Marin on Tromso R8 – Lasker's Copyright

8/11/2014 – Back in 1889 Emanuel Lasker played a game of which Garry Kasparov wrote: "It contains one of the beautiful combinations which created a blueprint for future similar double bishop sacrifices" The though loomed on the mind of our GM commentator Mihail Marin: Would any reasonable strong player overlook the bishops' threats so easily nowadays? Here is his answer.

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Marin on Tromsø – round eight selection

On the day of the Olympiad's eighth round, I travelled together with my son to Predeal, a high altitude Romanian resort, where he is gong to take part in an open tournament. In order to kill the boredom caused by the hours sitting in the train, and to put Victor into the playing mood, I took out my pocket chess and showed him the famous Lasker-Bauer game. The play of the second official World Champion was rather experimental (f4, b3, Bb2, e3, Bd3) but yielded him a winning position rather quickly, due to the fact that Black underestimated the force of the two bishops acting along neighbour (or, if you wish, parallel) diagonals.

Emanuel Lasker – portrait by Nette Robinson

[Event "Amsterdam"] [Site "Amsterdam"] [Date "1889.08.26"] [Round "1"] [White "Lasker, Emanuel"] [Black "Bauer, Johann Hermann"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A03"] [Annotator "Kasparov"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "1889.08.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "NED"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] {Kasparov writes: "This game contains one of the beautiful combinations of the young Lasker which created a blueprint for future similar double bishop sacrifices that destroyed the lives of dozens of his opponents' kings."} 1. f4 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. b3 e6 4. Bb2 Be7 5. Bd3 {[#]} b6 6. Nf3 Bb7 7. Nc3 Nbd7 8. O-O O-O 9. Ne2 c5 10. Ng3 Qc7 11. Ne5 Nxe5 12. Bxe5 Qc6 13. Qe2 a6 {After very passive black play in the opening White's army is ready for action, and Lasker begins the final storm} 14. Nh5 Nxh5 (14... d4 15. Bxf6 Bxf6 16. Qg4 Kh8 (16... e5 17. Be4 $1) 17. Rf3 Rg8 18. Bxh7 $1) 15. Bxh7+ $1 ( 15. Qxh5 f5 {achieves nothing. führt zu nichts.}) 15... Kxh7 16. Qxh5+ Kg8 17. Bxg7 $3 {Today Lasker might have tried to copyright this idea.} Kxg7 18. Qg4+ Kh7 19. Rf3 e5 20. Rh3+ Qh6 21. Rxh6+ Kxh6 { Black has narrowly escaped mate, but} 22. Qd7 $1 {wins a piece and the game.} Bf6 23. Qxb7 Kg7 24. Rf1 Rab8 25. Qd7 Rfd8 26. Qg4+ Kf8 27. fxe5 Bg7 28. e6 Rb7 29. Qg6 f6 30. Rxf6+ Bxf6 31. Qxf6+ Ke8 32. Qh8+ Ke7 33. Qg7+ Kxe6 34. Qxb7 Rd6 35. Qxa6 d4 36. exd4 cxd4 37. h4 d3 38. Qxd3 1-0

Looking at the game made our voyage more pleasant, but somewhere at the background of my mind a question was looming: would this game have any relevance for the advanced technical stage of today? Would any reasonable strong player overlook the bishops' threats so easily nowadays? The first thing after entering our hotel apartment was to look for an answer among the eighth round games. You cannot imagine how happy I was to find three relevant games on this topic. True, the similarity with the classical gem is only partial in each case, but the main thing is that the players with black (quite strong ones!) overlooked relatively simple threats created by the bishops. This happened at a relatively early stage and, even though two of the games lasted for relatively long, they were practically decided shortly after the opening. And since yesterday we had Steinitz in the background, remembering his direct successor comes in very handy for today.

As a coincidence, the first two games of my selection took place in the same match: Ukriane-Bulgaria!

