Sunday, September 30, 2007

The King is Dead

About twenty to nine last night Anand agreed a draw with Leko and confirmed what's seemed inevitable for several rounds now - he's the new World Chess Champion. Unsurprisingly he didn't take any risks (the entire game is published in my old 1989 book on the Marshall), and after about 13 minutes thinking time, Vishy was able to leave the board for a celebratory drink,

and a press conference.

Anand got the ball rolling as early as the second round, showing some excellent prepration to win with black against Aronian. He went on to win games by accepting Svidler's Marshall and declining Grischuk's in rounds five and seven respectively before finishing off with a victory against Morozevich's Najdorf in round eleven.

Aside from the games he won, Anand also showed resilience in defence, surviving a difficult game against Kramnik in round three - how different things might have been if Black had ended up winning that one - and a similar ending against Grischuk towards the end of the tournament.

With the exception of the Svidler game, which is analysed on chessbase, all of the links above are to video reports provided by the ICC. Chessbase have also provided a free file of all the games from Mexico 07 in PGN format.

So that's it Anand is world champion and there can be no disputing it ... well not until he squares up with Kramnik in 2008 anyway. Vishy will need to find something against the Petroff and Kramnik will need to do better against the semi-slav. It should be a great match.

PS: I forgot to mention I stole the photos in today's blog from too.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

My favourite moves II

Tony Miles v John Nunn

BBC Master Game 1976


I should perhaps explain this one a little.

I remember being extremely excited, watching this game on television. I was just eleven. It wasn't a game in a book, it wasn't a game in which you knew in advance something spectacular was going to happen. Even if I had, at that age I would still have been excited. I'm still excited now, to tell the truth. But at the time it was the most amazing thing, to see Nunn, who had already put his knight en prise, proceed to fork his own knights.

It's funny, it's always that, the self-fork, that I've remembered. So it wasn't until I played through the game when writing this piece that I remembered that he also put his queen en prise as well.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Repetition, repetition, repetition

You don't dig repetition
You don't love repetition
- Mark E Smith

Here's the crucial position - allegedly - in Anand's win over Morozevich in the eleventh round on Tuesday.

In his commentary on Chessbase Mihail Marin gets very excited about this:

An important moment in modern chess history. Anand's most dangerous trailers, Kramnik and Gelfand, had finished their games hours earlier and a draw would have maintained his comfortable lead in the tournament. The ambitious decision to play on will lead to a slightly irrational position, without any safety net for White. Therefore, Anand deserves the highest praise for the way he chose to climb up to the highest peak of the chess pyramide (sic). This is the kind of World Champion the public needs.

Now I don't know if I detect a dig at Kramnik in that last line, and maybe if I didn't disagree with what Jonathan wrote yesterday I wouldn't trouble myself with it, but I wonder if there's not a certain amount of humbug involved here. (Also, a pyramid can only have one peak, but we'll leave that point, ho ho, aside.)

Oddly, annotating in the daily e-newsletter, Chess Today, IM Max Notkin makes no mention of this "important moment" at all. It's not available online (you have to pay to receive it and I recommend you do) so you'll have to take my word for it. But it's strange, if it's so important, that a player of master rank should apparently overlook the possibility of a repetition. Particularly as the last two moves have been 30...Rh4-h5 31.Qg2-f1 Rh5-h4 32.Qf1-g2 Rh4-h5. Instead Notkin merely notes that 31... Bg5 would have been undesirable (32.Nxa6 Bf4 33.Qg1 Rxh3 34.Qxb5 "with an edge to White") and 32.Nxa6? an outright error (32...Rxe4).

I wonder why? Could it be that he doesn't think that a repetition was actually on the cards? That it never occurred to him that Anand would take it? Because rather than taking a serious risk Anand was simply preferring to play on in a position where he considered himself rather better? He could have taken a draw, for sure, but why not take a look first, see what Morozevich wants to do and then play on? At best it was surely a calculated risk rather than some leap into the unknown. He was going to have a safer king and a giant knight on d5. With those positional advantages was he really running much risk of defeat? Perhaps it wasn't a praiseworthy decision so much as a pragmatic one.

I wrote in the last Kingpin that in the chess world, as elsewhere, there is a certain tendency to interpret the facts according to a preconceived narrative and I'm not sure that this is an exception. Anand - who is probably going to win the tournament - is to be praised as courageous. Kramnik - who is probably not - is to be damned as cautious (and never mind that he won, and twice retained, the title by playing in the style that suits him best). Meanwhile Gelfand, who actually had the best chance of overhauling Anand and passed it up despite having the White pieces, is ignored. (Kramnik, by contrast, in a similar situation two rounds later, made a hard and complex fight of it.)

It's funny, though, this early-draw thing. I mean what are we to say about the player who took a 21-move draw in round six and then a 20-move draw in round eight? And then followed it up by agreeing, with the White pieces, a 21-move draw in round nine?

Nothing at all, I should think. Because our apparently draw-addicted subject wasn't Vladimir Kramnik. It was Viswanathan Anand.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Brave Sir Vladimir Ran Away

In the comments a few days ago ChessBuff said, correctly, it was, "too early to write Kramnik off". Nevertheless, the fat lady started loosening up her vocal chords when he (Kramnik not ChessBuff) disastrously lost to Morozevich and then only drew with Anand and now the game's well and truly up.

Anand turned over Moro himself in Tuesday's 11th round. Vishy getting to +4 was not too unexpected, he's been in great form throughout the tournament (with the possible exception of his very first game against Gelfand) after all. It was more of a surprise, however, that when the aforementioned chubby bird got up to do her bit, Kramnik was already leading the singing.

Kramnik ran up the white flag with a 13-move draw against Grischuk. According to the live games transmission website at Grischuk took 18 minutes for the game and Kramnik just 13. A world title surrendered in just half an hour ... and needless to day, it didn't go down very well. Not by a long chalk.

Leonxto Garcia, on the official tournament website no less:-

During the press conference we heard Kramnik's saying: "If I didn't accept the draw offered by Grischuk, I would have offended him", that phrase outraged the veteran journalist Arturo Xicotencatl who replied to the Champion: "Don't you think that you are the one offending the crowd of fans that follow you on the internet?" The Russian explained once more the supposed balance of the position, but the truth is that he convinces no one. Only a severe sickness could justify such behaviour, but Kramnik has no signs for it throughout this Championship.

