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Exploring One of the Most Mysterious Moves in Chess

  • IM Silman
  • | Mar 21, 2013
  • | 18865 views
  • | 26 comments

In an earlier four-part article we saw how powerful the Classic Bishop Sacrifice (sacrificing one’s Bishop against h7) can be. However, now and then we see games where the Bishop is tossed to h7 (not sacrificing anything at all) just for the apparent joy of giving check. Why would someone do that? Is there some grand idea hidden here, or is it just a random “patzer sees check, patzer gives check” moment?

Actually, there is (sometimes) a good reason to throw in that check. In fact, the Bh7+ can prove useful for both attack and defense (it can even help your endgame chances by pushing the enemy King away from the center), depending (of course) on the position.

Our first example ( Gilles Miralles – Eric Prie, Marseille 1990) illustrates how Bh7+ can aid White in defense:

White got less than nothing from the opening and now he’s a tad worse due to the weakness of c4 and the fact that his King is still in the center.  Though White appears to be aggressively posted on the kingside, he doesn’t have a real attack, so the time has come to fix his position bit by bit and, eventually, equalize.

White doesn’t have to worry about …hxg5 since opening the h-file is too risky for Black. But c4 is hanging. How should White deal with that threat? In the present case, 16.Bh7+! was played, and it’s clearly correct. Why? After 16…Kh8 17.Bd3 white’s made a couple of small gains in comparison with the direct 16.Bd3: First off, after 16.Bh7+ Kh8 17.Bd3 taking on g5 is worse than ever for Black since White would recapture with check (17…hxg5?? 18.hxg5+ Kg8 19.Bh7+ Kh8 20.gxf6 Nxf6 21.Bxf6 Bxf6 22.Bg8+ Kxg8 23.Qh7 mate). Secondly, black’s f8-Rook was able to move to d8 or e8 if the need arose, but with the King on h8 the f7-pawn would hang. These things aren’t game changers, but they do inconvenience Black and, as a result, make white’s defense easier. The game continued:

17…Ne5 18.Be2 Qb7 and now 19.Bxe5 (White played the inferior 19.Rh2?) 19…dxe5 20.Nf3 Ne4 (20…e4 21.Nd2 [21.Nd4 allows …Nf6-d7-e5 hitting c4 and eventually heading for d3. 21.Nd2 ties Black down to the defense of e4 and suddenly entertains ideas of g2-g4-g5 or, if Black stops this with …h6-h5, then 0-0 should equalize.] 21.Qb3 Rfd8 22.0-0 (22.Nxe5?? Bf6) 22…Nd2 23.Nxd2 Rxd2 24.Rad1! and the game’s more or less equal since 24…Rxe2 runs into 25.Qd3 Rxf2 (25…Rb2 26.Qc3 Ra2 27.Qb3 Re2 28.Qd3 and Black has to accept the draw or sacrifice on f2) 26.Rxf2 Bxh4 30.Rc2 and white’s okay.

The first time that my attention was drawn to the Bh7+ move was during my Tigran Petrosian phase (When I was a kid, I had an Alekhine phase, a Lasker phase, a Capablanca phase, a Botvinnik phase, a Keres phase, a Tal phase, and a Fischer phase – LOTS of phases which allowed me to study lots of styles!), where my mind was blown by Petrosian’s genius in the following game (I had the moves covered up and was trying to replicate all of white’s decisions):

Black has just captured white’s d4-pawn and now White has to decide which recapture gives him the most for his money. I looked at them all:

* 15.Nxd4? Bxh2+! 16.Kxh2 Qh4+ 17.Kg1 Qxe4.

* 15.Bd4 just didn’t feel right. It’s okay, but after 15…Nf6 Black doesn’t seem to be suffering too badly.

* 15.exd4 wasn’t optimal since 15…Nf6 16.Bd3 Bg4 is annoying, while 16.Bf5 trades off a key attacker and won’t prove bothersome for Black.

