Monthly Archives: July 2009

Chess Tactics: Smothered Mate is possible on full board also

Filed under Chess Tutorials

You have mostly seen the theme of Philidor’s position in action in our discussions on smothered mate, but we pointed out that such mate can occur during the opening phases also with the King in the center when that player handles his pieces badly or deviates from established lines without sufficient thoughts behind such moves.

First we show one more example of how the lines can be cleared to create Philidor’s position for the final Knight check.

another Philidor's position

Here the Black King has already closeted himself and all White needs is to deliver a Knight check from f7, but the Bishop and the Queen are standing in the way. So White finds the move to kill two birds with one stone!

1. Rxe6! Qxe6   White could also win after this with 2. Rxh7+ Kxh7 3. Ng5+ to capture the Queen …
2. Ng5 Qg6   … but he wanted a more direct route and planned to force the Queen away to guard against 3. Rxh7#
3. Rxh7+ Qxh7   The hapless Queen now smothers the King!
4. Nf7#  


You have seen enough to be able to identify such positions and exploit those to add to the repository of such examples! Now we show how inaccurate play can lead to smothered mate quite early in the game. In the following game with Black playing Budapest Gambit (Fajarowicz Variation), White mixed up his opening lines and went astray. The result is a short game with Black delivering a smothered mate with almost a full board!

This is how it happened.

1. d4 Nf6  
2. c4 e5  
3. dxe5 Ne4  
4. a3 Nc6  
5. Nf3 a5  


smothered in opening

6. Nbd2 Nc5   White needed to play 6. Qc2
7. b3 Qe7  
8. Bb2 d6  
9. exd6? Nd3#  


If you think that White played badly, what will you say about the way the four allies played against Alekhine at Palma in 1935? It is something similar to above example with colors reversed.

1. e4 c6  
2. d4 d5  
3. Nc3 dxe4  
4. Nxe4 Nd7  
5. Qe2 Ngf6?  
6. Nd6#  


The final position:


Considering that four players were consulting to choose their move, it is unbelievable, isn’t it? Or is it a case of too many cooks…?

Note: These positions were taken from a book by Chernev & Reinfeld.


Chess Tactics: the Old but Evergreen Philidor’s position

Filed under Chess Tutorials

In the previous article explaining Philidor’s position and showing how Grandmasters also stumble into it, we now show you one of even more recent origin that arose in a game played between two young but promising Grandmasters.

Alexander Grischuk (b.1983) is a Russian GM who came into limelight when he was a teenager. In 2004 Russian Championship, he came out second behind the winner Garry Kasparov. He is now (in July 2009) ranked 14th in the world as per FIDE list of top players. He is also one of the best blitz chess players in the world. He is married to Ukrainian WGM Natalia Zhukova.

Ruslan Ponomariov (b.1983) is from Ukraine and won the World under-12 Championship when he was 10 and the World under-18 Championship at the age of 13. In 1997, he became the youngest GM ever (this record was broken later by Sergey Karjakin). In 2002, he became the youngest FIDE champion. He is ranked 16th in the world in the FIDE list of July 2009.

The diagram below shows the position after 16 moves in a game played between these Grandmasters in a tournament at Torshavn in 2000.

Philidor's position in a recent setting

On first look, you cannot possibly imagine how this position can get into Philidor’s legacy! I do not know if the players themselves had any inkling about what was likely to develop! Play out the moves to see how it transpires.

17. dxe5 Nxe5  
18. Nxe5 Rxf1+  
19. Qxf1 Qd4+  
20. Kh1 Qxe5  
21. Bd8 Qc5   The crystallization stage – White’s Q and KB are ready, the Knight has to take its position!
22. Ne4 Qb4  
23. Ng5 Kh8   Black seems to be more worried about his Knight at b6
24. Qf7 Bd7   The White pieces are in position waiting for the final strike.
25. Bxe6 Rxd8   25. … Bxe6 26. Nxe6 threatens mate. 25. … Qf8 26. Bxb6 loses a piece.
26. Qg8+ Rxg8  
27. Nf7#  


All the previous examples showed Philidor’s mate applied by White, but it can work equally well for Black also as the following game shows. It was played between J. Stepanek and Karel Treybal at Prague in 1936 and the board position shows the situation after 18 moves. Here also, it certainly does not look anywhere near developing into Philidor’s position.

Philidor's mate from Black side

This is how it happens.

19. a4 Rb8  
20. axb5 Rxb5  
21. Qc2 f3  
22. g3 Qb8  
23. Ra2 Rc5  
24. Qa4 Nd3  
25. Rb1 Qb6  
26. Nc4 Rxc4   White played into the hands of Black and the basic pattern for Philidor’s mate is now apparent.
27. Qxc4 Nxf2  
28. Be6 Nh3++  
29. Kh1 Qg1+  
30. Rxg1 Nf2#  


Here it is a little different from ideal smothered mate in the sense that g2 square is not occupied by any white piece, but the black pawn at f3 denies this square to White King.

