22 March 2007

Positional Play: Using the Rook Pawns

In Positional Play: Réti - Lasker, New York 1924, Lasker advanced the a-Pawn to create weaknesses on White's Queenside. A few moves later, in the diagrammed position, he advanced the h-Pawn to create a weakness on White's Kingside. I'll again follow the game with the help of instructive explanations from three GMs: Alekhine (ALE), Kasparov (KAS), and Soltis (SOL); presented in chronological order of their annotations. 24...h5

ALE: 'By this advance and the subsequent exchange the White King is deprived of one of his protecting Pawns, a fact which will be of decisive importance in connection with the attack by the Rook later on. It is now evident that the King was much safer on g1 and should have remained there.' • SOL: 'Target -- h2!'

By 'one of the protecting Pawns', Alekhine meant the f-Pawn, which will disappear after ...h4, ...hxg3, and f2xg3. This will clear White's second rank of Pawns, giving the Black Rook more action on that rank. Réti played 25.Qh1; the GMs had a difference of opinion on this move.

ALE (repeated by KAS): 'Even for Reti himself this is almost too "original". In any event this move would have been ineffective if Black had been merely content to protect his Pawn simply by means of 25...Rd8. His next move is much more energetic and to the point.' • SOL: '!'

Alekhine's comment implied no better than a '?!', while Soltis gave a '!'.

New York 1924
Lasker, Emanuel

Réti, Richard
(After 24.Kg1-h2)
[FEN "2r3k1/1p1qbppb/5n1p/p2p4/P2N4/1P1PN1PP/1B2PPBK/Q7 b - - 0 24"]

After 25...h4, the GMs again had different opinions on White's next move, 26.Nxd5.

ALE: 'The only chance. After 26.Bxd5 Nxd5 27.Qxd5 (27.Nxd5 Bc5! etc.) 27...Qxd5 28.Nxd5 Bc5 29.Nb5 Bf5. • KAS: 'Alekhine buries White too early, saying that the endgame after [same variation through 28...Bc5] is hopeless for him; after 29.Ne3 hxg3+ it would have been far from easy to dismantle the unusual Knight harness.' • SOL: 'One of the unanswered questions about this game is what were Reti's ambitions around this point. Was he playing for a win or a draw? He would likely have been able to draw following [variation through 29.Ne3]. But he appears to be playing for more.'

[NB: Kasparov's term 'Knight harness' is a descriptive phrase which I have never seen before. Are there other examples?]

26...hxg3+ 27.fxg3 Nxd5 28.Bxd5 Bf6

ALE: 'Because of this unpleasant pin, White, notwithstanding his subsequent ingenious attempts, must perish eventually.' • SOL: '!'; As the endgame nears both players are concerned about two Black pieces: Black has to avoid turning his h7-Bishop into dead wood 28...Rd8? 29.e4. White has to avoid granting the Rook an entry point 28...Bf6 29.e4?? Bxd4 and Rc2+.


KAS: 'If 29.Qg2 with the idea of 29...Rc5 30.e4, there is the reply 29...Bxd4 30.Bxd4 Rc2 31.Qf3 Bf5!. • SOL: 'This is a good way of clearing a path for the Queen and repositioning the Bishop at b5 or c4. It's been suggested that 29.Qf3 is superior. However, Black has the better of 29...Bxd4 30.Bxd4 Bf5!. Then 31.Bc4 Bxh3! 32.Bxf7+ Qxf7 33.Qxf7+ Kxf7 allows the Rook to invade -- whereas 31...Qxd4? is wrong because [the Rook] doesn't play after 32.Qxf5 Rc7 33.e4.


KAS: '29...Rd8 30.e3 Bxd3 was also possible.' • SOL: 'White's best hope is to build a defensive wall, such as 29...Rd8 30.e3 Bxd3 31.Bc3 Qc7 32.Qc6.


KAS: 'Alekhine attaches an exclamation mark to it, but the cold-hearted Fritz shows that essential was 30.Be4 Bxd4 31.Bxh7+ Kxh7 32.Qe4+ f5 33.Qxd4 Qxd4 34.Bxd4 Rc2 35.Kg2 Rxe2+ 36.Kf3 Re8 37.Bc3 Rb8 38.Bxa5 Rxb3 39.Kf4 Rxd3 40.Bb6 with drawing chances.' • SOL: 'Now 30.Be4! is a good try, based on 30...Bxd4 31.Bxh7+ Kxh7 32.Qe4+. Black keeps his winning chances with 30...Bxe4 31.Qxe4 Re5 32.Qg2 Re8.

A few moves later Black managed to exchange Queens, then traded a Bishop for the Knight on d4, creating doubled d-Pawns. The remaining Rook and Bishop were able to prevail without the help of the Black King.

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