Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ray Could Play VI

After a brief interplanetary interlude and a long overdue chat with Eric Holt I want to get back [previously here and here] to exchange sacrifices today. It’s an aspect of chess that I find both fascinating and almost completely incomprehensible.

T.C. tells me that Jonathan Rowson once suggested that a willingness to give up rook for minor piece is the thing that really separates the very best chessers from the rest of us. If so the following position seems to be a case in point; in any event it certainly demonstrates on which side of the divide Raymond Dennis Keene belongs.

White to play
Keene - Wirthensohn, Hannover 1976

For Raymondo it’s simple. 22 Rxd5, he says, is an “opportunity too good to miss. Black becomes hopelessly exposed on the lights squares”. After 22 … cxd5, 33 Nc3 Nac7, 24 Nxd5 Rf5

he adds, “In addition to his positional compensation White will soon possess a material equivalent. The exchange sacrifice has been a complete success.”

This may all be run-of-the-mill for RDK but it’s most definitely not for me. I can see that White is going to swing his rook over to d1 so in effect he has swapped his least useful piece for Black’s best one, that all of White’s pieces are now in play and that Black’s knights and queen’s rook are not well placed to defend a rather shaky looking king. What I have trouble with is judging whether that adds up to a sufficient return for the required material investment.

If I were considering my 22nd move, in the unlikely event that I’d have considered taking on d5 in the first place, my thought process would be something like,

OK I can give up 5 in exchange for 3 …
… and I can easily get 1 more back too …
... umm ...
… what now?

An unopposed bishop, weak light squares, active pieces – these factors are too abstract for me to be able assess properly. Actually I originally wrote “too abstract to be able to quantify properly” there and I wonder if that’s the problem; I need (believe I need?/want?) something tangible to be able to judge the merits of a chess position. 5 is bigger than 4 and always will be; that’s something I can readily grasp and since the numbers are something I can understand it’s the numbers that drive my thinking.

Ray Keene:
Dressing like you're in Life on Mars is
"an opportunity too good to miss"

For my occasional fellow blogger unsurprisingly playing chess was a very different experience. Keene was at the top of his game in 1976 and, probably not coincidentally, a short time after his encounter with Wirthensohn he became England’s second ever Grandmaster. Whether or not exchange sacrifices really do mark the borders of chessboard competence as Rowson believes, games like this one that show beyond any doubt that Ray could definitely play.

Ray Keene Index

RDK's comments taken from his book Becoming a Grandmaster, Batsford 1977

Photo taken from Wikipedia


Campion said...

Dumb question here at 3am: why not 22 Rxd5 cxd5 23 Ne6?

Jonathan B said...

Morning Campion.

Is Qxb2 the answer? That's my first glance response anyway. Could be bollocks - I've got to get to work now!


Tom Chivers said...

I found 23.Nc3 hard to spot- knight retreat in the opposite direction to the action.

Jonathan B said...

Funnily enough I found it quite straightforward to find Nc3. I suppose my inner materialist wanted to get some points back asap and that was the most obvious way of doing so.

The right idea for the wrong reason. I suspect that would make quite a good series in itself.

Peter said...

On the subject of penguin exchange sacs, I remember being quite impressed by Keene-Ligterink, Lloyds Bank 1981.

Jonathan B said...

Oh thanks for the tip Peter. A twofer!

I suspect KvL may well get its own post one day. :-)