Mig Greengard didn't miss out either, giving Kramnik a verbal kicking in his ICC Round 11 podcast.

It seems it wasn't only the journalists who were a bit surprised. According to Chessbase's Express Report for the round:-

Kramnik was asked why he chose to play the Petroff in this critical situation where he needs every point he can possible get to defend his title. Before he could answer Grischuk grabbed the mike and said: "Yes, I too would like to ask the same question."

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones so I should perhaps own up to the fact that while Grischuk and Kramnik were getting it on, I was also playing chess. As it happens, I also whimped out and agreed a draw when I really should have played on. It's not really the same though is it? Two major differences spring to mind.

  • I'm not world champion

  • Nobody gives a shit about what happens when I play in the Surrey League

Most of all, nobody is ever going to bother to say to me, "Oi, Vladimir. You see that Monty Python knight ... that's you that is".

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My favourite moves I

Gata Kamsky v Anatoly Karpov

Dortmund 1993


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Which is me?

Yesterday I began my morning reading Justin's post on unpopular openings. In considering how club players build repertoires of opening variations he wrote, "We tend rather to change than add."

Very true, I thought. Well, true for me anyway.

Like Douglas Adams’ private detective Dirk Gently, I believe in the inter-connectedness of all things. It was no surprise, therefore, that half an hour later, when in the coffee shop reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, I came across this passage:-

“… she continued to tinker with her handwriting, slanting it to the right or to the left, shaping it roundly or steeply, loosely or stingily – as though she were asking, ‘Is this Nancy? Or that? Or that? Which is me?”

Is this not the same thing?

If I've learned one thing about chess over the years it's that selection of opening variation is really about the types of middle game one wants to play rather than the sequence of moves with which we would like to begin the battle. Like a Rorshach Inkblot Test, how we respond to a chess position tells us something about ourselves - and not just how good at chess we are. The traits that combine to make up our chessboard tastes are as distinctive as the way we write our names and the personality differences reflected in our relative preferences for, say, IQP or piece activity (the diagram here makes a good chessblot test I think) will be played out in other areas of our lives too.

So, getting back to Capote, is this the reason why I've often changed my openings over the years? Is 1. ... e5 Jonathan B? Or the French? Or the Caro-Kann? Which is me?

It's not true anymore, but when playing with the White pieces 1. e4 used to be me. Even longer ago, I used to play king's pawn openings hoping for

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4

caring not a jot for the fact that The Moller attack that often followed

5. … exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Nc3 Nxe4 8. 0-0 Bxc3 9. d5

was hideously unsound.

I won many pleasing games in this variation. I played into it hoping to catch my opponents in sharp lines they knew less well than me or, failing that, expecting I would be able to out-calculate my them using a tactical ability I fondly, though probably naively, considered to be my strength at the time.

Although it brought me many memorable victories, and wins in the Moller tend to be rather flashy by nature, over time my enthusiasm for the line began to wane. I started to notice that although I would often win against players graded higher than myself, I would also sometimes have accidents against people I thought I should beat easily.

I clearly remember the game that finally put me off the Moller and encouraged me to switch to the somewhat less racy Four Knights Opening.

I don't remember my opponents name, where it was played (possible a tournament in North London around 1993) or whether this was the very last time I played the line, but Jonathan B v A. Bloke went...

9. … Bf6 10. Re1 Ne7 11. Rxe4 0-0 (11. … d6) 12. d6 Ng6 (12. … cxd6 13. Qxd6 Nf5 14. Qd5 Ne7 15. Qd6 Nf5 =)

I didn't mind too much when Black played ... 0-0 rather than the theoretical ... d6, but 12. ... Ng6 was new to me. It was, I realised afterwards, one of those situations which often caused me trouble - a lower rated player punting an inferior move which I then failed to refute over the board.

The main variation I calculated here was ...

13. h4 Nxh4 14. Nxh4 Bxh4 15. Qh5 Bf6

This isn't best play by any means (amongst other things Fritz suggests 13. Qe2 [clear advantage for White] and 13. ... b5 [small advantage for Black]), but at the time giving up another pawn to add fuel to the attack looked sensible to me. The problem was I couldn't see how to proceed from there. Unfortunate given that White has a forced win starting with his 16th move. Alas I didn't find it*, played something else and again went on to lose.

So, my taste for highly tactical games gradually morphed into the more positional game I now prefer. The Moller was replaced by The Four Knights just as later I would abandon 1. e4 altogether as I headed for the calmer waters of 1. Nf3 - a change, I'm sure, that is not at all unrelated to the process of ageing.

Is that, I wonder, ultimately the reason why we club players tend to change opening variations? Is it because we ourselves are always changing?

*from the line that follows the last diagram:-
16. dxc7 Qxc7 17. Qxf7+ Rxf7 18. Re8 mate

Monday, September 24, 2007

Variations club players don't seem to play

There are some variations which, while popular at club level, rarely get an outing at the top. One obvious example would be the Colle, perhaps no longer a serious try for advantage at grandmaster level but a solid - very solid - points-scorer lower down the food chain. Then there's the variety of anti-Sicilians, which while not absent from the elite tournaments are rather more rare than 2.Nf3 and 3.d4, save that period a few years ago when everybody started messing about with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 (which isn't really what I'd think of as an anti-Sicilian anyway). The scrappers, by contrast, are more likely to see 2.c3 or a Morra than a main line. Similarly, I know from some experience as a Lopez practioner that if White is stronger than I am, 1.e4 e5 will lead to a main line Lopez more often than not - but if they're weaker, it's a big surprise if we get as far as 5.O-O without some deviation.

This is odd, in a way, since it's an established phenomenon that top players tend to set the fashion in openings, not only for other grandmasters, but for chessplayers in general. Nothing else can explain the interest that players who can barely remember the theory beyond move five show in the Najdorf, as if the fact that Kasparov and Fischer played it must perforce mean that it is a deadly weapon in their hands. Well, an atom bomb would be a deadly weapon in my hands but I wouldn't actually like to touch one, and that goes for the Najdorf too.

Anyway, if there are openings which are rather more popular at our level than at the level where the good players are, it must surely mean that the opposite is true. There are surely fewer Petroffs at our level than at the highest, possibly because the club player's repertoire is necessarily limited and you can't afford to spend time on an opening which gives White a draw when they might be forty ECF points worse than you. (Of course, if we stuck to our openings, you might learn a more combative opening very well and then add the Petroff to your repertoire. But we tend rather to change than add.) You also see rather fewer Semi-Slavs from club players than from supergrandmasters: mind you it'd be hard not to, as they're barely playing anything else in Mexico City.

