Mas­ter­pieces in a mi­nor key — Joys of positional bril­liance

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - DAVID R. SANDS David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

As the great Fran­coPol­ish mas­ter Savielly Tar­takower re­port­edly ob­served, “Tac­tics is what you do when there is some­thing to do; strat­egy is what you do when there is noth­ing to do.”

“Positional mas­ter­piece” is one of those phrases seem­ingly coined just to drive read­ers away, de­scrib­ing a game in which the reader is ex­pected to ap­pre­ci­ate the bril­liance of noth­ing hap­pen­ing. Re­play­ing a short, sharp bat­tle where a queen sac­ri­fice leads to checkmate is fun; the plea­sures of watch­ing a grand­mas­ter, like a den­tist drilling at a cav­ity, la­bor­ing to win an iso­lated pawn fol­lowed by a pre­cisely played 43-move op­po­site-col­ored bish­ops’ endgame are a lot harder to de­fine.

Still, while the col­ors may be less vivid and the drama more sub­tle, there is much to ap­pre­ci­ate in a beau­ti­fully con­ducted positional win, even when there isn’t a fire­works show at the end as a pay­off. Check out, for in­stance, today’s game, from the on­go­ing Euro­pean In­di­vid­ual Cham­pi­onship that wraps up Satur­day in Minsk, Be­larus. Against Rus­sian GM Dmitry Kryakvin, Lat­vian GM Igor Ko­valenko or­ches­trates a mar­velous positional sym­phony of pawns and pieces, one in which a sin­gle ill-judged trade by Black puts him in a strate­gic bind from which he never es­capes.

The English Open­ing (1. c4) of­ten leads to more in­tri­cate strate­gic play, as White’s first move isn’t a di­rect claim for cen­tral space. Black’s 9. Bd3 Bxc3?! un­nec­es­sar­ily gives up a bishop that Kryakvin could use in the later play.

After 18. Kh1 a6 19. a4 (both sides are still prob­ing for the right time and place to break open a closed po­si­tion) axb5 20. axb5 Nh7?! 21. Ng1!, Kryakvin would have been bet­ter served to pre­serve his re­main­ing bishop with 21…Bd7 22. Ra3 Qc7 23. Rfa1 Ra7 24. Kg2 Rea8 25. Qb2, though White would still en­joy a slight pull. In­stead, after 21… Bxe2? 22. Nxe2 Nf6 23. h3! Nb7 24. Kh2! Qc7 25. f4 Nd7 26. f5, White has not only grabbed more space but also de­nied ei­ther Black knight a path to the ideal d4-square; by con­trast, Ko­valenko will plant his own knight on the d5-square with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect.

White is pos­i­tively Kar­po­vian in block­ing off all Black av­enues to coun­ter­play be­fore fi­nally strik­ing: 29. Nd5 Rxa1 (tem­po­riz­ing with 29… Na5 is over­come by 30. Kg2 Ra7 31. Ra3 Rba8 32. Rfa1 Qb8 33. Qa2 Kf7 34. Nxb6! Qxb6 35. Bxa5, win­ning a crit­i­cal pawn) 30. Rxa1 Ra8 (see di­a­gram). Now, in­stead of a flashy queen sac, we get a per­fectly timed fi­nesse that all but clinches the game: 31. Ra6! Kh7 (Rxa6 32. bxa6 Na5 33. Bxa5 bxa5 34. Qa4 Kh7 35. a7 Kg8 36. Qc6 wins) 32. Qa4 Na5 (Rb8 33. Qd1! Qe8 — to stop the White queen’s in­fil­tra­tion via h5 — 34. Nxb6) 33. Bxa5 bxa5 34. Rxa8 Qxa8 35. b6!, and the White queen and knight com­pletely dom­i­nate their Black coun­ter­parts.

Black des­per­ately seeks coun­ter­play on the king­side, but in the end, it is White who uses the h-file for the de­ci­sive in­va­sion: 42. Kg3 Qh8 (hoping some­how for some tricks based on …Kg5 and …Qh4+) 43. Qd2+ g5 44. Qh2+ Kg7 45. Qxh8+ Kxh8 46. Nxf6!, a fi­nal deflection that forces Black res­ig­na­tion. On 46…Nb8 (Nxf6 47. b8=Q) 47. Ne8, White wins at his leisure in lines such as 47…Kg8 48. Nxd6 Kf8 49. f6 Nc6 50. d4! cxd4 51. c5 d3 52. Kf3 Nb8 53. Ke3 Kg8 54. Kxd3 Kh8 55. Kc4. Ko­valenko-Kryakvin, 18th Euro­pean In­di­vid­ual Cham­pi­onship, Minsk, Be­larus, June 2017 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4 4. Qc2 c5 5. a3 Ba5 6. e3 Nc6 7. b3 O-O 8. Bb2 e5 9. Bd3 Bxc3 10. Bxc3 d6 11. O-O h6 12. b4 Re8 13. b5 Na5 14. Be2 b6 15. e4 Nh5 16. g3 Bg4 17. d3 Nf6 18. Kh1 a6 19. a4 axb5 20. axb5 Nh7 21. Ng1 Bxe2 22. Nxe2 Nf6 23. h3 Nb7 24. Kh2 Qc7 25. f4 Nd7 26. f5 f6 27. Bd2 Reb8 28. Nc3 Qd8 29. Nd5 Rxa1 30. Rxa1 Ra8 31. Ra6 Kh7 32. Qa4 Na5 33. Bxa5 bxa5 34. Rxa8 Qxa8 35. b6 Nf8 36. Nc7 Qb8 37. Qxa5 Nd7 38. Nd5 Qe8 39. g4 h5 40. b7 hxg4 41. hxg4 Kh6 42. Kg3 Qh8 43. Qd2+ g5 44. Qh2+ Kg7 45. Qxh8+ Kxh8 46. Nxf6 Black re­signs

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