Friday, August 12, 2011

Looking Back on Two Decades’ Worth of Games Versus Clif Rowan

This article was originally published in two parts in the March/April 2008 and May/June 2008 issues of the Ohio Chess Connection; I have merged the two parts together while eliminating one sentence that bridged the two parts.

Clif Rowan, who passed away on October 3, 2007, was a fixture on the Dayton chess scene for several decades. He truly was humble in victory and gracious in defeat—and I can attest to both of those things based on firsthand experience: I played 24 rated games against him over a 19 year period, scoring 14 wins, eight losses and two draws.

The first time that I played Clif in a rated game was the second round of the Dayton Chess Club Championship on October 16, 1987. That was the first DCC Championship that I participated in and one of my earliest rated tournaments, while at that time Clif had a solid Class “A” rating of approximately 1900.

Clif Rowan - David Friedman [B20]

DCC Championship 10/16/87

1.e4 c5 2.a3 (Clif loved playing the Wing Gambit.) 2...Nc6 3.b4 d6 (Since I had never seen this opening before, I was forced to rely on whatever general principles I knew; it seemed to me that capturing away from the center must be what Clif wanted me to do, so I decided to reinforce the c-pawn and await future developments. Fritz slightly prefers Black after 3...cxb4 4.axb4 Nxb4 5.c3 Nc6 6.d4 d5) 4.b5 Ne5 5.f4 Nd7 6.Nf3 e6 7.Bb2 Ngf6 8.Nc3 b6!? (Black should complete his K-side development: 8...Be7 9.Be2 0-0 10.0-0=) 9.Be2 Bb7 10.d3 Be7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Qd2 d5 13.e5 d4?? (NM Jim Jordan, a two-time DCC Champion, once said to me that anyone who can count can become a Master. This is no doubt a gross oversimplification, but it is certainly true that the proper application of counting ability leads to the elimination of this kind of basic mistake. Black should simply play 13...Ng4=) 14.exf6+- dxc3 15.fxe7 cxd2 16.exd8Q Rfxd8 17.Nxd2 Nf8 18.Bf3 Rab8 19.Nc4 Ng6 20.g3 Ne7 21.Be5 Bxf3 22.Rxf3 Ra8 23.a4 f6 24.Bb2 Nf5 25.a5 Nd4 26.Bxd4 cxd4 27.axb6 axb6 28.Rff1 Rac8 29.Ra6 Rc5 30.Rxb6 Rdd5 31.Rb1 e5 32.Nd6 h5 33.Rc6 h4 34.Rxc5 Rxc5 35.b6 h3 36.b7 Rxc2 37.b8Q+ Kh7 38.Qb3 Rg2+ 39.Kh1 exf4 40.Qd5 fxg3 41.Qh5+ 1-0

I’m not sure when Clif first started playing the Wing Gambit against the Sicilian but as long as I knew him he was a staunch believer in this offbeat line. We had many friendly debates—on and off the board—about its soundness. I would say to Clif that since it only appeared rarely at the GM level that it was probably not entirely sound, though it obviously can be a good weapon at the club level. Clif was always a chess iconoclast and did not accept something as the final word just because it was the consensus GM opinion. He did a lot of independent research on the Wing Gambit and you could not convince him that it was not a good opening. I remember his delight when he discovered a book written by GM Alexei Bezgodov titled Challenging the Sicilian With 2.a3!? I think that Clif was happy not so much because he had GM support for his long held belief about this opening—like I said, he was not afraid to go against orthodox GM thinking—but because this book supplied him with so many interesting games to study in his pet line.

I had Black the first six times that I played Clif and each of those games was a Wing Gambit. Clif outrated me by more than 400 hundred points the first three times that I faced him and all of those games were decided by gross blunders on my part (including the above contest). My first victory against Clif came in our fourth encounter:

Clif Rowan (1852) - David Friedman (1533) [B20]

