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What the Papers Say

Last week you saw my game against Ron Bruce (who had previously lost to Alekhine in 12 moves) from Paignton 1976. There are two further stories to be told about this game, reprinted here from RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club Newsletter/Magazine with kind permission from the author, editor and publisher.

The story so far. Those few RAT readers who actually play through the games may recall that I published a mildly amusing but somewhat inaccurate game I played at Paignton in the last issue. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I forked out seven of my hard-earned pence for the New Inflationary Evening Standard on my way home from work on Monday 31st January. I turned, as is my wont, to the Leisure Page, read my horoscope – Leo, would you believe – laughed at ‘Clive’ and ‘Bristow’, Bridge with Rixi – ah! Chess with Lenny, and read the following attached to the diagram on your left (or even below) (translated into Algebraic for trendies and Eurofreaks).

“R.M. Bruce v R. James Paignton 1976. Black’s pawn is about to queen, so White’s effective choice is limited. Should White (to move) play (a) 1. Rxg7+, (b) Bxg7, or (c) another move- and which (if any) of these alternatives saves the game?

“Par times: 30 seconds, chess master; 1 minute, expert; 3 minutes, strong club player; 5 minutes, average club; 8 minutes, weaker club or school; 20 minutes, average.”

Curious, for a reason which will become apparent later, I turned to the solution and read:

“In the game, White chose (a) 1. Rxg7+ and resigned after Kh8 since he has no more useful checks. The Richmond chess magazine claims a draw by (b) 1. Bxg7 Qxb7 2. Bxb7 Kxg7 3. c6 a1Q 4. c7 Qf1+ 5. Kh2 Qf2+ 6. Kh3, but then f4! 7. gxf4 Qe3+ wins as Black will win White’s pawn on the seventh. So Black wins in all variations.”

Now this refutation had been claimed to me a few weeks previously by RAT reader Nevil Chan (Harrow – we get around) but looking at the position again I thought I could cope with it. In any case I was under the impressiou I had given 5.. Qe2+ rather than Qf2+ in my notes. But surely Leonard Barden couldn’t be wrong. Had I really failed to solve the problem with the regulation 3 minutes, or, as some have claimed, 5 minutes? Would I be consigned for ever to the category of ‘weaker club or school’, or, even worse, to the grey mass of mediocrity indicated euphemistically by the terse ‘average’? Was ‘RAT’ to become a byword for shoddy analysis? Would I become known all over London as a perpetrator of inaccurate annotations?

I rushed home and checked that I had indeed, as I had thought, given 5.. Qe2+. First blood to me. I then set up the position and found that again, as I had thought, after 5.. Qf2+, Kh1! draws. (After 5.. Qe2+, Kh1 loses to Qd1+ and Qc2+ but if 5.. Qf2+ White’s king can go to h3 when Black checks on either d2 or e2). I checked this analysis at the club later that evening with David Goodman amongst others and my findings were confirmed. Right again, the position is, as I claimed, a draw.

Returning to 2018, here’s the critical position with Black to play. After 5.. Qf2+ 6. Kh3? f4! Black is winning: 7. gxf4 and now Black can choose either Qe3+ or Qf1+, with an eventual fork picking up the passed pawn. So White must play 6. Kh1! instead. Now Black can try again: 6.. Qf1+ 7. Kh2 Qe2+. This time 8. Kh1? loses: Black has time to zigzag to the c-file and pick up the pawn. So now White has to play 8. Kh3! leading to a draw. It’s a bit confusing at first, isn’t it? After Qf2+, Kh1 draws while Kh3 loses, but after Qe2+, Kh3 draws while Kh1 loses. For those of you who teach chess, this position, or, for a harder puzzle, the position in the first diagram, might be a good quiz question. Possibly something I might use in CHESS PUZZLES FOR HEROES! Anyway, back to 1976/7 for the second story.

Incidentally, as my notes were already rather too long, I neglected to include the following conversation which took place immediately after the game.

RMB: I should have played Bxg7 but forgot that my rook was defended by my king’s bishop.
RJ: After Bxg7 I play Qxb7 Bxb7 Kxg7 and my pawn queens.
RMB: Oh, yes.
Enter Harry (Golombek), an old sage.
HG: I see vice triumphs over virtue once again.
RMB: Not at all. My opponent played very well.
Exit, pursued by a bore.

