The Counterattack

Defense is a very important aspect of chess and even more so at the higher level of chess. Just because something went wrong or things look scary doesn’t mean a chess player should collapse. In this article, I’ll be talking about a key part of defense, counterattacks.

Counterattacks counter attacks (well, duh…). They follow the saying “the best defense is a good offense” which is obviously overgeneralized for picky people like chess players. However, counterattacks can be a handy defense when you think “normal” measures won’t do the trick. First, I should talk about defending against attacks in general.

Rule 1 of defense: Don’t panic (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference intended)

Don’t let your brain freeze up just because you’re under attack. You need to be able to calculate and think straight. You need to trust yourself. Do not overestimate your opponent’s chances. The fact that he is attacking doesn’t mean that there is any real danger.

Rule 2 of defense: Don’t panic

Really, don’t. Ok, now that we’ve covered that, there a couple things I should add.

Rule 3: Don’t go passive

Don’t curl up into a ball to survive an attack, metaphorically speaking. Try to defend against the attack actively. Feel free to counterattack. Of course, sometimes you need to be passive, but unnecessary passivity can be fatal. This is basically the point of this article.

Rule 4: Don’t be afraid to bail out

There’s nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of “My opponent’s attack is dangerous, and I’ll give back some material to get into a worse endgame that I may be able to hold.” That’s totally fine! But that does not mean that you should bail out against every little wimpy attack.

Dumb example: if your opponent is “attacking” you with 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, that kind of thinking could be used to play 2… Nf6 3.Qxe5+ Qe7 so that you get the queens off and “defend a pawn down endgame”. No, no, no! You should have a concrete reason for bailing out, not just “I’m scared”.

Onto some examples…

Playing with fire

In the following game, I was under fire. Instead of calling the fire department, I started my own little blaze. Though what I did was not objectively correct, it was practical…

Brodsky, David (2388 USCF) – Aldama, Dionisio (2517 USCF) World Open 2016

Aldama 1

I had just won a piece, but black has serious compensation… he has two pawns, the white king is shaky, and white is a bit tied up with the pin on the d-file. However, black is not immediately threatening Red8 because of Qe3, counterattacking the white knight, and Nxf3 would fail to Qf4. However, black has ideas of sacrificing even more material with ideas of Rxd6 Qxd6 and Qf5 and harassing the white king.

Asking my silicon friend what it thinks about this position was quite entertaining… it gives white a little edge (maybe 0.4 or 0.5), though its top moves include the awe-inspiring 25.Rab1! (there’s actually a point behind it). Anyway, I decided to play with fire myself by going 25.Nxf7!? Rxf7 26.Re1!

Aldama 2

I’m not interested in taking the exchange, since black just gets free play. Instead, I’m pinning black up, and I’m considering going f4 or Nc4. Unfortunately, objectively, this entire thing is a draw 😢.

The game went 26… Ree7 (unpinning on the e-file) 27.f4 c4 28.Nxc4

Aldama 4

Here is where IM Aldama went wrong by playing 28… Bxc4?. After 29.Bxc4 Nxc4 30.Qd8+ white grabs the exchange, and black doesn’t have sufficient compensation. White is just much better, and I went on to win.

The correct move was 28… Nxc4!. After 29.Qd8+ Kh7 30.Rxe7 c5 31.Bxc4

Aldama 3

Black has enough to make a perpetual check. There are two ways: 31… Bb7+ 32.Rxb7 Qe4+ 33.Kg1 Qe3+, or the fancier 31… Bxc4 32.Re8 Rf8! 33.Rxf8 Qe4+, with the same perpetual check.

What’s the moral of the story there? Instead of curling into a ball, I started a counterattack myself and managed to bamboozle my opponent. I went for an active choice instead of a passive choice because I felt it was right. What I did wasn’t objectively correct, but it did the trick in practice. It was a weird and complicated position, but hey, who said that chess is easy?

My ultimate counterattack

This game goes into my all-time records. After an unusual opening, I won a piece, but had no development. You’ll see for yourself…

Brodsky, David (2449 USCF) – Jacobson, Brandon (2392 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2017

Brandon 4

Yeah, I had a point… White is a piece up, but his kingside is undeveloped. How to develop it? Err, ehm, eh… [insert coughing noise]. The details are unclear.

