Orwell Memorial

My first loss to a preteen (I think!)

I’ve had the pleasure of playing many talented young players this summer, which naturally means that I occasionally had the privilege of losing to them.

I've lost to many teenagers over the years, but I think that this game was my first adult tournament loss (discounting quickplay events) to a preteen.  My prophylactic apologies if I've erased my loss to the younger you, gentle reader, from my memory banks. And if you happen to find half a dozen more such games in my MSA record, what can I say? My memory is obviously failing...

In an Illinois Open not that many years ago, I recall blundering a pawn in a Queen's Indian-type position to a very young player. He was totally winning. I hunkered down, somehow equalized, and eventually won. He cried to his mother. I felt sorry for the talented young man, so I showed him all the moments he could have beaten me with exact play. This made him totally inconsolable!  (When I told this story to my wife later that evening, she may have said something about child psychology never having been my strong suit....)

Trust me, I know how that kid felt. Losing is not fun at any age. At the same time, one's losses are a good thing to study at any age. And it's a great privilege (I keep repeating this word because it's true!) to be able to compete against the many talented young people we have in the Midwest.

Here’s my first loss to ten-year-old (!) Jason Daniels. When I wrote these notes in June, little did I know that I would lose to Jason a second time in Peoria just a few weeks later! I'll publish that game in a few days.  And still more losses to follow....

Jason Daniels – Bill Brock

Queen’ Gambit, Slav Defense (D18)

Orwell Memorial, DeKalb

Round 3, June 28, 2014

A very young player asked me after the 2014 Orwell Memorial, "You're rated over 2000. How did you lose to a 1700 player?" I resisted the urge to reply, "A ten-year-old B player, at that." Nor did I say, "Hey, a couple months ago, I was over 2100!"

Instead, I said, "I was pressing to win in a complicated position, and Jason outplayed me tactically. This was a normal result." Jason had a promising position against Jim Condron in the final round, but one slip in a difficult position cost him his first victory in an adult event.

I was very happy to have tied with Illinois's newest Class A player for second place. And hey, I am still undefeated against players under age 10: no mean feat in Illinois!

Thanks to Bill Feldman for a smooth event.


You'll find a playable version of the game after these notes.


1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4

In the Slav Defense, both sides are fighting for control of the e4 square. In particular, White would love to get pawns secured on e4 and d4.


If White plays 5.e4 (the Geller Gambit), Black gets to keep the gambit pawn with 5...b5


White was threatening to play 6.e4 "for free" with a big advantage.

Even so, the Prins Variation 5...Na6 6.e4 Bg4 (Black's primary pressure point shifts to d4) 7.Bxc4 e6 is fully playable. The big classical center does matter, but it is good to be less dogmatic than Dr. Tarrasch.


Later in the game, we'll see that Jason comes up with the idea of f2–f3 followed by e2–e4 with a super pawn center. 6.Ne5 , White's other main move in this position, is another way of building the classical pawn center. 6...e6 7.f3 Bb4 8.e4 Bxe4! One of the best-known piece sacrifices by Black in all of opening theory: grandmaster experience has shown that it's worth a piece to break up this powerful center. (As John Watson notes in Mastering the Chess Openings, Vol. 2, 8...Bg6? 9.Bxc4 "is everything that White wants.") 9.fxe4 Nxe4 10.Bd2 Qxd4 11.Nxe4 Qxe4+ 12.Qe2 Bxd2+ 13.Kxd2 Qd5+ 14.Kc2 with an interesting endgame in store.

6...e6 7.Bxc4 Bb4 8.0–0 Nbd7

White to play


White is trying to support e4 with pieces: this is White's main line. 9.Nh4!? Bg4 10.f3 is another way of implementing Jason's idea. The position looks pretty darn strange after 10...Bh5 11.g4 Nd5 12.Ng2 Bg6


Black inhibits e3–e4 by getting Mr. Bishop out of harm's way.

9...0–0 10.e4 Bxc3? is bad because of 11.exf5!


Here's Jason's idea. It's positionally well-motivated in one sense (we've already seen a couple good variations that use the f2–f3 and e3–e4 plan). Here, however, it creates a traffic jam on d2.

10.e4! Bxc3 (I had prepared the "chicken-out variation" 10...0–0 : White gets the desired pawn duo on e4 and d4, but Black has a solid defensive formation.) 11.bxc3 Nxe4 12.Ba3 is a fun attack to play with the White pieces. I won my only game against Aleksandar Stamnov in this line.

10...0–0 11.f3 

Consistent! The opening doesn't work out so well for Jason, but he understood the requirements of the position: that's more than half the battle.


Good enough.

