Two Criminals

  • GM Gserper
  • | Sep 22, 2013

Every chessplayer who likes to fianchetto his king's bishop in the opening quickly learns the value of this bishop. It is the main (and in some cases the only) defender of his king. As my first coach used to say, pointing at my Bg7 in the Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defense: "As long as this guy is alive, you are not going to get checkmated!" In some cases you might want to sacrifice some material rather then allow the trade of your fianchettoed bishop. (We discussed this subject here.)

Now let's look at the next position:

We have a textbook example of a 'good knight' versus a 'bad bishop', so the knight shouldn't be traded for the bishop, right?  From the other side, Bf6 is a fianchettoed bishop which is supposed to protect his king, and therefore shouldn't be traded. Does it mean that the trade 18.Nxf6 is bad for both players? Laughing

After the move 18.Nxf6+ was played, GM Eduard Gufeld (who was a big fan of the King's Indian bishop) came to Kasparov and said:


"Who?" asked Kasparov.

"Both of you!" answered Gufeld.

Eduard Gufeld (1936-2002)

In his notes to the game, Kasparov says that at that point he found Gufeld's joke amusing, but at the end of the game he was wondering if Gufeld was right indeed and all Black's problems started with the trade of his fianchettoed bishop.

Nevertheless, there is a common and well-known situation where a trade of the fianchettoed bishop for a knight is fully justified. Robert James Fischer was one of the first who made this unusual trade typical:

Yes, after the trade Black's kingside gets weaker and in the game Fischer had to withstand a very dangerous attack. But look at those ugly, isolated c3 and c4 pawns on the open c-file; they were completely doomed! 

One of the greatest positional players of all times, Tigran Petrosian, also liked the idea:

And then another world champion embraced the unusual trade:

I have to confess that when I studied this idea I was very skeptical at first. You cannot erase the years of the Sicilian Dragon experience that easily! Yet, at the end I was converted:

This memorable game brought me the final GM norm (and the title!) as well as allowed our team to win silver Olympic medals!

This interesting but double-edged idea should be in the tool kit of every chessplayer!



  • 17 months ago


  • 3 years ago


    The best way to learn endings, as well as openings, is from the games of the masters.

  • 3 years ago


    Hi! I found one more example of this exchange of the fianchettoed bishop, and the example is from....Tal!

    The King's Indian Defense was one of Tal's main weapons as Black. Game 6 of his 1960 WC match with Botvinnik is proof enough.

    In the early 70's Tal underwent a Reinassance, as it were. He went through 81 games or so without being defeated!

    One game from this period of a more "positional" Tal struck me as unique when I first played through the diagram position given on page 409 of Tal's book, "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal".

    When I read this article, I remembered seeing a similar theme in Tal's book, but it took me a while to find it! Here is the diagram from the game Timman-Tal, Tallin 1973:

    Amazing! Notice how White's bishop had no play after the exchange, as both diagonals were closed....

    Another great example of this theme!


  • 3 years ago


    Hi, holycrossplayer...this is true, so the compensation for exchanging the bishop should be a permanent damage to the opponent's pawn structure.

  • 3 years ago


    The thing about these games is that there may have been other factors causing them to win or lose apart from just sacrificing the bishop.  We need additional commentaries on the games themselves.  We get the point though: sacrificing the fianchettoed bishop isn't necessarily a bad thing.

  • 3 years ago


    Nice to know it. 0k. If bishop is fianchettoed must defend it for the sake of everything else.

  • 3 years ago


    very interesting idea. really like it.

  • 3 years ago


    I like the idea.  I don't fianchetto often, but next time I play a sicilian dragon or indian game, I'll definitely consider the exchange.  The general effect seems to be establishing a sharp imbalanced game, creating precarious circumstances for both players and requiring strong execution to win.  In other words, exciting chess!

    I found the Smyslov-Robatsch game particularly interesting: neither side castled. 

  • 3 years ago


    You guys are awesome.

  • 3 years ago


    Gufeld you goof!

    On the contrary you could always keep the bishop and

    Jan Timman vs Garry Kasparov

     Tilburg 1981  ·  King's Indian Defense: Fianchetto. Yugoslav Variation Advance Line (E66)  ·  1-0


    Lack of activity is a point of conern, but it is hard to activly play a piece your trying to keep! lol... only moved his dark bishop once (below game)!

    Kasparov-Karpov World Championship Match (1990)  ·  King's Indian Defense: Saemisch. Closed Variation (E87)  ·  1-0

  • 3 years ago


    They say the criminal returns to the scene of the crime, and it is curious that KAsparov, who lost this game against Veingold by exchanging his fianchetto bishop, should lose another game through the same mistake, 11 years later, against Gulko in Linares 1990!

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    To Pete the Pirate....

    True, in the Petrosian game, black was able to undouble his pawns, but then a new weakness arose....White dominated the semi-open c-file, and Black's Queenside was therefore hopelessly weak, which would eventually turn into a loss of material for Black. One advantage is transformed into another....

  • 3 years ago


    Great article! I learned something new about giving up a fianchettoed bishop ....

  • 3 years ago


    Pete if pawn takes Qc3+ wins a pawn.

    But yeah if black could get away with undoubling his pawns etc, then I don't really get it.

    In serpers game, it didn't appear to come to much at first glance, but I guess he converted that weakness into another weakness and got play for it.

  • 3 years ago


    very tough to take benefit of that positional peculiarity. See how bobby managed that.

  • 3 years ago



     look this:

    And here is the original link:

  • 3 years ago


    Nice, Thanks.

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    I don't really get it. Fischer made sure the isolated doubled pawns stayed on the board so he got a nice target in exchange for his fianchettoed bishop so thats logical to me. But then Petrosian and Smyslov both offer their opponents opportunities to get rid of the doubled pawns, so I don't really see much gain from it. In Serpers game it results in 2 isolated pawns on queenside so that's cool. I just don't understand the positional gains of Petrosian and Smyslov I guess

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