Polgar's Pick: Caissa’s Gentleman Print E-mail
By GM Susan Polgar with FM Paul Truong   
October 1, 2007
Boris Gulko is the only person to win both the Soviet (1977) and U.S. Championships (1994, 1999). An amazingly talented player, he could have achieved even more in his stellar career had he not have been forced to spend much time and energy during his peak competitive years fighting the political system in the former Soviet Union. His fight included a couple of lengthy hunger strikes. See Fred Waitzkin’s book Searching for Bobby Fischer for a detailing of Gulko’s bravery and fortitude.

I first met Boris and his wife Anna in 1987, shortly after their immigration (and that process is worthy of a book in itself). We were both playing in the Cannes Festival followed by a prestigious rapid event in Monte Carlo. They were both absolutely overwhelmed with happiness and joy at being able to live in the free world and to travel with no restrictions to tournaments around the globe. 

We became friends right away, and our friendship has been a continuous one. Boris is not only a great chess player, but also a very well-liked person in the chess community and beyond. He truly is the “gentleman of chess.”

I got to know Boris quite well in the early 1990s when we worked together on various occasions. He even came to support me for a few days at my World Championship match in Jaen, Spain against the Chinese Champion Xie Jun.

Today, even though Boris is often times among the eldest participants in the events he plays in, he still often shows his younger colleagues that he remains one of the top players in the United States.

This month’s game is from the recent Continental Championship in Colombia, where Gulko finished in sixth-13th place, the third-finishing American behind tournament co-champions Varuzhan Akobian and Alexander Ivanov.


King’s Indian Defense (E61)
GM Boris Gulko (FIDE 2576)
Cesar Quinones (FIDE 2268)
Continental Championship, Cali, 2007

1. c4 Nf6 2. d4 c6 3. Bf4

This is a smart move order. As I was trying to understand the idea behind this somewhat unusual move, I first looked at the following variation: 3. ... d5 4. cxd5 cxd5 5. Bxb8 Rxb8 6. Qa4+ Bd7 7. Qxa7? Can White go pawn hunting so early in the game? Not really; it is far too dangerous for both White’s king and queen. In fact after 7. ... e6 8. Nc3 Bc6 White’s queen is a prisoner.

However, White achieves a small victory after 4. e3. Compared to the regular Meran defense when the queen bishop remains stuck on c1, in this position, it is developed to a more active square.

3. ... g6

Black switches over to a King’s Indian (or potentially Gruenfeld) defense.

4. Nc3 Bg7 5. Nf3 d6 6. e3 0-0 7. h3 Bf5

This is not an ideal place for Black’s light-square bishop because after ... Nbd7, the bishop may not have an appropriate retreat if attacked. A better plan would have been 7. ... a6, followed by ... b7-b5 with counterplay.

8. Be2 Na6 9. 0-0

White has a space advantage and therefore a small but steady plus. 

9. ... c5

Black is hoping that White moves his d4 pawn (either by trading on c5 or by pushing d4-d5), in which case the power of the bishop on g7 would be enhanced. But White does not have to react to Black’s invitation. 

10. Rc1

A wise idea, just in case, getting off of the a1–h8 diagonal.

10. ... h6 11. Bh2 Be4?!

This is a move that I have a hard time understanding. Why should Black voluntarily give up the pair of bishops for no apparent gain?

12. Nxe4

Naturally, White gladly trades.

12. ... Nxe4

Now White increases his edge in space.

13. Bd3

This chases away the well-centralized knight.

13. ... Nf6 14. d5

In such Benoni-type positions, White’s main plan is to break through with e3-e4-e5.

14. ... Nd7 15. Qd2 Nc7

Black is trying to prepare counterplay with ... b7-b5.

16. e4 a6 17. Rfe1

Getting ready to play e4-e5.

17. ... b5 18. b3 bxc4 19. bxc4

Black has opened the b-file with hopes of counterplay, but ultimately it is White who benefits from this.

19. ... Re8 20. Bf4

A smart move that provokes Black to either make a weakening pawn move or to move the king to h7, stepping on to the b1–h7 diagonal where White’s light-square bishop stands.

Things would not be so bad for Black after 20. e5 dxe5 21. Nxe5 Nxe5 22. Bxe5 Bxe5 23. Rxe5 Qd6.

20. ... g5 21. Bg3

White happily wastes a tempo retreating, as Black has to pay a high cost by weakening the light squares.

21. ... e5

This move entirely changes the character of the position. Black no longer has to worry about White’s e4-e5 advance, but the f5 square has been terminally weakened.

22. Nh2

White now starts a typical knight maneuver aiming for the f5 hole. 

22. ... Nf6 23. Nf1 Nh5 24. Ne3

White does not even mind the trade on g3, since White’s light-square dominance would only increase.

24. ... Bf8 25. Bc2

Another nice maneuver: after the knight, now it is the bishop’s turn! The idea is to get the bishop to a4 and then c6. Black cannot successfully stop this sequence.

25. ... Qd7 26. Qa5 Reb8 27. Ba4 Qd8 28. Bc6

Mission accomplished!

28. ... Ra7 29. Rb1

Now White gradually takes over the b-file.

29. ... Ne8 30. Qxd8 Rxd8 31. Bxe8 Rxe8 32. Rb6 Nf6 33. Nf5 Nd7

Black could not hold on to the pawn with 33. ... Rd8, as 34. Bxe5 follows.

34. Nxd6 Nxb6 35. Nxe8 Nxc4 36. Rc1 Nd6

Black could have put up a bit more resistance with 36. ... Nb2. Then 37. d6! (threatening with 38. d7 Rxd7 and fork 39. Nf6+) could have been White’s answer. But not 37. Bxe5 because of 37. ... Nd3.

37. Nf6+ Kg7 38. Bxe5 Kg6 39. Rxc5 Rb7 40. Rc6, Black resigned.

This game demonstrates the importance of understanding chess positions. Even though Black did not blunder any material, he lost because he failed to recognize the importance of piece placement in conjunction with pawn structures. He voluntarily created too many weak squares while putting his own pieces in less than optimal places. Boris took full advantage of it and scored the full point.

One of the ways you can improve your middlegame play is by playing out critical positions. In this game, I recommend you to play out the position after 20. Bf4. You can do it against a friend or against the computer. As Black, you should try to hold this position. As White, you should try to take advantage of space advantage and the bishop pair. Play it out as many times as it takes you to feel comfortable with the position. Good luck!

See more on the Cali Continental in this issue and in the July archives of Chess Life Online.