Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Chess as an Art

                                     Chess as an Art


" Chess like love,like music, has the power to make men happy"- Siegbert Tarrasch 

       So Wesley has been the most consistent player of the last year and a half. I was able to watch some of his games at the Isle of Man tournament last year. His calm and easy looks during a game concealed the tremendous concentration and intensity happening in the background. I have attempted to put myself in his shoes and arrive out at the possible reasoning behind his thought process and moves based on his game against Granda Zuniga which made a deep impression on me, even during the tournament itself. Of course, I have to make certain guesses and the annotations themselves can never be equal to a player expressing his own thoughts. Nevertheless, it was quite an experience for me to put myself in his thinking hat and in the process trying to unravel the beauty hidden behind the veil of seemingly unnatural moves.

             Granda Zuniga-So Wesley Round 4 of Isle of Man 2016

1. c4 e5  2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nb6 7. d3 Be7 8.O-O O-O 9. Be3 Re8 10. Rc1 Bf8 

A Typical reversed Dragon English 

11. Na4 Nd412. Nc5  

White threatens to win a pawn with Bxd4 exd4 and Nb3. 


12...a5 ! 

This move seemingly ignores whites threat. But, the fact is black has seen deeper and prepared a very clever response.Things start to get very interesting from here. The moves from hereon are striking in their freshness
and originality 

13. Bxd4 exd4 14. Nb3 

 Vidit showed this position over dinner and asked me to guess what Black had to do. Even, given this position Icould not find a way as to how black should go about saving the pawn after a few minutes thought. I remember that my thoughts only centred around a move like c7-c5. 


This move was outside my horizon of available candidate moves as it weakened Black's king side pawn cover and is not very common in this kind of Semi Open English Opening positions. It is quite common for the chess players brain to filter out such seemingly anti positional moves, but the beauty of Chess as an art lies in discovering such exceptions to the classical principles. Once I came to know that g5 had been played, I was impressed by it and tried to discover the genesis of the idea. In Chennai Chess Circles I came across the term "Kokki Ghoda"( Part Hindi and Part Tamil roughly translating to Hooked Horses!) while i was frequenting chess clubs and local events 25 years ago. What it meant was that two knights mutually supporting each other are not as strong as they seem to be, because if any one of them is attacked by a pawn, the other knight loses its support. Using that idea, black has found a very clever way to break the hook by preparing to attack both the knight on b3 and on f3 with pawns with his pawn moves a5 and g5!! Black had to visualize this already while playing 12...a5, especially the g5 idea. This deep idea might have been missed by the Granda, who in his own right is also a very original thinker!  If black continues with
14... c5  then15. Nxc5 there is no way to create a double attack on c5 and e2 and so the whole idea does not make any sense. 

15. Qd2  

attacking the pawn on a5 and g5 and after an eventual g5-g4 by black, white has ideas like Qf4 to attack the pawns on c7 and d4. If  white plays 15. Nbxd4 g4  or 15. Nfxd4 a4 winning one of the knights in both cases. 

15... g4 16. Nh4 

I am guessing that Wesley So might have reached this position in his mind's eye while playing the move a7-a5. Black has trumps such as the bishop pair, the possibility of Qd6-Bh6 ideas and more space in the centre.White's knight on h4 has also been driven away from the centre, though on the flip side Black's king side has been weakened and given some time white can openup lines and drum up counterplay against Black's king side.  

16.....Re5 !!

A stunning move and perhaps the most difficult one of the game. It protects the a5 pawn, restricts the knight on b3 by controlling c5 square and stops any possible checks on g5. It also restricts the knight on h4 by controlling f5 square. Apart from all this Black's Rook freely wanders the open 4th rank! This is quite an uncommon idea and is aesthetically pleasing to see the rook being employed horizontally. Let us look at the alternative16... Qd6 with the threat of Bh6 thereby not giving white time to take on a5, but this runs into 17. Qg5+ Bg7 (if 17... Kh8 18. Qh5) 18. Nf5  it looks like White's pieces have infiltrated the empty space left behind by Black's kingside pawn advance

 17. Qf4 Qd6 18. e3  

Another logical move, White invites the opening of f-file and protects his weak pawn on e2. Given time he wants to bring his knight over to f5 and create attacking chances on the king side. So what is black to do now? 

