One secret to Boris Gelfand’s longevity as one of the world’s top players is that he finds ways to create problems for his opponents, even in bad positions, as in the following game.

Boris Gelfand of Israel has been one of the world’s top players for more than 25 years. He has a well-deserved reputation for a deep positional understanding of thee game, but as this game against Friso Nijboer, a Dutch grandmaster, shows, he can play sharp positions and is not afraid to mix it up.  

Nijboer, F. vs. Gelfand, B.
32nd ECC Open 2016 | Novi Sad SRB | Round 1.3 | 06 Nov 2016 | ECO: B94 | 0-1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 Nbd7 7. Bc4
7. Qe2 Nowadays this move is the most popular choice. I won two nice games from this position recently, one with each color.  )
7... Qb6 8. Bb3
8. O-O I would be tempted to play in the spirit of the Bg5 Najdorf and sacrifice a pawn in this position.  )
8... e6 9. Qd2 Be7 10. O-O-O Nc5 11. Qe2 Qc7 12. f4 White prepares e5, a threat that Gelfand surely must respect, right?
12... b5! Nope! Black proceeds with his own play as if nothing is happening in the center. White should push forward now or else some combination of Bb7 and b4 will give him a lot of problems.
13. e5 dxe5 14. fxe5 Nd5! This is possible because of the tactical possibilities for Black.
15. Bxe7
15. Nxd5 Nxb3+! 16. axb3 Bxg5+ 17. Ne3 Qxe5 and Black has a big edge.  )
15... Nxe7 16. Ne4 Nxe4! Simple and strong. Gelfand does not want the knight to get to d6.
17. Qxe4 Rb8! A very tough move to make.
17... Bb7 This looks totally automatic, but it's wrong because after
18. Qg4! Black faces problems. For example:
18... O-O Fails to
19. Nxe6! fxe6 20. Qxe6+ Kh8 21. Rd7  )
18. h4 Bd7!?
18... O-O I see no reason not to castle in this position.  )
19. h5 h6! Stopping any action on the kingside. Black now plans to start his queenside counterplay rolling by playing a5.
20. Rh3 a5 21. a3 Qb6
21... a4 Black cannot play this yet since
22. Ba2 b4 23. axb4 Rxb4 Does not work after
24. Nxe6!  )
22. c3 b4! Black begins to open lines on the queenside.
23. axb4 axb4 24. c4 Qb7 25. Qg4
25. Qxb7 I would consider exchanging queens in this position since White's king is more open, though the engine prefers the move played by White.  )
25... Ra8! 26. Kb1 Ra5 27. Qxg7 Rg8 28. Qh7?!
28. Qxh6! There are no ghosts in this position. While it looks very scary, white is indeed winning.  )
28... Qa7 29. Nc2 Bc6 30. Rhd3! The position looks lost for Black. He is down material down and White is threatening Rd8+. But good players are always lucky, and that luck comes from resourceful defense.
30... Qc7 31. Nxb4
31. Nd4! This is the easiest way to achieve a winning position.  )
31. Rd8+ I think this move would also have been good enough as it forces simplification of the position.
31... Qxd8 32. Rxd8+ Kxd8 33. Qxh6  )
31... Bxg2 32. c5 Ra8 33. c6?
33. Rd7 White's edge looks overwhelming.
33... Qxc5 34. Ba4!  )
33... Qxe5 34. Qxh6?
34. Ba4! This was White's last chance to gain a big edge.  )
34... Be4 35. Qe3 Rg3 36. Qb6 Rb8 Gelfand definitely got lucky in this game, but resourcefulness has a habit of paying dividends.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.