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Zoltan Almasi vs Wesley So
Capablanca Memorial (Elite) (2014), Havana CUB, rd 5, May-12
French Defense: Winawer. Poisoned Pawn Variation Main Line (C18)  ·  0-1



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Kibitzer's Corner
< Earlier Kibitzing  · PAGE 2 OF 2 ·  Later Kibitzing>
May-13-14  iking: i once saw a CArlsen game of this winawer line as white, he was beaten ...
May-14-14  frandie: Evaluation by stockfish of Wesley's moves as black:

1. e4 e6 - 2nd best move
2. d4 d5 - 1st best move
3. Nc3 Bb4 - 2nd best move
4. e5 c5 - 1st best move
5. a3 Bc3- 1st best move....

to be continued...

May-14-14  frandie: 6. bc3 Ne7 - 1st best move
7. Qg4 Qc7 -
8. Qg7 Rg8 - 1st best move
9. Qh7 cd4 - 1st best move
10. Ne2 Nbc6 - 1st best move
11. f4 dc3 - 1st best move
12. Qd3 d4 - 1st best move
13. Ng3 Bd7- 1st best move
14. Be2 O-O-O- 3rd best move
15. O-O Nf5- 3rd best move
16. Ne4 Nce7 - 1st best move
17. Nf6 Rg6- 2nd best move
18. Nd7 Rd7 - 2nd best move
19. Bf3 Nd5 - 1st best move
20. Rb1 Kb8 - 2nd best move
21. Be4 Rg8 - 2nd best move
22. a4 Qc6 - 3rd best move
23. a5 Qa4 - 1st best move
24. a6 b6 - 1st best move
25. Rb3 Nde3 - 1st best move
26. Ra3 Qb4 - 1st best move
27. Rb3 Qa4 - 3rd best move
28. Ra3 Qb4 - 1st best move
29. Rb3 Qe7 - 1st best move
30. Be3 de3 - 1st best move
31. Qc3 e2 - 1st best move
32. Re1 Rd1 - 1st best move
33. Bf5 Rc8 - 1st best move
34. Qg3 Qc5 - 1st best move
35. Kh1 ef5 - 1st best move
36. Rb1 Qd5 - 1st best move
37. h3 Rd8 - 1st best move
38. Kh2 Qe4 - 1st best move
39. Qh4 R8d7-
40. Rb3 Re1 -1st best move
41. Qh8 Kc7- 1st best move
42. Rc3 Qc6 - 1st best move
43. Rc6 Kc6 - 1st best move
44. Qc8 Rc7 - 1st best move
45. Qa8 Kc5 - 1st best move
46. Qb8 Rc6 - 1st best move
47. Qa7 Rd1 - 2nd best move
48. Qe7 Kb5- 1st best move
May-14-14  frandie: let me summarize- that's 34 1st best move out of 48! Wesley was out of Stockfish top 4 optimum evaluation only twice out of 48. No wonder why in a study,

Who is the best chess player of all time? Chess players are often interested in this question that has never been answered authoritatively, because it requires a comparison between chess players of different eras who never met across the board. In this contribution, we attempt to make such a comparison. It is based on the evaluation of the games played by the World Chess Champions in their championship matches. The evaluation is performed by the chess-playing program CRAFTY. For this purpose we slightly adapted CRAFTY. Our analysis takes into account the differences in players' styles to compensate the fact that calm positional players in their typical games have less chance to commit gross tactical errors than aggressive tactical players. Therefore, we designed a method to assess the difculty of positions. Some of the results of this computer analysis might be quite surprising. Overall, the results can be nicely interpreted by a chess expert.

<3.5 The expected number of best moves played

A fifth criterion was the expected number of best moves played providing that all players dealt with positions with equal difference between the best two moves, as was described in the previous section. It represents another attempt to bring the champions to a common denominator (see Figure 8). Kramnik, Fischer, and Alekhine had the highest percentage of best moves played, but also the above-mentioned difference was high. In contrast, Capablanca, who was right next regarding the percentage of the best move played, on average dealt with the smallest difference between the best two moves. The winner by this criterion was once again Capablanca. He and Kramnik again clearly outperformed the others.>

Capablanca with 57% followed by Kramnik with 56%...

