Heritage in Modern Play, Part 1

Heritage in Modern Play, Part 1

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We are starting new series of articles that will cover the theme of classical chess heritage in the modern play. Most good chess players had to study the games of classics and former world champions to learn the tactical and strategic ideas. These are important games to study because one can see how the ideas were born and evolved over time, and understand how to play typical positions.

Garry Kasparov’s series My Great Predecessors is probably the best reference that combines all the important ideas developed over the course of the last century. Here we will take one specific idea at a time, and see it being implemented in modern games. Most ideas covered here will feature a typical position or common plan, and will be of strategic nature. The series will span about 6-7 articles.

Today we will start with the so-called theme “Smyslov’s Battery”. This is a set-up when a bishop is in front of a queen on the long diagonal, instead of the more common set-up where the queen is in front. Having the bishop first allows for greater flexibility as it can attack minor pieces and can be exchanged.

We will start with a classic Smyslov game, and move on to see how this idea was used in modern play.

In the game Smyslov used the Q+B battery to paralyze Black’s kingside and then pushed the pawns on the queenside to disable that flank too. Black effectively had no active plan and had to stick to passive defense. White, due to better placed pieces and more space, eventually converted the advantage.

In the example from modern play that we will look at, White uses the battery to force Black to close the center. Black does not concede the center but rather uses the f6-e5 pawn chain to counter White’s battery. White has no choice but to relocate his bishop, since it is pointless to have the bishop and queen hitting the well-defended e5-pawn. Instead, White builds his play around light squares.

This position came from a Ruy Lopez and has very generic features common to this opening. White managed to transfer the knight to e3 from where it can hop to g4 or f5 and at the same time it controls the important d5-square. White also put pressure on the always weak in Ruy Lopez f7-pawn.

The position remains equal and it was equal throughout the game so a draw is a natural conclusion. However, from a maneuvering point of view the game is far from boring. Veselin Topalov used Smyslov’s Battery to put pressure on the black center. Vassily Ivanchuk did not concede the center, which would have been devastating for the f7-pawn. Black’s defense is really instructive.

The next example shows how a bishop can clear the way for a queen when Smyslov’s Battery is present.

Smyslov’s battery | Photo Wikipedia

No doubt that from all the modern chess players, Garry Kasparov had a first-hand classic chess education — learning from the 6th World Champion and one of the most prominent classics, Mikhail Botvinnik. In this game he used the battery to win over the dark squares and then trade the dark-squared bishop to have better attacking chances on those weakened squares. The queen followed the bishop’s footsteps and landed a juicy position first on d4 and then on c5.

The following position is from the very recent World Cup. Teimour Radjabov clearly studied Smyslov’s Battery and masterly implemented it in the game. He used this tool to put the white pieces on an uncomfortable positions and then exchanged it because the bishop had accomplished what was needed. It became a turn of c4 and d5-pawns to control the light squares.

When attacking we typically prefer the queen being in front of the bishop to threaten checkmate. However, having the bishop positioned ahead of the queen on the long diagonal can be very advantageous too. For example, if White uses a minor piece to block the diagonal we can trade the bishop to eliminate the defender and keep the queens on the board. In the next game, Alexander Morozevich’s attacking effort is highly instructional.

Next week we will continue with this theme.


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