Check Is In The Mail: February 2023

We would like to publish a column celebrating the life and mourning the death of FM Alex Dunne. Alex was the longtime US Chess Correspondence Chess director and author of this column. Alex was a teacher, mentor, and friend to many. If you have any games with Alex or stories about Alex, please send them along as soon as possible. You may email them to Click here to show email address or Click here to show email address. Your assistance is greatly appreciated.


“Chess is a miniature version of life. To be successful, you need to be disciplined, assess resources, consider responsible choices, and adjust when circumstances change.” ― Susan Polgar


Symmetry vs. Asymmetry in the Opening – The Open Sicilian

Choosing an opening repertoire presents challenges, one of which is the nature of the pawn structures that are common to the variations chosen. My choice for a repertoire for the white pieces is unique, and possibly fodder for another column. In this column I would like to talk about repertoire choices for the black pieces.

My opening approach with Black tends toward symmetry, i.e., I tend to respond to 1. d4 with 1. …d5, 1. c4 with 1. …c5, and 1 .Nf3 with 1. …Nf6. However, I no longer respond to 1. e4 with 1. …e5. Try as I might, I cannot make it work. There are many double e-pawn variations I truly enjoy playing: the Spanish, the Chigorin, the Breyer, and the Marshall Attack. I should mention the Two-Knights Defense and the Scotch Game, as well. However, I can’t seem to hold up well against the gambits, particularly the King’s Gambit. The last time I played 1. …e5, I got very much the worst end of a King’s Gambit Declined, and only luck saved me. So, against 1. e4 I choose asymmetry.

For a long time, I focused on the Caro-Kann (1. …c6) and the French (1. …e6), both of which I still enjoy, but I find it easier to win against good players when I play 1. …c5, the Sicilian Defense. Of course, I find it easier to lose to them as well! Once I reached that conclusion, the next big decision was: how to respond to the Open Sicilian (1. e4, 2. Nf3 and 3. d4)? The Najdorf Variation is exciting, but the theory changes with every tournament these days. The Sveshnikov is popular but has never appealed to me. The Rossolimo seems to be a favorite with attacking players lately, so I avoid 2. …Nc6. My most recent focus has been on 2. …e6 and the Four Knights variation.

General wisdom among chess players is that in the Open Sicilian, shorter games tend to be won by White, while longer games tend to be won by Black. Once the center is opened (e.g., 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4), White has a slight lead in development and a half-open central file, as well as the only center pawn standing. Black, on the other hand, has one more central pawn, and therefore more options in the center. In my youth I loved playing the White side of these positions; these days I prefer playing the Black side. That may have something to do with the fact that I have been spending more time on the endgame.

This month’s column looks at games played in different variations of the Open Sicilian. In our first game, Daniel Brenneman plays the Hyper-Accelerated Fianchetto variation (2. …g6), a line which puts no immediate pressure on the e4-pawn. John Chirillo responds by seizing space with 5. c4, the dreaded Maroczy Bind. A tactical mistake on Black’s part starts a series of exchanges that end up in White’s favor. Black gives up his d-pawn in an attempt at counterplay, but it backfires a few moves later.



In our second game Juan Jose Montero essays the Sveshnikov variation (1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5) against Andrzej Rozko. White selects a positional continuation that grabs space in the center and on the queenside, leaving the kingside for Black. After trading queens, the players pursue pawn attacks on opposite wings. The game is roughly even until White’s 29th move, after which White appears to lose the thread of the game (a feeling with which I am all too familiar). White’s last move hangs a pawn and proves to be the final straw.



Our third game sees Joseph Hawkins build a Dragon structure (with pawns on the d6- and g6-squares and the dreaded “dragon bishop” on g7) against Robert TeVrucht. The play remains even, with Black gaining the bishop pair while White posts a knight on d5 and starts going after Black’s king. Black had a continuation that would have kept the position even after trading off some pieces, but instead he allowed White to get his knight to b6, controlling c8. Ten moves later Black moves a bishop, allowing a knight fork that wins the exchange without diminishing the kingside attack.



In our fourth and final game James Stack plays the Four Knights variation against Martin Jarabinsky. The game follows recent theory for quite a while, but Black misses an opportunity to simplify on move 30, and then gives White a passed d-pawn two moves later. Between the passed d-pawn and the rook on the seventh rank, Jarabinsky can give up his queen for a rook without letting up the pressure. That 37th move must have been fun to play!



If you have a particular opening you wish to explore, send your games with that opening to Click here to show email address, with or without analysis. I will collect additional games to fill up a column.

Until next month — good chess!

Robert Irons


News From the Front Office


In Passing….

Harold C. Wallach of Dagsboro, Delaware passed away on January 26, 2022. His correspondence rating was 1991.

Orvis Wesley Taylor of Owasso, Oklahoma passed away on December 31, 2022. His correspondence rating was 1841.


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