James West Plays the Philidor Countergambit

by Michael Goeller

One of New Jersey's most active players, NM James West is known internationally for his two editions of The Philidor Countergambit (from Chess Enterprises and Chess Digest, respectively). His work has done a lot to revive this old line, which was a favorite of Philidor himself and perfectly illustrates Philidor's most important idea that "pawns are the soul of chess." The following two games are the ones that West himself suggested as among his most memorable with the gambit, and they illustrate how crazy, tactical, and very very deep it can be. Pity the White player who meets it unprepared!

Game One:

Greg Acholonu (2312) - James West (2210) [C41]

US Amateur Team East/Parsippany, NJ USA (4) 1999


1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 f5 4. Nc3

Tony Kosten writes that "this may be White's best."

 

4... fxe4

a) 4... exd4?! 5. Qxd4 Nc6 6. Bb5

b) 4... Nf6!? 5. dxe5 Nxe4

5. Nxe4

5. Nxe5 Nf6 is ok for Black.

 

5... d5 6. Nxe5

Kosten actually gives this a "?!" dubious mark, writng "Theory, but not best, in my opinion."

6. Ng3 e4 7. Ne5 Nf6 8. f3 Keres 8... Bd6! West 9. fxe4 O-O 10. exd5 Qe8

 

6... dxe4 7. Qh5+ g6 8. Nxg6 Nf6

Kosten actually gives this move a double question mark, "??" meaning immediately losing! That just shows you how unsettled the theory of this line still is! West, meanwhile, refutes Kosten's recommendation thus: 8... hxg6? 9. Qxg6+! Kd7 10. Qf5+ Ke8 11. Qe5+ Be6 12. Qxe6+! Qe7 13. Qc8+ West

 

9. Qe5+ Kf7 10. Bc4+

I unfortunately only have the first edition of West's book, published by Chess Enterprises in 1994, so I don't know the correct line after 10. Nxh8+ Kg7 11. Bg5 when West gives 11... Nc6 12. Bxf6+ Qxf6 13. Qxf6+ Kxf6 14. Bc4 Nxd4 15. O-O-O Ne6 16. Rhe1 Bd6 17. Rxe4 Bd7 18. Rde1 Ng5 19. Rh4 Rxh8 leaving this as "=" when White actually wins with 20. Rh6+ Kf5 (20... Kg7 21. Rxd6 cxd6 22. Re7+) 21. Bd3+ No doubt he has since come up with an improvement.

 

10... Kg7 11. Nf4!?

Threatening immediate mate by 12.Qg5# and scary ideas like 12.Nh5+.

a) 11. Nxh8 Nc6!

 

b) 11. Bh6+ Kxh6 12. Nxh8 Bb4+ 13. c3 Qxh8 14. cxb4 Keres 14... Qf8 15. h4! Kg7 16. O-O-O (16. Qxc7+ Nbd7 17. a3 Kh8 18. O-O Qh6) 16... Nbd7 17. Qg5+ Kh8 18. Rhe1 Nb6 Song-West, Somerset 1993

11... h6 12. Be6! Bb4+ 13. c3 Nc6 14. Qf5

14. Nh5+ Kf8 15. Qxf6+ Qxf6 16. Nxf6 Bxe6 17. cxb4 Nxb4!=

 

14... Qe8! 15. O-O?!

West has been down this road before: the best try for White is 15. Bxc8 Rxc8 16. cxb4 Nxb4! 17. O-O (17. Qc5 Nd3+ 18. Nxd3 exd3+ 19. Be3 d2+) 17... Nc2 18. Rb1 Nxd4 as played in Leiggi-West, Somerset 1997.

 

15... Bd6

15... Ne7!? 16. Qh3 Bd6 Fritz

 

16. Bxc8 Bxf4!??

Suffcient is 16... Rxc8 but West wants more and is not afraid of insane complications.

 

17. Bxb7 Bxc1 18. Bxa8

18. Raxc1 Rb8 19. Bxc6 Qxc6

 

18... Bxb2 19. Rab1?!

White may be for choice after 19. Qb5! Qxa8 20. Qxb2

 

19... Ba3

19... Bxc3 20. Bxc6 Qxc6 21. Rfc1 Qd5!

