Back to Basics: The Poisoned Rooks
By GM Lev Alburt   
October 1, 2007
It’s nice to know that Chess Life—and my column—is being read all over the world!

The following tournament game between two unrated Indonesian men, Bambang (White) and Arifin (Black), was submitted to me by John Lee on behalf of the lucky winner, Arifin, “who is not proficient in English.” John, who lives in Singapore, also suggested the title.

As usual, my comments will be in italics (John’s own comments are quite sparse).


King’s Pawn Game (C20)
Bambang (UNR)
Arifin (UNR)
Tanjung Balai Karimun, Indonesia

1. e4 e5 2. g3 Bc5 3. Bg2 Ne7

The f6 square is more prominent for Black’s knight—but 3. … Ne7 leaves Black an option to play … f7-f5.

4. Nf3 d6 5. c3 0-0 6. d4 exd4 7. cxd4 Bb6

I prefer this move over the tempting 7. … Bb4+ because, on b6, the bishop is very effective, pressuring the d4-pawn.

8. 0-0

White has created a strong center which Black will now try to undermine.

8. ... Bg4 9. Nc3 f5

Black is playing with fire. More solid— and stronger—was 9. … Nbc6 10. Be3 Qd7 (to stop h2-h3) and only later a well-prepared … f7-f5.

10. Qb3+ Kh8 11. Ng5 Qe8 12. Ne6

White aims to gain a pawn.

12. ... Rf7 13. Nxc7

Both sides demonstrate daring, even reckless, play. Here White could get an edge with 13. h3 Bh5 14. exf5 (analysis diagram). The true threat here is 15. g4 encircling the h5-bishop.

13. ... Bxc7 14. Qxb7 Nbc6

If Black tries to hold on to material gains by 14. … Qc6, then 15. e5! d5 16. Qxc6 (Also quite effective is 16. Bxd5 when Black cannot play 16. ... Nxd5 because of 17. Qc8+).

Now if 16. … Nbxc6 17. Nxd5, and White is up in material (17. … Rc8 18. Nxc7 Rxc7 19. e6 and then 20. d5, threatening 21. d6). And after 16. … Nexc6 17. Nxd5, White has three pawns for a piece (including two mobile, advanced and central pawns) and much better development. Practically, White is winning.

15. Qxc7 Nxd4 16. Bf4 fxe4 17. Nxe4 Nd5

Also in Black’s favor was 17. … Nef5, but in that case there would be no sacrificed rooks.

18. Qa5 Nxf4 19. Nxd6

Again 19. Nxd6 gains a pawn for White.

19. ... Nfe2+

The offering of rooks begins. You may  wish to analyze this position with Fritz—see any forced win? I haven’t found one.

20. Kh1 Qf8 21. Nxf7+

White takes the first poisoned rook.

22. ... Qxf7 22. Bxa8??

White takes the second poisoned rook. (Could White win the game with 22. f4?)

Of course, only the second rook was a true poison, allowing mate in two (also good was 22. ... Qf3+, mating with the bishop).

The probable reason for White’s error is his knowledge of many of the basic mating patterns getting in his way.

Now, does 22. f4 win for White? No, as material remains equal (two knights in the middlegame equal a rook and two pawns), while Black’s pieces are dominant and the White king vulnerable. In fact, Black is better, perhaps even much better. Altogether, an exciting game, and a dramatic finale.

22. ... Bf3+ 23. Bxf3 Qxf3 mate. 

In the early 1990s, some Indonesian schools began teaching chess to kids, as I learned from Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia at that time. Judging from the game between these two unrated players, this effort was a success.

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