Former Italian international Stefano Bruzzi, who emigrated to England in the 1960s and played for Surbiton Chess Club for many years, died recently.
I only had the honour of playing him on one occasion, in 2015. By that time he was often happy with a short draw, and I’ve never been averse either, so the game didn’t last too long.
There were a few points of interest, though. Stef had the white pieces.
1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 Nc6
This has only become fashionable relatively recently. I suspect it’s not particularly good, but it can lead to interesting positions and I hoped Stef wouldn’t be familiar with it. Now 3. Nc3 e5 is complicated, but 3. Nf3, to prevent e5, is also very sensible.
3. Nf3 e6
4. Bg5 h6
5. Bh4 Bb4+
6. Nc3 d6
We’ve now transposed into a rather obscure sort of Nimzo-Indian.
7. e3 O-O
8. Qc2 e5
9. O-O-O exd4
As soon as I played this move I realised I’d probably made a beginners’ mistake – exactly the sort of move I’ve spent much of my life trying to persuade children to avoid.
White could have continued with Nd5!, smashing up my kingside. The engine tells me White has very close to a winning advantage.
It’s fatally easy to think “I take, you take back”, or “I threaten your piece, you move your piece” and to miss intermediate moves like this. You always have to think beyond the obvious.
Instead, 9.. Bxc3 10. Qxc3 g5 11. Bg3 Ne4 would have been about equal.
Stef thought for some time, but decided against it, preferring…
10. Bxf6 Qxf6
11. Nd5 Qd8
12. a3 Ba5
13. b4 Bb6
14. exd4 a5
An interesting moment. The critical move for White here is 15. c5, when Stockfish proposes the rather improbable piece sacrifice 15.. axb4 16. cxb6 cxb6 17. a4 Be6 18. Ne3 b3 19. Qc3 Rxa4 which it assesses as equal: at that point Black has tripled b-pawns and an attack against White’s exposed king for the knight. I add a variation below for your entertainment.
Again, he played safe.
15. Nxb6 cxb6
16. b5 Ne7
17. d5 Bg4
Stef offered me a draw here. More than happy to have escaped from my opening oversight and to share the point with such an illustrious opponent, I had little hesitation in accepting.
Stockfish tells me I would have been winning after 18.. Bxf3 19. gxf3 Ng6 followed by Qf6, presumably because of White’s weak pawns. I, as you would expect if you know me, just panicked, envisaging White’s major pieces attacking me down the g-file.
18. Qe4 would have been better, but it’s still better for Black after Bxf3: better pawn formation (the c4 pawn is very weak) and the better minor piece.
Even short and superficially uneventful draws can have points of interest. You might well want to look at the positions at moves 9 and 14, as well as the final position. I’ve added some variations to the computer generated annotations. Perhaps you’ll learn something!