Castle before you leap

In the summer of 2007 I was following the games of the Dortmund Chess Tournament on the Playchess server. It was the last round and Yasser Seirawan was commentating the games. When Mamedyarov had played the move …0-0 in his game against Leko, Seirawan told the listeners a short anecdote about a former Russian women’s coach whose name he preferred not to mention. This coach had entered the playing hall of some Olympiad or country match shortly after the beginning of the round and would look for a compatriot:

“How are the ladies doing?”
“Well, I suppose they are all right.”
“Did they castle yet?”
“Yes, all but one.”
“Oh no, I’m afraid we have to train even harder!”

Of course castling is not mandatory, but one goal of the opening is to get your king into safety. I must mention that it is not always easy to play openings in such a way that you’re always sure of your king. Some principled lines demand that you leave your king in the center to get an opening advantage. Also castling does not necessarily mean that your king will be safe. In a French opening position for instance you can castle right into an attack. Therefore it is sometimes tempting to delay castling and lure your opponent into an untimed attack so that after consolidation you can reap the merits of your strategy. It is this that I have tried on a number of occasions during the last season, but unfortunately with no success.

I’ve played the Four Knights game of the Sicilian about five times and I believe I’ve scored only one single point. The variation is characterized by the following moves:
1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. d4 cd4:
4. Nd4: Nf6
5. Nc3 e6

With his last move Black creates a hole on d6 and White goes for it:
6. Ndb5 Bb4!?
Black ignores the attack on d6 and instead of d7-d6 after which the game could turn into a Sveshnikov with 7.Lf4 e5 8. Lg5, he plays the bishop and puts pressure on e4. According to theory 7.a3 is now best. But many White players can’t control themselves and play 7.Nd6+ after which Black must either surrender the bishop pair or his right to castle. Theory recommends 7.Ke7 (!) after which White’s attack is objectively too hurried.

But what does that bring you when your king is in the center? In two games against Pascal Losekoot I reached good to winning positions, but the highly impractical pressure of the king in the center eventually turned out to be decisive. I would think to long to find the narrows paths and a single mistake would suffice for Pascal to win the game. Also during the tournament of Bad Ems (2006) I reached a winning position against Robert Walz, but the careful play cost me too much time and in time trouble I lost control and completely mishandled the position.

During the summer of 2006 I played the HSG Open in Hilversum. In the 8th round I had to play Graham Burton from Engeland. Through Chessbase I found out that against the Najdorf he used to play the sharp Fischer-line with 6.Bc4 a number of times. I realized that this is a very Sharp line and that I practically never play the Najdorf, but I wanted to win no matter what, prepared myself and took the risk.

Burton,G – Moes,W [B87] HSG Open , 27.06.2007

1.e4 c5
2.Nf3 d6
3.d4 cxd4
4.Nxd4 Nf6
5.Nc3 a6
6.Bc4 e6
7.Bb3 b5

The old move. Nowadays they play 8.0-0 more often. But from my preparation I recalled that Fischer once played in this position:
8… Bb7

Probably f5 is best at this moment. Now I was already out of book and on my own…
9… b4
A pawn sacrifice that offers White practical chances. After the game my opponent told me that he had played this position two times before… And that is one of the problems with this line, one change of move order or sub line and it is goodbye preparation and hallo snake pit! 10.Na4 Bxe4 by the way is no good for White.
11.exf6 Qxf6

The consequence. I felt forced to go into a nasty pin and for some time to come I will not be able to castle
Maybe 12…Kd8 13.bxc3 Nd7 14.f5 e5 was also possible, but to make the early choice to play with the king in the center didn’t appeal to me. White by the way seems to be a bit better in this line.
13.bxc3 Qd8?!
The position is not easy to play. The text move was suggested by my intuition. 13…Rc8 14.Rb1 Rc7 would have been better. Not 13…Qg6 14.Rf2 and White is better.
Again Black is faced with a difficult choice. The bishop is attacked. How to defend?
And already Black succumbs to the pressure. He chooses the wrong square for his queen.
Impossible was 14…Bd5? 15.c4! Bxc4 16.Rb7±, but correct was the somewhat surprising 14…Qc8! 15.f5 e5 16.Ne6 Bc6 17.Nxf8 Bxa4 18.Nxd7 Qxd7 with an equal game. The big difference with the game is that Ne6 no longer wins a tempo by attacking the black queen!
Already winning.
15… e5
16.Ne6 fxe6
17.fxe6 Bc6
18.Bxc6 Qxc6
19.exd7+ Qxd7
20.Qd5 Rc8

On 21…Rc7 follows 22.Rb8+ Rc8 23.Rxc8 Qxc8 24.Qf7+ Kd8 25.Bg5+ and mate follows.

There you go. An uncastled king offers the attacker good practical chances and demands very precise defense. During the next and last round I was allowed to taste the pleasure of an attack against the uncastled king myself.

Moes,W – Breedveld,A [D03] HSG Open, 28.06.2007

After 15 moves we had reached the following position:


I somehow mishandled the transgression from opening into middle game and Black has just snatched a pawn on e5. But not to worry, because Black lacks in development and… has not castled! White on the other hand…
16. f4!
Of course I try to open up the position.
16… gxf4
17. Qh5

With this handy in-between move White gives his attack extra schwung.
17… Qc7
18.exf4 Nc6

Threatens 20.Qxd5.
19… Qe7
20.Nf3 Bd7
21.Ne5 Qf6??

And here too Black collapses while defending. For a player of Breedveld’s level an ordinary blunder. But probably he didn’t have tactical thoughts only. I suspect he wanted a little too much. Often the defender does not realize the danger he is in and gets greedy. Black obviously wanted to castle but without giving up his h-pawn. His plan was to follow up with Qg7 en Rf8 and only then castle. But usually you don’t have that kind of luxury. Much better was 21…Rg8 (aimed against Bg6) 22.Rf2 with an equal game. Or: castle now with 21…0-0-0 22.Qxf7 Rhf8 23.Qxe7 Nxe7 24.Re3 and White is better in this endgame but certainly not winning.
Also f5 was strong.
22…Qxf7? 23.Bg6 and wins.
23.Nd6+ Kd8
23…Ke7 24.Qxd5 and wins.
24.Nxb7+ Kc7
25.Nxc5 1-0

Of course you are welcome to play with your king in the centre, but lately I’ve been known to castle again!
What about you?

Cheers, Waldemar


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