Knight moves haunt the top boards – Part I

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Chris Stychinsky and John Wright faced each other in the second round. I talked about their game one encounter already. In this post we are taking a closer look at their second game.

Chris seems to have moved on from his swashbuckling opening repertoire and played the Ruy Lopez against John’s 1 … e5. I can only recommend to follow in Chris’ footsteps. Playing complex openings such as the Ruy Lopez exposes us to a variety of pawn structures and strategic ideas. In the long run this will make us better chess players.

John countered Chris’ Ruy with the Zaitsev variation—the battle ground of Karpov and Kasparov in the 80s. The positions arising from this opening are often wild, black players seek their fortune of the queenside and white players try to deliver a quick checkmate. However, before launching queenside operations black puts pressure on e4 to slow down white’s queen’s knight attempt to join kingside operation.

The knight manoeuvre I’m referring to was introduced by Steinitz and is commonly used in Ruy Lopez and Gioucco Piano positions.

The best square for the knight on b1 would be f5. It gets there via d2, f1, and g3 and there is very little black can do in this particular situation. Also note, white only advanced the d-pawn to d3 and e4 is under firm control here.

We are now ready to have a look at the game:

Now would be a good time for a black strategy reset. The accidental pawn sacrifice offered white some hope to seize the initiative. Black’s main priority should be to thwart all of white’s active attempts. White enjoys some open diagonals and lines thanks to dropping a pawn. The white bishops are in good positions and both knights are already on the kingside and ready to move to more active squares. Thanks to white’s unfortunate pawn loss black already won the battle on the queenside. There is not much left to fight for.

Stay tuned for part two of the knight move series. I will talk about my game with Randy. Here is a little preview:

Why didn’t Randy take the rook on h2?

  1. John Roger Wright

    Axel – Thanks for the excellent summary of both the Zaitzev and other lines. I was all prepared to watch my doom again but you left it as a cliffhanger. My advice to others–be very careful if Chris loses a pawn early. He has made me pay for it twice now!

  2. Chris Stychinsky

    Fantastic – always a pleasure to read over some of the missed lines.
    Blundering a pawn (a central one at that) on move 12 was no fun – but if nothing else, it motivated me to play aggressively from move 13 till the end.
    I just realized move 26.Nxf6+ (thinking it wins material) was a mistake. Instead I whole hardheartedly agree with the Axel proposed 26.Bxf6!. It is not only correct but much stronger.
    The positional advantage of the ruined Black’s king-side is much more important than “winning a rook”.
    Furthermore, I must admit after the mistaken 27.NxR I was lucky Black captured the Knight and not the Bishop on g5. By playing 22…pXB (instead of capturing the knight); White’s Knight on e8 has no escape and will soon fall after desperately having to sacrifice itself for a pawn before being taken away from its misery.
    After the brave Knight’s execution Black is better if not winning!

  3. Chris Stychinsky

    Correction – to my previous comment.
    The lines should read:

    I just realized move 21.Nxf6+ (thinking it wins material) was a mistake. Instead I whole hardheartedly agree with the Axel proposed 21.Bxf6!. It is not only correct but much stronger.
    The positional advantage gained by the ruined Black’s king-side is much more important than “winning a rook”.

    Furthermore, I must admit after the mistaken 22.NxR I was lucky Black captured the Knight (22…QxN) and not the Bishop on g5. By playing 22…pxB (instead of capturing the knight); White’s Knight on e8 has no escape and will soon fall after desperately having to sacrifice itself for a pawn before being taken away from its misery.
    After the brave Knight’s execution Black is better if not winning!

  4. John Roger Wright

    I think that even if I take the B on g5 with 22 – hxg5, White still has a lot of play. The move 23 e5 forces Nxe5. But then comes 24 Qh5 with a mate threat on h7. I have to play the loosening 24 – h6 and then comes 25 Rxe5 dxe and 26 Qf7 with renewed threats on h7. Hard to gather your wits under such an attack and especially in a G/25. I think my biggest mistake was playing 16 – c5. You see that move so often in the closed Ruy Lopez that you do it without thinking and I was trying to bury the W B with c4 to follow. But it just drives the N to f5 and then I have this horrible d6 pawn. Be careful of moves that look routine. But Chris still had to exploit this mistake and he di a good job of it. Oh well, back to my Ruy Lopez workshop!

  5. Chris Stychinsky

    Great analysis after 22…hxg5 23. e5 opening the line for the c2 Bishop.
    But thanks to Stockfish 23…Nxe5 is not forced; instead you play 23…Qxe8

    Then comes 24.exd 24…Qd7
    After which 25.Qh5 no longer threatens h7 nor f7 – thanks to the Black Knight on g6.
    White’s attack on the King’s side evaporated and I have nothing better than to focus on the Queen side – 25.a4
    But as Axel has noted you are winning on that wing and more importantly in the game as a whole! The evaluation has has it at -3.

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