However, there's a couple of opening variations, frequently seen in grandmaster praxis, that I've seldom or never seen, in any club match I've played in or any tournament game I've seen, save for grandmasters on the high boards of a very strong open. Variations which, for one reason or another, are basically absent from the repertoires and the thoughts of club players. One of these is the Marshall Gambit in the Lopez, which is currently considered so sound that it is more often avoided by White than actually played by Black. Indeed, it's got to the point that I rarely recognise a grandmaster Lopez any more, since rather than use the order 7...d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 that I play and love, everybody goes 7...O-O then 8.a4 or 8.h3 Bb7 and we get into positions which are not quite the ones I know.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d5

You do, however, still see a lot of the position above when grandmasters play, one leading swiftly by way of 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 to the position below:

and sometimes White wins quickly! In fact it looks like a position offering decent and comprehensible play for a pawn, which indeed it does, very much the sort of thing that attracts club players to, say, the Benko Gambit. But, unlike that less-sound gambit, among club players it is rarely seen. Very rarely indeed. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that in my thirty-year experience I've seen it, to my recollection, precisely once. I remember that, because I was playing it, with the Black pieces. I got beaten convincingly. I didn't play it again, which might normally be considered an extreme reaction, but I think was fairly sound: you have to remember an enormous amount of theory to play it, theory which you will almost never get to play anyway. And if you do, it will be to little purpose because the only people to play down the main lines will be people who know them well themselves.

That's a big difference between club players and grandmasters, as regards the openings. They can and must assume that the opponent knows existing theory. They therefore look for novelties. We, however, seek only to know more than the opponent. Which is pointless, if they'll never let you show it. Or if you'll only get to play the theory when, in fact, you don't know more of it than they do.

Added to that, the fact that the Marshall won't, in many lines, give you more than a draw, and you can see why it's rarely seen (though not, perhaps why quite so rarely). I once saw the estimable Tim Harding recommend it as an ideal choice for the club player, or a phrase similar to that. I thought that was completely wrong. I think it is the opposite.

The neglect of the Marshall, I can understand. But there's another line I can think of which, while being not at all rare in published games, I cannot recall seeing ever except when played by a professional. Unlike the Marshall, it's a line that White chooses, it's not grotesquely complicated and if there's draws to be had, they're probably available to White rather than Black. It's not attached to a rare opening, it being a line of the Queen's Gambit Declined, and there's even been a decent book about it, written a few years ago by Colin Crouch. It goes as follows:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.Bf4

Maybe I've just been looking in the wrong direction, I dunno. But I've not seen it played. Never. Not once. I wonder why not?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Should Grischuk have got on with it?

“Control of the clock”, as Simon Webb wrote in Chess for Tigers, “is one of the most important and neglected aspects of practical play.”

I was reminded of Webb’s book when I noticed that, in between reports from Mexico 07, ChessBase had published Time Pressure (and other maladies). I haven’t read the article yet. This is partly because, oh the irony, I’m really busy at the moment and haven’t been able to find a spare a moment, but mostly because the only real solution to constantly running short of time is mentioned just a few lines in to the fairly lengthy essay:-

“Play Faster.”

While I’m far too lazy to bother my arse and actually read this piece, Alexander Grischuk may want to have a look. He’s been plagued by time trouble throughout Mexico 07, and particularly so over the past few games.

In round six, playing White against Svidler, Grischuk whipped out

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5 9.Be2 Bb7 10.h4 g4 11.Ne5 h5 12.0-0 Nbd7 13.Qc2 Nxe5 14.Bxe5 Bg7 15.Bg3 Qxd4 16.Rfd1 Qc5

16 … Qc5 is a new move apparently. At this point the Russian thought for getting on for an hour before playing 17. Bd6 – probably the first move that flashed into his head the moment he saw Svidler’s TN appear on the board.

Not surprisingly after this mega long think Grischuk then ran short of time and missed a win while scrambling to make the time control at move 40 (which he achieved with just seconds to go). You can find Speelman's video review of this highly entertaining game here.

On Friday night (round 8) Grischuk was at it again. Black against Leko he played,

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 b4 9.d3 d6 10.Nbd2

a position well known to theory and, indeed, well known to Grischuk - he’d had it against Anand the round before (losing in 50 moves - see Fedorowicz's video).

Here he thought for over half an hour before deciding to vary from …Na5 with … Be6. Unfortunately for our favourite time trouble addict, it didn’t help him any and he went on to lose against Leko too. De Firmian reviews it here.

At the end of this interview (recorded just after the Svidler game) Grischuk is asked about his time management problem and what he intends to do about it. As you can see for yourself, his response is to ask for advice.

Perhaps Simon Webb could help …

“ … many experienced players, including some grandmasters, seem unable to avoid getting into time trouble game after game. As a result they regularly throw away good positions, and fail to achieve the results of which they are capable … Forget about openings, tactics, strategy, and all the rest of your game. First concentrate on this one aspect of chess, and when you have conquered it your results will improve automatically.”

PS: The videos I've linked to are all from the ICC - who are providing a whole range of free stuff relating to Mexico 07. Their website is well worth a visit.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Should Gelfand have gone for it?

I'm not normally in the camp which demands that chessplayers - or any other sportsmen - always attack. It's a limited view at best- it fails to appreciate how much there is to chess as well as attack. It's also easier to demand from the sidelines than to deliver in practice. Me, I was brought up on Karpov and on Nimzowitsch and on the Italian teams of Enzo Bearzot: and I like intelligent defence, the war of manouevre, defeating the opponent by out-thinking rather than out-calculating them. I like the clash of styles rather than having two tacticians at the board, and I like to appreciate the viewpoint of the player, the particular perspective of the competitor, rather than demand that everybody plays like Shirov just because the fans may wish them to.

For that reason, too, I've always been fairly understanding of the short draw, of the desire to put off battle till it's necessary, of the choice to stay in the pack as long as you can rather than take the risk that might knock you out of the competition. It's how professionals approach the job, and professionals don't take advice from amateurs. You need to be in the shake-up at the end: take your risks when you have to, in the last two rounds, because if you take them earlier and as a resultm you're halfway down the field, then who will care how admirably brave you were? Fortuna favet fortibus, but sport often does not. It is about winning and world championship tournaments all the more so.

