Attacking Chess (Part 3): The Importance of Patterns

In the previous installments of the Attacking Chess series, we discussed techniques that can help up your game if an attacking situation arises on the board.  If you have not checked those yet, I suggest you do prior to reading on – the first and second installments can be found here and here, respectively.  While those topics will certainly help in certain parts of the whole realm of attacking chess, there’s really one foundation that provides the basis for all attacking.  In this final installment of the Attacking Chess series, we will discuss this foundation – patterns.  If the topics we discussed earlier are the trunk and the branches of a tree, then patterns are the roots.


Figure 1:  Chess Patterns


I’m sure this is not the first time that you have been told how crucial it is to study patterns throughout your chess career.  Yet, many still laugh it off as nothing more than a mere “beginner” concept.  Despite what people may think, it’s impossible to avoid the truth – learning more patterns will help you become stronger.  If we go back to the tree example, it’s easy to envision that stronger roots will only strengthen the rest of the tree and help it grow.  This leads us to our third rule:

Rule #3:  Aim to absorb as many patterns and motifs as possible, and study how positions lead to said patterns.

To be honest, players pick up patterns without realizing half the time, but it is deliberately learning them and applying them that counts.  If you dig up one of your most recent games, you won’t believe the number of plans and/or series of moves that you’ve played when it occurred in games before yours.  It’s a subconscious process that our brains go through all the time – they recall a game or study in which a pattern was used, realize that the said pattern worked out in the end, so it should probably help you in the position you’re in as well.  Though this might be enough for some of you, it’s the players who spend the time to learn them beforehand that will have the better chance of succeeding in the end.

So, without further ado, let’s delve into some of these patterns – some of which you might recognize, some of which you have yet to learn.

1. Operation Evacuation

Sometimes, when attacking, there’s one square you wish you had access to, whether it’s for a knight outpost, bishop anchor, etc.  Yet, it’s not always available, as one of your own pieces or your opponent’s pieces might be situated on it.  If it’s an opponent’s piece, you’ll most likely not be able to do anything about it; however, if it’s your own, there’s most definitely something you can do!

Penrose – Tal (Leipzig Olympiad, 1960)


Figure 2:  Penrose – Tal – Position after 18. … axb5


White’s position is primed for an attack on the kingside.  The positioning of the major pieces signals that all momentum will ride behind pushing the f4 pawn.  Yet, there’s a problem with pushing f5 in this position – the e5 square becomes a gaping hole.  If anything, Black welcomes an immediate f5 push because he can then sink a knight into the e5 square and hold the fort.  There’s also a second problem – if White attacks now, his c3 knight and his c2 bishop are out on the fun.  So, the question again:  How does White stop Black’s counterplay on the e5 square and allow his queenside pieces to join the attack?  Surely, enough clues have been provided for you to find the move on your own!

19. e5!

Yes!  With one swift move, White kills two birds with one stone.  This is, in fact, a common pattern employed by White in the Benoni and many other openings that involve a big center.

19. … dxe5 20. f5


Figure 3:  Penrose – Tal – Position after 20. f5


The point!

20. … Bb7 21. Rad1 Ba8 22. Nce4


Figure 4:  Penrose – Tal – Position after 22. Nc


The knight finally enters the fray, and it’s situated beautifully on the now-open e4 square; one that was occupied just moves before.  In conjunction, the f-file is primed to become ripped open at any second’s notice.  The point behind White’s 19th move is now clear.

22. … Na4?

This loses material.  Other moves don’t offer much more, however.  White is better in all lines, due to the paralysis of Black’s position.  22. …. Nxe4 would be met by 23. Nxe4.

23. Bxa4 bxa4 24. fxg6 fxg6 25. Qf7+ Kh8 26. Nc5!


Figure 5:  Penrose – Tal – Position after 26. Nc5!


This is what Black missed.  He might have made an error in his mental calculation because the knight is pinned and every possible way to protect it fails.

26. … Qa7

You never want to be in a position where your best prospect is to be down a piece, but that is exactly the situation that Tal found himself in during this game.  26. … Rbd8 falls to 27. Ne6, not with the idea of winning the exchange, but rather with the idea of checkmating Black on g7; 27. … Rxe8 is met by 28. … dxe6, when the knight is still pinned.

27. Qxd7


Figure 6:  Penrose – Tal – Position after 27. Qxd7


Black played on for a bit longer but resigned 12 moves later.  In this game, Penrose was able to apply a pattern he had learned or witnessed earlier.  By knowing in what openings and in what situations the patterns is executable, he was able to maximize its effect.  Similar patterns can appear in the Philidor, certain variations of the King’s Indian, etc.  This is just one of multiple patterns that can be executed in these openings.  More on this will be discussed later.

