The most dangerous game

In my last post, I discussed my results from the first day of the New Year’s Open: I won both my games. I started off day 2 paired against Dana Mackenzie, a master whose rating is now down to expert territory, in the generally super-sharp Mieses variation of the Scotch game, but we traded down to what might be called a proto-endgame pretty quickly. I felt I had a bit of an advantage due to my better pawn structure, and he thought he was a bit better due to his better piece activity. We weren’t able to exploit our respective advantages, though, and the game fizzled out to a draw.

We merged with the two-day schedule in round 4. That schedule was much stronger, with three international masters. Since they had all played each other already, and I was tied for first with Dana (who took a bye that round), I played the highest-rated of the IMs: Ricardo De Guzman.

Anyone who plays regularly on the Bay Area circuit knows that Ricardo is the strongest of the regulars around here, as well as probably the trickiest, most resourceful, and overall the most dangerous. Surprisingly, though. his opening knowledge seems to be rather minimal; he prefers to enter into offbeat lines with the expectation that his greater experience will prove decisive. And he’s usually right.

I played him once before, about a year ago. With black, I achieved a slightly better position, but eventually I made some mistakes and lost.

I wasn’t expecting to do much better this time, but at least I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself. If I could stay at the board for a few hours with a reasonable position before my ultimate inevitable collapse, that would be pretty good.

IM Ricardo De Guzman (2446) vs. Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo (1989), New Year’s Open, Round 4

1. c4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. 0-0 0-0 6. Nc3 d6 7. d4 Nc6

So far, this is all completely normal. Generally, white plays 8. d5.

8. b3?

8. d5 is the only move that black needs to worry about. After almost everything else, black is doing well after 8…e5.

8…e5 9. dxe5 dxe5 10. e4 Qe7

I could have been more ambitious in this position with 10…fxe4 11. Ng5 Qd4!, after which white’s development becomes somewhat awkward.

11. Bg5 Be6 12. Nd5 Qf7 13. Bxf6 Bxf6

So far, black has no problems at all. In the Leningrad Dutch, white typically wants to cause some damage on the queenside, but up to this point my opponent had made no progress at all in this arena.

14. Qc1!?

A tricky move, as promised: This slightly odd-looking move offers white a variety of potential plans: playing Ng5 or Qh6, perhaps supporting an attack starting with h4 in some lines. However, I found a good response to neutralize all of them simultaneously.


White would love to take the pawn, but after 15. gxf4 exf4, the rook on a1 is under attack, so after 16. Rb1, black has time to defend with 16…g5. However, white has a better 16th move: after 16. Rd1!, 16…Bxa1 is disastrous, as after 17. Ng5 Qe8 18. Qxa1, the long diagonal would be a perennial source of nightmares for me. But after the much more intelligent 16…g5, black has a comfortable edge.

Already in this position, it’s not so easy to see what white is trying to do. Black, on the other hand, has a straightforward plan: push the kingside pawns to displace the white knight and bishop, then keep attacking on the kingside.

15. Qc3

During the game, I thought this was a funny move, but now I think it’s the best. White is trying to counter the long diagonal and also get some play going on the queenside. He’ll eventually play b4 and continue with a queenside pawn storm.

15…g5 16. h3 h5

The threat of 17…g4 is very serious, so white’s next move is the only sensible way of dealing with it.

17. gxf4 gxf4 18. Kh1 Kh8 19. b4

I knew at this point that my knight eventually had to move to d4, but I was uncertain as to whether I would rather move it there before or after white plays b5. Eventually, I decided that it would be preferable to preempt this move so that I could play c6 without weakening my pawn structure.

19…Nd4 20. Rad1 Rad8

I think that white is already in serious trouble. I couldn’t really bring myself to believe at this stage that I had serious winning chances, but neither could I see what white was plotting. It’s easy for black to play Rg8 and generally menace the white king, while there’s no reason at all why black’s queenside should self-destruct.

21. Nxf6 Qxf6 22. Rd3?

This move feels wrong to me. With more pieces on the board, I might be concerned about the white queen moving to f3 and hitting h5, but if that’s the only target he has, he can’t do anything vicious. And without any potential threats on the d-file, white’s queen on f3 will just look stupid, as we’ll soon discover.

22…Nxf3! 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Qxf3 Qh4

White is completely lost already. The pawn on c4 is hanging, the black rook can go to d4 or g8, and the white kingside is barely holding together.

25. Rg1 Bg4!?

This is probably the best move on the board objectively, and it’s certainly the most thematic. Still, taking on c4 is a lot more pragmatic: it’s a free pawn, and the attack doesn’t dissipate much.

26. Qc3 Rd4

I’m doing my best to close off all lines for the white pieces.

27. Kh2 f3 28. Qe3

Tricky. My opponent is trying to scare me by threatening 29. Qh6+.


This isn’t really a mistake, but it’s some form of cowardice. In fact, I can safely take on g2, for after 28…fxg2 29. Qh6+ Kg8 30. Qg6+ Kf8 31. Qh6+ Ke7 32. Qg7+ Kd8 33. Qf8+ Kd7 34. Qf7+ Kc8 35. Qe8+ Rd8, white is out of sane checks.

But that’s not the whole story either: white can play 28. Kxg2! instead. The bishop on g4 can’t retreat to safety (for example, to d7), for if it did, then 29. Qh6+ would actually be winning for white (the king moves with check, and the attack with the queen and rook on the black king is quickly decisive). Instead, my best move would be the infinitely clever 29…Rxe4!!, winning easily.

29. Bf1 Rd1

I was expecting a resignation at this point, so I was shocked when he played

30. Qc5!

Suddenly white threatens to take on e5 and c7, with a perpetual check in the latter case, and something close to it in the former. I was really disappointed to discover that I had blown the win by rushing to finish off the attack, but after thinking for around 15 minutes, I failed to find anything better than

30…Rxf1?? 31. Qxc7+,

and white has a perpetual check.

Game drawn: 1/2-1/2.

However, that’s not really the truth. It turns out that after 30. Qc5, black is still winning with 30…Kg6!!, when after 31. Qxc7 Qxf2+ 32. Kh1 Rxf1 33. Qd6+, white eventually runs out of checks, for example 33…Kg5 34. Qe7+ Kf4 35. Qf6+ Ke3 36. Qg5+ Ke2, and there are no more sane checks left.

There were clearly some missed opportunities for me here, and I had every reason to expect to win this game around move 25. I was rather disappointed to have blown this game, but as it was my first ever non-loss against a master, let alone an IM, I realized that the result was hardly something to mourn.

I expected that I would face at least one more IM on the final day. And, with a score of 3/4, it was inconceivable that I could fail to lock up my expert title this tournament, even if I were to lose both games on the last day.

Soon, I’ll post one game from the final day, which to me was the most interesting game I played at this tournament.


About Simon

Hi. I'm Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo. I'm a mathematics postdoc at Dartmouth College. I'm also a musician; I play piano and cello, and I also sometimes compose music and study musicology. I also like to play chess and write calligraphy. This blog is a catalogue of some of my thoughts. I write them down so that I understand them better. But sometimes other people find them interesting as well, so I happily share them with my small corner of the world.
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2 Responses to The most dangerous game

  1. Pingback: The masters are coming! The masters are coming! | Quasi-Coherent

  2. Pingback: An appealing outpost | Quasi-Coherent

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