Initiative in Chess - Kavinayan P. Sivakumar, thanks to ChessGurukul.com
Initiative is an important factor in chess. Whether you are playing the drawish Petroff, or the exciting Dragon, initiative is needed to pile up the pressure on your opponent. But what really is initiative? To fully understand this concept, we turn to the 4th round game of the World Championship match between Anand and Topalov.
White: Anand, V
Black: Topalov, V
Game 4: FIDE World Chess Championship. Apr 28, 2010
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 We shall not play close attention to the opening. This is not our main area of focus.
4. g3 dxc4 5. Bg2 Bb4 6. Bd2 a5 7. Qc2 As of now, White has developed 4 pieces, while Black has only developed 2 pieces…
7. …Bxd2+ 8. Qxd2 c6 This move helps in 3 ways: 1. It supports b5. 2. It supports d5, possibly a potential outpost in the future. 3. It blocks White’s light square bishop’s scope of the a8-h1 diagonal. However, after this move, Black keeps yet another pawn on his bishop color.
9. a4 As mentioned above, White is pressuring the b5 square, which Black had supported the previous move.
9. …b5 A pawn break. Very energetic play from Topalov. Instead of being crunched for space, he breaks out. However, now White’s g2 bishop is a little bit more powerful.
10. Na3 Bd7 11. Ne5 Nd5 12. e4 Nb4 13. 0-0 0-0 14. Rfd1 Be8 Over this period of time, both players are developing pieces to what they think are best squares. However, it is White that is now more developed. In fact, his a1 rook is the only one not in play. But for Black, only his knight seems useful. Everything else is sleeping in the 8th rank!
15. d5! Anand lashes out with a pawn break. Due to the activity of his pieces, Black must be careful here. Anand has initiative here, because he is punishing Black’s late development.
15. …Qd6 (15. …cxd5 16. exd5 followed by taking on b5; 15. …exd5 16. exd5 cxd5 [16. …f6 17. Nxc6 N8xc6 18. dxc6 Qxd2 19. Rxd2 and if Bxc6 or Nxc6 axb5 followed by taking the c4 pawn.]17. axb5 +/- ; 15. …f6 16. Nxc6 N8xc6 17. dxc6 The difference between this variation and the past one was that now the g2 bishop is blocked by the e4 pawn. 17. …Qxd2 18. Rxd2 and if Bxc6 or Nxc6, axb5 with the c4 pawn hanging.)
16. Ng4 Qc5 17. Ne3 Anand realizes that sooner or later, then tension at d5 will burst. This is why he is reinforcing it. Also, you should notice that it pressures c4 as well…
17. …N8a6 18. dxc6 Anand understands that Black is going to get his pieces out quickly. He seeks to open the position up for his well placed pieces.
19. Naxc4 Bxc6 20. Rac1! This may not seem like a rare move. Most people would play this without thinking. But the exclamation mark applauds the vigor this move has. This is initiative. Black now has to worry about a discovered attack. All of white’s pieces are developed actively, while Black’s rooks still need to find good squares.
20. …h6 Topalov does not want to move his queen away. This move also removes any back rank surprises later in the game.
21. Nd6 Here it is. The discovery. Where will Black’s queen go?
21. …Qa7 22. Ng4! The knight on e3 has served his purpose. It goes back to g4, targeting e5…and something else as well…
22. …Rad8? Topalov does not see the smashing move Anand delivers…
23. Nxh6+! Anand converts his more active piece placement into an attack.
23. …gxh6 Topalov has to take. If he does not, he will be down a pawn with a worse position.
24. Qxh6 f6 25. e5! Now White’s bishop is looking down. Now exf6 is threatened.
25. …Bxg2 26. exf6 It is over. Black’s pieces are all huddled in the queenside, only seeing the disaster.
26. …Rxd6 Topalov tries to stop the attack, but it is hopeless. Now white’s rook comes into the attack. Since Anand has the initiative, he knows he must play precisely, or else Black can defend.
27. Rxd6 Be4 28. Rxe6 Nd3 The f2 pawn is threatened with mate.
29. Rc2 Qh7 Can Black defend?
30. f7+! No, he cannot! ...Qxf7 31. Rxe4 Qf5 32. Re7 Resigns 1-0
During this game, White was more developed. In fact, the knight on a6 only made one move: from b8 to a6. The rook on f8 only got there from castling. Anand understood this, and so quickly opened up the center, allowing his rooks to dominate. Black could only counter passively against White’s play. This is no help against the attack Anand eventually had.
This game should have given you a reasonable idea of what initiative is. It doesn’t mean you should just start attacking the king. Far from it. Initiative comes from developing your pieces to active squares. Anand gave a pawn in the opening, but he got strong development. This is what allowed him to attack, and win an important game.