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March 28, 2013

After attack, what is white’s best move?

— The Candidates Chess tournament is a round robin event consisting the world’s top 8 players, excluding the world chess champion. The winner of this year’s Candidates Tournament plays the reigning world chess champion later this year for the title. The previous winner of the Candidates Tournament in 201l was Boris Gelfand.

After 9 of 14 rounds, Gelfand was too far behind to win this year. However, Gelfand played spoiler in round 9. He defeated co-leader of the tournament Levon Aronian of Armenia.

This week’s position is from that game. Gelfand is white; Aronian, black. Here, Gelfand seems as if he’s in trouble. Black’s f8 rook threatens Gelfand’s bishop on f5, and black’s bishop on c4 threatens to win the exchanges and capture white’s rook on f1. With one small step white eliminates these threats and puts Aronian on the ropes. With this hint in mind please try to find white’s best move.

Often the best response to an attack is to counter-attack. This is exactly what Gelfand did. He ignored the direct threats to his bishop and rook by advancing his e5 pawn to e6.

The pawn threatens to step onto e7 and fork black’s queen and rook on f8 and promote to a new queen. Black must scramble to stop this pawn and now is in a losing position. If black, for example, captures white’s bishop, the pawn steps forward onto e7.

The e7 pawn attacks black’s queen and is poised to promote on e8. If black doesn’t block the pawn’s advance by moving to e8, white wins a massive amount of material as various mating lines are in the air. Black blocks the pawn’s advance and moves its queen to e8, and white’s queen wins black’s rook on d4. Now white’s bishop escapes to d5, but white is up the exchange and the e7 pawn is a perpetual thorn in black’s side.

Aronian saw that he was a few, small pawn steps away from disaster if he didn’t respond correctly to the e5 pawn’s advance to e6. Aronian replied to e6 by moving his queen to d6. This or moving his rook to e8 were the two best options.

After Aronian moved his queen to d6, Gelfand moved his f1 rook over to e1, supporting indirectly the menacing e6 pawn. This forced Aronian to defend the “e” file and slide his f8 rook to e8. Gelfand continued to pressure black with his “e” pawn and advance it to e7. The pressure from this advanced pawn proved in the long run to be decisive and Gelfand eventually won.

The lesson here is that a thorn in your opponent’s side, like a dangerous passed pawn, may be a dagger in the long run.

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