The term "Move by Move" really does not apply to this book as Neil McDonald does not set out to describe a game "move by move". What he does is to select the critical part of a game where the opening ends and an appraisal of the plans available for both sides need to be made and this, in many cases, is when his notes begin.
It is a brave writer who places this particular aspect of chess under the microscope, given the number of books that have dealt with this subject. Practically every chess book written has had an element of planning worked into the text. Of the many that have been devoted to planning alone, a long-term favourite of mine is "Judgement and Planning in Chess" by Dr. Max Euwe. A refreshing aspect of McDonald's book is that in the main he uses games played during the last six years to illustrate his thesis. In fact there are several games from 2005 included so he is not tracking over well worn paths.
The technique used to describe the planning that goes into a well played game is well presented. In most cases the merits of several plans are discussed around one particular position and then some form of judgement is placed on the eventual plan developed. This is a thinking process which seems to be an authentic representation of how masters consider their chances during a game. Naturally, a plan chosen in the early part of a game, may not operate for the remainder of the game, as the opposite side may do something quite inexplicable when a change of plan is demanded.
McDonald chooses six themes to expand on planning techniques :-
Ferocious Files - 6 games.
Dangerous diagonals - 5 games
Wearing down a weakness - 5 games
Surging through the centre - 6 games
Pawns and goat pegs - 6 games
Horrible Holes - 7 games
The term "pawns and goat pegs" begs an explanation. To do so Mc Donald gives a quote from a Turkish manuscript written in Constantinople in 1501.
"The fourth arrangement is called al-fazz or gechi gazighi (goat peg). It is so-called because he who plays it wins with the pawns. They are like a peg in his opponent's clothes, and the opponent is like a man with his hands bound."
Mc Donald is a writer of note having recently produced "The Art of Logical Thinking" and "The Benko Gambit Revealed." The book under review is another fine effort in which the author very clearly masters his thesis in a very digestible and understandable manner. Many plans that he discusses arise from popular openings that are in the repertoire of many players and so has a very wide appeal. It would have been easy to set out fixed plans in these positions (a la Tarrasch) but McDonald avoids this pitfall.
In addition to the sections given above, the book, that is in the "Strategy/Tactics" category of Batsfords chess books, has an introduction and indices of openings, games and players. All are contained in 247 pages of double column format. The type is slightly bigger than the norm and the layout rather more spacious which make the contents very easy on the eye.
However, some unfortunate proof reading errors slightly mar the impeccable presentation. Some are noted in the game below but others that have come to my attention are :-
Page 23 - in the final note to Game 3, mate is delivered on f7 and not h7.
Page 50 - "It seems to me that the youthful Alekhine had already mentally chalked up the full point before the game even began against his 72 year old opponent, and was thinking more about his encounters with Capablanca and Alekhine (?) ........"
I was left pondering the comment made on Page 71 "Kasparov has been lucky as usual". In particular I wonder how Kasparov would reply to such a charge?
To illustrate the quality of the writing, I have chosen a game played by the young Norwegian prodigy, Magnus Carlsen. The game is rather typical of this attack by White and is worth close study as similar formations can arise in games played from other openings. This game is included in the "pawns and goat pegs" section of the book.
To players of any strength this book would be a valuable addition to their book shelves and at a normal price of £14.99 is very reasonably priced.
Vladimir Malakhov is a world-class Russian Grandmaster, with an excellent positional style; you need only look at his fine win against Vallejo Pons given in the next chapter to confirm this. However, in the present game he plays the opening carelessly, failing to carry out a vital pawn advance.
Thereafter young Magnus Carlsen, with a deft mixture of preventive and attacking moves, ensures that Black never escapes from the bind.
A superb game by the Norwegian prodigy and a warning to us all about the importance of respecting our pawns. and yes, there is a goat peg on e5, and a torrent pawn on the h-file.
The opening was the Meran Variation of the Slav:
There doesn't seem to be much danger facing Black in this rather tranquil looking position, but he soon falls into a terrible bind. The pawn structure requires him to achieve the c6-c5 advance. This would remove the backward pawn on c6, and fill the hole on the c5 square. It would also lessen the strength of the white centre by pressuring d4.
