Smooth Criminal, Part Three.

  • GM Gserper
  • | Jun 10, 2012

Before we continue the discussion that we started here and here, let me answer a concern some of the readers expressed in their comments. Let me quote one: "The article began with a quote about a passed pawn, and the title is about this quote about passed pawns....but there is not even one example with a passed pawn whatsoever". This is an absolutely correct comment, because by definition a passed pawn is a pawn that has no opponent's pawns on the same file or adjacent files. Believe me I know the definition.

Yet indeed all the examples in my article are about pawns that have no pawns just in front of them but have pawns on the adjacent files. To explain the reason, let me tell you that "My System" was one of my first chess books.  It was a difficult read for a 9-year-old but it was considered a must and you couldn't call yourself a real chess player in the old days of the Soviet Union if you hadn't read the 'Bible' (that is how "My System" was called sometimes). In the chapter about passed pawns (where Nimzowitch introduces his famous  "A passed pawn is a criminal which should be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, such as police surveillance, are not sufficient.") he makes the point that it is not enough just to control the square in front of such a pawn, you need to actually put a piece (preferably a Knight) to completely blockade the pawn.  One of the examples he gives as illustration for the concept is the next game which made a very strong impression on me:

It is not a misprint, Nimzowitch indeed gives a double exclam to the 6.Ne3!! move. He explains the reasons for the move and then concludes: " Even if the whole World plays 6.Nc3 in this position, I still believe that 6.Ne3!! is the best move according to the requirements of the System".  I was so impressed by the magical words of Nimzowitch that I even tried 6.Ne3 in a couple of blitz games against young Vassily Ivanchuk (the fact that I lost those games says mostly that Ivanchuk was a much better blitz player than me and has nothing to do with the strength of this move).

Anyway, the e4 pawn is not a passed pawn and yet Nimzowitch used this game as an example.  I think he used the same reason that I did. The reality is that in majority of the games you don't have a pure passed pawn until the late middle game or even endgame. In most of the opening/middle game positions you have just a pawn that has no opponent's pawns in front of it.  That's why I am mostly talking about the spirit of the famous Nimzowitch quote rather than following the exact definition.  I hope it helps to resolve the possible confusion.

Anatoly Karpov in his prime was probably the best positional chess player in history. Let's see how he treats the "criminal" in his games.

This is a nice little combo where the 'criminal' breaking free could quickly decide the game, except Smyslov missed it too and played 15.Bg5?

The next game was played in the first tournament in which Karpov participated after becoming the World Champion:

The critical moment of the game happened here:

Portisch has spent an hour calculating all the variations. But at the end, even though he saw the main line of the combination, he decided to play what looked like a simpler line, but missed a tricky defense by Karpov:

Of course Karpov learned his lesson from these games and later he became one of the best experts in this kind of position.

to be continued...


  • 4 years ago


  • 4 years ago


      Look at the position of the Smyslov/Karpov game after 13 ... Rc8 and the Portisch/Karpov game after move 14 ... Rc8. It's white's turn to move in both but black has effectively lost a whole move in the Smyslov vs. Karpov move order.

      This must be an inferior opening for black, right? Black can't give away a move in the opening.

      Thanks very much for the article.

  • 4 years ago


    This is a great series, very well done.

  • 4 years ago


    Thanks for your teaching.

  • 4 years ago


    Thank You for the great articles that make some complicated things much clearer!

  • 4 years ago

    NM GargleBlaster

    Nice series/article!

  • 4 years ago


    the best...Cool

  • 4 years ago


    Very informative. Please continue to write more articles.

  • 4 years ago

    FM djano

    I checked and I sure that GM is right, fast every game on high level starts with 6.Nc3 instead of 6.Ne3 (very interesting) but why not after 6..c6 play 7.c4!? (ok maybe Bishop is better on b3 than e2, and then push c4)

    Here is the best rated (2575)  game after 6.Ne3 (but as Black played maybe not good Player..)

  • 4 years ago


    I've read all of these articles and I hope you continue to post more. Very well explained and instructional.Smile

  • 4 years ago

    GM Gserper

    Dear Elroch,

    Thank you for your kind words!

    In my opinion 6.Ne3 is not a bad move for sure, but I don't think that it is as strong as great Nimzowitch thought it was...

    In mid eighties I was able to finish ahead of Ivanchuk in a number of junior tournaments (like, for example the National Championship 1984 and the team tournament 1987), but overall his results were better. And don't get me started on his blitz games.  There you could see that the guy was genius and I was no match to him in blitz...

  • 4 years ago


    Very interesting, Gregory. But I take the view that while Nimzovitch's 6.Ne3 is a beautiful, purposeful, thematic positional move, it is objectively a rather bad move because the cost is too high. As a result it is fair to place part of the blame for your blitz losses on it. (For weaker players the effect on the expected result would be less).

    Do you disagree?

  • 4 years ago


    nice article!

  • 4 years ago


    Fantastic article! 27.Re3! (symslov-Karpov,Leningrad - 1971) reveals symslov's beautiful positional style.Not giving an inch to your opponent.

  • 4 years ago


    nice article

    it's very hard i really need to work on position. i solved just one

  • 4 years ago


    Excellent article! I really need to work on learning when to push that d pawn!

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