Keep initiative like GM Kozul!

Keep initiative like GM Kozul!

Jan 2, 2014, 8:56 AM |

Every Sicilian player knows that at the club level memorizing hundreds of forcing lines of Najdrof or Sveshnikov is many time just a waste of time. What you really need to study are different anti-sicilian lines. About a year ago I was having a look on the following line in the Alapin:

1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. Nf3 e6 5. d4 cxd4 6. cxd4 d6


Black voluntarily closes c8-h3 which certainly does not make his light-square bishop too happy but on the other hand, black keeps lot of pieces on the board and can go for a full point (Anand used this line successfully against Istratesceu at London Chess Classics this year).

White pawns on d4 and d5 divide a chessboard into two distinct areas. The kingside belongs to White and since black king does not have a better place to go, he has to be prepared to face White’s attack. White will place his light-square bishop on b1-h7 diagonal (usually after short sejour on c4, since 7. Bd3 can be answered by 7...Nb4), queen will go on the same diagonal, White will castle short and with Rf1-e1-e3, Nf3-g5, h2-h4-h5 ideas he is ready to go after Black’s monarch.

Black on the other hand usually try to prove that white pawn on e5 is far from secure, after timely dxe5 he occupies d-file and if White places his knight on c3, after the exchange Nxc3, bxc3, pawn on c3 is a juicy target.

All in all position is full of life.

Searching in databases I found that Zdenko Kozul keeps defending this position for decades, scoring unbelievable 30 out of 47 against average opposition of ELO 2480. I would like to share with you a recent very instructive game from European Individual Chess Championship 2013 when Zdenko Kozul with black faced Zaur Mammadov.


7. Bc4 Be7 8. 0-0 0-0 9. Qe2

Kozul did not continue with an usual idea 9...Nc6 putting pressure on both white central pawns, he played



instead. This is the moment in game when you usually need to stop blitzing out obvious moves and think. What is Black’s idea? Obviously, a8-h1 diagonal seems inventing and Bc8-b7 is very sensible. But there is more to 8..b6! Black has a possibility to play Bc8(b7)-a6 at some point exchanging White’s strong light-square bishop which will soon eye sensitive h7 square. However, since this is not possible right now, White can continue with Nc3. GM Mammadov probably did not want to give Black the possibility to wreck his pawn structure with Nd5xc3 and was looking for another useful move. Rf1-e1 comes to mind but GM Mammadov probably thought that he can put his queen on e4 since after 10. Qe4 Ba6 White can take on d5 threatening the rook on a8.

10. Qe4?

How does Black respond to White’s natural development?


This is a superb pawn sacrifice. Black uses a pin on White’s rook on f1 to force exchange of bishops after which White’s prospects of attack on the kingside are considerably diminished. White chooses to eat some wood and take the pawn.

11.  Bxd5 exd5 12. Qxd5 Nc6 13. Re1


It is time to assess the position:

(1) With knight on b1 and bishop on c1 White is considerably behind in development.

(2) White will not be able to connect rooks very soon and his king lacks ‘luft’. Back-rank tactics are in the air.

(3) Black has a bishop pair in an open position.

(4) White’s queen on d5 will be probably kicked around for quite some time.

All this gives Black more than enough compensation. Having an initiative, GM Kozul keeps punching White in the face until GM Mammadov errs. Notice how Black does not let White to catch his breath until the end of the game.


Where do you move the queen?

14. Qb3

The only move. After 14. Qe4 Bd3 15. Qe3 Bxb1 16. Rxb1 Nc2 White loses material.

14…dxe5 15. dxe5 Qd3!

I love this move! Black correctly assess that his iniative will go on even without queens on the board. Without queens white will have one piece less to worry about but on the other hand, protecting his weakness will become more difficult.

16. Na3

White develops. What happens after 16. Qxd3 Nxd3 17. Rd1? Black plays 17...Bc5 and after 18. Be3 Bxe3 19. fxe3 Nxb2 he is clearly better.


Black brings all his pieces to the party. 16…Qxb3 was also possible. After 17. axb3 Nd3 18. Rd1 Rfd8 19. Nc4 Bxc4 20. bxc4 Nxe5 21. Rxd8 Rxd8 White is in trouble. Remember back-rank tactics? 22. Kf1 Nxd3 23. gxf3 and Black is better.

17. Bg5

Notice that White keeps developing. Important lesson, even if it does not save him in this game.

17…Qxb3 18. axb3 Bxg5 19. Nxg5 Rfe8


Black is still a pawn down but White’s structure has been shattered, knight on a3 is a very poor piece, pawn on e5 is still weak and bishop on a6 in an open position is much better than any of White’s knights lacking strong outposts in the centre. Black’s threat Nd3 hitting simultaneously rook on e1 and pawns on e5 and b2 is impossible to parry.

20. Re4 Nd3 21. e6

White returns the pawn and is still worse.

21…fxe6 22. Nc2 Nc5

Protecting bishop on a6 and hitting b3.

23. Re5 Bd3

Attacking knight on c2.

24. Nb4 a5

Hitting knight one more time.

25. Nc6 Rd5

Pawn on b3 hangs.

26. Rae1 Rxe5 27. Nxe5 Bc2

Pawn on b3 is still hanging.                     

28. Nc4 Bxb3 29. Nxb6 a4

Now White fails to protect pawn on b2. Nd3 and Rb8 hitting the pawn are in the air. 30. Re3 was probably the only chance.

30. Ne4

White tries to bring knight back to the game but it is too late.

30…Nd3 31. Ra1 (31. Rb1 Rb8 –/+) 31…Nxb2

Black wins another pawn and his a-pawn heads for a1.

32.  Nc5 Rd8 33. Ncd7 Nc4! 34. Kf1 a3 35. Ke1 Nxb6 36. Nxb6 a2

Convincing victory by Black! What is the morale of this game? Never underestimate threat of exchanging light-square bishops in the structure like this. It is almost always beneficial for Black. White tried to grab a pawn to keep some winning chances but pawn was not a big price for a rolling initiative Black gained. Notice that Black did not fear the exchange of queens, White’s queen was one of the few developed piece and without it White was unable to protect all his weakness. One more take-away: Having an initiative, it is not important to calculate long lines, once you spot the correct move it rarely takes to calculate deeper than 2-3 moves to realize that this is the way to go. Calculate short but wide variation is much more important.

If you like this game, do not hesitate to leave a comment. You can check out my other blogs here and here.