- How easy is it for the opponent to get at the weakness, either by direct attack, or indirectly by taking advantage of the Opponent's immobility due to his having to cover the weakness?
- Is the weakness compensated by something else, such as piece activity? For example, in the Scotch Game, after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6, Black has doubled pawns, but he gets an open b-file for his heavy pieces.
- Is the weakness easily repairable, or permanent?
In the game we will be looking at, we will see how evaluation of the weaknesses is more important than just blindly assuming that pawn structure appearance says it all. I won't be going through the opening phase as this article is not on opening theory, but I'll include the opening moves for those that are interested, which is a fairly unusual way to reach the Queen's Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation.
With all of that said, let's take a look at the position.
Taco 90, Rd 1
W: Alexandre Blangy (1887)
B: Patrick McCartney (2070)
Raleigh, NC, January 19, 2019
After the moves 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Bf5 7.Qb3 Qb6 8.Qxb6 axb6 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.e3 Nd7 11.Nh4 Bg6, we have the following position:
So if somebody told you that you had to sit down to this position with White to move, but you could choose which side you want, which side would you take? Do you take White with the two pawn islands and no doubled or isolated pawns? Or do you take Black with three pawn islands, two sets of doubled pawns, one of those sets doubled and isolated along with an isolated h-pawn, but an open a-file for the rook, and open g-file potentially for the other rook, and the bishop pair?
Believe it or not, this position is equal, and would remain equal if White played a move like 12.Kd2, intending 13.Bd3, contesting the Black Bishop. White probably wouldn't trade it off, and would wait for Black to do so, but it removes Black's control over the diagonal.
Instead, White makes a mistake here.
White is probably saying to himself "sure, I have reduced Black's pawn islands from 3 to 2 and the f-pawns and h-pawn are no longer isolated, but Black still has doubled b-pawns, and his bishop pair is knocked out, and so I must be better", when in reality, White will actually be worse in this position. Why you say? Let's first see how Black recaptures.
What? I must be smoking something very strong here. Why did Black not take back with the f-pawn? All that leaves him with is the doubled b-pawn! The answer is actually fairly simple. While taking with the f-pawn is ok, Black had something very specific in mind when he took with the h-pawn. Yes, he has two sets of doubled pawns. However, the front f-pawn is going to advance itself to f5 in the very near future. Both sides have opposite colored Bishops. By placing his pawns on f5, g6, and f7 rather than f6, g6, and h7 (or f5, g6, and h7), Black keeps control of key light squares, particularly e6 in this case, and he gives both his rooks on open avenue to go along with the semi-open e-file, while White has just the semi-open c-file that he will be able to do nothing with. Why? Because Black always has the option, while not obligatory (and in the game we don't see it happen), Black can always answer b4 with ...b5, not allowing the minority attack and tying White's pawn down to b4, a dark square, which can't be covered by White's bishop but can be attacked by Black's. So from a piece activity perspective, Black has the advantage. As for the pawns, White has to worry about the a-pawn and h-pawn, and advancing them will weaken other squares. Also, it's going to be very difficult for White to advance in the center with ...f5 coming. In addition, with the queens off the board, how exactly is White going to get at Black's weaknesses? What are Black's weaknesses? b6 and f7? Good luck getting to them. White's pawn structure may look prettier, but it's Black with the clear cut plan and the piece activity.
13.Bd3 f5 14.Kd2 Nf6 15.f3
I don't like this move at all for White. He weakens the e-pawn with no real ready plan to advance e4 as there are many ways for Black to stop it. Now let's look at the weaknesses again. Black has a weakness on f7, which is hard to get to. He has potential weaknesses on b7 and b6. The b7-pawn is hard to get to, and the b6-pawn can always advance to b5. White, on the other hand, now has a glaring weakness on e3, and unlike the weak Black pawns, this one is by no means difficult to get at. It is glaring in the wide open on the semi-open e-file. At initial glance, White's pawns look better because they are not doubled, but the immobility and glaring weakness on e3 actually makes White's position significantly worse. That said, it's really hard to recommend a move for White, and his best move might very well be 15.h3, releasing the h1-Rook for more useful duties, and to control g4 before Black is able to use it for the Knight to attack e3.
It might be better for Black to play 15...Bh6, putting pressure on e3 and pinning it for now to the King. The idea behind 15...Bg7 is that it stops 16.e4 in the sense that it drops a pawn after 16...dxe4 17.fxe4 fxe4 17.Nxe4 Nxe4 18.Bxe4 Bxd4, but with the reduced material and the extra pawn a doubled pawn in a more open position, and the opposite colored Bishops, such a trade down makes the extra pawn less valuable and White should, with proper defense, be able to draw the position.
16.b4 Kd7 17.a4 Nh5?
This move is a mistake because it gives White the opportunity to expose Black's weakness and also releases some pressure off of the e4-square. Better is 17...Bh6 with the same idea of 18...f4. If 18.f4, then after 18...Bf8 19.Rab1 Bd6, White has a permanent hole on e4 and a permanent weakness on e3, and with the b1-rook tied down covering b4, the knight stuck covering a4, and the bishop unable to cover e3 at all, Black is ready to bring the h8-rook to the e-file and lift it to e7 before releasing White's pieces from the duties of covering weak pawns while Black builds up on e3. The game would then have literally two possible results, and a White win is not one of them!
