Trading into Better Positions

Since I’ve spent most of the last week discussing opening play, I decided to discuss trades in today’s post.

A few years ago when I was a student at Castle Chess Camp, I had the pleasure of working with Grandmaster Grigory Serper. While his use of metaphors and clichés to describe chess were particularly memorable, he did leave an impression on me regarding trading. Some of you may be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s one red paperclip project, where through internet trading, he managed to trade a paperclip for an entire house.

As Serper pointed out, winning in chess is very similar. We want to checkmate our opponent, but often times our opponents aren’t so willing to cooperate. So instead, we take over small advantages and cash them into bigger ones – just like how MacDonald started with a trade for a pen, then a doorknob, and eventually down the road, a house.

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When looking for grandmaster games for today’s post, I decided to only select games from the recent rapid tournament, the 25th Paul Keres Memorial. We start with the third round upset of the top seed, Peter Svidler.

Svidler – Kulaots (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)

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In this position, either side has practical winning chances. While Kulaots has the pair of bishops, Svidler has a fair amount of compensation. Black’s pawns limit the abilities of his own light squared bishop, and White’s knight has a strong outpost on f4. While some may argue that Black has the long-term advantage because of the pair of bishops, even that’s not so clear, as Svidler has a passed pawn on a3. In order for Kulaots to prove an advantage, he needs to activate his pieces.

23…Re4!

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A critical moment! Black attacks both the pawn on d4 and the knight on f4, asking Svidler to trade on his terms. 24. Rxe4?? loses to 24… dxe4 and both knights are under attack.

24. Nh5

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Svidler finds a tactical solution to his positional problems. Should Black try 24… Rxd4? 25. Re8+!! Qxe8 26. Nxf6 is winning. While White evaded the threat this turn, he hasn’t solved his problems yet. Svidler will have to decide if he wants to trade rooks on e4 and un-double Black’s pawns, or allow Kulaots to have a permanent weakness to attack on d4.

24…Kf7 25. Nb4 Qe8 26. g3 =+

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White realizes that with …Kf7-g6 looming, he needed a safe square for his knight. Retreating to g3 wasn’t an option because of …f5-f4, so this move will cover the knight on f4.

26…Kg6 27. Nf4+ Bxf4

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The first important trade. Black gives up the bishop pair, but in exchange makes another structural weakness on f4. Black will now increase the pressure on d4 and f4 until Svidler decides to take on e4, a trade that will only help Black mobilize his pawns.

28. gxf4 Qd7 29. Qd2 Qc7

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Attacking the f4 pawn while simultaneously defending c6. While Black’s bishop is still bad, Kulaots can just target White’s weaknesses. White is so paralyzed that Svidler can’t punish Black for his bad bishop.

30. Rac1 Ra8

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“Sometimes the threat is stronger than the execution.” Sure, Black could’ve taken on f4 with the rook, but that doesn’t actually help Kulaots. The pawn on f4 can be taken whenever, but more importantly, it’s blocking in White’s queen. Instead, Black makes the mature decision to attack White’s pawn on a3, the last remaining advantage that White had back when Svidler played 23. Re1.

31. Rc3 Bd7 32. Rxe4

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Unable to deal with the pressure of …Ra8-d8, White makes the second trade for Black. While this closes the e-file, it resolves Black’s structure. Meanwhile, f4 and a3 are still targets.

32…fxe4 33. Rb3 h5

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It’s still not clear if Kulaots is going to pull the upset. Without clear ways to improve his pieces, Black expands on the kingside.

34. Nc2 h4 35. Kf1 Bc8

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Preparing to maneuver the bishop from c8 to a6. Once the bishop reaches this diagonal, it can no longer be considered bad since it is outside of the pawn chain.

36. Ke1 Ba6 37. h3?!

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Trying to complicate the position, Svidler creates another weakness on h3. Rather than trying to force his way through, Kulaots decides to limit White’s play.

37…Bc4!

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Needing to defend both a3 and h3 simultaneously, the rook must stay on the third rank, surrendering the b-file, and entering a realm of passivity.

38. Rc3 Rb8

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With the simple threat of …Rb8-b1+, though blocking with the knight offers the best defense, from b4, it won’t be able to protect White’s kingside.

39. Nb4 f5 40. Kd1 Kf6 41. Kc1 Rg8 42. Nc2 g3 -+

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Forcing the last trade, and this time, it’s decisive. Black will now have a passed pawn on g3 and e4 though the strength of the g-pawn alone should be enough.

43. fxg3 hxg3 44. Ne3 Bd3 45. Rb3 Ke6 46. Ng2 Bf1 47. Ne3 g2 0-1

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A paralyzed Svidler has no way of stopping the pawn and here resigned. A great display by Kaido Kulaots!

This game was decided by three trades, the bishop for knight trade on f4, the rook trade on e4, and the opening of the floodgates on g3. Kulaots won this game by optimizing his position between each trade, paralyzing White to his structural weaknesses. Even though the f4 and d4 pawns dictated the pace for this game, Black didn’t have to win them to procure a result. Let’s move on to the next game.

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Peter Svidler is a top 10 player, and will be one of a few Candidates to face Magnus Carlsen in the 2016 World Chess Championships. Expect the Russian to brush off this loss – he’s a world class player!

Kukk – Eljanov (25th Paul Keres Memorial, 2016)

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Pavel Eljanov is one of my favorite players to watch, and while he didn’t perform at his full strength this tournament, he still showed how he was one of the best here.

In this position, White seems to be standing well. The knight on e5 well placed and Kukk has both of his rooks on open files while Black seems to be lingering behind in development. But Eljanov has his own ideas too. After rerouting from d7, the knight on b8 can enter the contest at any moment via c6. Furthermore, White’s bishop on b2 is passive behind the d4 pawn and will need to spend some tempi to reroute it.

18…Nc6 19. a3

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White plays this move to take away the b4 square from White’s knight. While this may stop Black’s plans for now, Kukk has created a hanging pawns structure on the queenside, and could prove to become key weaknesses in the future.

19…Ne7

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An odd-looking move but Eljanov intends to play …Nf6-e5, so this move allows the queen from b7 to protect the knight. Black also offers the first critical trade of the game.

20. Rxc8 Rxc8

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With this move, Eljanov moves from paperclip to pen. Black’s resolved his development problems and has a clear plan going forward.

21. Rc1 b5 22. b4

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By going for this structure, Kukk has completed a trade of sorts. In exchange for the c5 outpost, he’s put all of his queenside pawns on dark squares, limiting his bishop’s mobility.

22…Rxc1+ 23. Bxc1 Qc8

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Black uses the tempo from the trade to grab the initiative. By rerouting his queen, Eljanov quickly shifts the attention to the kingside, where White has fewer active pieces.

24. Nb3 Ne4

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With this move, Eljanov offers Kukk a choice. White can either try to play around the knight on e4 or can weaken his structure with f2-f3. Unfortunately for White, he can’t easily put a knight on c5 with Black’s knight in the center, so he chose to kick it.

25. f3 Ng3 26. Bf4 Nh5 27. Bd2 f6

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This move highlights the awkwardness behind 25. f3. Now the knight must retreat to g4, where it will have no active options.

28. Ng4 Qc4!

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Same idea as the last game! White has a weak d4 pawn, and a trade on c4 will only strengthen Black’s growing grip on the position.

29. Nf2 Ng3

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Constricting the movement of the king, and being prophylactic! Black wants to play …Ne7-f5, so this move also stops g2-g4.

30. Nc5 Nef5 31. Qxc4 bxc4 32. Nxa6 Nxd4

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The decisive trade. Not only does Kukk give up a central pawn for a wing pawn, but he now faces threats like …Nd4-e2+ followed by a discovered check by moving the g3 knight. While White, like Black, has two passed pawns, they aren’t as advanced, and the White army is too passive for them to make a difference.

