At this week’s Linares tournament, the game Grischuk vs Gelfand , from round 2, created much discussion amongst amateurs all over the world. In particular, the position after Black’s 18th move was of great interest:
This position arose from a Q-Pawn game (NimzoIndian Defense), with the characteristic isolated pawn compensated by White’s more active pieces. Black’s position is quite solid and he does not fear White taking his Bishop on c6: the Black Queenside pawns would be no weaker than White’s Queenside pawns, and besides, White will have exchanged his active Knight on e5. In this kind of position the initiative is of utmost importance, and every piece that is exchanged favours Black’s long term chances.
But White must do something here, because Black is going to soon play …f6 and oblige White to either retreat or make the exchange on c6. What should White do? We call this type of position a ‘critical’ position because no matter what White decides on this move will have long term consequences.
Not an intuitive move at all! White voluntarily exchanges his prize King Bishop. But actually the move is very strong, and undoubtedly the best move in the position. Commentators on the web who were following the game live were shaking their heads (especially since the computer programs they were consulting would have never suggested such a bold and unexpected move on their own!).
Black now has the Bishop pair and the better pawn structure! And his Bishop on d5 is beautifully posted. What is Grischuk’s idea?
Grischuk prevents Black from playing …f6. Here 20…f6? would boomerang against Black after 21. Ng4 and 22. Bg5. And Grischuk is now threatening 21. Bg5, so Gelfand’s next move is virtually forced:
Threatening, in some circumstances, to play h5 to further weakend the Black Kingside.
As the game developed, and Grischuk managed to increase the pressure on the Black Kingside (and eventually broke thru and won with a pretty attack) the commentators slowly came around to see Grischuk’s 19th move as being indeed very strong. Some even went so far as to award a ”!!” sign :19.Bd5!!
But most commentators stubbornly tried to defend the Black position to the bitter end, using their computer program’s tactical power to find increasingly desperate tries to hold…missing the whole point in the process!
White, after 19. Bxd5, is simply better. Maybe not much at first, but White clearly has the initiative and chances to attack Black’s weakend Kingside. And more importantly, perhaps, Black has no counterplay or way to push White back. He has to defend passively for a long time, and this is no joy. Meanwhile, White can continue to probe and tickle his opponent’s position…
It does not matter if Black has the better pawn structure and a prettier looking position: chess is a dynamic game and checkmate ends the game, regardless how much material the other side has or how pretty his position may look.
Often the strongest moves are the ugliest moves. The least intuitive moves! And even had Gelfand been able to find a defence and make a draw, would it have changed the evaluation of Grischuk’s 19th move? No, ofcourse not! Black suffers trying to hold his position.
What did Gelfand say when interviewed immediately after the game? What did he think of Black’s position after Grischuk played 19.Bd5 ? Gelfand simply replied with one word, but sufficiently clear and not needing any clarification: ”HOPELESS”
Curiously, the idea of exchanging the prized King Bishop on d5 or a Knight (in isolated Q-pawn games) in return for the initiative is not so rare, and while one would not call it a common theme, it has occurred in well known games ! Witness the position after Black’s 16th move from the 7th game of the Smyslov vs Ribli Candidates match in 1983:
Once more we have an isolated Q-pawn game.
Black is going to play …Bb7, Qd6 and bring his Rooks into play. If White is not careful, then he could find himself quickly with the worse positon. This is what we would call a critical position. Smylsov realized that his next move would have long term consequences. He played the exchange on d5, in order to get the initiative!
17. Bxd5 !? deja vu?
Once more White gives up his prized King Bishop!
17… Qxd5 Recapturing with the pawn seems illogical
This Rook is very annoying for Black, and more importantly, it can not be chased away from the 7th rank!
18… Bb7 Not 18… Qd6?! because of 19. Rxf7! Rxf7 20. Nxf7 Kxf7 21. Qf3 etc.
Black threatens mate on the move, but does not have the initiative! White does!
19. Qg4 Attack and defence at the same time!
A strange position. Black looks great, but his threats are few and easy to deal with. In the meantime, The White Rook on the 7th can not easily be chased away; the White Knight can not be touched, and White can increase the pressure on the Black King position by advancing his h-pawn and creating threats with his Queen.
