Our first Tuesday night lesson was taken from Fabiano Caruana versus Magnus Carlsen, from the 2015 Gashimov Memorial which just concluded at the end of April in Azerbaijan.
The opening was the Stonewall Dutch Defense.
This game illustrated some excellent ideas for our club players: the Stonewall formation of pawns and the weakness of the back rank. (In this game Magnus also showed why bishops are not always better than knights…!)
In the opening, we saw the classic stonewall with black’s plans of …b6 to liberate white-squared bishop and delayed castling in order to counter a white option to trade off dark square bishops. (White allows black to build the stonewall configuration in order to take ‘pot shots’ at it!) High level tournament results with this opening often favor white, but the line from this game gets black about 50-50 results.
With …Bd6 and …Qe7, black takes time to stop white from weakening the dark squares with Ba3. (The trade of dark square bishops would leave black with dark square weaknesses that, over time, white might exploit.)
It’s interesting to note that white can forcefully carry out this idea even after …Qe7 by reinforcing the a3 square again using the a1 rook and playing a4. In opening databases this is still popular – it’s the 2nd most common plan – but it seems that when white makes this pawn structure commitment, black can equalize very quickly.
We talked about how play has to revolve around the blocked up center and how the slow nature of the opening allows both sides to comfortably plan out the development of their pieces.
Black often uses the plan …b6 and Bb7 or …Ba6 to deal with his white squared bishop. In this game we saw how this setup was coordinated with these moves first (reinforcing the pawn on c6) and only then developing the knight.
The other study we took from this game was the instructive ending, where with just a rook and minor piece each and equal pawns, the weakness of the back rank and the pawn structure hemmed in white’s bishop and king horribly!
Within just a few moves from the equal-looking diagram below, black’s knight (which now looks to be in trouble, ‘off sides’ in the white camp) comes alive and forces white into serious trouble. Looks are deceiving and the most important things to notice are the hemmed in nature of white’s poor bishop and the prospects for getting the knight to f3, when white’s back rank and king will be weak! The white rook is powerless to help and only serves to’force’ the knight to go where it wants!
In the end, white has exhausted all his pawn moves and is left tied in a rook-and-pawn ‘knot’. Use the ‘forward’ button to play through the final moves from the diagram: