Manny's Reviews > Symmetrical English: 1...c5

Symmetrical English by John L.  Watson
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Apr 06, 2014

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bookshelves: games, the-tragedy-of-chess, not-the-whole-truth
Read in January, 1995

On March 2, I managed to break my right arm skiing, which has meant that I haven't been able to use it since. (I am greatly looking forward to removing the orthopedic vest next week). As you can imagine, having only one hand, moreover the wrong one, has caused all sorts of problems; one of them has been chess, since we had a couple of team matches scheduled. I practiced before the first one and found I could play perfectly well with my left hand after a while. But - and I'm still trying to reconstruct how I could have been so stupid - it never occurred to me that I should also practice writing down the moves left-handed. Unfortunately, the rules of competitive chess make this an absolute requirement. I was in fact able to write, in a style reminiscent of an unconfident five-year-old, but it was torture: I couldn't think properly about the game, since I kept being distracted by the very difficult task of remembering how you formed letters and numbers. My position started looking rather unhealthy, but luckily I found a good combination in the late middlegame which suddenly left me much better. But I was so freaked out by the writing that I failed to cash in, and let my opponent escape with an undeserved draw.

Well, we wanted to do better than that. Before the next match, Not, who also acts as my second, checked the exact status of the rules; it turned out that she was in fact allowed to keep score for me. But things still didn't get off to a good start, when we misread the mail we'd been sent and went to the wrong place. We eventually arrived at the correct venue ten minutes late, with my clock already running. And with that lengthy introduction, on to the game itself...

Swiss Second Division match, Mar 30 2014

Bagri - Rayner

1.c4 g6
2.g3 c5
3.Bg2 Bg7
4.Nc3 Nc6


One of the key positions in the Symmetrical English, the opening this book is about. White still has slightly better chances due to his extra move, and play is by no means as dull as one might naively expect - it just takes a while to get going.

5.Nf3 e6


Black immediately breaks the symmetry. This was one of Bobby Fischer's favorite moves.

6.d3 Nge7
7.Bg5 h6
8.Bd2 b6?!


Too cautious. I should just castle, but I dimly remembered a game between Radjabov and Ivanchuk where Radjabov had played the daring plan of rushing the h-pawn to h5, then sacrificing a piece on g5. In fact, when I looked it up, it had happened in a different position. After his next move, I have trouble getting my king to safety.

9.Qc1 Bb7
10.0-0 d6
11.Rb1 Qd7
12.Re1 g5
13.a3 0-0
14.b4 Rab8
15.h4 f6
16.e4 Ng6
17.Be3 Ba8
18.Qd2 Rbd8


I'm under some pressure, and he can carry on manoeuvering around to try and get a real attack. But his next move is not the right way to do it.

19.Nh2? gxh4
20.Bxh6 hxg3


Now all I had to do was swap the bishops and move my queen to h7, and I'm perfectly okay - I have splendid squares available for my knights, and it's not easy for him to get at my loose king. Somehow I forgot that he could move his bishop away again.

21... Nge5?


Oh dear. Now I'm in real trouble, and I also have less time on the clock.

21... Qf7
23.Rf1 Qg6
24.Ne2 Rde8
25.Rf2 Nf7
26.Nf4 Qh7
27.Bh3 Ng5
28.Bg2 Ne5


He has been most irresolute about following up his good fortune, but he evidently felt he had plenty of time to get organised and start pushing me backwards. On the other hand, my pieces are right now on good squares. I suddenly noticed that I had a very tempting combination. After a few minutes, I decided I had to go for it, even though I couldn't calculate all the lines.

29... d5!
30.cxd5 exd5
31.exd5 Nc4!


My opponent had clearly not seen this move coming, and his body language immediately changed from "Whatever are you doing?" to "Oh shit". He now panics, missing absolutely everything.

32.Ne6? Nxe6
33.Be4?? f5
34.dxc4 Nd4!


It's all over: I'm going to be a piece ahead for nothing. If I'd been writing down my moves, he might still have had a chance, but with Not still patiently keeping score he was toast.

