Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Frankfurt City Chess960 Cup 2014: Let's follow the winner (part 1)

The Frankfurt City Chess960 Cup is possibly the biggest ongoing Chess960 event in the world since Mainz ended. It has been running since 2010 and plans continue to run the event until at least 2020. So lets support it! 

On my blog you can download all the games of the entire history of competitive Chess960 ever played since it was invented by Bobby Fischer, including this tournament.

I thought I would take a close look at the games of the winner of this years event FM Zuyev, a very strong 2400 ELO Chess960 player who has played in the cup every year since it began. He won every single game he played this time, seven out of seven! 

I apologize to all the players in advance for not covering their games in this blog, but time and energy do not permit it.

Zuyev's first game was white against a 2071 player (H.Schmitt) and began as a Queen's Gambit Declined Slav Defense (exchange variation). However this was not chess, but SP428 and there is no bishop on f1. Yes, this is a very funny version of the queen's gambit!

SP428 Queen's gambit: Zuyev plays 2.c4

Zuyev offers a pawn but there is no way to capture the pawn back if black accepts the gambit. Nc1-b3 or Nd3 are then not possible and white will be down a pawn for a very long time. There are some advantages with 2.c4 however. White can get a strong center if the gambit is accepted (except that e4 blocks the bishop on b1), and black will have to sacrifice tempo to support the pawn on c4 with b5. Perhaps Zuyev wanted a really active game against a player that is almost 400 ELO lower than him.

But black did not accept the gambit (was he showing nerves?), and the game entered the Slav defense proper. The next interesting point in the game was 4.....h6!?

Black plays 4....h6!?

Black wants to develop his light bishop to h7 and oppose white's bishop on b1. This is not a bad idea, considering that the g8-a2 diagonal is blocked by d5. Perhaps a better alternative was 4....f6, preparing e4 and liberating the g8 bishop towards the center. Note that my Stockfish 5 kibitzer wanted to play 4....e6?! for quite some time until it changed it's mind to 4....f6 at depth 22.

The next critical moment is when Zuyev plays 5.f4. This move seems dubious to me since it ruins white's pawn structure, king safety and the f4 pawn is exposed to the b8 bishop. Also, the move leaves a big hole on e4 for one of black's knights to sit. Perhaps I am wrong, so I ask the question!

Why 5.f4?

The reason white played f4, is because he wants to play Nde5 where the knight will be supported twice against Bxe5(N) which would preserve two supported pawns in the center. White figured that black is unlikely to kick Ne5 with f6 because that would block a development square for black's e8 knight. This is in fact what happened in the game.

Why 8.Nb3?

I personally do not like white's idea. I think white wants to attack g7 at some point, but black can simply insert ...b7 which completely stops the b3 knight in it's tracks. Also, 8.Nb3 blocks any progress of the queenside pawns. I think better was Ncd3, where white can always withdraw his e5 knight back to f3 if necessary. This also is compatible with the old golden rule of chess, develop the knights towards the center!

Now black takes the initiative because of the hole on e4. White is uncertain about how to develop his g1 bishop and despite being 400 ELO stronger than black, is on the back foot. He plays 9.Be3:

White's decides to develop with 9.Be3

But as the diagram shows, this gives black a very simple plan to develop his knights to f5, attacking Be3, and if the bishop withdraws to f2, black has Ne4 again attacking the bishop. Although this is not fatal, black has a clear plan.

To cool things down a bit however, if black does trade a knight for white's dark square bishop, this is not necessarily bad, since the pawn construction d4-e3-f4 closes down the play for the dark squared bishops and black is better to retain a knight in a closed position (perhaps).

Here is the next key moment where black decides to trade off his undeveloped dark squared bishop for white's actively placed knight on e5:

Black plays 14....Bb8xe5(N)

I think this was a very good decision by black. No time has been wasted moving the dark squared bishop yet, while white has expended quite a lot of effort to play the knight to e5 in a forward position. Perhaps a better way to achieve this was firstly to play 14....Nxc5(N) and then Bxe5(N). The improvement is that white will be left with three isolated pawns! There will be a pawn on c5 that cannot be supported because of a5, and isolated pawns on e5 and e2.

Instead, black (may be due to time pressure) decided to simplify down the position with ...Bxe5(N), ...Nxf2(B), ...b6 (kicking the knight), ...Rc8. The problem is that all of black's initiative is gone and the game is completely even:

Move 18 white to play

White now has connected pawns in the center, is contesting the open c-file and has pressure on f7. My Kibitzer Houdini4 and Stockfish5 evaluate the game at 0.00. Black now plays a beautiful attacking game, putting pressure on black's king safety and arrives at the next crucial milestone:

Move 23 Black to play: don't blunder!

Black has pushed the h-pawn and will try to open up white's king safety. However the attack looks blunted since Qf2/Rf1/Nf4 are strong defenders. With the attack coming to a halt, black plays the natural move 23. g5? to kick the knight and continue the pressure, but this is a key blunder. Can you see why? (Solution bottom left hand corner of this blog). White sees the blunder, and black resigns in a lost position:

Move 27 Black resigns

Black's queen will be trapped after Rf3, and in any case, she is on the wrong side of the pawn with black's queenside and d5 under-defended.

Solution to move 23 blunder:

24. h3...Qg3 {deflecting the queen from protecting the knight on f5}
25. Nxd5! {capturing a crucial pawn, undermining the protection of the f5 knight, and revealing a discovered attack on the f5 knight}
White wins a pawn and black's queen is trapped.