Now counter-productive would be 19… Rac8 20. Rd7 Qe4 21. Qxe4 Bxe4, as after 22. f3! Bd5 23. Rxa7 Rc2 24. b4 White is a pawn up and has good chances to convert it.
19… Rad8 attacking the one weakness in White’s position 20. Rd1
Black has the prettier looking position, but White has all the chances! Black can not ever play …h5 because White will simply take the pawn on g6 (the Rook on the 7th is always annoying!)
20… a5 What else? Black clears the a-pawn from the 7th rank.
Black’s threats have come to an end. He can not exchange pieces easily, and White can now build up pressure.
21. h4! Much as in the Grischuk game, only White has play
I recommend the readers to play over the rest of the game with the pgn-Viewer. A great game! White’s advantage is not so much at this point of the game, and Black can even try to exchange Queens to relieve the pressure. But Ribli could not shake the initiative that Smyslov has. Smyslov, who was 63 years old at the time, played with great energy and precision! In the end, Smyslov won after a complex fight that both sides should be proud of!
I used to believe that chess was primarily a positional game where strategy was the dominant force. And that tactics and the initiative, while very important and requiring constant attention, were mere transitory elements that would eventually be subdued by he who holds the better position.
Em.Lasker (r) and W.Steinitz (l) created modern chess, the game as we know it today.
I was very much influenced by the teachings of Steinitz and Lasker. These two great players created the so-called scientific school of chess: logical development of the pieces, accumulation of small positional advantages, avoiding unnecessary weaknesses and especially strategic thinking.
Lasker’s Manual of Chess
is perhaps the most important book on the game. Written and published several years after Lasker was de-throned by the Cuban Capablanca (1921), Lasker set forth his ideas and methods. He has influenced every generation since. I discovered this book in 1969 when I was still a beginner, and in my library ,today, this book continues to occupy a place of honour and prestige.
But in the early 1990’s I began to re-think my ideas of chess as being a primarily strategic game. In particular, I was influenced by the Romanian grandmaster, Mikhail Suba (born 1947). Misha, as his friends call him, learned the game quite late (in his 20’s) but quickly became Romania’s best player.
I spent considerable time with Misha in the 1990’s in my travels in Spain (where he currently resides) and I became influenced by his ideas (and his openings!), which were very different from my own views. For instance, Suba believes that Black should be better! (That is, White makes the first move and commits
himself early. Black should be able to use that information to his advantage).
But primarily, Suba believes that chess is a dynamic game, where counterplay, initiative and tactics dominate strategic concerns. He has written one of the most important books on the game in the last 50 years: Dynamic Chess Strategy.
The 2nd edition is available as an e-book.
I now teach my students both schools
of chess (Lasker and Suba), as I feel both schools have much to teach the aspiring player. But in my own games, I try to put emphasis on the ideas of Suba, of dynamism, initiative and counterplay. Of the importance of not playing pretty moves,and especially of judging each move on its worth and value. Many of my games contain ugly
Curiously, the old masters
knew what chess was really all about. Games from the turn of the 19th century have shown that chess’ secrets were known to atleast a handful of great players. Witness the opening of the game of Rubinstein vs Canal, played long ago in 1929! How many ugly moves did Rubinstein play! How many rules of Steinitz did he break! But each of his moves was a very strong move…
Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961). Only Bobby Fischer was better!
POSITION AFTER BLACK’S 10th MOVE (10…Nfd5)
A fairly normal position from a classical Queen’s Gambit. Black has given up the center (…dxc4) in order simplify the position. After the normal (and obvious!) 11.Bg3 Black probably intended to exchange on c3 and follow up with …Bd6 and exchange the dark square Bishop. Ofcourse, White would maintain a slight plus by soon advancing his e-pawn, but such things do not worry the modern master
.INSTEAD, RUBINSTEIN PLAYED A SHOCKING MOVE! 11.0-0!?
An amazing and surprising concept! All the more so since it is not at all forced. White voluntarily allows Black to give him a set of doubled pawns and an isolated Q-pawn! Not to mention that Black will also have the Bishop pair…Black ,ofcourse, accepted! ”Thankyou!”
