Choices and doubts (part I)

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The cool thing about analysing your own games is that you can never tell beforehand how long you will be analysing. A serious tournament game against a strong opponent?Ǭ†might be forgotten?Ǭ†only hours after the game, while a relatively unimportant club game can haunt you for weeks. Recently, I played?Ǭ†such a?Ǭ†game on the competition of chessclub Max Euwe Amsterdam.

The game contained a?Ǭ†couple?Ǭ†of moments in which both players had to make tough, game-deciding choices. In such situations,?Ǭ†a little grip would be quite pleasant, but unfortunately we didn't have this grip, or not enough anyway. In this first part I will show the first important moment and the doubts both players were having, and illustrate it with some games from top players.

Moll-Hoffman Amsterdam 2006

This is the position after Black's 13th move, and the first important moment of the game. White didn't actually play very ambitously in the opening, but now he is presented the possibility to?Ǭ†sharpen things. The big question?Ǭ†therefore is: to take or not to take. Should White?Ǭ†give up the?Ǭ†pair of Bishops for?Ǭ†a small structural advantage? During the game I couldn't remember any concrete endgame-examples?Ǭ†in which White does this. It is, of course, a well-known attacking motif to weaken Black's king side, as in the following famous game:

Kasparov-Timman Amsterdam 1994

18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Rc1 Rc8? Better was 19...Bxc3. Now White starts a fierce offensive.

20.Ne4! f5 21.Ng3 Qxd5 22.a3 Bd6 23.Nxf5 Rcd8 24.Re5!?Ǭ†and soon?Ǭ†1-0

The following game by kasparov is also well-known, even though he was less successful here. Again Kasparov tries to attack by mutilating Black's structure, but Karpov defends well and won the game in the end:

Kasparov-Karpov Sevilla (m/2) 1987

18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Ne4 Kg7! 20.dxc4 Rad8 21.Rb3?! Nd4! -/+

In both cases White's purpose was the direct assault. In my game it was different. In the endgame, the bishop pair is usually equally strong as in the middle game, and also it was not clear to me how I could attack the weakened double f-pawn in the near future, let alone conquer it. Luckily I realized pretty soon that in fact I didn't have much of a choice, since White has to give one of his bishops after 14.Bd3?! Nd5! anyway. So I quickly played (see diagram Moll-Hoffman above):

14.Bxf6 gxf6 15.Nd4 After that I managed to exchange Black's white squared bishop, in return for an isolated d-pawn, which resulted in another difficult situation. More about that in part two. After the game there developed a lively discussion in the analysis room about this type of positions. I defended, partly to play my part, the point of view that even if I could have played 14.Bd3, I would have taken on f6, because it was?Ǭ†the only way to play for a win. Someone else put it to me that I was taking a risk by that because of Black's bishops. We didn't reach a conclusion. I still wonder what rule you have to follow in these situations and I would like to ask the Grandmaster?Ǭ†editors Karsten M?ɬºller and Erwin L'Ami if they have any thoughts on this. The structural advantage is obviously there, but there are so many positions where the bishops are even an advantage with a pawn down...

In practice, the dilemma rises frequently. There is even a line of the Exchange-Queen's Gambit where the?Ǭ†problem arises after only nine moves:

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 Bf5 7.Qf3 Be6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.Qxf6 gxf6

The variation is not very popular, by the way, but the fact that strong Grandmasters want to play this with both White and Black, indicates that it's not that clear to evaluate. Fine postion playes like Karpov, Ivanchuk and Gustafsson have played it with White, while defenders like Vaganian and Andersson have defended the Black side. It's an interesting position to play out.

Eleven years ago, I was a live witness of the following game:

Topalov-Shirov Wijk aan Zee 1996

After a very exciting opening (Arkhangelsk-Ruy Lopez) you'd think White would still have some endgame advantage because of the pair of Bishops. Of course you've already guessed White's next move:

21.Bxf6 gxf6 22.Ra7?Ǭ†with some practical problems for Black. I thought the game could end in a draw any moment, but to my amazement the followed a heavy struggle and Shirov could only make a draw after move 53. A few months later, during the Eijgenbrood-tournament in Amsterdam,?Ǭ†I?Ǭ†got the following position on the board:

Bettman-Moll Amsterdam 1996

After his last move (25.Rd4) White offered a draw. Suddenly I remembered Topalov's attempts and I decided that the structure justified playing on. With 25...f5!? I tried to activate my king. After a lot of technical adventures I managed to win the game. It's possible that ever since that game I feel that the structural advantage is tangible, even when the opponent has more activity.

But as always, there comes a moment when you start to doubt your certainties. The next game was a?Ǭ†sobering lesson:

Rogozenko-Morozevich Istanbul 2000

21...Qf6!! 22.Qxf6 gxf6 When we are recovered from our amazement, we can actually see the idea behind Black's astonishing queen's trade: White has problems developing, and Black is very active.

23.h5 h6 24.Rh4 c5 25.Be2?! (better 25.Bg4!) 25...Bb3! 26.Rf4 Kg7 27.g4 Rd6 28.Re4 Kf8 29.Rf4 a5 30.Re4 Rd8 31.Rf4 Ke7 32.Re4+ Kd6 33.Bd1 Be6!

And here White forgot to block Black's doubled pawn with 34.Rf4. Instead, in time trouble he played

34.Be2??Ǭ†and after?Ǭ†34...f5! 35.gxf5 Bxf5 36.Rf4 Ke5 Black was so active that White soon collapsed under the pressure and lost. An impressive sample of will-power by Morozevich!

Here's another surprising moment from again a game Kasparov-Karpov, and again Karpov is successful with his isolated f-pawn in the end.

Kasparov-Karpov New York (rapid) 2002

White is better, but Black has a target on d4. That's why White decides to eliminate the bishop on f6:

24.Lxf6 gxf6!?Ǭ†What's this? Well, after 24...Qxf6 25.Qa4! White would be fine because of the unprotected pawns on c7 and a7. Now Black is hanging on and after 25.Qa4 c6 26.Bf1 Kf8 his position was still defendable. After some mistakes by White, Karpov even won the game.

But?Ǭ†don't let the impression?Ǭ†convince you that it's always such fun to?Ǭ†have this isolated f-pawn.?Ǭ†Gelfand has played two instructive games that show how annoying?Ǭ†it can be to have no pawn breaks on the king's side.

Barcot-Gelfand Leon 2001

16...Bxf3! 17.gxf3 Ke7 and Gelfand went on to torture his opponent for 60 moves. His knights effortlessly jumped to the beautiful squares d5 and f4 and White's bishops where staring into blank space. Only in the far endgame he missed the win?Ǭ†which enabled Bacrot to draw the game.

Gelfand-Grischuk Rusland 2004

In the Tarrasch Defence, Black often has an double c-pawn, and usually it's not such a big deal. It is here, especially after:

16.Bxf6! gxf6 17.e3 and Black not only have a double c-pawn but also the infamous doube f-pawn. Gelfand next?Ǭ†indicated with his fine technique that Black should revise this particular opening line.

What?Ǭ†can we conclude from these examples??Ǭ†It appears that activity, as?Ǭ†ever so often, is more important ?Ǭ†than structure. The pair of bishops can guarantee this activity, but it's not always the case, as the examples indicate. What?Ǭ†I think all examples do have in common is the activity of the rooks. The advantage of an isolated doubled pawn is that you have two extra open lines. But if you can't operate on these lines, 'what's the use? It's funny that rook-activity also plays an import role in the following of my game against Hoffman with which we started. More about that in the next article. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to?Ǭ†your ideas or?Ǭ†suggestions in the comments!

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