Category Archives: Attacking tactics

Chess Combinations: beauties from lesser known masters – 1

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In Chess Combinations: the eternal beauties of chess, we tried to examine our fascination for beautiful combinations. We also made the point that you do not always have to look at the games by the likes of Morphy, Marshall, Capablanca, Alekhine, Tal, Kasparov and others of their ilk for unearthing such beauties. Even amateurs at local clubs or tournaments are known to have produced brilliancies. In fact, in this series of articles we only want to look at such combinations from games of players whose names may not be universally familiar.

Besides the enjoyment you may derive from such combinations, these may also help you to understand the tactical ideas that gave rise to those surprising moves. Once you get to analyze the situations that produced it, you may be able to create some beauties of your own, who knows?

In the position shown below, you do not see any immediate danger for Black King even though White Queen is in readiness to pounce on h7 pawn if his Knight could come to g5. Most of White’s attacking pieces are on the Kingside, and either of White Rooks could come to g-file or h-file via third rank when the opportunity arises. Against this offensive battery, Black’s close defensive pieces are the Knight at e7 and Rook at f8, other pieces being mostly on the Queenside. If Black had a knight on f6 square, it would greatly help the defenses but his Knight at d4 cannot go there now as an exchange attack by White Knight at e4 will break up the castle. Let us see what transpires now.

 

Position after 18. Qh3:
 
combination1a
 
18. Nf4   An attempt to drive the Queen away and to reposition Knights.
 
19. Qg4 Ned5   White threatened the Knight while shifting focus on g7 pawn and creating a pin on that pawn. Black brings support for his attacked Knight and is ready to advance his KBP to chase away the White Knights.
 
Here is a point on chess strategies. It is not considered a good practice to make the knights support each other except during the process of positioning or where situation precludes other options. Knights play much better when they are side by side (like what can be seen for White Knights) with support from other pieces.
 
20. Ra3 Ne6   White’s intention to bring a Rook to g-file or h-file is clear now. Apprehending a lineup of White Queen and Rook along g-file, Black makes his Knight ready to guard the g-pawn and g5 square against White’s N4. But he missed (or felt that he could tackle) the other threats by the Knight, exploiting the pin on g7 pawn. Black also missed some other defensive resources.
 
21. Bxd5 cxd5   We talked about the value of defensive posting of Knight on f6 square. White takes care to eliminate that scope and the exchange enabled White Knight at e4 to move without any loss of tempo.
 
22. Nf6+! Kh8   Once the King moved, the g7 pawn got unpinned and was ready to capture the Knight which was a threat to Black’s h7 pawn if White’s Rook came to h-file.
 
Position after 22. … Kh8
 
combination1b
 
23. Qg6!   The bolt from the blue! White threatened 24. Qxh7#.
Let us see the possibilities:
23. … fxg6 24. Nxg6+ hxg6 25. Rh3#
23. … hxg6 24. Rh3#
23. … gxf6 24.Qxf6+ Kf8 25. Rg3+ Ng5 26. Rxg5#
23. … gxf6 24.Qxf6+ Ng7 25. Rg3 Rg8 26. Nxf7+ Qxf7 27. Qxf7 wins
23. … Ng5 24. Qxg5 g6 25. Qh6 with mate to follow.
 
23. Qc2   The only option left out!
 
24. Rh3 Resigns   24. … Qxg6 25. Nxg6+ fxg6 26. Rxh7# or
24. … h6 25. Rxh6+ gxh6 26. Qxh6+ Qh7 27. Qxh7# or
24. … Ng5 25. Qxg5 gxf6 26. Qxf6+ Kg8 27. Rg3+ Qg6 28. Nxg6 fxg6 29. Rxg6+ hxg6 30. Qxg6+ Kh8 31. Qh6+ (to guard against … Rc1#) Kg8 32. Re7 Rf7 33. Qg6+ Kh8 34. Qh5+ with mate in two moves.

 

A very effective demonstration of the power of pin and the mobilization/coordination of pieces.

 

Center control in Chess makes for a forceful attack

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A vivid example on importance of center control in chess showed you the importance of this aspect of chess openings. At the risk of overstressing the point, here we bring another short game played with Sicilian Defense which is supposed to give Black a good fighting chance against White’s King Pawn opening.

