Friday, April 11, 2008

The Games of Greco

On Thursday 6th March I gave a talk on the games of Greco to Streatham Library Chess Club (see here and here for information about the club.) I chose to talk about Greco for several reasons - that he demonstrates opening ideas in a straightforward fashion, that his games offer as Kramnik says an ABC of chess, that I relished the prospect of being able to delve into his games for myself. I divided my talk into three parts: what I particularly liked about Greco, what opening traps he demonstrated, and, finally, how his games connect with modern play; i.e., how in Greco's games we see very simple versions of ideas that can still be used today, often in much more complicated situations. This post more or less summarises the talk and how it went.

Part 1: Greco for his own sake.

Before the talk started, I set up the following position on the demonstration board, where it is black to play and win:

By the time the talk started, several of the audience had spotted the smothered mate that begins with 1...Nf2+ etc. Greco seemed particularly beloved of smothered mates, and the moves he contrived to reach the diagram above would be rather bizarre were it not for the finish. Of course it helps us understand this when we remember that Greco's opponent in all these games was Nomen nescio, which is Latin for "No named person" or similar, thus accounting for Greco's unrivaled 100% record. We should not really accuse Greco of arrogance here: he made his living traveling the courts of Europe playing noblemen; his books (from which we know his games and his travels) were parting gifts to his benefactors, rather than vanity projects.

Next I presented the audience with a more consistent game from Greco, but one which also features a delightful finish after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 Bg4 4. h3 Bh5 5. c3 Nf6 6. d3 Be7 7. Be3 O-O 8. g4 Bg6 9. Nh4 c6 10. Nxg6 hxg6 11. h4 b5 12. Bb3 a5 13. a4 b4 14. h5 gxh5 15. g5 Ng4 16. Rxh5 Nxe3:

White's move: is there something better than recapturing the knight?

The finish is: 17. Rh8+ Kxh8 18. Qh5+ Kg8 19. g6 Re8 20. Qh7+ Kf8 21. Qh8, mate.

Finally, I presented a good Greco counterattack, asking the audience after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. Re1 O-O 6. c3 Qe7 7. d4 exd4 8. e5 Ng4 9.cxd4,

what should black play?

The game continued 9... Nxd4 10. Nxd4 Qh4 - forking h2 and f2 - and now I asked the audience how white should defend, suggesting 11.Nf3 or 11.Be3 as possibilities.

It turns out that white's best bet is 11.Be3, because 11.Nf3 - as played - allows black's already vicious attack a devastating coup:

Black to play and win.

This proved harder to spot for many of the audience than the previous smothered mate, especially when I asked them to decide for white between 11.Be3 and 11.Nf3. The finish from this diagram is, 11... Qxf2+ 12. Kh1 Qg1+ 13. Nxg1 Nf2#.

I hoped that from this one fragment and two games, the audience would be intrigued by Greco's play. In the second part of the talk I turned to opening traps - I had been invited especially to talk about openings - but probably if I did the talk again, I would either scrap or reduce this part of the talk. Nonetheless...

Part 2: Traps

I divided the traps into types, and then showed related examples. I hoped that by demonstrating the same motif in differing positions, the ideas would really become clear.

#1 The Open e-file

I started off by talking about the position after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 Nxe4, that occurs in Greco:

White continues with 4.Qe2, obliging 4...Qe7, when black soon has to go through all sorts of contortions to stay in the game.
To try to demonstrate the relevance of understanding this sort of thing, I next presented this similar loss by current World Champion and World number 1 Viswanathan Anand from 1988 against Alonso Zapata in six moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Bf5?? 6.Qe2, and white black resigned. After 6...d5 7.d3 or 6... Qe7 7.Nd5 Qd8 8.d3 black is losing a piece. (See also this post.)

#2 The Side-Check

Next I asked the audience if, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.h3 Nf6 4.c3 ...

can black play 5...Nxe4?

The answer is no, because 6.Qa4+ wins white a piece for the pawn. I then presented a similar, but slightly more complex case - an opening trap not in Greco, but instead one into which I once fell as a junior: after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c3 Nc6 4. d4 Nf6 5. h3 Nxe4, we reach:

White to play and win.

White wins with 6.d5 and 7.Qa4+. I talked a bit more about this line, and encouraged the audience to think of 5.h3 not as a mere tactical trap, but as an example of how we can use the tactics latent in a position to implement strategic ideas. (In this case, white is intent on building a big centre, so wants to avoid simplification, as space advantages work best against a cramped army. So, preventing 5...Bg4 via tactical means with 5.h3 contributes toward a strategically useful end.)

