Category Archives: Chess Basics

Chess Opening basics: Ruy Lopez (or the Spanish opening)

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Though traced back to the 15th century, this opening came into prominence in the middle of the 19th century. Since then, it has remained ever popular and is frequently seen in tournaments. It takes its name from a Spanish clergyman of the 16th century Ruy Lopez who made a systematic analysis of this opening. The basic ideas are easy to understand and the strategic and tactical possibilities appeal to players’ imaginations, giving rise to a large number of variations. New ideas or modifications of old ones keep coming up and these have helped to retain interest in this opening.

The present discussion, though made with reference to Ruy Lopez because of its wide prevalence, is to show you how you can analyze openings to understand the issues involved. An introduction to Ruy Lopez was given earlier, this description takes it a little more forward and shows the moves step by step that may appeal to the very beginners.

 

The diagrams on the left show the main line of play. Those on the right, when they appear, show the possibilities after the last main move.

 

basic idea All openings aim to achieve a control of the center i.e., control of the four squares d4, e4, d5 and e5 as marked out in the diagram. You may like to refer to point 4 under positional strategies in 50 Strategies to gain the upper hand over your opponent.
1. e4 RuyLopez_first_move White KP is trying to take control of d5 and f5
1. … e5 RuyLopez_black_first_move Black likewise counters with aim to control d4 and f4
2. Nf3 RuyLopez_white_move2 This tries to wrest control of e5 by attacking the black pawn and exerts control on d4
2. … Nc6 RuyLopez_black_move2 This defends the e5 pawn and holds on to its share of control of the center and challenges White’s control on d4
3. Bb5 RuyLopez_white_move3 The starting of Ruy Lopez. This indirectly tries to seize control of center by attacking the defender knight of the e5 pawn. If this Knight is removed, White will be able to capture Black’s e5 pawn
 
This move also indirectly prevents Black to move his QP (which would help Black to support his KP and free the line for his QB) because the Knight will be pinned against the King.
3. … a6 RuyLopez_black_move3 This move is known as Morphy Defense, apparently ignoring White’s threat. After this move, Ruy Lopez variations get into two broad categories, one with 3. … a6 and the other without this move.
 
This move tries to drive White’s KB away, preparing the way for b5 at some stage that will force the Bishop to abandon its attack on black QN. But such pawn moves create some weakness in Black’s pawn structure while retaining his hold on his KP.
4. Ba4 RuyLopez_white_move4 The Bishop retreats while still retaining its attack on the Knight.
 
You may ask: why not capture the Knight after what was said at move 3?
This is because of the following possibilities.
 

 
4. Bxc6 If the Bishop captures the Knight … RuyLopez_white_alt_move4
4. … dxc6 … the QP captures the Bishop … RuyLopez_black_alt_move4
5. Nxe5 White Knight captures Blacks KP … RuyLopez_white_alt_move5
5. … Qd4 … Black Q attacks both the White Knight and Pawn at e4 and in trying to save the Knight, White has to surrender his e4 pawn and its control of the center. Black may have got doubled pawn on c-file but retains the advantage of having both Bishops.
 
Black has another alternative also …
RuyLopez_black_alt_move5
5. … Qg5 … Black Q attacks both the Knight and g-pawn and thus gets compensation for the loss of his KP.
 
So White’s immediate capture of Knight with Bishop at move 4 does not give any benefit but it can be done after his KP is supported. Black has to watch out for such moves by White.
RuyLopez_black_second_alt_move5
 

 
4. … Nf6 RuyLopez_black_move4 Secure in the knowledge of above possibilities, Black is not worried about his KP for the present and tries to make a counter-attack on White’s KP to wrest control of center.
5. 0-0 RuyLopez_white_move5 It is now White’s turn to disregard Black’s threat and proceed with castling to secure his King’s position and bringing KR into play.
 
Why is the threat not considered? The following possibilities show that.
 

 
5. … Nxe4 If Black Knight captures the KP … RuyLopez_black_alt_move5
6. Re1 … The Rook attacks the Knight and captures Black’s KP when the Knight moves away.
 
