This must be what going mad feels like

nerf

I had an absolutely crazy game with my pet line: the Nimzovich Defence.

1. e4 Nc6

There are no virtues for my move Nc6. Yes, None.

nerf

It’s just a very awkward position for the knight. White can, and does attack it with d4, then d5.

2. d4 e5 3. d5 Nb8

nerf

Now that the d-pawns have been “provoked” into advancing, which is a polite way of saying we voluntarily took a bad position, the knight goes back home.

It’s a real challenge to defend this position from here on. And I do like to challenge myself every now and then.

4. Nf3 d6 5. Be2 Nf6

nerf

Now this is a subtle trick – the most natural way to defend White’s e-pawn would be Nc3. But that would block White’s c-pawn, preventing it from reinforcing the strong White point on d5.

6. Nbd2

White doesn’t fall for it. Well it was worth a try.

g6 7. 0-0 Bg7 8. c4 Na6?

nerf

Preventing b4, but I need to castle first. This move is a mistake, as it doesn’t stop b4.

I missed that White has the check Qa5+, picking up the Black knight.

9. b3

In the game, both me and my opponent wrongly assumed that b4 drops a pawn. Happy coincidence.

0-0

Now i do castle, so b4 is ruled out.

10. Bd3 Ne8 11. Re1 f5

nerf

The thematic pawn break that is the highlight of Black’s entire opening. It’s very similar to, and might even be an exact copy of the King’s Indian Defence. Now White doesn’t usually take the f-pawn. Black can really come alive if he does.

12. exf5 gxf5

nerf

Now White is in for a world of trouble. During the game, I even believed my position was winning already.

How is White going to stop my e4, attacking three White pieces at the same time?

13. Rb1

White saves his rook – the most valuable of the three.

e4

Now when I went for this move I did see that White can gain two pawns for the piece, and my King would be stripped bare. I also did see the move Nb4, which I correctly calculated would give Black a slight edge even if no material is won. But there’s no reason to run away from this move. It unblocks the dark square bishop, and picks up a White piece.

14. Nxe4 fxe4 15. Rxe4

nerf

White knows he’s in real trouble if he sits still so he immediately goes for an attack. It does look promising.

His plan is to swing the rook to the h-file, attacking my h7 pawn and then my King as well.

Nc5! 

The nimzo-knight jumps to the rescue forking rook and bishop. If I can exchange White’s light square bishop off, his attack would grind to a halt, and I would win by material advantage.

16. Rh4

nerf

Now I couldn’t figure this out during the game. I knew that taking the bishop would blunt the attack, but what do I do once White recaptures with the queen?

Wouldn’t it be even more dangerous if a rook and queen were attacking h7, compared to just a rook and bishop?

So I’m an idiot, and there is in fact a simple solution. Nxd3 17. Qxd3 Bf5

nerf

Defending my pawn, skewering the White queen and rook – Black would be clearly winning. But the correct tactics are quite hard to find in the game itself. Instead of going for this, I played the crazy sacrifice…

Rxf3!

nerf

You. Only. Live. Once. And thus the game descends into total madness.

This sacrifice removes the defender of White’s rook, allowing me to capture with the queen. If White just takes my rook, then I would just be two pieces up. Total greed, and totally winning.

The real problem is my h7 pawn. I haven’t done anything to defend it whatsoever.

17. Bxh7+

nerf

Now White is expecting me to retreat to f8, when he can safely pick up my sacrificed rook with check. Surely I won’t risk my life with Kh8, letting both the bishop and rook have their way with my King?

Kh8!!

nerf

It takes some real courage to play this move. My king steps into a cage, where it cannot escape, with an angry rook plus bishop.

18. Rh5

White has to move because the discovered check, Bg6+ etc, doesn’t work if I can just smash the rook with my queen. If White had tried protecting the rook with g3 instead, things get really interesting.

18. g3 Qxh4!! 19. gxh4 Bg4 20. Bc2 Nf6

nerf

White’s attack is beaten off using a queen sacrifice. Well, I have two knights and a rook for the queen. Black, despite being queenless, has a clear advantage. The Black pieces have the power of sheer numbers, which can be aimed at White’s broken castle.

Bg4

nerf

Keeping the White rook attacked so he cannot unleashed the discovered check. My rook is still left hanging.

19. Bg5

If White had tried cashing his check, I had a response ready: 19. Bg6+ Bxh5 20. Bxh5

nerf

Black would be a rook plus knight up. Simply overwhelming, I can just retreat my rook to f8, and White will have to resign.

So let’s look at the move played by my opponent:

nerf

He’s attacking my queen, while doing nothing about the multiple pieces hanging on the chessboard. It is an absurd position.

Nf6

I block his attack with my knight, and now my knight is also attacking White’s rook and bishop.

nerf

20. Rh4

White moves his rook out of trouble. He has secured the h4 square from my queen and is really intending to cash his check now.

Rh3!

nerf

I still won’t let White get his discovered check. My rook is sacrificed, again, but I am uncovering an attack on White’s queen.

21. gxh3

This time White does take my rook.

Bxd1

nerf

Allowing me to take his queen.

22. Bg6+

The discovered check has much less venom with his queen off the board. White can’t summon the firepower needed for a mating attack.

Kg8 23. Rxd1

nerf

The fireworks over, Black is an awful lot of material up. It’s time to convert this to a win.

Qe7 24. Rg4 

White uses the pin on the queen to travel away from my knight.

Rf8 25. Rg3 Qe2 26. Rf1 Nce4

nerf

Transferring my knight for the attack. I’m running low on the clock now.

27. Re3 Qxa2 28. h4 Nd2 29. Re1 Ng4 30. Re8

nerf

White forms a battery on the e-file, but it will never reach my King.

Nf3+ 31. Kh1 Qxf2

nerf

Two knight, and a queen, against a lone King. 30 seconds left on the clock.

If I run out of time, I still lose this game.

32. Rxe8 Bxe8 33. Bf4

nerf

White covers the checkmate square on h2.

Qxe1+

I take his last rook. Actually capturing with the Knight is even faster. But I have no time left to calculate.