This first pattern is mostly used as a precursor for a kingside attack, as Black’s kingside pawn cover and piece protection are both still easily adequate for defense.  This leads us to another type of pattern; this time, it’s a much more direct plan of action:

2. Kingside Sacrifice

Note:  “Kingside,” in this context, is being loosely defined as the area of the board where the king resides, whether that be the kingside, queenside, or center.

More often than not, the idea behind a kingside sacrifice is to lure out the king (or just open up the position) and try to win in the middle game with the rest of his army.  There are so many examples available of this pattern because it’s possible to arise from almost any opening, as opposed to the previous example we examined in Penrose-Tal.  We will investigate one relatively recent example in which this pattern was executed to perfection.

Yi – Batista (6th Hainan Danzhou, 2015)

This game is so far regarded as Wei Yi’s immortal game, and also been dubbed the 21st-century version of the Game of the Century; these names do not go without reason, as we will see.


Figure 7:  Yi – Batista – Position after 19. … Re8


A quiet, innocent looking move.  Yet, Black is 110% oblivious to what’s coming for him.

20. hxg6 hxg6 21. Nd5!?

A confusing move at first.  It seems as if White’s just losing a pawn, but it is, in fact, a novelty, and a strong one.

21. … Nxd5?!

Black just goes with it, but this is losing on the spot.  Yet, you can’t blame Batista; how would he have known?

22. Rxf7!!


Figure 8:  Yi – Batista – Position after 22. Rxf7!!


I wouldn’t be surprised if Black fell out of his chair out of shock after seeing this move.  I doubt he ever saw it coming, as it is very hard to consider and calculate in the first place.

22. … Kxf7 23. Qh7+ Ke6


Figure 9:  Yi – Batista – Position after 23. … Ke6


There’s no going back now.  The king can only go further into White’s territory from here on out.

24. exd5+ Kxd5

Believe it or not, this is the only move – 23. … Bxd5 falls to 24. Bxg6, and though Black has a free move, he still has nothing.  For example, if 24. … Rf8, White can end the game with 25. Qh3+ Kf6 26. Rf1+ Kg7 27. Qh7#.

25. Be4+!!


Figure 10:  Yi – Batista – Position after 25. Be4+!!


One shot after another!  White’s just luring the king further and further out into the open.

25. … Kxe4 26. Qf7

A relatively quiet move, but it comes with devastating effect.  Mates are threatened in two different ways – on f3 with the queen and via a discovered check by moving the bishop anywhere on the g1-a7 diagonal.  The second method is the reason why simply playing 25. Rf8 doesn’t cut it.  As a result, there’s only one way to prevent both mates immediately – clog the f-file; the only piece able to accomplish that is the bishop.

26. … Bf6 27. Bd2+


Figure 11:  Yi – Batista – Position after 27. Bd2+


Uncovering the rook and forcing the king to show its cards once again.

27. … Kd4

The best square for the king.  Moving to any other square results in a quicker defeat.

28. Be3+ Ke4

This is another motif that can be quite helpful if executed at the right time.  Though White is completely winning, he repeats the position once in order to psychologically calm his opponent’s brain for a period of time because Black suddenly hopes he can earn a draw.  Doing so makes Black a little less aware of the position, so to speak.  This makes him more susceptible to blunders in the near future.  It is an idea commonly utilized at the top level.

29. Qb3

Another quiet move, this time threatening mate on d3.

29. … Kf5 30. Rf1+ Kg4 31. Qd3


Figure 12:  Yi – Batista – Position after 31. Qd3


Threatening mate again.  Assuming Black makes any waiting move, White can mate through 30. Qe2+ Kh4 31. Bf2#.  Black has literally been traversing a minefield for the last ten moves.

31. … Bxg2+


32. Kxg2 Qa8+ 33. Kg1 Bg5 34. Qe2+ Kh4

The king has finally been pushed to the edge of the board.  The end is near.

35. Bf2+ Kh3 36. Be1


Figure 13:  Yi – Batista – Position after 36. Be1


Black Resigns

Mate is unavoidable with 35. Rf3+ being threatened.  34. e4 falls immediately to 35. Qg2#.  This game highlighted one type of pattern that is pretty much universal throughout almost all openings.  In this game, we investigated a rook sac on f7, but there are many other kingside sacs possible, including the Greek Gift (Bxh7+), Double Bishop sacrifice (see Lasker–Bauer, 1889), Rxg7(+), etc. for White and the same moves but on h2, g2, and f2 if Black is the aggressor.  We will look at one more pattern in this week’s article.

3. Rook Lift

The possibility of a rook lift should always be present in the back of an attacker’s mind if he or she wishes it to be a successful one.  The rook is an extremely strong piece when it’s active on an open file or rank, which is why it becomes so useful when lines are opened towards the king.  I could once again show a top level game, but I decided to show an older game of mine in order to prove how these patterns can occur at any playing level and to any player.  This is why it must be prepared for.

