Today we start a new series that will show how modern players understand positions through the lenses of typical strategic plans. The series will span 4-5 articles and cover a range of positions. We will learn to differentiate ideas found at the board from those prepared at home, through study. We will also explore to what extent one needs to know typical positions and plans in order to successfully play a particular opening.
The topic of today's article is a set of ideas from Queen's Gambit Declined, an opening I revisited to see what kinds of positions strong chess players look for there. The first game I stumbled upon deeply impressed me and made me believe that Sadorra must play way above his strength to come up with a beauty like this.
We have reached the critical position where black has two main moves: e5 and Nh5. So far, both sides played fairly logical moves and with little theoretical knowledge one might get to this point. Let us look at the continuation that happened in the game: Nh5.
The idea behind the move is to get rid of white's bishop pair. Here white already needs to know a little bit about the resulting structures. First of all, white is better due to having more space, better pieces, and also thanks to black's badly placed bishop on c8. e5 seems to solve the problem of the bishop - but at a cost of weakening d5. Here white can exchange the bishop for bishop with Bd6 or leave it on f4. I prefer the second option, mainly because I am familiar with Kramnik's treatment of the positions with the pawn on f4. Knowing typical structures and ideas really help in making practical decisions. A pawn on f4 not only takes space on the kingside but also puts an end to the e5-break. This means that the bishop on c8 will be passive for a while. Let us continue with the game...
White played splendidly, building up his advantage. The bishop transfer to b1 was the right response to the imprecise h6, which weakened the b1-h7 diagonal. In this position, white played a mind-blowing move of rare beauty.
This pawn sacrifice opens up the position and road to the h6-pawn. It is the strongest move in the position and white finishes up the game in style.
To my surprise, after going through several games in this opening I stumbled upon the f5 idea in Kramnik - Carlsen game from 2009!
This was the same opening but Carlsen put his pawns on the right squares. The pawn on g6 blocks the battery along the b1-h7 diagonal and prepares the bishop transfer to g7. However, even in this position, the f5 break is very interesting, although not as clear as in Sadorra's game. Nevertheless, I believe that a strong player studying this opening must have seen Kramnik's game and the idea of f5. Although finding it at the board is quite feasible, it would certainly save time to already know the trick of the f5 break.
Speaking of this opening, we have to take a look at an alternative: 12.e5 instead of Nh5. As mentioned above, the idea is to get the bishop c8 into the game, while the downside is that the d5-square becomes weak. Once again, a very recent game made quite an impression on me. It is surprising how easy it is for white to play this position.
An illustration of the domination on the light squares...
White's moves looked natural but white had to know whether the doubling of f-pawns was ok or not. Also the pin along the c-file was bit unpleasant. And then the question of how to continue. Should white double the rooks along the d-file or restructure them in some other way? Khairullin found the best set-up and won the game without much trouble.
This game had many ideas that are common to this opening system. For example, as the following game shows, the b5-idea is very standard for black in conjunction with Rc8, whereas the B:f3 move is almost never good. Atalik's treatment of the position is very deep. He calls the position after 14...Rc8, "an historically important position" and his 15. Rc1! as the move found over the board. This is how some of the most important ideas are born - over the board. Six years later, Rc1 is most likely considered as a typical plan against the Rc8-b5 threat.
This position is almost identical to the position from the Khairullin's game! Black lost a pawn and the game pretty quickly.
Common positions and ideas stem from older games - and in order to understand the new ideas, one must know where they stem from. Next week we will continue with the topic of typical positions!