Monday, December 28, 2015

A wild fox hunt: Lasker vs Thomas, London 1912

Edit: In the actual game Lasker actually checkmated with 18. Kd2. Sorry for the mistake.


Today we will look at a short but interesting game featuring the attack on the king. Some of you will find this game familiar, but there is no loss in looking at it again and appreciating the tactics behind Edward Lasker's (note: Edward Lasker, not the 2nd World Champion Emanuel Lasker!) queen sacrifice.

In this classic, White was able to obtain better piece coordination and control of the centre. Together with Black's lag in development, he lost no time in creating an attack on the enemy king, thus following one of the many fundamental chess principles as formulated by Wilhelm Steinitz:

"When a sufficient advantage has been obtained, a player must attack or the advantage will be dissipated."
-- Wilhelm Steinitz

So sit back and enjoy the game:

Lasker, Eduard vs Thomas, George
London 1912

1. d4 f5
2. Nf3 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. Bg5 Be7
5. Bxf6 Bxf6
6. e4 (D)

Position after 6. e4

White wants to open up the centre for an attack on the kingside.

6... fxe4
7. Nxe4 b6
8. Bd3 Bb7
9. Ne5

Allowing the Queen access to h5. Many of us would prefer the natural 9. O-O O-O 10. Qd2 where Black can consider 10... d6 followed by c5 attacking the centre. Notice that here Black has a slight edge due to his bishop pair, and the semi-open f-file for his rook.

9... O-O
10. Qh5! (D)

Position after 10. Qh5

10... Qe7?

Black saw the threat of 11. Ng5 and defends accordingly (11. Ng5? g6! forcing the enemy queen to retreat and winning the knight.). However, he missed another threat. The other variations are:

10... g6? which does not work due to 11. Nxg6! hxg6 12. Qxg6+ with Nxf6 to follow.

The best defence was 10... Bxe5! (removing the powerful knight on e5) 11. Nd2 (11. Ng5? h6; 11. dxe5? Rf5 12. Qg4 Rxe5) 11... g6 12. Qxe5 Nc6 13. Qg3 (D)

Position after 13. Qg3

Black has completed development and is ready to counterattack.

Returning to the position after 10... Qe7 (D): Can you spot the best move for White?

Find the best move for White

11. Qxh7+!!

A stunning queen sacrifice. White lures the king out from the safety of his base, and releases the hounds for a fox hunt.

11... Kxh7
12. Nxf6+ Kh6

12... Kh8 13. Ng6#

13. Neg4+ Kg5
14. h4+ Kf4
15. g3+ Kf3
16. Be2+ Kg2
17. Rh2+ Kg1
18. O-O-O# (D)

Position after 18. 0-0-0#

Of course Kd2 mates too, but it is not everyday you get to castle with checkmate!

David Hooper, Steinitz' Theory, British Chess Magazine Vol. 104, p.370 Sept 1984

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

What better way to spend your Christmas Eve with a present from Pal Benko? Can you solve his Christmas Tree composition?

Pal Benko
Chess Life, 1975
White to move and mate in 2

Have fun, and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fighting against the pawn centre

Today as I was browsing through a few articles, the following game caught my eye. It features a classic fight in the Gruenfeld Defense. To those who play hypermodern openings, this name will sound familiar to you. In such openings (including the King's Indian Defense, which we have already went through), Black typically allows White to build a large pawn centre, only to demolish it with his own pieces and pawns.

"Is this all you can conjure, Saruman?"

Korobov, Anton vs Nepomniachtchi, Ian
Russian Team Rapid Championships 2015

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 d5
4. cxd5 Nxd5
5. e4 Nxc3
6. bxc3 Bg7
7. Nf3 c5 (D)

Position after 7... c5

In the Gruenfeld Defense, Black allows White to build a pawn centre before attacking it with pawn breaks like c5. Notice White cannot capture because of the hanging pawn on c3.

