Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sounding Out the Winawer

I had only one over-the-board encounter with the late Larry Schwartz*, but we produced one of the most exciting games I have ever played. This game made such an impression on one of the spectators that he wrote a letter to Larry Evans on Chess, in large part inspired by our post mortem analysis.

Published in the November 1985 issue of Chess Life under the heading "Sounding Out the Winawer", the letter posed the query as to whether White got sufficient compensation for the exchange in these sacrificial lines.

Jim West (USCF 2260) - Larry Schwartz (USCF 2086), Mel Benson Memorial 1984

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.a4 Nbc6 8.Nf3 Qa5 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.Bd3 c4 11.Be2 f6 12.O-O O-O-O 13.Ba3

Analyzing the position after White's thirteenth move, John Moles in The French Defense: Main Line Winawer writes: "The critical position: in practice White has done well from it but all too often Black's handling of it has been nothing short of dismal."

I must admit that I have always been tempted to steal a line from George Orwell and say that in such positions White is "more equal" than Black. In other words, the second player must be prepared to "find moves" whereas White is under less of a constraint in this regard.

13...Rdf8 14.Rfb1 Rf7 15.Rb5 Qd8 16.Rab1 b6 17.Qc1

Instead of my 17.Qc1, Evans gives 17.a5! Nxa5 18.Rxa5 bxa5 19.Bd6 Nc6 20.Bxc4 dxc4 21.d5 exd5 22.Nd4!, calling White "on top".

It is difficult to agree completely with this analysis since, after 22...fxe5 23.Nxc6 Bxc6 24.Rb8+ Kd2 25.Rxd8+ Rxd8 26.Bxe5, White is hardly "on top".

Nor does 23.Nb5 Be6 change this assessment.

Yet if White tries 22.Qxd5! instead of 22.Nd4?, then the verdict is less clear.

17...Na5 18.exf6 gxf6 19.Rxa5 bxa5 20.Bd6 Nc6 21.Bg3 Be8 22.Qb2 Qb6 23.Qc1 Qd8 24.Rb5 Rb7 25.Qf4 Qe7 26.Nd2 h5 27.Bxc4

dxc4 28.Nxc4 e5 29.dxe5 fxe5 30.Qe4 h4 31.Rxb7 Kxb7 32.Nxa5+?

Better was 32.Bxe5.


Instead 32...Kb6! wins.

33.Nxc6+ Bxc6 34.Qxe5+, Black resigns.

Although Black's extra rook managed only to get itself captured at the tail end, nevertheless from an objective standpoint White probably did not have enough for the sacrificed material in this game. However, practically speaking, White had good chances to win.

So the central question remains unresolved. Is the Winawer French sound?

Perhaps we should let Bobby Fischer have the last word, from My 60 Memorable Games, in this argument: "I may yet be forced to admit that the Winawer is sound. But I doubt it! The defense is anti-positional and weakens the kingside."

*{This article originally appeared in Atlantic Chess News in 1986}