In fact Black could have played 10...c5!? as a temporary pawn sacrifice. Then after 11.dxc5 Nbd7 Black will regain the pawn, or at least considerably disrupt White's position. Here is how a recent Grandmaster game went: 12.Qa3 Rb8 13.b4 stopping the pawn fork on b4 and apparently keeping his booty, but ..... 13...Nxc5! 14.Bb2 (if 14.Qb2 Nd5 and Black will capture the pinned knight on c3, or 14.Qb3 Be6 attacking the white queen and preparing 15. ....bxc3)) 14...Ncd7 15.Rfd1 Qb6 and Black had equalised in Kruppa - Itkis, Kiev 2005.
Why did Malakhov avoid 10 .....c5, which has worked well for Black in the past? Perhaps he had found a refutation of the move in his own private opening research. Or maybe he feared that his opponent was going to ambush him with an improvement. Now it is possible that Magnus Carlsen had studied the Kruppa game and all the relevant theory in this line and found a flaw in Black's play. But this wasn't the moment for Black to be bluffed out of playing a
strategically vital move. If he was afraid to play 10. ....c5, he should never have entered the variation in the first place.
With 10 ....Nbd7 Black aims for a 'non-sacrificial' 11. ....e5, but he never gets around to
White gains space in the centre, frees the bishop on c1 and threatens to drive back the black knight with 12.e5. He (sic) we see that if Black was going to chicken out of 10 ....c5, he should at least have played 11. ....Bf5 (sic) last move to prevent this move.
Black loses heart and abandons the c6-c5 plan altogether. Instead 11...c5 is fraught with danger as White can advance in the centre; still, it was the consistent move and worth a try: 12.e5 Ng4 13.e6 c4 14.Qd1 Nb6 (not 14...fxe6 15.Ng5 when the double threat of 16.Ne6 and 16.Bxg4 wins for White.) 15.exf7+ Kh8.
11.....c5 is risky; but nothing can be riskier than renouncing the plan
that the position requires and simply making do with the development of
the pieces. It is far better to be involved in a dubious looking
but tactically murky position, than wait quietly to be strategically
The bishop finds an excellent post in the centre to complete a smooth development of the white minor pieces.
Who could resist a 'free' developing move? Black plans to exchange off light squared bishops and gains time for the manoeuvre by attacking the white queen. It makes a lot of sense to get rid of the bishop, as generally speaking, Black has less space and it will therefore ease the congestion in his ranks; also, he intends to play e7-e6 to entrench himself on the light squares, and this would upset the bishop. Nevertheless, in view of the positional stranglehold that the white knights are going to exert in the centre, it might have been better to
relinquish the bishop pair with 12...Bg4
The queen doesn't mind being forced to retreat as she has important tasks on the second rank.
So here is Black's mini-plan. It looks very anaemic compared to the pawn play which he has spurned at moves 10 and 11.
Not only bolstering d4 but also deterring a future c6-c5 in view of the discovered attack on the black queen afer d4xc5.
Nonetheless, it seems that Black hasn't yet given up on the idea of c6-c5.
White completes a smooth development. His pieces can be said to be on optimal squares.
White has emerged from the opening phase with a very pleasant position. Thanks to his opponent's passive play, he has the luxury of a variety of strategies and mini-plans to choose from. However, over the next few moves he will need to make some committal decisions. Let's look at his options:
Pressure along the c-file.
The most obvious plan in view of Black's structural weaknesses on c5 and c6. White might have the following aims:
-at the very least, stop Black freeing himself with c6-c5.
-attack the backward pawn on c6 with doubled rooks and Ne5.
- exploit the hole on the c5 square by landing a knight on it.
Note the contradiction here - if we seize the c5 square as a superb base for the knight, we block the attack on the white rooks against c6. In fact, properly speaking, rather than being a facet of queenside pressure, putting a knight on c5 supports action in the centre or on the kingside - by its influence on the e6 square and general restraint of the opponent's pieces.
A pawn advance in the centre.
It is highly unlikely that the pawn advance with d4-d5 would ever help White, but the alternative e4-e5 would achieve the following:
-drive the knight from f6 which strengthens a kingside attack.
- clear the way for Ne4 and Nc5 to exploit c5.
- lessen the scope of the bishop on g7.
