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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: Knowing When To Break Rules

2020-10-01 10:16:24
Knowing When To Break Rules

Knowing when to stray from opening principles, thematic motifs and established theory is useful to say the least. This comes with experience and understanding the position: even some grandmasters have trouble deviating from these guidelines. Sometimes, doing so and going against the grain is the best way to play. I believe this game is an instructional example of that point. Black did not “break the rules” and ended up losing to Botvinnik’s instructive play against an isolated Queen’s Pawn. I think Black had an opportunity to convey that the “rules” are not always best (which is why I generally like to refer to chess principles as “guidelines” or “patterns” rather than “rules.” Simply put, “rules” sound binding, but these “principles” to follow have exceptions to them occasionally).

This chess game was from April of 1943. Mikhail Botvinnik has the White pieces and Evgeny Zagorovsky has the Black pieces (game was played at Sverdlovsl, Yekaterinberg).

1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 e6 3. b3 Nf6 4. Bb2 Be7 If this opening looks familiar to English Opening players, then that is because it is the same by transposition via: 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 Nf6 4. Bb2 Be7 being the more popular move order to the Agincourt Defense. As is common with many English Opening lines, White refrains from playing d4 and transposing into a possible d4 line; this has the benefit of keeping Black out of theory if they have not done their homework on 1. c4 openings. It is also obvious to notice how active White’s Bishop is on b2. This becomes an important element to my recommendation, for Black, later in the game.

5. e3 O-O This is still in the “opening books” and many database games continue from this position. Chess is an amazing game because even the less popular lines have probably been deeply studied already - that is what happens when a game exists for literally centuries.

6. Nc3 c5 This is thematic to the English Opening. White stays away from playing d4 and Black decides to strike in the center with …c5. Of course, if White wanted to deter the …c5 idea more than they wanted to avoid potential transpositions: then White could simply play the fine move d4. In the position after 5…O-O, 6. d4 is perfectly playable. Interestingly, Black may play …c5 anyway. A sample line may continue: 5…O-O 6. d4 c5 7. Nbd2 cxd4 8. exd4 b6 9. Bd3 Bb7 and both sides are doing okay with no problems and fairly smooth development.

7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Nxd5 exd5 Perhaps White figured that d4 transpositional ideas had passed, so now they decide for d4 and contesting Black’s duo pawn center.

9. d4 cxd4 10. Qxd4 Bf6 White probably didn’t love the Queen capture on d4 because of the obvious Bishop to f6 move improving Black’s Bishop; however, White probably felt that this was better than ruining their own pawn structure. 10. exd4?? would be a horrible blunder. Not only would White have an isolated Queen’s pawn, but the King will also get into trouble on the e-file. For instance: 10. exd4?? Bb4+ 11. Nd2 Re8+ 12. Be2 Qg5! and White’s position is busted. White can’t castle because then the d2 Knight falls and White can’t play something like 13. g3?? (to defend g2) because of 13…Bg4 overloading the pinned e2 piece.

Back on move 10, Nxd4?! is dubious because …Bb4+ is still possible. White would then have to play 11. Ke2 losing castling rights (and also blocking the f1 Bishop from getting out for the moment).

For this reasoning, 10. Qxd4 was probably White’s best move - even if Black will improve their Bishop to f6 with gain of time on the White Queen.

11. Qd2 Nc6?! This is the best move according to the engine, but I think it might be dubious! I believe that it misses a positional opportunity to “break the rules” and come out of this with a fighting chance in practical play. Keep in mind that Black played this “standard developing move” and ended up losing the game with Botvinnik’s relentless pressure on the Black isolated d-pawn.

Recall that earlier I foreshadowed the importance of White’s b2 Bishop. This is the moment I was referring to. My positional recommendation is 11…Bxb2! This move is not intuitive and seems to “break the rules” for a few reasons.

First of all, …Nc6 is a fine developing move in the opening: why would Black simply exchange pieces of equal value when they could be continuing piece development? Furthermore, the Bishop exchange will result in the White Queen recapturing on b2, so White would still hold the critical diagonal.

These are all valid points of analysis, but the idea behind 11…Bxb2! is positional; Black is planning to get rid of their weak and isolated Queen pawn!

The idea goes like this: 11…Bxb2! 12. Qxb2 Qa5+! when White must attend to the forcing check. My “mainline” continues: 13. Qd2 Qxd2+ 14. Nxd2 d4! 15. exd4 Re8+ 16. Be2 Nc6 and Black gets …Nc6 in like the game text, but here Black has successfully gotten rid of the isolated pawn! Black has sacrificed the pawn, but escaped with solid compensation for it. The position looks equal, but this is an improvement from the actual game where Black suffered with defending the isolated pawn.

In my mainline, what if 13. Nd2 is played instead? Then simply 13…d4 gets similar effect. Here 14. Qxd4 would run into 14…Nc6 developing with a tempo on the Queen. Perhaps Black’s best attempt would be the King recapture on move 14. That line would be 11…Bxb2! 12. Qxb2 Qa5+! 13. Qd2 Qxd2 14. Kxe2 but even here, it isn’t instantly clear where White’s advantage comes from. The line may go: 14. Kxe2 a6 15. Be2 Nc6 16. Kc3 Bd7. In this sample line, it isn’t so obvious if the White monarch is actually an asset or a target on c3. Perhaps it is an active asset to have the King here in the endgame stage, but then again - perhaps it will prove to be a target on the c-file where a Black Rook could easily take aim from the c8 square.

