Robert Hess’s self-declared weapon of choice is the Modern Steinitz as he stated in a recent Chess Life Online interview, “I’m not afraid to play that line (the Steinitz Deferred) against anyone..” It’s a curious preferred variation for a junior, but we have to remember that Kenny Regan used to like Bird’s Defense (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nd4).
Josh Friedel’s weapon of choice is 1. e4 although in recent times he’s tried a few other moves, following in Anand’s footsteps. Let’s see what happened when they met at the US Championship. The game in fact propelled Hess into a 4-way tie for the lead with 5/7.
GM Josh Friedel – IM (GM-elect) Robert Hess US Championship Round 7, Modern Steinitz Varation, Ruy Lopez
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. O-O Bd7 6. d4!?
Already notable. 6. c3 is seen far more often by a factor of almost 3 to 1. From Hess’s practice, we have Krivenstov-Hess, Las Vegas 2006 with white simplifying and exchanging on e5 shortly: 6.c3 Nge7 7.d4 Ng6 8.Re1 Be7 9.Nbd2 h6 10.Nf1 Bg5 11.Ne3 Bxe3 12.Bxe3 0-0 13.dxe5 1/2. Not very illuminating when white gives up trying after a few moves. 6. c3 does look to be the most principled and really shouldn’t lead to a quick draw. However we have to assume that Friedel’s choice was based on significant human and computer prep time since Hess telegraphs this one, narrow, variation.
In a more recent Hess example with c2-c3, Yap chose the main alternate plan and closed the center quickly but came to a bad end, Yap-Hess World Open 2007: 6. c3 Nge7 7.d4 Ng6 8.d5 Nb8 9.Bxd7+ Nxd7 10.c4 Be7 11.Nc3 h6 12.Be3 Bg5 13.Qd2 Bxe3 14.Qxe3 Nf4 15.Ne2 Nxe2+ 16.Qxe2 0-0 17.b4 f5 18.exf5 Rxf5 19.Rac1 a5 20.a3 axb4 21.axb4 Ra3 22.Nd2 Qh4 23.g3 Qd4 24.Ne4 Nf6 25.Nxf6+ Rxf6 26.Rfd1 Qb6 27.Qb2 Qa6 28.Rd2 Rff3 29.Qb1 Rab3 30.Qg6 Qa3 31.Rdc2 Qxb4 32.c5 Rf7 33.cxd6 Qxd6 34.Qe6 Rb6 35.Qc8+ Kh7 36.Rxc7 Qxd5 37.Rxf7 Qxf7 38.Qg4 Qg6 39.Qe2 Rb1 40.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 41.Kg2 b5 42.Qxe5 b4 43.f4 Qc2+ 44.Kh3 Qc8+ 45.f5 b3 46.Qb5 Qc2 47.Qd5 b2 48.Qe6 Qc5 49.Qg6+ Kg8 50.Qe8+ Qf8 51.Qb5 Qf6 52.Kg2 Kh7 53.Kh3 Qd4 54.Qe8 Qb6 0-1.
Let’s return to the 6. c3 plan after we get through the Friedel game.
6…Nxd4!? Changing from Robson-Hess, SPICE Cup 2009, where black played 6…Nge7 7. d5 Nb8 8. Bxd7 Nxd7 9. c4 thus white not losing a tempo with c2-c3. That game continued 9…Ng6 10. Nc3 Be7 11. Be3 h6 12. b4 Bg5 and now Robson came up lame with 13. Qd2?! Bxe3 14. fxe3?! Nh4 and white had nothing – the game was quickly drawn. Instead, white should play the fairly evident 13. Nxg5! hxg5 and now decide between 14. c5!? and 14. g3!?. In both cases, white has good chances for an opening edge. It is not suprising Hess seeks a different way in the current game. It is a natural assumption Friedel spent some time improving on Robson-Hess elaborating on 13. Nxg5!, so it’s very good that black deviated here.
7. Bxd7+ Qxd7 8. Nxd4 exd4 9. Qxd4 Ne7 Yes, white can claim a small edge here.
10. Nc3 Nc6 11. Qd3 Be7 12. Nd5 O-O 13. Bd2 Rae8 14. Bc3 Bd8
This is the first critical moment of the game.
15. Rfe1?! The question of which rook goes where is always difficult. It’s likely white missed a chance here with the indicated 15. f4! f5 (what else?) 16. e5! (not 16. Rae1? fxe4 = with the f4 pawn just sticking out) and this position offers white some initiative. For example, 16…Re6 17. Rae1! Qf7 18. Qc4! Rfe8 19. Qb3! – an excellent sequence to keep a little something. This line gives Friedel’s choice of 6. d4 support.
15…Ne5 16. Qg3 Ng6 17. Rad1 f6 18. h4?! Correct is just waiting and reshuffling with something like 18. Qd3 or 18. Bb4.
18…f5 19. exf5 Black is very happy after 19. h5 f4!
19…Qxf5 But now it’s just initiative for free for black, hitting white’s weak pawns.
20. Rxe8 Rxe8 21. Ne3 Qf7 21…Qh5 is also strong.
22. Rd4 h5 23. a4 Re6 24. a5 Bf6 24…c6! is good too.
25. Ra4?! 25. Rb4 c5! isn’t fun for white. But he should have tried it as 26. Rc4! Rxe3 27. fxe3 Qxc4 28. Qxg6 holds. The text leads to a very serious pawn structure weakening.
25…Bxc3 26. bxc3 Rf6 27. f3 A chance was 27. Rb4 c6 and try to confuse with 28. Qg5 (28…Rxf2 29. Rxb7) although 28…Nf4 keeps an edge.
27…Nf4 28. Kf2 Ne6?! 28…c6, idea ….d5, keeping N on f4, seems more accurate.
29. Rb4 Nc5 30. Qh3? The losing moment. 30. Qg5! held the position.
30…Qa2?! Strong, but computer likes 30…c6! even more since white is helpless to undertake anything at all after 31. Qc8+ Kh7. For example, 32. Ke2 Qe7 with the idea of Qe5.
31. Kg3? It was no fun but white had to try the ending after 31. Qc8+ Kh7 32. Qxc7 Nd3+ 33. Ke2 Nxb4 34. cxb4 Qf7 35. Qxf7 Rxf7. There are some faint hopes of survival.
31…Qa1 Too many threats.
32. Qc8+ Rf8 33. Qxc7 Qxc3 34. Rxb7 Qe1+ 35. Kh2 Nxb7 36. Qxb7 0-1