Attacking Chess (Part 2): The Speculative Spectacle

In the first installment of our Attacking Chess series, we discussed the first rule that I have considered to be a must-know if a player wishes to have success.  If you haven’t read that yet, I suggest you check that out first before reading on (that article can be found here).

In the previous rule, we discussed situations in which the player should not shy away from moves or sacrifices that are not associated with a clear path to victory, especially if long-term positional or tactical compensation exists.  In this way, if the attack doesn’t finish the game off right away, there is still a fighting game in the road ahead.

However, we do not always find ourselves in these situations where we can always fall back on the ability to play on with compensation if an attack falls apart.  It is these specific situations that should` be prepared for and studied most – when an attack does not go through, and it leaves the player with an inferior position.  Yet, this does not always have to be the case – there is hope; it is here in these situations in which our next rule applies.

Rule #2:  When dealing with speculative sacrifices, it is better to have a bailout option available.

There might be multiple ways to accomplish this, but the most likely candidate to occur will be the perpetual check or the forced three-move repetition.  Giving perpetual checks is one of the simplest ways to end a game in a draw, especially if they are completely forced.  The ability to be able to end the game with no questions asked can become quite handy when conducting attacks, especially when material is being sacrificed.  Knowing that it’s impossible to lose because that draw is always available in the back pocket is a great feeling to have.  With this in mind, venturing a bit to try something can pay off in the end, as it did in this following game.

Byrne – Fischer (Third Rosenwald Memorial, 1956)


Figure 1:  A young Fischer during this game


I’d hardly be surprised if you, reader, have seen this game before.  It’s most famously known as the Game of the Century, and rightly so, when you see what happens.  In this game, Fischer was a mere thirteen (!!) years old when he played this game.  He was just becoming a promising young master at the time of this game.  Byrne, on the other hand, was one of the leading American chess players at the time.  In this game, Fischer (as Black) demonstrates noteworthy innovation and brilliant sacrificial play.  Get your popcorn out and enjoy the following.


Figure 2:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 15. Bc4


White has active diagonal pieces, and is ready to castle on the next move, but these characteristics are offset by the fact that the e-file is begging to have a rook on it and White’s king still sits in the center.  Fischer takes this difference to heart and goes all in before he can lose the chance.

15. … Nxc3!

The tactics all work out in Black’s favor.  White can’t take the knight with 16. Qxc3 due to 16. … Rfe8, setting a particularly painful pin; the bishop will fall.  16. Bxf8 doesn’t offer much better after 16. … Bxf8, and when the queen moves anywhere, 17. … Nxd1 will leave Black with the upper hand, and White’s king is still stuck in the center.  Note that 17. Qxc3 falls to 17. … Bb4 and the queen is lost.

16. Bc5

Attacking the queen, but also moving the only piece left on the e-file away from it.  This gives Fischer the chance to kick the king out of castle-zone.

16. … Rfe8+ 17. Kf1

This is what Byrne was banking on.  It appears as if Fischer has to solve the situation with the queen, whereupon Byrne can then capture the knight and be ahead with a comfortable material advantage.  Fischer, knowing that that is not an option, delves deeper into the position, hoping to find some way or another to save his position, if not turn the tables.  If you have not seen this game before, I encourage you to momentarily halt scrolling and try to predict the next move.


Figure 3:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 17. Kf1


17. … Be6!!

I’d add more exclamation marks if I could, as you could probably write a whole book on this move if you really wanted to.  If this game is called the Game of the Century, then this move can certainly be called the Move of the Century.  Fischer offers his queen in exchange for a minor piece and a fierce attack for now, and depending on how he continues, he might receive even more material in return.  In two moves, Fischer is able to reposition his bishop and transform it from where it wasn’t doing much into a dagger raking through the most important (and vulnerable, from White’s perspective) diagonal on the board.  Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?  It was to Fischer.


Figure 4:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 17. … Be6!!


