Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pressure play

There are certain players who seem to possess an innate ability to spot the key vulnerabilities in the opponent's position and then find the precise moves to apply pressure. This is a valuable ability to have and a difficult one to oppose in practice. If I had to name the single greatest talent in this regard it would be Bobby Fischer.

The other day I was studying a game played at age 15 by the Ukrainian GM Sergey Karjakin. In a position that was hardly out of the opening Karjakin found a very simple and powerful strategic idea.

The diagrammed position arose in the game Karjakin – Bricard, France 2005, after Black's 11th move. The experienced player will recognise this as a line of the Modern Defence featuring the exchanging manoeuvre ...Bg4xf3. White has more space and better development but it is not clear what plan he should adopt. The advance 12.e5 is met by 12...dxe5 13.fxe5 Nxe5, 12.d5 compels White to reckon with 12...Bxc3, and the alternative 12.f5 appears unpromising because a later fxg6 can be met by ...hxg6 and pressure down the h-file. Nevertheless there is a way forward and Karjakin finds it.
White's pawn goes to f5 for two reasons: to prevent Black from starting a blockade with ...f5 and to add pressure to the central light squares that will be augmented by White's unopposed bishop on f1.
According to Karjakin, Black should have continued to develop with 12...Ngf6. Opening the position is not a good idea but Black was no doubt intent on extending the range of his fianchettoed bishop.
13.dxc5 Nxc5 14.Bd4!
Neutralising Black's most dangerous piece whether it is exchanged or not.
Black loses at least a pawn after 14...Bxd4 15.Qxd4 Nf6 16.b4 Qb6 17.e5!
This forces Black to reckon with the double attack b2-b4 at almost every move.
15...a6 16.Bc4!
The traditional weakness of f7 is exacerbated by the departure of Black's king and the disappearance of his light-squared bishop, and by White's strategic advance 12.f5!
16...e6 17.Qg5!
A fourth successive hammer move against the weaknesses in Black's position.
No better is 17...h6 18.Qe3 e5 19.Bxc5 Qxc5 20.Qxc5 dxc5 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8 22.Bxf7 g5 23.h4 Nh7 24.Bg6 and White wins.
18.fxe6 Qxg5 19.Rxg5 fxe6 20.Bxe6
As Roman Dzindzichashvili likes to say, White now has the pawn and the compensation. Black resigned on move 37.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Critical moment

There was a sharp finish to the game Rublevsky-Bologan from the 2005 Russian Team Championship. In the diagrammed position it is White to play his 30th move. He is on the verge of recovering an earlier pawn sacrifice and his pieces seem to be more active. As always I recommend that you take a few minutes to study the position and try to work out how the game should continue. There are two initial candidate moves:

A. 30.Nxe4? This loses quickly after 30...Bxe4 31.fxe4 Qc5+! (driving the king to the corner) 32.Kh1 Qxd6! and White cannot recapture because of the mating move ...Rf1.

B. 30.fxe4 As played by Rublevsky. Bologan had a strong reply ready in 30...Qc5+ 31.Kh1 Bg4! Now 32.Nf3 is forced because the attacked rook is chained to its post by the threats against d6 and f1. Black continued the attack with 32...Qf2 33.R6d2 (better was 33.R6d3 but Black is in command after 33...Rc2 34.Rg1 h6) and now there is a forced win: 33...Rxf3! 34.Qxf3 (if 34.Rxf2 Rxb3 35.Rc2 Rf8 and Black is a piece up) 34...Qxd2! 35.Qxg4 (or 35.Rxd2 Rc1+ 36.Rd1 Rxd1+ 37.Qxd1 Bxd1 and wins easily) 35...Rc1! Black's rook attacks and defends at the same time. Rublevsky could not prevent mate or loss of material and he therefore resigned.

Thus in the diagrammed position White cannot immediately recapture on e4. Because of the latent mate threats he must provide a flight square for his king. This can be accomplished with a scrappy move that is our third candidate:

C. 30.g4!? Now there are two variations:
a) 30...Qc5+ 31.Kh1! Black's position suddenly looks critical because White threatens both 32.gxf5 and 32.Nf7+, and 31...Bg6 fails to 32.Rxg6! hxg6 33.fxe4 followed by 34.Qh3. But Black's advanced pawn comes into play with 31...e3! 32.Nf7+ Rxf7 33.Qxf7 Qxd6! 34.Rxd6 e2! Now White has nothing better than 35.Qxf5, when 35...e1Q+ 36.Kg2 Qe2+ followed by ...Rg8 defends successfully for Black.
b) 30...Qe7 31.Qe3 Bg6 and now 32.Rd7 (instead of 32.fxe4 Rcd8 as given by Bologan) 32...Qe8 33.Nxe4 with a position that can only be assessed as equal.