That said - why did Boris Gelfand give Anand such an easy time last night? A draw in twenty moves, the Catalan bishop easily swapped off. Black in fact looks slightly better, to my eyes, in the final positon, so perhaps this was discretion rather than an absence of valour, but it's hard to believe that Gelfand went into the game with the intention of putting Anand under any serious pressure. And you might, drawing on the paragraphs above, think that makes perfect sense - he was just half-a-point behind the leader, and he stays that way, tucked in, as it were, with just a few rounds to go. Ready to have a go if anything should befall Anand in the run-in.

Maybe. But just for once I wonder if caution was not the wrong option. In the next round, tomorrow, Anand is the only one of the top three to have White - against Aronian. A point (or more) would be a big lead when you are solid as he is. If a half-point behind is as close as Gelfand gets, then he may come to regret that he did not use his White game aganst Anand to try and take the lead.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly - what message did Gelfand give Anand last night? More importantly still, what message did he give himself? Did he not say that he does not think he is as good as Anand, that the best he can do against him, with White, is to swap off the pieces? It's a long, long time since Gelfand beat Anand - never, if my researches are correct, with the Black pieces and not for more than twenty games (and almost as many years) with White. I'm sure that sort of sequence leaves an impression, but it's surely an impression that you have to shake off if you're to win a tournament like this. Chess is a game played in the head and if you don't believe that this can be your week, that just for once, you can beat the other guy, then surely you will not.

There's one other thing too. When the professional ensures than he, or she, is in the chasing pack, it's partly because there are more prizes than the trophy to be won. There are livings to be made. You do your best to make sure you win something, and if you do that often enough, then surely, sometimes, sooner or later, the top prize will be yours.

But in Mexico City there are no real prizes except winning (unless you're Kramnik). Especially for the Gelfands, the outsiders, the players who have not had a chance before and may never get one again. Presumably, and wholly understandably, that's why Gelfand kept it quiet last night. He didn't want to thow it away. Maybe he'll turn out to be right. But if it slips away from him over the next couple of days, he may find himself thinking that he could have had a go for first place, but lacked the strength, the will, to do so. And the worst position to be in is, surely, the one where you ask yourself what might have been.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Alas ... a post mortem

The ICC have a bunch of free stuff available relating to the Mexico World Championship Tournament.

One of the things they're doing is a free video of the day. This link will take you to yesterday's ... which includes several minutes of Kramnik and Leko analysing their game from round five. They don't seem to be talking with each other so much as at each other. Not only that, it kind of reminded me of those old Smith and Jones head-to-heads, an example of which you can find here.

Anyhoo, Vishy Anand is now clear out in front at 5/7 at the half-way stage. Gelfand is half a point back and Kramnik is a notch further behind. Is Vlad already out of it? His game with White against Anand in round 10 is now looking like a must-win.

Anybody out there think that Kramnik is going to retain his crown?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The new Najdorf?

One of the least likely chess book titles you could ever wish to see is “Winning with the Petroff”.

Such a book does indeed exist – allegedly authored by one A. Karpov although I doubt whether Anatoly contributed much more to the project than an agreement to the use of his name.

Anyway, back to the point … The Petroff Defence. It doesn’t have a reputation for friskyness does it? In Playing to Win as long ago as 1988, James Plaskett wrote …

“ … I will stick my neck out and predict that because of the excruciatingly bland middlegames which it all too frequently generates it will be thought necessary, in the not too distant future, to proscribe the Petroff ….”

Well that never happened and the Petroff is alive and well, appearing four times in the first four rounds in Mexico City.

But what’s going on?

Anand-Gelfand* in round one ended quickly it’s true but had Black played 22. … Rxf4 instead of 22. … Rxe1 with a draw offer he might have been winning.

In round three Kramnik emerged from the opening a pawn up against Anand (again) and Leko had to defend a dodgy Queen ending for a hundred moves against Gelfand (again) before the point was split. True, Leko had been better before losing the thread some time around the time control and Svidler-Gelfand (again again) in round four was a typical Petroff short draw but now I come to think about it … what about Brissago 2004 when Kramnik gave Leko a Petroff spanking to open their match.

Can the Petroff really have become the way to go if you want to win with Black when playing against 1. e4 at World Championship level???

At the other end of the scale, twenty plus years ago my second ever game with a chess clock, and my first serious club game with the Black pieces, began

1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nf6, 3. Nxe5 d6, 4. Nf3 Nxe4 and now White came up with the not particularly impressive 5. Bc4 to which I responded … d5 and went on to win.

Perhaps I should have stuck with it.

* Anand punted 5. Nc3 against Gelfand though presumably he wasn't hoping to end up on the right side of a six move victory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

White To Play, & Mate!

Thanks for Angus to sending this delightful puzzle by T. Nissl (1910) in to the blog for publication.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Complicated variations

A. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5 9.Ne5 h5 10.h4 g4 11.Be2 Bb7 12.0-0 Nbd7 13.Qc2 Nxe5 14.Bxe5 Bg7 15.Rad1 0-0 16.Bg3 Nd7 17.f3

Aronian-Anand, Mexico City 2007 (Round 2)


B. In 2008 Vladimir Kramnik will play the winner of Mexico City unless he wins the event himself. Veselin Topalov as the loser of the last match in Elista will play the winner of the World Cup in Khanty Mansiysk which takes place at the end of the year. The winners of those matches will play for the title in 2009. However if Kramnik wins the WCCh tournament in Mexico City 2007, a match between Kramnik and Topalov, the current and the previous world champions, will take place in 2008. In that case, the winner of the Kramnik- Topalov match will play against the winner of the 2007 World Cup.

I think I can just about handle A - but could anybody explain B to me?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I've Started So I'll Finish

Over in Mexico it's a rest day. I wonder who's happiest so far. Perhaps not Kramnik even though he's in lead - he's already used up 3 of his 7 Whites so would probably have wanted to be more than +1 by now. On the other hand he did get a draw with Black against his main rival.

Any thoughts on how things have been progressing?

In other news:-

"Correspondence Chess IM Jerry Asquith has reached the televised part of the BBC quiz Mastermind. His specialist subject will be Alexander Alekhine so tune in tonight at 7.30 on BBC2"

I got that from Speedy Malc's Daily Telegraph column so perhaps I should be a little less rude about him in future.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

ToiletGate: Mission Impossible

The World Championship tournament in Mexico will, hopefully, help to erase memories of Elista 06 and all that khazi related embarrassment.

