Friday, October 26, 2012

Prospect Edges Buffalo Grove

In its tightest match of the year, Prospect beat Buffalo Grove 35.5-32.5.  As in the Schaumburg match, the lower boards saved the day.  Playing in his first match since the soccer season ended, Robert Moskwa won on 1st Board, but Buffalo Grove won on 2nd, 3rd and 4th.  Prospect squeaked by with wins on 5th, 6th, and 7th, and a draw on 8th.

There were many good lessons to be learned. 

Lesson 1:  Gambit Play

I have no objection to players trying out sharp gambits as long as they are prepared for the fact that they may find themselves behind by a lot of material if they don't find the right continuation. On 3rd Board, Prospect's Marc Graff decided to venture the Traxler Gambit against Buffalo Grove's Anna Shabayev.  The Traxler arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc5 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5!? and is considered reasonably sound but it is very complex and since Black may be called upon to sacrifice as much as a rook, he better find the best moves over the board.

5.Bxf7+!?, where White is content to grab a pawn and misplace Black's king, is generally considered to be the strongest reply to the Traxler, but Anna played 5.Nxf7 which is considered to give Black the better chances.  One of the mistakes that players sometimes make when trying to learn a new opening is concentrating too much on the moves for the other side that the books say are strongest.  Since players often don't play the strongest moves, it is important to know why the weaker moves are considered the weaker moves and how to take advantage of them.  Marc responded correctly with 5...Bxf2+, but after 6.Kxf2 Nxe4+ 7.Kg1, he slipped up with 7...Qf6?

7...Qf6? threatens mate on f2, but the problem is that this is the only thing that the move does.  When you've sacrificed a bishop and you've got a rook hanging, you need to find moves that multitask.  In this case 7...Qh4 is the strongest move.  Besides threatening mate, it protects the Black knight on e4.   After 8.g3 Nxg3 9.Nxh8, Black's strongest is 9...Nd4!

Positions like this are why the Traxler is seen more often in correspondence chess than it is in over-the-board play.  After 7...Qf6?, White played 8.Qe2 and Black was unable to generate any more threats and simply found himself down two pieces.  He eventually managed to get one of them back and fought on gamely for 63 moves but in the end the material he sacrificed in the opening was the difference.

As painful as this loss was for Black, it is no reason to give up on the Traxler.   With more preparation and more practice games, it can still be a dangerous weapon.

Lesson 2:  Sometimes Threatening a Queen with a Knight is Not So Scary.  

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your threat dictates your opponent's reply only to be surprised to find that he can create threats that out weigh yours.  Prospect's 5th and 8th Boards learned that the hard way.

On 8th Board, Prospect's Brad Thomson thought he had given Buffalo Grove's Cory Moy something to worry about by attacking his queen with 21.Ne5 only to find his own queen under attack after 21...Bxb5 and it was White who a piece.

On 5th Board, Mike Morikado forked White's king and rook with 26...Nd2, but soon found that he was the one losing material after 27.Qd3+ Kh8 28.Rc4!

No matter how threatening your move may seem, unless it's a check, there is always a possibility that your opponent can ignore it because he has counter threats of his own that are stronger.  Make sure you have considered all your opponents checks and captures.

Lesson 3: A Neat Tactic

My favorite move of the match came on 5th Board where Mike Morikado, who despite losing a knight, managed to parlay his extra pawns into the following winning position.  Unfortunately, he only had a minute left on his clock.

According to the computer, Black's strongest moves are 59...a3 and 59...e3, but both moves leave White with two pieces on the board which means two pieces that Black has to watch, increasing the possibility of an oversight.  59...Rc1+!! cleans up the position beautifully however.  If 60.Nxc1 dxc1=Q+ and the queen will have no trouble escorting home the a-pawn or e-pawn or both.  After 60.Kg2 d1=Q 61.Rxd1 Rxd1, Black had no trouble forcing White to give up his knight for the a-pawn after which Black simply brought his king up to wipe out the rest of White's pawns.

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