8. Be2 O-O
9. Be3 Qa5
10. Bd2 Nd7
11. O-O e5
12. a4

12. d5 is playable, and with 12... Nf6 the game progresses somewhere similar to the main line.

12... Qc7
13. Rc1 b6

Black's plan is to put the bishop on b7 and attack e4.

14. Qb3 Bb7
15. d5 Nf6 (D)

Position after 15... Nf6

The passed pawn looks strong, but it can be easily blockaded. Black's plan is to do just that: Relocate the knight to d6 via Nf6-Ne8-Nd6. This also allows him to play f5 later on and attack White's centre.

16. Qc2 Ne8
17. c4 Nd6

Notice the weaknesses on c4 and e4. It will not be easy for White to protect the centre.

18. Bc3 Rae8
19. a5 Bc8
20. axb6 axb6
21. Nd2 f5! (D)

Position after 21... f5

22. f3 Bh6
23. Qd3 Ba6
24. Kh1 Qd8
25. Qc2 Be3
26. Ra1!

White is seeking counterplay on the Queenside.

26... Bc8
27. Qb2?!

I tried to see how White could press his chances on the Queenside: 27. Ra8 Qd7 28. Rfa1 Bxd2 29. Bxd2 fxe4 30. fxe4 (D)

Position after 30. fxe4

White has the bishop pair and good control of the a-file. His weaknesses are the f-file and the weak pawns on c4 and e4, which tie down his Queen. After 30... Bb7 (30... Rf2 31. Be3 and Black makes no progress.) 31. R8a7 Ra8 32. Rxa8 Rxa8 33. Rxa8+ Bxa8 things look better for White, as his minor pieces are more active.

Returning to the main line after 27. Qb2:

27... Bf4
28. g3 Bxd2

Removing a key defender of e4. After this exchange, Black can open the f-file to his advantage.

29. Qxd2 fxe4
30. Ra7 Re7
31. Ra8 Qd7
32. fxe4 Rxf1+
33. Bxf1 Nxe4 (D)

Position after 33. Nxe4

White's pawn centre begins to fall apart.

34. Qh6?

In his article "Struggle for the Centre", Yury Markushin suggested 34. Qe1 Nxc3 35. Qxc3 Qf5 36. Qe1 Rf7 37. Ra2 after which White Queen is still there to defend, making things more difficult for Black.

34... Qf5!

Now, the checkmate threat on f1 forces White to give up material. White was probably hoping for 34... Nxc3? 35. Bh3! Qd8 (35... Qc7 36. d6) 36. Rxc8 winning the Queen.

35. Rxc8+

35. Kg1 Rf7 36. Ra1 Qf2+ followed by Nxc3.

35... Qxc8
36. Bb2 Qf8
37. Qc1 Rf7
38. Be2 Rf2
39. Qe3 Rf1+
40. Kg2 Qf2+ (D)

Position after 40... Qf2

A very instructive game on the fight against the pawn centre.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Do or die: Thomson Chess Fiesta 2015

Today, we will analyze another of my games from last month's tournament at Thomson CC. This game was memorable because it was an interesting display of attacking chess; unfortunately, it was spoiled by my own carelessness.

In this game, you will see how White brings in all his pieces and pawns for the attack, compromising his own pawn structure and king safety in the process. Certainly a "Do or Die" strategy: Should his attack fail, his weaknesses will prove fatal in the endgame!

"Hold on, did we leave anyone behind to guard the flag?"

Checkerboard 5 vs Opponent
Thomson Chess Fiesta 2015 Round 8

1. c4 c5
2. Nc3 b6
3. g3 Bb7
4. Nf3 Nf6

4... Bxf3 5. exf3 with Bg2/Bh3 to follow, giving White a solid kingside.

5. Bg2 g6
6. e3 Bg7 
7. d4 d6
8. O-O O-O
9. Qd2

9. Qc2 controlling e4 was better.

9... Nbd7 (D)

Position after 9... Nbd7

If we analyze the position now, White looks slightly better due to his extra space in the centre. However, he lags in development due to his c1 bishop. Thus, I decided on a simple plan: Expand on the queenside with a3-b4, which at the same time helps me activate my dark-squared bishop.

