These Are Not the Bishop and Pawns You Are Looking For

Sorry for the delay in wrapping up Sants. It’s been over two weeks since the tournament ended, and I’m only now getting to the final two games. Here’s a little clip explaining the title of this blog …

In round 9, I was black against IM Ilya Sidorenko. With 6/8, I was finally back on the stage, and I was hoping to stay there this time. Up to that point, I had responded to 1.e4 with 1…e6 twice (with no success) and 1…e5 once. Against Sidorenko, I went back to 1…e5.

(FEN: r2qrbk1/1bp2pp1/p1np1n1p/1p1Pp3/4P3/PBP2N1P/1P1N1PP1/R1BQR1K1 b - - 0 13)

The opening turned out to be a Ruy Lopez, Zaitsev Variation. He played the very topical 12.a3 and 13.d5 (introduced by Topalov a couple years ago, it’s essentially taken over as the main line against the Zaitsev now). That’s the position in the diagram above.

I dashed out 13…Na5 here, and he started to think. I had faced this 12.a3/13.d5 line earlier in the year, against 2650-GM Sergey Fedorchuk (I talked about the end of that game here). In that game, I played the standard 13…Nb8 and later held a draw, although my feeling for much of the middlegame was that White’s position was a bit easier to play than mine (in essence, it was about equal, but I had less margin for error to maintain equality).

After that game, I prepared 13…Na5 for GM Alexander Fier, but Fier played 1.d4 against me. I had been sitting on the …Na5 idea since then, with no chance to play it. Finally, Sidorenko allowed me to show my idea!

To be honest, I have no clue what he was thinking about for so long. With 12.a3 already in, I didn’t understand why 14.Ba2 wasn’t automatically played. There isn’t anything else that makes sense at this point. He did finally play that, but after a 30 minute think!

After 14…c6 (Black needs to chip away at the center, otherwise his Na5 idea is really bad) 15. b4 Nc4 (15…cxd5 is an interesting piece sacrifice) 16.Nxc4 bxc4, he played 17.Bxc4. At the board, I knew that 17.dxc6 was my main line of analysis, and I knew that 17.Bxc4 cxd5 18.exd5 was bad for White.

But after 17…cxd5, he played 18.Bxd5 Nxd5 19.exd5, and now I thought for the first time. Black is down a pawn, but White’s d5-pawn is a bit weak and the c3-pawn is backward for the moment. Black also has the bishop pair. But a pawn is a pawn, so Black has to do something.

I was pretty sure 19…e4 was the move I had looked at, but after 20.Nh2 I was debating between 20…Qf6 and 20…Qc7. In both cases, I wanted to hit the c3-pawn and then go after the d5-pawn (…Qc7-c4 or …Qf6-e5). I played 20…Qc7, but had I played 20…Qf6, something rather painful might have occurred after 21.Re3 (that’s the analysis diagram below):

(FEN: r3rbk1/1b3pp1/p2p1q1p/3P4/1P2p3/P1P1R2P/5PPN/R1BQ2K1 b - - 3 21)

I realized that after 20…Qf6 21.Re3 Qe5, White has the amazing 22.Ng4! Qxd5? 23.Nf6+!! winning. After 23…gxf6 24.Rg3+, there’s no way to stop 25.Qg4 with a winning attack! [After the game, he said he hadn’t seen this, in which case 20…Qf6 would probably have transposed back to the game.]

I avoided that pitfall with 20…Qc7. He has trouble hanging onto the d5-pawn here, and he instead returned it with 21.Bb2 Qc4 22.Ng4. Unfortunately, after restoring material equality, I started to play a little loosely and quickly found myself in difficulties.

(FEN: r1b1rbk1/6p1/p2pq2p/5p1Q/1PP1p3/P3N2P/1B3PP1/3RR1K1 b - - 3 26)

Sidorenko had just played 26.Rad1, and here I played 26…Ra7?, in line with my plan with 25…Bb7-c8. I wanted to swing the rook over to f7, and then play for …f4-f3 (maybe with …g6 thrown in for good measure). Unfortunately, I didn’t have that kind of time.

Sidorenko quickly responded with 27.Nxf5!. I had of course seen this move (if 27…Qxf5, then 28.Qxe8 wins), but I thought that 27…g6 was good for me. In this case, as they say, it was a case of me being hoisted by my own petard! After 28.Nxh6+ Kh7 29.Qh4!, it dawned on me that I was going to shed a lot of pawns to get that pesky knight.

