Attacking Chess: More than Meets the Eye

Hi everyone, I’m Vishal Kobla.  For those of you who don’t know me, I reside in Northern Virginia.  I started playing chess relatively late – my first tournament was when I was two weeks shy of 10. Two weeks after I turned 10, my rating was a novice-like 467, but since then, I’ve been able to progress through the ranks quite well, and I currently find myself in the mid-2100s (for the past year or so).  I play mostly in local open tournaments in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.; I sometimes get the opportunity to travel around the country to play in national tournaments.  My most recent nationals was the 2016 National Junior High Chess Championships in Atlanta, GA in April where I had my fourth straight top-10 finish.  My best performance at a national tournament was at last year’s Junior High, in which I placed 4th but tied for 1st overall with five other players and became a National K-8 Co-Champion.  As of now, my next goal is to achieve the title of National Master, which means breaking the 2200 rating barrier.  With the experiences and help I have obtained along the way in my career so far, I hope to reach that soon, so I can move on to the next goal and continue my career.  I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Isaac for starting Chess^Summit and giving me the opportunity to be a part of this as a co-author and provide a platform to express my thoughts. Alright, enough about me – let’s talk about some chess.

Every up and coming chess player dreams of the day where he or she will be sitting across from a Master and is able to execute a stunning sacrifice to take over the game.  I’ll admit, I had those moments too.

The following game showed similarities.  I was playing at the Virginia State Scholastic Chess Championships during the first weekend in March this year when my dad informed me of an interesting progression of events that had occurred while I was playing my last round game.  Everyone else on my team had finished their games up to that point and was counting on me to finish strong in order for the team to be able to get a trophy.  The position was as follows against the highest rated player in the section, WFM Jennifer Yu, the 2014 Under-12 Girls World Youth Champion.

Figure 1:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 24. Re3!

Around this point, my dad asked one of the lesser experienced players to go check out my game and see how it was going.  When he came to the board, I couldn’t really tell what he was thinking; yet, according to my dad, he thought I was getting crushed, most likely due to the material disparity he saw.  Skeptical, and knowing that I would have most likely resigned already if I had been down that much material with no compensation, he asked a well-known friend, who was at about the same skill level as I was, to see if he could evaluate my game any better.  When he returned, his opinion was that I was at least equal and may have been better.  The discrepancy in evaluation is an interesting byproduct of gaining experience and skill in the game.  As a player gets better, he or she will be able to study the position based on more factors than just the material count – and that is what has to be mastered if a player wants to become that attacking magician. Chess is more than meets the eye!

After conducting research on many of the game’s [widely regarded] most famous attacking games, I have come up with what I believe are the unwritten rules of attacking chess with a sacrifice that every chess player should know.  We will discuss the first of those in this week’s article.

Rule #1:  Never discount a move or a set of moves solely because it “loses” material.

We’ve all been told not to be afraid to sacrifice material if we think it’s justified.  Yet, in positions where sacrifices are speculative, it becomes much harder to convince your brain to go through with that.  Note:  More about speculative sacrifices will be discussed in the next rule.

Here is that game with Yu once again, but during the calm before the storm.

Figure 2:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 12. Qg3

Both sides have developed their pieces and staked control in the center.  The one difference?  White has safeguarded his king, while Black’s is still stuck in the center.

12. … b4

Attacking before the king is safe.  A different plan of action with, 12. … 0-0-0!? is an interesting possibility that could be considered, as in Spassky – Fischer, World Championship 1972, Game 15.  With the king still stuck in the center, this move allows a tactical shot:

13. Nd5!

Figure 3:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 13. Nd5!

13. … exd5

Forced.  Any other capture or move leaves White with an advantageous position.  This type of knight sally is a thematic sacrifice in many Sicilian lines.  The point is that White wants to get to the king before it can castle into relative safety.

14. exd5

Prying open the e-file against the king.

14. … Kd8 15. Nc6+!

Figure 4:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 15. Nc6+!

Opening up the d-file now

15. … Bxc6 16. dxc6 Nc5!

Figure 5:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 16. … Nc5!

The best move in the position.  16. … Qxc6 is not recommended due to 17. Bxf6 Nxf6 (17. … Bxf6 18. Be4) 18. Qxg7.

17. Bh4 Rg8 18. Bxh7

Figure 6:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 18. Bxh7

18. … Rh8

18. … Nxh7 falls to 19. Rxe7.  White is already down one piece, so what does he do? 

19. Qxg7!

Sacrifice another!  The queen must find an entryway into the fray.

19. … Rxh7 20. Qxf6!

Figure 7:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 20. Qxf6!

The queen is untouchable.

20. … Rxh4 21. Qxf7 Rh8 22. Re5

Figure 8:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 22. Re5

22. … Rf8 23. Qg7 Na4 24. Re3!