33. Nd1 Nde2+ 34. Kf2 d4 0-1

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Here Kukk resigned, as Eljanov’s d- and c-pawns are just too much. White has no mobility, and he’ll have to give up a minor piece when Black pushes …c4-c3.

Since his performance at the World Cup, Pavel Eljanov has been invited to the currently ongoing edition of the Tata Steel in the Netherlands. Check out our post on him from last October here!

As you may have noticed, in each of these games, the winner didn’t count on tactical trumps to beat the other but rather milked small positional edges, forcing the other side to make concessions. When you identify candidate moves, it’s extremely important to know what trades will help your position or weaken your opponent’s.

Dancing with the Dutch: Post-Mortem

As you may recall from Sunday’s video against the Dutch, we left with two critical questions:

1) Why is 2 c4 more common than 2 Nc3 against the Dutch?

2) How is Black supposed to stop the h-pawn push in the Leningrad Dutch – and can White make it even more effective?

While Black folded rather easily (until I missed a simple win), I thought this game was a good starting point for today’s article, which asks us not one, but two critical theoretical questions about one of Black’s most common responses to 1. d4. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, you can catch up here:

ChessBase’s online database gives us a really nice breakdown of White’s second move options, and as you may notice 2. Nc3 is not all that uncommon.

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In fact, it scores rather well, 58% in 2163 games. While this line has received special attention from top grandmasters Alexander Grischuk, Santosh Vidit, and Erwin L’ami, it has been played several times by the famous theoretician Boris Gelfand, though he hasn’t brandished it since 2014.

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Boris Gelfand has always been an elite force to be reckoned with in the chess world, having won the World Cup in 2009, and challenged Vishy Anand for the World Championship in 2012.

While I will discuss both the positives and negatives of 2. Nc3 against the Dutch, please do note that most of its appearances in the Mega Database are from blitz tournaments – meaning that it may be used more as an element of surprise than an actual attacking weapon at the highest level. Let’s take a look at what can go wrong when Black doesn’t know how to handle 2. Nc3.

Jobava – Sandipan (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2014)

1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5

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Look familiar? Think back to my ICC game, where my opponent played 2… d5 – same idea! This structure of pawns on d5 and f5 with a knight on f6 turns out to be the most common defense for Black, after which Black will opt for a Stonewall-like structure. Of course, this differs from my game on ICC, where my opponent tried to get a Leningrad structure.

4. e3 e6 5. h4

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Jobava plays what he does best – find novelties. While 5. Nf3 is by far the most common move, Baduur chose this line to secure the g5 square and route his knight to f4 via h3. Aggressive isn’t  the way to go about describing this move, but rather optimistic. 5. Nf3, as we’ll see, tends to get more equal positions with best play.

5…Be7 6. Nh3 O-O 7. Qd2 Ne4

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The standard Stonewall move, but already Black has a few problems. 1) Though White’s piece play is certainly unconventional, Black is falling behind in development. The light-squared bishop from c8 has no scope, and 2) with White due to castle queenside, Black can’t hope for the cookie-cutter attacking lines he gets in a main line Stonewall Dutch.

8. Nxe4 dxe4?! 9. O-O-O Nd7 10. Nf4 Nf6 11. Bc4

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Highlighting the problem with 8…dxe4?!. White’s f1-bishop springs to life here and attacks the king. Meanwhile, White’s amazing knight on f4 also pulls on the e6 weakness. It’s clear that Black’s development has been too slow.

11…Qd6 12. Qa5!

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Optimizing the queen, but can you see the threat?

12…h6 13. Qxf5 +-

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Exposing the pin along the a2-g8 diagonal. Black could take the bishop on g5 with 13… hxg5, but 14. Nxe6 has the whole kingside falling to shambles.

13…Nd5 14. Qxe4 Bxg5 15. Nxd5 1-0

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And on just the 15th move, Chanda Sandipan submits his resignation. Though 15… Bd8 could avoid immediate material loss, Black would find that his weaknesses on the light squares are just too much to bear after 16. Nc3 and 17. Bd3. With an undeveloped army, Black would face a kingside pawn storm with absolutely no counterplay. So what did this game tell us about the Veresov-like lines against the Dutch?

1) If Black cannot resolve the problems of his light squared bishop, it becomes extremely difficult to play for a win.

2) When White castles queenside, “textbook” Stonewall ideas aren’t effective.

Sure, this was a blitz game, and black wasn’t offering the best resistance, but these elements dictated the pace of the game. If Black wants to really maximize his chances, he needs to find a way to bust open the center. Let’s take a look at an antidote here from Vassily Ivanchuk.

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While Ivanchuk has never been a classical World Champion, he’s a very accomplished player. Once the 2nd best player in the world, the Ukranian Grandmaster still plays actively. In 2007, he won the World Blitz Chess Championships.

Gelfand – Ivanchuk (FIDE World Blitz Championships, 2012)

1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 d5 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 c5

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The critical move for Black. While there are only 19 games in the Mega Database with this line, 74% of the outcomes favor Black. By not placing a pawn on c6, Black has a natural square for development and more space to solve his light squared bishop complex.

6. Bb5+?!

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After some computer analysis, I can’t say I like this move. Black will block with his bishop, and will be more than happy to trade off his worst piece. From d7, the bishop doesn’t take away the square from his knight, thanks to his early …c7-c5 deviation. Based on the game, White might have as well just tried 6. Be2, but 6. Ne5 is promising. In van Wely–Reinderman, 2015, the game continued 6… Be7 7. g4 fxg4 and then 8. Bb5+ for a crazy game and a win for White. You can check out that game here.

6…Bd7 7. Be2 Nc6 8. Ne5 Be7 9. Nxd7

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Not wanting to allow a trade on e5, Gelfand makes a major concession here, trading off his best piece for Black’s worst. Even though White does get the pair of bishops, it’s not clear how the light squares will be important with the construct on d5-e6-f5.

9…Qxd7 10. dxc5

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Allowing Black to play …c5-c4 and box in the bishop on e2 would defeat the purpose of trading the knight away, so Gelfand releases the tension and takes a passive position.

10…O-O 11. O-O Bxc5 12. Na4 Bd6 13. c4 d4!

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Allowing the trade of the c- and d- pawns would allow White’s bishop to get back in the game, so this move leaves the pawn on c4 in its way. Furthermore, intuitively this is a great decision. When you are better developed than your opponent, sometimes the best way to capitalize is to open the position. While that usually favors the pair of bishops, here White’s structure and development isn’t coordinated enough to take full advantage.

14. exd4 Nxd4 15. Nc3 Rad8 16. Be3 Be5 17. Nb5 Nxb5 18. cxb5 Nd5 19. Bc5 Bxh2+!

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This pawn grab is enough to be decisive! Should White recapture on h2, …Qd7-c7+ is waiting, picking the c5 bishop back up.

20. Kh1 Bd6 21. Bxd6 Qxd6 22. Bf3 e5 23. Bxd5+ Qxd5 24. Qxd5+ Rxd5

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And the endgame was technical for White. I’ve attached the rest of the game with diagrams for the sake of completion.

25. Rac1 Rxb5 26. b3 g6 27. Rfd1

Black to Move
Black to Move

27…Rf7 28. Rc8+ Kg7 29. Rdd8 e4

White to Move

30. g3 Re5 31. Kg2 e3 32. fxe3 Rxe3

White to Move
White to Move

33. Rc2 Rfe7 34. Kf2 h5 35. Rb8

Black to Move
Black to Move

35…R3e6 36. Kf3 Kh6 37. Kf2 Kg5

White to Move
White to Move

38. Kf3 Re3+ 39. Kf2 Kg4 40. Rc4+ R3e4 41. Rbc8 g5 0-1

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What changed? Well, Black definitely took some initiative with 5… c5. While reaching the Stonewall position helps limit White’s light squared bishop, it was critical that Black take advantage of White lacking a pawn on c4. Just like some Veresov lines, White really lacks any dynamic play because he doesn’t have a way to contest the center. Through further research, most Super-GM success with 2. Nc3 against the Dutch is against lower rated players, so perhaps it’s just a weapon to catch a lower rated player off-guard or out of preparation.

