Classical Games Everybody Should Know: Isolated Pawn

Classical Games Everybody Should Know: Isolated Pawn

| 27 | Tactics

Even though the progress of modern chess theory is truly amazing, we can still learn a lot from the old classical games. In the "Classic games" series of articles we analyze the games which were played long time ago but still could benefit modern chess players. In one of the previous articles ( we analyzed the opening set-up which was introduced 128 years ago and yet was good enough to beat the current World Champion Vishy Anand. But as if 128 years was not old enough, let's analyze the games played 177 years ago and still relevant for today's players! If you did quick math and realized that I am talking about the year 1834, then you have probably figured out already that we are going to talk about the famous match La Bourdonnais - McDonnell. As far as I know, it was the first official match of the World's best chess players and today it would be called the World Championship match.  La Bourdonnais won the marathon match pretty convincingly +45 -27 = 13.

This match is best remembered for the amusing position which we already analyzed in one of the previous articles: .

Both opponents were excellent tacticians, but La Bourdonnais won the match mainly because he was a far better strategist than McDonnell. While the latter tried to crush him in wild openings like the King's gambit, La Bourdonnais consistently tortured McDonnell in the closed openings which start with 1.d4. In practically all such games the opponents disputed positions with the Isolated Queen Pawn but with a little twist.  The pawn structure of the standard position with the Isolated Queen pawn looks like this:

We already discussed this kind of position in this article:
But what happens if we move the Black pawn from e6 to c6?  The position will then look like this:
Who benefits more from this subtle change in the Black pawn structure? Of course it all depends on the particular position and the placement of other pieces, but here are two major factors to consider:
1) Black's Bc8 will be easier to develop since it is not blocked by its own e6 pawn.
2) Both White Re1 and Bc4 are not going to be blocked by the same e6 pawn.
The results of the games played by La Bourdonnais and McDonnell show that the activity of White pieces not obstructed by the e6 pawn anymore more then outweigh the mobility of the Bc8.  The games played in modern tournaments only proved such a conclusion. 
Now let's take a look at the games that started the never-ending discussion about the strength and the weakness of the Isolated Queen Pawn.
In the only two games that La Bourdonnais lost there, he played a dubious g2-g4 move after he already castled King's Side.  Of course such a talented tactician as McDonnell would never miss such an opportunity.  In both games he sacrificed a piece on the g4 square and crushed La Bourdonnais.

In the next game La Bourdonnais played the same dubious g4?! move and got crushed again!
(Just like in most of my articles I give you a chance to test your tactical skills, so the games are given as a Quiz.  Please remember that you can always replay the whole game from the first move if you click "Solution" and then "Move list.")
After this painful defeat La Bourdonnais realized that if White wants to play g2-g4, it is better to do so if your King didn't castle King's Side and therefore such a move doesn't compromise the position of your own monarch.
Notice that the absence of the e6 pawn made the White light squared Bishop the main attacking piece!
It is funny that in one of the games McDonnell pushed the 'g' pawn in front of his King. The punishment wasn't as swift as in the games where La Bourdonnais played g2-g4?! in front of his own King, yet the result of the game was never in question. Also this game is special because it was annotated by the great Morphy!
Please notice the instructive method chosen by La Bourdonnais to punish Black for his mistake. Then you will see why it was so easy for me to play the next game where I managed to execute the same ideas (the Ne5 centralization, the break of Black's King's Side by f2-f4, etc.).
As you can see the knowledge of classical games even if they were played over 170 years ago does pay!
to be continued...
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