While the recent FIDE World Championship match was rather disappointing for its anticlimactic finish, it had its crowning jewel: game six. The longest game ever played in World Cup history had such rich chess content that it deserves an entire book! Today we are going to analyze the fragment where a queen was exchanged for two rooks.
There are thousands of books, articles and videos devoted to positions where a bishop fights a knight or a rook a small piece and a pawn or two. However, positions where a queen struggles against two rooks have been much less explored. As a result, we have the most controversial form of unbalanced trading where even top players can’t come to an agreement.
We analyzed this type of trading about two years ago, but in that article we mainly looked at clear examples where a queen or two rooks dominated the game. But what if the valuation of the position is not so obvious? A good example is the first game of another World Championship game.
So, what is the evaluation of the trade that could have happened after 22…Rae8? Even top chess players did not reach the same conclusion. In his notes to the Soviet newspaper Izvestia, Jose Raul Capablanca recommended this trade for black, as this move was better than Alexander Alekhine’s 22…Rxd4.
Two famous Soviet champions, GM Grigory Levenfish and IM Peter Romanovsky, completely disagreed in their book about the match, Alekhine-Capablanca. They wrote: “Of course not 22…Rae8 recommended by Capablanca in Izvestia since the simple move 23.Qxe8 leads to a draw.”
Alekhine’s opinion was the most interesting. In his Russian book Towards the highest chess performance, he wrote: “It was not better to play 22…Rae8 as recommended by Capablanca shortly after the game, as after 23.Qxe8 White could offer a strong resistance with his two rooks for a queen.”
However, in Alekhine .’s later book My best chess games published in 1939, he writes: “Simple and convincing was instead 22…Rae8 as after the exchange of the white queen for two rooks after 23.Qxe8 Rxe8 24.Rxe8 Kh7 Black, because of his considerable positional advantage, but little struggled to force victory.”
Now you can see how controversial such a trade can be. Even world champion Alekhine seems a bit confused by it!
Nearly 60 years after the game was played, the discussion started again when Moscow master Vladimir Goldin published a detailed analysis of the game in Chess in the USSR magazine claimed that Levenfish and Romanovsky were right and that the trade would lead to a draw. The famous Soviet coach and chess analyst IM Mark Dvoretsky disagreed and published his analysis proving that Capablanca was right. Since modern chess engines are in full agreement with Dvoretsky, I’ll demonstrate his main ideas:
Now let’s go back to game six of the 2021 FIDE World Championship Game. This is the position right after GM Magnus Carlsen traded a queen for GM Ian Nepomniachtchi’s twin towers.
Although the engine gives absolutely the same “0.00” evaluation before and after the transaction, this can be very confusing for less experienced players. Indeed, why does the engine show “0.00” after 27.Rxc8, and yet the material count on the left side of the board shows +1? What is going on?
The trick is that you should never judge such trades purely materially, otherwise it will always favor the rooks (since two rooks are worth 10 points, one point more than one queen, that’s nine points). In the article mentioned above, we already talked about the criteria you should use to evaluate such a trade.
It’s funny that GM Sergei Shipov says in his review of the game, “let’s see why Ian Nepomniachtchi gives up two towers for a pathetic queen.” As you will see, both opponents had their chances in the resulting position. First, it was Carlsen who failed to capitalize on his opponent’s mistake:
These engine variants are very difficult for a human to find. Still, it was a big miss for Carlsen. Then it was Nepo’s turn to be wrong. Can you find the best move for Black?
You don’t need to be a super-GM or even a master to see that black can just grab a pawn with the pin and then his passed a4 pawn becomes very dangerous. In this case Black could play for a win without any risk! (By the way, the same idea was still very strong on the next move!)
On move 40, the world champion missed another tough win. This time you probably have to at least be a master to find it. Can you spot it?
After all these missed opportunities, the opponents came to a marathon ending that, according to the engines, was a draw, but almost incomprehensible from a human perspective. As they say, the rest is history…