Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Setting the Tone

It's November, it's World Chess Championship time! Sadly though, the match isn't really getting me that excited. I'm not sure why that is. The players aren't the most exciting I guess, and the format of just 12 games means that there will probably more emphasis on not losing than winning. Recent Championship matches haven't helped with 'attrition' being the new buzzword of these matches.

I will follow the match, and I hope for a good start to set the tone. Hopefully Magnus will play to the death in the games and I hope that both players are prepared with great ideas, and are willing to take some risks to win. I guess what I'm hoping for is something to happen early on to raise the stakes in the match.

I recently was looking at some games from the 1950 play off match between David Bronstein and Isaak Boleslavsky. Don't ask me why, I just like to look at random old games! The players had shared first at the Budapest Candidates and a match was organised in Moscow over 12 games (a further 2 were added as the match was tied after 12). Of the 14 games only 5 ended in wins, which doesn't sound too different to the matches nowadays. The match started with a bang, an amazing first game with threat after threat cranking up the pressure, ending with a nice queen sacrifice. After this first game, the match went into a kind of lock down as the next 5 games were drawn. It wasn't all boring though. Game 4 saw Boleslavsky sacrifice an exchange putting Bronstein on the defensive. Then came the next phase, with 3 victories out of 5 games, leading to an extra 2 game play off. In these last 2 games, the first was drawn, while the second was won by Bronstein who went on to play the World Championship against Botvinnik.

The first game definitely set the tone for the match. Both players were prepared to take risks to win the match, and after an early victory, it meant that Boleslavsky had to play to win in games. The play was tense, and the games are well worth looking over again. As a match that wasn't for the World Championship, it doesn't get the same coverage, but that doesn't mean it was any less exciting.

Here's the game that set the tone.

A sharp Grunfeld was the opening choice for this first game, and things got sharper when Bronstein sacrificed the exchange with 14.d5!? Boleslavsky accepted, and then grimly tried to hold on to his material lead. This variation is still topical today, but at the time it had only just been introduced into tournament practice. 14..Bxa1 15.Qxa1

White threatens to win the exchange back straight off with Bh6, so black continues 15..f6 blocking white's queen out. 16.Bh6 Qb6+ 17.Kh1 Rfd8

Cranking up the pressure. Black's bishop is attacked, but white's light squared bishop is also under threat via the pin on the d-file. 18.Rb1 Qc5 19.Bd2

The temptation to move the attacked bishop must have been strong here, but then Bb4 is very strong. Another possibility is just to give back some material by playing Nc6 when black will have rook and pawn for 2 pieces. Boleslavsky decided to keep the pressure on. 19..b6 A move which makes perfect sense, guarding the sidelined knight, and giving it an escape square on b7. 20.Bb4 Qc7 21.Rc1

Since sacrificing the exchange, Bronstein has been making threats while improving his pieces. Boleslavsky too has been answering all white's threats and is just waiting for the moment when he can take a breather and still be ahead in material. 21..Qb7 22.Qb1!

Now white threatens both a5 and e6, while white's queen protects the light squared bishop. 22..Rab8?
Boleslavsky finally blunders after an incredibly complicated sequence of moves. 22..Qd7 offered black chances, retaining the pin on the d-file. White's pieces really are running riot over the position though, so black still would have had some difficult defending to do. In the game, Bronstein took the bishop and ended up winning the game.

I have to show the end of the game though.

After his brilliant play earlier in the game, Bronstein finished in style. Here white forced resignation by playing 32.Qxf6, sacrificing his queen to let the e-pawn run.

I do hope that the upcoming World Championship lives up to the billing and produces a tense match with excellent play. But if it doesn't chess has plenty of matches to look back on and savour, and not just the World Championships. 

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