Thursday 30 June 2016

Mike and the Caro-Kann

As we saw yesterday, Mike Closs had a number of weapons in his arsenal to take on the French Defence. After his normal 1 e4, he played many times against 1 ...e6, but it is a little odd that so few people tried the related move 1 ...c6. Somehow the Caro-Kann was rarely seen in Mike's games. As far as I know, he never played it as Black, preferring openings based on a kingside fianchetto (Pirc, Modern, Sicilian Dragon), although he did have a brief spell with the French Defence a long time ago.

With White, he varied his response to the Caro-Kann without ever settling on a favourite. After 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5, I certainly saw him play 3 Nc3, 3 Nd2, 3 e5 and 3 exd5 (the latter two against me when I twice surprised him with 1 ...c6).

Today's game sees him using the Advance Variation and reveling in the standard space advantage before arranging a tactical denouement.

Mike Closs vs. Kyle Kinnie
Redcar Open, 1995

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 Bf5 4. Nc3 e6 5. Be3 Bb4 6. Nge2 Ne7 7. Ng3 g6 8. Bg5 h5 Black's kingside pawn play is reminiscent of a Gurgenidze System, although it would be useful if the bishop could fill in the weaknesses on the dark squares. On the other hand, the pin on the knight is quite annoying for White.

9. h4 Nd7 10. Be2 Qa5 11. Qd2 Rg8  Rather than commit the rook to a particular position, Black should have stayed more flexible with 11 ...c5 or even 11 ...0-0 12. O-O Nb6 13. a3 Bxc3 14. bxc3 Na4 15. Rab1 Just in time, as Black was building serious pressure on the queenside. The counter-threat against b7 stops Black from gaining the advantage.

15 ...Nb6 16. Rb3 Kd7 17. Rfb1 Rae8 An important moment in the game. White stands better, but how can he inject a little more poison into the position?

18. Qc1! Making way for the bishop to retreat from g5 to d2, when it can play against the black queen. I like this creative idea very much. 18 ...Rc8 19. Bd2 Nc4 Black cracks under the pressure. 19 ...Qa4, although not entirely satisfactory, avoids the tempo-gaining 20 c3-c4 and is probably the best try. Once b7 drops the writing is definitely on the wall. 20. Rxb7+ Rc7 21.Bg5 Rgc8 I can't recall a single game in which Mike threw away such an advantage. I really like the way he now swaps off all three sets of minor pieces, almost on successive moves. He undoubtedly had the final position of the game in his mind, even from this distance. 22. Bxe7 Kxe7 23. Qg5+ Ke8 24. Nxf5 exf5 25. Bxc4 dxc4

26. e6 Qa6 27. Rxc7 Rxc7 28. Rb8+ Rc8 

Go on then, Mike!

29. Qf6!! and Black resigned, 1-0. Just try and find a successful defence!

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

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Mike and the Danish Gambit

Yesterday's game showed Mike's resourcefulness under pressure. Yet it was not a typical game for him. Mike was the one who normally held the initiative and more often than not he was able to drive home his advantage to pick up the full point.

He excelled when he was White and able to unleash one of his pet gambits. He was fascinated by the Danish Gambit for a couple of decades and was rewarded by numerous notable victories after gaining a very early advantage. Mike would often phone just to update me on his analysis of this opening, safe in the knowledge that I would never allow him to play it against me, as I was not going to reply to his 1 e4 with 1 ...e5!

Today's game was played in one of Mike's rare appearances in the 4NCL. The game was published in a couple of places, most notably in the 2003 book Danish Dynamite by Mueller and Voigt.

Mike Closs vs. Nicholas Jakubovics

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Bc4 cxb2 5. Bxb2

Here it is. White sacrifices pawns to load up two torpedo bishops. Black has to be very careful. Amazingly, most of Mike's opponents avoided the safest line for Black, which starts with 5 ...d5, returning some of the material to speed up the second player's own development.

5 ...d6 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Qb3 Qd7 


Black has defended against the threat on f7 and now has hopes of trading knight for bishop after 8 ...Na5, so Mike takes steps to prevent this. Black then finds an artificial-looking way to mobilize his kingside pieces. 8. Bc3 Nh6 9. h3 f6 10. O-O Nf7 11. Na3 Nce5 12. Nxe5 Nxe5

Here one might expect Mike to play to preserve the bishops with 13 Be2, to be followed by 14 f4, hitting the centralized knight. Instead he must have been tempted to force his initiative in a more direct fashion. Perhaps he was concerned by giving Black a defensive tempo to play 13 ...Qf7. He was not always the most patient of players!

13. Bxe5 dxe5?

13 ...fxe5 is the better of the two recaptures. The game move justifies Mike's 13 Bxe5 and allows him whip up a very strong attack. Indeed, his play from this point on appears to be faultless.

14. Rfd1 Bd6 15. Bb5 c6

16. Nc4! Brilliant - and absolutely typical of Mike. 16 ... cxb5 17. Nxd6+ Kf8 18. Rac1 Qe6

Go on then, Mike...