Kobla – Schenk (ACC Action Plus, 2015)

The game started out as a Najdorf Poisoned Pawn and Classical System hybrid where Black started the game in the Poisoned Pawn Line but declined the opportunity to take the b2-pawn and retraced his steps back to a Classical-Najdorf-looking position.


Figure 14:  Kobla – Schenk – Position after 14. … Rac8


At this point, I realized Black was gearing up for a queenside assault on my king, so I knew I had to try to get something going of my own.  Since Black does not actually castle all too often in the Najdorf, I decided to try to construct an attack.  Yet, I then experienced a setback since a pawn storm might actually be too slow since my rooks were already situated on the central files and not near the kingside.  Since pushing the pawns was not an option, I had to make something out of my pieces.

15. Qh3 h6?

It was here that I spent a decent amount of time.  I was trying to decide between 16. Bxf6 and 16. Bh4, but it was hard to make a choice because each move had its own merits but also its own disadvantages.  The former doesn’t give Black an extra move to improve his queenside situation, but it relinquishes the bishop pair; the latter lets White keep the bishop pair, but now Black is clearly ahead in the attack since the bishop blocks the queen’s sight of the king.  Hard-pressed for a decision to make, I knew I had to stop stressing out and just zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture.  I searched for anything else I could possibly do – and that’s when I saw the possibility of the rook lift.  Even then, the bishop situation wasn’t helping.  Approximately 30 seconds later I saw the possibility:

16. Bxh6!

Of course!  I was relieved when I saw this.  Though, I do have the rook placement to thank – if it weren’t for the possibility of the rook lift, this sacrifice wouldn’t even be possible.  Even after seeing this, I still had to calculate further, but I believed this should work.

16. … gxh6

Black submits to it without giving much thought – a rookie mistake.  By no means did Black have to take the bishop, but perhaps he didn’t like the prospect of having the bishop act like a thorn in his kingside.  16. … Rfe8 and 16. … Nc5 were both possible alternatives.

17. Qxh6


Figure 15:  Kobla – Schenk – Position after 17. Qxh6


17. … Rfd8

Trying to defend via the f8 square, but it might just have been time to admit the mistake and give the piece back via 17. … Ng4 18. Qh5 Ndf6 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. e5.  If you didn’t know, the idea of admitting your mistakes instead of trying to justify them at all costs was a philosophy championed by the great Mikhail Botvinnik in the mid-20th century.  He would often backtrack his moves and give up the lost tempo instead of trying to justify his mistakes.

18. Re3!

The rook rides the elevator to the kingside with devastating effect.

18. … Nf8

This move tries to protect the kingside, but the position if already far from salvageable.

19. Rg3+

The rook lift pattern is complete.  The major pieces are now able to coordinate well enough to finish the game off.

19. … Ng6 20. Nxe6

Taking advantage of the overloaded f-pawn and removing the defender in an indirect fashion.  Yet another motif can be witnessed here.  White is able to chip away at the last defenders of the Black king.

20. … fxe6 21. Qxg6+ Kf8 22. Rh3

The rook has primetime tickets to the back rank (oh, the irony!) and it’s impossible for Black to prevent it.  White went on to win.

The lessons to be learned from these games are clear.  In the first game, we saw White sacrificing a measly pawn in order to kill Black’s center counterplay while simultaneously giving his queenside pieces access to the now-open e4 square.  As a result, he had a clean path to the kingside and secure the victory.  It was little things like this that allowed White to score the huge upset against the prime Mikhail Tal.  The idea of evacuation is an important pattern located on the road less traveled, so it’s one that can come in handy if studied enough.  In the second example, we saw a brilliant performance by Wei Yi in which he utilized the kingside sacrifice to blow apart the opposing king’s pawn cover.  In doing so, Yi was able to lure the king to his own 3rd rank and eventually creating a mating net.  I’m sure that’s a game both of them will forever remember!  In the third and final example, we saw White given an opportunity to have the rook assist in a kingside attack that, fittingly, ended with the rook helping at the end.  In each of these examples, there were multiple underlying patterns and motifs that all contributed to the final outcome, regardless of what it was.  The three major patterns we investigated today were just some of the many that exist in the chess world, and new ones are discovered often.  I hope this article proved to show just how important it is to absorb as many patterns as possible throughout your chess career.  With this article, we will conclude the Attacking Chess series.  Next week, we will change directions and review a recent tournament of mine.

In other news, our own author, Isaac Steincamp, and our guest author for Friday, August 5th, Paul Swaney, were able to find a way to find a way to show our games through an interactive board, courtesy of ChessBase.  It will work by clicking a link that will redirect you, reader, to a board where you can play through the moves with annotations alongside them.  We, as a community, believe that this is the next step we can take to improve our site and cater to your preferences better.  In fact, Mr. Swaney will be the first to use this newly discovered option, so we’re all looking forward to that!

Thank you for bearing with me through this relatively longer article and the series, and as always, I will see you next time!

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