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2009-11-20 Simonaitis, Arunas 1931-Mitlitzky, Steven 1901 Queens CC Champ

by on November 20, 2009

C10 Simonaitis,Arunas 1931 Mitlitzky,Steven 1901 Queens CC Championship (6) 20.11.2009

[Mitlitzky,Steven]

Here is a hard fought draw between two club players involving the so called Fort Knox Variation of the French Defense, so called for it’s being a very solid albiet passive system for Black. The idea is that club players, who generally have little time to learn theory can learn how to play this system using primarily some simple ideas. While objectively, it isn’t one of the better variations of the French defense, it can be a tough nut to crack and on occasion even world class players have tried it. This defense although quite passive can be a tough nut to crack. As such it can serve either as a surprise weapon for a relatively weak player against a much stronger one, or as a way for a much stronger player to grind down an opponent with very little risk. Also, the best moves for a master (or the objectively best moves) may not be the best practical moves for a mediocre amateur club player. Nor does this system lead to dull play here. While both players committed numerous errors the game was quite hard fought, very instructive and will will repay close study by any amateur player. [Except for some comments in brackets that were added a few days later, these comments were made the day after the game.] 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7

Although many books and DVDs completely ignore the “Fort Knox” this position has actually been played thousands of times. The first known time (according to Chessbase 9) was in the game Juan Corzo y Prinzipe – Jose Raul Capablanca, March 2, 1902, eventually 0-1 36. 7.Qe2 This move has a fine pedegree, having been used by such giants as Peter Svidler.

[The main move here is 7.0-0 Be7 8.Re1 Ngf6 when White has several options that masters have used but 9.Ng3 is the move that world class players always seem to play. ]

[In addition to these two moves, there are no less than 11 other options here that masters have chosen but the only two of them that world class players have chosen are 7.c3 ] [or 7.c4 . ]

7…Ngf6 Black again chooses the main move but there is one other alternative that world class players have chosen.

[That alternative is 7…Be7 . ]
8.0-0 This move has been played by such players as Yasser Sierwawan.

[There are no less than 10 other moves that masters have played here. The main move is Peter Svidler’s 8.Neg5 ]
[Arkadij Naiditsch has played 8.Bg5

which is always answered in master Chess by 8… Be7 ]
[Judit Polgar has beat Alexander Khalifman with 8.Ng3 in 1991. ]

8…Be7 Again this is Black’s main move here but there are also two other moves that world class players often opt for.

[They are 8…Nxe4 ]

[and 8…Bxe4 . ]
9.Rd1 This is one of no less than 12 options that masters have chosen in this position but it is a sideline.

[Efim P Geller among others, has played 9.c4 . ]
[Anatoly Karpov has played 9.Ng3 ]
[and Bent Larsen has played 9.Neg5 . ]

9…Nxe4 10.Bxe4 Bxe4 11.Qxe4 c6

White’s space advantage gives him a slight advantage but Black’s position is very solid. 12.Bf4 Surprisingly no master on Chessbase 9 has played this move but how bad can it be?

[At least one master game has continued

12.Qg4 0-0 ]

12…0-0 13.Ne5 Rc8 14.Rd3 Nxe5 15.dxe5 Qc7 16.Rh3 g6 17.Bh6 Rfd8 18.Rf3?!
But this move gives Black a chance to obtain a slight advantage.

[White should have opposed the d file with

18.Rd3 ]

18…Qd7?!

[What neither player saw was that after 18…Rd5 19.Qf4 Black has simply 19… Bf8 when it is Black who obtains a slight advantage because of Black’s control of the d file. ]

19.Re1?!

[Better was 19.Rd3 . ]

19…Qd4

[Black should have played 19…Qd4 when White has two options. He can play 20.Qe2

A) Black’s second option is to play 20…Qxb2 when play could continue 21.Rb3 Qxa2 22.Rxb7 Re8! (Obviously here 22…Qa3?? would be a huge blunder because White would then be able to win a piece with 23.Bc1 Qc5 24.Be3 Qa3 25.Rxa7 Qb4 26.c3 when Black would no longer be able to keep his queen on the a3- f8 diagnol and the Black bishop on e7 would therefore have to fall. ) 23.Rd1 Rb8
with at least equal chances for Black. ;
B) Returning to the position after White’s first option, now Black has two options. Black’s first option would be to play 20… 20…Rc7 Returning to Black’s first option after 20…Rc7 White could now play 21.b3 with roughly even chances. ]

[Black almost played 19…Qd5?? which would have been a horrendous blunder because after

A) First Black looked at the innocuous 20.Qxd5 Rxd5 and concluded that this was fine for Black. ;
B) and then Black looked at 20.Qe2 Qxa2 21.Ra3?? Qd5?? (completely overlooking

the obvious 21…Bxa3 ;and even the weaker but favorable 21…Qxb2 ) 22.Rxa7 ; C) 20.Qf4 Black would have no reasonable defense to Qxf7+ followed by Qg7#. Incidentally, Black wrote 19…Qd5 on his score sheet and only after an exchange of several e-mails (unfortunately after the Round 6 bulletins had already been printed) did the players establish that Black actually played the reasonable 19…Qd4.

