The New Zealand Chess Magazine

Excerpt from John Nunn's Chess Course

The following excerpt is from Chapter 4, Piece Placement. Reproduced with the permission of Gambit Publications, with thanks to GM Murray Chandler.

Improving Piece Position

In quiet middlegame positions lacking tactical opportunities, it can sometimes be hard to think of a constructive plan. In this case, it's worth looking for a method of improving the position of one of your pieces. While the benefits of such a manoeuvre may not be immediately apparent, it's surprising how often it comes in handy later on. In the following game, Lasker obtains a winning position against one of the world's strongest players by doing little more than improving the position of first one piece and then another. Games like this are more instructive than a sacrificial brilliancy, because the opportunity for a brilliancy only comes very rarely, whereas chances to improve piece placing arise in almost every game.

Alekhine - Lasker New York 1924

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nbd7 These days  4...Be7 is considered the most flexible move, but there's nothing wrong with developing the knight first.  5.cxd5 The Exchange Variation is perennially popular line in the Queen's Gambit. It sometimes leads to the traditional minority attack on the queenside, but there are many games which follow a radically different course, including the present one.  5...exd5 6.Bf4 White's big decision in many lines of the classical Queen's Gambit is whether to develop the bishop to f4 or f5.  6...c6 A necessary precaution as otherwise Nb5 can be awkward.  7.e3 Nh5 7...Be7 would transpose back to standard variations.  8.Bd3?! Although in some positions White can allow the exchange of minor pieces on f4, here it is not particularly good as the d4 pawn becomes a potential long term weakness.   The standard continuation is  8.Bg5 Be7 Black cannot hunt the bishop down by (  8...f6 9.Bh4 g5? due to  10.Nxg5) 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.Qc2 while Korchnoi has successfully tried  8.Bg3 8...Nxf4 9.exf4 Bd6 10.g3 10.Ne5 looks more aggressive, but  10...Qb6 already obliges White to sacrifice a pawn, so Alekhine prefers a more modest continuation.  10...O-O 11.O-O Re8

Moves are clickable

The change in the pawn-structure has an impact for both players. The main advantage from White's point of view is the possibility of jumping into e5 with a knight, but the benefits of this are limited because Black can always expel the knight by playing ...f6. Black, although slightly short of space at the moment, has good long term chances based on his two bishops and White's isolated d-pawn.  12.Qc2 Nf8 The best move since after  12...Nf6 Black will no longer be able to play ...f6 to chase away a knight from e5.  13.Nd1? White aims to transfer this knight to e3, where it both prevents Black from developing his bishop to g4 and opens up the possibility of occupying f5. However, the move has a concrete flaw.  13.Ng5?! doesn't achieve anything and Black is slightly better after  13...g6 14.Rfe1 f6 15.Rxe8 Qxe8 16.Nf3 Bg4 so the best continuation was the conventional  13.Rfe1 , with a roughly equal position.  13...f6? Missing the chance to cause White serious inconvenience by  13...Bg4 14.Ne5 Bh3 15.Re1 Qb6 , when there is no way to defend the d4-pawn.  14.Ne3 Now the position is once again roughly level.  14...Be6 15.Nh4


The opening is effectively over and Lasker has to find a plan. White has no immediate threats, so Black has considerable flexibility in the way he arranges his pieces. However he should not play planlessly since given time White may be able to develop an initiative on the kingside. A good first step is generally to see what advantages your position possesses, and what targets there are in the enemy position. Here Black has the long-term asset of the two bishops, but more immediately White's isolated d-pawn is currently undefended and a good target to attack. There is not much point attacking the d-pawn by .. .Qb6, as the simple reply Rad1 meets the threat while developing a piece to a useful square. It's much more to the point to attack the pawn with minor pieces and this can be achieved by ...Bc7-b6, a particularly attractive option since the bishop at the moment is only staring at the securely defended f4-pawn. It will then be up to White to find a good way of defending his d-pawn.  15...Bc7! 16.b4 Bb6 17.Nf3?! It looks wrong to reverse the earlier move to h4 and it would have been better to defend the pawn indirectly by  17.Rad1 , when  17...Bxd4 18.Bxh7+ Nxh7 19.Rxd4 leads to equality.  17...Bf7 The f3-knight is the weak link in White's position since it is tied down to the defence of the d-pawn, which suggests the plan of harassing the knight by Bf7-h5. White will be reluctant to meet this manoeuvre with g4, as then his f4-pawn would become weak. Once again Black finds the right plan by looking for a weakness in the enemy position and working out how to reposition his pieces to exploit it.  18.b5 The alternatives  18.Qb2 Bh5 19.Be2 Re4 20.Rad1 Ne6 and  18.Bf5 Bh5 19.Bg4 Bxg4 20.Nxg4 Re4 21.Rad1 Ne6 also favour Black. As soon as White's queen-and-bishop line up is disturbed, the knight is freed from the defence of the h7-pawn and can then move to e6 to step up the pressure against d4. The move played proves ineffective because White's pieces are poorly placed to support any kind of minority attack on the queenside.  18...Bh5 19.g4


Alekhine decides this is the lesser evil, but now he may have to advance the f4-pawn at some stage, which will weaken his dark squares and block the pressure against h7.  19...Bf7 20.bxc6 Rc8 Lasker could have played simply  20...bxc6 because  21.Qxc6?! Ne6 22.f5 Nxd4 23.Nxd4 Bxd4 24.Rae1 Rc8 gives Black a huge advantage based on White's very weak dark squares.  21.Qb2? Voluntarily giving up the pressure along the b1-h7 diagonal is wrong. Instead White should continue  21.a4 Rxc6 22.Qb1 , which at least threatens 23.a5. Black retains the advantage but White is fighting.  21...bxc6 21...bxc6 22.-- There is already a very unpleasant threat of  22...Qc7 23.f5 or (  23.Ng2 Ne6) 23...Qf4 and White's position crumbles.  22.f5 Qd6


Here too 23...Qf4 is a very awkward threat  23.Ng2 Without doing anything spectacular, Black has seized complete control of the game and forced White totally on the defensive.  23...Bc7 Although h2 is currently defended, White now has to worry about ideas such as ...h5 followed by ...Nh7-g5.  24.Rfe1?! After this White is lost. The last chance was to try to block the b8-h2 diagonal by  24.Rac1 h5 25.g5 fxg5 26.Ne5 , but after  26...Rxe5 the simple  26...Bb6 is also very good  27.dxe5 Qxe5 28.Qxe5 Bxe5 White is in big trouble in any case as Black has two connected passed pawns supported by the bishop-pair.  24...h5 25.h3 Nh7 White can delay but not prevent the deadly ...Ng5  26.Rxe8+ Rxe8 27.Re1 Rb8 It's much better to keep the rooks on the board because Black may soon start chasing the white king around by ...Qh2+ and ...Qh1+, and then the more heavy force he can use in the attack the better.  28.Qc1 Ng5 29.Ne5 A desperate attempt to block the diagonal leading to h2, but Black also wins after  29.Nxg5 Qh2+ 30.Kf1 fxg5 31.Qxc6 Ba5 29...fxe5 30.Qxg5 e4


The lethal diagonal is opened once again.  31.f6 g6 32.f4 32.Qh6 Qxf6 is also hopeless for White.  32...hxg4 Not  32...exd3? 33.gxh5 , when White unexpectedly develops some counterplay.  33.Be2 gxh3 Black is already two pawns up and if White moves the knight, the f4-pawn falls as well.  34.Bh5 Rb2 35.Nh4 Qxf4 36.Qxf4 Bxf4 0-1