Beautiful, flashy, and unexpected. While in a large number of cases simplicity and banality are the correct route, these are the types of moves and games that we love to play. Developing a strong creative sense can make chess a lot more fun, and if harnessed correctly, can elevate your play to a whole new level.
It seems like with the emergence of computers, tablebases, exhaustive opening theory, and centuries of ingrained positional principles, the artistic side of the game is being pushed to the wayside. But we have to remember that chess is still played by humans. Chess as a mental sport, chess as a game, and chess as a problem may be dominated by computers now, but the one area left we can lay claim to an advantage over the silicon beast is chess as an art.
When this is discussed, the first thing that often jumps to mind is tactical creativity. Creativity is not just restricted to the tactical realm though, and tactical possibilities often need to be executed in conjunction with other counterintuitive ideas for a creative combination to work.
We can go on and on about what it takes to do this, but in my view, it all comes down to one thing: knowing when to break the rules. As the saying goes, rules are meant to be broken, and playing with a sense of flexibility and openness is a lot more useful than strictly adhering to principles. (Of course, this means you also need to know when to follow the rules)
Our first example is a classic, and something almost all of you have probably seen already:
Short-Timman, Tilburg 1991, Position after 31…Rc8
Black is completely tied up and can barely move, with the White pieces dominating the board and more importantly the squares around the Black king. If you haven’t seen this idea before, it’s not immediately clear what to do though. Computers are still flummoxed to this day at this position. In fact my computer (which admittedly is pretty old and terrible) says the position is equal! (!!) Venturing a guess, this is probably a result of the machine not being able to find a clear tactical breakthrough and Black’s “better” pawn structure (which means absolutely nothing here). Short noticed the helplessness of all the Black pieces, and the juicy dark squares on the kingside, uncorking a shocking, brilliant maneuver:
Kg3!! Defying common sense. It’s only when you realize there’s no need to worry about the “rule” of king safety that Kg3 even pops out as a possibility. Even after this move has been played, some engines still show the same evaluation as the move before, exhibiting a blindness because of the premium the program places on king safety. 32…Rce8 It is only after this move that the engines recognize White’s idea, and the evaluation quickly flips to totally winning. 33. Kf4! The march continues. 33…Bc8 34. Kg5! And Black resigned in the face of the unstoppable Kh6 with mate.
One more example, this time from one of my games. While this wasn’t a killer winning combination or even objectively the best move in the position, I thought it was a good example of creative thinking.
Goeller, M (2040) – Xu, G (2151), USATE 2012, position after 19. g5
In this position, the two sides are trying to generate activity on different sides of the board. White wants to push his pawns and bring his pieces for a kingside attack, and Black wants to exploit some weaknesses on the queenside and generate some piece activity there. The natural move seems to be Nc5, targeting the weak d3 pawn. The problem with this is that it allows f6, which looked highly unpleasant for me. Other plans like an a5-a4 push were too slow for my liking. So then I asked myself “Is there a forcing and unexpected way for me to take advantage of those weak pawns?”
19…Nxd3!? Who said two knights have to attack the pawn for it to be taken? My engine prefers a5 or Rfb8, but then again, my engine is able to play a lot more precisely than me after that, and I thought the position was more straightforward for White to play. Nxd3 was a nice practical decision, as the surprise factor unsettled my opponent a little bit and let me direct the play. 20. Qxd3 Nc5 21. Qd1 Nxb3 22. Qxb3 Bxc4 Basically all forced. Before move 19, I had figured the activity I would get and the two pawns were enough to compensate for the piece. Nxd3 wasn’t in my engine’s top 10 options, but I feel like it gave me great chances. While I didn’t play totally accurately from this point on, I was still able to eventually win.
I guess the main takeaway from this is to not limit yourself when considering the possibilities in a position, and to never consider a certain move you or your opponent can make to be “impossible”. I’ll be sure to show some more examples of creative play in future posts, and hopefully you are encouraged to create your own art in the games you play!
