When to Go for It

You see a fancy shot… to play it or not to play it? It looks deadly, but it’s very complicated. You aren’t sure what to do, and you’ve already invested some serious time in the position. Or maybe you see a lot of tactical shots floating in the air and sense you might be winning. What to do??

Been there, done that. After the game, it’s easy to see what the computer says and nod along, but in the heat of the moment it’s hard. It’s not only calculation that’s involved, it’s also nerves.

If you see a forced win, play it! Well duh… What I mean to say is that if the win is forced with no room for intuition, and you’ve double-checked your calculation, then do it. What’s much harder, however, are situations where your opponent simply has too many possibilities for you to be able to calculate out to the end.

A failure

Miyasaka, Marcus (2245 USCF) – Brodsky, David (2317 USCF) New York International 2015


Black to move

The opening had gone very well for me, and I was enjoying this fantastic position with black after only 18 moves. How to proceed? I burned a lot of time here thinking about 18… Qc5. White obviously can’t take the rook because of mate, and he has to somehow protect the c2-pawn. 19.Bc1 runs into 19… Rxc2 20.Bxa3 Qxa3 21.Kxc2 Qxa2+ 22.Kd3 Ne5+ 23.Kxd4 Nf3+, winning the queen, and if white goes 22.Kc1, then he will get mated after simply 22… 0-0!. Naturally, finding these variations was far from intuitive. I ran into a barrier, however, when I saw that white can play 19.c3!?, and after 19… dxc3 20.bxc4, he’s grabbed the rook. I looked at a lot of variations and couldn’t find a forced win.

This kind of situation is definitely classified as a critical moment, and this is the kind of position where you should invest a lot of time. I’m NOT saying that you should spend a lot of time in every position where there are variations to calculate, but I’m saying that here, 18…Qc5 could be winning, and it’s up to you to investigate.

Ultimately, I chickened out and played 18… 0-0?. 18… Qc5 truly was winning, and black does have semi-forced wins after 19.c3. I could have, however, just concluded that “white’s position is a mess/disaster and I’ll definitely have more than enough compensation there.” That’s what I see looking at this position two and a half years later, but that’s not what I saw at the board. Instead, I ended up playing a subpar alternative, and the game ended in a draw.

What’s the moral of the story? There doesn’t have to be a forced win! An intuitive judgement that your opponent’s position is bad accompanied with a few variations is good enough.

A (missed) golden opportunity

I guess I like showing my failures, and here’s another one.

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Bora, Safal (2499 USCF) World Open 2016


White to move

This position looks like total chaos. My rook on h7 and my queen are hanging, and my d4-knight is inconveniently pinned. 28.Rbh3 leads to a perpetual check on the h-file. There’s another move, 28.Rh4, which is plain beautiful. Black can’t take the queen or rook because he gets mated! Next up I want to mate him. But how…

After a long think, I ended up playing 28.Rbh3? and agreeing to a draw after 28… gxf4 29.Rh8+. 28.Rh4!! was winning. Defending on the 7th rank with 28… Qa7 runs into 29.Rbh3!, and 28… Be8 loses in multiple ways. 29.Rg3 Bg6 30.Rxg5! fxg5 31.Qxg5 is deadly, and so is 29.Rbh3 Bg6 30.Qf2. So why did I not play Rh4? I saw it but I chickened out. Since the move I played led to a draw, sitting there thinking felt like considering a draw offer.

The tournament situation also had an effect. Now, if I needed to win to get a norm, I’m 100% sure I would have played Rh4. It was round 7 of the World Open. Though I wasn’t really in norm contention, I was still doing well. I had, however, lost my morning game in a somewhat depressing fashion, and losing two games in one day sucks. If I played Rh4 I was risking another loss. I didn’t mistakenly see a refutation to Rh4, but I just didn’t play it on general grounds. Ok, I chickened out.

What’s the moral of the story? In both examples I’ve shown you, I saw a tempting tactical idea but ended up backing out because I didn’t see a forced win. Should I have followed my heart instead of my brain? In those two examples yes, but not everywhere. Don’t lose your sense of reality, or you could easily blunder. What I’m saying is that if it feels right and you can’t bust it, then it probably is right. This doesn’t have to only apply to positions where you feel you may have a win. If you’re worse and you see a tactical shot that looks like it forces a draw, then do the same.

Enough philosophical rambling. It’s time for some puzzles! As usual, I’ll publish the answers over the weekend.

Puzzle 1


White to move

Is 19.Nxh6+ a good idea for white? Does he have more than a draw there?

Puzzle 2


White to move

I played the adventurous 17.Nb5 with the idea of going Nbd6 and met 17…f5 with 18.Rd1. Was 17.Nb5 a good idea, or should I have done something normal?

Puzzle 3


Black to move

Can black survive this endgame, and if so how?

2 thoughts on “When to Go for It

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