SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Position after Black’s 13th move
Spassky vs Ciric
1962 World Student Team Championships
An extraordinarily complicated position. Black had just sacrificed a piece to trap the White King in the centre. Spassky realized that he had walked into Ciric’s home preparation. No doubt in the back of the future world champion’s mind was his critical loss with the White pieces in the previous World Student Team Championships (Leningrad,1960) to the American grandmaster William Lombardy. That loss had serious consequences for Boris: he was not allowed to travel abroad for two years!
Spassky thought for a combined total of more than one hour on both this move and the previous one, trying to methodically work out the variations to the best of his ability.
”…intution prompted me to think that my opponent’s scheme was not correct. It was precisely intuition that guided my judgement and made me work intensively….until I finally fathomed the position.” Boris Spassky —Modern Chess Brilliancies by GM Larry Evans
How does White proceed here? Does he take the Q-pawn with the Queen or the Bishop? In Modern Chess Brilliancies Spassky detailed how his mind worked to solve the problem, before finally arriving at his move. He started with 14.Bxd5 and gave some very interesting and sharp variations before deciding, literally by the process of elimination, at the move he played : 14.Qxd5.
”It is truly remarkable the way a chess player’s brain works during a game! I arrived at 14.Qxd5, having rejected 14.Bxd5. Why , then, did I study 14.Bxd5 first? Was it because it looked like a more natural reply than 14.Qxd5 ?” Boris mused.
I recommend the readers see how the Spassky vs Ciric game continued, using the pgn-viewer given below. Spassky won brilliantly!
Yes, intuition is a human chess player’s most valuable skill in complicated positions. Computers don’t need this quality (they don’t have it, atleast not yet) and for machines number-crunching has to be sufficient. Certainly a fast PC armed with Rybka or Fritz (or any other decent chess engine) would be able to solve the problem after Black’s 13th move in the above mentioned game without any sweat or worry!
Computers are completely without emotion or subjectivity: they calculate all moves with exactly the same perfect, ice-cold machine precision. We humans don’t have anywhere near as good brute-force calculating skills, and so we need to rely on our intuition to (as Spassky wrote) guide our judgement in working towards the solution.
Consider the following study by the problemist Zinar. What makes this problem entertaining is that the solution is not intuitive! Infact, it is counter-intuitive!
A STUDY BY M.ZINAR 1985
WHITE TO PLAY AND DRAW
Our mind starts by calculating that the White King can not catch the Black h-pawn (1.Kb3 h5 2.Kc3 h4
etc) , and so we realize immediately that White’s hopes lay with his own b-pawn. But the Black King is already inside the box
of the b-pawn!
Clearly the situation, at first glance, seems hopeless, but before we throw in the towel we have to make certain that there is not some hidden variation that can save White. (We know that problemists always
hide the solution with deep and surprising ideas!)
So our third effort in working out the solution is to try to combine both ideas (King move and pawn advance), similar to a very famous Reti problem: but it does not save White! For example:1. b5!? h5 2. Kb4 (diagram below, left)
useless is the immediate 2. b6 Kd7! 3. Kb4 Kc6! and the King comfortably blocks the pawn 2… Kd7! very precise
( White saves himself after 2… h4? 3. Ka5! h3 4. b6 Kd7 5. Ka6 Kc8 6. Ka7 and the White pawn is escorted
to b8) 3. Ka5 Kc7 4. Ka6 Kb8 (diagram below,right) The Black King has neutralized the White pawn. The h-pawn wins the game.
When every logical
attempt fails to save White, we then turn to those moves that our intuition naturally rejects at first sight, or atleast places them at the bottom of our list of candidate moves. And it is precisely here that we find our salvation:
It is easy to understand why our mind would reject this move at first: the King does not make any attempt to stop the dangerous h-pawn. Nor does White advance his pawn!
1… Kd7! The most logical try
Black tries to blockade the b-pawn
The White b-pawn will promote if Black simply advances his h-pawn:
1… h5 2. Ka5! (diagram right) A key idea to help escort this pawn.
2… h4 3. b5 h3 4. b6 Kd7 ( or 4… h2 5. b7 h1Q 6. b8Q is drawn) 5. Ka6 h2 6. b7 Kc7 7. Ka7 (diagram, below right)
And White will promote with check and draw
It is now easy to see why our sub-concious mind would first reject this line. The White King gets infront of his b-pawn, preventing it from advancing! But it is the only way. The immediate 2. b5? Kc7! or 2. Ka5? Kc7! 3. Ka6 Kb8! allow the Black King to blockade White’s pawn.
2… Kc7 trying ot blockade the b-pawn before the White King penetrates to a7
Advancing the pawn immediately leads to a draw we saw above: 2… h5 3. Ka6 Kc8 4. Ka7 h4 5. b5 h3 6. b6 h2 7. b7 etc.
And now the White King enters into the box of the Black h-pawn! Drawn! Exploiting the geometry of the chess board and moving his King AWAY from the Black h-pawn, White finally manages to move closer to the h-pawn.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS