Luke McShane

Best-laid plans

Diagram 1 (left), diagram 2 (right)

A popular conceit among chess authors, particularly dead ones, is to describe a fine game as the execution of a multi-stage plan. In fact, a close inspection often reveals that the plan could only have been mapped out in hindsight, and the loser’s fate was entirely avoidable.

Grand plans are overrated, but modest plans are indispensable. I like to wonder, what would I do with two or three moves? If I could place this piece anywhere on the board, where would it go? What would a prettier version of my position look like? Most of these ideas should be pruned ruthlessly, as they won’t survive contact with the enemy. But when you hit upon something the opponent can’t comfortably prevent, that’s a plan!

The position shown in the first diagram is calm and quite amenable to planning, so I suspect that Caruana’s ideas might have stretched five or six moves ahead. He probably started by envisaging a key idea for his opponent — to move the Nf6 and make way for f7-f5-f4, with a menacing pawn front. The exchange of pawns with 17 f3 and 18 fxe4 anticipates that, but it’s useful to wait until Black must recapture on e4 with the f5 pawn. There’s no reason to fear the passed pawn on e4, which is firmly blockaded. So Caruana’s 16 Qe1 was a clever waiting move, but one which prepared to gain influence on the kingside with 19 Bf4 and 20 Qg3. He may well have pictured his setup after 22 Raf1, though he could not guess exactly how Shankland would respond. At that point, Black’s position was already uncomfortable, but perhaps not beyond repair. Later on, Caruana’s 28 Ng4! heralded a splendid attacking finish.

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