Alternatively …
RuyLopez_white_alt_move6
6. d4 … White’s QP directly attacks Black’s KP … RuyLopez_white_second_alt_move6
6. … exd4 … if Black tries to capture White’s d-pawn … RuyLopez_black_second_alt_move6
7. Re1 … White Rook pins the Knight against Black King RuyLopez_white_alt_move7
 

 
5. … Be7 RuyLopez_black_move5 Being aware of above complications, Black places a guard in front of the King which also develops the Bishop and opens the line for castling.
6. Re1 RuyLopez_white_move6 This provides support to the KP and thereby reinstates the initial threat of Bxc6 posed at move 3. At this time, White had three other options to support his KP viz. …
 

 
6. Qe2 … support by the Queen … RuyLopez_white_alt_move6
6. Nc3 … support by the QN … RuyLopez_white_second_alt_move6
6. d3 … support by the QP RuyLopez_white_third_alt_move6
 

 
6. … b5 RuyLopez_black_move6 Black is aware of the revival of the threat against his Knight at c3 and thereby on his KP, so he parries the threat by attacking the Bishop
7. Bb3 RuyLopez_white_move7 The Bishop has to retreat but now has a line to Black’s vulnerable f7 square
7. … d6 RuyLopez_black_move7 The e5 pawn is supported further and lines have been opened for developing QB
 
Black has the option of castling now and playing d6 on the next move.

 

This is the main line of Ruy Lopez Closed Defense, Classical Variation. It can be seen that Black’s 3. … a6 is instrumental in maintaining his e5 pawn and so long as Black is able to hold on to his KP and thereby a control on the center, his position is satisfactory. If the KP gets exchanged, strategic advantages accrue to White.

You can see that even within a span of 7 moves, so many different possibilities may arise including the strategic and tactical considerations that come into play. Any opening that you plan to follow should be analyzed this way to find the inherent strategies with positive and negative aspects. Your play should be consistent with the strategies to get the maximum benefits till you reach the middle game when you are on your own.

 

Chess Tactics: Some more applications of Zugzwang

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On the principle of ‘practice makes perfect’, after you have learned about zugzwang and its application in Chess Tactics: should some of them be prohibited?, we bring you two more examples, one an endgame study and the other from actual play.

The following diagram shows a study which is slightly more elaborate than the previous examples in the sense of having both pieces and pawns.

endgame study showing zugzwang

White to play and win.

You can see that both White’s KBP and Black’s KP are one step away from promotion. But White’s first move apparently does not give any benefit because of following problems:

  • 1. f8=Q Rxf8 2. Re1 Re8+ after which White Rook’s attempt to capture Black’s KP (with support from the King of course) will result in exchange of Rooks and a draw.
  • 1. Rxf1 exf1=Q and it is Black who will win!
  • If White Rook leaves 1st rank, Black Pawn will promote
  • 1. Rb1 e1=Q+ 2. Rxe1 Rxe1+ and Black wins again

Well, you have now probably guessed the move after above options have been ruled out.

The solution is:

1. Re1 Rf2   On 1. … Rxe1 2. f8=Q+ Kc7 3. Qc5+ Kd8 4. Qa5+ (3. … Kb7 4. Qb4+), Black loses Rook
 
2. a3   This blocking move takes away Black’s options and puts him under zugzwang!
2. Rf1  
3. Rxe2 Rf3  
4. Rd2+ Kc8  
5. Rd5 Kc7  
6. Rf5 Re3+  
7. Kf6   The Pawn will promote on next move.

 

We now give you an example from actual play that took place in a 1953 Danish tournament between A. Kupferstich and J. Andreassen.

Nothing much could be found about A. Kupferstich except that he was part of Danish team in 9th Chess Olympiad held at Dubrovnik in 1950 and also represented Denmark in several friendly matches during 1947-1955. Except that J. Andreassen was a player from Denmark, I could find nothing more about him.

The diagram shows the position after 20 moves.

getting to a zugzwang

Though White has an extra Knight, he has four pawns less and his Kingside pawns are isolated. His Rook is under attack and it is natural to expect him to play 21. Rg1 after which Black would play 21. … Bc6 protecting his weak c7 pawn. But White possibly felt that he would have a much better attacking prospect with his Knight and Bishop close to enemy King if he could position his Rook on the 7th rank by capturing the c7 pawn instead of trying to protect his Rook at h1!

This is how the game rolled on.

