Tag Archives: Attacking tactics

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.


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
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
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
13. Re8+! Kxe8  
14. Qe2+ Kf8  
15. Be7+ Ke8   15. … Nxe7 16. Qxe7+ Kg8 17. Ng5 with Qf7# to follow
Position after 15 moves
16. Bd8+! Kxd8  
17. Ng5 Resigns   It is either 18. Nf7# or 17. … Nh6 18. Qe7#
The final position:


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


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

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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?


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

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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!

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Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: promoting a passed pawn

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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.

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