The Fabulous 00s: US Chess League Opening Surprises

Shock and Awe:  Winning USCL Openings

In the fast time control of the USCL, opening surprises assume center stage.

Let’s look at some 2008 entries as the 2009 season prepares to start. First off, the 2008 Game of the Year,

GM Christiansen (BOS) – IM Marko Zivanic (DAL)  Sicilian Taimanov

1.e4  c5  2.Nf3  e6  3.d4  cxd4  4.Nxd4  Nc6  5.Nc3  Qc7  6.Be3  a6  7.f4  b5 A standard Taimanov position.

8.Bd3!? Offering an extremely unusual gambit and perfect for USCL play.  Its objective strength doesn’t matter that much.  More popular in this position are a whole handful of moves: 8. Nxc6 (the most popular), 8. Be2, 8. Qf3, and 8. a3.  8. Bd3 is fifth!  However, black is by no means required to enter into gambit territory.

Offering a snack on f4

Offering a snack on f4

8…Nxd4?! The dubious symbol ?! for pragmatic reasons.  If black was completely surprised, then the quiet side-step of the gambit with 8…Bb7 was in order. The first order of business in a USCL game is not to enter into a whirlpool of complications IF it is likely the opponent is prepped.  The time handicap is too great.

Note here that in one game, black held a draw with 8…b4? but his position was very bad.   In Bellon Lopez-Kurajica, Surakarta 1982, 8…b4? 9. Na4! Bb7 10. Nb3! d6 occurred and now white missed the powerful and aesthetic 11. Bb6! Qb8 12. Bf2! aiming at b6 with his knight. He played 11. Qe2 keeping a much smaller edge.  It’s instructive how white can turn entirely to the queenside if black leaves too big a vacuum.

9.Bxd4  Qxf4?!

Again, a dubious ?! symbol for pragmatic reasons although the move itself is fine. A person no less than Mark Taimanov himself played the more circumspect 9…Bb7! here.  After the lackadaisacal 10. O-O? Bc5! 11. Bxc5 Qxc5+ 12. Kh1 Ne7  black was completely equal and went on to win by outplaying his opponent in the middlegame, Kozakov-Taimanov, Lvov 2000.   It is the sign of a good player (think Karpov) to avoid debacles with development when surprised.  Correct for white after 9….Bb7! is 10. Qd2! waiting events and keeping a small edge.


From this position, black had lost 4 and won one in prior games.  Not very encouraging, but this position is fully defensible!  It just needs an unusual outlook and nerves of steel.  It is very hard, though, for black to orient if this is a brand-new position in the high-pressure USCL arena.

Oh where, oh where, should the black queen go?

Oh where, oh where, should the black queen go?

From a purely psychological standpoint, unless black was prepared, he should not be looking at this on the board!  There is the potential to lose a sacrificial blitzkrieg that (horrors) might be elected USCL Game of the Year!

10…Qc7? Essentially the losing moment (and so soon!).  Forcing an early crisis is perfect USCL strategy on white’s part.

Weirdly, although this is very weak (the queen is needed on the kingside for defense), it unjustly scored the only black win in the prior games.  Let’s first look at 10…Qh4+.  After 11. g3 Qh3 12. Qf3! Nh6 13. e5 Rb8 black’s position looks very bad.  Now let’s try 10… Qg5! – in fact, the right move.  11. Qf3 Nh6! (forced but adequate) 12. e5 (12. Be3 Qf6=) 12…Rb8 13. Ne4 and it’s looking scary, but this is just an illusion.  After 13…Qg4 (can also throw in the Qh4+ check then go to g4)  15. Qf2 Bb7! black is unraveling and is OK.  Interestingly, 12. e5 Rb8 13. Ne4 (13. Be4 b4! =) 13…Qh4+!? might be more accurate. 14. g3 Qg4

Pesky Defense from the Wings

Pesky Defense from the Wings

Position after 14…Qg4! (analysis)

15. Qf2 Bb7! deprives white of the possibility of h2-h3 and may be even more accurate.  The defensive construction of a floating queen and a knight on the rim at h6 is not for the faint of heart and shows the value of white’s surprise.  What’s the chance of black realizing this formation OTB?  Very little!  So we have to conclude that black is best, in USCL encounters, to avoid the early surprise – see note to Black’s 9th move.

See the comments section for the interesting suggestion of 15. Qg2!? here.  One sample line: 15. Qg2!? Bb7! 16. h3 Qg5! Oooh!  with equal chances.

11.Qh5! After 11. Qf3 Nh6 12. O-O-O Bb7 white played the lame 13. Qf2? f6! and lost in Traczewski-Kolar, Plzen op. 2003.  Naturally, 13. Qh5! kept some edge. In this game, GM Larry goes to the right square right away and black is suffering mightily.

11…Nf6? This “natural” Sicilian move is just losing as white breaks through to the black king right away.   It is a common phenomenon to see complete disorientation when the battlefield takes on unfamiliar appearances. 11…Nh6 struggles on.

12.Bxf6  gxf6  13.Rxf6  d6  14.0-0-0  Bg7  15.Bxb5+! Obvious and nice.  As Reinfeld or Chernev used to say, “as natural as a baby’s smile” to Larry.  The rest is a hideous butchery with white capturing everything in sight with tempo, (think the retreat from Corregidor in the Pacific Theater, World War II) well enjoyed by USCL judges.  Subtlety counts for nothing in USCL quality evaluations! 