It was only back at the hotel that I realised that Black had problems as White could push his c-pawn.

Of course all this happened more than 40 years ago, while it was 38 years before this game, almost to the day, that Ron Bruce lost to Alekhine. Time passes. Everything’s different, but again, everything’s very much the same. I’m still here and still playing chess. Leonard Barden’s still here, and still writing a regular column (online only these days) in the Evening Standard.

Richard James

Finding a Great Chess Teacher

I was recently solicited by an online company specializing in finding students for private teachers. I told them I’d look at their website before considering a listing. What I found was amazing and appalling at the same time. I have never seen so many listings for chess teachers in my life. I decided to see how many chess teachers were in San Rafael, where I live. The town has a population of rough;y 50,000 and about 200 chess teachers. That sounds great for anyone wanting lessons here but there’s one small problem, the teacher’s qualifications. As with the small print in contracts, most people don’t bother to look at the details. In this case, the important detail is teaching experience. I started reading the profiles of these teachers and was a bit concerned about their actual ability to teach.

Some profiles stated “I have an online rating of 2346” or “I’ve been playing chess since 1982.” To someone with no knowledge regarding chess teachers, this information might be impressive. The first guy has a high rating so he must be good. The second guy’s been playing chess forever, so he must be great. Wrong! While everyone who plays chess has taught the game to others, that doesn’t make them great chess teachers. So what makes a great chess teacher?

There are three qualifications. First, you have to play chess reasonably well. By reasonably well, I mean you have to be able to successfully use what you teach in your own games. If you’re teaching students how to set up a tactical combination, you actually have to know how to create them. Merely showing examples from chess books isn’t good enough. You have to be able to look at a position in one of your student’s games and suggest a tactical option. This only happens if you’re good at tactics. While your chess teacher doesn’t have to be a titled player, they should be a strong club player at the least.

Second, you have to be able to explain complex ideas in the simplest of terms. The best chess teachers aren’t the best chess players in the world. However, they have the unique skill of simple communication. A good chess teacher will take a complex concept and create a simple analogy that easily conveys the idea to the student. This can only be done when the teacher really knows the subject matter. They know the subject matter because they’re good chess players. I’ve been teaching chess for a fair length of time and have built up a repertoire of explanations and analogies because often an explanation that works for one student makes little sense to another. The best teachers have plenty of experience and because of that, they know what works and what doesn’t. Look for teachers that have taught chess in a classroom environment because they tend to have more experience. The best are those teachers who work with kids because their explanations will be easy to understand. I make all my adult students use kid’s chess books when they start for this very reason.

Lastly, you have to be entertaining. That’s right, you have to be an entertainer of sorts. Otherwise, you’ll put your students to sleep. I’m willing to sit through the most boring chess lectures ever because I do this for a living and often pick up great explanations I can use. However, I wouldn’t expect someone learning the game to remain awake during such a lecture. You have to captivate your students to hold their interest. I did a chess lecture once that started with me standing on a table flinging chess pieces out into the audience with a golf club. People paid close attention to my lecture not because they were afraid they’d get hit with a flying chess piece but because I use a bit of humor during the lecture. Humor works wonders. Just keep it within the boundaries of semi-good taste. I once gave a lecture to a chess club and started with the line “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, the games of Bobby Fischer.” During Paul Morphy lessons I sometimes add the line “chess genius and women’s shoe fetishist or should I say, just your run of the mill chess master.” The point is to entertain people listening to me talk about chess. Even hardcore chess nuts like to be entertained.

The first two qualifications should be listed with the chess teacher’s information online. As for how entertaining a chess teacher is, either they throw some clever line in their advertisement or you find out after your fork out money for that first lesson. Speaking of money. Just because one teacher charges more than everyone else doesn’t mean they’re better than the rest. If the guy’s a Grandmaster, yes he’s going to charge more than other chess teachers. However, having a title doesn’t guarantee he’s a great teacher (Nigel being the exception). It only guarantees he’s really really good at chess.

