Another Steve Giddins book I’ve been getting into is the Best Games collection of Russian Grandmaster Ratmir Kholmov (1925-2006). Best known in the West for convincingly beating Bobby Fischer at Havana 1965 on the Black side of a Ruy Lopez, Kholmov is one of many extremely strong Russian players who – for whatever reason – were allowed only infrequently to play events abroad. However, a man who ties for 1st in the Soviet Championship in 1963 (tied with Spassky and Stein) is likely to have been one of the strongest players in the world!
The game I have selected is not one of Kholmov’s best games – in fact, it should have been a wonderful victory for his less illustrious opponent, Bulgarian Grandmaster Nikola Padevsky. It does however show Kholmov’s resourcefulness and resilience for which he was apparently known as “The Central Defender”!
Padevsky,Nikola Bochev – Kholmov,Ratmir D [C45]
Dresden Dresden (12), 1956
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Nb6 9.Nd2 Bb7 10.b3 0–0–0 11.Bb2 Qe6
11…g6 as well as 11…f6 have been the main moves in recent times. Kholmov goes for a more modest development of the bishop to e7.
12.0–0–0 Be7 13.f4 Rhe8 14.Nf3 c5 15.Qc2
Both White and Black have gone through the opening contortions that are part and parcel of the Scotch. Both queens have moved twice in the opening to free the king’s bishops they had blocked in! White has thrown pawns forward with abandon before completing his development and Black has transferred the king’s knight to the appalling square b6! After 15.Qc2, White’s development is on the home stretch: the idea Bd3–e4 would justify White’s setup completely. Kholmov takes the risky decision to grab a pawn before White is fully mobilised.
15…d5 looks like a safer and better move, looking to free up some squares for the knight on b6 with …dxc4. One of my engine matches continued 16.f5 Qh6+ 17.Kb1 dxc4 18.Bxc4 Nxc4 19.Qxc4 Qh5 20.Qc2 Rxd1+ 21.Rxd1 g6 and Black stood well, having exchanged off the terrible knight on b6 to gain the bishop pair!
16.Bd3 Qxf4+ 17.Kb1 g6 18.Rhf1
For the next series of moves, Padevsky plays with great purpose to exploit the activity he gained in return for the sacrificed pawn on f4. Black’s main gain from winning the pawn on f4 is that future …d6xe5 will eliminate the White pawn centre; however, Black must be careful as White’s pieces are currently well-placed for that scenario: Nf3xe5 could be very painful for Black!
18…d5 was the engine choice. It looks dangerous, but some superhuman calculation shows that the discovered attack Nf3–e5 is of no consequence. 19.exd6 Bxd6 20.Ne5 Qxh2 21.Nxf7 Rd7 22.Rh1 Qf4 23.Rdf1 Qg3 24.Rh3 Qxg2 25.Rxh7 Bf4 26.Qxg2 Bxg2 27.Rf2 Be4 28.Bxe4 Rxe4 29.Rh8+ Kb7 30.Nd8+ Ka6 31.Rxf4 Rxf4 32.Ne6 Rf1+ 33.Kc2 Rf2+ 34.Kc3 Rf3+ 35.Kc2 Rf5 36.Ba3 Nxc4 37.bxc4 Kb6 38.Rb8+ Kc6 39.Nd8+ Kd6 40.Nb7+ Kc6 41.Na5+ Kd6 42.Rg8 Rg5 43.Kb3 and eventually ½–½ in one of my Fat Fritz – Stockfish matches.
19.a4 d6 20.a5 Nd7 21.Be4
Beautiful strategy: Black’s best (only!) defensive piece is exchanged after the knight has been chased away with a rook’s pawn. That rook’s pawn is also a very dangerous attacking unit in itself once it reaches a6.
A crucial defensive move, taking away e4 from the White queen.
22.Bxb7+ Kxb7 23.b4
Padevsky plays with wonderful energy! This move will open the b-file and also prepares to infiltrate the queen on the queenside light squares via a4–b5. This move was also the engine choice.