Since it’s inception, chess has evolved a great deal with the emergence of computer engines. In fact, many opening variations have fallen out of fashion due to undesirable engine evaluations, and overall, the increasingly detail-oriented nature of chess has led many to be dependent upon the computer, to a fault. In particular, GM’s hold engines to a very high standard, regarding both preparation and self-evaluation. When I was in St. Louis, I met multiple GM’s and caught up with others, including Fabiano Caruana, Alejandro Ramirez, Eric Hansen, and Robin van Kampen. I remember I was at a cafe with them once and Robin explained to me how essential computers are to preparation – in fact it is so important to have a powerful computer that he is linked through a cloud-like program to a computer in Europe. GM’s however are different from us – their mistakes are made in relation to slight nuances in the position, so a computer evaluation is often necessary. But with the vast majority of players under the GM level, mistakes are made based on an understanding (or lack thereof) of seemingly simplistic principles. As such, it is significantly more instructive for these players to look at their games without the use of an engine. In finding your own mistakes and the reasons for which they are mistakes, you can hope to improve your understanding of your faults and avoid similar mistakes in the future. Going through this process helps the principles stick in your memory a great deal more than a quick engine evaluation. Complete dependence on a computer is in a way giving yourself all the answers to the questions you would pose during your analysis. In this case, the common phrase “learn from your mistakes” is applicable; it’s rather hard to learn from being given all the answers.
Here are two of my own games which show the importance of using one’s own analysis before an engine evaluation, the first against Maggie Feng (top girl under the age of 20) and Emily Nguyen (the winner of the 2016 US Girls Closed):
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. Qa4 Be7 (5… Bb7 The mainline,which leads to a slightly different pawn structure. However, the game variation is by no means a serious mistake 6. Bg2 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. O-O O-O 9. Nc3 Be7)
6. Bg2 Bb7 7. O-O O-O 8. Nc3 c5 9. dxc5 bxc5 10. Rd1 d6 (10… Qb6 Possibly a better variation, anticipating the weakness of the d-pawn and preparing to provide support with Rd8 11. Bf4 Rd8)
11. Bf4 Here, just by turning on the engine, one can see that white has a slight advantage after … Qb6. However, taking a look at the position without the use of an engine can facilitate a better understanding of why my next move was a mistake. When looking at any position for the first time, it’s important to identify what the weaknesses are, what the worst-placed piece is, and what your opponents ideas are. In this position, the obvious weakness is on d6. The worst placed piece is not entirely evident yet, but it’s clear black should aim to activate the rooks and get the queen off the d-file. White’s idea is to pressure the d-pawn. But, after paying more attention to this weakness, one can see that white also has a tactical threat with Bxd6 (as played in the game). By going through the process of pinpointing the weaknesses, the worst pieces, and white’s concrete threats, the obvious continuation becomes …Qb6 (eliminating the threat of Bxd6 and preparing to support the d-pawn with the f8 rook). In this case, it is important to analyze the position without the use of an engine, because identifying the reasons for which the mistake was made with one’s own analysis can help to reinforce positional concepts and prevent similar mistakes from occurring in the future.} 11… Nh5?
Here, down a pawn and with the more misplaced pieces, I went on to lose the game. 1-0
By conducting my own analysis of this game without the use of an engine, I discovered that by taking a closer look at my opponent’s ideas and my own piece placement, I could have avoided the mistake I made. This is important, as it means that I need practice with prophylactic play.
