By Dr. Jason Morris
How do you play against an opponent that outrates you by 900 points? That was the question posed to our members who faced FIDE master Seth Homa in a simul on August 15.
One of the best treatises on such advice can be found in IM Simon Webb's excellent "Chess for Tigers", Oxford University Press (1978). According to Webb, "tigers" are average club players and "heffalumps" are ... well.. like Seth... opponents who outrate you by 500 points or more. Webb writes, "...Heffalumps are mighty strong - stronger than Tigers. On open territory, a Tiger doesn't stand much chance against a Heffalump; he can't even dig a Very Deep Pit to trap it, because Tigers aren't much good at digging. What he can do, however, is to entice the Heffalump on to swampy ground and hope it falls into a bog and gets sucked underground by the quagmire."
Club regular Vince Valente managed a draw against Seth two years ago. Could he strike twice? Let's see how he fared with his Heffalump this time!
[Event "2016 Seth Homa Simul"]
[Site "Livingston County Chess Club"]
[White "Homa, Seth"]
[Black "Valente, Vince"]
[Opening "English opening"]
1. c4 Nc6!?
Though unorthodox, this move is not a blunder. As a matter of principle, black should be concerned not to let white dominate the center in the next few moves, so challenging the center directly with 1. .. e5 (inviting a reverse Sicilian) or 1. .. c5 (a Symmetrical English) is more common. If black wants a queen pawn opening, he can even delay a bit by playing 1. .. Nf6 or 1. .. e6 until white shows more of his intentions. If black is intending to play the King's English, the normal route is by 1. c4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6, when the most common position is the Four Knights variation after 3. Nc3 Nf6. The move chosen has independent paths that get really crazy though. For example, black has the Black Knight's Tango after 1. c4 Nc6 2. d4 Nf6, popularized by Washington IM Georgi Orlov.
An example:Spiller - Orlov, Los Angeles, 1991
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.d5 Ne7 5.e4 Ng6 6.Be3 Bb4 7.f3
Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 d6 9.c5 O-O 10.g3 Nd7 11.cxd6 cxd6 12.Bd3 Qa5
13.Ne2 Nc5 14.Bc2 f5 15.O-O fxe4 16.fxe4 Bh3 17.Rxf8+ Rxf8
18.Qd2? Qxa2! 19.Rb1? Qxb1+ 0-1
2. d4 e5
3. d5 Bb4+
4. Bd2 ..
The first big decision point. Perhaps white’s intuition was that his lead in development would be sufficient for an advantage. He could have kept his space and tried for the bishop pair with 4. Nd2. After the best 3. .. Nce7, play could have then continued:
(a) The direct 5. a3 Bxd2+ 6. Bxd2 d6 looks dodgy after 7. Qc2 c6! 8. e4 f5 9. f3 Nf6 10. Bd3 O-O 11. Ne2 fxe4 12. fxe4 cxd5 13. exd5 b5! 14. b3 Qb6.
(b) On the positional 5. Qa4 (mainly to interfere with d7-d6) a5 6. a3 Bxd2 7. Bxd2 Nf6 8. Qc2 d6 9. e4 Ng6 10. Bd3 0-0 11. Ne2 Nd7 12. 0-0 Nc5 13. f3 Bd7 and black is doing OK.
(c) Best appears to be the developmental 5. Nf3 Ng6 when the game sharpens after 6. h4 (probing the Ng6) h5 7. g3 Nf6 (not 7. .. f5?! Ng5!) 8. Ng5 0-0 9. Bg2 Ba5 10. 0-0 d6 11. Qc2 Ne7 12. a3 Bb6 13. b4 Bd4 14. Rb1 a5 15. e3 Bb6 and white is getting a pull.
4. .. Bxd2+
5. Qxd2 Nb8 (5. .. Nce7 is more active)
6. d6 cxd6
As GM Igor Smirnov says in this video (https://youtu.be/EmJcUI_wSy8), "To take is a mistake!". Here, black breaks that principle, and in so doing makes his position much more vulnerable to white's pieces. Just 6. .. Nf6 was better.
7. Nc3 d5
Again, 7. .. Nh6 or Nf6 were better. With the self-inflicted wounds on d5 and d6, white is absolutely no hurry to recover his material, and he can calmly build on d-file.
8. Qxd5 ..
Pragmatic. White could have chosen the sharper 8. Nb5! d4 9. Nd6+ Kf8 10. Nf3 Nc6 11. b4! Qf6 12. c5 Nge7 13. Ng5 Nd8 14. Nge4 Qg6 15. e3 when white has a bind (0.51 according to Houdini).
8. .. Qe7
8. .. Nc6 is better. This just invites 9. Nb5. White’s move is OK too. Note that 9. Nb5 Qb4+ 10. Qd2 Qxd2 (not 10. .. Qxc4?? 11. Nd6+) 11. Kxd2 Na6 is just a long-term positional bind for black with the weaknesses on d6 and d5.
9. Nf3 Nf6?
This just drops a pawn for nothing. Why not 9. .. Nc6?
10. Qxe5 Nc6
11. Qxe7+ Kxe7
In addition to being a pawn down, black has a weak d-pawn on an open file and little counter-play. Ahead a healthy pawn with no structural weaknesses, white should have a winning advantage. The practical question is how best to prosecute that advantage? Since black would like to at least engineer a trade of his weak d-pawn for say the white c-pawn, it makes sense to nip that in the bud with 12. Rd1 or 12. e4 immediately. However, the move played is not bad.