19. Rxc8+!!  Black resigned, 1-0

Stay tuned for more of Mike's games this week as we build up towards the 7th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament.

Monday 27 June 2016

Mike and The Black Lion

As we approach the 7th Mike Closs Memorial tournament, it seems like a good time to dust the cobwebs from this blog to share some more memories of my great friend, who was taken from this world far too early.

From the start of the 1980 - when we played on board one for our respective schools - up until 2010 - the year of his tragic death - we liked to analyse chess together. Generally speaking, we were on the same level as each other and this helped both of us to progress from novice school team players to county champions.

However, it wasn’t the case that we would share all of our secrets. When we prepared certain opening variations, full of traps and pitfalls, they were often intended for…each other! The point is we didn’t always play for the same local club. When I joined Guisborough, Mike played for Redcar. Then he made the move across to the other side of East Cleveland and we spearheaded Guisborough’s famous charge towards the title in 1988. It was Guisborough’s first A Division title for 50 years (we won the B Division title too). Unfortunately, it was also their last title as the club folded in 2015.

Later, after a decade’s break from league chess, I returned with a new club - Elmwood. Mike played for Middlesbrough at that point. He joined me at Elmwood after couple of years and Elmwood experienced a spell of great dominance. Now even the Elmwood club has folded, although it has been replaced by one in Stockton.

Apart from having to prepare for each other in league matches, we also crossed swords in the club championships of Guisborough, Redcar and Elmwood and in the Cleveland Championship. Not to mention many times in chess congresses and Rapidplay events.

We knew each other’s game so well that we often threw in a few surprises. The psychological effect of unveiling an unexpected opening - or even a particulate variation of an opening - should never be underestimated. Inherent paranoia can set in. Why is he playing this? What nasty surprise has he prepared? Should I vary my own openings to try and get away from his preparation? 

One particular opening surprise would have happened in a very important Cleveland Championship in 2002 whoever had been White and Black in the game. For we had been independently preparing the same opening to surprise each other! 

Mike told me he had the book, The Lion (by Jerry van Rekom and Leo Jansen), with him when we had last played, side-by-side, in a recent league match. He had folded the pages backwards to hide the cover, in case I had spotted it in his bag! What he didn't know was that I was preparing the very same opening, from the very same book, to be used against Mike the next time I had the black pieces.

Sean Marsh vs. Mike Closs
Round 6
Cleveland Championship, 2001-2

1. e4 Already a surprise. Most of our games with me as White started 1 d4. In the previous year's County Championship we had transposed to a Pirc Defence, which ended in an exciting draw by perpetual check. I wanted to set Mike thinking as soon as possible. Would he be curious about my preparation for his other favourite, the Sicilian Defence?

1 ...d6 Well, perhaps a Pirc after all...

2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nbd7 Oh - The Lion! This is what I had been preparing to play against Mike in the event of reversed colours, so I knew something about the white side of the position too. 

4. f4 e5 5. Nf3 exd4 6. Qxd4 A critical line.

6 ...Be7 We were both novices in the world of The Lion. According to the book, Black should play 6 ...c6. Black falls into a worse position due to this omission. First, he has to waste a tempo to get his bishop to c5 and then it turns out the d5 square lacks protection and the white knight can occupy it with impunity.

7. e5 dxe5 8. fxe5 Bc5 9. Qh4 Qe7 10. Bf4 Ng4 

Sharply played. Now 11 Qxg4 can lead to trouble after 11 ...Nxe5, with a discovered attack on the queen.

11. Qxe7+ I always liked to trade queens with Mike. It reduced - to some extent - his great attacking potential.

11... Bxe7 12. Nd5 Bd8 

13. h3 c6 14. Nc3 Nh6 15. O-O-O White, with a spatial advantage, is better. Yet it is not out of the question that the isolated e-pawn will turn out to be a useful target.

15 ...Nc5 16. g4 Ba5 17. Be3 Bb6 

Fancy footwork from Mike, in a tricky position. 18 ...Nb3+ 19 axb3 Bxe3+ is a threat, gaining control of the dark squares and easing the defence by trading a minor piece. 

18. Kb1 O-O Late castling for Mike! He invariably put his king into safety as soon as possible, but here he had to take his time to tidy up the rest of his position first.

19. Bc4 Na4 A tactical solution to some of Black's problems. He wins some dark squares after all. 

20. Nxa4 Bxe3 21. Rhe1 Bf4 22. Nc5 b5 23. Bb3 Bg3 24. Rf1 a5 25. a3 Re8 26. Ng5 Ra7 27.Nxf7 Nxf7 28 Ne4

I was expecting 28 ...Bh4 here, to be followed by the extremely strong 29 Nd6, hitting virtually everything. Unfortunately for me, Mike found a way to jettison the extra material and to force unlikely equality!

28... Be6 Here Mike offered a draw. We were both very short of time (the time control was at move 36) and it seemed a fair result, so... 1/2-1/2

We will continue the build-up to the 7th Memorial Tournament as the week progresses.