21. Rxc7! Bxh1  
22. Nxf7 Bd5   Black tried to guard f7 square because of 23. Nxd6+ Kf8 24. Rf7#
23. Nxd6+ Kf8  
24. Bg5 Rh8   Black tried to create an escape hole against 25. Bh6+ with mate to follow.
25. Bh6+ Kg8  
26. Rg7+ Kf8  
27. Rc7+ Kg8   Poor Black King had no other go! White could have reduced his agony somewhat by playing 27. Rxb7+ straightaway, unless he was running slow on his clock!
 
28. Nc8 Bc6   Of course 28. … Rxc8 29. Rxc8+ Kf7 30. Rxh8 leaves Black a solid Rook down.
29. Rg7+ Kf8  
30. Rxb7+ Kg8  
31. Rg7+ Kf8  
32. Rxa7+ Kg8   All these moves can be taken as a demonstration of the power of discovered checks!
33. Rxa8 Bxa8  
34. Nd6! Resigns   The ‘zugzwang’ move!

 

The Knight and Bishop totally immobilizes the Black King and Rook. Black has to helplessly wait for an execution by a final Knight check at e7 or f6.

Even in this position, the game holds interest as White’s task is not easy. He still has to deliver checkmate as stated above but cannot afford to move the Knight till his King is positioned at e6 or f6 or e7 to prevent Black King’s escape when the Knight is moved.

Black’s strategy will be to push his pawns forward till those get captured at e3 and g3. Then he will use the Bishop to prevent White from carrying out his Knight maneuver and also try to capture both White pawns if they try for promotion. If White captures the Bishop, Black can claim stalemate.

What should White do? He should capture Black’s e- and g-pawns and move his King to e6 or f6 or e7. The Knight can then deliver check via (e4-f6 or e8-f6) or (c8-e7 or f5-e7).

Black knows that if White King is at e7, only (e4-f6 or e8-f6) is possible for Knight and Bishop positioned at c6 blocks these moves. If White King is f6, only (c8-e7 or f5-e7) is available to the Knight and Bishop can go to any square on c8-h3 diagonal to block those. Only if the King is at e6, all four options become available, but Bishop can check from d7 or d5 (remember that the Bishop is taboo!) to force White King to f6 or e7.

Assume that White King has reached f6. The Bishop has to be at d7 to guard c8 and f5 and to keep eye on White pawns. So White keeps pushing one of the pawns forcing the Bishop to leave its post to capture the pawn which otherwise gets promoted. The Knight can then move to c8 or f5 to deliver checkmate on next move.

It is possible to win even if White did not have those pawns, but that is another story!

No discussion on zugzwang is complete without reference to “The Immortal Zugzwang Game” between Friedrich Samisch and Aron Nimzowitsch played at Copenhagen in 1923. You have to play it yourself to see its beauty.

 

Chess Tactics: should some of them be prohibited?

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Though I said ‘some’ but actually I meant one that goes under a German name and seems to have been in use in German chess literature since since early ninteenth century. It is supposed to have been introduced in English chess literature in early twentieth century by Emanuel Lasker, himself a German!

The word I have in mind is zugzwang. I understand that ‘zug’ means move and ‘zwang’ means ‘compulsion’, so the combined word means ‘compulsion to move’. Essentially, a player is said to be under zugzwang when any move that he makes will make his position worse and not to move would be the best move. But chess rules do not permit a player to skip move and the affected player under compulsion to move is committing a kind of ‘suicide’ by his move! Are you getting my point now? Suicide goes against the laws in most countries of the world and forcing another man to commit it is still more heinous! Shouldn’t therefore be a law against zugzwang (and wouldn’t the victims agree)?

Enough of chatter, can we see some example you will say. Though this is a potent weapon in chess endgames, it can occur at any time.

We first see an endgame problem that, though a very simple one, teaches you what zugzwang is and was created by French composer Henri Rinck (1870-1952) who was arguably the World’s Greatest Composer of chess problems.

a simple zugzwang

White has to play and win in the position shown. The moves are:

1. Rc7+ Rd7  
2. Qc5+ Kd8   2. … Ke6 3. Qf5+ loses the Rook
3. Kh6  

 

Black has the move and he is in zugzwang as any move makes him lose. Let us see what some of his options are:

King moves:
3. … Ke8 4. Qe5+ Kf7 5. Rxd7+ Kf8 (or Kg8) 6. Qxb8#

Rook moves:
3. … Rxc7 4. Qf8+ Kd7 5. Qxb8 wins.
If Black’s Rook leaves his second rank without any check, White will play 4. Qe7#

Queen moves:
3. … Qxc7 4. Qf8#.

