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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Moderator Subject: Does Tal + Alekhine = Ivanchuk?

2020-05-31 08:18:12
Does Tal + Alekhine = Ivanchuk?

Daniel Palacios (“ZionPureInHeart” username on chesshere.com, chess.com and lichess.org) is a good online friend of mine. His current USCF rating is over 2100 and he is rated over 2300 on most chess sites. He is a chess streamer, chess coach and chess blogger. However, one thing I admire is his humble personality (reminiscent of Ivanchuk actually). He is always trying to inspire others; for instance, he has a kind of mantra saying “C’ mon Zion!” to motivate himself and energize his friends. We have known each other for a little over a year now (time really flies), but it was only recently that we discovered a common chess game we both like. One of his favorite games for inspiration is the one we will share here; I was also familiar with this game, so I decided to also share it with the chesshere.com community.

Daniel describes Vassily Ivanchuk: “like a combination of Mikhail Tal and Alexander Alekhine, but then his own original style of Ivanchuk.” The joking comment, with some truth to it in play-style, gave me the idea for this article title.

This game is from January 16, 1996; this game is from round 3 of Hoogovens Group A Wijk ann Zee NED with Vassily Ivanchuk playing the White pieces and Alexey Shirov playing the Black pieces.

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 e6 5. Bg5 dxc4 This is the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav Defense. The Semi-Slav and Slav are naturally related openings. Meeting the Queen’s Gambit with 2…c6 begins the normal Slav lines, whereas the “triangle” of pawns on c6, d5 and e6 mark the Semi-Slav Defense. This “triangle” of pawns is intended to add even more support to the center. In fact: 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 is sometimes called the “triangle variation” for this pawn center. A sharp continuation of the triangle variation is after 4. Nf3 dxc4!? when Black counter-intuitively breaks conventional thought with what is known as the Noteboom Variation. First of all, …e6 and …c6 seem to support the d5 pawn, so then why would Black move the pawn to c4? Furthermore, White has been developing pieces with opening principles and Black has only made pawn moves so far. Opening principles are guidelines and as such have exceptions sometimes. This here is one such exception. Black can easily get into trouble with a slight mis-step though (opening principles do not become null instantly and White is dangerously gaining in development), but Black can get an interesting game if they know their lines well. I used to play this sharp line with solid success, but heavy theory is inevitable.

6. e4 b5 6. e4 is the natural move in this variation. If Black were to meet 5. Bg5 with …h6 instead of …dxc4, then were would begin the well-studied Moscow Variation. In the Botvinnik (5…dxc4), an alternative to 6. e4 would be 6. a4 Bb4 7. e4 b5 8. e5 and 7…c5 can be met with 8. Bxc4. GM Lars Schandorff claims that White can still gain a small edge here, in this line, by saying: “Black’s most solid approach is 7…Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Qa5 9. e5 Ne4 10. Bd2 Qd5 and now 11. a5 gives White the chance to enjoy the initiative.”

7. e5 h6 Now the a4 alternative isn’t as appealing due to 7. a4 Qb6 where Black has good chances.

8. Bh4 g5 9. Nxg5 hxg5 10. Bxg5 Nbd7 10…Be7 is also playable. However, Black must be willing to address the holes on c5 and d6 after 11. exf6 Bxf6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 since the trade of dark-squared Bishops makes the dark squares potentially weaker.

11. exf6 Bb7 12. g3 c5 13. d5 Qb6 This is all still in opening theory!

14. Bg2 O-O-O 15. O-O b4 All pretty sound play so far. The position is still fairly equal, but what I personally love are the imbalances and dynamics in action. Aside from the normal developing moves, White’s idea of g3 and Bg2 fianchetto tries to cut through the center of the board and make use of the space advantage White has while they are up a pawn. Black, on the other hand, is fighting for central control themselves and their Queenside pawn majority should not be underestimated either.

16. Na4 Ivanchuk goes for the logical move to tempo Black’s Queen. I found a really interesting alternative in my analysis though. 16. Rb1!? When Black has a few good options, but the c3 Knight is immune to capture. If 16. Rb1!? bxc3?? 17. bxc3 Qa6 18. Rxb7! Qxb7 19. dxe6 Qb6 20. e7! Re8 21. Qd5 and White’s threats are overwhelming.