So that answers the first question – when it comes to dynamic play, the straight-forward 2. c4 is favored. Look no further than last week’s post for proof!

Now, the h-pawn march against the Leningrad. What can Black do? Well first, let’s see the idea played in it’s true form, played by the sixth best player in the world, Hikaru Nakamura.

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I put together a post on reigning US Champions Hikaru Nakamura a couple weeks ago, click here to check it out!

Nakamura – Barron (Toronto Open, 2009)

1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3

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If you want to have the option of playing h2-h4 should Black choose the Leningrad, it’s important to insert this move. By doing so, White can play e2-e4 once he’s distracted the f6 knight.

3…g6 4.h4 Bg7 5.h5 Nxh5 6.e4

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Unlike my game on ICC, Nakamura chooses a much more finesse move order in 6. e4. Now when he sacrifices on h5, the queen can immediately recapture without having to wait a move.

6…fxe4 7.Rxh5 gxh5 8.Qxh5+ Kf8 9.Bh6

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In my game on ICC, Black fell apart when he traded his bishop on e5 for my knight, surrendering the dark squares. Here, Nakamura highlights the same principle, forcing the trade of Black’s best defender.

9…Bxh6 10.Qxh6+ Kg8 11.Qg5+ Kf7 12.Nxe4

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While White is still down an exchange, he has full compensation. Black has zero development and White’s pieces are already on the crime scene.

12…Qg8 13.Qf4+ Ke8 14.Qxc7 Nc6 15.O-O-O

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Well, king safety is important, but Nakamura’s point is to bring out the rook.

15…Qg6 16.Re1 Kf7 17.d5 Nb4 18.Nf3 d6??

This move seals Black's fate as e7 is now exposed to both the rook and the queen.
This move seals Black’s fate as e7 is now exposed to both the rook and the queen.

19.Neg5+ Kg8 20.Qd8+ Kg7 21.Rxe7+ Kh6 22.Nf7+

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Building the mating net. Already, if Black tries to win material with 22… Qxf7 23. Qxd6+ Qg6 24. Qf4+ and mate is inevitable on the next move.

22…Kh5 23.Re5+! dxe5 1-0

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Black resigned before White could complete his masterpiece, as 24. Qh4# ends the game. Nearly a miniature from the American, and not a convincing defense in sight.  So the question persists, what should Black do?

While Black has won games in this line, I can hardly see the middlegame positions being what Black desires from move 1. That’s why I’m going to suggest a different, more flexible move order for Black.

1.d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. Nc3 d6!

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Not a brilliancy by Grandmaster-level thinking, but it turns out that this extra tempo takes White out of the line. The next move, 4. Nf3, the most common choice puts an end to the h2-h4 shenanigans since the sacrifice on h5 doesn’t work with the queen’s entry blocked.

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Should Black try 4… g6, 5. h4? makes little sense since the thematic e2-e4 push won’t work without Qd1-h5+.

While this move means Black must be prepared for different sidelines, it does mean that he gets more “Dutch-like” positions and can rely on intuition more than just pure calculation.

Well, that’s bad news for White – a great exchange sacrifice ‘refuted’ due to a slight move order change. In these past two weeks, I have easily been the most I’ve ever written about the Dutch. Expect a little bit of fresh air on Friday, it’s time to look at something new!

A Better Berlin: Handling 5. d4

In last Sunday’s video, I tried playing 1…e5 in response to the King’s Pawn opening. Without much theoretical knowledge of the Berlin, I quickly got bogged down in a worse position and on the clock. Though I got back into the game with a sacrifice on  g4, the position I reached isn’t desirable enough to want to play again. Let’s take a quick recap of what happened:

JoseBautista–leika (G/15 ICC, 2015)

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6

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The Berlin of the Ruy Lopez. Since it is one of the most solid openings at the Grandmaster level, I decided to give it a try. I hadn’t studied Ruy Lopez theory in 8 years, and when I did it was for White. Back when I played against the Ruy Lopez, I opted for an immediate 3… a6.

4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4

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Already one out of book for me. While this move is one of the most popular ways to counter 4… Nxe4, I was only familiar with some of the 5. Re1 theory. And so here starts the Belin Wall, well – sort of.

Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nc4?

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The first inaccuracy that set the tone for the match. Main line, as we will see, is the much better 7… Nf5. In the video, I discussed the possibility of playing …Nc4-b6 and how playing …Nd6-f5 would block in my bishop, but this approach gave my opponent too many tempi. As we’ll see, Black aspires to play …b7-b6 and fianchetto the bishop for solidarity and good endgame play.

I’ll stop here since this questionable move already deviates from the Main Line which we will be discussing. When looking for a model game, I was lucky to find the Giri–Vachier-Lagrave match up from the London Chess Classic, in which Anish outplayed Maxime in a critical tiebreak match.

Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, both in the World’s top 10, have played each other many times – including the recent 2015 FIDE World Cup!

Vachier–Lagrave – Giri (London Chess Classic, 2015)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5

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Here gives us the critical move 7… Nf5 which makes Black’s position tenable. From here, the Black knight can attack the center without being easily kicked away (8. g4? would be a serious weakening). With the queens coming off the board, it’s important that Black has piece activity to make up for losing the right to castle.

8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.h3 Ke8

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Let’s say the line ends here, as Giri’s remaining developing moves are intuitive, and could arguably be found over the board by any strong player. White has given up the pair of bishops and is in the endgame, but has some compensation. Beyond the doubled pawns on the c-file, Black is unable to castle, and needs time to develop to prove equality.

10.Nc3 h5

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What is this move? This h-pawn thrust is a prophylactic measure against any future idea for White involving g2-g4. With the game heading to an endgame, this idea is not as much of a weakening considering that the queens have been traded.

11.Ne2?!

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While this move plans to put the e2 knight in the center of the board, it’s kind of esoteric. This isn’t the most common move, as 11. Bf4 holds that honor, but it scores the same among ~2600 rated players.

11…b6 12.Rd1 Be7 13.Bg5 Bb7 14.Bxe7 Kxe7

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Black doesn’t really mind moving the king around so many times. As long as Giri’s king is safe and covers the d7 square, he’ll be fine. In fact, if you think about it, the king needs to be active in the endgame anyways. According to ChessBase’s online database, this immediate trade on e7 has never occured. While Black no longer has the pair of bishops, Anish has three “long-range” pieces compared to Vachier-Lagrave’s two.

15.Ned4 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 c5 17.Nb5 Rhc8

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Black’s last move to solidify. With all of his weaknesses covered, Giri is ready to start pushing …a7-a6 and then improve his position.

18.f4 Bc6 19.Nc3 Ke6 20.Kf2? h4!

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And just like that Black is arguably better! Should White try to play g2-g4 now, he would compromise his structure, leaving a static weakness on f4. Already, there are some ideas of …Rh8 in the position, with an idea of a rook lift to g6.

21.a4 Kf5 22.Ke3 Re8

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Both …Rd8 and …Re8 were perfectly acceptable here, but this move takes the most principled approach. With the rook on the same file as the king, White must find an answer for …f7-f6, ruining White’s hold on the center.

23.Nd5 Rac8 24.Rd2 f6 25.Rf1 fxe5 26.fxe5+ Kg5!!

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Maxime must have missed this. If Black takes on e5 immediately with the king, it stands in the center of the board, in the crossfire of both of Black’s rooks. Now should White try to protect the e5 pawn with 27. Ke4, he will lose to 27… Rxe5+!! as 28. Kxe5 is mate after 28… Re8#. What an idea! With White forced to play passively, the rest of the game is a matter of technique.