35.Qf1 Rxe4
36.Bf4 cxb4
37.axb4 b5
38.Re1 Qg6
39.Ra2 bxc4
40.d6 Qe6
41.Rd1 c3
42.Rxa7 Ne2+


All of White's pieces are dropping off.

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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-15 of 15) </span> <span class="smallText">(15 new)</span>

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message 1: by Robert (new)

Robert Isn't that how the Sicilian Defense starts? (I barely remember anything about chess so I won't be too shocked if I'm wrong.)

Manny Sicilian is 1. e4 c5. This is 1. c4 c5. Though it can transpose in some lines.

message 3: by Robert (new)

Robert Oh right!

message 4: by Stian (new)

Stian I hate those pawn breaks, 29...d5, for example. I can never, ever time them right. Every time I go for those moves things just blow up in my face. I hate it. Pretty crippling aspect of my play.

31...Nc4! is very pretty. Nice game!

Manny Thank you Stian! As you can see, I was far from happy with my play earlier in the game, but the combination starting with 29 ... d5 was really fun to play.

message 6: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Manny - I used to play chess a bit at school many years ago but never really got beyond the "making things up as I went along" phase - can you recommend a good beginners chess book?

Manny I'm sorry, it's really been a while since I looked at a book for beginners. Most of them aren't very good. If anything occurs to me, I'll post again.

Manny Emir Never wrote: "Obviously, you and Not are a potent combo."

Not said afterwards that it was quite painful to write down some of my moves, especially when I failed to exchange on h6, but she was careful not to show it during the game. She's a team player.

message 9: by Stian (new)

Stian Jonathan: I re-discovered chess about 3 years ago, thanks to this guy:

At first I watched his bullet-tournaments just for laughs (they are very entertaining!) but eventually I started to attach meaning to things he said beacause of patterns that kept reappearing ("Oh, so that's a pin... oh, so that's a fork!" etc).

At least it's my opinion that you can become a pretty good player by following some pretty basic principles, such as always asking yourself 'what is the threat?' Add a lot of playing and tactics training and there you have it.

This is what I did, anyway, and I'm in love with the game now.

message 10: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Stian wrote: "Jonathan: I re-discovered chess about 3 years ago, thanks to this guy:

At first I watched his bullet-tournaments just for laughs (they are very entertaini..."

Thanks! Will check it out...

message 11: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I'm sorry about your arm and hope it recovers quickly and thoroughly (assuming it's recent, rather than originating from the time of the earliest comments), but I would have thought you might relish the challenge of becoming more ambidextrous, though!

Manny Thank you Cecily! My arm is feeling much better, and I have indeed become considerably more ambidextrous... it is a very interesting process!

message 13: by Cecily (last edited Apr 13, 2014 05:04AM) (new)

Cecily I'm glad you're on the mend and have found some entertainment along the way.

I am fairly ambidextrous (a was grandmother far more so), partly innately, but also deliberately. When I was 14, we had a particularly awful history teacher, so to make the lessons less tedious, I started taking notes with my left hand. I did it for two years, just in that class. I've rarely written with my left hand since, but after that, I did become more conscious of which hand I used for what, and endeavored to mix things up a bit. Hmm. That sounds really weird. But hopefully not in a bad way. It is an interesting process, though: there are many tasks where I have no preference at all, some where I prefer right and others where I have an equally strong preference for left.

Manny That's an inspiring story. The thing I find most interesting about the process in my case is that I think I see clear evidence of "learning to learn": the more tasks I succeed in transferring to my left hand, the easier it becomes next time. I would love to see a neurological-level explanation of what is going on.

The one I have studied most is definitely internet speed chess. My left hand started off with a rating of around 2000, but is now around 2300, only slightly weaker than my right.

message 15: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Oh yes, the "learning to learn" was definitely true for me.

Research would be a challenge because handedness of some things is affected by culture (glasses and knives always put to the right of a place setting and forks on the left, for instance) and others by the convenience of the majority (most scissors being right handed, the "main" click on a mouse defaulting to the forefinger of a right hand).

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