 34. Kg2 Qe2+ 35. Kg3 Qxh2+ 36. Kxg4 Qg2+ 37. Kf5 Be7

nerf

The White king is slowly being sucked up the board towards my army. Too slowly.

Seven seconds left on the clock.

38. h5??

Fortunately, my opponent took a moment to secure his bishop. He could have dragged things a bit longer by running further up with ke6.

Nd4#

nerf

Coolly played, this checkmate finishes the game. In my favor.

Monkey Trap

londonlifecoach-monkey

The trap “consists of a hollowed-out coconut, chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole”. The monkey’s hand fits through the hole, but his clenched fist can’t fit back out. “The monkey is suddenly trapped.” – Guardian

There’s a trap like this in the Orangutan.

1. b4

Today our pawn is the bait.

e5 2. Bb2 Bxb4 3. Bxe5

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At first, there is the problem of Black’s g7 square. It’s unprotected now that Black went on a pawn hunt.

Nf6 4. Nc3

We develop a knight, and seemingly block our own bishop from returning to b2.

d6?

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Black rests on two assumptions, both of which are faulty.

  1. The first, being that White will not give up the bishop pair for a knight so early in the opening.
  2. Secondly, that it’s a good idea to kick the bishop.

5. Bxf6! Qxf6??

The other recapture, gxf6, infllicts serious structural damage on Black’s kingside. White would be better already.

6. Nd5

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The knight forks not two but three pieces at once!

Qd8

Black tucks his tail, goes home, abandons his bishop.

Various defences have been tried at this point. One of them gave up the bishop with Bxd2+ but the recapture with the King just leaves a piece up.

The most tenacious d is Qd4

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Here Black’s hope is to give up his rook for active play. We shouldn’t accept 

Qd4 7. Nxc7+ Kd8 8. c3

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An important interruption move. If we accepted the Black rook, then Black will force a draw with Bxd2+. We won’t let the monkey get away.

Bxc3 9. Rc1 Kxc7 10. e3 Qg4 11. Rxc3+ Nc6 12. Nf3

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Not winning any material! But the compromised Black King, stuck on the queenside. The isolated Black d-pawn. White’s pawn majority in the center. And an active rook. We could not ask for a better opening. 

7. Nxb4

A clear piece up, the win is in sight.

a5 (and a draw offer)

Not sure why players beg for draws in clearly lost positions. I certainly never seen players offer a draw when ahead.

I declined.

8. Nd3 0-0 (and another draw offer)

At this point Black is just being annoying. What’s the idea behind asking for draws when your game is a lost cause? Eh “gimme a sympathy vote”? Bullshit. If you’re lost you should resign.

Quit begging, i told him.

9. e3 Re8 10. Be2 Bf5 11. Nf3 Nc6 12. 0-0 Qf6

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The game continued normally with quiet moves. I just want to keep my position solid, trade pieces, and win the endgame.

13. Nf4

Clearing the way for my d-pawn to advance.

Nb4

Black attacks my little pawn on c2.

14. Bd3 Bxd3 15. Nxd3

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Not minding the doubled pawns if Black trades. I’m a whole piece up, mutual disarmament will favor me.

Right now it’s five pieces against four. When it becomes one piece against none, I win.

Nd5

Black avoids the exchange.

16. Rb1 b6

It’s an open file and a b-pawn target for the rook.

17. a3

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Not doing much, just taking the b4 square from Black’s active knight. Slow and solid wins the race when you are numerically superior. The kingdom of Wei proved this in the Romance of Three Kingdoms.

h5

Black goes for an attack, because, it’s better to die fighting than to wait for an imperial takeover. It’s the strategy used by the Kingdom of Shu Han.

18. c4

Pushing the knight back once its open lines have been cut off.  Using my central pawn majority.

Ne7 19. Nf4 h4 20. d4

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Although Black’s flank activity is aggressive, I’ve taken over the centre of the board which will deeply restrict the scope of Black’s pieces. And this pawn chain is quite solid so there is no danger for White.

g5

Oh look, a second black pawn.

21. Nd3 Qg6 22. Re1 f5

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Black adds a third pawn for his assault.

23. Nd2 g4 24. f4

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Putting an end to Black’s expansion.

g3

Black tries to open a line for his pieces.

25. h3

Not allowed to trespass!

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Pawns interlocking, the black pieces have no clear view of the White King. I will be perfectly safe on g1.

Nc6 26. Nf3

But now Black’s incomplete assault has left holes for the counter-attack. This square is one of those holes.

Qh7 27. d5 Ne7

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Again, my center pawn majority repels the Black knight from closing into my position.

28. Ng5

Another hole, and a good outpost for my knight. Incidentally attacking the Black queen.

Qh6 29. Qa4

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Now my queen will join the fun.

Ng6 30. Qd7

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Black cannot save both his attacked pawns.

Re7 31. Qxf5 Rae8

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The Black rooks angrily gang up against my backward e-pawn.

32. Ne6

Frontal shielding.

Also stops Rf8 as a bonus.

Nf8

Black tries to evict the knight.

33. Qg5+ Qxg5 34. Nxg5

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I allow Black to capture my pawn, but I’ve extracted a heavy price by removing queens from the board. The situation is now four pieces against three.

Rxe3 35. Rxe3 Rxe3 36. Rd1

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Accepting the pawn means it’s now three pieces against two.

Nd7

Black’s wandering knight is still trying to break into my locked position.

37. Ne6

Attacking Black’s c7 pawn.

Nf5

Black abandons it – no way to defend.

38. f5

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I decided not to capture. Well taking is fine. But i prefer to get a knight to f4, forming an interlocking knight calvacade.

Ne4. 39. Nef4 Nc3 40. Re1

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Made possible because my d3 knight is now protected.

Now the rooks are forced into a trade because Black has no room to dodge.

Rxe1 41. Nxe1

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Now two pieces against one!

Nb1 42. Nc2 Nd2 43. Ne3

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Black can try as hard as he likes. His lone knight isn’t a match for my two knights.

Nb1 44. Ne6

Letting Black have the a-pawn because i’m getting his c-pawn.

Nxa3 45. Nxc7 Nb1 46. Nb5 a4 47. Nc2

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Black may have the a-pawn, but his lone knight cannot sneak it past my two. The disparity in power is just too much.

