First rank needs good protection

Chess Checks

The first rank or the back rank is very crucial in the final stages of a chess game. During the opening and middle-game there are pieces on the first rank or nearby and can come to the King’s defence when attacked. However in the endings when very few pieces grace the board, it is crucial to keep the vulnerability of the back rank while moving the pieces as the slightest lapse can allow entry for the enemy pieces to infiltrate.

In the game which follows, White makes a few mistakes in time trouble. However the most crucial one is when he neglects his back rank and moves the rook. The gates towards his King are opened and Black wastes no time in invading and catching up with the King.

White: Peter Wells (2515) – Black: Emil Sutovsky (2575)

Oxford Grandmasters, 1998

Trompowsky Opening

1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5

The Trompowsky Opening

2...Ne4 3.Bf4 d5 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3

White wants to exchange off the knight

5...Nf6. Retreating back and losing a move? Here 5. ..Qb6 is better

6.Nf3 Nc6 7.0–0 Bg4 8.c3 e6 9.Nbd2 Be7 10.Qb1! This looks interesting! 

10...Bh5. Black realises that the long diagonal where White has doubled with his bishop and queen looks dangerous

11.Ne5 Bg6 12.Nxg6 hxg6 13.Nf3 Nh5 14.Be5 Bd6 15.Bb5

If 15.Bxg6 .Bxe5 16.dxe5 fxg6 17.Qxg6+ Kd7 18.g4 Qf8 19.Kg2 Qxf3+

15...0–0. Black finally decides to castle on the King side after keeping the King in the centre for a while. He could have played 15. ..Nf6 or 15. ..Rc8

16.Bxc6 bxc6 17.Qc2 Be7 18.dxc5 Bxc5 19.c4. Wanting to disturb White’s pawns at the centre

19. ..Rc8 20.Rac1 Nf6 21.Bxf6. Difficult to understand why White went for this exchange. He could have thought about 21.Qa4 or 21.Rfd1 or 21.a3

21...gxf6 22.Qa4 Qb6 23.Rc2 Be7 24.Rfc1 c5. Black can even think about 24. ..Rfd8
25.cxd5 exd5 26.e4

If 26.Rd1 Rfd8 27.Rcd2 Qe6

26...Rfd8 27.exd5 Rxd5 28.h4

What is White trying to do? Perhaps he wants to vacate a square for the King to prevent vulnerability in the back rank. But then after taking initiative to open the ‘e’ file he should have contested for it with 28.Re2

28...Rcd8 29.Re2 Bf8 30.Rce1

Doubling on the ‘e’ file

30. ..Kg7 31.b3 a5 32.Re8

He could have tried to put pressure on the King side with  32.Qg4

32...Qb4. An invitation to trade queens. If 32. ..Rxe8  33.Qxe8 Qb4 would have led to equality

33.Qc6. If 33.Qxb4 axb4 34.Kf1 with slight advantage to Black

33...Rxe8 34.Qxe8 c4. A good move! 

35.Qa8. A mistake in time pressure which makes things more difficult for white! He could have held on with 35.bxc4 Qxc4 36.Qe2 Qxe2 37.Rxe2

35...Rd3

Diagram 1

36.Re4. Another mistake with the clock ticking ominously! This leaves his back rank really vulnerable. He should have brought back his queen for defence with 36.Qe4 Rc3 37.bxc4 Rxc4 (37...Qxc4 38.Qxc4 Rxc4 39.Re2) 38.Qe2 Qa4

36...Rd1+ Black immediately pounces on this desertion of the back rank
37.Kh2 Qd6+ 

The King is targettted and none of his pieces can come to his defence
38.g3 c3

A deadly advance which is like nailing the coffin!

39.Rc4 Qd3  and White resigned in this hopeless position.

Diagram 2

White to play and win. This position once again shows the vulnerability of the back rank.
1.Qc4+ Kh8 2.Qf7  and it is all over for Black.

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