18. Bxb6?!

Byrne accepts the sacrifice, hoping that he can outsmart the young thirteen-year-old in the ensuing complications.  Still, declining the sacrifice wasn’t so easy.  18. Bxe6 falls to the classic smothered-mate trick after 18. … Qb5+ 19. Kg1 Ne2+ 20. Kf1 Ng3++ 21. Kg1 Qf1+! 22. Rxf1 Ne2#.


Figure 5:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 18. Bxb6?!


Other alternatives don’t work out all too well either – 18. Qxc3 Qxc5! 19. dxc5 Bxc3 leads to an endgame in which Black should win due to the extra pawn advantage.  However, 18. Bd3 was probably the lesser of the evils, but that should still leave Black with a slightly better position.

18. … Bxc4+ 19. Kg1 Ne2+

The point.  As of now, Black only has a piece and a pawn for the queen; although his pieces are almost optimally placed, there is still work to be done before anything can be made of it.  Fortunately for Black, he has the option to force a draw by perpetual check by the means of Ng3++, Ne2+, Ng3++ etc.  This leads me to believe that Fischer most likely stopped calculating after this position on his 17th move because he had the draw if he needed it.  There was no need to confuse himself by any means.  After reaching this position, he would then decide if he wanted to play on or take the draw.

Figure 6:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 19. … Ne2+

20. Kf1 Nxd4+ 21. Kg1 Ne2+

Fischer demonstrates the classic “windmill” scenario, and it is quite a sight to behold.

22. Kf1 Nc3+

Around here is most likely where Fischer decided to play on, after calculating this combination.  The king is once again revealed to a check and the rook on d1 hangs.


Figure 7:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 22. … Nc3+


23. Kg1 axb6!

Never mind the rook!  Taking the bishop with a tempo on the queen is a crucial intermezzo (meaning “in-between”) move.

24. Qb4

Note that 24. Qc1, trying to protect the rook, is not possible on account of 24. Ne2+ and the queen falls due to the fork.

24. … Ra4

Gaining another tempo on the queen and protecting the bishop on c4.  The purpose behind 20. Nxd4+ is now revealed, as the bishop on g7, which was seemingly doing nothing, now plays the crucial role of protecting the knight on c3.


Figure 8:  Byrne – Fischer – Position after 24. … Ra4


25. Qxb6 Nxd1

Black has received a rook and two pieces for the queen and is now ahead in material.  The rest of the game was just mop-up work for Fischer, who proceeded to win easily.  This game was a brilliant example where Fischer was able to take a speculative risk, knowing that if all else failed, he still had the draw card he could play as a last resort.  As an added bonus, Fischer also had the windmill motif available, which would have allowed Fischer to play even more moves before deciding whether he was better off playing on or resorting to the draw.  Fortunately for him in this situation, Fischer was able to reap the benefits of playing on and declining the ability to draw, as he so often did throughout his career.  Yet, not every game follows this same storyline.  There are numerous cases, if not more, when the aggressor will have to slow down and take the draw.  We will look at once such example.

Hellers – De Firmian (Biel, 2005)

Though these two players are not well known, it is the game that matters, and it serves its purpose.


Figure 9:  Hellers – DeFirmian – Position after 15. fxe5


White has sacrificed a piece in order to gain time on Black’s pieces and hopefully open the e-file against the Black king.

15. … Nh5

Logical.  Black moves the knight and asks the White queen to make a decision.

16. e6!?

But no!  White embarks on a journey where there is no turning back.  He sacrifices the queen in order to open the files against the king.  It is yet to be seen whether it will pay off.


Figure 10:  Hellers – DeFirmian – Position after 16. e6!?


16. … Nxg3 17. exf7+ Kxf7

If the king moves anywhere else, the queen and king will be forked after 18. Ne6+.

18. Rxe7+ Kg8 19. hxg3

White spends some time to take some material back, but he still only has a minor piece for the queen.