Kf8

It’s down to the king now.

48. Kf1

I have a king too, u know.

Ke7 49. Ke2 Kf6 50. Kd1 

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Forcing Black to trade his last piece. Or else I am killing that knight.

Kxf5

Black is tired of letting me dictate terms. He chooses death rather than capitulation.

51. Kc1

It shall be death, then.

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The black knight has run out of squares.

Ke4 52. Kxb1

Two knights against a lone king now.

Ke3 53. Nxd6

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Not only capturing a pawn, but protecting my own at the same time.

Ke2

Black’s last hope is to visit my Kingside where Black does possess a significant space advantage. If he can win my g-pawn, those passed pawns could be quite dangerous.

54. Nf4 Kf2 55. Nce3

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And that’s taken care of with minimal fuss.

a3 56. d6 a2+ 57. Kxa2 b5 58. cxb5

Black just wants to die quickly now. He gives up two pawns.

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Or he could have waited for my very slow king to capture them one by one. Not interested? Well I didn’t think so.

Ke2 59. d7 Kf2 60. d8Q  Ke2 61. b6!

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If its worth killing its worth overkilling. My opponent must be severely punished for his repeated draw offers.

Kf2 62. b7 Ke2 63. b8Q Ke1

Black is hoping for Qb2?? stalemate. Well I’m four pieces vs zero. A draw shall not happen.

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64. Qd7

Giving black the move back so he has to step onto the second rank. Qd1+ mates also, but is not punishing enough.

To pay for his sins, Black must be forced to ask for his own death. That’s the only way.

Ke2 65. Qb2+ Ke1 66. Qd1# 

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A pretty mate on the 66th move.

Monkey Business

bear

I won another spectacular game using 1. b4, the Orangutan Opening.

1. b4

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Flank operations usually go nowhere, as the opponent builds a big center, uses it to dominate the board, and eventually crush you in the endgame. For example, Black is perfectly fine after 1. b3, 1. g3, et cetera. In all these cases, he just follows up by putting pawns on e5 and d5. White cannot seriously claim to have an advantage, although play shall continue.

So the move 1. b4 is unique. It’s way off into the sidelines, and doesn’t touch any center squares, unlike “fake” flank openings such as 1. c4 (English Opening) and 1. f4 (Polar Bear System). And yet, it still influences the center with indirect ways. Black is unable to achieve harmony in his position, as this game will soon show.

e5

A more positional strugle evolves after 1…d5, as is typical of games involving the queen’s pawn. But White could then put a bishop on the long diagonal, when e5 is under lock and key. So Black often tries to play e5 first. He wants to get it out of the way before White plays Bb2.

2. Bb2

But now, Bb2 follows anyway.

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Attacks e5 (a valuable center pawn), and lets the b4 (a useless sideline) pawn go. Nonetheless, Black often accepts the trade anyway. It’s quite difficult to hold on to e5. And by accepting the trade, Black has just blunted White’s first move advantage. Because the White bishop moved twice (Bb2, Bxe5), while the Black bishop only moved once (Bxb4).

In the opening time is much more valuable than a vague central pawn majority.

e4

Now this is interesting. Black advances the center pawn, gaining more space. But the pawn is kind of loose because there’s no air support ready yet.

3. a3 d5 4. c4

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Black’s center comes under heavy fire.

d4

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Again, Black tries to resolve this by pushing his pawns forward. He’s controlling the entire center now. But the pawns are in dire straits.

5. d3 e3

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With no support whatsoever, the Black pawns have crashed into White enemy lines. Now this is good for White. According to the computer, fxe3 should leave Black with an isolated pawn. But in the game, I chose piece pressure.

6. Nf3

Attacking the overextended d-pawn. Now c5 doesn’t look like an adequate defence. The orangutan has already taken control of that square since the first move.

So my sideline pawn had “distant influence” in the battle for center control.

Bg4

Black calls in air support. But unfortunately, my knight is not pinned!

7. Nxd4

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Black’s opening has gone terribly wrong. Lost the d-pawn, and the e-pawn can’t maintain it’s position either.

exf2+ 8. Kxf2

Well Black did manage to drag my King out into the open. But the Black pieces are not developed so they have limited opportunity to coordinate.

Qf6+ 9. Kg1 c5

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Black goes for my dark squares. If I take his pawn, then the bishop can come to c5 and make life miserable for my King.

And if I move my knight, Black wins my bishop, piece up.

10. Nb5! 

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Nonetheless, it is correct to offer the entire bishop, lock, stock, and barrel. Because it would trap the Black queen as soon as it comes in.

10…Qxb2 N1c3 11. cxb4 axb4 12. Bxb4 Rb1 This didn’t happen in the game. White would take the Black queen, which is worth more than the White rook plus bishop.

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Qb6

Black smelled the trap, so he tries shooting from another angle. The idea is now to take my b-pawn with discovered check, going for my King.

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11. d4

The diagonal is closed up, and White gains ground in the center.

axb4 12. axb4

Now I’m offering Black the b-pawn. But he’s not interested.

a6?

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If Black did take my b-pawn, then I would have a commanding position after N1c3. For example, c5, d5, these are all dangerous threats.

Incidentally, the Black queen dare not move, because the check Nc6+ would pick up a rook.

13. h3

No need to move my knight because I would capture his rook on a8. I think Black missed this response in his battle calculations.

Bh5

Black retreats his bishop but keeps my e-pawn pinned. Sadly, this loses control of the d7 square, which becomes important shortly.

14. Qa4

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Without center pawns or a light square bishop, the Black King is exposed to the elements, which shall punish him shortly. There is no time to get to safety. It takes at least three moves to castle.

Nc6

Black tries to untangle his queenside so he can free his rook.

15. c5

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Attacking Black’s queen, who has only one safe square.

Qd8 16. d5

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Gaining even more ground and unblocking my dark square bishop. Black’s knight is pushed away from the light squares, giving me a clear view of his King.

And the d-pawn is immune, because Nc7+ will pick up the Black queen.

Nxb4

He knows the knight is a goner so Black tries to at least win a pawn with it.

17. Nc7++ 

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The double check is a pretty tactic. Black can’t block two incoming at the same time, so he must move.

