A Small Tribute to Paul Keres
by Ken Jones
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres. While circumstance and politics may have prevented him from becoming World Champion, he nevertheless defeated everyone who held that title from Capablanca to Fischer! He deeply investigated opening systems that are still popular today, from the Nimzoindian to the Ruy Lopez, and several variations carry his name. A superb tactician, Keres provided many examples for combination puzzles. And while solving “Black to play and win” problems are extremely useful, in this column I would like to show how a great player creates the opportunity for a tactical finale.
The diagrammed position is from Euwe-Keres, 1948 World Championship Match/Tournament.
Let’s begin by evaluating this position. White has two pawns controlling the center, all his pieces are active, and has an attack on the weak Q-side. Black, who is on move, is also fully developed. The move f2-f4 has weakened the white squares around White’s King, which Black’s N can attack but the Bishop cannot defend. Keres spots a tactic that immediately increases his control of the both the center and the white squares:
28…Rxe4! 29. Rxe4 d5 30. Qxa6
Of course, 30. Qd3? dxe4 wins a piece.
30…dxe4 31 Be3
Logically trying to keep control of the d2 square, yet the Bishop is vulnerable here. But after 31. Bc3 Qf5! (threatening …Qc5+) 32. Qc4 Nxf4! wins a pawn: 33. g3 Nh3+ 34. Kg2 Qg4 with …Ng5 to follow.
Probing the white square weaknesses on the K-side.
32. Qc4 Rd3 33. Bc1 Nh4!!
To me, this is the best move of the game. The obvious 33…f5 gives Black a solid plus, but Keres sees that he can give away a pawn with check while allowing White to guard g2 in the process!
34. Qxe4+ f5 35. Qb7 c6?!
A minor blemish. In time pressure Keres goes with a forcing line, but he could’ve delivered the
same combination without giving away this pawn with 35…Rc3! (threatening both …Rc2 & …c6) 36. Qd5 c6 37. Qd2 etc.
It is here that the “Black to play and win” exercise begins.
36…Rc3! 37. Qd5 Rc5! 38. Qd2
White is still guarding g2 and prevents …Rc2, but now comes an unexpected shot.
Black wins a piece because 39 Rxf1? Nf3+ picks up the Queen. White struggled on but eventually lost in 56 moves.