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The Assassin (Special Edition)

GM Ján Markoš | November 4, 2011 – 13:32One Comment | 1,074 views
The Assassin (Special Edition)

I was recently impressed by the Mafia trilogy Godfather by Mario Puzo, filmed by Francis Coppola. Not only that Al Pacino and Marlon Brando played amazingly, but what impressed me even more, was the remarkable atmosphere of the movie. The whole trilogy is marked by a kind of a shadow of death necessity. Who once offended the family or was considered the enemy, never escaped from bullet or knife. He could be escaping a year or five years, but once, in an unexpected moment a gentleman in a soft black hat and with one hand under jacket appeared.

Translated by: Dusan Turcer

When I was thinking after the movie, if an ordered murder also happens on the board, sometimes, I remembered the strategic phenomenon that recalls Mafia practices of New York from the time between two wars. Of course – as it is usual for the Sicilian Mafia – this phenomenon is related to bishops.

We usually don’t exchange the bishop for the knight in the opening voluntarily. It is so because of two reasons. Firstly, the bishop is the piece with a longer range and therefore it is usual in the opening that it attacks or pins the knight and not the other way round. Secondly, such exchange gives the opponent the advantage of the bishop pair. Such a concession may result in huge problems in latter stage of the game.

And yet there are cases when the bishop – just like assassin or Japanese Kamikaze – wants to take off the opponent’s knight and simply removes it from the board. Without giving any chance to survive. I will show you a few cases of such unforced exchange of the bishop for the knight. It is quite interesting to uncover the strategic ideas, which prove that the exchange is not a dubious move, but often a very strong continuation.

Probably the most common idea that accompanies a destruction of the knight is the fight for the one of the central squares. Fighting for the d5-square is the main idea of the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defense:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5

Black gained a lot of space by playing the …e7-e5, however, he fatally weakened the d5-square. The bishop on g5 is dark-squared, thus it cannot join the fight for this square. He is therefore helping to Cosa Nostra in other way – by sacrificing his own life to remove its important guardian, the knight on f6. As a result, White will be enjoying a piece domination over the d5-square; all his three minor pieces can control it, but Black can control it only by two of them; his dark-squared bishop will never make it to d5.

White very often play 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5, with an interesting game.

Another very common reason for an ordered murder is to damage the pawn structure of the opponent. One example is the important line of the Sicilian Defense:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6

White regularly plays 4.Bxc6 and no matter which pawn recaptures, the pawn structure of Black remains broken and immobile. A similar idea is also present in many other lines, such as Trompowsky Attack: 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 d5 3.Bxf6.

Another example is interesting by the fact that the white bishop is hesitating for effect; he firsty retreats after the attack of the h-pawn, pretending that he does not intend to carry out any crime. He will however change his mind two moves later and accomplish the murder. Just like in the Godfather movie, also in this example the person sentenced to die will not escape his fate.

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Ng5 Ne7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 b6 8.Bd3 Bb7

In this popular line of Queen’s Gambit White is waiting with the exchange until the black bishop reaches the b7. Black would be otherwise developing this piece on the c8-h3 diagonal; the most frequently on e6.

In the position on the diagram White would like to imprison the black bishop on b7. However, if he captures on d5 immediately, Black recaptures with the knight and the closure of the diagonal will not happen. Vice-versa, two pairs of minor pieces are exchanged and this is helping the defending side. White therefore plays 9.Bxf6!?, because after 9…Bxf6 Black has to recapture on d5 with the pawn: 10.cxd5 exd5. Moreover, White will benefit from the fact that black bishop was lured away from the a3-f8 diagonal and will play 11.b4 with apparent effort to prevent the …c7-c5 breakthrough. Black bishop on b7 will become the most passive piece on the board.

Tentacles of Cosa Nostra sometimes murder not just because the victim is a particularly valuable member of the opponent’s family. In the following example, the bishop got the order to murder just to cause some disorder in the opponent’s camp. This is the operation code-named as Hedgehog:

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 e6 3.c4 c5 4.Bg2 b6 5.0–0 Bb7 6.d4 cxd4 7.Qxd4 d6 8.Bg5 Be7 9.Nc3 a6

If Black manages to play …Nb8-d7, he will achieve a very flexible hedgehogish pawn structure. White therefore quickly plays 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qf4, after which the black d6-pawn is very sensitive. One of the safest continuations of Black is revenge; after the counterattack 11…Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Ra7 a very interesting middle game arises, where the main strategic feature is the presence of opposite-colored bishops. White has a small advantage.

The last example will show us how tricky the plans of Mafia can be, sometimes. The scene of the story is now extremely popular Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6

It seems that the victim of a killer on b5 will be the Nc6; and it is also usually the case. After 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 the basic position of Berlin Defense arises. However, the family has different plans today. Bishop b5 will serve as a bait. After 6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 the trap snapped. Black Nb5 is caught and it is obvious that he will not be showding his grandchildren on the knees.

The main reason why the unforced exchange of the bishop for the knight sometimes happens is just the fact that knight placed on the squares c6 or f6 effectively controls the center. After the exchange of such piece the side which remained with two knights temporarily gains a better control of the board. This advantage should be, however, utilized quickly because the bishop pair is very dangerous in the long run. Its strength will grow with each exchange, with each emptying of the board.

Well, whoever commits a crime is asking for revenge…


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Comments (1)

  • Hdjfye says:

    Mishanp, I eeojynd the translation as usual. One thing: Isn’t it a little to the contrary for Sergey to comment on, say, black’s move beside the notation for white’s move? Maybe I’m just easily confused, but I’m also not used to it.

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