Central Control 2 – When the Centre collapses

When you have a large centre – by which I mean multiple pawns on the 4th rank – e.g. c4, d4, e4 or d4. e4. f4 (to name just 2 examples) then you have to make sure that your opponent can’t undermine this at a later stage. Many modern openings, which initially concede the centre will have counterattacking opportunities, where your large centre can actually become broken down. This is exactly what happened in this game I played when I was younger.

If you have a chess board, please get it out now as I begin with notation:

  1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 d6 3. c3 g6 4. Nd2 Bg7 5. e4 0-0 

Already, I have established a strong centre, but in a couple of moves time, black breaks down this big centre, claiming it to be unstable. 6. Bd3 This move was not best (6. Ngf3 is more accurate, giving more control over the e5 square) …, c6 Preparing to play d5 although an immediate 6…, d5 was stronger. 7. Qe2 Nbd7 8. Be3 e5! (figure 2) Now the critical break comes, and white is forced to make a decision on how to continue…

Already there is a lot of tension in the centre. 9. f4 c5 Here I make a positional mistake.

10. d5?! Now the pawn on e4 is a permanent weakness, because it can no longer be defended by another pawn. Better was 10. fxe5, releasing the tension, and opening up the f-file for my rook after a later 0-0 (play could have continued 10…, cxd4 11. exf6 dxe3 12. fxg7 exd2+ 13. Qxd2 Kxg7 ).

10…, a6 (More critical was 10…, exf4 11. Bxf4 Nxd5! A clever tactic 12. exd5 Re8 13. Be3 Nf6 14. 0-0-0 Ng4! though neither I nor my opponent saw this).

11. Ngf3 Ng4 

The main point of this knight manoeuvre is to exchange the knight for my dark squared bishop, which is a sensible exchange to make (Note: at top level bishops are usually worth a tad more than knights). To avoid this exchange  could play Bg1, but that is a really backward move, and you are very often punished for playing negatively in chess. Instead, I increase the tension in the centre. 12. f5 Nxe3 13. Qxe3 b5 

According to the engine, this position is actually equal. The trouble was that I failed to find the best move here. 14. b3?! The trouble with this move, is that it allows the black knight into my position. (14. g4 would have stabilsed my f5 pawn, and I have to say, I actually quite like my position there. My king is destined to stay in the middle, but that is not actually an issue, because he is somewhat safe there, and I have a ready made kingside attack with h4-h5 (play could have continued: 14…, c4 15. Bc2 Qb6 16. Qxb6 Nxb6 17. Kf2 Bb7 18. Rhg1 Nd7). 14…, Nf6 

In this position, the knight is threatening to come into my position by 2 different routes, and if I stop one of them, then the knight will go into the other square. These squares are g4 and g3. 15. h3 Nh5 16. Bc2 Ng3 17. Rg1 gxf5 

All of a sudden, my position looks awful. I can`t recapture on f5, because I would lose a pawn anyway after 18…, Bxf5 19. Bxf5 Nxf5 with a loss of a tempo, because I have to move my queen. 18. 0-0-0 f4 my centre has fallen apart, and I haven`t sufficient counterplay. 19. Qf2 Qa5 20. Kb2 f5!  This last move really blasts my centre open even more, and gets rid of black`s doubled pawn.

21. Ng5 going for some counterplay – it is better to go down fighting, than admit defeat straight away …, h6 22. Ne6 Bxe6 23. dxe6 Rae8 

In this complex position, we both overlooked something… 24. exf5? Nxf5?? black could have won on the spot with the inventive 24…,Qxc3 when Kxc3 loses to e4+ white can put the queen in the way with Qd4, but next move Bxd4 will be checkmate. 25. Bxf5 Rxf5?? According to the computer,black`s advantage dissappears instantly into thin air! This is because white can get active with the queen – I missed this. 26. Ne4 Rxe6?? 27. Nxd6?? I missed the way to draw… (27. Qd2 Rg6 28. g4 fxg3 29. Rxg3 Rxg3 30. Nxg3 Rf6 31. Nh5 Rg6 32. Qd5+ Kh7 33. Nxg7 Kxg7)

The game finished 27…, e4 28. Qe1 b4 29. Rd4 bxc3+ 30. Kb1 cxd4 31. Nxf5 Qxf5  Here I resigned.

Conclusions from the Game

In this game, it was all about the struggle for the centre, and there was a great deal of tension in the centre, which caused me to make a mistake with 10. d5 creating a permanent weakness on e4, which my opponent exploited with his knight manoeuvre.

This game really highlights how you have to be careful about pushing pawns, because pawns can`t go backwards. I think it might have been Philidor who suggested that pawns are strongest when held back, because they have more options, and every pawn move creates a weakness, because there is ground that is no longer defended by them, when you push them forwards.

How to avoid Making Pawn Weaknesses

Try to avoid creating permanent pawn weaknesses in your own games. Here are some questions you could ask yourself before you play a pawn move in the early middlegame:

  • Am I going to be left with any backwards pawns? (A pawn that can’t be defended by another pawn, because its neighbours are too far advanced – see the diagram after 13 moves – my e-pawn is backwards)
  • Am I going to be left with any isolated pawns? (A pawn that has no allied pawn on its adjacent files – for example see the final diagram – the black a-pawn is isolated. However this is somewhat irrelevant in that position, because black has an overwhelming advantage.)
  • Is it going to benefit me to keep the centre closed or to open it up? This should help you decide whether to capture or to push forwards a pawn.
  • Will there be any ‘holes’ in my position where an enemy piece can jump into? If so, which enemy pieces might head towards that square, and is that important?

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