Note how much time you get for your money. I do one or two hour sessions. All the teachers I’ve seen online advertise twenty and thirty minute blocks of time at twenty or thirty dollars each. I suspect they don’t want to tell you they charge sixty to ninety dollars an hour, fooling you with a lower rate instead. Don’t haggle over the price. If someone says “well, how about twenty dollars less per hour?” I reply with “ahhhh…..NO.” A good teacher is worth paying for. However, you have to do the research to find one. It’s like buying a car. You do research rather than buying a vehicle with no prior knowledge. As for the cheapest priced teacher in the group, don’t dismiss them and pick someone in the middle. Check their qualifications. They might charge a lower rate because they’re new teachers trying to get established. They might be the best teacher out there. Do your research.

While I teach my students to be self learners, they use me as a guide. That’s what a good teacher is, a guide who makes an otherwise complicated journey easy. A good teacher will be there for you when you get stuck, explaining what seemed incomprehensible. Speaking of teaching, I have to go teach a class so here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

Endgame Culture Immersion

In my lesson with Nigel today he flagged up (AGAIN) that I try too hard to force things in games. For those tennis fans out there he compared me to Dustin Brown trying to force winners when the Tiger Chess programme is about trying to emulate Federer by playing logical returns. The tactics – forehand winners – will still be there but they will come from a more natural place and the mistakes will be fewer.

Nigel said his programme was like a suit aiming encourage logical positional play. My games put him in mind of a man putting on a suit but then going mountain climbing – where the suit clearly doesn’t help so much.

He suggested that how a person wins early on when starting to play chess is hard to shake off and reinforces how they see things in their games. The antidote is to overlay my forcing move mindset with classic endgames and good positional play.

Here is an interesting video of a Capablanca – Tartakower game – New York 1924.

Dan Staples

Capablanca vs Shipley, 1924

This is an amazing game played by Capablanca. I have been looking at this game for the last few days and didn’t find an obvious mistake or blunder by Black until he had a lost position. This game shows that how a better pawn island and slightly better king can be a decisive advantage in the hand of Capa.

Position after 20. Rb3!

Capa just wants to double his rooks on the b file and penetrate through to the 7th rank.

20…Kc7

The most natural move to meet the rook battery on the b file, but this allows exchanges of rooks. As an exercise it is useful to try to find some alternate ways to play Black’s position and see if White can win.

21. Rab1 Rb8 22. Rxb8 Rxb8 23. Rxb8 Kxb8

Now we have position where Capa’s king is just one rank more advanced than his counterpart.

24. Kd3 Kc7 25. Kd5 Kd6 26. g4 Ke6

26. Kf5 might be stronger but here White has clear cut winning plan. That is to exchange the f pawn against Black’s f pawn and he will soon get a kingside majority, and if Black keeps the f pawn, which is what happened in the game, then Black soon run out of good moves.

27. h4 f6

After 27…Kf6 there is 28. f4 exf4 29. Kxf4 Kg6 and now Ke5 is winning.

28. f4! exf4

After 28…c5 then 29. fxe5 fxe5 30. g5 is winning due to the outside passed pawn.

29. Kxf4 h6??

A blunder in a lost position because this creates another square (g6) for White’s king to penetrate, though no other move can save the day.

30. c3

Black resigned after few more moves.

Here is the full game in case you’re interested.

Ashvin Chauhan

Blockading a Passed Pawn

Passed pawns can often be a winning advantage in rook endgames, but not always; if they can be blockaded by a king they can easily become weak. The following game is a good example of this with White’s d-pawn looking strong until Black played 33…Kf8, getting the king in front of it:

Sam Davies

Alekhine Number Part 2

I left you last time in Plymouth in 1938. Now we’re going to move forward 38 years and sail round the South Devon coast until we reach the seaside resort of Paignton.

Regular readers may recall that I played in the Challengers there in 1974, sharing first place in my section, so now it was time for me to try my luck in the Premier. In Round 5 I had the black pieces against Ron Bruce, who lost the 12-move game against Alekhine you saw last week.

I annotated the game for RAT, the Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club newsletter/magazine. Here, with my contemporary notes (a few minor amendments), is what happened. I’ve added some other comments, mostly from my computer, in italics.

