In Houdini’s Footsteps, Part One
Mark Dvoretsky, August 2014
A ChessCafe.com Reprint
The famous illusionist of the past Harry Houdini was known for his impressive tricks in which he escaped from apparently impossible situations. His “namesake,” the computer program that is popular at the moment, sometimes comes out with similar “tricks” when analysing positions that at first glance look hopeless or very difficult, which have arisen in practical games of the past or present. Getting to know these kinds of examples broadens our conception of the boundaries of the possible in chess and teaches us never to despair, but to stubbornly keep looking for hidden resources in any situation.
I already published the article “Saving Combinations” on this topic a few years ago; you can find it in the ChessCafe.com Archives for October and November 2005 and at Chesspro.ru for February 2006. The article contains several difficult and, in my view, rather beautiful exercises for independent solving. Now I offer you a new portion of these kinds of problems, with which I recently supplemented my card index.
The exercises are designed for strong players, but less sophisticated readers can just investigate the given variations, following the logic of the search and checking the solutions. Meanwhile, in all the examples, both in the previous article and in this one, the players did not manage to cope with the problems that were facing them (and sometimes even the commentators failed too). I hope that those who want to train seriously by using my materials will consequently be more successful in their games.
In the first two examples the saving chance presented itself twice, and in each game at a certain point it was possible not only to save yourself, but even achieve a win.
Zueger – Landenbergue
Swiss Championship, Chiasso, 1991
A situation that is typical in one of the strategic schemes of the English Opening. White has broken through on the queenside, and in exchange his opponent, by sacrificing a piece, has created very dangerous threats to the king on the opposite side of the board. It is very difficult to defend. Bad, for example, is 33.Nxg5? Bxg5 34.Bxd6 Bxe7 35.Bxe5 (35.Bxe7 Qh2-+) 35…Qe3-+.
You have to return the extra piece to defuse the situation somewhat.
Nothing is changed by 33…Nxe4 34.Nxe4 de 35.Bxf8. In the case of an exchange of queens, 33…Qxe5? 34.Qxe5 de 35.Bxf8 Kxf8, White is left a pawn up in the endgame.
34…Bxf8 35.Qd8!? Nxe4 36.Nxe4= is not dangerous.
White managed to defend against direct threats, and there, in principle, it is possible to stop calculating: as there was not anything better for him anyway. In fact, the dangers are not over yet – his opponent can continue the attack.
35…Qf4-c1+ 36.Kf1xf2 Bh6-e3+
If 36…g3+, then 37.Nxg3! Qe3+ 38.Kf1, and Black is forced to give perpetual check: 38…Qf4+ 39.Kg1 Qd4+ 40.Kf1.
37.Kf2-g3 Be3-f4+ 38.Kg3-h4 Qc1-g1!1.?
Now White already has to look for perpetual check. Two pieces are sacrificed for the sake of it!
39…Kxf8? is a mistake: 40.Qd8+ Kf7 41.Qe8+ Kxf6 42.Qf8+ Ke6 (42…Kg6? 43.Be4+) 43.Qxc8+ Ke7 44.Qxg4+/-.
40.Bf8-g7+! Kh8xg7 41.Qa5-c7+ Kg7xf6 42.Qc7-d8+ Kf6-f7 43.Qd8-c7+ Kf7-f6 44.Qc7-d8+
But in the game White chose 33.Bxd6? Qh2! 34.Nxf2 g3 35.Qxe5. Now quickly decisive was 35…Rxf2+ 36.Ke1 Qg1+ 37.Nf1 Rxf1+ (37…Nf3+! is possible immediately) 38.Bxf1 Nf3+! 39.ef Qf2+ 40.Kd1 Qd2#, or 37.Bf1 Nf3+! (37…g2 does not let go of the win either). Instead of that Black played “for beauty”: 35…Bh3?.1.?
I found this position in the good book Invisible Chess Moves, written by Yochanan Afek and Emmanuel Neiman. From this, by the way, my acquaintance with the given example also began: I went into Megabase, found the game and discovered that several moves earlier White had to solve a problem (which we already investigated) that was no less interesting than this one.
Black’s idea justified itself: his opponent missed a mate in one based on two simultaneous pins: 36.Qxg3?? Qh1#.
Meanwhile, excessive aggression can be harshly punished.
36.Re7-g7+! Bh6xg7 37.Qe5xg7+! Kg8xg7 38.Bd6xf8+ Kg7xf8 39.Nf2xh3 Ng5xh3
On 39…Ke7, the simplest of all is 40.Nf3! Nxf3 41.ef. The queen is excluded from the game forever, and the black king cannot fight alone against multiple pawns.
A minor piece endgame arises with White two or three pawns up.
Schmidt – Gulko
The King’s Indian was played, of course. Black has sacrificed a whole rook, relying on the strength of the threat 28…Rg7+. His idea could have been refuted by a reciprocal sacrifice, which would have allowed White to switch to a decisive counter-attack.
