Marin on Tromso R9 – The little guys

8/12/2014 – "Pawns are the soul of chess", said Philidor. There are many other ways in which the little guys can become the true heroes of the game, restricting the enemy's activity and making all the other pieces focus on them. For his round nine selection our GM commentator Mihail Marin has selected a few games in which pawns had a decisive influence over the final outcome. Learn and enjoy.

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Marin on Tromsø – round nine selection

When stating that pawns are "the soul of chess", Phillidor mainly referred to mobil structures, defining the mutual plans and supporting the actions of their big brothers, the minor and major pieces. But there are many other ways in which his statement may apply; for instance, single passed pawns can become the true heroes of the game, restricting the enemy's activity and making all the other pieces focus on, supporting, or taking advantage of the hidden force of this baby piece. For today, I have selected a few games in which the little guys had a decisive influence over the final outcome.

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø"] [Date "2014.08.11"] [Round "9"] [White "Bacrot, Etienne"] [Black "Laznicka, Viktor"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D10"] [WhiteElo "2720"] [BlackElo "2676"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "France"] [BlackTeam "Czech Republic"] [WhiteTeamCountry "FRA"] [BlackTeamCountry "CZE"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 a6 5. Nf3 b5 6. b3 Bg4 {[#]} 7. Qc2 {A relatively unexplored continuation.} ({Ever since the Chebanenko Slav became fashionable, there have been intense theoretical disputes after the natural} 7. Be2) ({Another popular move is} 7. h3 {, leading to sharper play.}) 7... e6 ({ Laznicka deviates from a previous game in which he failed to equalize:} 7... Bxf3 8. gxf3 Nbd7 9. f4 e6 10. c5 {Shimanov-Laznicka, Plovdiv 2012. Black's position is quite solid, but very passive since there are no pawn breaks in sight. Laznicka played his last move after less than one minute, meaning that he had done his homework in the meanwhile.}) 8. Ne5 Bf5 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Nxd3 { [#]Looking at this position it is hard to foresee that both sides will get passed pawns just ten moves later. Black has a solid pawn chain on light squares and it seems that the fight will focus on dealing with White's space advantage. But the very next move induces some structural changes.} bxc4 11. bxc4 dxc4 12. Ne5 Nbd7 {By giving up the tension, Black hopes to play .. . c6-c5 in time, which would lead to a drawish simplification. Abstractly, I find this approach a bit inconsequent. After having invested a tempo in ... a7-a6 in order to support ...b7-b5, I would think of keeping my pawn on b5 for as long as possible. Moreover, the early exchange on c4 turns the a6-pawn into a relative weakness. But these are thoughts of an old man, chess is way more concrete nowadays.} 13. O-O Qc7 {This is a new move.} ({After} 13... Nxe5 14. dxe5 Nd5 15. Rd1 Qa5 16. Ne4 {the e5-pawn kept Black under long term pressure in Kramnik-Ivanchuk, Moscow 2011. With his move, Laznicka forces his opponent to release the tension himself, but on the other hand he delays the kingside development for one tempo. It will soon be revealed that a tempo is what he misses to achieve obvious equality.}) 14. Nxd7 Nxd7 15. Ne4 Nb6 16. Rb1 Be7 17. Nd2 O-O 18. Nxc4 Nxc4 19. Qxc4 {[#]White has retrieved the pawn and if allowed to complete his development will enjoy the pressure against the backward c6-pawn.} Rfc8 {Black prepares the thematic ...c6-c5, but the conseuences of this pawn break will not be entirely satisfactory.} (19... c5 {would be premature due to} 20. Ba3 Rfc8 21. Rfc1 {winning a pawn.}) ({Black cannot fight for the b-file yet, as his queenside pawns are hanging. The only way to prepare it would be} 19... a5 {for instance} 20. e4 Rab8 21. Bd2 Rxb1 22. Rxb1 Rb8 {True, it is far from easy to head for this inferior position and the ensuing one-sided defensive game. The game continuation is more principled, but requires accurate handling of the position in the next phase.