In this week's edition of my "Without the Lady" column, I will be showing an interesting game I played last year against the young Filipino GM Wesley So. Despite the early exchange of queens, the game was razor-sharp - imbalanced in terms of structure, activity, and material. Yet these imbalances remained in a form of balance, counteracting each other, until the very end of the game when the complications, by their own accord, simplified to a drawn position.
This game took place in the fifth round of the Quebec Open, in Montreal 2012. At this point I was in good shape in the tournament, having beaten GM Reynaldo Vera in the previous round. The game began with a King's Indian Defense. After the game, when we were analyzing, Wesley So said, "so you like to play King's Indian, huh?" At the time I certainly did, but in general I am not so sure. It's a constant struggle with me, what to play against 1.d4. I recently described the King's Indian to a non-chess-playing friend as the "dark and treacherous vampire-type opening".
Anyway, here is how the game began, but we will be focusing on what happens after the exchange of queens, since that is the topic of my column.
The resulting queenless middlegame is extremely unbalanced. In fact, at the time I considered that I stood better. Optimism in chess is great and really great and can help you to play good moves, so in fact evaluating your position as a little better than it actually is can perhaps help, because you will find your hidden resources. But objectively Black doesn't stand better.
The first thing you might notice is that both sides have passed pawns. While Black's is more advanced, it is well blockaded and might come under attack. While Black can protect it by ...f4, he is loathe to do that since it will block more lines for the dark-squared bishop and take all the tension out of the kingside. White's passed a-pawn, on the other hand, is more healthy, but not immediately annoying. Additionally, if it can be blocked on a2 it can become weak.
Black has the two bishops. Possibly this was a big reason for my optimism - people who play the King's Indian tend to get a little worked up when they get the opponent's dark-squared bishop. Of course, the two bishops are hardly tearing the board apart at this point, and Black's unopposed dark-squared bishop is quite blocked in. The main advantage White's missing bishop confers on Black is excellent outpost squares on the d-file. Black can place a rook on d4 or possibly d2, and White can hardly exchange it. This gives Black the chance to control the d-file - a major factor.
On the other hand, Black suffers from a very bad knight on e7 - a typical occurrence in this variation of the King's Indian. White, meanwhile, will have a strong knight coming to c4, and Black's c6-pawn could also become weak. A possible plan of a4 followed by b5 could be very strong for White.
Thus, the battle lines are drawn. White has some long-term advantages, if he could consolidate his position. Black must use the dynamic factors in his favor to create immediate problems - in particular, the activity of the rook coming to d4, putting pressure laterally on b4 and e4, the potential activity of the two bishops, and possible pressure on the a- and b- files.
In a short time the picture has changed dramatically. Black has sacrificed the passed e3 pawn, but now all of his pieces (in particular, the knight which used to be the worst piece) are working, laying siege to the white position. The white pieces are passively placed, but they are still tricky - when there are many pieces and few pawns, tactics abound. The black king is also not so safe. I felt that there should "be something" for Black here, and was playing for a win. So defended correctly and the tactics swept the pieces off the board, resulting in a drawn position.
Thus we can see how an extremely unbalanced endgame can be - in fact - balanced and equal. Each side plays the best cards that they have in the position, and when those cards cancel each other out, equality is the result.