Figure 11:  Hellers – DeFirmian – Position after 19. hxg3


19. … Qxg3

Best.  Black must activate the queen as it is Black’s best prospect of limiting White’s counterplay.

20. Ne6

Suddenly, White’s position looks very threatening.  Black’s under a mate threat when being up a load of material!

20. … Qe5

It is okay for Black to defend with the Queen since White cannot afford to return a rook and a piece for the queen.


Figure 12:  Hellers – DeFirmian – Position after 20. … Qe5


21. Rf1

Deploying the last piece into the fray.  So far, White has done everything correct after the sacrifice – put pressure on the position and use as many pieces as are available.

21. … Nf8 22. Bf5 Bc8

Putting maximum pressure on the e6-knight.  The one drawback is that it relinquishes control of the 8th rank.  White puts this to use.


Figure 13:  Hellers – DeFirmian – Position after 22. … Bc8


23. Re8 Kf7!

Believe it or not, this actually works.  Bringing the king out into the open and on the same file as an opposing rook is not the first move you would look at.  Yet, there is no beneficial discovered check, since the rook on e8 is en prise.  Though 23. … Bb7 looks like it gets the job done as well, Black will be in for quite the surprise when he is met with the astonishing 24. Bg6!!, and out of the blue, White is winning!  There are too many mate threats to deal with in too many different directions.  The only feasible way of defending this is 24. … Qf6, but it is not enough.

24. Re7+

White has come to realize that repeating moves is the best he has.  Although his position looks enticing to play on with, there is no real way to continue and stay in the game.  In fact, any other move leaves Black with an advantage.  It takes enormous self-control to make a decision such as this, when all the adrenaline is pumping; yet, slowing down and recognizing when it’s time to take a draw will be a vital skill to master for the future, if you have not already.  But, either way, this possibility was only available because White saw the possibility moves before, and realized that, if he couldn’t quickly find a reasonable continuation in the position, his safest plan would be to take the draw.


Figure 14:  Hellers – DeFirmian – Position after 24. Re7+


24. … Kg8 25. ½ – ½ Draw Agreed.

As we have seen through the investigation of these two game examples, it can tremendously pay off if we are able to prepare an option to force a draw in the case of a stalled attack; this can, in the long run, convert many would-be losses into draws.  Often, sacrifices do not have clear-cut winning moves following them.  If anything, those can’t really be called sacrifices, as they are merely just tactics.  We saw in Byrne-Fischer that Black’s queen sacrifice still required work to be done after in order to justify it.  However, Fischer made sure that he would have that ability to force a draw if he couldn’t find a way to continue.  Fortunately for him, Fischer had the windmill scenario to aid him in finding a winning continuation.  In Hellers-De Firmian, we saw a very similar situation, one in which White sacrificed his queen for oodles of minor piece activity.  Yet, in this situation, Hellers didn’t dare to play on after coming to the conclusion that there was nothing left for him in the position.  Though these two examples were the only ones presented today, keep in mind that there are numerous examples of such games around the world each and every day.  Hopefully, you will be able to apply this idea to one, if not more, of your future games.  In our next and final installment of the Attacking Chess series, we will investigate what will probably be the most important thing you need to know – patterns and motifs.  I wish you luck in your future scenarios dealing with speculative sacrifices, and, as always, I will see you later!

2 thoughts on “Attacking Chess (Part 2): The Speculative Spectacle

  1. Jason

    Interesting article but is that Nick De Firmian as black in the 2nd game? If so, he’s very well known to U.S. players who have been around for a while, as he was one of the top players in the country through the 80’s and 90’s and 3-time U.S. Champion. If it’s another De Firmian, I apologize.

    1. Vishal Kobla

      Yes, Jason, it is the Nick De Firmian you were thinking of. Although many people might know him in the United States from the late 20th century time period, this game took place in the international Biel tournament; from a global perspective, I am not sure how many people might recognize that name, and that is how I was approaching this.

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