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Attack and Defense in Miniature, Part I

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Sep 20, 2012
  • | 10415 views
  • | 29 comments

There are some times when the game is started and a long battle anticipated, but for whatever reason that doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about quick draws, but rather when one player’s position is quickly destroyed – the so-called “miniature”. A miniature is a short game – at least less than 25 moves, and according to some, less than 22 or so.

Why does a miniature happen? There are various reasons. There is some sort of continuum of how much each side “contributes” to the quick game. On the one extreme, the loser could simply hang a piece. In this case, the blame rests mostly on the player who lost. Ironically, however, this kind of defeat is less emotionally upsetting, perhaps because in a way you defeated yourself. It was simply a moment of absent-mindedness, such as the following:

This was the first round of the U.S. Championships, and perhaps nervousness was a factor. I would hesitate to even call it a “miniature”, since it was more like a slip of the hand. Obviously Onischuk did nothing to “win” the game, other than making a few reasonable moves in the opening – he did not even take the bishop, since Stripunsky resigned first!

On the other extreme you can find some games where much of the credit goes to the winner. In order to win a game under 22 moves against someone who doesn’t blunder and plays reasonable moves, you have to create a very complex and original situation to lead the opponent astray. It takes creativity to do that. And of course, you also have to find the winning solution – which, by definition, should be somewhat hidden, since if it were obvious it would mean that the loser’s play was not reasonable. The very best “brilliant” miniature games fall into this category.

Two very good collections of miniatures are 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures, by P.H. Clarke, and The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess by Irving Chernev. The Soviet Miniatures book is particularly good and is one of my favorite books – I recommend it to anybody. All of the games in that book are beautiful but also practically unknown – it doesn’t show you the same old ones that you have seen everywhere else. I hardly know any of the players involved, who are mostly obscure Soviet masters (the book was published in 1963), perhaps also candidate masters or lower. Nevertheless, these players were not bad at all; and the commentary contains real analysis and some poetic writing. Here is the last game of the book:

Usually when a game ends quickly some of the “credit” goes to both players. Usually the defender played somewhat poorly or unsoundly, while the winner found some good moves to refute the opponent’s play. Also a lot of miniatures result from sharp opening theory. If a player enters a sharp opening line unprepared, while his opponent is prepared, then a quick defeat can result. In this case the winner didn’t create the unusual situation himself, but was rather following opening theory, and thus there is less to be proud of there. For example, the following game looks brilliant, and somebody once complimented me on it. But I had to inform him that a lot of it was opening theory. For example, I didn’t invent the 15.Rf3 exchange sacrifice – it had already been played several times (including by me, earlier!). I started to think after 16…Qb6, but I already knew the ideas well, so it was a matter of just calculating a few moves.

There are naturally many miniature games where someone simply invests too much material, misjudges his attacking chances, and falls on his face. This, in particular, is a way in which black tends to win quickly. In fact, ambition – in general – is the single leading cause of quick losses. That is not to say that a player should not be ambitious – but there is a fine line.

In Part II we will see a lesser-known subject – the defensive miniature. We will see how to use the opponent’s energy and ambition against him. So long for now. 

Comments


  • 2 years ago

    ferdinandplebie

    its nice to win quickly

  • 2 years ago

    Eseles

    I just won this mini-game (checkmate in 14 moves)

  • 2 years ago

    Kinn72

    Robert Fischer had a few brilliant miniatures, in the one I like he uses the Kings Indian Attack for White.

  • 2 years ago

    Elubas

    I disagree with your comment in the Stripunsky example. I think if one were to look over a 1000's game, and saw this move, the coach would say "look out for this more." I understand such a blunder in GM play is unbelievably rare, but I still think that some people are better at not making this error than others. For instance, I think it's a result of Magnus Carlsen's skill that he would make such a blunder with even less likelihood.

    So I see your point, but instead of wording it in terms of chess skill, I would say that the issue, does, indeed, depend on chess skill, and so Stripunsky did show bad skill for that particular game, but that blunder is not representative of the skill Stripunsky typically shows, so he should not be judged for that.

    Again, I want to make sure I mention I mean no offense with this comment, so that you don't have to guess my intentions; I mention the above because I think it ties in with the fact that Onischuk's win here is as legitimate as any other -- he showed more skill than his opponent that game, something you have to be prepared to do, (whether it's playing a sophisticated move or taking advantage of a simple blunder), despite the fact that his game was easier than usual.

    Obviously, I do agree that whatever the case, and however legitimate the win was, it's certainly not the kind of miniature you would brag about.

    Loved the miniatures (well, besides the first!) here.

  • 2 years ago

    Natnael

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 2 years ago

    cookie3

    I have the book "100 Soviet Chess Minatures" that IM Smith peaks of in this article.  It is an excellent read and highly reccommended!

  • 2 years ago

    MrMars

    why not put more games in here? I would love to see more minis...

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