I did not realize until after the game that Nd6++ (also double check) was even strronger. For example Nd6++ Ke7 18. Nf5# checkmate.

Ke7 18. d6+ 1-0

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Black resigns, because he would have to give up the queen. The dark square bishop covers his escape route on f6, and my queen and knight are on all the light squares.

So I had a ridiculously fast win in less than twenty moves. A cracking game.

Childhood Openings

When I was young I wanted to “own” a chess opening. Like a signature kung fu move that heralds your presence, which will be belted with a mandatory action phrase. See my best friend, he “owned” the Pirc defence. Kenny would always play d6 in response to e4. Meanwhile I was always playing main lines like 1. e4 e5 or 1.e4 c5.

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I was quite convinced that the Pirc is shit, what with neglecting the center and all that, but I could never prove it over the board. Incidentally Kenny did not discover the Pirc from any book, but he just saw a top level game one day, and decided it was unique and interesting enough to adopt as his primary opening for life.

I continued with no “pet” opening with many years, until one day, I found this system.

1. e4 Nc6

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Nimzovich Defence

If all openings are playable, then I suppose the Nimzovich is playable. Black’s move, Nc6, is a natural developing move in its own right, and yet this “defence” is almost never seen at grandmaster level. I say defence in quotes, because really, the Nimzovich doesn’t defend anything at all.

This is because in the opening White is taught to build the “ideal” pawn center – e4 and d4, forming eventually, a position that looks like this:

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The ideal opening

So nearly all Black openings are designed to frustrate White from reaching his ideal position. The Nimzovich fails this test. After 1.e4 Nc6, white can proceed with d4 uncontested. Worse, Black gains no compensation whatsoever for his surrender of the center. So what are we actually trying to do? Well at nineteen, I was more optimistic. I played the Nimzovich, carried it to victory. I even played the strongest player in my school, and knocked him out with a correctly timed exchange sacrifice.

He said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

I’ve been feeling a bit of nostalgia recently, so I tried the Nimzovich again after eight years of not playing it. So here goes:

2. d4 e5

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The Miles variation, which I like better than d5. It just seems more principled to focus on d4, which is already attacked by my knight on c6. But of course principles are one thing and getting the full picture is another matter. If d5, then White cannot advance his d-pawn to harass my knight.

So d5 is better, but e5 “feels” more correct (and it isn’t).

3. d5

Question: where to put the knight now that it has been driven back?

Nb8!

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No oddball opening can be complete without ridiculous follow up moves. This is not a blunder, by the way. Putting the knight back on home soil is possibly sounder than Nce7, which blocks the coordination of Black pieces. When I first studied the Nimzovich, it was silly moves like these that got me excited about it. After going against all the principles of chess, how does Black, in theory, expect to win a game?

He can’t, obviously. But its fun to try.

4. c4

White is, of course, not too impressed with Black wasting time and surrendering control of the center.

d6

I remember studying a lot of theory about Bc5 (tango system), and Bb4+ (variant of tango system), but experience has not convinced me that the bishop belongs outside of the pawn chain. It should stay at home, just like everyone else.

5. Nc3 g6 6. Bd3 Na6

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The first innovation from my childhood days. Previously I would do Nd7 and slowly bring the pieces for a kingside push. But now I believe Na6 can discourage queenside counterplay such as b4 and c5 from White.

Yes a knight on the rim is dim. But screw rules.

7. a3

White persists, he will not be deterred from playing b4.

Nc5

Trying to gain the bishop pair, and not paying attention to the fact that my knight has already moved 4 times in the first seven moves.

Hey this is the Nimzovich Defence. It’s all about the knight.

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8. Bb1

White believes the bishop pair to be worth preserving. I’m not sure if its true.

a5

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Discouraging b4, as the exchange would open up the Black rook. For example 8…a4 9. axb4 axb4 10. Rxa1 is just losing for White.

9. a4

White feels compelled to advance tit for tat, so he moves his a-pawn. It’s a bad idea. Giving up b4 is letting Black off on the queenside. And that’s what I want.

Ne7 10. 0-0 0-0

Both sides castled.

11. f4

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Ok the queenside is under control. White strikes on the kingside instead.

This attack is pretty dangerous. It does open up my dark square bishop, which should be compensation for Black.

Bg4

As an alternative to development, playing f5 is also possible. But in the game I felt it was too loosening.  The computer says f5 is okay though.

12. f5

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I did not think White would have the balls to advance this far, but he did, and now I’m panicked.I saw f6 and it would fork my pieces.

gxf5?

This exchange of pawns plays into White’s favour. During the game I was not able to find a convincing defence against f6.

Here’s what post-game analysis recommends: 12…Nc8 Yes, it looks ridiculous, but hardly more than my third move Nb8 13. Be3 Nb6

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Here things are still closed. White can gain an edge with Bxc5, doubling my pawns. But White will always get an advantage. This whole opening is not very sound.

13. exf5 Bxe2?

I misjudged how quick the White queen can be after releasing this pin. It’s a mistake I won’t be making any more.

14. Qxe2 f6

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Here it is. A lost position after fourteen moves.

15. Qg4

Opening the g-file with my earlier pawn exchange has allowed some nasty White tactics against my King.

Nb3

So I try to complicate things. If I can remove White’s dark square bishop, my defence will be easier to hold.

16. Bh6! 

White is having none of it. He goes for checkmate.

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Rf7 17. Ra3 Nd4 18. Ne4?

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White takes advantage of the central outpost, but interrupts defence of his advanced f-pawn for just a moment. I see my chance.

Nexf5

Although losing, every path is actually lost if White plays correctly. But winning this pawn is good for morale and banks on a tactical miscalculation.

19. Rxf5??

White believes that he is exchanging a rook for two knights. He failed to observe that his bishop is also hanging.

Simply moving his bishop away would keep White’s winning advantage.

Nxf5 20. Qxf5 Bxh6

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Exchange up, Black has at least equalized, although I still need to repel this attack on my King.

21. Rg3+ Bg7 22. Rh3 Bh8

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I predicted that this would be the best set up to defend Black’s weak points on h7, g7, and f6. But no, that’s not true.