All these performances pale in comparison to Wesley So's 34 out of 48 or 70%.

Who's the best player of all time now?

May-14-14  iking: <Tiggler: <DcGentle> Sure, I agree with everything you say, but the French, especially the Winawar, is a way for black to offer a double-edged fight. But if he does, it has to be followed up with active play at all costs.>

that is what exactly what Wesley So did, other GMs that reached move 13 having black did not prosper well. But Wesley did it....

May-14-14  Tiggler: <frandie> So's last 15 moves, starting with 34... Qc5 are all objectively winning moves, including 39... R8d7 . It does not matter much how Stockfish ranks them in that case. Unless you are investigating the strength of Stockfish, of course.

How deep is your analysis?

May-14-14  DcGentle: Well, anyways, you Wesley So fans can celebrate, why not. If I look at a game with a winner, I want to know how this happened, that is, I want to know the inferior move or moves which led to the defeat. And here I am only interested in the moves, and not directly who played them.

Interestingly Wesley So has also shown how to win the game playing White in W So vs J C Sadorra, 2010. Also in this game his opponent could not stand up to So, and I think that <13. Rb1 0-0-0 14. Qxc3> is a decent way for White to play. The resulting position was reached in the above game by transposition:

click for larger view

Black to move.

If you want to see something wild, look at P Smirnov vs S Arslanov, 2009. Here White also won.


May-14-14  Tiggler: <DcGentle>: <I want to know the inferior move or moves which led to the defeat.>

In this case the answer is simple, if you believe the engines. (Just kidding, I know you don't believe the engines.) For what it is worth, the position is equal (eval ~ 0.0) before white's 34. Qg3, and lost after it (eval ~ -4.0, Houdini).

But then one can ask why did white make that error?
I believe the answer is as follows:

1. There was only one move that did not lose.

2. White had been under pressure for some time, at least since move 25.

3. The clock was getting low (I don't know exactly how low) at move 34.

What this adds up to, I think, is that in practical human terms the position was not really equal: white was worse because his position was harder to play due to worse positional factors not included in the computer eval.

May-15-14  koloko: <Capablanca with 57% followed by Kramnik with 56%...

All these performances pale in comparison to Wesley So's 34 out of 48 or 70%.

Who's the best player of all time now?>

Wesley, hands down....

May-15-14  john barleycorn: <koloko> the other side of the coin is being objected to silly suspections by some selfstyled "expert" in the field of cheating.
May-15-14  DcGentle: <Tiggler> No doubt about it, the position was harder to play for White, with Black having a supported passed pawn one square away from promotion and no good way to remove it.

Maybe he was also reluctant to return material, being up a bishop and a pawn.

Anyways, the whole game White was struggling, because in my opinion something went wrong in the opening. Whether a side is positionally better in any game is often decided early in the opening, and it was there, where White's winning chances vanished in this game. As your analysis shows, Black had numerous ways to hold the draw, but if a player has not realized that this is the only option for him, fatal mistakes like <34. Qg3> happen.

So we maybe have two turning points, one early in the opening, when White lost any real chance to win, and later in the game, when he missed the possible draw. Here in this Winawer line, Black permits White to take the g- and h-pawn with the hope to exploit the lost time. But Black also takes White's pawns in the center. White has to make it harder for Black to bring his knights to the strategical squares f5 and d5 as it happened in the game. For in this variation Black's knights are his biggest assets.

Further research could be helpful, but I dunno whether I'll have the time.