White missed the opportunity to level the position with 18.g4! fxg4 19.fxg4 Nf6 20.Raf1 with pressure now on the far more exposed f7 weakness, giving Black a lot more to worry about. Again, what matters more than the existence of weaknesses is the exposure of them. Can you actually get to them? White had that opportunity and missed it.
Now Black got what he wanted!
So we have to look at the situation and figure out why this is the right move. First of all, White is threatening the f-pawn, and it would be utter nonsense to play 19...g5 as that would open up the light squares for the White bishop, starting with a check on f5. However, the other thing to look at is that we have the opportunity to execute what I like to call a "Transition of Weaknesses". The e3-pawn has been White's main weakness since advancing the f-pawn to f3. Now, however, it's time to change that. Instead of just continuing to pound on e3, we see the BlackbBishop in line with the White rook on a1, the only thing separating it being the d-pawn. White has advanced b5, which means we can advance ...c5, putting pressure on d4, and winning an exchange if White takes on c5. It does leave the b6 and b7 pawns behind, but they were never going to be used as part of the attack, and doubled pawns are actually very strong at stopping the opposing side's pawns from advancing, and so the doubled b-pawns are doing their job. The other thing to recognize is that now we have determined d4 to be a weakness for White, trading on e3 removes the guard to d4. While the king may guard it for now, it is easier to push a king away from the defense of another piece, often via a check, than it is to get a pawn to move away. Therefore, the correct idea here is to trade on e3, eliminating any threats to the f4-pawn and weakening the d4-pawn. Also note that with the White knight now on e2, and a king about to capture on e3, White is nowhere near ready to contest the Black rooks from coming down the e-file.
As mentioned prior, taking advantage of the pin.
21.Bc2 Rhe8+ 22.Kd3 c4+ 23.Kd2
So now let's look at the situation again. Black's weaknesses, namely the b6- and b7-pawns, are hard to get to. The f-pawn isn't much of a weakness any more as it can advance to f5 if need be, and unlike the opportunity White had on move 18, here the White f-pawn still remains on f3 and so there is no real exposure to the f7-pawn, and so while Black can advance it, why bother until you have to? White, on the other hand, is littered with weaknesses. There are three in particular that are glaring, and all of them are highly exposed. Those are the a4-pawn, the d4-pawn, and the e3-square. Not to mention, Black also has a protected passed pawn on c4 that White must deal with, and virtually all of White's pieces are extremely passive whereas Black's are all active, though granted, the a8-Rook is a bit less active than the rest of Black's pieces, but with that said, we will see that all of Black's pieces will be even more active very quickly, and so Black is completely in the driver's seat, and probably from here on out, it would never be too early to say that White could safely resign.
23...Bh6+ 24.Kd1 Re7 25.g3 Rae8
So while White moved his king backwards and made a pawn move, all of Black's pieces have become extremely active. What you are about to see is a domino effect, with one threat leading to another and constantly making White react to everything and never be able to fight back Black's onslaught.
With threats to the Knight and Rook via ...Bf2, hence White's next move.
But now the consequence of White having to move the Knight is losing the d-pawn and getting put in yet another pin.
And now, with the White rooks not connected, White is forced to initiate the rook trade, giving away his only slightly active piece. Note that trying to connect the rooks with 28.Kd2?? would fail to a deflection tactic, 28...Bxc3+, deflecting the king away, and after 29.Kxc3, Black wins a rook with 29...Rxe1.
28...Rxe7 29.Kd2 Kd6 30.Rf1 Bxc3+
Now that White released the pin, Black eliminates the Knight while up a pawn, specifically avoiding all possibilities of an opposite colored bishop ending.
31.Kxc3 Kc5 32.Kd2 d4
The connected passers spell death for White.
33.g4 c3+! 34.Kd1
34.Kd3 allows mate in one with either piece. I was going to do it with the knight if he went that way. Either way, it's game over, and Black uses a technique to eliminate all of the pieces and gets down to a dead won pawn ending. Why be cute when the game can be won with total simplicity, and once you see a winning method, don't try to get cute and look for a faster one.
34...Nf4 35.Be4 d3 36.Re1 Ng2 37.Rg1 Ne3+ 38.Ke1 Kd4
The idea behind Black's last move is to threaten to eliminate all pieces from the board, which White allows. The fact that White is still playing on has gotten to the point of ridiculous.
Now the trade down can't be avoided. Sure, Black can also win with follow-up moves like 40...Nc4 or 40...Rxe4, but why complicate matters when you've already figured out the win?
40.Ke2 d1(Q)+ 41.Rxd1 Nxd1 42.Kxd1 Rxe4 43.fxe4 Kxe4 44.Kc2 Kd4 45.h4 Kc4 0-1
White has nothing. He can advance the pawns, dropping them, but he can't create a passer, and there is no stalemate, and so White resigned.
Remember, don't just assume that all weak pawns are equally weak. In fact, sometimes a pawn structure that is often viewed as weak, such as doubled pawns or an isolated pawn, can be very strong, especially if they cover key squares and can't be attacked easily. Also, doubled pawns usually means the opening of a file, which can be useful for your rooks. That's what happened here in the game we looked at. Black had what appeared to be ugly pawns, but it allowed for harmonious piece activity. White's pawns looked great, but there was nothing he could ever do with them, and the moment he tries to start advancing them, such as when he played 15.f3, trying to break through with e4, all he would up doing was weaken his own pawns and give Black exposed targets to hit on, unlike the targets in Black's camp that were unexposed and very difficult to get to.
Till next time, good luck in your games.