Chess puzzle: who is better and why?

Position after 25. Qg4

How would you judge this position, which arose after the 25th move by white in the game between Ponomariov and Bareev (FIDE Wch k.o. Moscow 2001). Question: who is better and can black take the pawn on e5?

According to Stockfish black is slightly better. That is mainly due to the fact that the pawn on e5 is weak. Basically, white can’t defend this pawn. Black didn’t hesitate and played:

25. … Bxe5?

This is a mistake. Do you see why?

The point is that black shouldn’t be in a hurry to capture the pawn. This pawn isn’t going anywhere. He can first improve is bishop with: 25. … Bc8. What did black miss?

Whati s the best move for white?

I have to confess that very likely I also wouldn’t have seen what is coming now. White played:

26. Qxe6+! There is no other way than: 26. … Qxe6 27. Rxe5. The tide has turned! White is down on material, but has quite some compensation:

  • bishop pair
  • active pieces that coordinate well
  • the black king is weak
  • the bishop on b7 is doing nothing

Stockfish judges this position as 0.00. But I guess it is easier to play for white. There might be another factor at work: it was a knock out match. I presume black needed to win. That becomes clear when we follow what happens next.

27. … Qg4 28. Re7 Rf7 29. Re8+ Rf8 30. Re7 Rb8?

Black’s last move is a mistake. But I think Bareev didn’t have much choice in order to play on for a win. Now white can bring his last piece into the game:

31. Rf1 Bc6?

Why is 31. … Bc6 a mistake?

Playing 31. … Bc6 at first sight makes sense. The bishop is covering e8. But was it necessary? And is it doing anything else? Moreover, on c6 the bishop is unprotected. But Bc8 looks a bit counter intu├»tive. At c8 the bishop interferes the rook on b8 in protecting the last row. Point is that the black rook can perform some other duties on the b-file. See the analysis…

The game continued: 32. g3 with the nasty threat of Rxf4. Black played 32. … g5. What else? Well there was 32. … fxg3 or 32. … f3. See the analysis.

What is the best move for white?

There were more ways to win this game. Ponomariov chose a neat way to finish the game. Whereas I would have started to search for a mate.

33. Rg7+ The route to mate was: 33. Bxh7+ Kf8 34. Rfe1 with the unstoppable threat of Bg7#.

What is the best move for white?

This is puzzle 196 in ‘The Woordpecker Method’ by Axel Smith and Hans Tikkanen. It is an easy puzzle. But I didn’t manage to solve it. Why? I kept hard headed looking for a mate. But there isn’t one any(more)! Silly me. It has been taught by Jacob Aagaard in his lessons on calculation at

  • Take your time and look.
  • See what the pieces can do.
  • Look for more than one alternative.

It seemed I forgot this wise advice. If I had looked for other ideas than stuff on the seventh rank and try to mate, I would have seen that 34. Rxf4+ immediately ends the game. Sometimes giving good advice is like casting pearls before swine. Let’s look at the bright side: I solved another 50 easy puzzles without many problems.

See the complete game and analysis…

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