bit of trivia is that the oldest known piece of endgame theory still considered (mostly) correct dates back to 1257 and is a study by an Arabian player of a K+R v. K+N endgame. The game has been around a while!

Anyway enough trivia, though the relevance will become apparent later. On Thursday we welcomed Cowley 1 to a nice and toasty Old School (yes, the heating has been fixed!). It was great to see so many familiar faces, but also a bit of a relief that Cowley weren’t quite as strong as they could be. In fact the two teams were pretty evenly balanced:

All to play for! As usual I’ll report in the games in roughly the order they finished.

Liam, after last week at Banbury, caught up for lost time by dropping a pawn fairly early on. The compensation was fairly nebulous, really only Bob’s queen being a little short of squares. I’ll spare Bob’s blushes for what happened next, let’s just say partially because of that Bob managed to walk into a nasty tactical sequence which ended up dropping a whole rook – tricksy pieces knights! Cumnor 1 Cowley 0.

Mark was next to finish, playing Will Burt. After starting 1 e4! it entered a Two Knights Defence, a line where White gains a pawn but gives Black the initiative; it’s a very sound gambit. Now I myself don’t go down this line, it somehow seems wrong to me to be on the defensive as White out of the opening, and I would be especially nervous about this against such an imaginative attacking player as Will! Early on I strongly suspected a Burt miniature was about to occur, but Mark held it all together very nicely, and after 16 … fxe4 ( Rxd4 is better ) he took the advantage and won in some style. The complete game is

Well played Mark! Cumnor 2 Cowley 0.

Nigel was next. I’m not quite sure what happened here, out of a Grunfeld it all looked very even to me last time I looked, and then it was all over. Mike tried to explain it to me at the end but my head was still full of my own game so I couldn’t quite take it in – I think the essence is in a forcing line Mike found a move order that Nigel didn’t anticipate that forced win of material. Cumnor 2 Cowley 1

At that stage it all looked pretty tense to me. On board 3 I thought I was better, but Gareth seemed to be in a mess on board 6 and was dropping pawns, and I didn’t really believe Tony’s sac of a piece for two pawns (soon to become 3), gut feeling was that Rich’s pieces were better. So I had to play for the win! As black!

Mine was a fun game. Graham and I have played any number of times, most of them very interesting. We know each other’s repertoires inside out and in fact all the rated games have ended as draws, showing how close the competition is. As is my want I played the Pirc against Graham’s 1 e4!, and the first surprise was Graham played 4 Nf3 instead of his usual more aggressive line, and went into the so called Classical Variation:

The Pirc is a flexible hypermodern system, the character of the game often being determined by white’s fourth move; 4 Nf3 or 4 g3 usually, but not always, lead to more positional lines, any other fourth move and Black should suspect more neanderthal tendencies in their opponent. This is both a strength and a weakness. White being able to determine the nature of the battle is not to everybody’s taste, and indeed no lesser a authority than Gary Kasparov has said the Pirc is “hardly worth using in the tournaments of the highest category”, as it gives White “too many opportunities for anybody’s liking” (though by example Kramnik, for instance, differs). So if you want a system rather than an opening the Pirc is not for you. However if you like to play in a wide variety of positions, and enjoy the challenge of using your flexible position to best to exploit how white has set out his board, well the Pirc may be what you are looking for.

So how to go about working out what to do against the myriad of White’s choices? Well, you guessed it, it’s time for another edition of “Ian Bush witters on about Pawn Structures.” Black plans to challenge white’s centre with (typically) at least one of e5 or c5 causing tension, and how that tension is resolved will lead to pawn structures characteristic of other openings. So one gets things like the “Benoni Pirc”, the “Dragon Pirc”, the “Ruy Lopez Pirc”, the “Philidor Pirc” and the “Kings Indian Pirc”, and it is the last one which occurred in the game. And given those pawn structures you can follow the plans characteristic of those openings.

That a Kings Indian type game is possible is not too surprising from the above position, for if the next moves could be 5 … 0-0 6 c4 [illegal] it would be a bona fide Kings Indian.

In that opening typically black will play e5, white will resolve the tension in the centre with d5, so grabbing space, and the game usually then involves black attacking on the king side (after f5) and white on the queens side; white’s attack is usually quicker, but black’s is against the white king – a very intense and exciting game normally result.

The big difference in the Pirc is white’s c pawn is not on c4 but on c2, and it will take a move or two to get it to c4 as white will have to find a way to move the c3 knight out of the way. Given speed is of the essence all other things being equal I genuinely think black is better in this type of position – certainly I am rarely unhappy when white chooses this structure and have a good record against it.

But are all other things equal? Let’s see how we got to the position just before Black is planning f5. Suspecting Graham had something prepared (in fact we both guessed correctly our opponents, he deviated first …) I went slightly off piste and played in a slightly provocative style:

So all things are not quite equal. Graham is a bit better developed than I would like, and my knight is on d7 rather than e7, blocking my white squared bishop – for those who don’t know the Kings Indian that is already developed on its best square, c8, and often proves crucial to the attack. That said I still think if Graham attacks on the Queen side he will be too slow, so, correctly I think, he played g4 to stop my f5 plan. Well in chess sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and I had to play f5 anyway, totally unable to calculate all the complications that would result – but if I don’t play it where else am I getting counter play? Here’s the complete game:

As you can see it got very complicated, and I was quite pleased to find the temporary pawn sac with 15 … Ndf6, Rxf5 just tempts Bd3 in the near future. Anyway I muddled through into better position, but then agreed a draw! Why? Well the real reason is that about move 22 I saw Gareth get up, asked the result, and found out somehow he had won! So just a half point was enough for the match –¬† and up about 5 minutes on the clock and up (as I thought) in the position I took a Captain’s decision and decided to cash in, which after a little thought Graham (down to his last couple of minutes of normal time) agreed. Cumnor 3.5 Cowley 1.5, match won!

However as Bob Waugh pointed out afterward my last move, Nf5 to stop Rg3, is a blunder. So for this weeks quiz

  1. After 26 … Nf5 what should white play to simplify to an essentially equal ending?
  2. What should black play instead to keep his advantage? This is a real game so there are a couple of options.

So what had happened on Gareth’s board? Well the last time I saw it the position was something like

Two pawns down and facing the two bishops on a fairly open board you might understand why I was not too hopeful … But Gareth has beaten GMs, and that doesn’t happen without reason, so sorry David – but here’s what most of what happened:

So second quiz of the week – White to play and mate in 3.

Last to finish was Tony’s game. I didn’t really see the finish, but as I said he had sacced a piece for two pawns, and in fact got a third one back. However I never really quite believed it, and in the end Rich pushed through for the win. Cumnor 3.5 Cowley 2.5

Answer to the quizzes: Firstly Bob Waugh’s simplifying line which gives Graham a drawn endgame

When black is marginally better but white should hold.

Next what I should have played – there are a couple of possibilities, the mainline is best, but the second line is almost as good and simpler:

And Gareth’s mate in 3, which should look familiar!

So a win, but a bit by luck rather than judgement, if I were Cowley I would feel myself a little unlucky:

Back up to second, if you had told me that at the start of the season I would never have believed you, despite being a Leicester City fan!

So now we take a break for Christmas – can we continue this for the second half of the season!?

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Ian Bush

Ian has been playing for Cumnor Chess Club since 2017, having previously played for MCS Blackbirds.

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