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Checks and Threats, Should You or Shouldn’t You

  • IM Silman
  • | Oct 17, 2012
  • | 7576 views
  • | 19 comments

IMPORTANT: [At the end of the puzzles, you should click MOVE LIST so you can see my instructive notes and variations. If you are having trouble solving a problem, just click SOLUTION, and then MOVE LIST. Even if you solve everything, DO click MOVE LIST or you might miss an important bit of prose.]

When players start out, they hear all sorts of hogwash that’s designed to help them, but often leaves a lingering legacy of mediocrity. One example is the fortune cookie “wisdom” of, “Always check, it might be mate.” It sounds good, since when you check an opponent his hands are tied: he MUST get out of check, which means you’re bossing him around. But is this really true?

People that are starting out also note that threats are scary, and if they threaten the opponent it feels like they’re in charge. Threats might indeed be scary, but are they always good? 

The answer is simple: other than a few extreme examples, there is no such thing as “always” in chess. This means that, though threats and checks might be the right thing to do in a given position, they might be major blunders in other positions. In other words, checks and threats are like all other moves – you need to make sure they have purpose and that they take all the factors on the board into consideration before employing them.

This week’s article features various pieces of one game. What stood out was not the good moves or bad moves (their moves were common for players in that rating group), but their copious use of checks and threats. Sometimes the check or threat was exactly what the position needed, and sometimes it was a total disaster, but since I see players of all ratings do this kind of thing, I felt it would be worth a close look.

Fluttershylover (1360) – bpletz (1224), chess.com 2012 (a move every 3 days)

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Bc4 Bxc3 

4.Qh5?!

Threatening a check. Yes, it's a big check (Qxf7 mate!), but just because you can threaten a check doesn't mean you should. Instead of this threat, White should have played 4.bxc3 (preparing for an eventual d2-d4 with a nice center) or 4.dxc3, which frees the c1-Bishop in anticipation of sharp play. Both these recaptures give White a small plus. What we have with 4.Qh5 is a double whammy: a bad check and a bad threat!

4...Nh6??

Not a good decision! This gives white’s Queen move too much respect, and stops the threat against f7 by sticking the Knight on a poor square where it’s vulnerable to white’s c1-Bishop. The test above shows you (notes included!) how Black should have played.

5.bxc3

FAST FORWARD to move 12

12...d6??

Black is hitting white's Queen with his light-squared Bishop, but this turns out to be a very bad threat! Let's see if you can figure out how Black should have handled the position.

13.Bc4+??

Seeing that his e5-pawn was attacked, and that his Queen was also attacked, White retaliated with a very bad check, which instantly gives Black a winning position after 13…d5 14.Qd3 dxc4 15.Qxc4+ Qf7. 

FAST FORWARD to black’s 17th move 

Black's been eyeing the f2-pawn and now must decide whether or not he should take it. Is it a good threat of a bad one?

17...Qxf2??

He went for it, but this is an insane decision. Why? Because Black was a piece ahead and his only downside is his slightly open King and his lack of development. If he makes sure his King is covered, and if he gets his remaining pieces out, then victory will be his. Instead, he goes after a useless pawn and ignores the factors just mentioned. 

18.Qg5+ Kh8

and now White missed a straightforward draw:

As you can see, in this case checking like a madman was the right thing to do since black’s King doesn’t have any cover.

FAST FORWARD to move 22

22.Qh5+?

Is this a good check, or did White have better? It turns out to be a bad check since he will end up chasing the enemy King to a safe port.  Instead, 22.Nf3 is correct when Black is suddenly in trouble since black's Rook, Knight and Bishop are at home, while white's King is safe, his Queen is going after black's King, his Knight is joining in the attack, and white's Rook will also join in via Re1.

REMEMBER: Chess is a team effort. Get ALL your pieces out!

22...Ke6 23.Qh6+??

The random checks continue. Just because you CAN check doesn't mean you SHOULD! Instead, 23.Qe8+ (A good check that doesn't allow black's Queen to defend its King. It also prepares to gobble up black's queenside pieces.) 23...Kd6 (23...Kd5?? 24.Nf3 leaves black's King in serious danger.) 24.Qxc8 Qxg2 25.Qf8+ Kc7 26.Qf4+ Kb6 27.Qb4+ Kc7 28.Qf4+ would draw.

23...Kd5??

Happily walking into danger. Now White can draw by 24.Nf3! (once again getting his stuff out) 24...Nd7 25.Rd1+ Kc5 26.Qd6+ Kb6 27.Qb4+ Kc7 28.Qd6+ Kb6 (28…Kd8?? 29.Kb2 Qb6+ 30.Ka1 gives White a winning attack) 29.Qb4+ with a draw by perpetual check.


