SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
The following game is one of the nicest games that I have seen in a while. I have always been a big fan of Vasiukov’s attacking play, but this game looks like magic! The cat and mouse play leading up to the position after 22 moves gives little hint of the orgy of sacrifices that would soon consume the Black monarch. Impressive. Definitely worth my readers’ time to play over several times!
Vasiukov, E. – Rantanen, Y.
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bb7 7. d3 Be7 8. Re1 O-O 9. Nbd2 Re8 10. Nf1 Bf8 11. c3 Na5 12. Bc2 d5 13. Qe2 c5 14. Ng3 d4 15. cd cd
This opening is known to opening theoreticians (via anti-Marshall move orders) and occurs frequently enough. There is still a lot of fertile ground to explore. In this game Black had a number of interesting options to diverge earlier (14…h6!?–delaying the closing of the centre; 15…ed4!? seeking to create assymetry ) but I don’t want to dwell on these alternatives here. It is, instead, from this exact position above that begins today’s blog.
The pawn structure is similar , in many ways, to what one finds in King’s Indian formations (with colours reversed). What is different here, however, is the location of White’s King Bishop. This has some plusses for White: first, it makes it more difficult for Black to exploit the open file because c2 now has extra protection; second, the King Bishop can often get onto the a2-f7 diagonal, creating opportunities for White’s Knights over on the King side.
However, objectively, the position is balanced for the moment. Neither side has achieved a strong outpost, nor are there any direct threats, for example. And it is not clear who is doing what to whom along the only open file.
That being said, with only 1 pawn exchanged, the position can explode at any turn. One of the more charming features of the Spanish is that even the most innocuous opening variations can and often do lead to middlegame positions rich in tactical exchanges and motifs.
The next couple of moves are easy to understand as both sides jockey for position…
The correct Rook! White realizes that he might later want to play a4 and get some play on the a-file. At the same time, White declares his intention to play b4, play his Bishop on b3 (look out f7!), followed by some active Knight play on f5 and g5.
Black therefore decides to make White’s b4 difficult to get in. The direct 17… Nc6 does not achieve much, however, after 18. Qe1! (preparing b4) 18… a5!? 19. a3 a4 20. b3!? when the White King Bishop will soon come into play, so Black resorts to a less subtle approach. What follows next is pretty logical play by both sides:
17… b4!? This certainly stops b4. 18. Qe1 Qb6 19. a3!? Trying to justify the Rook on a1 Nc6 20. Ba4 a5
Black is gaining space on the Queenside and at the same time prevents the White Bishop to move to b3 (21.Bb3?? bxa3!) , atleast for the moment.
The downside of Black’s plan starting with his 17th move is that it surrenders control over a4 and c4. However, Black reckons that White can not easily manoeuvre a Knight to c4; and that the Bishop on a4 does very little harm to Black and will itself soon become a target after the coming Knight manoeuvre Nf6-d7-c5, a manoeuvre typical of this kind of pawn structure.
I really like this move! The Spanish is known for its ”little” moves! Here this little move by the White Queen is significant because it aligns her majesty along the 2 most important diagonals (from White’s general perspective), readying herself to be called into action.
Perhaps it is here that Black might , next time, anticipate White by making some prophylatic moves such as …h6. Note that 21… g6 seems to be less effective as after 22. Bb3 h6 23. Nh4! storm clouds appear over the Black King.
Perhaps overly optimistic, Rantanen proceeds with his original idea :
21… Nd7!? 22. ab ab
Black plans to play …Nc5 and take over the initiative. At first sight, there seems to be very little that White can do about it. If, when the Knight goes to c5, White retreats his Bishop to c2 (defending d3) then something does not seem right in White’s camp. Although one weakness (d3) is hardly reason to get worried, White’s passively posted pieces might be a cause for concern.
So what should White do to anticipate …Nc5? Vasiukov’s answer is to just ignore the beast (!) and to instead begin active operations on the Kingside…
The anchor for the coming attack. Thousands of games in the Spanish have shown that a Knight on f5 can be a very dangerous concern for the Black King…
Here 23… g6 (trying to dislodge the Knight) is spineless: even the obvious 24. Nh6 Bxh6 25. Bxh6 gives a long term edge because of the weak dark squares around the King; and besides, White might have more in the tricky 24.Ng5!?, very similar to some lines that follow in the game. Next, an insufficient alternative would be 23… h6 : after 24. N3h4! Nc5 (24… Rc7 25. Qg4 Kh8 26. Qh5) 25. Rxc5! Qxc5 26. Qg4! White builds up dangerous threats that are not easy to defend against
Perhaps the most pragmatic decision is to return to the Knight to f6, but that would be an admission that Black’s Queenside plans were too optimistic.
THE GAME CONTINUED IN COLD BLOODED FASHION:
Curiously, after this the game can not be saved! What follows is one of the most instructive (and pretty) attacks against a Kingside position that I have seen in a long time!
White is bringing into the attack five (5) pieces: Queen, both Bishops and both Knights. The Black King is ony defended by a Bishop! IN SUCH POSITIONS, expect sacrifices
Some analysts have suggested that the immediate 24.Rxc5 might even be better, but I am unconvinced. Vasiukov’s move is difficult enough for Black to handle!
