This position occurred in Round 4 of Land of the Sky in 2018. I was Black in this game, and what was otherwise a very poorly played game by me, I proceeded to attack the White King in execution style with 35...Qxh3+!! 36.Kxh3 Rh6+ 37.Kg4 Ne5+ 38.Kg5 Rh2! and White resigned as he has no way to avoid mate via 39...h6 except prolonging it by one move with 39.Qh5 or 39.Rc6, in both cases then 39...h6+ is mate in 2.
How typical! Another position where fireworks erupted! Well, we are going to talk about a far more critical topic that occurs pretty much every game, not just the occasional instance of fireworks-type tactics. That topic is strategy, and in these two articles, we will be discussing specifically the handling of the pieces. We are going to be looking at two specific ideas in chess strategy that in some ways go hand-in-hand. A piece out of play, and the concept of a local piece superiority. At the same Land of the Sky tournament in 2018 in which the Queen Sacrifice lead to mate in my favor in the fourth round, two other games, round 1 and round 5, featured games where strategy was a major factor in the result of each of those games. In the current article, we will look at round 1 where the proper use of strategy throughout the game lead to a fairly simple win for White. In the next article, which will be published sometime later this month, will show my round 5 game where once again White has a major advantage, but one small slip from the basic strategy we are about to talk about here lead to the game going from a winning position for White to a draw. It is very important to see the negative side of what can happen when basic ideas are not followed. But for now, let's look at the positive case.
Land of the Sky XXXI, Round 1
W: Patrick McCartney (2080)
B: Graydon Eggers (1869)
1.d4 b5 2.Nf3 Bb7
So here we have the Polish Defense, an opening I literally have never faced in my almost 2700 over the board tournament games. I've faced openings similar in nature, like the St. George Defense, which is 1...a6 with the move ...b5 coming shortly later on, or the English Defense, which is 1...b6 in lines where White plays an eventual c4, or Owen's Defense, which is 1...b6 in lines where White avoids advancing the c-pawn. So with that said, I am basically on my own already. Now many of you that know me well will know that I have played somewhere around 200 to 300 games as White in which I played 1.b4 along with the 3 times that I have faced 1.b4 while playing Black, and are probably thinking that I ought to know the reverse easily. That said, reverse openings are often nothing alike to the normal. For example, Black's ideas in the King's Indian Defense are not the same as White's ideas in the King's Indian Attack. Also, in the Reversed Dragon (1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg2 d5), Black has to take on a strategy similar to what is known as the Classical Dragon because the single extra move for White is enough to make a Yugoslav Attack approach by Black completely ineffective.
So I proceed to think to myself about the coordination of pieces. Let's think about other defenses that feature a fianchettoed Bishop. It usually is three pawns over from the fianchetto that gets advanced in order to open up the other Bishop. For example, in openings where Black fianchettos the Kingside Bishop, such as the Sicilian Dragon, Pirc, Modern, Grunfeld, or King's Indian Defense, he advances the d-pawn in all cases to either d6 or d5 to open up the Light-Squared Bishop as double-fianchetto positions often surrenders too much of the center to the opponent. For Queenside Fianchetto defenses, like the Queen's Indian, Nimzo-Indian lines with ...b6, and English Defense, Black advances the e-pawn. Therefore, I decide to blunt the advancement of the Black e-pawn.
This move prevents smooth development by Black. He has a number of choices, but none of them are very appealing. Black can:
- Capture the White Knight on f3, doubling White's pawns, but then the light squares become very weak for Black.
- Develop the Knight to f6, but then Black will have to deal with doubled pawns, and the difference here is that with b5 already advanced, Black has no quick attack on weak squares like b2 in White's camp because of the early advancement of b5. If the pawn were still on b7, then moves like ...Qb6 could be annoying with the Bishop missing. But here it's a non-issue.
- Advance 3...h6 and 4...g5 to unpin the pawn, but with the b-pawn already advanced, advancing the Kingside pawns like this leaves the Black King with no real safe haven.
