Category Archives: Chess Basics

Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 3

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In continuation of Chess Opening: Control of Center to show how different openings aim to control the center squares, we now examine the opening strategy behind Queen’s Gambit Declined. This opening has been considered as one of the most reliable defenses of Black against White’s d4. The position reached by the moves described here can be achieved through many other sequence of moves. All these QGD openings are covered under ECO codes D30-D69 and all aim to create a foothold in the center by advancing pawns or using pieces while developing them.

The main idea for White is to offer a gambit of QBP as a temporary sacrifice, which weakens Black’s hold on the center whereas Black declines this offer and goes for a solid build-up. His pawn move e6 helps in this and facilitates the development of his KB but has the disadvantage of blocking his QB, the freeing of which remains a headache for Black.

QGD1
1. d4 d5   White takes control of the central square e5 and semi-central c5. Black does same for e4 and c4.
 
QGD2
2. c4 e6   White offers a pawn but this sacrifice is only temporary as White can recapture the Black pawn soon. This gambit and refusal by Black to accept it gives the name to this opening. Black just continues to strengthen his center position.
 
QGD3
3. Nc3 Nf6   The development of these Knights cancels out each other’s influence on e4 and d5 squares to maintain status quo at center.
 
QGD4
4. Bg5 Be7   White creates an indirect pressure on e4 and c5 by pinning Black’s KN and nullifying the Knight’s influence on the center. Black simply removes the pin while developing his KB and clearing the way for castling.
 
5. e3 0-0   White goes for strengthening his center and opening the lines for developing his KB. Black takes this opportune moment to safeguard his King.
 
QGD5
6. Nf3 Nbd7   These create pressure and counter-pressure on e5 square. Additionally, White Knight supports d4 pawn and the QB and Black QN supports KN and the c5 square. White should remain aware that his QB is in the firing line of Black’s KB and Queen.
 

 

White will try to take advantage of the inactive QB while Black has to find a way to activate it or exchange it to free his position. One way to free the QB is to push KP to e5 but Black first needs to exchange his QP to avoid its getting isolated. Other alternative is to bring it out via b7 after playing b6, but it becomes essential to play c5 to maintain a balance at center.

Black usually refrains from exchanging his QP with White’s QBP as it surrenders the center, but can do so when he gets some advantage out of it like gaining a tempo in attacking White’s KB if it moves to d3. Black also uses pawn move c5 to attack White’s center. After an exchange of Black’s QP and White’s QBP, White gets a majority in the center While Black gets a Queenside pawn majority and each player tries to utilize the respective advantages to launch their attacks.

Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 2

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In Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1, we looked at two popular KP openings to understand how those resolved the tussle between White and Black for control of the center. Here we take a similar look at a common QP opening to realize the chess tactics involved in this case.

Nimzo-Indian Defense
The classical theories on the strategy of chess openings, as formulated by the first undisputed World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), was further refined by Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch (1862-1934). These stressed the importance of center control by occupation or by direct application of pressure on those squares by using pawns, developing pieces to support that control, and playing to obstruct opponent’s plans in this regard.

It was Aaron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) who challenged these conventional and fairly universal ideas with his own in My System, which was probably the most widely read book on chess theories. His system found expression in several openings that bear his name, and Nimzo-Indian Defense happens to be the most important among his hypermodern theories and very widely used in master games till today. It appears that the defense was first played in a Rubinstein-Alekhine game at Leningrad in 1914 (won by Black in 28 moves).

What is significant in this opening is that Black does not commit any pawn structure at the start, thus retaining considerable flexibility. Black exerts control on the center indirectly from a distance by use of his pieces and also undermining the influence of enemy pieces on the center.

Let us see how all this is accomplished.

 

nimzo-indian1
1. d4 Nf6   White wants to control the central square e5 and semi-central c5. Black applies pressure on d5 and e4 by the Knight (a direct control would need Black to play d5, which normally leads to Queen’s Gambit opening).
 
nimzo-indian2
2. c4 e6   White now counters Black’s pressure on d5 by his pawn move and Black uses his KP to strengthen his hold on d5.
 
nimzo-indian3
3. Nc3 Bb4   White develops his QN, adding to the pressure on d5 by his QBP and exerting a measure of control on e4. Black again goes the indirect route to nullify the influence of White QN on d5 and e4 by pinning it. Black also creates the possibility of exchanging his KB with White’s QN, surrendering the advantage of Bishop pair to create a liability of doubled pawn for White on c-file.
 

 

In this defense, Black generally puts his QB in fianchetto by playing b6 and Bb7, applying the Bishop’s influence on the long diagonal including the center squares d5 and e4 in harmony with his KN.

