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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: GM Evans - 1st American Open

2020-12-01 10:07:46
GM Evans - 1st American Open

This chess game features GM Larry Evans with White and John Blackstone with Black. GM Larry Melvyn Evans (playing White in this game) is not to be confused with chess master Larry David Evans. Larry David Evans reached “International Master level” (IM), but GM Larry Evans is probably the player most are thinking of. It was the very same GM Evans who worked with GM Bobby Fischer; this includes writing the game introductions for the games in Fischer’s book, “My 60 Memorable Games.”

In addition to being a skilled chess player, GM Evans was also a chess author and journalist. Evans has written (or co-written) more than twenty books on chess.

The 1st American Open in chess took place in Santa Monica, California, USA, 1965. Of all of GM Evans chess accomplishments, including winning (or co-winning) the US Chess Championship five times and the US Open championship four times, Evans himself cites this game as one of his best games. In the book “Modern Chess Brilliancies” (written by Evans), the game Evans-Blackstone, 1965, was included.

This game was from the third day of the (1st) American Open and took place in round 6. Naturally, the competition was tough; Evans had a lifetime peak rating of 2555 and Blackstone reached 2232 himself. Let us see what both players come up with here and why Evans thinks as highly of this game as he does.

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 It is safe to say that most strong chess players are familiar with the Open Sicilian - even if they themselves do not regularly play it. As an opening Fischer revitalized (with Fischer’s Bc4 creation later in the opening), I wonder if part of his playstyle stems from Evans; after all, Evans (as in this game) seems to have good success with this opening choice.

4. Nxd4 Nf6 The purpose of 4…Nf6 is to attack the e4 pawn and provoke White into playing 5. Nc3. Otherwise, White has the option of playing c4 and achieving a Maroczy Bind. If instead something like 4…g6, then 5. c4!? is interesting (Maroczy Bind is a structure of many openings where White places a Knight on d4 and pawns on c4 and e4). The Maroczy Bind is supposedly a nagging edge for White; nothing crushing, but a slight advantage. Some Black Sicilian players simply play 4…Nf6 to avoid the Maroczy Bind. However, I personally know at least one player who believes the Maroczy Bind isn’t much to fear; they refrain from 4…Nf6 and invite the Maroczy Bind! It is probably just preference and playing to your own strengths though; the goal of the opening in chess is basically just to give yourself a playable middlegame that you are comfortable with.

The first recorded use of the Maroczy Bind in a game was from Swiderski-Maroczy, Monte Carlo, 1904. A lesser known fact is that Maroczy appears to have never played this opening from the White side; maybe Hungarian GM Geza Maroczy didn’t think Black should fear this setup either? Modern opening consensus (at least for now as it changes fairly often) seems to be that the Maroczy Bind setup for White gives a slight edge, but nothing more. Typically, this structure (Knight on d4 and pawns on c4 and e4) “binds” the opponent in a space squeezing game. White overprotects the d5 square to deter Black from playing the liberating move …d5 themselves.

5. Nc3 a6 With these moves played, Black plays the Najdorf Variation.

6. Be2 e6 7. f4 Qc7 Now the opening name changes through transposition. This opening is technically the “Sicilian Defense: Open, Scheveningen, Classical Variation, 6…a6 7. f4” opening. The common move order is: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Be2 a6 7. f4 when the …e6 move on move 5 is what characterizes this as a “Scheveningen” opening.

The best move for Black, after 7. f4, is probably 7…Be7 though. The Black Queen on c7 is popular in many similar lines, but …Be7 gets closer to castling right away; plus, the Bishop scope may deter g2-g4-g5.
8. Bf3 Bd7 “Standard” developing moves so far…

9. g4 h6 And there it goes. White may be less inclined to charge into a pawn storm right away if the Black Bishop sat on e7, rather than on f8 - but here, 9. g4 looks more tempting to play immediately. Although not decisive yet, I think White has a small victory already because of Black’s small concession of weakening their Kingside by …h6. This may allow lines to open and an attack to form.

10. g5 hxg5 11. fxg5 Ng8 There is no satisfactory retreat square for the Knight to run to. It seems that 11…Ng8 is the best they have. When Black should be developing, and ideally castling soon, it is clear that Black has probably misplayed something if they are forced into “undeveloping” measures like this.

11…Nh7?! is the only alternative that doesn’t drop the piece outright and this option looks worse because White can play 12. h4 to secure the pawn and keep the Knight locked up and effectively out of play.

12. Be3 Ne7 13. h4 Nbc6 14. Nb3 Ng6 15. h5 Nge5 16. Be2 b5 The middlegame looks interesting and debatable which side is better. White has advanced pawns on the Kingside and Black has advanced pawns on the Queenside. The center is being contested, but both Kings are still uncastled. This game could go either way, but it is certainly exciting to say the least. Which King is safer and whose attack will crash through first? For chess players, it is a position like this that entertains the imagination with the many possibilities and outcomes.

