Thursday, February 22, 2007

Philidor Counter Gambit 1997

At the U. S. Amateur Team Championship East in February 1997, I won two Philidor Counter Gambits against candidate masters. Two weeks later, at the Somerset NJ quads in March, I defeated a master with this defense. The first two PCG's featured the 4.Nc3 variation. In the third game, my opponent chose to play 4.exf5.

Richard Panken (USCF 2048) - Jim West (USCF 2255), USATE 2/15/1997

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4

This is how Morphy played against 4.Nc3, but 4...exd4 is also possible. My game against candidate master David Grasso at the Somerset NJ quads earlier that month continued, after 4...exd4, with 5.Qxd4 fxe4 6.Bg5 Nf6 7.Nxe4 Be7 8.O-O-O O-O 9.Bc4+ Kh8 10.h4 Nc6 11.Qe3 Nxe4 12.Qxe4 Bf5 13.Qe3 Bg4 14.Rde1 Bf6 15.Kb1 Qd7 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Qf4 Ne5 18.Bb3 a5 19.a4 Rae8 20.h5 Qf5 21.Qxf5 Bxf5 22.Nd4, draw.

5.Nxe4 d5 6.Nc3

It is interesting that both my opponents at the USATE avoided the ultra-sharp 6.Nxe5 dxe4 7.Qh5+ g6 8.Nxg6 when either 8...Nf6 or 8...hxg6 leads to unclear complications.

6...e4 7.Ne5 Nf6 8.Bg5 Bb4

When I began playing this defense seriously in 1990, I used to play 8...Be7 with a solid position. But the bishop is not very active at e7. At b4, the bishop is ready to trade itself for the white knight on c3, since White's plan is to castle kingside and follow with f3.

9.Be2 O-O 10.O-O c6


In the PCG, there is rarely time for such finesses. White should proceed immediately with 11.f3.

11...Bxc3 12.bxc3 Nbd7 13.c4 Qe8 14.Nxd7

This move only aids Black's development. White should consider playing 14.f4.

14...Bxd7 15.Qd2

I was expecting White to play 15.Rb1, an idea which he delays for another ten moves.

15...Qg6 16.Bh4?! Rae8 17.Qg5

White is drifting aimlessly here while Black has completed his development.

17...Qf7 18.c5 h6 19.Qe3 Qg6 20.Kh1 Bg4


Why give up the bishop pair needlessly? The dark-squared bishop should aim for the d6 square by way of g3.

21...Rxf6 22.Bxg4 Qxg4 23.h3

I think my opponent had originally planned 23.f3 but suddenly saw 23...Ref8!.

23...Qd7 24.Kh2 Ref8 25.Rab1 g5

Afterwards my teammates suggested 25...Rf3!? 26.gxf3 Rxf3 27.Qxf3 exf3 as a better winning attempt.

26.Qg3 Rf4 27.Rb3 Qg7 28.c3 R8f7 29.Rb2 h5 30.Rfb1 h4 31.Qe3 g4

Black is now threatening 32...Rxf2!.

32.hxg4 Qxg4 33.Qh3 Qxh3+ 34.Kxh3 Rxf2 35.Rxb7 Rxb7 36.Rxb7 Rc2 37.Kxh4 Rxc3 38.Rxa7 Rd3

This is the position I had been aiming for when I played 25...g5, thinking that my protected passed pawn on e4 would guarantee a win despite my pawn deficit. But an intense post-mortem analysis revealed that White can still draw with correct play.


But not like this! And 39.Ra4?!, allowing Black's king into the struggle, does not seem inviting. The right move is 39.Kg5!, and White can hold after 39...Rg3+ 40.Kf6 Rxg2 41.Re7.

39...Rxd4 40.Rxc6?? e3+ 41.Kg3 Re4!

This is the winning move that White overlooked.

42.Rc8+ Kf7 43.Rc7+ Ke6 44.Rc8 Kd7 45.Rh8 e2 46.Rh1 e1=Q+ 47.Rxe1 Rxe1, White resigns.

The above game was played in round one. The following game occurred in round three.

Carl Adamec (USCF 2111) - Jim West (USCF 2255), USATE 2/16/1997

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Neg5 h6 7.dxe5!?

In my book The Dynamic Philidor Counter-Gambit, I considered only 7.Nf7 Kxf7 8.Nxe5+ Ke7 9.Ng6+ Kf6 10.Qf3+ Bf5 11.Nxh8 Qe7+ 12.Be2 Qe4 and 7.Nh3 Bxh3 8.gxh3 exd4. Black has a playable game, in both cases.

7...hxg5 8.Bd3 Rh6!?

I could see by the look on my opponent's face that he had something cooked up. So I decided to give back material to free my position.

9.Bxg5 Be7 10.Bxh6 Nxh6 11.Bg6+ Kf8

Although my teammates questioned my judgment after the game, I think Black is already slightly better. Sure, White has rook and two pawns for two minor pieces, which in an endgame would give him good winning chances. But that endgame is a long way off. In the short run, Black's bishop and knight are stronger.

12.Qe2 Nc6 13.O-O-O

This may be too optimistic. Kingside castling is safer.

13...Be6 14.h3 Kg8


Understandably, White is anxious to play f4 to protect his passed pawn on e5. But Black's response shows this idea to be faulty.

15...d4! 16.f4 Qd5 17.c4

White decides to jettison a pawn and eliminate queens rather than allow the mechanical mating attack after 17.b3 Ba3+ 18.Kb1 a5, etc.