We have already discussed about the theory behind one variation of Sicilian opening in Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1 and showed examples in Chess Opening: Sicilian Defense Theory to Practice about the kind of play that can win for White or Black.

Sicilian Defense is the choice of combative players because Black is playing to create advantage, not just to achieve equality. At the same time, Black must realize that by not directly going for the control of center, he may be allowing White an early initiative. Therefore Black has to play carefully so as not to be swept off his feet by a quick attack before his own thrusts have taken effect.

Just adopting Sicilian Defense without this realization is not going to help Black to get the upper hand. He must be prepared to play aggressively but precisely in line with the theories to snatch the initiative, otherwise it could be a recipe for swift demise! That is what happened in the following game played at Bad Gastein in 1948 and we try to identify where Black went wrong and allowed White his brilliant attack.

Nicolas
Rossolimo

 
Ivan
Romanenko
 
1. e4   Aims to control d5 and f5 and create space for King side initiative
 
1. c5    
 
Shows black’s intention to go for Sicilian Defense.
 
This move apparently violates the principle of controlling the central and semi-central squares as it applies pressure only to d4.
 
Unlike moves like …e5 or …Nc6 which challenge center control or develop minor pieces, …c5 does neither. It also needs some more pawn movements like …d6, …e6, …a6 etc., allowing White a lead in development with attacking chances.
 
Then why go for it?
 
On the positive side, it gives Black

  • space advantage on Queenside and further actions on that flank
  • pawn majority at center by exchanging this pawn with White’s d4 pawn when he advances it to get full control of center
  • control of open c-file after the exchange, using his Queen or Rook in that file to facilitate Queenside counterplay
2. Nf3 Nc6   Moves and countermoves to wrest control of d4 and e5 squares
 
3. Bb5  
 
To quote Al Horowitz, this move was ‘actually an idea of Nimzowitsch, who called it one of his little jokes in the opening’. It was Rossolimo who adopted it many times to achieve remarkable success (as in the present game). That is how this line of Sicilian Defense goes under the name of Nimzowitsch-Rossolimo attack (ECO code: B31)
 
The main purpose is to get a rapid development and a strong center with c3 and d4. The struggle for d4 dictates the tactics for both sides and Black must be ready to capture on d4, else White gets great lead in development.
 
3. g6   Black is getting ready to develop his KB to g7 and to apply pressure on d4 and e5 squares.
 
White’s usual intention is to play Bxc6, giving Black doubled pawns. Black’s major responses are 3…g6 preparing …Bg7, 3…d6 preparing …Bd7, and 3…e6 preparing 4…Nge7.
 
4. 0-0 Bg7   White safeguards his King and wants to use KR as part of his attacking plans. Black of course carries on with his development plans.
 
Position after 4 moves
rossolimo_variation1
 
5. Re1   Normal continuation is 5. c3 Qb6 with a struggle for control of d4. The text move was introduced by Gurgenidze for expected line of play along 5. Re1 e5 6. b4
 
5. Nf6   This changes track from control of d4 to attacking e4 pawn and exposed the Knight to an early attack.
 
6. Nc3   White develops his Knight to support his QP as also his KB and adds to the control of d5
 
6. Nd4  
 
In keeping with the strategy discussed against move 3, Black should have gone for 6. … e5 followed later by …Qb6. Other alternatives would be 6 … d6 to enable …Bd7 or to safeguard his King (because of the distant and not so distant pins by White’s Bishop and Rook) by …0-0. The text move was not consistent with any of these ideas and hence a questionable move.
 
7. e5 Ng8   Black’s inhibited play and inconsistencies allow White considerable space in center with tempo through attacks on enemy pieces.
 
8. d3 Nxb5   See how Black is surrendering all initiative to White. While White opens lines for his QB, Black’s QB is still locked in and his King’s Knight has retreated and blocked castling for his King. His center pawns remain immobile. The exchange of Knight and Bishop was originally the intention of White’s 3rd move to reduce Black’s control on d4 and e5. Without being forced, Black Knight has taken the trouble of wasting several moves to give White what he wanted!
 
9. Nxb5 a6   Another questionable move by Black. As subsequent moves show, White’s QN was headed for d6 square, Black’s move just assisted it in taking that step!
 