11… Nxf4 12. ef Nd5
White has an ugly position! If we did not know that it was the legendary Akiba Rubinstein playing White, we would have thought that White must have been a complete beginner!
Rubinstein’s conception is brilliant and audacious! His principal idea is to use his weakened pawns to cramp the Black position while discouraging ….c5 and …e5. In turn, should he succeed in this, he will advance his pawns on the Kingside to gain the initiative.
Amazingly, he actually succeeds with this strategy ( or should I say ‘dynamic strategy’?)! His play is a perfect demonstration that tactics and initiative can dominate strategic principles! When I first saw this game ( 1977) I was blown away and spent the entire afternoon re-playing it….I had never seen anything like it.
13. g3 forced
Now Black should refrain from playing 13…e5 (hitting the h-pawn) because White will get the upper hand 14.Nxe5 and 15.Rfe1.
Now I thought that Rubinstein would now take the Knight with his b-pawn, atleast fixing his isolated Q-pawn…
14. Qxc3 ! Another surprising but excellent move
Slowly Rubinstein’s concept shows itself. White realizes that capturing with the Queen makes Black’s eventual liberating move ( …c5) more difficult. By cramping the Black position, the Bishop pair will have greater difficulty becoming a factor in the game.
Again, the tactical 14… e5 does not make Black happy after 15. Nxe5 Bxh3 16. Rfe1 with a difficult game for Black.
14… Qd6 !? A logical move
Black intends to target the White Q-pawn, by soon putting a Rook onto the d-file. Black has a solid but cramped position, with no weaknesses at all. Furthermore, he has the long term plus of the Bishop pair. And White has all the pawn weaknesses! According to classical principles, Black’s chances are to be preferred.
Let us see how the game developed…
Connecting the Black Rooks and preparing to bring them into the center
16. Ne5 !
It is essential for White to establish a strong outpost for his only Knight. Now Black will only hurt himself if he plays …f6 because the e-pawn could become a serious liability.
PLAY PROCEEDED LOGICALLY:
16… Rad8 17. Rfd1 Bc8 18. a3 !?
Probably to discourage Black from playing …Qb4 in the near future, but also preparing to play a later Queenside advance (b4).
Despite White’s pawn weaknesses and Black having the long term plus of the Bishop pair, White is doing well for the moment. He has prevented Black from making any freeing moves or creating any threats. Black’s position , while solid and weakness free, lacks counterply. It lacks activity.
Black realizes that he can not get in …c5, so his Bishop hopes for more play on the Kingside.
19. Qe3!? Qe7
Black prepares to double on the d-file and bring the White Q-pawn under increased pressure. But Rubinstein has everything under control: the d-pawn, despite being targetted, is easy to defend. With Black having no pawn-levers or annoying counterplay at his disposal, Rubinstein now begins the next phase of his concept: to advance his pawns on the Kingside and develop his initiative.
20. h4 !
20… Rd6 21. h5 Rfd8
22. Rc3 !?
Before proceeding with the advance of his g-pawn, Rubinstein prepares to be able to double his Rooks on the d-file, adding extra protection to his isolated Q-pawn, should it be necessary. The effectiveness of Rubinstein’s concept is re-inforced by subtle manoeuvring…
Black must wait for further develpments by White. Black’s last move allows the Bishop to retreat along the diagonal. In the absence of counterplay, Black must maintain the communication between his pieces while at the same time anticipating White’s future threats.
23. Bc2 Qf8 24. hg hg 25. g4 !
Now it should be clear that Rubinstein is master of the position! White has a full blown initiative on the Kingside. Rubinstein’s concept has been very successful! I recommend the readers to play over the rest of the game (it is instructive in every phase) with the pgn-Viewer.
This game is one of the great games of the 20th century. Surprisingly, it is not that well known, probably because few understood what Rubinstein was trying to do. Or maybe they were horrified by White’s ugly opening play!!
To summarize, chess is a dynamic game. Initiative, counterplay and activity are the essence of modern chess. Positions that may appear sound on the surface, but lacking in dynamism, already contain the seeds of defeat.
Don’t be afraid of making an ugly move just because of its appearance! Grischuk’s 19.Bd5 is proof that some of the ugliest moves are also the strongest moves….