- Advance the d-pawn, play ...Nbd7 (to avoid the doubling of pawns when Black does play ...Nf6), follow that up with ...Nf6, and only then play ...e6. The downside of this is that it is extremely slow, and Black lags behind in development.
Black decided to go with the last of the four options.
3...a6 4.Nbd2 d5
So in a matter of four moves, we already see Black with a really bad Bishop. One could argue that the Bishop could return to c8, but then it needs to be moved again before Black plays ...Nbd7 to get in ...Nf6 and ...e6 as otherwise, the Bishop will continue to be bad, only in this case it would be blocked by the e6-pawn instead of the d5-pawn, and so Black suffers with the Bishop being out of play or else he ends up falling way behind in development and still has dark square weaknesses like c5 and e5.
So given the catastrophic levels of falling behind in development if Black relocates the Bishop, we will figure that Black will simply deal with the bad Bishop and hope to use the e4-square as then Black has an extra piece guarding the square.
5.e3 Nd7 6.Bd3 Ngf6 7.O-O e6
So with the e6-push, it is official that the Black Light-Squared Bishop will be out of play, and it will be stuck on the Queenside. With the White Bishop on d3 being one of his major trumps, combined with the Black one suffering on b7, White will virtually be a piece up if he groups his pieces to be aimed at the Kingside. If White can gain a space advantage on that side, he might be able to add more pieces to the Kingside while Black wouldn't have the room to maneuver his own pieces to the Kingside, and White will then have what is known as a Local Piece Superiority. A Local Piece Superiority is where one side is able to bring more pieces, or forces, to one area of the board than the other side. This idea will often go hand-in-hand with the Piece out of Play. The side that you want the Local Piece Superiority on is the side opposite that of where the Piece out of Play is located. So in this case, with the Piece out of Play being the Bishop on b7, White wants to gain space and build a local piece superiority on the Kingside.
8.Ne5 Be7 9.f4
So White has a glorified Stonewall setup in that his bad Bishop is outside the pawn chain on g5 rather than behind the pawn chain. With three Black pieces lined up on the diagonal, White can always trade the Bishop for one of those pieces if it becomes necessary. That said, Black's next move is a strategical mistake.
This move looks extremely innocent, but it actually causes Black major problems. White's extra piece on the Kingside is the Light-Squared Bishop, and so Black has to really worry about the light squares more than the dark squares. This advancement of the h-pawn weakens the g6-square, which in turn leads to tactical ideas on f7. Instead, Black needs to push for counterplay on the Queenside with a move like 9...c5.
10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qh5!
White continues to build the pressure on the Kingside, in this case by threatening mate on f7. That said, already the downside of 9...h6 is rearing its ugly head!
Given White's Local Piece Superiority on the Kingside, White would love to force Black to castle Kingside, right into his attack. Black, on the other hand, would rather run to the Queenside. The problem for Black is, the latter is impossible because of his 9...h6 push. In the case of 11...Qe7, White has the tactical shot 12.Nxf7! where Black then can't castle Queenside because the Knight control d8, and trying to grab the Knight via 12...Qxf7 fails because the pawn advance on move 9 weakened the g6-square, and 13.Bg6 would then win the Black Queen. Therefore, Black tries to eliminate the scary Knight on e5, but it doesn't help the cause.
Note that this time 12...Qe7 fails to 13.Rxf7! while 12...Rf8 fails to 13.Rxf7! Rxf7 14.Rf1 Nf6 15.exf6 gxf6 16.Bg6 Qe7 17.Nf3 O-O-O 18.Bxf7 is also winning for White, and so White succeeded in forcing the Black King to castle to the side he is attacking.
So let's look at the situation now that White has forced the Black King to castle Kingside. The White Queen, Bishop, Knight, and Rook on f1 all are taking part in a Kingside attack, and it is easy for White to add the 5th piece by executing a Rook lift and bringing the a1-Rook to f1, resulting in five White pieces taking part in the Kingside attack. Black, on the other hand, has two pieces out of play. The Bishop on b7 and the Rook on a8, and so he is really only defending his King with the Rook on f8, Queen on d8, and Knight on d7, and the space advantage that White has doesn't allow for Black to do things like double up the Rooks on the f-file like White has the capability of doing. So the Local Piece Superiority is intact, and now we need to make sure that Black is not able to get out of this. The first thing that Black would like to do is be able to trade off the Queens to alleviate some of the cramp and remove the strongest piece from White's attack. If it were Black's move, he would like to play the move ...Qg5, offering the Queen trade. Therefore, White's next move is specifically to prevent that.
