Saturday, December 15, 2012

Assaulting The Dragon

I remember reading along with a taped version of The Hobbit audio book as a child. The story culminated in the slaying of the dragon Smaug by a well-placed arrow shot by the archer Bard. I believe the book was published using the images from the Rankin-Bass animated feature where the dragon Smaug has a bit of a feline look. This week, the first installment of Peter Jackson's live-action Hobbit trilogy hit the theaters.

During the Holiday Swiss, I faced two fellow experts, each time having the advantage of playing White. But it didn't always seem like an advantage because I faced systems that I only know how to play generically and sterotypically. In the first game, my opponent psyched me out with the Dragondorf with early a6 and b5, discouraging me from castling queenside. He delayed castling long enough for me to get fixated on an early Bh6 and I fell into a trap that I've probably sprung dozens of times in internet blitz games from the Black side. The game is so short that you can almost follow it blindfolded to the following position: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 a6 7.f3 b5 8.Qd2 Bb7 9.Be2 Nbd7 10.O-O Bg7

I had been eyeing the early Bh6 with Bxh6 Qxh6 and Qg7 to deny Black the right to castle kingside. I had a vague sense of danger that my knight on d4 was subject to a pin after Qb6, but I felt pretty confident that I could retreat Qe3 and play the tricky Nf5 if need be. But I overlooked a refutation that I only evaluated after I played 11.Bh6?? Bxh6 12.Qxh6 Qb6!. I resigned without making a thirteenth move once I saw that any move to protect the pinned knight is refuted by 13...e5. This includes my intended defense of 13.Qe3 e5 14.Nf5 gxf5. What I overlooked was that Black's ninth move 9...Nbd7 protects the queen on b6 so that Black has time to capture 14...gxf5 going up a piece for one pawn and also trading down toward a queenless middlegame.

I'm a little arrow-happy lately, so here's the marked up version of the combination I should have seen before I committed to Bh6:

In the second game against an expert, I avoided the Austrian Attack against the Pirc and soon transposed into a Classical Dragon: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 c5 6.O-O cxd4 7.Nxd4 O-O 8.Be3

Just after the time control, I got the following position:

The game continued 31.Ng5 Qh5 32.Kg2 h6??

My tactical vision failed me and I didn't even look for the winning combination. Instead, I meekly retreated back to Nf3. What I missed was Bard's archery strike at Smaug 33.Bxf6!, removing the guard on h7. I forgot that the Qh5 move that originally protected h7 as a pawn was no longer protecting h7 as a square once h7-h6 was played. Black's least worst line seems to be 33...hxg5 34.Bxe7+ Kg8 35.fxg5 which Fritz8 gives as +3.27.

Five moves later, I thought I found more fireworks to net me two pawns, but Black got back into the game with threats to my king and eventually I lost my two extra pawns.

Materialistic Fritz8 agrees with my combination beginning with 36.Rxe7! Rxe7 37.Rxe7 Kxe7 38.Qxb7+.

But instead of falling for 38...Kd8 39.Bb6+ Ke8 40.Qxc8+, my opponent played 38...Nd7! 39.Qxc8 Qf5!

Eventually, I lost both my extra pawns because Black's pieces were freer to move while mine stayed huddled around my king. After seeing my pawns picked off, I felt lucky to get a draw.

I scored only 0.5/2 playing against Experts who both played Dragons against my e4. Sometimes you get the Dragon; sometimes the Dragon gets you. I learned some lessons in attacking the Dragon's Keep. And it was a decent return to chess as I gained 7 rating points from the 3.5/5 result in the tournament.

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