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LCB, Issue #070 --, Handle the Poisoned Pawn Variation with Care
April 01, 2021

Handle the Poisoned Pawn with Care

Lapoc Chess Board, Issue #070 -- GOTM #40

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A handful of openings contain a Poisoned Pawn Variation. The b-pawn is sometimes dangled in front of a hungry Queen. The prize looks juicy and the added boon of damaging your opponent's Queenside only adds to the temptation.

It's hard to resist picking up the free pawn. However nothing in this world is free. The capture costs you time and compromises your Queen. She will often become a target. Your opponent may use her vulnerability to gain tempi and other forms of compensation.

So who comes out on top after the poisoned pawn is accepted? It depends on who plays better and makes the most of the trade off. Let's take a look at a high profile example taken from the legendary Match of the Century played in Reykjavik in 1972. The protagonists are of course Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer.

Handle the Poisoned Pawn with Care

Spassky, Boris V - Fischer, Robert J [B97]

GotM #40 - Reykjavik, 1972
[Connaughton, Ken]

1.e4 c5

Sicilian Defense

2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6

Najdorf Variation

6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Qb6 8.Qd2 Qxb2

Game position after 8...Qxb2

Poisoned Pawn Variation


White threatening to surround the Black Queen

9...Qa3 10.Bxf6 gxf6 11.Be2 h5

Attempting to discourage White from castling Kingside now that Black's own castling options have been compromised.


White is however happy to tuck his King away on this wing.

12...Nc6 13.Kh1 Bd7 14.Nb1 Qb4

Black would be okay with exchanging Queens since his is a target and the White Queen sits comfortably in a central position.


White would prefer to leave the Queens on.


Game position after 15...d5

Aggressive but perhaps not the best.

16.exd5 Ne7 17.c4 Nf5 18.Qd3

White's judgement is good in this phase as he maneuvers better than his opponent.


Aware of the growing threats, Black decides he needs to develop some counterplay.

19.Bg4 Nd6 20.N1d2 f5 21.a3!

White has managed throughout the game to answer Black's threats with bigger threats.


(21...Qa4+/- would have seen Black still under pressure but perhaps not in quite such a dire circumstance.)


Game position after 22.c5


Again the Queen exchange is offered.


And again it's rebuffed.


(23...Rg8+- was the quieter reply, but Fischer was not the quiet kind.)


Three Black pieces are now threatened, White has for several moves resisted the temptation of claiming material, always sensing a bigger prize on offer, further down the road.

(24.Qxh8+- Nf5 25.Nd4 Nxd4 26.Ne4 0-0-0 27.Qxd4+/- certainly sees White retain an advantage but not as commanding as the one obtained after the text move.; 24.cxd6= of course diminish White's advantage absolutely and immediately.)


Black of course, trying to rescue the game, is going for broke now.

25.axb5 hxg2+ 26.Kxg2 Rh3 27.Qf6 Nf5 28.c6

Game position after 28.c6

White now has the Queen for a minor piece and a great position. He will now close in on the full point.

28...Bc8 29.dxe6 fxe6 30.Rfe1 Be7 31.Rxe6!

Game position after 31.Rxe6!

The exchange sacrifice seals the deal. Black throws in the towel.

(31.Rxe6 Bxe6 32.Qxe6 bxc6 (32...Rd8 33.Qg8+ Bf8 34.Qg6++-) 33.Qg8++-)


Spassky - Fischer, Reykjavik, 1972)

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