Storms and steady seas – dominance and counter-play

We are going to look at critical moments.

I am surprised by the lack of rhythm mentioned in chess literature. Another huge difference in the emotional man versus cold machine struggle.

A growing realisation is that many chess games hinge on critical moments. A computer evaluation of 0.3 is completely objective. Let's take the following example:

According to my trusty chess engine which I've left running for some time, this position is better for black.

Eagle eyed chess fans will already recognise the position as that of the great Kasparov - Karpov (1-0), 1990 World Championship where Kasparov allows a queenside pawn expansion and sacrifices a bishop in order to throw material at black and win.

What's a technical win and what's easy?

There's a well known anecdote about Karpov which says (I'm paraphrasing),
"...given the choice between a complex position and one with a minimal edge, Karpov will choose the long drawn out technical win; every time."

As a lover of endgames, I've always been quite taken with that. Having said that, I don't play against computers in competitions, we play human beings and complex positions can be a blessing or a curse!

Meditative Man

Some positions require a lot of calculation and you must keep very calm

Three things you will learn today

  1. When you get into a passive position, make sure you're prepared to give yourself the best chances by complicating the positon
  2. When you're ahead, eliminate counter-play!
  3. Make exciting moves because they work, not because they look good!

Part 1 of 3 - Complicating a passive position!

Let's enjoy a crazy game where the complexity of the position helped steer white out of a tight spot!

[Event "British Chess Championships 1963"] [White "Author, Arthur"] [Black "Dobrev, Jose"] [Site "Highland Cup 1969"] [Result "1-0"] [Date "1969"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4 f6 9. Nf4!? {A very unclear line; black gives up an exchange for tremendous positional compensation} Nxd4! 10. Qh5 Ke7 11. exf6 Nxf6 12. Ng6 hxg6 13. Qxh8 Kf7 {so far, Dobrev's moves have been superb. Faced with a very tough line (which he didn't know), he has found his way towards a clear scheme of play: A) Sensible development ideas with ...e5,...Bd6/c5 and vacating the back rank so ...Rxh8 is potentially on the cards B) King safety C) A lead in development. It's a great shame the game went the other way but this shows how complex positions can throw humans very easily; even the best ones!} 14. 0-0!? {it turns out this "natural" move is actually rarely played...}(14. Nb3!?)(14. Nf3 {is also common}) e5! {thematic ...e5 lift for black. 15...e4 is threatened and white is really up against it! THIS IS A SHARP POSITION} 15. b3 e4 16. Bb2 Qb6 17. Rfe1! {this is where being brave comes in...computers will calculate cold and hard but a human wouldn't naturally see Rfe1 as the bishop is attacked. A nice tactic means this is positionally sound} 17...Bb4! {black very admirably sharpens the position making white either retreat or gamble!} (17...exd3 {loses to the superb} 18. Bxd4! Qxd4 19. Nf3 {and a mating net has quietly been woven around black's hopeless king - the position is a resignation})(17...g5 {is also a very tough move for white to meet with the nasty Rxh8 trap just a few moves away - the queen cannot get out!}) 18. Ne4!! dxe4 19. Bc4 Be6 20. Bxe6! Nxe6 21. Qxa8 Bxe1 22. Rxe1 Ng4 {hitting f2, the drama is by no means over...!} 23. Rf1! Nf4 24. Ba3! {in the midst of the chaos, getting the queen back into the game decides it} Qc7 25. Qf8+ Ke6 26. g3 Ne2 27. Kh1 Qc6 28. Qe7 Kf5 29. Qc5 {black resigned}

Summary of part 1

  • Humans (even the very best) will not play perfectly in a complicated position
  • Especially when you're worse or more passive, look for ways to liven up the position!
  • Piece sacrifices require a good tactical brain but pawn sacrifices are often risk-free (as you may be able to easily convert to a drawn ending)!

Part 2 of 3 - Keep it simple when you're ahead!

Now we are going to look at an example of a winning position where the talented American Huck Finn controlled the game superbly, leaving no targets for his opponent. With no counter-play, white slowly grew the advantage until the final position where the world would cave in on black!
[Event "US South Cup"] [Site "SouthWest American Allstar League HQ"] [Date "1894"] [Round "1"] [White "Huck Finn"] [Black "Tom Sawyer"] [Result "1-0"] [PlyCount "39"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 b6 3. Bd3 Bb7 4. Nf3 c5 5. c3 Nf6 6. Qe2 Be7 7. O-O c4 8. Bc2 b5 {this is a bad move from young Sawyer. The issue is white is already dominating a lot of space. White has a positional edge and converts the rest of the game with two simple ideas in mind A) Complete Development B) Protect the control of the centre - it's amazing how quickly black falls apart with no counterplay - Black has zero targets to hit at} 9. Bg5 Ng8? 10. Bxe7 Nxe7 11. Nbd2 d6 12. Ng5 Ng6 13. f4 h6 14. Nxe6 fxe6 15. Qh5 Qe7 16. Qxg6+ Qf7 17. Qg3 Nd7 18. e5 O-O-O 19. a4 b4? 20. Nxc4 {and black through in the towel before he suffers a big material loss!}

Summary of part 2

  • Winning a won position is hard
  • A key factor is the ability to deprive the opponent of any counter-play
  • Strengthening your advantages (like a strong centre) go a long way!

Part 3 of 3 - Play exciting moves because they work; not because they look good!

We have all been victims to what I will call "vanity blunders". We want to finish a game in style.

Often with an overwhelming positional edge, tactics will be everywhere and a win is easy.

In the following position, Nf7 looks too tempting with 1. Nf7 Kg8 2. Nh6++ Kh8 3. Qg8+!! Rxg8 4. Nf7# being a text book finish....but...

[Event "Example - Too confident ending"] [Site "Chess Toolkit (Author = TQM.)"] [Date "29/05/2017"] [White "Player, A"] [Black "Opponent, Anne"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "N/A"] [Annotator "TQM"] [SetUp "1"] [PlyCount "44"] [EventDate "2017"] [FEN "r4r1k/6pp/8/1p4N1/8/b7/Q1PP2PP/7K"] 1. Nf7?? Rxf7! (1...Kg8?? 2. Nh6! Kh8 3. Qg8 Rxg8 4. Nf7 {is still a theme worth knowing}) 2. Qxf7 Rf8! {resigns}

Overall Summary

  • A won game is one of the hardest to convert
  • Brilliancies are great but we have to be prepared to put in the work or be more like Karpov - execute good technique to win simply!
  • Keep it simple when ahead; find counter-play when you're behind!!