SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
An important quality of a chess player is his ‘sense of danger’: the ability to avoid walking into a hidden ambush by being able to quickly and naturally distinguish between real threats and phantom threats.
The greatest players seem to be born with this skill while us lesser mortals must work hard to acquire and develop it. All too often key games are decided when one of the players’ sense of danger fails him when he needs it most…
Below is an excellent example of a player’s sense of danger failing him. Black had a big advantage for quite a while and seemed very much on his way to victory, though the position was complex and dynamic. At a critical moment, just when it seemed that White had run out of steam, Black relaxed a bit too much…
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 24th MOVE (24.Kg1)
im Kvon,A (2492)
im Nguyen,D (2505)
A quick glance reveals that Black’s c-pawn is a big trump (being far advanced and protected), while White’s c-pawn and f-pawn are both ripe for the picking. Which White pawn would you first go after? Note that 24…Nxc5?? is too greedy: 25.Qg5! and White wins!
Black reasoned that the c-pawn was less dangerous while the f-pawn is more of a direct threat (to Black’s King) He was wrong! There are, in truth, no real threats on the Kingside! Black can defend effortlessly there…
Here Black must deal immediately with the White c-pawn by a powerful centralization:
Once Black eliminates the c-pawn, his strong passed pawn on the Queenside should ensure the victory. There is little that White can do in the meantime to annoy Black:
A) If the immediate 25. fxg7 e5! 26. Qe3 (there is no better) …Nxc5 and White is totally helpless as his Queenside is over run );
B) The tricky 25. Qc7–threatening to advance the pawn– is easy to handle: 25… Re8 26. c6 Ne5! 27. Qe7!? (27. fxg7 Nxc6 28. Nd3 Nd4 and once more the White King is under siege) 27… Rxe7 28. fxe7 Qxc6! 29. Rd1 f5 etc.
C) Finally, 25. Nc2 Qxc5 26. fxg7 Qe5 27. Qc4 Qd5 28. Qg4 Ne5 and the White King is now the target.
IN SHORT: After 24…Qd5! White is busted as he has no real counterplay or way to hold his position together in the face of Black mopping up on the Queenside.
INSTEAD, Black played to eliminate White’s ”mating” threats on the Kingside
Certainly seems like a good move, removing any possible threats on the Kingside. Black needs now just to round up the White c-pawn…something that will not be as simple as Black had hoped for.
This move gives White the chance to save himself
Clearly Black can not take the Rook as he gets mated after 26.QxR-ch
An important theme in play now is Black’s first rank. Because Black had not thrown in a ”luft” move earlier when he had the chance, he is very weak on his first rank. Now the Black Queen must becareful to keep an eye on his Rook on b8, not straying too far. Black’s next move is forced:
The passed pawn advances with a gain of tempo. Where should the Queen move to?
Here Black should reconcile himself to the fact that he had lost the opportunity to impose on move 24, and now play precisely to draw the game. After the correct 26… Qb6! (or 26…Qb5 is the same thing) 27. Ra6! Qb5 28. Ra5! Qb6 the game is drawn by repetition. Neither player has better.
INSTEAD, BLACK WANTED MORE
Logical, as it buffers the weak first rank. However, Black overlooked an important tactical nuance, as we shall soon see.
Curiously, the Black Rook has no good move!
If now 27… Ra8 then after 28. Rxa8 Qxa8 29. Qd6! and the pawn can not be stopped from Queening. Or if 27… Rb6 then 28. Qd4! exploits the weak first rank once more: 28… Qxc7 (no better is 28… Nd5 29. Qc5! g6 30. Ra8! as in the game continuation) 29. Qxb6! and Black must resign.
SO BLACK PLAYED THE ONLY REASONABLE ALTERNATIVE:
Decisive! The pawn can not be taken while there is no defence to White’s Ra8 on the next move!
Effectively ending the game. Black could not resign, but played on for another dozen moves before throwing in the towel.
SECONDARY MORAL OF THE STORY: When dealing with passed pawns, make sure your back rank is protected! Make luft before you regret it….