Black has better chances by going for a counterattack with c6. Letting the h-pawn go is survivable, it turns out. But that’s only proven with engine analysis. In the game, I did not have that much faith in my position. Generally weak points are defended before going on the offence. But sometimes it means letting go of opportunity.

So I’ve misjudged this game a lot. It’s not really an easy position to access accurately.

23. Rxh7??

If I was pessimistic, then White is overly optimistic about his chances. Yes, he has the discovered attack with Nxf6, uncovering his bishop on b1. But it’s not as powerful as one might think.

Rxh7 24. Nxf6 Qxf6

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Some games you have to work hard to win a piece. In other games your opponent gives it away because he thinks he is Mikhail Tal.

“I sacrificed my piece and converted it into a winning attack” makes a good story. But this overlooks that if the opponent can defend correctly, he’s just won the game for no effort.

25. Qxh7+ Kf8 26. Qxc7

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White believes the opposed colored bishops, my unsafe pawns, and corner rook position to be worth material down. But he misses how dangerous how strong my pieces are on the counterattack.

e4! 

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Rudely blocking White’s bishop from joining the king hunt. White can take the pawn, of course. He can also buy a rope and hang himself.

27. g3

White is not tempted by the pawn offer. Instead he makes some space for his king to run away from the expected Black counter from the dark squares.

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Drawing chances for White

If 27. Bxe4, then not Qd4+ 28. Kf1 Qxe4, winning White’s bishop. Obviously, being a rook and bishop up is completely winning, but White has drawing chances with perpetual check and he will start by capturing my unguarded pawn on d6. I had a simpler win in mind, and the computer agrees that 27. Bxe4 Re8! is stronger.

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White’s bishop is attacked, but using my rook instead. Thus the d6 pawn is kept alive to minimize White’s drawing chances and also to provide aerial support down the e-file.

There is only one square for the bishop to go to. 28. Bf3 Qd4+ 29. Kf1 Qd3+ 30. Kf2 Qe3+ 31. Kg3 Be5+.

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White’s King has been successfully dragged away from his bodyguard pawns, and will be checkmated in a further eight moves. So that’s why in the game, White refused to touch my pawn offered on e4.

e3! 

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But now I change my offer to White: the bishop is released and is free to go, but I will use the e-pawn to deliver checkmate. Qf2+ followed by Qf1#, it doesn’t get simpler than that.

28. Bf5

White tries one last ditch defence. He offers his whole bishop, but blocks the queen’s access to f2. And if I take, then he will activate his aforementioned drawing chances with Qxd6+ for a perpetual.

I’m not interested in a draw, so I unleashed the final move of the game.

e2!! 0-1

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Immediate resignation. The only way for White to stop my e-pawn is via the f-file, so I can now safely capture his bishop with a check (and thus not allowing any time for Qxd6+). If White tries anything else, then I queen with a check, and two queens are pretty much enough to win any game.

Orang Utan

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No more polar bears, time to move on to a more exciting animal.

The orangutan is a native of Malaysia.

1. b4

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Savielly Tartakower invented this opening when he was visiting the Bronx Zoo. The day before he played against Geza Maroczy, he consulted an orang utan for inspiration. The ape told him to try b4, which, by the way, is not actually a good move. Nonetheless, Tartakower took the monkey’s advice, and he got a draw.

I’ve been interested in b4 because it seems to have a minor cult following. There are very interesting positions that arise out of this opening, and Black isn’t able to “just play by the normal rules”, which is the standard advice when facing flank openings. The orang utan is full of chaos.

Nf6

Black is wisely wary of following the just normal plan of putting pawns in the center, as after 2…e5, Black runs into Bb2. After that, both White’s and Black’s pawns are in danger, and Black has to decide if he wishes to trade his valuable center pawn for the orang utan’s useless banana pawn.

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I recommend accepting. If black tries to defend his pawn, all three defences will lead to serious monkey mayhem.

  1. Nc6 walks into b5. Oops.
  2. d6 is passive.
  3. f6 is just asking for trouble for the Black King.

Black is a bit frightened of the main line, so he ducks my preparation. Nf6 is a solid developing move.

2. Bb2

The orangutan bishop is the opposite of the Polar Bear’s light square bishop. This dark square bishop is a chief player of the long diagonal, pointing to Black’s kingside.

e6

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Black doesn’t want to trade a center pawn, so he moves more cautiously with this move e6 instead of taking two strides.

3. a3 g6

Now Black wants to neutralize the ape staring from across the board. He prepares a counter-fianchetto.

4. e4!

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No reason to play a monkey opening if you can’t be playful. This minion can’t be accepted, obviously, because White will capture a rook.

Bg7 5. e5

Gaining space, and securely entrenching on Black’s dark squares.

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Ng8

The black knight simply goes home. If he tried Nd5, then the knight can be kicked around.

Nd5 6. c4 Ne7 7. d4

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This kind of variation is playable, if you’re a computer. Humans will tend to find so many monkeys difficult to control.

6. d4 Ne7 7. Nd2 

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Pretty clear that White has more space, and center control from the opening. And I started from the flank!

0-0

Black castles and believes play will be more normal from now on.

8. h4!

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The absence of a knight on f6 justifies this attack, as the h5 square has become less patrolled. Furthermore, Black’s queenside is cut off from reaching the defence of Black’s king.

d6

Black desperately tries to break open the center, to get some counterplay.

9. h5

It’s just ignored. Orang utan are not too bright.

dxe5 10. dxe5

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It’s getting pretty critical for the Black King. He cannot accept any exchanges on h5 because it would let the White queen in.

Nbc6 11. Ngf3 Nd5 12. Ne4

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At this point I was thinking c4, kicking the black knight around, like in the previous variation.

Nf4

But black has other ideas. He wants to remove the invading White pawn on h5.

13. hxg6

Well okay then. He can have it.

Qxd1+ 14. Rxd1

Black takes the queens off the board to minimize his risk.

Nxg6

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Well I haven’t castled yet, and I can’t castle anymore. Castling is too advanced for our little brains.

15. Nf6+

But what we do understand, is, finding branches and grabbing onto it and swinging tree to tree.

Bxf6

Black is forced to part with his dark square bishop. Otherwise checkmate on h7.

