Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bishops: The Good And The Bad

They say that tactics is 95% of the game or some crazy percentage like that, but what about strategy? Strategy plays a necessary and important role too, and when you have one, good tactical play ensures that your strategy reaches its goal.

I've been given the task of analyzing a famous game played at the Hastings Tournament in 1919. The game, William Winter vs. Jose Capablanca, perfectly illustrates the strategic topic of today's posting: Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop.

Capablanca's play is a soothing art form; every piece he touches naturally finds its way to the perfect square on the board. His ability to make happen a point of weakness in his opponent's play is one of his greatest strengths. Here is my best attempt at fully annotating a chess game played by one of the greatest strategic chess players of all time. Enjoy!

White: William Winter
Black: Jose Raul Capablanca
[C49: Four Knights Defense]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0–0 0–0 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.d3 Bd6
This line of play brings about a commonly recognized position; one that arises in the Ruy Lopez Exchange variation as well. White's strategy is to eventually push d4 and take advantage of Black's double pawns along the c-file.

A move to pin down the Knight, however temporary; in hopes of strengthening White's play for the center.

8...h6 9.Bh4
White wishes to keep Black's knight pinned, but this move leaves White's bishop in a somewhat bad predicament; an eventual move ...g5! by Black and White is suddenly left with a bad dark colored bishop.

Black is in no hurry to play g5, after all, where is White's bishop going to go? Black decides to make the best use of this gain in tempo with counter-play in the center; putting a slight damper in White's plans to push d4. With this move, Capablanca brings about some tension in the center and although his bishop looks like a tall pawn among pawns, it plays an important role defending his e-pawn; moreover, helping to keep White's bishop out of the game.

A risky move. It's obvious that White intends on taking Black's knight with the idea of weakening Black's king defense. What White didn't consider was Black's next move.

A great attacking move that serves as a defensive measure as well. White's dark colored bishop is not only bad, but has become totally inactive with this move! A White sacrifice on g5 is winning for Black. [11. Nxg5 Nxd5 12. Nf3 Nf6 13. Nd2 Be6 14. Nc4 Kg7 –+]

White's here now, might as well follow through with the intended knight capture.

11...Qxf6 12.Bg3 Bg4
Black's pieces begin to naturally fall in place, allowing Black a counter-offensive for the remainder of the game.

13.h3 Bxf3 14.Qxf3
Interesting move, and may not be White's best move. With an inactive bishop for the foreseeable future, why force an exchange of Queens? White has another option with 14. gxf3, allowing an opportunity for his Queen to continue play in hopes of opening up a diagonal for White's inactive bishop.

Why not? All of Black's pieces are in play and his position after the exchange is exceptionally better! Strategically, Black has the upper hand in the "Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop" category.

15.gxf3 f6
Black looks for a little more space on the king side; and puts a nail in the coffin for White's bishop. The move also allows the Black king to begin his trek to the center of the board and find a resting place before beginning his queen side attack.

16.Kg2 a5!
And so it begins!

17.a4 Kf7 18.Rh1
White doesn't have many options. He has no queen side play and the center is locked up. His only viable minutia of counter play rests on the king side.

Black has now secured his king and any counter play on the king side by White leads to a dead end. Black may now focus all his energy on the queen side.

19.h4 Rfb8 20.hxg5 hxg5
OK, so White has an open h-file. Too bad there's nothing to do over there.

21.b3 c6 22.Ra2 b5 23.Rha1 c4! 24.axb5 cxb3!
Bad for Black would be 24...cxb5? when White can follow up with 25. bxc4! allowing White to equalize on the queen-side.

25.cxb3 Rxb5
Better to capture with the rook and maintain pressure along the b-file. It also helps to protect Black's a-pawn.

White is grasping for air and has given up on protecting his b-pawn. Black obliges in accepting White's gift.

26...Rxb3 27.d4
White's last hope to open up the h2-b1 diagonal and raise his bishop from the dead.

Black plays to keep the diagonal nailed shut!

28.Rc4 Rb4
In order for White to resurrect his bishop, he needs to remove Black's hold on d5. Unfortunately, Black's rook knows this and moves to eradicate White's last glimmer of hope.

29.Rxc6 Rxd4
White's light at the end of the tunnel is extinguished and thus, resigns. 0–1