12. e3 d6
13. Be2 Be6
14. O-O ..
A small slip allowing black to unload his weak d-pawn. White was better off nailing d5 down with 14. Rd1 Rhd8 15. e4.
14. .. Rhd8
15. Rfd1 Ne5
Consistent was 15. .. d5.
16. b3 Rc8
17. Nxe5 ..
Again, "takes is a mistake!" Why repair the black structure when white has a plethora of good temporizing moves? For example:
17. Rac1 to discourage d7-d5 further;
17. h3 to limit the scope of black’s pieces; or
17. e4 to clamp on d5.
18. Bf3 b6
19. h3 Bf5
The bishop is exposed to a g4-g5 thrust here, driving the Nf6 from the center. Better was 19. .. h5 fighting for space.
20. Bb7 ..
Another inaccuracy from white. 20. g4 Bc2 21. Rxd8 Rxd8 22. g5 Nd7 23. Nd5+ Kf8 (not 23. .. Ke8? 24. Nb4 Bf5 25. Nc6 wins another pawn, nor 23. .. Kd6? 24. Nb4 Bf5 25. Rd1+ Kc7 26. Nd5+ Kd6 (26. .. Kb8; Kc8; Kb7; and Kc6 all lose immediately to 27. Ne7+)) would have been better.
20. .. Rxd1+
21. Rxd1 Rc7
22. Ba6 ..
The idea is to blockade the a-pawn and win it with Nb5 at some point. Simple and better was 22. Bd5.
22. .. Rd7
23. Rxd7+ Kxd7 (To be considered was 23. .. Nxd7 and 24. .. Nc5)
24. Kf1?! ..
Hastening slowly with 24. f3 gets the position under control again. The game now bounces around until a final mistake throws away the win.
24. .. Nd8 (24. .. Ne4 would have caused white more problems.)
25. Bb5+ Kd8
26. Bxe8 Bd3+
White misses an opportunity to effect the minor piece trade under better circumstances by interpolating 26. g4 first; and black, for his part, makes his drawing chances worse. Relatively better was 26. .. Kxe8.
27. Ke1 Kxe8
28. Kd2? ..
A rather serious miscalculation that tosses the lion share of white’s advantage. A pawn is temporarily lost, and in recovering it, white's forces lose coordination. Rather than the white king assisting the knight to produce a queenside passed pawn, the white king must stay on the kingside to stop black's passed pawns.
28. .. Bf1
29. Nb5 Bxg2
30. h4 a5 (30. .. Kd7)
31. Nd6+ Ke7
32. Nc8+ Kd7
33. Nxb6+ Kc6
34. Na4 Bf3
And now white has one last chance to play for a win with 35. Kd3. The h5 trick doesn’t work. After 35. Kd3 h5 36. e4 g5 37. Ke3 we have:
(a) 37. .. Bd1 38. Nc3 Bg4 39. f3 gxh4 40. fxg4 hxg4 41. Kf2 and black is stymied while white’s queenside will promote by force.
(b) 37. .. Bg2 38. hxg5 h4 39. f3 h3 40. Kf2 and white is in time.
(c) 37. .. Bh1 38. hxg5 h4 39. f3 h3 40. Kf2 h2 41. Kg3 Bxf3 42. Kxh2 Bxe4 43. Kg3 and white should win.
35. a3?! h5!
But now, it’s a strong threat.
36. b4? g5!
And poof! .. just like that, the winning chances are gone. In fact, white has to be careful that he doesn’t actually lose this position!
37. b5+ Kb7
38. Ke1 gxh4
39. Kf1 h3
40. Kg1 Be2
41. Nc5+ Kc7
42. b6+? Kxb6
A miscalculation by white and the tables have completely turned. Black now has serious winning chances. Holding the draw was 42. a4 or 42. Kh2.
43. Nd7+ Kc7!
44. Nxe5 ..
A critical position. Can you spot the best move for black?
With the heffalump in his cross-hairs, black needed to find 44. .. f6! 45. Ng6 Kb6! 46. e4 Bxc4 47. e5 fxe5 48. Nxe5 Be6.
This instructive position is worth studying:
- Black can eventually force the win of the white knight and a-pawn for his own a-pawn.
- Black’s remaining bishop will be able to stop the white f-pawn while guarding the vital h5 pawn at a distance.
- White cannot advance his f-pawn to win the bishop because if he ever moves his king to the 6th rank, he won’t be able to catch the h5 pawn.
- Once he wins the white f-pawn, black still has the "right rook pawn", supported by his bishop to make a queen.
One illustrative variation might be:
49. Kh2 Kb5 50. f4 Ka4 51. Nc6 Bd7 52. Ne5 Be8 53. Kxh2 Kxa3 54. Nc4+ Kb4 55. Nxa5 Kxa5 reaching the key winning position.
Unfortunately, black played...
45. .. Kb6?
Saving the f-pawn was critical. Now, after the ensuing carnage, there is nothing left.
45. Nxf7 Bxc4
46. Ne5 Bd5
47. f3 Kb5
48. e4 Be6
49. Kh2 Ka4
50. Nc6 Bd7
51. Ne5 Be6
52. f4 Kxa3
53. f5 Bg8
54. f6 Kb3
55. f7 Bxf7
56. Nxf7 Kc4
57. Ne5+ Kd4
58. Nc6+ Kxe4
59. Nxa5 1/2-1/2
Congratulations to Vince on hanging tough and thanks to Seth for visiting our club!