Miamisburg Tornado 1/28/89

1.e4 c5 2.a3 d6 3.b4 cxb4 4.axb4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 (This is not the sharpest way to play against Clif's pet system but by this point I was just trying to get a reasonable opening position and avoid blunders.) 6.b5 Qc7 7.g3 b6!? (It makes more sense to complete the K-side development and then castle. Black is fine after 7...Be7 8.Nge2 0-0 9.Bg2 Nbd7 10.0-0 Nb6) 8.Bg2 Bb7 9.Nge2 Nbd7 10.0-0 Nc5 11.d3 Be7 12.f4 0-0 13.f5 d5!? (Black should play 13...e5 to prevent White’s next move) 14.e5 Ne8 15.f6? (15.d4 Ne4 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.fxe6 f6 [17...fxe6 18.Rxf8+ Bxf8 19.Ra4+-] 18.exf6 Rxf6 19.Rxf6 Nxf6 20.Nf4±) 15...gxf6 16.Bh6!? (After 16.exf6 Nxf6 17.Bf4 e5 18.Bg5 Ncd7 White has a lot of play for the pawn.) 16...fxe5 17.Bxf8 Bxf8 18.Qd2 e4!? (Better is 18...f5) 19.d4!? (White could weaken Black’s pawn structure by playing 19.dxe4 dxe4 20.Qg5+ Bg7) 19...Nd7 20.Qg5+ Bg7 21.Qe7!? Nef6 22.Rxf6?? (White should play 22.Qb4, after which Fritz gives Black a modest edge.) Bxf6 23.Rf1?? Bxe7 0-1

The next time I played Clif--in September 1990--he outrated me by fewer than 100 points and I defeated him from the Black side of a Sicilian Wing Gambit. In December 1990 we met in a Dayton quad and played an exciting tactical skirmish that ended up as our first draw:

Clif Rowan (1833) - David Friedman (1795) [B20]

ACP Quad 12/1/90

1.e4 c5 2.a3 Nc6 3.b4 cxb4 4.axb4 Nxb4 5.Nf3 d5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.0-0 Ngf6 10.c4 Nf4!? (10...Nb6) 11.d4 Ng6 12.Nc3 e6 13.Ne5?! (13.Bg5) 13...Nxe5 14.dxe5 Qxd1 15.Rxd1 Ng4 16.Nb5 Bc5 17.Ba3 (17.Nc7+ Ke7 18.Nxa8 Rxa8=) 17...Bxa3 18.Nc7+?? (Fritz finds dynamic equality after 18.Rxa3 Nxe5 19.Nc7+ Ke7 20.Nxa8 Rxa8 21.c5 Nd7 22.Rc1 a5) 18...Ke7 19.Nxa8? (19.Rxa3) 19...Bc5 20.Nc7 Nxf2 21.Rdb1 Ne4+ 22.Kh1 Bb6?! (22...Kd7 23.Nb5 a6 24.Nc3 Nf2+ 25.Kg1 Kc6 26.Kf1 Bd4 27.Ra3 Ng4-+) 23.Nb5 (23.Na8 Rxa8 24.Rxb6) 23...Nf2+ 24.Kg1 Ne4+ (Fritz slightly prefers Black after 24...Nd3+ 25.Kh1 Nxe5 26.Nxa7 Nd7 27.Ra2 Rd8 28.g3 f5 but at that time over the board I was not sure that Black stood better) 25.Kh1 Nf2+ ½-½

I did not play a rated game against Clif for nearly a year and a half. Our next game differed from the previous ones for two reasons: it was the first time I had the higher rating and the first time that I had the White pieces. Unfortunately for me, neither of those advantages led to victory; if anything, the belief that I "should" win based on those factors led to me pressing too hard when I only had a slight advantage.

David Friedman (1903) - Clif Rowan (1846) [B06]

ACP Quad 5/9/92 (1)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 g6 3.f4 Bg7 4.Nf3 Nh6 5.Bd3 d5 6.e5 Bf5 (While Clif often played aggressively in the opening with White, his style could be almost stodgy with Black; he would hunker down behind a wall of pawns and wait for either his opponent to overextend himself or for a good opportunity to open up the game to his advantage. It took some time for me to develop the patience and positional understanding to counteract this approach.) 7.0-0 Qd7 8.Nc3 e6 9.Be3!? (9.Bb5 Nc6 10.Na4 b6 11.Qe2 Bg4 12.c3±) 9...Ng4 10.Qd2 Bf8 11.a3 (I did not want to let Clif exchange off this B because there is no way for him to otherwise activate it.) 11...a5 12.Ne2 Be7 13.h3 Bxd3 14.Qxd3 Nxe3 15.Qxe3 h5 16.c3 b5 17.Qd3 a4 18.Ng5 Na6 19.Rab1 c5 20.Rbe1 Rc8 21.Nf3 Kf8 22.Nh2 cxd4 23.Nxd4 Nc5 24.Qd1 Ne4 25.g4? (This is a good example of impatience/lack of positional understanding. White stands slightly better after 25.Nhf3 h4 26.Qd3. It is not clear that White will necessarily win after this but the onus is on Black to correctly defend a passive position.) 25...hxg4 26.hxg4 Bh4 27.f5? (This makes a bad situation worse--or lost, to be precise. White should try 27.Re2 Ng3 28.Rd2 Nxf1 29.Qxf1 Be7 which is also no bed of roses but at least offers the vague possibility of counterplay on the Q-side. The text just leads straight to immediate disaster.) 27...gxf5 28.gxf5 Rg8+ 29.Ng4 exf5 30.Rxe4 dxe4 31.Rxf5 Rc4 32.e6?? (White is already in terrible shape but the text is horrible. White should try 32.Rf4 Bg3 33.Rxe4 Bxe5 34.Rxe5 Rxg4+ 35.Kf2 Qd6 36.Qxg4 Qxe5) 32...Rxd4! 33.cxd4 Qxe6 34.Rf4 Bg3 and Black went on to win. 0-1