}) 20. e4 c5 21. d5 exd5 22. exd5 {[#] Both sides have got passed pawns, but there are a few details making White's position preferable. His pawn is more advanced and, for once, his queen is a perfect blocking piece! Placed on a light square it cannot be attacked easily, safely defending the d5- and (not least) a2-pawns and keeping an eye on the a6-pawn. We could say that, far from creating any threats, the black pawn is the safest "umbrella" for the white queen! In the long run, White could secure Her Majesty against ...Qb5 or ...Rb4 with a2-a4 and Bd2-c3. In order to get close to equality, Black needs finding an optimal display of pieces.} Bd6 $6 {This natural move, safely blocking the pawn, is the main cause to Black's future problems. The bishop obstructs the d-file and the sixth rank at the same time, preventing Black's harmonious regrouping.} ({ First of all, Black needed to exchange one rook:} 22... Rcb8 23. Bd2 (23. Bf4 Bd6 24. Bxd6 Qxd6 {leads to complete equality, since the black queen is as stable and useful as her rival.}) 23... Rxb1 24. Rxb1 Rd8 {Threatening to attack the d5-pawn.} 25. Bc3 Qd6 26. Rd1 Qg6 {Black keeps the d5-pawn under control, defends his queenside pawns rather safely. Moreover, the queen is prepared to secure the kingside, too. Black's next moves would be ...Bf8 and .. .h7-h5, after which he will stick to half waiting moves. White's position would remain more active, but without obvious ways to make progress.}) 23. g3 Qa5 {This is the consequent follow-up of the previous move. After having blocked the pawn by simple means, Black is free to activate his queen. The last move prevents Bd2 (although this is relative, as we will see) and prepares questioning the white queen's stability with ...Rab8 followed by either ...Rb4 or ...Qb5 shortly after. But on the other hand, taking the queen far from the kingside is a risky and, what's worse, ireversible, decision.} 24. Rd1 (24. Bb2 $6 Qb4 {would solve most of Black's problems.}) 24... Rab8 25. Be3 {Bacrot delays the bishop's transfer on the long diagonal for a better moment} ({Truth to be said,} 25. Bd2 {was entirely possible:} Rxb1 26. Rxb1 Qxd2 27. Qxa6 Rf8 ({Due to the back rank weakness,} 27... Rd8 {does not prevent} 28. Qxd6 $1 {at all!}) 28. Qxd6 {White has won a pawn, but it is not easy to evaluate the consequences of the counterplay based on} c4 {. Black would probably have chances to reach a drawn rook ending with a white extra pawn on the a-file.}) 25... h5 {With the queen far away, this does not look like a proper counterplay. In fact, it just weakens the kingside. It is also true that there was not much to be done on the queenside:} (25... Rb4 {loses a pawn to} 26. Rxb4 Qxb4 27. Qxa6) ({Or if} 25... Rd8 26. Kg2 Rb4 27. Rxb4 cxb4 28. Qc6 {Black is far from equality yet.}) 26. Kg2 Re8 {For far from obvious reasons, the rook is exposed here, allowing an elegant "small combination" in Capablanca's style. Now is the moment to say that I have sadly failed to find ninth round games directly related with the style of the third World Champion, so my hopes expressed in the end of the rpevious article were not fulfilled. But I have taken myself the liberty of mentioning Capablanca twice, as some platonic consolation.} 27. Bd2 $1 Qa3 ({The trick is that after} 27... Rxb1 28. Bxa5 Rxd1 {White would fork the rooks with} 29. Qa4 $1) 28. Rxb8 Rxb8 29. Bc3 { [#]Black's queen's ambitions have led to fatal consequences: Her Majesty is completely paralyzed! Since the bishop has to block the pawn, Black can mainly play with the rook, making the fight rather unfair.} Re8 30. Rb1 Rb8 31. Re1 Rd8 $2 {Another unfortunate choice of square for the rook.} (31... Ra8 {would have put up some tougher resistence:} 32. Re3 Qc1 {although after} 33. Qd3 $1 { followed by Qf5 White-s attack would be decisive.} ({Unlike in the game,} 33. Qh4 {would not attack the rook, allowing} Qd1 {followed by ...Qg4, finally restoring Black's coordination.})) 32. Re3 Qc1 33. Qh4 {White is just winning now. The d8-rook is attacked so Black has no time to defend against threats like Qg5 or Bxg7.} f6 34. Bxf6 $1 {The most straightforward win.} Rf8 (34... gxf6 35. Qxf6 {leaves the king helpless against the combined attack of the queen and rook.}) 35. Bxg7 Kxg7 36. Qg5+ Kh7 37. Qxh5+ Kg7 ({Or if} 37... Kg8 38. Qg6+ Kh8 39. Qxd6 {White has not only a decisive material advantage, he also has a winning mating attack!}) 38. Qg5+ Kh7 39. Re7+ {Winning the queen.} 1-0

