Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Excerpts from CJA Award Winner

Although I don't subscribe to Inside Chess, I bought the June 12, 1995 issue after a chessplayer at the Manhattan Chess Club told me that international master John Watson had included the Philidor Counter Gambit in his article Strange Theory. In that article, Watson mentions a book on old openings The Big Book of Busts which he co-authored with national master Eric Schiller. So I bought their book as well.

There are many errors - factual and analytical - in the Inside Chess article and The Big Book of Busts that I would like to correct here.

First, there is the fundamental question of why the Philidor Counter Gambit is included in Watson and Schiller's book when, far from being busted, the PCG is evaluated by them as follows: "This line is balanced, and both sides get interesting play."

Perhaps the answer can be found in this revealing statement by Watson from his Strange Theory article: "Anyway, given the task of busting 3...f5, I was first overconfident, and then astonished at how well both Kosten and West had managed to patch up an opening that was supposed to have more than one refutation."

In other words, since the PCG is supposed to be busted, it is included in their book, even though the line is balanced.

A second error is the confusion over who had the white pieces and who had the black. Watson and Schiller refer to "the famous consultation game Morphy & Barnes versus Staunton & Owen, London 1858" which would only be correct in an article on the Center Counter Defense but not on the Philidor Counter Gambit.

Furthermore, despite the fact that the game Atwood-Wilson, London 1798 is given by Watson and Schiller as the main line in the PCG, they write the following: "Unbelievably, Atwood, an early advocate of this line, got crushed five times as Black in this position...."

Although Watson and Schiller write, "It is shocking that (Kosten's) analysis is ignored in West's 1994 book...", it is even more shocking that The Philidor Countergambit is missing from their "Selective Bibliography", even though they quote from it extensively.

So much for the factual errors! The analytical errors are appalling. I will present them in the order that they appear in The Big Book of Busts.

After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.dxe5 fxe4 5.Ng5 d5 6.e6 Bc5 7.Nxe4 Be7 8.Ng5 Bxg5 9.Qh5+ g6 10.Qxg5 Qxg5 11.Bxg5

Watson and Schiller now give 11...Bxe6 12.Nc3. But 12.Bf4 wins material since 12...c6 allows 13.Be5. The correct move for Black is 11...c6, as played by me in a game against national master Jerry McDonnell at Bayonne in June 1995. The game proceeded 12.c4 Bxe6 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.Nc3 Nc6 15.O-O-O Nge7 16.Bb5 Kf7 17.Rhe1 Rac8 18.Kb1 h6 19.Bxe7 Nxe7 20.Ba4 Rhd8 21.Bb3 Kf6 22.Re2 Bf5+ 23.Ka1 d4 24.Ne4+ Bxe4 25.Rxe4 Rd6 26.Kb1 d3 27.Rd2 Nc6 28.Re3 Rcd8 29.a3 g5 30.Kc1 Ne5 31.h3 b5 32.Rd1 h5 33.g3 g4 34.h4 a5 35.Kd2 a4 36.Ba2, and here White forfeited on time.

Black was winning anyway after 36...Rc8 37.Rc1 Rxc1 38.Kxc1 d2+ 39.Kd1 Nd3 40.Kxd2 Nb4+ 41.Kc1 Nxa2+ 42.Kb1 b4.

After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.dxe5 fxe4 5.Ng5 d5 6.e6 Nh6 7.Nc3 c6 8.Nxh7 Bxe6 9.Nxf8 Bf7

Watson and Schiller give "two promising answers" for White, the second of which is 10.Qd4 Qf6 11.Be3 (on 11.Qb4, Black simply plays 11...b6 and not Watson and Schiller's 11...Qe7 12.Qxe7+ Kxe7 13.Bg5+) Nf5 (curiously Watson and Schiller miss this natural move, giving instead 11...Qxd4 12.Bxd4 Kxf8 13.f3 leading to an initiative for White) 12.Qxf6 gxf6 13.Bc5 b6 14.Ba3 Ne7.

This is similar to a position that could have been reached in Simonaitis-West, Marshall Chess Club Championship 1991. That game began 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.dxe5 fxe4 5.Ng5 d5 6.e6 Nh6 7.Nxh7 Bxe6 8.Nxf8 Bf7 9.Qd4 Qf6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11.Bf4 c6. On page 6 of my book, I now give 12.Bd6 Nf5 13.Ba3 Ne7 =.

As for Watson's suggesting that the relatively innocuous 8.Nxh7 is the bust to the PCG, this is roughly the equivalent of calling 6.Be2 the refutation of the Sicilian Najdorf. I feel that 8.Ngxe4 is a better try for White than 8.Nxh7 which only allows Black to exchange his h-pawn for White's powerful pawn on e6.

To paraphrase Casey Stengel, does anyone here know how to play this opening?

{This article originally appeared in Atlantic Chess News and was awarded "Best Analysis, Openings" by the Chess Journalists of America in 1996}