| 9 | Middlegame



 The following is a game designed to test some of your chess skills, including: opening knowledge, positional understanding, tactical sight, and endgame know-how. The idea is to play through the moves below belonging to an annotated game. YOU WILL NEED A CHESS BOARD AND ANYWHERE FROM A HALF-HOUR TO AN HOUR. I've tried doing it every way but this seems easiest, until this server improves on the functionality of its diagrams. Move through the game as you please, read where you feel necessary. HOWEVER STOP WHEN YOU REACH THE HIGHLIGHTED TEXT! At this juncture you will be asked a question based on the position after the move just played. DO NOT SCROLL DOWN too far, or you will run into the answer for the question. Try to use 5 minutes for each question. There are 13 questions throughout the game, so it should take a maximum of just over an hour. Tally your score at the end, and if you are brave enough, give your rating (either OTB or here at and the number of points you achieved as a response. Good luck!




Spraggett,Kevin (2584) - Mikhalevski,Victor (2551) [C83]

Canadian Open, Kapuskasing (7), 15.07.2004


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6



Question 1: If White wants to stunt Black's active move 9...Bc5 from happening, what can he play here?


















This is not the move we were looking for (0 points) since it allows Black to play 9...Bc5 without immediate repercussion. Spraggett is well known for his home cooking (preparation), and so in this case I think his option to allow the Dillworth Attack came for a reason. No doubt he had a dangerous answer prepared.


9.Nbd2 Is the correct answer (1 point) now Black can attempt to play actively, but runs into some trouble after: 9...Bc5 10.Nxe4 dxe4 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Ng5 Qxd1 13.Rxd1 0–0 14.Nxe4 Bb6 15.Kf1 with a slight advantage to White. Did you remember this from the last one?



Perhaps unsure of the value of the Dilworth, or in an attempt to dodge Spraggett's preparation, Mikhalevski plays this less aggressive looking bishop move in an attempt to complete development.


10.Nbd2 0–0 11.Bc2

Now we have landed in a transposition that could also have occurred after the moves 9.Nbd2 Be7 10.c3 0–0 11.Bc2



Black reinforces his monster knight, at the cost of weakening the light squares around his king. Another serious factor here is the creation of a passed pawn for White, which must now be weighed in all endgame calculations. In a sense this kind of burns Black's bridges to an extent. White has quite a few ways to proceed here, all of which have some merit.


Question 2: How would you continue as White?






(1 point) Spraggett chooses the most statistically powerful choice, and a move which Kortchnoi apparently believes to be best. However, we always have to be a bit sceptical when the practitioner of a certain opening tells us what he thinks is the best antidote to that opening. Would you burst your own balloon?


12.exf6 (1 point) Kortchnoi believes this move to be inferior to the text, but it has proven to give White decent chances over time. 12...Nxf6 Frees up the d-pawn so it can be pushed forward quickly. The battle continues around the d4 square. 13.Nb3 Bg4 14.Qd3 All moves are revolving around the battle for d4. 14...Qd7 15.a4 bxa4 16.Nbd4 Nxd4 17.Nxd4 a3 18.b4 Bh5 was Shirov-Kortchnoi, European Team Championship 2003.


12.Nb3 (1 point) Is the line advocated by Emms' in his Easy Guide to the Ruy Lopez. It is an acceptable attempt for the advantage, though Black has been performing well against this move. 12...Qd7 13.Nfd4 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 c5 15.Nxe6 Qxe6 16.f3 Ng5 17.a4 g6 18.Kh1 Qc6 19.Bxg5 Bxg5 20.f4 Be7 21.Qf3 with a slight edge to white.


12...Nxd4 13.cxd4 c5

Black's abysmal performance with this move at high levels justifies Mikhalevski's over the board realization that the position is a little too loose.


13...Qd7!? was used in Bologan-Shirov, Stepankart 2005 when the game ended in an eventual draw.


Question 3: How does White react to this aggressive push (13...c5)?






(1 point) Now the pawn structure has changed, and d4 becomes even more important (if that is possible) as now it is the square in front of an isolated pawn. White must blockade it and then destroy it to win.




14...Bxc5 15.Nb3 Ba7 16.Nd4 and the players agreed to draw in Korneev-Krasenkow, Spanish Team Championship 2004. However, White has a slight advantage here due to his superior pawn structure and passed pawn.


15.Bxd2 Bxc5

Question 4: How does White continue in his efforts to put the brakes on Black's d-pawn?





(1 point) Still everything hinges on the control of d4! This move prevents Black from being able to push the pesky peon immediately due to his loose bishop on e6.




Mikhalevski is dissatisfied with this choice, but it is not initially obvious why. Can you see any possible tactical weaknesses for the black Queen being here?


Question 5: White needs to continue developing, BUT he must do so while also putting pressure on d5 and controlling d4. How can he do this?









(1 point) This connects the rooks, and also creates a hidden tactical threat.


17.Rc1 (1 point) This move should transpose to the text and also has a tactical response preventing Black from immediately playing ...d4.





17...d4 (VARIATION)

Question 6: Is there an initiative gaining response which says that Black has overstepped his boundaries after he plays 17...d4 (which did not occur in the game)?








18.Ba5! (1 point) This is forcing and proves Black is in immediate trouble. 18...Qxa5 19.Bxe6+ Kh8 20.Rac1 A key move showing that White has the initiative. Black has no time to continue developing, but must keep reacting to Black's threats. 20...Qb6 21.Qd5 Rad8 22.Bd7! Be7 23.Rfd1+- Black's d-pawn is doomed as White invades the space left behind.



