Monthly Archives: May 2009

Chess Strategy and Chess Tactics: Balancing Act?

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Many may continue on the same path for a distance, but you never know where they will end ultimately! We are talking of chess games.

This divergence becomes more prominent when one game is controlled by a player who follows the dictates of chess strategy (should we say sanity?) and the other by one who could not care less, a maverick who cannot let go of any opportunity to shock his opponent (and the world at large)!

Before we open the ‘show’, here is a brief introduction to the ‘actors’ in the ‘plays’.

The first game was played in 1961 between Bobby Fischer and Sam Reshevsky, the second one in 1962 between Rashid Nezhmetdinov and Oleg Chernikov.

Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) certainly does not need any introduction. The World Champion in 1972, he was a master in all areas of chess games – be it chess strategy, chess openings, chess tactics in attack and defense and chess endgames.

Sam Reshevsky (1911-1992) is a well-known Grandmaster who started as a child prodigy in Poland where he was born. He later moved to USA and won US Chess Championship no less than eight times. He was a superb positional player but also capable of brilliant chess tactics.

I presume you have already gone through the “Importance of Chess Strategy” and know about Rashid Nezhmetdinov and his playing style.

Oleg Chernikov (1936- ) was a Soviet National Master when this game was played, but went on to become a Grandmaster in year 2000.

The opening in these games follows the Accelerated Fianchetto variation of Sicilian Defense with Black’s 8. … Ng4 introduced by Reshevsky during the fourth game of his match with Fischer in 1961 (the present diagram was taken from the 6th game of that series).

Al Horowitz remarked in his book on Chess Openings: “This move (8. … Ng4) gained popularity as after this move, White can hardly avoid the exchange of minor pieces which eases Black’s game considerably”. The result of the first game vindicates Reshevsky, but you be the judge how easy it made for Chernikov in the second game!

In the second game, both players followed the same theoretical lines and subsequent variations in the footsteps of players in the first game. It is possible that Nezhmetdinov did not like the way the first game ended after Fischer’s response to Black’s 11th move and decided to chart his own path thereafter in the only way he knew, the way of a sacrifice!

Position after 11. … Bf6:

start on same footing

Can you guess what Nezhmetdinov saw in this position that Fischer did not? Was it a sudden intuition/imagination or a speculation or a pre-calculated move?

This is how the games proceeded.

  12. Qg4 d6   12. Qxf6 Ne2+ White starts on his new path with a Queen sacrifice!
  13. Qd1 Nc6   13. Nxe2 exf6  
  14. Qd3 b6   14. Nc3 Re8  
  15. Qd2 Ba6   15. Nd5 Re6  
  16. Rfd1 Bxc3   16. Bd4 Kg7  
  17. bxc3 Ne5   17. Rad1 d6  
  18. Bd4 Nc6   18. Rd3 Bd7  
  19. Qh6 Nxd4   19. Rf3 Bb5  
  20. cxd4 Rac8   20. Bc3 Qd8  


In game 2, Black has the materials, White has all the space and moves. What follows will make you understand Averbakh’s warning about Nezhmetdinov in “Importance of Chess Strategy”.

Positions after 20 moves just for comparison of the two games and to show that Nezhmetdinov was not yet done with sacrifices!

the position mid-way

  21. Re1 e5   21. Nxf6 Be2 For 21. … Bxf1 22. Ng4+ Kg8 23. Bxe6 Qg5 24. Bxf7+ Kf8 25. Bxg6+ Ke7 26. Bf6+ Qxf6 27. Nxf6 hxg6 28. Kxf1, White wins back everything and then some
  22. dxe5 Qxe5   22. Nxh7+ Kg8 22. … Kxh7 23. Rxf7+ Kh6 24. Bxe6 Bxf1 25. Bd2+ g5 26. Bf5 Qh8 27. h4 wins for White
  23. Rad1 Bc4   23. Rh3 Re5  
  24. Qd2 Bxb3   24. f4 Bxf1  
  25. cxb3 Rc6 Drawn 25. Kxf1 Rc8  
    26. Bd4 b5  
    27. Ng5 Rc7  
    28. Bxf7+ Rxf7  
    29. Rh8+ Kxh8  
    30. Nxf7+ Kh7  
    31. Nxd8 Rxe4  
    32. Nc6 Rxf4+  
    33. Ke2 Resigns  


