CHESS SUCCESS

PLANNING AFTER THE OPENING

by

NEIL McDONALD

 

(1) Leko,Peter (2738) - Gurevich,Mikhail (2635) [C11]
Wch Candidates sf Elista (1.3), 29.05.2007
[Neil McDonald]

The opening was a French Defence, classical Variation. Black played rather too passively: we should recommend the paradoxical retreat 10 .....Be7!? to avoid the exchange of dark squared bishops and keep Black's dynamic chin up. then his knight could get to work with Nb6, threatening Nc4, hopefully to persuade White to weaken himself with b2-b3.

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 a6 8.Qd2 b5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Ne2 Qb6 11.Bxc5 Nxc5 12.Ned4 Ne4 13.Qe3 b4 14.Bd3 Bb7 15.0-0 0-0 16.Rae1 Nxd4 17.Qxd4 Qxd4+ 18.Nxd4 g6

Leko has his knight esconced on the dream d4-square, but it hasn't gone all his way. The black knight has managed to reach its own outpost on e4. It is true that White can eliminate it with his bishop, so Black's outpost isn't as sacrosant as d4. On the other hand 18.Bxe4? dxe4 wouldn't be inspiring for White: for example if he then put his king on c3 and tried to round up the e-pawn with Ne2 and Ng3 and Nxe4, Black could in the meantime attack the backward pawn on c2 beginning with Rac8. He might even put his rook on c4 to provoke b2-b3 so that he gets to the c3 square. All in all, White would quickly miss the bishop on d3 that guarded the c2 pawn and the c4 square, and he is highly unlikely to achieve Nxe4 without something going seriously wrong on the queenside. Furthermore, the exchange on e4 would denigrate the value of the d4 outpost. With the bishop on d3 covering c4, and no means of frontal attack by Black while the pawn is on d5, the knight on e4 is invincible: whereas 19.Bxe4 dxe4 would deprive it of its protective mantle. Leko came up with a much better idea:

19.Ra1!!

Simple yet brilliant!  Leko intends to open a front on the queenside with a2-a3. The white rook only went from a1 to e1 three moves ago, but having helped to stabilise things in the centre it returns home to a1. a lot of players would have a mental block about putting the rook back in the corner, but the important thing is to play the move that the position requires, however odd it might appear at first glance. In fact, you might say that the odder a good move looks the better, as there is a greater chance your opponent has overlooked it!

19...a5

Gurevich bolsters the b4 pawn in anticipation of his opponent's next move.

20.a3

 If now 20. ....bxa3? 21.Rxa3 when the a5 pawn is doomed after 22.Rfa1.

20...Nc5

The knight retreats from the square about which we've been singing eulogies. I guess that Gelfand felt that the knight was becoming isolated on e4, as all the action is on the extreme edge of the queenside. Perhaps Gurevich was afraid of the plan 21.Ra2. 22.Rfa1, 23.axb4 and after ...axb4, 24.Ra7.By putting the knight on c5 he ensures that White's self-incarceration of his rooks can be met with an appropriately timed Nxd3 opening the c-file or else f7-f6? counterattacking in the centre. Note that on c5 the black knight guards e6, so that f7-f6 doesn't drop the e6 pawn to the white knight.

21.axb4

White opens the a-file without any more fuss.

21...axb4

In some variations of the Sicilian Defence, White seems to regards, the avoidance of the exchange of his light-squared bishop as a matter of life and death. black's bishop is more or less entombed by the pawn structure after 21...Nxd3 22.cxd3 axb4 23.Kf2! Ba6 24.Ke3 Strategically speaking White would have every chance to win as the b4 pawn would become indefensible sooner or later. Black needs to keep his knight on the board to fight for both the safety of the b4-pawn and his dark squares in general.

22.Kf2!

The black knight leaving e4 has been good news for the white king as there is no longer a barrier on f2 preventing him from marching his king to the centre of the board.

22...Rfc8?

