Today we continue our topic of classic heritage in modern play and we'll study one of Capablanca's favorite positional methods - restricting the opponent's bishop. We will analyze only one particular instance of this method, when the bishop is locked behind the opponent's pawns and cannot get free. Normally, we expect pawn breaks to free the bishop, but when there are doubled pawns in the position, the pawn break is hard to achieve. This is one example of such pawn structure that we will study today:
Perhaps the most famous example of this method from Capablaca's play is his game against William Winter from Hastings 1919. This example is a crystal-clear illustration of several ideas that work well in these positions. First of all, Capablanca locked the bishop on g3 by placing his pawns on the dark squares: g5-f6-e5. Then he followed up with a pawn break on the other flank of the board. Thus, effectively White played with one piece less, and any piece exchange favored Black as with less pieces the weakness of Bg3 would be felt more.
The second example is against a much stronger opponent: Efim Bogoljubow. As a result, the game was more complex, but we can still see the traces of the ideas from the above game. Here Capablanca had to overextend a bit to lock the bishop on h7, he weakened his kingside and had to give up control of the dark squares. Black had blocked the only passed pawn and had an extra passed pawn on the a-file.
Black' position was even favorable for a while. However, as the queens were gone and the white king could safely participate in the game, the inability of Bh7 to participate became evident. In this game we can see Capablanca playing for a long-term advantage, temporarily weakening his king and hoping to exchange queens soon. Later on he used the same method from the game with Winter of creating a passed pawn on the opposite wing, to win the game.
Sometimes the winning plan involves creating a passed pawn on the same flank as where the locked bishop is. In this scenario, the stronger side wants to improve the pieces as much as possible before the decisive pawn break. With this break, the stronger side can also exchange the locked bishop as the following game shows, because it acts as a defender.
Creating a cage for the opponent's bishop takes patience and wit. In the next examplem GM Swiercz took his time preparing to lock the opponent's bishop behind the pawns. 30... g5 was the first preparation move and 37... e5! was the move that completed the plan. Along the way, White could have prevented this plan by getting the bishop out of the danger zone. It seems that GM Zvjaginsev underestimated the danger of having a locked bishop on g3.
Recently, I experienced the idea of locking the bishop in my own practice in the US-China Match. The following example shows that with a closed center, weakening the king is not as dangerous. The pawn structure reminds us of the Capablanca-Bogoljubow game but in my game I had more control over the dark squares and the b-file, hence there was not much fight left after the bishop was locked, as my opponent did not get any advantages in return.
The last example is a treat from Kramnik's practice, which he annotated himself. I kept most of his annotations in the example and have not added much to it as Kramnik does an excellent job describing his ideas. (The source of the annotations is CBM 146, published 18.01.2012.)
In the first stage of the game, the 14th World Champion locks Nigel Short's bishop on the queenside. Then he exchanged all the rooks and proceeded to create play on the kingside as Capablanca has shown in his games. About the endgame, Kramnik, said:"In practical terms Black is playing a two bishops versus one ending. I am particulary strong in such endgames :)".
Next week we will continue with the topic of classic heritage in modern play.