Today's article is a set of positions that illustrate the technique of converting material and positional advantages. The protagonist of all the examples is GM Kramnik, who is particularly prominent in the field of converting advantages. We will use the following method when solving these positions. First, you have to identify who has an advantage and if it is long-term or short-term advantage. Then, if it is a long-term advantage such as space, permanent weaknesses in the opponent's camp, control of an open file, or outposts, then use positional methods such as slow improvement of pieces to prosecute the advantage. On the other hand, if the advantage is temporary such as development advantage then use tactical means to exploit this advantage. Give yourself 10-15 min on each position before checking out the solution.
The first position is up. It is obvious that white has a long-term advantage due to an extra pawn but what is the best method for converting it?
Kramnik assessed the position as better for him on a long-term advantage scale. He has an extra pawn and this pawn will remain extra for a long time. He decided to go after the c-file - capturing an open file is one of the positional improvements that a player can make. Ultimately, white will not get a winning position if black correctly defends but even then white can find a slow method for improving his position, such as capturing space with the a4 move. Kramnik's plan proved to be good enough to win the game, while the plan that I chose when solving the position was risky and is not recommended.
In the next position one can argue that white's positional advantage is long-term, however if black is given time he can place the knight on d8 supporting the f7-square and the blockading c6-knight, where the a-pawn can become unblocked passed pawn. Therefore, I think that white's advantage is temporary, therefore a tactical solution is called for.
Compared to the first position this exercise was more or less forced. Even if you don't see the idea R:f7, Qf5 would still be an excellent move. This is because you place the queen on an active square and force the black rook to occupy the passive square f8. After you play Qf5 you can think more and find (most likely) the correct R:f7 move.
In the next position it is bit hard to tell what kind of advantage white has. The open d-file is permanently occupied by white, the knight is excellent on e5, white also has more space and the better king. In the long run however, if black solidifies and activates the bishop, then two rooks with the bishop can potentially be stronger than two rooks and the knight. Thus, white better do something right now before black manages to regroup.
The solution to the problem was not easy to see at first because the idea of trapping the rook with f5 might have escaped your attention at first. I found the right first few moves but then erred playing Nd7. Nc4, as Kramnik played was a positional solution and a very strong one! The knight is ideally placed on c4: it attacks the b6 pawn and can jump to a central square e5 as you saw in the game. Overall, this position was an excellent example of how to combine tactical threats with positional ideas in converting positional advantages.
In the last example black is down two pawns but it is Nakamura who is playing black, which means that he will find the last tactical resource the position has to offer before resigning. The g-file is a problem and particularly, the g3-pawn hangs. How to defend it?
So, white had long-term advantage and trading queens was the best solution in the above position. Rh4 is more or less forced, I am guessing most of you found it but the position after Rg6 is truly critical. I did not see the Qc3-f4 idea right away and probably during the game would have found it but during analysis one should see moves like Rg6. The defense that I considered Rd8 is toothless because a rook exchange is equivalent to resigning for black. Thus, Rg6 is the only move that gives black counterchances.
The positions that we considered today were hard. I am using them to prepare for the US Women's Championship that will be in St. Louis starting this coming Monday. So, tune in for some exciting chess as the nation's best men and women compete for the titles of US Champion and Women's US Champion. I will take a little break from writing my weekly column here but promise to come back and supply you with endgame battles from the Championship!