1. c4 g6
2. g3 Bg7
3. Bg2 c5
4. Nc3 Nc6
5. d3 e5

The Botvinnik System, which can be played by White or Black. It is also an effective equalising system against the English or the Closed Sicilian, and gives Black good winning chances against passive or planless White play. The disadvantage is the hole on d5, but Black can attack on the K-side with f5, on the Q-side with b5, or even in the centre with d5, depending on White’s plan. (I’d learnt this from Ray Keene’s book Flank Openings and played the set-up a lot with Black at the time.)

6. e4

More usual is 6. Nf3 d6 (Not 6.. Nge7 7. Ne4 d6 8. Bg5) 7. O-O Nge7 when White can play for Q-side expansion with Rb1 and a3, or equine occupation of d5 with Nf3-e1-c2-e3. Hmm. 6.. Nge7 is often played, and 7. Ne4 very rarely played in reply. After 8. Bg5 Black seems equal: 8.. h6 is usually played but other moves are possible. I’m not sure where that variation came from.

6.. d6

Giving White the option of developing his knight on an inferior square.

7. Nge2

Not so good is Nf3 when the knight will soon have to move again to allow f4. Another plan is 7. f4 Nge7 8. Nf3, when Hempson-James London Chess Congress Open 1976 continued 8.. Nd4 9. Nxd4 cxd4 10. Ne2 (better Nd5=) with a slight edge for Black, but I eventually lost by choosing an artificial plan in what should have been a winning position.

7.. Nge7
8. O-O O-O

Although the position is symmetrical I felt I had some advantage here as I suspected I was more familiar with the position than my opponent.

9. h3?!

I was right! This is quite unnecessary as yet.

9.. Be6
10. Kh2 Qd7
11. Nd5 f5
12. Bg5 h6
13. Be3 Kh7
14. Qd2 Nd4
15. f4

Black has gained a tempo. The position is once again symmetrical but this time it is my move. Now to find something useful to do with it.

15.. Rab8
16. Nec3 Nxd5
17. Nxd5

Guess what. Black has gained another tempo. Relatively best was 17. cxd5. The engines tell me Black should trade on e4 and f4 before playing b5 here.

17.. b5
18. Rae1?

Leaving his position en prise, but Black is threatening bxc4, fxe4 and Bxh3 as well as what he plays in the game. Perhaps best is 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. b3. The engines tell me trading on d4, then on f5 before playing b3 is equal.

18.. bxc4
19. dxc4 exf4
20. Rxf4 Rxb2!?

Flash Harry strikes again! But first 20.. Bxd5 would have made life easier, answering 21. cxd5 Rxb2 22. Qa5 with Nc2. The engines have a slight preference for Bxd5, but it’s more complicated than my note suggests. My move is perhaps the more practical choice.

21. Qxb2

White’s best practical chance.

21.. Nf3+
22. Rxf3 Bxb2
23. exf5 Rxf5
24. Rxf5 gxf5

Not 24.. Bxf5 on account of 25. Bxc5. Not the right reason for rejecting Bxc5. After 24.. Bxf5 White should play 25. Bc1 Qg7 26. Re7 Qxe7 27. Nxe7 Bxc1 28. Nxf5 gxf5 reaching a bishops of opposite colour ending where Black has an extra pawn but White should have no problem holding the draw.

25. Rb1 Bxd5?

Now this puts the win in jeopardy. After either Qg7 or Bg7 Black should win without too much trouble. If 25.. Bxg7 White has 26. Rb7, a nice echo of Black’s 20th move (perhaps not surprising considering the symmetrical opening) but after simply 26.. Qxb7 27. Nf6+ Bxf6 28. Bxb7 Bxc4 Black is two pawns up in a double Bishop ending. I think the question mark is rather harsh: Black should still be winning after this move. My computer thinks this the fourth best move, having a slight preference for Qg7, Bg7, or, best of all, Be5.

26. Bxd5 Bg7

After 26.. Qg7 White plays 27. Bc1 when a) 27.. Bxc1 28. Rb7 when the resulting bishops of opposite colours ending is drawn despite Black’s extra pawn, or b) 27.. Bf6 28. Rb7 Be7 29. Rxa7 and it is not clear how White can make progress. After 26.. Qg7 27. Bc1 Black’s best move is Qc3, which retains winning chances. Instead of Bg7 or Qg7 Black could also consider either Qe8 or Qe7.

