Monthly Archives: June 2009

Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: recovering the investment with interest

Filed under Attacking tactics, Chess lessons, Chess tactics
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You have seen the most common uses of a sacrifice in Chess Sacrifice as Chess Tactics, beginning with the most direct aim of ensnaring opponent’s King to less direct ones that help to create positions facilitating the march to that ultimate end. A successful sacrifice is an investment that brings you the win as a return on that investment.

This last article in the series (even though we may bring you more examples of the same ideas) on using sacrifices as chess tactics, we will just consider its plundering role. Here the attacker made investment of a sacrifice to recover after a stage enough material to compensate for the initial loss and by a general rule, a preponderance of material gives you enough advantage to win the game (excepting in some special situations). In such games, when the defender resigns considering his situation as hopeless, the commentators mostly sign off by saying ‘(… cannot avoid ruinous loss of material to save mate)!

However, since plundering is not the primary aim of sacrifice, the material gain is at best an indirect fall-out and you may have to remain satisfied with it at least for the time being. This happens when your main thrust to bring down the opponent’s King gets parried by your never-say-die opponent through such drastic measures as suffering significant material loss with a hope to fight another day!

In the example chosen, Black’s sacrifice (Rook against a Bishop) was aimed at cornering the King and creating checkmate. So he disdainfully rejects the opportunity for capturing the Queen, and makes the further offer of a Knight. When White realized that accepting the Knight meant immediate checkmate and rejecting the offer meant losing the Rook and Queen to the Knight without even the benefit of its capture, he gave up the fight!

The game was played between John Schulten and Paul Morphy at New Orleans in 1857.

John William Schulten (1821–1875) was a chess master of German origin from the United States. In the 1840s and 1850s, he traveled widely in Europe and the United States to play some of the best chess players in the world but ended up losing most of his games.

Paul Morphy (1837-1884) is a legend in chess history. He was a chess prodigy and was supposed to have learnt it by seeing others play. He became the US champion in 1857 and traveled to Europe to play most of the top players of his time and defeated all including Anderssen, but excepting Staunton who refused to play him. He was considered the strongest player of his time and the unofficial World Champion. But his effective chess career lasted for only about two years from 1857 to 1859. He tried to settle down in his chosen profession of law but his fame as a chess player possibly stood in his way to become a successful lawyer. He had his family fortune to support him but spent his remaining years in a kind of idleness as he refused to return to the world of chess. This may be the reason one of his biographers referred to him as the “pride and sorrow of chess”.

To quote GM Nigel Short on his views on the chess of Paul Morphy:
“We’re not talking rocket science here. It’s simple chess, but on a very high level. It’s easy to understand, but would you find the moves yourself? The answer is no. It is the speed at which Morphy develops that is so impressive, the way he gives up pawns to energize his position.”

As per GM Botvinnik:
“His mastery of open positions was so vast that little new has been learned about such positions after him.”

The diagram shows the board position after 18 moves have been completed.

be checkmated or lose a bundle

19. Kd2 Rxc6!
20. dxc6 Bxe2
21. Rxe2 Qxd4+
22. Ke1 Qg1+
23. Kd2 Rd8+
24. Kc3 Qc5+ White Queen was there for the picking but Black had greater aims
25. Kb2 Na4+ White resigned.
If 26. bxa4 then 26. … Qb4#
If 26. Kb1 then 26. … Nc3+ 27. Kb2 Nxd1+ 28. Kb1 Nc3+ 29. Kb2 Nxe2 and White would be short by a Queen and a minor piece.


Would you have any hesitation in agreeing with Grandmaster Short?


Watch the Game

Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: to gain time to promote a passed pawn

Filed under Attacking tactics, Chess lessons, Chess tactics
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Among the most common uses of a sacrifice described in Chess Sacrifice as Chess Tactics, one was to gain time in promoting a passed pawn. This type of chess tactics to gain time is most likely to arise in the end game, particularly where both players are left with King and pawns. The preventive action against promotion become incumbent on the King only and the ability of the King to do so is dependent on the principle of the Square as was discussed in 4 endgame situations.

