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Middle game tactics: How to handle the rooks at the back rank?

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In the game of chess, the middle game succeeds the opening stage where the pieces are developed from their initial positions in such a way that they are reasonably placed to plan and launch an attack on the opponent’s King. There is no clear-cut rule stipulating that from the 14th move the middle game commences, or from the 25th move the middle game starts or the opening game ends. However, it can be fairly said that the middle game is all set to begin when the players cease to indulge in mere development of pieces but initiate plans or tactics to launch a series of moves aimed at attacking the opponent’s pieces and/or providing additional safeguards to the squares or pieces in his control.

In most of the opening games, it is but natural that the players resort to the wonderful idea of castling such that the king is moved to a safer place and the two rooks are freed for further development. In such a case, one of the rooks will be in a1 or a8 as the case may be and the other one will be either in e1/e8 or d1/d8 as the case may, but mostly in the back ranks only. A dilemma might arise in such conditions as to which of the two rooks should be moved instead of the other. Again, there is no clear-cut rule such that the rook in the “a” file should be moved and brought to the central ranks than occupying the flank and not the other rook. It depends mainly on the position of the game at that point and a better decision taking into consideration the merits of the move should be made, as otherwise, a moving a wrong rook to an inappropriate square might invite problems and eventually might result in loss of advantage over the opponent. This dilemma of the wrong rook factor has been faced by many grandmasters as well.

One of the fascinating games highlighting the move of a wrong rook and its consequences are discussed in the following example. This is a game played way back in the 1960s in the USA Championship and the position after 13 moves is given hereunder:


(White to move)

A cursory look at the position indicates that both the players have fairly developed their pieces and are in the early stages of the middle game. Black seems to have a slight advantage with his light-squared bishop at a6 and the knight at e5 threatening to occupy the d3 square. Isolated queen pawn is also there in the vital d5 square. Now it is the turn of the white to make a move, and it is but obvious that he has move one of his rooks at the back rank. Which one to move is the dilemma for white.

14. Rfd1 …. This move by White is questionable as the rook at f1 was covering the pawn at f2 and in its absence, if black were to capture the pawn at f2, it would be the King that should come to rescue by capturing the attacking piece or run for cover. Instead he might have considered moving the other rook at a1 to d1 – Rad1.
14. …. Nd3 As expected, Black’s Knight occupies the d3 square.
15. Qc2 …. White plans to evict the Knight at d3.
15. …. Nxf2 Black pounces on White’s wrong Rook move, drags the King out of the back rank.
16. Kxf2 Ng4+
17. Kg1 Nxw3
18. Qd2 Nxg2 Surprise move by Black, wants to attack the King instead of capturing the Rook at d1.
19. Kxg2 d4
20. Nxd4 Bb7+
21. Kf1 ….

The position after white’s 21st move is given hereunder:


(White to move)

21. …..  Qd7


White has resigned the game accepting defeat. The downfall of White at the hands of black Is primarily his wrong choice of rook for providing cover to the d3 square.

This is one of the many interesting aspects one needs to be aware of, especially in the middle game stage, and grab the opportunity when presented by itself.

Middle game tactics: Understand the pawns thoroughly – they cannot move backwards

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In the game of chess, pawns play a very important role in all stages of the game. It is very important to note that only the pawns – eight of them in total out of the total 16 pieces in the board – have the unique capability of getting promoted to major pieces especially Queen and Rook – and no other piece – even the King or the Queen has this unique capability. Though pawns move in a forward direction in a straight file, when it comes to capturing, they capture only the pieces in diagonals at either of the two squares – one each to his right and left. Of course, the pawns in the wings does not have the left and rights wings as they are clipped for lack of files. In the opening stage, 9 out of 10 times, it is the pawn that opens the game.

According to the classical principles of openings, pawn development in the opening stages should be kept to the barest minimum, just sufficient enough to open up the major and minor pieces for development and control over key squares. As the game progresses in to the middle game stage, where the real game, filled with a series of tactics, strategies, checks, attacks, sacrifices and counter-attacks, unfolds, pawns should be handled very carefully and strategically. Having discussed about the merits of the pawns earlier, let us not forget that pawns have one major disadvantage – yes. They cannot move backwards. So, it is very essential that additional caution and calculations are considered before making pawn movements in the middle game. A wrong move or an unwanted move of the pawn in the middle game might deprive you of vital control over one square and also opens up opportunities for the opponent to exploit this mistake.

Let us try to understand the importance of pawn movement with the help of the following game, played between two grandmasters, where an unwanted pawn move cost the game at the end.

The first few moves of the game in the opening stage are as follows:

1. e4 c5
2. Nf3 d6
3. d4 cxd4
4. Nxd4 Nf6
5. Nc3 a6
6. Be2 e6
7. 0-0 Be7
8. f4 0-0
9. Kh1 Qc7
10. a4 Nc6
11. Nb3 b6
12. Bf3 Bb7
13. Qe1 Rac8
14. Be3 Rfe8
15. Rc1 ….

The game after 15 moves of White is given hereunder. It is the turn of black to make the next move.


(Black to move)

A cursory look at the position indicates that the white pieces are fairly developed and spread over the four ranks, with a lot of space to move around. On the contrary, black’s pieces are all lying in the back three ranks, leaving the 5th rank open. However, the set-up of black pieces is very compact and tight enough that it would be a difficult proposition to pierce through the position.

The game continued as follows :

15. …. Nd7 Black decides to move the Knight to the queenside so that its dark squared Bishop can be used effectively, and also at the same time, avoid any threat from the white pawn at g2.
16. g4 …. This is an unwanted and unwarranted moved from White as the black Knight at f3 had moved to Nd7 and there is no worthwhile point in that pawn move at this point of time.
16. …. Na5
17. Nxa5 bxa5

The game after 17 moves is given hereunder:


The opening up of the white pawn at g2 has paved way for black to consider the long diagonal a8-h1.