Instead of allowing this, Black should have played 23...Qf6:


24.Qd2+????

This move actually deserves 10 question marks since White's only hope is to torment the enemy King with his Queen. Instead he forces the exchange of Queens and rushes into a piece down (as in hopeless) endgame.

After the swap the Queens the game is resignable, but we’ll zip ahead to move 32 and a little problem:

LESSONS FROM THIS GAME

* Don’t put too much faith in fortune cookie chess wisdom.

* Checks and threats are like all other moves – you need to make sure they have purpose and that they take all the factors on the board into consideration before employing them.

* When you’re a piece ahead and the only downside is a slightly open King and lack of development, make sure your King is covered, and do your best to get your remaining pieces out.

* Just because you CAN check doesn't mean you SHOULD!

HOW TO PRESENT A GAME FOR CONSIDERATION

If you want me to look over your game, send it to askjeremy@chess.com.

I need your name (real or chess.com handle), your OPPONENT’S name (real or chess.com handle), both players’ ratings, where the game was played, and date. If you don’t give me this information, I won’t use your game! BTW: I’ve noticed that many people are reluctant to give me their opponent’s name. This is very strange! Showing the names of both players is the way chess games are presented in databases, books, magazines… everywhere! Permission from the opponent isn’t necessary. If permission was necessary, everyone who ever lost a game wouldn’t allow their name to be on it!

Comments


  • 16 months ago

    Chessaddictedprakhar

    Can anyone recommend an article of a bishop and a night game??

  • 22 months ago

    bob_franklin

    Yep exactly right condude2 - gives White too much development, as described by Jeremy himself in the Move List.

    Always pays to check that Move List after a puzzle. I was just about to comment here and ask 'Why not 4... g6?' until I remembered I hadn't yet taken Jeremy's own advice of clicking Move List after every puzzle Smile

  • 22 months ago

    condude2

    In the first puzzle couldn't black play the desperado Bxd2+?  Or would the 2 bishops activated be too much compensation?

     

    Thanks.

  • 22 months ago

    Abhishek2

    It's always interesting to see who will win, blunder after blunder, until someone comes to their senses or the blunder is too obvious..PRICELESS!!

    Sealed

  • 23 months ago

    NM danheisman

    Good article Jeremy! I get lots of games like this from students, too, so it's very helpful, heedful adviceSmile

  • 23 months ago

    Ricardoruben

    Great article, thanks for posting! :)

  • 23 months ago

    unusualkid

    Always check, it might be mate is a very silly joke and you shouldn't check unless you have a good reason for it. If you see that a check is not mate don't do it unless you secure the win of a piece or more. If you see a clear mate in two or more with a check as the first move, and the mate is forced (or you win a piece or a Rook or a Queen for a Rook or whatsoever) then go ahead and do the check. If not, the check can be saved for later when your opponent compromises their position and makes the check more effective (i.e. it is a fork of an undefended Knight or a skewer or another type of tactic or just plain strong like it forces a mate or something).

  • 23 months ago

    unusualkid

    Right! Just because you can check doesn't mean that you should! What if you give a check with your Queen and they have a discovered attack that wins you Queen? On the other hand, if you give a double check or a discovered check it is kind of hard for them to get away without losing any material(if you move a piece to attack a piece of theirs that is undefended or worth more than your attacking piece then you can win material or in certain circumstances even checkmate your opponent with a discovered check or a double check).

  • 23 months ago

    Kratos2012

    grate article

  • 23 months ago

    dezsoracz

    Thanks.

  • 23 months ago

    Last_Check

    the imbalence of opponent pieces!which can be achieved by putting always check sometimes.but seriously I dont think a huge amount of 'players' consider about a good combination before putting check......

  • 23 months ago

    bullregard

    "Always check, it might be mate" is a joke. I don't know anyone who ever took it seriously. The most dangerous one I've heard is "Trade down when you are ahead". This is a good general principle, but some people follow it religously and forget every other thing they know about chess, even when, say, they are ahead an exchange for a pawn.

  • 23 months ago

    Lincolm

    This article really instruct me. I have play at tournament like this and I deserve 2 loses of 5 games because I try to check without mate (and make his king to safe port). Thanks a lot! 

  • 23 months ago

    SJFG

    Very good article!

  • 23 months ago

    uddan

    nice one. thanks

  • 23 months ago

    Lawdoginator

    lol

  • 23 months ago

    NDospark320

    "This move actually deserves 10 question marks "

    Laughed like LOL. Laughing

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