Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Got the Blues

Another game down, no win. I'm at ten now without a win: 5 losses, 5 draws. All the games played down against people lower rated. But, I think I've definitely turned the corner in terms of play. I should have won all three of my most recent games - nothing that would really qualify as a blunder in any of them. It's remarkable to me still that I could suffer such a drought without really making any serious blunders along the way...

Anyhow, the endgame practical jokes continued last night. It's getting pretty humiliating. By the time I reach these positions, I am so frustrated with my inability to make something more concrete of the games that I lack the objectivity to be patient and find what's there. None of my games this year have been theoretical endgames so far - maybe with the exception of the two drawn rook endgames that I won (but those came before the drought began). The trouble is more a matter of concrete calculation and my willingness to suspend disbelief and concentrate on seeing if there's anything there.

Up until now, my opponent, who had the white pieces, had put in one heck of a game for someone rated 1490-odd, and he would assuredly have done even better if he hadn't gotten into an ugly time scrape. I scrounged a pawn in the transfer to the endgame and managed to... make very little of it, and the best I could see was this reduction to two pawns versus a bishop, a reduction that I also pointedly misplayed ( I should have been up about 2 tempi on this position, which might well have been enough to win easily. So... here we were. He had just played Kc4 and then extended his hand in a draw offer, and, quite demoralized by this point, I accepted.

It's a draw right, we're all agreed? I mean come on - he munches the b-pawn with his king and then swings the bishop over to guard h1 and that's it...

HA! Take a look at 1...h3 2.Kc3 Kg3 3.Kxb2 Kf4! 4.Ba2 Ke5 0-1. Yeah, that one I found without Fritz. I just set it up on my board at home to sulk, and there it was, gleaming at me with all of the evilness that a couple of hunks of plastic can muster, and I was left to wonder what in the world was wrong with me. So it continues, and I'm left to pout over my own foolishness. Chess can be pretty tough medicine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Najdorf Problem

About a year ago, I decided to adopt the Be2 line against the Najdorf Sicilian, hoping to get positions that would be stable and flexible, enabling me to comfortably deploy my pieces and pressure my opponents without needing to launch violent sacrificial attacks. The resulting praxis was confusing and unfortunately, a bit disappointing. I guess that my (rather premature) conclusion would be that the Najdorf is just a really slippery beast to tackle - you have to get both hands around its throat and hold on for a long time to get that full point.

White: Joshua Haunstrup (1817)
Black: Seth Neel (1794)
Event: MCC Summer Solstice (4)
1 e4 c5
2 Nf3 d6
3 d4 cxd4
4 Nxd4 Nf6
5 Nc3 a6
I had recently won a pretty ugly miniature from Seth at the Rhode Island Championship, and, still harboring memories of a similarly miserable loss that I had suffered at his hands about a year before, I was looking forward to sticking it to him with my new toy. (This was my first outing with Be2.)
6 Be2 e6
7 0-0 b5?!
Dubiousness sets in already! Evidently, Seth wasn't used to seeing his opponents playing with such reserve (I knew he was pretty booked up on Be3 for instance). However, alas, it took me another move before I spotted the correct reply Bf3.
8 Bg5 Be7
9 Bf3 Ra7
10 a4 b4
11 Na2 e5
12 Bxf6 Bxf6
13 Nf5 Bxf5
14 exf5 a5
15 c3 Qb6
16 Qd2 Na6
The position is kind of hard to evaluate, and definitely not the sort of thing that would ever have cropped up in an Anand-Kasparov game. At the time, I couldn't really shake the sense that I should have gotten more from the position after his sketchy b5 advance, but up to this point, he played with a lot of poise. White probably does have a little something here just based on the awkwardness of black's defense, but it's not the position that affords a lot of scope for outplaying your opponent. It's much more a duel of who will be able to continue to find the "only" and best moves turn after turn.
17 Rfd1 Rd7
Probably 17... b3 was stronger.
18 cxb4 axb4
19 a5 Qb5
20 Rdc1
And here, I finally strayed a bit. 20.Qe2 with the idea of forcing his knight away from the defense of b4 after the exchange of queens was probably best.
20... d5
21 Rc8+ Bd8
22 Be2?!
Once again here, Qe2 with an exchange was the best. My move lost a bit of the advantage, relinquishing the pressure, and the game sputtered soon afterwards into an ending that we agreed drawn.
22 ... Qb7
23 Bxa6 Qxa6
24 Qc1 Qxa5
25 Nc3 Qb6
26 Na4 Qb7
27 Qc5 Rc7
28 Rxc7 Bxc7
29 Rc1 Bd8
30 Rd1 Be7
31 Qxd5 Qxd5
32 Rxd5 f6
33 Nc5 Bxc5
34 Rxc5 0-0
35 Rb5 1/2
Alright, the first outing was a bit of a disappointment, but what of the second?