28.Bb2xe5!! d6xe5 29.Re2xe5 Re7-g7+
29…Rxe5 30.Rxe5 is completely hopeless.
30.Nf2-g4! f5xg4 31.Re5-e8+
But just not 31.f4? Bd7, and Black wins.
Black’s attack is exhausted, and his own king finds itself in a desperate position.
33.R1e7+ Qxe7 (33…Kf6 34.Re6+) 34.Rxe7+ Kxe7 35.Qf2!? Kd6 36.Qb2 also wins.
All other tries are significantly weaker.
The worst is 28.Ng3? Rg7 29.Nh1.1…?
In the case of 29…f4 the move 30.Bxe5! can be found, after which the position remains unclear: 30…de 31.Rxe5 or 30…Bh3+ 31.Kg1 Rxg3+ 32.Nxg3 Qxg3+ 33.Kh1 Qxf3+ 34.Rg2! de 35.Rxe5.
The move 29…Bf4! given by Boris Gulko sets more difficult tasks for his opponent. But here too, contrary to his opinion, it is hardly possible to evaluate the position unequivocally. White continues 30.Rg1 Bxg3 31.Kf1 f4 32.Nxg3 fg 33.Ke1 (33.Bc1!?) 33…g2+ 34.Rf2! (but just not 34.Kd1? Qh2! 35.Rexg2 Qxg1+!), and in the case of 34…Bh3?! the move 35.f4! equalises. You have to resort to more subtle methods such as 35…Ke8! 36.Qe2 (36.f4? Rg3!) 36…Kd8 37.f4 Bg4 38.Qc2! Rf7!. Then again, here we have a typical computer scenario, so I will cut the variation off (I probably should have done this a lot sooner).
But on 28.Nh2!? Black no longer finds a clear path to equalisation: 28…Bf4 (28…Rg7+? 29.Kh1 Bf4 30.Nd3+-) 29.Rh1 Rg7+ 30.Kf1 Bxh2 31.Ne4! Qh3+ 32.Ke1.Here the variations are also purely computer-like. White remains the exchange up everywhere, but taking advantage of that is problematic.
32…Bg3+ 33.Nxg3 Qxg3+ 34.Rf2! f4!? (34…Nb7 35.f4!) 35.Rxh7 Bh3+/=/+/-.
32…Qxf3 33.Rexh2 Qe3+, and now either 34.Re2 Rg1+ 35.Rxg1 Qxg1+ 36.Kd2 fe 37.Qxe4 Bg4 38.Qg2! Qxg2 39.Rxg2 h5+/=, or 34.Qe2 Rg1+ 35.Rxg1 Qxg1+ 36.Kd2 fe 37.Qf2+ Qxf2+ 38.Rxf2+ Kg7+/=.
Wlodzimierz Schmidt chose a different retreat of the f1-knight, which by strength is in the middle of the ones we have already looked at. Gulko wrongly awarded it an exclamation mark.
28.Ne3? Rg7+ 29.Kf1 Qh2
The alternative 29…Bxe3 30.Rxe3 f4.1.?
31.Re4? Bh3+ 32.Ke2 Qxf2+! 33.Kxf2 Rg2+ 34.Kf1 Rxc2+ loses. A draw results from both the variation given by Gulko 31.Bxe5! Bh3+ 32.Nxh3! (32.Ke2? Qxf2+!) 32…Qxh3+ 33.Ke2 de! 34.Rxe5! Rg2+ 35.Kd1 Rxc2 36.Re8+ Kg7 37.R8e7+ Kg6 38.R1e6+, and also 31.Rxe5! Bh3+ 32.Nxh3! Qxh3+ 33.Ke2 Rg2+ 34.Kd1 de 35.Re2.
Let’s go back to the game.1.?
Again, as on the 28th move, the terrible danger threatening the white king can be neutralised by switching to an energetic counter-attack (this time it is only enough for a draw). The variations are given in Gulko’s notes.
30.Nfg4? Qh3+ with a subsequent 31…fg-+ does not work. But the game finished like this: 30.Rd2? Rg1+ 31.Ke2 Rxe1+ (31…Bxe3! decided things more quickly) 32.Kxe1 Bxe3 33.Nd1 Bxd2+ 34.Qxd2 Qxd2+ 35.Kxd2 f4 (intending Bf5-b1). White resigned.
But not 31.Nxg4? Qh3+ 32.Kg1 Be3+ 33.Rxe3 Bxg4-+.
31…d6xe5 32.Re2xe5 Bc8-d7! 33.Qc2-e4!
Another path to a draw: 33.Rf5+! Kg8! 34.Qe4! Rg6!= (Dvoretsky).
33…Rg7-f7! 34.Re5-e7! g4-g3 35.Re7xf7+ Kf8xf7 36.Qe4xh7+! Kf7-f8 37.Qh7-h8+
A sharp battle ends in perpetual check.
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