One of the basic tenets in chess is that you should not force a badly placed enemy piece to move to a better square. By extension of the logic, do not induce your opponent to take a move that he was ready to take. Both these lose tempo for you as you could use that time to make more profitable moves for your own pieces.
 
Position after 9 moves
rossolimo_variation2
 
10. Nd6+! exd6?   White knew that the capture of his Knight would give him a fierce attacking opportunity and so his move was an excellent idea. But Black still fell for it, making a bad situation really worse by exposing his King to the possibility of a discovered check. After this, White’s attack through a brilliant combination simply rolls on.
 
11. Bg5!  
 
White has timed his moves to perfection! He held back the discovered check to first drive away the Queen which could come to some help against what White planned. With an immediate discovered check, Black would be able to extricate himself with Ne7.
 
There is a couple of important lessons here. Firstly, you can sometimes get out of a difficult situation by returning the material that was sacrificed by your opponent to gain an attack. By doing this, you are still even on material, but the opponent’s attack may fizzle out. Trying to hold on to the material only adds to your difficulties.
 
Secondly, you need not be in a hurry to execute a move which is there for the taking when you can make some other move that compels your opponent to attend to it first. All good players know this maxim of looking for a better move when a good move has been found.
 
The text move by White takes care of both these possibilities.
 
11. Qa5   11. … Qb6 would not be any better.
 
12. exd6+ Kf8  
 
At this stage, White’s win was only a matter of time and most players would possibly go for the simple 13. Qe2 with one likely line as:
 
13. Qe2 Bf6 14. Qe8+ Kg7 15. Ne5 (threatening 16. Qxf7#) Bxg5 16. Qxf7+ Kh6 17. Qf8+ Kh5 18. g4+ Kh4 19. Qf3 (threatening 20. Qg3#) Bf4 20.Qxf4 Nf6 (or Qb4) 21. Nf3+ Kh3 22. Qg3#
 
But White found a more elegant line.
 
Position after 12 moves
rossolimo_variation3
 
13. Re8+! Kxe8  
14. Qe2+ Kf8  
15. Be7+ Ke8   15. … Nxe7 16. Qxe7+ Kg8 17. Ng5 with Qf7# to follow
 
Position after 15 moves
rossolimo_variation4
 
16. Bd8+! Kxd8  
17. Ng5 Resigns   It is either 18. Nf7# or 17. … Nh6 18. Qe7#
 
The final position:
rossolimo_variation5

 

Analyzing a position to create combinations

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In Working out Chess Combinations, you could work out an eight-move combination by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and to some extent worked your way backwards to find the moves that created the winning combination. But in the previous examples, there were quite a few pieces on board and the mobility, at least for some pieces, was restricted so that you could eliminate a good number of possibilities.

In the problem that we are posing now, there are only a few pawns and some heavy pieces on the board which is open to both sides for moving respective Queen and Rook. In fact, many beginners get daunted by such positions because they think that there are too many moves possible for their Queen and Rook and taken together with the responses from opponent’s Queen and Rook, the number of combinations may be overwhelming! Let us now examine if we risk getting bogged up in the maze of moves!

finding combination in an open game

I do not have to say who has got the move because if it were White, this discussion would not be necessary. With Queen and Rook on the seventh rank, it is only a matter of two checks by the Queen to checkmate the Black King. But Black having the move, you have to be acutely aware that Black cannot let go of checks if aforesaid action by White has to be stalled. You should also note that in absence of Black Queen and Rook from their base rank, Rb8+ by White is enough to checkmate Black King.

If you consider Qc4+, you know that White Queen cannot interpose by Qe2 as in that case Rd1+ mates the White King (the Queen being pinned cannot capture the Rook). So only option for White is to move the King and e1 is the only escape square available for that. But then Black’s only move is Rd1+ and after Kxd1, he can try Qd3+. Of course White cannot play Kc1 (you work that out), but Ke1 allows still one more check by Qd2+. The White King has to move to f1 but further check by Black at d1 or d3 allows White to interpose with his Queen (by Qe1 or Qe2). After this, Black soon runs out of checks and that puts paid to further resistance by Black. So this line is not tenable.

