Sunday, January 7, 2018

Opening Preparation: Classical King's Indian - The Critical Piece!

Happy New Year everyone! We will be starting 2018 with an article on the Classical King's Indian, and more specifically, talking about one critical piece that means the world to Black.

When we first learn the game of chess, we are taught that each piece has its own "value" attached to it. Giving the pawn a value of 1, the knight and bishop are designated a value of 3, the rook is given the value of 5, the queen a value of 9, and the king is not assigned a value because the king is your life.

Well, what you are about to see here is that in certain cases, you can throw these numerical values right out the window, and in this case, we are going to talk about the re-evaluation of the Black pieces in the Classical King's Indian. This is not a complete survey of the Classical King's Indian, and the line we will be looking at is considered one of the most popular lines in modern theory. We will start by discussing the value of Black's pieces, and then I will show you two games. One played between a couple of 2400 players, and another between a couple of experts, showing some of the typical errors made at lower levels of play, but it still illustrates the value of Black's pieces in this line.

The line we will be talking about comes after the moves 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.a4, which leads to the following position:

So now what we need to do is evaluate each piece of Black's. The center is completely blocked, and it is fairly clear what each side wants to do. White has all of his pieces pointing toward the queenside, and his major break is with the c-pawn to c5. If he achieves this and trades on d6, Black will have a clear weakness on d6. Black, on the other hand, will be looking to continue to advance his kingside and attack the White king. The major break is with the move ...g4. It is very rare that White will want to take the pawn on g4 as it will severely weaken e4 and allow Black to advance the f-pawn if tactical possibilities exist. This will often lead to Black being able to play ...g3, after which White will have to decide between trading on g3, which might win him a pawn in some cases, but will strip a good amount of the cover on the White king. The other option is to advance h3, attempting to block the entire position. So given these facts, let's look at the Black pieces and evaluate their importance.

First, with the fact that Black is going for the White king, the queen plays a vital role in Black's attack.

Next, the King's rook can often play a vital role. If White takes the pawn on g4, then the rook can contribute to a successful ...f3 push by Black. It can also shift itself to g7 or h7 if White opens lines up, such as in the lines when he plays hxg3 instead of h3.

With the closed nature of the position, the knights can play a vital role in getting to the White king as they don't need open lines to become useful.

The remaining Black pieces on the board are the ones whose value does not match that of normal principles. For example, the Rook on a8 plays almost no role at all in this position. Many of the other Black pieces sit for a long time on the back rank, leaving the rook on a8 blocked in by his own pieces, starting at other Black pieces and pawns sitting right in his way.

The bishops are the key here for Black. Both bishops appear to do very little given the nature of the position. That said, first let's look at the dark-squared bishop. It is clearly a bad bishop with all of Black's pawns also sitting on dark squares, and while it doesn't do much in the first game we will look at, it can very often play a vital role in covering the d6 weakness, where Black advances the rook to f7 and moves the bishop down to f8 to cover d6. Not always a necessary move, but better to have it and not need it than the other way around.

This takes us to the most critical piece on the board for Black. The light-squared bishop. This piece is so valuable to Black that he will often be willing to give up the a8-rook just to preserve the light-squared bishop. Now you might be asking yourself "What makes this piece so important?" Well, we discussed prior that Black will often play ...g4 and ...g3, and that White can answer that with h3, completely blocking the position. Black needs his queen and knights to get at the White king, and it would be almost impossible for a Black rook to get to any of the White pawns on the kingside to break the barrier. That is where the light-squared bishop comes into play. It must be timed right, but the main way for Black to break through at the White king is via the sacrifice of the light-squared bishop on h3. If this piece is traded off, then the decision for White is extremely simple when Black tries to break with his pawns. Close the position with h3! With this bishop on the board, White has to be extremely careful about such a breakthrough.

So to summerize:
  • Black's queen, f8-rook, and both knights maintain their normal value for a closed position.
  • Black's a8-rook has very little value in this variation unless the game reaches an endgame.
  • Black's dark-squared bishop can play a very vital defensive role in certain circumstances, but otherwise is usually staring at his own pawns.
  • Black's light-squared bishop plays the most vital role in Black's entire attack, and this piece can easily be viewed as more valuable than a rook, and often times the a8-rook will sacrifice itself simply to preserve the bishop on c8.

Let's take a look at a couple of games.

W: Marcin Dziuba (2460)
B: Jakub Czakon (2461)
Koszalin, 2005

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.a4 a5

This is considered the main response from Black, looking to hinder White's queenside expansion. The other main alternative is to ignore White's operations on the Queenside and play 13...Ng6, more in the spirit of the King's Indian, after which 14.a5 Rf7 leads to two options for White. He can play the immediate 15.c5, which sacrifices a pawn after 15...Nxc5 16.Bxc5 dxc5, but breaks up the Black pawn chain and White figures the acceleration in his attack along with the shattered Black pawn structure compensates for the pawn lost. The alternative option is the safer, though slower, 15.b4, setting up 16.c5. In the second game, we will be looking at a less than ideal defense by Black where he ignores the White queenside, but given how complicated an opening the King's Indian Defense is, at the amateur level, such error end up being far less than fatal. At the GM level, White would probably have won the next game.

