Fire on Board (plus some less fiery examples)

With some free time this weekend, I was looking at the list of live games on the TWIC site and noticed this gem from the Bundesliga. It’s a game between GM Chuchelov (2565) and GM Shirov (2749). Of course Shirov is the favorite in such a matchup, but this game was still very impressive I thought.

(FEN: 2rq1rk1/pb1n1ppp/1ppbpn2/3p4/2PP4/1PN1PN2/PBQ1BPPP/3R1RK1 b - - 0 11)

This is a topical position from the Anti-Meran variations of the Semi-Slav. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had this position a few times over my Fellowship years. Unlike Shirov, though, I was hesitant to open the center up with my queen still on d8 and so I think I would play 11…Qe7 here.

Shirov is a bit more adventurous (and a lot better) than me, so he played 11…c5 immediately. After 12.dxc5 Nxc5 13.Qb1 Qe7, White tried 14.Ng5 (setting up some tactics with 15.Nxd5 and mates on h7).

Back in 1995, I fell into that same tactic against Bacrot at the World Youth (a rather embarrassing loss that broke my win streak of 6 games in that event). Shirov played 14…Nfe4 (I might have considered 14…g6), but Shirov’s move makes a nice impression in what follows. After a couple more moves (15.Ngxe4 dxe4 16.Rd2 f5 17.Rfd1), they reached the position in the diagram below:

(FEN: 2r2rk1/pb2q1pp/1p1bp3/2n2p2/2P1p3/1PN1P3/PB1RBPPP/1Q1R2K1 b - - 0 17)

What would you play here?

I’d probably play 17…Bb8. White can’t invade on d7 very easily (18.b4 Qc7! 19.g3 Nd3! is not what White wants to see), and Black can either try and set up some kingside pressure with …Qc7 and …Nd3 (taking the knight after playing g3 would give Black the long diagonal), or challenge the d-file with …Rd8.

But that’s not Shirov. Shirov dropped the hammer with 17…Bxh2+!! 18.Kxh2 Qh4+ 19.Kg1 f4!.

(FEN: 2r2rk1/pb4pp/1p2p3/2n5/2P1pp1q/1PN1P3/PB1RBPP1/1Q1R2K1 w - - 0 20)

It’s important to note that Black needs 19…f4! for this to work – the pawn push both hits e3 (and by extension opens the f2-square) and prevents White from playing g3 himself. In some cases, Black might also want to play …f3 or use the 5th rank for his rooks.

White has a lot of choices here, and I can’t say I spent anywhere near enough time to exhaust White’s options, but I don’t see anything good for him.

Chuchelov tried 20.Nb5, but some alternatives might be:

(1)   20.exf4 Qxf4 21.Bf1 (21.f3 Qe3+ and 22…exf3 rips White’s position open ) e3 22.fxe3 Qxe3+ 23.Kh2 Rxf1 wins

(2)   20.Bf1 Rf6! 21.Rd8+ Rxd8 22.Rxd8+ Kf7 and White is helpless to stop …Rh6 next. This is one example of why …f4 is key – Black could have played …Rf6 on the previous move, but then after the rook exchange on d8, White would just play g3, hitting Black’s queen and gaining time for Bf1-g2 (covering the soft h1-square). That’s not available anymore.

(3)   20.b4 fxe3 21.fxe3 Qg5 22.bxc5 Qxe3+ 23.Kh1 Qh6+ 24.Kg1 e3! is winning, because of the multitude of threats, including …exd2, …Bxg2, and …Rf2.

After 20.Nb5, here’s what the position looks like:

(FEN: 2r2rk1/pb4pp/1p2p3/1Nn5/2P1pp1q/1P2P3/PB1RBPP1/1Q1R2K1 b - - 0 20)

Shirov continued to push with 20…Nd3!, hitting f2, clogging up White’s position, and opening the 5th rank for …Rc5-h5/g5 ideas! Another point behind 19…f5-f4!

After 20.Bxd3 exd3, Black now threatens 21…Bxg2! 22.Kxg2 f3+ and mate follows. Thus, White can’t simply take on d3, and Chuchelov tried 21.e4. Shirov pushed forward with 21…f3!, and now 22.Qxd3 fails to 22…fxg2 23.Kxg2 Bxe4+, picking up the queen.