That leaves Black with only Rd1+ when White’s only option is Ke2. If Black now tries Rd2+, White King can retreat to previous position and Black has nothing left but a draw by repetition of moves. But will you be that desperate for a draw before exploring other options?

You can see that Qg4+ supports the Rook and allows White only two options:
(i) move King to e3 (i.e., Ke3)
(ii) interpose with pawn by f3

It may look that Ke3 is not viable as Black can play Re1+ to capture White Queen. But can Black do that? As soon as Black plays a non-forcing move like Rxe7, White’s Rb8+ leads to checkmate of Black King!

On Ke3 by White, Qd4+ forces the King to move to f3, as Ke2 allows Qd3# mate by Black. With King at f3, Black’s Rd3+ forces King to e2 (you should think why interposition by White Queen at e3 is now futile) but next check by Rd2+ brings King back to f3. Now Black’s Qxf2+ drives the King into the wide open and it should be possible for you to keep checks going with Queen and Rook for a checkmate if King remains on e-file, but if it moves towards g-file, a pawn check at appropriate time ends the White King’s journey!

What about the other option of interposing by pawn move f3? Trying to guard the diagonal, White exposes the King along rank 2 and Black can play Qxg2+! White cannot take the Rook as that would allow checkmate by Qd2#. So the only move for White is Ke3. On Qd2+, the King is forced into the open by its only move Ke4. Black keeps pressure on by Qd4+ and King is driven into the hands of the Black pawns and Black Rook can also attack by Rg1+ when King moves to g-file. You can certainly work out the rest.

So you are now sure that after Black’s first move of Rd1+ in the diagram position, White King cannot avoid checkmate whatever it may do.

In the actual game, played between Heinrich Wolf and Jacques Mieses at Monte Carlo in 1902, White chose the option (ii) at his 30th move and Black delivered checkmate after another 5 moves.

So far as this and the examples in related previous articles on chess combination are concerned, we could find the way by following a methodical approach. But I also told you that such system may not work universally. Situations where a combination came out of the sheer brilliance of a mind and could not be seen even by a Grandmaster opponent, such analysis may not show the way beyond a certain step. This is particularly true where a move makes sense only when seen in context of subsequent moves and the brilliancy is realized by taking all these moves together. The following example is a case in point.

a famous combination

The position shows that Black has one Bishop less but he has two passed pawns extra, one being only two moves away from promotion. Black Rook at a5 is in a position to capture the Bishop at e5 and also to move to a1 for capturing the Queen. Obviously, it is White’s move now and he has to tackle these threats, possible only by forcing moves on Black King to retain a tempo. On the plus side, White has Rook and Queen lined up on f-file and if the line can be opened, he can plan his assault on Black King, possibly with help from his Bishop attacking the g7 pawn and the Rook at c3 moving up to 7th or 8th rank when it can do so. But while working out the attacking plans, White cannot afford to lose a tempo, otherwise Black will launch his counter-attack as described above.

It is easy to see that White can play Ng6+ creating a fork on the Queen and White will be obliged to capture the Knight with f-pawn. White in turn can play fxg3 thereby opening the f-file and the discovered check retains tempo with White. It is apparent that Black cannot play Ke8 (because of White’s Rf8+ and Qf7#) or Ke7 (due to White’s Rf7+ / Qf5+ / Bg3+ / Qd3#). So the only possible move by Black that does not lose immediately is Kg1.

If White plays Rf7 with intention to play Rxg7 leading to mate, Black can counter this by capturing the Bishop with Rxe5 and threatening Re1 next, when White’s plans fall through. Were White’s Rook not standing in his Queen’s way, Qf7+ would be possible but as it stands now, White cannot afford to lose tempo by playing Rf7.

This far could be analyzed through a systematic approach, but can White take his initiative forward beyond this point? It is very difficult to imagine and needed real brilliance by White to make this a famous combination because of his next two moves!

You may give it a try before going through the following moves.

From the diagram position, the game proceeded as follows:

1. Ng6+ fxg6  
2. fxg6+ Kg8  
3. Rc8! Rxc8   The move by White together with his next move were difficult to anticipate
 
4. Rxc2! Rf8   White’s move cleared f-file for Queen while retaining the tempo.
White’s Rook cannot be captured because of the threat Qf7+ leading to mate.
 