If Black exchanges his KB with White’s QN, his strategy will be to close the center to minimize White’s advantage of Bishop pair. You know that an open game gives a great advantage to player having two Bishops and obviously White’s strategy will be to go for such a game.

At this stage, 4. e3, a quiet looking move, is considered to be White’s most potent weapon against Nimzo-Indian Defense. 4. Qc2 (with the idea to retain Bishop pair without doubling of pawn) and 4. a3 (a venturesome continuation and forcing Black’s hand to play 4. … Be7 or 4. … Bxc3) are also playable. Kasparov used 4. Nf3 (a kind of wait-and-watch move) to considerable success against Karpov in their championship match.

To remain within the ambit of our article, we will consider the normal variation only.

 

4. e3 0-0   White consolidates his QP and goes for development by opening a line for his KB.
 
nimzo-indian4
5. Bd3 d5   White is building up his pressure on e4 and will aim to place his KP there. Black continues with his center control by advancing QP.
 
nimzoindian5
6. Nf3 c5   White KN increases his control on e5, but Black undermines the pressure by threatening White’s QP with his QBP.
 
7. 0-0   White has completed his initial development and in case of doubled pawn due to Black exchanging Bishop with Knight, White can hope to undo it if Black takes his QP. Otherwise White can capture with his Knight to position it centrally. Black does not have any problem in completing his development and his share of center offers many chances of counterplay.

 

In Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 3, we will see how the another important QP opening viz. Queen’s Gambit Declined goes about the struggle for the center.

Chess Opening: Control of Center – Part 1

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The theory behind all chess openings is to control the center comprising the squares d4, e4, d5 and e5, and the development of pieces that goes with it. Control of the center by one player helps him to position his pieces more effectively while thwarting the development of opponent’s pieces. You can easily imagine that such a control with its associated benefits can facilitate your win to a great extent.

This control can be achieved in three ways:

  • Firstly, by occupying those squares with your pawns and pieces.
  • Secondly, allowing your opponent to occupy the center and then attacking and undermining the position.
  • Lastly, exerting control from a distance by means of pieces like Knights and Bishops without directly occupying those center squares.

This control of a square is also known as ‘applying pressure’ on the square by threatening to capture any enemy pawn or piece that may venture to occupy the square.

In Chess Openings: the most popular ones, we tried to show you the most common first moves at the start of a chess game. But you must have noticed that the baker’s dozen of most popular types can ultimately lead to hundreds of different openings, going by the ECO codes that incorporate those opening moves. If you examine any of these openings through the moves that follow, the theme of center control will become apparent by the use of one of the three opening tactics described above.

To see how the different chess openings aim to achieve center control and their pros and cons, let us check four types which are related to the most frequent first moves described in Chess Openings: the most popular ones. Incidentally, two of these openings start with pushing the KP (1. e4) and the other two with QP (1. d4), so a fair representation is made!

We will examine with reference to the following openings:

1. e4-c5 (Sicilian Defense)
2. e4-e5 (Ruy Lopez)
3. d4-Nf6 (Nimzo-Indian Defense)
4. d4-d5 (QGD or Queen’s Gambit Declined)

However, since Ruy Lopez has been discussed earlier in Chess Opening basics: Ruy Lopez, we will examine the other three in this and the next article.

Sicilian Defense:
It has become the most popular choice at master level as it eminently suits a fighting player with Black pieces. As can be seen from the number of ECO codes, there are many variations possible, but here we will consider the Najdorf variation which has become very popular with players like Fischer and Kasparov going for it in a big way.

sicilian1
1. e4 c5   White wants to control the central square d5. Black in turn applies pressure on d4 against advance of White’s QP.
 
sicilian2
2. Nf3 d6   White creates his own pressure on d4 and also on e5. Black’s pawn move opposes this pressure on e5. Here, Black could also play Nc6 which would counter the White KN’s influence. Retaining a control on d5 is a key theme for Black in Sicilian defense in order to free his position by moving his QP to d5.
 
3. d4 cxd4   White does not want to lose initiative, so goes ahead with his QP advance and Black immediately captures the pawn to deny White the hold on the center squares.
 
sicilian3
4. Nxd4 Nf6   White recaptures and positions his KN on a center square. White gets control of half-open d-file while Black gets half-open c-file as also a pawn majority at center. Black now develops his KN threatening White’s KP and exerting pressure on d5.
 
sicilian4
5. Nc3   White counters Black’s plans by bringing out his QN which gives support to his e4 pawn and bolsters his hold on d5.
 
sicilian5
5. a6  

 

For the first time, Black seems to have deviated from the struggle for the center through this defining move for Najdorf variation of Sicilian Defense. What is the idea behind this apparent deviation?