In the race to push the pawn to the last rank, if your own King is too far away to provide the support and the opponent King is ‘within the Square’, what is your only chance towards success? If you can throw something (meaning a pawn, in the situation under discussion) in the path of the opponent’s King such that it is unable to disregard it and has to take an action (meaning capture), the resultant delay of one move may force the enemy King to step out of the Square and your pawn laughs all the way to become a Queen!

The illustrative game was played between Aron Nimzowitsch and Siegbert Tarrasch, two stalwarts of their times, in the San Sebastian tournament of 1911.

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) was a Latvian hailing from Riga and was a challenger to Capablanca in 1925 for World Championship, but unfortunately for him this could not take place for want of adequate sponsorship. He had a quite revolutionary thinking about the theories on chess, running against prevailing concepts, and became a proponent of what came to be known at that time as the hypermodern school. Besides being a great theoretician, he was also a talented writer and his book titled My System published in 1925 is still regarded as one of the most important books on chess. His ideas on openings led to a good number of variations that go under his name, the most well-known being Nimzo-Indian Defense which has been very successfully used by Victor Korchnoi when playing as Black.

Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934) was born in Breslau, Germany and was a highly regarded positional player of his time. He also failed to secure a match in 1903 against Lasker, the World Champion at that time, due to a failure in negotiations. Unlike Nimzowitsch, his ideas were more in line with the classical approach of previous World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz but refined to an extent. He also contributed to opening theories with variations that bear his name. His ideas on positional play are still followed by players at all levels.

These two players had a running feud on what constituted the proper style of play as can be guessed from what has been said above and their rivalry was quite famous. Though we have not yet shown you any game by Tarrasch, you have seen a beautiful endgame from Nimzowitsch in the first game discussed in Endgame tactics: learn from master play.

However, in the diagram position at the end of 35 moves, you will see that Tarrasch had something to show to his younger rival.

gaining time to promote pawn

36. Kh5 Rb5
37. Kg4 Rxf5 White avoided 37. Rxb5 as after 37. … axb5 the pawn cannot be stopped. So White tried first to bring his King closer to Black’s RP
38. Kxf5 a5 Now White thinks of stepping inside the Square to stop the pawn and Black has to think on how to gain time to promote his pawn!
39. Ke4 f5+! White resigned as he is unable to guard against both the Black pawns

You see how Black gains time by throwing the BP at White King!

If 40. Kxf5, the White King has to step outside the square and Black plays 40. … a4 to get it promoted.

If White disregards the Black BP and plays 40. Kd4, Black will first play 40. … f4 to stop White’s NP from advancing and then maneuvers his King to capture both the White pawns to promote his BP.

If you have doubt, you can count that White King needs 7 moves from its d4 square to be able to capture the RP and return to e2 square to guard against promotion of Black’s BP at f8.

But Black’s King needs 5 moves to capture both White pawns to stand at g2 square and 2 moves for the BP to move from f4 to f2 square, total 7 moves. As the Black King at g2 guards both the promotion square f1 and the BP at f2, the White King at e2 is helpless!

Watch the Game

Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: promoting a passed pawn

Filed under Attacking tactics, Chess lessons, Chess tactics
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We have already shown you how the power of the passed pawn can be used as a chess tactics in the middle game. The strength of this potent weapon cannot be overstressed. There are plenty of examples in master games where major pieces have been sacrificed to clear the path of a pawn to its promotion square.

A question may naturally arise as to the point in giving up a Queen (assuming that was the piece sacrificed) to promote a pawn to get back the Queen! The benefit may come in several ways.

We consider it a sacrifice when a Queen is exchanged with a few pawns or a minor piece or even a Rook. When you get back the Queen, your opponent does not get back his lost material. So you become a gainer to that extent.

