Kindred’s Special: Topalov shows f7 weakness

My earlier column dealing with the f7 square is brilliantly revealed in the following game from New In Chess.

          Veselin Topalov  (White)    vs Bu Xiangzhi   (Black)

                        Opening: Slav Defense D-19

1.d4  d5  2.c4  c6  3.Nf3  Nf6  4.Nc3  dxc4  5.a4  Bf5  6.e3

Another popular idea here is 6.Ne5 but VT comments that his opponent had not fared well against the text which is the reason he adopted it here.

6…e6  7.Bxc4  Bb4  8.0-0  0-0

Note that it is wise usually to put kings into safety by castling early on. Many an attack catching the king in the center files illustrate such wisdom. Yet, how often does this occur among amateurs and even occasionally in master games? With his next move, VT aims to envoke e4 to gain space and limit the value of the QB on f5. Black decides to hinder that by…

9.Qe2  Ne4  10.Ne5!

This rare choice had been played only 3-times over the more popular Bd3. White won all the contests.

10…Nd7

After 10…Nxc3 11.bxc3  Bxc3  12.Ra3 Bb4 13.Rb3 a5  14.e4 results were in white’s favor.

11.Nxd7  Qxd7

One thing in chess that I stress is: When to exchange. Here we see a perfect example of forced moves that alter the position of (in this case)  the Q. The Q is distracted from two major diagonals along dark squares and winds up in a rather bleak d7 square. This will gain a move for white eventually as the Q will have to move again to a more aggressive or defensive square, presumably a dark square.

12. Na2!

Clever play!! White avoids exchanging this Knight and now the Knight on e4 can be molested to lose more time where white can gain increased central control. Reshevsky used to call these little steps in achieving winning positions–an accumulation of moves within a plan that leads to a tightening noose around the adversary’s neck.

12…Be7

Previously played was ..Ba5 as in Van Wely vs Gelfand, 2006 Monaco blindfold game. This is new according to VT and probably is better since it adds protection to the kingside dark squares.

13.f3  Nf6

This move doesn’t make much sense in lieu of black’s previous Be7. VT suggested that ..Nd6 14.Bb3 Bf6 15.Rd1 e5 16.e4 Be6 17.d5 cxd5 18.Bxd5. This type of black setup is often seen in games. Its passivity is due in part to the sort of tie-up of units that do not coordinate well in finding any reasonably counterattack.

14.e4  Bg6

Naturally not ..Qxd4+ because white with Be3 attacks the Q and will win the Bishop on f5.

15.Be3  Qc7  16.Nc1!

Nicely played as the Knight on d3 is more potent than on c3 and since black has lost tempi, white can afford likewise. Another point is that now if ..c5, white has 17.Nb3 cxd4 18.Nxd4 gaining considerable square count especially in view of an added Rac1 thrown in. So, black decides to stabilize the Q-side pawn structure with…

16…a5 17.Nd3  Nd7

Here the bad Knight condition going to f6 instead of d6 again illustrates how square count can play a role in planning. The knight is less effective on d7 and the idea of either support for c5 or e5 is now eliminated because of…

18.Rac1!  Rfe8  19.g3  Bd6  20.Nf4

White plans to play e5,h4 where Bxf4 leaves white the Bishop-pair. Still, this is better than what BX decides to try.

20…e5?  21.Nxg6  hxg6  22.f4  exd4  23.Bxd4  b6  24.f5!

Forcing further weakness of the w/s around the king.

24…g5  25.Qh5  Nf6  26.Bxf6  gxf6  27.Qg6+

Using the tactic of the pin on the f-pawn by the Bishop on c4 lets the Q penetrate into the guts of black’s castle.

27…Kf8  28.Qxf6  Be5  29.Qxg5  Qe7  30.f6  Bd4+  31.Rf2  1-0.

Black resigns.

Lessons to learn:

1. Even from book opening play and known practice, one must keep in mind the importance of tempo moves. Loss of tempi can increase the opponent’s square count translating into a substantial space advantage.

2. Accumulative weaknesses emerge as a result. One must remember that as GM Larry Evans once noted in an interview that every game features a critical moment when opportunities present themselves to challenge an adversary initiative or attack, usually this being a counteroffensive.

3. In this game, white slowly increased pressure and little inaccuracies or finding ways to imbalance the position into a more favorable light and as a last resort to muddy the waters with Nd6 instead of Nf6 led to white dominating the final stages of the battle.

4. One misstep often leads to other missteps no matter how minor they appear on the surface. Such a situation occurred in the above battle that prompted VT to comment that what he liked about the game was how one could end up in a hopeless position without making any big mistakes.

5. While some dispel my theory of square count, nonetheless, this game illustrates the value of considering such moves as add to such a count or defensive maneuvers that achieve similar objectives.

 

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