Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sweet Little Pawn

Shaun's post the other day on the worth of a pawn reminded me of J.H. Donner's "ode to a pawn". It came at the end of Donner's annotations to his encounter against Velimorovic, Havana 1971, a Benoni system with Donner on the white side. The ode is something most of us can understand as it speaks much to the heavenly heights of victory in what seemed initially to be a lost cause.

Naturally I'm not going to copy the entire annotation but will pick only a few highlights.*

Capablanca Memorial 1971
Donner, Jan Hein
Velimirovic, Dragoljub

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 g6 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. e4 O-O 6. Be2 d6 7. Nf3 e6 8. O-O exd5 9. cxd5 Re8 10. Nd2 a6 11. a4 Nbd7 12. Re1 Rb8 13. Bf1 Ne5 14. f4 Neg4 15. Nf3 c4!! (These marks are also Donner's).

Donner: "The battle is done, indeed. Black wins any way he likes."

16. a5 Qc7 17. e5 Qc5+ Donner recommends, instead, 17...dxe5 18. fxe5 Bf8 as the coupe de grace.

18. Qd4 Qxd4+ 19. Nxd4 dxe5 20. fxe5 Nh5?

Position after 20...Nh5

Donner: "Again, Black fails to make the best move. After 20...Nxe5 21. Bf4 Nh5 22. Bxe5 Rxe5 he would have had a winning endgame with his strong pair of bishops."

21. Nf3 Nxe5 22. Nxe5 Bxe5 23. Be3 Bd7 24. Bxc4 Rbc8 25. Ba2 Rxc3?

Donner: "Just as I thought! I would have bet my life on it! A player like Velimirovic totally lacks the patience to knibble away quietly at such an endgame. Actions is what he wants. The pair of bishops becomes a major force from now on and because Velimirovic finds out too late, he loses in the end.

26. bxc3 Bxc3 27. Bf2 Rxe1+ 28. Rxe1 Bxe1 29. Bxe1 Nf6 30. Kf2 Bf5? 31. Ke3 Be4 32. Kd4

Position after 32. Kd4

Donner: "The game received quite some attention from other players. To draw a veil over their shame I'm not going to give any names, but there were two grandmasters who asked me why I hadn't forced a draw here with 32. Bh4. The numbskulls!"

32...Bxg2 33. Ke5

Donner: "The king breaks through and the fighting-power of a king mounting the attack from behind the enemy pawns to my mind equals that of a full rook."

33...Kg7 34. Kd6 Kf8 35. Bb3 g5 36. Bg3 Ke8 37. Be5 Nd7 38. Ba4 Bh3 39. Bf6 h6 40. Kc7 Bf5 41. Kxb7 Kf8 42. Bxd7 Bxd7 43. Kxa6

It is at this moment that Jan Hein Donner now delivers the ode:

"Dear pawn on a5,

Sweet little thing, a rook's pawn you are, just one square is all you control. You're so small, almost nothing and throughout the game you've been standing there on your little place, but all that time my hope was built on you, and all my fearful hankering was for you. I did see you standing there, you little rascal. People thought, of course, it was the d5 pawn that it was all about, he drew their attention, they all looked at him, but you and I knew better, it was all about you, about you and you alone.

You've been waiting, you naughty boy, not wanting to come on, because you knew that all the time I was only thinking of you and that you didn't have to do anything at all, because I would be coming to you of my own. Little rook's pawn, you're free now. Go ahead, unspeakable bliss is waiting for you and me on a8. Thank you, you sweet little thing. I love you,

your King
Black resigns."

That's the beauty of pawns: they have potential.

* Material is taken from J.H. Donner, "The King" (translated by Richard De Weger), 1997, New In Chess, Hardcover.


Anonymous said...

great great great book that one. donner is comedic genius. in fact, its james stewart's favorite chess book, mickey mouse ;)

Anonymous said...

Very nice but it's not so much an ode (which is a poem) as a paean (which is almost a bad cross language pun - pawn = pion in French).

Denis Jessop

Anonymous said...

A java player would be nice or a link to the game if nothing better. Here is the game at chessgames.