In the next game, the process of creating passed pawns will be by far more laborious.

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø"] [Date "2014.08.11"] [Round "9"] [White "Topalov, Veselin"] [Black "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2772"] [BlackElo "2760"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Bulgaria"] [BlackTeam "Cuba"] [WhiteTeamCountry "BUL"] [BlackTeamCountry "CUB"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. e4 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 Ng4 7. Bc1 Nf6 8. f3 e5 9. Nb3 Be6 10. Be3 h5 11. Qd2 Nbd7 12. Nd5 Bxd5 13. exd5 g6 14. Be2 Qc7 {[#] Both players are well-versed in the 6.Be3 Najdorf, playing it with both colours. A subtle theoretical battle is to be expected. Referring to the main theme of today, we should mention that each player has a mobile pawn majority on either wing. In a general meaning, the side managing to create the most dangerous passed pawn out of it (or who would achieve that faster) should get an advantage.} 15. Rc1 {This slightly mysterious move prepares the typical attack c4-c5 without defining anything yet.} ({The immediate} 15. c4 {offered Black good counterplay after} a5 16. Rd1 a4 17. Na1 Qa5 {Caruana-Dominguez, Thessaloniki 2013.}) 15... Ng8 $5 {Black relies on his solid central structure to carry out a slow regrouping before castling.} ({Previously, Dominguez gad played} 15... Bg7 16. O-O O-O {with a complex battle with slightly better chances for White, So-Dominguez, Havana 2014.}) ({The main point of White's last (half-waiting) move is that} 15... a5 {can be met with} 16. a4 {. With the pawn on c2 yet, the e2-bishop stays active while the queenside flexibility (c2,c3, b2-b4) is maintained.}) 16. O-O Ne7 17. Bg5 f6 18. Be3 O-O-O {Black played all these moves almost without thinking, leaving little doubt that he had analysed the whole sequence at home. Personally, I would not get castled long so light-heartedly. White has clear prospects for a queenside attack, while the kingside counterattack cannot take concrete shape easily. In principle, Black needed the last move to prepare ...Nf5.} ({If} 18... Nf5 $2 19. Bd3 Nxe3 {the g6-pawn is hanging with check.}) 19. c4 $1 {Judging for the ulteriour course of the game, Leinier must have underestimated this move.} ({ He might have counted with something like} 19. Rcd1 {, clearing the c1-h6 diagonal:} Nf5 20. Bf2 Bh6 21. Qd3 {White's attack has been delayed, while Black can achieve some important strategic progress on the kingside:} h4 22. c4 Bf4 23. Qc3 Bg3 $1 {Black forces the exchange of the dark-squared bishops, reducing the force of White's attack. The point is that} 24. hxg3 $2 hxg3 25. Be3 $2 Nc5 {creates decisive threats along the h-file.