SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Well played games are not as common as one might think. Perfect games either end in mate in less than a dozen moves (against a beginner) or in boring draws where nothing much happens except exchanging pieces. So what is left? Ofcourse: the imperfect games!
Imperfect games are the meat and potatoes of every chessplayer! By this I mean that imprecisions tend to make the game more interesting because they introduce surprising and unexpected turn of events and sometimes even more imprecise play to follow.
Every grandmaster plays a couple of imprecisions during any given game. Remember that the just completed Anand vs Topalov match for the world championship saw on average 3 or 4 game changing imprecisions per game! And that is why the match was so exciting for the spectators!
Below are two games that I think the reader will enjoy. Both are excellent examples of fighting chess, where both players try to keep their head above water despite their imprecisions.
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 10th MOVE (10…Bg4)
ussr ch 1933
Back in the days when this game was played, the theory of the French defence was not anywhere near evolved as it is today. Today every master knows that the pawn sacrifice on c5 is usually only temporary, as Black can later put a Rook on the c-file and gang up on it.
White should now consider playing 11. Be2 Re8 12. c3 with a comfortable but complicated game. However, Levenfish did not want to let Black play a later Rc8 and so he closes the c-file immediately. This leads to sharp and messy play.
11. Bxc6!? bc 12. Qd3!?
White believes that the weakening of his King-side will bring more advantages than disadvantages. Perhaps now Black should consider playing 12… Qc7!? followed by a5 to harrass the Knight on b3. In that case he would have reasonable chances, especially given that he has the Bishop pair. However, Yudovich felt that he had something to gain by weakening White’s King-side…
Grigory Levenfish was born in 1889 and died in 1961. Twice Soviet Champion, he tied a match with Botvinnik in 1937. Though forgotten today, Levenfish was a world champion-calibre player in his best years. His style of play was characterized by independent thinking and brilliant and imaginative attacking play. He defeated all of the top Soviet player of his day, but died in obscurity in 1961.
12… Bxf3!? 13. gf Ng5 14. f4!
White has the open g-file for future attacking prospects, and his f-pawn might prove to be an effective battering ram. The weakened King-side is of little importance at this moment, especially since Black’s forces are not prepared to take advantage of the opening of the King position.
The question for Black now is to decide upon the best place to put his Knight. Worth of consideration is 14… Nf3!? 15. Kg2 Nh4 16. Kh1 Qc7 17. Rg1 Bf6 with an interesting game, though after 18. f5 Nf3 19. Rg3 Ne5 20. Qa6 White seems to have an initiative.
Black decides upon a plan of action that sees his Knight operate from e6 or c7. This plan seems more realistic.
14…Qd7 !? A bit of a tempo gainer, since White must watch out for Black’s threatened …Qg4
15. f3!? Ne6 16. Kh1
White decides to ready his Rook going to g1. However, this turns out to be a bit of an imprecision since Black’s next move allows him to cement his Knight on e6. To be considered next time is 16. f5!? Nc7 17. Kh1 Bf6 18. Bd4 followed by putting his Rook on the g-file. In this case White would maintain the more active positiion.
16… f5 !
The position is roughly even now. White’s extra pawn is of little significance given that White is very inflexible. His Knight must stay on b3 to defend c5, and will be subject to attack with a later …a5.
17. Rg1 a5 18. a4 Bf6
Black seems to be getting a good game here! White has no threats whereas the b2-pawn could be a source of future worries. Black also wants to place a Rook on the b-file and to possibly play …Rb4 increasing the pressure. For the moment White can not take the f5 pawn since the Bishop will move with a double attack.
This is a very important moment in the game. White must decide on how he is to play the middlegame: passively defend the threats along the b-file or to try to gain some initiative. Levenfish decides on the latter.
19. Rad1!? A very good move.
Levenfish realizes that passive play could be fatal in this position, so he opts for piece activity. He might double on the g-file or the e-file. And he might consider using his h-pawn as a battering-ram. And finally, let us not forget about Black’s a-pawn! All in all, the position is still about even, but a dynamic fight is developing. Both sides stand badly!!
