To Master an Opening You Need to Embrace Defeat!
The following game (played in an over-the-board tournament) by Chess.com member pogorelich is remarkable. It not only offers us incredible tactics (most of which were missed by both sides) and amazing structures, but also lessons on how to study an opening and the psychology that goes into a true understanding of the opening positions you will face.
Of course, this is not a game for beginners. In fact, the tactics would drown many grandmasters. But everyone of every rating will enjoy the violent variations and puzzles – just because you wouldn’t find most of this stuff in your own games doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the rich, mega-complicated positions that flow by!
But the real instruction is in the “little things,” and I’ll highlight those moments so you don’t miss them.
For those that don’t care about heavy opening theory, don’t despair! After I give some insight into these KID lines, the really cool stuff will start! Trust me!
Enjoy yourself – you’re about to witness a truly epic battle.
J. B. (1756) – pogorelich (1760)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6
Black’s move (7...Nc6) compels (or at least attempts to compel) White to close the center, which then reassigns the battleground to the wings. Another, very different way to handle this opening is to open the center and strive for a complex, tension-filled positional/tactical fight. Here’s an example (note how Black ultimately takes over the dark-squares, leading to a smooth strategic victory):
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 1
You can be the greatest attacking player on Earth, but you still need to know how to cultivate “small” positional plusses. In the case of the above game, this was the creation of dark-square weaknesses in the enemy camp – look at the position after Black’s 29...Qe5 for picture-perfect domination of e5 and f4!
The main move, but those that wish to avoid the insane tactics that this line generates often try more strategic moves like 8.Be3 and 8.dxe5.
We’ve now reached one of the most complex, feared systems in chess: the Mar Del Plata variation. To see some of the ideas, history, and classic games in this incredible line, check out grandmaster Bryan Smith’s 2012 article, appropriately titled, Mar Del Plata.
As grandmaster Smith’s article shows, the main lines unfold after 9.Ne1 and 9.Nd2 when White will overrun the queenside with b2-b4 followed at some point by c4-c5. In general, White will eventually claim queenside victory. Fortunately for Black, his strategy is a tad less subtle: he wants to fillet White’s king! To accomplish this, he’ll move his f6-knight and play ...f7-f5 which gains space and gets the f8-rook into the action.
This attack by Black is so scary that many players took up 9.b4, which is known as the Bayonet Attack. At one point White was doing so well with 9.b4 that hysteria set in and some viewed the KID to be unsound.
The problem is that White, with 9.b4, found ways to generate not only his usual queenside play, but also central play. To make matters worse, the positions were new and strange and complex, and Black often had trouble adjusting to these alien situations.
Here are two examples:
This used to be played all the time, but the Kramnik examples show why those playing Black looked elsewhere. 9...a5 came into vogue and is still a fully playable choice, but the positions still don’t please the “seek and destroy” fans of typical KID play.The obvious choice, in true Mar Del Plata style, is 9...Ne8 intending to ignore White’s queenside demonstration and get ...f7-f5 in as quickly as possible. But it had a somewhat dubious reputation, and was generally spurned.
Mar del Plata, Varese beach | Photo Wikipedia
Then along came Nakamura, who wasn’t happy with 9...Nh5 and decided to leap into the fire and embrace 9...Ne8. His results speak for themselves:
Note how both sides made many errors in the Anand - Naka game. The reason for this is that these lines are so complex that it's almost impossible to play them with total accuracy. Keep this in mind when you see the mistakes in our main game - if these two titans can't keep up, there's no way lesser mortals will play error free chess.
And finally three puzzles based on a game (Andreas Hagen (2418) – Krisztian Szabo (2541), Budapest 2012) that featured an improvement on the Anand - Nakamura game.
Finally the brilliant end of the aforementioned Andreas Hagen – Krisztian Szabo game.
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 2
Okay, we’re going to leave heavy theory behind now. From here on you’ll notice one unifying error by both sides: They prepare to do something but suddenly look elsewhere and fail to do it! In such a sharp position, you have to stand up for your rights and follow through with your plans. Speed is imperative, lest the opponent get his stuff going before you do! DON’T BE DISTRACTED and let fear freak you out! If the opening(s) you play are more than you can handle, play a different opening!