I only had to wait a little over two months to avenge this defeat. This endgame is error-filled but instructive and the final position is very picturesque:

David Friedman (1936) - Clif Rowan (1842) [A41]

DCC G/90 Quad 7/24/92 (2)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bd3 Bg4 5.0-0 e6 6.h3 Bh5 7.Nbd2 Nfd7 8.Qe1 Be7 9.c4 Na6 10.Rb1? (10.a3) 10...Nb4 11.Qe3 Nxd3!? (11...Nxa2) 12.Qxd3 Bg6 13.Qe2 Qa5 14.b4? (14.a3) 14...Qxa2 15.Rb2 Qa6 16.Nb3 b6 (16...0-0) 17.Bf4 0-0 18.Ra1 Qb7 19.e5? (19.Bg5) 19...dxe5 20.dxe5 c5 (20...Bxb4-+) 21.b5 Qe4? (21...a6) 22.Qxe4 Bxe4 23.Nbd2 Bb7 24.Rba2 Rfd8 25.Rxa7 Rab8 26.Re1 Kf8 27.Bg5? (27.Ng5 Bxg5 28.Bxg5 f6 29.Bh4) 27...Bxg5 28.Nxg5 Nxe5 29.Rxe5 Rxd2 30.Nxe6+!? fxe6 31.Rxe6 Rd1+ 32.Kh2 Bxg2?? (White is clearly winning after this blunder. Double-edged play ensues after 32...Kf7 33.Rxb6 Rd7 34.Kg3 Ke7 35.f4 Kd8 36.Kh4 Rc7 37.g4 Kd7 38.f5 Be4 39.Rxb8 Rxa7) 33.Kxg2 Rd4 34.Ree7 Rxc4 35.Rxg7 (35.Rf7+ Ke8 36.Rxg7 Rf4 37.Rxh7 Rf8 38.h4 is more precise.) 35...Rb4? (35...Rh4) 36.Rxh7 Kg8 37.h4 (White can force a winning K+P ending by playing 37.Rag7+ Kf8 38.Rg3 Rd8 39.Rh8+ Ke7 40.Re3+ Kd7 41.Rd3+ Rd4 42.Rxd4+ cxd4 43.Rxd8+ Kxd8 44.Kf3+-) 37...Rc8 38.h5 (38.Rag7+ Kf8 39.h5 Rh4 40.Rg3 Re8 41.Rh8+ Kf7 42.Rf3+ Kg7 43.Rxe8+-) 38...Rg4+ 39.Kh3 Rg1 40.h6? (After missing several straightforward wins, I play a move that gives Black drawing chances. The correct way is 40.Kh2 Rg4 41.f3 Rg5 42.f4 Rg4 43.Kh3 Rg1 44.Rab7 c4 45.Rhc7 Rxc7 46.Rxc7 Rb1 47.Kg4+-) 40...c4?! (Black should play 40...Rf8 41.Kh2 Rg6 42.Rhg7+ Rxg7 43.Rxg7+ Kh8 44.Rg6 Rxf2+ 45.Kg3 Rf1 46.Rxb6 c4=) 41.Kh2? (This endgame has turned into a comedy of errors. White wins after 41.Rhc7 Rxc7 42.Rxc7 Rh1+ 43.Kg4 Rxh6 44.Kg5 Rd6 45.f4 c3 46.Rxc3 Rd5+ 47.f5 Kf7 48.Rc7+ Ke8) 41...Rg6 42.f4 c3? (Black should play 42...Rc5 threatening mate and forcing 43.f5 Rxf5 44.Rhg7+ Rxg7 45.Rxg7+ Kh8 46.Rc7 Rxb5 47.Rxc4 Rh5+ 48.Kg3 Rxh6 49.Rc7 when he actually comes out a pawn ahead, though of course the position is a draw.) 43.f5 c2?? (Black's last chance is 43...Rg5 44.f6 Rf8 45.Rhg7+ Rxg7 46.fxg7 Rc8 47.Ra1 c2 48.Rc1 Rc3 49.Kg2 Kh7 50.Kf1 Rc8 51.Ke1 Kxh6 52.Rxc2 Re8+ 53.Kd2 Kxg7 54.Rc6 Rb8 55.Kc3 Kf7 56.Kc4 Ke7 57.Kd5 Kd7=) 44.fxg6 c1Q 45.Rag7+ 1-0

