Saturday, May 2, 2020

Game Analysis: Getting All of Your Pieces Into the Game!

Hello everyone and welcome. As we continue to deal with COVID-19 and the lack of over the board tournaments, I am continuing to analyze games as they finish in correspondence tournaments. In the last article, we looked at a game from a Zonal tournament. This time, we are going to look at a game from the "Lockdown Cup 2020" tournament. It is a small tournament of strictly players from the United States. There are 50 entries all told with many players having two entries. It is broken down into 10 prelim brackets with 5 players each, the winner of which will advance along with the highest rated 2nd place finishers to move on to the Semi-Finals, and then there will be a finals bracket where the top two finishers there will get paid. With each bracket being 5 players, and playing a single game against each player, two White and two Black, there is little room for error. I am in two Prelim brackets, both of which feature an IM, a player in the 2100s, myself, a player in the 1500s, and an unrated player.

The game we will be looking at today features an O'Kelly Sicilian, an opening I don't particularly think highly of for Black, and we will see Black failing to get his Kingside pieces into play. White will manage to get every piece into the game in rapid fire fashion, not giving Black the time he needs after a couple of early errors, and the Black King will get hunted down execution style.

Without further ado, let's take a look at the game.

Lockdown Cup 2020 - (Prelim Bracket 4)
W: Patrick McCartney (1900)
B: Ed Gomolka (1507)
Sicilian Defense, O'Kelly Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6

This is known as the O'Kelly Variation of the Sicilian. Some players really love it. I see it more as a one trick pony, and if White knows what he's doing, I personally view the ...a6 move as a waste of time.


The O'Kelly player is usually hoping for White to play 3.d4?!, which truly is a dubious move now. The idea is that 3...cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5! gives Black an improved version of the Sveshnikov or Najdorf. Normally in the Sveshnikov, which arises from 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5, White will place his Knight on b5, virtually forcing 6...d6, blocking in the Bishop. Here, White would be forced to play 6.Nf3 or 6.Nb3 as the b5-square is covered by the a-pawn. In addition to playing this in Sveshnikov fashion, Black could also treat his play in more Najdorf fashion with two major pluses. The first is that the Bishop on f8 is not blocked by a pawn on d6. In the normal Najdorf, we see 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 (or one of many other moves) e5. Here, White has an extra developing move already, and Black's extra move is ...d6, a now backwards pawn that hems in the Dark-Squared Bishop. Here, in the O'Kelly move order, if White plays a move like 6.Nf5, Black can play the move 6...d5 in one go, not making a stop on d6 before going to d5, and the move ...d5 is usually the dream move for Black in many lines of the Sicilian. If White plays a little more conservative with a move like 6.Nf3, Black can bring the Bishop out with 6...Bb4 and can still then follow up with putting the pawn on d6 rather than d5 after getting his problem piece out.

So those are the dream scenarios for the O'Kelly player. Now the bad news. The moves 3.c3 and 3.c4 are both fairly strong for White, and puts the question to Black as to what he is doing with that 2...a6 move. In both cases, the idea is to follow up with a subsequent d4, but there are major differences between playing d4 on the 3rd move shown above, and playing it a move later. In the cases above, where we saw 3.d4?!, Black played an early ...Nf6, forcing White to play Nc3, and hence blocking the c-pawn. With a move like 3.c4, we get a Maroczy Bind type of position, which then raises the question "What are you doing with that ...a6 move?". Some of you that may have seen my games before have seen me play the Prins Variation against 2...d6. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.f3, and here, Black can blast the center with 5...e5 followed by 6...d5, play in dynamic fashion with 5...e5 and 6...Be6, transpose to the Accelerated Dragon, or play a Hedgehog setup. While 5...a6 can lead to a Hedgehog setup, it is usually played in a different order, and most 5...a6 players that I've ran into are Najdorf players that don't know what they are doing, and I refer you to "Chess is a Game with 32 Pieces" for a prime example of that!

So yes, Black can play a Hedgehog here, and I have played 3.c4 before in the past, and don't recall one case of an O'Kelly player playing a Hedgehog. So this begs the question, if you aren't going to play a Hedgehog, what is the purpose of your 2...a6 move?