The lesser evil for Black was probably 13...c5 14.c3 Qe8 15.g4 f6 16.Qxe8 Raxe8 17.exf6 Nxf6 18.Bg6 with a positional advantage for White. After the game move, White wins material by force.
Taking en passant shouldn't even be remotely considered as it does nothing but help Black untangle himself. Plus, Black has no way to add to the protection of f5 and 14...fxg4 fails to 15.Qg6 Rxf1+ 16.Rxf1 Nf8 17.Qf7+ Kh8 18.Rf4 Qe8 (18...Qxh4?? 19.Qxf8+ with mate the following move) 19.Qxc7 Bc8 20.Rxg4 Bd7 21.Qd6 and White is a pawn up and Black's pieces are disco-ordinated.
So no matter what, White will be winning material.
So this move does force the trade of Queens, and so now White transitions from one advantage to another. He goes from a local piece superiority to a material advantage and heads into a winning endgame after a long series of trades.
15.Qxe8 Raxe8 16.gxf5 exf5 17.Rxf5 Rxf5 18.Bxf5
We now see that Black still hasn't solved his problems even after surrendering the pawn. The Knight is under attack and there is no real good move to save it here. A move like 18...Re7 is very passive for Black and White has time to get his Knight into the attack starting with 19.Nb3, taking advantage of the weak dark squares in Black's camp. Moving the Knight with a move like 18...Nb6 simply leads to a second piece out of play after 19.b3. Therefore, Black uses a tactic to get three pawns for the Knight, but it is insufficient.
18...Nxe5 19.dxe5 Rxe5 20.Bg6
This move is possible because of the White pawn on h4 stopping the fork of the King and Bishop, and at the first opportunity, White will play h5, locking the weak Black pawns in place.
20...Rxe3 21.Kf2 Re6 22.h5 Rf6+ 23.Kg3 Bc8
Getting the last piece into the game and putting Black in a tough spot. Given that 24...Re6 fails tactically to 25.Bf7+, Black has to place his Rook extremely passively with a move like 24...Rd6, noting that 24...Rc6 does Black no favors as he has no entry point with the c4-, c3-, and c2-squares all covered by White, or else trade the Rooks off, which is what he does in the game, but this just helps out White as the player up material in an endgame wants to trade the piece and ideally create a winning scenario of one-on-nothing in terms of pieces and then use the piece to scoop up the pawns.
And now Black has no way to prevent the White King from taking on a dominating position on e5.
25...Be6 26.Kf4 Kf8 27.Ke5 Ke7 28.Ne3
And now White poses threats to all the weak Black pawns on the board including d5, g7, etc, to the point that Black has no way to avoid losing material without trading away his last piece, and then White has the simple one-on-zero scenario of pieces. Black plays one more move to protect the d5-pawn, but it's not enough.
28...c6 29.Nf5+ 1-0
Seeing that the only way to avoid the immediate loss of more material was by trading away the Bishop, Black resigned.
So what we saw here was a strong performance by White using the concept of a Local Piece Superiority that was made possible by the fact that Black had two pieces out of play, emphasized by the Bishop on b7, but also the Rook on a8 was unable to come to Black's rescue until it was too late, all of this made possible because of one innocent looking move that turned out to be a huge positional mistake in 9...h6.
Next time, we will be looking at another game from the same tournament where White will have a very similar opportunity based on a piece out of play and a local piece superiority, and we shall see that by diverting from basic strategic principles, a huge advantage for White amounts to only a draw. The main thing to get out of this is that while fireworks look pretty, most successful games result from successful execution of basic strategy and not from flashy tactics!