Greetings, <DC>

May-15-14  1d410: I gave up on the French after I was repeatedly bashed by the computer as a young kid. Then I switched to the Dragon and fought it to a draw as black. Would've liked to win but a draw was all I could manage at that point.
May-15-14  1d410: The games looked sort of like this, except white doesn't give material back.
May-21-14  Going4Draw: On move 12 Black went d4 clearly offering a free pawn, so why didn't white knight take?
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Going4Draw> This is a well known line, with theory stretching out a while yet. White needs to get developed, not snatch the pawn on offer, else Black's piece play will overrun him.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Domdaniel: This is a superb win by So -- it's great to see a world-class player using the Winawer French so well. I've played the Winawer for about 40 years: I think the most dangerous anti-Winawer line involves a White h4, as played by Nigel Short: the passed h-pawn is strong enough to distract Black from his queenside counterplay.

13.Ng3, as played by Almasi, has a good record - but I don't think it's best.

May-26-14  epistle: Analysis of this game with a short history of the Winawer--

May-26-14  iking: lest it disappear ....
Wesley and the Winawer

FROM 1988 to 2000 GM Yasser Seirawan had a very nice chess magazine Inside Chess, which appeared twice a month (towards the end of its print run this became once a month, but we are not here to talk about that. It was among the best chess publications in the world, and in the first year of its existence there raged a great theoretical debate on the French Winawer Defense. In Svetozar Gligoric’s famous chess column Game of the Month, he was pessimistic of Black’s chances in the Winawer and Yasser seconded the motion. Some French practitioners, IM John Watson in particular, took exception to this and tried to refute their arguments. We do not have enough space to give you all the variations -- I will show you the critical position and the diametric evaluations presented. It is in discussions like this that you see the richness of chess, that two great experts have completely different opinions on a single position.

We all know who the Black player is, but please allow me to make a few comments about White. The 37-year-old GM Zoltan Almasi is a seven-time Hungarian chess champion with his first title coming in 1995 and last in 2008. Currently he is no. 3 in Hungary after Peter Leko and Richard Rapport. Not a weakling by any definition! * * *
Almasi, Zoltan (2693) -- So, Wesley (2731) [C18]
49th Capablanca Elite 2014 Havana CUB (5.3), 12.05.2014

1.e4 e6

Surprised by the French? Well, you shouldn’t be. After 1.e4 Wesley usually replies 1...c5 but the French is also in his usual repertoire. Don’t forget that is what he used to defeat Ivanchuk in the 2009 World Cup.

2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5

Still no surprises. Almasi is strictly an 1.e4 player and against the French always uses 3.Nc3.

4...c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Ne7 7.Qg4

Almasi plays all of the three main lines here: the text (also called the Winawer Poisoned Pawn), 7.Nf3 and 7.h4.

7...Qc7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 cxd4 10.Ne2 Nbc6 11.f4

[11.cxd4? allows 11...Nxd4]

11...dxc3 12.Qd3

In his annotations to the game Korchnoi vs Nogueiras from the Brussels SWIFT World Cup in 1988 Seirawan wrote here: “The opening confuses me: what is Black’s compensation for White’s passed h-pawn and two Bishops?” He also recommends to Nogueiras to find another defense to 1.e4. At the end of the game (which Korchnoi won), he closes with the remark: “A scorching victory that really puts this variation of the Winawer under the spotlight. It simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.”

This was too much for IM John Watson, a well-known expert and chess book author on the French. He wrote a long letter saying that “there’s no denying that if White can get to a certain kind of endgame (usually a pawn up) with his Bishops intact and his pawns marching up the Kingside, Black can be in a lot of trouble. A glance at the historical record, however, reveals how seldom those favorable circumstances convene for White. Instead, there is a long string of tragedies, often marked by the decimation of the White center and monarch in the middlegame, or exchange of one or both of White’s Bishops followed by Killing Black pressure on White’s weaknesses in endgame.

“Furthermore, one might mention Black’s superior development, pressure down the c- and g-files, White’s weak c- and a-pawns, his lack of a haven for his King, the squares f5 and c4 for Black’s Knights, possible breaks with ...d4 and/or ...f6/ ...e5, and the notorious difficulty of advancing a rook pawn when one’s opponent has the open g- and h-files. That these factors, which have traditionally compensated for White’s extra pawn and bishop pair, would suddenly be discovered to be quite insufficient, strikes me as highly unlikely.”

