Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tragedy of a fianchettoed bishop

So having learned the Sicilian Dragon, KID, Larsen Attack, and all other random openings featuring a fianchettoed bishop, you might probably be well aware of the power of such a bishop in an attack against the castled king. But a fianchettoed bishop can have its weaknesses too; sitting at the side of the board, it can easily become a sitting duck should its path along the long diagonal get blockaded by enemy (or even friendly) pawns. The following game shows how this may lead to disastrous consequences:

Opponent vs Checkerboard 5
Children's Day Chess Challenge 2013

1. f4 Nf6
2. Nf3 e6
3. b3 Be7
4. Bb2 b6
5. e3 Bb7 (D)

Played without much realization of what will be to come. In several of my earlier games I had played the Old Queen's Indian with much success against irregular openings, much thanks to the solid and flexible nature of the pawn structure. However, I had yet to test it against a strong kingside attack, which will soon turn out to be the critical test of the setup.

6. Be2 d6
7. O-O Nbd7
8. d3 h6
9. Nbd2 c5
10. c4 O-O
11. h3 Nh5

To hit g3, gaining a tempo. My opponent had plans for the kingside, so of course he did not want this.

12. Qe1 Rc8
13. g4 Nhf6
14. Qg3 (D)

Here he comes. The activity of his kingside pieces, coupled with both the upcoming pawn avalanche and HIS fianchettoed bishop on b2, is more than enough to let me know that a major assault is upcoming.

14... Nh7
15. e4 Bf6!

When defending, the best strategy will be to exchange off the opponent's pieces to weaken the force of his attack. The b2 bishop was the best target here since it was hovering over the vulnerable g7 square.

16. Rab1?!

Fritz prefers the variation 16. e5 dxe5 17. fxe5 Bg5

16... Bxb2
17. Rxb2 (D)

17... Qe7

Now after some helpful analysis by Fritz, I feel that a much better option for me would have been to launch the pawn break immediately with 17... f5! After the variation 18. g5 (18. e5 dxe5 19. fxe5 f4 20. Qf2 leads to the same consequences, while 18. exf5 exf5 19. gxf5 Qf6 also helps to free my b7 bishop and bring my pieces over to the kingside quickly) 18... hxg5 19. fxg5 f4 White's attack is blunted. Although I still have the problem of trying to free my b7 bishop (which is still being hemmed in by the e5 pawn), at least my position is much less cramped than the one after the text move.

18. h4 f6
19. Rf2 e5?

The wrong break at the wrong time! After 19... f5 20. g4 h5 where the threat of fxe5 followed by d5 could still give me chances to free my b7 bishop. Now after the text move, White responds a move which leads to the permanent imprisonment of my bishop:

20. f5! (D)

20. fxe5 dxe5 removes the momentum from White's pawn avalanche.

A swift glance at the position can be enough to tell that things are not going well for me. White controls most of the space in the centre, which allows him to swiftly mobilize his pieces over to the kingside for the attack (his king, despite being on the kingside, is not getting in the way due to the space in the centre). Most of my pieces are in dug-in defensive positions, which is not that bad altogether since I can meet my opponent's threats...

Only except that I am a piece down. Look over to the fianchettoed bishop on b7-- I had placed it there in the opening without much thought of the fate that would befall it, and now one can tell that it has been literally cut off from the main action by White's pawn chain in the centre. To free it would cost several tempi (and moving lots of blocking pieces out of the way), which by then White would probably already have broken through.

Thus with the fianchettoed bishop sitting there and unable to participate in the defense of the kingside, I am as good as a piece down.

20... Kf7

I could not just sit there and watch White overrun my position-- when the command post is under fire His Majesty must evacuate to a safer place.

21. g5 hxg5
22. hxg5 Ke8

22... fxg5 23. Rh2 Rh8 24. Rxh7 Rxh7 25. Nxg5 Kg8 26. Nxh7 Kxh7 was the better alternative, but my bishop is still a prisoner on b7.

23. Nh4! Rg8
24. Bh5+ (D)

I stopped recording here; as the game continued I actually managed to evacuate my king successfully to the Queenside, but by then White had already broken through with his "extra piece" and won material.

As such, let this game be a reminder to self and everyone here that a fianchettoed bishop is not always an advantage. While it can prove to be a strong attacker when in control of the long diagonal, it can also become easily cut-off from the game, especially when the centre is closed.

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