Do you want to be a world champion in Chess? Yes, would be the answer of almost every chess player alive!
Since a player starts studying chess seriously he is exposed to the gems created by the world champions. They are the torchbearers of ideal play.
Every world champion has a unique style of play and they have taught us all in some way or the other. I have personally learnt a lot from the 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov. In my childhood, I remember studying his games and trying to understand them in detail. This had a huge impact on my playing style as I became confident in endgames and positional play.
Although World Champions are the heroes of chess, people usually tend to forget other strong Grandmasters of the past and the present who always remained in the shadows of the World champions.
In this and the upcoming articles, I would like to bring to your kind attention these creative players of chess. I have analyzed their games in detail and have selected a game, plus a few positions which have a great instructional value.
The game is designed in the form of a training exercise. I will be challenging you at regular intervals to find the best moves, not just in the game but also in the analysis of the variations. The beauty of such a training exercise is that the difficulty level of the questions ranges from easy to medium to hard to very hard! Some positions could prove to be a tough nut even for grandmasters! Hence, this training game is suitable for all levels of chess players.
At the end of the game, I will be providing some interesting test positions selected from the player’s games. I would urge you to find a quiet time in your day and a quiet place if possible so that you would remain completely focused during this training. Going through this game and the positions at the end of the game on a proper chess set is highly recommended. I hope you learn a lot from this article.
Photo: Amruta Mokal/ChessBase India
Evgeniy Najer, born in 1977, is a Russian Chess Grandmaster. He won the European Championship in 2015 and the strong Aeroflot Open in 2016. His peak rating was 2707 in August 2017. I became curious about Najer’s play when I saw online the following game of his against Grandmaster Victor Bologan.
Evgeniy Najer (2683) – Bologan,Victor (2600)
19th European Individual Championship 2018 Batumi GEO (5.13) Date – 21.03.2018
[Annotator – GM Swapnil Dhopade]
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.a4!? This is an interesting move-order. The idea is to avoid lines like 6.0-0 – Nb6 followed by ed4.
6…0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Ba2 the bishop moves away from its exposed position on c4 where it can be attacked by the pawns or the black pieces.
[8.Re1 and 8.h3 are the other main alternatives.]
8…b6 9.Qe2 a6 at some point blacks main idea will be to gain space on the queenside with b6-b5.
10.Rd1 the rook is useful on the d-file. It’s interesting to note that white is not developing his bishop from c1 yet. According to the situation he will choose to develop it to g5 or e3.
10…Qc7 11.h3 A useful move covering the g4 square. The c1 bishop will feel safe whenever it arrives on e3 as now it cannot be harassed by Ng4.
[The immediate, 11…b5 is not so good for black here due to, 12.axb5 now black is forced to recapture on b5 with the c-pawn which is not ideal as the d5 square becomes very weak. 12…cxb5 (12…axb5? 13.Bxf7++- wins for white.) 13.dxe5 (white can also opt for a dynamic approach, 13.Nxb5!? axb5 14.Bxf7+ Rxf7 15.Rxa8 Nb6 16.Ra1+/= white has a rook and two pawns for two minor pieces. Materially white is a bit better but the position remains complex.) 13…dxe5 14.Nd5 Nxd5 15.Bxd5 Bb7 16.c4+/= and white is slightly better. The a6 pawn may come under pressure as the game progresses.]
Challenge 1: With his last move, black is planning for b6-b5. How will you continue as white?
12.d5! A nice strategical move! White challenges the c6 pawn curbing blacks plan to play b6-b5. Black has two choices before him either to take on d5 or advance the pawn with c6-c5. Both choices have their own drawbacks.
12…cxd5 [12…c5 is another way for black to play here. But white has a slightly better position after, 13.Bc4+/=]
Challenge 2: Will you capture on d5 with the bishop or with the knight?
13.Bxd5! White is not interested in exchanging a pair of knights as blacks pieces struggle to find good squares.
[13.Nxd5? would be a mistake as exchanging pieces usually favours the side that is passive. In this case, black is having a passive position, hence exchanging a pair of knights favours black. 13…Nxd5 14.Bxd5 Nf6= black is fine in this position.]
13…Nc5 Black plans to play Bd7 followed by gaining space on the queenside with b6-b5-b4. Once black manages to kick the c3 knight, white will lose control on the important d5 square.
14.Bg5 A logical move fighting for the d5 square. Eliminating the knight from f6 by exchanging it with the bishop is a common theme in many Sicilian lines where the fight revolves around the d5 square.
