Dixon, F. - Coppin, W., Kingston Club Championship 2003, Inverted Hanham 0-1
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Most club players typically believe that the secret to winning tournament games is to memorize openings (preferably seeking out tricks and traps in rarely played variations), gain some kind of plus from their tricky line and then convert that edge into a winning material advantage. However, as reasonable as that may seem, it is simply not the case! At the club level, most games are decided by errors in planning and tactical mistakes in the middlegame. My opponent, playing the White pieces in this game, was rated 1950 when the following game was played. Apparently he believed that avoiding the tried and tested main lines offered him his best chance to win. However, the drawback is that playing into middlegames in which one has little or no experience is much like entering a battle with one hand tied behind your back.

[Event "Club Championship"] [Site "Kingston, Canada"] [Date "2003"] [Round "?"] [White "Dixon F"] [Black "Coppin W"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C44"] [Opening "Inverted Hanham"] 1. e4 {Notes by W. Coppin} 1... Nf6 {Black intended to meet 2.e5 with 2...,Ng8!? - the Brooklyn variation of the Alekhine.} 2. d3 {Apparently White wanted nothing to do with the Alekhine.} 2... d5 3. Nd2 {Again, 3.e5 would have run into 3...,Ng8!? and Black would probably soon transpose into an Advance French with the Bc8 outside the pawn chain and easy equality.} 3... e5 {Now Black equalizes immediately by transposing into a Reverse Philador. Black was already investigating White's structural approach to playing the opening [later simply dubbed 'The System'] and reasoned that he would be more familiar with the resulting possible middlegames than White. This turned out to be the case.} 4. Ngf3 Nc6 5. Be2 Be7 6. c3 {Some might be wondering, 'Why not simply castle?' Actually I think the move is structurally necessary, while White's failure to castle cannot be exploited. The centre remains fluid so the nature of the play (ie. predominately tactical or positional) remains yet to be determined. Neither side has yet been required to commit to a middlegame plan. Now think of this - many or even most developing players go through a stage where they actually prefer to play Black! Their results tend to justify the preference. However, the reason for that is because it is easier for the less experienced to respond to somebody else's attempts to force the play than it is to come up with a plan of their own. White may well have figured that he had more useful "waiting moves" than Black. That way he increased his chances that Black would make the first misjudgment or he could respond to Black's plan by looking for ways to exploit any weaknesses that must eventually appear. Having said all that, White's structural approach to playing the opening is not to be underestimated.In fact, White's move and 7.Qc2 are characteristic of the Hanham variation of the Philador in reverse. Whatever name you give it, the setup can be deceptively venomous if treated casually.} 6... O-O 7. Qc2 Kh8 {!? Novelty. Either 7... a5 or the more obvious 7...,Nh5 intending ...,f5 is probably the strongest move from a strategic point of view. In any case, Black has tried a number of different ideas in the position with mixed results. The text is a good waiting move: 1. It forces White to either castle or commit to an option limiting strategic decision to prevent ...,f5 and 2. It removes the King from any surprises that might result from a later weakening of the g8-h2 diagonal.} 8. h3 {Is it possible that White's 8. h3 may well be signaling a subsequent g4 and direct attack on Black's King? It is a reasonable idea if White intends to castle long. Meanwhile, that h3 also prepares a later Nf1, Be3, Ng3, 0-0-0 and launching the kitchen sink at Black. In short, is it not another useful waiting move? In fact, Black now does not have any good or useful waiting moves left... a committal move of some kind more or less must be made. It should be noted that now 8... h6 intending ... Be6 etc. would play right into White's hands since g4 and then g5 would force open a file to Black's King. Is this not exactly what an experienced player such as White would want? I would think so. Note that White could still castle short and play b4 with a queenside expansion plan in mind. The text move does lose a tempo, but it is not a tactically sharp position so that may not become an issue. The move also weakens White's kingside. To sum up - the move makes sense in this position if White intends to castle long and expand on the kingside with a later g4. Thus Black immediately begins to look for queenside play in anticipation of White's King seeking shelter with a later 0-0-0.} 8... Ne8 {Eying the d6 square from which the Critter could head to the queenside plus Black threatens 9...,f5 and prevents White from dropping a Knight on g5.} 9. g4 {White's 3rd pawn move in a row... in closed or semi closed positions, those tempi do not tend to matter as much as taking control of important squares. The Lasker Rules are actually just "suggestions" intended to help developing players. There is at least one opening that I know of in which White is literally forced to develop both his Bees before either of his Knights. Lasker would just smile and say, "Of course." White actually could still castle short here in relative safety. Black would have to risk his own King safety to advance pawns on the kingside in support of any attack and Black cannot get enough pieces in very quickly via just the dark squares. The only way to get to White's King would be to get in ... f5 to open the f-file. Meanwhile that strange looking 8... Ne8 might be headed to the queenside via d6 OR it also potentially supports ... g6 and ... Ng7 and then f5. At the moment, White has increased his control over h5 and particularly f5. So what is Black to do about N-f1-g3-f5 without weakening his kingside further or having to swap the Good Bee on f5? So far, White does not seem to have done anything to lessen the chances that he might reasonably expect in a more or less equal opening. However it is also important to note here that the position is soon to reach a critical point for both players. Evaluation, calculation and good old chess sense and experience will all be required to decide which given plan for either player will be the best in the position.