Even when the Queen is given up without compensation, it may at least draw key offensive or defensive pieces away from their vantage points. The promoted Queen starts its life behind the enemy lines, so to say, and in the absence of the key pieces that have been diverted, it may attack the enemy position more effectively than the original Queen. That gives added advantage to you.

Sometimes a key square at opponent’s base line may not be directly accessible to your Queen and even when possible, the maneuvering you have to make may take considerable time. A passed pawn headed for that key square creates a Queen ready at the right position once the pawn gets promoted; all you need is to keep pushing it forward by removing the obstacles through timely sacrifices.

If you see some examples from master play, the concept will become quite clear. The illustrative game was played between Ludwig Engels and Geza Maroczy at the Dresden tournament of 1936.

Ludwig Engels (1905-1967) was an IM and one of the leading German players in the 1930’s. In the tournament where the present game was played, he came out second behind Alekhine. He was at Buenos Aires in 1939 as part of German team for the Chess Olympiad but got stranded due to the start of Second World War. He later moved to Brazil and settled in Sau Paolo as a trainer in Sao Paolo Chess Club.

We have introduced you to Maroczy in connection with another use of sacrifice in Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: breaking the walls of the castle! As luck would have it, in that example also Maroczy happened to be at the receiving end!

The diagram shows the position after 24 moves have been completed and White is now aware of the potential of the passed QP that is now in his possession. His subsequent play is all aimed at promoting this passed pawn.

sacrifices to carry a passed pawn through

25. Qd1 Rc8
26. d6 Nd7 Black has thrown a lot of obstacles in the pawn’s path, but White has seen the way around those
27. Qg4 Nb6 Black is also ready to counter the pawn’s advance
28. Rxb2! Qxb2 The first surprise salvo by White, giving up the Rook for a Bishop
29. Qxc8+ Nxc8 The second salvo, sacrificing the Queen for a Rook. If Black tries to move the King away instead of capturing the Queen, White becomes the gainer of a full Rook! But once the Queen is taken, the pawn’s path is clear!
30. d7 Resigns The problem for Black is that the Pawn has got two promotion squares, 31. dxc8=Q or 31. d8=Q! No way Black can guard both the squares. And with the White Queen at the backyard with a check and the Rook and Bishop ready to come out in support, Black’s two passed pawns have no time to pose any threat.

Watch the Game

Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: to gain tempo

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Chess Sacrifice as Chess Tactics identified sacrifice as a tactics to gain tempo. Gaining a tempo is an important chess tactics that provides you with an initiative (see Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: to seize initiative) whereby you take a lead forcing the opponent to passively follow what your moves dictate! You achieve a tempo by threatening to capture a piece, or to gain substantial material, or to deliver a check – any of which will need the opponent to attend to these immediate threats, shelving for the time being the plans he wanted to pursue. Diverting the opponent’s plan, you get enough time to continue with your attack to a successful end.

In our recent posting of some Chess Trivia on current list of Grandmasters, we referred to Andre Lilienthal, the oldest living Grandmaster at 98! While fervently wishing him to complete his century, we thought that the best tribute we could pay is to use one of his brilliant games against a player no less than the great Capablanca.

The game hardly needs any comment and we use it to show the use of sacrifice as a chess tactics to gain tempo and how a tempo can continue to be maintained.

You have already been introduced to Lilienthal (b. 1911), and Capablanca (1888-1942) certainly does not need it, and if we were to start on those lines, this article could never be completed within bounds of reasonable space and time!

