Friday, 9 May 2014

Memories Of Mike: The Lion

 Memories Of Mike: The Lion

It's that time of the year again, when we look back at my dear departed friend, Mike Closs.

Last time I presented games between us, we examined two connected games featuring the Sicilian Defence. I had more than my fair share of games with the black pieces against him. It was only towards the end of our chess battles that the balance started to level out.

One game sticks in my mind because we had both been preparing the same opening in anticipation of being black. It was in the Cleveland County Championship - a tournament we were both desperate to win. When the pairings were announced, I was given a rare White and prepared a little surprise in the opening. Instead of playing 1 d4 and heading for the usual King's Indian or Benoni Defence I decided to try 1 e4 (Mike's favourite moves as White). If I'd have been given black I was going to surprise Mish by giving a debut the Black Lion.

Imagine my surprise when he eschewed his usual defences (Sicilian, Pirc and Modern) and played instead...the Black Lion! It turned out we had both been preparing using the same two books, namely The Black Lion and An Explosive Chess Opening Repertoire For Black. The former is a classic (subsequently updated for New in Chess) and the latter, although mainly concerned with the Pirc Defence in response to 1 e4, nevertheless contained some material relevant to the Lion.

Mish had apparently been carting the books around with him for weeks (studying chess while at work) and more than once resorted to bending back the covers of the big, hardback Lion book so I wouldn't be able to catch a glimpse of it in his bag.

Sean Marsh vs. Mike Closs
Cleveland County Championship, Round 6

1. e4

Surprise! This was the first time I'd played 1 e4 against Mike since our very first game, back in 1982, when we played for our respective school teams - Warsett and Westfields.

1 ...d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nbd7

Counter-surprise! I had been expecting 3 ...g6 - the Pirc Defence. 3 ...Nbd7 is one of the branches of The Lion. I had spent my time preparing the other variation for Black, starting with 3 ...e5. I knew little about the main lines after 3 ...Nbd7 and Mike admitted he was having trouble remembering them too.

4. f4 e5 5. Nf3 exd4 6. Qxd4

We both knew the line up to here but then we struggled to recall the critical moves.

6 ...Be7?!

6 ...c6 is the best move here. 

7. e5! dxe5 8. fxe5 Bc5 9. Qh4

White is doing well here. 9 Qa4 may be even better, because it would avoid a trade of queens.

9 ...Qe7 10. Bf4 Ng4!?

10 ...Bb4 was a safer alternative, winning some central squares for the Knight on f6, but Mish always preferred to drum up tactical chances rather than play positionally.

11. Qxe7+ 

After 11 Qxg4, Nxe5 lights the tactical touchpaper and gives Black the better game. We were both using up lots of time on the clock already and the game was very tense.

11 ...Bxe7 12. Nd5?!

An inaccuracy. White has the advantage and 12 h3 Nh6 13 0-0-0 would have preserved more of it. I probably missed that Black would gain an important tempo with a subsequent ...c6.

12 ...Bd8 13. h3 c6!  14. Nc3 Nh6  15. O-O-O  Nc5 16. g4 Ba5 17. Be3 Bb6 18. Kb1 O-O 19. Bc4

It still looks good for White, but the resourcefulness of the Mighty Mish could never be underestimated.

19 ... Na4! 20. Nxa4 Bxe3 21. Rhe1 Bf4 22. Nc5 b5 23. Bb3

23 Bd3! is also good. It wouldn't be a target for Black's queenside pawns and it would have the option of going to e4 to apply strong pressure along the h1-a8 diagonal. At the time I thought the pressure on f7 would be more important, but when it came to the crunch I chose the wrong path.

23 ...Bg3 24. Rf1 a5 25. a3 Re8 26. Ng5 Ra7

I think the best chance for White to turn the advantage into something  serious is 27 e6! when 27 ...Bxe6 28 Ncxe6 fxe6 29 Bxe6+ Kh8 30 Bd7! would appear to win at least the c-pawn and probably (eventually) the game. Yet at the time we were both so short of time on the clock that it was difficult to play anything committal over the board.

27. Nxf7 Nxf7 28. Ne4 Be6! Equality at last! The most likely continuation here is 28 Bxe6 Rxe6 29 Nxg3 Rxe5, so we agreed to a draw at this point.  1/2-1/2

Related posts

Memories of the Mighty Mish Part 1

Memories of Mike Part 2
One Year On

Memories of Mike: 1 e4 c5

More Memories of Mike

Memorial Tournament Reports

1st Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

2nd Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

3rd Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

4th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament

The 5th Memorial Tournament will take place later this year.

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