I lost a couple more games to Clif on the Black side of the Wing Gambit in October and November 1992 and then we did not face each other in rated play for nearly 10 years. The main reason for the long span between games is that Clif took a hiatus from rated chess between April 1996 and September 2002. I made expert for the first time only months before Clif stopped playing in tournaments and I was a year away from winning my first DCC Championship. By the time he returned, I had won three DCC titles and usually maintained a rating over 2000. Although Clif never won the DCC Championship, on several occasions he played a key role in determining who captured the crown. In 2002, my last round draw with Clif enabled Earle Wikle to catch up with me and share the title. In 2004, I beat Clif in round five in a tough game and then his last round draw with Wikle led to a three way tie for first place between me, Wikle and John Dowling. I played Clif six times in the DCC Championship (1987, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), scoring three wins, two losses and one draw.

Clif scored 2.5/3 in our first three games after his 2002 comeback. However, after that I won our final 11 encounters. Oddly, he had White in most of our early games, while I had White in eight of those last 11 games. I ended up with nine wins and one loss versus Clif with White and five wins, seven losses and two draws with Black. Our final rated game was a typically hard fought battle:

David Friedman (2015) - Clif Rowan (1700) [B07]

1492 Open 10/7/06 (1)

1.e4 d6 2.d4 a6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bd3 g6 5.0-0 Bg7 6.c4 Bg4 7.Be3 0-0 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 Qd7 11.Rad1 Rfd8 12.Qe2 Qe8 13.f4 e6 14.Qf2 Ne7 15.e5 (15.f5! and White has an assortment of threats on the f-file, the h4-d8 diagonal and against Black's K.) 15...Nd7 16.g4 f5 17.exf6 Nxf6 18.Rde1 Qf7 19.Qe2 Re8 20.Bc2 (20.Bf2) 20...c6 21.Qd2 Kh8 22.Re2 b5 23.c5!? (23.b3) 23...dxc5 24.dxc5 Rad8= 25.Qe1 Ned5 26.Bd4 Nb4 27.Bxf6!? (27.Be5) 27...Qxf6 28.Ne4!? Qd4+ (28...Qxb2 29.Bb3 Nd3 30.Rxb2 Nxe1 31.Re2 Nd3 32.Ng5 Rd7 33.Nxe6) 29.Kg2 Nxc2 30.Rxc2 Qd7? (30...Qd5=) 31.Nd6± Rf8 32.Re2 Qa7 33.b4 a5 34.a3 axb4 35.axb4 Rf6 36.g5 (36.Rxe6 Qa2+ 37.Re2 Qd5+ 38.Kh2 Rdf8 39.f5+-) 36...Rff8 37.Rxe6 Qa2+ 38.Rf2 Qd5+ 39.Qe4 Bc3 40.Qxd5 cxd5 41.Nxb5 Bxb4 42.c6 Rb8 43.Nd6 Bc5 44.c7 Bxf2 (44...Bxd6 45.Rxd6 Rbc8 46.Rd7 Kg8 47.Rb2 d4 48.Rb4 d3 49.Rbd4 Rfe8 50.Rxd3+-) 45.cxb8Q 1-0

I played against Clif as a novice teenager who he outrated by several hundred points and as a club champion adult who outrated him by roughly 300 points but throughout that two decade time span two constants endured: we had mutual respect and we played interesting, hard fought games. Rest in peace, Clif.

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