Black Queen cannot deliver any viable check and trying to remain in contact with c8 square only enables its capture by White. If it loses contact with c8 square, White plays 4. Rc8#.

There are many other options available to Black and we have left it to you to find how the correct move (very important) by White in all the situations result in his winning the Black Rook or Queen or both, or delivering checkmate to the King.

You will notice that putting opponent in zugzwang is preceded by an idle (sometimes blocking) move by the attacker that forces the defender’s hand. In above example, 3. Kh6 was such a move.

Now that you have seen a simple one, here is another problem which is slightly more complex. This is a very old problem but quite instructive as similar position may arise in one of your endgames also. White is to play and win.

a little more complex zugzwang

With two isolated pawns against three connected pawns, White may appear to be at a disadvantage but White’s winning line is as follows:

1. a6 Kb8   Black King had to move to prevent 2. c7
 
2. Kg1 f3   The idle move Kg1 to wait and watch is the only move that wins for White by creating zugzwang on Black
 
3. Kf2   White’s strategy is simple: move the King to face whichever Black Pawn has advanced. Once that Pawn gets blocked, Black has to move another Pawn. In the meanwhile, Black King cannot move either way without allowing the other White Pawn to promote! You may try with other Pawn moves to verify the tactics.
3. h3  
4. Kg3 h2  
5. Kxh2 f2  
6. Kg2 g3  
7. Kf1  
7. g2+  
8. Kxf2 g1=Q+  
9. Kxg1 Kc7   With no more pawn to move, Black King is forced to take the move it was trying to avoid.
10. a7 Kxc6  
11. a8=Q+   White wins.

 

Because of its unusual nature, it is a popular theme for chess compositions and Susan Polgar’s blog of July 1 has a problem on this topic.

In Chess Tactics: Some more applications of Zugzwang, you will see a third problem and a game where this tactics was used.

 

Chess Endgame Tactics: Handling Rook and Pawn endings

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We have discussed at length about basic chess endings with Rook and Pawn as also some special techniques for handling a few typical situations. We also said that with Rooks present, a majority of one or two pawns often do not yield much benefit and such chess endgames are more likely to result in a draw, especially if the pawns are on the same side with their Kings close at hand.

But that is only a general observation. In this article we go through the lengthy process of playing through such a situation where White thought that exact play could give him a win with his single pawn majority if he could get a passed and protected KP.

Rook and Pawn ending with multiple pawns

At first sight, there does not seem to be much prospect of a win for White, so let us see what exactly was in his mind! We can of course see that White King cannot advance now without losing the BP.

1. Rb6 Ra2   White’s move blocked Black King’s support to his KBP.
 
2. Rd6 Rb2   Black is shuttling his Rook on rank 2 as ‘wait and watch’ policy while preventing White King from moving forward
 