16. exf6

Every time this pawn captures something, the bishop behind it increases in power. Even better, White has no dark square rival now.

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e5

Black uses his center pawn to block the bishop.

17. Ng5

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But what can Black do about his isolated h-pawn now?

Nothing, that’s what. This is a lost position already.

Be6 18. Rxh7 Nd8 19. Bd3 1-0

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Black resigned here, as there’s nothing he can do about Rg7+, Kd2, then Rh1#. It finishes with a simple checkmate using the rooks.

So, it was an opening disaster for Black. He tried to play more solidly in the face of an unfamiliar opening. But this just fell to the crude invasion by White on all sides of the board. By trying to avoid trouble, he actually got more in the end. So, the orang utan claims a scalp.

Historical Series: Carlsen vs Anand (2013-2014)

Anand-Carlsen

The strongest player in the world, Magnus Carlsen was crowned World Champion in 2013 and successfully defended his title in 2014. His ascendancy marks the departure of the extremely positional Viswanathan Anand, the Indian grandmaster. Carlsen’s play is usually described as boring. Carlsen makes and takes no risks, but he always plays for a win. In this sense Carlsen is not as memorable as the ultra attacker, Kasparov, or the magician, Mikhail Tal. But he is likely better than all of them.

In 2013, Carlsen kicked off with four draws in a row (see again: boring), before finally securing games 5 by winning a rook-and-pawn endgame. In game 6, he won another rook-and-pawn endgame. The match continued with another bunch of draws until Anand finally went into all-out attack in game 9. Carlsen cooly defended, and Anand lost the title.

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This is the first episode in a 7 part series. We are in Game 5.

Game 5

1. c4 

We have the English Opening from Magnus Carlsen. It’s less common than d4 but has a good reputation.

e6 2. d4 d5 

In fact it transposed into a normal d4 opening.

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3. Nc3 c6 4. e4

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Interesting choice by Carlsen. Going straight for the center.

dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6. Nc3 c5 

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Rather strange to see Anand moving a pawn twice in the opening. But what do I know I’m just a patzer.

7. a3 Ba5 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qc3

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An amateur game would pretty much look like this as well. No clever ideas from either side yet.

cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ng4

Perhaps Anand could consider castling, before trying anything adventurous. Again, I’m not a grandmaster.

12. 0-0-0

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Active castling. The rook is controlling the open d-file already. Although the queenside does not look too secure for the White King. Perhaps Carlsen is provoked by Anand who is wasting time with multiple piece movements. Black can gain the bishop pair, but he’s spending 3 tempo.

Nxe3 13. fxe3 Bc7

Another piece movement! Is Anand dithering, or what?

14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Qxd8+ Bxd8 16. Be2

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Yeah, queens come off. White has more space, Black has the bishop pair.

Ke7

Anand skips castling and leaves his King in the center. Perhaps this is what he had in mind all along.

With the queens off, the King is in less danger of being mated. So it’s ok not to castle. In fact, the Black King will be used as a key unit in this game later. It controls many key squares in Black’s territory, which will be used to defend it later from Carlsen’s rook invasion.

17. Bf3

Targeting the isolated c-pawn.

Bd7

Black defends. But the bishop looks passive.

Of course, there’s no other choice. When you give your opponent a big space advantage from the opening, there’s bound to be consequences like these.

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18. Ne4

It’s been said a bishop is stronger than a knight. But not right now…Carlsen’s knight is centralized, Anand’s bishop is at the back.

Bb6

White has an isolated pawn too, so Black now targets it.

19. c5

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Simple, straightfoward message from Carlsen. Go away and don’t come back.

f5

Anand refuses to go away. Actually he can’t. If the bishop retreats, then White has just gained a big outpost for his knight on d6.

So the bishop pair advantage will be lost, in return, White will also lose his strong knight. Fair trade.

20. cxb6 fxe4 21. b7

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Important move by Carlsen. If he just routinely recaptures on e4, then Anand heals his isolated pawn structure.

This distraction keeps the isolated pawns…isolated.

Rab8 22. Bxe4 Rxb7 23. Rf1

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Nothing too clever from team Carlsen. He just controls all the open lines and the superior bishop.

Rb5

Why not Rhb8, activating the second rook, for some pressure along the b-file?

Given the way the game turns out, I have to admit that the deeply positional Anand sees something I don’t. The rook turns out to be quite useful on this square.

24. Rf4 g5

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Anand slows Carlsen down from forming a battery on the f-file.  Perhaps Carlsen got a little optimistic placing his rook in a vulnerable position.

25. Rf3 h5

Black has gained space on the Kingside. But is it going to be a weakness later when the White rooks get behind them?

26. Rdf1

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Doubling the rooks.

Be8

Passive; necessary to stop Rf7.

27. Bc2 Rc5

Oo a pin!

Anand is finally getting somewhere.

28. Rf6

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Carlsen stops Bg6. Also putting direct pressure on Black’s isolated e-pawn.

h4

Black advances even more on the Kingside.

29. e4

Carlsen gains more space in the center. This also stops a black rook from getting to the d-file.

a5 30. Kd2 Rb5 31. b3

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Anand is making progress on both sides of the board. If we discount the superior white rooks, Black is actually doing quite good.

  1. White has self-blocked his bishop, turning it into a bad one.
  2. Black has liberated his bad bishop, turning it into a good one.
  3. Black’s king and bishop is preventing further progress by Magnus Carlsen.

Bh5 32. Kc3 Rc5+ 33. Kb2 Rd8

With the rook swinging over to the d-file, now it is Anand who has better rook activity. The threat of Rd2 is especially concerning for White.

34. R1f2

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White stops the rook infiltration onto his second rank. But he can’t keep Anand’s rooks quiet for long.

Rd4

Anand puts pressure on White’s isolated e-pawn.

35. Rh6

Carlsen counterattacks on the bishop.

Bd1!

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The equalizing blow. Carlsen is forced to retreat his bishop because a trade would give Anand access to the back rank. From that point, White’s isolated e-pawn would essentially be dropping off.

And I can hardly say Carlsen has a good bishop anymore, if its on b1.

 36. Bb1 Rb5

Without the bishop’s protection, Carlsen’s “healthy” b-pawn is vulnerable to Black’s attack.

