Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prospect v. Conant: To Thine Own Self Be True

Prospect beat Conant 51-17 with Conant winning on 1st and 8th boards and Prospect capturing all the middle boards.

Yoon v. Zwolenik 1st Board

In working with high school players, I have noticed that they are not always the best judges of what types of positions they handle well. For example, I have known players who would choose openings that tend to lead to sharp attacking positions, however, at the crucial moment when it came time to throw caution to the winds and break open the position, they instinctively sought a sedate move. I think that such a disconnect between preferences and instincts was at work on 1st Board.

Playing the Black pieces, Prospect's Mike Zwolenik allowed Conant's Jiwon Yoon to play the legendary "Fried Liver Attack" (Yes, that's really what it's called) in which White sacrifices a knight in order to force the Black king out into the center of the board where it is subject to a withering attack. If Black survives the attack, he has an extra knight and an easily won endgame. That's a very big if though. It is not a position that I would have any desire to play as Black, but Mike has told me that he likes it. The board looked like this after White's tenth move.

Mike has two choices: (1) Grab the White rook with 10...Nxa1 whereupon White will capture the knight on d5 leaving the Black king all alone in the middle of the board with only the e-pawn to hide behind; or (2) shore up the center with 10...c6 allowing Black to capture the knight on c2. He chose to shore up his center. Discussing the position out in the hall with Prospect coach Don Barrett, I sympathized with Mike's reluctance to part with his only centralized piece while he believed that giving up the knight to pick up the rook was worth the risk. As I look at the game more closely however, I am persuaded that Mr. Barrett was correct. I think that Black could have survived White's attack and that the extra material would have paid off in the long run.

I certainly cannot fault Mike's choice on a practical level as the position is very complicated and he had to rely on instinct to some extent because there isn't enough time to calculate out all the possibilities. On the other hand a person who "likes" to play the Black side of the Fried Liver should be a person who is willing to take his chances on his king's ability to survive a drafty without its death of cold in order to gain a material advantage. The fact that Mike wasn't inclined to do so suggests to me that he might not be as comfortable with a variation like this as he thinks he is.

As it turned out White still had a very nasty attack and Mike found several very accurate moves to stay in the game although he eventually succumbed to the pressure. Even if he had survived the attack though, material would have been even and a draw might have been the result. On the other hand, if he had survived the attack after grabbing the rook, he would have had enough extra material to win.

Meyers v. Itskovich

The game on 5th Board between Prospect's Pat Meyers and Conant's Peter Itskovich provided an interesting contrast between a player who disregarded opening principles and one who adhered to those same principles a little too dogmatically. "Don't make too many pawn moves," "Don't bring out the queen early," and "Develop knights before bishops," are all useful principles, however, all opening principles implicitly include the caveat "without a good reason." The most common good reason is to either win material or prevent the loss of material, but acquiring dominant control of the center and a substantial advantage in space can be good reasons, too.

Openings like this are not all that uncommon on the lower boards of high school matches. The failure to fight for the center may make serious players cringe, but it does not lose automatically. Moreover, just because Black ignores accepted opening theory doesn't mean that he doesn't have some tactical skills that may make White's life miserable if he doesn't take the position seriously. As the game turned out, White did was not as aggressive as he might have been and Black came out of the opening with a tenable position. However, when Black cooperated in opening the position, White was able to take advantage

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