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June 27, 2013

Capture of lesser piece brings victory

— Boris Gelfand of Israel won the prestigious Tal Memorial Chess Tournament in Moscow this month. The tournament, named to honor former world chess champion Mikhail Tal, attracts the world’s elite players.

This week’s position is from Gelfand’s game against Alexander Morozevich of Russia. Gelfand is white; Morozevich, black. White’s dangerous d6 pawn is held in check by the intersection of black’s queen and bishop on d7, which thwarts the pawn’s advancement. With this hint in mind, please try to find white’s winning move.

As a general rule, a rook is more valuable than a bishop. However, every position is situational. In this situation, losing the exchange wins the game. This is why Gelfand took black’s bishop with his rook, which was in turn taken by black’s g6 pawn. This trade lets white’s d6 pawn march to d7, as played by Gelfand. Black’s rook must flee but still guard the white pawn’s promotion square. Black’s best reply is to move the rook to f8, which is what Morozevich did.

The pawn’s march to d7 and the rook-bishop trade allowed Gelfand to slide his queen to g3, checking black. This forced Morozevich to retreat his king to h8.

The last few moves were forced. Now Gelfand has several options. Moving the knight to d6 or checking black from e5 are winning moves and perhaps better than what Gelfand played. But Gelfand played an equally winning but simpler move with less risk of going astray: He forced a queen trade by moving his queen to d6.

Morozevich must trade queens on d6, otherwise white’s queen takes black’s rook with mate. And trading queens also loses, which is why Morozevich resigned.

The knight can hop to b7 or f7. From there, the knight prepares the promotion of the pawn on d8 and forces the loss of black’s rook. The key point about this position is that if black’s rook moves to d8 before the knight hops from d6, white’s knight checks black from f7, forking the black king and rook.

Next week we will honor Mikhail Tal and analyze a position from one of his games.

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