17. Qd2 Nc4 White develops the Queen to prepare castling Queenside, but Black uses this opportunity to win the Bishop Pair. Interesting would be to see 17…b4!? to continue the pawn advance with tempi. 18. Nd1 would get in the way of castling and 18. Na4 can be met with 18…Rb8 while the White Knight on a4 is inactive and with no escape squares.

18. Bxc4 bxc4 Despite Black gaining an open b-file to attack, this is probably White’s best way to part with the Bishop Pair. The obvious alternative for White, 18. Qc1 (to defend the attacked b2 pawn and staying in line to recapture on e3) gives Black’s attack the initiative. That option would run something like this: 18. Qc1?! Nxe3 19. Qxe3 b4! and White is being attacked on the Queenside before their King even has a chance to get over there. With the White Kingside pawns advanced, the King will have no safe haven to turn towards.

19. Nd4 Ne5 Now White can even consider castling Queenside into the danger of the open b-file! Yes, it is not ideal for White, but sometimes a damaged shelter is better than no shelter at all. We must also realize that the Black army has no great place for their King, so having a little shelter may be better than the opponent situation.

20. Qg2 Rb8 20. Qg2 is strong as well though. The Queen prepares White’s pawn to march forward with g6 and have support behind it on the g-file. Usually it is a friendly Rook that takes this role (Tarrasch Rule), but sometimes the Queen will be suffice instead.

21. Rb1 Qa5 I would have loved to see 21. g6! instead. This move stays consistent with Qg2, but it is more ambitious to invest into the pawn storm when Black seems to be aiming pieces on the other side of the board. 21. Rb1 is a good defensive move (probably thought necessary in the game), but I believe 21. g6! was the way to play with the initiative and forcing prospects.

How should Black address 21. g6! here? Keeping the flank closed with the natural-looking 21…f6 may run into trouble. For instance: 21…f6 22. h6! Rg8 23. h7 Rh8 24. Rb1 and now Rb1 is played to similar effect, but White has made all of this progress on their attacking side of the board. Black’s entire Kingside is tied up and the White h7 pawn is extremely dangerous.

21…fxg6 22. hxg6 Rxh1+ 23. Qxh1 is a clear advantage for White. A pretty cool continuation would be 23…Rxb2? (greedy) 24. O-O-O! Rg8 25. Rf1! and now White has dangerous control of the game all thanks to the dominated presence on the f-file and h-file.

22. Ke2 Kd8 White’s Ke2 move is a logical way to “connect the Rooks”, but both King moves (Ke2 and …Kd8) illustrate the need for the King to sit in a safe palace. Take this as a lesson: castle early; it is important! Both sides got involved in attacking plans before castling and now both Kings have no ideal hideout. This is playing with fire; imagine how much better one side would be if they had a safe King and could exploit the opposing monarch without a reminding concern for their own.

During the endgame, it is safer for the King to become active. However, this position has both armies with both Rooks and the Queen still on the board! With all of the heavy pieces in play; it is very dangerous to have no place for the King to run if an attack erupts.

23. Nf3 Bc6 Since the White King is paradoxically safer than the Black King (paradoxically because it is still fairly open), White will try to ambitiously open lines of attack in the center if possible. White would relish at the thought of getting the d-file open if possible.

24. Nxe5 Qxe5 Naturally, Black tries to keep the center closed whenever possible. An interesting alternative for White would have been 23. Qg3!? with the goal of adding pressure to e5 and d6; maybe even one of the Rooks could be prepared to control the d-file with Rook (either) to d1 in some lines.

25. Qf3 Rb7 26. Bf4 Qc5 27. Rhd1 Rd7 25. Qf3 not-so-subtle with eyeing the f7 pawn. 25…Rb7 defends this threat. Immediately following, White goes back to attacking the center - specifically the e5 and d6 squares with the important d-file in mind.

28. Rd2 Be7 29. Rbd1 Bxg5 White’s pressure on the d-file is irksome for Black at the very least. The doubled Rooks now also contribute to overloading the d6 square. Eventually, Black has had enough and plays 29…Bxg5 to try to liberate their position. By taking an important White pawn on g5 (important because it was part of White’s lead pawn duo of g5 and h5), Black hopes that the g-pawn will be close enough in value to the d6 pawn that is dropping.

Perhaps this is Black’s best try with d6 virtually impossible to secure; however, the absence of the d6 pawn will open the d-file and this positional point may become decisive. Sometimes it isn’t about the material in chess; sometimes it is about the literal position with important squares, files and the like.

