Learning from the Best

Learning from the Best‎

WIM energia
16 | Middlegame

Recently, I studied GM Viktor Kortschnoj’s book “My 55 Wins with Black” (Russian version of it). I found it to be an excellent learning source. Kortchnoj goes into details of his decision-making process, explains positional concepts, and gives deep analysis of his games. I would like to share a few examples of his play when he faced exchanges. These examples vary in their content: in some of them he exchanged pieces because he was on the defensive side, in some to use his opponent’s weaknesses. I hope you can learn from the examples of play of such a strong grandmaster as much as I did.

This position is defined by its pawn structure. Black has hanging pawns which is a strength in a middlegame but can be an easy target in an endgame due to the possibility of getting an isolated pawn. Black wants to keep as many pieces as possible on the board. This is so because with piece support pawns c and d can be a great strength. C5 would be ideal to play but Nb5 threatening N:a7 would follow. Lets give a word to Kortschnoj: “Because white pieces are concentrated on kingside and because of other tactical possibilities black is willing to exchange black squared bishops. In case of 16.Rac1 there would follow the long planned c6-c5.”



            Black has a little more space in the center due to the e5-pawn. If you look closer all of his pieces target the queenside. The c4 square is weak and ready for penetration. After Nf6 moves and e5, Bg7 would target the b2 square. White’s Nd3 is displaced, Bh4 is out of play. A4 is weaker than a5 because the latter cannot be easily targeted. Kortschnoj comes up with the solution that underlines all of white’s weaknesses.



            White’s position is impressive here. There are three attacking pieces near black’s king plus a super strong e5 pawn. Black is on the defensive here and there are many threats to look out for. With his last move Bb5 white threatens N:d5 or just e6 f:e N:g6. Black found a brilliant exchange operation that made his defense easier.



            White’s position is loose. Two black bishops hit his queenside, c4 is a permanent weakness, Bf4 is unprotected. With his last move Ne5 white sets up a trap that black falls for. Ne5 is aimed to defend the c4-pawn. Black has many continuations here: since there is no threat from white he can continue as he wishes. Kortschnoj makes a mistake of rashness that he attributes to his early years of chess.


As you could see, many of the examples of exchanges required creative thinking. In the third example Kortchnoj had to give up a queen for a couple of pieces to get the initiative. On the other hand, he missed the Bg7 that was creative on Geller’s side in his last game but managed to come back at him with his follow up of Ne3. The exchange of pieces that defend weak squares was a theme featured in the article too, as in the second example. In the first example Kortchnoj went against a well established principle that one should not exchange pieces when having hanging pawns.
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