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. g4 h6 7. h3!? Not the mainline, but aiming to get a similar game to the h3 najdorf, which I’ve also played. Nc6 8. Bg2 (8. Be3 +=) 8… d5?! Black would be best advised to just continue developing. After the game continuation, the isolated pawn on d5 becomes a weakness on which I was able to put pressure. (8… Bd7 9. Be3 Ne5 = An equal, but dynamic position)
A critical position. Here, turning on the engine would show you that white has a solid advantage after Nf4. But again, taking a look at a position with your own eyes and identifying the reasons for a mistake can help to a significantly greater extent in finding the trends in your mistakes and avoiding them in the future. In this position, again, it’s important to first look at the weaknesses, the worst-placed piece, and black’s ideas. The obvious weakness is the isolated pawn on d5. White’s worst-placed piece is not obvious, though the rooks and knight don’t have much of a role yet. Black does not have any apparent threats in the position – most likely to just continue with development. Considering the weakness on d5 however, white’s plan should clearly be to continue putting pressure on it. Therefore, the obvious move appears to be Nf4, activating the knight, and putting additional pressure on the isolated pawn. The game continuation didn’t give up all of the advantage, but it was a positional mistake. By going through the analytical process described, white’s best plan becomes more obvious. 15. f4?! The idea behind this is obvious, but it proves problematic in a few moves; it weakens the kingside and takes away the best square for the knight. (15. Nf4!) 15… Qe7
My next move was a mistake which could have been avoided by carefully looking at my opponent’s ideas and the vulnerability of my own pieces. Black’s last move aims to tactically take advantage of the unprotected Bishop on e3 with …Bxg4. This leaves me with two options; Qd2 to protect the bishop, and Bf2 to avoid the threat altogether. Qd2 was what I played in the game, but by looking more closely at black’s idea, it’s evident that after … Re8, the same threat still stands, and in this case, Bf2 is not longer possible because of the hanging knight on e2. Thus, the prophylactic Bf2 is the best continuation, avoiding any sort of discovered attack down the e-file. 16. Qd2 $6 Rfe8 17. Rf3 d4 18. Bxd4
And the game ended in a draw after several more exchanges, ending in a rook and minor piece endgame. 1/2-1/2
As was the case with the last game, in this game, better awareness and anticipation of my opponent’s ideas in particular could have helped me avoid the mistakes I made. Fortunately for me, this makes a trend fairly obvious, and it’s something I can hone in on to improve.
With new and improved engines constantly being released nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in relying on the machine. The reality though, is that in looking at your own games, you are your own best evaluator. The process of identifying your own mistakes, the reasons for those mistakes, and practice material to fix your weaknesses makes learning and improving tremendously easier. This task, of course, requires quite a lot of self-discipline – the urge to turn on an engine and simplify the analysis is very tempting at times. But the payoff for doing your own analysis is more than worth the time put into it.
For the first time since the relaunch, I’m happy to bring back the Free Game Analysis section to Chess^Summit. As always, if you have an interesting game to share, please send us your PGNs at email@example.com, and we’ll try to cover it within the two-week cycle. We’ve had some fun submissions in the past, and today’s is certainly no exception! For today’s post, I’ll be using a ChessBase external link instead of sharing tons of diagrams of the game (don’t worry, you don’t need ChessBase to access it!). Let me know if you guys like this format more in the comments!
Remember that feeling when you first broke 1000? Well, recent high school graduate Veenay Komaragiri did that in style. Scoring 3/5 in the U1600 section of the recent Manhattan Open, Veenay didn’t just break 1000 – he skipped it, jumping from 945 to 1135!
Though college is often a deterrent from chess improvement for many, Veenay hopes to build off his summer success while he furthers his education at Rutgers University as either a Biology or Economics major. With his optimism and tactical foresight, I think he can be looking forward to a lot of future improvement. But why let me be the judge? Let’s take a look at two of the games he sent to Chess^Summit from his performance in Manhattan!
Though his first win of the tournament was short, Veenay’s game offered a lot of opening improvements for both sides out of a Slav, but ultimately culminated into this position. Just as it seemed White had managed to get firm control over the center, Veenay found an excellent tactic here to show that Black was still alive and kicking with 13…Nxe4! and his higher rated opponent immediately fell apart!
After picking up two quick wins, Veenay really met his test in the fourth round where he was a 500+ rating point underdog! Outclassed in the opening, Veenay had one chance to reach an equal endgame in this position but faltered with 13…Rfe8?!, and soon lost the thread of the game. However, with his never say die attitude, the Warlord from West Windsor managed to keep the Cinderella story going, finding a tactic late in the game to pull off his best career win – what a turnaround!
So what advice can I offer Veenay as he starts on his journey to become a strong tournament player?
1. When your opponent makes a move, always ask “What can my opponent do?” This is one of the most elementary forms of prophylaxis but is extremely effective when developing a thought process and playing at a higher level. I think too much of beginner level chess focuses on “I do this, he does that” and not enough on thinking about the bigger picture. While your first game was great, several of your problems in the second derived from not asking this very question. This one question alone is so powerful, I still use it in my games. Here’s one case where I failed to use it and it probably cost me the game!