3. Kg2 Ra2   3. Kg3 f4+ 4. Kxf4 Rxf2+ loses a pawn for White or 3. Kg3 f4+ 4. exf4 doubles the pawns effectively giving White BP and RP against Black’s RP which is a technical draw
4. h4 Ra4  
5. Rd4 Ra6   Other options are worse for Black e.g.,
5. … Ra2 6. Kg3 Kf6 7. Rb4 Ke5 8. Rb7 f4+ 9. Kf3
or
5. … Ra2 6. Kg3 Re2 7. Rb4 Kf6 8. Rb6+ Kf7 9. h5 Kg7 10. Rb7+ Kh6 11. Rf7 Kg5 12. f4+ Kh6 13. Kf3 wins as Black K is out of position and both Black R and BP are en prise
6. Kg3 Kf6  
7. Kf4 h6  
8. h5 Rb6  
9. f3 Ra6   Black R cannot leave rank 6 for fear of check by White R
10. Rb4 Rc6  
11. Rb7 Rc4+   White was threatening 12. Rh7 followed by 13. Rxh6
12. e4 fxe4  
13. fxe4 Rc5   Whie has got his passed KP. Black could possibly try Rc1 here instead of waiting till move 16
14. Rb6+ Kg7  
15. Rg6+ Kh7   Black’s only move to save his RP. If White had a passed KBP rather than KP, Black could have saved the game.
16. e5 Rc1  
17. e6 Rh1  
18. Rg3 Rh4+   18. … Rxh5 19. e7 wins for White
18. … Re1 19. Re3 Rf1+ 20. Ke5 Rf8 21. e7 Re8 22. Ke6 Kg1 23. Kd7 Kf7 24. Rf3+ followed by 25. Kxe8
19. Rg4 Rh1  
20. Kf5 Rxh5+  
21. Kf6 Rh1  
22. e7 Re1   22. … Rf1+ 23. Ke5 Re1+ 24. Re4
23. Rg7+ Kh8  
24. Rf7 Rf1+  
25. Kg6   Black is helpless.
25. … Rg1+ 26. Kh5 Rg8 27. Rf8 Kg7 28. Rxg8+ Kxg8 29. e8=Q+
Alternatively, Black R can continue giving check while the White K keep moving in zig-zag fashion between g-file and h-file till it reaches rank 2 (g6-h5-g4-h3-g2) after which Black runs out of check and White KP gets promoted.

 

Chess Endgame Tactics: some fine points

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In the article suggesting the best way to learn endgame tactics, we laid more stress on endgame plays by top players than on chess problems and chess studies. But at the same time, we pointed out that some of these problems and studies could benefit you in developing ideas on some finer endgame tactics like “underpromotion”, gaining tempo etc., some of which may appear in the same problem or study.

Here we will show you some creative ideas that can stand you in good stead in your actual endgame plays.

importance of tempo in endgame

In this study by Moravec, White is required to play and win. To decide on your tactics, you should analyze as follows:

  1. Even with the first move applied to White K to chase the Black RP, it will remain two moves outside ‘the Square’ for that pawn. So if Black continues to push RP, White K will only be on rank 3 when RP reaches h1 to get promoted.
  2. If White so wants, his K can capture the Black NP in its stride towards the RP
  3. When White K reaches g3 (after Black RP has reached h1 to become a Queen), Black on his next move cannot deliver a check by his Q with support from his K because of the White R controlling rank 2. Black thus loses a tempo!
  4. White on the next move can deliver check by Ra1 and because of his K on g3, will cause checkmate! If on the previous move, Black tried Kf1, then check by Rook will result in his loss of Q!
  5. At step 3, Black Q could go to h8 to control a1-h8 diagonal and the square a1 preventing Rook’s check (and thus retaining the tempo) – provided there were no Black P on g7 blocking that diagonal!
  6. The conclusion is: White K must not capture the NP at step 2 so as to deny Black any tempo after pawn promotion, which in turn gives him the tempo for delivering checkmate or capturing Black Q!

Once you have understood the idea, the sequence of moves become clear.

1. Kh7 h4   not 1. Kxg7
2. Kg6 h3  
3. Kg5 h2  
4. Kg4 h1=Q  
5. Kg3   White wins with 6. Ra1+

 

But Black had a resource that would make White’s win extremely difficult. This comes out of an attempt to gain tempo as shown below!

4. Kg4 g5   unblocks the a1-h8 diagonal
 
5. Kg3 h1=N+   The under-promotion to Knight gains tempo for Black as White K has to move. White’s K and R against Black’s K and N gives difficult theoretical win for White.

 

use of opposition and zugzwang

The above is a study by Lasker but this type of Rook and Pawn ending may come up in actual play. So you should note in the following moves how White combines ‘opposition’ by his King and check by his Rook to push White King away from Black’s QBP while not allowing Black to give check along any row.

1. Kb7 Rb2+  
2. Ka7 Rc2  
3. Rh5+ Ka4  
4. Kb7 Rb2+  
5. Ka6 Rc2  
6. Rh4+ Ka3  
7. Kb6 Rb2+   If 7. … Kb3 8. Kb7. If 7. … Ka2 8. Rxh2
8. Ka5 Rc2  
9. Rh3+ Ka2  
10. Rxh2   White gets Queen giving up his Rook and wins