Well, dear BWorld reader, what do you think? Maybe the best argument is that up to current day the Winawer is still being played by a lot of GMs -- Wesley So among them. The Winawer still has a long life ahead of it.


The main line is 12...Bd7 after which White can take on c3 both ways or go 13.Rb1, 13.h4, 13.h3. In all cases he has a good score, which somewhat bolsters Yasser’s position. The text move is not new, but it was brought back to the limelight by Gata Kamsky. Black sacrifices two pawns to find active places for all his pieces. The jury is still out on this one.

May-26-14  iking: 13.Ng3

click for larger view

What happens if White accepts the pawn? Well, let us see: 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.Qxd4 Bd7 (14...Nf5? is refuted by 15.Bb5+ Bd7 (15...Kf8 16.Qb4+ Kg7 is even worse) 16.Qxd7+ Qxd7 17.Bxd7+ Kxd7 18.Kf2 White should be winning here with the extra passed pawn on the h-file.) 15.Rg1 Nf5 (15...0-0-0? 16.Qxa7 Bc6 17.Be3 White has a big advantage) 16.Qf2 Qc6 17.Bd3 Qd5 18.Rb1 (The best move, preventing ...Bb5 while preparing to attack the c3-pawn. The alternative 18.Bxf5 weakens the light squares too much) 18...Bc6 19.Rb3 0-0-0 20.Rxc3 Kb8 Since the spectacular game Karjakin vs Kamsky (we will see the game later) this position has been tested in many games without reaching a clear verdict. To go further is already beyond the scope of this article, so let us content ourselves with the comment that after 21.Qc5 or 21.g3 or even 21.g4 there are “chances for both sides”.

13...Bd7 14.Be2 0-0-0

In GM Emmanuel Berg’s new book on the French he recommends that Black should continue 14...Qb6 as it prevents Rb1 and, with White getting ready to castle, tactical threats on the a7-g1 diagonal may also come into play. Makes sense. There could continue 15.0-0 0-0-0 16.Ne4 Nd5 17.Qb5 Qxb5 18.Bxb5 Nce7 19.Nd6+ Kb8 20.Bxd7 Rxd7 21.Nxf7 Nf5 22.Ng5 Nde3 Berg: “Black has full compensation for the pawn.”


click for larger view

I don’t know why White doesn’t play 15.Rb1.


In the Karjakin vs Kamsky game mentioned earlier Black played 15...Qb6! 16.Ne4 Nd5! 17.Nd6+ Kb8 18.Nxf7 Rdf8 19.Nd6 Nce7 20.Bf3 Bc6 A very interesting position with Black having the better chances. Sadly, at this point both players had only two minutes left until move 40, so the rest of the game was an up and down struggle. Kamsky was winning most of the way but Karjakin was luckier. I give the remaining moves just as a matter of record. 21.a4?! Nb4 22.a5 Qc5 23.Qh7 d3+ 24.Kh1 d2 25.Bxd2 cxd2 26.Qxe7 Rxf4 27.Rab1 Rgf8 28.c4 a6 29.h3 Ka8 30.Qg7 Qe3 31.Kh2 d1Q 32.Rbxd1 and here Kamsky lost on time. 1-0 (32) Karjakin, S (2721) -Kamsky, G (2720) Nalchik RUS 2009.


Wesley’s idea is to follow this up ...Nf5 with ...Nce7 and ...Bc6, so Almasi hastens to destroy the bishop.

16...Nce7 17.Nf6 Rg6 18.Nxd7 Rxd7 19.Bf3 Nd5 20.Rb1 Kb8 21.Be4 Rg8 22.a4

click for larger view

If 22.Bxf5 exf5 23.Qxf5 Ne3 24.Bxe3 Qc6! (taking control of the long diagonal first, otherwise White will play Qe4 and the advantage swings to him) 25.g3 dxe3 26.Qf6 Qe4 White is in a dangerous position.