Not that computer assisted cheating at chess events is a new thing. Mission Impossible were there forty years ago.

PS: Mystic Speedy Malc is up to his old tricks again. In today's Sunday Telegraph he confidently predicts the UK - China Chess Summit "will be a tough slog" for the home side. That's the UK - China Chess Summit that ended a week ago in a 28-20 victory for the visitors in case you're not living in whatever Time Zone Malc calls home.

Let's end with a sneek preview of the opening credits of a brand new episode of Mission Impossible. Details of the plot are not yet available but the programme is believed to revolve around the likelihood of a poor down trodden chess journalist getting a column published in timely fashion.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Blast from the past

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 c6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bd3 Ne4 9.O-O Ndf6 10.Bxf6 Nxf6 11.Ne5 Bd6 12.f4 h5 13.Rc1 Bg4

When I played for my school team, about a quarter of a century ago, I had more triumphs than disasters. Unusually, for me at any rate, I remember the triumphs rather better than the disasters: beating St Paul's (Julian Hodgson on top board) when they'd won the National Schools Championships five years in a row was certainly the best of these, but there were others.

More than enough to make up, for instance, for a disaster in the same competition a few years later, when my Hertfordshire school went all the way to Wymondham in Norfolk. Needing just a draw, in the last game standing, to make the next round, our player, a safe piece up, forgot about the clock and lost on time. Having had several minutes to make his last move before the time control.

In those days going anywhere in Norfolk was a long, long journey: coming all the way back in the school minibus wasn't just a long journey but an almost silent one. I can, in fact, remember our scapegoat, after a very long a period of accusing silence, bursting out with "I didn't do it deliberately!". I remember his name - I just looked it up on the ECF grading database. There's no-one of his name currently playing. Perhaps the trauma made him give it up. I wouldn't blame him.

I never had a trauma quite that bad, but I do remember one game which left me going home holding my head and swearing never to play again, fully able to grasp the full extent of my own stupidity but quite unable to cope with it. Perhaps I realised that if I could play like that at the age of sixteen, I could play like that forever: that this nightmare was going to keep happening. If so, I was right.

It was October 1981 and I was graded 151. My opponent was only 105 and playing for a visiting school from, I think, Bristol. I won the exchange quite early on with the Benko Gambit that I favoured then and was in a position that should have been impossible to lose. That, indeed, I should have won against any player who was ever born and any machine that will ever be made. It was Black to make his twenty-ninth move:

Of course 29...Rd3 wins trivially, as do a number of moves in the position, but, to prevent a check from the rook, I unwisely played 29...Kf8 first. This wasn't fatal by any manner of means but my opponent, seeing - as I did not - the one tactical opportunity that remained to him, pushed his f-pawn one square forward.

I then played the rook to d3, surely winning the bishop since he could no longer play the zwischenzug with the rook. Indeed he could not - but he could and did produce the winning move instead. And filled with anger and embarassment, I went home, not for the last time in my chess life, screaming at myself.

I never forgot that one. In more than twenty-five years I've not forgotten it. Although, these days, I'm lucky if I can remember the moves of a just-finished game, I could remember almost the exact details of that long-gone disaster. I looked up the game this evening, as I have retained my old scorebooks, through crises, house moves, even emigration. I thought I was an exchange and two pawns up, but as it turns out, it was an exchange and only one. Close enough: it doesn't matter. And I remembered the name of my opponent, too. As one remembers a curse.

It is the nature of curses that they do not die until their work is done. I still recalled, of course, the game and the opponent, but I never thought to come across the name again. But a few days ago, I was reading up on some theory, specifically in the fourth volume of Khalifman's series Opening for White according to Kramnik. I was specifically interested in the Cambridge Springs Variation and found myself looking at the line which at the start of this piece, which, by a variety of possible move-orders, leads to the diagram immediately below it, a position in which Khalifman recommends that White continue 14.Qc2 with a slight advantage to White "owing to the stong position of the knight on the e5-square".

There are a lot of game fragments quotated in the five volumes of Khalifman's work, and one comes to expect citations, if not from Kramnik himself (since it is basically Kramnik's repertoire that we are learning) then from grandmaster games. Normally, that's what we get. Big names. But not this time.

Though I wish we did: not for the quality of the play, but because the name attached to Black's side of the board leapt out at me, far larger than that of any expert. Any grandmaster, any champion of the world. The game was Easton-Nendick, Bristol 1990.

Bristol. Nendick. NENDICK. That was the name. Nendick. I have remembered that name for over half my life and yet never expected to see it again. Nendick. I saw the name Nendick, like a curse, and I was cursed to remember, once again, how I felt, as a messed-up teenager, two and a half decades before, when I lost impossibly and stupidly, and shook, and went home in a funk, and swore that that I would give up chess.

Friday, September 14, 2007

World Championship puzzler!

Here's a nice easy one for a Friday.

What did not happen - on the board - in the 2006 Kramnik-Topalov match that happened in every previous world championship match?

[you might like to guess before looking in the Comments box....]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mexico 70 - Mexico 07

Mexico 70. Banks' save. Pele almost scoring from the halfway line. England wilting in the sun when 2-0 up against West Germany. Brazil's destruction of Italy in the final. I was only two at the time so can't claim any direct experience but still these memories have seeped into my consciousness as I've absorbed the received wisdom of the world cup tournament of 37 years ago as football's Best Ever.

I wonder if Mexico 07, which starts today, will be just as memorable. In any event you can follow it on the official site. In the meantime chessbase has lots of pictures in a report on the countdown to the first move and even Speedy Malc is on time today - this thing must be important.

Up until now, of course, the chess world equivalent of Mexico 70 is Reykjavik 72. We've already blogged Fischer being awarded the title and an excerpts from a pre-match interview. To get us in the mood for Anand, Kramnik, Morozevich, Leko, Aronian, Svidler, Gelfand and Grischuk let's return to Iceland with a montage of Bobby and Boris (keep an eye out for 2:54).

PS: I found this clip on YouTube but EJH points out it was blogged a year ago elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

World Championship predictions



LOUDEST MOUTHS ON COMMENTARY - Yasser Seirawan, Nigel Short


PHRASE MOST LIKELY TO BE SPOKEN BY YOUR WORKMATES - "is Kasparov still the champion?" (Or "is Bobby Fischer still playing?")