 

20. Rb3 Bd6 21. Bb7 Ne7 22. Qa5 Qg6










The insane opening stage is finally over. Now the real game begins! No doubt most of West's opponents have usually used up almost all of their clock by this point.

 

In this position, the two Knights versus Rook and two pawns create an imbalance that should result in someone gaining an edge. But it's easy to believe in Black: the extra piece gives him a potentially unstoppable attacking force on the kingside, especially given the open lines!

 

23. c4 Nf5 24. c5?! Bf4!

Black's forces are converging on the kingside in a threatening way.

 

25. d5 Rg8 26. d6 cxd6 27. c6 Kh8

27... Bxh2+! 28. Kxh2 Kh8 29. g3 Qh5+ 30. Kg2 Nh4+ 31. Kg1 Qxa5

 

28. Rg3

28. g3 e3! 29. c7 Bxg3!!

 

28... Nxg3 29. hxg3 e3! 30. Qxa7 e2 31. Re1










31. Ra1 Qe4 32. Re1 Qb4 is no better.

 

31... Bd2 32. Rxe2 Qb1+ 33. Kh2 Ng4+ 34. Kh3 Qh1#

A beautiful conlusion to an amazingly complicated attacking game.

0-1

Game Two:

Steven Sinding - James R West [C41]

US Amateur Team East/Parsippany, NJ USA (1) 2000


1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 f5 4. dxe5

Against White's other most common reply, West has trademarked a very Morphy-like response: 4. Bc4 Nc6!? ( he also sometimes plays the standard 4... exd4) 5. dxe5 dxe5 6. Qxd8+ Nxd8 with which he gets good results.

 

4... fxe4 5. Ng5 d5 6. e6 Bc5!?

Also playable is 6... Nh6

 

7. Nf7 Qf6 8. Be3 d4 9. Bg5!

9. Qh5? dxe3! 10. Nd6+ Ke7 11. Nxc8+ Kd8 12. Qxc5 Qxf2+ 13. Kd1 e2+

 

9... Qf5 10. Bc4?!

a) 10. Nxh8 Qxg5 11. Bc4 Nc6! 12. O-O Nf6!?

 

b) 10. Qh5 g6 11. Qh4 h6 12. Nxh8 hxg5 13. Qh7 Bxe6 14. Qxg6+ Qxg6 15. Nxg6 Nd7 16. h4 Kf7 17. h5 Ngf6 West

10... Nc6!? 11. g4!? Bb4+ 12. c3 Qc5 13. Qb3 dxc3 14. bxc3 Nd4 15. cxb4

I have no clue how Black saves himself after 15. Be3! Nxb3 16. Bxc5 Bxe6 (16... Nxa1 17. cxb4) 17. Bxe6 (17. axb3!?) 17... Nxc5 18. Bc4

 

15... Qc6 16. Qc3 Nf3+ 17. Ke2 Bxe6 18. Bxe6 Qxe6 19. Nxh8 Nxg5 20. h3 O-O-O

So far so forced! Now West has exactly the sort of position he loves to get out of the Philidor Countergambit: White's King is exposed and Black has the initiative.

 

21. Nd2 Nf6 22. Rhd1

22. Qe3?! Nf3 23. Nxf3 Qa6+ 24. Ke1 exf3 25. Qxf3 Re8+

 

22... Rxh8 23. Rac1 Nd5 24. Qc4 Re8 25. Kf1? e3! 26. Ne4 Qxe4?

26... Nxe4 27. Qxd5 e2+

 

27. Qxe4 Rxe4 28. Rxd5 e2+ 29. Kg2 Ne6

29... Nxh3!

 

30. Re1 Rxb4 31. Re5 Kd7 32. Rxe6 Kxe6 33. Rxe2+ Kf7

Can you imagine how it would feel to be White at this point? You think you have a win in the opening, things start to go wrong but still look materially advantageous, and suddenly you find yourself in a lost Rook and Pawn ending.... Very disheartening.

 

34. Rd2 Rc4 35. Rd7+ Kf6 36. Kg3 h6 37. h4 g5 38. h5 Rc6 39. Rh7 Ke5 40. Re7+ Kd4 41. Rg7 Ke4 42. Rg6 Ke5 43. f3 Rxg6 44. hxg6 Kf6 45. f4 gxf4+ 46. Kxf4 Kxg6 0-1

Games in PGN

Michael Goeller, November 2006