Five for Five: Winning with the Bishop Pair
This past Sunday marked a landmark win for me, as I managed to continue my perfect record in the Pittsburgh Chess League, getting my fifth win in five games. Getting a result not only meant helping my team, the Univesity of Pittsburgh, beat Carnegie Mellon University 3-1, but also meant extending my unbeaten streak in four-board team events to eleven games (8 wins, 3 draws).
I thought that this game was rather instructive, as the result was a direct reflection of the positional imbalances that occurred during the game, a pair of bishops against the pair of knights. Let’s have a look:
Steincamp – Puranik (Pittsburgh Chess League, 2016)
1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 c6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Bg2 Bg4
One of the advantages of playing …c7-c6 before …e7-e6 is that Black has the option of developing his light squared bishop to a more active square.
It’s only move 5, but Black has already made a critical mistake! With this move, Black gives away the bishop pair for no compensation. While Black’s pawn chain from b7-d5 seems to blunt my bishop, attacking b7 will eventually force Black to concede the diagonal.
Black grabs the center here with this move, with the hopes that a space advantage will outweigh the bishop pair. However, I have a nice resource – can you find it?
It was critical that I play this move first. 7. d3 is too passive, and 7. Qb3 is easily met by 7… Qb6. This move forces a transposition to one of two common openings:
Should Black choose to capture on d4, we have a reversed Main Line Alapin where White has the Bishop pair and an advantage in any endgames. For example 7… exd4 8. Qxd4 dxc4 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Bg5 Nbd7 11. Rc1 and my activity will offer me fair winning chances.
My expert opponent chose this move, which transposes into a Main Line Reversed French, with a few critical distinctions. 1) My pawn is on e2, not e3, so I don’t have the familiar “bad French bishop”, 2) without his light squared bishop, my opponent will find it difficult to defend both b7 and d5, and 3) already behind in tempi, Black has still yet to castle, which makes f2-f3 powerful if timed correctly.
8.Bg2 Nbd7 9.Nc3 Bb4
In an effort to stop f2-f3 with …Bxc3, Black offers his second bishop. While this solves a short term problem, Black surrenders a lot of attacking potential without his dark square control.
This move forces Black to give away his bishop, and when he does, I will recapture with the b-pawn for two reasons. 1) To allow my bishop to develop via a3, and 2) to make a half open file targeting Black’s weakness. If the b7 pawn moves or falls, Black’s position will crumble.
10…Bxc3 11.bxc3 Qb6 12.Ba3!
This move stops Black from castling kingside. It was important to not trade queens on b6, as Black could recapture with the knight and then head to c4 with some counterplay.
This move not only opens the position but drastically weakens Black’s e4 pawn. By opening the diagonal for my queen, the f7 pawn can also become a weakness in some lines. Black had to try 12… Qxb3 13. axb3 dxc4 14. bxc4 Nb6 but Black still has the long term disadvantage. During the game, I found 15. Bc5 to win the a-pawn, but my friend found 15. Rfb1 which is stronger, cleaning Black’s queenside majority.
13.Qxc4 Qa5 14.Qb3 b6 +-
In my mind, this move gave me the win. This not only weakens the diagonal but also means Black’s king won’t be safe on the queenside. Knowing this, I deemed it appropriate to go on an all-out assault on the monarch.
A thematic move in the French, and the winning move here. I calculated a bunch of winning lines here tactically, but I could have also just relied on pure intuition, for example:
This move only postpones Black’s problems as 16. c4 will pick up the pawn as 16… Qd2 fails to 17. Rad1 Qxe2 18. Rde1 Qd2 19. Rxe3+ Kd8 and Black is clearly much worse.
15… exf3 with the idea that if 16. exf3 0-0-0 is a bold one, although it offers Black some chances to get play on the e-file. That’s why I had prepared 16. Bxf3 so 16… 0-0-0 fails to 17. Bxc6, and I still have a massive pawn center after e2-e4.
Black just decided to give up the pawn for the sake of king safety, but my bishop’s view from g2 is quite nice.
16.fxe4 Qh5 17.Qc4
Both attacking and defending! Black had two threats, …Nf6-g4 and …Qh5xe2. This move defends the e2 pawn, and any of Black’s mating threats are secondary to Qc4xc6+ with Ba3-d6# to follow.
Highlighting the inevitable problem Black would face when he chose …e5-e4. At some point this diagonal would open, and without any light square protection, Black is doomed. My opponent sacrificed a piece, but that failed to parry my plans.
18…Nxe5 19.dxe5 Nd5 20.Bxd5 Rxd5 21.Bd6
Cutting off the rook with two ideas, e2-e4 to expose f7 or Ra1-d1, simply to trade the rooks and go into a won ending.
21…Re8 22.e4 1-0
Black resigned, seeing that 22… b5 23. Rab1 will force Black to give up the rook or conceded checkmate.
While I had a lot of ideas this game, the battle only lasted 22 moves! That is the power of the pair of bishops – find ways to open the position and create static weaknesses, and at some point, your opponent will blunder under pressure.
I won’t have another tournament game until February 13th, at the Pennsylvania G/75 State Chess Championships, but this game is definitely an encouraging sign concerning the direction of my preparation.