Paying royalties to Lasker? Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø¸"] [Date "2014.08.10"] [Round "8"] [White "Eljanov, Pavel"] [Black "Iotov, Valentin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2723"] [BlackElo "2553"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Ukraine"] [BlackTeam "Bulgaria"] [WhiteTeamCountry "UKR"] [BlackTeamCountry "BUL"] 1. d4 d5 {The reader may suspect that I have attached the introduction above to the wrong game. What could this 100% classical opening have in common with Lasker's bishops? I gently ask for your patience, the similarities will come out later. And you should not be misguided by the big rating difference to White's favour. Iotov had played a fantastic tournament so far, with 6,5 out of 7, including wins over Karjakin and Tiviakov!} 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 a6 5. Nbd2 Bf5 6. Nh4 Be4 7. Be2 {A rare move, developing the bishop on an apparently modest square.} ({The usual continuation is} 7. f3 {but, anticipating a bit, White will need the d1-h5 diagonal for inserting the queen into the attack.}) 7... e6 8. O-O Bd6 9. g3 Nbd7 10. Nxe4 Nxe4 {[#]White has gained the bishops' pair without making any major concession. The awkward knight's position on h4 is temporary as White could retreat with it in any moment. Moreover in the game Eljanov will find a way to send it to the first lines of his attack! But any attack must be prepared and over the next three moves White will finally display his bishops according to the Lasker pattern.} 11. Bd3 Nef6 12. b3 O-O 13. Bb2 {The position is typical for the Slav Defence. White has the bishops' pir and more space, but Black's position is solid and flexible at the same time. But flexibility means a wide choice of plans, which psychologically may be difficult to handle. For practical reasons it is simpler when there is only one reasonable plan available. In such cases, one sticks to it and does not have to spend time and energy on making choices. In any case, Black's choice on the next (13th) move, consuming roughly 13 minutes, was a rather unfortunate choice.} c5 $6 {This pawn break will lead to the radical activation of the white bishops. White was not threatening anything yet, so Black could and should have simply improved his position.} ({My favourite is} 13... Qe7 {planning either ...g7-g6 followed by ...e5, which would more or less neutralize the b2-bishop, or just the bishop exchange with . ..Ba3 (Bc3, . ..Bb4).}) 14. cxd5 Nxd5 15. dxc5 {The bishops' diagonals are wide open and the position finally acquires some similarities with Lasker-Bauer.} Nxc5 $6 {This apparently active move, gaining one tempo by atacking the bishop, takes the knight too far from the kingside.} (15... Bxc5 { would have been somewhat safer, although Black would remain under pressure.} 16. Qh5 h6 (16... N7f6 {does not work out tctically:} 17. Bxf6 Nxf6 {Both bishops are hanging, but White can sell his for ona pawn:} 18. Bxh7+ $1 Nxh7 19. Qxc5 {with a sound extra pawn for White.}) 17. Rfd1 {White's position is more active and his bishops' pair may have the telling in the endgame, but Black has chances for (true, joylessly) defending.}) 16. Bc2 {[#]Sudenly, there are many white pieces targeting the black king: the bishops, the queen, and, as surprising as this may sound, the knight.} Be7 {Black tries organising a general retreat for defensive purposes, but he is one tempo too slow.} ({The other possible way to initiate this plan,} 16... Nf6 $2 {would lose for several reasons, the simplest being} 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. b4 {winning a piece.}) 17. Qh5 {The previous inacuraccies have put Black in a dangerous situation. He has to choose now between three pawn moves for parrying the mate on h7. This is a critical decision which required some deep analysis. Instead, Iotov answered after only 6 minutes.} f5 $2 {This weakens the position too much.} ({ Actually, Black's choice lied among two moves only, since} 17... g6 $2 {would lose on the spot to the obvious} 18. Nxg6 fxg6 19. Bxg6 {Even though not as spectacular as Lasker's combination, this simple line illustrates the force of the bishops perfectly well.}) ({The only way to stay alive was} 17... h6 $5 { White would need acting quickly, otherwise ...Bf6 would suddenly offer Black a great game. The c3-square would turn weak and the c2-bishop would be left without scope. I cannot know the reason why Iotov rejected this move, but the only way to keep the initiative on would have been based on a sacrificial knight jump to f5. Unlike in the game, this would have happened without pawn capture.} 18. Nf5 $5 ({Alternatively, White could centralise a rook:} 18. Rad1 {Precisely this one in order to avoid the bishop pin on the next move.} Bf6 19. Ba3 Rc8 {If 20.e4 Qa5 Black unpins himself, so} 20. Nf5 {looks more promising.} g6 21. Nxh6+ Kg7 {White has managed to win a pawn, but his minor pieces are hanging slightly (.. .Qa5, ... Nd7), making the outcome of the game uncertain yet.}) 18... exf5 19. Rad1 Bf6 ({Once again, the weakening move} 19... g6 { would allow White display the force of his b2-bishop:} 20. Qxh6 Bf6 21. Rxd5 Qxd5 22. Bxf6 {with inevitable mate.}) 20. Qxf5 g6 21. Qxd5 Qxd5 22. Rxd5 Bxb2 23. Rxc5 {White has won a pawn, but needs playing very precisely in order to avoid the exchange of all rooks, leading to a draw.} Rac8 24. Rxc8 Rxc8 25. Be4 b6 26. Bb7 Rc7 {The black rook is busy preventing the loss of the second pawn, so there was no time for the saving ...Rc1 yet.} 27. Bxa6 Ra7 28. Rb1 $1 {An important Zwischenzug, clearing the f1-square for the bishop in order to avoid the back rank pin.} Be5 29. Bf1 Rxa2 30. Rc1 Rb2 31. Rc8+ Kg7 32. Bc4 {White has finally stabilized the position, but Black keeps reasonable saving chances. }) 18. Nxf5 $1 exf5 {[#]One possible reason why Iotov chose 17...f5 is that it indirectly activates the f8-rook, preventing 19.Qxf5. But Black is so weak on light squares that the next centralising move puts all the dots over the i.} 19. Rad1 $1 {There is no adequate defence against b4 followed by Bb3 or the simple Bxf5.} (19. Bxf5 Rxf5 20. Qxf5 {would have offered Black some chances for survival.}) 19... Qd6 20. b4 Ne6 21. Bxf5 $1 ({Even stronger than} 21. Bb3 Nec7 22. e4 Bf6 {The game move reiterates the threats against the black king.}) 21... Ng5 {[#]Black's position is hanging by a hair alllowing a thematic combination already.} 22. Rxd5 $1 Qxb4 ({If} 22... Qxd5 23. Bxh7+ {Black has the choice between losing the queen by taking the bishop or after} Kh8 24. Be4+ ) 23. Bd4 {White has won a pawn and retains all his previous trumps. The game is basically over.} Rad8 24. Rxd8 Bxd8 25. Qg4 (25. Bc2 {planning Bb3+ looks a bit more natural.}) 25... Qc4 26. h4 Qd5 27. Bxh7+ $1 Kxh7 28. hxg5 Qxg5 29. Qe4+ Qg6 1-0