Steincamp – Ramachandran, 2016
My opponent just played 20… Rde8, and it seems like a harmless move, Black just wants to play on the e-file perhaps? But what does Black want to do? As it turns out, his knight on f7 is extremely poor, and will go to d8, then c6, and from there will have the option to play itself to d4 or b4 – a much better position! A few moves down the road, we reached a position like this:
The position is extremely complicated thanks to the activity of the Black knight. While I still managed to reach a good position after this, it gave me one more opportunity to go wrong, and I actually lost the game in the end. So what did I do wrong? I needed to insert a2-a3 before this knight ever reached b4, again asking Black to solve the problems in his position. After protecting the b2 pawn, I could have reached a position like this one:
A slightly better position for White as I have breaks on both the kingside on the queenside. Black meanwhile has a weak f5 pawn and must find ways to generate counter play. If I had stopped at 20…Rde8 and recognized this plan, who knows? Maybe I would have been the one to win this game! There’s a certain magical aspect to prophylaxis in that we can see it applied in games of every level – whether it’s preventing a mate threat, stopping an attack, or in this case taking away an outpost.
2. When developing a piece, always consider what future value it brings to the position. I noticed you like to reach various Slav set-ups where you also have a kingside fianchetto, and I think rather than booking up on theory, force yourself to compare the various options you have to place your pieces. As we saw in the second game,
Jones – Komaragiri, 2016
the bishop on g7 was poorly placed on this diagonal, and would have been much better suited on the e7 square for future use. Of course, conceptual understandings like this take many games to develop, but while you are still improving this is the best time to work on this skill. If you want to see how I break down unfamiliar openings and choose my development, check out my post from the World Open! Despite personally having a rough tournament, I think you could learn a lot from the two games I shared on the site!
3. Lastly, always stay positive! You seem really enthusiastic about getting better, and that’s probably the most important attribute when it comes to improving and getting results. As Paul told us last week, it doesn’t matter when you start playing chess, as long as you put in the work, it’s never too late to become an expert! He offered a lot of advice and personal anecdotes about improving despite only learning how to play in college, and I think you’ll find it very relatable!
Best of luck improving on your chess while studying at Rutgers – it was a lot of fun going over your games, and even I learned a few things along the way! Here’s to continued success in your near future!
I know of many adults in the world of chess who never seem to be able to reach the 2000+ mark. My question is why? They are dedicated, very interested in chess, and enjoy the game. So why are they not able to crack the 2000 rating level? I have some theories about this based on my own painful process over the past 15 years of chess playing and learning.
First, a little bit about my abstract beginning in chess. My first exposure to chess is drastically different than the young authors at Chess˄Summit. My journey started without the influence and resources that the internet provides today’s young players.
I did not learn how the pieces moved and rules of the game until I was 25 years old, and somehow I have passed the 2000 rating barrier a couple years before my 40th birthday, and believe me – if I can do it, anyone can! My beginning started at a college party where some friends of mine were playing chess on one of those cheap, fold up wooden boards where the pieces fit inside. I was instantly drawn to the game and to what they were doing. They explained the game to me in a quick and not very instructive way. They just wanted new blood to beat up on! All evening they took turns crushing me and enjoying laughter at my expense. I think most people would have been defeated by this introduction to chess, but it only added fuel to my fire. My college friends continued to beat me for a couple of months until I won my first game! Now I was really hooked! Next venue was a famous coffee house in Cleveland Heights Ohio called Arabica, where local masters and class players would frequent daily playing speed chess and casual games. This place was heaven! Chess at any time – day or night There was also an IM who frequented the coffee shop and would give dazzling displays of time odd blitz, and often times give free lessons to anyone who would listen. The only down side to this place is that this was before the smoking ban, so by the end of the night you could barely see across the room. I played for hours here and started to slowly improve my game. One of the regulars named Ray took me under his wing and tried to show me the tricks of the trade. One thing he would tell me when he would review my games, “You know what I need? A bigger 2×4 to wack you over the head with!” Again, I think this would discourage many players and pound them into submission, but I guess I was a fool for punishment and would always come back for more. The most important lesson from this hazardous beginning was the development and passion for chess and learning . After this I started playing in a Friday night game 30 tournament once a week and have been captivated ever since.
