Saturday, April 23, 2016

Pre-exam puzzlers 2016

Before you guys gear up for exam season let me present a couple of interesting puzzles for everyone to try out. Here we go:

Puzzle 1: White to move and win

Puzzle 2: Black to move and mate in 2

And a not-so-simple endgame puzzle:

Puzzle 3: White to move and win


As usual I will go through the solutions next week. Have fun!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Invading the open file: Capablanca vs Horowitz, New York 1931

I know what some of you are thinking: "Oh, not another article on the open file!". Yep, only last month I analyzed one of my own games featuring the struggle on the open c-file. But recently, I came across the following game that bore such a strange resemblance to my own game: White's slow but persistent occupation of the open file, coupled with strong resistance by Black (until a couple of mistakes in the endgame). So I can't resist sharing this with the rest of you.

In the following game, White first exerted pressure on Black's centre before obtaining a slight advantage by occupying the open file. The game remained equal for some time, until Capablanca managed to capitalize on his advantage-- and his opponent's mistakes-- to invade the 7th rank and win the game.

Capablanca, Jose Raul vs Horowitz, Israel Albert
New York 1931

1. Nf3 Nf6
2. c4 c6
3. b3 d5
4. Bb2 Bf5
5. d3 e6
6. Nbd2 Bd6
7. g3 O-O
8. Bg2 Nbd7
9. O-O Qe7 (D)

Position after 9... Qe7

After the opening both sides are roughly equal. White has many dynamic possibilities, such as the e3 push and the opening of the c-file. On the other hand, Black has a very solid position. He has the possibility of e6-e5, building a pawn centre and giving his pieces more space.

10. Re1

With the plan of pushing e4.

10... e5
11. cxd5 cxd5
12. Rc1 Rfd8

If Black contests the file with 12... Rac8 then 13. Rc2 with the idea of Qc1 follows. Note that if Black exchanges on c2 then he cannot reoccupy the file with his other rook.

13. Rc2 h6
14. Nf1

With the idea of Ne3 hitting the centre.

14... Bb4
15. Bc3 Rac8
16. Bxb4 Qxb4
17. Ne3 Be6
18. Qa1 (D)

Position after 18. Qa1

White continues to increase his pressure on e5.

18... d4!?

A bold counterthrust, permanently changing the nature of Black's centre. The alternative was 18... Rxc2 19. Nxc2 Qa5

19. Rec1 Rxc2
20. Nxc2 Qd6
21. e3 dxe3
22. Nxe3 Ng4!

The knight wasn't doing much on f6, so Black correctly decides to trade it with White's more active counterpart.

Be careful when grabing pawns! 22... Qxd3? 23. Rd1 Qb5 24. Nxe5 and the pin on the d-file gives White the initiative.

23. Nxg4 Bxg4
24. Qc3

Capablanca now uses the open file to enter the enemy position. Note that Black cannot effectively contest for the file since his knight is blocking the bishop.

24... Re8
25. Ne1

Defending the weakness on d3 and opening the diagonal for the bishop.

25... b6

Black gives his knight a good square on c5, but at the same time weakens c6.

26. Qc6 Qxc6
27. Rxc6 (D)

Position after 27. Rxc6

Although White has occupied the file, Black still has room for counterplay: He has the square c5 for his knight, as well as Bf5 tying down White's knight to d3.

27... Rd8?!

Not the best move as it is too passive. Better was 27... Nc5 28. Rc7 (28. b4 Ne6 followed by ... Re7 and ... Rc7) 28... a5 29. Rc6 Re6 where Black's pieces are more active.)

28. Rc7 a5
29. Bd5 Kf8

Centralizing the king in the endgame.

30. f3 Bf5
31. Bc4!

This move releases the e1 knight back into the game.

31... Ke7
32. Bb5 Be6
33. Ng2 (D)

Position after 33. Ng2

33... Rb8?