18. Bd2 …. White’s intention of using his g2 pawn did not materialize, and as such, he is back to defensive ways
18. …. Nc5
19. b3 Qb8 Black is planning to exploit the long diagonal a8-h1
20. Qe2 Qa8

The position after 20 moves is given hereunder.


(White to move)

White’s decision to move the g2 pawn has opened up the long diagonal for Black to exploit. However, white may feel somewhat happy that his g4 can now be used to thwart black’s intention to move the dark-squared bishop to f6 for threatening the white knight at c3.

21. g5 …. Since the pawn cannot move backwards, this is the only consolation for his earlier mistake of g4.
21. …. d5
22. exd5 exd5
23. Qg2 Ne4
24. Nb1 Nxd2
25. Qxd2 Bb4
26. c3 …. This pawn movement might have been avoided as it paves away for black to open up the diagonal a8-h1.

The position after the 26th move of white is given below:


(Black to move)

Black nicely accepts the opportunity presented by White, and obliges with d4.

26. …. d4
27. cxb3 Bxf3+
28. Kg1 …. The absence of pawn at g2 will now be felt by Whit.

Black continues to attack and finally emerges as the winner with the following moves:

28. …. Re2
29. Rxf3 Rxd2
30. Rxc8+ Qxc8
31. Nxd2 Qc1+
32. Nf1 axb4
33. Kg2 Qc2+
34. Kg3 Kf8

0 – 1

A fairly good position at the start of the middle game with a slight advantage has been squandered by White with his unwarranted or unwanted move of the g2 pawn in the 16th move, which ultimately hurt him the most and led to this loss.

It is very essential that the pawns are used effectively and prudently taking into account all possible options and calculations, especially in the middle game stage, so that the actual worth of the pawns, their ability to get promoted, can be used effectively.

The power of the Pawn

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A Pawn storm on a chessboard can be as devastating as Hurricane Katrina!

White has just moved his Rook to b3. You can see that, in terms of chess pieces, White has material advantage in the form of a Rook against Black’s Bishop. But Black has a superiority in terms of Pawns which came as a result of an exchange sacrifice by Black a few moves earlier. Morover, Black’s four pawns on the Queenside are massed against a single pawn of White. White’s King is also fairly exposed. Look how Black uses his pawns for a march to the White King with support from his Queen and the Bishop (notice the long open g6-b1 diagonal to the White King) and Rook also ready to join the battle.

1. d4  
2. Qe6 c5  
3. Re2 c4  
4. Ra3 Qb4  
5. Rf3 Rb8  
6. Qe7 c3  
7. Qxb4 axb4  
8. Re6 Kg8  
9. Resigns  



White is looking really helpless against the pawn phalanx and will have to give up a Rook and even that may only be a temporary relief.

Does it remind you of the word “juggernaut”?


Another Pawn Storm: But no hurricane, just a long-lasting storm

How to launch attack on enemy King’s position? A common advice says: use pawn advance when players have castled on opposite sites, use pieces when castled on the same side. The following game by Fischer as White disregards the common wisdom and the pawn attack starts as early as the tenth move!

At the given position, you will see that White’s pieces are much better developed while Black seems to have a cramped position. This has been due to the retarded position of his central pawns. Fischer takes advantage of his greater space to start his attack.

It is instructive to go through the moves to see how such an attack can be orchestrated.


1. f4 Na5  
2. Qf3 Qc7  
3. g4 Nxb3  
4. axb3 Rb8  
5. g5 Nd7  
6. f5 Ne5  
7. Qg3 Kh8  
8. Nf5 Nxf3+  
9. Rxf3 b5  
10. Qh4 exf5  
11. exf5 Qc6  
12. Raf1 Bb7  
13. Bd4 b4  
14. Bxg7+ Kxg7  
15. Qh6+ Kh8  
16. g6 Qc5+  
17. R1f2 fxg6  
18. fxg6 Qg5+  
19. Qxg5 Bxg5  
20. Rxf8+ Rxf8  
21. Rxf8+ Kg7  
22. gxh7 Resigns  


Black King has to go for White’s Pawn, allowing the Rook to capture the QB after the check. White’s Rook and Knight plus the passed pawn at h2 against Black’s single Bishop are more than enough to win the game.


Tit for Tat in Chess Tactics?

White was considered the best player in the world when this game was played in the 19th century, and he was famous for his sacrificial attacks. But here, he was paid in his own coin by a player who is practically unknown today.


It will look that each player was trying to challenge the other to refute his tactical move! But Black had the last laugh. The game proceeded:

1. Nf6 gxf6  
2. exf6 Rg8  
3. fxe7 Rxg3  
4. e8=Q+ Kh7  
5. Nh4 Qd4  
6. Qe7 Qxf2+  
7. Kh1 Qxg2+  
8. Nxg2 Rh3#  


Black’s Qxf2 was expected but what about Qxg2? And look at the irony of it all. White gave a Queen to get back his Queen, Black gave a Queen to get opponent’s King!


Chess Trivia

I found a very interesting anecdote in Wikipedia.

The 1961 chess tournament at Bled, Slovenia is considered among the strongest tournaments in chess history. Bobby Fischer was among the participants.

It seems Fischer said that he intended to beat “all the Russians” at the tournament. Paul Keres reminded him that there were no “Russians” in the tournament! Mikhail Tal was a Latvian, Petrosian an Armenian, Efim Geller a Ukrainian, and Keres himself was an Estonian!

In any case, Fischer remained the only unbeaten player in the tournament and defeated the ultimate winner Mikhail Tal (a former World Champion, Fischer was yet to become one). Fischer came second after Tal.