11 August 2007

Smyslov and Shenk

One of my favorite descriptions of the middle game is in 'The Immortal Game, A History of Chess' by David Shenk (p.136):

[The] middlegame's high-voltage zone: a multilayered dynamic of threats and counterthreats that is not easy to defuse and can at any time blow up in either player's face. Such dynamic tension is not a guaranteed component of middlegame, but is extremely common, and the lattice of active threats can quickly escalate to impossible-to-follow complexity. What emerges is the board-game version of that ever-repeated movie scene where the cop sneaks up on the thug, aims his gun, and says "freeze" -- only to find that a moment later, hidden accomplices point their guns at the cop and say, "No -- you freeze," at which point more cops come out from hiding and point their guns at the accomplices, and so on. With dozens of weapons cocked and aimed in every direction, no one knows whether to shoot first or try to de-escalate.

Cops and thugs, cowboys and bandits, the same theme has been used in countless movies and TV episodes. The next game in Smyslov's Sparklers reminded me of Shenk's analogy.

Moscow 1954 (Gm.14)
Smyslov, Vasily

Botvinnik, Mikhail
(After 9.Bc1-e3)
[FEN "r1bq1rk1/pp1n1pbp/2pp1np1/4p3/2PPP3/2N1BNP1/PP3PBP/R2Q1RK1 b - - 0 9"]

9...Ng4; Black attacks the Bishop, threatening to gain the Bishop pair and to mangle White's Pawn structure.

10.Bg5; White attacks Black's Queen.

10...Qb6; Black attacks White's b- and d-Pawns.

11.h3; White attacks the Black Knight.

11...exd4; Black ignores the attack, grabs a Pawn, and attacks White's Knight.

12.Na4; The White Knight evades capture and attacks the Black Queen.

12...Qa6; The Black Queen evades capture and threatens ...b5, trapping White's Knight.

13.hxg4; White grabs the Knight.

13...b5; Black attacks the trapped White Knight.

14.Nxd4; White grabs a Pawn and sets up new threats on the long a8-h1 diagonal.

14...bxa4; Black recovers the minor piece.

15.Nxc6; White grabs a Pawn, daring Black to recapture, when the Queen and Rook will be aligned unfavorably on the long diagonal.

15...Qxc6; Black accepts the dare and captures the Knight.

16.e5; The White Bishop attacks the Black Queen and skewers (xrays) the Rook. All Queen moves leave the Rook en prise without recapture.

16...Qxc4; The Black Queen dodges the Bishop and captures a loose Pawn.

17.Bxa8; White captures a whole Rook.

17...Nxe5; Black captures a loose Pawn, setting up threats on the a1-h8 diagonal, on the c8-h3 diagonal, and attacking various targets on the White Kingside.

18.Rc1; White attacks the Black Queen.

18...Qb4; The Black Queen dodges the attack and eyes the b-Pawn. A different sequence would open with 18...Qxa2 19.Bd5 Qxb2 20.Be7 Bxg4 21.Qxa4 Both players judged this as satisfactory for White.

19.a3; White attacks the Black Queen, encouraging a trade of the advanced a-Pawn for the b-Pawn.

19...Qxb2; Black accepts the trade of Pawns, planning a new sequence of threats and counterthreats.

20.Qxa4; Is the cops and thugs sequence over?

20...Bb7; No, Black opens a new series of tactics.

21.Rb1; The White Rook attacks the Queen and skewers the Bishop. Both Smyslov and Kasparov questioned this move, giving 21.Bxb7 Qxb7 22.Rc3 (protecting f3). Smyslov: 22...Nf3+ 23.Rxf3 Qxf3 24.Be7 Rc8 25.Bxd6. Kasparov (after Botvinnik): 22...h6 23.Bf4 Nf3+ 24.Rxf3 Qxf3 25.Bxd6 Rd8.

21...Nf3+; Black launches an attack on the castled King.

22.Kh1 Bxa8; Black gives up the Queen for three minor pieces.The minor pieces, supported by the Rook, will make life miserable for the White King and will force the win. White resigned ten moves later.

Is that too much to follow in your head? To play through the complete game see...

Mikhail Botvinnik vs Vasily Smyslov, World Championship Match 1954

...on Chessgames.com.

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