Ingenious defence from Kholmov! Black is looking to block the b-file with a knight on b4.
a) 23…cxb4 looked reasonable to me when the Black knight gains the c5–square to defend.
is a shocker however: it hadn’t occurred to me at all!
a1) 24…Kc8 25.Qa4 Qe3 (25…Nb8 26.Qb5) 26.Rd4
Cleverly stopping the Black queen from heading to the defence of the queenside either via b6 or via e4. 26…Nxe5 27.Re1 Qf2 28.Qxb4 Nc6 29.Qb5 is winning for White according to my engine. 29…Bf6 30.Rxe8 Bxd4 31.Nxd4 Rxe8 32.Qb7+ Kd7 33.Qxc6+ Kd8 34.Nb5 Re1+ 35.Ka2 Qb6 36.Qxb6 cxb6 37.Nxa7 was good enough for Stockfish against Fat Fritz.)
a2) 24…Kxa6 25.Qa4+ Kb7 26.Nd4 Nb8 27.Rfe1 dxe5 28.Rxe5 a6 29.Rxe7 Rxe7 30.Qxb4+ wins
b) 23…a6 is the engine’s main choice, preventing a6+ and covering the b5–square. The engine still thinks the position is equal, but there’s only 1 colour I’d like to me in a practical game! 24.e6
b1) 24…Nf8 is risky and led to an extraordinary sequence in one of my Fat Fritz-Stockfish engine matches. 25.Rfe1 cxb4 26.Qd3 Qf4 27.Re2 Rc8 28.h3 h5 29.g3 Qxg3 Desperation, but Black has no moves and no space for its pieces. (29…Qh6 30.Nd4
With the idea of Nc6!! 30…c6 31.Qb3 is awful for Black.) 30.Rg1 Qxh3 31.Rh2 It’s not often Stockfish gets its queen actually trapped!;
b2) 24…Nf6 was another Stockfish choice in an engine match, but didn’t look much better. Again: Black has no scope for its pieces. 25.Rfe1 Qf8 26.bxc5 Rb8 27.Ka2 Rec8 28.g4 Ka8 29.gxf5 gxf5 30.Nd4 Ne4 31.Nxf5 Qxf5 32.Qxe4+ Qxe4 33.Rxe4 Rf8 34.cxd6 cxd6 35.Bd4 Somehow Black survived, but White is clearly only playing for 2 results.;
b3) 24…Nb8 25.b5 also looks extremely passive for Black who can no longer move his knight.;
b4) 24…Ne5 is the way to do it according to my engines. 25.bxc5 Nxf3 26.cxd6 Rxd6 27.Rxd6 Bxd6 28.Rxf3 Qh4 29.Re3 Ka7 30.g3 Qd8 31.Qd1 Bc5 is balanced.
Natural but 24.b5 is the engine suggestion with a big position for White: White is simply going for a big squeeze. 24…a6 allowed Stockfish to show its attacking skill! 25.Qb3 Ka8 26.Rfe1 Qf8 27.Ka2 g5 28.Rb1 axb5 29.cxb5 d5 30.e6 Bf6 31.b6 cxb6 32.Qa4 b5 33.Qxb5 Bxb2 34.Rxb2 Qe7 35.Ne5 Qc7 36.Nf7 Rc8 37.Nd6 Re7 38.a6 Qxd6 39.Qb7+ Rxb7 40.axb7+ Ka7 41.bxc8N+ and Stockfish won in a couple of moves.
Another good attacking move, freeing b1 for White rook and getting the White king out of random checks along the b1–h7 diagonal. It’s certainly not the best according to my engine though!
a) 25.b5 looks sensible here, stopping the knight from activating itself on c6 and introducing the ever-present threat of ba;
b) 25.Rfe1 is an engine suggestion as well. Black’s position looks in disarray! 25…dxe5 (25…cxb4 26.exd6 is the nasty point. Black must recapture with the pawn on d6. 26…cxd6 27.c5
is unpleasant for Black as cxd6 is the threat once again. 27…dxc5 28.Rxd8) 26.Rxe5 Rxd1+ (26…Nc6 27.b5 Nxe5 28.Nxe5 g5 29.Rxd8 Rxd8 30.Nc6 was another painful Black experience for Fat Fritz against Stockfish! bxa6+ is a huge threat… quite apart from Nxe7!) 27.Qxd1 Rd8 28.Qb3 Qf8 29.bxc5+ Kc8 30.Nd4 is clearly better for White according to my engine.