27. h4

Necessary here or next move to create a haven for the king.

27.. Qa4

This, however, is a mistake which I hadn’t noticed at the time. Instead 27.. Qe8 is best, with possible infiltration via h5 or e5 depending on White’s next move. 27.. Qe7 is also preferable to Qa4.

28. Rb7 Qxa2+
29. Kh3 a5

Black has no convenient defence to the threat of Bf4-xd6-f8/e5 but plans to queen his a-pawn, if necessary giving up queen for rook to reach an ending where the central pawn configuration prevents White’s Bishop from returning to stop the pawn.

30. Bf4 Qa1
31. Bxd6 a4
32. Bxc5

Not 32. Bf8 a3 33. Rxg7+ Qxg7 34. Bxg7 Kxg7 and the a-pawn cannot be stopped. But White has a better defence in 32. Ra7 (Rooks Belong Behind Passed Pawns!) 32.. h5 (perhaps not obvious but best according to the engines) 33. Bxc5 (or 33. Bf8 Kh8!) 33.. Qf1+ 34. Kh2 Qe2+ 35. Kg1 Qd3 36. Kg2 f4 37. gxf4 Kg6 when Black may be winning. This is very much a computer line, though: at my level it wouldn’t be possible to find all those moves over the board.

32.. a3
33. Bf8 a2
34. c5 Qf1+
35. Bg2 Qa6?

The winning line is 25.. a1Q and now a) 36. Bxg7? Qh1+! or b) 36. Rxg7+ when Black can choose between i) 36.. Qxg7 37. Bxg7 and not 37.. Qc4? when 38. Bf8 loses to Qg4+ and f4 but 38. Be5! Qxc5 39. Bf4! sets up a fortress position and draws but 37.. Qe2! preventing Be5 and winning and ii) 36.. Kh8 37. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 Qe8! winning the bishop with a technical win, so White’s best try is c) 36. Bxf1 Qxf1+ 37. Kh2 Qf2+ 38. Kh3 Qf3! 39. Rxg7+ Kh8 40. Kh2 Qe2+ 41. Kh3 Qe8 reaching the position after Black’s 39th move in variation b(ii)). A computer writes: Variation b(i) after 37. Bxg7 is interesting: Qe2 is the only winning move. 37.. Qe1 also only draws after 38. Bd4!: Black has to prevent Be5 and threaten Qg4+ at the same time. In variation b(ii) I slightly prefer 38.. f4 to Qe2+. And in variation c, 38.. Qf3 certainly doesn’t deserve an exclam: 38.. Qg1! is mate in 5.

36. Rxg7+?

Missing the draw after 36. Bxg7! Qxb7 37. Bxb7 Kxg7 38. c6 a1Q 37. c7 Qf1+ 38. Kh2 Qe2+ 39. Kh3 and draws. Indeed, but there’s a bit more to it than that, and a story behind this position which will be continued next week.

36.. Kh8

White resigns. A curious conclusion.

Richard James

Tactics Training

The use of tactics can give the player who employs them a decisive advantage. While tactics won’t always guarantee a winning game, it will give you potential advantage, materially speaking. Beginners often purchase apps or books with simple tactical problems which is a good way to start their studies. However, those puzzles have the tactic already set up, so all the beginner has to do is spot a single move that delivers the tactical blow. In reality, all tactics are set us using a combination of moves. Creating the combination of move is the really hard part. How does the beginner learn how to do this?

By actually starting with those simple tactical problems in which the tactic is already set up. You have to first learn to recognize tactical patterns before you can consider creating the combinations needed to create a tactical position. Pattern recognition is key to playing good chess. With tactics, certain patterns arise that lead to a tactical exploit. With forks, pins and skewers, you look for enemy pieces lined up on the same rank, file or diagonal. This is the pattern you’re searching for. Doing simple tactics in one move problems, you’ll start to develop an eye for spotting this type of pattern. Do as many of these as you can before moving on to tactics in two move problems. You have to spot a tactical opportunity in order to take advantage of it.