Again controlling d4! Black cannot push the pawn since his Queen is then overloaded defending both bishops at once (he would lose one of them).



We will come back to the game in a moment, but for now consider the alternatives 18...Bd4 and 18...d4 which look annoying. Be prepared for a little work here as there is a question for all three of Black’s possibilities which are mentioned here!


18...Bd4 (VARIATION 1) It is important to understand exactly how White was going to meet this testing looking continuation. All of a sudden he finds his center under attack and a pair of his pawns has been forked.


Question 7: How should White answer this threat (after 18...Bd4 variation)?



























19.Bb4! The answer does not lie in simple defensive moves, but in fact in immediate counterplay! This is the complex, often intangible feeling initiative, which so many of us have trouble understanding. White's plan will be to sacrifice his b-pawn to gain immediate activity which should regain the pawn with interest. 19...Rf7 20.Bd6! (1 point if you made it this far, otherwise 0) A powerful interference move which cuts off the black Queen's support of the Be6. You'll never guess which square this affects in the end. Yep, d4. Black is unable to push his pawn onto that square because once again his bishop is hanging. 20...Bxb2 21.Rc2 Bd4 22.Rfc1± (an additional 1 point if you made it this far) Ivanchuk-Ljubojevic, Monte Carlo 1995. Now, though a pawn down, White has threats all over the place. His chief threats are to invade on the c-file, to fork the black Queen and rook, and to win the d5 pawn. Black cannot adequately answer all of these.


19.Bc3 (1 point) This move should be just as sound as 19.Bb4, although it is a great deal less flashy. Play might continue 19...f4 20.Bxd4 Qxd4 21.Rfe1± When White is certainly for choice.



Now set up the position after White’s 18th move (in the game) again. Now what if Black played 18...d4?


18...d4(VARIATION 2)

Question 8: How does this move (18...d4) fail?








19.Bxe6+ (19.Ba5! (1 point) is also just as good. 19...Qxa5 20.Bxe6+ Kh8 21.Rxc5+- White wins.) 19...Qxe6 20.Rxc5 (1 point for making it this far) White wins.



Finally returning to the mainline, we must set-up the position after White’s 18th move in the game and look at the move Mikhalevski played. 18...f4.


Question 9: How should White deal with this (18...f4) move?









(1 point) Just like Spraggett can be away from the board, here he is hell-bent on achieving his goals. He understands that the weak squares in Black's position are easily worth a temporary pawn sacrifice and thus forces the dark-squared bishops off the board.


19.Bxf4? Bd4 causes problems as now Black gains counterplay. 20.Qg3 Bxb2 21.Rc2 Bd4 22.Rfc1 b4 and now compare the activity of White's bishop to what you saw in the variation above which Ivanchuk played.


19...Bxf2+ 20.Qxf2 Qxa5

Question 10: White is down a pawn, so if we were judging on a purely material basis he would be worse. However all things are not equal. White has the initiative! How does he use it?









(1 point) Coming with gain of time!




21...Bg4 Provides no relief from the pressure. 22.h3 Bh5 23.Qd4±


Question 11: After 21...Bc8 How should White continue his initiative, or has it ended already?










(1 point) I hesitate to use phrases like "Passed pawns must be pushed." But here, an isolated White pawn becomes a dynamic strength by moving forward in the position. Now Black is hard-pressed to find a good defensive answer. The simple threat of e7 forking the rooks forces them to scurry about, when the pawns they protect at d5 and f4 quickly become vulnerable.


22.Qd4 (1 point) this is also a strong way to continue piling on the pressure.


22...Rde8 23.Bxd5


Cleive from Sweden correctly points out that the move 23.e7! is even stronger. After 23...Rf5 24.Qc2 double attacks the bishop on c8 and pressures the rook on f5. Play continues 24...Bd7 25.Rd6! and now since White attacks both the rook on f5 and the bishop which protects it, Black must lose a piece. It is curious as to why Spraggett did not find this move. Perhaps the obvious move 23.Bxd5 stood in his way. Another reason could be that after 23...Rxe7 24.Bxd5+ Kh8 he missed "sacrificing"  his queen with 25.Qxf4! which wins instantly. Based on thought patterns of stronger players I am inclined to believe Spraggett did not see 25.Qxf4!, since GMs are not so often distracted by normal moves such as 23.Bxd5 as we are. He would have certainly had 23.e7 as a candidate move.


Black gets his king out of the way of dangerous discovered checks.




Question 12: Now how should white continue?





















(2 points for this beautiful move if and only if, you saw the variation below beginning with 24...Rxe7??) A ferocious weapon that cannot be stopped! Spraggett is on fine form today and pushes home his advantage with this beautiful tactical shot.


24.Qd4 (1 point) I suppose this is alright because it does help White's position, but it misses a big win!



24...Rxe7?? 25.Qxf4 and suddenly mate is unavoidable since Black's rook on f8 is double attacked AND cannot leave the backrank! 25...Rxf4 (25...Rg8 26.Rxc8! Only delays mate a move.) 26.Rxc8+ is mate after Black gives away every single piece!


24...Rf5 25.Rxc8 Rxc8 26.Be6+-


QUESTION 13: After 24...Rf6 we have an important moment. White needs to find a good way to continue piling on the pressure. How would you continue?









(1 point) Best.


25.Rxf6?! gxf6 26.Qxf4? Qb6+! 27.Kh1 Rxe7 Amazingly ends up with White still ahead, but in this terrible variation he has lost his big win.


25...Bg4 26.Rxf6 gxf6 27.Bf7 Bd7 28.Qd4 Kg7 29.Bxe8 Bxe8 30.Qd8

A crushing display by Spraggett!  1–0




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