02 January 2016

A Central Pawn Break

This morning, I planned to spend some time reviewing the first 48 middlegame positions in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (see "Year in Review 2015"). However, opting to quickly race through six games in the Paramount Database (see "Who is Better?") ended my planning of the day's study session. I reviewed one game. Black's thematic pawn break caught my eye and pushed me back through the game at a slower pace, absorbing the annotations along the way.

Nijboer,Friso (2534) -- Glek,Igor V (2566) [C11]
Wijk aan Zee II 75/265, 1999

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.Nce2

I have never faced this position in over-the-board play, but have seen it at least 79 times online. I have held White under 52%, but my overall score in my database is stronger. White's fifth move usually provokes a sense of discomfort because my plans for the middlegame are not yet formed. This move tests my preparation in the French Defense and finds me wanting. It is one of those weaknesses that provoked the current project of playing through every French Steinitz game ever published in Chess Informant.

5...c5 6.c3

6.f4 is often played.

6...cxd4 7.cxd4 f6 8.exf6

In his Informant annotations, Igor Glek notes that CI 59 has a game with 8.f4.

8...Nxf6 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.Nc3 Bd6 11.Bd3 0–0 12.Bg5?! 

12.0–0 is the normal move, and is given without comment by Glek.

12...Qe8! 13.Qd2N 

Both 13.0–0 and 13.Qe2 had been played in previous games. One game in 2004 followed this one with 13.Qd2. Glek notes that Black gets an advantage after 13.O-O Qh5.

13...Nh5 14.Ne2

Black to move

This position slowed my race through the moves of the game.


Black often plays this move in several lines of the French. Racing through this game, I paused to consider that I lack principles for understanding when this break is appropriate. Certainly tactical considerations are primary, but there must be some guiding positional concerns too. Although the position itself is unlikely to recur, elements of this position must be more common.

Breaking open the position while the opponent's king has not yet castled is an obvious point, but I sense there is more going on here.


Glek offers 15.dxe5 Bb4 16.Nc3 Rxf3 17.gxf3 d4 with advantage to Black.
Analysis diagram after 15.dxe5 etc.


I have retained Glek's move evaluations. In retrospect, this move executes a simple tactic of removing the defender. However, the point is less Black's immediate regain of the pawn than Black's control of the center.

With his thematic central pawn break, followed by strong moves, Black has seized control of the game's direction.

Such possibilities make the French Defense a good choice for players who like to attack.

16.Nxd4 Qxe5+ 17.Be3 Nf4 18.Bf1 Bg4

Black's minor pieces and queen occupy strong points in the center. One rook bears down on the White position and the other is prepared to move to the center. White's light-squared bishop was forced to retreat. Seigbert Tarrasch would certainly evaluate this position as substantially better for Black (see "Counting Tempi").

19.h3 Bh5 20.g3 

Black to move


Glek notes that he missed an opportunity here: 20...Qe4 21.Rg1 Qe7 22.a3 Ne6 with an advantage for Black.

It is hard for players at my level to see a tactical maneuver that forces the White rook to move so as to deprive White of the ability to castle. Is there another point to Glek's sequence?

21.gxf4 Rxf4 22.Be2 Rxd4

Black has compensation for the sacrificed material, according to Glek. He offers a long alternative variation here that begins with 22...Bxe2!? The main line ends in equality, but White has opportunities to err along the way.

23.Qxd4 Qxd4 24.Bxd4 Rxe2+ 25.Kf1 Re4! 

White to move

It is not difficult to understand how the bishop pair and a passed pawn compensates for White's extra rook, but I do not see good prospects for gaining a winning edge from this position. Even so, some precision is required from both players.

26.Bxa7 Be2+ 27.Kg2 Re6

Glek offers 27...d4 28.Rhd1! d3 29.Rxd3! when White's other rook finally joins the game to remove one of the Black bishops.

28.f4 Bxf4 29.Rhe1!= Bd2 30.Kf2 Bxe1+ 31.Rxe1 Ra6 32.Bd4 Bh5 33.Re7 Kf8 34.Rxb7 Rxa2 35.Bxg7+ Ke8 36.Ke3 Ra4 37.Bd4 Bg6 38.b4 Ra3+ 39.Kf4 Rxh3 40.Ke5 ½–½

No comments:

Post a Comment