Importance of chess strategy – Part 2

Filed under Attacking tactics, Chess lessons, Chess Strategy, Chess tactics
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In Importance of chess strategy – Part 1, you were introduced to Nezhmetdinov, a player who had outstanding skills in chess tactics. Here we show his most renowned game played in 1958 against Lev Polugaevsky (1934-1995) who was also an International Master at that time. Nezhmetdinov, who at 46 was almost twice as old as his opponent, plays with Black pieces. His 24th move offering a stunning Queen sacrifice should find a place among the most brilliant moves played over a chessboard, and together with the 26th move, make this game one of the best chess games ever.

Position after White played 24. Rh1

preparing for a Queen sacrifice

The game continued:

24. Rxf4   The celebrated move allowing Queen sacrifice!
25. Rxh2 Rf3+   Black now starts hounding the White King in a way that will remind you of Attacking chess tactics
26. Kd4 Bg7   A great move that looks quiet but threatens 27…b5! and 28…Nec6#
The other possibility is 27. … c5+ 28. dxc6 bxc6 followed by 29. … c5
27. a4 c5+  
28. dxc6 bxc6  
29. Bd3 Nexd3+  
30. Kc4 d5+  
31. exd5 cxd5+  
32. Kb5 Rb8+  
33. Ka5 Nc6+  
34. Resigns  


After this game, Polugaevsky offered this compliment: “I must have beaten Rashid a dozen times. But that one loss was so good I would have traded them all to be on the other side of the board.”

In Importance of chess strategy – Part 1, you have seen how quickly Nezhmetdinov demolished Mikenas, a player who became International Master four years before Nezhmetdinov. In the present game, once he started his attack, he never retreats and continues at it even playing moves most players would consider risky to bring down his more famous opponent! You have to remember that his opponent became a Grandmaster in another four years’ time. Doesn’t it make you wonder why he was never able to obtain the grandmaster title despite his extraordinary talent?

The answer lies hidden in Polugayevsky’s compliment. Against this brilliant win, Nezhmetdinov suffered many defeats at the hand of Polugayevsky, indicating that he was very inconsistent. This inconsistency was the result of his chess tactics that, while producing some brilliant combinations, were the result of sudden inspiration rather than flowing out of a sound chess strategy.

Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh (1922- ), a strong positional and endgame player (implying strength in chess strategy), was ten years junior to Nezhmetdinov but became Grandmaster in 1952, two years before Nezhmetdinov became International Master! He probably provided the best explanation of this anomaly when he said about Nezhmetdinov (the italics are mine):

“… if he had the attack, could kill anybody, including Tal. But my score against him was something like 8.5–0.5 because I did not give him any possibility for an active game. In such cases he would immediately start to spoil his position because he was looking for complications.”

Averbakh’s comment shows that while he adopted a strategy to contain his opponent, Nehzmetdinov did not! A player with a sound sense of strategy would never self-destruct the way Averbakh remarked about Nezhmetdinov’s style of play! In the third paragraph of Importance of chess strategy – Part 1, I compared him with that ‘Magician from Riga’ Mikhail Tal in terms of their attacking talents. So it is interesting to observe that in spite of his enormous talent for attack, Tal became World Champion only for a year (1960) after defeating Mikhail Botvinnik only to lose the title to the same player in 1961. This was what Botvinnik had to say about Tal on the 1961 rematch (the italics are mine):

“I realized that you cannot tackle him if the pieces are mobile and active. I played closed positions in which Tal could gain no advantage. Tal had no positional understanding for closed games.

Bobby Fischer also said something similar though both the players appreciated each other’s talents.

You must have noted the similarity in the comments of two Grandmasters on the playing style of two brilliant players who reveled in attacking chess tactics, and the chess strategy they adopted to block those attacks.

Though Tal was not devoid of a sense of chess strategy, he probably did not have the patience for it in his eagerness to launch an attack, most likely with a piece sacrifice. He has probably the largest fan following among grandmasters, but the very reasons for such reverence stood in his way for a result that could look much better in chess records!

Tal himself admitted this weakness by saying: “… Usually, I prefer not to study chess but to play it. For me chess is more an art than a science. It’s been said that Alekhine and I played similar chess, except that he studied more. Yes, perhaps, but I have to say that he played, too.”

Unless you are a Tal in the making, and even then, it will be a good ‘strategy’ to brush up on chess strategies while nurturing your attacking flair! Then go ahead and play through the games of Tal (and Nezhmetdinov) for your enjoyment!