As it happens, a very good friend of mine Aleks Wojtkiewicz (Wojo) is no longer with us. I'm going to show my game from the World Open against him, where he served up a beautiful effort. He started with:
1.Nf3 One of Aleks' principal lines. This time I played 1....b5 and c4 has been prevented! This is the only purpose of b5. I was determined not to
lose, at least not in the squeeze fashion that Wojo so often wins with. He played 2.e4 quickly. And I realized that this
might not be the same Wojo I'm used to cause he played e4 with a look of
I played 2....a6…he played 3.d4 and we had a classical opening
suddenly. If there's any solace, in giving up the center, Karpov lost to Miles
in a similar structure. I thought well gee Karpov once lost, maybe Wojo will
And after 3...e6 4.Bd3 Bb7 5. 0-0, I played 5....c5, hoping to give the game a Sicilian flavor but after 6.c3 White kept a firm grip on the center. After 6...Nf6, I realized that it would be a long struggle for Black to reach equality. Wojo played a nice move 7.Re1.
I started to think about the position independently. If I got to a closed French position, his rook isn't on f1, so his f-pawn won't deploy so easily. So, I played a kind of suspicious looking move. 7....c4?, releasing the tension. I was relying on my tactical skills to get myself out of any jam that may arise. A dangerous policy.
Wojo went into the critical line with 8.Bc2 d5 9.e5 and now we've trasnpoed to a straight French position. A rather poor variant for me. I thought the Re1 was misplaced but nothing could be further from the truth as the rook on e1 turned out to be quite aggressive.
I retreated with 9...Nfd7 and Wojo uncorked 10. Ng5 and I realized the extent of my error almost immediately. Selecting this closed structure was a very bad decision. Once again, I relied on my tactical skill to get me out of any jams. Now I'm looking at the fact that Wojo is threatening Ne6! followed by Qh5, winning on the spot. It turns out my king is under heavy siege from the very opening. So I decided 10..g6 was most solid, to at least keep material equality. If I played Be7, frankly the Knight could probably visit h7 and just take the pawn. There followed 11.Qg4, a solid move that reintroduces the threat of Ne6 x Bg6. I'm back where I started. I'm given no time to breathe here. The position has gone south quickly.
Emory Tate , recording this segment was surrounded by bees: "These bees actually don't even sting. They're non-stinging bees. I've been alive for a long time and I know these are fake;Just as in chess, you have to know what a real threat is and what's harmless."
Position after 11...Qe7
With all those massive threats coming, I decided to just play Qe7, a highly awkward move. Wojo played 12. h4 here, but after I lost this game, he told me that 12.Nh7 won faster because if Rxh7 Bg5 wins the queen. I looked at him very coldly and said: "You just won the game. Isn't beating me once enough?" Then he said the famous "I'm sorry." When you beat someone, you don't tell them other ways to win... it's like I could have used a knife, I could have used a gun, I could have blown up your car. It's not making any sense at all. I'm already done. I guess that could be considered my last argument with Wojo. As it turned out, Wojo missed Nh7.
After 12.h4, I played Bg7. I have some ideas to push him back with h6. By the way, a precipitous 12....h6??, runs smack dab into 13. Nf7! and Black can resign. (Kf7 Qg6++ or Qf7 and Bg6 wins the queen.)
Wojo played 13. Nd2.To this day I can't fully explain why I didn't play the h6 move that I had planned. I figured Wojo would probably jump back to h3 in order to place the Nf4. Now if Nf7 Kf7 Qg6+ Kg8, and it's just a speculaitive sacrifice. He would keep all the plusses without sacking by just playing Ng5-h3-f4. Frankly, in view of how the game went I should have taken the time to chase the knight back.