5. Rc8 Qe7   White keeps attacking the f7 and f8 squares and Black tried to counter these threats
 
6. Qc4+ Kh8   6. Bd6 can be countered by 6. … Ra1+
 
7. Qh4 Ra1+   Black has nothing better to do as 7. … Qxh4 allows Rxf8#
 
8. Bxa1 Qe3+   desperation!
 
9. Kh1 Rxc8   While starting on his combination, White must have seen that Black has no more check after his King moved to h1.
10. Qxh5+ Kg8  
11. Qh7+ Kf8  
12. Qxg7+ Ke8  
13. Qf7+ Kd8  
14. Bf6+ 1-0   Checkmate is inevitable on White’s next move

 

Working out Chess Combinations

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In the first article on Chess Tactics: Method Approach to Calculating Combinationson, we shared our ideas on how to proceed systematically for analyzing a situation for its inherent possibilities. The subsequent step is to work out our next sequence of moves which comprises a chess combination. The whole game of chess is expected to consist of many such nodal points where each node is planned (hopefully!) to yield some advantage, however microscopic it may be. In accumulating these advantages as we proceed from node to node, we expect at some stage to have enough to give us a win – well, that is the general idea!

While describing some suggested methods, we showed a simple example on how to put the ideas into practice. Continuing on the theme in Looking to find the best chess combination in a middle game position, we took up two slightly more complex positions and tried to apply the method for finding out the actual moves that were played over the board.

We will now examine another position and see how far our methods can help to reach the goals we seek. In the position shown below, Black has the move and we will try to figure out his best course of action.

a Morphy combination

You notice that in terms of material, White has a huge advantage because of his Queen against a Bishop. But look where the Queen is! Excepting for a support to the Rook at f1, a defensive role, it serves no useful purpose and could as well be not there on the board! White QB has become a bad Bishop, being blocked in by the White pawns in front and the QR position is no better. Only the KR has scope of some activity but, for now, it has taken away one escape square for the totally exposed White King in case of a Rook check from g6 along the open g-file. In such event, the King perforce has to move to h1.

You also realize that Black’s Rook at e8 can freely move to e1 when necessary to attack the White King on its base rank, provided the White Rook can be made to leave its present rank. Black’s KB can also join the battle any time by capturing the f2 pawn under certain situations. In a nutshell, Black should be able to force White’s surrender – all it needs is to find the sequence of moves!

When White is forced to move his King by Kh1 because of Black’s Rg6+, a check by Black’s QB from g2 (i.e., Bg2+) would force White to play Kg1. The Bishop then captures the f3 pawn (i.e., Bxf3) to deliver a discovered check from the Rook at g6 and White King has nowhere to go (assuming his Rook remaining at f1).

To enable Bg2+, Black needs to play Bh3 after White’s Kh1 and this, inter alia, attacks the Rook at f1 also. White has only two options:
(i) play Rg1 for capturing the Black Bishop when it comes to g2, or
(ii) play Rd1 to vacate the f1 square for the King’s escape from the discovered check.

We can disregard White’s move like Qd3 to attack the Rook at g3, as it can easily be nullified by Black playing f4 (White could still try Qc4+ but Black’s Kh8 puts an end to it), and then Black can continue with original plans.

If we probe further, we can see that if White plays Rg1, Black could still play Bg2+. This is because, as we noted earlier, the move Rxg2 makes the Rook leave the base rank allowing Black to play Re8+ which becomes decisive!

So the first option (Rg1) is ruled out and we have to consider White’s Rook move to d1. Black can go ahead as before but now White King can move to f1. In this position, Rook at g6 can move to g2 for playing Rxf2+ on next move. White King cannot go to e1, so it has to go back to g1. Black then plays Rg2+ which creates double check by Rook and Bishop and irrespective of King’s move to f1 or h1, it is checkmate by Rg1#.

But what if White plays Qxb6 to stall White’s Rxf2+? No problem, Black captures Rxh2 and White cannot prevent the coming Rh1#.