You must have heard the bitter quote: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Lest you get focused only on the usual Philidor’s position and overlook variations on the theme, our next article on smothered mate will give an example where it starts with Rook sacrifices and also show other types of smothered mate possible during the opening phase.


Chess Tactics using opponent’s pieces to mate the king!

Filed under Chess Tutorials

Well, not exactly! The check has still to be given by your Knight, but the opponent’s King is so hemmed in by his own pieces and pawns that they don’t leave any escape hole for the King. Net result is a checkmate which would not be possible had the opponent’s pieces not surrounded the King to that extent and in that way contributed towards the checkmate! This is also the reason why the final check in this kind of mate, known as smothered mate, is by a Knight because it can jump over the King’s guards when your other pieces are not getting a look at the King.

This kind of checkmate may be relatively rare but it is of a great vintage! It was described in the oldest existing printed chess book, written by a Spanish chess player Luis Ramirez Lucena and published in 1497. But this smothered mate is popularly referred as Philidor’s Legacy or Philidor’s mate, taking its name from Andre Philidor, a great French chess player of the 18th century and considered to be the best of his times.

As the opponent is not likely to put his King into such a position on his own, this type of mate is often preceded by a sacrifice to force the opponent’s hands. Smothered mate has sometimes occurred during the opening phases also when one player handled his pieces badly or failed to identify traps laid by his opponent. We will show this later. So you must understand that Philidor’s mate is a type of smothered mate but all smothered mates need not go through Philidor’s position.

The basic mating net is generally cast in a position as shown below with White to play and mate.

Philidor's position

1. Qc4+ Kh8   1. … Kf8 2. Qf7#
2. Nf7+ Kg8  
3. Nh6++ Kh8  
4. Qg8+ Rxg8   Forced.
5. Nf7#  


You should remember the basic pattern where the White (or Black) Queen is on the diagonal to g8 (or g1) and the White (or Black) Knight is one step away from f7 (or f2) and the enemy King has to retreat to h8 (or h1) square with its own pieces clustered around. In actual play, the pattern may be masked by the presence of other pieces of both sides and some maneuvering may be necessary to reach the desired position from where you can deliver the coup d’etat.

If you doubt the need to remember the position on the assumption that all chess players are expected to be aware of something so old, you will be surprised to learn that even Grandmasters fall into this trap from time to time. Given below is a position from a game where a British champion succumbs to this type of mating net cast by a Dutch champion, both of them being well known Grandmasters.

Jan Timman (b. 1951) is nine times Dutch Champion, and earned his GM title in 1974. He was a contender for FIDE World Championship in 1993, but lost the match to Anatoly Karpov.

Nigel Short (b. 1965) was a chess prodigy and at the age of 10, participated in a simultaneous display by Victor Korchnoi and defeated him. At 14, he tied for first place in British Championship along with John Nunn and Robert Bellin. He became second youngest IM in 1979 and the youngest GM in 1984 till that time. He is a chess writer, coach and commentator and now lives in Greece.

smothered mate for a GM
The position shown occurs after 18 moves in the game played at Tilburg in 1990.

Follow the moves to see how the game almost imperceptibly gets transformed into ‘Philidor’s position”.

19. Ng5 Bxc4  
20. Nd5 Nd8  
21. e6 Bxd5  
22. Rxd5 Qa3  
23. Rd7 Nc6  
24. Bxc6 bxc6  
25. e7 Re8   ’Philidor’s position’!
26. Qc4+ Kh8  
27. Nf7+ Kg8  
28. Nh6++ Kh8  
29. Qg8+ Rxg8  
30. Nf7#  


To convince you farther about the need to identify this situation and to reinforce your ideas about how such positions develop, we will show you two more games in our continuation article on Philidor’s position.


Lessons for life in the game of chess

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I came across an interesting sentence that made me ponder a lot. Playing chess is one of the most invigorating exercises to the mind that not only helps one refresh physically and mentally, but also paves for enhancing the quality of life in many ways. After reading this sentence, I was a little perplexed and at the same time little surprised. How can a game played for killing time or for relaxation can help in enriching the quality of life – my inquisitive mind questioned and the result is this article.

We all know and accept that indulging in some sort of physical activity or sports activities can help a person keep his body in a fit condition and proper shape for a considerable amount of time even if one retires from the sports activity or physical exercises.

As a chess player or ardent lover of chess, we also know that chess is a thinking game and also a fair game in that there is no room for chance or luck whatsoever. The outcome of the game is entirely in your own hand. The fair outcome of the game is only a Draw and winning over the opponent is nothing but an accident caused as a result of the opponent’s mistake and exploited by you.

Moving away from the concept of chess for a while and thinking about ourselves or our life, let us try to find answer for a simple question – what is life? Is it a science or an art? The body which we have in which our soul resides can be explained in a scientific manner to a great extent, thanks to the advancement of medical sciences. Body and life are not one and the same. Though not trying to sound philosophical, it is but true that the body is only a carrier of the soul and not the soul itself. The soul or the life is not scientific in any feasible way. How one leads a life, though bestowed with the same basic capabilities as any other person next door, is an art in itself, and you are the designer of your art or life. It might sound a bit vague to start with, but introspection would help you get the point clear I believe. Life is a bit of science and a bit of art and the right blend of the two defines one‘s success in life.