Here Black probably began to realize that things were not so simple. First, he has no time for 24… Nxa4?? because 25. Qh5! h6 26. Nxh6! with mate in 2 moves.
But his problems don’t stop there! Let us take a look at these alternatives below:
The cold blooded 24… g6 fails to 25. Rxc5! Qxc5 26. Nxf7!!! (Diagram,right) This sacrifice rips open the Black King position and prepares the White King Bishop to come into play via b3. There is no defence: 26… Kxf7 27. Bb3 Re6 (27… Kf6 28. Qg4!) 28. Rc1 Qb6 29. Qf3 Ke8 30. Bxe6 gf? 31. Qh5;
Losing in an even more spectacular fashion is 24…h6:
24… h6 25. Nxf7! Nxa4 ( You have to see this: 25… Kxf7 26. Rxc5!! Qxc5 27. Bb3! Kg6 28. Qh5!! (Diagram,right)
28… Kxh5 (28… Kh7 29. Bxh6 is mate in 5) 29. Bf7! g6 30. h3!!
and it is forced mate! WOW! Isn’t that the strongest h3 you have ever seen?
Continuing with the side note (25…Nxa4): White now 26. Qb3 Kh7 27. N7xh6! threatening mate 27… Ne7 ( equally hopeless is 27… gh 28. Qf7 Kh8 29. Bxh6 Qc7 30. Qf6 Kh7 31. Rxa4) 28. Rxa4 Rxc1 29. Bxc1 Rc8 30. Bg5 Nxf5 31. Nxf5 Qg6 32. h4 and White is not only up in material but still has strong attacking chances
SO, BACK TO THE GAME, RANTANEN DECIDED TO BRING IN ANOTHER DEFENDER:
The Rook provides some horizontal protection.
Will White retreat? Not in your life! The advantage of having so many attacking pieces is that you only need a couple to do the dirty work, and the rest can be sacrificed to open and expose the King position.
But it is beautiful all the same just o witness how it is done!
Black can not take the Bishop on a4: 26… Nxa4 27. Qg6! and it is mate in 6
This prepares the way for the White King Bishop to enter the attack via b3. If now
27… Rxf5 28. Qxe8! Rf6 29. Rac1 with a winning bind; or 27… Qxc5 28. Bb3! Nd8 29. Qg6! Kh8 30. Bxf7 etc. That ony leaves….
Threatening Nxh6-ch, amongst other goodies. If now 28…Rxf5 then 29.exf5! is all over: 29…Re7 30.Bb3-ch Kf8 31.f6 etc; And no better is 28… Ne7 after 29. Nxh6 Kh8 30. Nxf7 Kg8 31. Nh6 Kh8 32. Qxe8, so the Black King must try to make a run for it.
”Now, let me think…what piece haven’t I sacrificed yet?”
Beautiful play! If now 29… gh? 30. Qxh6 Kg8 31. Bb3 is mate in 6
Black is doing his best to deal with the direct threats, but the agility of the White Queen is too much to handle. The threats continue…
30. Qh7! Ke8 31. Qg8-ch
Here Black has the choice between 2 inadequate moves. Firstly, 31… Rf8 goes off to 32. Nxg7-ch Rxg7 33. Qxg7 when the threats are too strong. If then 33… Be7 (33… Rf7 34. Qg8 Bf8 35. Bxf8 Rxf8 36. Qe6 Kd8 37. Qd6 Ke8 38. Rc1) 34. Qg6-ch Kd7 35. Bxf8 Bxf8 36. Qf5-ch Ke8 37. Qe6-ch Be7 38. Rc1 and the pin on the c-file is decisive.
That only leaves…
Strange as it may seem, even though the Black monarch has escaped to the Queenside, White remains with a winning attack. All of White’s pieces are engaged in the attack. The White King Bishop is once more an active participant in the hunt, while in some key lines the White Rook will move to the c-file and create even more problems!
32. Nxe7 !
Not so much as to regain material as to create fresh threats. Probably best now is 32… Rxe7 33. Bg5 Re8 but after 34. Qf7 Be7 35. Rc1 Qa6 36. b3 it is virtually Zugzwang. All of Black’s pieces are tied down in knots and can only wait for the killing blow.
In any case, running short of time after finding a whole series of forced moves, Rantanen makes White’s task simpler
Black will soon lose his Rook and White will remain with a crushing attack to boot!
An extraordinarily vigorous attack by Vasiukov! Quite remarkable is the fact that all of White’s sacrifices were sound…Black’s error must have been made early on. His neglect of prophylatic moves (…h6,…g6) cost him dearly once White assumed the initiative.
Evgeni Vasiukov was born in 1933 in Moscow and is still an active and successful tournament player. He has to his credit many brilliant international victories. Curiously, Vasiukov’s greatest successes were outside of the Soviet Union.
Postscript: You can find some interesting analysis of the above game at linkTWO OTHER GREAT ATTACKING GAMES
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS