Friday, April 6, 2012

The end of my postal chess adventures: the Benko Gambit with h3 instead of g3

I played chess by mail off and on from the middle 1960's to the early 1990's. Most of this was under the auspices of the United States Chess Federation, playing in their annual Golden Knights tournaments. In the Golden Knights you start in a preliminary section, playing six opponents, and if you score well you advance to an intermediate round. If you score well there, then you advance to the finals.

By the late 1980's I had become disenchanted with the USCF, as I had come to believe that it was a completely incompetent organization, if not a downright corrupt one. However, I had to maintain my membership as long as I had postal chess games going. My last USCF-sponsored tournament was the 1984 Golden Knights. I qualified for the finals, and in the finals I had a long, drawn-out game with Murray Kurtz, which lasted two and a half years. Neither of us was violating the time limits, but he was in Canada and this delayed the mail by a day or two each move; plus, we got to an ending and it was not decided until 54 moves had been played. I was anxious for the game to end so I could drop my USCF membership, but I was also anxious to get the draw because that would give me an even 3-3 score in the finals, which to me would have been a great accomplishment. So, I fought on.

Kurtz-Weaver, 1984 Golden Knights finals, Benko Gambit
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 Bxa6 6 Nc3 d6 7 e4 Bxf1 8 Kxf1 9 Nf3 Bg7 10 h3

This move was new to me, but I came to understand that it makes eminently good sense. Usually when White "castles by hand" he plays g3, and then his king on f1 goes to g2. Now White will need an extra tempo for the by-hand castling, but this is trumped by two considerations: first, White often plays h3 anyhow to prevent a Black knight from coming to g4; and second, the White King is much more safely placed on h2 than it is on g2. Black often puts his Queen on either b7 or a8, and he then gets tactical shot possibilities if the White king is on that same diagonal, as it is on g2.

10...0-0 11 Kg1 Nbd7 12 Kh2 Qa4 13 Re1 Rfb8 14 Re2 Rb4 15 Qe1 Ne8 16 Nd1 Qa7 17 Bd2 Bxb2?!

Certainly it is tempting to recover the gambit pawn here, but perhaps Black should not be so ready to part with his dark-squared bishop. But if I don't take on b2, he then neutralizes my bishop with 18 Bc3. Hard to know what is best here. At the time I felt that the endgame was in my favor, since my passed pawn on c5 is protected, while his passed pawn on a2 is unprotected and isolated. However, Murray demonstrates a deeper understanding of the position.

18 Nxb2 Rxb2 19 a4 Qa6 20 Re3 Nc7 21 Bc3 Rb7 22 Qc1 Rab8 23 Nd2 Ra7 24 Rg3 Ne8 25 Nf3 Qc4 26 Nd2 Qe2 27 Kg1

This illustrates what is said to be the other drawback of the system with 10 h3, which is that White often moves his king back to the g-file, expending another tempo. However, it seems irrelevant here as we have been engaging in aimless maneuvering anyhow.

27...Nef6 28 Qc2 Nh5 29 Re3 Qa6 30 Qd1 Ng7 31 a5 f6 32 Qf1 Qxf1 33 Kxf1 Rg5 34 Nc4 Rb3 35 Bd2 Rxe3 36 Bxe3 Ne8 37 Ke2 Nc7 38 Rb1 Kf7 39 Bd2 Ke8 40 g4 Kd8 41 Kd3 Kc8 42 Nb6ch Nxb6 43 Rxb6 Rb7 44 Rxb7 Kxb7

Here I thought sure that I had achieved the draw. My knight on c7 holds the Queenside, leaving my king free to guard the weak pawn on e7. How is White to break through?

45 Kc4 Kc8 46 f4 Kd7 47 h4 h5?

Murray said after the game that he thought this was the losing move. However, it seems that White is threatening 48 f5 no matter what I do, so probably Black was lost regardless.

48 f5! gxf5 49 gxh5 Ke8 50 exf5 Kf7 51 h6 Kg8 52 Bf4 Kh7 53 Be3 Kg8 54 Bxc5! Black resigns 1-0

Only while doing research for this post did I learn that Murray finished second in that tournament, scoring 17 and a half out of 18, and then he was a co-winner of the 1990 Golden Knights with a perfect 18-0 score. He also won the 1991 Canadian Correspondence Chess Championship with a 13-1 score.

Having determined to cut my ties with USCF, toward the end of my postal chess adventures I played in tournaments with two other organizations, the CCLA and the APCL. In 1990 the Kansas Chess Association held a postal tournament, and I played in that as well. In a game against Jason Kasick, Black played the Benko so I got a chance to try my hand at the White system with h3.

Weaver-Kasick, 1990 KCA postal, Benko Gambit
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5 4 cxb5 a6 5 bxa6 g6 6 Nc3 Bxa6 7 e4 Bxf1 8 Kxf1 d6 9 h3 Bg7 10 Nf3 0-0 11 Kg1 Nbd7 12 Kh2 Qa5 13 Re1 Rfb8 14 Qc2

I vary from 14 Re2 as played by Murray in the last game.

14...Ne8 15 Bd2 Qa6 16 Nd1 Nc7 17 Bc3 Nf6 18 Ne3 Nb5 19 a4 Nxc3 20 bxc3 Nd7 21 Ra3 Rb7 22 Rb1 Rab8 23 Rab3!

After all the rooks are exchanged on the b-file, my passed a-pawn will become quite strong.

23...Rxb3 24 Rxb3 Rxb3 25 Qxb3 Nb6

Practically forced, as I was threatening to get my a-pawn moving with 26 Qb5. Black will now be able to capture my a-pawn, restoring material equality, but in return I will get a decisive kingside attack, due to the unavailability of Black's queen and knight to help in defending the Black king.

26 g4 h6 27 c4 Nxa4 28 Qb8ch Bf8 29 g5 h5 30 Qe8 Nc3 31 Nf5! gxf5 32 g6 fxg6 33 Qxg6ch Bg7 34 Ng5 Black resigns 1-0

He would have to give up his queen to stop the threatened mate.

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