Black’s best continuation is 15… Rhe8! 16.e3 Na2. After 17.Ra1 Nxc3 18.Qg4+, it looks like black is just losing his queen because the mate on d1 is prevented. However, black has 18… Bd7!, and if 19.Qc4+ black goes back with 19… Bc6. That is just a repetition, and white can go 19.Rxa5 Bxg4, though he technically doesn’t have any advantage in the endgame.

Instead, Brandon played 15… Na2? 16.b4! (this is practically forced) 16… Nxb4

Brandon 5

Black’s attack looks very promising, but white has an incredible idea that saves the day… honestly, if I were to choose a best move from my entire career, I’d probably choose this one. Now, try to solve it! Here’s how the game ended.

What’s the moral of this one? Had I lost this one, it would have probably served as a horror movie shown to beginners to illustrate the importance of development… I’m half joking, but seriously, I could have easily lost in the confusion. However, I kept a clear head and managed to launch a deadly counterattack with my 17th move.

Being under attack isn’t the end of the world, not even the end of your game. For all you know the attack may be completely benign. Don’t panic and calculate. Many attacking games are won not because the attack was fatal to start with, but because the defender made a mistake. Try not to be one of these fatalities.

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Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

A critical component of success in chess is not just a solid understanding and awareness of tempo, but the capability to influence and control it. Strong players seem to have an innate ability to make one seemingly brilliant move and turn the tide of the battle, much to their opponents despair. These players understand controlling the tempo of the match and making the opponent play the game on someone else’s terms will allow them to take the victory more often than not. Once you can recognize tempo as an almost tangible force in the game and better yet impact it, you will certainly see a noticeable improvement in your match results and be able to better command the game.

A tempo (plural tempi) can be in essence defined as a turn, but in the tug of war that is chess, having the tempo can mean gaining a preferable result on your turn, forcing your opponent to respond and thus giving you control and more options to sway the course of the match. Alekhine, Carlsen, and many other well known and studied attacking players exemplify this by making moves that force their opponent to reconsider their plans and fight with their backs against the ropes. These players are said to have gained the initiative, limiting their opponents options, exerting their will on the flow of the match, and forcing their opponents to play the game differently. While this may sound complicated or the culmination of tedious study of theory, it is really quite simple and can be accomplished by following a few simple rules:

Rule 1: Move with Purpose – Simply put, one must make every move count in order to dictate the flow of the game. If you are focused solely on attacking your opponent, they will evade and counter. Hollow attacks that can be countered or easily dodged offer no advantage and can ultimately be your downfall. Players who break the rule of bringing their Queen out too early are a great example of this principle in action. They may make some idle threats in the center or offer a weak check or two, but the tempo can be stolen very easily. This would give the defending player an opportunity to develop while their opponent evades to try and save their Queen. This leads to rule 2…

Rule 2: Develop Your Minor Pieces Early – While pawns are an important part of the game and gaining a favorable pawn structure creates a solid foundation to move around later in the match, the minor pieces are going to defend and attack at the same time when in the right place. Being ahead in development not only offers an advantage to tempo, but allows you to assure your King is protected by being able to castle sooner and allowing you to pressure your opponent efficiently and faster than they can pressure you. You will have more weapons at your disposal sooner, certainly an advantage in the battlefield .

Rule 3: Do Not Move the Same Piece Twice – Unless it is to gain a very good advantage or out of absolute necessity, do not move the same piece twice. If you were to move your e file pawn twice in a row for instance, you are allowing your opponent two turns to your one. My coach often says “put your pieces on their best squares and they will do the rest.” He is absolutely right and often I find if I can get the pieces where they are most effective and make smart, simple moves around them, I can gain and maintain the initiative much more effectively and often.

Rule 4: Checks Don’t Matter – This is a habit that took me a long time to break and still requires significant help from my coach to stay away from. Unless the check forces your opponent to follow a plan you have set up or creates a pin or fork, the check is not necessarily an indicator of your advantage. Caution must also be made as a check with a strong piece can create many countering opportunities for your opponent and can ultimately cause you to lose tempo or a piece. While a check may gain a psychological advantage of showing your opponent that you are clever or have keen situational awareness, this is fruitless and meaningless without a plan.