22...Qc6 23.a5 Qa4 24.a6 b6 25.Rb3 Nde3!

Tactically alert. Now 26.Rf2 is met by 26...Qa1.

26.Ra3 Qb4 27.Rb3 Qa4 28.Ra3 Qb4 29.Rb3 Qe7 30.Bxe3

[30.Re1 Qh4! attacking e1 and f4]

May-26-14  iking: 30...dxe3!

click for larger view

Gives up one pawn to force the other one to e2.

31.Qxc3 e2! 32.Re1 Rd1

Wesley’s killer threat is 33...Rc8 and White can only maintain his hold on e1 by 34.Qa5 but after 34...Qd8! followed by ...Qd4 it is the end.

33.Bxf5 <D>

Position after 33.Bxf5


[33...exf5? gives White the tempo for 34.Rb1! and he holds: 34...Rxb1 35.Rxb1 Rd8 36.Re1 Rd1 37.Kf2 Qh4+ 38.Qg3 Black’s proud e2-pawn is lost]


click for larger view

It is very hard to see, but the saving move is 34.Qe3! which creates a threat which I will be showing you: 34...Rxe1+ 35.Kf2 Rf1+ 36.Kxe2 Rh1 and now it is White who wins after 37.Rxb6+!

After 34.Qe3 correct is 34...Rxe1+ 35.Kf2 Qd8! 36.Bd3 (36.Kxe1?? Qd1+ 37.Kf2 Qf1+ 38.Kg3 e1Q+) 36...Rh1 37.Bxe2 Rxh2 White has a bishop for his rook, but the power of the long diagonal h1-a8 ensures that he is at least equal.

34...Qc5+ 35.Kh1 exf5 36.Rb1 Qd5

Well, of course 36...Rxb1 37.Rxb1 Qxc2 38.Re1 Qd2 might be a quicker win, but what’s wrong with being absolutely sure and guarding against any swindles based on long-diagonal threats?

37.h3 Rd8

With the idea of 38...Rxb1 39.Rxb1 Qd1+ 40.Qe1 Qxb1 41.Qxb1 Rd1+.

38.Kh2 Qe4

Moving the queen to e4 supports his pawn push. If White allows it Black will win with 39...Rxb1 40.Rxb1 Rd1. There is no perpetual check after 41.Qg8+ Kc7 42.Qxf7+ Rd7.

39.Qh4 R8d7 40.Rb3

A better try is 40.e6 fxe6 41.Rb3 Rxe1 42.Qh8+ Kc7 43.Qc3+ (the reason why the e-pawn had to go to e6 -- it clears the way for the queen to check on c8) 43...Kd6 44.Qxe1 but I am afraid it is all for nought, for after 44...e5! 45.fxe5+ Ke6 White’s position is bankrupt


click for larger view

What follows is desperation.


[41.Qxe1 Rd1]

41...Kc7 42.Rc3+ Qc6 43.Rxc6+ Kxc6 44.Qc8+ Rc7 45.Qa8+ Kc5 46.Qb8 Rc6 47.Qxa7 Rd1 48.Qe7+ Kb5 0-1

click for larger view



Nov-17-14  iking: 25.... Nde3! toasted bread
Jan-08-15  Conrad93: This is the only game in the database where white doesn't win 13. Ng3 Bd7.

Nice game by So. Maybe there is something to all the hype.

Apr-20-15  Rama: Win with the Winawer! What I like is 5. a3 cxd4, 6. axb3 dxc3, 7. bxc3 Qc7, with double-attack. (Alekhine, NY 1924) It is important for black to conquer d4 like here anytime he can.

Since I like the French I like both sides of it and Mr. So does as well, it seems.

Aug-31-15  PaulMeysman: Why does the white knight doesn't capture on move 13 the d4 pawn?
Dec-23-16  Conrad93: < Why does the white knight doesn't capture on move 13 the d4 pawn?>

13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Bd7 followed by castling and Bc6 leads to a difficult position for White.

At best White has a draw.

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