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The Weak Pawn: Part II

Apr 24, 2014
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This week I would like to show another master game on the subject of weak pawns. After much data mining or rather “game-mining” on this subject from the recent 2014 Dubai Open, I eventually found a game featuring not only a backward pawn but also a doubled pawn.

This game is instructive in showing how to successfully play with a weak pawn in one's own position, and exploit the long-term consequences of a weak pawn in the enemy position.

Swapnil, S. Dhopade (2438) - Kuzubov, Yuriy (2639)

16th Dubai Open 2014 2014.04.10

1.d4 d6 2.c4 e5 3.Nc3 exd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.g3 g6 6.Nd5 Bg7 7.Bh6

White goes for more simplification, and by doing so intends to obtain a drawish endgame against his much higher-rated opponent.

7... O-O 8.Bxg7 Kxg7 9.Bg2 Nbd7 now both sides logically develop their pieces

10.Nh3!? intending to take more control of the central d5-square

10... Re8 11.Nhf4 c6

BD_10663_116_0.pngDiagram #1

You may ask "What is Black doing? Why does he voluntarily give himself a backward pawn on d6?"

Two reasons: the first is to get rid of White's strong piece on d5, and second is to create counterplay on the exposed White king through tactical means.

12.Nxf6 Qa5+! a motif known as zwischenschach, which is an in-between check move delivered before playing another forced move recapturing the f6-knight.

13.Qd2 Qxd2+ 14.Kxd2 Nxf6 15.h4!? securing the f4 as a good square for his knight and maybe even play h5-h6 at some point later

15... h6 Black prevents this, and renews the g6-g5 which can become handy later

16.Rad1 Bf5

BD_10663_116_1.pngDiagram #2

Controlling the important e4-square.

17.Bf3 Be4!

BD_10663_116_2.pngDiagram #3

This must have come as a surprise for White who probably expected the normal deployment of rooks on e8 & d8, or doubling up on the e-file. So what's Black's idea? By getting rid of the bishops, he takes over the e4-square with a knight or rook where it can develop play against the king, pawns on e2 & c4.

18.Kc3 a misjudgment, as it allows Black saddle him with doubled pawns without any special reason. White most probably thought that by keeping control of e4 and pressuring Black's backward pawn he should be able to hold a draw, but this understimates the resources in Black's position...

The best defense was to give Black some activity which is only a temporary advantage. 18.Bxe4 Rxe4 (there's no clear follow up after Nxe4+ 19.Ke1 Re5 20.Rg1 with the idea of kicking the knight out of e4) 19.b3 Rae8 Black's piece activity once again balances out his weak backward pawn on d6, but he can hope to equalize by 20.e3 solidifying his structure and giving more room for his king to hide on e2.

18... Rad8 19.Rhf1 preparing the exchange on e4.

Not 19.Bxe4?? due to Nxe4+ 20.Kc2 Nxf2 -+.

19... Bxf3 

Another good possibility here is 19... d5!?

BD_10663_116_3.pngDiagram #4

opening up lines to exploit the slightly vulnerable position of the White king 20.cxd5 cxd5 21.Kd4 g5! 22.hxg5 ( if 22.Ng2 Nd7! and White has to be careful with his king.) 22... hxg5 23.Nh5+ Nxh5 24.Bxh5

BD_10663_116_4.pngDiagram #5

24... Bc2! 25.Rde1 (If 25.Rd2 Re4+ 26.Kc5 ( 26.Kc3 Rc8#) 26... Rc4+ 27.Kb5 Ba4+ 28.Ka5 Rd6 with mate to follow next move.)

BD_10663_116_5.pngDiagram #6

Chessity-trained members, can you find the best route to win Chessity-style?


25... Rc8!! controlling the enemy's only escape square 26.e4 Rc4+ 27.Kxd5 ( 27.Ke3 Rexe4+ -+ 28.Kf3 g4+)27... Bd3 28.Kd6 Rd8+ 29.Ke7 Rdd4 and mate will follow soon.

Back to the game:


BD_10663_116_6.pngDiagram #7

20... d5! this is the resource White either missed or underestimated

21.cxd5 g5! an important zwischenzug, an in-between move played before playing a forced move recapturing on d5.

22.hxg5 hxg5 23.Nd3 Rxd5 Black is suddenly better as only White has a weak pawn now.

It is also good to take the other way Nxd5+ 24.Kb3 ( 24.Kc2 Re2+ 25.Kc1 Rde8 =/+ )24... Re2 25.Nc1 Re6 26.Rfe1 Rf6! 27.Rd3 Rh8 =/+.