Giri won the game later on move 43, in what was arguably his best game of the tournament. While the victory may have been sweet, it was short-lived, as Maxime went on to win the next two tiebreak games, sending him to the final against Magnus Carlsen.

So what does this game tell us about the Berlin? Let’s take a look at the structure after move 17.

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If you’re wondering why so many Grandmasters play the Berlin, you should start here. Structurally, Black is more solid and his king, thanks to the early queen trade is already in the center. With all of his early dynamic play, White has yet to define his structure, leaving his e5 pawn seemingly hyper-extended. If we think about how Vachier-Lagrave attacked Black’s weaknesses (17. Nb5), the threat of the c7 and a7 pawns only slowed Giri’s play but didn’t cause him long term problems, so already that position is at least equal. Let’s take this position to the next level.

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Since White decided to give up the bishop pair with 6. Bxc6, we must also take this into consideration. While this minor piece endgame may be arguably tenable, it is clear that again, only Black can play for a win as the bishop dominates white’s knight. So with this assessment, we can say that Black is better in most Berlin Endgames.

Here’s another game where Black proved that solidarity was more important than initiative.

Teimour Radjabov (right), of Azerbaijan, is in the world’s top 30. Known for his opening preparation, let’s see what he had ready for the 2015 World Cup winner, Sergey Karjakin.

Karjakin – Radjabov (World Rapid Chess Championships, 2015)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Rd1+

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Our deviation from the Vachier-Lagrave–Giri game. Here Karjakin immediately asserts control of the d-file with a forcing move. While an easy move to play, it does have the drawback that Black already wants to get his king off the d-file. So while White develops, Black gets to improve his position.

Ke8 10.Nc3 h5 11.Bg5

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Radjabov’s last move, …h7-h5, set his intentions of playing a long game – just like Giri. Karjakin, knowing that he would not be favored in the endgame, plays with gusto, immediately developing his pieces with threats along the way. But can initiative overpower Radjabov’s solidarity?

11…Be7 12.Ne2 Bd7

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Radjabov can’t exactly afford to play pedantically. While …b7-b6 followed by fianchettoing the bishop is far more natural, here, its much more important that Teimour gets his rooks into the game. Note that 12… Be6? would be punished by 13. Nf4! as the bishop for knight trade would give away Black’s long-term advantage.

13.Nf4 Rd8 14.Bxe7 Kxe7

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Again we see the thematic exchange of dark-squared bishops. By getting his own bishop off the board, Karjakin intends to play Nf3-g5 to keep the initiative. While White’s pieces are seemingly more active, he runs into the issue that he just doesn’t have enough pieces.

15.Ng5 Rh6

 

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A weird looking move but a necessary one as e5-e6 (a theme that White missed in my video) is no longer possible. Objectively, the position is equal since Black is held down by White’s knights, but its Karjakin”s desire to fall that proves his undoing.

16.g3 Rf8 17.Rd3 Bc8

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Black doesn’t have much to do here, but Radjabov’s point is that White can’t either. Black’s only weakness is the d-file, but as many of you know, you need two weaknesses to win a game of chess.

18.Re1 Re8 19.f3 Kf8

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With a safe king, Radjabov can just make improving moves on the queenside.

20.Kf2 a6 21.h3 Ne7!

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A multi-faceted move. First, it gets out of the way of any g3-g4 pushes. Second, it prepares …Ne7-g6 attacking the e5 pawn and offering a trade of knights to simplify the endgame in Black’s favor.

22.g4?! hxg4 23.hxg4

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I’m not sure if I agree with White’s g3-g4 push. While seemingly naturally, it makes Black’s h-rook more active and ignores the idea of …Ng6. By simplifying the endgame, the game gets easier for Radjabov, not Karjakin.

23…Ng6 24.Nxg6+ Rxg6 25.Nh3 Rh6 26.Nf4 Rh2+

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In just a few moves, Black has maximized his advantage after a single trade and claiming the h-file. White may already have to play for equality.

27.Ng2 Ke7 28.Re2 Reh8 29.Ke3 R8h3 30.Nf4 Rxe2+ 31.Kxe2 Rh2+ 32.Kd1 g6

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Only on the better side of equal, Black defines his structure while White wonders how to fix his overall passivity.

33.Rd2 Rh1+ 34.Ke2 a5 35.Ke3 b6

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Maintaining flexibility. Black can move the bishop to a6 for play and has a solid structure to back it.

36.Ne2 Bd7 37.Ng3 Rh3 38.Rg2 Be6 39.b3 a4!

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A nice idea, aiming to weaken White’s queenside pawn structure. If Radjabov can trade the last pair of rooks, he’ll reach a bishop v knight endgame where only he can stand better.

40.Ne4 Rh1 41.Nf6 Ra1 42.c3 axb3 43.axb3 Re1+ 44.Re2 Rxe2+ 45.Kxe2 Bxb3

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Now with a material advantage, Radjabov has a win to play for in the classical Berlin Endgame. Black went on to win 23 moves later.

So what do these games tell us about playing the Berlin as Black?

  1. The Berlin won’t win games quickly. As evidenced by both games, endgame technique and defence are two critical skills needed to play the Berlin effectively. Black didn’t get an advantage until White erred playing for an edge.
  2. Patience in the key. Remember, the main reason why the Berlin is popular for Black is because the computer gives it a favorable evaluation with the computer. Once the queens come off the board, the game is about strategic gains for either side as White tries to compensate for losing the bishop pair.
  3. A Berlin Endgame is a good endgame. The biggest positive from today’s article. If White can’t effectively prove his compensation, he will be tortured in an uphill positional battle.

Expert vs. Expert: Knowing Your Structures

For today’s video, I wanted to share a game I played against an expert at the Pittsburgh Chess Club last Tuesday. I find this game to be particularly instructive since Black’s pawn structure dictated the pace of the game, as his pawn on c6 weighed down his development as I proceeded to find forcing moves and assemble my pieces for an attack. Hope you all enjoy!

Positional Power, Poise and Patience

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been playing in a bi-monthly ladder at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, and if I have to be honest, the change in tournament format hasn’t been the smoothest for me, as late night Tuesday rounds has pushed my mental endurance. Despite winning the first round, I made an early mistake in the opening, which made most of the game an uphill battle. Round 2 proved to be much more difficult. Despite taking a material advantage in an endgame, I underestimated my opponent’s counterattacking chances and lost in a rather embarrassing fashion. So this last Tuesday was round 3, and to say the least, I needed a win – badly.

My opponent, a much older player, had just drawn a strong expert despite his 1800 rating, and knowing some of his other recent results, I knew that this would be a tough fight. As always, I got to the board insanely early, ready to play the most important game I would have played since moving to Pittsburgh.

Steincamp – Schragin (19th Robert Smith Memorial, 2015)

1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 Be7

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My opponent “doesn’t play openings” but even a novice should know that this move is ill-advised. While White stands slightly better, it’s important to note that this move alone won’t lose the game.

4.Nc3 c5 5.d3 Nc6 6.Nd5

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I would like to have the option of playing Ng1-f3, but that would allow …d7-d5, giving Black a Maroczy structure and somewhat justifying his move 3…Be7.

6…d6 7.e3

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If I want to castle, I’m going to need to determine the best square for my g1 knight. The square f3 isn’t bad, but my set-up is positioned to attack the d5 square. At first, I thought that 7. Nf3 0-0 8. Nd2 with the idea of Nd2-f1-e3 wouldn’t be so bad, but the problem is that Black has 8… Qa5! and now with the pin to my king, it’s not so clear why I wasted so many tempi to get my knight to d2. This is a much clearer plan, as 7. e3 allows me to play Ng1-e2-c3.