#3 The Queen's unGambit

I briefly outlined why the Queen's Gambit is not in fact a true gambit: because at the very least, white wins his pawn back after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e3

as black cannot hold onto the pawn starting with 3...b5. I asked the audience to try to work out why that was (3...b5? 4.a4 c6? 5.axb5 cxb5?? 6.Qf3) and one member found it particularly easy to do so because, he said, he must have fallen into this trap about twenty times!

#4 The dangers of the moved f-pawn

Perhaps not exactly one type of trap - the same goes for #5 below - but anyway. Greco demonstrates again and again why it is incredibly risky for black to move his f-pawn in 1.e4 openings.

Firstly, after 1. e4 b6 2. d4 Bb7 3. Bd3 f5 4. exf5 Bxg2 5. Qh5+ g6 6. fxg6 Nf6, I asked the audience...

how did white win?

With the simple queen-sacrifice 7. gxh7+ Nxh5 8. Bg6 mates. Several of the audience seemed more interested in the consequences of 7.g7+, but of course once the mate is seen it is wasteful to analyse alternatives.

Then I provided another example recalled from my junior days, asking after 1. d4 f5 2. Bg5 h6 3. Bh4 g5 4. Bg3 f4 5. e3 h5 6. Bd3 Rh6,

how does white win?

With the similar 7. Qxh5+ Rxh5 8. Bg6 mate.

Then I moved onto the Damiano Defence, i.e., after 1. e5 e5 2. Nf3 the move 2...f6?:

With 3.Nxe5 white instantly exploits the weakening of the black king's position by the move of the f-pawn. I next told the audience that black played 3... fxe5? and after 4.Qh5+ was in deep trouble, but asked them to consider before I showed them the rest of the game whether 4.Qh5+ would also have been the right move against 3...Qe7. A surprising number thought that yes, this was the correct move, but of course in fact after 4...g6 it is black who is winning (5.Nxg6 Qe4+ etc.) Greco faced no such trap, and instead the game finished straightforwardly: 4.Qh5+ Ke7 5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ Kg6 7.Qf5+ Kh6 8.d4+ g5 9.h4 Kg7 10.Qf7+ Kh6 11.hxg5, mate.

#5 The danger spot on f7

I am not sure what proportion of Greco's games feature action on the f7 square, but a lot certainly do. If black gets his queen out early or is too materialistic, the punishment is likely to involve something on that square. For instance after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 Bc5 5.d4 Bb6 6.Nf3 Qh6 7.g3 Qh3+ 8.Kf2 fxg3+ 9.hxg3 Qg4,

Greco wins with 10.Bxf7+ Kf8 11.Rh4, 1-0. Or after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 Bb6 6. dxe5 Nxe4,

the brutal 7. Qd5 forces black's resignation. Greco also demonstrates how
capturing on f7 can leave a fatal weakness in the black kingside even if it doesn't win immediately. For instance after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1 Bc5 5.d4 Bb6 6.Nf3 Qe7 7.Bxf4 Qxe4,

8.Bxf7+ ruins the black king position. Two Greco games continue from this point with 8... Kf8 and now 9.Bg3 Nh6 10.Nc3 Qe7 11.Bb3 c6 12.Qd3 d5 13.Re1 Qf6 {and now here game 35 instead continues, 13... Qf7 14. Bd6+ Kg8 15. Re7 Qf6 16. Nxd5 Qxd6 17. Nf6+ Kf8 18. Re8 mate} 14.Bh4 Qg6 15.Be7+ Kg8 16.Qxg6 hxg6 17.Nxd5 cxd5 18.Bxd5+ Kh7 19.Ng5+, mate. Oddly, Greco rarely demonstrates that f2 can similarly prove to be a sore spot in the white position, even in his explorations of the King's Gambit.

Part 3: Making Contemporary Connections

The final part of my talk was also the most testing. In this part, I tried to show how in Greco's games we can find very simple formulations of ideas that crop in today's game, but in much more complicated circumstances. So, I planned to show a Greco game, and then show more modern games that are comparable but more complex. Were I to repeat the talk, I would probably just do this kind of thing. The first idea I showed was,

#1 The Greek Gift

This appears in Greco's games after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Bd3 Nc6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. h4 O-O 6. e5 Nd5,
and now 7. Bxh7+! Kxh7 8. Ng5+ Bxg5 9. hxg5+ Kg6 {Another Greco game instead goes 9... Kg8 10.Qh5 f5 11.g6 Re8 12.Qh8#} 10. Qh5+ Kf5 11. Qh7+ g6 12. Qh3+ Ke4 13. Qd3, mate.