MOST TIRESOME FEATURE OF CHAT ROOMS - people telling you that their computer says Aronian has an advantage of 0.17 as if it meant something







PRESENT WRITER'S KNOWLEDGE OF CRICKET, BOB DYLAN - rather greater than stuff all



Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The things Garry says

My New In Chess arrived this morning and naturally I turned straight to Garry Kasparov's column to see how he would get on my nerves. It took him a while but he got there in the end, complaining about the controversial* acceptance of Veselin Topalov into the forthcoming world championship tournament in Mexico, to which acceptance the objection can be raised that it was specifically written into the contracts of the Topalov-Kramnik match that the loser should not take part in Mexico. So far, so reasonable, but he then goes on to strike a moral pose about this sort of thing:
Such flagrant favouritism has long been the hallmark of FIDE
Well, maybe, maybe not. But can anybody remind me: during the decade when qualification for world championship matches was in the personal gift of the champion, who was it who invited Vladimir Kramnik to play a match for the World Championship seven years ago when that gentleman had already lost an eliminator to Alexei Shirov?

[* (late edit some days after) and apparently non-existent. I admit to becoming throughly confused as to what's going on. Was he let back in or not? He's not playing, but in that case what's Kasparov on about?]

Monday, September 10, 2007

"The Human Punchbag Fights Back"

As you might recall, swashbuckling Streatham and Brixton Chess Club First Teamer Robin Haldane competed in the Coulsdon Premiership International Chess Tournament at the end of August. Robin was bottom seed by over 100 rating points in a field that included two Grandmasters. Thus the term "human punchbag" might well spring to mind - especially if you play over this third round disaster of his as black against Jack Rudd:


But fortunately, that's not the whole story: the human punchbag fought back - thanks to Michael Basman for that phrase - with Robin managing four draws and the following smashing win against Ian Snape, eventually finishing a respectable 8th with three points from nine games.

Robin's also kindly annotated this game for the blog, which you can also copy and paste into your computer programmes if you wish:

Robin Haldane v Ian Snape

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 O-O 8.
Qd2 Nc6 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. O-O-O Rb8
I have played against Rb8 a few times in rapidplay and as it is not covered in my opening books I never know what to play. So as usual I thought I would make it up as I went along.
11. h4 b5 12. Bb3 Na5 13. Bh6 Bxh6 14. Qxh6 e5 15. Nde2 b4 16. Nd5 Nxb3+
17. axb3 Nxd5 18. Rxd5 Rb6 19. h5 g5 20. f4
I did not fancy playing 20 Rd6 as after f6 in reply the White Queen is shut out of the game.
20... Bg4
This must be better than 20 -- gf4 21 Nf4 or 20 -- Be6? 21 f5.
21. fxe5
Afterwards Ian pointed out he should have played 21 -- de5 when 22 Rd8 Rh6 23 Rf8+ Kf8
24 Ng3 Rf6 seems to give Black an edge in the endgame.
21... Bxe2
Now it remains to be seen whether White has enough for the piece.
22. exd6 Rb5
The alternative was 22 -- f6 when play might continue 23 Re1 Ba6 24 e5 Rb5 25 ef6 Qf6
26 Qf6 Rf6 27 Rd1 Rb8 28 d7 Rf8 29 Re5 when I prefer White's position.
23. Re1 Rxd5 24. exd5 Re8
If 24 -- Bb5 25 Re7 Re8 26 Qg5+ Kf8 27 Qf6 wins.
25. d7 Re5
I was expecting 25 -- Qd7 when White can play 26 Qg5+ Kf8 27 Qf6 Qg4 28 d6 Re6
29 Qh8+ Qg8 30 Qg8+ Kg8 31 d7 Rd6 32 Re2 Rd7 33 Rd4 when White is a pawn up pressing for the win.
26. Qc6 Bb5 27. Rxe5 Bxc6 28. dxc6 Kf8 29. Kd2
Now the complications have died down and White is threatening to exchange into a won king and pawn endgame if for instance 29 -- h6 White wins by 30 Re8+ Qe8 31 de8=Q+ Ke8
32 g4 Kd8 33 Ke3 Kc7 34 Ke4 Kc6 35 Kf5 Kd7 36 Kf6 Ke8 37 c4 and White queens on the kingside before Black queens on the queenside.
29... f5 30. Rxf5+ Kg7 31. Rd5 Kh6 32. c7 Qf6 33. d8=Q Qf4+ 34. Kd3 Qf1+
35. Kd4 Qf2+ 36. Kc4 Qe2+ 37. Kxb4 Qe1+ 38. c3 a5+ 39. Kb5 Qf1+ 40. c4, resigns. 1-0.

Black resigns having run out of a checks.

A close game that could easily have gone either way.

The tournament itself also seems to have been a success, with Lars Stark achieving his third and presumably final IM norm, Jovica Radovanovic his second. The internet coverage was very good, and you can still find all the details and games played at the above link. But make sure you play through the second game above, before you do anything else.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Rook House for Bobby

Last week we had Madonna's Ray of Light, this week, courtesy of Angus, we have I Like Trains' "A Rook House for Bobby".

Bonus quiz question: Who can identify the game?

I think Angus knows. I certainly don't.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The things Ray says

One of the greatest books ever written about cinema is Peter Biskind's Easy Rider's Raging Bulls, which recounts the rise and fall of the great independent American directors of the Seventies, a tale in which death, drugs, stupidity and genius are all on show to an enormously excessive degree in the most extensively-referenced work (absolutely everything is sourced, presumably to ward off lawsuits) that I've ever seen outside an academic journal.

Among the many pleasures of reading this work is the persistent pattern that recurs every time Dennis Hopper is involved in an anecdote. It may fairly be said that there are two versions of any anecdote relating to Mr Hopper, these consisting of:

1. The version recalled by Mr Hopper himself ;

2. The version recalled by everybody else.
Being an aficionado of both chess and cinema, this naturally puts me in mind of the leading star in our own less exalted firmament, the chess correspondent of the Times, Ray "mate in two with Qxh7" Keene. Ray, too, often has a different view of events that involve himself himself than do the other parties, which pattern is a very longstanding one indeed, stretching almost as far back as the controversy as to who wrote the script to Easy Rider. (Our parallel works here, as well, since Keene, like Hopper, has had the misfortune to encounter controversy involving matters of literary ownership.)