C1) 20…f6 21.exf6 transposes to 20…f5 and loses the same way [(see c) below]. ; C2) 20…Rf8 21.Bxf8 Bxf8 (obviously not 21…Kxf8?? 22.Qxf7# ) 22.Qxf7+ with an exchange and pawn minus and a hopeless position is better but also unsatisfactory. ;

C3) 20…f5 would be hopeless. Returning to c) 20…f5?? White would win easily. Play might continue 21.exf6 Bf8 22.f7+ Kh8 23.Qf6+ Bg7 24.Qxg7# ]

20.Qe2 White chose between two reasonable options.

[White’s other option was to play 20.Qxd4 which gives him nothing special after 20… Rxd4 21.Rfe3 Rcd8 22.Kf1 but certainly appears playable. ]

20…Qd7

[Black could have played 20…Qxb2 21.Rb3 Qxa2 22.Rxb7 Re8! (not the blunder 22…Qa3?? which would lose a piece after 23.Bc1 Qc5 24.Be3 Qa3 25.Rxa7 Qb4 26.c3 when the Black queen would be forced off the a3-f8 diagnol after which the Black bishop on e7 would fall. ) 23.Rd1 Rb8

with at least equal chances for Black. ]
[Black could also have played 20…Rc7
when chances would have been roughly equal after 21.Rd3 (or 21.c3 ;and even after the weaker 21.b3? weakening White’s queenside dark squares, White would only be slightly worse. )]

21.h3?!

[Again, 21.Rd3 is better. ]
21…Bf8? This seems to be an unnecessary waste of time which fortunately is not too costly.

[Black should play more actively with 21…Qd4 22.c3 Qh4 23.Bc1 Qa4 24.b3 Qa5 25.a4 Qc7 when the Black f7 square is still safe enough. ]

22.Bg5 Be7 23.Bh6 Bf8 24.Bg5 Be7 25.Bf6?! This move is not too bad, for White can recapture next move with the rook but I don’t see what it accomplishes.

[Better would have been 25.Rd3 with play possibly continuing 25… Qe8 26.Bxe7 Qxe7 27.Red1 with a slight advantage for White. ]

25…Bxf6 26.exf6?! But this move is questionable at best because it weakens the White pawns while White lacks the muscle to take advantage of the “weakened” dark squares around the Black king. 26… Qd2 27.Kf1 Qxe2+ 28.Kxe2 Rd5 29.c4 Re5+ 30.Kf1 Rxe1+ 31.Kxe1 Rd8 Black could not get at the weak White f6 pawn for the moment and it obviously was going to be difficult to win it but the winning chances lay with Black. 32.Ke2 h6 33.Ra3 a6 34.Rb3 Rd7 Black played carefully, making sure that all his weak points were defended while entertaining the hope that if the rooks came off the White f6 pawn might be vulnerable, possibly leading to a lost endgame for White. 35.f4 Kh7 36.Ke3 g5 37.fxg5 hxg5 38.Ke4 Kg6 39.Ke5 b5 40.cxb5

[Black was also hopeful that 40.Ra3 bxc4 41.Rxa6 Rd5+ 42.Ke4 Rd2 43.Rxc6 Rxg2 44.Rxc4 Rxb2 45.a4 Kxf6 could be a win for Black but it is very difficult to calculate these pawn races over the board and the extra Black pawn might not be as important as the race. ]

40…cxb5 41.Ra3 Rd5+ 42.Ke4 Kxf6 43.Rxa6 Rd2 44.b3 Rxg2 45.Kd4?
I didn’t think that White could get away with this. I still think it was a mistake but calculating the outcome was a thankless task especially in a time scramble. [In the e-mail post mortem that followed an interesting disagreement arose as to whether a second or third best move is an error or not. I won’t get into that discussion except to say that just once I would like to play a game from beginning to end which nobody with nothing but the moves to go on can say was not played by a 2300 player. I’ve still never played such a game at least according to the players I’ve taken lessons from. There’s always something nobody of their strength would ever do.]

might have been 45.Kf3 because I felt that Black was ahead in the race to make queens. I still believe that but again calculating all this over the board in a time scramble is almost impossible (excpet perhaps for masters). ]

45…Rh2 46.Kc5 Rxh3 47.Kxb5 g4 48.Rd6 g3

The race is on and winning the race seems to count more than Black’s extra pawn at the moment. How in the world are amateur players supposed to evaluate such a position as this? 49.Rd1 g2?! It is difficult for players below 2200 to correctly assess this position. Does this move make it easier for White to draw?

