The Power of Positional Chess, Pt. 3

The Power of Positional Chess, Pt. 3

| 35 | Strategy

phpYy6k1L.pngIn my last article I discussed “fetish chess moves.” I consider a move to be a fetish if it’s out of the ordinary, has serious positional clout, and gives the person who played it such deep pleasure that his reaction can almost be called orgasmic. One of my favorite fetish moves is, in all honesty, not that rare. I’m referring to the time honored “step back boogie” Knight retreat. The idea is to take a Knight that’s not doing much of anything and – starting with a retreat to the back rank – maneuvering it to a far superior home.

This might sound pedestrian, but what makes the step back boogie a fetish is the overwhelming, raw emotion it elicits in the person playing it.

The following example, played by the extremely strong IM Cyrus Lakdawala (who also happens to be one of the finest chess writers in the world – check out his highly instructive “Move by Move” series from Everyman Chess), puts the emotional intensity of the move in perfect perspective.

B. Baker (2339) – Cyrus Lakdawala (2568), [C02] Gambito 545, 2011

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Bd7 5.Nf3 Qb6 6.Na3 cxd4 7.cxd4 Ne7 8.Be2 Nbc6 9.O-O Rc8 10.b3 Nb4 11.Bb2 Ng6 12.g3 Be7 13.h4 

White has just played his pawn to h4, threatening to kick the g6-Knight all over creation. Black ignores his opponent.
13…O-O 14.h5 Nh8

Mr. Lakdawala’s comment here (given to me especially for this column) was, “Oh, the bliss! Look Jeremy, ...Nh8!!”

The retreat to h8 was forced, but what makes it stand out is that Black allowed it. Why? Because he knew that it would fit perfectly into Black’s plans to attack White’s center – he’ll follow with …f7-f6 and …Nf7 when the Knight is chewing on e5 (a key square in the French Defense).

What makes this a fetish isn't the bizarre appearance of the horse on h8, but rather Black’s ecstatic reaction to getting to play it. Oddly, he’s not alone. In most cases such a Knight retreat creates that same euphoric bliss in the person lucky enough to pull a Knight back to the fence, only to have it rush forward and show its true worth.

15.Qd2 f6 16.Rfe1 Nf7 17.Bd1 fxe5 18.Nxe5

18...Nxe5 19.Rxe5

19.dxe5 fails to 19…Rxf2!

19...Bd6 20.Re3 

How do I know about that special kind of rush/joy that comes with a proper step back boogie maneuver? Because I've tossed out many versions of it myself, and if I had to choose between the excitement of stuffing some world-class cheesecake into my mouth (I have the plain Carnegie Deli cheesecake shipped to my house in Los Angeles from New York at least once a year) or doing a frenetic victory dance after a successful step back boogie Knight sortie, I’d go with the Knight maneuver every time. Wait a second...that cheesecake is to die for. Knight move or cheesecake? Arrgghh… let’s call it a draw.
Here's an example from my praxis:
Here’s another example:
Rest assured that it’s not just us non-grandmasters that do this. Even legendary World Champions have gone down that Knight-boogie road: 

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