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A vivid example on importance of center control in chess

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Starting from our article on winning chess strategies in various posts we have stressed the importance of controlling the center in your chess games. In our latest series of articles, we mentioned this strategy as one of the aims for any chess opening as can be seen in Chess Opening: Control of Center, showing the theoretical analysis of some popular openings. This idea was further developed through examples of master games which showed how such opening theories are put into practice in these games.

We now show you a vivid example of how the aggressive play by one GM against another who was somewhat passive in this respect made a very short shrift of the game in only 15 moves. This may be an extreme example and was chosen only to stress our point, therefore don’t expect to get such quick results in your games. However, the idea remains valid.

The game employs Pirc Defense (ECO code: B07) which gives Black an advantage of adapting his center policy to the development strategy employed by White. But this has the drawback of giving White a much greater freedom in the center. As a result, in case of aggressive play by White, Black gets so busy in tackling White’s thrusts that he may miss out on his own plans unless he treads very carefully.

This game was played out in a tournament at Tashkent in 2008. In the FIDE list of Grandmasters as on April 1, 2009, White was ranked at 67 and Black at 393.

Igor Kurnosov
(Russia)
Marat Dzhumaev
(Uzbekistan)

 
 
1. e4 d6  
2. d4 Nf6  
3. Nc3 g6  
4. Bg5 Nbd7   Black’s text move is considered unfavorable. The recommended line is 4. … h6 5. Bh4 Bg7. Other lines like 4. … Bg7 or , to remain more flexible, 4. … c6 followed by b5 and Qa5 for action on Queen side are also expected to give Black a better game.
5. Qd2 a6  
6. 0-0-0 b5  
7. e5 b4   Black overstretched himself by this move if you consider the lines suggested by theory.
 
 
 
centercontrol1
8. exf6 bxc3  
9. Qxc3 e6   The unopposed progress of the advanced White pawns so close to the hemmed in Black King and Queen remain a thorn in the flesh, seriously affecting the normal development of Black pieces
10. Re1 Nb6  
11. d5 Na4   11. Nxd5 would not help against what followed
12. Qc6+ Bd7  
 
 
 
centercontrol2
13. Rxe6+! fxe6  
14. dxe6 Bg7   A case of too little too late! If 14. … Bxc6 15. f7#
15. exd7+ Resigns  
 
  centercontrol3
  The final position

 

15. … Qxd7 16. f7+ Kxf7 17. Qxd7+ Kf8 18. Qe7+ Kg8 19. Bc4+ d5 20. Bxd5#

15. … Kf7 16. Bc4+ Kf8 17. fxg7+ Kxg7 18. Bxd8 Rhxd8 19. Qxa4 gives White overwhelming material superiority.

 

Chess Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defense Theory to Practice

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Like we did in Chess Opening: Queen’s Gambit Theory to Practice to expound with examples on how QGD opening theory in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 3 can turn out in practice, here we show practical examples on Nimzo-Indian Defense theory discussed in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 2.

To show both sides of the defense, we picked up two games, one going in favor of White and the other in favor of Black. What should be interesting is that in both these games of approximately equal length, Garry Kasparov was on the Black side and both were played around the same period. It gives a better opportunity to understand what Kasparov (or his opponents) did right or wrong to produce different results! Both games use the chess opening of Nimzo-Indian Defense Normal Variation (ECO code: E53).

Vladimir Kramnik-Garry Kasparov
London, 2000
  Evgeny Vladimirov-Garry Kasparov
Batumi, 2001

 
1. d4 Nf6     1. d4 Nf6  
2. c4 e6     2. c4 e6  
3. Nc3 Bb4     3. Nc3 Bb4  
4. e3 0-0     4. e3 0-0  
5. Bd3 d5     5. Bd3 d5  
6. Nf3 c5     6. Nf3 c5  
7. 0-0 cxd4     7. 0-0 cxd4  
8. exd4 dxc4     8. exd4 dxc4  
9. Bxc4 b6     9. Bxc4 b6  
 
nimzoindian1   nimzoindian1
Identical position has been reached as the same moves have been played in both games.
 
