Saturday, February 24, 2007

Attacking technique

I was impressed with White's attacking technique in the game Agnos-Miladinovic, Greece 1998. In the first diagrammed position White has already established some of the preconditions for successful kingside operations. First, he has a firm grip on the centre and for the moment Black cannot challenge him there. Second, he has traded off the black knight that was on f6 and with Black's queen also somewhat offside White has a preponderance of force in the key sector. Third, the unpinning operation against Black's light-squared bishop has brought White's kingside pawns into play and they are set to inflict further damage. Finally, it is White's move!

17.h4! Rfe8
For the time being Black decides to remain passive and not weaken his position further, a defensive strategy that complies perfectly with classical principles. However, modern strategic thinking requires a player to anticipate his opponent's threats and adopt specific countermeasures even if they look strange to classical eyes. Because it was not difficult to foresee White's plan of driving off or exchanging the remaining kingside defenders Black should have considered the move 17...h5!? here. This has the idea of building a light-square barrier against White's attack which would show to advantage after 18.gxh5 Bxh5. All very reasonable but further consideration exposes the defect of this idea: White simply plays 18.g5 Be7 19.Rd2 followed by Nh2 and Bf3 winning the exposed h-pawn and Black has no adequate counter to this manoeuvre.
18.g5 hxg5 19.hxg5 Be7 20.Nh4! Nf8 21.Nxg6 Nxg6 22.Bc1! (second diagram)
The first stage of White's attacking plan is concluded and he now intends to play Be4 with strong pressure against Black's kingside.
A critical moment. The idea of opening the e-file and exchanging some pieces before White can generate serious threats is an ambitious one on Black's part. It is true that the line 23.dxe5 Rxd1 24.Rxd1 Bc5! gives Black good counterplay but White is not obliged to capture on e5 as the game continuation demonstrates. A better defensive plan starts with the move 22...Qc7. This brings the queen back into play and also conceals a neat tactical point: if White carries on with 23.Be4 he loses a pawn after 23...Nf4! 24.Bxf4 (24.Qg4 Bxg5! 25.Qxg5? Nh3+) 24...Qxf4 25.g6 Qg5+ 26.Kf1 f5! 27.Bd3 Bd6 followed by ...Qxg6. Not that Black is better here, but he is certainly not worse either. White can meet 22...Qc7 with 23.Qh5 but after 23...Nf4 24.Bxf4 Qxf4 25.g6 fxg6 26.Qxg6 Bh4! 27.Re2 e5! Black's simplifying idea from the actual game is realised in a much superior version. Finally, White can try 23.Rd3; for example, 23...Nf4 24.Bxf4 Qxf4 25.g6 Bd6 26.gxf7+ Qxf7 27.Re3 but here too Black can stay afloat, this time by sacrificing the e-pawn: 27...Bf4!? 28.Rxe6 Rxe6 29.Qxe6 Qxe6 30.Rxe6 Kf7 and it is difficult to see how White can make progress.
23.Be4! c5
Black's king comes under direct attack after 23...exd4 24.Bxg6 fxg6 25.Qe6+ Kh7 ( or 25...Kf8 26.Qxg6 dxc3 – to prevent 27.Rd3 – 27.Qf5+! Kg8 28.Qe6+ Kf8 29.g6 and wins) 26.Kg2 Bxg5 27.Rh1+ Bh6 28.Rxh6+! gxh6 29.Qf7+ Kh8 30.Bxh6 and mates shortly. Perhaps the best try is 23...Rd6 but White can play 24.Bxg6 Rxg6 25.Qxe5 Qd8 26.d5! Rd6 27.c4 with a large advantage. The contrast between these two variations illustrates a modern concept in chess strategy: a kingside attack can function as a strategic element that may be converted to other forms of advantage.
24.d5! Nf4 25.Bxf4 exf4 26.Qg4 g6 27.Qxf4 Qxb2
How times have changed... here is Black, a modern grandmaster, basing his defensive plan on capturing the QNP with his queen! It was much better to acquiesce to the pawn sacrifice and play 27...Qd6 28.Qg4 Bf8. Although White is clearly better it will again be difficult to make progress.
28.Rd3 Bf8 29.Kg2 Bg7
There were two other defensive tries here but in the end neither of them would save the game:
a) 29...Bd6 30.Qh4 Be5 31.Bxg6! fxg6 32.Rh3 Rxd5 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Rf3+ Bf4 35.Qh8+ Kf7 36.Qxe8+ Kg7 37.Re7#;
b) 29...Qb5 30.Rf3 Qd7 31.Qh4 Bg7 32.Rh1 Rxe4 33.Qxe4 Qxd5 34.Qxd5 Rxd5 35.Rb1 Rxg5+ 36.Kf1 Rd5 37.Rxb7 with a winning endgame for White.
30.Rf3! Rf8 31.Qh4 Qb6
More stubborn is 31...Rd7 but after 32.Rh1 Re8 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Bxg6 Re5 35.Bf5 Rdxd5 White can expose the frailty of Black's position with 36.Rb1! Qxa2 37.Rxb7 with decisive threats.
32.Rh1 Rfe8 33.Qh7+ Kf8 34.Bxg6
Along with this pawn goes Black's last hope of a successful defence. Now White concludes matters with an incisive combination that either mates or wins material.
34...Rd7 (third diagram)
35.Bxf7! Rxf7 36.Rxf7+ Kxf7 37.Rh6! Qd8
Or 37...Qb2 38.Rg6 Rg8 39.Rf6+ Ke7 40.Re6+! Kf7 41.Qg6+ Kf8 42.Re8#.
38.Rf6+ Qxf6 39.gxf6 Kxf6 40.Qh4+ Kf7 41.d6 Bf6 42.Qh5+ Kf8 43.Qg6 1-0

A very nice attacking display by Dimitrios Agnos.

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.