The second game features a different cooperation between the bishops. Rather than acting along neighbour diagonals, they will submit the black position to a crossfire attack.

Crossfire of bishops: Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø¸"] [Date "2014.08.10"] [Round "8"] [White "Cheparinov, Ivan"] [Black "Ponomariov, Ruslan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E04"] [WhiteElo "2681"] [BlackElo "2717"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Bulgaria"] [BlackTeam "Ukraine"] [WhiteTeamCountry "BUL"] [BlackTeamCountry "UKR"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 dxc4 5. Bg2 c5 6. O-O Nc6 7. dxc5 Qxd1 8. Rxd1 Bxc5 9. Nbd2 c3 10. bxc3 O-O {Not a lucky variation for Ponomariov. It yielded him the only loss during the 2009 World Cup final against Gelfand.} 11. Nb3 {When I started playing the Catalan, I tried making this plan work, but somehow did not believe in White's dynamic resources in the absence of the queens. It seems I was wrong.} ({Gelfand managed to surprise Ruslan with} 11. Ne1 {in the aforementioned Gelfand-Ponomariov, Khanty-Mansiysk 2009}) 11... Be7 12. c4 Bd7 13. Bb2 Rfd8 14. Nfd4 Rac8 15. Nb5 b6 {[#]Once again, the relevance of this game with our main classical theme is unclear. Is there any danger for the black king? Do not worry, there will be! So far, both sides had played relatively quickly, but Cheparinov spent 12 minutes on his next move.} 16. Nd6 ({A novelty over} 16. Rac1 {The last move seems to settle some new kind of problems, since Ponomariov neded 17 minutes to adapt himself to the changed circumstances.}) 16... Rc7 17. Ba3 $1 {[#]A kew move in White's plan. The bishop was not doing much on the long diagonal, while from a3 it creates all sorts of tactical motifs. The immediate threat is 18.Nb5 Rcc8 19.Bxc6 winning a piece.} Kf8 {Since White's coordination is obviously better, Ponomariov tries to relieve his position by using numeric superiority. This is a known method when the game gets close to an ending. If the defending part can use his king as an extra piece in the main area of combat, he has all the chances for a favourable outcome. The main problem is that the position is far from getting to an endgame yet, being closer to a complex queenless middlegame. This makes the last move double-edged.} ({True, there was no obvious way to equalising. If} 17... Ne5 18. Nb5 Bxb5 19. Rxd8+ Bxd8 20. cxb5 {the strong Catalan bishop and the queenside space advantage offers White better chances in the endgame.}) ({We can also understand that Black was not keen to weaken his queenside with} 17... a6 {, although there is no obvious way to develop White's initiative.}) 18. c5 {Reinforcing the threat 19.Nb5, this time with a different idea (see the next comment for better visualising).} Nb8 $2 {The decisive mistake.} ({A neutral move such as} 18... h6 {would run into} 19. Nb5 Rcc8 20. Bxc6 Rxc6 21. Nxa7 Rc7 22. cxb6 {In this line, the Catalan bishop proved its force by a well-timed capture on c6. With his last move, Ponomariov not only cleared the long diagonal, but took the b5-square under control as well. In doing so, he failed to notice the hidden force of the other bishop. This way we can conclude that the bishop's team work had a more subtle character than in the previous and in the Lasker's game.}) ({A better way of neutralising the g2-bishop would have been} 18... Nd5 {In some lines White may win a pawn, but his pieces could be left a bit hanging.}) 19. Nb5 $1 { Unexpectedly, this move is possible and winning! Ponomariov sank into deep thought (possibly interrupted by self-reproaches) for almost half an hour, but there is nothing to be saved anymore.} Rcc8 ({The tactical point is that} 19... Bxb5 {loses the exchange to} 20. Rxd8+ Bxd8 21. cxb6+) 20. Nxa7 Rc7 21. cxb6 { White has won two pawns retaining a normal coordination. The game is over.} Rc2 22. Nd4 Rc4 23. Rac1 Rxc1 24. Bxe7+ Kxe7 25. Rxc1 Kd6 26. Ndb5+ Bxb5 27. Nxb5+ Ke7 28. a4 Rd2 29. Nc3 Nfd7 30. a5 Rb2 31. Ra1 Rc2 32. Ra3 Rc1+ 33. Bf1 Nc6 34. Nb5 Nce5 35. b7 Nc4 36. a6 Nxa3 37. Nxa3 1-0

