Back to Basics: An (Adrenaline-Pumping) Ordinary Game Print E-mail
By GM Lev Alburt   
August 18, 2009
A tough-fought, strategic game suddenly erupts with a series of tactical blunders, leaving a lower-rated player the somewhat surprised winner.

Looking through my older columns, I was surprised that so many of them dealt with upsets. The reason for this, I guess, is twofold: a) upsets are unexpected and thus exciting—for me and (I hope) for readers; b) most games I receive (I realize now) are upsets, as those are much more remarkable for the winners than a normal, or “expected” (playing down) victory.

I predict, however that Mark Norris, the winner of this month’s award, will soon add 400-500 rating points to his current 1074 USCF rating.

Not only did Mark prove himself equal to his 1508-rated opponent in all stages of this long struggle, but he also provided quite impressive (albeit laconic) annotations.
Writes Mark Norris:

This was one of the most interesting games I have had the pleasure of playing at my chess club. It was quite the game and definitely had my adrenaline pumping. Look for yourself. (As usual, Lev’s future comments are in italics).

Orangutan Opening (A00)
George Miller (1508)
Mark Norris (1074)
Watchusett Chess Club Championship Prelims

1. b4 e6

I came well-prepared.

2. Bb2 Nf6 3. b5 a6

Black’s objective is to activate his a8-rook.

4. e3?!

An interesting choice. Tkachiev-Karpov blitz game continued 4. a4 axb5 5. axb5 Rxa1 6. Bxa1 c5. Karpov won soon after.

Mark clearly does his opening research very well.

4. ... axb5 5. Bxb5 c6 6. Be2 d5 7. Nf3 Bd6 8. 0-0 0-0

Both players handle the opening stage quite well. Even 4. e3 may not deserve the “?!” sign. Of course, there were alternatives; for example, 8. ... b5 (or even 7. ... b5), to stop White’s c2-c4, or 8. ... Nbd7 preparing ... e6-e5. But the first eight moves (and even a few of those following) could have been played by masters.

9. c4 c5 10. cxd5?!

True, an immediate d2-d4 (10. d4) was more accurate.

10. ... exd5 11. d4? c4! 12. Nc3 Nc6

After two dubious (?!) moves and one bad (?) one, the position remains close to equal. Perhaps White’s transgressions were not that bad after all. Black continued to develop.

13. Nb5 Bb4 14. a3 Ba5 15. Nd2 Bxd2!?

This may not be best.

Indeed, 15. ... Bxd2 is a reasonable move—but not the best, as Black’s pawn structure in the center (pawns on c4 and d5) put an extra premium on the dark-square bishop. Black has normal, good moves like 15. ... Bf5 or 15. ... Re8, but the strongest is, perhaps, 15. ... Na7, with the goal of bringing the b-pawn to b5.

16. Qxd2 Ne4 17. Qe1 Qb6 18. a4 Bf5 19. f3?!

This is questionable. However, I did fear the pawn sac on e4.

19. f3 is a good move—which has nothing to do with the (highly unlikely) e3-e4 thrust. But trickier—and thus stronger—was a transposition, 19. Ba3 and only after the natural-looking 19. ... Rfe8(?), 20. f3 Nf6 21. Nd6, forking Black’s rook and bishop.

19. ... Nf6 20. Qc3

As noted above, 20. Ba3! leads to a clear advantage. Black’s dark-square bishop is badly missing!

20. ... Ra5 21. Rfc1 Rfa8 22. Bd1 Bd7 23. Ba3!

A monster! Bc5 is coming and I can do little about it.

23. ... Qa6?

Perhaps tired of working hard on every move in a complex—and slowly (after 15. ... Bxd2) deteriorating position, Black finally blunders. Another queen’s retreat —23. ... Qd8—would keep material equal, and the struggle going on.

24. Nc7 Qa7 25. Nxa8 Qxa8 26. Bb4? Nxb4

Black grabs the opportunity to create counterplay. Bravo!

27. Qxb4 b5! 28. Rcb1

I would prefer the solid 28. Rc3.

28. ... bxa4 29. Bxa4??

Playing for a faulty tactic. 29. Ra3 would have been a more viable option.

Well, 29. Ra3 allows 29. ... Rb5. Perhaps an exchange of queens, followed by Ra3, the king’s march to c3, and possibly e3-e4, offers White the best chances for victory.

29. ... Rxa4

George set up a diabolical trap: if 29. ... Bxa4, then 30. Qxa5!, but missed Mark’s excellent response.

30. Qb8+ Qxb8 31. Rxb8+ Ne8 32. Rxa4 Bxa4 33. Rc8 Kf8 34. Rc5

Unfortunately, White still comes out on top.

No, Black is better, as even in the ending the bishop and knight are stronger than rook—by at least one pawn.

34. ... Nf6 35. Kf1 Ke7 36. Ke1 Kd6 37. Kd2 Nd7 38. Ra5 Bb3 39. Ra6+ Kc7 40. e4 Nb6 41. Ra7+ Kd6 42. Rxf7

After 42. e5+ Kc6 43. Rxf7 Na4, White has (and must force) a draw with 44. Rf8 Kc7 45. Rf7+.

42. ... dxe4!

This move frees d5 for the king and plays for a funny little tactic.

43. fxe4??

Terrible. Other options are unpleasant as well. 43. Rxg7 exf3 44. gxf3 Kd5, where Black should be able to draw.

Mark continues to underestimate the bishop plus knight duo! After 43. Rxg7 (indeed, best) 43. ... Nd5, preparing the pawn’s queening, I don’t see any good defense. Even after the unimaginative 43. ... exf3 44. gxf3 Nd5 it’s White who’s fighting for a draw.

43. ... c3+ 44. Kxc3 Bxf7 45. e5+ Kd5 46. g4 Nc4 47. h3 Nxe5 48. dxe5 Kxe5 49. Kd3 Kf4, White resigned.

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