The Best Moves Never Played - Tactics Part 2
Today we will study games from the past where players used or failed to use tactics to gain a positional advantage or to achieve a draw in a worse position. It is no surprise that the games of Karpov and Petrosian show up as they were the masters of short tactical operations. Although they were considered by many to be positional players, they used small tactics to reach various positional goals in their games. Many of today's examples also feature tactics to improve the position of the worst placed piece on the board.
There are instances in the game when we really want to play a certain move but the lines are messy and require tons of concentration to figure out--and if it is been a long game one can be tired as well. Because of that we often opt for a "safer" choice that looks like an equally good alternative, but our judgment is clouded because we usually want this second move to be as good as the first in order to save energy by not calculating the complicated first option. So going by a "safer" path of minimizing energy one often ends up playing an inferior move and getting the worse game. I suspect something similar to this situation happened in the following game.
White's extra pawn does not mean much because the c-pawn is about to queen. It is white who is on the defensive here and the only chance is to somehow counterattack the black king. Rd7 is a choice that one will see within a few seconds, however there is the possibility of Qxf2, and it is difficult to assess the resulting complications. One has to see the idea of a queen sacrifice and the checkmate threat after Rf8 by black. Another tactical idea is that after the rooks exchange, if white's queen gets to f8 then there would be a checkmate threat on g7. Sure, for a World Champion these tactics are easy to spot, since the only nuisance is whether black can check the white king and then capture the f6-pawn. Still, with diligent calculations one can come to the conclusion that no, it is impossible for black to capture the f6-pawn and that white should hold after Rd7.
In some positions tactics lead to the win of material, but one has to be careful not to overestimate this material advantage. In the following position Portisch tries to simplify the position by going into an endgame with an extra pawn. Black's position ends up slightly worse because white's knight well placed and because white controls the c-file. Going into the endgame black exchanges their only active piece - the queen on f6 but wins the pawn. Petrosian masterly uses the activity of all his pieces to compensate for the missing pawn and brings the game to victory.
Even the best tacticians in the world sometimes miss their opponent's ideas. In the following position the key factor is the poorly placed Bb2. It has no prospects for now. Black's isolated pawn on d5 is a weakness but it holds the Bb2 in place. Tal decided to improve his pawn structure by capturing the knight with the f-pawn. If Tal captured with the queen he would have avoided the pawn break which happened in the game because the knight on f6 would have been defended by the queen. How did Kortschnoj find the pawn break? He just asked himself what was his worst piece and found a way to activate it.
Putting pieces on great squares is sometimes is the main purpose of small tactical operations in the game. In the following rather messy position the knight is under attack. On which square would it be placed ideally? The f4-square looks ideal for the knight: it will defend the g2-square, and attack black's bishop as well as the d3-pawn. In time-trouble white didn't find this maneuver that would have landed him in a superior position.
Even in winning positions one has to be decisive, because playing "safely" sometimes doesn't work. Black is up a pawn in the following position and white has very little compensation with the two bishops. With the next move black attacks the a4-pawn but puts their bishop on a vulnerable position and allows white to attack the weakened kingside dark squares. This could have been avoided if black had found h5!, with a kingside attack. The move played was aimed at improving the light squared bishop:
Today we learned how classical players handled tactics in positional battles, where tactics were used to gain advantages in better piece placement rather than in checkmating attacks. Next week we will look at tactics in modern practice.