Monday, November 3, 2014

The art of patience: Spassky vs O' Kelly, San Juan 1969

Well I hope your exams all went well! As a post exam treat I'll pause our study of rook endgames for a while and take a look at this interesting game. You will witness an impressive and meticulous preparation by Boris Spassky in order to execute his plan in the middlegame.

Boris Spassky vs Alberic O'Kelly de Galway
San Juan (Puerto Rico) 1969

1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nc3 dxe4
4. Nxe4 Bd7
5. Nf3 Bc6

The Fort Knox variation solves the problem of Black's light-squared bishop in the French. But the downside is obvious: A loss in tempo.

6. Bd3 Bxe4

6... Nd7 is more common.

7. Bxe4 c6
8. O-O Nf6
9. Bd3 Nbd7
10. c4 Bd6
11. b3 O-O
12. Bb2 Qc7
13. Qc2 Rfe8
14. Rfe1 Bf8

15. Rad1 g6 (D)

Position after 15... g6

White has completed his development and enjoys a lot of space in the centre. However, Black's position is extremely solid, and will not be easy to break through. Now, Spassky decides on a plan involving a d4-d5 push. However, before he can achieve this, he needs to go through extensive preparation and redevelopment (moving developed pieces to better squares) before pushing d5. The breakdown of his preparation is listed as follows:

Step 1: Redeploying the light-squared bishop to another square so that it does not block the d-file.

16. Bf1 Bg7
17. g3 Rad8
18. Bg2 Nh5

Step 2: Placing the rooks in an optimal position for mobility after d4-d5; in this case doubling them on the e-file.

19. Re2 Rc8
20. h4 Rcd8
21. Rde1 Nhf6

Step 3: Redeploying the Queen to exploit the a1-h8 diagonal, which will be opened after d4-d5.

22. Qc1 h5 (D)

Position after 22... h5

Notice Black is passing time here since his position looks solid enough. The dubious variation 22... Qa5 23. Bc3 Qf5? 24. Re5 Nxe5 25. Rxe5 Qd3 26. Ne1 Bh6 27. Nxd3 Bxc1 28. Nxc1 only leaves Black with an exchange down.

23. Bh3 Nf8
24. Qa1 Ng4

After something like 24... N8h7 White also has the option of playing 25. Ne5, in preparation for c5 followed by Nc4-Nd6.

25. Bc3 Nh6
26. Qb2 Nf5?

You will see why this is a mistake later. On the other hand, after 26... Nd7 27. Ng5 Ng4 White will need further preparation (e.g. 28. Bg2) before he can push d5.

27. Bxf5 gxf5
28. d5! Bxc3
29. Qxc3 cxd5
30. Nd4! (D)

Position after 30. Nd4

The recapture on f5 (hence why Nf5 was a mistake) allowed White to unearth a tactical threat. After 30... dxc4 31. Nxf5 White threatens to win a rook or mate on g7.

30... Qd7
31. c5 Nh7
32. b4 a6
33. a4 Rc8
34. b5 axb5
35. axb5 Rf8
36. c6 bxc6

White's d5 plan cost him a pawn, but gave a passed pawn in return.

37. bxc6 Qd8
38. Rc1 Nf6
39. c7 Qd7
40. Qe3 Ne4
41. f3 e5
42. fxe4 f4
43. gxf4 exd4
44. Rg2+ (D)

Position after 44. Rg2+

The kingside attack decides matters.


So we've seen that sometimes, patience and extensive preparation is needed when it comes to realizing a plan in the middlegame, even one as simple as pushing a pawn. In this case, Spassky's efforts paid off after his d5 push gave him a passed pawn, tying down O'Kelly's pieces so badly that a frontal attack quickly ended the game.

"Pawn Structure Chess" by Andrew Soltis

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