So as you may have already noticed my blog/author handle is “e4a6” which some of you may also know as the Saint George Defense. This is seen as an offbeat and dubious opening for black that allows White to take control of the center immediately via 1. e4 a6?! 2. e5… So why play it? Why indeed. Perhaps St. George’s only claim to fame is its’ use by Tony Miles to defeat the reigning World Champion Karpov at the 1980 Euro Team Championship. What you may not know is that St. George was first played by an amateur named J.Baker against the very first World Champion Steinitz in a simul in 1868. So this supposed incorrect opening took down the world’s best not once but twice! On a side note even Spassky employed it (by transposition) once vs Petrosian in his world championship match no less, however that did not end well for Boris.
Interestingly enough the St. George or Baker’s defense is in fact a close relative to the Sicilian defense, which is of course quite respectable. So why the discrepancy in reputation? Well there truly is just cause and it essentially centers upon black’s allowing the d4 push uncontested (as well as the relatively slower development of the kingside bishop and knight. However the proponents of the defense might argue that it escapes theory early and provides attacking chances from the flank as is the case with other more popular modern defenses.
Well anyone who has ever played me knows I am allergic to opening theory so the first time I heard of the move 1…a6 I pounced at the opportunity to utilize it. To be completely honest I do not believe I have used the St. George for a few years now in a rated classical event, so I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a true advocate. None the less I like to keep my games fresh by avoiding redundancy, therefore mixing it up in the opening now and again is a sure-fire way to do that.
The game I will annotate here is my second attempt using the St. George (I actually managed to win the first despite my questionable handling of the defense). The secondary reason I wish to present the game is I believe it to be a good example of how to react after a non-fatal blunder. This is an important skill that involves not only summoning up strong nerves but actively seeking out complications in an effort to muddy the waters. The game comes from the 2008 Turkey Bowl down in South Florida. Here’s the link for you to follow along (again I apologize for its’ long winded nature, guess I really need to learn a trick or two on how to shorten such things).
Turkey Bowl Round2: Josh (1612) vs. Me (1391)
1. e4 a6?! 2. Nf3 b5 3. d4 Bb7
And there it goes my full extent of preparation… a whopping 3 moves. I should mention that every time I have ever used this defense I always, always get either a skeptical raised eyebrow and/or wrinkled nose as if I just passed gas at the board. You know, I must admit I actually really enjoy seeing these reactions and it definitely awakens the competitor in me as now I must back my play. My young opponent was no different as he maintained a sly smirk throughout the opening phase.
4. e5 e6 5. Be2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. O-O d6 8. Nbd2 Nge7?
And already I have blundered a pawn as the next few moves will show. My opponent quickly and confidently responds.
9. exd6 Qxd6 10. Ne4 Qc7 11. dxc5
At this point in the game I decided to take a long think and regroup. First is to act cool as a cucumber and assess the damage. Is it life threatening? Are there any tactical resources for either player that may have resulted from the blunder? Are there any advantages in my position? For example, notice my opponent captured with the pawn and not his knight, thus doubling his pawns and lessening his presence in the center. Then if the game is still worth playing on (in this case after the loss of a pawn between two novice players the answer should always be yes), you must convince yourself that you are still very much in the game. As the middle game has essentially started my next moves involve getting my pieces to their best possible squares in search of a way to equalize or even gain an edge.
11…Ng6 12. Qc2 Nce5 13. b4 Be7 14. Rd1 O-O 15. Bb2
With this move my opponent allows me somewhat of a nice counterattack.
15…Nxf3+ 16. Bxf3 f5! 17. Nd6 Bxf3 18. gxf3
Notice my opponent seemed to prefer keeping tension in the position instead of mindlessly trading pieces after his winning of my pawn. This is a great quality and yet it can get a player in to trouble under the right (or wrong depending on your perspective) circumstances. I had noted the potential of 16…f5 earlier and simply had been awaiting for the optimal opportunity to play it. Now, although I still have not regained my pawn, black has managed to double two pairs of white’s pawns and expose his king. At this point I felt that I could not be worse if not better. Furthermore observe white’s knight as it has no retreat squares I am also threatening to regain the lost pawn.
18…Rad8 19. Qd2 Ne5 20. Kg2 Nc4 21. Qe2 Nxb2 22. Qxb2 Bxd6 23. cxd6 Rxd6
Material has been equalized and now only Black can claim an advantage
24. Qb3 Rf6 25. Rxd6 Rg6+
An important zwischenzug. White must choose which side of the g file to move to and neither looks particularly inviting.
26. Kf1 Qxd6 27. Rd1 Qxh2
The h2 pawn was lost anyway with no real way to defend it, white decides to at least gain control of a central file.
28. Rd8+ Kf7 29. a4?
Now comes the beginning of the end as white struggles to hold the position and avoid mate during a very forcing line. White’s a4 is an attempt to utilize his queenside pawn majority but it is simply too slow and ill-timed.
29…Rg1+ 30. Ke2 Qe5+ 31. Kd3 Re1!
A nice and simple move threatening 32…Qe2+ 33. Kd4 Qd2+ winning the rook.
32. Qc2 bxa4 33. Qd2 a3 34. Rd4 Rb1!
The threat is the lethal Rb2 and mate with Qe2.
35. Qc2 Rb2 36. Qd1 a2 37. f4? Qe2+! 38. Qxe2 Rxe2 0-1
Black sacrifices his rook in order to promote the now unstoppable pawn. With no reason to play on, white resigns.
That’s all for now, hope you enjoyed it. -b