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!
Greg Acholonu (2312) - James West (2210) [C41]
US Amateur Team East/Parsippany, NJ USA (4) 1999
Tony Kosten writes that "this may be White's best."
Kosten actually gives this a "?!" dubious mark, writng "Theory, but not best, in my opinion."
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
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.
Threatening immediate mate by 12.Qg5# and scary ideas like 12.Nh5+.
West has been down this road before: the best try for White is 15. Bxc8 Rxc8 16. cxb4 Nxb4! 17.
Suffcient is 16... Rxc8 but West wants more and is not afraid of insane complications.
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!
Black's forces are converging on the kingside in a threatening way.
A beautiful conlusion to an amazingly complicated attacking game.0-1
Steven Sinding - James R West [C41]
US Amateur Team East/Parsippany, NJ USA (1) 2000
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.
Also playable is 6... Nh6
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.
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.
Games in PGNMichael Goeller, November 2006