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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: The Bishop Superior - Promoting Agent… Passers

2020-11-15 03:45:39
The Bishop Superior - Promoting Agent… Passers

A game that recently caught my eye was the game from the Nottingham 1936 tournament with Max Euwe playing the White pieces and Mikhail Botvinnik playing the Black pieces. Even more specifically: my attention to the endgame that could have been.

The Nottingham 1936 chess tournament was a 15-player round robin event held at the University of Nottingham from August 10-28. This was an exclusive event participate in and the 1936 event was one of the toughest fields for that time. In the biography of Chess World Champion Emanuel Lasker (written by Dr. J. Hannak in 1959), it is described that: “when it comes to awarding the plum for ‘the greatest chess tournament ever’, in 1936, the Nottingham Tournament was just that.”

Of the 15 chess players participating, 5 of them were (or would become) World Chess Champions! These five players were: Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe and Botvinnik).

Mikhail Botvinnik, playing as the Black pieces in this game, ended up undefeated with 6 wins and 8 draws (no losses).

Without further ado, let us begin the game that may have been the closest Botvinnik came to losing in this tournament.

1. d4 e6 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 The opening theory enthusiast will easily recognize this as the solid Nimzo-Indian opening. Black usually exchanges the dark-squared Bishop for the c3 Knight. Usually this doubles White’s c-pawns and Black can get play against the fractured pawn structure. One common pattern to attack the doubled c4 pawn is by Black eventually playing the Knight from b8 to c6 and then a5. The Black Bishop on c8 can also join the party with …b6 and …Ba6 to add pressure to c4. This is just one potential plan Black has their arsenal, but at least in current “book theory”, this opening is known to be one of the strongest replies as Black against White playing the d4 and c4 setups.

White also has many possible continuations to play for though. The White perspective is usually allowing the doubled c-pawns and proving that the pawns are not as much of a liability as they may appear and that the Bishop Pair Black gave White (by losing their own Bishop on c3 for the Knight) is worthy compensation.

With this mindset, 4. e3 is the “Normal Variation” where White allows the pawns to be doubled. 4. a3 (Saemisch Variation) even invites the doubled pawns. The mainline alternative of 4. Nf3 also keeps the spirit of the Nimzo-Indian in mind and accepts doubled pawns if Black wants to give White them (at the cost of the conceding the Bishop Pair). A lesser known line is the Kmoch Variation with 4. f3 (We will mention Kmoch a bit later as well), but this also allows White to get doubled c-pawns.

The only mainline that keeps the pawn structure is the Classical Variation with 4. Qc2 (intending …Bxc3+ to be met with Qxc3.

4. Qc2 d5 Euwe seems to want the pawn structure to remain solid against Botvinnik in this game. The only reason 4. Qc2 isn’t even more common is because of the fact that the Queen sometimes gets kicked around as Black gains tempi on it. Plus, from the standpoint of game preparation and psychology: it seems as if every Black player has some line prepared against the Classical Variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defense. This alone might be reason enough for White to possibly avoid playing it, but it is solid and Euwe elects to play it here.

5. cxd5 Qxd5 6. e3 c5 This is still in opening theory, but this line has a fairly high draw percentage. According to my database, almost 60% of the games with this line end in a draw. In most of the other variations of the Nimzo-Indian Defense (even other lines in the Classical Variation), the sharp play usually gives one side or the other the win.

7. a3 Bxc3+ On move 7, White also had a solid alternative with 7. Bd2 as well. After 7. a3 Bxc3+, it is worth noting that Qxc3 is no longer necessary. Now that White does not feature doubled c-pawns, the recapture with bxc3 is actually favored because it helps support the center.

8. bxc3 Nbd7 9. Nf3 b6 10. c4 Qd6 11. Bb2 Bb7 Both sides are developing pieces nicely and following opening principles; the position is roughly equal. Without the doubled White c-pawns, this opening does not resemble a characteristic Nimzo-Indian position. In fact, the White pawn chain on d4, e3 and f2 reminds me of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted: Normal Variation (1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 3. e3). There are obvious differences (such as a White pawn on c4 here instead of a Black pawn), but what is for sure is that this position does not appear in spirit of the Nimzo-Indian opening. As stated, the position is still about equal though.

12. Be2 Rc8 13. O-O Be4 14. Qc3 O-O At this point in the game, one could say the opening stage is ending and the middlegame is in transition. Both developing armies will probably develop the Rooks and begin clarifying the situation in the center.