15…Kf8  16.Rf3  Qe7  17.Rxd6  Bf6  18.Rxf6  Qxf6  19.Nd5  Qg6  20.Rd8+  Kg7  21.Qe5+  f6  22.Qc7+  Bd7  23.Rxd7+  Kh6  24.Qf4+  Qg5  25.Bc6  Rac8  26.Rd6  Rhd8  27.Qxg5+  Kxg5  28.Rxe6  Rf8  29.Kd2  f5  30.Ke3  fxe4  31.Kxe4  Rf2  32.Ne3  Rcf8  33.Re5+  Kg6  34.Kd4  Black resigns 1-0

Moving Forward -What Surprises will the 2009 Season Bring?

Look to this column to explore surprises from the 2009 USCL Season! Here’s a potential idea in the Pirc Holmov Attack:

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Qe2!? One of the sharpest anti-Pirc treatments and it has the advantage of some long, highly complicated lines in store.

5…Nc6!? The most testing response.  5…c6 6. e5 Nd5 or 6…dxe5 7. fxe5 Nd5 are both playable.  5…O-O is also playable.

6. e5 Nd7 Black shies away from 6…Nxd4 7. exf6 with immense complications where white has 3 mnor pieces versus a queen and a mass of pawns; perfect for a USCL surprise!  I don’t know the theoretical final verdict after 6…Nxd4 7. exf6, but the better prepared player will probably win easily in the USCL. 6…Ng4 is strange looking but also playable.

7. Nf3 dxe5? In a USCL game, black might calculate ahead now and figure that he is safe after 9 moves.  Is he?  Well, he is, *almost*.  Let’s look at the obvious sacrifice on f7.

8. Bxf7+ Kxf7 9. Ng5+ Ke8 and now white to play and ‘win’ – or can he?.  Don’t let this up to chance, in the USCL you might uncork the awful 10. Ne6?? Nxd4 and black wins!  So look at it now, before the season starts!

White to Play and Win

White to Play and Win

Hint:  don’t do 10. Ne6?? Nxd4 and you lose;  your USCL teammates will be angry.

Mind-Bending Postscript

The hidden moral and virtue of this Holmov Attack mini-quiz is:  there is no forced win! What optically looks like a win in the above diagram is met by some amazing defensive shots. Your task is to work out all of black’s resources (after your best move) and prove a small edge! The true value of preparation: you can stick to the straight and narrow 15 or 20 moves deep playing to maximize your result even in a crazy position like the above diagram.

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3 Responses to “The Fabulous 00s: US Chess League Opening Surprises”

  1. USCL opening surprises :Arizona Scorpions Says:

    […] August 28, 2009 at 10:23 am IM Mark Ginsburg kicks-off a new column reviewing USCL games and discussing opening surprises. He prepared for the 2009 season, by looking […]

  2. nezhmet Says:

    I just got a query from a master regarding Christiansen-Zivanic:

    “15. Qg2 seems to be a better plan than Qf2

    e.g. 15.. Nf5 (what else, 15.. Bb4?)
    16. h3 Qg6 17. Ba7 Rb7 18. Bc5 (tricky) or Bf2 or Bg1

    with if nothing else – plenty of aggravation and development for that pawn!”

    Rybka retorts with the amazing 15. Qg2 Bb7! 16. h3 Qg5!! (how often do you see a queen en prise in an opening?) keeping equal chances.

  3. Michael Goeller Says:

    Very good! I began analyzing this wild line for a projected “three part series” but abandoned it after the first part on the fascinating “three for the lady” queen sac. I called it “Mad Dog” and gave extensive analysis.

    I think Black has several equalizing ideas against the Mad Dog, but I never considered your line as playable because it is dismissed by theory. But you are probably right. Fritz 10 likes:

    [Event “Analysis”]
    [Site “Home”]
    [Date “2009.??.??”]
    [Round “?”]
    [White “?”]
    [Black “Fritz 10”]
    [Result “*”]
    [PlyCount “42”]

    1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Qe2 Nc6 6. e5 Nd7 7. Nf3 dxe5 ({All books give this move as a blunder, instead recommending} 7… Nb6 {as leading to equality.}) 8. Bxf7+ Kxf7 9. Ng5+ Ke8 $8 10. Qc4 $8 {“with a decisive attack” writes Nigel Short’s father annotating one of his son’s games with the line.} (10. Ne6 $4 Nxd4 $19) 10… e6 $8 (10… Nf6 11. Qf7+ Kd7 12. dxe5 $40) 11. Nxe6 $1 (11. Qxe6+ Qe7 12. Nd5 Qxe6 13. Nxc7+ Ke7 14. Ngxe6 Bf6 $15) 11… Nb6 $1 ({
    In “Pirc Defense: A Line for White,” M. Thomas only considers} 11… Qe7 $2 12. Nd5 $1 Nb6 (12… Qf7 13. Ndxc7+ Ke7 14. b3 $5 $18 {Thomas}) 13. Nexc7+ $1 Kf8 (13… Kd7 14. Nxb6+ {Thomas}) 14. Nxe7 Nxc4 15. Nxc6 bxc6 16. Nxa8) 12. Nxg7+ Kf8 13. Ne6+ Bxe6 14. Qxe6 Qh4 (14… Kg7 15. d5 Re8 16. Qh3 Nxd5 17. Bh6+ Kg8 18. O-O-O $16) 15. Nd5 Qe4+ (15… Nxd5 16. Qxd5 Rd8 17. Qc5+ Kg7 18. O-O $14) (15… Re8 16. Qf6+ Qxf6 17. Nxf6 Re6 18. dxe5 Rxe5+ 19. Kf1 $14) 16. Kf1 Qe2+ 17. Kxe2 Nxd4+ 18. Kd3 $1 Nxe6 19. Nxb6 axb6 20. Re1 Rd8+ 21. Ke4 Kg7 $13 *

    I hate how “Informant” symbols don’t come across correctly in ASCII cut and paste operations. Yes, 14…Qh4! is a tremendous defensive shot (guarding against Bh6 mate) and limiting things to only a small white plus. Amazing.

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