After all these years I think I know how I could have made this journey a little easier and less painful. I knew once I reached 1300 or so that I would like to be 2000 someday. Something about having the number 2 in front of your rating made it seem more official. Looking back, I studied chess in an unorganized manner, and was never consistent on what I did. I would change openings all the time looking for the Holy Grail (no such thing when it comes to chess openings). I would switch chess books all the time without really reading one the entire way through. I would take every persons advice on playing and learning and would become even more confused! Then I met someone who had a love of the game, who enjoyed talking about chess, and more importantly liked to discuss and research ways on how to improve. This friend of mine is also an adult, and yes he conquered the 2000 rating barrier as well. What I took from him that has been and is still helpful is that chess really is just hard work. I needed to become more familiar with simple patterns (please read Vishal Kobla’s excellent articles!), and repeat the same problems over and over until they became part of my DNA. Once I started to do this my chess rating started to climb. We both did John Bain’s Chess Tactics for Students at least 15 times.
I even cut the problems out, taped them to 3×5 index cards, and would shuffle them each session.
We both got to the point that we could complete the entire book of 400+ problems in less than 30 minutes. We also did Gilliam’s book, Simple Checkmates over and over as well.
I ended up taking a long break from chess due to starting a family, only playing 2 tournaments in the past 4 years. As a result, I dropped below my peak rating of 2050 to around 1967. In order to get back in chess shape I have started doing the same study and practice methods mentioned above as I am slowly starting to play more frequently.
I am currently using the massive Laszlo Polgar book of 5,334 problems to solve daily exercises after a conversation I had with GM Jesse Kraai
Just take this one book and you will be busy for years! Every chess player out there eventually comes across this massive black book of chess, but I have never met anyone who has gone through the book. Well that changed after having a great conversation with Jesse. He told me he went through this mammoth book three times! The only thing he did not do was play through the short games at the end of the book. All the mate in 1, 2, and 3’s were completed. I guess it comes as no surprise that he became a GM. He then told me that what he did is nothing! His friend GM Becerra completed the book blindfold! Someone would simply tell him where the pieces were and he would solve the problem in his head. What I have found in doing these mates is it is not about just solving the mates, it is more about seeing how the pieces work together in harmony. The pieces find a way to coordinate and have some nice conversations! Sometimes I have to ask myself how dedicated are we really to improving and becoming stronger players when you hear stories such as these? Most adult players do not commit a fraction of this kind of time to their own self-improvement. One thing I learned more than anything else when talking to strong players is yes, talent is important, but just down and dirty hard work is the real key to chess improvement.
I started to ask some personal questions about my own chess study that some of you might be able to relate to and offer advice.
1.) How much am I learning by passively watching chess videos?
2.) How much am I learning playing countless hours of online chess?
I think online chess has much to offer the developing player if used in moderation and if it does not just become an addiction or an escape from life. There are many other healthier things that we can do besides passively taking in chess information. I have started to take long walks and just think about positions or a game I have played. You can get incredible insight this way.
I have also started writing out analysis in notebooks with just pen and paper, no computers! (see photo)
It really does not matter if your analysis is wrong, just that you are starting to analyze and get your ideas on paper. This is something else that Jesse Kraai strongly recommended to me during our conversation. I guess the biggest thing is just being fully present when you are studying or playing – there are plenty of other things we can enjoy in life besides tricking ourselves that we are learning or improving our chess by trying to take in the overabundance of chess materials out there! Lastly, I have started to make goals that are not focused on ratings or results such as; 1.) Manage my time, 2.) Relax and eat healthy between rounds, 3.) Play with confidence, 4.) Do not offer or accept draw offers if there is any play at all in the position, etc… By doing this you remove extra external pressure that result goals create. See Isaac Steincamp’s excellent article Reflecting on the 2016 US Junior Openfor more about not focusing on result based goals
Here is a link to one of my recent games in the DC Chess League as I make my adventure to getting back into playing chess tournaments more regularly. All of the notes in the game were done without the use of a chess engine. I think this is a great improvement idea to first analyze without the use of a chess engine, and only later to check your analysis with the computer.
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.
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)
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!
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
20. … Bb7 21. Rad1 Ba8 22. Nce4
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!
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.
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.
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?
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
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#.
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+
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.
Another quiet move, this time threatening mate on d3.
29. … Kf5 30. Rf1+ Kg4 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
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.
