Monday Match-Up: Cunningham-Johnston

15 03 2010

Today, I’m starting a new series: Monday Match-Up.

There is a league at my local chess center every Monday where teams compete against each other in a ten round tournament. It’s a very friendly tournament, and new teams are drafted each season (winter, spring, summer, and fall). We are obviously currently in the winter league, and there are four boards per team. Because I have gotten to be fairly strong, I am a first board.

I’ll post the game with my analysis on the Monday after the game was originally played. Hopefully by looking at my games, you’ll be able to learn about the game of chess, learn what mistakes we make so you can avoid them, and see what we do to win. These games should be fairly instructive as they are usually played on a relatively high level; probably the average rating of a player on board one is around 1900.

I lost my first five games in the league, but last week, I beat the owner of our chess center, Ron Lohrman. I will post that game, as it is very fascinating.

This week, I faced Sherman Cunningham. Sherman is a strong 1950 player whose recently got into the game. He is very kind, and he playsveryfast. He was even able to play in the Grand Prix tournament going on at the same time and our game. Luckily for him, our game didn’t last very long. I was Black.

1. e4 c5 2. d4

I am not very familiar with this opening, but I managed to figure it out at the board.

2…cxd4 3. c3 Nc6

I didn’t feel comfortable accepting the sacrifice with 3…dxc3. 3…e5, I now realize was the best move, but I didn’t feel comfortable opening up my position like that, either.

chess position sherm 1

4. Nf3 d5 5. exd5 Qxd5 6. Na3

chess position sherm 2

This move threw me a little. I had expected him to capture 6. Nxd4. However, 6. cxd4 was better. Let me show you:

  • 6. cxd4 the best move; 6…Bg4 is bad because of 7. Nc3, so the best continuation is 6… e6 7. Nc3 Qa5 8. Bb5 Bb4 9. 0-0 Bxc3 10. Bxc6+ bxc6 11. bxc3 with an advantage for White.

chess position sherm 3

Black cannot take the pawn with 11…Qxc3, because of 12. Qa4, followed by an attack against White’s king after Bd2, Rac1, and it’s a real mess for Black.

6… Bg4

I was strongly considering playing 6…e5, but decided that just developing and getting ready for a possible attack would be my best option. The computer happens to agree.

7. Nb5?

This was strong in the game, but if I had been a computer, or maybe a Grandmaster, I might have found: 7…0-0-0! Not only will I hold onto my extra pawn after 8. cxd4 e5, but his king is in the center, his queen is in danger, I’m castled, and my development is very good.

Unfortunately, my rating is only 1824, so I played the normal…

7… Rc8

chess position sherm 4

8. Nbxd4 Nf6

Not 8…Nxd4 9. Qxd4 (9. cxd4 e5 with strong play for Black) Qxd4 (if not, White is just ahead, and if 9… Bxf3? 10. Qa4+ Rc6 11. gxf3 and Black can’t capture 11… Qxf3 because of 12. Rg1 followed by Bg2) 10. Nxd4 with a slight advantage for White.

chess position sherm 5

9. Be2

At this point, Sherman offered me a draw. I found this rather strange, because he’s almost 200 points above me. But he said he was tired from playing in the Grand Prix all day. I opted to continue playing, though, because I felt I had an advantage, which was actually true.

9… e6

9…Nxd4 is now the right move because there is no Bg2, so White must capture with the pawn. However, I had something else in mind.

10. 0-0

10. Nxc6 gets White a clear advantage, but Sherman didn’t want to simplify so early.

chess position sherm 6

10…Bd6 11. Be3 Qh5

I am now aware this was not the best move, and actually a mistake. However, I still would see this as very instructive, as the defense is not likely to be found in practice, and going with your gut in an attack is one of the best things you can do.

chess position sherm 7

12. h3

Sherman has a win after this move still; with perfect play. However, this play can be expected only from Grandmasters. What he should have done was 12. Nxe6! a devastating counter-punch. I am just lost after that. Again, though, really, would you expect someone of 2000 strength to find this in a game?

chess position sherm 8

12… Bxh3

Sherman’s next move puts him in a bind. However, he still could’ve won via 13. Nb5, completely ignoring my bishop, and then taking. Black’s attack is then just not strong enough.

13. gxh3 Qxh3 14. Nxc6 Rxc6

chess position sherm 9

Qg4+, the best move, forcing draw via perpetual, is out of the question for me in this position 15. Bb5 Now Sherman is losing. He should have instead brought his queen out to a4, and then swung it to h4 to defend the king-side. 15… Nd5 Qg4+ followed by Qh5+ and Qxb5 wins the game for me, but I was thinking of a plan, and my mind wasn’t really open to new ideas. That’s a weakness, and one that I will have to get corrected.

chess position sherm 10

16. Bxc6+ bxc6 17. Re1 g5 this maneuver is the mastermind move behind my entire plan. Only a counterattack by Qa4 can stop it, and Qa4 looks very dicey; too complicated to go in for most.

chess position sherm 11

18. c4?? Sherman admitted later that he hadn’t seen my next move. He said he thought it would be a long game, and then he looked at the board, and he saw it was over! Funny that the move I played, 18… g4 is actually losing after 19. Ng5! However, this is a very remote move, one that only a player of much higher merit would find in most cases. I should have played 18…Nf4, opening the g-file, and checkmating in just a move or two.19. cxd5?? gxf3 0-1

chess position sherm 12


There are a few lessons from that game. Let’s look at them:


  • Look Out for Hidden Resources and Counter-Attacks

I won this game not because I attacked particularly well, but Sherman failed to counter-attack properly. Had he done so, he would’ve won easily. I should have been more careful. I will be sure in my next encounters to survey the board more carefully before making a move.

  • Trust Your Gut

My gut told me to attack, so I did, and I won. I shouldn’t have won, but I think it’s a lesson that if your gut tells you to do something, you should definitely take it very seriously, and probably play it.

  • King Safety

The reason White had so many counter-attacks was because my king was still rooted in the center. My reason for not castling was because it would ruin my attack, but I should have been more careful in looking for possible ways White could counter-attack against my king, and see that my attack would fail because of it. I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but king safety is one of, if not the biggest priority.


  • Openings Matter!

I had many chances to go into a good opening. I had an excuse because the opening he played is relatively uncommon, but the Sicilian is verycommon, and he should have known the theory better on the line he was playing; if he had, he wouldn’t be at risk for me taking equality.

  • Counter-Attack!

One of the best ways to play defense is to play offense. Sherman neither defended nor attacked, really, but if he had counter-attacked, I would’ve been crushed!

So that’s it for the first week in the Monday Match-Up series. Tell me what you thought of the game in the comments section.