24.Nc1?! with the idea to defend the weak pawn along the 3rd rank, but at the expense of placing a piece on a bad square and we already know what happens there... (

24... Rf5 Probably a more precise move was 24... Rc5+!? driving the king away first 25.Kb3 Rf5 26.Rd3 Nd5

BD_10663_116_7.pngDiagram #8

and now White cannot easily use his king to help prevent the invasion on e1 and defend his weak f-pawns. 27.a3 ( 27.Kc2?? 27... Nb4+)27... Re6! 28.Kc2 Ref6 -/+ wins a pawn for nothing.

Back to the game:

25.Rd3 Nd5+ 26.Kd2 planning to exchange a pair of rooks on the e-file.

26... Rfe5 preventing exchanges which leaves White to do nothing but sit and wait for Black's action plan.

27.a3 a5 28.Kc2 a4!

BD_10663_116_8.pngDiagram #9

Limiting the mobility of the c1-knight and fixing a potential weakness on b2 and a3.

29.Na2 Re2+ 30.Rd2 Kf6 31.Nc3

White successfully exchanges his passive knight for the good one on d5, but it doesn't change the evaluation of the endgame situation.

31... Nxc3 32.Kxc3 Rxd2 33.Kxd2 Re5

Even though material is Black is better, if not almost winning, in this rook ending, thanks to Black's better pawn structure and White's doubled f-pawns. White is practically a pawn down here because he cannot create a passed pawn on the kingside.

34.Rc1 activating the rook along the 4th rank.

Other plans don't save White: 34.Rb1 planning to play b4 to get rid of his essentially backward pawn on b2, which is easily parried by 34... Rb5! 35.b4 axb3 36.Kc3 Ke5 and here practically all king endings are winning for Black. ( but even better is Rf5! -+ hitting the other soft spot on f3, and winning the game.) 37.Rxb3 Rxb3+ 38.Kxb3 Kd4.

34... Rb5! 35.Rc4 

If 35.Rc2 Rb3!

BD_10663_116_9.pngDiagram #10

and White is doomed to passive defending of his weak pawns on f3 and b2.

35... Rxb2+ 36.Ke1 b5! creating a passed pawn and escorting them to promotion are a priority.

Securing a pawn advantage only wastes time, and even distracts Black from the goal of promoting a pawn Rb3?! 37.Rxa4 Rxf3 38.Rb4! and White can still make it difficult for Black to convert his advantage.

37.Rxc6+ Ke5 now begins the king's walk to victory

38.Kf1 avoiding mating motifs that can arise from Kd3, Rb1 & promotion tactic with the pawn on a2 and Rb2-b1.

38... Kd4!

BD_10663_116_10.pngDiagram #11

As a tribute to our previous yet very important positional topic on centralizing pieces, I'd like to take this moment to showcase "the Majesty" at its best!

39.Rf6 Rb3 

Another route to win is b4 40.axb4 a3 41.Ra6 a2 42.Kg2 Kc4 43.Kh3 Rxf2 44.Kg4 Kxb4 45.Kxg5 Kb3 46.Rb6+ Kc2 47.Ra6 Kb1 48.Rb6+ Rb2 49.Ra6 a1=Q 50.Rxa1+ Kxa1 and Black will be in time to stop White's kingside counterplay. Feel free to check and try it out yourself on a real board!

40.f4 g4 The rest of the game is a testament to the importance of activating pieces including the king! and having far-advanced pawns in the ending.

41.Rxf7 Rxa3 42.f5 Rf3!

BD_10663_116_11.pngDiagram #12

Another important endgame principle is to place one's rook behind enemy passed pawn. Notice how more active Black's is over White's.

43.f6 a3 44.Rf8 b4 +-

As we will see White will win a rook but Black doesn't even need his rook because a king escorting 2 connected pawns is too much for the enemy rook to handle!

A way to hold on to the rook is hiding from checks behind one's pawns Kc3 45.f7 Kb3 which will also eventually win. But who cares about the rook if we're queening pawns? :)

45.f7 Kc3 46.Rc8+ Kb2 47.f8=Q Rxf8 48.Rxf8 a2

and White resigned.

Here are the key take-aways from this game:

1. It's OK to create a weak pawn in one's camp so long as one can obtain compensation or dynamic counterplay for it. In this game after c7-c6, Black obtained freedom for his pieces, and forced the White to get his king to a slightly weak position.

2. However, one also has to be careful in creating weak pawns because if the compensation or counterplay is not enough the repercussions can be long-term and severe. In the game, although White deprived Black of gaining e4 for his pieces (after exf3), he underestimated how weak and limiting his doubled pawns can be to his own position for the rest of the game.

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