Not that Black should not take the b-pawn at this moment: after 19… Bxb2?! 20. c3!
blocks the Bishop’s retreat and will allow White to exploit its absence over on the King-side: 20… Rab8 21. Qc2 Qb7 22. Nd4 Nxd4 23. Bxd4!
etc Finally, 19… Qb7
would fail to 20. Qxf5
An interesting continuation. Black realizes that he needs his King-Rook on the King-side. The Black a-pawn is of little importance for the moment.
20. Nxa5 there is nothing better 20… Rxb2 21. Nb3!
Useless would be 21. Nc4 Rb4!.
Now Black should take a moment and consolidate things with 21… g6! 22. Rg2 Ra2 23. a5 Ra4
and it is not clear if White can make any progress.
As a point of curiosity, White’s truly ugly pawn structure (which looks as though it has been hit by a truck!) deserves to win a prize! Fortunately for White, his active pieces fully compensate.
Perhaps Yudovich over-estimated his position here. He must have thought that he could get something going over on the King-side with a later …Qh5. In anycase, he now gets into a bit of trouble along the e-file.
22. Bc1 Ra2 23. Rde1!
This pin is awkward and Black must exercise caution. As we shall see in the game continuation, it was under-estimating White’s potential play along the e-file that does Black in in the end. If now Black moves his Queen to f7 then White might simply advance his a-pawn to a5.
23… Bh4!? 24. Re2
Black’s Bishop move changes nothing in the position. Now Black should play his Queen to d7 (24… Qd7!
) with an even game.
24… Rxa4?! Very provocative! 25. Qe3!
Black is really tempting fate by keeping his Queen pinned on the e-file. Now 25… Nc7? would quickly lose to 26. Bb2 g6 (26… d4 27. Qd3) 27. Qc3! invading along the long diagonal. So Black’s next move is forced.
Black’s earlier carelessness has brought him to the edge of defeat…almost! For the moment everything still holds.
26. Bb2 A natural move increasing pressure along the long diagonal, and threatening to take the pawn on g7 in some variations.
Black must be careful! Losing immediately would be the natural 26… Bf6? since after 27. Bxf6 gf (27… Kxf6 28. Qe5 Kf7 29. Qxf5! etc) 28. Rge1 Nc7 (28… Ng7 29. Qg1 Qd7 30. Re7!) 29. Qe7! wins material. Black’s move is virtually forced….
26…Rg8 27. Qe5 !
For someone with such an ugly pawn structure, his pieces sure do work well together!
Black’s only defence now is 27… g6! 28. Rge1 (28. Nd4 Nxd4 29. Qc7 Be7 30. Bxd4 Rxd4 31. Rge1 Re4) 28… Qd7 29. Qxe6 Qxe6 30. Rxe6 Bxe1 31. Rxe1 Re8 White is better, but Black is fighting and has chances for a draw.
INSTEAD, BLACK PLAYS THE NATURAL MOVE AND WALKS RIGHT INTO A TRAP!
Black must have been hoping for 28. Qxf5 Rxf4. Instead, comes a very unpleasant surprise!
Ouch!! After this move the Black position collapses like a house of cards. The funny thing is that Black can take the Rook in 4 different ways—all of them bad! The game quickly ends in a shoot out.
28… Bxg7 29. Qxf5 Ke7 30. Rxe6 [30. Qxe6! Kd8 31. Bf6! is faster]
It is time to throw in the towel….
30… Kd8 31. Rxe8 [31. Bf6! is even more precise]
Black resigns. White has several sadistic ways to win…..and Black was not interested in seeing them![1:0]
One of my favourite books is Tal’s remarkable ”The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal” Originally published in 1976, I remember buying this book during the World Open in New York that same year and then spending the next 6 months devouring every precious game and word of insight by the ex-world champion!
The following game was against the great Yugoslav champion Gligoric (born 1923, and still alive and well today!), and is one of about a dozen or so Spanish games played between the two superstars. While Tal’s life-time score against Gligoric in this opening was much in his favour, Gligoric managed to defeat Tal twice in two very important encounters! (The game that follows is not one of them, but is typical of the sharp and complex fights between them.) This game could be found in Tal’s book.