The tactics in two move problems are better that the tactics in one problems because you have to set the tactic up. However, the beginner who has just spent months on the one move problems will have a hard time (at first) because the tactical exploit will require making a move to set it up. To solve these problems, first identify enemy pieces lined up on the same rank, file or diagonal. Next, look for a piece that can deliver the tactic. In two move problems, there’s often an enemy piece stopping you from reaching your goal, getting a piece to the square where it can deliver the tactic. Can you either exchange material to remove the piece or force that piece off of the square its on? What if there’s no enemy pieces line up with one another? Then, the first move in the two move problem has to force the alignment of enemy pieces.

With more complex tactical problems, you have to spend a great deal of time examining the position. Sometimes, you’ll see a move that looks good. However, you’re looking at your pieces and not considering what your opponent can do. Examine the enemy pieces, looking for checks and possible counter forks. If you see that your King can be hit with a nasty check, making sure your potential move is forcing. Also reexamine the enemy pieces around the square your planning on using to set up the tactic to ensure your piece can’t be captured before it delivers it’s tactical blow.

Once you work through enough of these it’s time to start setting up tactical combinations in an actual game. I recommend that beginners start learning how to do this by playing a computer program at a low skill setting. The reasoning for this is simple. Playing programs perform badly at lower levels. This level of poor play will allow you to set up your tactics and see them through. If you try this with a program set at it’s highest level, you’ll never get a single tactic in. Most playing programs are extremely good at tactics and at stopping them so the beginner stands no chance. It should be noted that this low playing level should only be used to develop your combination skills. Eventually you’ll want to increase the level of play as your tactical skills get better.

I highly recommend books of tactical problems. Visually solving problems by playing through the moves in your mind helps develop your calculation skills. With books, you can work on problems while commuting or waiting in line. The best books use positions from real games and often present the tactic within a series of five or six moves. You get to see the full combination (of moves) and learn how to do deeper calculations.

You’ll find that the tactical play of strong tacticians works because their moves are very forcing. A forcing move is one that leaves your opponent little choice in terms of a response. When you limit someone’s reaction, you can force them into making a move that supports your tactical exploit. To create forcing moves you have to come up with the best opposition response to the move your considering. This means playing the position as if you were controlling your opponent’s pieces. Look for any way your opponent can stop or avoid the tactic. If they cannot do so, you have your forcing move. If they can get out of it, it’s time to consider another move.

Becoming a strong tactician is a long journey but a necessary one. You must become good at tactics to play better chess. However, don’t solely rely on tactics to win games. While learning tactics, you should also be studying closed positions. Why? Because you’ll face an opponent who creates positions in which tactic can’t be used. If you only know how to gain an advantage tactically, you’ll flounder in a position in which tactics can’t be used. Remember, the best chess players are well rounded, good at all aspects of the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

Pretty Potent Pawn Play Followed By Bad Blunder

Nigel said I played this well, until I didn’t.

I had a minority attack and should have won a pawn on move 32. I decided to keep my bishop versus Knight. I thought I could weaken his Queenside enough that the long range power of the bishop would be worth it. And all rook ending are drawn of course. Nigel quickly disabused me of this error. He said Black would simply be a good pawn up. He could worry about winning the game later. Playing, as I did, 32…b4 made no sense to him.

Nigel though that my 20…Qf6 didn’t seem quite right and thought I had taken on d4 too early (18…cxd4).

My advantage dwindled and then I moved my King too far from my Kingside pawns and lost.

Dan Staples

Opening Up Another Front

It is always been harder to fight on two fronts than one. So when your opponent is defending one front/weakness adequately the right strategy is to open the other front. This is because it is quite hard for the defender to transfer the pieces to the other side of the board.

Here is one of my games, played against a much high rated player. I managed to launch minority attack and of course Black tried to attack the White king on the kingside. However, there came a moment when he realized it would not work and Black was forced into a passive position and defend the c6 weakness, which is quite typical of the QGD Exchange variation. I tried hard to exploit this weakness and gain some material, then finally found the right plan to open the queen side. Apart from few tactical errors this was one of my best games.

Ashvin Chauhan

Tiviakov’s Italian Game

My Dad says it’s a good idea to find players who are experts on particular openings and study their games. Sergei Tiviakov is a good player to study because he’s an expert in a number of different openings, having played them for many years.

Here’s a game of Tiviakov’s in the Italian Game in which he wins against a tough opponent. He wins the battle on the queenside and gets a strong passed pawn:

Sam Davies