Now, coming back to the game of chess, there is a specific set of rigid rules that one needs to follow in the game. There are only 64 squares in the board, of which 32 squares are already occupied by the pieces at the start of the game. A number of theories, combinations, variations, openings are there to help a player in the game. In spite of all the proven methods and combinations at the disposal, why one finds the game fascinating enough to play again and again and get different results each time. I feel that here comes the role of art in the game of chess. While the rigid rules, combinations, proven opening theories and such other things can be roughly compared to the science of the game, the execution part is an art.
The game of chess is also a bit of science and a bit of art – is it not.

It is in this context that I find some similarities between the life and the chess game. Chess is nothing but a miniature of life. May be that is the reason this game of chess withstood the travails of time and technology and will be there as long as one derives inspiration for life from the game of chess.

The game of chess, as a thinking game, requires concentration, attention, intuition, planning, execution, defense and patience. These are some of the traits that a person does need in his life to weather the day-to-day challenges in life.

As such, playing chess helps a person develop these invaluable traits that will help in enhancing the quality of life.

Playing chess means involving two people as well as an ideal time and place. In this fast-paced world, there is not much possibility of matching all the three at once and then playing chess. Online chess is the answer as people, separated by distance, can be found in the Internet at your convenient time. So free time can be effectively spent on the computer playing online chess with players like you might be the answer to enrich one’s life. Ponder over the same and Prosper in your quality of life.

Chess Tactics to use the might of the Passed Pawn

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We keep bringing this up from time to time because this aspect of chess games occurs quite frequently to influence the course of the game. In Chess Tactics: A protected passed pawn is a passport to win, you were introduced to this aspect and Chess Tactics in Middle Game: Power of the Passed Pawn elaborated on this theme. Chess Tactics in Middle Game: Give up Queens to get Passed Pawns! as also Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: creating passed pawn showed you the lengths to which a player can go to create a passed pawn to this end. We also showed in Chess Sacrifice as a Chess Tactics: promoting a passed pawn how a player can doggedly pursue the course to promote a pawn successfully.

If you think that I am being overly enthusiastic about the power of a passed pawn, you may take a look at the position shown in the following diagram. This position occurred after 29 moves in a game played between Evgeni Vasiukov and Rashid Nezhmetdinov during tournament held at Kharkov in 1956.

Evgeni Vasiukov (b.1933) became an IM in 1958 and GM in 1961. He won the Moscow Championship six times. He scored victories against many of the notable Russian players like Bronstein, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Keres, Polugaevsky etc. but not against Spassky, Karpov and Korchnoi.

Rashid Nezhmetdinov was introduced to you in Importance of chess strategy – Part 1 and has been featured several times after that.

the passed pawn waiting to show its power

When you look at the position, who draws your attention first? Isn’t it that tiny passed pawn of Black, physically and metaphorically in the centre of the field? It is already in the focus of the opposing Rooks and Bishops. Otherwise, both players seem to have equal chances though Black Queen and Knight are in slightly more active position to launch attack on the White King. Let us see how everything gets tied up to the progress of that passed pawn. The immediate threats by Black were 30. … e3 31. Rxe3 Rxe3 32. Qxe3 Nxf4 33. Qxf4 Qxh3+ 34. Kg1 Qxg2#.

Here is the saga of the passed pawn:

30. Qe3 Nh4  
31. Rc1 Qg6  
32. Rg1 Bxd4   Black removed the piece that could help in White’s defense against his plans.
33. Qxd4 Nf5   The Knight move freed the pin on e-pawn with a tempo by attacking the Queen.
34. Qd1 e3  
35. Be5 e2   White’s best bet was possibly 35. Bxf5 to exchange his inactive Bishop for the troublesome Knight. Instead, White tried to cut-off the Rook support, but the Pawn did not need it! It went ahead chasing the Queen while clearing the line for Black’s Bishop. Of course, the Pawn was taboo because of 36. Qxe2 Ng3+ winning the Queen
36. Qe1 Ng3+   The Knight came to support the pawn …
37. Kh2 Nf1+   … but the Knight now ventures further with the support of the Pawn! The Pawn ensured that capturing the Knight meant suffering checkmate.
38. Kh1 Qg3   White resigned because to tackle the double-threat of 39. … Qh2# or 39. … Qxh3#, he had to exchange the queen through 39. Qxg3 Nxg3+ 40. Kh2 Nf1+. But Black would recover his Queen through Pawn promotion on next move e.g., 41. Kh1 e8=Q or 41. Rxf1 exf1=Q


Position after Black’s 38th move.

the passed pawn standing tall above alll

Would you agree with me now? Incidentally, Mikhail Botvinnik, the 6th World Champion had this to say about the winner: “Nobody sees combinations as Rashid Nezhmetdinov”.