Κυριακή 14 Αυγούστου 2016

Corr Games I, with some theoretical notes on the Potter Variation of the Scotch

   My opponent is an IM of the postal era - he was rated 2350 in 1993 - and have played hundreds of competitive Correspondence games. His transition to the computer era wasn't very smooth - thus the rating fall -and combined with his age, this put me in a position of technological advantage. There was no question however, that he was - and still is - the better chess player. I was having great results with the Scotch at the sub-2100 level. Moreover, my opponent seemed to like playing the Bc5 variation which at that point in time I considered bad  for Black, an evaluation that would - alas - change less that a month later.

Sarakenidis,Nikolaos (2017) - Buczinski,Henryk (2161)  C45  
S-Open/6–pr026 ICCF, 01.08.2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5  As expected!

5.Nb3  The fact that the opening laboratory at Quality Chess have decided to go for 5.Nxc6 as their proposal in John Shaw's Playing 1.e4 Vol I avoiding the 7.Qe2 a5 complex - of which more below - says a lot.  Yes I know. Chess is a draw.

5...Bb6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.Qe2

The line that was by far considered to be the most challenging for Black and was designated as "Hot" in all databases at that time, Corr or otherwise. After the developments described in the notes to Black's next move, people are looking again at other alternatives.

7.Bg5 was played by Giri in both Blitz and Rapid sections of the Paris Grand Chess Tour Tournament against Laurent Fressinet, an important sign that there is nothing important found in the 7.Qe2 a5 line at the Super-Elite level. Giri scored 2/2 in Paris but this shouldn't lead to us to wrong conclusions regarding the evaluation of the variation.

7...h6 8.Bh4 d6

8...Qe7 was the "improvement" that Laurent Fressinet tried in the Blitz game - he had already lost the rapid game two days earlier. 9.Bd3 g5 10.Bg3 d5 11.Qe2  (11.0–0 The ancient game Blackburne-MacDonnell, London 1876 is the stem game)

11...dxe4 12.Nxe4 Nxe4N (12...Be6 13.0–0–0 0–0–0 14.f3 Dzugas-Kopnicky, 2007) 13.Bxe4 Bd7 14.0–0–0 0–0–0 15.Rhe1 Qf6 16.f3 Rhe8 17.Kb1 with an interesting position, but Black blundered in this demanding time control

17...Bf5?? 18.Bxf5+ Qxf5 19.Qxe8 1-0, Giri-Fressinet, GCT Blitz Paris, June 2016

9.f3 Be6 10.Bb5!?N was Giri's novelty in the rapid game. A weird database trivia: there appears to be a game played the same day(!) in Portuguese Masters 2016 - Rego-Silva that was drawn -  that also saw 10.Bb5

10...a6 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 12.Qe2 g5 13.Bf2 Bxf2+ 14.Qxf2 Qe7

Here the two games diverge. The Portuguese game continued with 14...Nd7

15.0–0–0 a5 16.Nd4 Bd7 17.h4 g4 18.Nf5 Qe5 19.f4 Nxe4 20.Nxd6+ Qxd6 21.Nxe4 Qe7 22.Qd4 and black resigned in Giri-Fressinet, GCT Rapid Paris, June 2016


This was played on 31st July 2014, less than a month before Carlsen uncorked 7...a5! against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the 1st round of the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis. There had been Volokitin-Eljanov at the Ukrainian Individual Championship a year earlier but this game went on with 8.a4 and ended up being a regular Scotch Bc5 position with a4 and a5 included. Moreover, MVL-Carlsen was played in the world's top stage. Having said all that, my opponent, a "dinosaur" from the ages of postal chess wouldn't have gone 7...a5 anyway, at least that's what I think. Such old foxes don't follow fashion.

7...a5! This move changes the evaluation of the whole line in my opinion. It threatens a4 and if White reacts a la Volokitin with 8.a4, Black gains the b4 square in comparison to the "normal" lines.


8.Bg5 a4 9.Nd2 h6 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.Nd5 Qxb2 12.Rb1 Qxa2 13.Rxb6 cxb6 14.Nc7+ Ke7 15.Nxa8 Nd4 16.Qh5 Qa1+ was drawn in both Heilala-Giesemann, rest-of-Europe vs. Germany email match, 2014 and Paulvk-Stanescu, 2015/B24 (AUS)

8.a4 Nb4 9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 d6 11.0–0–0 Qe7 12.f3 Bd7 Volokitin-Eljanov, Kyiv UKR, Men ch 2013

8...0–0! led to the critical line that was blitzed out by both super GMs in St Louis showing the world the depths of their opening preparation.

9.exf6 a4 10.Nd5 Re8 11.Be3 axb3 

12.Qg4 was what MVL played and was later repeated both in Lakatos-Kishkin, CL/2017, April 2015 in the highest Corr game so far that went down this path and on the board in Darini-Mchedlishvili, 1st Stars Cup in July 2016 in a match between Iranian players and "stars" from abroad that ended with Black winning against his less-experienced opponent.