14.Nd3 b6

Continuing to try to hinder White's expansion on the queenside.

15.b4 axb4

White has a major decision to make here. The best option is probably to take the pawn immediately with the knight. That said, also tempting is the move played in the game.


White's idea is simple. He figures that it would be better if he could take the b-pawn with his bishop instead of with his knight so that the bishop and the knight both eye c5 and White may be able to weaken Black's queenside enough to make this breakthrough possible. That said, there is a major downside to this. Playing the knight to b5 early on like this makes the move ...g4 easier to achieve, especially after the knight on d7 returns to f6, as if White takes on g4, the e4-pawn would be hanging with the knight no longer on c3. This often saves Black time as he doesn't have to play ...h5 to prepare the ...g4 push.


Black takes advantage of White's early knight hop and plays this move to prepare the ...g4 break.


White continues to go after the b-pawn with the bishop.


Black pounces on the opportunity!

18.Bxb4 g3

And now we see another downside to using the bishop to recapture on b4 instead of the knight. Black is able to play this move without it even costing him a pawn, which makes trading pawns on g3 even less appetizing than it would if White still had his bishop on e1 where he could at least gain a pawn for his suffering of the opening of his king.


And so White closes the kingside, or so he thinks!


Remember how we said that the light-squared bishop is Black's most critical piece on the board? Here we see this critical piece do his thing. This is the only way for Black to pry open the White king if White is unwilling to do it voluntarily.


White has no other choice. Not taking the bishop basically admits defeat and gives Black a critical pawn for nothing.


Immediately hitting on the weakness at h3.


This is White's best move, guarding via the second rank. Note that 21.Kg2 doesn't work. After 21...Ng6 22.Rh1 Nh4+ 23.Kg1 Nxe4! 24.fxe4 f3 and now both 25.Bxf3 Rxf3 26.Ne1 Qf7 27.Nxf3 Nxf3+ and 25.Bd2 f2+ 26.Nxf2 Rxf2 27.Rh2 gxh2+ 28.Kxf2 Qxh3 29.Qh1 Rf8+ 30.Ke1 Qg2 31.Bf3 Nxf3+ are winning for Black.


The knight is possibly headed for h4, taking the g2-square away from the White queen, should White move the bishop. It is not time for Black to take on h3 yet. After 21...Qxh3? 22.Bd1 Ng6 23.Qg2 Qh6 24.Nxc7 Nh4 25.Qd2, White has lined up the queen against Black's queen to avoid ideas of ...Nxe4 and ...f3 by Black as the Queens would come off. After 25...g2 26.Re1 Nxf3+ 27.Bxf3 Qh1+ 28.Kf2 Qh4+ 29.Ke2 Nxe4 30.Bxe4 f3+ 31.Kd1 f2 32.Bxg2 fxe1=Q+ 33.Nxe1 Qg4+ 34.Bf3 Rxf3 35.Nxf3 Rf8 36.Ra3 Rxf3 37.Rxf3 Qxf3+ 38.Kc2 and White is winning. Persson - Calzolari, correspondence 1998.


This move loses. Other moves are not much of an improvement, but the do make matters harder for Black and open him up to making a mistake. For example, after 22.Rfb1, the move 22...Nh4 is inferior due to 23.Ne1 with advantage to White. Instead, 23...Qxh3 23.Bf1 Qh5 24.Ne1 Nxe4! 25.fxe4 f3 26.Nxf3 Rxf3 27.Qg2 Nf4 28.Qh1 Qg4 29.Rb2 Rf8 30.Nxc7 Rf2 is winning for Black.

22...Nh4 23.Ne1 Qxh3

The White rook still being on f1 makes a major difference!

24.Nxc7 Nh5 25.Nxa8 g2 26.Nxg2 Ng3 0-1

There is no way for White to save himself. For example, the knight on h4 is poison as 27.Nxh4?? Qh1+ 28.Kf2 Qxf1 is mate while other moves lose way too much material.

In the second game, we will see a battle between two experts, and while Black also wins this game, there are a number of errors by both sides. That said, this game also illustrates how critical the bishop is on c8, and while White had his chances to win, the position was so complicated that he couldn't find his way through the minefield.

W: Nikita Panasenko (2018)
B: Patrick McCartney (2084)
Boris Kogan Memorial, Round 4, 2017

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.O-O Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 13.a4

So we start with the same position shown in the first diagram of the article.


Black decides to go for direct kingside operations. That said, this move is inferior to 13...Ng6 as it gives White the ability to play c5 without sacrificing a pawn. Black should hold off on this move for as long as possible as long as he can continue to make progress with other moves, or until White plays his knight to b5 to set up the ...g4 push, as seen in the previous game.


Better would be to play 14.a5 or 14.c5, the latter taking advantage of Black's slight miscue.