7…O-O 8.Ne2 Nxd5 9.cxd5 +=

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Believe it or not, taking with the pawn in this position is surprisingly theoretical. Here it’s even better because I can punish Black (finally) for 3… Be7, because it takes away the most natural square for the knight. 9… Nb4 runs into problems after 10. a3 Qa5 11. 0-0 because Bc1-d2 is coming and the b4 knight needs to retreat to a6.

9…Nb8 10.O-O Bg4 11.f3

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I want to play d3-d4 without having my knight pinned on e2, so this move felt natural. While I didn’t think much of it during the game, I think Black is strategically lost here once I break the central pawn structure. As you’ll notice, Black will not be able to generate counterplay for the remainder of the game.

11…Bh5 12.d4 Nd7

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Maybe the best move, because after 12… cxd4 13. exd4 exd4 14. Nf4! (not 14. Nxd4 Qb6!) 14…Bg6 15. Qxd4 Bf6 16. Qb4, White has a slightly better position with a plan to take on g6 and mount my bishop on f4.

13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nf4

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With Black deciding it was best to not give me a passed d-pawn, I get the f4 square for my knight and the bishop pair.

14…Bg6 15.Nxg6 Nxg6 16.Rb1

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With Black planning to play …Be7-f6, this move gets the rook off the long diagonal, while potentially planning a b2-b4 strike. Black doesn’t have any dynamic options on the queenside as …b7-b5 will always be met with a2-a4, weakening Black’s structure (this is an important idea!).

16…Re8 17.f4

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The most important move of the game. Both 17. e4 and 17. b4 are the most natural moves, but each gives Black counterplay. 17. b4 can run into tactical issues because after 17… Qb6, Black points out my limited coordination and weaknesses on e3 and b4. 17. e4 is an easy move to make but after 17… Bf6, Black has control of the d4 square as well as the long diagonal. I need to get my bishop to c3 before pushing the e-pawn. My move makes the most intuitive sense because it takes the e5 square away from the Black knight while also stopping any …h7-h5 counterplay.

17…Bf6 18.Re1 Qa5 19.a3 Ne7?

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This move tries to maneuver the knight away from the bad g6 square, but in doing so cuts off the f6 bishop. This is important, as now I can force an advantageous trade on c3.

20.Bd2 Qc7 21.Bc3 Bxc3 22.bxc3

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With a pawn on c3, I can play e2-e4 without giving Black counterplay.

22…Rad8 23.e4 Ng6 24.h4

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Pointing out that Black cannot play …h7-h5 to stop the h-pawn. With no counterplay across the board, Black begins to falter.

24…f6??

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A positional blunder! My opponent weakens the e6 square, which will make for a great outpost for my bishop. While it looks difficult to penetrate Black’s fortress, my advantage lies in my light squared bishop.

25.c4

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25. Bh3 would have also been acceptable, but I liked this move more since it stops any chance for Black to have a dynamic break on the queenside. Because Black doesn’t have a piece that can reach d4, fixing the pawn structure furthers my advantage.

25…b6 26.Bh3 Re7 27.Be6+ Kh8 28.Kf2

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On his next move, Black will attack my e6 bishop, so I get one tempo for an improving move. By moving the king off the first rank, I open access to the h-file for my rooks. I thought it was important to put the king on f2 and not g2 because I figure Black’s only counterplay lies in …g7-g5, opening the g-file, this move gets my king out of the way in advance while giving me a chance to attack.

28…Nf8 29.Bf5

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It’s important to not that 29. f5 loses all of White’s advantage. While 29… Nxe6 would give White a passed pawn, it’s in Black’s best interest to instead play 29… Nd7! with the idea of going to e5. Since my pawns can’t control dark squares once I push the f-pawn, I would have no way of recovering my bishop for knight advantage. That being said, there are two reasons why I am winning: 1) the bishop dominates Black’s weak light squares and the f8 knight has no scope and 2) the f4 pawn. The f4 pawn controls the most critical squares, e5 and g5, and is the main reason Black’s knight is contained (remember 17. f4! set this position by achieving this goal!).

29…g6?

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This seemingly innocuous move seals my opponent’s fate. When I played 29. Bf5, I actually wanted to provoke this move (the bishop was solid on f5 regardless). In this position, I really only have one target – the square on e6. I can push the a-pawn, but it’s not clear if opening the b-file really helps me yet. Now with this second weakness, I can apply the principle of two weaknesses. By playing …g7-g6, Black weakens the a1-h8 diagonal and the f6 pawn, while simultaneously giving me a hook on g6.

30.Bh3 Rde8 31.Qd3 Rf7 32.Re3

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This move serves multiple purposes. While protecting the e3 pawn, I give my b1 rook access to the h1 square. Furthermore, by creating a battery on the third rank, I’m prepared for Black’s …g6-g5 push to open the g-file, as I’ll have the option of Rg3 or Rh3 in such positions. Black really doesn’t have much going on, so I can take my time maneuvering.

32…Qd8 33.h5

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This move is my first attempt to break through the position. Though I do want to break open the h-file, my ultimate goal is to open f5 again for my bishop as a permanent outpost. The best defensive effort may be 33… g5 but after 34. Bf5 Black still has no play and would have to defend against an eventual Qd3-c3 followed by a potential f4xg5 plan, where Black’s king gets exposed.

33…gxh5 34.Bf5 Rg7 35.Rh1 Qe7 36.Rxh5 Qf7 37.Qd1 Re7 38.Rh6

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Putting pressure on f6 while sealing the kingside from Black’s army. My goal now is to play Qd1-a1 and Re1-h1.

38…Ng6 39.Qa1 Re8 40.Re1 Ne7??

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Black’s counting on me to take the f6 pawn to open up Black’s kingside but misses the winning blow 41. Be6 +-. Without this mistake, black’s still lost as he can’t simultaneously protect f6, h7, and stop the a-pawn push at the same time. Black’s knight is still pinned to the f6 pawn, and his king is still under fire from multiple angles.

41.Be6 1-0 Black Resigns.

I was really happy with the quality that I brought to this round, and it’ll be a big boost going into the National Chess Congress next weekend in Philadelphia. Black helped me along the way, but it’s difficult for me to find significant improvements for myself throughout the game.

Opening Ideas and Innovations: Taking the Next Step

Over the weekend, I decided to play a G/15 quad, and even though I was easily able to reach a score of 2.5/3 (my quick rating is low, so I played mostly inferior opponents), I saw a game in the top quad that inspired me to write today’s post.

Rea – Feliachi (G/15 November Quads, 2015)

Just as a disclaimer, I was in my second round game as this one was developing, so the move order may not be exact (the critical position will be reached regardless).

1.d4 e6

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This move 1… e6 is surprisingly flexible. Black can play 2… f5 for a Dutch while avoiding the Staunton Gambit, but he can also transpose into Nimzo, Queen’s Gambit, and Queen’s Indian lines. In this game, Feliachi opts for the lesser known queenside fianchetto lines.

2.Nf3 b6 3.e4 Bb7

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While Black has given up the center, he has succeeded in reaching unfamiliar territory. White needs to proceed with caution, as the e-pawn will be a target for the b7 bishop.

4.Bd3 Nf6 5.Qe2?!

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This move protects the pawn but seems dubious. Rea intends to push c2-c3 as he does later in the game, but delaying the development of his queenside army is not fundamentally correct. By pushing both of his center pawns forward, White conceded that both the e- and d- pawns may become potential targets. While it would be nice to play f2-f3 or c2-c3, White can’t afford to take away squares for his pieces to fight for the center.

5…Be7 6.Bf4

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It was at this point in the game where I thought perhaps Black was slightly better. It’s not quite clear what the bishop on f4 is doing, but this now gives Black time to make his first push for the center.

6…c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nbd2

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If White can castle and maintain his hold on the center, he will likely be equal or even better. However, Black gets an opportunity to intervene. White’s piece development has centered around the ability to push c2-c3 to stop moves like …Nc6-b4 (attacking the d3 bishop). With his next move, Feliachi forces White to surrender the structural integrity of the queenside.