An interesting move. The idea is to meet 10...Nf4 with 11.Bxf4 followed by Rad1, c5, and e5 turning the center into a tidal wave of pawn advances. For example: 10...Nf4 11.Bxf4 exf4 12.Rad1 h6 (intending ...g5 and ...Ng6) 13.c5 g5 14.e5 dxe5 15.d6 with sharp, interesting play to follow.
This isn’t the way White should play the b4 line. He prepared for c4-c5 and he should play it!
I don’t like this. 11...Nf4 makes far more sense: 12.Bf3 fxe4 13.Bxe4 Nf5 and Black has a good game.
This walks right into ...g6-g5-g4 expansion. The usual 12.f3 should have been played.
12...f4 13.c5 g5 14.Nd3 Ng6 15.Rd1
Another strange move by White. He’s dithering about and failing to get his queenside attack going.
Pogorelich had (correctly) studied various setups for Black and learned that in this kind of position the maneuver ...Rf7, ...Bf8 (giving support to d6), and ...Rg7 creates a useful shuffle of Black’s pieces. Unfortunately, playing known moves by route isn’t always wise, and here Black misses a far better continuation.
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 3
It’s important to learn all the basic setups in the openings you play. But don’t ignore what the opponent is doing and toss out those moves without making sure those setups are still of use, or that his play hasn’t allowed you to do something medieval to him.
Once again Black, in his zeal to make use of a setup he learned, refuses to strike when the striking is good. The solution to puzzle 6 would still be viable here.
Neither side fully appreciates the harm that White has done to himself with 17.c6. I’ll explain this in a couple moves, but stop here for a moment and see if you can figure it out for yourself (the reason isn't a move, but a concept).
This is an excellent move, but Black fails to make full use of it as the game progresses. He could also have made use of our answer to puzzle 6, but I’m very pleased with 17...b6.
Terrible, but White’s position is already in full meltdown mode. If he wasn’t about to be swamped on the kingside, I’d insist on 18.b5 followed by moving the dark-squared bishop of a3, followed by a2-a4-a5 trying to crash through on the queenside. But it doesn’t matter, since White’s doom is written all over the board (though neither side seems to notice).
Wasting a move to place the knight on a worse square than it was already on! Black was still under the allure of playing maneuvers he recently learned, and as a result he wasn’t looking at what was going on in the here and now.
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 4
I might seem to be harsh, but Black’s mistakes are actually a healthy part of learning. He put in the work and absorbed various key setups – that’s great. And now he’s using them incorrectly, which is also good since he’ll learn a lot from this game (the pain of defeat is an incredible teacher). That’s how one gets better – a mix of study, trying to use the knowledge from that study, screwing it up badly and losing, making adjustments, and eventually getting it right and discovering that the wins start to fall into his lap.
So what should Black have done, and why is White dead lost? I was hoping you would ask these questions! There are actually two ways for Black to grab victory, one going for a quick win and the other showing a bit more patience. We’ll look at both:
The center is closed, so that leaves both sides vying for wing domination. It’s clear that Black is going for a kingside mate, while White is betting that his queenside play will rule the day. Normally both sides have chances, but what if one side’s play is completely stopped? In that case the game is over since the other side will be able to break through without facing any threat, long or short term.
The problem with White’s 17.c6?? was that it closed the very side he should have been trying to open! If Black wants to lock in victory, he can simply play 19...a6! and White’s pretty much dead.
It’s clear that Black’s going to put some serious hurt on White on the kingside, but White has absolutely nothing on the opposite wing! The push b4-b5 will always be met by ...a6-a5, permanently killing the queenside. And if White tries the other pawn advance, a2-a4-a5, Black would close it again with ...b6-b5.
As you can see, that little push of Black’s a-pawn (...a6) leaves White helpless. If I was White (after ...a6), I would be tempted to resign on the spot!
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 5
If you can permanently stop the opponent’s correct plan and leave him helpless on the sacrificial alter of your bloodthirsty pieces, then joyously do it!
Though 19...a6 is screaming to be made, another “screaming” move allows Black to play for an instant knockout. In fact, Black’s attack is so strong that it should quickly push White’s king off the board in a variety of ways. Here’s a puzzle that will allow you to wend your way through it.
