Recently I've been annoyed with myself. I seem to spend half my life on chess. Writing chess software. Editing chess magazines. Maintaining chess websites. Writing chess material to put on magazines and websites. Maybe chess is quite important to me, yet when do I ever sit down and just look at some chess? Just to enjoy and learn, not for any other reason? Well, basically never. So I stopped what I was doing, grabbed that chess software I spend all this time writing, and got it to show me some recent grandmaster games. Right away I saw some beautiful chess, material fit to convince that chess is as good a subject as any to waste your life on. Here's one of the games that made an impression on me. Apart from anything else, it convinced me that chess is evolving, it has changed a lot since I learned to play.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bd2 Diagram# This looks completely eccentric already. Beginners quickly learn that there is more to developing pieces than just moving them anywhere off the first rank. Bd2 (or d7) is usually just about the first not-very-developing move an improving player starts avoiding. Seeing this move here made me think about exactly why this should be the case, and I remembered that C.J.S. Purdy, the great chess teacher in this part of the world, addresses this very point in his classic "Guide to Good Chess". Purdy writes "By a few experiments, you can see that the d-file is opened far more often than the e-file; and this explains why Be2 (...Be7) is often good, whereas Bd2 (...Bd7) is usually bad." [Needless to say, White has a specific idea in mind, one that is less strange looking in the much more common move order 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2 Bg7 transposin g to the game after Black's 5th move. White postpones the immediate e4 (the main line) and plays 5.Bd2 instead judging that it's worth a tempo to be able to capture on c3 with the bishop instead of the b2 pawn. (Basically there are less queenside weaknesses and development problems that way)]
4...Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nb6 Evidently Black agrees with White's reasoning and avoids capturing on c3, even though exchanging minor pieces is helpful when defending against a space advantage. [6...Nxc3 Is also commonly played. Amusingly I have found one high level game (amongst hundreds) where White then recaptured with the pawn. It was a rapid game. Presumably he rushed it and got confused, or was drunk, or both. Having said that, White won.]
7.Be3 White spends another tempo putting the bishop on a more sensible square, no doubt arguing that with Black's f6 knight displaced, he's saved the tempo often expended on h3 or f3 to secure a bishop on the ideal e3 square.
8.Bb5 I'm not sure what Purdy would have made of this. In his (wonderful and very lively for its time) book he spends a lot of space on the various ways you might go about developing bishops. Most of this discussion centres around the tendency of bishops to be 'biffed' as he puts it by annoying attacks (like the Nf6-g4 attack on a Be3 just discussed). Of course no bishop is going to biffed as much as a Bb5 bishop that's not attacking anything and facing unmoved pawns on a7 and c7! I need an expert to explain this (book) move to me. Maybe White is arguing that in this particular position neither a6 nor c6 are useful moves so he doesn't mind gifting those on the way toe2
8...Be6 Both a6 and c6 are played here, but Black chooses to leave the bishop hanging instead.
9.Nf3 Nc4 10.Bxc4 Bxc4 11.Qa4 Ba6 Diagram# An intriguing, unbalanced position. White has the centre, Black holds back and snipes from the corners. Importantly, the Ba6 deprives White of the opportunity of just playing quietly with O-O and so a full blooded, damn the torpedos approach is called for, hence
12.h4! h6?! We are now out of book. Black chooses one of the standard ways to parry an h-pawn thrust, but he will quickly regret his choice. Maybe he should have pushed the pawn two squares instead.
13.h5 g5 Diagram#
14.Nxg5! c5 [14...hxg5 15.h6 Bf6 16.e5 and Black will have to give the piece back. White is better]
15.Nf3 b5 Black lashes out, he has to play very actively else he is just material down and lost
16.Qd1 b4 17.Ne2 Nc6 18.d5 Na5 Diagram# Already we've reached the key moment of the game. It's basically White to play and win, but it's a positional puzzle not a tactical one. If you're an old bugger like me you've got no chance of finding the right move unless you can throw off the simple conventional wisdom you learned from Fred Reinfeld and company as a child.
19.b3! The engine immediately recommends this move. White thereby neutralises the pressure on his queenside and gets rid of Black's best minor piece. The cost is an exchange and an apparently exposed king in the centre. An exchange? Well the rook = 5, bishop = 3 arithmetic from days gone by seems to have been put aside in the modern era. A modern grandmaster apparently sacrifices exchanges as readily as club players of yore would carefully develop each piece in turn. As for a king in the centre, that's often okay too. "Let's push the g and h pawns, gain space on the kingside, maybe just for positional reasons. The king can chill on maybe f1. Connecting the rooks? Yeah, nah. Let them live their own lives for a while and maybe they can hook up later in the game. If we don't sacrifice an exchange first." My attempt at imagining the thoughts of a modern grandmaster. Clearly I am the wrong generation and completely out of my depth. [No doubt a nervous nelly club player like me would have played something insipid like 19.Rb1 Nc4 20.b3 Nxe3 21.fxe3 Qa5 after which Black's raking bishop pair gives him full compensation]
19...Bxe2 20.Kxe2 Bxa1 21.Qxa1 Diagram# The engine appreciates immediately that Black is quite lost here. White's space advantage allows him to quickly bring all his pieces to bear on the sad king stuck in a corner with no friends. As an experiment I asked the engine for an opinion on the same position with the Black king on e8 instead (still losing, but not as badly) and the knight on h7 instead of a5 (still losing, but not as badly). As for Black's material advantage, as it happens Purdy addresses that elsewhere in his writings. He wrote that he often heard players complain that they had failed to convert the advantage of exchange for a pawn (it is one extra 'point' right?) but that personally he was never surprised, since really it's the smallest material advantage, more like half a pawn. I wish I could find the exact quote. White's positional advantage certainly dwarfs the half pawn here.
21...Qd6 22.Nh4 f6 23.Nf5 Qa6+ 24.Kf3 White continues to be creative when it comes to finding a nice safe home for his king
24...e6 25.Nxh6+ Kh7 26.g4 c4 27.Qb1 cxb3 28.axb3 Rac8 Diagram# Black has been desperately seeking counterplay, and is only one tempo short of getting back into the game with Rc8-c3
29.e5+ f5 30.gxf5 exf5 31.Nxf5 Rc3 Too late
32.Rd1 Qc8 33.e6 Rc2 Diagram#
34.Kg4! A nice finishing touch. The king takes one more step forward, freeing the knight, with the decisive threat of Nd4. Black throws a few spite blows then resigns in the face of an already decisive material disadvantage being supplemented by a new queen.
34...Nxb3 35.Qxb3 Rc3 36.Qb1 Qc4+ 37.Nd4+ Kh8 38.Qe4 Rg8+ 39.Kh3 Rg5 40.e7 Qc8+ 41.Kh4 Diagram# A very modern final position 1-0