}) 19... Nf5 20. Bf2 {[#] When you sit for a game against Topalov, one of the first things you have to be prepared for is a positional exchange sacrifice. Apparently, Leinier "forgot" this detail during his preparation. So far he had played rather quickly, but now he thought for half an hour.} Kb8 ({Finally, he decided that} 20... Bh6 21. Qb4 Bxc1 22. Rxc1 Kb8 23. Na5 {would offer White too much initiative, which seems right.}) 21. Qc3 Bh6 22. Rcd1 Nc5 {Played after another long thought - 18 minutes.} ({Since White has not been forced to lose a tempo with Qd3 like in the line from the comment to 19.c4, the same plan as indicated there proves a bit slow alredy:} 22... h4 23. Na5 Bf4 24. b4 Bg3 25. c5 dxc5 26. Bxa6 bxa6 27. Nc6+ Ka8 28. bxc5 {with a strong white attack.}) 23. Nd2 $6 (23. Na5 {would have been more active, preventing the blocking move ... a6-a5 and preparing b2-b4 followed by c4-c5. White should not fear the simplifying operation} Be3 24. Bxe3 Nxe3 {, based on the hanging a5-knight, due to} 25. Nc6+ $1 bxc6 26. Qxe3 {leaving the black king very weak.}) 23... Nd4 24. Rfe1 {White is not interested in giving up th control of the dark squares for a mere pawn grabbing.} a5 25. Bf1 f5 {Due to White's inaccuracy on move 23, Black has managed to block the queenside and display his central pawns optimally.} 26. Nb3 Ndxb3 27. axb3 {[#]} e4 $2 {There was no hurry to weaken the central structure, as the resulting passed pawn is not too threatening yet. Besides, White gets the d4-square for his pieces now.} ({It would have been better to keep the queenside blockade with:} 27... Qb6 {The main point is that after} 28. Ra1 Qb4 {the a5-pawn is taboo:} 29. Rxa5 $2 Bd2 $1 {winning an exchange!}) 28. b4 $1 {After unfreezing the queenside, White's attack develops by itself.} axb4 29. Qxb4 Rhe8 30. fxe4 fxe4 31. Bd4 e3 $6 { This allows the activation of the other bishop, too.} 32. Qa3 Re4 33. b4 Na6 34. Be2 Bg5 35. Bf3 {With c4-c5 in sight, White has a decisive advantage already.} Rxd4 {A desperate attempt to consolidate on dark squares.} 36. Rxd4 Qb6 37. Re4 Qxb4 38. Qxb4 Nxb4 39. h4 Bh6 40. Rd1 {Preventing ...Nd3-c5.} ({ But actually} 40. Rb1 Nd3 41. Re6 {would win as well, due to the weakness of Black's sixth rank pawns.}) 40... Rc8 (40... Na6 41. Re6 {leads to a familiar scenario.}) 41. c5 $1 {The decisive break, which required some accurate calculating. The server indicates that Topalov thought for more than half an hour on this move, but I am not sure whether this information was not generated by a manual time adjustment, following previous errors of transmission.} dxc5 42. d6 {White has created a passed pawn 15 moves later than Black, but the effects are so much stronger.} Nc6 43. Rb1 Rd8 44. Re7 $1 { Black could cope with the passed pawn alone, but not if combined with the pressure against b7.} Nxe7 45. dxe7 Re8 46. Rxb7+ Kc8 47. Bc6 {The passed pawn will cost Black a whole rook soon.} 1-0

