Attacking the Berlin (2)

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

I maintain a small file on games that catch my eye and last Tuesday’s column on attacking ideas against the Berlin inspired me to look it up to bring you some more choice samples. As you know the Berlin Defense lately has become almost synonymous with “boring endgame.” Well, given two individuals contented with the draw the likelihood of a boring end game indeed is very high, but as long as one of the protagonists is after a fighting game there are still lots of avenues to consider. Today we take up two of them.

IM Rashid Nezhmetdinov (b. 15 Dec. 1912, d. 3 June 1974) was the Russian Chess Champion in 1950, 1951, 1953, 1957 and 1958. He is also a very strong checkers player and is actually the only person ever to be champion of Russia in both sports. He was such a natural talent in checkers that, at the age of 15, in the same month in which he learned the game, he won Kazan’s checkers semifinal and placed second in the finals. In the same year he placed sixth in the Russian Checkers Championship. He was to win the title multiple times later in life.

As a chessplayer he is recognized as a fierce, imagine and attacking player which even the great Mikhail Tal admired.

He faced Yuri Kotkov in the 1957 Russian Championship in Krasnodar. Kotkov is more of a counter-attacker and in fact wrote a book on Middlegame: The Defense Triumphs. True to his nature Kotkov tries to play solidly in the opening but Nezh is not to be denied.

Nezhmetdinov, Rashid — Kotkov, Yuri [C67]
Russian ch, 1957

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1

Sorry for the incessant repetition, but 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 (6.dxe5 Nxb5 7.a4 is the Vitiugov vs. Harikrishna game we discussed last Tuesday.) 6…dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 was the line introduced by Vladimir Kramnik against Garry Karpov in their 2000 world championship match. Try as he might Garry could not break through and this line came to be known as the “Berlin Wall.”

5…Nd6 6.Nxe5

Of course Black can’t play 6…Nxb5 because of 7.Nxc6+


Safer is 6…Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0–0 followed by …Bf6.

7.Rxe5+ Be7 8.Bd3

There is a move order trick here. It might be a good idea to play 8.Nc3 first and if 8…0–0 9.Bd3 Bf6 we have transposed back to the game.

The idea is to give Black a chance to err. After 8.Nc3 he just might blunder with 8…Nxb5? and this is refuted by 9.Nd5!

9…d6 10.Rxe7+ Kf8

Be careful! The obvious 11.Qf3? does not work because of 11…Be6! (not 11…f6?? 12.Qh5 White wins) 12.Rxe6 Nd4 and it looks like Black is already better;

11.d4! c6 12.Bg5 Be6 (12…f6 does not work either: 13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.Qh5 is a clear win for White) 13.Rxf7+ Kxf7 14.Bxd8 Rhxd8 15.Nf4 White wins;

9…0–0 10.Nxe7+ Kh8 11.Qh5 (threatening Qxh7+ followed by Rh5 mate)

11…h6 12.d4 Kh7 (12…d6 13.Bxh6 g6 14.Bxf8+) 13.Nf5! with a winning attack;

11…g6 12.Qh6 Re8 (12…f6 13.Nxg6+) 13.Rh5! and Black should resign, because 13…gxh5 14.Qf6# is mate.

8…0–0 9.Nc3 Bf6 10.Re3

This move also carries a drop of poison — it is threatening 11.Bxh7+! Kxh7 12.Qh5+ Kg8 13.Rh3 with a winning attack. It was played as early as in the 1886 world championship match between Steinitz and Zukertort, the first official world chess championship.


Lasker wrote that 10…Re8?! was a better move, but after 11.Nd5 Black still has to solve some problems due to his poor development. 11…Bg5 (11…Bd4 12.Rxe8+ Nxe8 13.Qg4 Bb6 14.Qe4 g6 15.b4 The White forces are looking very dangerous.) 12.f4! Rxe3 13.dxe3 Bh6 14.Qh5 Ne8? (better is 14…c6) 15.g4! the attack is winning. Savic, M. (2469) — Abramovic, B. (2524) Banja Koviljaca 2002 1–0 (27).


Black still can’t play …b6.In the Steinitz vs. Zukertort game the continuation was 11.b3 Re8 12.Qf3 Bg5 and now Lasker points out that Steinitz missed 13.Bb2! Bxe3 14.fxe3 c6 (to prevent Nd5) 15.Rf1 Qe7 16.Ba3 again with a winning attack.

11…Bg7 12.b3 Ne8 13.Ba3 d6 14.Rae1 Nf6

Black’s idea is either …Bg4 of …Nf6–g4–e5, which explains White’s next move.

15.h3! Nd7

Still aiming for …Ne5. <D>


16.Nd5! f5

So why didn’t Black play 16…Ne5? Nezh had planned: 17.Rxe5! dxe5 (17…Bxe5 18.Rxe5 dxe5 19.Be7 wins the queen) 18.Ne7+ Kh8 19.Nxc8 followed by Bxf8.