What all of these variations, resulting after the Bishop exchange on b2, share in common is that Black seems to have compensation for the d-pawn. In the text game, Botvinnik (playing White) relentlessly put pressure on Black’s d-file liability. Perhaps this was the moment to swiftly take action and “break the rules” of opening principles with 11…Bxb2!

12. Be2 Be6 I would like to highlight that my idea of …Bxb2 still works here. Black instead continues development, but the opportunity will pass. Sometimes in chess, you will only have a single tempo as your window of opportunity. Zagorovsky passed two chances to trade Bishops on b2 and eventually lost the game.

13. O-O Bxb2 The Bishop exchange is fine, but no longer has the same impact. The Black Queen to a5 will no longer come with the critical check and initiative.

14. Qxb2 Qa5 Instead of having to address a check, White now has a free moment to do whatever they choose. White uses this moment to develop a Rook to the d-file and White begins to develop pressure against the Black liability. The isolated d-pawn that Black has is no matter to underestimate.

15. Rfd1 Rfd8 16. Rd2 Rd7 17. Rad1 Rad8 Notice how White simply adds more pressure to the Black weakness and Black must passively defend? I’m sure Zagorovsky would rather have the freedom to let his pieces freely become active, but Black has waited too long to trade Bishops and get rid of the d-pawn.

18. h3 h6 19. Ne5 Nxe5 20. Qxe5 Qc5 21. Bf3 b6 If the White Queen attacking d5 wasn’t bad enough, now Botvinnik also piles onto d5 with Bf3. This is one reason Botvinnik was such a strong chess player: this positional pressure on a weakness is relentless!

22. Qb2 Rc8 23. Qe5 It looks like White is better, but unsure how to convert this positional pressure into a concrete advantage.

Rcd8 24. Rd4 a5 Now the creative idea comes to Botvinnik and White plays a strong continuation to press for the full point (In chess events, a win is typically scored as one point. A loss as nothing and a draw as half a point to each player. “Pressing for the full point” is an old chess expression meaning “to fight for the win.”).

25. g4!? This ambitious idea conveys the fact that White is not worried about the King being in any danger here. White ended up being correct; the White King never fell into any trouble, following g4, because White’s attacking prospects held Black’s attention instead.

Qc6 26. g5 hxg5 As we shall soon see, White tries to make attacking use of the newly opened g-file against Black’s King shelter.

27. Qxg5 f6 28. Qg6 Bf7 29. Qg3 f5 30. Qg5 Qe6 Now White is able to safely make the thematic King side-step to let the Rook command the g-file from the g1 square.

31. Kh1 Qe5 32. Rg1 Rf8 There it is! With the Rook lined up at Black’s King, White now has attacking ideas such as Qh6. This utilizes the pin (g7 pawn is pinned to the King because of the g1 Rook). Maybe Black could have played 32…Rd6 to prevent Qh6 here? Even so, White would still have the better game.

33. Qh6 Rb8 34. Rh4 Kf8 35. Qh8+ Bg8? 35…Ke7 doesn’t lose as fast. The b8 Rook is still protected by the Black Queen on e5, so it isn’t really a successful skewer. Unfortunately for Black, 35…Ke7 doesn’t escape all the problems. 36. Qxg7 Qxg7 37. Rxg7 Kf6 38. Rhh7 Rbb7 39. Bh5! is all pretty forcing and White simply wins a pawn while the pinned f7 Bishop is a headache for Black.

36. Rf4 Rbb7 Back to the actual game, we can see Black slipping in another fashion. It really is amazing how much play White had here and it all started with pressure on the isolated Black d-pawn.

37. Rg5 Rf7 38. Qh5? 38. Bh5 was simply winning on the spot. 38…Rf6 39. Bg6! illustrates Black’s defenses being stretched. The pressure on f5 is enormous and Black is forced to give up more material. However, the “mistake” of 38. Qh5? is still winning. When one side has the kind of pressure White has here: virtually every move is winning.

Qa1+ 39. Kg2 g6 40. Qxg6 Bh7 41. Qd6+ Rbe7 42. Qd8+ 1-0 Black resigns.

White took the advantage in this game and never let go. This is why I recommend sacrificing the isolated d-pawn for adequate compensation as Black. This plan starts with the positional move 11…Bxb2! I believe that if Zagorovsky had ambitiously looked past the opening principle guidelines of the position, then he may have gotten better practical chances at winning against Botvinnik.

Let us not forget the instructional exhibition that Botvinnik displayed here though. This game was a pinnacle sample of how to play against an isolated pawn and the g2-g4-g5 pawn march to gain attacking prospects on the g-file was fantastic. Exposing your own King shelter like this is ambitious, but it reveals that Botvinnik was willing to take risks and fight for the win. I suspect that if Botvinnik had the Black pieces at move 11, then he wouldn’t hesitate to play 11…Bxb2! and trade off the isolated d-pawn. I hope we all can learn to play ambitiously like Botvinnik. If the guidelines of opening principles are thought of as “rules”, then I’m sure Botvinnik would know when to break those rules and so should we. It takes experience and creative thinking to find, but the first step is to realize that these guidelines are not absolutes. Few things in chess, or life for that matter, are absolute. We can learn a lot from the game of chess.
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