White: Joshua Haunstrup (1817)
Black: Philip Nutzman (1865)
Event: BCC Quad 7-6 (3)
1 e4 c5
2 Nf3 d6
3 d4 cxd4
4 Nxd4 Nf6
5 Nc3 a6
6 Be2 e6
7 0-0 Be7
8 a4 Nc6
Here we have a fairly standard mainline position. And now... I went astray! For some weird reason I really got into a habit of prematurely retreating my knight from d4 in standard sicilian positions for a while. I guess the advice here for all readers is that the knight really belongs on d4 where it has a lot of scope unless there's really a very good reason to retreat it, and fear of exchange and fear of a knight coming to c5 are not good reasons in most cases.
9 Nb3? b6
10 Be3 Bb7
11 f4 0-0
12 Bd3 Qc7
13 Kh1 Rfd8
14 Qe2 e5
15 Nd5?!
Something like 15.fxe5 dxe5 16.Qf2 would have been more standard, preserving some hope of a slight advantage. My move is rather wacky - a knee-jerk reaction to Nutzman's pawn-break that's kind of an overreaction.
15... Nxd5
16 exd5 Nb4
Now we've reached the boiling point.
Black has a lot of coiled dynamism and verges on being able to demonstrate that white has overextended. Best was certainly 17.a5! which I had been planning some moves ago but somehow forgot about in the heat of the moment. The resulting play might have continued: 17...bxa5 18.c4 Nxd3 19.Qxd3 Bf6 20.fxe5 Bxe5 21.Nxa5 with an unclear position in which black has to tread very carefully. This would have reserved pretty good chances for an advantage. Instead, I tossed it all with a move that demonstrated that I really didn't have a handle on the subtleties of position.
17 fxe5
From here on out, it's all black all the way.
17... Nxd3
18 Qxd3 dxe5
19 c4 b5
20 axb5 axb5
21 Rxa8 Bxa8
22 Rc1 bxc4
23 Rxc4 Qb7
24 Qc2 Qxd5
25 h3 Bb7
26 Nc5 Rc8
27 b3 Bc6
28 Nd3 f6
29 Bc5 Bxc5
30 Rxc5 Qd7
31 Kg1 Qd4+
32 Kh2 Rd8
33 Nc1 Qf4+
34 Kg1 Rd2
35 Qxd2 Qxd2
36 Rxc6 e4
37 Rc8+ Kf7
38 Rc7+ Kg6
39 Rc4 e3
40 b4 Qf2+
41 Kh2 e2
42 Nxe2 Qxe2 0-1

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shouldering Through the Slide

So... the Continental Open (6 rounds, $2000 prize, section cutoff just above my rating) was a great opportunity to break out of my month-long slump and rekindle some good form, but alas, it was not to be. Nay, instead, 2 draws and 2 humiliating losses in, all against much lower-rated opponents, I found myself rather confused and bewildered. At a certain point when you're losing in all manner of novel ways and not winning a single game, even the really, really won ones, you have to begin to wonder if there's a fundamental concentration problem, though I suppose that Ladyluck certainly has it within her whimsy to deal a month of snakeyes if she should so desire. Anyhow, it started ugly, and it ended ugly, and, on some level, I'm still scratching my head.
This is my round 1 game, I was white, position after my sixteenth move. The opening has essentially just ended, and it looks dynamic and interesting. I have barely strayed from theory - not mainstream theory - fringe theory - but theory nonetheless. However, I think that the position is already quite suspicious.
16... b4
17 axb4 Nxb4
18 g5 Nd7
19 Bg2 Bb7
20 Qf2
It's really hard to find a good spot for her majesty. This doesn't really seem like a blunder of a move, but it can't be good. In truth, I don't really know how to improve on my play from the above position.
20... Rfc8
21 Rd2 Nc5
22 Qe3 a5And it's about time to think of what I'm having for lunch. Yeah, he's just got too much firepower. As if the cuteness of ...Na2+, Nxa2 Nxb3 wasn't enough for me to sweat over, now that horrorshow of an a-pawn is breathing down my neck and my king is just whimpering. I lasted eleven moves more before I had had royally enough, and each one of those moves was painful to make!

