Sunday, October 11, 2009

Defensive tactics

Here is a late middlegame position of a type that arises so often in mixed tournaments. One side clearly has the initiative because of greater piece activity, but a decisive tactic has not quite materialised. In this particular case both players have pawn weaknesses but Black is on move and should be thinking about putting White to the test. But what's the best way forward?

This was the challenge facing Efim Geller (Black) in his game with Yuri Balashov from the 1969 Soviet Championship in Moscow. If it were White's turn to play, he would oppose rooks with 1.Re1 and take a large step towards neutralising Black's initiative. Geller understood this very well and was ready with an active idea:


The attack on the g-pawn makes things difficult for White, as the following variations show:

a) 2.Be1 Rxc2+ 3.Kxc2 Rxa2+ followed by 4...Rxg2 and Black wins easily;

b) 2.Rg1 Bd4 3.Re1 Rxg2, etc.;

c) 2.g3 Rf2 3.f4 (3.Re1 Rxf3) 3...b5 4.Re1 h5! 5.Re7 Rf1+! 6.Re1 Rxe1+ 7.Bxe1 h4 8.Kb1 ( 8.Rc5 Rxa2 9.Rxf5 Ra1+ 10.Kd2 b4–+) 8...Re4 9.Bd2 h3 and White is in continuing difficulties.

But there is a hidden resource that saves the game for White, and Balashov finds it:

2.Re1!! Rxg2 3.Rc8+ Kf7 4.Rc7+ Kf8

Unfortunately for Geller, Black can no longer play for a win. If 4...Kg6 5.Re6+ Kh5 and now White has the surprise shot 6.Rxg7!, which wins immediately because 6...Rxg7 runs into 7.Rh6#.

After the further moves

5.Rc8+ Kf7 6.Rc7+

the players agreed to a draw.

In the starting position Black has two other tries:

a) 1....Kf7 2.Re1 Rxe1+ 3.Bxe1 Be5 4.g3 f4, but White can defend with 5.gxf4 Bxf4+ 6.Kb2 Be5+ 7.Bc3 Rb4+ 8.Kc1 Bf4+ 9.Bd2 Ke6 10.Bxf4 Rxf4 11.Rc3;

b) 1...b5 2.Re1 Rxe1+ 3.Bxe1 Rc4 4.Rxc4 bxc4 5.Kc2 Kf7 6.g3 and a draw is the correct outcome.

The conclusion is that Black has a temporary initiative but no real advantage.

Despite his reputation as the scourge of world champions, Efim Geller had his hands full with Yuri Balashov, losing four games, drawing ten, and scoring just a single win against the Moscow grandmaster.

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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.