12 June 2007

Which Side Is Better?

After a long pause, I'm coming back to Smyslov's Sparklers. In the diagrammed position, which side is better?

On the earlier move 8...b7-b5, Smyslov wrote, 'This advance, which seriously weakens his Pawn formation, puts an onus on Black.' An online dictionary defines onus as 'a difficult or disagreeable responsibility or necessity; a burden or obligation.' Since Smyslov hasn't questioned any of Black's subsequent moves, White must be better.

Euwe played 14...Ne7. Here Smyslov commented:

Black brings the Knight over to the scene of coming events, but in doing so underestimates the tactical possibilities arising, after White's reply, out of the undefended state of his Knight on h5. More expedient was 14...Nf4 establishing the Knight in a strong position.

Strong Knight position indeed -- when I reach a similar position with a Knight on f4 (or f5 playing White) I'm happy; when my opponents do the same, I'm uncomfortable. So is Black better?

Smyslov gave no indication how he would have proceeded after 14...Nf4. I assume that if Euwe didn't play it, there is some feature of the position which gave him pause. One possibility is 15.a4, as played in the game. Now 15...b4 16.d4 doesn't look promising. Better perhaps is 15...Bd7 16.axb5 axb5 17.Rxa8 Qxa8 18.Ne3 Ne7, and I still can't decide which side I prefer.

Groningen 1946
Euwe, Max

Smyslov, Vasily
(After 14.Bh4-g3)
[FEN "r1b1qrk1/2p2pb1/p1np3p/1p2p1pn/4P3/2PP1NB1/PPB2PPP/R2QRNK1 b - - 0 14"]

After 14...Ne7, Smyslov continued 15.a4 and gave the move a '!'. He commented, 'The right moment! White creates tension on the Queenside and threatens to seize the a-file after a4xb5.' If 15...Bd7 16.Nxe5, or 15...Be6 16.Nxg5, both Knight moves attacking the Bishop and playing on the exposed position of the Knight.

15...Nxg3 Smyslov: 'Therefore he simplifies, resigning himself to the loss of the initiative on the Kingside.' 16.hxg3 Smyslov: 'Basically it is capturing with a Pawn plus the transfer of a Knight to f5 that kills Black's initiative. The Nf1 still has an excellent square at e3.' • The phrase 'Black's initiative on the Kingside' says to me that Black had the advantage going into his 14th move. How am I to understand that comment about 'onus'?

The game continued 16...Be6 17.d4 f6 18.Bb3 Bxb3 19.Qxb3+ Qf7 20.Qxf7+ Kxf7, reaching an instructive endgame, which I'll look at another time. To play through the complete game see...

Vasily Smyslov vs Max Euwe, Groningen 1946

...on Chessgames.com.

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