Again, too passive. A more active route would have been 33... Kd6! 34. Rc6+ Kd5 Black's king helps in both the defense and offense; he has the threat of pushing f5 followed by e4. At this point White can consider a draw by repetition: 35. Ne3+ Kd4 36. Nc2+ Kd5 37. Ne3+

34. Ne3 Kd8
35. Ra7 Rc8
36. Nc4 Rc7
37. Ra6 Bxc4?

A huge mistake: This exchange does not benefit Black at all, and instead helps White get rid of his weakness on d3 and create a queenside pawn majority.

37... f6 38. Bxd7 Rxd7 39. Rxb6 Ke7 40. Nxa5 Rxd3 although Black is down a pawn, the activity of his pieces should offer enough compensation to fight for a draw.

38. dxc4 Kc8
39. Ra8+ (D)

Position after 39. Ra8

White is aiming at Black's kingside pawns, which are now vulnerable without the protection of his bishop. Hoping to win the b6 pawn with 39. Bxd7+ Rxd7 40. Rxb6 doesn't work because of 40...  Rd1+! 41. Kf2 Rd2+ getting Black back into the game.

39... Kb7
40. Rg8 g6
41. Re8

Black will lose material.

41... Nc5
42. Rxe5 Ne6
43. Be8 Ng7
44. Bb5 Ne6
45. Kf2 Kc8
46. f4 Kd8

With Black's pieces being tied down, it is time for White's king to enter the game.

47. Ke3 Ke7
48. Rd5 f5
49. a3 Nc5
50. b4 axb4
51. axb4

White's aim is to create a passed pawn with his queenside pawn majority.

52... Ne6
52. Rd3 Ra7
53. h4 h5
54. Bc6 Rc7
55. Bd5 Nf8
56. Kd4 Kd6
57. Ra3 Ne6+
58. Kd3 Nf8
59. Ra8 (D)
1-0

Position after 59. Ra8

The threat is 60. Rb8 winning the pawn: 59... Ke7 (59... Nd7 60. Rg8 +-) 60. Kd4 Ne6+ 61. Bxe6 Kxe6 62. Re8+ Kf7 63. Rb8 Rc6 64. Kd5 followed by f6 creating a passed pawn and entering a won endgame position.

So what can we learn from this game?

  1. Exchange pieces only when it benefits you. Black correctly traded his inactive knight on move 22, but then blundered with 37... Bxc4 allowing White to improve his pawn structure.
  2. The goal of occupying the open file is eventual occupation of the 7th rank.
  3. Centralize the king early in the endgame.
  4. Active piece play is key when defending, especially in the endgame!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Breaking the Fort Knox

In today's article we will look at the game Tiviakov vs Rustemov, St Petersburg 1998, featuring an unorthodox variation of the French Defense. It boiled down to an unusual position where White castled kingside and played Kh1, which turned out to be useful in his attack against the Black king!

Tiviakov, Sergei vs Rustemov, Alexander
St Petersburg 1998

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nd2 dxe4
4. Nxe4 Bd7
5. Nf3 Bc6

In the Fort Knox variation of the French Defense, Black gives up tempo to develop his light-squared bishop to a good position.

6. Bd3 Nd7
7. O-O Ngf6
8. Ng3

Since White enjoys more space in the centre, he wants to avoid trading too many pieces.

8... Be7
9. Qe2 O-O
10. Rd1 Bxf3

One of Black's key ideas in the Fort Knox is to trade on f3, avoiding Ne5 and giving himself more space. The downside is that it gives White the bishop pair.

11. Qxf3 c6 (D)

Position after 11... c6

Let's do a short analysis of the position. The pawn structure-- with Black pawns on c6 and e6-- is a common one in many Caro Kann and French games. White enjoys more space and has the bishop pair. However, Black has a rock-solid position and threatens to fight back with either c5 or e5. In order to prevent Black from creating significant counterplay, White needs to find a way to launch an attack.

