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Chess Tactics: Relevance of all-round play in chess

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The game of chess calls for shrewd analytical skills of positions coupled with calculations to gain control over the game. It is essential that good positional play should be entwined with calculations of moves and deployment of effective tactics assessing the overall position in the board. Having good control over the board positionally will not guarantee you any success over the opponent as long as you do not entwine the tactics effectively to gain control over the board. It is in this context that one should strive to be a good allround player instead of concentrating either only on his tactical skills or in positional factors.

In the following example, you will notice that having good positions will not lead to success as one silly error caused without giving importance to the opponent’s pieces, and due to paucity of time, ended up in losing the game from the winning position.

This is the position after 27 moves. It is the turn of the white to move now.

Position 1
White is a good player in positional chess and now, a cursory look at the board indicates that white has an extra pawn than black.  The game proceeded as follows :

28.    Rc1       h6
29.    Rc8+    Kh7
30.    Rc4       Qe5
31.    Rf4        Qc4

White, using his skills on positional chess has been making satisfactory progress.  The position after 31 moves is given hereunder:

Position 2
Not only is the white rook at f4 supporting the pawn at f2, the queen in b3 is threatening the black pawns at e6 and f7 and blocking their movement.

32.    Kh2    …..            Another good move from White in an attempt to develop his pawns with King’s assistance.

32.    …..        Kg7
33.    Rg4+    Kh7
34.    Rf4        Kg7
35.    Qb4       Qc2
36.    Kg2       e5
37.    Rg4+    …….            This is a wrong move from White that has exposed the pawn at f2.

37.    ……        Kg6            Black tries to capitalize on the wrong move by White.   He could have moved the King to h7 but instead preferred this move.

38.    Qxb6+    …….            White continues to attack with fervor considering the fact that time is running out, and Black tried to confuse the confused white by moving the king to the “f” file.

38.    …….    Kh5

This is the position at the board at the end of 38 moves.

3rd Position
39.    e4+    ……            This is the blunder on the part of White.  He did not assess the winning position correctly and out of confusion and time constraint, deprived himself of a winning move in Kh3 and by calling check on Black, exposed the white rook at g4, and literally threw the game.

39.    ……    Kxg4
40.    Qe3    Rd3
41.    Qxh6    Rxg3            After this White resigned accepting defeat.

This is a clear example of how confusion caused by the opponent and paucity of time can change the whole advantage into a loss.

For any aspiring chess player to grow up the ladder and achieve success, he or she should develop as a complete player having allround skills and not relying on any particular skill as positional play or tactical player.  Positional analysis and calculation of the moves and counter moves are very essential for the deployment of a good successful chess strategy or an effective chess tactics.

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.

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: Attacking castled King with the classic Bishop sacrifice Part 4

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Position of white pieces

Before considering the sacrifice of light squared white bishop, it has to be ensured that:

  • the light squared white bishop is in the diagonal b1-h7 and there should not be any pieces hindering the movement of the bishop to h7 – if this is not fulfilled, there is no possibility for this attack at all in the first instance
  • There is no necessity that the bishop should capture the pawn at h7 – I mean there is no compulsion that the pawn should be there in h7. It is not even a necessity that the bishop should give a check on the black King. In other words, the King may not be at g8 square in some occasional cases.
  • the white knight should have been placed within the easy reach of the g5 square to give check on the black King when it captures the light-squared white bishop; in other words, the white knight should be either in f3 or h3 or in e4
  • The White queen should be capable of reaching h5 square, if possible, or else should be able to move to the “h” file

Position of black pieces

The position of the black pieces should meet the following guidelines:

  • Pieces should be there in the f7 and g7 squares.  In most cases, it would be only the pawns; but in certain cases, the dark-squared black bishop might be In g7
  • If the black queen and the rook occupy the d8 and f8 squares, then it would be ideal and the probability of attack on castled king sacrificing the bishop at h7 will be successful
  • It has to be ensured that the Black Knight is not anywhere near the f6 square and cannot be moved to that square instantly.
  • There should not be any threat for the b1-h7 diagonal from black’s Queen or light-squared bishop.

White has to ensure that the above conditions are completely met before embarking on this attack on the black King by sacrificing the light squared bishop.