Rule 5: Look at The Situation From Both Sides of The Board – It happens to us all, tunnel vision. We focus so much on what we want to happen on the board that we may overlook the reality of what lies before us. When making a move, consider what move you would make if you were playing on the other side. Often when we focus solely on what plan we’ve created, we overlook opportunities we hand our opponents or better moves we could have and should have played.

Understanding tempo is simple, but harnessing its power and consistently possessing it, particularly amongst strong opponents, takes time and awareness. Like many other parts of the game, analysis after a match yields great results and “aha” moments. A positive habit I have picked up lately has been to say “tempo, tempo, tempo” before I make a move or when I am feeling pressured. I visualize the tempo of a game, I look at it like a level one might use when hanging a picture. Will this move send the bubble too far to one side, creating an imbalance? Once you can feel the tempo of a match and make these 5 rules of tempo part of your standard behavior, you will find you have much more control of your matches and have designed a stronger foundation to build a winning plan from.

Back to the Board

Last Friday, I returned to the chess board for the first time in five weeks.  And really, the gap is even longer than that.  I had only played in a league match five weeks prior, and I hadn’t played in a tournament since Labor Day weekend in the beginning of September.  Granted, this was also going to be a league match, but considering that I hadn’t really looked at chess myself at all in those five weeks, it counted.  Studying for the SAT and school work, in general, had taken up too much of my time.

Going into this game, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  Historically, I had always performed well after returning from an extended break, whether it was in one-off games or entire tournaments; the only caveat with that, however, is that I still studied chess on my own during those breaks.  This time, I hadn’t prepared at all.  Without further ado, let’s see what went down.

Kobla – Kinney, DCCL, 2017

That was certainly a roller coaster of a game, and if I’m being honest, I consider myself lucky that I was able to come out of that game with a win.  My play, in the beginning, was uncharacteristically rusty, especially for the opening stage.  Yet, Black missed the most crucial moves in the critical positions, allowing me to hang in there until I was able to break through in the late middlegame.  After solidifying the queenside and getting my major pieces behind the passed pawns, it was all but over, and I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

I had a quick turnaround with an NVA Chess League match on Sunday, and with some luck in that game as well, I was able to win that, too.  Perhaps I will show that game in a later post.

I’m not sure what my next chess event is from here.  Typically, I would play in the Northern Virginia Open in the first weekend of November, but due to conflicts with a school program, I am not able to play in that.  However, one thing I do know is that I have to resume studying chess on my own time in order to avoid the horrific scene that was the first half of this game.

Good luck in your future games, and, as always, thanks for reading!  I’ll see you next time.

Photo Finish: The Battle for Squirrel Hill

IMG_1984
Pittsburgh Chess Club Veteran Jeffrey Schragin (White) taking on Steve O’Conner (black)

After Kevin Carl’s 3/3 start, it seemed like the Sorensen Memorial was headed down a familiar plot line. Top seed enters, wins games, and cleans house. But winning in Pittsburgh as we’ve seen isn’t easy, and a bloodbath ensued over the next three rounds. From Kevin’s win over Nabil, four different players juggled the position of sitting atop the standings until the close of the final round.

With three rounds in the books, we knew a lot about the field. Kevin Carl was unbeaten but shaky. Chip Kraft and Evan Park were both underdogs and dangerous, and both Melih Özbek and Nabil Feliachi were only one mistake away from a 3/3 score. The fourth round promised to challenge the narrative.

Shake-up on Top

IMG_1980
Chip clashes with Kevin on board 1

Having prepared for the Dutch, Chip Kraft got his chance to tackle the top seed with White. In my opinion, Chip is one of the most improved players in Pittsburgh this calendar year. Having trained with him personally over the summer, I know first-hand how much work Chip puts into chess, and his recent rating jump has given him a lot more confidence and swagger in his play. After downing Melih last week, this was Chip’s chance to boost his tournament.

In what proved to be a tight game, Kevin’s middlegame advantage didn’t prove enough in the time scramble, and he stumbled to his first defeat of the tournament, pushing Chip to 3.5/4. With first place changing hands, only one question remained: would the youngster Evan Park join him?