* 15.Rxd4 was the move I eventually went for since it hits black’s Bishop and, in many lines, can swing over to the kingside along the 4th rank. I have to admit that I didn’t analyze too much, and now I see that all sorts of crazy stuff is going on! A quick sample: 15…Nf6 16.c5! Nxe4 17.cxd6 Bf5 18.d7 Re7 (18…Re6 19.Rfd1 leaves Black paralyzed since his Queen can’t move and let the Rook enter the game) 19.Nh4! Bh7 20.Rfd1 Nf6 21.Nf5 Re5

 

22.Nxh6+!! gxh6 23.Qc3 and the mix of that “baby Queen” on d7 and incipient death down the a1-h8 diagonal gives Black zero hope of survival.

Nasty stuff, which makes me think that after 15.Rxd4 Black should give 15…Qe7 a try, though White remains better.

In any case, I was sure that 15.Rxd4 was Petrosian’s choice and was shocked when 15.Bh7+! turned out to be the move! I hadn’t even considered it! What does this do? I was so taken aback that I stopped my “guess the moves” exercise and looked at the whole game:

15…Kh8 16.Rxd4 Bc5 17.Rf4

Ah! By making the King move to h8 White is able to gain time by attacking the undefended f7-pawn. Then I noticed that 16.Rxd4 Be7 would have been even worse due to that same f7-weakness: 17.Ne5! Rf8 18.Nxd7 Bxd7 19.Rfd1, 1-0. Cool.

17…Qe7 18.Re4!

Chasing the enemy Queen to a passive square on either d8 or f8. What really hit me though, was that really beautiful (and odd) tripling on the b1-h7 diagonal with Queen, Rook, and Bishop! I wasn’t sure it was going to do anything, but it sure looked good!

18…Qf8 19.Rh4!

Three Rook moves in a row. Petrosian’s gone Rook crazy! And now I saw the other point of 15.Bh7+: Black’s King was herded onto the vulnerable a1-h8 diagonal and now, as a result, Rxh6 is threatened! At this point I had fallen in love with 15.Bh7+.

19…f6

19…Nf6 gets sliced and diced by 20.Rxh6!

20.Bg6

Black’s kingside light-squares are gaping wounds. The game is already decided.

20…Re7 21.Rh5

Freeing up the h4-square for white’s Knight. After an eventual Nh4 the horse will hop into f5 or g6.

21…Bd6 22.Rd1 (nothing wrong with 22.Nh4) 22…Be5 23.Ba3 c5 (Now the d5-square has been turned into a hole.) 24.Nh4, 1-0.

Why did Black give up? White threatens to win the house by moving his Bishop followed by Ng6+. 24…Qd8 allows both 25.Bxc5 or 25.Be4. 24…Nb6 allows Bxc5. 24…Re6 allows 25.Bf5 threatening both Bxe6 and Ng6+. 24…Bc7 25.Be4 is devastating. Finally 24…Qg8 25.Bh7! (25.Be4 is also good) 25…Qxh7 26.Ng6+ when 26…Qxg6 27.Qxg6 is hopeless, as is 26…Kg8 27.Nxe7+ Kh8 28.Ng6+ Kg8 29.Rxe5! fxe5 30.Qf5 and that’s all she wrote.

Today’s puzzles will be a bit different than usual. I’ll first offer diagrams, and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to say “yes” or “no” (or give some other basic answer) to whatever question I ask (it will always be about the Bh7+ move).

Once you answer the questions, I’ll give the continuations of these games and you can see how you did.

PUZZLE ONE: White doesn’t want to give up his Bishop by allowing …Nxd3. Should he move it to h7 or e2?


PUZZLE TWO: If White moves his dark-squared Bishop to b2 and Black plays 18...Bxc4, does 19.Bh7+ slap Black for his greed?

PUZZLE THREE: White can move his Rook to safety or play 16.Ng5 and go after the h7-pawn. Which one would you choose?

PUZZLE FOUR: Is it possible for White to get in his beloved Bh7+?

PUZZLE FIVE: Is 15.Bxh7+ the best move?

