SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
One of the most anticipated match ups was France against the Ukraine. Both selections were fighting for the medals. The fight on 1st board between Vachier Lagrave and Ivanchuk took an unusual turn almost immediately from the opening…
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 15th MOVE (15.Rae1):
I prefer White here. He is fully developed and Black must make a fundamental decision regarding his King: should he castle or not. Keeping the King in the centre has its own risks. And castling Queenside would allow a timely a4.
This type of position –give or take a feature or two–occurs in dozens of lines of the Sicilian, especially Rauzers. Take the pawn off on b2 and we have something very familiar to connoisseurs of the Poison Pawn.
Black has 2 Bishops and a mass of pawns in the centre, so there are many players willing to play Black. Botvinnik, in his day, loved this kind of position. He even played it against Bronstein in the 1951 World Championship.
BUT, from the practical point of view, it seems that all the risks must be assumed by the Black side; all the critical decisions must be made by Black also. And for this reason, today–2012–most gms try to avoid this kind of position with Black. Especially with the faster time controls: Black must navigate not only very accurately, but also very quickly.
Had I Black here, I would consider as my chief candidate moves 15…Rac8, 15…Rg8 or 15…0-0-0. I assume that Black’s play must involve some …d5 at some well timed point, trying to liberate the Bishop on b7 (eyeing g2). But I would not be happy here with Black! If my opponent were to then offer me a draw, I would jump at it immediately!
In this game, the French superstar chose a riskier move, and in hindsight, probably not the best move against an experienced, world-class grandmaster:
A typical positional sacrifice that runs no risk at all, as we shall see, and from the practical point of view does not lead to an easy position for Black to play.
Modern day masters are able to draw upon some 50 years of praxis in the Sicilian defence where such a sacrifice has taken place frequently. Old games of TAL are a must here! (I believe he joked about taking out a patent on the Knight sacrifice on d5!) The general belief today is that it is risker to provoke such a sacrifice than to play it….
If I had to guess, I would estimate that Vachier-Lagrave did not like his opening and provoked the sacrifice so as to try to outplay his opponent in the ensuing complications. Unfortunately, as we shall see, this strategy would not work against an Ivanchuk.
THE GAME CONTINUED:
16… exd5 17. exd5
The big question is where to put the Black Knight?
A) Possible is to return the piece so as to close the e-file: 17… Ne5 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. Be4 Rd8 20. c4! bxc3 21. bxc3 Rg8 22. c4 Qxc4 23. Na5 Qb5 24. Nxb7 (24.Rb1? Bed5! with advantage) 24… Qxb7 when White has the better chances though Black is not without counterplay. HOWEVER, one must ask why provoke the sacrifice if you are just to return the piece the next move! Never the less, this is the line I would have preferred.
B) 17… Na518. Nxa5 (18. Nd4!?) 18… Qxa5 does not ease the pressure: 19. Qe3 Qd8 20. Re2 Rc8 21. Rfe1 Rc7 and Black can hardly move.
C) 17… Nb8 is similar to the game after 18. Nd4, except the Knight will not be able to defend the e7 square.
It is not clear what the best Knight move is, but Vachier’s move appears the most solid move.
17…Na7!? 18. Nd4
Threateing Nf5 in many lines
Wrong now would be 18…0-0-0 as the King would find itself even worse off than in the centre: 19.Qxb4! Rhe8 20.Rf3! followed by the rook-ship to c3 or b3. Black would be helpless.
And clearly, castling Kingside would be suicide (19.Qe2! immediately ends the game)
It is certainly not easy to suggest anything good for Black! Even though he has an extra piece, the awkward King position and uncoordinated pieces renders Black a difficult game. Perhaps he is not lost, but it would take a machine to hold the position.
Another painful idea is to hide the King on f8: 18… Kf8!? 19. Nf5 Re8 20. Re3! Bxd5 21. Rfe1 Nc6 22. Bb5!? axb5 23. Qxd5 Rh5 24. g4! hxg3 25. Rxg3 Rh8 26. Qg2 Rc8 27. Rg7 and Black’s problems are just beginning.
Vachier’s move leads to familiar positions:
18…Bxd5!?19. Nf5 Nc6 20.Be4!
A strong practical move: by eliminating the light-square Bishop White increases his domination over d5, f5 and indirectly e7 and g7. Black can not retreat his Bishop to e6 since he would lose his extra piece after 21.Nxe7 and 22.f5–though some spirited defenders might not reject this idea so readily….
20…Bxe4 21. Rxe4 Kf8 22. Rfe1 Re8
Everything holds, for the moment (but at what price?)
23. Qe2! Rh7 24. Qg4! d5 25. R4e2 Qb6
Black can not move a single piece without losing something!
This last move was criticized afterwards, but it is hard to fault it as there are no really good moves to suggest! Notice that none of White’s moves was difficult to find up to now–the sacrifice is purely positional in nature–and yet he enjoys a real bind on the Black position. Black finds himself a piece up but wth no future, barring a serious mistake on White’s part.
WHITE TO PLAY AND WIN!
Remarkably, there is nothing that Black can do to prevent White from simply opening up the g-file and then penetrating with the Queen! Ivanchuk won with ease….