Coppin, W. - McKay, G., Kingston ON 2001, Alekhine's Defence 1-0
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The following game features a very strong Expert rated opponent with a number of Master scalps to his credit. The notes are by the winner while borrowing shamelessly from the excellent annotations to the game N. Short - J. Timman, Tilburg 1991 by GM Nunn in his book 'Understanding Chess Move by Move'. At the time, the game offered an improvement to Timman's 13... e6 that was mentioned as a possibility in GM Nunn's book. Neither player was familiar with the games after 13... Be6!? at the time but a database search seems to suggest that Black has not yet found a convincing way to equalize in the line. - WAC

[Event "Club Championship"] [Site "Kingston, Canada"] [Date "2001.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Coppin W"] [Black "McKay G"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B04"] [Opening "Alekhine's defence: modern, fianchetto variation"] 1. e4 {Bobby Fischer once famously asserted that this opening move was, "best by test". Certainly it has served White well over the years.} 1... Nf6 {The Alekhine Defence was Geoff's preferred way to meet 1. e4 for many years. Obviously both players in this game will be in their respective comfort zones. The Alekhine is one of the most forthright defences to 1. e4 in that Black's plan is plain from the very first move. By attacking the e-pawn, he restricts White's options. The two most natural moves are 2. Nc3 and 2. e5. However, at the very least 2. Nc3 allows Black to transpose into the relatively innocuous Vienna Game with 2... e5. Black has a number of well know equalizing plans to defuse the Vienna and may instead seek even more ambitious waters with 2... d5! Thus, the only real test of Black's first move is 2. e5. At first sight, White should display no hesitation in advancing his pawn, because he not only gains space in the centre, but he also apparently gains time, since Black must move his knight again. However, the basis of Black's idea is that in order to support the advanced pawn on e5, White will have to play further pawn moves - d4 at the very least. If White then decides to go "all in" and plays c4 and f4 it gives an intimidating looking broad centre, but he falls behind in development. It is hard to say if the centre will prove strong or just collapse, although current theory seems to support the latter. One thing we know for sure - Alekhine's Defence has been the subject of theoretical debate for more than a century, with no clear conclusions being reached.} 2. e5 Nd5 {Best. 2... Ne4 really would be too provocative; after 3. d4 the Knight is stranded on e4. Even more provocative is 2... Ng8!?, the so-called Brooklyn Variation, which White has played himself on a number of occasions. After 2. d4 the game can resemble an Advance French after 2... d5, or probably transposes into a Pirc/Rat after 2... d6. My opponent in this game is not known to mess with offbeat lines; a principled consistency that on the one hand makes him easy to prepare for but on the other hand means that he too is very well prepared and thus unlikely to be surprised in the opening with any old tricks or latest GM wrinkles.} 3. d4 d6 {The thematic idea - Black has allowed White to build a big centre but the advanced e5 pawn makes it easier to begin to undermine.} 4. Nf3 {This move is less aggressive looking than 4. c4 Nb6 5. f4 but it is in many ways more natural. Instead of staking out a huge claim in the centre. White contents himself with his current pawn centre, and hastens to support it with his other pieces. This straightforward piece developing plan is probably also one of the most awkward for Black to meet. In any case, Black has a well known path to comfortable equality or even more against the so-called Four Pawn Attack.} 4... g6 {This is already a key decision for Black. An alternative is to play 4... Bg4 5. Be2 e6, developing the dark-squared Bishop to e7 rather than g7. The text move is more ambitious. On g7 the Bee will exert even more thematic pressure against White's central pawns. The danger is that if White can maintain his pawn centre, Black's dark squared Bee will be locked out of play.} 5. Bc4 {More active than 5. Be2 and strategically stronger since White will need the e-file clear in order to support that restricting e5 pawn.} 5... Nb6 {5... c6 is playable but slightly passive. It is rarely seen today; perhaps because 6. 0-0 Bg7 7. exd6 Qxd6 8. Nbd2 gives White a slight advantage with no risk. On the other hand, this 'Alekhine Knight' can often find itself out of play on the queenside in some variations.} 6. Bb3 Bg7 {Alternatively, 6... a5 7. a4 is sometimes tossed in first but GM Nunn seems to think that it slightly favours White. Certainly Black's choice in the game is consistent and aggressive.} 7. Qe2 {If you are going to play a sharp theoretical opening then you must actually know the current theory. GM Nunn offers the following: "There are several possibilities for White here, but this is perhaps the most solid. At one time, the aggressive 7. Ng5 was the most popular move, but it fell out of favour when it became clear that Black could fend off the immediate attack. White may play 7. a4, but at this moment it allows Black to enter unclear complications by means of 7...dxe5 8. a5 N6d7 and now: 1) 9. dxe5 Nxe5 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Nxe5 Bxe5 12. 0-0 gives White fair compensation for the pawn. 2) 9. Qe2!? is an interesting idea, since now Bxf7+ is a serious threat. If 9...exd4, then 10. Bxf7+ Kf8 (10...Kxf7 11. Ng5+ wins Black's Queen) 11. 0-0 favours White. 9... c6 is probably the critical line; after 10. Bxf7+ Kxf7 11. Ng5+ Ke8 12. Qc4 Nf6 13. Qf7+ Kd7 14. dxe5 Nh5 15. e6+ Kd6 the position is extremely unclear. 3) 9. Bxf7+ Kxf7 10. Ng5+ Kg8 11. Ne6 Qe8 12. Nxc7 Qd8 13. Nxa8 exd4 is also very unclear."} 7... Nc6 {Black continues to aggressively counterattack the White centre, particularly that e5 pawn. If White can maintain it, then he will have chances of shutting the g7 Bishop out of the game, but if White is forced to play exd6 or e6 then Black will be at least equal.} 8. O-O {Forced... White will need Rel to defend the all important e5 pawn.} 8... O-O {Now that Black has castled, he is threatening 9... Bg4, which would definitely force White to concede the battle over e5. Hence, White's next move is also almost forced. Note that Black could not have played 8... Bg4 before castling, as White would have replied 9. Bxf7+ followed by 10. Ng5+ if Black takes on f7.} 9. h3 {In fact, Black has no further shots to fire in the battle over e5, so this part of the struggle has ended in White's favour. However, Black can take some consolation in the fact that he has forced White to spend a tempo on the non-developing move h3, which gives him a free move to tackle the problem of generating counterplay.} 9... dxe5 {The game Short - Timman tossed in 9... a5 10. a4 here but we soon transpose. In any case, this is a critical decision by Black with long term consequences which are difficult to to assess. Black opens the d-file in order to exchange some minor pieces, but in the long term it may well be that White is better placed to exploit the open file. That certainly is the case in this game. GM Nunn also suggests that ... Bf5 followed by closing the centre with ... d5 might be worth considering. It will take White a long time to reposition his Bb3 on an active square, which Black might be able to use to create counterplay elsewhere. On the other hand, releasing the pressure against e5 leaves White's space advantage absolutely secure.} 10. dxe5 Nd4 {This is the point behind Black's last move. After anything else, White seizes the d-file by Rd1 with a clear positional advantage.} 11. Nxd4 Qxd4 12. Re1 {For the moment, Black's pieces look quite active, but this is a purely temporary state of affairs. If White is given a little time, then by Nc3, Bg5 and Radl he will take over the initiative and drive Black into passivity. Black has tried a number of different ideas from this position but none have resulted in full equality according to GM Nunn.} 12... a5 13. a4 {This is the identical position reached in the Short - Timman game. In that game Black responded to White's strong disruptive threat to push to e6 by playing ... e6 himself. That turned out to be a little too passive and Short went on to score the full point. My opponent comes up with a much more aggressive but also much riskier solution.} 13... Be6 {While the move is not really a novelty, a check of my 6 million game database coughed up only 14 examples. It is unknown if Black prepared this in advance. It was certainly new to White. So Black is prepared to accept fractured pawns in return for potential counterplay along the f-file. As indicated earlier, GM Nunn also mentions the possibility in his notes to that Short - Timman game. In any case we duplicate those GM notes for the next 3 moves.