By this move, Black denies b5 square to White‘s Knights and KB. It also prepares for Black’s pawn move to b5 to start a Queenside action and positioning his QB to b7 from where it can bring pressure on d5 square and White’s e4 pawn.

After this, White may generally choose from the sharpest line with 6. Bg5 to quieter, positional games with 6. Be2, and others lying in between like 6. Be3, 6. f3, and 6. Bc4. But further analysis of all those moves will take us into a full discussion of Sicilian Defense, which was not the idea behind this article. We only wanted to show how any opening theory tries to achieve center control and if you understand the means and follow the principles, you will be in the right lines without a need to memorize too many moves!

In next two parts of Chess Opening: Control of Center, we will see how this is achieved in two popular QP openings viz. Nimzo-Indian Defense and Queen’s Gambit Declined.

Revisiting some old chess strategies: Utilizing ‘the Square’

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We are quite sure that all of you studied basic geometry in your school days. Among the first few theorems you studied, there was one that said: sum of any two sides of a triangle is greater than the third. You believed it to be universally true, didn’t you? Well, let me prove that it is not true for some parts of your chessboard!

two sides equal one

Let us consider the triangle formed by the squares a1, d4 and a7. If your King is sitting on a1, how many steps does it need to reach a7 walking along the a-file? Let us count: a2-a3-a4-a5-a6-a7, total 6 steps. Now let it go along the other two sides, a1-d4 and d4-a7, and count: b2-c3-d4-c5-b6-a7, total 6 steps again! Have I proved my point?

Some of you must be wondering what the point is in all this and others may be downright annoyed about such a silly proposition. But if you bear with us, we can tell you that keeping the above in mind can help you to tackle successfully many chess problems involving King and Pawn endings, either for a win or for a draw.

Take the simplest chess endings with a King and Pawn for both sides but positioned near opposite edges of the chessboard. You may have to follow a strategy of keeping options open for your King to move to either edge depending on the tactical plan of your opponent. The chess tactics for you will be to maintain a middle path till your opponent makes that critical move disclosing his plan and you can accordingly move your King to the required side.

middle of the road keeps options open

The above diagram shows the principle behind such tactics. The square a7 can be reached in same number of steps from either a4 or d4 but if you need to move midway to the other edge, you can move to h4 in three steps from d4 against seven steps from a4. We hope you understand the merit of such tactics. If you think carefully, you will realize that the concept of the square lies behind this chess tactics.

To make it clear with an example, we draw your attention to the endgame position described in Chess tactics in end games. For easy reference, the position is reproduced below where White with first move can snatch an ‘impossible’ draw!

White to move and draw

You can see the comments against the moves in the referred article – here we only show how the ‘square’ boundary changes with each move by Black Pawn. We also show how the White King’s area of effective influence ultimately comes in contact with his own pawn and intersects the ‘square’ of the Black pawn (indicating the possibility of capture) after his 3rd move (Fig. 3).

figure1   figure2
figure3   figure4
figure5   figure6

The triggering action was Black’s 3rd move (Fig. 4). This move disclosed Black’s intention to promote his pawn, so White King veered towards his own pawn (Fig. 5) to promote it likewise. Had Black captured the White pawn at this stage (3. … Kxc6) leaving his own pawn at h4, White King would move towards the Black pawn. White King would be able to step into the Square (refer Fig. 3) by playing 4. Kf4 and it would also be able to capture the Black pawn. White’s strategy ensured a draw either way.

Remember that the above chess tactics can be applied in many other endgame positions, not necessarily only the King and Pawn types. You only have to remember this type of chess tactics of moving the King along a diagonal.

 

Chess Tactics: Method Approach to Calculating Combinations

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From the mails received from many beginners, it appears that they are often at a loss in finding the best sequence of moves they should follow in response to a move by the opponent. In effect, they are asking how to make the calculations for a combination (a sequence of moves to achieve a specific purpose like mating the king, winning some material, gaining space etc.).

In the opening phase, they need to understand the strategic ideas and tactical possibilities for the opening or defense they adopt. With regular practice, these can become fairly automatic response, so we presume that the problem is not for this phase of the game.

But after entering the middle game where each has to chart his own path, the aforesaid problem can surely be significant. So how does one proceed?

You must be very clear about the ideas you have been following till you reached such a stage. Whatever move supports or enhances those ideas are good, whatever takes away or counters those ideas are bad – unless the board situation makes it necessary to abandon the earlier plans and formulate new ones.

One thing is certain – you know what you have in your mind! Problem is to guess what your opponent is thinking. But you get clues from the moves that he is making and do not reject any move by opponent as silly or a mistake unless you become sure of it by observing the disposition of his pieces.