8…cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4!

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The point of Black’s plan! White would have been better suited letting Black exchange on d3 to take control of the c-file. Black’s plan would be to push …d7-d5 in such position and seize control of the e4 square. Endgames in those positions will favor the pair of bishops, so Black holds a slight advantage.

10.Bb1 Ba6!

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Rea retreated his bishop to stay on the b1-h7 diagonal, but in doing so walks into the heart of Black’s plan. Now White is much worse because his king is stuck in the center of the board while Black’s rook will swing to c8 and expose White’s lack of coordination.

11.Qe3 Rc8 12.Nb3 Nc2+ 13.Bxc2 Rxc2

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Black takes control of the 2nd file with added threats of …Be7-b4+ looming. Uncertain of how to defend, White allowed Black to fork the king and queen on e2 and lost the game.

I remember watching this game and being really impressed with Black’s ability to punish White’s desire to play c2-c3. Though this …Nb4 and …Ba6 idea was clearly researched by Black before the game, it still made for a very instructional victory over a National Master.

With this inspiring opening play out of the way, I figured I might as well share Richard Rapport’s game at the European Team Championships last Sunday for team Hungary in their match in France. At only 19, Rapport has established himself as one of the world’s elite, specifically for bizarre opening preparation. In his game against Fressinet, he chose to open his game with 1. f4, giving the Bird’s Opening a rare showing at the Grandmaster level.

Since Gibraltar last January, 2015 hasn’t been the kindest to the Hungarian. Now under 2700 again, will the European Team Chess Championships allow Rapport to turn the page?

Rapport – Fressinet (European Team Chess Championships, 2015)

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4

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Having worked with 1. f4 players before, this is not a move I’m too familiar with. White offers the c-pawn to gain central control, and if Black doesn’t take, the c-pawn puts pressure on Black’s center. That being said when Black plays …Bg7, it will be difficult for White to blunt the diagonal, thus offering Black some play.

3…c6 4.e3 Bg7 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.d4

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White’s structure now represents a flipped Botvinik set-up, where White will hope to use his control of the e5 square and his space to acquire an advantage.

6…O-O 7.Be2 e6 8.O-O dxc4 9.Bxc4 Nbd7 10.e4

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With this move, Rapport fills the “hole” in his structure on e4 while taking away Black’s strong point, d5, as a potential outpost. While this takes a tempo for having moved the pawn twice, the burden is on Black to find a way to develop his bad c8-bishop. Despite this game’s awkward beginnings, it seems like the balance has already shifted slightly towards White.

10…b5 11.Bd3 b4 12.Na4 c5 13.Nxc5 Nxc5 14.dxc5 Bb7 15.e5

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Black has found a way to develop his bad bishop on the long diagonal, but not without consequences. Already with a hyper-extended b-pawn, Black must now also worry about the d6 square. While this e-pawn push from Rapport gives up some light squares, he locks in the g7 bishop, making the dark squares hard to defend.

15…Nd5 16.Ng5 Qa5 17.Ne4 Rfc8 18.Kh1

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A prophylactic measure. At some point, White will want to play Ne4-d6, and this move allows him to do so as the king will no longer be exposed along the a7-g1 diagonal. While Black currently has better development, Fressinet struggles to play around Rapport’s Bind, as there’s no clear plan for Black.

18…Ba6 19.a3 Bf8 20.Bxa6 Qxa6 21.Nd6 Rc7?

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This move confines Black to passivity, as playing …Bxd6 would have been better. Fressinet must have feared the protected passed pawn on d6, but the bishop on f8 really doesn’t add value to Black’s set-up. 21… Rxc5? doesn’t work because 22. axb4 Qxa1 23. bxc5 and Black’s queen is awfully misplaced in the corner.

22.Bd2

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Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman states that dynamic play stops when the attacking player has a static advantage. Here with a knight firmly planted in Black’s territory, White can finally complete his development with ease.

22…b3 23.Rc1 Rb8 24.Rf3 Qa4 25.Rc4 Qa6

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This sequence shows how poor Black’s position really is. Unable to generate counterplay or stop White’s improvements, White has already strategically won, the rest is just technique.

26.Qc1 Qc6 27.h3 Rd7 28.Qf1 Qa6 29.f5 exf5 30.Rxf5 gxf5 31.Rg4+ fxg4 32.Qxa6

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Two rooks are generally better than a queen, but here Rapport also weakens Black’s queenside. With Black’s rooks out of reach from the king, White is left with the task of attacking a defenseless king.

32…Ne7 33.e6!!

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A very instructive moment from Rapport! Sometimes, if you can’t solve a position, it’s important to try changing the move order. If White had just tried 33. Qa4 Rc7 34. Qxg4+, after 34… Bg7, it’s unclear how to proceed. Now with this move, White offers a pawn so that after Qxg4+, the queen can follow up by taking on e6, infiltrating the Black camp.

33…fxe6 34.Qa4 Rc7 35.Qxg4+ Ng6 36.Qxe6+ Kh8 37.Nf7+ Kg8 38.Nh6+ Kh8 39.Qg8# 1-0

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Out of gamesmanship, Fressinet allows Rapport to deliver a checkmate after a long day in the office.

A great performance from Rapport, as his result was critical in securing a tie with the French in Round 3. After 4 games, Rapport has secured 3.5/4 for the Hungarian team in the European Team Chess Championships.

Make sure to check out other games from the event, as there have already been several heavyweight clashes. After Russia’s dominating win over Ukraine, will they be the favorites to run away with the event, or can Azerbaijan or Armenia catch up to the leaders? You can visit the event webpage here.

After losing to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian rebounded with a big win over reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and team Norway. The Armenian has had the most difficult schedule, as he fell to Michael Adams in round 5.

Flexible Planning – What to do When out of Book

No matter how much you study theory, someone will always find a way to get out of your opening knowledge against you in a tournament game. How you handle those positions will largely determine the outcome of the game, not the fact that you had read an entire book in preparation for the match.

While some club players may disagree, when your opponent chooses to go out of “book”, he is not necessarily making a mistake, but rather making a less battle tested move. As the player, its your job to figure out why. Let’s look at some games where I was put in this situation.

Steincamp–Schenk (Cherry Blossom Classic, 2015)

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 e6 3.Bg2 d5 4.Nf3 b6 5.O-O Bb7 6.b3 c5 7.e3 Nc6 8.Bb2 dxc4 9.bxc4 Be7

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For me at least, this is where my opening knowledge ends – even though the game is still very much in the primitive stages. When Black takes early on c4, he usually wants to immediately follow with …Qd8-d3. By not making this move, Black is confined to a little more passive play.

10.Qe2 O-O 11.Rd1 Qc7 12.Nc3 Rfd8 13.Rac1 Rac8

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The opening is finished, and even though Black deviated from theory, its not clear how White has benefited from that. My only advantage is that I have two central pawns compared to Black’s one, but still what is White’s plan?

14.d3

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Perhaps “plan” is a little bit too primitive of a word. In chess, we generally equate planning as a means reach a specific goal or creating a weakness. Here I cannot play for an advantage without creating a weakness for myself, so the only “plan” is to improve my pieces. After realizing that 14. d4?! plays into Black’s hands after 14… cxd4 15. exd4 Na5, I came up with this move with the long idea of Qe2-c2-b1-a1, followed by Nc3-b5 and Nf3-e5 with two aims, controlling the long a1-h8 diagonal and provoking a7-a6, making the b6 pawn weak.
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This is the dream position I thought of after playing d3. Its a lot of moves, but honestly Black doesn’t have a plan of his own. The problem with 9… Be7 was that it was too slow in creating any play, and with my pawn on d3, Black can’t exactly play for the half-open d-file.

14…a6?

