Saturday, December 30, 2006

Damiano's Defense

There has been some lively back-and-forth on the Internet regarding my victory over Sam Sloan at Hackettstown in August 2005. The game happened at game/90 in the fourth and final round of a tournament with a strong field of players. In round one, I had the audacity to beat ACN editor Steve Ferrero who is also my USATE captain. Then came draws against a current and a former NJ state champion, Tommy Bartell and Steve Stoyko respectively. So now it was the money round, and I as White was paired against Sloan, better known for being a chess politico than a player although he seemed to be performing at a higher level than his USCF rating of 1931 might indicate.

The reason why I am giving the reader this background information is to put in better perspective my decision to avoid playing the standard knight sacrifice against Damiano's Defense. I felt certain that Black would decline the piece sac as Chigorin recommended, leading to a position where Black is slightly inferior but material is even. This is not the kind of game that I wanted to play in the final round of a tournament, especially against an opponent with more practical experience in this variation than I have. Imagine my surprise when, after the game, Sam said he was prepared to accept the knight sac, relying on some new analysis!

The reader can find this game by going to Yahoo Search and entering Damiano's Defense Declined, although I am unsure if Sam is correct in naming the opening as such. It seems to me that, if anything, Chigorin's line declining the piece sacrifice should bear that title. In any event, here are the moves to a mistake-filled game that ended unexpectedly with a problem-like move.

White: Jim West (2206) Black:Sam Sloan (1931)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f6 3.Nc3

As stated above, I assumed that 3.Nxe5 would be answered by 3...Qe7 which led to a draw in Fischer-McGregor, Houston simul 1964 after 4.Nf3 d5 5.d3 dxe4 6.dxe4 Qxe4+ 7.Be2 Bf5 8.Nd4 Nc6 9.Nxf5 Qxf5 10.O-O Bd6 11.Bg4 Qb5 12.Nc3 Qc4 13.Be2 Qf7 14.Bb5 O-O-O 15.Qg4+ f5 16.Qh3 Nge7 17.Ne4 h6 18.Nxd6+ Rxd6 19.Bf4 Rd4 20.Be3 Rb4 21.Bxc6 Nxc6 22.b3 Re4 23.Rfd1 Rd8 24.Rxd8+ Nxd8 25.Rd1 Qe6 26.g3 Rxe3, drawn on account of 27.fxe3 Qxe3+ 28.Kf1 Qf3+ with perpetual check.

I wonder what new analysis Sam intended to follow after 3.Nxe5 fxe5 4.Qh5+ which Fritz8 gives as winning by force after 4...Ke7 5.Qxe5+ Kf7 6.Bc4+ d5 7.Bxd5+ Kg6 8.h4 h5 9.Bxb7! For example, 9...Bd6 10.Qa5 Bxb7 11.Qf5+ Kh6 12.d4+ is curtains.

Apparently Sam is unaware of this refutation because judging by his comments on the Internet he does not own Fritz8.

3...Bc5 4.Bc4 Ne7 5.d3 c6 6.a4 d5 7.Bb3 Bg4 8.h3 Bh5 9.Qe2 Qd6 10.a5 Nd7 11.Na4 Bb4+ 12.Bd2 b5 13.axb6 axb6 14.g4 Bg6 15.c3 Ba5 16.exd5


Black misses 16...b5 17.dxc6 Qxc6 winning the knight for insufficient compensation.

17.Bc2 b5 18.Nc5 Qxc5 19.b4 Qc7 20.O-O O-O 21.bxa5 Rxa5 22.Rxa5 Qxa5 23.c4 Qc7 24.Bb4 Re8 25.cxb5 Qb6 26.Bxe7 Rxe7 27.Rb1 Nc5 28.Nh4 Be8 29.d4 Ne6 30.Nf5 Rb7 31.dxe5 Bxb5 32.Qd2 Qc5 33.exf6 gxf6 34.Bd3 Ng5


Instead one of the contributors at Sam's website gives the following supposedly winning variation for White, courtesy of Fritz8: 35.Qa5 Nxh3+ 36.Kh2 Qc7+ 37.Qxc7 Rxc7 38.Rxb5 Nxf2 39.Rxd5, but 39...Nxg5+ 40.Kg3 Ne5 looks like a difficult ending to win for White.


If Black wanted to draw, he should have played 35...Qxe3 36.fxe3 Bc6.


After the game, Sam said I missed a win with 36.Rxb5 but 36...Qxb5! wins the exchange for Black.

36...Bc6 37.Rxb7 Nf3+

Believe it or not, this move loses. Black had to interpolate 37...Qc1+ 38.Bf1 and only now 38...Nf3+ 39.Qxf3 Bxf3 40.Rb8+ Kf7 41.Nxd4 when White's rook and knight and pawn can probably draw against Black's queen.

38.Qxf3 Bxf3

Now, after 39.Rb8+ Kf7, the move 40.Nxd4 is not a viable option with Black's queen guarding the d4 pawn. But White has a winning move, right out of a chess composition. Can you see it?


And here my opponent resigned because of the following variations:
a) 39...Qxc4 40.Rb8+ Kf7 41.Nd6+ followed by 42.Nxc5;
b) 39...Bd5 40.Bxd5+ Qxd5 41.Ne7+ followed by 42.Nxd5;
c) 39...Kf8 (or 39...Kh8) 40.Rb8+ forcing mate.

A fantastic finish to a flawed game!

{This article originally appeared in the April-June 2006 issue of Atlantic Chess News}