17...Qxc4+ 18.Qxc4 Bxc4 19.Ng4?

This move simply loses a second pawn for nothing.

19...Rf8 20.Nxh6+ gxh6 21.g3 Bxa2

With two minor pieces for White's rook, Black has a won game. But White's e-pawn still requires observation.

22.Be4 Bc5 23.Kd2 Na5 24.Ke2 Be6 25.Rc1 Nb3 26.f5!? Rxf5! 27.Bxf5 Bxf5

An unusual ending has arisen, featuring White's two rooks versus Black's extra pawn and three minor pieces. But the d-pawn is a powerful one.


White had to try 28.Rcf1 Be4 29.Rh2, although Black will soon win back an exchange.

28...Bc2 29.Kf3 Bxd1+ 30.Rxd1 a5 31.Ke4 Kf7 32.Rf1+ Ke8 33.Rf6 Bf8 34.e6 Nc5+!

Now 35.Kxd4 loses at once to 35...Bg7.

35.Kf3 d3 36.h4?!

Why this move? More sensible is 36.g4.

36...d2 37.Ke2 Ne4 38.Rf4?!

I had expected 38.Rf3 which holds out longer.

38...Nxg3+ 39.Kxd2 Bd6 40.Rf7 a4 41.Kd3 b5 42.Rh7 h5 43.Rh8+ Ke7 44.Rb8 b4 45.Kc4 Kxe6 46.Rb5 a3 47.bxa3 bxa3 48.Kb3 Nf5 49.Ra5 Kf6 50.Kc4?! Kg6 51.Kd3 Nxh4 52.Ke4 Ng2 53.Ra8 Nf4 54.Rg8+ Kf7 55.Rh8 Ke6 56.Rh6+ Kd7 57.Rh8 Kc6 58.Kf5 Kb7 59.Re8 a2 60.Re1 Be5!, White resigns.

Obviously 61.Kxe5 fails to 61...Nd3+ followed by 62...Nxe1.

Mike Shapiro (USCF 2265) - Jim West (USCF 2255), Somerset NJ 3/2/1997

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.exf5

I have been told that, when Anatoly Karpov visited GM Ron Henley in New Jersey, he was shown my analysis of the PCG in Atlantic Chess News. The story goes that Karpov touts 4.exf5 as highly favorable for White. Needless to say, I respectfully disagree, having won all six games where my opponents have played this variation.

4...e4 5.Qe2

It has not happened yet, but one of these days an opponent of mine will continue with 5.Ng5. I certainly hope so. Otherwise much home analysis will never be tested over the board.



After the game, my opponent asked me what the book continuation is here. When I told him that Steinitz recommended 6.g4 Nxg4 7.Qxe4+ Qe7, he was aghast. I agree. Although White has an extra pawn, his position is not enviable.

6...d5 7.f3 Nc6 8.fxe4

I had expected 8.c3, although Black stands well after 8...Bxf5.

8...Nxd4 9.Qd1 dxe4 10.c3

On 10.Bc4 Qd6 11.Nf7? Qb4+ 12.Nd2, Black wins after 12...e3!. Not much better is 11.O-O Nxf5 12.Qe2 Qd4+ 13.Kh1 Nd6, leaving White a pawn down with little to show for it.

10...Nc6 11.Qb3 Qe7 12.Bf4 Nh5!?

Usually a knight on the edge of the board is misplaced, but here the f4 bishop must be chased to allow ...Ne5 which should not be played immediately because of 13.Qb5+.

13.Be3 Ne5 14.Qa4+ Bd7 15.Qxe4 O-O-O

White has won a pawn but at great cost in development. Even Black's knight on h5 will come into play.

16.Ne6 Bxe6 17.Qxe5 Bd5 18.Qxe7 Bxe7

In order to reach this pawn-up queenless middlegame, White has traded his queen which moved seven times for Black's queen which moved only once. Black's big lead in development more than compensates him for the pawn.


After the game, my opponent suggested 19.Rg1. But after 19...Bd6, the threat of 20...Rhe8 gives Black the upper hand.


20.Bf2 Bxf2+ 21.Kxf2 Nf4 22.Bf3

Retreating his only developed piece with 22.Bf1 would leave White with a bad position after 22...Rhf8.

22...Nd3+ 23.Kg3 Bxf3 24.Kxf3 Nxb2

An inventory of the position shows that material is even. But White has no pieces out while Black is fully developed. Worse still, White can scarcely move without losing material.

25.g4 Nc4! 26.Re1 Rhe8 27.Rf1 Re3+ 28.Kg2 Re4 29.Kf3 Rde8 30.Rf2 Re1

Now the threat of 31...Na3 forces White to shed some pawns.

31.a4 Ne5+! 32.Kg3 Rg1+ 33.Rg2 Rxg2+ 34.Kxg2 Nxg4 35.Kg3 Ne3 36.Nd2

Perhaps 36.f6 gxf6 is a better way of losing the f-pawn.

36...Nxf5+ 37.Kf4 g6 38.Ne4 Nd6 39.Nf6 Re2 40.Nxh7 Rxh2 41.Nf6 a5 42.Ke5 Re2+ 43.Kd4 Re6 44.Nd5 Nf5+ 45.Kd3 b6 46.Rg1 Kd7 47.Kc2 Ne7 48.Nf4 Re4! 49.Nxg6 Nxg6 50.Rxg6 Rxa4

And Black won a hard-fought ending (102 moves!).

{This article originally appeared in the March-April 1997 issue of Atlantic Chess News}