Brilliant Sustained Defense

| 40 | Middlegame

I would like to show a game in this week’s article which really amazed me when I first saw it. In the 36th Soviet Championship a fairly little-known player Igor Platonov took on the legend of attack, Mikhail Tal.

Playing the Najdorf Sicilian as black, Platonov held his ground and secured excellent control of e5 and queenside counterplay. To pay for this he had to make the normal Najdorf sacrifice – king safety. He had to leave his king in the center where it was vulnerable to whatever blows the Magician from Riga could conjure up. As Tal left his pieces tactically vulnerable in his quest for attack, Platonov managed to cut them down with a spectacular series of pins. Each variation was supported by deep tactics in which his king narrowly escaped. Finally Platonov emerged with an extra piece, but the battle was not yet over. With a great deal of nerve he managed to hold off Tal’s passed pawns and create counterplay against the white king. An exciting end followed with a rare four queens on the board.

What amazed me the most was the ability to find continuous tactical resources, from the beginning of the complications until the last move of the game. Not fearing the famed attacker, Platonov stuck to his positional principles, knowing the concrete variations would back him up. Despite the continuous pressure he was able to find his way through the maze of complications; and finally not to relax until the end of the game.

I was very interested to discover that Platonov had no international title at all (not even IM), although he was a grandmaster of the Soviet Union and played in multiple Soviet championships. He also did not take up chess until he was 24 years old, which may have been one of the reasons he got very few opportunities to play internationally. Just as today, chess federations were only interested in promoting the young talents, thus making the belief that you cannot start chess later in life a self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides Mikhail Tal, he also defeated World Champion Vasily Smyslov. Sadly, in 1994 he was murdered by thieves in his Kiev apartment.

Here is his game with Tal, which took place in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, in 1969:


Quite the incredible battle, wasn't it? To play such a game as Platonov played here you need strong nerves, belief in your position, and unwavering concentration. Even until the very end, the slightest moment of inattention could have let the win escape.

The way the white rooks sat, one square apart, cumbersome and immobilized, reminded me of one of my favorite studies, by Genrikh Kasparian:


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