a) 25…Nc6 Seemed the most consistent follow-up to 23…Nb8 to me, looking to establish a knight on b4. 26.exd6 (26.b5 Nb4)
a1) 26…Bxd6 27.bxc5 Bxc5 28.Rb1 With the threat of Bg7+ or Bc1+ 28…Nb4 29.Bc3 Kc8 30.Bxb4 Re2 (30…Qg7+ 31.Rb2 Re2 32.Rfb1) 31.Bc3 Rd3 (31…Qe3 32.Qb3 Rd3 33.Rfd1) 32.Rfd1 wins;
a2) 26…Rxd6 27.b5 is the most elegant as 27…Nb4 28.bxa6+ wins the rook on e8.;
a3) 26…cxd6 To my surprise the best defence I could find! 27.bxc5 dxc5 28.Ne5
seemed the obvious follow-up, removing the key defender of the queenside light squares. (28.Rfe1 Qf8 29.Ne5 is the engine’s #1 line.) 28…Nb4 (28…g5 an engine idea 29.Nf7 Qe6 30.Nxd8+ Bxd8 31.Rd5 looks good for White: …g5 has loosened Black’s structure greatly) 29.Rd7+
a31) 29…Kc8 30.Rfd1 is very strong threatening to exchange twice on d8 and then play Qd7+ 30…Qf8 (30…Qh4 31.g3 Qe4 32.Rxd8+ Bxd8 33.Qxe8 Nc2+ 34.Ka2 Nb4+ 35.Ka3 Nc2+ 36.Ka4 wins) 31.Qb3 (31.Nxg6 hxg6 32.Be5 Bf6 33.Rc7+ Kb8 was my first thought, but just loses!) 31…Qf6 (31…Rxd7 32.Nxd7 Qf7 33.Nb6+ wins) 32.Qf3 wins;
a32) 29…Kb8 30.Nc6+ Nxc6 31.Be5+
was the nice mate I spotted! 31…Nxe5 32.Qb3+;
a33) 29…Ka8 30.Nd3
The engine move, which I did not spot. White will capture on b4 to expose the queenside light squares and Re1 is a further unpleasant follow-up (30.Rfd1 Rc8 was the line I couldn’t break (30…Qf8 31.Qc6+ Nxc6 32.Nxc6 Rxd7 33.Rxd7 is the lovely idea! This isn’t shogi, so no captured pieces can be dropped in the way!; 30…Rb8 31.Nc6) 31.Rc7 Qe3)
30…Rc8 (30…Rxd7 31.Nxb4 (31.Qxd7 Rd8 32.Qxe7 Rxd3 holds for Black) 31…Red8 32.Qc6+ Rb7 33.Qxa6+ Kb8 34.Be5+ is killing!) 31.Nxb4 cxb4 32.Qd1 g5 33.Re1 A lovely idea! Black cannot protect his bishop and maintain the block …Qc6 on the h1–a8 diagonal
b) 25…dxe5 is the best line however. 26.bxc5 This attempt to mate Black on the b-file seems to fall short 26…Qe3 is the best line according to my engine. 27.Rd5 Rxd5 28.cxd5 Rd8 29.c6+ Ka8 30.Re1 Qc5
Kholmov blinks. As we have seen so often, the safest place for Black is the corner! Not that intuitive! The fact that the knight on b8 is defended and the ability of the Black queen to activate itself via e3 to aid the defence of the queenside light squares seems to be just enough.
26…Ka8 27.Rb1 d5 (27…Qe3 28.Bd4 Qe4 is another idea demonstrating the key defensive idea: retreating the king to a8 keeps b8 defended which takes away any Qxb8+ and Bc1+ ideas. This allows Black to focus on defending the b7 square which he will ideally do by activating his queen on h6. White still has the initiative however) 28.Qa4 Qe3 29.Nd4 dxc4 30.Ne6 Rc8 31.Qxc4 Qe4 is balanced according to my engine. It still feels very fraught for Black, but now the Black queen is active, the exposure of the White king also makes itself felt.
