An Unstable Knight in Unstable Times
Last time we talked about unstable times. In this post we are going to witness how a Knight may feel insecure at an unstable post. Again we’ll see a game of the great Yefim Geller in which one part of the battle revolved around establishing a strong position for a Knight and the opponent doing everything to deny it.
“We all like to attack. But where do attacks come from? The mere action of pushing one or two pieces in the general direction of the enemy King does not constitute an attack. In general, a successful attack can only be launched from a position of strength in the center of the board. This “position of strength” can take various forms, the simplest being an outpost.
Outpost is a square at the forefront of your position which you can readily support and from where you can control or contest squares in the heart of the enemy camp. To be useful, an outpost must be firmly under control and so should ideally be protected by a Pawn. Conversely your opponent should not be given the opportunity to deny you access to your outpost, so in particular it must be immune to attack by enemy pawns“.
This was a nice introduction on the outpost by Michael Stean in his Simple Chess. As a rule, for a successful attack it’s necessary to posses some sort of superiority. As a stronghold the outpost also serves another role, that one of putting restraint on the enemy (our main principle of strategy, remember). It’s a wall against enemy fire and infiltration. You may even afford a luxury of having few weak points in your position, but you must have at least one strong point, normally in the center. Then your whole position is strong. But if you don’t have a strong point, your whole position is weak and it is just a matter of time before it disintegrates.
In our game Geller established a Knight post on e4. This was more of a stronghold to turn back the enemy tide (an outpost that serves an attack is normally established on the 5ht, or 6th ranks). Black focused his game on repelling the Knight from its outpost. For a time Geller hold his Knight in place using tactical measures, then he simply left it at the mercy of the enemy following his attractive and fiercely uncompromising style of play.
Yefim Geller – Ratmir Kholmov
17 USSR ch, Moscow, 1949
C61: Rui Lopez, Bird’s defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.O-O c6 6.Bc4 Nf6 7.Qe2 d6 8.e5 dxe5 9.Qxe5+ Be7 10.Re1 b5 11.Bb3 a5 12.a4 Ra7 13.axb5 O-O 14.b6 Qxb6 15.d3 Bb4 16.Rf1 Qd8 17.Bg5 Re8 18.Qg3 Be6 19.Bxe6 Rxe6 20.Nd2 h6 21.Bxf6 Rxf6
White succeeded in finishing his development after having some rough time, yet Black’s position is still slightly better, mainly due to Bishop versus Knight evaluation which is probably the most common imbalance in chess. This eternal question of chess many times decides the outcome of the battle.
Here the Bishop is stronger than the Knight. If the Knight didn’t occupy the e4, Black would’ve taken control of the e-file and penetrated onto the 7th. The thing is that White can’t keep his Knight in the center. That’s the issue of piece stability which becomes vital when the piece occupies an important square. If the piece has no stability and is vulnerable on its post, the opponent can easily remove it or drive back which decreases its value.
The following commentary is by Kholmov.
22.Ne4 Re6 23.Qh3 Qd5 24.c3
White has to do something active, or else …f5 is very unpleasant. The text though helps Black create a distant passed a-pawn
24. …dxc3 25.bxc3 Be7 26.f4
White undertakes active operations on the king wing. On 26.Ra4 follows 26…Qb3 27.Rfa1 Rb7! 28.f4 Qc2 threatening …Rb1. on 29.Rxa5 Rb1+ 30.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 31.Kf2 Qb6+; loses also 29.f5 because of 29…Bc5+ Nxc5 30.Rb1+ (Romanovsky)
26. …f5 27.c4 Qd4+ 28.Kh1 g6 29.Rab1
It didn’t go 29.Qxh6, due to simple 29…fxe4 30.f5 Rf6 31.fxg6 Rxf1+ 32.Rxf1 Qg7 (29…Bf8 30.Qh3 Rh7 31.Qxh7+! Kxf7 32.Ng5+ etc.)
29. …h5 30.Rb8+ Kf7
Seeing that his position is bad, White sacs a piece (as “muddy waters sometimes make it easy to catch fish”). If 31.Ng5 Bxg5 32.fxg5 Re3! and it’s not possible 33.Rxf5+ because of 33…Kg7!
31. …fxe4 32.f5 Rf6 33.Rh8 Qxd3
Going down the exchange, Black is forcing a winning endgame (a common mechanism in chess how to transform one advantage into another).
34.fxg6+ Kg7 35.Rh7+ Kg8 36.Qxd3
If 36.Qb8+ then 36…Bd8 and White is lost. Of course, not 36…Rf8 37.Rxf8+ Bxf8 38.Rh8+! Kxh8 39.Qxf8#
36. …exd3 37.Rxf6 Bxf6 38.Rxa7
38. …Bd4 39.Rf7 d2 40.Rf1 Bb2 (40…a4) 41.Kg1 a4 42.Kf2 a3 43.Ke2 a2 0-1
Yefim Petrovich Geller was born in 1925 in Odessa, and died in 1998 in Moscow. He came into the chess world like a meteor, playing in his first Russian Championship in 1949. It is a very rare occurrence that an almost unknown player can display such a sparkling result in a very strong competition. Before this game Geller was (then surprisingly) a sole leader of the tournament being a half point ahead of Smyslov and Bronstein and one point ahead of Mark Taimanov. Draw against Kholmov would have secured him at least a shared title of Champion.