Thursday, 26 September 2019

10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournanent - Sicilian Inspiration

As we will all be playing the Sicilian Defence at the 10th Mike Closs Memorial Tournament - from both sides of the board - I thought it would be useful to offer a little 1 e4 c5 inspiration. What better way can there be but to present two previously unpublished games by Mike himself?

The first game came in one of our favourite competitions. The late-1980s were the glory days for Guisborough Chess Club and we always did reasonably well in the National Club Championship. One year we managed to win a chess clock for reaching the semi-finals.

In 1988 we were paired with a very strong Durham City side. We lost very narrowly (I lost to International Master Colin Crouch on board one, having gone a piece up with my Dutch Defence but failing to keep control in mutual time-trouble).

Meanwhile, Mike played a brilliant game against one the North East's strongest players.

Back in those days, when we both dreamed of crashing through the 200 barrier with our British Chess Federation grades, any win against someone 200+ was rightly considered to be a very fine achievement. Mike was very proud of this game and the result. In fact he would always prefer to win and have the team lose than the other way around! This would sometimes cause odd situations during which the depressed team (on the very rare occasions we lost a match) would have to share a car with him on the long journeys home and listen to him when all he wanted to do was tell us all - repeatedly - how brilliantly he had played!

Mike Closs v Ken Neat
Guisborough v Durham City

National Club Championship 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bf4 e5 8.Bg5 a6 9.Na3 b5 10.Nd5 Be7 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.c3 0–0 13.Nc2 Bg5 14.h4 Bh6 15.g4 Bf4 16.Qf3 Be6 

This really is heavyweight Sicilian play. Ken offers a pawn sacrifice to seize control of some central squares - and any opening up of the game would appear to be in Black's favour, as White's king lacks a stable home.

17.Nxf4 exf4 18.Qxf4 Ne5 19.f3 Qb6 20.Be2 b4 

A second pawn sacrifice. Now 21 Nxb4 a5 with ...Rxb2 to follow is not acceptable for White, so he must capture with the c-pawn and hope Black's activity along the c-file won't prove too irksome.

21.cxb4 Rfc8 22.Qe3 Qb7 23.Qd2 

Ken, an excellent and extremely experienced player, would have been well aware of the need to stir up further trouble before Mike can consolidate his position and enjoy his extra material. However, Black's next sacrifice does not achieve the desired effect, despite the visual attraction. In fact the best chance here was the classic Sicilian break with 23 ...d6-d5, which would have split open centre and activated the bishop on e6, giving chances to both sides.

23 ...Rxc2 24.Qxc2 Qxb4+ 25.Qd2 Qb6 26.b3 Rc8 27.Rd1 Rc6 28.Qd4 Qa5+ 29.b4 Qa3 30.0–0 h6 31.Kg2 Rc3 32.Qxd6 Bc4 33.Qxe5 Rc2 34.Rf2 1–0

Mike could have forced a checkmate with 34 Rd8+ Kh7 35 Qf5+ g6 36 Qf6, which would have reduced Black to a few insignificant checks, but the text was good enough to force resignation, so it doesn't matter very much at all.

It is strange how things change. We looked all set to take Guisborough into an extended spell of greatness but so many of our players had to leave the area in search of work (this was the 1980s, remember. If you think things weren't too bad then you weren't there).

I started working for myself and had to stop playing in the local chess scene for a decade. Mike joined our greatest rivals - Middlesbrough Rooks - and had more great success with them. We eventually reunited at Elmwood had a sensational decade together.

This game shows a typical success with White. Mike does all the normal Sicilian moves, makes a couple of little threats and his opponent cracks under the pressure. Having Black against Mike could be an intimidating experience and few could ever pass the test.

Mike Closs - Vidal Madria
Middlesbrough Rooks v Whitby


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Be3 Be7 7.f4 d6 8.Qf3 Bd7 9.Bd3 Qb8 10.0–0 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 

12.Qg3 h5 13.e5 h4 14.Qh3 Nd7 15.Rae1

15 ...dxe5 16.fxe5 Nc5 17.Bb5 Qc7 18.Qf3 0–0–0 19.Bxc6 Rxd4 20.Nb5

Black is now losing material and will find no compensation. Some players would have played on for a while with black, but Vidal - Whitby's top player for some years, before he left the country - clearly knew Mike was never going to let such an advantage slip away, so he resigned. 1-0

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