World Chess’s columnist explains how a top correspondence player took a tip from Magnus Carlsen, with spectacular results.
The 29th World Correspondence Championship is ongoing, and with almost 80 percent of the games finished, the current leader is Jacek Oskulski of Poland. Wins with Black in serious correspondence events are almost as rare as unicorns, but Oskulski managed the feat in his game with Ángel-Jerónimo Manso Gil of Spain. How did he do it? By taking some advice from Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the current classical World Champion.
Carlsen defeated Levon Aronian of Armenia on the white side of a Ragozin in January 2015 in an impressive and one-sided game. In video commentary afterward he suggested that Black’s bet would have been to aim for kingside counterplay by playing g5. This idea wasn’t unknown before the game, but with the champion’s endorsement the move and plan became de rigeur.
Oskulski is among those who used it, though the exact point when he used the move was a novelty. He, like Carlsen, won impressively, and the impression he left is similar. After Carlsen’s game the line looked almost unplayable for Black. After this game, players may view White’s chances with a similarly pessimistic attitude. The ball is back in White’s court.
Manso Gil, Angel-Jernimo vs. Oskulski, Jacek
WC29/final |ICCF |Round ? |20 Jun 2015 |ECO: D38 |0-1
1. d4Nf62. c4e63. Nf3d54. Nc3Bb45. cxd5exd56. Bg5h67. Bxf6Qxf68. Qa4+Nc69. e3O-O10. Be2Be611. O-Oa612. Rfc1Bd613. Qd1Ne714. a3This position first occurred back in 2004, but it really got on the map two years ago when Magnus Carlsen won a very impressive game with White against Levon Aronian in Wijk aan Zee. In his video commentary to the game he suggested that Black ought to have tried ...g5 at some point, and this general suggestion has been tested more than once since then. (In fact it had been
tried in a couple of earlier games too, but there's nothing like the World Champion's recommendation to make the move a priority.) 14... c6Carlsen-Aronian went as follows:
( 14... Rfd815. b4Nc816. Na4b617. Nb2Ne718. Nd3Ng619. a4a520. b5Re821. Rc3Bf522. Rac1Rad823. Nd2Rd724. g3Nf825. Bg4Nh726. Bxf5Qxf527. Qf3Qg528. h4Qe729. Rc6Nf630. Nf4g631. h5Kg732. hxg6fxg633. Nxd5Nxd534. Qxd5Bxg335. Qg2Bd636. Nc4Rf837. Ne5Bxe538. Qxg6+Kh839. Qxh6+Kg840. dxe5Qxe541. Rg6+Kf742. Rc4Qa1+43. Kg2Rh844. Rf4+Ke845. Re6+Re746. Rxe7+Kxe747. Re4+Here's an example with the immediate push of the g-pawn: )
( 16. Nc5!?makes sense, as every way of meeting the threat to the b-pawn necessitates a concession: ...Bc8 locks in the a-rook, ...Rb8 or ...Ra7 ties the rook down, ...b6 softens up the queenside pawns, and ...Bxc5 surrenders the bishop pair and greatly undermines his kingside attacking chances. )
( 16. Ne1makes some sense, and so does )
( 16. b4, intending a possible minority attack (after Nc5) with a4 and b5. But timing is everything: 16... g417. Ne1h518. Nc5Bxh2+!19. Kxh2Qxf2Black's pawns and kingside initiative are worth more than the piece. )
16... Rae817. Nc5Bc818. Nf1
( 18. Bg4!?looks sensible, threatening to take on c8 and then on b7. The good news is that Black's best option is to swap off both his bishops: 18... Bxg419. Qxg4Bxc520. Rxc5The bad news is that even after this Black is slightly better after 20... Nf5followed by ...Nd6. The knight is great there, making it hard for White to get the minority attack rolling, and in the meantime Black can make progress in the center and on the kingside. His queen goes to g6, threatening ...f5, and then he might double rooks on the e-file, looking to play ...Ne4 and/or ...f4. Two valuable games illustrating these plans are Bobotsov-Petrosian, Lugano 1968 and Portisch-Kasparov, Skelleftea 1989. In general, White is not particularly happy in these positions if his light squared bishop is gone and he can't easily achieve b4-b5. )