This blog will maybe take the opportunity, now and then, to examine some of these differences of memory, which - Dennis or Ray could reasonably argue - are inevitable when we are talking about events so long ago, especially when you have taken quite as many drugs as Hopper has, or slept off as many lunches as has Keene. I came across one of these just the other day when perusing, not entirely by chance, the discussion board which accompanies Ray's games on, which discussion runs to almost three hundred pages, something that you couldn't say of many of his books.

Anyway, I was reading an entry Ray made on the 9th of August, explaining his poor performances in Argentine tournaments in 1978, apparently due to tiredness:
i played badly in the olympiad and also not so well in clarin-esquel i started to recover-i think i was a bit drained by the korchnoi v karpov match which preceded it -where i was korchnois second
He probably was "a bit drained", yes. But I wonder if he was particularly drained because - as Ray has apparently forgotten, but as others may remember - he spent much time not only working as Korchnoi's second, but writing an instant book on the match. An activity which his contract with Korchnoi, others have recalled, specifically ruled out...

Friday, September 07, 2007


I was supposed to be posting today. I regret to inform, however, I spent too long loafing around in the coffee shops of central London and now I've no time left to write a decent article.

Instead I shall just ask a question (or steal one from Chessbase if you prefer) ...

Who is this?

One of the causes of the aforementioned coffee shop loitering was that I finally got around to visiting Chess & Bridge to pick up a copy of the latest Kingpin. It's well worth a read. Not only does it contain an article and numerous book reviews from our own EJH there's also an (unintentionally) hilarious whinge from Amatzia Avni. He doesn't like book reviewers it seems. As far as I can make out he thinks we ordinary folk should just shut up and accept any old cack we are lucky enough to receive. I shall be returning to this shortly*.

* By "shortly" I mean whenever I can be bothered to get around to it - very much like the Kingpin publishing schedule then.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

UK versus China

So soon after the Staunton Memorial, it's particularly good to see high-class international chess once again being played in England: up in Liverpool, an 8-board UK team that includes Michael Adams and Nigel Short is taking on a team from China. For historical reasons that I have not quite gathered, the event is title The 800th Anniversary Summit Chess Match, and it started on Tuesday and finishes this Sunday. The top six boards will play each other in a Scheveningen format - meaning, each player meets all six opponents once. The other two women's boards will also be a Scheveningen format, but with each playing the other not once but thrice.

The full UK team consists of GMs Michael Adams, Nigel Short, Jonathan Rowson, Nick Pert, Gawain Jones & David Howell, and IMs Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant & Jovanka Houska - an average of 29 and average Elo of 2551. With an average age of 20 and average Elo of 2571, the Chinese team consisting of GMs Wang Yue, Bu Xiangzhi, Ni Hua, Zhang Pengxiang & Wang Hao, and WGMs Hou Yifan & Shen Yang, and WFM Ding Yixin looks on paper both younger and stronger. And so far the results bear this out, with China ahead 10-6.

Nonetheless, there's a lot of chess still to be played. The third round has just started in fact, and you can follow it live from the link on the tournament homepage - which also features more background, some photographs, and Steve Giddins's entertaining daily reports. Oh, and after two draws with black, Michael Adams has his first white of the event on board 1...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A line against the Colle II

You'll remember from Saturday that we were looking at a line that leads to the position immediately above.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 c5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 b6 6.Nbd2 Qc7 7.O-O Be7

We were proposing to compare it with the line

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 b6 4.e3 Bb7 5. O-O c5 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.c3 Nc6

given by Cox (and others) to see whether or not the delay in developing the c8-bishop is an improvement for Black. I think it might be, as it appears to gain a tempo in the most crucial line, beginning 8.e4.

Now it might surprise you that I don't propose to spend much time investigating the alternatives for White on the eighth move: 8.a3, 8.dxc5 or 8.Qe2. This is for a couple of reasons, the first being that this is a suggestion, an idea, not a comprehensive theoretical treatise (I am good enough to come up with ideas, but not, I think, to write theoretical treatises) and the second being that none of them look particularly threatening. Playing the Black side of these shouldn't be so hard - no, really: provided you ask yourself what White is trying to do and take steps to interfere with it. In most cases we can simply play ...Bb7 and transpose back into lines that Cox considers perfectly fine for Black without looking as threatening as the main line we are trying to improve upon.

So 8.dxc5 I can't be bothered with at all, it's not a try for advantage. 8.a3 prevents the ...Nb4 manouevre that we are going to play if White tries 8.e4 - but it gives us a move for nothing. We can play 8...d5 if we want - yes, I know we were trying to avoid this but White has wasted a move and we have e5 nicely covered. The only way White can try and justify it is with 9.b4 which threatens to drive the knight away from c6 and thereby claim e5 for the knight.

But in truth that's not all that scary - we can play 9...Bb7 transposing into a line Cox gives as "at least equal":

10.Bb2 c4 11.Bc2 b5 12.Re1 O-O 13.e4 a5 14.e5 Nd7 and White needs to explain what role he is expecting the b2-bishop to play in the future (Guimard-Sunye Neto, Porto Velho 1988). Perhaps 10.b5 is rather more to the point but after 10..Na5 11.Ne5 c4 12.Bc2 O-O

White still can't play e4 and while he is trying to organise this Black has plenty of time to organise play against the knight on e5 and/or with ...a6.

But for that matter Black could hold back the bishop and play 9...O-O or could permit the e4 idea after all: Cox (with ...Bb7 on the board and the queen still at d8) gives a game Kovacevic-Seirawan* which went 8....a5 9.e4 d5 10.e5 Nd7 11.Re1 Ba6. Provided we think the queen would go to c7, we are, again, a move up on this line. So Black has all sorts of options.

8.Qe2 is also less than frightening as White still isn't threatening 9.e4. Simply 8....O-O and now if 9.Re1 it still isn't threatened due to the ...cxd4, ...Nb4 and ...Ba6 idea so simply 9...Bb7, transposing back into Cox, is fine for Black.

8.e4, as mentioned at the end of the first part of this survey, is precisely the idea against which our move-order is aimed. In the normal line, with ...Bb7 instead of ...Qc7 played, the line continues:

8.e4 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4 10.Bb1 Ba6 11.Re1 Nd3 12.Bxd3 Bxd3

after which 13.d5!? is the move that seems most threatening. Now in our variation, we would have a slightly different position after the same moves 8-12 and now 13.d5:

which seems at first sight just to put Black a useful tempo (...Qc7) up. However, it's not so simple, because 13.d5 actually includes the threat of 14.d6, which after a capture on d6 wins a piece with a fork 15.e5. For this reason Black (in the Cox line) normally continues 13...Qc8 after which 14.d6 Bd8 is at least a little awkward for Black even though he may be fine after 15.Ne5 Bc2 and an unravelling process involving moves like ....b5.