} 14. Bxe6 fxe6 15. Nd2 Rf5 16. Nf3 Qc4 17. Qd1 {!? Here we have the first novelty in the game. GM Nunn recommends 17. b3! immediately and calls the ending "depressing" for Black. As indicated, I was unaware of GM Nunn's analysis. The fact that both Geoff and I anticipated Nunn's alternative analysis up to this move demonstrates just how strong the top Kingston players were at that time. The text move obviously suggests that White is not content with merely a better ending.} 17... Raf8 18. b3 Qd5 19. Be3 {Of course White would be happy to swap here since a further swap on b6 fatally cripples Black's queenside pawns and allows White to plant a Rook on d7 with a decisive advantage.} 19... Nd7 20. Bd4 {So the e5 pawn continues to survive and thrive and now White threatens to drive the Black Queen from the centre with 21. c4.} 20... Rd8 {It may seem somewhat surprising for Black to undouble the Rooks on the f-file, but Black understands that it is control of the d-file that will probably determine who comes out on top in this position.} 21. c4 Qc6 22. Bc3 {Suddenly it is clear that White will dominate the d-file after all. The threat to the a5 pawn is just a convenient bonus.} 22... Qb6 23. Re3 {Perhaps this very strong Rook lift was overlooked by Black. Not only is White ready to play Rd3 but any tricky Black tactics involving the f2 pawn are eliminated.} 23... c5 {Black had to make room for the Queen on c7 in order to protect the pinned Knight on d7. It also defends that pinned Rd8. However 23... c6 24. Rd3 Qc7 25. Nd4! was also an unpleasant threat.} 24. Rd3 Qc7 25. Qe2 {Once that sleeping Ra1 gets to d1, Black's game will start to crumble.} 25... Ra8 {So Black not only escapes the pin but also frees up the Queen from the menial task of protecting that a-pawn.} 26. Rad1 {White has been gaining in the position with every move. Meanwhile that problem 'Alekhine Knight' has yet to find a useful square.} 26... Nf8 27. Qe3 {This "creeping Queen move" prevents the Bg7 from activating via h6 and has put Black almost in a zugzwang position. Meanwhile, White has threats to play g4 and Ng5.} 27... g5 {Black had to try something to get some counterplay. Thus both ... Bh6 and the maneuver ... N-g6-f4 were surely on the menu. It is unclear if the Exchange sac. was a deliberate calculated risk. In any case, White calmly refutes it. Rybka offers 27... Qc6 as an improvement but gives White a clear advantage after 28. Nxg5! since the threat of g4 would win the exchange anyway.} 28. g4 Rxf3 {White would have the pleasant choice after 28... Rf7 between 29. Qxg5 and 29. Nxg5 Bh6 30. Nxe6 Nxe6 31. Qxh6 with a clear advantage in either case. While waiting for Black to retreat the Rook, I was pondering on which was the stronger option but Black's practical choice to give up the Ex. made the choice of next move much simpler.} 29. Qxf3 Bxe5 30. Bxe5 Qxe5 31. Qxb7 Rb8 32. Qxe7 {Black's pawns are about to start dropping and there is still no counterplay in sight so Geoff rightly threw in the towel. eg. 32... h6 33.Qa7 Rc8 34.Qxa5 Qb8 35.Qc3 Qc7 36.Qf6 Qg7 [+4.99 Rybka3]. A well played game by both players even given Black's overly optimistic exchange sacrifice. From a strategic point of view, White's e5 pawn kept the Bg7 out of the game while the control of the d-file and Black's ineffective 'Alekhine Knight' combined to ensure that Black never did achieve equality. In his instructive book, GM Nunn suggests 13... Bd7 is probably the best chance at a significant improvement in the line. Black exerts pressure against a4, and at the same time prepares to activate the Bee by ... Bc6. After 14 Nc3 Bc6 15 Nb5 Bxb5 16 Qxb5 c6 17 Qe2 Nd5 White perhaps has a faint edge, but Black's position is solid and the exchange of a pair of minor pieces has relieved the problems caused by his lack of space. Probably some Alekhine specialist will revive Black's chances but at least as far as I know, the 13... Be6 line remains under a theoretical cloud. - WAC} 1-0

The Inspiration

[Event "It"] [Site "Tilburg (Netherlands)"] [Date "1991"] [Round "4"] [White "Short Nigel D (ENG)"] [Black "Timman Jan H (NED)"] [Result "1-0"] [Eco "B04"] 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 g6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 Bg7 7.Qe2 Nc6 8.O-O O-O 9.h3 a5 10.a4 dxe5 11.dxe5 Nd4 12.Nxd4 Qxd4 13.Re1 e6 14.Nd2 Nd5 15.Nf3 Qc5 16.Qe4 Qb4 17.Bc4 Nb6 18.b3 Nxc4 19.bxc4 Re8 20.Rd1 Qc5 21.Qh4 b6 22.Be3 Qc6 23.Bh6 Bh8 24.Rd8 Bb7 25.Rad1 Bg7 26.R8d7 Rf8 27.Bxg7 Kxg7 28.R1d4 Rae8 29.Qf6+ Kg8 30.h4 h5 31.Kh2 Rc8 32.Kg3 Rce8 33.Kf4 Bc8 34.Kg5 1-0

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