SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
How much is a pawn worth? When I was first learning the game I read that 3 tempi is equivalent to a pawn. Or a Rook on the 7th rank was worth a pawn and is enough to draw many otherwise inferior endings. Or sometimes having the initative is worth a pawn…especially if you can later get the attack. And finally, sometimes a pawn is a good investment if you can get 2 active Bishops (the Bishop Pair). Whatever your take on it, you have to remember that it is your pawn afterall, and you should not give it up unless you feel comfortable with the type of compensation you get in return for it.
Grandmaster Artur Yussupov often employs pawn sacrifices in his games. Artur has a very fine sense of the initiative–much more refined than most grandmasters–and has won many games using this technique. Witness the following game between GM Jordi Magem, played just a short while ago at the Barcelona Magistral tournament.
Magem (born in Spain 1967 and champion of Spain in 1990) is a player of clear tastes. He does not like to sacrifice pawns and is willing to suffer for long time trying to hold on to one–much like the great Viktor Korchnoi. The variation that he chose against Yussupov has been seen frequently in his earlier games. In this little played variation of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted should White recapture the pawn on d4 (5.ed4) then Black can take the initiative with 5…Qc7! 6.Bb3 Bg4!
Yussupov decided to sacrifice a pawn in return for a slight lead in development:
5.Nf3! Qc7 6.Bb3 de3 7.Be3
This position is known to theory, but has not yet been worked out. White has 3 tempi for the Pawn and an easy development. Black , on the other hand, has no weaknesses and should he get to catch up on his development (and castle) then White might regret his investment.
Play proceeded logically, following a previous game of Magem against Elsness (elo 2485) at the Khanty Mansiysk Olympiad some weeks earlier, reaching the following position after Black’s 14th move:
In the Elsness game White continued 15.Bg5 , good enough to maintain compensation for his pawn (the game was drawn quickly in 22 moves). No doubt Yussupov knew this game, and had prepared a slightly different idea:
A logical move mobilizing his Rook and in some lines preparing Bc2 attacking the Queen. For example, weak would be 15…O-O ?! 16.Bg5! (threatening Bc2) 16…h6 17.Bxh6! gh6?! 18.Bc2! with a strong advantage.
For this reason Magem decided to force the exchange of Queens, hoping to eliminate White’s future attacking chances:
15…Qg4!? 16.QxQ NxQ 17.Bc5 (stopping Black from castling short) 17…Bd7
White still has a lead in development, but Black has a solid position and has managed to exchange the Queens. However, Yussupov –in his pregame preparation–found the achilles heel in Black’s position: the weak square d6. White played the quiet but very strong
This move is a real problem for the Black pieces: the threat of jumping into d6 (via c4 or e4) has no easy defence and Black will soon be forced to return his pawn inorder to avoid catastrophe. In the game continuation that left Yussupov with a small but growing positional advantage, and he won the game in excellent style. Black never did get to castle. I recommend the readers to see how the game continued in the pgn viewer.