But remember with e4-e5 White is handing over the d5 square to the black knight. He is also blocking the Ne5 move to attack c6.
Direct attack on the kingside.
Assuming that things remain static in the centre and queenside, White can prepare a gradual attack on the black king. Here are some general ideas:
-advance h4-h5 to open the h-file and undermine g6.
- challenge the important defensive bishop with Bh6.
- manoeuvre the queen to h4 and play Ng5.
It will be seen that these kingside attacking ideas gain power if white advances e4-e5 and drives the black knight from f6. Thereafter, an h4-h5 advance couldn't be answered by Nf6xh5; and the Qh4 and Ng5 attacking combination is far more powerful if h7 is no longer defended by the knight.
After assessing the options above, Carlsen decides that the way to set Black most problems is the e4-e5 centre advance, Ne4 and Nc5 seizing c5 and a kingside attack. No doubt he was influenced by his opponent's next move.
The queen heads for b7 where she supports the c6 pawn. In other words, Black's strongest piece will be well placed to fight queenside pressure, but a long way from helping her king; this makes a kingside attack even more
appetizing for white. And, furthermore, on b7 the queen will be within range of an attack by Nc5 .....
White wishes the black queen all speed on her journey to b7. With this little unhurried move he prevents her taking an alternative route to the kingside with 17 ....Qg4!? which would at least confuse matters.
Note that Carlsen avoids the tempting 17.Ne5
Indeed, what could be more natural than putting the knight in the thick of things with an attack on the black queen? However, after 17...Qe6
the knight will be undermined with Nh5 - and even worse, White has deprived himself of his strongest plan; his own knight is preventing e4-e5. It could be said that Malakhov has set a positional trap, and his opponent has declined to fall into it. Wonderfully mature play from a 15 year
The black queen finds herself in a hinterland stuck behind the c6 pawn. Of course, things would be very different if Black was able to break out with c6-c5. In that case, the e4 pawn might become an attractive target.
Another great positional move. We associate sacrifices and sharp attacks with the Norwegian wunderkind and jumping ahead the present game will have a violent finish; but it is the ability to find unobtrusive 'little' moves in the build up that mark a rare chess talent.
White wants to play e4-e5 to clear the way for Ne4 and Nc5. He might feel anxious to get this in straightaway, before Black can consider 18. .....c5. However, if immediately 18.e5 then 18...Nfd5 attacks the white bishop. Then after the bishop moves to safety, say 19.Bg5 play might continue 19...Nxc3 20.Rxc3 Nd5 21.Rc5 With the exchange on c3, Black has confounded the plan of Ne4 and Nc5; and he has also overcome what may be termed 'superfluous knight syndrome'. After e4-e5, Black has two knights, but only one suitable square for them on d5. therefore he can be delighted to be rid of one of them. After 21.Rc5, White could still count on an edge by besieging the c6 pawn, but the more biting plan of a kingside attack would have been rendered less effectual.
In the game, Carlsen avoids all the hassle by moving his bishop one square. He has also seen that 18. ....c5 in reply would
Alas for Black it is too late for a comfortable 18...c5
as after 19.dxc5
White can exploit his superior development to drive the black pieces backwards: 20.Be3!
(when if 22...Ne8?
and wins, ) so Black has to risk 23.Nd5
etc. when his knight is stranded on the edge of the board and vulnerable to being trapped by
Carlsen follows the plan outlined at his 16th move above. The strong pawn on e5 drives away the knight from the defence of its king and, in conjunction with his next move which rules out c6-c5, keeps the bishop on g7 shut in. The fact that Black is given the d5 square for his knight is of much less consequence.
As you will be aware after reading the comment to 18.Bg5 above, to allow Nxc3 would be a positional mistake for White, and so .....
Here the knight not only watches over the c5 square, but it is also available for the projected kingside assault.
The knight stops an invasion with 21.Nc5 and, in some cases,
prepares to retreat to f8 either to aid its king, or perhaps to journey onwards to a good square on e6.
A defensive and attacking move rolled into one. It not only preparing (sic) his next move, but also restrains c6-c5, as 21 ....c5? 22.dxc5 leaves the knight on d5 hanging.
