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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: The Isolated Pawn & The Uncastled King

2021-06-01 07:37:54
The Isolated Pawn & The Uncastled King

This game is Steinitz - Von Bardeleben, Hastings 1895 where Steinitz (playing White) was able to capitalize on the opponent uncastled King, despite, White’s isolated pawn. It is no wonder Wilhelm Steinitz was the chess world champion; games like these are instructional. It is almost as if Steinitz today was still teaching chess.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. cxd4 Bb4+ 7. Nc3 d5?

Leading up to 7. Nc3, this opening is all pretty common. This specific variation is the Giuoco Piano Game: Center, Greco Attack. Musicians may recognize the term “Giuoco Piano.” In Italian, it translates as “I play slowly” or “play quietly.” In music, this refers to the music tempo or how one plays the melody. In chess, this opening refers to the “slow” and positional elements of this opening. Both sides typically develop pieces in a non-confrontational manner here.

However, 7…d5? is wrong because White will win time and get an attack going. More convincing for Black was 7…Nxe4! when the c3 Knight is pinned and can’t recapture until White moves the King out of the pin.

A sample improvement for Black may be this line: 7…Nxe4! 8. O-O Bxc3 9. bxc3 d5 and only now is the …d5 idea played.

Of course not the greedy 9…Nxc3?? because 10. Qe1+ forks the c3 Knight with the check on the enemy King.

8. exd5 Nxd5 9. O-O Be6 Notice the generally “quiet” play here. Both sides are fairly unconfrontational and more about piece development, controlling the center and other opening principles.

10. Bg5 Be7?! Both sides could have improved on move 10 here. Let us begin with White playing 10. Bg5. This move is okay, but in annotations by IM Attila Turzo, he claims that 10. Re1 was an improvement “with the idea of Ng5.”

One line given is:

10. Re1 O-O 11. Ng5 Qd7 12. Rxe6 fxe6 13. Nxe6 Bxc3 14. Nxf8 Rxf8 15. bxc3 and White is certainly better in this outcome.

On 13…Qxe6 in this line, then: 14. Bxd5 Qxd5 15. Nxd5

As for Black improving on move 10, …Be7?! seems dubious because it cramps Black’s ability to develop. Better would have been something like 10…Qd7 and trying to castle soon. King safety should not be under-estimated. As we shall soon see, Black’s King got caught in the center because they did not castle earlier as they perhaps should have.

11. Bxd5 Bxd5 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13. Bxe7 Nxe7 14. Re1 f6 It looks like Black is planning on utilizing the f7 square for their King and then castling by hand if they get the chance. With the King on f7, then the h8 Rook can swing into the action and the King can return to the backrank harmoniously. Well, in theory anyway, but this shuffling of forces takes time and world champion Wilhelm Steinitz certainly won’t sit idle with his chess army!

15. Qe2 Qd7 15. Qa4+ was also an alternative continuation due to Black’s King stuck in the center, but with 15. Qe2 Qd7, it is certainly clear that Black’s army is passively forced on the defensive. The e7 Knight is getting pinned and the position is not so easy to hold.

16. Rac1 c6? This is natural to try and limit the c-file influence, but 16…Kf7 was better with the idea of bringing the h8 Rook into the game.

17. d5! What does White do with their isolated pawn? They sacrifice it of course! By doing so, this clears the d4 square for the Knight on f3 and this pawn sacrifice feels like White gave up even less than a pawn because the isolated pawn would likely just be a weakness here anyway.

This is an instructional pattern to have in mind. Isolated pawns have many motifs, but one of them is simply exchanging it off for a healthier opponent pawn - or as we see here, sacrificing it altogether!

cxd5 18. Nd4 Kf7 19. Ne6 Rhc8 The Knight on e6 is not so surprisingly tough to dislodge. The e-file is most certainly under White’s control.

Really interesting is investigating why moving the a-Rook to the c-file instead is trouble for Black. Perhaps this variation was seen by the players in the game or not, but whichever the case: it is more natural to bring the h-Rook into the game since the King may not have the luxury of remaining on the 7th rank for long, so the Rook must get out when it can.

19…Rac8 20. Qg4 g6 21. Ng5+ Ke8 (note the King trapping between the Rooks when the Rooks would rather “see” each other) 22. Rxc8+ Qxc8 23. Qxc8#

20. Qg4 g6 21. Ng5+ Ke8 22. Rxe7+! Strong move. The Queen can’t safely capture the Rook because of 22…Qxe7?? 23. Rxc8+ Rxc8 24. Qxc8+ Qd8 25. Qxd8+ Kxd8 26. Nf3 with White being much better due to the extra piece in the endgame for a pawn.

Kf8 23. Rf7+ Kg8 Of course, White must constantly keep up the initiative in the attack. Giving away the initiative to take the Queen or something similar would be a game-ending blunder. Black has backrank checkmate by taking the c1 Rook.

24. Rg7+ Kh8 25. Rxh7+ 1-0 The game annotations from IM Attila Turzo state that here: “Black [Von Bardeleben] walked out of the tournament hall and did not come back.” Turzo then gives a sample game continuation to checkmate from this position.

25…Kg8 26. Rg7+ Kh8 27. Qh4+ (Stockfish already sees mate in 8!) Kxg7 28. Qh7+ Kf8 29. Qh8+ Ke7 30. Qg7+ Ke8 31. Qg8+ Ke7 32. Qf7+ Kd8 33. Qf8+ Qe8 34. Nf7+ Kd7 35. Qd6#

Next time you are saddled with an isolated pawn, don’t forget the motif of sacrificing it entirely! Sometimes, this becomes a powerful idea and especially so if the pawn gives its square for a piece to replace it as with the f3 Knight hoping into d4 in this game.
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