Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Turning the Tables

The Sozin Attack versus the Najdorf Sicilian is the only opening variation that I play both as White and as Black. Every now and then, I run into an opponent unkind enough to beat me at my own game.

That is exactly what happened in my contest from the New Jersey Masters Invitational against current state champion Mike Valvo.*

Mike Valvo (USCF 2411) - Jim West (USCF 2248), New Jersey Masters Invitational 1986

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.Be3 O-O 10.f4 Bb7

Black's tenth move is Kavalek's recommendation from the RHM book on the Najdorf. This position can also be arrived at via the move order 9.f4 Bb7 10.Be3 (Kasparov's suggestion in Batsford Chess Openings) O-O.

11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 Nd5

The only logical continuation. After 12...Nfd7, there is 13.Qh5!. Or, 12...Ne4 13.Nxe4 Bxe4 14.Qg4 Bg6 (anything else and 15.Bh6) 15.Rad1 with 16.Nxe6 to follow.

13.Nxd5 Bxd5 14.Bxd5 Qxd5

This position is undoubtedly what Kavalek had in mind when he recommended 10...Bb7. Black's game looks good. White's weak e-pawn is an inviting target.

Unfortunately for me, my opponent now uncorked a theoretical novelty which, to the best of my knowledge, remained unemployed at the start of this game.


Of course, 15...Qxd1 16.Nxe7+ loses a piece. And 15...exf5?? 16.Qxd5 is unthinkable. Not much better is 15...Qb7 16.Qf3!, winning the exchange after 16...Ra7 17.Nxe7+ Qxe7 18.Bxa7 Qxa7+ 19.Kh1. So I made the only reasonable try.

15...Nc6 16.Qxd5 exd5 17.Rad1 Rad8 18.Nxe7+ Nxe7 19.Bc5 Rfe8 20.Bd6

With a clear advantage for White. As Valvo pointed out after the game, Black may be able to draw this position but he will never equalize fully.

20...Rd7 21.Rf3

Stronger seems 21.a4, to unhinge Black's queenside pawns.

21...Nc8 22.Rxd5 f6 23.Rdd3 fxe5 24.Bxe5 Rxd3 25.Rxd3 Rxe5 26.Rd8+ Kf7 27.Rxc8 Re1+ 28.Kf2 Ra1 29.Rc7+ Kf8 30.a3 Ra2 31.b3 Rxa3 32.Ke3 Ra1 33.c4!

Having made the first time control at move 30, I should have spent more time considering my next move.


It wins a pawn but loses the game. Black's extra b-pawn will serve only to ensure his defeat, since in some lines White's king will find a haven on the b6 square behind the black pawn. After the correct 33...bxc4 34.bxc4 a5, Black can hold on to draw, although White has all the winning chances due to Black's king being restricted to the back rank.

34.c5! Rxb3+ 35.Kd4 Rb2 36.Ra7 Rxg2 37.c6

Now 37...Ke8 loses instantly to 38.Ra8+ Ke7 39.c7.

37...Rxh2 38.c7 Rc2 39.Ra8+ Kf7 40.c8=Q Rxc8 41.Rxc8

And White's rook was able to subdue the black pawns.

On the basis of this game, it seems fair to conclude that 15.Nf5! leads to an enduring advantage for White. Certainly Kavalek's claim that, after 10...Bb7, "Black can think about taking over the initiative" seems overblown. Thinking about it is as close to the initiative as Black can come.

*{This article originally appeared in Atlantic Chess News in 1986}