37. Kc3 c5  38. Rb2

If White has to play a passive move like this, Black probably has a slight advantage already.

e5

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The highly positional Anand has pulled a Houdini. I would definitely prefer Black in this position.

  1. Anand’s pawns are on the opposite color of his bishop.
  2. Anand has space on the Kingside.
  3. Anand’s attack on b3 is promising.
  4. Carlsen’s rook and bishop are passive.

This is not to say that Carlsen is without trump cards.

  1. White’s free rook can attack the black kingside pawns.
  2. Black’s King is cut off for the moment.

39. Rg6 a4?

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The kingside pawns represent the bulk of Black’s space advantage in this game. Anand shouldn’t release them without a fight.

g4 is necessary. The White b-pawn is pinned and not going anywhere. Black can attack it with advantage when the time is right. First defend your weak pawns.

g4 40. Rh6 (unlike the g-pawn, the h-pawn can’t be defended) a4

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This is only very slightly different from the game continuation, and yet, the extra space is enough to swing the game in Black’s favour. I will revisit this position later.

40. Rxg4

Carlsen must be quite pleased to capture this vital pawn without a fight. This will counterbalance the expected defeat on b3.

Rxb3+ 41. Rxb3 Bxb3

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Black is going to lose his good e-pawn as well, because unfortunately White will get a free check.

42. Rxe5+ Kd6 43. Rh5

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And the board position is steadily declining for Anand. The h-pawn is a goner as well.

Chess can be cruel. Little mistakes lead to total collapse.

Rd1 44. e5+ Kd5 45. Bh7

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Here Anand plays the patzer check, turning his game into a lost cause.

Rc1+?

The only defence is Ra1, actively going for White’s last queenside pawn. For example, 46. Ra1 Bg8+ 47. Kc6 Bxb3 48. Rxa3

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Black seems to be hanging by a thread, but guess what? So is white lol. With White’s total collapse on the queenside counterbalancing his gains on the kingside, the computer says this game is headed for a draw.

46. Kb2 Rg1

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See the problem with Anand’s attack is his King and bishop can be skewered. White can win another pawn.

47. Bg8+ Kc6 48. Rh6+ Kd7 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3

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Two pawns up Carlsen is really in the driver’s seat now.

Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6

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Anand tries to regain one of his pawns back. He definitely has zero winning chances now.

52. a4!

Carlsen generously donates his e-pawn to get his own a-pawn going.

Kxe5 53. a5 Kd6 54. Rh7 Kd5 55. a6 c4+ 56. Kc3

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With the a-pawn so far up the board, and Black’s c-pawn going nowhere, Carlsen will win this game.

Ra2 57. a7 Kc5 58. h4 1-0

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It is impossible for Anand to stop both White pawns. He resigns.

So, not a game to remember. The former world champion sells a pawn short, then loses the endgame.

G4: Game Changer?

Returning back to the variation that might have changed the result. What if Anand tried harder to hold his kingside pawns?

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Here you can see that White can win Black’s h-pawn. But he’s not so easily able to access Black’s e-pawn, which dropped so easily during the game.

This subtle nuance may be enough to swing the game in Black’s favor.

41. Rxh4 Rxb3+ 42. Rxb3 Bxb3

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Now if White takes the g-pawn, Black has a very strong move, Rd1, infiltrating White’s back rank.

A) 43. Rxg4 Rd1 44. Bd3 Unlike the real game, White’s bishop has no access to h7, because Black’s e-pawn hasn’t died yet. Ergo, no skewer. Ergo, the black bishop lives. Ergo, black keeps his a-pawn as well. 

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c4 45. Be2 Rc1+ 46. Kd2 Rc2+ 47. Ke3 c3

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The Black queenside pawns look decisive. Taking Black’s g-pawn is not possible.

B) 43. Rh5

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The computer actually recommends this as a superior alternative – going for Black’s e-pawn.

Black has the advantage after

Rd1 44. Bd3 Rc1+ 45. Kd2 Ra1

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Pawns are hanging, so let’s resolve this.

46. Rxe5+ Kd6 47. Rg5 Be6 48. Be2 Ra2+

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49. Ke1 Rxa3 50. e5+ Kd5 51. Bxg4 Bxg4 52. Rxg4 Ra2!

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The White King is trapped on the first rank. The a-pawn is immediately winning for Black if White blunders trying to hold his extra pawn with Rg5. For example, 53. Rg5?? a3 54. e6+ Kxe6 55. Rxc5 Rxg2

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So White has to let the e-pawn go, then Black captures it, and still remains with a space advantage in a materially equal position.

The takeaway from Carlsen-Anand, Game 5, is, defend your weak pawns. Don’t let the enemy take them without a fight.

Snow Troubles

Polar bear maternity denning area, Wapusk National Park, Western Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada.

The polar bear can be quite powerful in the snow, aka the light squares.

1. f4

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Although there are aggressive ideas behind this first move, it is more common for White to play a patient game. The move f4 doesn’t help piece development at all. It is merely a space-gaining move. Contrast with e4 and d4 and you see what I mean. Both of those first moves unlock the bishops.

So what benefits can f4 bring? It’s not about the shock value, I do not believe in playing moves just because they are surprising.

  1. f4 controls the center square, e5.
  2. If Nf3, the pawn is in front of the knight.
  3. It supports empire building on the Kingside
  4. Which can provide the foundation for a King hunt

Overall, I am quite convinced that f4 is a sound move.

c5

In this game Black doesn’t commit to an immediate d5, occupying the center. Instead he reaches for the Queenside in asymmetrical fashion.

2. Nf3 Nc6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. 0-0

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I am a believer in early castling in this system. The rook has good scope behind the f-pawn, which has already moved forward. But I can also pick up easy points from opponents who don’t develop properly. Our bishop is pointing quite dangerously to the queenside, and our pawns are ever ready to march down the Kingside.

There is play for the Polar Bear on both sides of the board.

e6

This “French”  move is a favorite for solid players. Black wants to kill the threat of a future f5, he doubly guards the square. The downside is the pawn blocks his own light-square bishop,

6. d3

You might wonder, why not d4? Well on this laid back square the pawn is less of a target. The polar bear would also like to play e4 first, avoiding the hole that often appears in d4 variations.