27.Rb1 dxe5 28.c5
The start of some probably time-trouble induced – and very entertaining – randomness!
was stronger, preventing the Black queen from coming into e3 and preparing to unleash powerful b-file threats by moving the bishop from b2. 28…e4 Kholmov 29.Be5 was the move I wanted to play at first sight…and it is good enough! (29.Ne5 Bf6 30.Bc3 is the simple Stockfish win (30.Nf7 Qd2 was the defence Kholmov had anticipated 31.Bxf6 Qxa5+ 32.Qa2 Qxa2+ 33.Kxa2 Rd7 and suddenly Black, with 3 pawns for the piece and White’s minor pieces in slight disarray, is looking in reasonable shape!) 30…Bxe5 31.Bxe5 Rxe5 32.Qxb8+ Kd7 33.Rbd1+ Ke6 34.Qxd8 Rxa5+ 35.Kb2)
a) 29…Nc6 30.Qb7+ Kd7 31.Rb6 was my favourite win!;
b) 29…exf3 30.Qb7+ Kd7 31.Qd5+ Bd6 (31…Kc8 32.Qe6+ Rd7 33.Rxb8+ Kxb8 34.Qb6+
I even spotted this computer way to win! 34…Kc8 35.Qxa6+ Kb8 (35…Kd8 36.Qa8#) 36.Rb1+) 32.Bxd6 is a trivial win;
c) 29…Kd7 Following the shogi proverb that an early flight of the king is worth 8 tempi! It’s not that much in chess! 30.Rfd1+ Bd6 31.c5;
d) 29…Bd6 30.Rfd1 Rxe5 31.Qxb8+ Kd7 32.Nxe5+ Ke8 (32…Ke6 33.Qxd8 Bxe5+ 34.Ka2) 33.Qxd8+ wins 33…Kxd8 34.Nf7+]
One of those unexpected and unpleasant activations we mentioned earlier.
29.Qxb8+ Kxb8 30.Bxe5+ Kc8 31.Bxf4 Bf6+
is nothing more than a draw by perpetual! 32.Ka2 Re2+ 33.Ka3 (33.Kb3 Rd3+ 34.Kc4 Rc3+ 35.Kd5 Rd3+ is a perpetual 36.Kc6 Re6+ 37.Bd6 cxd6 38.Rfe1 Be5 is even good for Black) 33…Rd3+ 34.Ka4 (34.Rb3 Bb2+ 35.Ka4 Re4+ 36.Rb4 Ra3#) 34…Rxg2 (34…Re4+ 35.Rb4 Re2 36.Bd2 To avoid the draw by repetition 36…Rxg2 doesn’t look any better for White.) Kholmov gave all these lines in his annotations, but I triple-checked them as I couldn’t believe they really worked!
29…Nd7 30.Bxe5 Qe4 31.Rfe1 Qa8 is the Stockfish defence and is apparently comfortable for Black!
30.Bc3 Nc6 31.Qb7+ Kd7 32.Nxe5+
32.Rbd1+ Bd6 33.Nxe5+ Qxe5 34.Bxe5 Rxe5 35.Rxd6+ Kxd6 36.Rd1+ Rd5 37.Rxd5+ Kxd5 38.Qxc7 was the Stockfish approach with excellent winning chances and little risk. Black’s king is so exposed, Black cannot avoid losing more pawns along the way.
32…Qxe5 33.Bxe5 Rxe5
Probably in heavy time trouble, White panics! 34.Rfd1+ Bd4+ 35.Rxd4+ Nxd4 36.Qxa6 was best according to Kholmov when 36…Rd5 still gives fighting chances according to Kholmov.
34…Bd4+ 35.Kb1 Rb8
35…Nxa5 36.Qxa6 Nxb3 37.Qa4+ c6 was much stronger according to Kholmov when 38.Qxb3 Rb5 wins
36.Qxb8 Nxb8 37.Rxb8 Rxa5 38.Rd1 c5 39.Rd2 Rb5+ 40.Rxb5 axb5 41.Ra2 Kc6 42.Ra7
The Chessbase score ends here but Kholmov continues a little further. The position is lost in any case: the connected pawns are too strong.
42…c4 43.Rxh7 b4 44.g4 b3 45.gxf5 c3 46.Rh3 gxf5 47.Rf3 f4 0–1