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Learning the Spanish (Ruy Lopez): Misadventures in the Chigorin

Learning the Spanish (Ruy Lopez): Misadventures in the Chigorin

May 31, 2016, 12:32 PM 2

Exploring the Spanish: The Chigorin Part 2


In my last blog I introduced the Chigorin Variation of the Spanish, focusing on the Rubenstein line with 12...Nc6. Just as a reminder, the position is displayed below. The last post also included some games that demonstrated how black can play in such closed Spanish position. In particular, after 13. d5 Nd8, the critical idea of rearranging the knights to f7 and g6 setting up an impenetrable fortress on the kingside. 


As the title of today's post (Misadventures in the Chigorin) may suggest, today's games focus on mistakes that are often found in Chigorin games. Today I have one amateur game from the local club again where a 1900 USCF crushed his 1800 opponent after a questionable decision in the opening. Professionally, I have three games. The first is a famous game from the 1970s between Karpov and Unzicker which put a lot of people off of this entire variation. The next is a game from the young Carlsen who dismantles his opponent after the unusual move Rb7. Lastly, a game of David Bronstein who crushed his opponent in Fischer's dxc5 system.  
The Spanish or Ruy Lopez is sometimes called the Spanish Torture where black has to hold a slightly worse position and black has little to no counterplay if he or she plays in an imprecise manner. In the game above black played a few moves that are natural in other lines and a few other mistakes. These slightly inaccurate moves added up to a tortuous position for black. White meanwhile was deep within his own opening preparation for the first 20 or 25 moves and new the ideas of the Chigorin much better than black. I hope the game above demonstrates why I prefer plans that avoid Nb7 and also how important it is to play precisely in the Chigorin. Imprecise moves and even the wrong move order can often land black in serious trouble. White can find himself in similar trouble and perhaps next post I will include some of white's games where white plays "natural moves" or moves that appear common in other lines of the Spanish and gets into trouble. Note that in the above game the player was comfortable in the Breyer and Marshall and thus utilized his Breyer knowledge in order to direct his development. While this works sometimes in certain closed Spanish positions we can see the detrimental impact of Rfe8 in the above game as it prevented black from playing the critical Ne8-g7 strategy that was so successful in our previous post. 
And it isn't only amateurs who commit the mistake of Nb7. Originally, when the Rubenstein system of the Chigorin was popular in the middle of the twentieth century, many players found success with the move order Nb7. Then Anatoly Karpov played in the below masterpiece vs. Unzicker. IM ChessExplained did a video of this game on YouTube in his series Chess Giants. I strongly recommend you check out that video as well (link down below).
Unzicker slowly got crushed by the grind of Karpov - the knight going to b7 wasted precious time and thus he did not follow the now more common Nd8-g7 and Ne8-f7 plan. The next game I have to show is a beautiful attacking game by Magnus Carlsen in 2003 when Carlsen was still young. Kingscrusher did a wonderful video on this game which I will link to at the bottom of this post. 
In this game, we once again see the problems that can appear with Re8. In the game above Re8 was forced by Carlsen preventing Ne8-f7 as a defensive resource which was the mainline as shown in the previous post. Black got good pieces on the queenside with the Ra7 idea (it might be a nice surprise weapon in some cases), but they could do nothing as white defended his queenside with the two bishops which still contributed to remarkable attacking chances on the queenside. Of course, some of the sacrifices don't need to be accepted and black could have defended more accurately but this game shows us that when playing as black in the Chigorin we should avoid being over eager on the queenside at the cost of our king's position. 
The final game is another short victory for white by David Bronstein. Perhaps the least known player on this list (except my friends from the club in the first game), Bronstein was one of the better chess players to never become World Champion often listed along with Korchnoi and Keres. Bronstein played this game in the dxc5 line we examined yesterday favored by Bobby Fischer. 
As we can see, even the best players in the world can have some trouble defending in the Chigorin. Black must be careful to use precise move orders when arranging his pieces (see the Na5-b7 or Nd8-b7 concepts from the amateur and Karpov-Unzicker games). Additionally, black must not neglect the kingside in favor of play on the queenside black will often be mated by an aggressive push by white on the kingside (see the Carlsen and Bronstein games). In the dxc5 variation black needs to be willing to give up the bishop pair per the ideas of Botvinnik and Kholmov (see the previous post for the Kholmov game). In conclusion, be careful with your move orders in the Chigorin as black is liable to get run over on the kingside if he or she is imprecise.
All of the above games had black in a much worse position by move 30-35. Next time we will look at how badly white can screw up these positions. If you have any comments or ideas on how to improve this series please let me know in the comments below. Thanks! 
ChessExplained on Karpov-Unzicker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsiYuIYDFmE
Kingscrusher on the Carlsen Masterpiece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK5UUDYaK7g

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