IMG_1974.jpg
Evan entering the Open Sicilian

Evan is the youngster in Pittsburgh. Fresh off competing in the World Cadets in Brazil, Evan is one of the most ambitious players in the city and its clear that he will be a big part of it’s future. In the meantime, the 10 year old had a game with Melih Özbek, who was on a hunt for much-needed tournament redemption. In what proved to be one of the most interesting games of the tournament, Melih saved a worse position, and then some – meaning Chip was a half-point clear of the field.

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Park–Özbek, position after 17…Ne5

With an early space advantage, Evan had to make critical decisions early. Here he played 18. fxg6 fxg6 19. Bh3, but after 19…0-0, Black was able to hold a worse position. Instead, switching the move order and keeping the tension with 18. Bh3 could have proved an interesting alternative.

But the game continued – and with Black weathering the storm, the question of the Sicilian endgame took center stage. In what seemed like an equal position, Melih asked Evan one last crucial question with 33…Nf3 – how do you defend the h-pawn?:

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 11.35.32
Park–Ozbek, position after 33…Nf3

Evan responded correctly, first with 34. Rxb5 axb5, but then with 35. Kb4? Nxh4 36. c4, realizing he had wasted a tempo with his 35th move. Unfortunately for Evan, this single tempo cost him a half point, and Melih won the endgame with relative ease.

Push in the Penultimate

IMG_2027
Having spent a week preparing for Nabil’s repertoire, 1 e4 came as a surprise for Chip!

With Chip now on board 1, it was National Master Nabil Feliachi’s turn to push with the White pieces. Nabil surprised Chip with 1. e4, prompting Chip to enter his battle-tested Scandinavian. White had pressure from the early middlegame, working the clock to a 25 minute against 9 second (!) edge with a positional advantage. But Chip stayed resilient, and after a few missed chances from Nabil, Chip saved a half-point and continued to stay on top the wall chart.

IMG_2029
Melih beat both Evan and Kevin with Black in consecutive rounds to join the lead

Outside the top board, the penultimate round serves as an elimination game for players with 3/4. Even in a tight field like this, 4/6 seldom claims top prizes. In my experience competing at the Pittsburgh Chess Club, this round (as well as the second) often proves to be the most stressful, as the pairings are reasonably competitive and the stakes are high. Such was the nature of Melih’s clash with Kevin Carl. In a loser-goes-home match-up, it was Kevin who flinched first, giving Melih a tactical hit on f2 and a tie for first heading into the final round:

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 11.12.38
Carl–Özbek, position after 16. Nf3?

After some thought, Melih realized the power of his a7 bishop and essayed the stunner, 16…Nxf2! with a clear advantage. The game didn’t continue much longer after 17. Nxg5 Nxd1 18. Nc5 Nxe3 -+. Kevin’s perfect 3/3 was now reduced to a 3/5, and after having played two Blacks in a row, Melih would get his chance on board 1 with the White pieces.

Hold Your Ground

IMG_2024
Paul Cantalupo taking on eventual U1600 winner Yirael Isaacson

Entering the final night, Chip had the most to lose with both his claim to first and a Candidate Master norm on the line. Who did he have to go through? Evan Park. With Evan recently having beaten Chip twice head-to-head, Chip played it safe with White, essaying a Queen’s Gambit with some simplification to work his way to a draw. Norm achieved – but would Nabil pull through against Melih?

As this was transpiring, National Master Franklin Chen put on a clinic with Black to beat the Closed Sicilian with a quick h-pawn push:

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 10.53.54
Kennedy–Chen, position after 9…h5

Black quickly asserted himself in control of the game with 9…h5!, and after 10. f4 h4! 11. e5 Nd4, Franklin was in cruise control. In what felt like a near-miniature win, this game proved to be one of the most instructive of the tournament. After a slow start, Franklin finished 4/6, but was just one missed queen sacrifice away from knocking on the tournament’s front door.