Qb5 17. a3 exd5?! Only slightly inaccurate because of the computer-looking move …Nb8 with the idea of relocating the Knight to the c6 square. For example: 17…Nb8 18. axb4 cxb4 19. Qd4 Nc6! and it is Black who is winning back a tempo on White’s Queen.

18. axb4 cxb4 19. Be3 Nc5 Ivanchuk plays Be3 for support on the a7-g1 diagonal and Shirov places the Knight on c5 for interference.

20. Qg4+?! Perhaps the check was too tempting, but moving the Queen here feels like the Queen isn’t really that active on g4 – despite being off the backrank. Maybe better for White was 20. Bxc5 Bxc5 21. Nxc5 Qxc5 when the a-file looks to favor White with the Knights traded off the board.

Rd7?! Now Shirov plays slightly inaccurately. If 20…Qd7 then 21. Qxd7 Nxd7 gets the Black Knight off of c5 to avoid the exchange of Knights that seems to favor White.

21. Qg7! Bxg7 Although objectively not the best move: how creative is a Queen sacrifice here? Does Tal + Alekhine = Ivanchuk? Of course, Shirov has to capture the Queen on g7 and see this idea through.

22. fxg7 Rg8 Incredible that Shirov is currently up six points of material, yet the game is still in the air!

23. Nxc5 d4? The idea is to cut off the defense of the e3 Bishop and then capture the c5 Knight, but stronger was to probably give back some material and meet 23. Nxc5 with a move like …Rxg7. In this line, Black would be up by four points of material. Six? Four? What is the difference? In high level chess, having the material advantage doesn’t increase much in impact based on how much the player is up. When Shirov was up by six points of material, then simplifying and giving back a few points makes sense; there is no reason to give up material freely, but here Black is trying to get through the tactical maze present and so simplification may be a sound investment. This sure sounds like the tactical mess of Tal’s dark forest, or Alekhine’s sparkling tactics.

24. Bxb7 Rxb7 Now we see the simplification taking effect.

25. Nxb7 Qb6 Black would love to be able to safely capture on b7, but then Bxd4 is strong for White with defense to the g7 pawn that is a constant thorn in Black’s side.

26. Bxd4 Qxd4 27. Rfd1 Qxb2 Another good option was also 27…Qxg7, but it seems that Shirov wants the Queen active to help support the connected passed pawns on b4 and c4. It is also worth mentioning that a great source of Black’s counterplay relies on the Queenside pawn majority that is thematic in the Slav and Semi-Slav lines; even with most pieces exchanged, the positional concepts of earlier still remain relevant.

28. Nd6+?! The Knight escaping the clutches of the enemy monarch looks like the classic fight or flight response, but it overlooks a stronger continuation. 28. Rxa7!? is interesting, but perhaps it spooked Ivanchuk because of 28…Kb8, but this is met with 29. Rda1! with the threat of forcing the Rook to a8 and making the g7 pawn an even more dangerous element than it already is.

Kb8 29. Rdb1 Qxd7?! Now it is Shirov who overlooks an opportunity. True the g7 pawn was irritating, but 29…Qd2 would have been a fighting try because Black’s Queen stays close to the connected passed pawns.

30. Rxb4+ Kc7 White’s slight advantage is now growing with Black’s connected passers broken up.

31. Ra6 Rb8 32. Rxa7+ Kxd6 33. Rxb8 Qg4 34. Rd8+ Kc6 35. Ra1 1-0 Finally, Shirov decides that Black’s position is too far gone; the two Rooks actually manage to challenge the Queen. Shirov correctly assesses the position as winning for White. A beginner may not understand why, but Black really is beyond the point of no return here. Where is Black’s counterplay? They have the Queen, but it now can’t give any meaningful checks to the White King and Black’s pawns have no practical chances of promotion. This is a common idea in endgames with a Queen versus two Rooks; the Queen is usually better if it can harass the opponent King with constant checks. If the King can find shelter (typically behind pawns), then the coordinated Rooks tend to be favored.

This was a spectacular game with Ivanchuk creatively sacrificing his Queen, for no material, with 21. Qg7! I agree that Ivanchuk’s original style does seem to build off of tactical creativity from Tal and Alekhine. If we want to advance as chess players, we must find our own creativity and play-style too. Perhaps a saying like “C’ mon Zion!” will energize you; maybe a nickname like “The Magician from Riga” would help? Although, I think that one is already taken. If all else fails, enjoy going over older games of the chess masters and perhaps a game or two can serve as inspiration in the way that this game inspires me.  
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