Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Schneider - West

This game was played on 3/13/05 in a FIDE-rated tournament at the Marshall Chess Club against FM Igor Schneider.

Igor Schneider [FIDE 2320] - Jim West [FIDE 2207]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 b5 8.O-O Be7 9.Qf3

When I play the white pieces, I prefer the late IM Mike Valvo's 9.Be3 O-O 10.f4. My opponent's 9th move initiates the variation made popular by GM Andy Soltis. No doubt Schneider expected the usual 9...Qc7 10.Qg3 O-O 11.Bh6 Ne8 which led to an equal position in Short-Kasparov, London 1993 after 12.Rad1 Bd7 13.a3 Nc6 14.Nxc6 Bxc6 15.Bf4 Qb7 16.Rfe1 a5.

Instead I decided to play differently, based upon a photograph I had seen in Profile of a Prodigy by Frank Brady.

Picture 17 shows Soltis as White playing Fischer at the Manhattan Blitz Tournament in 1971. The moves to this game have never been recorded. But, as the saying goes, one picture is worth a thousand words!

It is difficult to see all the pieces because of the chess clock in the foreground. Nevertheless the opening moves appear to have been 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 b5 8.O-O Be7 9.Qf3 Qd7 10.a4 b4 11.Na2 Bb7 with Soltis's hand hovering above the king rook as though intending 12.Re1. All that we know for sure is Fischer eventually won. Legend has it that Fischer lost his queen for only a rook but emerged victorious anyway, causing Soltis to say something like: "When you're playing Fischer, even when you know you're going to win, you know you're going to lose!"

9...Qd7 10.a4 b4 11.a5

Although this is the only move considered by IM Gary Lane in Winning With The Fischer-Sozin Attack, it seems artificial to me because it "forces" Black to play 11...O-O which only aids his development. Worse still, White's intended follow-up 12.Na4 leaves a "knight on the rim".

11...O-O 12.Na4 Bd8!?

This seems to be an improvement upon 12...Nc6, Bangiev-Rose, correspondence 1987, when Gary Lane gives 13.Nb6! Nxd4 14.Qd1 Qb7 15.Qxd4 Rb8 16.Re1 with a slight advantage to White. Not only does the black king bishop protect the b6 square, it keeps an eye on the a5 pawn as well.

13.Bg5 Nc6

Having already spent many precious minutes pondering my unexpected 9...Qd7, Schneider now falls even further behind on time by going into a long think at this point. In the end, his poor clock management would lead to a fatal blunder in sudden-death time pressure.


This move came as a pleasant surprise to me because it allowed me to liquidate my overextended b-pawn while at the same time saddling White with a weak c-pawn on the semi-open file. In any event, the tempting 14.e5? fails to 14...Nxd4 15.Qxa8 Bb7, leaving White with the unpleasant choice of either 16.Qa7 Ne2+ 17.Kh1 Bxg2+ or 16.Qb8 Nxb3 17.cxb3 Qc6 18.f3 Bb6+.

14...bxc3 15.bxc3 Rb8

With 20-20 hindsight, perhaps 15...Bb7, planning 16...Rc8, 17...Ne5, and 18...Nc4 would have been a better course of action, exploiting the weak c4 square.

16.Bc2 Nxd4 17.cxd4 Rb5

I really did not want to strengthen White's pawn structure by transforming his weak c-pawn into a healthy d-pawn, but it looked as if I was winning the a-pawn outright.

18.Bd2 Bb7

At the last minute, I decided that my intended 18...Bxa5 was too risky after 19.Bxa5 Rxa5 20.Nb6 Qb5 21.Rab1. Suddenly the position has gone from slightly favorable for Black to slightly worse.

19.Bd3 Rb3 20.Qe2 Rxd3!?

This exchange sacrifice is virtually forced.

21.Qxd3 Nxe4 22.Nc3 Nxc3 23.Bxc3 Qc6 24.f3 Qd5

Although I had only one pawn for the exchange, I felt that White's weak d-pawn gave me reasonable drawing chances but no more.


White begins to drift. A better try would have been 25.Rfd1.

25...e5 26.Rfd1 f5 27.Rdc1 exd4 28.Qc4 Bf6 29.Rab1 Qxc4 30.Rxc4 Bd5

This move completed the first time control of 30/90, with the remaining one being game/60.

31.Rcb4 Rd8 32.Rb8 Kf7 33.Rxd8 Bxd8 34.Rb8 Bf6 35.Rb6 Bc4 36.Rxd6

Until now, I have been making the best of an inferior position. But here I make White's task much simpler for him.


Instead I should have tried 36...Be7, since 37.Rxd4? allows 37...Bc5 38.Be3 Bxd4 with a dead draw. The problem with the game move is that it facilitates White's winning plan of exchanging dark-squared bishops, forcing Black's remaining bishop to b5, and then a lethal exchange sac on b5 followed by the queening of the a-pawn.

37.Kf2 Be7 38.Rd7 Ke6 39.Rc7 Bb5 40.g3 Bf6 41.Ke3 Be5 42.Rc8 h6

Here time trouble begins rearing its ugly head, as Schneider misses 43.Bc3 Kd7 44.Rc5 Bxc3 45.Rxc3 with the afore-mentioned winning endgame. Maybe he was worried about 43...Bd7 44.Rc5 Bd6 45.Rc4 Bb5 46.Rc8 g5, avoiding the exchange of bishops.

43.f4 Bb2

Now 44.Bc3 gets nowhere after 44...Bc1+ 45.Bd2 Bb2, repeating the position.

44.Rc5 Bf6 45.Bc3 Kd6

Here 46.Rxb5 axb5 47.Bxf6 gxf6 48.Kxd3 Kc5 only draws.

46.Bb4 Ke6 47.Kd2

Unclear is 47.Rxb5 axb5 48.a6 Kd5 49.Bc5 Kc6 50.Kxd3 g5.

47...Bd4 48.Rc7 Kd5 49.Bf8 Ke4

Black is threatening 50...Be3+.

50.Re7+ Kf3 51.Bxg7 Bc5

What happened next can only be explained by severe time pressure. Schneider had only 3 minutes left while I had more than 30. Because we were not using a digital 5-second-delay clock, the only way that Schneider could request one was by claiming insufficient losing chances but that would have allowed me to accept his "offer" of a draw.


Schneider touched the bishop too quickly and saw to his dismay that he was now lost. After the game, some of the other players suggested 52.Re1 Kg2 53.Rb1 Kxh2 54.Rxb5 axb5 55.Bxh6 Kxg3 56.Kxd3 Kf3 57.a6 which looks favorable for White. Probably he should have played 52.Re6 h5, but the position is still complex.


Of course, the immediate 52...Bxe7?! would allow White to draw easily after 53.Bxe7. Now White loses a whole rook after 53.Bc3 Bxe7.

53.Kc1 d2+, 0-1.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good!

{This article originally appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of Atlantic Chess News}