Incidentally, d4 is known as the Stonewall.

Nge7 

This is less common compared to Nf6. I think Nf6 is probably better, as it slows White from getting to e4. Well let’s just see what happens.

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7. c3

Another laid-back pawn move. What c3 does is it blocks the scope of Black’s dark square bishop. It also keeps enemy knights away from d4 and b4, and supports the pawn advance d4.

b6

Black is still solid. His bishop can go to either b7, to challenge my Leningrad, or to a6, where it puts pressure on my center pawn.

8. Na3 d5

Now Black finally commits to the center.

9. Qa4

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The queen usually goes to c2 in the polar bear. But today we can go a little farther because the move b6 has made Black a little weaker on the light squares. If Black wants to kick the queen he would have to waste time playing a6 and b5. If he puts the bishop on d7, then White has a clearly superior light square bishop.

We are also cutting Black off from Ba6, and supporting the advance in the center, e4.

0-0

Black castles.

10. e4 dxe4 11. dxe4

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With this exchange, White no longer has backward pawns on the d-file.

In fact, the d-file is opened which can become quite useful for Rd1, harassing the Black queen.

Bb7 12. Be3

White has a little more space compared to Black. A tiny advantage.

Qc7

Black gets out of the way of Rd1,

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However, that is not a safe square.

13. Nb5

Taking advantage of Black’s undefended light squares. This is an attack on the queen, which must move again.

Qb8

Now my rooks are connected, while Black’s are disconnected. Another small trump card.

14. Rad1 

Occupying the open d-file, which Black will have trouble contesting (due to his disconnected rooks).

a6?

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He’s annoyed by my light square occupation and hence drives my knight away. The problem is my knight doesn’t have to retreat.

15. Nd6

It can go forward.

Rd8 16. Nxb7 Qxb7

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With this trade, White gains the bishop pair (known in chess parlance as Trebuchet). Also, there’s a lot of targets for my light square bishop. Black could fall to a tactic on the diagonal if he’s not careful.

17. Rxd8+ Rxd8 18. Rd1 Rxd1 19. Qxd1

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Exchanging all the rooks to gain ownership of the d-file. It’s got my name on it now.

Qc7 20. Qd3

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Forcing Black to do something about the a-pawn, which is on a light square, and therefore, weak.

a5

He moves it forward, gaining space.

21. h3

Well its time to get something going on the Kingside.

h6 22. g4 f5?

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Black doesn’t want to just sit there and watch me gain control of every part of the board. He wants to live free or die trying.

23. exf5

Well I get to lengthen the scope of my light square bishop.

exf5 24. Nh4

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Now it’s very uncomfortable for Black on his Kingside. Both his pawns are on light squares and facing the combined attention of my queen and knight.

fxg4 25. hxg4

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He liquidates one pawn; the other is still in danger.

Kh7

It’s a really bad sign if Black feels compelled to walk his King into a pin just to defend.

26. Be4

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Calling the bishop in, and now the pawn is a dead man walking.

The light squares are just killing Black this whole game.

Qd8

This tactical defence is not going to work.

27. Bxg6+ Kh8 

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White hasn’t done anything really clever in this game. Every move I made is easy to find, just teasing Black on his weak light squares. Now I have an extra pawn and it looks like a clear win.

28. Qxd8+

When you have a material advantage, its time to trade pieces. It reduces the chances for an opponent to bounce back.

The queens come off.

Nxd8 29. Be4 Ne6 30. Ng6+

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Forcing another trade. It’s just consolidation.

Nxg6 31. Bxg6 Bf6 32. Bf7 Nc7 33. g5

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Now converting the extra pawn into a passed pawn.

hxg5 34. fxg5 Kg7

Black tries to complicate things by attacking my bishop.

35. g6

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In principle, passed pawns should be pushed. Here the g-pawn seems to be blockaded but it is on a light square, away from the influence of Black’s remaining bishop. His knight can potentially get in though.

Be5

Black defends his knight from possible harassment by my dark square bishop.

36. Kg2?

This is not the best move. In principle, its good to activate the King in an endgame, but White could have achieved a bigger advantage by playing a4, restricting the scope of Black’s knight.

Oh well.

Nb5

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If I had played a4 first, it would have prevented Black from getting to this square.

For the first time in the game he is using a light square for positive gain.

37. Kf3 Nd6

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Black threatens to trade my bishop, regaining his pawn. Could he have equalized?

38. Bf4! 

No, there’s a problem.

White can force the trade of another bishop because the Black knight is passing through d6.

Bxf4 39. Kxf4

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It’s almost down to King vs King now. Now I’m still winning this game because my King and is closer to the Black pawns on the queenside.

Nxf7 40. gxf7 Kxf7

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There’s only two of us left on the board. First to reach the queenside pawns eats them and wins the game.

41. Ke5 Ke7 42. Kd5 Kd7

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Black is distinctly lacking in space. And I’m first.

43. a4

Fixing the Black pawns, so they can’t wriggle out.

Kc7 44. Ke6

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Now I’m trying to push Black’s King away using the power of opposition.

Kc6 45. c4

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Stopping Black from breaking free with b5.

I’ve got one last tempo move, b3, which will allow me to win battles of opposition. Without opposition, this game would end in a draw.

Kc7 46. Ke7

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As long as I maintain a distance of exactly two squares away, Black’s King cannot take any step out of his box. This power is called the Opposition and it creates an invisible force field.

Kc6

Black wants to stay close to his pawns so he can defend them.

47. Kd8

But now it’s infiltration via the back.

Also known as an ass fucking.

Kd6

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But now Black has the opposition! He’s created an invisible force field, preventing me from getting any further.

48. b3

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Using my last pawn move to essentially waste a turn. Black’s King has to move now, so he can’t maintain the opposition anymore. In fact, I have the Opposition again.

Kc6 49. Kc8

Keeping the opposition.

Kd6

Black is forced to step away from his beloved queenside pawns.

50. Kb7 1-0

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Black’s entire pawn chain is collapsing, starting from b6, then the a-pawn. Black can do nothing except watch me advance my extra pawns and create new queens.

So, there’s no real tactics in this game. Just light square drama. It was enough.

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