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).