On to Game 2. I was black. This is one that I blew badly in the opening. Then, after suffering in a miserable - and probably losing - position for hours, my opponent suddenly caved in and I just didn't have the composure to punish him.White has missed his shot here and now needed to retreat his Rook to e1 to hold, but instead, he played:
25 Re5?
Which loses a pawn.
25... Qxa2
26 Rxb7 Rab8
27 Rxb8 Rxb8
28 Re2 Qb1+
29 Re1 Qxb2
30 Qe3 Rd8
31 Qd3 Qb5
32 Qc3 g6?!
I was very twitchy from the long fight, and I didn't want to take any chances. The trouble is, this weakens the one diagonal that can conceal a tactic viz the advance of the white d-pawn. Pushing the h pawn was much preferable, and best was probably the simple 32...Qa4, as the surest way to maintain an advantage is to figure out how to avoid trading the a-pawn for the white d-pawn.
33 Ra1 Rb8
34 h3 Rb6
35 Ra5 Qc6
36 Rc5 Qd6
37 Rc8+ Kg7
38 d5+At this point, I was feeling quite shaky. I could see dimly that blocking the check with e5 would allow Rc6, forcing the exchange of the a and d-pawns, and I thought that the resulting position could hardly offer much to black, but certainly it had to be better than what I did play!
38... f6?!
Now the position is cover-your-eyes frightening.
39 Rc7+ Kh6
40 Qc1+ g5
41 Qc2 Rb1+
Whew! I found that last resource and I have a pulse, but my winning chances are completely gone.
42 Qxb1 Qxc7
43 dxe6 Qe5!
Black's threats with the a-pawn are enough now to maintain the balance.
44 Qb6 a5 1/2

Now, for one more painful anecdote. In round 4, I had the black pieces after another traumatic draw that should have been a win. Here I got an essentially winning position from the opening, but I think that by now I was getting pretty tired, and certainly, I was feeling very unsure of myself.
Here, in response to my idea of targeting the weak e3-square with Ng4, white has played Ng3-e4, threatening to come in at f6 with a fork. Objectively, this isn't much, and I have a simple way of smashing him, but I just didn't see a way forward for the life of me, and I was feeling very nervous. So, I played:
23... Kg7?
If instead I had played the necessary 23... f5!, sample lines are 24.Nc3 e4 25.Nd4 Nxe3! or 24.Ng3 Nxe3 25.Rf2 e4 and white is absolutely finished! The game continued:
24.c5 Bc7
25.b6 Bb8
26.h3 Nh6
27.Nfg5 f5
Even here I had the chance to stir things up with 28...Rd3 29.Nb5 Nf7, but after the further silliness,
28... Ng8
I was well on my way to another passive collapse.

So, I have consigned myself to a little break, some long nights of sleep, maybe a little better nutrition, and then I'll be ready for another go at it. I just can't quite put a finger on precisely what I've lost from a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Losing is a Contagion

Yeah, it's official at this point: I have entered the strange nexus of free-falling. I have now lost 4 games against lower-rated opposition, the most recent against a player over two hundred points lower rated, and this after going some 70 games with only one loss down over the course of last year... Some kind of cosmic justice for the underdogs? Maybe it's just all of the rust of having taken off 6 months finally catching up to me, but I have found some very weird ways to bungle chess games.