And once again another inferior move by Black. Better is 14...a6, kicking the knight back as 15.Na7 Bd7 (remember, this piece is critical for Black, he absolutely cannot allow White to trade his knight for it) leaves the knight trapped on a7. Normally, the move ...h5 encourages Nb5 by White, figuring Black has already spent the extra move to get in g4, and so moving the knight to b5 doesn't allow Black to gain time. So with White playing Nb5 too early, why would Black want to play the move that dictates White to play the move he just played?

15.Nxa7 Rxa7

As mentioned prior, this is Black's piece of least value, and it brings the Bishop into an inactive place on a7, and White must also watch out for the bishop getting trapped after a ...b6 push by Black. At the moment, it wouldn't trap the bishop as White can play the simple a5, but it is something that must be watched at all times. All of that said, this move is probably a bit over-zealous and Black should probably play the simple 15...Bd7. Computers will of course say that White has this huge advantage because he is up a pawn, but his pieces are scattered, and Black does have some compensation, even after not playing the best moves on moves 13 and 14.

16.Bxa7 g4 17.c5 g3 18.h3 Ng6 19.Nd3

Better was 19.Bb5. Now Black has the opportunity to completely equalize, and he starts out correctly.

19...Bxh3! 20.gxh3

20.cxd6 was the lesser evil.

20...Qd7 21.Nf2


The only move for Black is 21...Ra8!, and after 22.cxd6 Qxd6! (22...Rxa7? 23.dxc7 with advantage to White) 23.Qc2 Rxa7 24.Nd3, the position is level.


White should drive the Black queen off the diagonal of the h3-pawn with 22.cxd6 cxd6 23.Bb5 and if 23...Qc8, then 24.Rc1! with advantage to White.

22...Qc8 23.Qb3 b6 24.a5 gxf2?

Better was 24...Nh7 25.axb6 Ng5 26.Qc2 gxf2+ 27.Rxf2 Nh3+ 28.Kf1 Nxf2 29.Kxf2 Qh3 with a mess.

One move here wins for White. Can you find it?


Of all the legitimate moves, this is the worst one for White!

Black is slightly better after 25.Rxf2 Qxh3 26.Ra3 Ng4 27.fxg4 f3 28.Bxf3 Rxf3 29.Qxf3 Nxf3+ 30.Rfxf3 Qxg4+ 31.Rg3 Qxe4 32.axb6 Qb1+ 33.Kh2 Qxb2+ 34.Kh1 Qc1+ 35.Kh2 Qd2+ 36.Rg2 Qf4+ 37.Kh3 Qc1 38.Rag3 Qh1+ 39.Rh2.

However, 25.Kh2!! is winning for White after 25...Nh7 26.Rxf2 Ng5 27.Bf1 b5 28.Qxb5 Ngxf3+ 29.Kh1 Ng5 30.Ra4 Qe8 31.Qd3 Qg6 32.Rc2 Nhf3 33.Bf2 Nd4 34.a6 Nxc2 35.Qxc2 Nf3 36.a7 +-.

25...Qxh3 26.Ke1

White tries to run, but Black is about to come breaking through so quickly that White won't even know what hit him, and his position is instantly about to fall apart like a house of cards!


Taking advantage of the pin on the pawn to the White queen.

27.Kd1 Nf5

And now with the e4-pawn gone, Black uses the f5-square to create fatal threats on both d4 and e3.

28.Kc1 Nd4!

The unfortunate location of the White king allows Black to follow up one knight fork with another, leading to what will be a material advantage for Black after the daring sacrifice of a rook and pawn for the knight and the misplacement of the White bishop.

29.Qd1 Nxe2+ 30.Qxe2 Ng3 31.Qf2 Qxf1+ 32.Qxf1 Nxf1 33.axb6 cxb6 34.Bxb6 Ne3 35.Bxe3 fxe3 36.Ra4

The dust has settled and Black is up a full piece. The only thing left to do is stop White's queenside passers and the full point is his.

36...Bf6 37.c7

Or 37.Kc2 Bd8 38.Ra7 h4! 39.c7 Be7 40.Rb7 h3 41.Rb8 h2 42.Rxf8+ Bxf8 43.c8=Q h1=Q and now 44.Qe6+ or 44.Qg4+ will both be answered by 44...Kh8 and White will soon run out of checks and Black is still winning.

37...Rc8 38.Rc4 h4 39.Kd1 h3

The advancement of the h-pawn deflects the White rook and his only trump, the advanced c-pawn, will be removed and the rest of Black's task is simple.

40.Rg4+ Kf7 41.Rg3 Rxc7 42.Rxh3 Rc5 43.Ke2 Bg5 44.Rh1 Rxd5 0-1

So we saw two games where Black's light-squared bishop played the vital role of sacrificing itself on h3 and the a8-rook doing little to nothing, just going to show that the numerical values assigned to specific pieces can be thrown right out the window once you reach advanced levels. The fact that Black won both via very strong play in the first game, and via a game loaded with errors in the second game shows the extreme level of complications in this line, especially at the amateur level.

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