"The king is a strong piece: use it!" said Reuben Fine. Gurevich should have followed this advice (and indeed the example of his opponent) by playing 22...f6! 23.exf6 Kf7! followed by 24.-- Kxf6 brings the black king into the thick of the action, while after 23.Ke3! Kf7 and 24. ....Ke7 the king helps hold together the black centre and can rush to the queenside if necessary. Black needs to create a bit of imbalance in the position, even if it is only a gentle stab at the e5 pawn. Letting a great strategist like Leko play "without an opponent" is sure to end in disaster.

23.g4!

All four black pieces apart from the king are on the queenside. therefore a kingside pawn advance adheres to the principle that you should attack the opponent where he is weakest . If Black waits then White will advance with moves like Ke3, h4-h5 and f4-f5, breaking open lines for his rooks and minor pieces. Black would struggle to defend as he would be outgunned - if you need a reason why, just take a look at the miserable bishop on b7 that would have been a negligible role in any kingside battle.

23...b3?

So Gurevich decides to be active after all, but he chooses one of the worst ways to do it. It is easy to recommend the stoical 23...Kf8 and 24.-- Ke7 but it would leave Black facing a gruelling defence.

24.Ke3!

Keeping control. Not 24.Nxb3?? Nxd3+ 25.cxd3 Rc2+ when Black's game springs to life.

24...bxc2

If Gurevich was relieved to get rid of his isolated pawn, he must soon have changed his mind.

25.Rxa8
Leko wants as few black pieces as possible to be in the fight against the passed d-pawn. Hence he rejects 25.Bxc2 Rab8!

25...Rxa8

Hoping against hope for 25...Rxa8 26.Nxc2!! Nxd3 27.Kxd3 Ba6+ when the bishop that has been maligned throughout the whole game answers its critics.

26.Bxc2

Here we shall finish the move by move analysis. White's plan has obviously been a great success: he has a passed pawn on the queenside, a space advantage on the kingside, the better king, the better knight and the better bishop! Only his rook seems no better than Black's but he is soon able to exchange it off by threatening to infiltrate on a7 or c7. The next phase of the game culminates in Leko advancing the passed pawn on b5.

26...Kf8 27.Rc1 Rc8 28.Ra1 Ra8 29.Rxa8+ Bxa8 30.b4 Na6 31.b5 Nc5 32.Nb3

Clearing the way for the king to go to d4 where it threatens to invade on the queenside . Black can't afford to exchange knights: his wretched bishop and king wouldn't be able to hold back the passed pawn when it is supported by the white monarch and his powerful cleric.

32...Nd7 33.Kd4 Ke7 34.Nc5 Nb6 35.h4 Kd8

There now follow some superfluous repetitions by White (time trouble?) before he closes the game.

36.Bd3 Ke7 37.Be2 Kd8 38.Bf1 Ke7 39.Bd3 Kd8 40.Bc2 Ke7 41.Bd1 Kd8 42.Be2 Ke7 43.g5!

The white attack on the kingside regains steam. Leko intends to put a pawn on h6 to fix h7 as a target for an eventual Nf6 and a line-clearing bishop sacrifice.

43...Kd8

Black's problem is that he can't rush his king to g8 as then the white king will shepherd home the passed pawn on the queenside.

44.h5 Ke7

Leko can't be prevented from fixing the pawns on the kingside in the manner of his choosing, as if 44...gxh5 45.Bxh5 and White can return the bishop to d3 and capture on h7.

45.h6

Completing the blockade of the kingside. Now it is the turn of the white pieces: the bishop will be deployed to c2 (it is important that it aims at g6) and the white knight brought round to the f6 square via d3, f2 and g4.

45...Kd8 46.Bd3 Ke7 47.Bc2 Kf8 48.Nd3 Nd7 49.Nf2 Ke7 50.Ng4

The game might have ended 50.Ng4 Bb7 51.Nf6 Nxf6 52.gxf6+ Kd7 53.Kc5 Kc7 (the black king needs to trail his opposite number as 53...Ke8 54.Kb6 will soon win the black bishop.) 54.Bxg6! and whichever way Black captures the bishop there will be a new white queen in two moves.

A positional masterpiece by Leko.

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