I took part in the annual Cork Chess congress last weekend. My result was an unimpressive 2/6. My most entertaining game was played against Calum Leitch. As can happen in chess, the most interesting variations remained unplayed.
Leitch, Calum (1745) vs. Scannell, Tony (1782) 29.03.08, Round 3
Cork Chess Congress 2008
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d4 ed 5. 0-0 The Max Lange attack in the Two Knights. Although it can look very tactical, it is very well-known theory and is actually quite tame, once the theory finishes. I was lucky in that I have played this, as white, before. 5. …Nxe4 6. Re1 d5 7. Bxd5! Using a little trick to get the pawn back. 7. …Qxd5 8. Nc3 This is the trick. The d4 pawn is pinned and the knight on e4 is now lost. 8. …Qa5 9. Nxe4 Be6 The correct move to block the file, because it enables a quick queen-side castling. Be7 would be a mistake. 10. Neg5 0-0-0 11. Nxe6 fxe6.
Position after 11. …fxe6
So far, this copies Philip Hogarty (White) vs. Jack Killane (Black), Rathmines Senior Club Championship, 2007, previously annotated for this site by Jack, and probably also numerous games played in the Max Lange since the 1800’s. In that game, white correctly took the pawn on e6. Here, white wants something more, but miscalculates. 12. Nfg5?! Rde8 13. Bd2? Qf5! Now the pawn is protected. 14. Ne4
Position after 14. Ne4
This knight is white’s best piece, and arguably worth half a pawn at least. Notice, for example, how the d6 square is a potential fork of king and queen. The position is very difficult for both sides now. 14. …Be7 15. Rb1 Rhf8 16. Qe2 Bh4 Trying to provoke weaknesses in the white kingside. 17. g3 Bd8? Much better is simply to retreat back to e7 again, where it eyes d6 and might influence events more. With the bishop on d8, I imagined that the e8 rook would be more dangerous. 18. f4 h5?!
After 18. …h5
I was trying to prevent g4 and also might want to play h4 soon. But it is time to play Kb8! 19. b4 e5 20. b5
Position after 20. b5
Now the stage is set for the real complications to start. White is threatening to open the queen side, whether or not the black knight moves. Black, meanwhile, has a huge central advantage in space, pawns, and threats. I looked at 20… ef! 21. bxc6 f3 22. cxb7+ this looks natural, but may not be best 22. …Kb8
Possible position, that didn’t occur in the game.
If now, 23. Qd3 Rxe4! (23. …Qh3 24. Qf1) 24. Rxe4? f2+ 25. Kf1? Qh3+ 26. Ke2 f1Q+ 27. Rxf1 Qxf1#. But white cooperates with black in this variation and there are better moves, of course. Firstly, white is not obliged to take the knight on move 21, where Bxf4 looks safer. In the line above, after 24 …Rxe4, white can try Qxe4, when 24. …f2+ 25. Kg2 looks ok, because black is still a rook down at this stage. Black can take the rook, but a much better move is f1Q+!, which diverts the rook fatally, and picks up the queen on e4 with check (important, since the rook is hanging on f8).
Looked at like this, I was sorely tempted to play 20… ef. But I couldn’t work out the complications after the sequence 20…ef 21. bxc6 f3 22. cxb7+ Kb8 23. Qa6! .
Looming disaster on a7 for black, possible variation.
White threatens the incredible 24. Qxa7+!! Kxa7 25. b8Q+ Ka6 26. Qa8#. Ouch. And seeing this, I thought that Black would then be forced to seek the draw, after 23. …f2+ 24. Nxf2 Qxf2+ 25. Kh1 Qf3+, with perpetual. Was black winning or losing after 20… ef? I decided to not take the risk! (I have no doubt that Fritz or some other computer can work all this out, but over the board, for a human, it is very difficult).
Actual game position after 20. b5
20… d3?! 21. Qxd3 Nd4 22. b6 ab 23. c3 Nc6 24. Rxb6
Position after 24. Rxb6
Using the d6 weakness! 24. …ef 25. Rxc6 Forces a draw 25. …bxc6 26. Qa6+ Kd7 27. Qd3+ Qd5 28. Nc5+ Kd6 (28. …Kc8?? 29. Qa6+ and mates) 29. Nb7+ Kd7 30. Nc5+ Kd6 Draw agreed. 1/2 – 1/2.
I reached a promising position against Gareth Annesley (1942) in round 2. We were both under tremendous time pressure, when black blundered with his next move from the diagrammed position below, 29… Bg7-f8
Black plays 29. …Bg7-f8?
Black felt he had to protect d6. Now, I saw some threats to the white rook, such as Be6, and hastily played Be7?. However, as Gareth pointed out to me after the game, 30. Bc3!! wins. The threat is 31. Qf6 and unstoppable mate. Black is forced to play 30. …Bg7 (after 30. …f5? 31. Qh6!) and after 31. Bxg7 Kxg7 32. Rxd6 Qb7 33. Nxc5 Qc8 34. Rxd5 white is winning comfortably.
Instead, we played on for another dozen moves or so, where I won a couple of black pawns but he generated some counterplay. It was headed for a draw. Then white committed a fatal (and excruciating for me) blunder to lose the game to a white mate in one.