Friday, October 18, 2013

Chess on the edge

Hi Pilgrims,

For average players it is very important to be able to recognise, and know what to do with, certain recurrent patterns or structures. Experienced and strong players do this almost instinctively, while the rest of us waste mental energy trying to work things out.

We are often told by chess teachers, that a Knight on the edge of the board is a bad thing. The Knight is a piece whose strength is the ability to jump other pieces and obliquely attack or control important squares. Its natural habitat is somewhere around the centre of the board. At the edge, much of its energy is dissipated into nothingness.

Yet the injunction to never place Knight at the edge of the board is really only a generalisation rather than a universal law. There are important exceptions and being able to recognise, and take advantage of them, is critical for all players. We are all familiar with situations where it is perfectly sound to move a Knight to the edge of the board as part of some tactical threat or to exchange, say, an enemy Bishop on g6.

But there is also sometimes, a very important positional advantage to placing a Knight on the edge of the board, which super-grandmasters know, or should know, since a famous game between Rubinstein (W) and Takacs (B) at Budapest, 1926.

That game revealed that a Knight at the edge of the board can inflict crippling pressure on certain kinds of pawn formations: the formation of pawns on a7 (or a6), b7, c6 with a Knight on a5.

A modern, and perhaps more instructive, instance of this theme occurred recently in a game between Morozevich (W) and Mamedyarov (B) at the Grand Prix even in Beijing, July 2013.

Mamedyarov, perhaps out of necessity, poor planning, or even ignorance (it happens to even super GMs), gave himself the formation of pawns on a7, b7, c6. Morozevich, recognising it instantly, pounced by placing his Knight on a5. The point is, as you will see from this highly instructive game, that playing b6 to drive away the Knight, is not possible due to the loss of the pawn on c6. Hence the need to defend this pawn formation constantly, which completely distorts Black’s whole position. Structural weaknesses that have to be constantly defended, while your opponent dances around doing what he can to bury you, are absolutely horrible to play. Unless your opponent makes a mistake, you are doomed to endless passive defence or Kamikaze-style counter-play.

When you play over the game, notice how Morozevich, after he has planted his Knight on a5, expertly ties up the position, gaining more and more small advantages as an increasingly desperate Mamedyarov fights a losing battle to survive.

Is this what they mean when they say the win ‘is only a matter of technique’?

Probably, but it helps if you are a superb player like Rubinstein or Morozevich.

Play this game over carefully; learn, enjoy, and remember.

Morozevich  V  Mameryadov, Biejing 2013

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. d4 c6 6. O-O d5 7. Qb3 dxc4 8. Qxc4 Qd5 9. Nbd2 Qxc4 10. Nxc4 Be6 11. b3 Bd5 12. Ba3 Re8 13. Rac1 Nbd7 14. Na5 Rab8 15. Rfd1 Bf8 16. Ne5 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 e6 18. Bxf8 Kxf8 19. Nec4 Ke7 20. b4 Rec8 21. a3 g5 22. Nb2 Ne8 23. Nd3 f5 24. h4 g4 25. Nf4 Nef6 26. Rc2 Nd5 27. Nd3 Rf8 28. e3 Rfe8 29. Re1 N5f6 30. Rb1 Rec8 31. Rbc1 Rd8 32. a4 Ne4 33. b5 cxb5 34. Rc7 Nd6 35. Nc5 bxa4 36. Ncxb7 Nxb7 37. Nxb7 Rf8 38. R1c6 Rf7 39. Nc5 Ke8 40. Rxe6 Kd8 41. Rec6 1-0

For the sake of historical completeness, here is the original gem by Rubinstein where the Na5 is used to telling effect after Queens are exchanged.

Rubinstein  V Takacs, Budapest 1926

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 Be7 6. Nf3 O-O 7. Rc1 c6 8. Qc2 a6 9. cxd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Re8 11. O-O Nf8 12. Rfe1 Bg4 13. Nd2 N6d7 14. Bf4 Bg5 15. h3 Bh5 16. Bh2 Bg6 17. Bxg6 hxg6 18. Qb3 Qb6 19. Na4 Qxb3 20. Nxb3 Ne6 21. Na5 Ra7 22. Kf1 Bd8 23. b4 f5 24. Nb2 g5 25. Nd3 Kf7 26. Rc2 Bb6 27. Bd6 Nd8 28. Nc5 Nxc5 29. Bxc5 Bxc5 30. bxc5 Ke7 31. Rb2 Kd7 32. Reb1 Kc8 33. Ke2 Re7 34. Kf3 Re4 35. g4 g6 36. Rg1 Nf7 37. h4 gxh4 38. gxf5 gxf5 39. Rg7 Nd8 40. Rg8 f4 41. Rh8 fxe3 42. fxe3 Kd7 43. Rg2 Re8 44. Rxh4 Re7 45. Rh8 Kc7 46. Rgg8 Rd7 47. Nb3 a5 48. Nc1 Ra8 49. Nd3 b5 50. cxb6 Kxb6 51. Nc5 Rd6 52. a4 Rc8 53. Kg4 1-0


I have been asked by readers, why I do not embed chess game app as part of the posting (it’s easy), to make it easier for readers to play over games in two dimensions. It is a belief (or prejudice) on my part, that because chess is most often played competitively in a real world of three dimensions (with time as the fourth), it is best that we break out the traditional chess set and play over games in this real world. I think it is better for the mind. Portisch and Petrosian preferred to do that.

Until next time, Pilgrims.

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