In my opinion Rublevsky's loss can be explained by psychological factors. He had enjoyed some initiative in the play leading up to the diagrammed position but then failed to notice a critical moment when it was time to think about defence for a move or two.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Return of the king

Anatoly Karpov's recent appearance in the Valjevo grandmaster tournament was a welcome event for those who remember the crystal-clear playing style that characterised his world championship years. He has not competed in many events lately but if there is anyone entitled to rest on his laurels it is surely Karpov.

As it turned out he came close – very close – to winning the Valjevo tournament. A late defeat by the Israeli grandmaster Michael Roiz dropped him out of the running but he regrouped and managed to take third prize.

Karpov's win over the Serbian grandmaster Mihajlo Stojanovic was especially powerful and will no doubt receive wide coverage in the chess media. Today I will offer my impressions of this game.

A.Karpov – M.Stojanovic
Valjevo 2007
This was always Karpov's first move but in the early 1980s he made the big switch to 1.d4 in anticipation of his lengthy rivalry with Garry Kasparov.
1...e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3
Of course in the 1970s Karpov made his living with 3.Nd2.
3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7
A popular but rather simplistic attempt to equalise the chances through exchanging Black's problem bishop. According to my database this system (if one may call it that) scores an unspectactular 38% above the master level. On the other hand I can imagine some grandmasters dedicating time to Black's cause and finding ways to keep White's initial advantage within manageable limits.
5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0–0 Ngf6 8.Ng3!
I like this move, which avoids exchanges for the time being. Black could have played 7...Bxe4 8.Bxe4 c6 but after 9.c4!? Ngf6 10.Bc2 White has taken control of key central squares and retained the bishop pair.
8...Be7 9.Re1 0–0 10.Qe2 b6!? (first diagram)
Preparing to drop the bishop back to b7 and follow up with the space-gaining move ...c7-c5.
A remarkable concept, playing to exchange light-squared bishops. This idea surprised me at first since the bishop on d3 seems to be gazing expectantly toward Black's kingside. But as soon as Black plays ...g7-g6 the bishop's range will be blunted and therefore White should keep an open mind.
11...Rb8 12.c4 Bb7
The game continuation suggests that 12...Ba8 was more circumspect. After the exchange of bishops two defects appear in Black's position: the hole on c6 and the awkward position of his rook.
13.Bxb7 Rxb7 14.Ne5 Qc8
If 14...Nxe5 15.dxe5 Nd7 16.Rd1 and Black has a very passive position with few opportunities for counterplay.
15.Nc6! Re8 16.Bg5 Bf8
Black seems to have avoided further concessions but Karpov is ready with another surprising idea.
17.Bxf6! Nxf6 18.Nh5!
Black's queenside pieces are awkwardly placed for defensive purposes so it makes sense to exchange the kingside defenders.
18...Nxh5 19.Qxh5 certainly looked dangerous but Karpov soon demonstrates that Black's move is worse... much worse...
19.Qg4 Kh8 20.Re3 Nb8 (second diagram)
In offering the exchange of knights Black was no doubt expecting the variation 21.Ne5 c5! when he is clearly back in the game.
It is said that in his heyday Karpov used to solve ten combination puzzles every morning before breakfast. If that is true the regime has certainly done him no harm!
There were three other defensive tries:
A. 21...e5 22.Qxc8 Rxc8 23.Nxe5 and White is simply a pawn up;
B. 21...g6 22.Nf6 Nxc6 23.Rh3 h6 24.Qg5! and White wins;
C. 21...Nxc6 22.Nxg7 Ne7 23.Nxe8 Qxe8 24.Qf3! and Black has nothing better than 24...Nf5 leaving White the exchange ahead with an easy win.
22.Qh4 Nxc6
Capitulation, but if 22...Qd7 23.Ne5 Qe7 then 24.Ng6+! hxg6 25.Nf6 mate.
23.Nf6! h6 24.Qxh6+! gxh6 25.Rg8 mate 1–0

The final combination is of course nice and thematic but far more impressive was the play leading up to it.

I sincerely hope that Karpov's participation in the Valjevo tournament signals his return to active play because I suspect he has many more beautiful games to give to the chess world!

About Me

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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.