} 9... Be6 10. Nf1 Nd6 {More flexible than the ... g6, ... Ng7 and ... f5 plan. From d6 the Critter still supports the ... f5 plan but it also could quickly find employment on the queenside if White were to castle long.} 11. Ng3 b5 {Note that this is the first real committal move. Black can only justify the weakening of the queenside by actually attacking there. Suddenly White must react to Black's threatened aggression. It is not enough to just try to find another useful waiting move since Black is about to engage with b4. White must decide if defending against the aggression with a3 is the best idea, or whether that is a waste of time, after ...a5 for example. Should White be going for it now on the kingside? Should the centre tension be resolved? Castling long looks risky so is the King better left in the centre or on the kingside? Black will have a potential line opening pawn lever after a timely ...,b4.} 12. Nf5 {White has accomplished his strategic goal to occupy f5 and any attempt to drive it away weakens Black's kingside while swapping on f5 would open the g-file to his King. White might reasonably be expected to follow up with h4 to get the attack rolling.} 12... Rb8 13. Nxe7 {Whoa! This is perhaps the strategic decision which may have cost White the game. Swapping that "Knife on f5" for that very Bad Dark Squared Bee cannot possibly be right. By swapping that Critter so cheaply, White allowed Black to gain the initiative since White does not yet have his other pieces in position to support an all out attack on the kingside. Even if the swap is not losing outright, it certainly shifted the balance to Black.} 13... Qxe7 14. Ng5 {This is another "recipe driven" idea reflecting the so-called general rule that Bishops are better than Knights. That may be true in some positions, particularly more open ones, but even then the assumption is that "all else is equal". In this case, Black is able to actually grab the initiative and begin a powerful counter attack. Maybe White should have just played to hunker down instead with 0-0. It makes no sense to swap off his own attackers unless he really believed that he would be able to open the position for his Two Bees. Ironically, it is going to be Black who uncorks some sharp tactics in support of strong positional play. White's tactical possibilities never get off the drawing board.} 14... dxe4 {Now is the correct time to swap in the centre since 15.Nxe6?,exd3 would win a pawn.} 15. dxe4 Bc4 {To lose with White, an experienced player will generally have to make more than one inaccuracy. Black is better in the game even if White trades his Bad Bee for Black's Good Bee. See the line in my next comment. However White seems to have now realized that he has nothing on the kingside in time while Black is poised to bust open the queenside with ... b4 and Black's better development would indeed be a significant factor. This prompts White to make what he probably thought was a prophylactic move to keep the queenside closed. He was surely anticipating 16. b3 Bxe2 17. Qxe2 b4 18. c4 keeping the queenside closed but failed to appreciate that giving up control of d4 would be even worse. IMO - White lost because he failed to evaluate the position correctly on move 13 including overlooking Black's tactical shot to gain either material or a huge positional advantage.} 16. b3 {This natural looking move loses. Instead, 16.Bxc4,Nxc4 17.b3,Nb6 would keep Black to a tiny edge based upon pending control of the d-file and White's insecure King.} 16... Bxe2 17. Qxe2 b4 {! This is the shot that White missed when he played the weakening 16.b3. Now Black either wins a pawn or grabs a nasty positional bind with 18.c4,Nd4 19.Q-any,Qf6! and White is in trouble.} 18. Nf3 {This proves that White now realized that allowing ... Nd4 would be positional suicide. Hence the ignominious retreat. But it costs him a button and that is usually more than enough for a strong player to convert to the full point.} 18... bxc3 19. Ba3 {White probably should have ventured into the complications of 19.Be3!? Now Black consolidates the extra button.} 19... Nb4 20. O-O c5 21. Rac1 Nb5 22. Bxb4 cxb4 {Black has efficiently consolidated the extra material and the rest is as they say, 'just a matter of technique'.} 23. Rfd1 {White was counting on control of the d-file to offset the material. Black soon shows that to be a mistake in judgment.} 23... Nc7 {Denying d5 to White's Rook and a6 to his Queen. With no effective "turning point" on the file, White cannot exploit it and Black quickly neutralizes it.} 24. Ne1 Rfd8 25. Nd3 Rd4 26. Ne1 {Black's threat to double (and perhaps even triple) on the d-file forces White's Knight to move again.} 26... Ne6 27. Rxd4 Nxd4 {Much stronger than 27...,exd4 28.Nd3! when White has a good blockading fortress.} 28. Qc4 Qb7 29. f3 Rc8 30. Qf1 Qb6 31. Kg2 Ne6 32. Nd3 Qb5 {Black's tactical threat (33...,Qxd3 and 34...,Nf4+) gains enough time to capture the d-file. Note how Black is creating a series of mini-plans to patiently build on the advantage. White can only keep responding to the threats. That is the power of the initiative.} 33. Kg1 Rd8 {Mini plan complete. Now how to increase the advantage? Obviously planting the Rook on d2 seemed promising.} 34. Ne1 Qb6+ {Black either wants White's King on f2 or the Queens to stay on the board.} 35. Qf2 Qxf2+ 36. Kxf2 Rd2+ {And finally Black's series of mini-plans has resulted in decisive penetration to the 7th rank. White must now pitch the a-pawn.} 37. Ke3 {? Everything is losing but this King move allows a very quick finish. NOTE: Black does NOT just automatically grab the a-pawn although that was the original point and is also winning.} 37... Nf4 {Bang! Much stronger than thoughtlessly grabbing on a2. The threat to mate on e2 forces White's reply.} 38. Rc2 Ng2+ {Obvious when you see it. Exploiting White's overloaded Ne1 wins an Ex and the a-pawn. The rest is easy. White resigned rather than play out the dead lost ending.} 0-1

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