This and the next column will look at the vexed question of how one should approach a game, when a draw is a sufficient result from a tournament perspective. The temptation is to play directly for a draw, choosing a quiet opening, eschewing all risk, chopping wood at every opportunity, etc. But in practice, this is nearly always wrong and has frequently resulted in disaster. This week’s game is a classic example. In the last round of the 1991 Interzonal, the then-Russian GM, Mikhail Gurevich, needed only a draw against Nigel Short, to reach the Candidates. He adopted the approach described above, beginning with his second move, and was soon suffering. He lost, missed out on the Candidates’ and his meteoric career never fully recovered.
Just as in cricket, “catches win matches”, so in chess, it is tactics which decide 90% of games, especially below super-GM level. Consequently, it is always useful to add to your stock of familiar tactical ideas. Today’s round of the Russian Team Championship threw up a highly unusual one, which I had not seen before.
Seeing the two previous examples in “Chess for Life” called to mind another similar case, which has always been a favourite of mine.
In the diagram, it is far from obvious how Black can create a passed pawn. Unlike the Arkell examples, he is not a pawn up and has no pawn majority. But despite this, Salov conjures up a decisive passed pawn on the h-file, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. He starts with
A lovely example of producing a passed pawn when there appeared at first sight to be no hope of doing so.
This is another example of rook endings guru, Keith Arkell, manufacturing a supported passed pawn, using the same technique as we saw in last week’s example. Once again, this comes from “Chess for Life”.
Again, the obvious way to create a passed pawn from Black’s majority is by arranging e6 and d5, but this would leave the d-pawn passed, but isolated. Instead, Arkell knocks out White’s e-pawn with
as a result of which he is left with a passed pawn on the d-file, which is defended by a colleague on e7. Black duly won.
Manufacturing passed pawns is a vital endgame skill, but there are a few subtleties which tend not to be covered in most textbooks. Take the position below, which comes from the fantastic new book by Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan, “Chess for Life”, which I cannot recommend too highly.
The obvious way to create a passed pawn from Black’s majority is to advance the g- and f-pawns, so as eventually to create a passed pawn on the f-file. But this pawn would not then be supported by another pawn (eg. after Black gets his pawns to f4 and g4, then plays f3, and there is an exchange gzxf3, g4xf3, etc).
Instead, Arkell finds a much stronger and more subtle plan. He advances his h-pawn, intending to knock out the White g-pawn, thus leaving a position where he will have g- an f-pawns against White’s h-pawn. The passed black f-pawn will then have the support of its partner the g-pawn, which will make it a much stronger weapon.
The game continued
Now Black has just what he wanted, a supported passed pawn on the f-file. His pawns eventually reached f3 and g4, and he won easily.
In this classic example, Botvinnik spies a weakness on the light squares in White’s camp. From the diagram, he ruthlessly removes, on successive moves, the only two white minor pieces which can defend those squares, namely the Nc3 and Bc2. The result is a position with a gigantic knight, about to land on e4, against a crummy dark-squared bishop, blocked in by White’s own pawns. Botvinnik went on to win, despite strenuous and inventive defence from White.
This week’s example sees Petrosian make a surprising offer to exchange off his good knight for Black’s bad bishop. However, two factors make this the right decision:
1. The “bad bishop” on e6 is actually doing a very solid job of defending the weak pawn on d5 (bad bishops are frequently good defenders of weak pawns, as Mark Dvoretsky has pointed out)
2. After the exchange, the remaining white bishop is much stronger than the black knight. This is another example of the rule which governs all exchanges: look at what stays on the board, not what comes off.
This week’s example sees Korchnoi making a now-familiar knight manoeuvre to eliminate the piece which is holding the black position together. Once the black bishop on f6 goes, his numerous weaknesses tell immediately.
This week’s example may very well have been influenced by a knowledge of Botvinnik-Sorokin, shown last week. Kholmov also offers the queen exchange on e3, realising that the resulting doubled e-pawns will not be weak, but will increase White’s pressure down the f-file, especially against f7. Suetin opts to keep queens on, but has to give ground and allow the white pieces to occupy ideal squares, with heavy pressure against Black’s queenside pawn weaknesses.
This week’s example of exchanging key defensive pieces is a classic. In the diagram, Botvinnik realised that the black queen is a key defender, covering e5 and the dark squares generally. After its exchange, White has pressure against e5 and f7, plus the open d-file, and went on to win easily.