10. a3 a6
11. b4 Ne4
12. Nxe4 Bxe4
13. Bb2 Qc7

Now the first part of my plan is complete: I have activated my dark-squared bishop. Now how to increase control over the centre and queenside?

14. d5

I could try 14. dxc5 dxc5 15. bxc5 but after Nxc5! I have a weak, blockaded isolated pawn.

14... Bxb2
15. Qxb2 Bxf3
16. Bxf3 (D)

Position after 16. Bxf3

Now I am left with a bishop against my opponent's knight. Naturally, I want to open up the position where the bishop fares better than the knight.

16... Ne5
17. Be2 Rab8
18. f4 Nd7
19. Rac1 a5
20. e4

My opponent suggested 20. b5 locking up the queenside, creating what he felt was a drawish game. Later on, I looked at two of Black's possible responses: e5 (The other response is to try and keep the position closed: 20... Nf6 21. Bf3 Qd7 22. e4 Qh3 23. e5 dxe5 24. fxe5 White has managed to open the centre and gain extra space, giving him an advantage in the endgame.) 21. dxe6 (Letting Black capture is bad: 21. Rce1? exf4 22. exf4 Rbe8 23. Bg4 f5 and Black's knight is superior to White's bishop.) 21... fxe6 22. Bg4 Rbe8 23. e4 Nf6 24. Bf3 (D)

Position after 24. Bf3

Although White's bishop is on an awkward square his position is still solid and neither side can make much progress; for example if Black tries e5 25. f5 gxf5 26. exf5 Nd7 27. Bg2 followed by Bh3 supporting the passed pawn.

Returning to the position after 20. e4:

20... f6
21. h4

Since I had already pushed f4 and e4, I saw the irresistible opportunity to go for a kingside pawnstorm. Even with two minor pieces traded off, I felt that my remaining material should still be sufficient to generate a strong attack against the king. So here I go!

21... Kg7
22. g4

Reaching a "do or die" stage: If White's attack fails, his king will be helplessly exposed to any counterattack.

22... Qc8
23. g5 Rf7
24. Bg4 (D)

Position after 24. Bg4

Taking control of the light squares. If you flip the board around, you can see that Black's position is becoming very cramped.

24... Qc7
25. Be6

After the game I looked at 25. f5 cxb4 (25... gxf5? 26. Rxf5 cxb4 27. Bh5 Rff8 28. Qg2 Qc5+ 29. Kh1 with the very strong threat of 30. gxf6+ followed by 31. Qg7#) 26. fxg6 hxg6 27. axb4 axb4 28. h5 but Black has the strong resource 28... Ne5! and after 29. Be6 Rff8 Black's defense is more solid.

25... Rff8
26. Rf3 axb4!

Black seeks counterplay on the Queenside. Notice that he cannot relieve the kingside tension with fxg5 due to the pin along the long diagonal.

27. axb4 cxb4 (D)

Position after 27... cxb4

Now recapturing with the Queen allows Black to play fxg5. However, the alternative I chose turned out to be an inexplicable blunder:

28. Rb3?

The best move here would be to press on the attack: 28. h5! gxh5 (28... Nc5 29. h6+ Kh8 30. Qxb4 Nxe4 31. Re3 Qc5) 29. gxf6+ Nxf6 30. Rg3+ Kh8 31. Kh1with the threat of 32. Rbg1 putting pressure on the kingside via the g-file.

28... Nc5!

Black can now trade pieces and relieve tension.

29. Re3 Nxe6
30. dxe6 Qc5 (D)

Position after 30... Qc5

The attack has withered off, leaving me with a shattered pawn structure, exposed king and uncoordinated pieces. Not surprisingly Black went on to win the game.The lesson here is simple: In attacking chess, precise calculation is always needed!

Picture: French 4th Hussar at the Battle of Friedland, 14 June 1807. "Vive l'Empereur!" by Édouard Detaille, 1891