I decided I had all the time in the World and played 13....Nc6. I'm thinking about castling long but after 14.Ndf3, I suddenly decided that castling long wasn't a great idea. If 14....0-0-0, 15. Qf4 Rfd8 16.a4! followed by b3 and my dark squares are collapsing. Instead I played 14...Nd8, taking my chances in the center. After 15.a4 Bc6 came the very sharp 16.b3 move threatening to win my queen on the spot with
Position after 16. b3.
I had to cower even further and play Nf8. I have many styles but this isn't one of them. This is more reminiscent of somebody else.
After 17.Ba3 Qd7 18. ab5 Bb5 19.bxc4 Bxc4, I can't capture with a pawn on c4, because opening the e4 square would be disastrous. In this position, I became a bit hopeful. I thought "hey my strategy isn't holding up so badly. I even have passed pawn. Maybe I can promote the pawn. Luckily for me 20. Ba4 didn't work. I can't take Ba4 because of Bf8 but I can block with Nc6 or Bb5 so it's not like Wojo can win on the spot.
My ray of hope was quickly dispelled after 20.Nd2 and my light squares are under tremendous threat. I backed up with Bb5, and now we get to the thematic stage of the game. This next series of the moves is reminiscent of Tal.
Wojo played 21. c4 dc and his knight jumped to 22.Nde4 threatening a massive strike on dark squares. I was prepared and played 22...Nb7, culminating my Nd8 strategy. Better to play with a bad plan than no plan at all. I'm holding Ne4 at bay. If I can 000 or do anything reasonable, I might survive this match. That's why this next move caught me so off guard.
Position after 23.d5!
23.d5! is a masterful stroke, offering a second pawn. And that pawn just seems so untouchable. If Qxd5 he probably centralize rook first and then come in for kill. If ed5, he has various check f6 and d6 and the e1 rook comes into the play. The d5 move caught me; I intuited that it was possible, I figured Wojo wouldn't play this way. It caught me flat-footed. After 23. d5 0-0-0,. Wojo followed with 24.dxe6 25. Ne6 Rd1.
My problem is on e6. If I let e6 collapse, my game collapses. I played Nd4, shutting down the d file. It looks like I have counterplay and I had one moment of optimism before curtain came down. 26.Nd6+, a nice intermediate move and my most beautifully placed piece dies before it has chance to do any damage. Nxd6 27.Qxd4 I'm on a tactical tightrope. I worked out the details after Nf5 and he can't win my queen. If qc5 qc7, in the meantime his queen's in double check. He quietly played 28.Qg4 and I realized that I'm going to lose on f5 and subsequently f7. My game is lost here. I played h5, just to show Wojo I had one more bullet left. Hoping he'd go into the ending, which is even winning for white. He doesn't need it after 29.Qf3. I finally have had to move my queen. I can't play Qb7 because once f7 leaves board, Bf5+ and then Qxf5 and then Bd6 and then Nf7 at some point and I lose the exchange or worse. Either way, I'm busted.
I played Qh7, and Wojo played 30.Bf5 gf5 and then came the beautiful 31.Nf7!
Position after 31.Nf7!
The knight is untouchable. Qa8+ Kc7 Qa7 wins the Queen. I should have resigned but I played two more moves. 31...Rd3 and after 32.Bxd3 cd3 I resigned. Wojo made a move anyway, 33.Rc1+. He didn't accept my resignation!
As it turns out, not only did he play a move after I resigned, but he also said "ahhh.. Nh7, I could have won earlier…" He already bled an extra move out of me… now he wants some conversation to go with it!
The next day, after I recovered my balance and went on to win my final IM norm after only eight rounds, I saw Wojo. I said "Wojo." He didn’t hear me. The illness must have affected him. He should have heard me and he didn’t. So I tapped his shoulder and said to him: "Yesterday you played liked Tal." He smiled. He went on to tie for first in the World Open and won the Columbus Open the next weekend. An unbelievable finish. He'll be sorely missed on the chess circuit, and he'll also be very missed as my personal friend.
Upcoming: Emory AnnoTATES a dazzling victory over GM Alexander Shabalov!