Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The knight's outpost

In the Carlsen-Caruana game which we analyzed some time back, we saw how White's knight harassed the Black army from its outpost on d6, where it could not be chased away by enemy pieces. To have a better insight into the outpost theme, I shall share with y'all a game played in the early days of classical chess, with annotations provided by Aaron Nimzowitsch in his groundbreaking work "My System".

I have included Nimzowitsch's comments in the analysis below.

Von Haken vs Giese
Riga 1913


1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. exd5 exd5
4. Nf3 Bd6
5. Bd3 Nf6
6. h3 O-O
7. O-O h6

Nimzowitsch: "In the exchange variation of the French Defense with both King Knights developed on f3 and f6 respectively, the pinning moves by the Bishops Bg5 and ...Bg4 furnish for both sides one of the leading motives. Here, however, this motive is ruled out by the movement to h3 and h6 of the h-pawns. Except for a moment, we see and hear of, nothing but the e-file.

8. Nc3 c6
9. Ne2 Re8
10. Ng3 Ne4 (D)

Position after 10... Ne4

Nimzowitsch: "The outpost"

11. Nh5

An interesting alternative here is 11. Ne5 (White also has an outpost of his own!) Bxe5 12. dxe5 Nxg3 13. fxg3 and if Black grabs the pawn with 13... Rxe5, White gets compensation by exploiting the open file (14. Qf3!) to put pressure on Black's kingside. From there onwards, things become quite messy, and tactical opportunities abound especially with the exposed positions of both kings.

11... Nd7
12 c3

Possibly to release the f3 knight off his duty of guarding the d4 pawn. But this move also cedes the tempo to Black, and allows him to pile up his defenses on the e4 outpost. Not surprisingly, Fritz analyzes the position as much better for Black over here. The other variation proposed is 12. Bf4 Bxf4 13. Nxf4 Qb6 14. Rb1 Ndf6 15. c3 Bf5 16. Ne5 occupying his own outpost. White can now prepare f3 to chase away the enemy knight, but he must be cautious for this exposes his King, which is in the firing line of the enemy Queen!

12... Ndf6
13. Nh2 Qc7
14. Nxf6+ Nxf6
15. Nf3 Ne4
16. Bc2 Bf5! (D)

Position after 16... Bf5!

Nimzowitsch: "All pieces are directed towards the strategic point. This is also called emphasizing one's strength. Here we refer to the Knight on e4."

17. Nh4

Fritz proposes 17. Nd2 Re6 18. Nxe4 dxe4 (replacing the outpost knight with a pawn-- an important characteristic of the theme as we will see later) 19. Qh5 Bg6 20. Qe2 Rae8 whereas the battle now rages around the e4 pawn, which threatens to become a passed pawn.

17... Bh7
18. Be3

Now 18. f3 (attempting to dislodge the outpost knight) does not work; 18. f3? Bh2+! 19. Kh1 Ng3+ and White will eventually be an exchange down with his king dangerously exposed.

18...g5
19. Nf3 f5
20. Re1 Re7

Nimzowitsch: "The pressure in the file grows more acute move by move."

21. Nd2 f4
22. Nxe4 dxe4 (D)

Position after 22... dxe4

 Nimzowitsch: "The place of the outpost Knight is now worthily taken by a 'half-passed' pawn."

23. Bd2 Rae8
24. c4 c5
25. Bc3 Bg6!

Nimzowitsch: "In order to be able to play ...Kh7 and ...e3. A timely advance against the pawn h3 is also threatened by ...h5 followed by ...g4."

26. Qg4 cxd4
27. Bxd4 Be5
28. Bxe5 Rxe5
29. Qd1

Nimzowitsch: "If 29. Rad1, then 29. e3 30. Bxg6 exf2+ 31. Kxf2 Qc5+ 32. Kf1 Qxc4+ 33. Kf2 Qc5+ 34. Kf1 Qb5+ 35. Kf2 Qxb2+ 36. Kf1 Qb5+ 37. Kf2 Qb6+ 38. Kf1 Qa6+ 39. Kf2 Qxa2+ 40. Kf1 Qa6+ 41. Kf2 Qb6+ 42. Kf1 followed by the double exchange on e1 and the capture of the Bg6. A fine example of the theme of winning a pawn with check."

An attempt at aggressive counterplay will be 29. h4, but it also falls in similar fashion to 29. Rad1: 29. h4?! Bf5 30. Qh5 e3 31. Bxf5 exf2+ 32. Kxf2 Qc5+ 33. Kf1 Qxc4+ and White's queenside pawns and his Bg6 will eventually be swept off the board. Black's kingside appears to be vulnerable, but White's is even more so!

29... Rd8
30. Qb1 Rd2

It is basically over now. With his central pawns eating up all the space and White's pieces in cramped and passive positions, Black sweeps in for the kill.

31. Rxe4 Qc5
32. Bd5+ Kg7
33. Qc1 Qxf2+
34. Kh1 Rexd5 (D)
0-1

Position after 34... Rexd5

White must remain a piece down or let himself get checkmated on g2.

We can see that although the outpost Knight was eventually traded off, it was replaced with a "passed" pawn that eventually led to White's downfall. This threat-- the formation of passed pawns after a trade on the outpost-- is what makes the outpost theme so threatening and worth learning.

Sources:
"My System, 21st Century Edition" by Aaron Nimzowitsch

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