12.Qh5!? was an interesting - and dangerous as proved in the game - novelty cooked up by Greek IM and famous theoretician Andreas Tzermadianos against Marco Baldauf in the Greek league at the beginning of July 2016. 12...Re5?!

12...Bxe3 13.fxe3 Re5 14.Ne7+ Rxe7! 15.Qg5 Rxe3+! is Black's best option. And now

16.Qxe3 Rxa2 17.0–0–0 bxc2 18.Re1 Ra1+ 19.Kxc2 Rxe1 20.Qxe1 d6 with an unclear position

Analysis diagram after 20...d6

16.Kd2 Qxf6 17.Qxf6 gxf6 18.Kxe3 Nb4 19.Bd3 bxa2 also requires further analysis

Analysis diagram after 19...bxa2

13.Ne7+ Rxe7 14.fxe7 Qxe7 15.Bd3 g6 16.Qg5 Qxg5 17.Bxg5 Nb4 18.Kd2 Nxd3 19.axb3 Rxa1 20.Rxa1 Nc5 21.Bh6 f6 22.Ra8 g5 23.Rxc8+

and White went on to win a very nice game, Tzermiadianos-Baldauf, Greek t-ch, 2016

8.Bg5 h6

8...Nd4 is the other important branch

9.Bh4 d6

9...a5 can also be played here and actually it is the most popular move in Correspondence Chess. My opponent, however, wasn't in the mood for such modernities.

10.0–0–0 Be6 11.Kb1 Re8 12.f3

White stabilizes his structure in the center. I was of the opinion that Black is not OK in this position. The bishop on b6 is away from his castled king and the pin along the h4–d8 diagonal is very annoying. Isn't this like a Sicilian Dragon with the c-file closed and the black bishop misplaced? Of course all this is very superficial. The fact that the pawn in on c7 and not on e7 might make Black's play in the Queenside difficult to unfold but on the same time, it makes a white pawn storm tougher also, because in many line the e4 pawn is hanging. Database-wise I was very happy however. Both of Black's choices here led to positions from which a high level Corr game had been won with White. Back then, I wasn't so confident of my abilities to evaluate positions right out of the opening. I was a great believer in database statistics.


12...a5 was the alternative. I had in mind to try 13.Na4 Ba7 14.Nbc5!?

14.Nc3 is something like a draw offer (Bb6, Na4) or an invitation to transpose to a Qe7 position 14...Qe7 15.a3 was Cvak-Thoma, CZE/C/sf33, 2014 that White won

and here I was hoping for 14...Qe7?!

14...Bc8 15.Nd3 is a statement that the knight was misplaced on b3. I used to like stuff like that but today it seems too "technical" to me. (15.Nb3 Be6 16.Nbc5 is another draw offer) 15...Be6 would maybe give White what he wants but there was also... 15...b5! 16.Nc3 b4 17.Nd5 g5 18.Nxf6+ Qxf6 and White has lost too much time and is in danger of ending up worse

15.Nxe6 Qxe6 16.Nc3 gives white the two Bishops


This was played with enthusiasm since we have now transposed to Stefanov-Dorosiev, C47(BUL), 2012, a game that saw White's play in the Kingside to be faster than Black's on the opposite wing. Today I would have had this position in an IDEA project for 4 days running before playing 3.d4.


A very logical novelty. The Bulgarian game went 13...a6 14.g4. Now g4 is not possible. My enthusiasm was typical of a newbie. This is a critical position. I had to find a plan. We were out of the databases and the engines are useless in this position - except for blunder-checking. This is a typical example of a position where people who cannot understand what is the point of Corr chess nowadays should be pointed to. If White - or Black for that matter - starts playing the first computer choice - in any depth mind you - he's in danger of ending up worse against an experienced Black Corr player capable of creating a plan. And in the best of cases, he'd just make a draw. This position is also the kind of position that you don't want to have against an opponent that managed to get to IM before the computer-era since he's obviously quite a good chess player. For these reasons, the fact that I won the game from this position was a breakthrough for me and an explanation on why I have chosen this game to be presented here.

14.Na4!?  After spending some time on trying to find a plan that allows me to play g4 as soon as possible, I gave up. I started doing comparisons. Why does Black play a5 in the 12th move - and earlier - and why did he go 13...a6 in the Bulgarian game making the choice to allow g4? What did he try to stop if not the exchange of his dark-square bishop? What imbalance can White create in order to play for a win since he cannot go for a pawn race? Am I in danger of getting mated via the a file?

14.Be2 Ng6 15.Bg3 d5 and Black has achieved the liberation of his pieces. g4 is still years ahead.

14...Ng6 15.Bg3 Bxb3?!  I believe that Black assumed that I would take towards the center. In any case it was not necessary to depart with his light-square bishop.

15...d5 was the faster and most efficient way to equalize.