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The position is still equal, but this is a positional mistake for two reasons. 1) b6-b5 isn’t possible, so for now the pawn on b6 is a big weakness as a backwards pawn and 2) the bishop on b7 no longer has the option of going to a6 if I decide to push d3-d4. That being said, my plan changes now too as Black created the weakness I was hoping to provoke. After much deliberation, I decided I needed to play on my half-open file, the b-file.

15.Ba1!

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Perhaps not a true brilliancy, but this is the most simple move for me to control the b-file! Now my plan is to play Rc1-b1 and Qe2-b2 to attack both the kingside and the b-pawn.
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This is my dream position now, and even though the position is still technically equal, Black has some questions to answer. Without an ability to effectively push b6-b5 or stake a real claim for the d-file, Black is going to have to find other ways to improve the position.

15…e5??

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With his counterplay stopped, Black lashes out with this positional blunder. Trying to reach a bind position, Black weakens the d5 square with this move. Even with the bishop on b7, Black’s pawns loosen his control over the light squares. With all of the pieces on the board, Black is extremely cramped and strategically lost.

16.Rb1 Rb8 17.Ng5

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The goal is to reroute the knight to e4, where I will have two very pleasant ways to recapture the trade. Nc3xe4 is the most natural, but I preferred the counterintuitive d3xe4 idea! By doing this, my knight can jump to d5, and if traded, I can recapture with a pawn, making it passed.

17…Bc8 18.Nge4 Be6

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Black trading on e4 would give me a dream position as I control all of the critical squares on the d-file. Even with a bad g2 bishop, my coordination gives me a big central advantage.

19.Nxf6+ Bxf6 20.Nd5 Bxd5 21.cxd5

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With a central passed pawn and the bishop pair, I am better in all endgames.

21…Ne7 22.e4 g6 23.f4 Qd6? 24.Qb2

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Taking advantage of the weak e5 pawn. Now my static advantage becomes a material advantage, giving me enough to play for the win.

24…Qd7 25.fxe5 Bg7 26.Qf2 Rf8 27.Qf1 b5 28.Bh3 Qa7 29.Kh1 White went on to win on move 41.

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Getting my king off the same diagonal as Black’s queen. With four strong pawns in the center, the win is technical and a tangent from today’s discussion.

This game was instructive, because while Black opted for a less favorable line, he was by no means losing. By playing to improve my own position, Black ran out of active options and grew impatient, creating weaknesses with …a7-a6 and …e6-e5. The next game was from last April’s National High School Chess Championships where after a long day, I needed a win to play for a spot in the top 30 the next day.

Steincamp – Golias (National High School Chess Championships, 2015)

1.c4 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 d6 5.d3 c5 6.e4 Nc6 7.Nge2 O-O 8.O-O a6 9.h3 Rb8 10.a4 Ne8 11.Be3 f5 12.exf5 Bxf5?

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…f7-f5 was already rare, but recapturing with the bishop was definitely foreign to me. In such positions, Black should recapture with the g-pawn, but honestly the Ne8-c7 idea is much more sound. With this move, Black’s center is weakened, but how to exploit?

13.d4!

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The first par of my plan is to remove my opponent’s stronghold in the center. Black’s only way to play is to mount a piece or pawn on d4, so this move removes all possibility of that idea. The resulting simplifications favor white because his knight on e8 is out of the fight.

13…cxd4 14.Nxd4 Bd7 15.Rc1 Qc7?

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Why not …Ne8-c7? This move loses tempi as after Nd5, the queen must retreat back to d8. 16. Nd5 Qc8? leads to 17. Nxc6+- with the fork threatened on e7. 16… Qa5 isn’t any better because 17. b4 Qd8 gives me space.

16.Nd5 Qd8 17.Qd2 Nxd4 18.Bxd4 Bxd4 19.Qxd4

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Black can take the pawn on a4, but being so far behind in development, its not the most advisable. After 19… Bxa4 Black has to worry about Rf1-e1, followed by Nd5-b6, and his resulting weaknesses will give me enough compensation for the pawn.

19…e5 20.Qd1 Nf6 21.b4 Kg7 22.c5 Nxd5 23.Qxd5

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This sums up Black’s opening deviations never fought for the center, and with the pawn on e5, Black can never regain control of the d5 square. Black is lost.

23…Bxa4 24.cxd6 Re8 25.Rc7+ Bd7 26.Rfc1 Kh8 27.Rxb7 Rxb7 28.Qxb7 Bc8 29.Qd5 Re6 30.Rxc8

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A simple sacrifice, as now Black cannot stop the promotion.

30…Qxc8 31.d7 1-0

This game was a much easier win than the first game because Black took drastic measures and refused to follow opening principles. However, just like the first game, I was able to take away my opponent’s resources without creating any weaknesses of my own.

On a basic level, the main takeaway should be to follow the chess opening principles. When your opponent deviates from your theoretical knowledge, ask yourself if your opponent failed to accomplish one of these goals. If this is not the case, try to pinpoint what your opponent’s plan is, and find creative ways to eliminate the threat!

How to Swindle – Part 2

One year after I miraculously survived a completely lost endgame at the National High School Chess Championships in San Diego, I found myself in a similar situation in the first round of the same event in Columbus.

While I wasn’t lost, I had dropped a pawn in the opening, and at first, things looked like they were about to turn sour. However, through the use of just one file, I was able to maximize the activity of all my pieces, reaching an endgame where only I had winning chances. I really liked this game, because I was able to use a lot of similar ideas that I did in the original “How to Swindle”, while limiting all of my opponent’s counterplay. I hope you enjoy!

Identifying Weak Squares and Creating Static Advantages

For today’s article, I decided to put a different concept of chess under the microscope – weak squares. In my recent posts and videos, I’ve focused a lot on poor pawn structures and lack of space, and while instructive, doesn’t really encapsulate all of the natural elements of positional chess.
Weak squares, as defined by Grandmaster Iossif Dorfman in his book, The Method in Chess, are squares that can no longer be defended by a pawn, and can be attacked by the opponent’s pieces. Generally, these squares become great outposts, and can dictate the result of the game. For my first few examples, I would like to demonstrate how careless pawn moves can result in completely worse positions.
1) Weak Squares Resulting from Blunders
bahamapapa – leika(me) (Internet Chess Club, G/30)

13. f5??

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My opponent has played an early f4-f5 out of the Four Pawns Attack, but already you can probably identify all of the dark squared weaknesses this move creates. My knight now springs to life on e5, and White’s attack comes to a halt.

13…Ne5 14. Be2? White doesn’t really sense the trouble in this position. I do not want the pair of bishops, as my knight from e5 is far superior to the scope of the f3 bishop. 14…b5 15. Qc2 Qb6 Now that I’ve acquired the e5 outpost, I need to create more play on White’s weak dark squares 16. Kh1 Rae8
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My knight from e5 not only controls a lot of squares, but also acts as a blockade to White’s backwards e4 pawn. By playing …Ra8-e8, I can move the knight away from e5 at any moment and put great pressure on White’s pawn.
17. Bg5 h6 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd1 White is lost for ideas and the position is completely lost. 19…c4
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When you have a significant static advantage, you are in no rush to cover the point. Here this move gives me control of more dark squares, which are even more weak without White’s dark squared bishop.
20. Nf2? Qe3-+ I identified the second weak square here, and was easily able to convert the game. I don’t like the Four Pawns Attack for White, but my opponent had a tenable position before giving me the outpost on e5, after which he was lost for ideas and fell apart.
In this next game, I was on the losing side, and the one mistake I made in the opening cost me from start to finish – let’s check it out:

Grenias–Steincamp (Baltimore Open, 2015)

12…b6??

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A seemingly harmless move as I gain space on the queenside. My opponent here realizes that with this move, I have seriously committed an error by weakening the c6 square. White needs to limit my ability to gain space while simultaneously controlling the c-file.

