Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Memories of Mike: 1 e4 c5

Two years ago today, we lost the Mighty Mish. Gone - but not forgotten, of course. Here are a few more memories from our games together.

Back in the 1980s, when we first started to play against each other regularly, the Sicilian Defence was a major part of my repertoire. I switched between the Dragon and Najdorf variations. In the latter, I often transposed to Scheveningen positions, heavily influenced by the first two Kasparov - Karpov matches.

Mike excelled in the Sicilian Defence. 1 e4 c5 were undoubtedly his favourite opening moves from both sides of the board. He went on to adopt both the Najdorf and Dragon to great effect and his victories as a white Sicilian-slayer were legendary.

Over the course of a week in 1986, we contested two games which were very important to both of us. Both were Scheveningens and we won one each. I achieved a tremendous position in the first game and...lost. In the second game, Mike did exactly the same.

Mike Closs - Sean Marsh
Guisborough v Redcar, League Match

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e6 7.0–0 Be7 8.f4 Qc7 9.a4 0–0 10.Kh1 Nc6 

Yes, we knew our stuff in those days. Mike also knew I played the Poisoned Pawn variation against 6 Bg5 and he wasn't ready to take that on.

11.Nb3 b6 12.Be3 Rb8 13.Qe1 Re8 14.Qf2 Na5 

Mike's typical kingside attack hasn't started yet and Black is able to take the initiative. I remember reading about this ...Na5 idea in a book. Black hopes to open the b-file and develop some Benko Gambit style pressure. The doubled pawns didn't seem like a big price to pay.

I remember something unusual occurred around here. The lights in the chess club (a tiny room upstairs at Guisborough Cricket Club) went out. 'Bad play stops light', we quipped. Thinking of illuminated alternatives, someone was sent downstairs to ask the Bridge people if they wouldn't mind us using the back of their room (we knew our place). We were given permission and carefully carried the boards downstairs. Everything was very quiet in the room as we started to think about our positions again, but things changed dramatically as soon as the Bridge players finished a hand. Such noise!

15.Nd2 d5 16.e5 Nd7 17.Bd4 Nc6 18.Nb3 Nc5 19.Nxc5 bxc5 20.Bxc5 Rxb2 

Black looks good here, but we were both getting very short of time and Mike was always trying to find active play to give him a chance of turning the tables. In later years, we would joke about how he always seemed to have positions with a Bishop on d3, a pawn on e5 and a Queen jumping out to either g4 or h5.

21.Bd3 Nxe5 22.Bxh7+ Kxh7 23.Bxe7 Ng4 24.Qh4+ Nh6 

A flurry of drama, but Black is doing well. White's position is collapsing but Mike knew how to throw pieces towards an enemy King and always retained a puncher's chance. We were both in very bad time trouble now and we had to reach the time control at move 36.

25.Nd1 Rxc2 26.Bg5 d4 27.Nf2 f5 28.Nd3 Bb7 29.Rg1 Qc3 30.Rad1 Rd2 31.Rxd2 Qxd2 32.Ne5 

See what I mean? Mike suddenly has three pieces in excellent positions, just waiting for a slip in the defence.

32 ...Rg8??

This looked good at the time. My idea was to use the open g-file (after Bxh6) to augment my attack on g2. Unfortunately, I'd missed one of Mike's trademark Queen moves, which turned the game around completely.  32 ...Rc8! was the best move, intending to meet 33 Qh5 or 33 Bxh6 with 33 ...Qxg2+, forcing checkmate.

33.Qh5! d3 34.Qg6+ Kh8 35.Bxh6 Bxg2+ 36.Rxg2 Qd1+ ...and, having reached the time control and realising that Black had nothing left to try, I resigned.  1-0

Just two days later we were at it again.

Mike Closs - Sean Marsh
Cleveland Championship

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. f4 O-O 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qe1 Qc7 11. Qg3 b5 12. Bf3 Bb7 13. a3 

A more critical line than the one used in the first game. We both played the opening very quickly and no wonder; we had doubtless spent many hours preparing over the previous couple of days.

13 ...g6 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 15.f5 He never messed around when it came to attacking on the kingside. 15 ...exf5 16. exf5 a5 17. Bh6 Rfe8 18. fxg6 hxg6 19. Bg5 Kg7 20. Bxc6 Qxc6 21.Qh4 

White has a big advantage here.  

21 ...Ng8 22. Qd4+ Kf8 23. Qf4 

He was very good with his Queen! Apparently Black's best try is to play either 23 ...f6 or 23 ...f5 here, which shows how difficult the position is. I played something else, which should lose the game. 

23 ...Qc4 White can play 24 Nxb5 is he wants to, but the game variation is very strong too. 

24. Bxe7+ Rxe7 25. Qxd6 Kg7 26. Rf4 Rd8 

We were both in time trouble again and missed 27 Rxf7+, netting another pawn. Mike no doubt wanted to keep things as simple as possible to confirm a victory, but it's interesting how quickly he lets things slip after the Queens are swapped.

27. Rxc4 Rxd6 28. Nxb5 Rd2 29. Nd4 Re4 30. c3 Rxb2 31. Rc5 Re3 32. Rc1 Rd3 

Black's Rooks are troublesome now and with both of our flags hanging Mike blundered and lost a piece with...

33. Rc2? Rxc2 34. Nxc2 Rd1+ 35. Ne1 Rxe1+ 36. Kf2 Rc1 

Here the game was adjourned and we came back the following week to continue. The rest of the moves don't really require any comment.

37. Ke3 Nf6 38. Kd4 Rc2 39. Rxa5 Rxg2 40. c4 Rxh2 41. c5 Rd2+ 42. Kc4 Rd8 43. c6 Rc8 44. Kc5 Ne8 45. Kb6 Rb8+ 46. Kc5 Kf6 47. Ra4 g5 48. Rd4 Ke5 49. Rd5+ Kf6 50. Rd4 Nc7 51. Rd7 Ne6+ 52. Kd6 Rb3 53. c7 Rd3+ 54. Kc6 Rxd7 55. Kxd7 Nxc7 56. Kxc7 g4 57. a4 g3 58. a5 g2 59. a6 g1=Q 60. Kb7 Ke5 61. a7 Qxa7+ 0-1

Two games with the wrong results!

We only ever contested one more Sicilian Defence. That came during a four-game training match as we prepared for the Leeds Rapidplay tournament. We had to acclimatise to 30-minute chess (a novel idea at the time) and a match seemed a good idea. Mike raced to a 2-0 lead but it ended 2-2, with the Dragon winning in game four. Mike then took up the Dragon himself and used it at the Leeds event, but as this earlier column mentioned, his debut with it wasn't exactly a success!

After 1986 I never played 1 ...c5 against his 1 e4. He just became too strong in the resulting positions and I tried some other openings against him. But that's another story.

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