12. c3

12. c4 is less solid than the main line but more aggressive, staking more centre space and threatening to push d5.

12... Qc7
13. a4 Rfe8

Can Black try to break with c5 or e5 immediately? Let's take a look: 13... c5 14. Bf4 Qc8 (14... Bd6 15. Bxd6 Qxd6 16. Qxb7 cxd4 17. cxd4 Rab8 18. Qxa7 Rxb2 the a-file passer is very dangerous.) 15. Rac1 (discouraging Black from exchanging on d4.) 15...  Re8 16. b4 c4 17. Bc2 (D)

Position after 17. Bc2

Although Black's position is still cramped, he has managed to keep the position closed, reducing the power of White's bishop pair and giving his own knight a good square on d5.

On the other hand, 13... e5 doesn't look very promising: 14. Nf5! Rfe8 15. Qg3 Nh5 16. Qh3 Nhf6 17.Bg5 Followed by the rook lift Re1-Re3 creating strong threats against Black's kingside.

Returning to the main line after 13... Rfe8

14. Bc2 Bd6
15. Be3 a5

Black faces a dilemma: He would like to open up the position to give his pieces more space, but an open game means White's bishop pair will become more powerful. This can be seen in the variation 15... c5 16. dxc5 Nxc5 (16... Bxc5?! 17. Bf4 overloading the queen.) 17. b4 Ncd7 where Black frees his position but
White's bishop pair is stronger.

16. Kh1!? (D)

Position after 16. Kh1

The purpose of this move is not obvious at first, and only becomes apparent later on. White is preparing to generate an attack against the enemy king.

16... Nd5
17. Bd2 g6

Before Black pushes e5, he takes control of f5 first.

18. Bb3!

Preventing the e5 push for now.

18... Bf8?!

An inaccuracy. I felt it was better to get rid of the knight: 18... Bxg3 19. Qxg3 Qxg3 20. hxg3 N7f6 although White has the bishop pair, it is not very effective in this closed position. In comparison, Black's knights are better placed. Black could try gaining some space with ... Ne4 followed by ... f5, while White can respond with Re1 and Bxd5 opening the position.

19. Ne4 b5
20. h4 h5
21. Rg1! (D)

Position after 21. Rg1

Now we know the purpose of 16. Kh1!

21... Bg7
22. g4 hxg4

22... f5 23. gxf5 exf5 24. Ng5 (threatening 25. Bxd5) N7f6 25. axb5! Ne4 26. Nxe4 fxe4 27. Qg2 $18 Re6 28. bxc6 Qxc6 29. c4 followed by d5 winning a piece.

23. Rxg4 N7f6
24. Nxf6+ Nxf6
25. Rg5

Exploiting another of Black's weaknesses on the other side of the board: The b5 pawn.

25... Qb6
26. axb5 cxb5
27. Rag1 (D)

Position after 27. Rag1

And now White's attack is simply crashing through.

27... Kf8
28. h5 Ke7
29. hxg6 Rh8+
30. Kg2 Bh6
31. gxf7 Nh7

Other variations are 31... Bxg5 32. Bxg5 winning the knight or 31... Kxf7 32. Kf1 Bxg5 33. Bxg5 Qd8 34. Bxf6 Qxf6 35. Qb7+ winning the Queen.

32. Rg6 Bxd2
33. Rxe6+ Qxe6
34. Bxe6 Ng5
35. Qe2 Nxe6
36. d5 (D)
1-0

Position after 36. d5

What can we learn from this game?

  1. When you have the space advantage, avoid trading pieces so as to keep your opponent cramped up.
  2. The bishop pair can be powerful in an open game, but ineffective in a closed game.
  3. The c5 and e5 breaks are potential plans for Black in the Caro-Kann and French defences.
  4. Attack when you have the advantage, so as to hamper your opponent's ability to equalize.
  5. Sometimes, the most effective moves are neither checks nor captures, but silent moves like 16. Kh1.