The next game features two characteristics of Carlsen's play on extreme proportions. It is not at all unusual that the World Champion gets bad positions out of the opening, but this time it was looking as if he was heading straight for disaster. At the same time, his ability to turn tables around in a desperate positions proves once again his formidable over-the-board strenght. All he needed this time was a bit of surviving efforts and... a passed pawn.

[Event "41st Olympiad Tromso 2014 Open"] [Site "Tromsø"] [Date "2014.08.11"] [Round "9"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Solak, Dragan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "2877"] [BlackElo "2632"] [Annotator "Marin, Mihail"] [PlyCount "119"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [WhiteTeam "Norway"] [BlackTeam "Turkey"] [WhiteTeamCountry "NOR"] [BlackTeamCountry "TUR"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. h3 e6 6. b3 Bd6 7. d4 Nbd7 8. Bb2 O-O 9. Be2 Qe7 10. g4 b5 11. g5 Ne4 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Nd2 f5 14. h4 e5 15. c5 Bc7 16. a4 f4 17. Qc2 fxe3 18. fxe3 exd4 19. Bxd4 Ne5 20. axb5 Nd3+ 21. Bxd3 exd3 22. Qxd3 Bf5 23. Qe2 {[#]Solak has outplayed his mighty opponent completely and winning looks a mere formality at grandmaster level.} cxb5 {A curious decision. If Black had a knight on b8, this way of capturing would not only be forced (due to the pinned a-pawn) but also very good, as it would be followed by the blocking ...Nc6. From c6 the knight would control (in descending order of their importance) the d4-, b4- and e5-squares. But the way it is Black does not have good blocking pieces, so allowing White to create a passed pawn unnecesarily complicates matters.} ({The simple} 23... axb5 {would be very strong, leaving the white king i a critical position}) ({Or if Black wanted to play something more active,} 23... Bg3+ 24. Kd1 Rad8 {would be quite strong. The point is that} 25. bxa6 $2 {loses the queen to} Rxd4 26. exd4 Bc2+) 24. O-O-O {Even now Black has a fantastic game. But he has a permanent worry: avoiding excessive exchanges, which would add strenght to the now relatively weak c5-pawn. The next phase is not easy to annotate, as the position is very complex. I have only highlighted some critical moments featuring decisions of principle.} Qe6 25. Qg2 Rad8 26. Rhf1 Be5 27. Rde1 {[#]} Bd3 $2 {As mentioned above, Black should avoid exchanges.} ({Had he noticed that the white major pieces have very narrow breathing space, he might have opted for} 27... Rf7 $1 {threatening to win an exchange with ...Bh3 (Rxf7 would come without check!) After} 28. Qg1 a5 {, preventing b3-b4 in order to make ...Rf7-c7 stronger, White would be in deep trouble.}) (27... Rfe8 {would be another good move, with similar ideas.}) 28. Rxf8+ Rxf8 29. Rd1 a5 30. h5 a4 31. Kb2 Rd8 32. h6 { [#]Somehow, White's position does not look so awful anymore. He has acceptable coordination and even managed to put some pressure on the black king.} a3+ $2 { Offering the white king a shelter he could not even have dreamed of! Blck should have maintained the tension, retaining the possibility of opening the queenside with ...axb3.} 33. Ka2 $1 {The king is quite safe now and will prove a very effective blocking piece in the endgame.} ({Black must have counted with } 33. Kxa3 Qa6+ 34. Kb2 Rxd4 $1 {with a winning attack.}) 33... Bxd4 34. exd4 Qe3 35. Qg1 Qe2 36. Qe1 Rxd4 37. c6 $1 {Suddenly, the passed pawn shows its teeth.} Rd6 38. c7 Rc6 39. Qxe2 Bxe2 40. Re1 Bg4 41. Re7 gxh6 42. gxh6 Rxh6 { [#]The time trouble is over and it is obvious that White is better already. But in view of the reduced material, Black should be able to reach a draw with accurate play.} 43. Re4 ({Winning the bishop leads nowhere:} 43. Re8+ Kf7 44. c8=Q Bxc8 45. Rxc8 Rh2 46. Rd8 b4 {followed by the advance of the h-pawn.}) 43... Bf5 $2 {A very unfortnate square for the bishop. Since ... Bxe4 is not a threat, it would have been better to look for safety.} (43... Bh3 {would keep Black's drawing chances intact.}) 44. Nf3 $3 {The decisive activating of the knight.} Bh3 ({The main point is that} 44... Rc6 {runs into the fork} 45. Nd4) 45. Ng5 {The bishop does not have peace along the h3-c8 diagonal anymore.} Bf5 46. Re5 Bg4 {[#]} 47. Ne6 $1 {The decisive "small combination" a la Capablanca. } Rh2+ 48. Kxa3 Rc2 49. Rg5+ Kf7 50. Nd4 Rxc7 51. Rxg4 Rb7 {There might seem to be some small technical difficulties left, but Carlsen makes things look simple.} 52. Kb4 Kf6 53. Nf3 h5 54. Rf4+ Kg6 55. Kc5 b4 56. Rxb4 Rxb4 57. Kxb4 Kf5 58. Kc3 Kf4 59. Nh4 Kg4 60. b4 1-0

 

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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