SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
The game presented below is not a well known game, and rarely finds its way into game collections or books of instruction. However, I have been using this game in my lectures for the past decade or so. I find it fascinating; it is not a great game or even an exceptionally good game. But it is a revealing game; it has character and spirit. It contains surprises and is pleasing to the senses. And it is not easy to pin-point just where Black goes wrong.
A modest opening by White, very soon it becomes clear that his King Bishop has no play. Ignoring this, White seeks to get play on the King side. Black defends logically, exchanging pieces in the process. But this does not discourage White’s attempts at building some sort of attack…his stubborness is rewarded when Black makes an imperceptable error and then his dormant King Bishop comes to life and punishes Black!
Chess, from a rational perspective, is about making decisions. Black in this game chooses at every point to play solid and focus on reducing the chances of his opponent to get the initiative, rather than himself fighting for the initiative. He employs the strategy of exchanging pieces as the main mechanism of the implementation of this strategy. It seems to work well as White’s ambitions are quickly contained. But at one point Black plays imprecisely and he finds himself in trouble. Because Black never wanted counterplay from the very beginning, he discovers that the one thing that would have given him chances to save himself is out of his reach.
Games like the one below explain to some degree why modern masters prefer to play dynamic chess right from the beginning of the game.
Lisitsyn G. – Lilienthal A.
Moscow Championship 1942.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5
Our favourite Spanish Opening. Almost as old as chess itself, this opening has long been the favourite of the great champions, regardless of what period they lived in. I consider this opening the acid test for comparing players’ skill.
Looking at the stats of this opening, it might surprise some of you to find that a world champion calibre player will score close to 70 percent from the White side! A strong GM will usually score between 60 and 65% with it over his lifetime. Bobby Fischer’s stats in this opening is the record to beat, 78% , much better than Kasparov’s or Anand’s or even Ivanchuk’s surprising 68% ! Karpov, Keres and Lasker scored 74%. Spassky, during his peak period, scored 69%. Tal scored 67% and Geller 65%.
3… a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3
The classical line relies on the fundamental soundness of Black’s pawn structure to withstand White’s attempts at building an attack or some sort of initiative. Almost all the great players in modern times have played this way from both sides of the board.
8… Na5 Castling is more common. But around the turn of the last century many of the strongest players continued like this. 9. Bc2 c5 10. d3!?
Probably not as strong as the immediate d4, this move is favoured by players who want to avoid the beaten track and instead play a slower tempo kind of game.
10… O-O 11. Nbd2 Characteristic of this type of position, White will build up his troops over on the King side before taking concrete action.
11… Nc6 12. Nf1
Following his plan.
12… Qc7 Logical. Black prepares to connect his rooks. A more modern way to play would be 12… h6!? 13. Ne3 Re8 14. h3 Bf8 with a complex position with chances for both sides 13. Bg5!?
A move that not every master would play. Instead, I would think that waiting moves like h3, Ng3 (or Ne3) or a4 would be more natural. The move played seems to allow Black more options, especially since it enters into direct contact with the Black forces.
13… Ne8!? A logical move, seeking to reduce White’s attacking chances. A good alternative is 13… Be6 14. Ne3 Rad8 awaiting developments, or even the immediate …h6 , putting the question to White.
14. Ne3 Bxg5 15. Nxg5 Nf6 Black plays modestly, limiting himself to building a solid and shatter-proof position. Now White gains nothing by moving his knight into d5. And if he instead moves his Queen to f3, then after …h6 the knight will have to retreat to an awkward square.
16. Nf3! This is a realistic decision. Before doing anything else, he brings back the stray piece into his camp. This move is also a sign of a master level player: making retreating moves , especially when they are not strictly forced, shows understanding and respect.
16… Ne7 !? A reasonable move, covering the sensitive squares d5 and f5, and sending a message to his opponent that he will be wasting his time if he insists on infiltrating the Black position via these squares.
17. Nh4!? I like the spirit behind this move! White sends a message to Black that he is not impressed! 17… Be6
I suppose after 17… g6 18. Qf3 Kg7 19. g4 would lead to a similarly difficult and complex position for both sides. Now Black has d5 and f5 under control.18. Nef5!?
Stubborn! White will allow Black to exchange pieces anyway, relying on the doubled pawn that will result as a battering ram. I don’t think many masters today would play this commital move. There is a good argument for playing the immediate 18. Qf3!?, waiting until later to drop his knight on f5. However, we can not ignore the psychological aspect of the game: chess is also a game of will power.
