This article will build on the topic of seeing and correctly assessing key positions which we started studying in the previous article. In last week's article we looked at this concept by analyzing a recent endgame. Today we will see several opening, middlegame, and endgame positions, so get ready! We will try to identify key positions or the most important elements of a position. There are some ideas from my recent games at the Liberty Bell Open which I would like to share with you.
The first two positions are related as they come from the Maroczy Bind structure. In the first example Khismatullin played a very original idea of Bg4-Bh3. Normally, the bishop hangs out around e2 to defend the c4 and e4 weaknesses, but his idea is connected with a very interesting continuation. Overall, the position is about equal, as black managed to trade a few minor pieces and white does not have enough pieces to take advantage of the extra space. Let's take a look at few moves into the game:
Here we are at the critical junction. White has played unassumingly and Black achieved the rather standard a4 (this move works when white hasn't played b3), but white wasn't concerned about black's plan. From here with the bishop on h3 it is clear that white will try to take advantage of the c-file. This is the key position that white is trying to reach:
The bishop and two rooks will dominate the c-file, while black's counterplay against the b-pawn might not be sufficient for equality.
Black ended up in a slightly worse position that white eventually won.
I had this exact position during my recent game against GM Kudrin, where he played the Bg4 idea very quickly, which made me assume that he was familiar with the Khismatullin game. I didn't see the game, so I wasn't aware of the whole idea behind Bh3 but in the game I managed to find an excellent refutation. With one pawn move the bishop on h3 no longer controls the c-file and the knight cannot jump to d5. I played this move because I was worried about Nd5 Bxd5 exd5, where he would have a small but pressing edge.
As one can see it is of significant importance to identify positional threats and prevent them. One should always be aware of the combination of tactical and positional threats. The following position is also from the Sicilian Defense, from a Dragon variation that I used to play:
Black sacrificed the exchange but white has doubled c-pawns, an open king, and weak pawns on the kingside which in this queenless position can only be weaknesses. The imminent question is how to defend the c3-pawn? The dangers of the position are best illustrated with the following game.
White could defend the c3-pawn with Kb2 but after Nc4 and exchange of the bishop black should be fine. I had 2 or 3 games where white played Nb3 after Kb2 and ended up in an endgame that was very hard to play. There is an interesting solution to this position but of course top-notch players even in their youth can play this position without Nb3 and win impressively. This is an example:
Carlsen showed why this position is worse for black and won by domination. When analyzing this position with my coach, GM Firman joined our analysis and instantly found Bc1. For Firman who is such a tremendous positional talent moves like Bc1 are not that hard to find. The idea is to oppose the g7-bishop and eliminate all the threats connected with Nxg4 or Nxe4 ideas.
I will conclude this article with the following curious and total accident by my opponent which illustrates the importance of knowing the key endgame positions. This game is in the spirit of this column, which is "The Best Moves Never Played". We got to the following endgame where I am losing. She correctly first cut off my king along the d-file and pushed the h-pawn all the way down. After that came a good a rook maneuver to shield her king from checks. If my king was cut off along the e-file or closer it would be a draw but along the d-file it is a loss. Sabina played the position fast and confidently, indicating that she knew this endgame--I played my moves fast as there were nothing else to do but lose, pack and go home.
When we reached the above position a little surprise came as she started thinking and then moved the king back to h1! Not only that, but also moving the rook away so I could put my king on f2, which is an easy draw.
After the game I asked her if she knew how to win this and she mentioned Rf3+ and she knew this win but didn't play it over the board. How to explain this paradox? It might be that she thought that the resulting endgame would be Q vs R and that is not easy to win. Then maybe she decided to see whether I would make a mistake by repeating the position a few times but missed that my king could go to f2 and it would be a draw? I have no idea!! One should be very careful!
Next week we will continue with key positions and look at classic games.