We can now write down the moves:


1. …        Rg6+
2. Kh1     Bh3
3. Rd1     Bg2+
4. Kg1     Bxf3+
5. Kf1      Rg2
6. Qd3     Rxf2+     (6. Qxb6   Rxh2   7. any   Rh1#)
7. Kg1     Rg2++
8. Kf1      Rg1#

See how you could work out a combination comprising 8 moves! Only thing is that the actual player of Black pieces did not have to think this long to work it out. I am quite sure of it, seeing that he was none other than Paul Morphy! I come nowhere near Morphy, so I can be excused! However, Morphy played the moves a little differently and you can play through the game at any online archive to see how he did it.

Louis Paulsen, who played as White and was among the top five players of that period, propounded the idea that any brilliant attack would fail against correct defense. This idea found acceptance with Steinitz, a future World Champion. But the curious point is that Paulsen failed to prove his idea in this game played at New York in 1857!

 

Looking to find the best chess combination in a middle game position

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In my view, all chess players get some inspirational ideas from time to time enabling them to produce that game of a lifetime! But since you will like to win on other days also, you cannot solely depend on that stroke of imaginative tactical ideas. You have to find some ways to make your perception work for you to produce, if not a brilliancy, at least a good combination or chess tactics whereby you get an upper hand over your opponent. In Chess Tactics: Method Approach to Calculating Combinations, we presented some methodical approach to find chess tactics that can yield better results on an average.

Lest you come to a wrong conclusion of this being a surefire way to create your combinations, we again stress that the method approach to chess tactics may not be possible for all situations by average players. In several earlier discussions, we have shown where even top Grandmasters could not find the winning move in a particular situation. You may go through Chess Tactics: The role of memory to see how Smyslov failed to find the move that enabled Chigorin to win in a similar situation 40 years earlier.

One of the reasons of failing to see some combinations is our mental block on certain possibilities. A Queen is such an important piece that we automatically assume that when the Queen is under attack by a Pawn/Knight/Bishop/Rook, the defender will try to protect it. That the Queen may have been marked for a sacrifice generally escapes our mind.

Let us see if the method approach would enable us to find the combination employed by Nezhmetdinov against Polugayevsky in the diagram position that was discussed in Importance of chess strategy – Part 2.

preparing for a Queen sacrifice

In the referred article, you have seen how the game proceeded after White had accepted the Queen sacrifice. Let us see if we can find what prompted Black to make the sacrifice.

Using the system we discussed in Chess Tactics: Method Approach to Calculating Combinations, what can you see in the above position? What are the escape squares for White King? Only d2 and d4, but d2 will not be available if the White Knight moved, which can be induced by an attack on the f4 pawn in the firing line of Black’s Bishop and Rook. Once the Knight moves, Black King loses the escape hole at d2 and now a check by Nxc2+ will take away d4 also. So the King gets checkmated unless White Queen is forced to capture the Knight by Qxc2, and that means losing the Queen because of Black’s Qxc2 with mate threat still looming large!

Therefore, you would expect White to capture the Queen, may be just because it is available (!) or because of seeing through aforesaid combination. After Black plays Rxf4, White has to decide between capturing Black Queen or Black Rook! We have seen how capturing the Rook affects White (he may resist moving the Knight by playing gxf4 but then Bxf4+ leaves no alternative!) and so we would bank on White’s Rxh2. We need not break our head on further analysis as Nezhmetdinov showed the way! (Refer Importance of chess strategy – Part 2)

Are we getting somewhere in using this type of method approach? Let us take up another example to see if it helps there also.

finding a mating combination

On previous move, White QB captured a pawn at f4, forcing Black to move his Queen from h6 to e6. It is White’s turn now. It will be apparent that Black is not posing any worthwhile threat. Black King has only three escape holes at f7, h7 and h8 in case of a check along g-file, possible by Rxg7 and then by Rg1 (after the King captures the Rook). White Queen can move to h5 square with check to deny all those three squares to Black King if it moves to f7 and Black’s Queen and other pieces are unable to prevent it. If the King tries to move to f6 instead of f7, White Bishop can move to e5 to deliver double check and that is the end of it. So the moves are clear:


1. Rxg7+     Kxg7
2. Rg1+       Kf7
3. Qh5+       Kf6
4. Qg6#

In the actual game played between Lasker and Teichmann at St. Petersburg in 1909, Teichmann resigned after White’s Rxg7+ as he could see what was coming.