This game was played at Hastings tournament in 1935. Seeing that it is a short game of 26 moves and because of the way the game was played, we are reproducing the full game here.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Bb4
4. a3 Bxc3+
5. bxc3 b6
6. f3 d5
7. Bg5 h6
8. Bh4 Ba6
9. e4 Bxc4
10. Bxc4 dxc4
11. Qa4+ Qd7
12. Qxc4 Qc6
13. Qd3 Nbd7
14. Ne2 Rd8
15. 0-0 a5
16. Qc2 Qc4
17. f4 Rc8
18. f5 e5
19. dxe5 Qxe4


A queen sacrifice to gain tempo


20. exf6 Qxc2 White gains tempo by capturing the Knight that was providing support to the Queen. Now White was threatening to capture the unsupported Black Queen. That the reverse was also true was the point on which White made his Queen sacrifice! If Black captured the f6 pawn with his Knight to support his Queen, White could initiate Queen exchange leaving Black with a Knight short!
21. fxg7 Rg8 White continued to maintain tempo by threatening to capture the Rook, in the process promoting his pawn to Queen and delivering check to Black King – all in one move! So Black had to guard against this threat.
22. Nd4 Qe4 White still maintains tempo by shifting focus to other end to threaten the Black Queen. But there was a deadlier threat of quick mate starting with 23. Rae1+. Black had to give up his Queen to meet the multiple threats!
23. Rae1 Nc5 23. … Qxe1 24. Rxe1+ Ne5 25. Rxe5+
24. Rxe4+ Nxe4
25. Re1 Rxg7
26. Rxe4+ Kd7 and Black resigned with this. White’s 27. Bf6 followed by 28. Nb5 would pose problems too much to handle for Black.

It can be said that Lilienthal played a perfect game reminiscent of Capablanca in his prime!

Watch Actual Game

Chess Trivia: What the List of Grandmasters reveal

Filed under General Chess, Offtopic

Wikipedia has a list of all the Grandmasters, updated up to 2008 and contains 1267 names.

Our analysis of this list revealed some interesting information.


A. The Oldest and the Youngest to receive the title

Enrico Paoli (1908-2005) of Italy was awarded Grandmaster title at the age of 88, the oldest ever.

Sergey Karjakin (b.1990) of Ukraine was awarded Grandmaster title at the age of 12, the youngest ever.


B. They are not alone, others are close by

In the Senior group, there are 5 others who got their GM title after they crossed 80. They are:

  • Jacques Mieses (1865-1954) of Germany got it in 1950 (Inaugural list) at 85 years
  • George Koltanowski (1903-2000) of USA got it in 1988 at 85 years
  • Vladimir Makogonov (1904-1993) of Azerbaijan got it in 1987 at 83 years
  • Mario Monticelli (1902-1995) of Italy got it in 1985 at 83 years
  • Esteban Canal (1896-1981) of Peru got it in 1977 at 81 years

Jacques Mieses would certainly have got it much before, had the formal rating system existed earlier.

In the Junior group, there are 8 others who got their GM title before they reached 15. They are:

Name Country Year Born Year GM GM at
Parimarjan Negi India 1993 2005 12
Etienne Bacrot France 1983 1997 14
Bu Xiangzhi China 1985 1999 14
Teimur Radjabov Azerbaijan 1987 2001 14
Magnus Carlsen Norway 1990 2004 14
Ngoc Nguyen Vietnam 1990 2004 14
Wesley So Philippines 1993 2007 14
Hou Yifan China 1994 2008 14


From above, you will possibly agree that prodigies are not bound by any geographical boundary!


C. The Patriarch of them all!

The oldest living Grandmaster is Andre Lilienthal of Hungary, born in 1911 and now 98 years old. We all wish to see him complete a well-deserved century!


D. The latest one

As per this list, the latest player to join the Grandmasters is Billy Joe Mills (b.1983) of USA who got the title this year (2009).


E. What is the most likely age for becoming a GM?

Excluding 27 Grandmasters who got the title in 1950 (the inaugural year for awarding title by FIDE) as it does not truly reflect when they reached the GM standard and another two names for whom birthdates are not available, there are 1238 names in the list. It is noted that the number of people who became GM in different range of age can be tabulated as below:

Age Group No. of GM
11 – 20 233
21 – 30 606
31 – 40 293
41 – 50 62
51 – 60 14
61 – 70 16
71 – 80 9
81 – 90 5


This can be better projected by a chart as shown below:

Likely age for becoming GM

It can be seen that two-thirds of the total number of GMs achieved it before they crossed 30, out of whom two-thirds achieved it when they were no longer ‘teenagers’!


