07 August 2011

Annotated Game #4: GM Alex Yermolinsky simul

The following game was played at the 2002 National Open in Las Vegas.  This was my first simultaneous exhibition game and I was very much interested in playing against GM Yermolinsky, due both to his record in the U.S. Championship (having won twice in the 1990s) and his authorship of the excellent book The Road to Chess Improvement (Gambit Publications, 1999) which I had recently read.

Similar to what occurred in my game vs. GM Walter Browne, I was able to successfully prepare the opening prior to the game.  I determined that Yermolinsky was likely to play 1. d4 and that we would therefore end up in a Slav Defense.  The Geller Gambit (5. e4 in the main line Slav progression) seemed to suit Yermolinsky's style, especially in a simul, and he had played it before.  This swashbuckling gambit line is White's primary choice for aggressive play, at least in the main lines of the Slav, and Black has to know it cold.  However, if Black rides it out, he gets a middlegame position which is at least equal and contains no real dangers.

My primary source for opening preparation was Graham Burgess' entertaining and thorough book The Slav, published by Gambit in 2001.  This has been an essential opening reference for me ever since, although it demands effort from the reader, since it focuses more on being a comprehensive theoretical treatment of the opening rather than on demonstrating basic concepts.  However, its depth and the author's ability to convey in words his assessment of various lines and approaches make it accessible for my opening study methods.

When preparing the opening, although I certainly made the effort to memorize the moves themselves, what really helped my ability to then play them over-the-board was reviewing and memorizing the concepts behind them.  The Geller Gambit for Black can be broken down into a series of mini-operations from move 8 onward:
  • After 8 axb4, exchange off the White knight on c3 first in order to be able to recapture with the b-pawn
  • Develop the light-squared bishop to b7 after Ng5, seizing the long diagonal
  • g6 is the obvious (and only) defensive move after Qh5
  • After the White queen retreats, hit the knight on g5 with Be7, then bring out Nd7
  • When White opposes his bishop on the long diagonal, move Qc8 to protect b7 rather than exchanging
  • Castle and then play f5 to exchange down material
That takes Black through move 18 and gives him a position that is at least even and likely contains any winning prospects that may exist.  When playing this opening, White essentially gambles that Black will go astray sometime before move 16.  Although I make some inferior moves in the game after the opening, it is completely drawn and without any prospects for White until move 36, then it quickly becomes a winning game for White after move 38.  What happened?  Following the erroneous beginner concept of simplification = good, I gave up first the double rooks and then the single rooks, leading to a winning K+P endgame for White.  GM Yermolinsky pointed out to me afterwards that keeping both rooks on would have completely stymied White, who had no way to make progress.

With this game, I was pleased that the opening preparation had worked so well, although I was disappointed with the final result, which was due to my lack of endgame knowledge.  That said, the valuable lesson about the effects of endgame simplification is something that will stay with me.


  1. Wow, that was some very good preparation. I played this variation several times back in the day and luckily no one was this ready! I seem to recall a game between Smyslov and Petrosian where white almost blew away black, but I can't recall who was playing which color...

  2. I looked it up, it's Petrosian-Smyslov, 1951 Soviet Championship. Petrosian varied from the posted game with 14. h4, after which play continued ..h5 (the only move) 15. Qg3 Nb6 16. O-O a5. This last pawn push looks a bit suspect to me, especially since Smyslov decided to castle queenside on move 19. White shortly afterwards got his knight to d6 and Black lost the exchange removing it (and the game along with it).