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 22nd MOVE (22…d5)
Gligoric has not played the opening with the required precision , and as a result he finds himself in a delicate situation.
Tal writes ”It is very difficult for Black to find a satisfactory plan. Therefore Gligoric attempts, at the cost of a pawn, to take play into an ending where he would have quite good drawing chances…naturally White is not satisfied by such a transformation of his big positional advantage, and attempts to exploit his attacking chances in the middlegame. ”
This is a very interesting remark. Both players, evidently, were under the impression that Black would have had good practical chances to draw the ending. To me it is not clear why these chances are ‘good’:
23. e5 Ne4 24. Nxe4 de 25. Bxe4 Qxd4 26. Rxd4 Bxe4 27. Rdxe4 Rc2 (diagram,right) Tal stops here as though his point is made. But after the simple 28. R1e2 Rec8 29. Kf1 White threatens to simply exchange on c2 and play Re2, expulsing the Black Rook. Then White can begin to advance on the Kingside where he has an extra pawn. Doesn’t seem to me to be much more than a technical mop up…though ofcourse we are looking at another 50 moves of play.
Instead of 27…Rc2, the computer considers 27… f6!? as more natural, but again after 28. R1e2 fe 29. Rxe5 Rxe5 30. Bxe5 Rc1 31. Kh2 Kf7 the ending should be a simple enough technical win.
I think that Tal simply did not want to play an ending on that given day. He wanted to win in the middle game, period! And while we fans can hardly criticize the ‘Magician from Riga’
for his decision, the perfectionist in us must recognize that Tal could have taken the pawn and maintained excellent winning chances.
This kind of practical decision faces chessplayers from time to time: to play the ‘best’
line, or to play the ‘second best’
but much more exciting
line! Sometimes the strongest line is not the best line!
I am reminded of a similar example from the game Bobby Fischer vs J. Bolbochan
played at the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal. Here is the position in question:
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 24th MOVE
In this position, after some thought, the American champion played 25.Rc3
and won brilliantly 12 moves later. He was awarded the Brilliancy Prize for the beautiful finish. But this is what Fischer wrote about this position:”Objectively best is 25. Nxe7 Qxe7 26. Rxa6 Rfe8 27. a4! But I was hoping to win in the middlegame. Ironically, I wouldn’t have been awarded the brilliancy prize had I chosenthe best line here. They don’t give medals for endgame technique!”
–Bobby Fischer, ”My 60 Memorable Games” page 215
Fischer, at age 18, won the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal by 2½ points, scoring an undefeated 17½/22. He was the first non-Soviet player to win an Interzonal since FIDE instituted the tournament in 1948. Fischer’s decisive victory made him one of the favorites for the Candidates Tournament in Curaçao, which began soon afterwards.
STOCKHOLM INTERZONAL January 26 to March 8, 1962
RETURNING TO THE GAME TAL vs GLIGORIC:
23. Qe3 !?
Tal wrote: ”The pin along the d-file is highly unpleasant for Black,and the counterpin along the e-file cannot compensate for this. Now the threat of 24.e5 is very strong.”
Now Black should consider 23… g6!? (diagram,right) and if 24. e5 (24. Qa7 Re6 25. Bxf6?! (25. Qxa6?? Ra8) 25… Qxf6 26. ed Rxe1 27. Rxe1 Bxd5 and 24. Qf4 Bg7 25. e5 Nd7 are ok for Black) 24… Bg7 25. Ne2 Nd7 26. f4 Bb7 it is still a tough fight ahead. White is better, but Black has a well dug-in position.INSTEAD, GLIGORIC ALLOWED TAL TO BUILD UP THREATS:23… Nd7 ?! 24. Nf5 !
How many times have we seen White build up dangerous threats once the White Knight gets to f5? Now Gligoric would lose quickly after the seemingly natural 24… de?! 25. Qf4! Qc7? 26. Nh6! ripping up the King-side. 24… f6 !?