Saturday at the BCC Quads I had two draws and a loss. In both of the draws I had fairly clear wins on the board (one that was at the point where I was almost waiting for my opponent to resign and then I let slip a repetition.) The loss was just a role over stick a fork in me type event that I can only put down to demoralization and stress with the time control. That and my most recent game (another loss of course) seem to indicate that lack of confidence is showing up in a propensity for moving slower that is now beginning to take a toll on my clock management, something that has never been a problem before in my entire chess career.

Amazingly, I could not find my score sheet after last night's encounter, further evidence that I really wasn't all there somehow, just very befuddled and confused with myself as I stumbled away from the board. Luckily, I remember the game essentially in its entirety, though I'm a little unsure of the opening move-order.

My opponent was a 1600 player who had just recently won the U1700 section at the club and I had the white pieces.

This position came about as a result of some rather eccentric play by my opponent from a Sicilian. It looks kind of like a very odd Benoni sort of thing, except that my knight is on a3 instead of c3. I put the steed over there to cut out any b6-b5 nonsense, but I wonder now if that was really just silliness on my part, because the knight remained very cut off for most of the game.
12 Bc2 This was a pretty commital decision. I wanted to be able to exchange off the dark-squared bishops, and I figured that once I had pushed f4, I would have a far superior position in terms of space and flexibility. I think I was misevaluating though, as my opponent remains amazingly resilient in his cramped position, and as soon as I tried to leverage my space, I became worse.
12... Nge5
13 Nxe5 Nxe5
14 Bh6 Qd7
15 Bxg7 Kxg7
16 f4 Ng4
17 h3 Nf6
Alright, so far so good, so I have built my big impressive center. The trouble now is that I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of stifling him with c3-c4 to avoid letting him get counterplay against d5. I was thinking and thinking about trying to arrange e4-e5, and was really just kind of ignoring my inferior piece-placement on the queenside. This is elementary stuff, right? I don't know what I was on about. I think logical at this point would have been 18.Nc4 with something like 18...Qc7 19.Ne3 and he may get the b5 push afterall, but at least I'm much better placed to try to take advantage of my space.
18 c4?! Rae8
19 e5 Nh5
20 Qc3 This was kind of a lazy move. I was thinking, alright, maybe my opponent can be induced to simply blunder. I guess that g4 was netting the knight after some adventures, but it looked really hairy. Yeah, laziness.
20... Kg8
21 f5 dxe5
22 Qxe5 Qd6
At this point I think the tide has turned. My central space advantage has spent itself for naught, and all of a sudden I am looking at uncomfortable endgames where my awkward piece placement and poor coordination will really tell. But it was such a big space advantage, I was thinking...
23 Rae1 Bc8
24 fxg6 hxg6
25 Qg5 e5
Now I'm really getting into trouble. My opponent's central pawn is a nasty creature, and he even has ideas of f5 in some lines. Fritz now suggests that I just say to heck with what I'm doing and play Nb1 to reroute, and actually, I'm inclined to agree. That troublesome steed's misplacement is the difference between a playable position and unplayable one.
26 Re3 Nf4
27 Rfe1 Kg7
As I was recently discussing with blunderprone, one of the biggest obstacles to successful and consistent chessplaying is a player's own psychology, and that was certainly the case here. Having felt that I was better for part of the game, and believing that I really had no business doing anything but winning, I now began to despair in the face of the monster knight on f4 when in truth, the position is not really that far from equal. Again, Nb1 was in order to regroup, and I should have just played on with some patience. However, with the time controls approaching and feeling very nervous, I forgot for a moment that the knight was covering g6, and I went ahead and snatched the pawn, shedding an exchange by accident!
28 Rxe5 f6
29 Qxf4 fxe5
30 Qg3 Bf5
31 Bxf5 Rxf5
32 Nb1 Qf6
Here I am distinctly struggling, though amusingly, Fritz thinks the position remains about equal. But, most importantly, I finally got it into my head to redirect the knight!
33 Nc3 e4
34 b3?
Finding myself somehow, ridiculously, still in the game, I finally made a very serious error with 34.b3 when I really needed to play Qe3 to stifle his play. Now he should have just pressed on with 34...e3 and really shoved that pawn down my throat. I was running out of mental resources though, feeling pretty foggy-brained, and I soon followed up my first error with a real howler of a blunder.
34... Qd4+
35 Re3?? That's it, adios. All he needs to do now is find 35... Rf3 and I am absolutely finished.
35... Rfe5??
Unbelievable, I thought, and now I'm better again out of the blue! Would I have the mental reserves to blitz out the next few moves accurately and make the time control though? I was down to a few minutes.
36 Ne2 Qa1+
37 Kh2 R5e7?
He's certainly not finding his way in the time scramble. He had to defend g6 somehow, maybe with 37...Rf8 38.Nc3 Ref5 39.Re1 Qb2 40.Nxe4 when I have two pawns for the exchange and am beginning to amass threats. Instead, my opponent's move goes much of the distance toward losing by force.
38 Nf4! Qe5
Note that he can't play 38...Qf6 because of 39.Nh5+
39 Qxg6+ Kf8
Here I was looking intently at 40.g3 trying to figure out precisely how the followup was going to go. Somehow, in the complexity of the moment, I got lost in the variations: 40.g3 Rg7 41.Qxb6 Qd4 42.Re2 and what was the best way to win? And all of a sudden, I looked up and he was pointing at my expired flag. I had had about a minute and ten to come up with my fortieth move and I had totally blacked out. Afterwards, I could say to my credit that the tactical vision that egged me on to keep searching was correct, as 40.Rg3 was incontestably stronger than 40.g3, and even the remarkable 40.d6 was probably better. It was really sad for it to end that way, though I certainly made enough errors earlier to deserve to lose... but to have time expire on a won position...

