GM Bryan Smith: They Can Only Take One At A Time


In a French Team Championship game against International Master Sebastien Cossin, top player Maxime Vachier Lagrave created an aesthetic illustration of Mikhail Tal’s quote (about his sacrifices) – “They can only take one of them at a time”.

Diagram 1

To begin with, White has a large space advantage and his pieces are more active. In particular, the knight on a6 is very poorly placed. However, if Black can play …Nf6 or …Nf8 and exchange all the rooks, he can free his position. In that event, the black king will even be well placed in the center. “MVL” (as people sometimes shorten Vachier Lagrave’s name to) continued with


White severely cramped Black’s position. Now in particular, Black cannot move the knight from d7 in view of Bg5+. White is planning Bg5+ anyway, so Black continued with


If 22…Nab8 then 23.Bg5+ f6 24.exf6+ Nxf6 25.Rfxf6, illustrates White’s threat.


White strengthens the position on the d-file. The immediate 23.Re1 was also very good for White. Apparently MVL preferred to provoke Black’s next move and then the surprising return.


Black tries to drive the bishop away. If instead 23…Nxe5 24.Nxe5 Rxd6 25.Nxg6+ Kf7 26.Rxd6 Kxg6 27.Rd7 and White threatens the a7-pawn, with total domination. Black will never get the knight back into the game.

Diagram 2: Position After 23…g5


Rather than moving the bishop from f4, which would allow Black to finally (after 24.Bg3, for instance) capture on e5 by 24…Nxe5, White leaves the bishop en prise but lines up with the black king.


If Black captures the bishop by 24…gxf4 then 25.exf6+ Kf8 26.fxg7+ Kf7 (or 26…Kxg7 27.Re7+) 27.Red1 and the piece is regained. For instance 27…Nab8 28.Ne5+. In the end White will have an extra pawn and overwhelming position.  

25.Rxe5+! Kf8!

Black leaves the White pieces hanging. If 25…fxe5 then 26.Bxg5+ Ke8 27.Bxd8 Rxd8 28.Rxc6, when White is up a pawn and winning more material shortly, since e5 is weak and the Na6 still cannot get into the game.



Diagram 3: Position After 26.Bxg5!

This surprising move, forking his own pieces, is the only way.


Black would like to take the most valuable piece, but after 26…fxe5 27.Bxd8 leaves White up a piece. And if 26…fxg5 27.Rxg5 with an extra pawn and the more active pieces, although this was actually Black’s best chance.

27.Nxd6 Rd8

One point is that the rook is (fortuitously?) hanging after 27…fxe5: 28.Nxc8.

Diagram 4: Position After 27…Rd8


White continues chiseling away at the black pawns. This desperado move leaves White up a pawn with an overwhelming advantage. Not 28.Re6 fxg5 when Black stands worse but is still fighting.


29.Re6 Kg7


After all that, Black is down only one pawn, but the position is easily winning for White. The rook is maintained in its active position, the knight comes to f5, and the black knight on a6 still needs some time to get into the game. The finish was:

30…Rd7 31.Nf5+ Kg6 32.Re7 Nb8 33.Rxd7 Nxd7 34.Ne7+ Kg5 35.Nxc6 a5 36.h3 b5 37.bxa5 bxa4 38.a6 a3 39.Nb4 Nb6 40.a7 Na8 41.Kf2 Kf4 42.c4 Ke4 43.h4 Kf4 44.h5


Grandmaster Bryan Smith grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some of his accomplishments include first place in the 2008 National Chess Congress, 2009 National Chess Congress, 2010 Philadelphia International, and 2011 Limpedea Cup. He was a weekly columnist on for several years Bryan is the first-ever Grandmaster from Alaska.



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