(FEN: 2b1rb2/r6k/p2pq1pN/8/1PP1p2Q/P6P/1B3PP1/3RR1K1 b - - 2 29)

If 29…Bxh6, then 30.Bc1 forces 30…g5. Then 31.Bxg5 leaves Black helpless against either 32.Bxh6 Qxh6 33.Rxe4 or 33.Rxd6. In both cases, the remaining center pawn is also likely to fall, leaving White with 5 pawns for the bishop.

I wrote a blog about round 3 from Sants titled “The Simple Art of the Swindle,” and in a way, that came into play here. I decided that the most resilient line was 29…g5 30.Qh5! Bxh6 31.Rxd6! Qxd6 32.Qxe8 Qe6, offering a queen trade. White’s attack doesn’t win, so he has to play with 4 pawns for the bishop, but with Black having the bishop pair. This is a key difference with the endgame described above after 29…Bxh6, as you’ll see from the rest of this game.

He obliged, and we entered an endgame where White has 4 pawns for the bishop, but Black’s pieces are very poorly coordinated. None of the pieces are talking to each other. Still, I had some hope of saving the game, and faced with some difficult decisions, he started to go wrong. He had already started to go wrong when we reached the position below:

(FEN: 8/7k/7b/rP2R1p1/8/P2b3P/1B3PP1/6K1 w - - 3 38)

Here he played 38.b6? (38.Re7+ Kg8 39.b6 is the way to go, although this still involves some work). I was down to the increment, but I had already seen one of the main defensive ideas, and so I quickly played 38…Rxe5! 39.Bxe5 Ba6. He assumed this endgame was a trivial win. My light-squared bishop is tied to the queenside, and so all he has to do is exchange my g-pawn off and then advance with 2 against none on the kingside. Once things open up a bit, he will also be able to walk his king to the queenside and push through.

Unfortunately, he can’t walk his king in and he can’t exchange and advance on the kingside!

After 40.a4 Bf8 41.Bd4 Bb4 42.f3 Kg6 43.Kf2 Kf5, he began to realize his problem. The king has no path to the queenside (the two bishops take care of that – hence the need for 2 bishops, not just 1!) and it’s not easy for him to arrange h4 or f4.

(FEN: 8/8/bP6/5kp1/Pb1B4/5P1P/5KP1/8 w - - 3 44)

He later played Be3 and g3, but I responded with …Bd6. After that, both h4 and f4 will generally be met with …g4!. A pawn exchange on g4 lets my king into that square and then he’s stuck – the kingside pawns can’t advance and his king can’t get to the queenside!

He tried for a while, and maybe I didn’t even have to give any further opportunities, but at some point, I realized I could trade into a 3 vs. 1, opposite-colored bishop endgame, where all the pawns were on the kingside (h3, g3, and f3 versus g5). That endgame is a draw: 2 vs. 0 with opposite colored-bishops is generally a draw if the defender has time to set up the ideal defense and 3 pawns versus a bishop is also a draw.

I was happy that I managed to draw this game, but it did break my momentum and took me out of contention for one of the top prizes. To make matters worse, the final round was bright and early (9:30 AM, after the rounds at 4:30 PM every other day), and I’ve often had big trouble adjusting to different times during tournaments. I was white against GM Lars Karlsson of Sweden.

While a number of people have tried the Dutch against me (including one earlier in the event), most people have shied away from the Stonewall Dutch. In fact, I had never faced 1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 (my usual move) d5, with a full Stonewall setup (…c6 and …e6), in a rated game. I did once beat Steven Zierk in a simul in 2008, but a simul isn’t quite the same as a rated game.

(FEN: rnbq1rk1/p5pp/1ppbp3/3p1p2/2PPnB2/3BPN2/PP2NPPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 1 10)

In the above position, Black seems to be doing alright. He has his Stonewall setup and he’s ready to play …Bb7, ….Qe7, …Nd7 and so on. White doesn’t seem to be doing anything in particular, but I found 10.Qb3! here. He seemed to think his position was fine, but I think White is clearly better already!

Black’s problem is that he can’t actually achieve his ideal piece deployment. The Qb3 move seems odd, but I wanted to pressure d5 a little bit, while also preparing c4-c5 in some cases (after …Bb7, the b6-pawn will be pinned) and a4-a5 in other cases. Meanwhile, with a quick Rfc1 coming, there will be pressure down the c-file (indirectly or directly on c6) that can be further increased with Ne5. And exchanges on e5 or f4 merely help White bring a knight to f4, which will hit the soft e6-pawn and set up sacrifices on d5 (with a Kg8 and Ra8, the d5-square is ripe for tactics).

The computer supports my assessment, and in fact, I increased my advantage over the next few moves. Unfortunately, around move 20, I got lost calculating a piece sacrifice, proceeded to start to execute the idea, and then realized that I had missed something simple near the start of my calculations!