Thus, White tried to cover the g-file with 22.Be5. After 22…Bxe4 23.Bg3, Black has to defend for one move with 24…Qh6, but an amusing situation has arisen:

(FEN: 2r2rk1/p5pp/1p2p2q/1N6/2P1b3/1P1p1pB1/P2R1PP1/1Q1R2K1 w - - 0 25)

White’s extra piece is worthless and he’s completely lost. Taking on f3 will allow a mating attack, but 25.Nd4 Rc5 forces the issue because of …Rh5 next. The game finished 26.gxf3 Rxf3! 27.Rxd3 Rxd3 28.f3 Qe3+ 29.Bf2 Rg5+ 30.Kf1 Rxd1+ and White threw in the towel (31.Qxd1 Bd3+ is brutal).

And it all started with 17…Bxh2+!!, a move that I might well have underestimated like Chuchelov!

In my last post, I mentioned an endgame from a game between Grischuk and Gelfand (see post here). In that one, Gelfand made use of a nice little en passant motif to force the win of a pawn. If Grischuk walked into the pin of the e5-pawn, then …f5 would seal the rook off from the proceedings.

Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but yesterday, I noticed another amusing en passant motif:

(FEN: 2kr2r1/p4p2/1pb1p2p/3pP3/5R2/2PBK1P1/P1P4P/1R6 b - - 0 24)

This is from the rapid game between Anand and Nakamura. Nakamura played 24…Rg5 here, hitting the e5-pawn. Now taking on f7 is natural and strong (and what Anand played), but at first I thought, why not 25.Kd4?

Well, I’ve given the theme away already, but Black would play 25…f5!, solving the problem of his weak and backward f-pawn. If 26.exf6 (e.p.) then, Black hits White with 26…e5+, winning the rook!

Anyways, after 25.Rxf7, White is clearly better, but it’s still a fight and Nakamura had to work hard to halve the point.

Finally, one more endgame I noticed as a recent ChessBase column. I didn’t find the explanation particularly enlightening if you don’t know what’s going on, so here’s my attempt:

(FEN: 8/8/4pk2/7P/6p1/7r/5K2/7R w - - 0 52)

GM Mueller poses the question, should White play 52.Rxh3 or 52.Ra1? As he says, 52.Ra1 might well draw, but 52.Rxh3 is the correct move for sure. After 52…gxh3, Santos played 53.Kg3 Kg5 54.Kh2!, and held the draw.

As Mueller notes, after 54.Kxh3? Kxh5, Black has the opposition and wins.

The thing about this king and pawn endgame is that with the pawn as far back as it is, the key squares are those that are 2 ranks in front of the pawn. Thus, with the pawn on e6, if Black gets control of d4, e4, or f4, it’s over for White.

(FEN: 8/8/4p3/7k/8/7K/8/8)

Therefore, with the opposition, White can get to a Ke3/Ke5 + e6 setup, but he then has to give way and let Black take one of those squares.

That’s really all there is to it, and so White has to “lose” a move with 54.Kh2 to draw. If Black advances the pawn to e5, then the key squares become d3/e3/f3, and so then White doesn’t care about the opposition!

The temporary opposition after 54…e5 55.Kxh3 Kxh5 isn’t worth anything, as after 56.Kg3 Kg5 57.Kf3 Kf5 58.Ke3, it’s clear that Black is never going to get control of the key squares on the 3rd rank.

With this in mind, 53.Kg3 and 54.Kh2 is not the only way to draw – White just has to be ready to take the h3-pawn AFTER Black takes White’s h5-pawn or advances his e-pawn. So in addition to Kg3-h2, 53.Kf3 Kg5 54.Kg3 and even 53.Kg1 Kg5 54.Kh2 draw!

(FEN: 8/8/4p3/6kP/8/7p/7K/8 b - - 0 54)

By the way, the endgame finished in a draw after 54.Kh2 (diagram above) Kh6 (Black waits) 55.Kg3 (White waits) h2 56.Kxh2 Kxh5 57.Kh3 and with Black unable to get his king to the 4th rank, it’s a draw.


One response to “Fire on Board (plus some less fiery examples)

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