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:
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. … 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.
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.
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!
Lately, I’ve decided to start trying to make sense of more dynamic positions. I’ll use the g2-g4 storms in the Classical Caro-Kann as an example, but I encourage you to extend something similar in any defensive positions of interest. This is a little bit of a disorganized journey, but it has to start somewhere.
And if nothing else, you’ll get to see me getting crushed by an 11-year old 1800 in under an hour.
Classical Caro-Kann, Feisty Version
First, a quick overview of the Classical Caro-Kann for those who aren’t familiar with it. The Classical almost always begins with 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 (or 3. Nd2) 3…dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3.
In this post, we’ll examine some positions that occur after 11. Bd2. An equally popular continuation for White is 11. Bf4, which looks more active at first glance but can be countered with checks on the a5-e1 diagonal. Instead, after 11. Bd2, naturally 11…Ngf6 12. O-O-O follows.
The Caro-Kann owes much of its solid-yet-boring reputation to the traditional Classical continuation: 12…Qc7 followed by queenside castling. Black isn’t particularly active, but White has no structural targets to take advantage of.
A more interesting (and trendy as of late) option is to brave opposite-side castling with 12…Be7!.
I first learned of this through one of my two opening books, the Grandmaster Repertoire book on the Caro-Kann by GM Lars Schandorff, who proclaims, “Often, White will burn his bridges in his eagerness to attack, and if we are not mated, then we will win the endgame!” Indeed, in the long term, Black benefits from the thematically sound Caro-Kann structure, hoping for White’s h5-pawn to stick out even more.
Good and Bad News
But in the short term, Black shouldn’t be crowing about the placement of the h-pawns in front of his/her castled king, for fairly obvious reasons. Unsurprisingly, a common theme in this line is White’s ability to quickly rush the g-pawn, often as a sacrifice.
Black could run into this if oblivious enough:
On the other hand, as I like to remind people, a pawn is a pawn. It’s always important not to confuse a scary-looking attack with proof that it actually works, so don’t be too quick to go, “OH NO, THE G-FILE IS OPEN! RUN!” The above disaster is just one of many possibilities involving the g-pawn rush in the Caro-Kann. Others range from just as dangerous to completely harmless.
Many good players are prone to underestimating defensive resources, but as I’ve learned firsthand, it’s just as easy to do the opposite. Unsurprisingly, these dynamic positions tend to be difficult to calculate in the short-term and long-term.
Despite the “Grandmaster Repertoire” label, the aforemtneiond Caro-Kann book is remarkably good at the conceptual level. However, as someone who is much more used to slower positions, I feel there’s some overall explanation on the “g4 positions” to be desired. Schandorff dismisses some dangerous positions as “g4 is coming”, while the supposedly harmless positions (including the scores of possibilities not mentioned, although this is hardly the fault of the book) are a different story at the expert-level, since we’re far from perfect at both attack and defense.
So even though I’ve read through most of the relevant part of the book, there’s certainly room for long-term study, if for nothing else than to get a feel for the potency of White’s kingside ideas.
The easiest way to tell that White’s attack won’t succeed is that there’s nothing to attack.
In a Pittsburgh club game from last February against local 11-year old Madhavan Narkeeran, Black has just played 12…Be7 as usual. Now, one of the good things about playing Black is knowing exactly what White’s planning after moving the g3 knight, e.g. 13. Ne2.
So does Black castle into the attack or not? In my case, I’d just come back from an exhausting US Amateur Team East trip that morning. Thus simply avoiding the chance of a bone-crunching attack for the moment, in this case with 13…c5 preparing queenside counterplay, was a no-brainer, especially since Black’s king is in no danger at all.
I was promptly rewarded by the eager 14. g4? and only after 14…Nxg4 and only then did White realize he had no time to shift to the open kingside, due to 15…Nxf2.
As expected, White promptly defended f2, but was forced to simply play the rest of the game down a pawn after I shuffled the knight back and castled queenside.
But Could Black Have Castled?
Instead, suppose Black just plays (after 13. Ne2) 13…O-O 14. g4 Nxg4.
First, two general scenarios emanating from these positions can be identified easily:
If White allows Black a completely free tempo in the beginning, Black is likely better.