IMG_2031
Franklin taking on Michael Kostyak in Round 5

Melih’s game was slow – with both sides maneuvering. While Nabil was building an edge with Black, the game wasn’t decided until its final minutes, with Nabil taking the point in the rook and pawn ending. With Nabil winning, both he and Chip clinched first place at the Fred Sorensen Memorial with 4.5/6 in an impressive tournament finale:

T-1 Nabil Feliachi – 4.5/6

T-1 Chip Kraft – 4.5/6

T-3 Kevin Carl – 4/6

T-3 Melih Özbek – 4/6

T-3 Franklin Chen – 4/6

T-3 Evan Park – 4/6

IMG_2004
Chip and Nabil analyzing at Stack’d. Post round hangouts became the norm throughout the tournament.

And that concludes this series on chess in Pittsburgh. This tournament was a lot of fun to direct and spectate – fighting chess each round, high stakes games, and plenty of upsets. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Pittsburgh is one of the most dangerous places to play. Learn how to play here, and you can play anywhere. I’m looking forward to see what the Robert Smith Memorial will offer in November – but this time I’ll be throwing my hat in the ring.

 

When to (not) Break Out …f6?

If you play the French often enough, you have probably seen the …f6 break as a common theme to equalize space. One common example comes from the 3. Nd2 Tarrasch main line:

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After 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Bd3 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. Ne2 cxd4 8. cxd4

Here, Black can eliminate the cramping e5-pawn with 8…f6 with good piece play and open f-file, at the cost of a somewhat bad bishop and backward e-pawn.

However, there are many different variations and subvariations in which one can consider an …f6 break (in non-Tarrasch lines as well), and suffice to say that not all of them are good. Admittedly, I’m not an expert in the French, and I’m not sure how much studying one would have to do to cover all of these scenarios. My personal advice is to not break out …f6 when in doubt, since it does create weaknesses and in many cases can be delayed with few major consequences.

It’s easy to take the …f6 break for granted in lines like the above, but it does weaken Black’s center (two hanging pawns) and king. It (more or less) works for Black in the above Tarrasch because White’s pieces are not well-developed enough to take advantage of the weaknesses too soon and Black is positioned well to defend and even counter-attack due to the open lines created by …f6.

On the other hand, consider this position I recently happened upon from a Pittsburgh weekend tournament game between two experts:

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After 7. Be3

Black played 7…f6 here. At first it doesn’t look too bad because the center is relatively closed and White hasn’t castled. But White’s pieces are much more developed here than in the first example, so attacking the d5/e6-pawns is a lot easier. Note that White hasn’t committed the light-squared bishop and still has the option of g3/Bh3.

That wasn’t Black’s only mistake, but it quickly made things more difficult for Black. After the natural 8. Qd2 a6 9. exf6 Qxf6 10. O-O-O Bd6 11. g3! b5?? (not what Black needs to be focusing on!) 12. dxc5 Bxc5 13. Bh3 Black’s position is virtually beyond repair. Although it doesn’t immediately work out tactically, White is already entertaining the idea of Nxd5 (as happened a few moves later).

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After 13. Bh3

Unfortunately, the rest of the game was not particularly hard to predict. White soon won both the e6 and d5 pawns, and still managed to attack Black’s weak kingside. This goes to show how seemingly insignificant differences can completely change the positional assessment of an …f6 break!

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After 25. Bg6, Black resigns

 

 

 

Hi, I’m Xiao

Hello Chess^Summit fans!

My name is Xiao, and I’m glad you’re joining me on my first article with the team.

In this post, I’ll chat with you on my chess stories and how chess shaped me in many aspects outside of the game. Without further ado, let’s get started.

My Chess Beginnings

I learned chess in China when my mom brought home a chess board from work. And then I joined a chess club in kindergarten to get started in chess training.

My memories are fuzzy about the details of these chess days, but I do remember chess always brought more fun for me.

Losing in chess were not painful at all for me during this period.

One thing led to another, while in China, I joined a chess school, where my foundation was build.

I played in many tournaments in and out of my hometown Tianjin. Around third grade, I also worked with a chess trainer, who helped me further improve my chess fundamentals.

Losing now started to become annoying, but not much more than that.

Continuation of Chess in the U.S

In 2001, I came to U.S with my parents. And without much break, my parents found the Atlanta Chess Center after a month in Atlanta. My chess days in the U.S. started there. When you go thru my rating history, about 80% of my tournaments were played in the Atlanta Chess Center.

