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Lacking the Master Touch

December 29, 2013

One of the books I have brought with me on holiday is Wolfgang Heidenfeld's 1970 book Lacking the Master Touch, fifty of his selected games.


I am writing this post when only a dozen games into it, but it is already clear that it is a gem of a book. His level of annotation is just right, and he makes insightful comments. The fact (which is arguable) that he wasn't a GM is more a boon for the book than a limitation: he is human, like I am, and makes mistakes. I would though say that I suspect he very much was a master player. Certainly he would be an IM or a GM had he been playing in the 1990s or later, after the title proliferation of the late 1980s (or whenever it was). Born in Germany in 1911, as a Jew he had to emigrate, to South Africa; moved to Ireland in the 1970s before returning to South Africa where he died in 1981.

His style is great for a book: in the first dozen games, there have been several super attacking games, several messes, some created from what appeared to be flat positions.

I have found some interesting further lines in some of the games, and in this and subsequent blogs I will write about some that I think merit it.

Comments on game 7

W Heidenfeld v RG Wade, Paignton 1951


Game 7 was the first that really interested me, for three main reasons.

Firstly it featured Bob Wade (1921-2008), the native New Zealander who moved to Britain who did so much for British chess; I didn't know Bob at all well, but met him once or twice, for instance at the annual Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match.

Secondly Bob played the Old Indian, the sort of rubbish I play as black (rubbish the way I play it). And of course the reason I play it is in part because I read about Bob playing it, whilst I was a child. Lines such as 1 Nf3 d6 2 d4 Bg4 are etched on my memory. The game developed pretty much as many of my blitz games do: both sides develop, more or less ignoring each other, the position becomes quite closed and complex, and then chaos reigns.

Thirdly, I couldn't believe some of the annotations in the tactical phase.

Why did black play Qa5?

Here black played 9…Qa5, a very natural move, and also typical in similar KID positions. I would probably have played more passively, or more reservedly, with 9…Qc7, which Heidenfeld also prefers, though my engine suggests 9…ed is its preference, with equality: but ed is not in the style of the Old Indian. The reason I show this position is Heidenfeld's comments:

This move has good authority, having been adopted by several Russian masters, but its merit as against the immediate Qc7 escapes me.

I had to think about this position, given the above comment: and similarly struggle. My guess is that it was a provocative move, inducing a3 which weakens b3; and then the later advance b3 weakens c4: but if it is a provocation, it is an odd one, because white wants to expand on the Q side anyway.

Maybe 9…Qa5 is just a poor move.

Where to retreat to?

Now Black has to make up his mind. If the B remains on the K-side (Bh5), White would commence Q-side operations in earnest. In answer to the expected reply Bd7 the scene changes completely.

Excellent writing. I have had numerous occasions where my Bg4 is biffed by Ph3, and had to decide whether to retreat on the c8-d7 diagonal, retreat to h5, or exchange on f3. This is not the hardest position to make such choices, with 16…Bd7 being the natural reply, but white's subsequent rapid k-side pawn expansion was a shock to see: Bd3, Nd2,g4,f4 followed. Heidenfeld's words are a nice reminder of the effects of choices.

Playing like a Benoni?

Black has just played 20…h5. Heidenfeld comments that it offers a piece so as to take over the attack himself (21 f5 Bg5 22 f6 Be3+ was played). White's 21 f5 wasn't commented on, but pretty natural to me is 21 fe! de 22 Nde4!.

I am not for the first minute saying I can see this all the way through, but it is reminiscent of breakthroughs by white in the Benoni- e5 de; f5! (not recapturing, but sacing the e4 pawn in order to create a passed d pawn and an outpost of sores for the N on e4.

The position is worth examining at leisure, as I have done. It wasn't at all obvious to me (in fact it was totally unclear to me), but the mess is actually more a less decisive advantage to white. There are several factors: the open f file; weakness of f7; poor position of the black knights; weakness on the k-side black squares, particularly f6; threat of d6 which has a main effect of permitting Nd5.

Am I writing nonsense?

Personally, if I were faced with 20…h5, I would be (I) scared, frightened that I would lose control, and not like the messy complications of being attacked (II) would always choose fe, on general principles of opening lines (the f file) and Benoni comparison; (III) know I would have no chance of properly analysing either f5 or fe.

What I am wondering is when the Benoni e5! f5! Ne4! plan became known. Is it that the game Heidenfeld-Wade was played in 1951 before such themes were known?

Or, am I just writing nonsense? (Fair chance that I am)

Of course not…


In the following position Heidenfeld made a comment which intrigued me: in fact, it was the comment which above all made me get my set out and try to really analyse the game.


Of course not 24…gh+? because 25 Kf3 would win a second piece.

Really? Yes, of course it wins a second piece, but at the expense of the king being out in the wide wild open. After 25 Kf3 black keeps his bishop, anchoring it on f4.

Yes, black would rather have a knight than not have one, but once it is taken, it is replaced by a potentially powerful rook.

I haven't a clue if white can survive this. Maybe he can: when I first thought 'maybe 'of course' is wrong?' and thought that maybe black could sac another piece, I thought that black's queen could enter the game strongly by the little move Qc7-b6, aiming at e3; but maybe Nc4 (though maybe not- Rc4!). Also, white might be able to play Bg6! and either get a perpetual or a win.

I don't know, and don't want to spoil my enjoyment of the book by switching on an engine, but I would say that 24…gh+ may not be outrageously bad.

The beautiful finale: the missed gem


This is another crucial position. In writing up this blog, I have noticed, funnily, that to get here, Bob had to sacrifice a second piece 29…Bh3+! to get to this position: so by the method of comparison, my comments above about 24…gh become even more sensible: 24…gh stokes the fire in an arguably better way, getting the king to f3. I am speculating of course: concrete analysis is needed.


The reason I chose to look at this position is that Heidenfeld has a long (for him) commentary on the alternative to the move played (32 Qf4!, and 1-0 after a further few tactics) saying that Bob had relied on White playing 32 Bd7? to which the reply was 32..Qe4+ 33 Rf3 Rcd8!!: and I couldn't see why a move such as Rcd8 was so good- so put the position in Stockfish, since I had my iPad with me- and was startled. Firstly, it tells me that 33 Kg3 is clearly winning for white, but after 33..Rcd8 it has a startling answer.

Heidenfeld says that black wins, because the bishop can't remain on the h3-c8 diagonal, nor can it be protected. The latter is true (Rc7 Rd7!) but the former not: 34 Bf5!!.

Game over: if the bishop is taken, then Qg5+, and if Kf8, the LPDO Rd8 falls; or if Kh7, Rh1+! mates. Lovely. (If Rh2+, then Kh2 Qf3 Bh3, and white is two pieces up.





From → Chess

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