30. Bxd6 Qb6 With the central overloading and critical d-file pressure, we must not forget that Black is threatening other things here as well. Some threats include …Bxd2 and even discovered attack options with …Bxe4 because the Black Queen would now aim at d6 again. For these possibilities, 31. Bf4 is the only move that White has to address everything.

31. Bf4 Bxf4 32. Qxf4 Ke8 Black is simply attempting to get the King off of the dangerous d-file. Either side being castled safely would immensely help their position, but right now it is Black who has the worse King because White has yet to become under attack on e2. It is living on the edge with the White King on e2 (out in the open with all of Black’s heavy pieces in play), but White is safer than first glance appears only because Black doesn’t have the piece activity, nor the initiative, to exploit White being uncastled.

33. Qe5 Rh7? Passively defending the g7 pawn this way looks like Black is conceding the game. Not better is 33…Rg8?? 34. Rxd7 Bxd7 35. Nd5! and Black’s defenses collapse. The d5 Knight can’t be captured because the pawn is pinned and White is threatening many attacking possibilities. The attack may continue like this:

35. Nd5! Qc6 36. h6 f6 (36…gxh6 37. Nf6+ forks to gain material) 37. Qh5+ Kd8 and White penetrates the defenses with 38. Qf7 next.

Best for Black was probably to minimize the d-file force first. 33…Rxd2+ 34. Rxd2 Kf8 35. Qd6+ Kg8 and the Black King is trying to find refuge.

34. Rxd7 Bxd7 35. Nd5! Qc6 White is certainly in control; if any side is winning, then surely it is White.

36. Qb8+ Qc8 Forcing. Black must defend with the Queen because blocking with the Bishop gives White a checkmating net. With best play, Black loses to mate in 11 starting with 37. Nc7+. At least my computer believes so. It doesn’t take a chess engine to see that Black’s King will be pushed to the Kingside though. From there it will be at the mercy of White’s pieces without adequate defense by Black in the region.

36… Bc8 37. Nc7+ Ke7 38. Qb4+ (Qxc8?? blunders the initiative as …Qxe4 let Black save a draw with perpetual check) Kf6 39. Ne8+ Ke5 (39…Qxe8 40. Rf1+ continues the attack when the Black Queen is inactive to defend the incoming attack) 40. Qc3+ Kxe4 41. Qe3+ Kf5 42. Rf1+ Kg4 43. Rg1+ Qg2+ (very computer-looking to delay the inevitable by throwing away pieces) 44. Rxg2+ Kh4 45. Qf4+ Kxh5 46. Qg5# illustrates the point with a long sample line.

It is impressive if a chess grandmaster can calculate this far, but in most cases it is seldom worth the effort. Maybe to demonstrate ability under long time controls, they can calculate it out for amusement. However, I find that even strong chess players generally stop calculating once they see the line is completely winning. One does not necessarily need to calculate as far as checkmate here. One simply needs to see the Black King is driven out into the open where its friendly forces can’t help (in this case, Black is chased into the open Kingside in front of their pawns).

37. Nc7+ Kd8 White is completely winning because they have the attack and the initiative. Seeing many moves deep is not required - just an intuition, or glance analysis, is sometimes enough.

38. Nxa6 Rxh5 39. Qb6+ Ke7 40. Qd6+ Ke8 White can sadistically torture the opponent because all of Black’s pieces are tied to the defense or effectively out of play. The Black Queen and Bishop are busy trying to defend the King from the attack and the h5 Rook is so far away that it might as well be off of the chess board!

As long as White doesn’t let go of the initiative, they will probably find a successful way to crash through. Maybe their attack will run out of steam, but let us be real here: how is Black getting counterplay? Even if the Rook was able to give a check on h2 (even if the White Queen didn’t control this square too), then the White King can casually head towards the safety of c1 or b1. Without exact calculation, it is simple enough to see that pragmatically Black is lost.

41. Nc7+ Kd8 42. Na8 1-0 Black finally resigns because they have no practical chances for counterplay even if the initiative is given to them.

One example finish may be:

42. Na8 Ke8 43. Nc7+ Kd8 (the repeating of the position psychologically favors the attacker) 44. Rd4! (to effectively “Rook lift” to the c-file and eventually attack the Black Queen at the proper time) Rh3 45. Nxe6+! fxe6 46. Qf8+ Kc7 47. Rxc4+ Bc6 48. Rxc6+ Kxc6 49. Qxc8+ and converting the win is now far less technical for White.

This game was from the 1st American Open and yet we can still learn from it today. This is a neat element of chess; even the old games are still relevant for analysis. We can all learn a lot from players, of prior generations, like GM Evans.
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