"Chess Narratives" Exercise
Black to play after 15.Qb3.
What's Black's best move and why?
What's Black's best move and why?
In Chess for Zebras (reviewed here last year), Jonathan Rowson talks about how chessplayers try to make sense of the middlegame with what he calls "chess narratives":
I think of chess narratives as the background 'noise' that permeate our thoughts during play and this 'noise' is often sufficiently loud that it operates as the context of our thoughts. For instance, if you probe the advice 'counter an attack on the wing with play in the centre' for a few seconds, you can imagine someone telling a story about the game, with that as the basis of the plot. Narratives are the guiding stories that give us a sense of what we are trying to do and why. ... While nobody is immune to these narratives, very few use them to guide themselves towards correct moves. Many players get lost in these stories, trapped by their own narrative, and completely lose track of the objective state of affairs on the board... (46).
The best narrative offers a good reading of the position that fits well with specific calculations so that, as Rowson puts it, "your assessment and your variations make sense of each other." A bad narrative, though, is really a self-deceptive invention (what Rowson calls "fabulation") that is imposed on the facts with little close inspection of the specific lines that might support it. Like "The Lazy Detective," the fabulist cares less about the truth than in confirming what he already knows based on his ideological biases. More often than not, however, the truth will come out and the fabulist will fall--though a skilled fabulist will then be able to explain away his failure without acknowledging the truth (rather like George Bush discussing Iraq).
In my game with John Moldovan (The Chess Coroner) from the KCC Summer Tournament (which began this week--though you can join at any time), I struggled to find the right narrative at a critical juncture. I think I made a more accurate choice than I usually do, but not necessarily the best. Let's see if you can do better....
Which of the following chess narratives best fits the position diagrammed above and leads to the best choice of plan?
Narrative: Black has a tremendous lead in development, of at least three or four tempi, which justifies sacrificing at least a pawn to gain an attack. White's King is also practically denuded of defenders, while Black's forces are ready to leap to the kingside, supported by the pawn at e4. Even his Rook is ready to swing over to support the Queen and Knight. Black can target both the h2 and g2 squares, but the most promising idea is to use the Queen and Rook together in a full frontal battering-ram assault on g2. The basic idea begins 15...Qh5! 16.Qxb2 (if 16.h3 then 16...Rg5! 17.Kh1 Rg6! followed by ...Qg5 to batter down the door) 16...Ng4! 17.h3 Rg5!! and all of Black's forces are launching themselves at White's helpless King. Not only that, but Black gets to finish things off beautifully after the natural 18.hxg4 Qxg4! 19.g3 Rh5!! and there is no defense.
Narrative: Yes, Black's lead in development dictates that he attack the enemy King, but the best target of attack is h2. The idea is 15...Qd6 16.Ba3 (who can resist pinning the Rook to the Queen?) 16...Ng4! 17.g3 Qh6! 18.h4 and now Black can attack by 18...Rf5! followed by ...Ne5-f3+ and ...Nxh4 to blast open the weakened White King position. Meanwhile, White's forces stand helplessly by on the queenside. He's dead meat.
Narrative: When I play chess, I always ask myself, "What would Capablanca do?" Sure, there are chances of attack on the kingside, but that all seems very speculative to me and seems to risk losing Black's real advantage, which consists of his control of the c-file, his queenside pawn majority, and his better minor piece. The best way to capitalize on these positional pluses is not to throw away material (by allowing Qxb2) seeking an attack, but to simplify into a winning endgame by exchanging Queens. After 15...Qxb3 16.axb3 a6 I will double Rooks on the c-file, play my Knight to d5, pawn to f5, and march my King to the center. He has almost no counterplay and will likely be forced to exchange Rooks on the c-file, leaving me with a winning endgame due to my superior minor piece and queenside pawn majority.
Narrative: Black's advantage consists of control of the c-file, plain and simple. I intend to triple my heavy pieces on that file and lord it over my opponent with 15...Qc6 16.Bb2 Rec8.
Narrative: Black needs to avoid the exchange of Queens lest he risk losing too much attacking force to exploit his lead in development. After all, a lot of pieces have been exchanged, and if Black is going to organize an attack he will need attackers. Meanwhile, Black also needs to restrain White's backward d-pawn, which he can do by 15...Qd7. This is the most versatile Queen move: it avoids the exchange of Queens, stays on the d-file to restrain the weakling at d2, defends the b-pawn, and even eyes White's kingside. I will follow up with ...Rd5, ...b6, ...Rd3, ...Rc8, and ...h6 to create an invulnerable position while squeezing White till he coughs up a pawn.
See my notes to the game for the answer (or what I think is the right answer anyway). I include the PGN file if you want to do your own computer analysis to confirm it.
If you enjoy this little "test," then I suggest you pick up the marvelous book Test Your Positional Play by Robert Bellin and Pietro Ponzetto which basically presents 30 exercises along these lines.