[it was also possible for black to play, 14…Ne6 forcing whites intentions with the bishop. 15.Bxf6 (15.Be3 is playable too. 15…Bb7 16.Bxb7 Qxb7 17.Nd2 Rfc8 18.Nc4 Qc6 (18…Nxe4 is met by 19.Nd5 Bd8 (19…Bf8 20.Ncxb6+/-; trying to save the pawn with, 19…b5?? loses to 20.axb5 axb5 21.Ra7+-) 20.Bxb6+/= white maintains a slight pull due to the strong knight on d5.) 19.b3+/= white has a pleasant position due to firm control of the d5 square. Again going for the break immediately with, 19…b5?? fails to, 20.Nd5+-) 15…Bxf6 16.Bc4 hitting a6 and freeing the d5 square for the knight. 16…Nf4 17.Qf1 Ra8 18.Nd2+/= and white maintains a slight edge.]
Challenge 3: How will you continue as white now?
15.Ra3! A nice prophylactic move! White protects the c3 knight which allows him to play b2-b4 in response to b6-b5. This move also allows the doubling of rooks on the a-file in case the a-file opens up.
[15.Bc4 with the idea to prevent b6-b5 is met by, 15…Nxa4! and I think that is why both the players rejected 15.Bc4. Even though after, 16.Nxa4 b5 17.Bxf6 White has to eliminate this knight sooner or later to get access to the d5 square. 17…Bxf6 18.Nc3 bxc4 19.Nd5 (19.Rxa6?! is inferior as black will cover the d5 square with, 19…Be6 20.Raxd6 Rxb2 21.Nd5+/=) 19…Qc6 (19…Qd8 20.Rxa6+/- white has a dominating position.) 20.Nd2 Rfc8 21.Nxf6+ gxf6 22.Qf3+/- blacks weakened kingside gives white a clearly better position.]
15…b5 16.axb5 axb5 17.b4 The change in the pawn structure has surely favoured white as the a-file is opened up which can be used by white rooks. Also, the bishop on d5 controls the important a8 square thus effectively preventing blacks rook from challenging the a-file.
17…Ne6 18.Be3 whites pieces are much better placed than their counterparts. It is already difficult to find an effective plan for black.
[It is not possible to get rid of the annoying d5 bishop, as after, 18…Nxd5? 19.Nxd5 Qd8 20.Ra7+- the knight will be too strong on d5 and blacks pieces can hardly move.; 18…Rfc8 19.Ba7+/- wins an exchange for white.]
19.Qd3! A nice little improving move. The queen is better placed on d3, supporting the c3 knight (thus freeing the rook to go to a7) and also putting pressure on the d6 pawn. It is important to note how Najer slowly improves his position.
19…Qc8 The queen was prone to attacks by white pieces on c7 with Ra7 or after Nd5, so black decides to put it on a safer square, also vacating the c7 square for the e6 knight. With his previous move, black planned to take on d5 or play …Nc7 putting pressure on d5 bishop. So white simply decides to move it back keeping the tension.
20.Bb3 white is cleverly anticipating blacks ideas. When one has a space advantage it is essential not to allow your opponent to exchange pieces easily, without concessions.
20…Nc7 now black intends to play Nc7-a6 or break in the centre with d6-d5 when the b4 pawn hangs.
21.Ra7 the rook was not needed on a3 anymore so white takes his rook to a7 where it will create a lot of pressure in blacks camp.
[Also possible was, 21.Ng5 when an attempt to create some counterplay with, 21…d5? backfires after, (21…Rf8 22.Ra7 h6 23.Nf3+/- would be similar to the game.) 22.exd5 Bf5 (22…Bxb4 23.Nce4! exchanging the f6 knight weakens the h7 point. 23…Ncxd5 24.Bxd5 (24.Ra7+- white has too many threats.) 24…Nxd5 25.Nd6! Bxd6 26.Qxd5 Be6 27.Qxd6+- wins.) 23.Qe2 Bxb4 24.Ra7 threatening d5-d6. 24…Bd6 It seems black has managed to hold on. But,
(24…Bxc3 loses to, 25.d6 Ne6 26.Rxf7+- with crushing threats.)
Challenge 4:- Find the best move for white.
25.Nxf7! luring the king in the line of fire of the rook on a7!
Challenge 5:- How will you breakthrough blacks blockade?
26.Bc5! Exchanging the blockader first is stronger.
(26.Nxb5?! is possible but slightly inferior. 26…Rxb5 27.Qxb5 Re7 28.Qc6+-)
26…Rd8 27.Bxd6 Rxd6 28.Nxb5 Rxb5 29.Qxb5 Kg8 30.Qc5 Nfe8 31.Qe3+- White intends to play c2-c4 next. When the pawn storm of “c” and “d” will be difficult for black to handle.]