If white had chosen 18. Nxd4 black would have Bh6 or if18. Qxd4 Rxe2 Black does not really fear an endgame, he in fact welcomes it. His long term advantages consist of the bishop pair, more space and his better placed pieces. White on the other hand would like to keep queens on and ideally bring his b3-Knight over to d4 and f5.

19. Qxd6 Bxd6 20. Nd4 Rxb2 Despite being undeveloped blacks pieces are more purposefully placed and so he is better. Coming back to the main game 18... Rb5!

 Another star move and part of the plan started with Re5. Black understands that b2 is perhaps the only weak spot in whites camp and at the same time, black doest mind exchanging queens because of  possession of the bishop pair. 

19. Rxc7 ? 

Weakening the pawn structure at the cost of winning a pawn and bringing the rook to the seventh rank. But whites rook doesn't have the coordinated aid of his other pieces and it seems to hit thin air. Alternatives were:

a)19. Nxd4 Qxf4 20. exf4 Rxb2 where black is better as in the game 

b)19. Qxd6 Bxd6 20. Nxd4 Rxb2 21. Nhf5

Perhaps white should have done this. Compared to the game he has not wrecked his pawn structure with exf4 and has brought his offside knight on h4 into the game. It seems like white has everything under control. 

But as I have observed from personal experience, when facing an inventive and relentless opponent, the pressure sooner or later takes its toll.And am not at all surprised that it is possible for white to err in the face of a host of possibilities 19... Qxf4 20. exf4 a4 21. Nxd4 Rxb2 

What a position! Blacks bishops perform excellent functions while still situated on  their original squares. His only developed piece on b2 is wreaking havoc over whites helpless pawns. Once black wins the pawn on a2 the rook on a8 finds employment right at his home! On the contrary Whites knight on h4 is out of play. The seemingly active fianchetto bishop can perhaps help white to gain a meagre pawn on b7 but white would lose the all important a2-pawn after which Black's a-passed pawn would become a monster 

22. Be4 ?

A half hearted move, black coolly grabs the all important a2-pawn and mops up the game with surprising ease.It was time to protect the pawn on a2 with 22. Rc2 ! 

However not very good seems  22. Bxb7 Bxb7 23. Rxb7 a3 A black knights jump to c3 seems ominous

22... Rxa2 23. Rb1 a3 24. Nc2  

If instead white plays 24. Rxb6 Rb2 clinches the game.

24... Bd6 25. Rc3 Na4 26. Rc4 Be6 

a picture of complete domination 

27. Nxa3 Rxa3 28. Rc2 Nc5  0-1 

While studying this game, I was reminded of two other games by Great Champions. One by Karpov and the other by Fischer. I am not very sure if they were truly the inspiration for So's ideas in this game, but in my view it cannot hurt to enrich one's quiver with a variety of arrows of the past Champions. I give the other two games for the pure joy of watching the games as well as for their instructional value!

Berliner-Fischer  Western Open1963
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 c5 7. Nf3 cxd4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Bd3 b6 12. O-O Bb7 13. Rfd1 Nc6 14. Qb2 Qf6 15. Rac1 Rfd8 16. Bb5 Rac8 17. Ne5 Nxe5 18. dxe5 Qf4 19. Rxc8 Rxc8 20. Qd4


Geller once said that Fischer doesn't devise deep plans, but leaps from position to position. I am not too sure if he meant it as a compliment, but it can clearly be seen that Bobby was way ahead of his time and he was the forerunner of so called modern chess( I don't like to call it Computer style!). In this position he clears the back rank, isolates the pawn on e5 by preventing a future f2-f4 and also prepares a possible opening up of the g-file when white does f3 to support the pawn on e4. 