Oh well, there'll be another game.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Not in Single Spies

Trying to get back on the horse after my frustrating last-round meltdown against Lung on Tuesday, I attended the Boylston Chess Club Earlybird Rapid Quads this week, but unfortunately, I just succeeded in demonstrating that I have definitely run into some rust at last. I guess you can't take off many months and expect it all to be smooth sailing...

There were three games, 2 wins and a loss; respectable enough, but the second win was very rocky, and the loss was an all out disaster. I had the strange experience, which I don't think I have ever had before, of calculating out a sequence of moves, deciding precisely what I was going to play, and then reaching out and making the second move in the sequence instead of the first. Yeah, instead of being up a pawn, I was down a piece, not because I didn't see it, rather, because I my hand just moved the wrong piece... Hard to explain that kind of a loss.

I think I'll share the second win. It was messy, hectic, and altogether a bit of a botched job by me, but it was entertaining, and it definitely looks like a game played with 30 minute time controls.

White: Joshua Haunstrup (1880)
Black: Walter Driscoll (1807)
Event: BCC Rapid Quad (2)
Date: 2007-08-01
(A40 English Defence)
1 e4 e6
This was quite a surprise, and it got even more surprising when Walter played his second move.
2 d4 b6
Here, I thought for a moment, which I'll bet was the intent of the move - get me behind on the clock in a rapid game - and I decided that my chances of stirring up a hornet's nest - read, a good time - were better by forcing a transposition to the English Defence instead of monkeying around in some hippo-esque position.
3 c4 Bb7
4 Bd3 Nc6!?
I have always thought that the move 4...f5 was fascinating! Lines go something like: 5.exf5 Bxg2 6.Qh5+ g6 7.fxg6 Bg7 8.gxh7+ Kf8 9.hxg8=Q+ Kxg8 10.Qg4 Bxh1 with a totally irrational position.Alas, Walter wasn't feeling quite so frisky as I was.
5 d5 Ne5
6 Nf3 Bb4+
7 Nc3 Bxc3+
8 bxc3 Nxd3+
9 Qxd3I had originally assessed this position in my mind as just much better for white based upon my space and the clump of pawns that I have blocking the black white-squared bishop. Now I'm not so sure though, as f5 ideas look fairly promising for black. If my center implodes, he's gonna hvae a lot of energy.
9... Ne7
10 0-0 Ng6
11 Be3 a5
12 c5 b5
13 Rfd1 c6

I thought that this had to be wrong. Once I get my central pawns cemented home on the dark squares, I must be strategically winning, mustn't I? It just seems to rotten for black.
14 d6 Ba6
15 Qd4 0-0
16 e5 b4
17 cxb4 axb4