If Black allows White to regain the pawn, White is likely better, since the newly lost Black pawn is likely to be one of the kingside pawns.
Similarly to the original game, but if White meekly defends f2, Black retreats, plays …Kh8, and can heavily defend everything on the kingside at a moment’s notice. More interesting is to simply forge ahead with 15. Rdg1!?.
Black only has three plausible options: 15…f5, 15…Ndf6, and 15…Nxf2. However after 15…f5 16. Nf4 wins the e6-pawn by force, and although the game is far from over, Black has simply given the pawn back and created more weaknesses. 15…Ndf6 is immediately met by 16. Rh4, and Black can snag another pawn and a rook for the two knights, e.g. 16…Qd5 17. Rhxg4 Nxg4 18. Rxg4 Qxh5 but the combination of three minor pieces, a rook, and a queen is still quite enough to cause trouble on the wide-open kingside.
Instead, Stockfish evaluates 15…Nxf2 at slightly better than +1 (for Black), but as usual, the evaluation doesn’t tell the whole story. Indeed, when Black is about to be up at least an Exchange and two pawns but still only scores +1, there’s some trickery going on. After 16. Qb3 Nxh1 17. Bxh6, we see another thematic issue for Black: White being able to “reload” on g7 with both the bishop and h-pawn, e.g. Bxg7 and h5-h6 is a possibility no matter what (on the other hand, 16. Qe3?? Nxh1 17. Qxh6 blows out to 17…Bf6 and White has no follow-up for being down so much material).
Even now, we have quite a few possibilities after 17. Bxh6. The first one that came to mind was 17…Kh7 18. Bxg7 Rg8 19. Qd3+ f5 20. Nf4 Nf8.
At this point I switched off Stockfish so that my phone would last for more than 15 minutes, but a natural follow-up seems to be 21. Nxe6 Qd5 and perhaps White is running out of steam; Stockfish settled at around -2.2 (for White) here.
However, Black might also want to worry about 18. Bxg7 Rg8 19. h6 after which the threat of 20. Qd3+ f5 21. Nf4 isn’t as easy to repel.
Of course, Black should be willing to calculate far more in a real game than I am at the moment, but the point was to show how hairy things can get even in a fairly non-critical try (13. Ne2/14. g4).
In the larger picture, Madhavan is a highly promising junior player. He’s been giving the established Pittsburgh players a lot of trouble, but a win over an expert has eluded him… until last Tuesday.
This certain expert is probably not going to relax too much against any of these kingside attacks anymore, no matter how unsound they seem.
At the 12…Be7 tabiya, Madhavan deviated from our previous game with the common 13. Kb1, and we blitzed through 13…O-O 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Qxe4 Nf6 16. Qe2 Qd5. White has attempted to clear the path for g2-g4, while Black attempts to trade into a comfortable ending via …Qe4. We’re still in well-trodden theory.
It turns out that White doesn’t have a great way to start the attack. 17. g4?! is a dubious sacrifice with Black’s queen so active, e.g. 17…Qe4 18. Be3 Nxg4 19. Nd2 (19. Rdg1? Nxe3 20. fxe3 Bg5) 19…Qf5 20. Rdg1 Nxe3 and Black gets the free tempo and blocks the g-file pressure easily.
17. Be3, which Madhavan played, is one of the harmless moves as labeled by Schandorff, but is White’s last chance to avoid …Qe4.
An interesting idea from the book is 17…Bd6!?, seemingly placing the queen awkwardly but preparing …Qf5 and …Bf4 if need be. By now, the role that dark-square control plays in the defense is becoming clearer. And Madhavan immediately whipped out the strange 18. Nh4?!.
One problem with skepticism is that it extends too far beyond the first move. My instinct was that this was too contrived to be correct, and it should have stayed that way – instinct. Since I now thought I could play basically anything reasonable and hold, I stuck with my first impulse to trade queens with 18…Qxh5. Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to play the resulting position than I realized, and in fact 18…Nxh5! threatens to completely stall White’s play on f4 (especially if 19. g4?) and probably would have won with much less trouble.
Naturally, White’s response to 18…Qxh5 was to immediately sacrifice another pawn with 19. g4!.