Some readers may argue that, be it as it may, the previous games featured classical openings, making the similarity with Lasker-Bauer rather remote. At the height of year 2014, would there be any strong grandmaster willing to start the game with the extravagant 1.f4 or 1.b3?

There was: Hungarian super-talent Richard Rapport!

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø¸"] [Date "2014.08.10"] [Round "8"] [White "Rapport, Richard"] [Black "Onischuk, Alexander"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A01"] [WhiteElo "2704"] [BlackElo "2659"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "41"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Hungary"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "HUN"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. b3 {Actually, there is! Richard Rapport stunned everybody by playing the Larsen opening twice at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. He lost in both cases, but his position after the opening was by no means bad. Richard proved the needed strength to stick to his secret weapon and in the yesterday's game this paid off surprisingly easily.} e5 2. Bb2 Nc6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Bb5 {Once again we have a case of indirect team work. White will gladly give up his light-squared bisop in order to increase his colleague's influence along the long diagonal.} Bd6 {[#]} 5. Na3 {Preparing to add more pressure on the e5-square.} a6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. Nc4 Qe7 8. a4 {Actually, we are not far from some classical patterns. If White gets to play e3-e4, the structure would be typical fo the Ruy Lopez delayed Exchange Variation (4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6).} O-O 9. a5 Bg4 10. Ne2 Nd7 11. O-O {[#] Black has developed his pieces actively, but does not have clear threats against White's flexible position. The queenside space advantage and the better structure would yield White very pleasant play in case of simplifications.} e4 {Hoping to get chances for an attack, but giving new life to the b2-bishop.} 12. Nxd6 cxd6 13. f3 $1 {By undermining Black's outpost Wite will get a compact central majority.} exf3 14. gxf3 Bh3 15. Rf2 Ne5 16. f4 Ng6 17. f5 Qg5+ 18. Ng3 Ne5 19. Ra4 {Quite an original way of preparing the rooks' connection!} Bg4 20. Qf1 {[#]White did not seem to do anything special, but his hyper-modern treatment of the opening yielded him advantage on practically all the sectors of the board. Black will have a hard time coping with the combined pressure along the g- and b-files, especially that there is not much of a counterplay to dream of. In such situations, blunders are likely to occur...} f6 $2 {Obviously hoping to neutralise the b2-bishop's pressure, but overlooking a small detail.} 21. Bxe5 {White wins the g4-bishop with 22. Qc4+. Onischuk's blunder may be explained by the fact that White's display of pieces is rather far from any known patterns, causing some problems with the perception of the dynamic nuances and piece trajectories.} 1-0

And now that I have paid tribute to the first two World Champions, I cannot help asking myself whether in the ninth round there will be something reminding me of Capablanca...

Photos by Pascal Simon and André Schulz

About the author: Mihail Marin

Born in 1965, GM Mihail Marin has several times been Romanian champion and first made the leap over the Elo barrier of 2600 in 2001. Marin possesses a rare gift for a grandmaster – he is able to explain in readily comprehensible terms the ideas behind moves, variations and positions. This ability is there for all to admire in his contributions to ChessBase Magazine. Marin has written some books which have earned the highest of praise, among which are "Secrets of Chess Defence" and "Learn from the Legends". He Marin lives in Bucharest and is married to women's International Master Luiza Marin.

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