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 6
So how does Black know to play the move in puzzle 7? The first “hint” is that Black’s whole strategy in this Mar Del Plata lines is all about violence against White’s king. Knowing that simple truth means you will pretty much have a feel for the pulse of these kinds of positions. Another problem for White is that most of his pieces are vacationing on the queenside (meaning that Black has an overwhelming kingside force vs. White’s couple of defenders). In general, the heart and soul of these attacks is speed, brutality and a willingness to sacrifice tons of material (rooks, knights, everything and anything!). Sacrificing a mere pawn is a no-brainer in these positions.
Black played the hideous 19...Ne8 instead, but that kind of mistake is gold – he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger in the future!
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 7
The only way to become a really strong player is to toss your ego and/or fear aside and enter the chess wilderness. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll lose, and you’ll hate those mistakes and losses. And that angst will pull you up, higher and higher, force you to fix your flaws with hard work, and take you to places you never knew you could reach.
This move pretty much forces Black to eventually sacrifice a piece on g2 and/or h3. Fortunately, this is the bread and butter of the Mar Del Plata variation!
Black had other good options, but 20...g3 will force him to learn how to conduct these attacks in the future, which is priceless knowledge.
21.h3 Qh4 22.Bf1 Nf6??
This hyperactive knight seems to be cursed! First it went to f6, then to h5, then back to f6, then to e8 (for reasons unknown), and now back to f6. For the love of god, feed the poor thing some Ritalin!
Since Black’s targets are f3, g2 and h3 (all kingside busting points), he should take aim at them with all the pieces he can muster with 22...Qh5! followed by 23...Nh4 and 24...Bxh3/24...Nxg2 when White’s position is being clobbered with nuclear force!
Unfortunately, Black stalls his attack with endless preparation.
I should add that I expected 22...Qh5! since he rushed to create a structure that begged for it (with 20...g3). But I also would have been delighted if he had played 22...a6! since that would leave White without any future hopes, other than to hang on and beg for salvation. Either way, White would have been toast.
Black has the right idea (prep a sac on h3, in this case by ...Nf6-h7-g5), but he’s certainly taking his time doing it, and that waste of time gives White chances to set up a defense (perhaps by moving the e1-rook followed by Ne1, giving both f3 and g2 more support). I still think White’s doomed, but the longer you dither, the more chances your opponent has of turning the tide. In any case, White seems to be oblivious to the danger!
24.Qc2 Nh7 25.a4 Ng5
Again, 25...a6 would end White’s queenside aspirations, but 25...Ng5 is very strong.
Noooooo!!!!! Black’s not only wasting time, but he’s actually moving a well-placed piece to a far worse square! The problem is that he wasn’t aware of the ...Qh4-h5 maneuver. And, thanks to this wonderful game, he will never miss it again.
Moving the knight back does another thing too, it allows absolutely incredible positions to arise that would never have occurred if he played properly. Oddly, his ultimate loss is art’s ultimate gain (and personal gain too, since the lessons in this game are worth their weight in gold for the KID player!).
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 8
In general, wing vs. wing games always demand speed and energy!
For the last time, I’ll mention 26...a6, which would leave White in a, “I will lose or draw but never win” situation.
But can’t Black get something going right away? This calls for another puzzle!
And now, due to Black’s backwards moves and his refusal to kill White’s play by ...a6, White will finally get some very serious queenside counterplay.
That’s great news for us and for Mr. pogorelich since we get entertained, and he gets to learn some very useful lessons.
Pogorelich’s lessons so far:
- If you can kill your opponent’s plans once and for all, do it! There’s nothing sweeter than a helpless opponent.
- More speed and energy is called for in these extremely volatile situations.
- Many lines of the King’s Indian Defense results in violent life and death situations. No dithering allowed!
- When Black achieves the classic attacking position with pawns on f4 and g3, the maneuver ...Qd8-h4-h5 followed by ...Nh4 is an important thing to know.
- The KID is a “take no prisoners opening.” When you play it, you need to get in touch with that, become one with the opening’s soul, and play accordingly.
Oh, my, god! MORE preparation while Rome is burning! I also think that a bit of panic was starting to rear its ugly head.
Black could have considerably limited the upcoming queenside devastation by simply playing 27...bxa5. Or he could have turned into a genius and played 27...b5!! (2 exclams for sheer audacity and very clear thinking).