I hadn’t yet sacrificed the knight, but I had made a series of committal moves which I had to pull back from. In doing so, I gave away my entire advantage and the game began anew. In mutually horrible time pressure (both of us were down to the increment by move 30 and needed to make move 40 to get another 30 minutes), I started to outplay him yet again. The position in the diagram below help some promise for a quick knockout, but it wasn’t to be:

(FEN: 3N1r1k/6pp/1p2b1r1/2b1Bp1B/p7/Pq2P3/5PPP/Q2R2K1 b - - 7 34)

I had just played 34.Bh5, and Karlsson’s clock was ticking down from about 45 seconds. I thought he might play 34…Rg5, when I had prepared 35.h4! Rxh5 36.Bxg7+ Kg8 37.Bh8!!, winning. It’s a funny pattern with Bh8, Qa1, Nd8, and pawn on h4, but Black can’t stop Qg7!

Instead, he either saw it or sensed something was wrong, and played 34…Qxa3!. That set off a series of forced moves, continuing 35.Bxg6 Qxa1 36.Bxa1 Bb3 37.Rd7 hxg6 38.Rxg7! Rxd8 39.Rd7+ Kg8 40.Rxd8 Kf7, reaching the diagram below:

(FEN: 3R4/5k2/1p4p1/2b2p2/p7/1b2P3/5PPP/B5K1 w - - 1 41)

The dust had settled and we each had an extra 30 minutes to figure out what was going on. When I played 34.Bh5 earlier, I thought I was going to win this game, but now I wasn’t so sure. On paper, White has a winning material advantage, but Black’s bishops and pawns are quite strong. White also can’t push his kingside pawns so easily (he’d like to be able to play g4, h4, and h5, but that doesn’t quite work out).

In fact, I think this endgame is likely a draw, but it’s rather tricky for both sides. A misstep or two from White, and Black’s pawns will run. A misstep from Black, and White will have enough time to bring his king over. In the end, he exchanged the dark-squared bishops, which was the fatal mistake. He thought his bishop and connected passers would win, but thanks to a couple nifty rook moves, I was able to gain just enough time to get my king to the queenside.

I managed to liquidate the queenside (at the cost of my extra kingside pawns), reaching the position below:

(FEN: 8/R7/5kp1/5p2/5P2/2K5/7P/5b2 w - - 5 59)

Black had just played 58…Bf1, stopping 59.Ra6+. I knew that he wanted to play …g5, and I thought 59.h4 was fine, but on the 30-second increment again and tired from all the previous adventures, I thought I could delay it one more move with 59.Kd4. At the time, I thought I had a nice trap set up – after 59…g5, I played 60.Ra1. I thought that he had to play 60…Bb5, but then 61.Rb1 B-moves 62.Rb6+ wins the g5-pawn for free. Unfortunately, after 60.Ra1, he played 60…Be2! and I was cursing myself for not playing h4 earlier.

With …g5 in, I am likely stuck with a rook and h-pawn against bishop (Black can jettison the f-pawn). That’s a win, but it’s a bit tricky – for example, if White advances the h-pawn past h4, then the endgame is a draw! I actually did remember this endgame and the typical winning idea, but still, I didn’t want to have to execute that.

But, it doesn’t have to come to that – with Black’s king still on f6, I can cut it off on the g-file and then it’s a trivial win thanks to the f5-pawn. That pawn cuts the communication of the bishop along the b1-h7 diagonal, so he can’t hold the h-pawn back anymore. That’s actually what went down, and I wrapped up the full point close to 3 PM (the final game on the stage, and maybe the last game in the 600 player-strong tournament).

GM Maxim Rodshtein took clear first with 8.5/10. There were a few players with 8 before a big crowd on 7.5/10. That win against GM Karlsson brought me into that crowd with 7.5 points and a tie for 6th place. Not bad, especially considering that I was languishing around board 40 for a couple rounds.

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2 responses to “These Are Not the Bishop and Pawns You Are Looking For

  1. When you realize you’ve made an oversight (in this case, not playing 59. h4), do you typically think about those what if lines during the game?

  2. Definitely – I guess it depends on the magnitude of the mistake and the way the position swings. In this case, I knew the endgame was still winning (just not as simple). I also had to get focused pretty quickly, since I didn’t have a lot of time to waste.

    Still, for the first couple moves after …g5, Ra1, Be2, I repeated with rook/king moves hitting the bishop. With the increment, I wanted to give myself a little bit of extra time to think about what to do afterwards. But while he was thinking about where to move the bishop each time, I was kicking myself for playing Kd4 in the first place.

    It wasn’t until I ran out of opportunities to repeat each position twice that I managed to focus again and realize that the f5-pawn blocked his bishop.

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