The importance of making ”luft”…


Luft is a german word meaning ”air”.  In chess luft is translated into (white) playing a move like h3 or g3 to allow the King to escape should his opponent play an otherwise unpleasant back rank check (or black playing h6 or g6 for the same purpose).  We all know the importance of making luft, for I am certain that in our first days of learning the game we discovered this the hard way!
But when should we make luft?  It does cost a tempo,  ofcourse!  While there is no general purpose rule for this, common sense dictates that we should not forget about luft…
The legendary Sammy Reshevsky  became the victim of not making luft more times than any other grandmaster that I know.  I have found, studying this great maestro’s games, that Reshevsky would sometimes become so involved in the fight that he would be reluctant to waste a tempo, and when especially short of time, lose precisely because of this.  Witness the 2 examples below.
This is the position after Black’s 26th move.  The game has been a very intense struggle with both sides playing riskily in order to create threats.  Black has just exchanged a pair of Rooks on b1, and is counting on getting in a check on e1, which naturally would be disasterous for White.  Reshevsky must have thought that he was dominating play abouts here… However, it is White’s move and Unzicker had forseen this coming and had prepared a clever defence/counter-attack based on Reshevsky’s weak back rank:
27. Qe2!!
Ouch!!  Black dare not take the Queen!  If he takes with the Rook then he is mate in 1, and if he exchanges Queen then the ending is dead lost for him because (if for no better reason) the Bishop is much stronger than the Knight.  So Reshevsky has no choice but to retreat his Queen to cover his weak 1st rank:
27…Qc8  28.Rc7!  ditto the last move’s motif  28…Qd8. 29.Qc4!
Decisive!  All of White’s pieces are perfectly placed for the final enslaught.  Black has to not only try to defend his f-pawn (which in the long run can not be defended), but also deal with threatslike Bd5 and/or g6.  And let us not forget about Reshevsky’s poor Knight on b1, a mere spectator in present circumstances.  Reshevsky played the desperate 29…d5, but did not survive very long.  My readers can see the entire game in the pgn viewer.
This is the position after White’s 28th move (Qd7) in the game between these two great rivals fromt the 1970 Interzonal in Majorca, which Fischer won by several points.  Black stands a bit better, but it is likely that the game should end in a draw with correct play because of the simplified nature of the position.  Fischer decided to tickle Reshevsky’s back rank first to see if he would bite:
Now Reshevsky must defend the Rook with 29.Qb5! and then Fischer would have nothing better than 29…Qe3, maintaining a minimal advantage.  However, probably short of time (as is usual in his games) Reshevsky makes a slight imprecision that loses because he , once more, forgot about making luft earlier:
29.Kg1 ??

Defends the Rook the wrong way!  This gives Fischer the opportunity he needed to pounce on his adversary with a brutal trick:

29…Qd4ch!  30.Kh1 (30.Rf2? Re1 mate!) 30…Qf2!!

OUCH!!  That weak back  rank!!  Reshevsky resigned, since 31.Qb5 or 31.Rg1 would be met by 31…Re1 winning immediately.
Reshevsky and Fischer playing in an earlier US championship (1960’s).  Both American grandmasters were stronger than any of the current American grandmasters (Nakamura included!), and were bitter rivals for more than a decade.  Reshevsky never won a US championship when Fischer played, even though he once defeated him in one of their individual games during one of these championships.  They played a match in the early 60’s that ended in a tie.
 Luft!  Never leave home without it!
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