18… Bxf5 19. exf5
This is ok. To be considered is 18… Nxf5 19. exf5 (19. Nxf5 Bxf5 20. exf5 d5 is fine for Black) 19… Bd5!? 20. g4 h6 with a dynamic position with chances for both sides. Probably Black did not play this way because he was not interested in playing a more complicated type of game.
Best! Even if it does leave the White Kight stranded and silly looking over at h4!
At first sight White stands badly: his Knight is posted in a laughable square, and his Bishop seems buried and dormant. However, both these pieces can later move to better squares and in the meantime White is hoping to advance his g-pawn and build up threats.
19… d5 A move that looks good, but perhaps could be played at a later point without harming anything. A modern master would likely consider 19… h6 and if the immediate 20. g4 Ned5! eyeing the f4 square. 20. Qf3 Nc6 21. g4!
White is true to his plan. He wants to attack, regardless of how funny or awkward looking this attack may seem! Checkmate is the goal of the game, isn’t it?21… h6
Black has to take steps against being over run on the King side. 22. Qg3
Clearly an understandable move: White will soon break open the g-line.
22… Nh7?! Consistent, but around here Black’s play seems to show signs of being more concerned with appearances; of being too routine. It seems as though Black underestimates White’s threats. Modern players would instinctively play 22… Rfe8!? 23. Nf3 Rad8 with chances for both sides.
23. Nf3 f6
Ditto the last comment. Black is only concerned about what is happening on the King side, and overlooks the shots that might come from the other side…
Note that little better is 23… Ng5 24. Nxg5 hxg5 25. h4 with a dangerous initiative.24. d4!
I love this move!
I am a big fan of delayed centre advances! Such moves often change the game dramatically, and in this case the White Bishop becomes a tiger! The Black King, especially,will find it difficult to escape the tiger’s reach. Black must now play very carefully.
24… cxd4 25. cxd4!? Not the most accurate. Here apparently White can most easily gain the upperhand with 25. Bb3! Rad8 (25… dxc3 26. Bxd5 Kh8 27. Nh4) 26. Nxd4! with unpleasant threats. If the game had continued like this then Black would have suffered for his too routine play.
[ No better is 25… Rfe8 26. Bb3 Rad8 27. Rac1 Qd6 28. Red1 and Black is under crushing pressure]
26. Nxg5 hxg5 27. Bb3!
The critical position for Black. He can not afford any more passive play and must play precisely. The long dormant Bishop becomes White’s strongest piece.
Getting off the open c-file, but infact putting the Queen on a worse square
The only precise way to proceed is with the more cold blooded 27… Rad8! and after 28. Rad1 (28. Rac1 Qb7 29. dxe5 Nxe5 30. Rxe5 fxe5; 28. dxe5 Nxe5 29. Rad1 Qf7) 28… Qf7 29. dxe5 Nxe5 30. f4!? (30. Rxe5 fxe5 31. Qxe5 Rfe8 32. Bxd5 Kf8!) 30… gxf4 31. Qxf4 Rfe8 Black is probably ok.28. dxe5 Nxe529. Rxe5!
It must have given White great pleasure to play this strong move! 29…fxe5 30. Rd1!
A really nasty move to have to meet!
The open Black King position and the awkward situation of the Black Queen are sufficient reasons for Black to lose. White’s bullish strategy has been successful!30… Rad8 31. Rxd5
!31… Qxd5 32. Bxd5 Rxd5 33. Qe3!
Ofcourse this move is the real idea behind White’s play
This move picks up the weak g-pawn and allows White’s huge king-side pawn majority to advance and create threats against the Black King. Note that the White King is perfectly safe amongst its pawns, and so Black has no counterplay at all.33… Re8 34. Qxg5 e4
Too little; too late. There are no real threats against the White King35. Qg6 Kf8 36. f6
The White position plays itself. The naked Black King will become an easy target36… gxf6 37. Qxf6 Kg8 38. h4!
In the absence of real threats White simply advances.38… e3 39. Qg6 Kf8 40. fxe3 Rde5
(Black can not take on e3 because of a check on h6) 41. Kf2!
Nice and simple. The two rooks are useless41… R8e6 42. Qd3 Rf6 43. Kg3 Ke7 44. Qd4
! Simple and effective.
Black resigns. He is helpless against the advance of the White king-side pawns. And his rooks just get in their own way: if …Rfe6 then simply Kf4 follows and Black is embarrassed to find an adequate move. Sometimes the best move is just to throw in the towel….