A good position to take stock, and really a rather critical one for the subsequent vicissitudes of the game. Here is where the troubles started for me, troubles in the category of oversights. Somehow, though I sat and looked at it, rather blankly I should think, I studied the upcoming tactical shot Be2 without registering that it posed a mortal threat to my e5 pawn. Certainly e5 has gotta be worth a good deal more than b4 as far as zones of control go, and I don't know... It just slipped away from me, and by the time I woke up and stopped making bad moves, I was in a lot of trouble.
18 Qxb4? Be2
19 Rd2? Bxf3
20 gxf3 Nxe5
21 Qe4? Qf6
3 bad moves later and my position is rapidly approaching the lost periphery. First I blundered by snatching b4 when I thought I was winning it. I had seen the doubling on f3 but somehow hadn't considered that I was also losing e5. Then I played the foolish d2, making my a1 rook into a potential tactical target. Then I played the queen to e4 instead of f4, allowing Walter to fit f3 with real force. I think I was just reacting slowly to developments at this point, thinking that I would have time to play Kh1, Rg1 and use my queen's pleasant white square threats from e4...ha! Yeah right, the position is now a total mess.
22 Kg2 Nc4?
Whoops, Walter tosses some of it back to me. 22... Nxf3 was really nasty and probably best.
23 Rdd1 Nxe3+
24 fxe3 Qg6+?
This is also wrong. With my king so exposed and my pawn centre crumbling, the queen could really have helped Walter to tie me down. It's true that my pawns are more vulnerable without the support of my queen, but I think that the queens were certainly as much an aid to him as to me.
25 Qxg6 fxg6
26 a4 Rf5
27 Rdc1 Ra5
28 e4
Curious. I haven't Fritz'd this in any depth, but I really wonder if I have anything substantial in the endgame after 28...Rxc5. My a-pawn looks really dangerous, but Walter might have time to make all of that work for him, and if the a-pawn advance runs out of juice, I am definitely toast.
28... Rg5+
29 Kf2 Re5
30 Rc4 Kf7
31 Rac1 Kf6
32 Rb1 Rexc5
33 Rxc5 Rxc5
34 Rb7 Rc2+
35 Kg3 Ra2
36 Rxd7 Rxa4
37 Rc7 Rd4
38 Rxc6 e5
Blunderprone and others are going to start mocking me for all of my insistence that rook endings are insignificant to chess improvement, and it is pretty funny that right after I wrote that I have seen a glut of these things in my games... but I have yet to ever lose one! I think that from here I'm doing fine again, though the position is still pretty messy. I haven't the foggiest what the theory on something like this would be. I just knew how the king ending would look if I played it right, and I'll leave the rest without comment, as I'm really not qualified to say anything more than that the king and pawn ending was totally won after Walter advanced his h-pawn.
39 h4 Ke6
40 Rc7 Rxd6
41 Rxg7 Rd7
42 Rxd7 Kxd7
43 Kg4 h6
44 h5 gxh5+
45 Kxh5 Ke7
46 Kxh6 Kf6
47 Kh5 Kf7
48 Kg5 Ke6
49 Kg6 Ke7
50 Kf5 Kf7
51 Kxe5 Ke7
52 f4 Kf7
53 Kd6 Ke8
54 f5 Kd8
55 e5 Ke8
56 f6 Kf8
57 Kd7 Kf7
58 e6+ Kf8
59 e7+ 1-0

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Down in Flames

Well, my ten-game undefeated streak has been snapped in ferocious fashion - I even lost down, something I almost never do.
One of my repeat opponents, little James Lung, pulled a surprise in the opening and, well...