17.Nxc7! Qxc7 18.Qd5+ Kh8 19.Re8 Nf6 20.Rxf8+ Bxf8 21.Bb2 Bg7 22.Bc4 Bd7 23.Bxf6 Bxf6 24.Qf7 Qd8 25.Re8+! 1–0

Great stuff, right?

The next two players hardly need any introduction. Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria was the FIDE World Champion from 2005-2006 and is known as a player who is not afraid of risks and fights hard in every game.

Sergey Karjakin holds the record for the world’s youngest-ever grandmaster, having achieved the title at the age of 12 years and 7 months. He played a match for the world title in 2016 against Magnus Carlsen which the Norwegian won in tie breaks after they fought to a 6-6 tie in the match proper. It was his staunch defense in inferior positions during the match that got him the nickname “Minister of Defense.” In the following game though he is the one doing the attacking.

Karjakin, Sergey (2752) — Topalov, Veselin (2740) [C67]
Ivory Coast Blitz 2019 Abidjan (10.5), 12.05.2019

Played in the Ivory Coast Blitz Tournament. We usually do not like annotating blitz games, but this one is a real beauty!

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7

Compare this against the previous game’s 6…Nxe5 7.Rxe5+ Be7 8.Bd3. After White’s 8th move the only difference in the positions is that the white bishop is on d3 instead of f1.

7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0–0 9.d4 Bf6 10.Bd3!?

A complete shock, giving up the exchange for no reason at all.

10…Bxe5 11.dxe5 Ne8 12.Nc3

The straightforward 12.Qh5 g6 13.Qh6 d5 14.Bg5 Qd7 15.Nd2 f6 16.exf6 Qf7 17.Re1 Nxf6 does not work — White’s attack has been halted and Black is the one going for the win.

12…d6 13.Qh5 g6


13…h6? 14.Bxh6 gxh6 15.Qxh6 f5 16.Bc4+ Rf7 17.Qg6+;

13…f5 14.Bg5 Qd7 15.Bc4+ Kh8 16.e6 Qc6 17.e7 Rg8 18.Qf7

14.Qh6 dxe5?

Going on general principles (this is blitz, remember?) Topalov chooses to destroy the e5 pawn. With the benefit of hindsight and a lot of time to analyze it looks like 14…Be6! is best. After 15.Bg5 Qd7 (15…f6 16.Bxg6 hxg6 17.Qxg6+ Kh8 is a draw) 16.Ne4 f5 (16…f6 17.Nxf6+ Nxf6 18.Bxf6 dxe5 19.Bxe5 Qf7 20.f4 Rae8 21.Rf1 looks dangerous for Black) 17.exf6 Bf5 18.Qh4 Bxe4 19.Bxe4 d5 20.Rd1 c6 21.c4 Qf7 22.cxd5 Nxf6 it is still anybody’s game.

15.Bg5 Qd7

Nothing works anymore:

15…f6? 16.Bc4+ Rf7 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18.Rd1 Qe7 19.Qxh7+ Ke6 20.Qh4! fxg5 21.Qc4+ Kf5 22.g4+ Kf6 23.Nd5+;

15…Qd4 16.Be7 Ng7 17.Ne4 1–0 Hovhannisyan, R. (2630)-Schroeder, J. (2541) London 2016;

15…Nf6 16.Qh4 Qd4 17.Bxf6 Qxh4 18.Bxh4 White has two pieces for the rook and pawn so on the surface of it Black doesn’t seem to be doing so bad, but in reality the first player’s pieces are too strong. 18…f5 19.Bc4+ Kg7 20.Rd1 h6 21.f3 c6 22.a4 g5 23.Bf2 f4 24.Bc5 Rh8 25.Ne4 Bf5 26.Be7 Bxe4 27.fxe4 Rh7 28.Be6 Re8 29.Rd7 1–0 Ganguly, S. (2619)-Yakubboev, N. (2272) Hamedan 2018.


With the deadly threat of Nf6+ Nxf6 Bxf6 and inevitable mate on g7.


[16…Qf5 17.Be7 Ng7 18.Nf6+ Kh8 19.Qxh7#; 16…Qe6 17.Bc4! Qxc4 (17…Qc6 18.Be7 Ng7 19.Nf6+ wins just the same) 18.Nf6+ Nxf6 19.Bxf6]

17.Bc4+ Rf7 18.Nxf6+ 1–0

[18.Nxf6+ Nxf6 19.Bxf6 Topalov has to give up his queen with …Qe6 in order to prevent Qg7 mate]

The 2019 Asian Continental Chess Championship starts today in Xingtai, China. Xingtai is located in the province of Hebei, in Northeastern China. This is the oldest city in Northern China with a history that can be traced back 3,500 years ago.

For the first time in a long while the Philippines will be sending a strong delegation:

Women: WGM (Woman grandmaster) Janelle Mae Frayna, WIM Shania Mae Mendoza, WIM Bernadette Galas, WIM Antoinette San Diego.

Men: GM (Grandmaster) Eugene Torre, GM John Paul Gomez, GM Darwin Laylo, IM Paulo Bersamina and IM Jan Emmanuel Garcia.

Let us wish them all the best of luck!


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.