10 January 2019

Instructive Positions

Grandmaster games from our era often are too complex for novice players, especially young ones. I coach several players who are relatively strong by local youth standards, but who should still be considered beginners from other perspectives. Their ratings are in the 900-1200 range in a rating system that is regional, rates mostly youth players, and uses the same formula as the US Chess Federation. These young players include the top third grader in my city and a seventh grader who often finishes near the top of middle school players in the area. The school I coach consistently finishes among the top teams.

As I teach these young players, I gravitate towards classic games played by nineteenth century masters. Paul Morphy's eighteen tournament games and another half-dozen or so are among the games that my students will work through if they are with me long enough.

Nonetheless, even games played by strong grandmasters have moments when the tactics and ideas clearly reflect fundamental ideas of tactical and positional play. There are several positions in Quang Liem Le's most recent win that I think will be particularly useful. He is number 32 on the January 2019 rating list and tied for first with Andrey Stukopin in the Bay Area International tournament that took place in San Francisco the first seven days of this year.

In the final round. Le had Black against Hovhannes Gabuzyan.

Gabuzyan,H (2605) -- Le Quang Liem (2714) [A04]
Bay Area Int Open 2019 Burlingame USA (9.2), 07.01.2019

1.Nf3 c5 2.b3 d6 3.c4 e5 4.Nc3 g6 5.e3 Bg7 6.h4 Nc6 7.Bb2 f5 8.Be2 h6

White to move

Black's more advanced pawns give him more space, hence his pieces have greater mobility.

9.Nd5 Nf6 10.Nxf6+ Qxf6 11.d3 Be6 12.a3 0–0

White to move

If White castled now, it would drop the h-pawn and Black might get a strong attack against White's king.

13.Nd2 d5 14.cxd5 Bxd5 15.Qc2 Bxg2 16.Rg1 Bd5 17.Qxc5 Bf7 18.Nc4 Rac8 19.Qb5

Black to move

White has activity on the queenside.

19...Qe7 20.Bf3 Rfd8

White to move

Whose pieces are better coordinated?

21.Rd1 Be8 22.Bxc6

Black to move

How should Black capture the bishop? Why?

22...Rxc6 23.Qb4

White threatens a pawn.

23...Qxh4 24.Qxb7 

Black opts to exchange his b-pawn for White's h-pawn. Who benefits more from this exchange?

24...Re6 25.Qxa7 Qh2 26.Rf1 g5 27.Qc7 Rd7 28.Qc8 Qg2

White to move

What are the plans for both sides? White has an advantage of one pawn, but perhaps Black's position is better in other respects.

29.d4 exd4 30.Bxd4 Ree7

White to move

Observe the pins.

31.Kd2 Bxd4 32.exd4 Rxd4+

Black has restored the material balance.

33.Kc3 Rxd1 34.Rxd1 Qxf2

White to move

Neither king is shielded by pawns, but Black's king is shielded from the side with pieces along the e-file.

35.a4 g4 36.Qd8 Re6

White to move

37.Rd6 Qe1+

Improving the e-file defenses while also keeping up pressure on White's king.

38.Kb2 g3 39.Rd1

Black to move

How should Black respond to the threat on his queen?

39...Qe4 40.Ka3 f4 41.Nd6 Qc6 42.Nxe8 Qxe8 43.Qd5 Qe7+ 44.b4

Black to move

Black's rook is pinned.

44...Qf7 45.Qa8+ Kh7 46.Rd3 Re2

White to move

Black threatens checkmate in one, but this move had a second purpose also.

47.b5 g2 0-1

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