Next I demonstrated a famous mutation of this idea, from the classic
Lasker - Bauer, Amsterdam, 1889. After 1.f4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.b3 e6 4.Bb2 Be7 5.Bd3 b6 6.Nc3 Bb7 7.Nf3 Nbd7 8.O-O O-O 9.Ne2 c5 10.Ng3 Qc7 11.Ne5 Nxe5 12.Bxe5 Qc6 13.Qe2 a6 14.Nh5 Nxh5

Lasker unleased a double bishop sacrifice with 15.Bxh7+!! Kxh7 16.Qxh5+ Kg8 17.Bxg7! Kxg7 18.Qg4+ Kh7 19.Rf3 e5 20.Rh3+ Qh6 21.Rxh6+ Kxh6 22.Qd7!, and went on to win. Lasker's sacrifice relies on the fork of the two bishops at its end, as well as an extra bishop sacrifice, but nonetheless the basic idea of ripping open the black kingside is comparable to Greco's game.

Next I showed an extremely complicated example from the 20th Century and another classic, Polugaevsky-Tal, 1969. After, 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. d4 c5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Bc4 Nc6 12. O-O b6 13. Rad1 Bb7 14. Rfe1 Na5 15. Bd3 Rc8 16. d5 exd5 17. e5 Nc4 18. Qf4 Nb2,

white continued with 19. Bxh7+!! Kxh7 20. Ng5+ Kg6 21. h4!! Threat: 22.h5+ Kxh5 23.g4+ Kg6 24.Qf5+ Kh6 25.Nxf7+ Rxf7 26.Qh5#. This probably was what Tal had missed. The game finished, 21... Rc4 22. h5+ Kh6 23. Nxf7+ Kh7 24. Qf5+ Kg8 25. e6 Qf6 26. Qxf6 gxf6 27. Rd2 Rc6 28. Rxb2 Re8 29. Nh6+ Kh7 30. Nf5 Rexe6 31. Rxe6 Rxe6 32. Rc2 Rc6 33. Re2 Bc8 34. Re7+ Kh8 35. Nh4 f5 36. Ng6+ Kg8 37. Rxa7, and black resigned.

#2 Attacking the Fianchetto

After 1. e4 b6 2. d4 Bb7 3. Bd3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Be3 Nc6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. c4 O-O 8. Nc3 e6

Greco demonstrates the simplest of attacking plans: Dislodge the defensive knight on f6, and then line-up major pieces down the h-file. His opponent showed even less resistance than usual to this plan, and the game finished 9. e5 Ne8 10. g4 d5 11. cxd5 exd5 12. h4 a6 13. h5 b5 14. hxg6 hxg6 15. Qe2 b4 16. Qh2 bxc3 17. Qh7, mate.

When it comes to attacking the fianchetto, that's probably about as simple as it gets. This game from the Karpov - Korchnoi match in 1974 is, however, about as complex as it gets. Still, after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. Bc4 Bd7 10. h4

we can see white initiating the second part of Greco's plan: attack down the h-file. And after, 10... Rc8 11. Bb3 Ne5 12. O-O-O Nc4 13. Bxc4 Rxc4 14. h5 Nxh5 15. g4 Nf6 16. Nde2 Qa5 17. Bh6 Bxh6 18. Qxh6 Rfc8 19. Rd3 R4c5, we see a far more complex demonstration of one way to dislodge the f6 knight.

Here white reasons that the sacrificial 20.Rd5 can be met by 20...Be6!, when no progress has been made in dislodging the knight. However, were the black rook on g5, it would be impossible for black to not capture a white rook on d5 So play continues, 20. g5! Rxg5 21. Rd5, and after 21... Rxd5 22. Nxd5 Re8 23. Nef4 Bc6 it looks as though white has accomplished his plan and will shortly mate black:

In fact it's more complicated than that. Black has defended against Nxf6+ followed by Nd5, because he can capture the new d5 knight with his c6 bishop. Then the black king can escape the white attack via e7, which is no longer under white's control. White has a second way to target the black kingside, however, which is 24.Nxf6+ exf6 25.Nh5. But this fails to 25...Qg5+. But were a pawn was in the way on the fifth rank, the black queen would not have this resource. So Karpov plays, 24. e5!! and won after 24... Bxd5 25. exf6 exf6 26. Qxh7+ Kf8 27. Qh8+ 1-0.

And that was where my talk finished, because I had run out of time. I had hoped to further demonstrate one of Greco's Fried Liver games and compare it to Topalov's 12.Nxf7!? against Kramnik in Corus this year (possibly a bit of a stretch) and also to demonstrate a couple of Greco's games that feature a couple of motifs found later in this classic.

I thoroughly enjoyed preparing and presenting the talk, and I hope my audience enjoyed it too and learnt something. It is particularly interesting to have played through every one of a player's recorded games - to really get a feel for how they played, what they liked to do - and having a talk to work towards really helped with my focus too. I hope this rather long blog article helps recommend Greco too, and most of his games can of course be found over at chessgames.

1 comment:

kingscrusher said...

I have recently done a video series Tom on youtube:

which features a lot of Greco games in the videos called "The Evolution of Chess Style"

Best wishes