This brings us to the essence of analysis – the moves that have been played (you can see those) and moves that are going to be played (you guess those) because those will have some link to the moves played not only by the opponent but by you also. So think about the purposes behind any move and whether those are offensive, defensive or a mixture of both.

Defensive moves should be relatively easy to identify as those will try to counter threats you have posed by your moves or threats that your opponent reasonably expects you to create. When planning your attack, you may have expected these responses and decided on your counter-action. But if the response is unexpected, try to see if there is a hidden agenda of a counter-attack or creation of a new defensive resource (like a stalemate possibility) and prepare your next moves accordingly.

Offensive moves like a direct attack can be seen easily but those hidden behind some combination may often appear innocent. So, all moves other than obviously defensive ones should be analyzed for their inherent ideas.

Why did your opponent make a particular move? It may be for:

  • attacking your piece or pawn (if that is undefended, you can take defensive action but be suspicious if opponent aims at a defended piece, particularly using a piece of higher value as this may be a precursor to a sacrifice or more forces may be on the way)
  • getting a piece to a better position (may be strategic but be sure that it does not pose any immediate offensive possibility)
  • opening the line for another piece (examine if that creates attacking chances)
  • vacating a square for another piece or pawn (see which piece or pawn can occupy that vacated square and what they can achieve)
  • control of some other square (look for the piece or pawn which can occupy that square and their possible aims)
  • providing support to a piece or pawn that is not under your attack (find why he expects some action around that piece)
  • creating a decoy to lure some critical defender away (note which of your defender is targeted and then see which of your pieces or squares will suffer if that defender moves – gives you idea of where the attack may come)
  • driving your pieces away when capture is not possible (see how it can help your opponent if your piece is shifted)
  • starting a long-range pin or skewer (be aware of this whenever you see any opponent piece taking up a line to your King, or a piece of lower value is positioned in the same row, file or diagonal to your piece of higher value. Even though there may be other pieces or pawns interposing at that point of time, examine the possibility of those getting removed in some way to activate the pin.)
  • initiating the process towards discovered or double checks (these are always dangerous and forcing in nature, the presence of a piece capable of delivering check and in line with your King should alert you about such chances)
  • offering a sacrifice (be careful of the possible consequences of accepting the offer unless it is forcing, particularly in the light of possibilities listed above)

Though we have written above assuming you to be the defender, you may keep the same points in mind to plan your own attacking methods and to decide which of these will be most appropriate in a particular situation.

If you have identified some weakness in your opponent’s position and the possibility of gaining an expected advantage, you may even calculate backwards. Visualize the situation you want to achieve with your and opponent’s pieces in required positions. Then work backward on how the pieces concerned can reach those specific positions from their current locations and you have got your desired combination!

It may look simplistic and I do not claim that it is always possible, but if you can discipline yourself to think in those lines and practice such actions, these thought processes will become your second nature over a time.

A simple but concrete example may make the process clearer to you. Take a look at the following position with White to move.

planning a mating attack

You can see that Black has a material advantage of two rooks and a bishop (of course engineered by White to get his attack going)! Black Queen and Bishop, though sitting in White’s base rank, cannot deliver any viable check and has practically been sidelined. Black’s QN is uselessly posted at the wrong edge of the board and his other pieces are still at their home positions! Black’s King is exposed in the center while White’s Knights and Bishop are dangerously close to Black King with the White Queen ready to come up along the semi-open f-file.

Once you have assessed the position and discounted any viable threat by Black, what moves by White can you think of? A closer look at the Black King shows that of the three squares (d8, f8 and e7) accessible to the King, only d8 is viable as f8 is denied by White Bishop and e7 by both Knights and the Bishop as well. Even if the King moves to d8, it cannot go further via c7 as that square is controlled by the Knight at d5.

Conclusion:
If you can deliver a check now (Nf can do that from g7 with impunity), King has to move to d8 and check by Bishop at e7 with support from the other Knight would create checkmate – provided Black’s KN could be forced to relinquish its hold on e7. You also realize that once the King moved to d8, White Queen can move up (remember that the Knight has moved to g7) to f6 for a checkmate unless Black’s KN intervenes. But this Knight cannot guard e7 if it captures at f6!

So the sequence of moves becomes clear –

1. Nxg7+     Kd8
2. Qf6+        Nxf6
3. Be7#

If it interests you, this game was played between Anderssen (the best player around that time) and Kieseritzky at London in 1851 and the game has earned the title of “The Immortal Game” because of the way White conducted his attack. I am sure any online chess repository will have this game and you can play through the full game – but try to analyze and predict the moves by White (the game lasted 23 moves).