Figure 9:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 24. Re3!

We have reached the position from earlier.

Two pieces were sacrificed earlier, and in return, White received open files, a weakened enemy king stuck in the center, enormous piece activity, and a few pawns as compensation.  Yet, there is no clear win in the near road ahead; this itself might be enough to deter the willingness to sacrifice such a large amount of material of some players.  At one point, I was like that, too.  However, with the experience I’ve gained through playing many games, and the knowledge of many top-level games, I’ve been able to train my brain to look at more than just material – i.e. piece activity, coordination, and king placement; and I hope that this article will be able to help in doing just that.

Despite no upfront winning move available at first, I do have a clear plan – Double the rooks on the e-file, tie down Black’s pieces, and push my kingside pawns, all while keeping Black’s knight out of play.  The game continued:

24. … Ra7,

This adds a defender to the bishop in preparation for my next moves.

25. Rde1 Re8 26. f5

Figure 10:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 26. f5

Black’ s pieces are all tied down to defensive posts, while I will just push the f-pawn down the board.  Surprisingly, there already isn’t much Black can do .

26. … Qxc6 27. f6 Rc7 28. R1e2!

This is much better than 28. fxe7+, after which Black can escape White’s attack with 28. … Kc8 29. Qg4+ Kb7 30. Qxb4+ Nb6 and the only thing left is an unclear position.

28. … Qb5 29. f7!

Figure 11:  Kobla – Yu – Position after 29. f7!

The rook is worth more than the bishop!  Once again, taking the bishop allows Black to escape the pressure.

29. … Nb6 The knight finally finds its way back into play, albeit a bit too late. The point is that after 29. … Rf8, White can effectively end the game with 30. Rxe7!, and Black’s position falls apart.

30. fxe8/Q+ (30. h4! was better, when Black is still paralyzed. Nonetheless, this move still leaves with a better position.)

Figure 12:  Kobla – Yu – Position if White plays 30. h4!

Despite the advantage, I was not able to win the game in the end, as my opponent played accurate defense after that and with a time control of G/90, we soon agreed to a draw.  In the many times a position like this has occurred, she was the only one that was able to hold the draw, so hats off to her for being able to defend such a position – not many can do that in their time in this line.

Keep in mind that this rule does not only apply to games at master level.  Numerous top-level games have been played in which grandmasters were not afraid to “lose” material in order to conduct an attack.  We will look at one such game.

Anand – Svidler (World Chess Candidates, 2016)

Figure 13:  Anand – Svidler – Position after 17. … dxe4

Most people in this position would opt for the mundane 18. Bxe4 and would try to grind out the rest of the game up a pawn.  However, after 18. … Bxe4 19. Rxe4 Qd5, the position yields nothing for White.  Instead, Anand opts for the beautiful

18. Rxe4!

He reasons that giving up the exchange for the pawn and the unopposed Spanish bishop is more than adequate compensation for the rest of the game, even when no forced win exists as of yet.  Svidler, seeing that many variations after taking the rook could be forced, decides to go in another direction.

18. … Nb3?!

Figure 14:  Anand – Svidler – Position after          18. … Nb3?!

This move was most likely based on a miscalculation.  The rook now gets a free elevator lift to the kingside, and Anand does not forgive.

19. Rxa8 Bxa8 20. Ng5! Nxc1 21. Qh5!

Figure 15:  Anand – Svidler – Position after 21. Qh5!

Forsaking material balance in order to go for the king!

21. … h6 22. Qxf7+ Kh8 23. Rg4

Figure 16:  Anand – Svidler – Position after 23. Rg4

Game over.  There is no stopping Qg6.

23. … Qa5 24. h4!

The last accurate move needed to seal the deal.  If 24. … Qe1+ 25. Kh2 Ne2, then White defends any last chance for Black with 26. Nh3! and White wins after the ensuing Qg6.

Figure 17:  Anand – Svidler – Position if White plays 26. Nh3!

Black Resigned.

As we have seen, when a position warrants an attack, we should not be afraid to sacrifice some material in order to start up that attack.  Often, the material is a small price to pay in regards to all the compensation that the position could receive back, as we saw in my game against Yu and in the game between Anand and Svidler.  These two examples are not the only ones out there, especially at the top level.  If a little research is conducted, numerous examples of players fearlessly start an attack by playing that ignition sacrifice.  More often than not, they come out on top.  If you see an opportunity to attack, by all means, go for it.  It might just pay off in the end.

I will present more rules in my next post in about 2 weeks! Please do leave any feedback! Bye for now, and I wish you good luck in your future attacking games!

One thought on “Attacking Chess: More than Meets the Eye

  1. Pingback: Attacking Chess (Part 2): The Speculative Spectacle – chess^summit

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