Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why is Chess so difficult ?!!

Ever since you are a little kid, entering the jungle of chess, knowledgeable experts and your coaches will start throwing advice at you like:
Hey! don't bring out your queen so soon in the opening!
Control the Center!
Develop your pieces!
blah blah blah......

As you grow proficient at the game, you start understanding, how these rules are so very useful and not adhering to them can have disastrous consequences.
One such rule which I learnt when I was 14 and have been hearing about it time and again is the Tarrasch's rule. The Rule is:
Very simple and straight forward! It doesn't really matter whose pawn it is. If it is your pawn then your rook is perfectly placed behind it because it helps in its advance on every move.

The white rook is perfectly placed behind his passed pawn.

Once again, the white rook is perfectly placed behind the black passed pawn. Black cannot queen his pawn because on every move white rook keeps a watch on it from behind.

Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch

Dr. Tarrasch looks so stern in the above picture that the next time you are confused about where you put your rook, you only need remember this image and a voice will automatically ring in your head: Rook belongs behind the passed pawn!

Lets wind back the clocks a little. The year was 1927. It was the World Championship match between the Cuban Genius Jose Raul Capablanca and the Challenger to the throne, the master of calculation Alexander Alekhine.

The first one to win 6 games would be awarded the title of World Champion. Capablanca was surely a great player but also a pretty lazy person when it came to working on chess. It didn't come as a huge surprise that Alekhine was the better player and after 33 games he led the match with 5 wins to Capablanca's 3. Alekhine needed only 1 more win to seal the deal in his favour. The 34th game turned out to be the decisive one.

After getting a small advantage out of the opening, Alekhine won a pawn in the middlegame and carried that advantage into the endgame. Finally a rook ending arose.

It was Alekhine's (White's) move. What should he play?

I am sure Alekhine was confused between Ra4 and Rd5. I have no proof of it but I am sure the stern face and the cold words of Tarrasch echoed in Alekhine's ears: "Rooks belong behind the passed pawn!" He immediately made the best move in the position.

Alekhine placed his rook behind the passed pawn and was easily able to win the endgame.

The point in this ending is that white cannot win with just the a5 pawn. Black can defend against that one weakness. Following the principle of two weaknesses, White has to create one more weakness and that will be on the kingside. With the threat of penetrating on the queenside, white will lure the black king to that side of the board and then enter on the kingside. Here is how the game panned out:

Thus Alekhine won the world Championship with a score of 6-3. I am sure somewhere in his mind he did thank Tarrasch for creating this wonderful rule!

Fast forward 65 years. It was 1992. The Candidates Semi final between the Dutch Grandmaster Jan Timman and Russian GM who now lives in Germany Artur Yusupov.

Yusupov vs Jan Timman (

 It was a 10 game affair for the right to reach the final and then challenge Garry Kasparov who was the World Champion. In the other semi final Short was able to beat Karpov and Timman was victorious against Yusupov with a score of 6-4. We all know that Short was the one who challenged Kasparov in 1993 but Kasparov was easily able to beat him and retain the title.

But coming back to the Yusupov- Timman match. After 6 games the match was tied at 3-3. It could have gone either way and the odds were in the favour of Yusupov as he reached the following position as white in game 7.

Yusupov who was white was pressing for most of the game and here it was his move. What should he play?

Let's make a small check on Yusupov's history. Yusupov was one of the star pupil of the very famous Russian coach Mark Dvoretsky.

One of the best coaches in the world: Mark Dvoretsky.

Mark as a coach is known for his classical approach towards chess. He teaches his students good calculation backed up with a firm base of general rules. I say this because I have read almost all of Dvoretsky's books. It goes without saying that Artur Yusupov was very well versed with Tarrasch's rule of Rook behind the passed pawn. At the same time I am 100% sure that he had seen the game of Alekhine-Capablanca from the 1927 World Championship match.

The stern voice of Tarrasch rang in Yusupov's head and he immediately made the move Ra1??

Yusupov thought he couldn't be wrong following the footsteps of not only Tarrasch but also Alekhine.
As things turn out, this is a huge blunder which gives black an instant draw as we shall see. The right move was:


Let us understand here why the cardinal rule of rook behind the passed pawn is not applicable.
The rook on e4 now defends the pawn from the side and at the same time keeps an eye on the weak e6 pawn. It doesn't allow black to exchange more pawns. It also keeps the black king at bay because Kf5 is met with Re5 and the pushing the pawn to a5. Next the white king makes his way to the queenside and shepherds the 'a' pawn home. When the white rook goes to a1 as in the game, the problem is that black can get rid of his weak pawn with e6-e5 and that would mean one pair of pawns lesser than Alekhine-Capablanca. At the same time, the rook pawn is also blocked one square ahead than the 1927 game.
A horrible mistake by Yusupov which cost him dearly as he drew this game and later he went on to lose the match. Here's the game with some analysis.

We see that even the rule which looks so logical, has its exceptions and in fact this is the beauty of the game of Chess. No single rule can be eternal. While develop your pieces looks like such a fundamental rule, I have seen a game of Shirov in which first 10 moves made by him were all pawn moves. Yet he won! That's why even the great Garry Kasparov says that he is still learning the game of Chess and will never be able to master it.

In Conclusion, I would like to say:
The rules of Chess are like GPS direction system in your mobile. If you want to go from point A to B, the GPS system will show you the route for sure but it doesn't know if recently that route has been closed down by the government or whether a tree has fallen down which has resulted in the road being shut. It's a useful tool but you can never 100% depend on it! (atleast in India!)
Chess is just too dynamic to have a set of rules. The rules can give a direction to your thinking but they can never cover all the permutations and combinations involved in the game.
Learn the rules and master them but never make a decision solely based on them. That's why we come to the only rule that will always remain true, not only in chess but also in life and that is:

Oh and I almost forgot to mention: After seeing so many exceptions to his rule, Tarrasch did mention:  "Always put the rook behind the pawn.... Except when it is incorrect to do so!!."  


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