Importance of chess strategy – Part 2

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In Importance of chess strategy – Part 1, you were introduced to Nezhmetdinov, a player who had outstanding skills in chess tactics. Here we show his most renowned game played in 1958 against Lev Polugaevsky (1934-1995) who was also an International Master at that time. Nezhmetdinov, who at 46 was almost twice as old as his opponent, plays with Black pieces. His 24th move offering a stunning Queen sacrifice should find a place among the most brilliant moves played over a chessboard, and together with the 26th move, make this game one of the best chess games ever.

Position after White played 24. Rh1

preparing for a Queen sacrifice

The game continued:

24. Rxf4   The celebrated move allowing Queen sacrifice!
25. Rxh2 Rf3+   Black now starts hounding the White King in a way that will remind you of Attacking chess tactics
26. Kd4 Bg7   A great move that looks quiet but threatens 27…b5! and 28…Nec6#
The other possibility is 27. … c5+ 28. dxc6 bxc6 followed by 29. … c5
27. a4 c5+  
28. dxc6 bxc6  
29. Bd3 Nexd3+  
30. Kc4 d5+  
31. exd5 cxd5+  
32. Kb5 Rb8+  
33. Ka5 Nc6+  
34. Resigns  


After this game, Polugaevsky offered this compliment: “I must have beaten Rashid a dozen times. But that one loss was so good I would have traded them all to be on the other side of the board.”

In Importance of chess strategy – Part 1, you have seen how quickly Nezhmetdinov demolished Mikenas, a player who became International Master four years before Nezhmetdinov. In the present game, once he started his attack, he never retreats and continues at it even playing moves most players would consider risky to bring down his more famous opponent! You have to remember that his opponent became a Grandmaster in another four years’ time. Doesn’t it make you wonder why he was never able to obtain the grandmaster title despite his extraordinary talent?

The answer lies hidden in Polugayevsky’s compliment. Against this brilliant win, Nezhmetdinov suffered many defeats at the hand of Polugayevsky, indicating that he was very inconsistent. This inconsistency was the result of his chess tactics that, while producing some brilliant combinations, were the result of sudden inspiration rather than flowing out of a sound chess strategy.

Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh (1922- ), a strong positional and endgame player (implying strength in chess strategy), was ten years junior to Nezhmetdinov but became Grandmaster in 1952, two years before Nezhmetdinov became International Master! He probably provided the best explanation of this anomaly when he said about Nezhmetdinov (the italics are mine):

“… if he had the attack, could kill anybody, including Tal. But my score against him was something like 8.5–0.5 because I did not give him any possibility for an active game. In such cases he would immediately start to spoil his position because he was looking for complications.”

Averbakh’s comment shows that while he adopted a strategy to contain his opponent, Nehzmetdinov did not! A player with a sound sense of strategy would never self-destruct the way Averbakh remarked about Nezhmetdinov’s style of play! In the third paragraph of Importance of chess strategy – Part 1, I compared him with that ‘Magician from Riga’ Mikhail Tal in terms of their attacking talents. So it is interesting to observe that in spite of his enormous talent for attack, Tal became World Champion only for a year (1960) after defeating Mikhail Botvinnik only to lose the title to the same player in 1961. This was what Botvinnik had to say about Tal on the 1961 rematch (the italics are mine):

“I realized that you cannot tackle him if the pieces are mobile and active. I played closed positions in which Tal could gain no advantage. Tal had no positional understanding for closed games.

Bobby Fischer also said something similar though both the players appreciated each other’s talents.