[21.Bg5 was also a possibility. 21…Na6 22.Rb1! this is the best move here. White indirectly defends the b4 pawn. (22.Nxe5?! is good enough only for =. It leads to very messy positions. For example, 22…Nxb4 23.Bxf7+ Kf8 24.Nxd7+ Kxf7 (24…Qxd7? 25.Bxe8+- hits the queen and wins material for white.; 24…Nxd7? 25.Bxe7+ Rxe7 26.Qxd6+- and white wins material here as well.) 25.Qf3 (25.Qd2!? Nxd7 26.Bxe7 Rxe7 27.Nd5 leads to unclear positions.) 25…Qxd7 26.e5 the point behind putting the queen on f3. White regains the piece. 26…Qb7! It is usually wise for the side with a weak king position to exchange queens as it will help to avert the dangers to his king. In this position blacks king is weak compared to whites, hence it makes sense for black to exchange queens. 27.Qxb7 Rxb7 28.exf6 gxf6 29.Bf4= and the complications have ended in an equal endgame.) 22…Nxb4 23.Bxf7+ Kxf7 24.Rxb4 Qc5 25.Bxf6! getting access to the d5 square for the knight on c3. 25…Bxf6 (25…Qxb4? 26.Bxe7 Rxe7 (If 26…Qxa3
Challenge 6:- How would you continue?
27.Nxe5+! utilising the pin on the d6 pawn. 27…Kxe7 (27…Kg8 leads to a mate 28.Qd5+ Kh8 29.Nf7+ Kg8 30.Nh6+ Kh8 31.Qg8+ Rxg8 32.Nf7#) 28.Nd5++- and black loses the queen.) 27.Nd5 Qc4 28.Ng5+ Ke8 29.Qf3+- white has a crushing attack.) 26.Nd5+/- threatening Rc3. White is clearly better.]
21…h6?! It seems logical covering the g5 square, but this, in turn, weakens the g6 square and sacrifices on h6 becomes a possibility.
[21…Na6 allows 22.Ng5 when black has issues on the weak f7 pawn.]
22.Nh4! Immediately exploiting the weaknesses in blacks camp.
[22…Be6 23.Bxe6 fxe6 (23…Nxe6 24.Nf5+-) 24.Ng6+- and the d6 pawn is about to fall after the exchange of blacks e7 bishop.]
Challenge 7:- What will you play here? Can you find the creative idea found by GM Najer in the game?
23.Bxh6!? A nice idea of Najer. This is the most critical moment of the game. White had enough of playing slow chess and decided to speed things up with a shot on h6! Well, objectively the idea is bad! Engines do not agree with Najer’s sacrifice, but it doesn’t matter because practically its a very strong move.
I think nowadays it is easy to criticize and reject a move with computer engines always at our fingertips, but when we see everything through the eyes of engines we tend to underestimate the practical strength of a move significantly. It is moves like this that makes your opponent play precisely and as you will see a strong GM like Bologan was not up to the task!
Personally, I would be very happy if my students find this idea or if the readers, in this case, have decided on playing 23.Bh6!? [23.Rda1+/- or; 23.g4+/- would have maintained the status quo.]
Challenge 8:- How would you defend the h6 pawn?
24…Ng8 the correct way to defend the h6 pawn.
[the obvious alternative was, 24…Kg7? 25.Qg3+ Kf8 26.Bxf7! Kxf7 27.Qg6+ Kf8 (27…Ke6 28.f4 exf4 29.Nd5+- with a completely winning position for white.) 28.Rxd6! Bxd6 (28…Ng8 29.Qh7+- with a mate to follow) 29.Qxf6+ Kg8 30.Qg6+ Kh8 (30…Kf8 31.Qxd6++-) 31.Qxh6+ Kg8 32.Qg6+ Kh8 33.Qxd6+- white is about to win material.]
[Another way to protect the mate on f7 was, 25…Ne6 but is strongly met by, 26.Ng6+ Kg7 27.Nxe5! Ng5 28.Qg3 Be6 29.Bxe6 Qxe6 30.Nc6+/- and white is clearly better here as the blacks king shelter is compromised, the pawns, as well as the squares, are weak in the blacks camp.]
26.Bxe6 Nxe6 27.Nd5?! threatening Ng6 followed by Ne7.
[it was accurate to start with, 27.Nf5 followed by Nc3-d5 next, when the knights on f5 and d5 are very annoying for black and give white full compensation for the sacrificed piece.]
27…Nf4?! A logical way to play. The defending side prefers to exchange as many pieces as possible to decrease the attacking potential. But in this position black has an opportunity to force white to play best moves to survive.
[27…Ng5! the idea behind this move is to play against the e4 pawn. If black wins the e4 pawn than white will lose control over the f5 square, making the f5 square unstable for the white knight. The position is too complex with lot variations possible, therefore I would like to provide a sample variation here. 28.Qh5 (28.Qe2?! is inferior as it allows black to offer the exchange of queens and put more pressure on the e4 pawn at the same time with, 28…Qc4! 29.Qxc4 bxc4 30.Nf5 Nxe4-/+) 28…Nxe4 29.Nf5 Qe6 the queen comes to the defence. 30.Qg4 Ng5
Challenge 9:- A critical position has arisen. White is running out of ideas. Can you find the best way to maintain the pressure?