15. Rad1 Rfd8 16. d5 Qf8? Positionally speaking, this Queen retreat is a mistake. The problem is that it allows 17. dxe6 fxe6 and then 18. Ng5 gets active play against the isolated Black pawn on the e6 square. Correct for Black was 16. d5 exd5 when a possible line may be: 17. cxd5 c4!? 18. Rd4 Bxf3 19. Bxf3 b5 and Black still has solid chances with Queenside counterplay - thanks to the 3 versus 1 pawn majority there and especially the celebrated c4 asset; this is not only a passed pawn, but a protected passed pawn and this is potentially very dangerous for White.

17. dxe6 fxe6 18. Ne5?! This may be objectively playable, but I feel like this move is dubiously following the wrong plan. As noted, 18. Ng5 was best with piling up on the isolated pawn.

Qe7 Or 18…Nxe5 19. Qxe5 Qe7. Perhaps, Botvinnik wanted to keep the White Queen less centralized on c3 (compared to e5) and therefore allowed White to seek the Knight trade themselves if they so desired it.

19. Nxd7 Nxd7 Not entirely sure why Black would not elect …Rxd7 instead. This also has the threat of doubling Rooks on the open d-file. I would like to point out that 19…Rxd7 20. Rxd7 Qxd7 21. Rd1 Qc7 does not really give up the file because Black can play …Rd8 when they get the chance and the Black Queen will occupy the critical file (upon Rxd8+ Qxd8).

20. Rd2 Bc6 21. Bg4 Nf6 22. Rxd8+ Rxd8 Maybe the reason Botvinnik elected 19…Nxd7 (over …Rxd7) is because they end up with a Rook on the open file as the game text reveals. This seems like a possible justification for the move 19…Nxd7.

23. Rd1 Rxd1+ 24. Bxd1 Qd6 Black appears in control of the important d-file. However, an interesting option would have been 24…Nd7. With the Knight on d7, Black can threaten to play …e5 to stick a pawn in the face of the White Queen eyeing the g7 square.

25. Be2 Kf7 26. f3 Ba4 27. Bd3 h6 28. g3 Bc6 29. Kf2 e5 30. Be2 Nd7 After some shuffling and finesse, it looks like White is successfully challenging Black’s control of the open file.

31. Qd3 Qxd3 32. Bxd3 e4 Either this or declining to get the Queens off of the board via 31…Qe6.

33. Bxe4 Bxe4 34. fxe4 Nb8 This is an excellent relocating move by Botvinnik, playing Black. The purpose of 34…Nb8 is to relocate the Knight to the c6 square. The reason is because the Knight on d7 was completely dominated. All of its advancing squares were taken away (b6 and c5 were occupied by friendly forces and e5 and f6 were taken away by the White Bishop’s scope from b2. With the Black Knight on c6, it may even decide to jump to a5 and attack the stopped White pawn on c4 that can’t be defended. With the c4 enemy pawn removed, the floodgates will open as Black’s Queenside pawns will rush towards promotion.

35. Kf3 Nc6 36. Bc3 g6 With the move 36. Bc3, White prevents …Na5 to attack c4 as anticipated earlier.

37. Kf4 a6 38. a4 Ke6 39. h4 Nb4 40. Kf3 Nd3 41. Bg7 Ne5+ The objective of Bg7 was simple: attack the h6 pawn so it will become lost or forced to advance. If it advances to h5, then Black will have a weakness on g6 via a backwards pawn. 41…Ne5+ counterattacks by forking the King and the c4 pawn. The c4 pawn is worth more to Black than the h6 pawn.

The endgame is still probably a draw, despite White’s extra (although doubled) pawn. 42. Bxe5 would hold the draw, but White’s winning chances dramatically decrease without the minor piece battle present.

The way that 42. Bxe5 draws would be a line such as: 42. Bxe5 Kxe5 43. g4 g5 44. h5 a5 45. Kf2 Kxe4 46. Ke2 taking King opposition. The Black King can’t penetrate elsewhere because the pawn on e3 keeps it out by controlling the d4 and f4 squares.

42. Ke2 Nxc4 43. Bxh6 Nb2 44. Bxg7 Nxa4 45. g4 b5 46. h5 gxh5 47. gxh5 Kf7 The endgame is actually still about equal, but with so many passed pawn threats and so few pieces on the board: it is clear that the smallest mis-step could easily cost the game. That is one element of chess endgames that makes it unique to the opening and middlegame stages. The endgame is the least forgiving; the slightest margin, or error, could throw the game away. Something as small as a single tempo or who has the King opposition may prove decisive.

48. Ba1 Nb6 49. Kf3 b4 50. e5 Nd7?! Not the most intuitive, but 50…Nd7?! is the slight mis-step White was hoping for. Better was 50…Nc8 and the endgame is still objectively drawn. After 50…Nc8 play may continue: 51. Ke4 c4 52. Kd4 c3 53. Kc4 a5 54. Kb5 Ne7 55. Kxa5 Nc6+ 56. Ka4 Nxe5 and the draw is even more clear. White’s active King and Bishop keep the two Black pawns on the Queenside under control and the Black King and Knight can easily hold the two White pawns.

51. Ke4 Ke6 52. h6 Nf8 53. Kd3 Kd5 54. e4+ Kc6 55. Kc4 a5 55…a5 is a fine move because Black wants to push as many passed pawns as possible. However, perhaps 55…Nh7 was pragmatically best because it blockades the dangerous White passer and Black can put all mental energy into trying to hold the Queenside pawns without worry of the White h-pawn going all the way.

56. Kb3! The actual game went 56. e6? Kd6 and drawn by agreement. In the book, “Pawn Power In Chess”, IM Hans Kmoch states that with 56. Kb3, “analysis revealed…the following win for White.”

We will continue out “game” with assistance from Kmoch and illustrate how Euwe might have been able to press for the full point.

After the King move to b3, Kmoch’s notes indicate that White’s threat is Ka4. With this threat, Black naturally takes King opposition to prevent this infiltration and gobbling up the valuable Black pawns.

Kb5 57. e6 c4+ 58. Kc2 Ng6 59. h7 Kc6 It is obvious that White’s passed pawns are more dangerous than Black’s pawns. Black’s pawn structure is nice because the single pawn island is all connected. Meanwhile, White has doubled, isolated, e-pawns and a side pawn on h7. However, it is the White pawns that are much more powerful because the White lead pawns (on h7 and e6) are more advanced than Black’s lead pawns (on b4 and c4).

60. e7 Kd7 Kmoch’s analysis reveals this is also sufficient for White to win the game. The simple route would come from 60. Be5! (Which Kmoch does not mention) and Black is in zugzwang! The Knight can’t take the e5 Bishop because the h7 pawn promotes and if the White Bishop can sit on e5, then the Black monarch can never get in front of the lead White e-pawn in time. White controls the squares d6, d7 and c7. The Black King must take the longer route of Kb7-c8-d8-e8 and this takes too long; White only needs two moves to promote the e-pawn. Again, the Knight is helpless here; 60…Kb7 61. e7 Nxe7 62. h8=Q is one line where White would come out ahead.

61. Bf6 a4 62. Kb1 Ke8 Kmoch declares that: “White is going to win by zugzwang.”

63. e5 Kf7 The White King should be able to defend against the three enemy pawns, but the trailing e-pawn and White Bishop give White plenty of options to pass the move priority.

64. e6+ Ke8 65. Bg5 Nh8 Once again, White can afford to play these waiting moves, but Black can’t last forever since pushing any Queenside pawns loses. Instead of 65…Nh8, one sample line might be 65…c3 66. Kc2 Nh8 67. Bh4 Nh8 68. Bf6 a3 69. Kb3 and Black is out of time; they can’t prevent White from eventually promoting on h8.

The same idea occurs if Black pushes any other Queenside pawn. The …c3 push gives White the win after Kc2 (as just shown), the …b3 push allows Kb2 and the …a3 push allows Ka2.

66. Bh4 Ng6 67. Bf6 a3 68. Ka2 c3 The White defense to the pawns is in the same fashion as the alternative lines given.

69. Kb3 c2 70. Kxc2 a2 71. Kb2 b3 72. Ka1 1-0 White wins because Black is in zugzwang. Any …Nh8 attempt simply drops the Knight and other Knight moves let White promote on h8 into a Queen. Even 72…Nxe7 73. h8=Q+ Ng8 74. Qxg8# quickly win.

If Botvinnik hadn’t held the draw against Euwe in this game, then the tournament results may have been different. The Nottingham 1936 event lasted from August 10th through 28th and this game is dated on the 27th. This is really close to the end. Euwe scoring the full point here means that Euwe would have finished with half a point more (draw is half a point, but a win is a full point) and Botvinnik with half a point less. This would give Max Euwe a final score of 10 points and Botvinnik a score of 9.5 points (Capablanca also had 10 points by the end, so it would have been up to tiebreak rules between Capablanca and Euwe if Euwe had managed more than a draw in our observed game).

Next time you are in a close endgame, don’t forget to utilize passed pawns like Kmoch’s analysis on how Euwe’s game may have gone. Who knows? You just might be able to uncover a win from where it appeared drawn!
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