Lastly one of the variations you might be interested in looking at with reference to following diagram seen in Part 1 of this series:


(White to move)

7. Bxh7+ Kh8  
8. Ng5 g6 White needs to move Knight to open d1-h5 line. 8…g6 tries to prevent White’s 9.Qh5
9. h5 Bxg5 Hoping for 10.Bxg5 Qxg5 11.hxg6 Nf4
10. hxg6 Nf4 Trying to prevent 11.Qh5
11. Bxf4 Bxf4  
12. Bg8+ Kxg8 12… Kg7 gives same result
13. Qh5 1 – 0 Checkmate on next move 14. Qh7# or 14.Qh8# depending on Black’s 13th move

Chess Tactics: Attacking castled King with the classic Bishop sacrifice Part 2

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In Part 1 of Chess Tactics: Attacking castled King with the classic Bishop sacrifice, we looked at the main variation of the bishop sacrifice in Part 2 we will look at some of the possible variations.

Variation #1 – Capturing the Knight by dark squared black Bishop


7. Bxh7+ Kxh7
8. Ng5+ Bxg5
9. hxg5+ Kg6
10. Qh5+ Kf5
11. Qh3+ Kg6
12. Qh7# 1 – 0

Variation #2 – Moving the King to h6


7. Bxh7+ Kxh7
8. Ng5+ Kh6
9. Nxe6+ …. Here the black Queen is lost following a discovered check from Bishop at c1

Variation #3 – moving the king to g6


7. Bxh7+ Kxh7
8. Ng5+ Kg6
9. h5+ Kh6
10. Nxe6+ …. Discovered check and threat on black Queen

Variation #4 – moving the king to f5 after g6


7. Bxh7+ Kxh7
8. Ng5+ Kg6
9. h5+ Kf5
10. g4# 1 – 0

All the variations lead to one conclusion – victory to white led by the sacrifice of the light-squared bishop at h7. The attacking prowess of the bishop is unleashed at its entirety in the attacking of the castled king.

Ironically, the Greco’s sacrifice of the classic bishop sacrifice, which was recorded as early as 1619 in Greco’s handbook, was systematically reviewed and in 1911 by E. Vollemy. Since then, this classic bishop sacrifice is occasionally used as an attacking option, especially by the player playing white pieces.

Continue reading Part 3 of Classical Bishop Sacrifice….

Chess Tactics: Attacking castled King with the classic Bishop sacrifice Part 1

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In the game of chess, bishops play a very important role both in attacking the opponent’s King as well as in defending one’s own King, especially using its unique capability of moving along the diagonals.

Before dwelling further into the attacking aspects of the bishop, let us recollect some of the basic features of the opening principles. In the opening stages of the game, we were taught that the pawn movements should be kept to the minimum such that the minor pieces such as knights and bishops are developed. Then the next thing one is advised to do is to go for castling either on the kingside or in the queenside, whereby the King is safeguarded, and the rooks at the flanks are brought to the center of the first or last ranks.

Mere castling of the king will not guarantee 100% safety and the castling should be followed with adequate precautionary measures in order to avoid devastating attack on the kingside by the bishops along the diagonals, especially the light-squared white bishop. Sounds strange – is it not? Read on.

This attack is primarily suitable for the player using white pieces when and only when the opponent castles on the kingside and the king is placed at g8 with pawns placed at f7, g7 and h7 respectively. The broad idea is to sacrifice the light-squared bishop of white by capturing the pawn at h7, drawing the king out and using the knight at g5 and the Queen moved to the “h” rank to say checkmate.

This attack on the castled black king by sacrificing the light-squared white bishop at h7 is called as the classic bishop sacrifice. This is one of the oldest attacks on the castled king, tried and tested as early as early 1600s, as writing about this attack is found in Gioachino Greco’s handbook in 1619. It is believed that Greco introduced this classic bishop sacrifice and as such the attack is also referred to as Greco’s sacrifice by some of the writers.

Before exploring more about this Greco’s sacrifice or classic bishop sacrifice, let us look at the game played by Greco where he employed this attack successfully. As per Greco’s handbook of 1619, he reached the position in the game as given below after six not particularly intelligent moves.


(White to move)

Now, here comes the brilliant display of white involving the classic bishop sacrifice.

The mainline of the game is as follows :

7. Bxh7+ Kxh7
8. Ng5+ Kg8
9. Qh5 Re8
10. Qh7+ Kf8
11. Qh8# 1 – 0 There ends the game in white’s favor after the sacrifice of the light-squared bishop.

In Part 2 of Attacking castled King with the classic Bishop sacrifice we will look at some of the variations and how to play those variations for a win. Continue reading Part 2 of Bishop Sacrifice.