[After the game I suggested that Black should have played 49…Rh5+ when Black should win the race and the game after 50.Kc6
but the variations are extreamely difficult to navigate over the board with any confidence, especially in a time scramble. Play might continue 50… Rg5 51.a4 g2 52.Rg1 Ke5 53.a5 f5 54.a6 Rg7 55.b4 f4 56.b5 f3 57.b6 f2-+ 58.Rxg2 f1Q! 59.Rxg7 Qxa6 60.Rg5+ Kf4 61.Rb5 e5 62.Kc5 Qb7 63.Ra5 e4 64.Ra7 Qc8+ 65.Rc7 Qf5+ 66.Kb4 e3 67.b7 e2 68.Re7 (obviously not 68.b8Q?? Qb1+ winning easily for Black. ) 68…Qf8 69.Kc3 Kf3! 70.Re5 Qf6 71.b8Q e1Q+ 72.Kd4 Qe3+ 73.Kd5 when Black can chose between the mating pattern that can be set up by 73…

[I thought at the time that a better try for White

A) or the one reached by 73…Qe4+ 74.Kc5 Qfc6# (In case Black misses the mate of course he can also win by simply 74…Qexe5+ ;or 74…Qfxe5+ as well. ); B) 73…Qd3+ 74.Kc5 Qc3+ 75.Kd5 Qfc6# ]

50.Rg1 Rg3?! As strange as it seems I thought after the game that this move that enabled White to draw but later decided that Black still wins. It is absolutely impossible for players with ratings as low as 1901 to figure out such things over the board but see the comment to move 52 below.

[After the game I looked at the counter intuitive move 50…Rh2! to see if this might have been better than the game continuation and it looks like this move works whereas the move chosen fails. 51.a4 Ke5 52.a5
( 52.Kc5 also seems to lose after 52… f5 53.a5 f4 54.a6 f3 55.a7 Rh8 56.Kb6 f2 57.Rxg2 f1Q 58.Rc2 Qf8 ) 52…Kf4
In this race the Black king is much faster than the Black pawns so this move is forced.
( Obviously Black cannot simply race with his f pawn with 52…f5?? because that is much too slow and loses after 53.a6 f4 54.a7 ) 53.a6 Kg3 54.a7 Rh8 55.Ra1 f5 Now this move is fast enough whereas a few moves earlier it was too slow! 56.b4 f4 57.Kc6 f3 58.b5 f2 59.b6 f1Q 60.Rxf1 gxf1Q 61.b7 Qa6+ ]

51.Kc5 Ke5 I simply could not believe that Black would not win the race to queen at this point. 52.b4 Ke4?? This appears to be the blunder that pitches the game.

[Black should win by playing 52…f5
. Play might then continue 53.b5
( Throwing in 53.Re1+ does not help because of 53… Kf6 hiding the Black king from the checks of the White rook leading to a finish similar to the play in our main winning variation here. ) 53…f4 54.b6 f3 55.b7 Rg8 56.Kb6 Rf8 57.Ka7 f2 58.Rxg2 f1Q ]

53.b5 Ke3 54.b6 Kf2 55.Rb1 g1Q 56.Rxg1 Rxg1 57.a4! This is the move I missed. The White connected passed pawns are so much faster than the Black ones that they compensate for Black’s extra rook here. 57…Rg5+ 58.Kc6 Rg8 59.b7 e5 60.a5 e4 61.a6 e3 62.a7 e2 63.b8Q Rxb8 64.axb8Q e1Q 65.Qf4+ Ke2 66.Qxf7 This was a hard fought tension filled game and although there were quite allot of mistakes the positions were fantastically complicated and therefore we can cut the players some slack. The good news for ordinary club players is that Black by choosing the very passive Fort Knox Variation of the French Defense, was able to draw and should have won despite committing many errors. Chess is so difficult that no player should imagine that anyone rated under 2200 can play positions like the ones in this game with any substantial degree of accuracy. The middlegame complications and instructive endgame will repay close study by almost any player.

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