You must have noted the similarity in the comments of two Grandmasters on the playing style of two brilliant players who reveled in attacking chess tactics, and the chess strategy they adopted to block those attacks.

Though Tal was not devoid of a sense of chess strategy, he probably did not have the patience for it in his eagerness to launch an attack, most likely with a piece sacrifice. He has probably the largest fan following among grandmasters, but the very reasons for such reverence stood in his way for a result that could look much better in chess records!

Tal himself admitted this weakness by saying: “… Usually, I prefer not to study chess but to play it. For me chess is more an art than a science. It’s been said that Alekhine and I played similar chess, except that he studied more. Yes, perhaps, but I have to say that he played, too.”

Unless you are a Tal in the making, and even then, it will be a good ‘strategy’ to brush up on chess strategies while nurturing your attacking flair! Then go ahead and play through the games of Tal (and Nezhmetdinov) for your enjoyment!


Importance of chess strategy – Part 1

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Aim to be a good chess tactician, but don’t neglect to develop a sense of chess strategy. That is the message we tried to convey in “What is chess strategy?”. While explaining the differences between chess strategy and chess tactics, we showed how they interplay in a game, with a concluding surmise on how inadequate/incorrect chess strategy might have cost a landmark match for a World Champion.

For those who approach a chess game with thoughts only in terms of chess tactics, possibly because they are good at it and won games against some senior players, we will now show how brilliant chess tacticians prevail in their games! We will make our point after you have appreciated the talents in attacking chess tactics displayed in the game.

Unless you are a real chess enthusiast, you may not have come across the name of Rashid Gibiatovich Nezhmetdinov (1912-1974) of former USSR. But you are not likely to forget him when, discounting that ‘mouthful’ name, you play some of his games and find why those proved to be quite a ‘handful’ for many better-known top players of his time! He was capable of defeating any player by his imaginative and fierce attacks and this way he may remind you of Mikhail Tal who was 24 years his junior!

Nezhmetdinov came from a poor family and lost his parents early in life. He learnt chess by watching others play and he had a natural talent for chess (which can only be for chess tactics, because chess strategy needs study and development of perspective which cannot come naturally)! This enabled him to win some local tournaments but his further progress got hampered when he joined the army during the Second World War. His chess career could start only from 1946 when he was 34 years old and this may be the reason he lagged in chess strategy!

Vladas Mikenas (1910-1992), his opponent in the following game, earned the title of International Master in 1950, the very year it was introduced. Nezhmetdinov earned it 4 years later in 1954 on the strength of his performance at Bucharest, the only time he played outside USSR.

All this is to put a perspective on the game that follows, where he played as White against Mikenas in 1948. The game is not considered among his great games because of its many flaws, but glimpses of his attacking propensity come through nonetheless. I chose it because it appeared as a very strange and amusing game to me and I hope you will share in my feelings when you go through the opening moves!

1. e4 Nf6   No Knight probably faced what this one did!
2. e5 Nd5  
3. c4 Nb6  
4. c5 Nd5  
5. Bc4 e6  
6. Nc3 Nxc3   Black probably had enough of moving around that Knight, otherwise he could try 6. … Nf4 and then 7. … Nxg2 or Ng6 or Qh4
7. dxc3 Qh4  
8. Qe2 Bxc5  
9. Nh3 f6  
10. exf6 Qxf6  
11. Qh5+ Qg6  


Position after 11. … Qg6

tactics make a quick job

12. Qxc5 Qxg2  
13. Rg1 Qxh3  
14. Rxg7 Nc6  
15. Be2 e5  
16. Bg4 Qh4  
17. Qd5 Resigns   White threatens 18. Bxd7+ Bxd7 19. Qxd7+ Kf8 20. Qf7#
If 17. … Ne7 then 18. Qf7+ Kd8 19. Bg5 with threat of 20. Qxe7#.
If in response to above line 19. … Re8 then 20. Qxe7+ Rxe7 21. Rg8#


While accepting that White has totally outplayed Black with his attacking chess tactics, you must be wondering why we showed a pure tactical win when we apparently wanted to establish the importance of chess strategy that seems to be totally absent in the above game!