Black blunts the long diagonal25. Qg3 !
Moving the Queen closer to the King-side and threatening to win with 26.Nh625… Qc7 It is hard to recommend better
Now Tal is given another chance to transpose into a very advantageous ending: 26. Qxc7 Rxc7 27. ed Rxe1 28. Rxe1 Bxd5 29. Ne7 Bxe7 30. Rxe7 (diagram,right) Black can not play 31…Kf8 because of 31.Ba3!
White has the Bishop pair (which is very powerful here in the open position with pawns on both sides) and Black has absolutely no counterplay. I would think that most grandmasters would win this ending with the White pieces 8 times out of 10.
INSTEAD TAL, TRUE TO HIMSELF, WANTS MORE! HE WANTS TO WIN IN THE MIDDLE-GAME:26. Qg4!?
Tal writes.”The storm clouds are gathering. All the white pieces are eyeing the enemy king in far from friendly fashion. ” There is no doubt that Black’s King is under attack, but there is some debate about whether Tal was over-estimating his attacking chances. In the analysis he wrote for this game, he made a serious oversight. It is worth taking a closer look:
26… de 27. Bxe4 (diagram,right) Tal now gives 27…Bxe4 (?) 28. Nh6 (?) Kh8 29. Rxd7 ‘winning’ (diagram, below,right)
But Black can save himself with 29… Qc2! Tal did not see this!
HOWEVER, after 27…Bxe4 (diagram ,right) White can win with 28. Nxg7! Bf3 29. gf Rxe1 30. Rxe1 Ne5 31. Qe6 Kxg7 32. Rxe5 etc. The open position of the Black King is decisive.
AND FINALLY, THE BEST PLAY FOR BOTH SIDES IS :
27… h5! (diagram, right) 28. Nh6! Kh8 29. Nf7 Kg8 30. Bh7! Kxh7 31. Qxh5 Kg8 32. Rxe8 Rxe8 33. Ng5! fg 34. Qxe8 Nc5 35. Qg6 (diagram,below right)
White stands a bit better, mostly because of the majority of pawns on the King-side. However, Black’s 3 minor pieces should not be underestimated! Black has excellent practical chances of holding the game.
HOWEVER, INSTEAD OF THIS GLIGORIC IMMEDIATELY BLUNDERED WITH:26… Ne5?
This simply loses the exchange and with it the game becomes lost.27. Bxe5! Rxe5
Ofcourse, 27… fe?! 28. ed is simply crushing28. Nh6! Kh8 29. Nf7! Qxf7 30. Qxc8 Bb7
And so Black seems to be winning a pawn for the exchange, giving the appearance of resisting. However, it is a moot point since the White Rooks will soon flood into the Black position with decisive effect. Tal wrote : ”The activity of White’s heavy pieces assures him of the win.” The most accurate move now is 31.Qd8.
It is worth noting that Tal again makes an important error in his analysis: He wrote: ”The possibility of winning Black’s Queen by 31. Qb8 Re8 32. Qf4 Qe6 33. ed Qxe1 34. Rxe1 Rxe1 35. Kh2 Re5 (35… Rxb1 36. Qb8) did not appeal to me.” (diagram , right)
Here Tal overlooked that the White Queen can infiltrate immediately with decisive effect after36. Qh4! h6 (36… h5 37. f4 Rxd5 38. Be4) 37. f4! Re7 (37… Rxd5 38. Be4 Rd7 39. Qg4 Re7 40. Bxb7 Rxb7 41. Qc8 Rf7 42. b4) 38. Qh5! etc TAL’S MOVE WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN, HOWEVER31. Qc3 !?
It should only be a question of time before the White Rooks prove their superiority.
31… b4 32. Qc1 de 33. Rd8 g5 34. Qd2 Bc6 35. Qd6 Be8 36. Qb8 Kg7 37. Rxe4 Rb5 38. Qa8 Bd7 39. Bd3 Rd5? Everything is losing anyway, but his speeds things up!
40. Rxf8! Gligoric resigns. [1:0]A very instructive game!
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS