Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Mike and the French Defence

We continue our tribute series to the late, great Mike Closs with a fabulous game he played against the French Defence.

The French Defence featured very regularly in our chess conversations, as it was the defence I most often played against his habitual 1 e4. Mike would try to trick me into revealing my thoughts on various lines, presumably with the idea of saving them up and using them against me. No such luck. Then, as now, I kept my cards close to my chest.

Mike Closs vs. Peter Hempson
Redcar Open, 1995

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2

Mike played so many lines against the French, including the Advance, 3 Nc3 and the Wing Gambit. However, the Tarrasch was his most regular choice.

3 ...Nf6 4. e5 Ne4 An unusual line, advocated by GM Daniel King on his French Defence DVDs (actually, in those days it was still Foxy Openings video tapes!).

5. Bd3 f5 6. exf6 Nxf6 7. g4

No messing around from Mike! Black must react to the threat of 8 g5 followed by a quick Qh5+.

7 ...g6 8. h4 e5 9. g5 e4 10. Be2 Ng8 11. Nb3 Bf5 12. Bf4 Bd6 13. Qd2 Ne7 14. O-O-O b6 15. f3 Mike's favourite occupation: opening lines!

15 ...Nbc6 16. fxe4 Bxe4 17. Rh3 

Wonderfully original play by Mike, who is already planning on swinging the rook across to the queenside.

17 ...Qd7 17 ...a5 is an interesting alternative, with the intention of embarrassing the knight on b3.

18. Bxd6 Qxd6 19. Re1 O-O-O This looks logical, but is perhaps inferior to both 19 ...a5 and 19 ...0-0. As soon as Black's king castles queenside, Mike steps up a gear and lets him have it.

 20. Ba6+ Kb8 21. Nc5!

He was very strong when he held the initiative.

21 ...Na5 22. Ra3 Rhf8 23. Ree3 Nf5 24. Rec3 bxc5 25. Rxa5 Nxd4 26. Rcxc5 Qf4 Tempting, as it appears to substantially dilute the attack, However, Mike proves it to be an error. Black should have tried the unlikely-looking 26 ...Qxa6 27 Rxa6 when 27 ...Rf1+ 28 Qd1 and now not the obvious 28 ...Rxd1+, which leaves White in control, but 28 ...Rxg1!!, when 29 Qxg1 allows 29 ...Ne2+ and 30 ...Nxg1.

27. Rab5+!

Mike's attack is spectacular and even more impressive as it looks as if Black has secured an exchange of queens. How is Mike to crown his attack without his favourite attacking piece....?

27 ...Nxb5 28. Rxb5+ Ka8 29. Bb7+ Kb8 30. Bxd5+ Kc8 31. Be6+ Rd7 32. Bxd7+ Kd8 33. Rb8+ Ke7 

Go on then, Mike!

34. Re8+! Rxe8 35. Qxf4 Kxd7 36. Nf3 and after this remarkably late debut move by White's king's knight, Black resigned, 1-0

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