Looking back at Granda-So game, I felt that So too leapt from position to position. First he would have visualised until g5-g4, and once he arrived at that position he then he leapt on too Re5-b5 idea.

Back to the current game. Here too Bobby probably devised the idea of opening the g-file and once having reached the position devised new ideas from there. 

21. f3 g4 22. Be2 gxf3 23. gxf3 Kh8

What a transformation! 

And such courage and letgo to play a pawn move in front of his own king for specific purposeful play. Comparing this position to the Granda-So game , although the position is completely different, there is a similarity in So's decision to play g5 for specific purposes and disregarding the seeming weakness of his own king side by understanding that his opponent cannot make use of it at all .Rest of the game is pretty instructive and would warrant careful study too, but it is not relevant to the comparison with the
main game. I refrain from any more comments but encourage the reader to play through the game anyway!

24. Kh1 Ba6 25. Qf2 Bxe2 26. Qxe2 Qxe5 27. Rg1 f5 28. Qd3 fxe4 29. fxe4 Rf8 30. Qc2 Qf6 31. Rg2 Qd4 32. h3 Qa1+ 33. Rg1 Qe5 34. Qg2 b5 35. Qc2 b4 36. Qg2 a5 37. Qc2 Qf6 38. Qc4 Qf3+ 39. Kh2 Rd8 40. Qc2 Qc3 41. Qxc3+ bxc3 42. Rc1 Rd3 43. Rb1 Kg7 44. Rb5 a4 45. Rc5 a3 46. Kg2 Re3 47. Rc4 Kf6 48. h4 Ke5 49. Kf2 Rh3 50. Kg2 Rd3 51. h5 Kf4 52. h6 Ke3 53. Rc7 Kd2 0-1

Karpov-Hort Alekhine Memorial 1971

{In a recent interview to New In Chess, So Wesley has mentioned that under the tutelage of Tukmakov he has spent some time studying the classical games of Karpov and Kasparov! I hope I will not be off target to believe that his Rook manoeuvres were inspired by this yesteryear Karpov Classic!} 

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. g4 Nc6 7. g5 Nd7 8. Be3 a6 9. f4 Be7 10. Rg1 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 e5 12. Qd2 exf4 13. Bxf4 Ne5 14. Be2 Be6 15. Nd5 Bxd5 16. exd5 Ng6 17. Be3 h6 18. gxh6 Bh4+ 19. Kd1 gxh6 20. Bxh6 Bf6 21. c3 Be5
22. Rg4! 

This is a famous game of Karpov's of which numerous commentaries have been written including by Dvoretsky and Kotov. Note the striking similarity in the emptiness of the fourth rank and white's space advantage with the pawn on d5, compared to Granda-So 2016. Karpov's Rook shuttles on the 4th rank back and fourth and later drops back to the third rank and singlehandedly wins him the game.Another game which would worth careful study!

22.....Qf6 23. h4 Qf5 24. Rb4 Bf6 25. h5 Ne7 26. Rf4 Qe5 27. Rf3 Nxd5 28. Rd3 Rxh6 29. Rxd5 Qe4 30. Rd3 Qh1+
31. Kc2 Qxa1 32. Qxh6 Be5 33. Qg5 1-0

Three Superb Games-pure art! The great man Tarrasch was right when he said that chess has the power to make men happy.

Not only playing, but also replaying and going through such gems can keep elevating us to higher and higher moods.And appreciation of such an art only improves with the passage time like the old Wine!

I sign off with contentment in the hope that I have given the readers something to cherish for a long time to come in the quiet of their study!


  1. Thanks for the games, well annotated!

  2. what a game! Thanks to kidambi for sharing - G.B.Prakash

  3. Very well annotated games! This instructive article is very interesting! F Manish Anto Cristiano

  4. Man you are just awesome.. It was really a very good article.. Thank you very much.. the similarities in modern and classical games were very instructive.. Hope to learn from you more in Future!!