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The tragedy of one knight

GM Ján Markoš | April 27, 2011 – 16:45One Comment | 1,232 views
The tragedy of one knight

Many players tend to spend too much time and make too much effort to study the openings. They keep track of theoretical novelties, carefully improve their repertoire and analyze most of the main lines with a computer. But as soon as their theoretical knowledge is over, they start playing bad because they don’t understand to the position at all. They are able to lose the advantage confirmed by Fritz or Rybka in a few moves.

Translated by: D. Turcer

It is much more advisable to approach the openings other way round.

Instead of dealing with each line in particular, the player should try to understand to the characteristics of the opening as a whole and to what is the main idea of it. Good understanding of the main features of the opening will be much more helpful than spending hours on the analysis of sharp lines.

Which features should we focus on? What’s typical for particular opening? We are talking about the long-term strategic factors and the characteristics of the position which are not being changed during the game too much. Some of these factors could be: a position of the kings (because kings do not move too much in the middle game), relative value of pieces remaining on board after the exchanges (e.g. two bishops vs. bishop + knight) or the structure of the central pawns.

There is less playable central pawn structures than playable openings in chess. Therefore one pawn structure usually occurs in various openings. And for all that, it makes pretty good sense to not study a particular opening, but to directly focus on the pawn structure. Finally, the right plan depends on the current position and not on the opening played in the game. Isolated pawn structure arises from both Panov Attack and Queen’s Gambit Accepted. Even if these are different openings, plans for both sides in this type of positions remain the same.

In this article, I would like to focus on the positions in which White succeeded to permanently advance his pawn to d5. Such positions are arising from the Spanish Opening, King’s Indian Defense and also from Benoni or Modern Benoni.

When White wedges one of his pawns into the opponent’s half of the board (on e5 or d5), Black usually remains with so little space that he is not able to place all his 4 minor pieces conveniently. So if Black is not able to exchange one of them, it is very likely that some knight or a bishop is not on a very good square. In the French Defense, light-squared bishop is such an unfortunate piece. For the positions with the wedge on d5, it is usually Black’s queen knight.

D5-pawn takes away the most natural development square for the black knight – c6. Furthermore, White usually plays d4-d5 only after Black’s …Nb8-c6, when White is forced to decide on the plans in the center. Attacked knight has to shirk somewhere to the edge of the board.

Knight on a5

It happens very often, especially in the Spanish defense, that the knight jumps from c6 to a5. It attacks the bishop on b3 from there or threatens to participate in active attacking of the center from c4.

However, it is pretty much exposed on a5 and it could be attacked by the b2-b4 advance or by other pieces. The knight was doing very bad in the game Tal – Gligoric, St. Petersburg 1973, White to move. In the position on the diagram, Mikhail Tal played 25.c4!, pinning black queen to defense of its own knight. Because of the threat Qd2-c3 and Bg5-d2, Black resigned  25…Nxc4 after 26.Qd3 Na5 27.Qxa6 the problems of black knight are still far from being over.

In the position on the second diagram (Sutovsky – Plachetka, Kaskady 2002, White to move) even if the black Na5 isn’t directly attacked, it has to stay in its unattractive position because it has to protect the c4-pawn, which irresponsibly strayed too far from his army. Thanks to a great exchange 23.Bxc5! White won the e4-square for its army and it was used for a transfer of both rooks and bishop to the attack against the opponent’s king. Black knight could not substitute his colleague on c5, because the c4-pawn standing on the white square would be lost.

The position on the third diagram is of a later stage from the game Spassky – ​​Cholmov, Yerevan 1962, Black to move. White managed  to play well timed b2-b4 and to displace the Na5 to b7, where this piece has pretty much nothing to do and also poses a tactical weakness. Just thanks to the position of the knight on b7, White threatens to play Nc2-a3xb5 and to run with his a-pawn to a queen promotion.

Cholmov considered his position so bad that he played the 20…Bd8 with the idea of ​​sacrificing his unfortunate knight for two pawns after …Nb7xa5.

The following example, although not coming from the Spanish Opening, (the Yugoslav line of the King’s Indian Defense was played), isn’t any different from the previous ones. Black “forgot” his knight on a5 and White made use of his absence to act immediately in the center.

Marin – Bologan, Spain 2004, White to move:

Romanian grandmaster played 21.Bxh5! Qxh5 22.f4! and Black was one piece down at the time of the collision in the center.

Knight on e7

In the main line of the King’s Indian Defense the knight on b8 is being developed to a more centralized position, to e7-square. Even here, its square can be hardly described as a bed of roses. It stays in the way of other pieces, especially queen, and it is hard to find a clear plan to get the knight quickly to the game.

In the game Cheparinov – Stellwagen, Amsterdam 2005 White made its life even harder because in the position on the diagram he played 11.g4!?.

At first glance, this pawn advance before its own king doesn’t make much sense, but its purpose is twofold. Firstly, White is disturbing the threating advance of the black pawns. Secondly, the black knight on e7 has only two paths to freedom in similar structures. Either Black plays …g6-g5 and …Ne7-g6 or …Kg8-h8 and …Ne7-g8-f6. By playing g2-g4-g5, White would prevent both of these releasing maneuvers and Ne7 would be buried alive in the middle of Black’s position.

Knight on b4

The last example is from the game Kasparov – Nunn, Lucerne 1982, White to move. The Modern Benoni Defense was played and John Nunn has placed his knight on a seemingly very active square, using a maneuver …Nb8-a6-b4.

Kasparov, however, showed with his next moves, that knight on b4 is just a decoration. Strong d5-pawn has safely cut this knight off from the events in the center and the king side. Kasparov played 12.Bxd7+! Bxd7 13.f5! with a sharp attack on the king side. It is critical for the success of the White’s strategy, that Black cannot effectively utilize the hole on e5 because of his knight standing in the offside.

The story of black Nb8 could have a few more continuations; e.g. a lot of knights suffered on c7, when Black (in some structure of Modern Benoni) played Nb8-a6-c7 and White didn’t allow a breakthrough …b7-b5.

However, the purpose of this article was not to examine all possible paths of rangy knight, rather to show that very often, these paths are tragic ones, misaligned from any reasonable direction.

I wanted to demonstrate two things: firstly, that the nature of the position doesn’t depend on the opening, but on the pawn structure, and secondly, that it is black knight which suffers in the structure with the wedge on d5. I believe that if the reader of this article takes away only those two simple pieces of knowledge, his chess strength will benefit from it much more than from few hours spent with the engine on analyzing some sharp Sicilian line.


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Comments (1)

  • Faten says:

    Well, I’ve awylas found it impossible to ask anything, but with Aronian . I don’t know; I’m sure some of my Q’s are silly, but the fact I’m having any at all makes me wanna pen em down. So advance apologia for my pile of crap that I think I’ll be adding more to -;)

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