The idea of this move is to clog the queenside and keep the enemy rooks from penetrating. As White goes after the pawns and then struggles to open lines, Black will be able to continue with this attack.
And then there’s a third option.
The kind of stuff you just saw in this puzzle should be mother’s milk for the experienced KID player!
And now we return to the position after 27...Re7.
28.axb6 cxb6 29.Nb5 Nhf7
The once proud attacking knight on g6 is now related to shameful defense.
Though Black is lost, he finally leaps into proper KID consciousness by following this opening’s most holy dictate:
The Black side of the KID wins more lost positions than any other opening!
Really? Why? Because the classic KID attacks, even if analytically losing, are so complex that even grandmasters fall victim to them.
Fueled by hysteria and desperation, Black finally lashes out. And this is a wise thing to do since people always crack in the face of an attack. However, imagine how much nicer this would have been if White didn’t have all the free queenside play Black gave him.
31.gxh3 Ng5 32.Nxd6 Bxh3
This throws away the win. There was only one way to victory: 33.Bxh3! Nxh3+ 34.Kf1 Ng5 35.Qg2.
And, once again, Black makes preparations. However, part of this was his view that he was now dead lost. And this takes us to another rule:
INSTRUCTIVE POINT 9
If you believe you’re lost, then you ARE LOST because you won’t be able to generate the energy to find a way out. And, in the KID in particular, you should never believe you’re lost since that opening somehow or other always gives you some tricks. They may or may not work, but you always have a chance!
And now Black’s dead. But, like in so many horror films, the dead can sometimes come back to life!
Now he’s stone cold dead. His only chance was 35...Qh5! (that maneuver again!) when we’ll give you a defensive puzzle:
White is also oblivious to what’s going on. Instead, 36.Bxd6! gives White’s knight access to e5 and ends any hope for a Black attack: 36...Qh5 37.Ne5 Re8 38.Qh1, 1-0.
An easy move to make: He takes your piece and you recapture. Simple, but very, very wrong. Normal thought processes don’t work when they are lowering your coffin into that final, dark hole. If you’re still alive, you need to pound, kick, and scream so you have at least a chance of being saved!
Let’s do another puzzle, which this time will gauge your survival instincts:
Hungarian grandmaster Andras Adorjan was/is a huge fan of the Bee Gees, and (I would guess) their hit song, Staying Alive. Can you find a way for Black to stay alive?
So we’re back to the position after 36...Kxg7, which is now completely lost for Black.
I guess it’s time for Black to give up, but why not wait to see one more move. As the old saying goes, nobody ever won a game by resigning.
Are you kidding me? Suddenly I’m hearing a heartbeat from Black’s side of the board!
The simplest way to end things was 37.Qh1 when resignation is finally the proper option since 37...Nh3+ 38.Kg2 is completely over.
This move tells us that Black has given up. As I said earlier, if you believe it’s over, then it IS over. But the KID is for insane optimists, which means they never believe it’s over! And so, one final puzzle!
And now, after Black’s “final” lapse (37...Be7??), the end has to finally come. Right?
It’s clear that both sides (and the readers!) are out of gas and just want the insanity to end! It would have after 38.Qh1, 1-0.
Resigning with a final spite check. However, 38...Qh5 was still annoying, and still forced White to deal with nonstop complications: 39.Rf2!? (39.Kf1! might be a clear winner: 39...Nxf3 40.Rf2! Nh2+ [40...Nxe1 41.Nxe1 Bg5 42.Rc2] 41.Kg1 Bg5 42.Rff1 Qg4 43.Qe4 and Black’s days are numbered) 39...gxf2+ 40.Kxf2 and though Black is now up a piece, White’s armada of pawns is very scary. However, the dance will continue with 40...Bxd6! 41.exd6 Qg6 42.Nxf4 Qxd6 43.Qg4 Qxf4 44.Re7+ Kg6 45.Qxf4 Nh3+ and on and on we go!
39.Kf1, 1-0. An epic game, with epic lessons!
Here is the full game score without notes. Looking at the bare moves won’t teach you anything. Indeed, a glance might convince you that Black got outplayed and lost an uneventful game. So, if you actually want to improve your game, please look at the variations, puzzles, and prose above.
Huge thanks to pogorelich for sharing this incredible game with us!
Sorry about the length of this article. Next week’s article will be much shorter. I promise!
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