Pieces and Pawns En Prise

Playing through a few of the top boards from each round at the World Open, there were a few games that caught my eye.

First up, Adams – Ehlvest, from round 4.

(FEN: r4rk1/4pnbp/2pp1pp1/Pq6/2NPP1b1/P4N2/1B3PPP/2RQR1K1 w - - 0 18)

Ehlvest had just sacrificed a pawn on a5 (16…a5 17.bxa5 Bg4), and probably was banking on some loose pieces in White’s camp to recover it. It does look like the Nc4 is a bit overloaded, having to watch over the Bb2 and the pawn on a5, while the pin from the Bg4 might also be annoying with …Ng5 on tap.

Adams’s next move was a bit confusing at first, but there’s a reason he was consistently in the top 10 of the world. He played 18.h3!, and after 18…Bxf3 19.Qxf4 d5 20.exd5 cxd5, the position in the diagram below was reached:

(FEN: r4rk1/4pnbp/5pp1/Pq1p4/2NP4/P4Q1P/1B3PP1/2R1R1K1 w - - 0 21)

White seems to have gotten himself in a bit of a pickle here, as the overloaded knight is now under attack. White’s next of 21.a4 makes some sense, but after 21…Qb7, it still looks like trouble – the knight is safe for the time being, but …Ng5 ends the pin on the d5-pawn, and playing 22.h4 is too slow because then Black just needs to guard his queen (with 22…Rfb8 for example), and then both minors are hanging. So what to do?

Adams uncorked the brilliant 22.Ba3! at this point (although the whole idea had to seen with 18.h3), seemingly ignoring the threat to his knight. After 22…Ng5 23.Qe2, the main line must be to take the knight, but Ehlvest found it didn’t work and played 23…Re8 instead. After 24.Rb1 Qa6 25.Nb6, White emerged a pawn up in the endgame and won without too much more trouble.

But what happens if Black takes the knight?

(FEN: r4rk1/1q2p1bp/5pp1/P5n1/P1QP4/B6P/5PP1/2R1R1K1 b - - 0 24)

After 23…dxc4 24.Qxc4+, Black has three reasonable moves, none of which seem to work:

(1)   24…Kh8 25.Rxe7 Qa6 26.h4 Qxc4 27.Rxc4 Nf7 28.Rd7! – a short move that leaves Black completely helpless along the 7th rank.

(2)   Black is similarly tied up on the 7th after 24…Nf7 25.Rxe7 Qa6 26.Qa2!, when the threat of 26.Rcc7 to follow means that Black needs to exchange the rook on e7, but doing so uncovers the Ba3’s attack on the Rf8.

(3)   24…Rf7 doesn’t seem to drop material, but Black is completely tied up after 25.Rxe7 Qb8 26.a6!. After a further 26….Bf8 27.Rb7 Qd8 28.Bxf8 Qxf8 29.Qb3!! (diagram below), Black is toast:

(FEN: r4qk1/1R3r1p/P4pp1/6n1/P2P4/1Q5P/5PP1/2R3K1 b - - 0 29)

Black can’t take on a6 because of 30.Rb8, while 29…Kg7 30.h4! Ne4 31.Rxf7 Qxf7 32.Qb7! hits all of Black’s pieces (including the Ne4).

A brilliant example of domination.

One amusing moment I saw was from Van Wely – Smirin in round 6:

(FEN: 3b2k1/r1pq3p/1p1p2pB/1P1Pp3/P3P3/2R4P/2Q3PK/8 b - - 0 1)

White is definitely in the driver’s seat, but I’m not sure he can make progress against good defense here. White can’t really switch between the weaknesses on the c- and f-files so easily (and he’s got a weak pawn on a4 to watch over as well).

However, while that might be true after 34…Ra8, Smirin let his guard down with 34…Be7?. Van Wely executed a nice breakthrough with 35.a5! here – taking with the rook allows 36.Rxc7, while 35…bxa5 36.b6! cxb6 37.Rc8+ Bd8 38.Qf2! Qe7 (covering mate on f8) 39.Qxb6 Rc7 40.Ra8 is winning for White. As in the Adams game above, Black is completely tied up.

Smirin tried 35…Bd8, but after 36.axb6 cxb6 37.Rc8 Rc7, problems on the f-file cost him time as 38.Qf2 Qe7 39.Ra8 is similar to that above line. Black resigned a few moves later.

On 34…Ra8 in the above diagram though, the same idea doesn’t work since the Bd8 nicely covers the c7-pawn. And if White switches to the f-file with 35.Rf3, then 35…Be7 36.Qf3 Qe8 covers the soft f8- and f7-squares, leaving White with nothing better than to repeat with 37.Qc2. As they like to say in every sports telecast, it’s a game of inches …

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