31.Rxe7!! (31.h4? is simply met by, 31…h5-+; 31.Ndxe7? is bad for white too, as after, 31…Rxe7 32.Rxd6 black can give up his queen, 32…Rxa7 33.Rxe6 fxe6-/+ when black still maintains his material advantage.) 31…Rxe7 32.h4. white will win the g5 knight. Black will still have a material advantage but the monstrous knights on d5 and f5 provide white with ample compensation. This position is completely messy.]
Challenge 10:- Now its blacks turn to be accurate. One mistake and the game would slip away. So stay focused and find the best move for black!
28…Nxd5? black continues with his plan of exchanging the strong d5 knight. But it gives white a chance to seize the advantage.
[The position is very concrete and general considerations are of little help. In order to find the correct moves, you should calculate with the accuracy of a machine! Such positions push a player to show his best calculating abilities. 28…Qxc2! grabbing a pawn on c2 was the correct defence! The active queen on c2 helps create a lot of defensive tricks as we will see in the following variations. 29.Qg4
Challenge 11:- Another critical defending position. There are three ways to defend the mate on g7, 29…Ng6, 29…Bg5 and 29…Ne6. Which one will you choose?
29…Bg5! the only way to defend!
(29…Ne6? is met by, 30.h4! covering the g5 square and thus eliminating any kind of blockades on the g-file. White now threatens Nc7. 30…Rbc8 How should white continue?
31.Ra3!+- A nice manoeuvre! The rook was amazingly placed on the 7th rank but it can be much more deadly on the g-file.; 29…Ng6? is also met by, 30.h4! though this time the idea is not to cover the g5 square but rather to play h4-h5 and win the poor g6 knight. 30…h5 31.Qxh5 Qxe4 white would like to play Qh7 but the f5 knight is hanging, so white plays, 32.f3! Qc2 33.Nde3! Qb3 and now, 34.Qh7+- wins for white.) 30.Nxd6 Re7! another strong defensive move! (30…Ne7? loses to, 31.Nxf4 Bxf4 32.Qh5 Qb3 33.g3 Bg5 34.Rd5+- cutting the queen from the defence wins for white.) 31.Nxe7 Now there are various ways that end in a draw. One of the prettiest variation that such shows the beauty of the chess is, 31…Ne2+ a curious player may wonder how does white save himself after this move!?
and now comes the beautiful reply,
33.Qxf4!! white doesn’t need the queen to create problems for the black king! Now both the captures on f4 leads to a draw.
33…Nxf4 (33…exf4 is met by the same, 34.Nef5 Ne7 35.Rxe7 Qxd1 36.Rxf7+ Kg8 37.Rg7+=) 34.Nef5 Ne7 its essential for black to free the g8 square for his king. (34…Qb3? loses to, 35.Rda1! threatening Ra8 wins for white.) 35.Rxe7 Qxd1 36.Rxf7+ Kg8 37.Rg7+ Kf8 38.Rf7+ the game ends in a perpetual. This is the power of two knights when they work as a team!]
[accurate was, 29.Qg3! Qxf5 (29…Bf6 30.Nxd6 Qe6 31.Rxf7+ Qxf7 32.Nxf7 Kxf7 33.exd5+- white has a winning advantage.) 30.exf5 Ndf6+/- white is clearly better but it may not be so easy to breakthrough.]
29…Qe6 30.Nxe8 Nxb4 31.Nc7 Qb6?
[correct was, 31…Qc4 32.Rd7 Nc6 when there is a long struggle ahead. The position is unclear.]
Challenge 12:- the fatal error which does not allow black to come back in the game. Can you find the move that black missed?
32.Rd7! White uses a cool tactical opportunity to infiltrate his second rook on the 7th rank!
[32…Qf6 is met by, 33.Qxf6 Bxf6 34.c3 Nc6 35.Na6! Nxa7 36.Nxb8 Nc8 37.Rd5+/- white is clearly better.; 32…Qg6 33.c3 Nc6 34.Ra6+/-]
33.Qf5 Rxd7 34.Qxd7 the queen replaces the rook maintaining the status quo of blacks problems.
34…Qc5 35.Ra8+ Kg7 36.Qg4+ Bg5 37.Ne8+
[37.Qc8+- would have finished the game quickly.]
37…Kh8 38.Nf6 Kg7 39.Nh5+ What an amazing journey by this knight!
39…Kh8 40.h4 and black resigned!
I hope you all enjoyed this creative game by GM Evgeniy Najer and learned a few things in the process!
The following are two interesting positions from one of his games for you to solve. In both positions, you have to find the best way to continue. Solutions will be published soon!
Black to play. Find the best way to continue.
Black to play. Find the best way to continue.