It was in seeking to find an improvement on this that I hit on the idea of delaying ...Bb7, and it's worth mentioning that in extremis Black can always play, however eccentric it seems, 13...Qc8 here too! So, having a transposition available to him, he is definitely no worse off than before. However, it would be nice to actually make use of that extra tempo, and while the queen is on c7 it has the merit of preventing the White knight coming to e5 - as it did in the line cited in the paragraph above.

However, it has the demerit of being vulnerable to the same d6 idea as came before, perhaps indeed strengthening it. So clearly either the queen or bishop must move, albeit Black could play 13...Bc2 before making the choice. The computer, reasonably enough, suggests 13....Bc5 which has the horrific threat of 14...Ng4 (not to mention 14...Bxf2+ since after 15.Kxf2 Ng4+ 16.Ke2 loses the queen). so it suggests further that White play 14.Nb3, allowing Black to win the e-pawn with 14...Bxe4.

Now this, to me, is the crucial position. Black is a pawn up, but is uncastled and the e4 bishop is loose. Meanwhile White has a dangerous rook on e1 and is close to completing his development. However, the d6 threat has been defused and indeed White is a bit short of centre pawns.

Has White got sufficient for the pawn? I'm not that interested in what computers have to say, unless they can offer a concrete line proving the case one way or another. Can they? Mine (Rybka) seems to think White has about half a pawn's worth of compensation, but that's no guide since my experience is that computers normally - though not always - underestimate compensation for material. Indeed it just backs up my gut feeling that this is exactly the sort of position where White might have enough for the material, but in the absence of concrete variations, I'm really not sure.

I'm much more interested in what readers have to say. What variations would you try? Do you think White has sufficient? Which side would you prefer to be on? If we get some decent feedback we can have a look at some of the ideas (and then conclude with a look at some move-order issues earlier on in the line). But first, I'd be grateful if you could ask yourself the questions above. What has White got? What can you suggest?

But I shall ask myself the question - would I like to defend the Black position against Robin Haldane?

[* = given simply as "Indonesia" without the year, which Chessbase Database Online reveals to be 1983.]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

White to play, and win

This study by Kubbel has been waiting so long to be blogged, I've forgotten the solution. I did briefly note in my draft, however, that "it's an excellent test of accurate calculation." One I've evidently just failed.

Can you do better?

Monday, September 03, 2007

You've seen it in the movies...

That Kirsan Ilyumzhinov claims to have met aliens is no secret. I've read it in newspaper columns, in more jokey spots in the chess press, in passing in critiques of his leadership of FIDE. But there's something about watching him describe it really quite seriously in a television interview that, frankly, brings home how he really means it.

And so without further ado, via Chess Buff, here he is.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Ray of Light.

OK Pop Pickers, here's a Madonna video for you. Pay attention around 3:45 or so. Not arf.

PS: Sorry for the dodgy quality of the clip. I couldn't find anything better.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A line against the Colle

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3

Oh God, they're going to play the Colle.

It's going to be dull and I'm not going to know what I do and they're going to put a knight on e5 and I'm going to lose. I'm going to put my bishop on d7 but they won't take it so it'll just get in the way. I won't castle for fear of a kingside pawn attack but then I'll end up having to castle anyway and the kingside pawns will do for me before move 25.

Calm yourself, grasshopper. Seeing as we know what they're going to do, let's not let them do it, shall we? Let's find ourselves an anti-Colle system where there's no hole on e5 because we leave the d-pawn where it is. Let's put the c8-bishop somewhere else. And just in case they've looked into systems like that, let's play it a little differently so that we know what we're doing, and they don't.

But how, oh Streatham and Brixton Openings Guru? Will you teach us?

Of course I will, for I am a qualified librarian and the sharing of knowledge is my vocation.

I have an idea I worked on, briefly, a few years ago. It came to mind again when I was reviewing John Cox's Dealing With d4 Deviations (Everyman, 2005) for Kingpin. It's a decent book: I am currently using it in a correspondence game (a good test for a guide to theory) in which I am facing the Trompovsky. However, for our purposes we are more interested, right now, in a line Cox gives against the Colle. It's a line which I quite like ,which I've seen before and which, as I desire, keeps the d-pawn at home for a while. As Cox notes in his bibliography, it's a line which Gary Lane discussed in his Ultimate Colle (Batsford, 2002) albeit Cox's view of the Black position is more favourable than Lane's.

It was when looking through Lane's book some years ago (borrowed, as I recall, from the Camomile Street Library in the City of London) that I came up with an idea which may be good, bad or indifferent, but as it threatens to gain a full tempo on a theoretical line, must surely be worth investigation.

The line given by Cox and Lane proceeds as follows:

3...b6 4.e3 Bb7 5. O-O c5 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.c3 Nc6 reaching the following position:

Now the crucial line, as far as I am concerned, continues:

8.e4 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4 10.Bb1 Ba6 11.Re1 Nd3 12.Bxd3 Bxd3

producing the position below.

Black has the two bishops, but is uncastled and slightly behind in development. Lane likes White, Cox thinks Black is fine: possible continuations are 13.Ne5 and 13.d6.

When actually playing through the line in the first place, though, something struck me as odd - the c8-bishop moves twice. Is there not some way to try and improve on that so that it goes to a6 in one move? Does it need to go to b7 first?

I'm not convinced that it does and certainly I'd be interested to be shown otherwise. As it stands, I have a preferred order of moves which I came up when trying to improve on Lane, and I'd like to take a closer look at it, once or twice in the forthcoming week. We'll see what it might offer over and above the line we've briefly seen - and then we'll maybe ask ourselves what might be the potential drawbacks, because it is not a forcing line and there may be nuances of move-order which give White opportunities that the ...Bb7 line does not.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e3 c5 4.Bd3 Nc6 5.c3 b6 6.Nbd2 Qc7 7.O-O Be7

The bishop is still at home: if we contine 8.e4 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4 10.Bb1 Ba6 then Black will have an extra move, the queen getting to c7, compared to the line above. Are we really getting that for free? I'm not sure, but I am sure the question is worth the asking. We'll be asking it this week.