From 2001 to 2007, I played chess intensely, and really worked towards improving my game and rating.

2005 to 2006 were my highlight years, but for some reason, the painful lost games were always more memorable. I suppose this is human psychology at work.

I will talk about more about one of the painful games in my next post.

Going to College. Stopped Playing Chess

Before my senior year in high school, I decided to take a break from chess. Academics was a driver, my SAT was not good, and I haven’t taken any AP classes yet.

Another reason was my lack of tool set in terms of running the chess marathon. My psychology was reactive. I was chasing the destination instead of the journey.

The initial one year break, turned out to be over 7 years. I followed chess sparingly. However, my mind was unconsciously connecting the dots between chess emotions with everything outside of the game.

This period is when I started to think about psychology in and out of chess, and today it is still an interesting topic for me to pander.

My psychology to losing in anything become more robust. And I started to enjoy the process of running a marathon than crossing the finishing line.

Came Back to Teach Chess

I started working in 2014 and I learned the concept of side hustle during this time. I immediately found it enticing. Teaching chess was an easy choice, and it didn’t take long for me to get started.

When I teach chess classes, talking about chess concepts is certainly important, but I try to constantly relate to student’s chess emotions.

The vast amount of chess knowledge online has made information much easier to acquire. Simply type ‘chess’ in Google and you can get started.

However, building a strong emotional foundation in and out of chess is a more intense process. I’m still trying to figure out the route for myself, and I hope to share with the readers.

Chess^Summit Journey

I’ll write about chess analysis from time to time. But I’d want to talk more about chess psychology in my posts at Chess^Summit.

Welcome to my Chess^Summit journey, and I hope you had enjoyed the first run so far!

See you in the next post!

P.s: I’m always happy to chat on Twitter (simplerxiao). Say hi next time you’re there or to the Chess^Summit team.

 

Pawns vs. minor piece

Here we go again! Material imbalances. The amount of articles about material imbalances seems never ending… don’t worry, there’s only a finite amount of material combinations to write about! Anyway, this time we’ll be taking a look at the pawns versus minor piece imbalance.

On the material scale a minor piece is worth 3 pawns, right? That is true, but don’t assume that three pawns are worth a minor piece! A couple of factors…

  • The number of pieces on the board – with the help of a few cronies, the minor piece can be a lot more effective than the three pawns. The more pieces, the better for the side with the piece.
  • The number of pawns on the board – the more pawns there are on the board means that there is a larger chance that the side with the piece will queen one in the endgame.

A simple example to illustrate point #2: say black has an extra piece and white has pawns on f2, g2, and h2 (original, I know)! If that’s it on the board, then white has all the winning chances, though it is objectively drawn. However, if you add some extra pawns on the queenside, far away from the white king, white is going to be in trouble, if he isn’t lost already.

Of course, other factors in the position should not be ignored, but those two are fairly logical rules that I’ll try to apply to the following three examples from my games.

A “normal” example

Jacobson, Brandon (2316 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2350 USCF) Marshall FIDE Weekend Feb. 2016

Let’s not go to any extremes early….

Brandon 1

This position is unusual. Black is temporarily a pawn up, but the pawn structure is plain bizarre. I could have gone 31… Qe8, but I didn’t like the prospect of dealing with white’s central pawn mass and my shaky g-pawn. However, my silicon friend says black is perfectly fine….

Instead, I went for another option by playing 31… Bxe5+!? 32.dxe5 Qxe5+ 33.Kh1 Rxf1+ 34.Qxf1 Qxe4+ 35.Kh2 b6

Brandon 2

Black temporarily has four pawns for the piece. The g7-pawn is going to fall next move, but the other three pawns are fairly secure. Black’s king will be safe hiding on a6, while white’s king is exposed and could be the victim of a perpetual. There aren’t enough pieces or pawns on the board for white to be better – the position is objectively equal.

The game went 36.Qf8+ Kb7 37.Qxg7+ Ka6 38.Qf6 Qc2+ 39.Kh3 Qf5+

Brandon 3

After the queen trade, white will win black’s remaining pawns on the queenside, but his king is too far away from the queenside. Black will make a draw by getting all the pawns off (he actually only needs to get the c-pawn off because the a-pawn is of the wrong color…). After 40.Kxh4 Qxf6 41.Bxf6 Kb5 42.Kg5 we agreed to a draw.