White: Joshua Haunstrup (1880)
Black: James Lung (1794)
Event: MCC Independence Day Swiss (5)
Date: 2007-07-31
(C63 Ruy Lopez, Schliemann)

1 e4 e5
2 Nf3 Nc6
3 Bb5 f5

The Schliemann Lopez is very tactical, making it a good practical choice against most players, but I have always known it to be rather dubious, and having played it myself with the black pieces on and off, I thought I had a pretty good feel for the variations. Thus, instead of ducking the challenge with 4.d3 or 4.Bxc6, which I am sure I should have done, taking stock of the fact that it had been a long time since I had studied the opening, I decided to dive straight into the main line:
4 Nc3 fxe4
5 Nxe4 d5
6 Nxe5 dxe4
7 Nxc6 Qg5
8 Qe2 Nf6
9 f4 Qxf4

Here we are then, 9 moves of theory, and what's going on? The position is sort of irrational. White has some threats with the knight on c6, and black has some tactical ideas so long as white's king is still in the center. This is where I lost the clarity of the theory. In the past, I have played Nxa7+ which isn't supposed to grant much in the way of an advantage for white, but which I think is actually quite strong in a practical over-the-board situation. The main move is Ne5+, but I thought that I could interpose 10.d4, which seemed natural and strong. Then, after 10...Qh4+ 11.g3 Qh3, I could go back and play 12.Ne5+ and we would transpose. I kind of thought that 10...Qh4+ was the only reasonable reply to 10.d4, so you can imagine my surprise when James whipped out 10...Qd6. I guess that's partly why the Ne5+ comes first, because the queen is so nicely situated on d6, and this is still a theoretical position, though I don't really understand why, because it seems downright dubious for white if you ask me. To make matters worse, I naturally assumed that 10...Qd6 was a mistake of some sort, since I new it didn't happen in the main line, so I started to consume gobs of time trying to crack it.
10 d4 Qd6
11 Ne5+ c6
12 Bc4 Qxd4!

This is the simple move, but it's not even in the book that I have! Everybody in the past seems to have played 12...Be6, but James knew better. Afterall, my threats on f7 are really pretty weak. I'm never going to have time for Nf7, and this only really began to sink in now. I wanted to play Bf7+, but I think that this just gets a piece stuck on an awkward square. No, all in all, the white position is already really untenable. For example, 13.Nf7 Bg4 14.Qf1 is getting really frightening, and is in danger of being imminently embarrassing.
13 Nf3 Qc5
14 Ng5

Right about here I actually had this funny notion that I was back in the clear and had threats that were meaningful, but this is just an illusion. The truth is, black has threats and is up a pawn.
14... Bg4
After this, I think that my original intention had been to play something like 15.Qf1, but after 15...0-0-0 things are turning south fast, and cheap tricks like 16.Be6+ aren't going to save me. Hence, my move, which I think Fritz agrees with, though it does seem to salient a bishop pretty badly.
15 Bf7+ Ke7
16 Be3??
Given my nervous state at this time, all the energy I was putting into trying to figure out exactly how and why this position had arisen, I think that a blunder was kind of logical, but ouch, this one's really ugly. I had even calculated the right move, 16.Qc4 several time over, I just didn't want to play it. My logic was that having just forced James to misplace his king, just about the only thing I had going here was the dim potential of some kind of tactical shot off the monarch, so I really didn't want to take the Queen off. After 16.Qc4 we'd be in an endgame or queenless middlegame where his extra central pawn would have been the topic of discussion. I think that he'd have pretty good winning chances, and at the least he would have made me hurt for a long time. Instead, after,
16... Qxg5
It was time to resign: 0-1

It's hard to know what conclusion to draw from a disaster like that. I had just played James a few weeks ago and beaten him rather convincingly, and the sad thing is that I had a nice piece of preparation waiting for him in his old main opening variation. It's logical to blame the opening line for the bad position, and I do think now that 10.d4 must be rather dubious, or at any rate, fairly untenable. I'm just amazed that it has such pedigree - no less a player than Kamsky has played it - so I'm going to have to Fritz it more and see what I can find. The strong masters seem to reply to 12....Qxd4 with 13.Bf7+ Ke7 14.Bf4 and then the black player plays 14...Be6 afterall, which seems very inconsistent. What I don't understand is why black doesn't just double down and play 14...Qxb2 15.0-0 Qc3 and thumb his nose at white. It looks ugly for black, but I can't see any way through for white. Can anyone else?
Certainly, in my game I blundered, and blundered badly, but I think that was a product of the situation, of the bad psychological state you find yourself in when you have tried to refute something that haven't seen before and it isn't working - it can be really hard to change gears from trying to punish someone to groveling for a draw in a lousy position.