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Understand The Position 21: “The Work for Sherlock Holmes”

GM Ján Markoš | October 10, 2011 – 11:51No Comment | 819 views
Understand The Position 21: “The Work for Sherlock Holmes”

I admire Vasilij Smyslov. I like his gentle, positioning and seemingly unexacting style very much because I always try to use combinations in my games and I usually get bored in technical positions. Although Smyslov was a World Champion only during a period of one year, he left an indelible mark as a master of endgames and simple positions. Like Karpov or Magnus Carlsen, Smyslov wasn’t finding his moves with difficulty and immense creative strain. But he was like exhaling them.

Translated by: Dusan Turcer

When I recently wanted to lecture children about positional play, I chosen just Smyslov. I was reviewing his games and looking for some good examples. And between the quantity of games and diagrams I found a wholly inappropriate, shocking one. And yet, very nice.

On the board we can see the position from the game Smyslov – Pachman, Moscow 1956, after 15th move of Black.

The position is equal with opposite colored bishops. A regular scenario. However, the position of kings is exceptional. How the heck these two monarchs get to such a strange and mirror-symmetrical squares? They stand there like they are out for a walk… And it was just Smyslov who played as White, the player who would always avoid any confusion or complicated position.

A curiosity has won over me. I turned into a boy reading the pages of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie and tried to figure out what happened in this game before the strange position arose.  If you have a detective history as well, do not read further. Set up the position on the board and try to figure out which 15 moves lead to it. In the chess lingo, this is scholarly called retrograde analysis. So let’s analyze retrogradely a bit…

This occurred to me:

  •  The game continuance had to be very violent. So strong players would certainly not place their kings to the comic fields voluntarily. Somewhere on the board a very powerful bomb had to explode, which fired monarchs into the area.
  • Black knight on g8 disappeared from the board, as well as white dark-squared bishop. So the black king apparently got to f6 after the BxNf6 exchange. This would also correspond to played …h7-h6.
  •  Bf1 and Bf8 still stand at their initial squares. Checks to both kings (which forced them to move) were probably delivered by queens. This would also correspond to the fact, that b2-pawn is missing. As if the black queen has gone the path Qb4+xb2+ and drove the white king on f3. Because Kf3 was not recapturing anything on this square; Ng1 is still on its place.
  • In the opening, early d2-d4 and …d7-d5 was apparently played.
  • But for nothing in the world I could not figure out how the black dark-squared bishop disappeared from the board and how the white queen got to c1. On which square was she delivering a check to the opponent’s king? On c8? Or perhaps the knight on c7 was checking?

Finally, I accepted the fact that I’m not Holmes or Hercule Poirot, and I looked into the Chessbase, in order to find (captured on the closed-circuit camera) the record of this crime. The murder happened as follows:

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.d4 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.e3 h6 7.Bh4 Bf5 8.Qf3 Qb6 9.Qxf5 Qxb2 10.Qc8+ Ke7 11.Nxd5+ cxd5 12.Qc1 Qb4+ 13.Ke2 Qb5+ 14.Kf3 Qd7 15.Bxf6+ Kxf6

Nice, huh? But Smyslov finally remained Smyslov, as we know him. In the next continuation of the game he put everything back to normal. He played g2-g3, hid the king on g2 and began to attack the opponent’s pawn on d5. He won the game with ease and in extremely positional style…

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