That part of the game was fairly typical. I sacrificed a piece to get three pawns and equality. However, not all games with this imbalance are typical…

A mess

Breckenridge, Steven (2399 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2300 USCF) UT Brownsville IM Norm Tournament 2015

Yes, this game was a mess. It’s in the databases, you can replay it here. My opponent sacrificed a piece for an attack, but nothing much came out of it. Queens were soon traded, and I had a piece for three pawns. It was a situation where I, with the piece, was on top. Things soon went haywire in time trouble, and after missing a couple wins, I reached this position.

Breckenridge 1

With my last two moves, I decided to bring my king into the game. However, I began to regret that after seeing the strength of the white bishops. Basically I didn’t want to get mated. Therefore, I played 38… Bb3? allowing a rook trade that favors white. Instead, I should have just gone 38… Ra2! where white has no mate (or any trace of mate for that matter). I needed to keep the rooks on, and had I done that, I would have been much better.

White should go 39.Bxa6 Bxd1 40.Bc4+ to get a tempo up version of the game (more about that later). Instead, my opponent played 39.Bc8+?. I should have gone 39… Ke5! 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4 Nd4!, stopping the b-pawn from advancing. Black retains a sizeable advantage there. Instead, I went 39… Kf6? 40.Bxa6 Bxd1 41.Bc4

Breckenridge 2

After reaching the time control, I realized that black doesn’t have much, because the white b-pawn is running fast and will tie up the black pieces. With the king on e5, I could go Nd4 here which would make for a totally different story. Later on, I declined two draw offers in a dead drawn position and tried playing for a win, getting myself in trouble in the process. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything serious, and we made a draw.

What’s the moral of the story? Passed pawns without any heavy pieces on can be annoying and hard to deal with! However, I can’t talk about annoying passed pawns without mentioning the next game.

An absurd situation

Gorti, Akshita (2315 USCF) — Brodsky, David (2430 USCF) Eastern Chess Congress 2016

In this game, I tried some “fake grinding” (aka trying to win an objectively equal/slightly worse position). Everything was within reasonable bounds of equality until I blundered an exchange. Oooooops…. However, I managed to get some noise going, and we reached this position

Akshita 1

White has four (!) connected passed pawns on the kingside, in exchange for a knight that is stuck on the other side of the board. I was really worried here…

Now, how should white win? Let’s first get one thing clear: all four passers will not go marching down the board side by side until the finish line. No, no, no! We’re being realistic here… a fast passer or two should do the job. Black’s hope to survive here is to make noise with the rook + knight combo. In light of that, white’s best move here is 47.Rf5!, giving up the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Rxe3+ 48.Kf6, white can push his g-pawn, and all noise is too late. White is just winning.

Instead, Akshita played 47.Kf4? protecting the e3-pawn. However, after 47… Nc1!, I got the noise I wanted. As crazy as it may seem, white may no longer be winning here! Akshita decided to give up the e3-pawn by playing 48.Rd5 Ne2+ 49.Kg5 Rxe3 50.h4

Akshita 2

The f3-pawn is obviously taboo on account of Rd2+, winning the knight. Now it’s time to bring my king back to civilization with 50… Kc3 and after 51.f4 I played 51… Re8!, harassing the white king. White’s best try is 52.Rd6, with the idea of blocking on g6. However, after 52… Ng3!, threatening a fork on e4, white should go 53.Rc6+ Kd4 54.f5 Ke5

Akshita 3

Black is now fine!

Instead, Akshita gave up yet another pawn with 52.h5 Rg8+ 53.Kh4 Nxf4. White doesn’t have enough to win, and we soon drew.

Conclusion

What’s the overall conclusion? First of all, the power of the pawns should not be underestimated in the endgame, especially with no rooks on the board. In light of that, the side with the piece should, in general, try to keep the remaining pawns on the board, and the side with the pawns should trade pawns – with caution, of course! Blindly following principles is never a good idea!

The pawns vs. minor piece imbalance is a fascinating one and isn’t easy to figure out. Anyway, I hope what I’ve said in this article makes sense, or that at least it’s made you think about it. Until next time!