I rejected 11...c5 because of another weird-looking but standard idea in the Classical Slav, 12.Na2 Houdini likes Black after 12...Ba5 13.dxc5 Bc7 Were Dr. Tarrasch kibitzing, he might say that it's better on principle to trade the c-pawn than the precious e-pawn.

12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.e4 

So White got e3–e4 in. But the d4 pawn is gone.

13...Qd4+ 14.Kh1 Rad8! 

Exchanging immediately just helps White untangle.

15.Ncb1 Rfe8 

White is undeveloping, Black is developing. I was feeling very optimistic here.


Black to play


I did notice that the Nb1 was now hanging....


16...Nh5! was a better way to bring the horse into action, and no calculation would have been required!; Given the time control, I don't feel bad for missing 16...Nxe4! 17.fxe4 Nxc4 18.Qxc4 Qxc4 19.Nxc4 Bxe4 (hitting the loose Nb1) 20.Nba3 Bd3 (poor Mr. Rook runs out of squares, and the back rank is weak) 21.Rg1 Bc5 22.Rd1 Bxc4 23.Rxd8 Rxd8

17.b3 Nxc4 18.Nxc4 Nc5?! 

18...f5! was the logical undermining move, especially now that White's light-square bishop has left the board.

19.Be3 Qd3 20.Bxc5 Bxc5

White to play


Jason makes an excellent pragmatic defensive move. It took me some time to appreciate the point.


21...Qxe2! 22.Rxe2 f5! Missing my last chance. With two powerful bishops against two mediocre knights, better pawn structure, better rooks, and better king, Black should win.

22.Na5! Qb6

White to play


and poof, White (who was totally busted just a couple moves ago) has fully equalized.

23...Qxb7 24.Rxc5 f5 

Better late than never!

I spent some time considering 24...Rd5 but White has a nice position after the simple 25.Rcc1 (25.Rfc1?? Rxc5 26.Rxc5 Qxb1+) 25...Rd4 26.Qc2

25.Qc4+ Bf7 26.Qc2 fxe4 27.fxe4 Bb3 28.Qc3 Qf7?! 

28...Rf8!? was simpler and better

 White to play


Another solid and pragmatic move: White is now slightly better for the first time since move 10.

Jason probably thought that 29.Nd2! was refuted by 29...Rxd2!? In fact, however, White has to scramble for the draw after the countershot 30.Rcf5! I'm guessing that the following variation is a draw, but I'd rather have the White pieces! 30...Rc2 (only move) 31.Qf3! Qxf5 32.Qxf5 Re2 33.Qd7 R2xe4 34.h3 a5 35.Qxc6 Bxa4

29...Rd1 30.Rcf5 Rxf1+ 31.Rxf1 Qe6 32.Qb4 

White sets a trap. If 32.Nd2 Bxa4 33.Ra1 Bb5 34.Rxa7

32...Bc2 33.Nd2 h6 

33...Bxe4?? 34.Nxe4! (34.Re1 wins, too) 34...Qxe4 35.Rf8+ wins the queen.

White to play


Luft is a good thing to make!

34...Kh7 35.a5 Qg6 36.Rf4 Qg3 

And now I mistakenly thought that White had lost the thread of the game. In fact, White's army appears ill-coordinated, but Black's army is ill-coordinated.

37.Rg4! Qe3+ 38.Kh2 Bd1 

38...h5!? is a natural try to save a tempo. But White is still more than OK: 39.Rg3 (In the post-mortem, Jason and I looked at 39.Rh4?! Bd1 without reaching any definite conclusion. It looks like Black is slightly better after 40.Qd6 Qg5 41.Qf4 Qe7 42.Nf3 Bxf3 43.gxf3 g6) 39...Qf4 40.Nf3 Bxe4 41.Qb7 Qf6 42.Ng5+ Kh8 43.Qxa7 h4 44.Rg4

39.Rg3 Qf4 

Despite mild Zeitnot, I was feeling optimistic because of the pinned Rg3.


I had expected 40.Qb7 Rg8 (in this variation, the rook has to go passive) 41.Qd7 h5. But even here, White draws with 42.Qf5+!

Black to play


40...Re7= 41.Nc4 h5 42.Qd6! with a comfortable draw. (42.Qxd1?? as in the game is now bad because of 42...h4 43.Qh5+ Kg8)

White to play

41.Nc4! h5?? 

To my credit (redeemable only in the ego-balming department), I realized my blunder as soon as I moved.

Even after Black's best defense, 41...Be2 42.Ne5 Qf6 43.Qc5 while the position is probably objectively drawn, it's unlikely that Black can survive the combination of time pressure and positional pressure in tournament play.

42.Qxd1! g5 

42...h4 43.Qh5+ and sorry, g8 is occupied by another guest.