In this game, I played White's other strong option, 3.c3! Here, White is saying that we are going to now play an Alapin Sicilian. The move Nf3 is very useful, and many normal Alapin players will play 2.Nf3 themselves first before playing 3.c3. The move 2...a6 though? Where do you see an early ...a6 in Alapin lines? That's the question White raises with this move. He is putting the onus on Black to prove that he hasn't wasted time with his second move.


This move does not address Black's problems. He will never have any issue with getting this Knight out, and so there is no need to rush it. Instead, he needs to break up White's center before it is fully built. The problem with 3...Nf6 is that after 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4, we are in the 2...Nf6 line of the Alapin with Black having played the useless ...a6 move. Without the extra moves of ...a6 by Black and Nf3 by White, I would fully recommend this line to anybody playing Black, and when I played the Sicilian, it was 2...Nf6 that I played against the Alapin, but here it can't be recommended.

Therefore, I think Black's legitimate options are narrowed down to two. The first is to play 3...d5, which will, in essence, lead to a tempo-down version of the 2...d5 variation, but here, since a trade on d4 occurs early, and the Knight can go to c3 early, covering the b5-square with the pawn could have a legitimate purpose, unlike in the 2...Nf6 Alapin. The other option is to play more in French fashion with 3...e6 4.d4 and now, rather than taking on d4, playing 4...d5. White is now the one that decides whether to play more in Advance or Exchange French fashion. Here, the move ...a6 can be viewed as being the most useful, and if someone came to me and asked me what was best for Black after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 3.c3, I would have to say this line with 3...e6. It leads to a somewhat useful purpose for the move 2...a6, and opens up the Bishop to be able to get out.

With what we will see in this game, that Bishop on f8 will never see the light of day, and therefore, neither will the Rook on h8!

4.d4 cxd4 5.cxd4 d6?!

Once again, not addressing the problem of Black's Kingside pieces. Yes, a move like 5...e6 might appear to do harm to the Light-Squared Bishop, but Black has fewer problems with his Queenside. He can still get the Bishop to d7 or b7 fairly easily, but here, instead, we will see Black taking extra time to get this Bishop all the way out, and continuing to ignore the Kingside pieces.

6.Nc3 Bg4 7.Be3

Absolutely nothing fancy by White. Sure, 7.Be2 is also a fine move, but here, White sees the long term weaknesses on the dark squares, and we will see later on the criticality of this piece covering the b6-square. Without it, White's upcoming attack wouldn't really have been possible.


It should be noted that if Black plays 7...Bxf3, White should take back with the pawn. After 8.gxf3!, the doubled pawns are not an issue, and in reality, it simply bolsters White's center while he goes hunting down the Queenside.

8.Qb3 Qc7?

Black is already in a bad spot, but this just makes matters worse, putting the Queen on an open file. He had to try 8...b5 or 8...Na5, both with a clear advantage for White, but Black wouldn't likely get blasted like he does in the game.

9.Rc1 Qd7

EXERCISE: Black has completely ignored his Kingside. Before scrolling past the diagram below, I want to you think four to six moves ahead, and come up with a very strong and forcing plan for White that will virtually put Black in his misery immediately. Take a few minutes to analyze the position and see what you can come up with before proceeding past the diagram. Many moves lead to a winning position for White, but what we are looking for is the most forcing, no nonsense approach.


This move probably wasn't too hard to find. It's what follows that is tricky.


Black does not have time for the intermezzio move, 10...Bxf3, as after 11.dxc6, Black has two pieces under attack and will lose the Bishop. Also bad is 10...Na7 when 11.Bxa7! demolishes Black's hopes at survival. Both 11...Nxe4 12.Nxe4 Rxa7 13.Qe3 and 11...Rxa7 12.Nb5!! win significant amounts of material with Black's Kingside still not developed. In the latter case, the Knight can't be taken as 12...axb5 13.Bxb5 drops the Queen to a pin, and 12...Ra8 13.Nc7+ forks the King and Rook, and so Black at best is dropping the exchange, and probably more!


Critical that this piece be eliminated.

11...dxe5 12.Bb5!!

This was likely the hardest move to see. White is just flat out giving up a piece, but if you look a few moves down the road, the Knight, the Queen, the Bishop, the Rook, and after White castles, the other Rook, are all coming into the game, and all moves but one are forcing in nature for White, and so Black will get time to catch his breath for only one move. What can he do with that one move? Open the Bishop but never move it? This move here is what I really consider the hard part of the Exercise, along with maybe the 12.Nb5 move in the 10...Na7 line. The fact that the Bishop pins the Queen to the King makes it so that Black is forced to accept the sacrifice and go straight into White's attack.