13.Rc1! Immediately asking me to defend against discovered tactics along the c-file. Nc5 14.Bd4 Qc8 Still not realizing my disadvantage, I simplify into a much worse ending. 15.Re1 Bh3 16.e4!

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Dvoretsky would be proud! Realizing that the light bishops were coming off the board, White takes the time to gain central dominance and put his pawns on light squares. Now if I take on g2, I trade off White’s bad bishop, losing tempi as my opponent gains space. Even though my side of the board becomes less cramped, I lose a critical defender of the c6 square.

16…Bxg2 17.Kxg2 Qb7 I have lost a lot of tempi with this …Bh3 maneuver and have no play to show for it. 18.f3 Nxb3 19.Qxb3 Nd7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.Nb5

White's master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.
White’s master plan begins, as from b5, the knight will move to d4, controlling the c6 square. With my inferior position, all I can do is sit and watch.

21…Rfc8 22.Nd4 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Rc8 24.Rc6 +-

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After taking all of the necessary precautions, White punishes 12… b6 12 moves later. White went on to convert this endgame on move 71, as the control of the c-file and flexibility of the knight proved too much for my defenses.

2) Identifying Weak Squares

At the higher levels, players are generally more conscientious of creating such weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that weak squares don’t exist. In the first game I’d like to show, I was paired against a young opponent and had played a fairly respectable game, but my opponent sealed my fate when he identified the weak squares in my position.

Miyasaka – Steincamp (Cherry Blossom Classic, 2015)

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After having outplayed me for the last 5-7 moves, my opponent needs one last shot to push for a result. The endgame is complicated, but how can White limit my play?

33.Bb5! The idea is to reroute the bishop to c6, keeping my rooks from becoming active. 33…Rb8 34.Bc6 Rb6? The real mistake. The best option was for me to play 34… b6 and open the position. While I have an isolated e-pawn, the endgame is closer to a draw than a win. Either way, by moving the bishop to c6, White obtains something to play for, thus increasing his wining chances. 35.b5! No second chances! Now …e7-e6 doesn’t work because White can capture with the d5 pawn and bring the rook. By letting my opponent secure this outpost, I quickly found that I had nothing to play for, and resigned a little over 10 moves later. 35…Kf8 36.Rb4 a6 37.a4 a5 38.Rh4 Kg7 39.Rf4 Ng8 40.h4 Rb8 41.g4 Nh6 42.Rfe4 Kf8 43.Kg3 Rb6 44.R4e2 Ng8 45.Kf4 Nf6 46.Kf3 Rb8 47.h5 1-0

A nice win from my opponent, where he managed to demonstrate superior endgame knowledge over the board. This next weak square earned the winner $38,000 at the recent Millionaire Chess Open:

Yang – Mandizha (U2400 Millionaire Chess 2, 2015)

In this position, International Master Kaiqi Yang has White in the U2400 Millionaire Chess Final. He and his opponent, IM Farai Mandizha have drawn their past three games, leading to this blitz match. How did White make the most of this objectively (+0.17 according Stockfish) equal position?

26. Nf1! Superb idea! Regardless of the computer’s assessment of the position, the game just became a lot more complicated for Black. From f1, the knight will reroute to e3 then d5, taking advantage of Black’s inability to control any light squares, while blockading the d6 pawn. Mandizha is limited in his possibilities, as the Sicilian Najdorf line he prepared did not go as planned. He has a bad bishop on e7, which is blocked by the central pawns. in just a few moves, Yang proves that his knight is much better than Black’s bishop. 26… Bd8 27. Ne3 Bb6 28. Nd5 Bc5

29. f6!! And now White has all of the winning chances. Black erred immediately in the game but if black plays 29… gxf6, White can play 30. Rf3!+-, with the idea of taking on f6 with the rook. This idea is the “Principle of Two Weaknesses” as White will seek ways to put pressure on both f7 and d6 while improving his position. The knight is still untouchable and its not clear how Black escapes the bind. 29…g6? Tired, Mandizha makes the game losing move. 30. Ne7 And White only needed a few more moves to win the $38,000 prize.

3) Creating and Securing Weak Squares
Some openings just don’t create enough weak squares. This is where positional play becomes dynamic; finding forcing moves to create weak squares is another way to generate an advantage. Here’s a game I played online:
leika (me)-jondrich (Internet Chess Club, G/15)
24…b5
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This position looks balanced and destined for equality. Black hopes that by trading down on the queenside, he can liquidate the position into a drawn minor piece ending.
25. e5!
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This dynamic thrust serves three purposes: 1) trade off Black’s best piece (the b7 bishop) 2) Limit Black’s dark squared bishop’s scope, and most importantly 3) force the f6 knight away so I can place my knight on e4 at the right moment.
25…Ne8 26. Kf2 Ba5 27. Ba3 b4?
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White now holds an advantage. Black has blocked in his bishop while taking away an entry square for the c6 knight. In this position, I just have to secure the d4 square and mount a knight on e4, and I can play for a win.
28. Bc1 Bb6 29. Be3 My bishop can’t do too much, but this move puts pressure on c5 while covering the d4 square. 29…a5 30. a4 Locking down the queenside. If Black makes the mistake of taking en passant on a3, I will recapture and the c3 square become accessible for my e2 knight. 30…Nc7 31. g4
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Black has no ability to generate counterplay, so now my plan comes to life. Ne2-g3-e4 is coming up.
31…Ba8 32. Ng3 Nd4 33. Bxd4 Bxg2 34. Kxg2 cxd4 35. Ne1
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The massive trades have significantly increased my winning chances. The passed d-pawn is more of a liability than a strength, and my knights are headed to d3 and e4. Just like the last game, Black really suffers from not having the right colored bishop.
35…f6 36. Nd3 Na6 37. Ne4 Kf7 38. Kf3
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Now that I have completed my plan, it’s time to convert my position to the win. Still using the weak light squares, my goal is to move my knight away from e4 for my king. The king is a crucial attacker in the endgame, don’t be afraid to use him!
38…Kg6 39. Nd6 Bc7 40. c5
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With this move, Black’s minor pieces are extremely limited, and now by creating a second weak square on d6, the win is easy for White. Who would have seen this position from the beginning of the endgame?

While its important to identify weak squares and put your pieces on them, its also important to keep that outpost, or trade them for better ones. I had a cute maneuver in my round 3 win at the World Open this past year:

Steincamp-Williams (World Open, 2015)

25.Na5 Bb5

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Believe it or not, the critical outpost here is the knight on a5! Attacking the b7 pawn, White hopes that Black plays b7-b6, creating the weak c6 square that we’ve already demonstrated twice. It is also not in Black’s best interest to trade away the d8 bishop since it will weaken the c7 square while the a5 pawn will act as a clamp, keeping the b7 pawn at bay. …Bd7-b5 is annoying since if I take, b7 is protected by the queen and the pawn on b5 actually immobilizes my knight, covering the c4 square.

26.Bh3! Black cannot surrender control of the e6 square, so he must return his bishop to d7. 26…Bd7 27.Bg2!

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With this move, Black cannot repeat the idea of …Bd7-b5 without facing a3-a4. Before Black could trade off bishops on f1, giving him some more coordination, but now my opponent must make the concession of taking on a5. I quickly get a strong position.

27…Bxa5 28.bxa5 Qd8 29.Rc7 Bc8

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Black is completely immobilized and out of ideas, as my grip on the position is extremely powerful.

30.a4 Opening the a3 square for my bishop to attack d6. 30…Ne7 31.Ba3 Bf5 32.e4 Bc8+-

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I’ve achieved a significant advantage, and went on to win later in the endgame (admittedly after misplaying the position a little).

In all of these games, the position went from seemingly equal to dead lost because of one weak square. Use these squares to make pieces active and blockade weak pawns, and you will see significant returns in your gameplay!

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out my gofundme page to learn about my journey to New Orleans for the 2016 US Junior Open.