Tag Archives: Chess Tutorials

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).

 

Chess Tactics: Catching Opponent on Wrong Foot

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If you are like me with next to nothing knowledge of German, this seems to be the season to do something about the weakness! You know that zug means ‘move’ from the chess tactics of zugzwang and now you can add zwischen (which means ‘between’) to your vocabulary. So zwischenzug literally stands for ‘between move’ or, to use a better translation, an ‘intermediate move’.

How can an intermediate move be a chess tactics? It can be when it puts the opponent on the wrong foot! After careful analysis of a combination, you may think that the opponent has to respond with a certain sequence of moves based on the threats posed by you, assuming he knows how to respond logically.

But then you find that the opponent has apparently disregarded your threats and interposed a move or changed the sequence of moves whereby you first need to tackle his move before continuing in your planned lines. In the process, you may find that your ‘beautiful’ combination is turning out to be a disadvantage rather than a winning line. This is how your opponent’s zwischenzug works against you! In a different scenario, it is you who may be able to frustrate your opponent by a similar tactics.

This chess tactics will be clear from the game played between Carl Schlechter and Emanuel Lasker at Cambridge Springs in 1904.

Carl Schlechter (1974-1918) was one of the strongest players of his time and earned the sobriquet of “drawing master” as his contemporaries found it extremely difficult to win against him and many of his games ended in draws. He was a World Championship contender against reigning champion Lasker in 1910. Going into the last game with 1-point lead, he only needed a draw to become the new champion. But he declined to settle for a draw and ultimately lost the game. Both players having equal points, the match was a draw and Lasker retained his crown.

Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) was one of the greatest players in chess history and became the second official World Champion after defeating Wilhelm Steinitz in 1894. He remained champion for 27 years, the longest for any World Champion, before he lost the title to Capablanca in 1921. He made many contributions to chess theory including Lasker Defense for QGD opening.

The diagram below shows the position after White’s 14th move.

unprepared for a zwischenzug

Lasker thought that he could win a piece by his planned combination but missed the zwischenzug by Schlechter at move 16.

From the position shown, we give you the moves as expected by Lasker and the moves as actually played over the board.

As Planned As Happened
14. g5   14. g5  
15. Bg3 f4   15. Bg3 f4  
16. exf4 gxf4   16. Bxh7+ Kh8   White’s zwischenzug, playing a move earlier than expected
17. Bxh7+ Kh8   17. Qg6 Nf6  
18. Qg6 Bc8   18. exf6 Rxf6  
19. Qh6 Bg5   19. Qh5 Kg7  
20. Qh5 Ng7   20. Qxg5+ Kxh7  
21. Qd1 Black now wins one of the Bishops 21. Bxf4   Not only that Black did not gain but he is now in a worse situation

 

The diagram below shows position as expected vs as happened after above moves have been played.

result of missing a zwischenzug

Black resigned after playing another 16 moves after this position (on the right).

 

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.

 

Middle game tactics: Bad French bishop is not always bad

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In last two Bad Bishop articles (how to deal with bad bishop and bad French bishop and its consequences) we talked about how the bad bishop can lead to a disaster in this article we will look at other side of the Bad Bishop.

One of the trick situations one quite frequently encounters in a middle game is that of a bad French bishop arising in the opening stage of the game in which the light squared bishop of black is invariably blocked by its pawns at e6 and d5, shunning the possibility of prospective development for that light squared black bishop.

The typical French defense opening is the cause for such a development and it is this reason that many of the exponents of French defense that black’s light squared bishop be sacrificed in the early part of the game, thus paving way for a competitive middle game between the two players.

The bad French bishop is not always bad as it is perceived to be, and if right tactics are employed, black’s light squared bishop can be very handy and turn out to be the good bishop. In this game, played between two grandmasters in the early 1990s, one can find and appreciate how the bad French bishop has been converted into a good one leading to the victory of black over white.

Given below is the position of the game after 11 moves and it is the turn of white to make the move.

graphic1

A cursory look at the position indicates that black’s light squared bishop is rooted to its original square at c8 blocked by pawn at b7 and Knight at d7. But, black can make the bad bishop active if it is prepared to sacrifice a couple of pawns if required. Black did precisely the same after the opportunity presented itself.

12. Bxe4 Kh8
13. Bxd5 fxe5 The opportunity presented itself with a chance to open up the two black bishops
14. fxe5

The position after the 14th move of white is presented below for an assessment:

graphic2

Black effectively seizes the opportunity and surprises White with a couple of sacrifices in an attempt to gain control over the board.

14. Ncxe5
15. dxe5 Nxe5
16. Nf4 Bb4+
17. Kf1

The position after White’s 17th move is given below:

graphic3

Black has successively cleared the way for the “bad” French bishop to finally come out and assist in the attack. The smart play by Black ensured that the “bad” bishop gets transformed ultimately into a “good” one, and spearheaded the attack on White king, as follows:

17. Rxf4
18. gxf4 Bh3+ French bishop comes out with a bang
19. Ke2 Ng4
20. Nd4 Qc5
21. Be6 Rd8
22. Be3 Nxe3
23. Kxe3 Bxe6
24. Rc1

The position after white’s 24th move is given below:

graphic4

Black has virtually taken control over the game with the assistance of the two bishops, especially the otherwise “bad” French bishop.

24. Rxd4
25. Qxd4 Bd2+
26. 0 – 1

It is curtains for White. The “bad” French bishop need not always be bad. Effective tactics is bound to make this bad bishop a very good one. This game also vindicates the fact that the famous French defense is in fact a very competitive opening worth exploring.