10. Bg5 Bb7     10. Qe2 Bb7  
11. Re1 Nbd7     11. Rd1 Bxc3  
12. Rc1 Rc8     12. bxc3 Qc7  
13. Qb3 Be7     13. Bb2 Bxf3  
 
  Position after 13 moves
 
  nimzoindian3
 
14. Bxf6 Nxf6?   Black’s move creates all the subsequent problems. 14. … Bxf6 would be better. But there are records of other games where the same moves were played and the games ended in a draw but in those games, Black did not accept the offer of Bishop sacrifice by White at move 15.
 
  14. Qxf3 Qxc4!   With the offer of this exchange sacrifice, Black laid a nice trap for White’s Queen!
Position after 14 moves
 
 
nimzoindian2
 
 
15. Bxe6! fxe6   As pointed out earlier, Black could possibly do better to play 15. … Rc7
 
  15. Qxa8 Nc6  
16. Qxe6+ Kh8     16. Qb7 Nd5  
17. Qxe7 Bxf3     17. Re1 Rb8  
18. gxf3 Qxd4     18. Qd7 Rd8  
19. Nb5 Qxb2     19. Qb7 h5  
20. Rxc8 Rxc8     20. Bc1 Na5   The White Queen is pathetically trapped! When Black offered the exchange sacrifice at move 14, he must have envisaged this situation.
 
Position after 20 moves   Position after 20 moves
 
nimzoindian4   nimzoindian5
 
21. Nd6 Rb8     21. Qxa7 Qc6  
22. Nf7+ Kg8   22. Ne8 would fail against 22. … Ng8
 
  22. Qa6 Nc4  
23. Qe6 Rf8   White’s move created Philidor’s position, which possibly made Black to bring his Rook to f8 but the Rook became vulnerable as shown by White at move 25. 23. … h5 could provide stiffer resistance.
 
  23. Rb1 Nc7   White resigned as he has to lose his Rook to save his Queen
  The final position
 
  nimzoindian7
 
24. Nd8+ Kh8      
25. Qe7   Black resigned as 25. … Rg8 26. Nf7# or 25. … Re8 26. Qxe8+ Nxe8 27. Rxe8#. The only line that could offer a longer resistance is 25. … Rxd8 26. Qxd8+ Ng8 27. Qd5 and White would need to play carefully to translate his advantage into a win with Black trying to avoid a Queen exchange.
 
 
The final position
 
 
nimzoindian6  

 

Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 3

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In continuation of Chess Opening: Control of Center to show how different openings aim to control the center squares, we now examine the opening strategy behind Queen’s Gambit Declined. This opening has been considered as one of the most reliable defenses of Black against White’s d4. The position reached by the moves described here can be achieved through many other sequence of moves. All these QGD openings are covered under ECO codes D30-D69 and all aim to create a foothold in the center by advancing pawns or using pieces while developing them.

The main idea for White is to offer a gambit of QBP as a temporary sacrifice, which weakens Black’s hold on the center whereas Black declines this offer and goes for a solid build-up. His pawn move e6 helps in this and facilitates the development of his KB but has the disadvantage of blocking his QB, the freeing of which remains a headache for Black.

QGD1
1. d4 d5   White takes control of the central square e5 and semi-central c5. Black does same for e4 and c4.
 
QGD2
2. c4 e6   White offers a pawn but this sacrifice is only temporary as White can recapture the Black pawn soon. This gambit and refusal by Black to accept it gives the name to this opening. Black just continues to strengthen his center position.
 
QGD3
3. Nc3 Nf6   The development of these Knights cancels out each other’s influence on e4 and d5 squares to maintain status quo at center.
 
QGD4
4. Bg5 Be7   White creates an indirect pressure on e4 and c5 by pinning Black’s KN and nullifying the Knight’s influence on the center. Black simply removes the pin while developing his KB and clearing the way for castling.
 
5. e3 0-0   White goes for strengthening his center and opening the lines for developing his KB. Black takes this opportune moment to safeguard his King.
 
QGD5
6. Nf3 Nbd7   These create pressure and counter-pressure on e5 square. Additionally, White Knight supports d4 pawn and the QB and Black QN supports KN and the c5 square. White should remain aware that his QB is in the firing line of Black’s KB and Queen.
 