18... Qg7Preparing ...f5. Black is already better. 19. Qb3Clearly not the piece setup White wants, but otherwise Black will have time to play ...f5 and ...Ng6, defending the b-pawn laterally with the queen. 19... Bxc5This is a concession, but even so Black is ahead in the race: his kingside play will be more dangerous than White's queenside counterplay. 20. dxc5
( 20. Rxc5f5also favors Black, who will play ...f4 next against almost any sensible White move. )
20... Ng621. Re1The rook no longer had anything sensible to do on c1, so he shuffles the rooks to the center. 21... Re722. Rad1f5Here the question is, what can White do? Opening the queenside will take a very long time and there are no levers for central counterplay. Black will simply and quickly push the kingside pawns, and his pieces are perfectly placed to support the pawns and to use the open lines once those pawns are exchanged away. 23. Nd2g4
( 23... f424. e4is the point. )
24. Bd3h525. Qc3Ne5Black is also better after trading queens. It isn't clear which decision is objectively better, and in over the board play it might be a matter of taste. In correspondence chess it's more complicated, and maybe the players worked out some very deep drawing scheme for White in the ending. The bottom line for us is that White is suffering in either case. 26. Bc2h427. Qd4Qg528. Qf4Qh529. b4Ng630. Qd4White's position looks a little healthier than it did a few moves ago, and a4 (and then b5) seem just over the horizon. Black has two important pawn breaks of his own here: ...f4 and ...g3, both of which can be supported by ...Qh6 and ...Rfe8. 30... Rfe831. Rf1Now White can meet ...f4 with exf4. 31... Qh632. a4Nf8
( 32... f4was playable, as 33. Bxg6Qxg634. Qxf4Bf5!gives Black more than enough compensation for the pawn. (Among other ideas, Black can play ...h3, creating a light squared gash around White's king. ) )
33. Qc3f4!Finally Black is ready. 34. exf4Ne6!35. g3Black is much better here, so White decides it's best to have a pawn to compensate him in his suffering. 35... Ng7!Keeping control of the e-file and preparing to seal White in with ...Nf5. After that, Black can look for a breakthrough, e.g. on the h-file. 36. Nb3hxg3!
( 36... Nf5?37. Bxf5Bxf538. Nd4 )
( 37. fxg3??loses on the spot to 37... Re2 )
37... Nf538. Rde1Now
( 38. Bxf5Bxf539. Nd4is worse than useless: 39... Rh7and mate next move. )
38... Rh7!Just in time! Against anything else White would be completely fine. 39. Rxe8+Kf740. Re7+!Kxe741. Re1+White needed this to come with tempo so his king could escape. 41... Kf842. Kf1Now White is on the verge of having an extra pawn and the better position to boot. Black has only one move to keep the advantage (and even to avoid being much worse). 42... d4!43. Nxd4Nxd444. Be4!
( 44. Bxh7??Qh1# )
( 44. Qxd4?Qh1+45. Ke2Qf3+!The tempting and obvious ...46. Kd2Rd7 )
44... Rd7!Black is winning. White's two pawns aren't enough for the piece, especially since they are doubled pawns and immobile too, as the f2-pawn in particular is needed to shield White's vulnerable king. 45. Rd1Qh846. Qe3Nf547. Qe1Rxd148. Qxd1Qd449. Qxd4Nxd450. Kg2Bf551. Bxf5Nxf5After
( 51... Nxf552. f3Black has more than one way to win the ending. For example: 52... a553. bxa5Nd454. fxg4Nb3and White's queenside pawns all disappear (...Nxa5-b3xc5xa4) before White can create any real trouble on the kingside. )
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
The games of elite players are scrutinized the world over, but that does not mean that those games are always the most interesting. The following game, from a relatively little-known tournament, is remarkable.