As mentioned during Magnus Carlsen’s victory over Hikaru Nakamura in their recent Fischer Random unofficial title match in Norway, Bobby Fischer’s brainchild came about following the problems he faced on his return to chess in 1992; and specifically, how chess theory had dramatically developed during his long 20-year absence. It was Fischer’s belief that the game was becoming too computer-reliant and research-heavy in the new digital era.
But there was a certain amount of irony here on Fischer’s part, because when he was in his pomp in the 1960s and early 1970s, the American chess legend was the one who arguably benefited most of all from such deep research and analysis to hone a very sharp opening repertoire that won him many games and tournaments – such as his work in the razor-sharp Sicilian Najdorf, and in particular the ‘Poisoned Pawn’ variation.
The Soviet great, David Bronstein, was one of the original pioneers of the Poisoned Pawn (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6) – but it only really became popular after Fischer took up the cudgels by playing it against Georgi Tringov, at the 1965 Capablanca Memorial that ultimately led to there being thousands of games played with it, not to mention reams upon reams of published opening analysis that went into every Poisoned Pawn game.
The ‘Poisoned Pawn’ tag came about because the opening broke three conventions taught to novices of the game. First, don’t bring out your queen too early. Second, don’t make too many moves with the same piece in the opening. And lastly, don’t ever take a b-pawn in the opening or you’ll lose.
There’s a modern-day twist now to the Fischer favourite, the so-called ‘Deferred Poisoned Pawn’, by simply throwing a little spanner in the works with the addition of 7…h6 – a rather innocent looking move that dramatically changes the complications, as witness this violent duel that was one of the standout sacrificial games of the recent Tradewise Gibraltar Masters.
Photo: Bulgaria’s Ivan Cheparinov finds an ingenious way to refute his opponent’s unsound attack | © John Saunders (Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival)
GM Alan Pichot – GM Ivan Cheparinov
Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, (5)
Sicilian Najdorf, Poisoned Pawn
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 h6 Back in the day, when you saw 7…h6 being played, the chances were it would be associated with another American legend, namely six-time US champion Walter Browne and his eponymous Browne variation. 8.Bh4 Qb6 This new way of playing the Poisoned Pawn with the addition of the subtle little pawn move with 7…h6, has breathed new life into a variation that was thought to have been “all played out”. 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.e5 dxe5 12.fxe5 g5 And this is where 7…h6 comes into its own. The resulting complications are double-edged, but in the old way of playing the Poisoned Pawn, Black usually had a pawn on h4 anyway – but White’s pawn on f6 stops a number of crushing attacks normally associated with the Poisoned Pawn. 13.exf6 gxh4 14.Be2 Qa5 15.0-0 h3! Opening lines to the White king is crucial for Black’s counter-play. 16.Bf3 Nd7 17.Kh1 If 17.g3 Ne5 works out well for Black, as after 18.Bxb7 Bxb7 19.Rxb7 Bc5 and Black’s king is caught in the crossfire of pins – and another potential threat that White has to be wary of is the remarkable …0-0-0!!, hitting both the rook and also the Nd4. 17…Ne5 18.Rfe1 Nxf3 19.gxf3 Rg8 20.Nxe6?!? Stripping the cover from Black’s king – and it is more than likely that young Argentinian GM probably thought he was just winning here with his volley of sacrifices. 20…fxe6 21.Rxb7? Probably expecting 21…Bxb7? 22.Rxe6+ Kf7 23.Qd7+ Kg6 24.f7+winning, White carries on regardless with his sacrificial onslaught, oblivious to what’s coming next. 21…Rg1+!! [see diagram] A thunderbolt that likely jolted Pichot back in his chair. The (full) point behind it, is that the stunning sacrificial deflection creates a safe-haven for Black’s king on g8. 22.Kxg1 Qc5+ 23.Kh1 Bxb7 24.Rxe6+ Kf7 25.Qd7+ Kg8 26.f7+ White can’t take the bishop, as after 26.Qxb7 Qf2! and there’s no way to prevent the mate on f1 or g2. 26…Kg7 Fortunately for Black, White’s f7-pawn makes the perfect cover for his bare king! 27.Qd3 Qg5 28.Qd4+ Kxf7 0-1 White resigns, as there is no meaningful checks left to play and, meanwhile, his rook is under attack and no way to stop the many threats to his own king with …Qg2 mate or …Bxf3+ and mating.