 

White will try to take advantage of the inactive QB while Black has to find a way to activate it or exchange it to free his position. One way to free the QB is to push KP to e5 but Black first needs to exchange his QP to avoid its getting isolated. Other alternative is to bring it out via b7 after playing b6, but it becomes essential to play c5 to maintain a balance at center.

Black usually refrains from exchanging his QP with White’s QBP as it surrenders the center, but can do so when he gets some advantage out of it like gaining a tempo in attacking White’s KB if it moves to d3. Black also uses pawn move c5 to attack White’s center. After an exchange of Black’s QP and White’s QBP, White gets a majority in the center While Black gets a Queenside pawn majority and each player tries to utilize the respective advantages to launch their attacks.

Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 2

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In Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1, we looked at two popular KP openings to understand how those resolved the tussle between White and Black for control of the center. Here we take a similar look at a common QP opening to realize the chess tactics involved in this case.

Nimzo-Indian Defense
The classical theories on the strategy of chess openings, as formulated by the first undisputed World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), was further refined by Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934). These stressed the importance of center control by occupation or by direct application of pressure on those squares by using pawns, developing pieces to support that control, and playing to obstruct opponent’s plans in this regard.

It was Aaron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) who challenged these conventional and fairly universal ideas with his own in My System, which was probably the most widely read book on chess theories. His system found expression in several openings that bear his name, and Nimzo-Indian Defense happens to be the most important among his hypermodern theories and very widely used in master games till today. It appears that the defense was first played in a Rubinstein-Alekhine game at Leningrad in 1914 (won by Black in 28 moves).

What is significant in this opening is that Black does not commit any pawn structure at the start, thus retaining considerable flexibility. Black exerts control on the center indirectly from a distance by use of his pieces and also undermining the influence of enemy pieces on the center.

Let us see how all this is accomplished.

 

nimzo-indian1
1. d4 Nf6   White wants to control the central square e5 and semi-central c5. Black applies pressure on d5 and e4 by the Knight (a direct control would need Black to play d5, which normally leads to Queen’s Gambit opening).
 
nimzo-indian2
2. c4 e6   White now counters Black’s pressure on d5 by his pawn move and Black uses his KP to strengthen his hold on d5.
 
nimzo-indian3
3. Nc3 Bb4   White develops his QN, adding to the pressure on d5 by his QBP and exerting a measure of control on e4. Black again goes the indirect route to nullify the influence of White QN on d5 and e4 by pinning it. Black also creates the possibility of exchanging his KB with White’s QN, surrendering the advantage of Bishop pair to create a liability of doubled pawn for White on c-file.
 

 

In this defense, Black generally puts his QB in fianchetto by playing b6 and Bb7, applying the Bishop’s influence on the long diagonal including the center squares d5 and e4 in harmony with his KN.

If Black exchanges his KB with White’s QN, his strategy will be to close the center to minimize White’s advantage of Bishop pair. You know that an open game gives a great advantage to player having two Bishops and obviously White’s strategy will be to go for such a game.

At this stage, 4. e3, a quiet looking move, is considered to be White’s most potent weapon against Nimzo-Indian Defense. 4. Qc2 (with the idea to retain Bishop pair without doubling of pawn) and 4. a3 (a venturesome continuation and forcing Black’s hand to play 4. … Be7 or 4. … Bxc3) are also playable. Kasparov used 4. Nf3 (a kind of wait-and-watch move) to considerable success against Karpov in their championship match.

To remain within the ambit of our article, we will consider the normal variation only.

 

4. e3 0-0   White consolidates his QP and goes for development by opening a line for his KB.
 
nimzo-indian4
5. Bd3 d5   White is building up his pressure on e4 and will aim to place his KP there. Black continues with his center control by advancing QP.
 
nimzoindian5
6. Nf3 c5   White KN increases his control on e5, but Black undermines the pressure by threatening White’s QP with his QBP.
 
7. 0-0   White has completed his initial development and in case of doubled pawn due to Black exchanging Bishop with Knight, White can hope to undo it if Black takes his QP. Otherwise White can capture with his Knight to position it centrally. Black does not have any problem in completing his development and his share of center offers many chances of counterplay.

