A Latvian "Masterpiece" (?) (!) May 2010

Post date: Jun 03, 2010 9:13:33 PM

Several years ago, I had the great fortune to read Napier - The Forgotten Chessmaster

by John Hilbert. Hilbert is an immeasurably talented chess historian/biographer who has written several biographies on important chess figures from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century (Frank Marshall, Albert Hodges, Walter Shipley, Norman Whitaker, etc). Napier (1881-1952) was active in master level chess play from 1895 through 1905 and was a great friend of the incomparable chess master, Harry Pillsbury (1872-1906), whose life was cut down by syphilis. Still, in his prime, Pillsbury was one of the three or four best chess players in the world. Pillsbury and Napier played many casual games together (Pillsbury was only slightly more talented than Napier) and some of these games involved the same opening ten moves over and over and over. Napier remarked the games with the repetitive openings (based on an original idea never or rarely seen in master/grandmaster tournament play) reminded him of a "canal horse" (remember, this was around 1901-1902). Later, in 1904, at the great Cambridge Springs Pennsylvania international grandmaster tournament, where Napier and Pillsbury plus some fifteen other players competed, Pillsbury beat Emmanuel Lasker, the Chess World Champion from 1894 - 1921, with this "canal horse" opening. The remarkable fact about Pillsbury's victory is that Pillsbury was playing at about 50% strength because of his syphilis. Pillsbury won less than half of his games at Cambridge Springs.

Fast forward more than 100 years to 2010 with the casual games of Ken Henkelman (1800 USCF skill) and John DeVries (1400 USCF skill). Ken and I play a "Latvian Gambit" game every time I have Black. (-1- e4 e5 -2- Nf3 f5). There are many 3rd moves for White

(-3- N x P on e5 is recommended as the strongest move), but Ken habitually plays -3- Bc4, which often leads to the first eight moves (and sometimes thirteen moves) being played in every Henkelman/DeVries "Latvian Gambit" game - a "canal horse".

These Latvian Gambit games always involve an early Queen exchange, Black's exchange of a Rook for a Bishop and a Knight, and an often long endgame where Black's two minor pieces struggle hard against White's Rook. In the game below - a most satisfying victory for me - two Bishops are stronger than a Rook. I present this game for your consideration.

WHITE (Henkelman) BLACK (DeVries)

-1- e4 e5

-2- Nf3 f5

-3- Bc4 P x P

-4- N x P d5

-5- Qh5 g6

-6- N x P at g6 Nf6

-7- Qh4 P x N

-8- Q x R P x B

-9- Na3 Be6

-10- b3 Nc6

I concede the loss of a pawn. I have learned that exchanging

pawns brings more of Ken's pieces into the game faster.

Instead, I concentrate on development.

-11- P x P Kf7

-12- 0 - 0 Bg7

-13- Q x Q R x Q

Ken has learned that exchanging queens is better for

White, compared to avoiding the exchange. Now the

real chess game begins.

-14- Rb1 b6

-15- h3 Na5

-16- Rd1 N x P on c4

-17- N x N B x N

-18- a3 Ba2

-19- Ra1 Be6

Ken's Queen Rook is in a somewhat awkward position.

-20- Bb2 Bh6

A creative square for Black's Bishop - in many of our

previous Latvian Gambit games, I would leave the

Bishop on g7, and he would usually be exchanged,

with my King forced to move to g7, away from the

center of the board.

-21- d3 P x P

-22- R x P R x R

-23- P x R c5

-24- Re1 Nd5

-25- Be5 Bf4

I prevent White's threats against my queenside pawns

on the dark squares and offer a Bishop exchange

-26- Bh8 Bf5

Ken believes White's 26th move was the losing move.

By declining the exchange of Bishops, the game evolved

into a "Two bishops vs rook" endgame instead of a "Bishop

+ Knight vs rook" endgame. I agree with Ken that "Two

Bishops vs rook" is harder for White, wihle "Bishop + Knight

vs Rook leads to more draws, if Black can escape defeat.

-27- Rd1 Bd6

-28- Ba1 Nf4

-29- d4 Ne2 check

A nice move by my Knight

-30- Kf1 N x P

-31- B x N P x B

-32- R x P Ke6

-33- a4 Ke5

-34- Rh4 Bd3 check

-35- Kg1? Bc5

In the post mortem, Ken and I agreed that White should

have moved his King to e1 on move 35 to make the

White King more active.

-36- Rh7 a5

-37- Rh4 Bb4!

On move 37, I give protection to my rook pawn, which

eventually queens.

-38- g3 Bc2

-39- Rg4 Kf6

-40- Rf4 Kg7

I don't want my King to get too close to Ken's

kingside pawns.

-41- h4 B x P at a4

-42- Rg4 Bd1

-43- Rg5 Kf6

-44- Rb5 Bc5

-45- Kg2 a4

-46- Rb1 Be2

-47- f3 a3

-48- Ra1 Bc4

The coordination of my Bishops will make

the queening of the Black Rook pawn


-49- g4 a2

-50- h5 P x P

-51- P x P Bd4

It is over for White.

-52- Rd1 a1=Queen

-53- R x Q B x R

-54- Kg3 Bd3

-55- Kg4 Bf5 check

-56- Kh4 b5

-57- f4 b4

-58- Kg3 b3

-59- h6 Kg6

-60- h7 K x P

-61- Kh4 Kg6!