A chess game normally consists of 5 stages: the fundamental three (opening, middlegame, and endgame), and the transition periods between these. I have been told (so I do not take credits for this line myself) that you should spend about the same proportions of your study time time for each of these five stages.
It happens to be so that in training, many players tend to spend about 100% of their time on the study of chess openings and tactics. There are many examples of players with a good playing strength who appear to lack fundamental endgame knowledge or technique, and play a winning position poorly to a loss.
Also, players who hardly practice their positional chess might find themselves looking for things that just aren't there, and you might be tempted to set off for a fruitless Grail quest.
This blog entry is not going to demonstrate an example of poor endgame theory. The title might give you the impression that this blog post is dedicated to the worshipping of opening theory. Frankly, it's neither of these two.
Its meaning is to bring to your attention the second part of a chess game:
The transition from opening to middlegame
A good opening repertoire will consist of two key elements:
1) Remembering the starting moves and the ideas that lay behind them (without knowing why you play certain moves, getting side-tracked from the main lines may well lead you into a jungle of variations you don't know);
2) Getting accustomed to the normal types of middlegame positions that arise from the key positions of your repertoire, and how to deal with these.
The following game is played by a well-known Norwegian player, who, when this game was being played, had not yet passed the 2300-border. The game is relatively short, but nevertheless very instructive (and it's one of my pet variations as White - the Grand-Prix variation)
Magnus Carlsen (2250) - Falko Bindrich (2172)
World Championship U12, Heraklio (Greece) 2002
1. e2-e4 c7-c5
2. Nb1-c3 d7-d6
And there we have it - the Grand-Prix!
3. ... Nb8-c6
4. Ng1-f3 g7-g6
5. Bf1-b5 Bf8-g7
White has completed his kingside development and is ready to take action.
Q1: What move would you play in this position and why? Take into account White's setup and plans.
A1: White has just played his cards. He's not going to play in the centre with d2-d4, as is normally the case in Open Sicilians. The GP-variation, however, is a variation of the Closed Sicilian.
White wishes to demolish Black's pawn structure with 7. Bxc6 (the rest of the idea behind this move will come later).
The best move Black can play is to break the pin by means of 6. ... Bd7.
Bindrich, nowadays a grandmaster as well, enjoys Sicilian struggles, especially the Najdorf variation. Maybe as a consequence of this (and probably due to his age and consequently his lack of experience back when this game was played as well) he went for a stereotype inaccuracy here:
6. ... a7-a6?!
7. Bb5xc6+ b7xc6
Q2: Okay, we have damaged Black's pawn structure. How to make use of this?
A2: As the opening nears its fulfilment, both sides have to put their pieces to the area where the action is taking place.
It is critical to understand that Black's pawn on c6 is by no means weak (yes, it's undefendable by pawns, but it is easy to see that White can never get to it). So in order to benefit from Black's weakened pawn structure, the following should be done: Black must be obliged to move his d-pawn, for that would weaken the pawn on c5. It is rather easy to see this pawn can be attacked from many different angles.
So in order to make use of Black's weakened pawn structure, White should prepare the thrust e4-e5.
White now threatens the thrust as discussed before.
Q3: How should Black reply?
A3: The best way to compensate for a positional deficit is by dynamic means. I think Black may have tried 8. ... Bg4, or 8. ... d5 9. e5 Bg4!? here. My idea is that after the mandatory e7-e6 in some time, Black will not be fed up with a poor bishop. Though I have my doubts that this will save Black from losing a pawn eventually, it is better than the move Black played in the game:
8. ... e7-e6??
9. ... d6-d5
A note to my dear readers:
If you have doubled pawns on c6 and c5, then d6-d5 is the move you NEVER want to make.
But what else could Black play here?
Q4: How should White go for the c-pawn here?
A4: White can adopt an idea from the Sämisch-variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence here.
After the moves 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 b6, Black will opt for the pawn on c4. See the diagram below.
This variation may continue 6. f3 Ba6 7. e4 Nc6 8. Bd3 Na5 9. Qe2. White manages to maintain his pawn on c4, but Black comfortably equalizes after 9. ... Qc8, intending to set up a positional "vice-grip on the light squares" (Alburt).
What enhances White's position in the game compared to Black's in the NID, is the little bugger on e5, which prevents the setup with Bd6 and Qe7, and in the mean time prevents an idea like Ng8-f6-d7.
Carlsen, either already familiar with this method, or clever and having found the idea himself (I for one cannot be sure which one), plays the same method:
10. b2-b3! Ng8-h6
10. ... Ne7 11. Na4 Qa5 12. d3! (this small move is very important for White, as Black wishes to play c5-c4) Nf5 13. Ba3 Bf8 would boil down to the same concept as the game.
11. Bc1-a3 Bg7-f8
12. Nc3-a4 Qd8-a5
Here we have the importance of that little pawn move.
13. ... Ra8-b8
Q5: How to consume the c-pawn in the safest way?
A5: As the game continues:
Very instructive to see: chain down the opponent's weaknesses.
The move also serves another purpose: it prevents defence from b5.
14. ... Nh6-f5
This seals the fate for Black's c-pawn.
Q6: From a practical point of view, what would you do?
A6: You may wish to resign here, or you may try to play on the endgame a pawn down - you never know if your opponent will overplay his hand.
Black, however, because of his youth enthousiasm, played a move that aimed to resolve his pawn structure. Nevertheless, given Black's lack in development, the weaknesses in his pawn structure, and his material deficit, it is practically the same as resigning. I'm not going to put question marks at this move - the game is pretty much over here. Still, nothing is as difficult as winning a won game.
15. ... Rb8-b4
16. Ba3xb4 c5xd4
White opens up the position - as one should do with more rooks on the board.
17. ... e6xd5
Forcing yet another weakness: the further the pawns advance, the weaker they become.
18. ... c6-c5
19. Qe1-f2 d5-d4
There are weaknesses in Black's pawn structure again - time to obtain them.
20. ... Bc8-b7
The bishop obtains the long diagonal and prevents 21. Ne4. But e4 is not the only weakness in Black's structure...
21. Nd2-c4 Qa5-c7
In view of the threat Nd6+, and because Black's position is hopeless in any case, Black resigned here.