 

In Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 3, we will see how the another important QP opening viz. Queen’s Gambit Declined goes about the struggle for the center.

Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1

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The theory behind all chess openings is to control the center comprising the squares d4, e4, d5 and e5, and the development of pieces that goes with it. Control of the center by one player helps him to position his pieces more effectively while thwarting the development of opponent’s pieces. You can easily imagine that such a control with its associated benefits can facilitate your win to a great extent.

This control can be achieved in three ways:

  • Firstly, by occupying those squares with your pawns and pieces.
  • Secondly, allowing your opponent to occupy the center and then attacking and undermining the position.
  • Lastly, exerting control from a distance by means of pieces like Knights and Bishops without directly occupying those center squares.

This control of a square is also known as ‘applying pressure’ on the square by threatening to capture any enemy pawn or piece that may venture to occupy the square.

In Chess Openings: the most popular ones, we tried to show you the most common first moves at the start of a chess game. But you must have noticed that the baker’s dozen of most popular types can ultimately lead to hundreds of different openings, going by the ECO codes that incorporate those opening moves. If you examine any of these openings through the moves that follow, the theme of center control will become apparent by the use of one of the three opening tactics described above.

To see how the different chess openings aim to achieve center control and their pros and cons, let us check four types which are related to the most frequent first moves described in Chess Openings: the most popular ones. Incidentally, two of these openings start with pushing the KP (1. e4) and the other two with QP (1. d4), so a fair representation is made!

We will examine with reference to the following openings:

1. e4-c5 (Sicilian Defense)
2. e4-e5 (Ruy Lopez)
3. d4-Nf6 (Nimzo-Indian Defense)
4. d4-d5 (QGD or Queen’s Gambit Declined)

However, since Ruy Lopez has been discussed earlier in Chess Opening basics: Ruy Lopez, we will examine the other three in this and the next article.

Sicilian Defense:
It has become the most popular choice at master level as it eminently suits a fighting player with Black pieces. As can be seen from the number of ECO codes, there are many variations possible, but here we will consider the Najdorf variation which has become very popular with players like Fischer and Kasparov going for it in a big way.

sicilian1
1. e4 c5   White wants to control the central square d5. Black in turn applies pressure on d4 against advance of White’s QP.
 
sicilian2
2. Nf3 d6   White creates his own pressure on d4 and also on e5. Black’s pawn move opposes this pressure on e5. Here, Black could also play Nc6 which would counter the White KN’s influence. Retaining a control on d5 is a key theme for Black in Sicilian defense in order to free his position by moving his QP to d5.
 
3. d4 cxd4   White does not want to lose initiative, so goes ahead with his QP advance and Black immediately captures the pawn to deny White the hold on the center squares.
 
sicilian3
4. Nxd4 Nf6   White recaptures and positions his KN on a center square. White gets control of half-open d-file while Black gets half-open c-file as also a pawn majority at center. Black now develops his KN threatening White’s KP and exerting pressure on d5.
 
sicilian4
5. Nc3   White counters Black’s plans by bringing out his QN which gives support to his e4 pawn and bolsters his hold on d5.
 
sicilian5
5. a6  

 

For the first time, Black seems to have deviated from the struggle for the center through this defining move for Najdorf variation of Sicilian Defense. What is the idea behind this apparent deviation?

By this move, Black denies b5 square to White‘s Knights and KB. It also prepares for Black’s pawn move to b5 to start a Queenside action and positioning his QB to b7 from where it can bring pressure on d5 square and White’s e4 pawn.

After this, White may generally choose from the sharpest line with 6. Bg5 to quieter, positional games with 6. Be2, and others lying in between like 6. Be3, 6. f3, and 6. Bc4. But further analysis of all those moves will take us into a full discussion of Sicilian Defense, which was not the idea behind this article. We only wanted to show how any opening theory tries to achieve center control and if you understand the means and follow the principles, you will be in the right lines without a need to memorize too many moves!

In next two parts of Chess Opening: Control of Center, we will see how this is achieved in two popular QP openings viz. Nimzo-Indian Defense and Queen’s Gambit Declined.