F. Have the astrologers got something to say on this?

Discounting 10 names for whom birth month is not given, there are 1257 Grandmasters listed. Out of them, about 50% (617) were born in the first five months from January to May, almost uniformly distributed (average 124 per month). Rest 50% (640) were born in the later seven months from June to December, again almost uniformly distributed (average 94 per month). With reference to overall monthly average of 105, the average for the first 5 months of the year is 20% more, whereas that for the next 7 months is 10% less.

Does it mean you stand a better chance of being a Grandmaster if your birthday falls during January to May?


G. Does Numerology reveal any pattern?

For those who do not know about numerology, it is a sister (I do not know why FATE is taken as a woman, I’m just following the convention) to astrology, Numerologists hold that numbers (represented by your birth date, full date of birth, your house number, the numbers representing your name etc. etc.) hold significance for your life status!

Of course the date of the month when you were born is considered something of prime importance, so much so that you will find regular astrological columns in, newspapers, magazines etc. that run like ‘what this day/week/month/year holds for you if your birth number is 1, 2, 3, … 8, 9’!

Those uninitiated will ask: why up to 9 when there can be up to 31 days in a month?

Well, the numerology practitioners reduce all numbers to a single digit i.e., 1 to 9 (no 0 obviously). If it is a single digit date, no problem but for double digits, you keep adding the two digits till you get a single digit e.g., if you were born on 17th, it reduces to 8 (=1+7). If born on 29th, it reduces to 2. (2+9 gives 11 which in turn gives 1+1=2, got the idea?)

Leaving out 10 for whom birth date is missing, we checked the remaining 1257 in the GM list to find the distribution of the numerological birth numbers 1 to 9, counting as 1 all birth dates of 1, 10, 19 and 28, 4 for birth dates of 4, 13, 22 and 31, 9 for birth dates 9, 18, and 27, etc. The graph below shows the result.

Has birth number any significance?

You will find two zig-zag lines, one in RED other in BLUE, the lines for birth numbers 1 to 4 should be taken as common to both RED and BLUE. The RED graph depicts the number of GMs having a particular birth number e.g. 175 GMs with birth number 1 (which stands for birth dates 1, 10, 19 and 28), remembering that for numbers 1 to 4, the graphs are common.

The Black line with short dashes represents the trend pattern of the RED line. Ahh, see how that slopes down, the numerologists will say. Number 1 is tops! People with 1 as birth number has much greater possibility of being a GM than those with 9 as birth number!

Hold on for a moment, please. Do you know why I have plotted two lines? Has it occurred to you that whereas birth numbers up to 4 can cover 4 dates (though not in all months), numbers 5 to 9 can represent only 3 dates each? Statistically, would you expect more people under numbers 1 to 4 (each covering 4 dates) than under numbers 5 to 9 (each covering 3 dates)? You would, wouldn’t you?

To level the field, I RATIONALIZED for the inbuilt disadvantage for numbers 5 to 9 by using a multiplying factor of 1.33 (=4/3). The results are plotted as BLUE line for numbers 5 to 9. The trend line for this RATIONALIZED graph for numbers 1 to 9 (no rationalization was needed for 1 to 4, of course) is shown as a Black line with long dashes. And now what? This trend line is practically horizontal giving equal chance to all aspiring people for becoming a GM, whatever birth date they may have!

Well, if you say that even after RATIONALIZATION, those with 8 as birth number seem to have some edge, I have nothing to say!

Or may be something to say! Die-hard numerologists will trash all my statistics by using that famous quote on ‘three kinds of lies: lies, d—-d lies, and statistics’ ascribed to Benjamin Disraeli, but I do not know if Disraeli was a numerologist!