14 February 2012

An Opening Quartgrip

The little known term 'quartgrip', coined by Hans Kmoch, denotes a formation of eight Pawns -- four White and four Black -- that find themselves in a curious pattern that resembles a circle. If you search for the term on the web, you'll find a few hundred references, most of them dealing with examples from the endgame.

In a chess960 post from last year, Pawn Power in Chess960, I gave some examples of Kmoch's chess neologisms, most of which have been long forgotten. About the quartgrip, he wrote,

The quartgrip must be understood as containing a duo of shielded stragglers on the second rank, which virtually doubles the disadvantage of such a straggler. The attacker, having at his disposal two head-duos on the fifth rank, can create an advanced passer by force the sneaking way.

Kmoch also noted that the quartgrip is 'likely to occur only at an advanced stage of the game'. I recently played a game where it occurred in the opening. In the following diagram, the quartgrip is the formation of Pawns on the e- through h-files.

The initial moves were 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h6 5.g4 Bd7 6.h5 e6 7.f4, reaching the quartgrip on the seventh move. Euwe called White's 4.h4 'the Hara-Kiri System', probably because it cost Tal dearly as White in his 1961 return match against Botvinnik. In recent years, Kramnik used it during the last game of his 2004 title defense against Leko. In a must-win situation, he won.

Kmoch gave another example of an opening quartgrip in the variation 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3. Where's the quartgrip? He wrote, 'White is entitled to strive for the formation e5, f4, g4, h5, which may lead to the quartgrip'. Then again, it probably won't.

My example of a quartgrip must be a record. It takes at least six moves to set up the formation and I did it in seven, the move 2.d4 being the only unnecessary move. In an earlier game, I achieved a quartgrip on the 13th move, but this was a different formation: White's lead Pawns were on the fourth rank, Black's on the fifth. Neither player was able to enforce a breakthrough before the game ended prematurely.

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