PUZZLE SIX: Should white's d3-Bishop make the leap to h7?

PUZZLE SEVEN: White has a dangerous attack brewing but black’s forces are also very well placed. Is 18.Bh7+ the right move here?

ANSWERS TO PUZZLES

PUZZLE ONE: White doesn’t want to give up his Bishop by allowing …Nxd3. Should he move it to h7 or e2?

Answer: 16.Be2 is correct!

PUZZLE TWO: If White moves his dark-squared Bishop to b2 and Black plays 18...Bxc4, does 19.Bh7+ slap Black for his greed?

Answer: Yes, 18...Bxc4 allows White to do all sorts of scary stuff to Black!


PUZZLE THREE: White can move his Rook to safety or play 16.Ng5 and go after the h7-pawn. Which one would you choose?

Answer: 16.Ng5 is crushing!

PUZZLE FOUR: Is it possible for White to get in his beloved Bh7+?

Answer: Yes it is!



PUZZLE FIVE: Is 15.Bxh7+ the best move?

Answer: No, it's tempting but probably a bad idea.

PUZZLE SIX: Should white's d3-Bishop make the leap to h7?

Answer: Yes, it wins on the spot!

PUZZLE SEVEN: White has a dangerous attack brewing but black’s forces are also very well placed. Is 18.Bh7+ the right move here?

Answer:  No, there’s no real reason to play that move. Instead, the obvious 18.Qh5 kept white’s options open.

Comments


  • 15 months ago

    Kasvarof

    Thanks Silman. It is great article. I agree with FM Boorchess, it is a kind of higher lesson from Master.  :)

  • 15 months ago

    MiguelangelBasantes

    You guys HAVE to watch this chess review, it's hilarious.

    http://www.collegehumor.com/embed/6882255/sarcastic-review-of-chess

  • 15 months ago

    Jitesh

    In the very first diagram - why white got less than nothing from opening?

    White's bishops are quite active - none of the pieces seem blocked.

  • 15 months ago

    cwfrank

    Check!

    Love this move.

    Did one just the other day:

    White: Early in the game: Queen's gambit.  Backward bishop ploy to open up the rook's pawn.  

    Black eventually castled.

    Queen behind bishop in lower right quadrant, knight out of the way (not on f6 or h5)... check!

    Bg8 (check from rook, no option but to take the B).

    Qh7++

  • 15 months ago

    VeaceslaA

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 15 months ago

    chessplayer3060

    Great article Silman,splendid lessons!

  • 15 months ago

    amir_najafi20

    ghashange!

  • 15 months ago

    Pete_the_Pirate

    loved the classic bishop sac articles and loved this. Thanks

  • 15 months ago

    samuelmbrad

    What an interesting article, wow

  • 15 months ago

    ImmortaLwOckEeZ

    nice article :D

  • 15 months ago

    Martin0

    Great article! I feel like this article was made for my level or above. Maybe not very helpful for the average reader, but excellent for me. I think I will reread it in the future to see if I can get the puzzles correct next time.

  • 15 months ago

    linrek

    I thought Kasparovs famous Bh7+ game should be here. I can't remember who he played but it was at the end of his career. :)

  • 15 months ago

    PRILSTONE

    nice article. thought provoking.hehehe

  • 15 months ago

    Drummy49

    If you enjoy these articles, you might consider picking up IM Silman's "How to Reassess your Chess". It will change the way you think/play about the game.

  • 15 months ago

    Newba

    that's SO hard.

  • 15 months ago

    FM Boorchess

    This was some "Next Level" chess education!

  • 15 months ago

    CP6033

    exalent article

  • 15 months ago

    spanish_innovations

    I hope you don't mind me sharing this one replete with diagram.

  • 15 months ago

    sryiwannadraw

    thanks

  • 15 months ago

    StevieBlues

    In the Petrosian vs Taimanov game, why 17. RF4!)? All it appears to do is give black more options.  Am I missing something here?

    And thanks again Mr. Silman, I truly look forward to every post with your name on it.

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