With the c6-c5 break prevented, Black has run out of good ideas. At least after this rather miserable retreat he can play the defensive move Nf8 without White gaining time by hitting the queen with Nc5.
At last all the preparations and precautions are complete, and so Carlsen begins a direct attack on the black king.
Despite being shut in by the pawn on e5, the black bishop still has great worth as a defensive piece. Hence Malakhov is loathe to allow its exchange.
Carlsen has a solid grip on the dark squares and Black is lacking the slightest activity. It is therefore time to start a battle for the light squares. The first step is to undermine the g6 pawn with h4-h5. If Black just waits, White would play h4-h5, h5xg6 and after the recapture h7xg6, Qg5 and e5-e6, splitting up the kingside.
It will be seen that the intrinsic aim of this strategy is to mate the black king after destroying his light square defences. After Black's recapture h7xg6 in the scheme above, white could also play for a direct mate along the h-file with Qg5 and then Qh4 and Ng5.
Black meets the potential threat of e5-e6 as above, but he loses more dark square control.
The fact that the white
knight can sit with impunity on the c5 square shows that something has gone horribly wrong with black's strategy.
He had to meet the threat of 25.Bxf8 followed by a knight fork on d7 winning the exchange.
Carlsen presses on with his kingside attack without a care in the world, as Black has zero
This retreat reminds us that the value of a piece is to be judged by how well it contributes to the health of the whole army, not its own individual worth. The black knight was, in itself, beautifully placed on d5: it sat in the centre and could never be
dislodged by a pawn. But how was it helping Black's war effort? therefore Malakhov prefers to retreat it in the hope that it can support 26.....Nfe6, when the white knight on c5 is challenged, the white queen is denied the g5 square and maybe - just maybe - pressure against the d4 pawn might be a source of counterplay for Black in the future. Of course, if 25...Ne6
immediately, White can smash up the kingside with 26.Nxe6
and White should win quickly, as if 28...Kh7
and Black has no good defence against the threat of 30...--
and mate next move.
Now Black has the ugly choice between allowing the opening of the h-file or weakening the e6 square with 26....fxg6, when white could play for mate with 27.Ng5, 28.Qf4 and 29.Qf7, as Black wouldn't have f7-f6 in reply.
Now what is the move that changes the energy balance most in White's favour?
'With a knight on f8 it can never be mate' said Bent Larsen. Obviously Carlsen agrees with his great Scandinavian predecessor, as by
exchanging on f8, white clears the way for his queen to get to h6 whilst preventing Black from challenging the knight on c5 with 27.....Nfe6.
Black is relieved to be rid of the menacing white bishop, but the shadow of an even bigger white piece is about to fall over his king.
The queen and the knight are well known to be a formidable attacking force,
and their different powers increases the chance of finding a key to unlock a defence. Here, for example, White to move could end the game at once with 1( sic) Ng5 intending mate on h7.
Black avoids immediate disaster by kicking away the white queen, but there is no hope of a successful long term defence.
Now the threat of 30.Ng5 forces Black to wreck his king's cover.
A horrible move to have to make, as the pawn was performing an essential role on f7 in guarding the e6 square and g6 pawn.
The black king tries to hold together the rotten timbers of his fortress.
By compelling the g6 pawn to advance, the knight wins the f5 square for itself and the h5 square for the queen.
Of course Black cannot allow 32.Qxg6+.
Lift your eyes from the black king's sufferings for a moment and take a look at the black queen sitting idly on a7. If there was ever a case of high
treason this is it.
It is almost too easy; a second white knight takes up residence on the fifth rank. Black's pawns have clearly failed in their duty.
Black meets the threat of 34.Nxe7 mate, but concedes the e6 square.
Black's control of the light squares has totally collapsed. White has already seized the g6 and f5 squares, and the arrival of a knight on e6 is intolerable. Indeed, in the works of Adolf Anderssen, the great 19th century attacking genius 'Once you get a knight firmly posted at e6 you may go to sleep. Your game will play itself'. Malakhov didn't wait to see yet another murder by a sleep walker after 35.Ne6 when the queen and knights descend on g7, or if 35....Rf7 36.Nh6+. Nor does 34. ....fxe5 help as 35.Qe6+ wins a rook. 1-0