The ending after 16.ed5 Nxd5 17.Bc5 Qg5 18.h4 Qf6 19.Bxd5 Bxd5 20.Qc3 Qxc3 21.Nxc3 Bc4 is equal and if 22.Na4 Black can even offer a pawn to achieve a repetition. An elegant way to draw the game would be 22.Na4 Be3 23.Bxc7 Be2 24.Rd5 Bc4 25.Rdd1 etc. Including Nxb6 somewhere doesn't seem to help White, on the contrary after 16.Nxb6 ab6 17.e5?! Nh5 18.Bf2 c5 he is danger of being worse. The two bishops cannot compensate for the great initiative that Black obtains on the queenside.


The right way! The idea behind this move is defensive. At some point during the ensuing pawn race, white would have the option to play a3 or a4 and delay or altogether stop Black's assault on the queenside. This idea would be dubious if Black had a way to avoid the exchanges on b6.


16...Nh5 17.Nxb6 axb6 18.Bf2 Nf6 19.Qc3 would lead to approximately the same thing as in the game

17.Nxb6 axb6 18.Qc3  The queen is headed to the c1 square - another idea behind 16.cxb3. From c1 the queen provides both attacking and defensive duties.


18...Qd8 19.Bxe5 (19.Be2 Qb8 20.Rhe1 Qa7 21.a3 Qa5) 19...Rxe5 20.Qxe5 dxe5 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8 22.Kc2 is equal; 18...c6 19.Qd4 With play against the d6 pawn

19.Be2 c6

Up to this point, Black played reasonably good. He now starts following a continuation proposed by the engines that is very dubious.

20.Rhe1 b5

Black continues in accordance with the engine's proposals. He has weakened the d6 point with his previous move and now he makes the d5 break almost impossible.

21.Qc1 +=

Reaching her destination. The queen will depart this square only at the final part of the game during her decisive penetration of Black's position.


Black's play is incoherent. He now impoves White's bishop and opens the way for his g-pawn. It was the time to divert from the engine's suggestion.

21...b4 was perhaps the lesser evil. 22.f4 Ng6 23.Bf3 Qc7 24.a4 bxa3 25.bxa3 Qa5 26.Ka2 +=

Analysis diagram after 26.Ka2  

22.Bf2 Nf6

The knight cannot stay on h5. Black gave White the chance to transfer the bishop from h4 to d4 for free.

23.Bb6!  A subtlety that the engine fails to understand being under the illusion that Black will have an attack via the a-file so the free Ra8 that Black gets here is in his favour. In reality, the rook is worse on a8 than d8.

23...Ra8 24.Bd4 b4?

A case of bad pruning. The computer doesn't see White's next move.

24...Ng6 25.g3 Rad8 admitting that the rook is useless on a8 was better. Still after 27.Qc3 White keeps the advantage.

25.f4!±  And only now the engine wakes up. If someone inputs the moves up to this position and then goes back, 24...b4  disappears from the top choices of the engine.

25...Ng6  Forced

25...Ned7 26.Bf3 Qd8 27.Bxf6 Nxf6 28.e5 Nh7 29.Rxd6+–
25...Neg4 26.h3! Qxe4+ 27.Bd3 Qxg2 28.hxg4 Rxe1 29.Rxe1 Nxg4 30.Be4+– Black is lost. He has three pawns for the piece but White's Bishops dominate the board

26.Bf3 Rad8  And the rook goes back to d8 in order to support the d6 point. We now understand the value of the Bf2–b6–d4 manouvre.

26...Nh4 27.a4! 

27.Qd2? Nxf3 28.gxf3 c5 29.Bxf6 Qxf6 30.Qxd6 Re6! 31.Qxc5 Rea6=

27...Nxf3 28.gxf3 c5 29.Bf2 Qe6 30.Qe3 with a clear advantage

27.Bf2 Rd7?!  27...Qc7 was more tenacious. Black's play on the queenside now needs attention and the immediate 28.g4 is not good


28.g4 Qa5! 29.g5 hxg5 30.fxg5 Nh7 31.h4 Nhf8 32.Qd2 Ra8 with counterplay

28...c5 29.h4 h5 30.e5 dxe5 31.fxe5 Rxd1 32.Bxd1 Nd7 33.Bxh5 Ngxe5 34.Bg4±

Analysis diagram after 34.Bg4

28.g4 Qd8

Black now understood that he had to transport his queen to a5, but the tempo he lost with Rd7 is decisive

29.Qd2 Qa5 30.h4 Ra8 

31.g5!  ignoring the threat to a2 since 31...Qxa2+ 32.Kc2 leads nowhere for Black

31...hxg5 32.hxg5 Ne8 33.e5+– Rdd8 34.e6!  The final breakthrough move. Now it's easy.

34...fxe6 35.Bg4

35.a4 is also adequate

35...Nc7 36.a3  Just to make sure that no accidents will happen

36...Nf8?  Loses immediately, but there was nothing Black could do apart from delaying the inevitable.

 36...e5 37.f5 Nf4 38.Rh1 Ncd5 39.Be1 Nc3+ Desperando 40.bxc3 Qxa3 41.Qb2+–

37.Rh1 Kf7 38.Bd4 Nd5 39.Qh2 bxa3 40.Qh8 Ke8 41.Rh7

and Black resigned


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