Please have your patience. We just wanted you to be aware of the strength of a player capable of brilliant chess tactics. The above game is only an introduction, but in Importance of chess strategy – Part 2, we will see how Nezhmetdinov makes a short shrift of a well-known Grandmaster and chess theoretician and then continue with our leitmotif!


Understanding differences between Chess Strategy and Chess Tactics

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We have given you some ideas on this topic in our article on the roles played by chess strategy and chess tactics in a chess game. We will now try to put those in a more specific manner.

  • Chess strategy is like a war (a long-term affair) whereas chess tactics are skirmishes (short combinations) and battles (longer combinations) within that war.
  • Chess tactics can occur only on the chessboard during a game. Chess strategy finds its place not only in the conduct of the game but also in the preparations for it.
  • Chess tactics involve the movements of the pieces only, with psychological factors entering in a small way (in the form of a shock value through unexpected moves/sacrifices). For chess strategy, taking the opponent’s nature and style of play into account is an accepted practice.
  • Chess tactics are essentially combinations, meaning an interlink of more than one move in a sequence with the opponent’s moves also fitted in it. Chess strategy is more in the nature of the general development of your game.
  • Chess strategy takes a longer perspective and is not changed unless there is a significant change in the situations envisaged. Chess tactics keep changing at different stages taking the reality into account.
  • There are some tenets of chess strategy as you have read in basic chess strategies, winning chess strategies and formulating your game, but these are fairly limited in number. Chess tactics also incorporate some known techniques, but the permutation/combination of these techniques can make chess tactics very widely different and practically innumerable (as can be seen in combinations from actual play involving the same theme, e.g., double rook sacrifice)
  • Chess strategies and their consequences are fairly predictable, but chess tactics, with the continuously variable game situation including the opponent’s reactions, become practically unpredictable. In fact, therein lies the interest in any game of chess.
  • A chess strategy, however good it may be, still needs chess tactics for its implementation. Chess tactics, though working better in the framework of good chess strategies, can be used even in absence of some set strategies and can succeed also in the hands of brilliant chess tacticians.
  • In the above context, it is better to be an expert in chess tactics with indifferent sense of chess strategy than the other way around! But of course a right mix of good chess strategy and chess tactics gives the best results.

Now a final thought on the importance of chess strategy where both players are equally strong in chess tactics. Everybody with some idea about computers will realize that a computer can be a brilliant(!) exponent of chess tactics by virtue of its calculation speed and enormous infallible memory – the two factors that go into any deep combination. Garry Kasparov was World Champion and a player with the highest Elo rating ever. In spite of seeming tactical advantage of Deep Blue, a super-computer specifically designed for chess by IBM, Kasparov won the first match of 6 games in 1996 with a score of 4-2 (Win: 3, Loss: 1, Draw: 2). A rematch was arranged in 1997 with an improved version of Deep Blue. Since IBM must have made adequate preparations by making Deep Blue play with strong chess players, Kasparov wanted a record of the previous games played by Deep Blue to formulate his strategy. This type of study of opponent’s games is standard practice for match preparations by top players. But it appears that IBM did not comply with the request though they must have put all the games of Kasparov in the computer’s database! The result of the rematch went in favor of Deep Blue with a score of 3.5-2.5 (Win: 2, Loss:1, Draw: 3). It is my conviction that the lack of preparation on chess strategy made Kasparov lose the match.

In support of my surmise, I would like to quote from the article by Mr. Viswanathan Anand, current World Champion, that hints at the chess strategy as one of the causes for Kasparov’s loss of the match.

” … humans can’t change their style drastically like computers. On top of that, all his games were accessible to the Deep Blue team, while he was in the dark about Deep Blue. He had two options: to play like Kasparov or to play like ‘Mr. Anti Deep Blue.’ The former runs the risk of playing to the strengths of the machines, the latter that the human ends up as disoriented as the machine. … … Kasparov chose the latter.”