In lieu of my above comments, it’s not surprising that my reaction was basically, “well, kids like to sac pawns galore; also, no one sacrifices two pawns here, so…”
Of course, instead of the nearsighted 19…Qxg4? there’s also 19…Qd5but that completely defeats the purpose of 18…Qxh5; after something like 20. Rdg1 preparing g5, Black is still walking a fine line with White fully developed.
And it’s quite embarrassing to note that after White’s 20. Qd2, my first real think of the game – about 20 minutes – produced 20…Qe4??.
In some sense, it was just forgetting something after too much time analyzing something else. But the damage was done and even though after 21. Bxh6! Nd5 White gave me a chance to regroup slightly with 22. Qg5?, I immediately squandered it with 22…Qh7?? which was followed by 23. Rdg1 and total carnage (for what it’s worth, 22…g6 was called for, but defending an airy kingside an Exchange down is not on many players’ bucket lists). I ended up getting mated in a few more moves, ending the game after a little under an hour.
On one hand, I just played a bad game, but as I discussed in my previous post, this is not exactly acceptable damage at the 2150 level. Furthermore, there is something to be said about taking into account the possibility of playing worse, when preparing.
So now, it’s pretty clear what dangers lurk in even harmless-looking positions. For the sake of brevity, I won’t discuss any others in great detail, but will bring up a few that came up in my exploration of the g4 positions.
Don’t Even Try Nxg4
After 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bd2 Ngf6 12. O-O-O Be7, White has a tricky prophylactic idea in 13. Qe2!?.
Avoiding the problems of the 13. Ne2 sideline from earlier, as can be seen after 13…O-O 14. Nf1!? c5 15. g4!.
After 15…Nxg4? 16. Rg1, Black doesn’t have that tempo due to White’s sneaky 13. Qe2 protecting f2 and has a lovely choice between 16…f5 and 16…Nf6, in each case giving White back a clear pawn and some weaknesses to attack. Of course, Black can settle for 15…Nh7.
But this is a long-term concession. White is still willing to sacrifice the g-pawn and can prepare it with an eventual f2-f4. Black’s plan on the kingside is not so obvious and the queenside attack is a little slower than we’d like.
So in general, Black can certainly decline Nxg4, but in many lines this faces the long-term issue of a further push of the kingside pawns.
After 12…Be7, 13. Ne4 Nxe4 14. Qxe4 Nf6 is actually most common. Historically, White has usually stuck to 15. Qe2 but 15. Qd3!? is a little devious.
After 15. Qe2, 15…Qd5 equalizes fairly easily in a similar manner to one of the earlier lines. However, if Black tries (15. Qd3) 15…Qd5?! suddenly 16. c4 Qe4 17. Qb3! places the queen in a very awkward situation.
Castling queenside into a bone-crushing attack is out of the question, especially since White can relegate the queen to h7 with Rhe1. Castling kingside (presumably after b7 is dealt with) with the queen so misplaced gets tangly for multiple reasons I won’t go into.
Black defenses to this haven’t been studied that much. 15…c5 has been played a few times and I recall seeing it in a random book I found at a chess tournament in May, but Schandorff considers the best bet to castle into the attack with 15…O-O and prepare.
Schandorff’s analysis runs 16. g4 Nxg4 17. Rhg1 f5 (apparently 17…Nxf2 is too dangerous) 18. Qe2 Kh7!?.
Not the most intuitive at first glance. But the traded off pieces have made all the difference; with the freer center and rock-solid Ng4, Black can afford to cooly respond to 19. Qxe6 with 19…Qd6. The book analysis continues 19. Ne5 Nxe5 20. dxe5 and while I haven’t studied this in detail, it looks like due to the trades Black is mobile enough to defend everything on the kingside with fairly good chances.
Unfortunately for me, the g4 positions get more difficult than what I’ve posted. But these positions are fairly representative of what one might get at a competent, but less theoretical (i.e. players go out of book sooner) level of play. And while more difficult positions certainly require either more calculation or preparation (depending on when one chooses to be lazy), the above positions have proven to be fairly manageable by considering more positional aspects of the lines. Of course, remembering all of them is easier said than done. But this is where general playing experience and preparation, if I ever get around to it, comes in.
Again, in other defensive setups, similar exploration might be helpful.
It might also prevent some unsuspecting upsets by young players if you do it well!