Comeback Kid

Regular readers of my posts may recall that I’d decided to retire from competitive chess during lockdown. Well, I was reluctantly persuaded to make a comeback the other day.

Let me explain.

My club has teams in three leagues. Our Thames Valley League teams cater for players of all levels. We have a team in Division 1 of the London League for stronger players. Finally, we have several teams in various Surrey competitions to provide extra opportunities for our newer or lower rated players.

Last Thursday (as I’m writing this) our team in Division 4 of the main Surrey League had an away match over six boards, while we also had a London League match the same evening. Our captain tried at least two dozen lower rated players but only three could play. Several were on holiday, some weren’t available on Thursdays, a few weren’t prepared to make a long journey. So we had to find three higher rated players for the top boards. We recruited Peter Lalic (son of Bogdan and Susan), who is about 2300 strength, on top board, and another young and improving player, about 2000 strength, for second board. Our London League team was also struggling, so a couple of players who would otherwise have agreed to take part were already committed. I was the only club member left so I reluctantly agreed.

The journey to our opponents, South Norwood 2, who meet somewhere just north of Croydon, involved a 90 minute drive through London rush hour traffic to reach a rather bleak community hall at a roundabout, with nowhere to park very near by. On the plus side, the lighting was, unlike our home venue, excellent, and it was accessible without having to climb a steep flight of stairs.

When we eventually arrived I found myself playing White against a player rated about 250 points below my previous rating (or grade as it was in those far-off days). The last time I played in the Surrey League was in 1973. The rules are rather different now. In an attempt to keep everyone happy, at the start of the game the away player offers two of three options: play a faster time limit to finish in one session, adjournment with resumption at the away player’s choice of venue if the game is unfinished when time is called and adjudication if the game is unfinished when time is called. You might well think it’s crazy. I wouldn’t disagree. I proposed the faster time limit or adjournment: my opponent, not wanting a faster time limit, chose adjournment.

It didn’t go well.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3

Giving Black a choice: d5 is a Queen’s Gambit, b6 a Queen’s Indian, Bb4+ a Bogo Indian and c5 an invitation to a Modern Benoni.

3.. b6

Black chooses the Queen’s Indian Defence.

4. a3

The Petrosian Variation: the only line I thought I knew anything about. White would like to play d5 without facing Bb4(+) in reply.

4.. Bb7
5. Nc3 d5

Very sensible and solid.

6. cxd5 Nxd5

The usual recapture, but 6.. exd5 is also fine.

7. Qc2

I vaguely remembered about Qc2 and e3 here – which are White’s most popular choices.

7.. Nd7

The two most popular moves here are Nxc3 and Be7.

8. e3?!

This is where I started to go wrong. I’d confused my binary operators: White can play either Qc2 or e3, but not both. An OR, not an AND. And certainly not Anand! Now 8. Nxd5 exd5 9. Bg5 is

8.. c5
9. Bd3 h6?!

Unnecessarily cautious as I’m not going to have time to capture on h7. He could have played 9.. cxd4 10. exd4 Rc8 11. Bg5 Be7 12. Bxe7 Kxe7!? 13. Be4 N7f6 14. O-O Nxe4 15. Qxe4.

10. Qe2?!

Feeble. I was worried about a possible capture on f3 but I could have played either Nxd5 or e4 instead.

10.. Nxc3
11. bxc3 Bd6
12. O-O O-O
13. a4?!

Trying to play Ba3, but there was no reason not to play e4 here.

13.. Qc7?!

He could have played the immediate e5 here, and I could again have played e4 next move.

14. h3?! e5
15. e4 cxd4
16. cxd4 exd4
17. Nxd4 Be5

18. Be3?!?

This was just a complete oversight deserving two question marks. I thought about Bb2 instead but wanted to retain the option of playing f4. However, the move inadvertently prepares an interesting exchange sacrifice worth an exclamation mark.

18.. Nc5
19. f4?!

19. Nb5, avoiding material loss, was the alternative.

19.. Bxd4
20. Bxd4 Nb3

This was what I’d missed on move 18, but Stockfish thinks I have chances by continuing 21. Be5 Qc5+ 22. Kh2 Nxa1 23. Bxa1 Rad8 24. Rf3 with the idea of Rg3 targeting the g7 pawn. This is perhaps the most instructive position in the game – White’s raking bishops and pressure on g7 seem to provide adequate compensation for the exchange.

But I thought I’d seen something better.

21. Bxg7?? Qc5+

I’d seen this check, but hadn’t realised that the queen was now defending d4. Very poor.

22. Kh1?

I couldn’t decide whether I should avoid queen checks by going to h1 or avoid bishop checks by going to h2 and made the wrong decision. 22. Kh2 Kxg7 23. Qb2+ Nd4 24. Rac1 Qd6 25. e5 Qd7 26. a5 would have given me some practical chances.

22.. Kxg7
23. Qb2+ Nd4
24. Rac1 Qd6

Black’s extra knight is pinned in two directions: along the d-file as well as the long diagonal. In desperation mode, I decided to try to win it. Stockfish prefers alternatives, but I hoped to persuade my opponent to blunder.

25. Rcd1?! Rfd8
26. Bb1 Qc5
27. Rc1 Qd6
28. Rcd1

Hoping against hope that he’d be happy to repeat moves.

28.. Rac8
29. Rf2 Qc5
30. Rfd2

30.. Kf8??

If he’d played 30.. Qc3 instead I could have resigned after 31. Qxc3 Rxc3 32. Rxd4 Rxd4 33. Rxd4 Rc1+ 34. Kh2 Rxb1. One reason why I should have preferred Kh2 to Kh1 on move 22.

31. Ba2!

Winning the piece back because 31.. Ne6? loses to 32. Bxe6 Rxd2 33. Qxd2 fxe6 34. f5! Kg7 (or 34.. Qc6 35. Qxh6+ Kg8 36. Qg6+ Kh8 (36.. Kf8 37. fxe6) 37. Rd3!) 35. Qd7+ Kh8 36. Qxe6 (even stronger than Qxb7). Of course, if I capture on e4 at once Black keeps his extra piece with a back rank check again.

31.. Bxe4!
32. Rxd4 Rxd4
33. Qxd4 Bxg2+
34. Kxg2 Qxd4
35. Rxd4 Rc2+
36. Kg3 Rxa2

After a sequence of forcing moves we’ve reached an ending in which I’m a pawn down but with what should be a comfortable draw.

37. Kg4 Kg7
38. h4 a6

Making it easy for me, but he has to do something like this at some point if he wants to make progress.

39. Rd6 Rb2
40. a5 bxa5
41. Rxa6 Ra2
42. Kf5 a4

At this point time was called. It’s now completely drawn: for instance 43. Ra7 (my sealed move) 43.. a3 44. Ra6 Ra1 45. Ra7 a2 46. Ra6 Rh1 47. Rxa2 Rxh4 48. Rg2+. He texted me overnight to offer a draw, which I of course accepted.


Not a great performance: I guess the game demonstrates that I was right to retire when I did. Chess is very different even from a few years ago because players are doing a lot of online study and practice now. Playing competitively no longer appeals to me.

The good news was that my rather undeserved draw was enough to give my team a narrow victory in the match.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy ( or and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through View all posts by Richard James

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