This exercise was taken from Jeremy Silman’s Reassess Your Chess Workbook. The proposal provided is of my own without the help of external assistance; after producing it, I look at Silman’s solution and compare each.
Black, whose …f7-f5 was answered by exf5, has to recapture his pawn on f5. What’s the best way to do this?
There’s multiple ways to go about this: 1…Rxf5, 1…Bxf5, or 1…gxf5. Alternatively, an intermezzo may occur.
An intermezzo is an intermediate move. In this case, it’s a move that comes in between the pawn captures.
Such a move would take advantage of an opponent’s weakness, or at least threaten it. If the white dark-squared bishop and the rook on f1 wasn’t present, then black could play …Qf6. If the pawn captures on g6, the threat of …Qxf2+ is realized.
Anyways, a reconnaissance of the board will be conducted. In accordance with the master plan, the candidate moves (1…Rxf5, 1…Bxf5, 1…gxf5) will be considered thereafter.
It is tempting to mix the steps, like noting that the bishop on c8 becomes superior upon capture of the pawn, then realizing that it can become shooed away after 2. g4.
Although that seemingly eliminates an option, this is not procedural, generally leads to confusion, and is hasty. Only after administering my thorough inquiry below I realized the bishop simply captures the white queen on c2 (after 2. g4).
Now we examine the imbalances:
- Superior minor piece (bishops): Black’s dark-squared bishop on g7 is blocked by the e5 pawn. He can’t make the pawn push …e4 anytime soon which opens up the diagonal for it, so it is currently inactive. The other diagonal (c1-h6) is also controlled by the white dark-squared bishop on e3. Black’s light-squared bishop on c8 is eyeing down a pawn that, upon capture, can become activated and touch upon the central e4 square. White’s light-squared bishop on e2 can gain control of the center with 2. Bd3. It is a good and potentially active bishop; trading it for black’s wouldn’t be the best of plays.
- Superior minor piece (knights): Although black’s knight on e8 is away from the action, it is far from misplaced. It can move to f6 where it asserts control over e4. The knight on c5 is also looking at e4, though its home is unstable – a simple a3 followed by b4 could retract it back to a6 or d7, where it is barely active. In contrast, white’s knights safely and surely have a good grasp on the e4 square. The knight on c3 together with the pawn control b5 and d5. …c6 followed by a pawn exchange would only help white’s case.
- Superior minor piece (conclusion): White’s bishops and knights have a good grasp on the center and kingside. Black’s knights seem to be in search for a better square and his bishops are inactive. An exchange of bishops or even a bishop for a knight only favors black.
- Pawn structure: Black has a foothold on the center with his d6-e5 pawn chain. Although white could play f4, it opens up the diagonal for the dark-squared bishop allowing black more control over d4 with an eventual …c5. White’s pawn chain is preventing maneuvering of black’s knights.
- Space: White has plenty of queenside space. Black’s a5 pawn isn’t helping as an eventual …a4 is answered by b4. Black actually has enough kingside space to activate his pieces – no chance on the queenside where a bishop on b7 would be blocked by the white pawn chain. His knights are definitely constricted by it.
- Material: No discernible difference.
- Control of key files, ranks, diagonals: White displays ample government of the kingside with both bishops working alongside one another. His dark-squared bishop’s vision also strikes through the center into the queenside. Black’s queen, though, is patrolling the d8-h4 diagonal.
- Development: Black still needs to develop his light-squared bishop, e8 knight, rooks, and queen. White is ahead of the curve with only his rooks preparing for battle.
- Initiative: White’s dictating the tempo of the game at the moment. Even after Bxf5, white plays Nde4 and his life is fine.
White’s knights have plenty of space to move around in. The idea will be for white to use the abundance of queenside space with Nc3-b5 after Nd2-e4. If …c6, then dxc6 followed by a capture of the backward d6 pawn. White seems to be dominating this game, but the access to e4 can be restricted.
Fortunately for black, he can take advantage of his space on the kingside. There is no intermezzo that can occur without black giving up his pawns and compromising his king’s safety. Black must recapture.
Clearly, finding a refutation for a candidate move is like lighting a fire instead of using a machete to navigate the dense forest. The objective is to not lose (the winner is just the smaller loser), so looking for a refutation over winning moves conserves time and energy.
One can object to gxf5, “Doesn’t that open up a file for the enemy rook to attack the kingside?” Yes, it does. But the rook can only use that file if it controls it, and it would have to be on g3. White’s d2 knight will have to go to b1 to make room for Rd1-d3-g3. In spite of all that time and positional compromise, a simple …f4 will kick it out and allow black’s rook(s) to invade and parade.
Conclusion: The re-capture should be performed with the g-pawn.
The first candidate move, Bxf5, is gold – fool’s gold, that is. Although “it develops a piece, recaptures a pawn, and attacks the queen” – all basic principles of chess – it still leaves white with control of e4. Grandmasters place control over the center as priority numero uno. From here pieces can go to any side, any corner of the board. Your range is limited to the wings from your defensive half which is, for lack of a better name, lame.
Rxf5 does absolutely nothing for black. The minor pieces are still present on the field and can harass the rook out of desire for sport. It also doesn’t get black acquainted with e4.
The correct move is gxf5. It repels white from e4 – crucial, creates a mobile center with possibilities for a miniature “pawn roller”, and opens the g-file.
The open position of the black king is an illusion. Black has a prairie of a kingside that white can’t access (anymore). If the enemy can’t get to it, how is the King in any danger? (Don’t answer that.)
The only caution is that an advancement of pawns can leave its side and squares behind it weak. e5-e4 gives up a right to hold d4, f4, and e5. Situational assessment is required for further action.