12...axb5 13.Nxb5

So now the pessimist would say that White is down a piece for a pawn. The optimist would say White's up a Rook and a pawn. White has the threat here of 14.Nc7+, winning a whole Rook, and so Black doesn't have the time for moves like 13...e6 here, trying to get his pieces out. Here is also where we see why the Bishop on e3 is so important. With the b6-square weak, Black can't even move his King to d8 to solve the problem because White will simply check with the Bishop and then fork him with the Knight anyway!

It should also be noted that attempts to deflect the Queen don't work either. After 13...Rxa2 14.Qxa2 Qxb5 allows mate in 3 with 15.Qa8+ Kd7 16.Qc8+ Kd6 17.Qc7#, and while 13...Bd1 does eliminate White's ability to castle as he would take with the King, it does nothing to save Black's bacon. Therefore, Black's next move is virtually forced, though, of course, Black could probably resign pretty safely at this point!

13...Rc8 14.Rxc8+ Qxc8 15.O-O

Ok, remember when I said that Black will get one free move? Here it is. What is Black going to do about it? Back on move 10, this is the position you have to visualize and realize that there is absolutely nothing Black can do to save himself in order to go through with it.


Neither this nor any other move works. Some of the other options for Black include:
  1. 15...b6 16.Bxb6 Bd7 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Rc1 Qb7 19.d6!! exd6 20.Ne6+ and now both 20...Ke7 21.Bd8+ and 20...Ke8 21.Nd8 win the Queen as Black must take the Bishop since 22.Qf7# was threatened.
  2. 15...Nxe4 leads to misery after 16.Rc1 Qd7 (or 16...Qxc1 with similarities to the game) 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Qxb7 e6 19.dxe6 Bxe6 20.Qxe4.
  3. 15...e6 16.Rc1 Qd7 17.Rc7 Qd8 18.Rxb7 Be7 19.Nc7+ Kf8 20.Rb8 also nets White the Queen.

16.Rc1 Qxc1+

Black can't save the Queen anyway. After something like 16...Qb8, White has 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Qb6 followed by 19.Na6+.

17.Bxc1 Nxe4 18.Nc7+ Kd8 19.Qb6 Kc8

Black can prolong the game with 19...e6 or 19...f6, but the result is already decided. This move allows White to end the game immeidately.

White to Move and Mate in 7


Only this Knight move to the corner forces mate! Of course, just about any move is winning.

20...Kb8 21.Qc7+ Ka7

The most prolonged mate runs 21...Kxa8 22.Be3 Nd6 23.Qxd7 and now either 23...Kb8 24.Bb6 Nc8 (Or 24...e4 25.Bc7+ Ka7 26.Qa4#) 25.Qc7+ Ka8 26.Qxc8# or 23...b6 24.Bxb6 Kb8 25.Qa7+ Kc8 26.Qc7#.

22.Be3+ Kxa8

Flicking in 22...Nc5 does nothing but prolong it a move.

23.Qd8+ 1-0

The final position deserves a diagram.

The final position sees the four Black Kingside pawns, the Dark-Squared Bishop, and the King's Rook, sitting by their lonesome with no involvement in the game what-so-ever, and all of this came from over focusing on the Queenside pieces, which tend to be the simpler pieces to develop in the Sicilian Defense to begin with. Do note, however, that when your opponent fails to develop his pieces, whether they be the Kingside pieces or Queenside pieces, this is not a luxury that lasts for ever, or even for a while. To take advantage of such a mistake typically requires a lot of "loud moves". Notice that from move 10 to the end of the game, there was only one quiet move by White, and that was castling on move 15. Had White proceeded with quieter moves, the game would not have ended so abruptly, and the game might not have even ended with the same result! So when early development looks suspicious, always be on the lookout for sacrificial attacks, especially if you are able to force the King to come out in the center before he is able to castle into safety. That should automatically be a red flag that some form of attack is out there.

This will conclude this article on getting all of your pieces into the game. I will continue to write these articles as correspondence games reach their end. Once over the board play starts back up, you'll start seeing articles with more regularity like you have prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. I'll be back again once another game finishes. I still have 11 games ongoing, and I'll have about 40 more or so starting up in June. Till then, stay safe.

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