What is chess strategy? Isn’t a chess game all chess tactics?

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Many people, specially the less experienced lot but including some good players also, hold that a chess game is all chess tactics only. Well, everyone is entitled to his/her opinions. But I would not subscribe to that as I have said in a previous article on chess strategy and chess tactics. This point was reiterated in “Chess Strategy and Chess Tactics: How they go hand in hand” that one needs the other for consistently effective results! I stressed ‘consistently’ because you may sometimes get through on the strength of excellent skills in chess tactics, but more often than not you will fail to prevail against players of some standing.

Even though chess strategy and chess tactics work side by side in many games, what you mostly see is the role of chess tactics – simply because the sequence of moves in a combination and their outcome is readily visible and you can recognize the chess tactics in action. The chess strategy that prompted the launch of a combination lies underneath and may not even become apparent to you as you get blinded by the fireworks of a brilliant combination!

If you study chess history of matches and tournaments, you will find a great many players including Grandmasters who were essentially chess tacticians and produced brilliant games. But look at their record of World Championship and you will realize that very few of them reached that pinnacle, and even when they did, their stay at the top was for a brief period only. Against this fact, you will find that all the great masters holding sway at the top for a length of time had an excellent grasp of chess strategy.

Are we decrying chess tactics or lowering its importance? Not at all. It is self-evident that a plan or strategy, however grandiose it may be, will not come to anything unless you can take a proper course of action, read chess tactics, to implement it.

The most significant differences between chess strategy and chess tactics lie in their spread on a time-scale and in their goals. Chess tactics, or what is commonly described as chess combinations, take place on the chessboard from time to time during the course of a game. The goal of one combination can be the creation of an extra pawn. The next combination will probably aim to ensure the promotion of the pawn, and so on. Chess strategy on the other hand may be formulated much before the start of a game and may continue in the background well into the endgame. Chess strategy is focused on the ultimate win and takes into considerations outside of what happens on the chessboard, like the personality and playing style of the opponent!

To cite an example, Botvinnik lost the World Championship match in 1960 to Tal because he found that it was extremely difficult to tackle Tal, arguably the most brilliant chess tactician in history of the game, when he had space to create his superb combinations. Of 21 games in this match, Botvinnik lost 6 against Tal’s 2, rest 13 being drawn, with average of 44 moves per game. But in 1961, Botvinnik, himself an excellent tactician, decided on frustrating Tal by denying that space through playing ‘closed’ games and won back the championship. Though this was not the only determining factor, but this chess strategy by Botvinnik formulated even before the first game must have helped! The result of 21 games, Tal losing 10 and drawing 6 with average 52 moves per game, tells the story. But when Botvinnik played next championship against Petrosian in 1963, he certainly needed a different strategy as Petrosian was essentially a positional player and is regarded by many critics as the most difficult player to beat in the history of chess. Among the top masters, he had the maximum number of drawn games against players of comparable strength. The effect is there to see in the results of Petrosian winning the championship with 5 wins and 15 draws in total 22 games at average 45 moves per game (the last 2 games accepted drawn after 10 moves only).

We will see later that players with predominantly tactical games tend to get frustrated when they cannot give free rein to their combination ideas and bring about their own downfall by playing risky moves due to impatience! You have already been told about such chess strategy in the concluding paragraphs of “Chess Tactics: more on attacking techniques”.

To people who think chess is all about chess tactics, I will ask one question. When you open the game with d4 or e4 or whatever, where is the chess tactics? But there can be a chess strategy in it. If you know that your opponent hates e4 (someone like Gruenfeld who played it only once in his career), possibly because of his dislike of open games, you can play it as a strategy (assuming you know how to handle such opening) to create some discomfiture for your opponent!

In our next article on understanding differences between chess strategy and chess tactics, we will list the differences as we see them.