“But where you at, I was, and where you been, I left
Utilize my experience to guide your step”
– Mos Def in “Little Brother”
I was flipping through Lars Bo Hansen’s book Improve Your Chess the other day – I haven’t played in 11 months now and I haven’t seriously studied in about as long, but I still enjoy flipping reading a chess book now and then – when I came across an example from page 96 of the book.
6k1/1prnnp1p/p5p1/3p4/3N1N2/1P2PP1P/P5P1/3R2K1 w - - 0 29)
The game is Larsen – Gheorghiu, Palma de Mallorca 1968. Hansen gives the game as an example of how to play against Isolated Queen’s Pawns, but for me, the interesting part starts here.
White played 29.g4!, and Hansen gives the comment “White prepares to open a second front, a typical theme in strategic endings; you usually need two weaknesses to win.”
The game continued 29…h6?, to which Hansen notes, “It is understandable that Black does not want to wait passively, but this merely aids White.”
After 30.Kf2 Ne5 31.h4! Rc8 32.h5!, the position in the following diagram was reached:
2r3k1/1p2np2/p5pp/3pn2P/3N1NP1/1P2PP2/P4K2/3R4 b - - 0 32)
Again, quoting Hansen:
“Now it becomes clear why Black should have left the pawn on h7. In that case, 33.hxg6 would be less of a threat as Black could keep his defensive lines intact after 33…hxg6. However, now Black has to abandon either e6 or f5, which allows White to carry out his plan of encircling the d5-pawn.”
Black blundered pretty quickly here, and the rest isn’t particularly interesting in my view: 32…Kg7 33.Ke2 g5? (Black’s position was difficult, as White can think about Rh1, exchanging on g6, and Nfe6+ ideas) 34.Nxd5! Nxd5 35.Nf5+. White is up a pawn and Black blundered a whole piece in a couple more moves.
Fast forward 43 years to the Bazna Kings tournament in Romania that finished a little over a month ago, and check out the game between Magnus Carlsen and Vassily Ivanchuk from round 7. The full game can be replayed in a bunch of places, but I’d suggest the ChessVibes article for the round, which also has some notes from GM Dorian Rogozenko.
2r5/1p3pk1/p4npp/3pn3/3N4/1P2PP1P/P3NKP1/3R4 b - - 0 35)
This is the position in the Carlsen-Ivanchuk game after Carlsen’s 35.Ng3-e2. Looks pretty similar to the first Larsen-Gheorghiu position above, right?
Ivanchuk’s 35…Kf8 goes without comment here, but that’s probably a product of Rogozenko having to do live commentary.
Using what I saw in the Larsen game, this move is already a mistake to me. After Carlsen’s 36.g4!, White sets up the same advantageous pawn-structure on the kingside that Larsen did. Although Chucky put up more resistance than Gheorghiu, after 36.g4 Nc6 37.Rc1 Ke7 38.h4 Kd6 39.h5 Ne7 40.Rh1, White was already clearly better (diagram is below).
2r5/1p2np2/p2k1npp/3p3P/3N2P1/1P2PP2/P3NK2/7R b - - 0 40)
Going back to the first Carlsen-Ivanchuk diagram, I think I found a serious improvement for Black:
Instead of playing 35…Kf8, I think Ivanchuk should have played 35…h5!. The idea is straightforward: if White wants to play g4, he will have to acquiesce to an exchange of pawns and give up the idea of using the h-pawn as a lever to force a kingside concession.
Actually, even with the pawn on h7, I think 35…h5 might be the correct move. With the pawn on h7, White might not pry open the h-file in the same way, but he can still seize a lot of kingside space by pushing his g- and f-pawns.
After …h5, though, some of that potential pressure is relieved after 36.g4 hxg4 37.hxg4. White has no immediate way to win a pawn, but the idea of 38.Nf4 and 39.g5 is annoying (and …g5 from Black gives up the f5-square). So with that in mind, I’d suggest 37…Ng8, preemptively rerouting the knight to a safe square (e7) which still guards the d5-pawn. After 38.Nf4 Ne7, we reach the following position:
2r5/1p2npk1/p5p1/3pn3/3N1NP1/1P2PP2/P4K2/3R4 w - - 0 39)
Black’s making use of some tactics to hold onto d5, but these tactics don’t seem all that surprising to me. After something like 39.Nde2 Rc5, White can win the pawn with 40.b4, but that doesn’t lead to anything positive.
After 40…Rc2 41.Nxd5 Nxd5 42.Rxd5 Nc4, White can’t keep his extra pawn. Both 43.Rd7 b5 and 43.a4 Nb6 44.Rd7 Nxa4 equalize the material (in the last case, the threat of 45…Nc3 means White can’t take on b7).
Meanwhile, something like 40.g5 gains a bit of space on the kingside, but Black can simply play 40…a5 and ask White what he wants to do. With h-pawns still on the board, maybe White could play h4-h5-h6, fixing the h7-pawn as a potential problem later on. With those pawns exchanged, I don’t see any plan for White.
This seems like a nice advertisement for why we shouldn’t forget about the top players of the past … the game has moved on in many ways, but some things never change.