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Test Your Chess Understanding, Part 2

  • IM Silman
  • | May 27, 2014
  • | 14861 views
  • | 17 comments

Usually an article discusses a particular player, or tactic, or some positional concept. When I teach tactical motifs, you know that all the puzzles are going to be about tactics. If I am discussing a particular idea concerning a pawn structure, you know exactly what you need to be looking for in any accompanying puzzles. However, in real life you will often completely miss some epic combination or some positional coup de grâce since anything and everything is possible in any given position.

As with Part One of this series, I’ll be offering something that’s different from my other articles. Instead of certainty, I’ll give you uncertainty. And instead of looking for that one special move in a puzzle, I want you to answer a myriad of questions about each puzzle position. Ideally, you will write down your answers and thoughts for all four puzzles, and only then look at the answers. But, if you don’t have the time for such serious chess study, you can just go straight to the answers, all of which are filled with instructive tidbits. You’ll learn something either way!

One other thing: if you try and solve these puzzles, don’t get upset if you fail in all of them. That’s perfectly okay! This isn’t a contest, it’s instruction based on getting acquainted with various positions/concepts. Some people will find certain situations too advanced, others will find them too easy, and others will find them (as in the Three Bears tale) just right. But no matter what your rating is, there’s something (often a lot of somethings!) here for you. 

PUZZLE 1

The opening was a Queen’s Indian Defense and, since White’s queen was threatened by the Black knight, White moved it to safety on d2. The game started in a quiet manner and, apparently, it’s still quiet. But quiet or not, one has to remain awake and try and grasp all the subtleties in the position lest you fall for a trick or allow a positional concession. How would you play the Black position and what is lying under the position’s surface?

PUZZLE 2

After 17.f4 most amateurs would look for a move without really understanding the position. Though the old, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” is still being argued, in chess there is no argument: understanding the position comes before the move.

What key features would you notice in this position? Only after you answer this question should you find a move, making sure that your move caters to those features.

PUZZLE 3

In this position Black threatens 22...Qxf3, though there are many ways to prevent it. In the game White played 22.Ne3, ignoring the threat! Was this a blunder? Has White missed something? Should Black take on f3? If not, what should Black do? What in the world is going on? Remember, you’re not playing for either side, you’re trying to discover the position’s depths.

PUZZLE 4

Not done solving puzzles? Tactics Trainer is waiting!

After only thirteen moves in the King’s Indian Defense we already have a tense positional/tactical situation. White has access to the d4-hole (note how proud his knight is on that square!), a queenside pawn majority (an eventual a2-a3 followed by b2-b4 would make it quite threatening), and (if things go well) pressure against the isolated pawn on d5.

Why would Black play into this? What does Black have (not only a move, but in general) that would lure him into playing in this manner?

ANSWERS TO PUZZLES

PUZZLE 1:

QUESTION:

The opening was a Queen’s Indian Defense and, since White’s queen was threatened by the Black knight, White moved it to safety on d2. The game started in a quiet manner and, apparently, it’s still quiet. But quiet or not, one has to remain awake and try and grasp all the subtleties in the position, lest you fall for a trick or allow a positional concession. How would you play the Black position and what is lying under the position’s surface?

ANSWER: 

It turns out that White’s 19th move (19.Qd2), which looks quite innocent, set a couple of traps. One is simply 20.Nd5 when (since retreating the bishop to d8 allows 21.f4 pinning and winning Black’s knight) White will swap their knight for Black’s bishop, leaving the first player in control of the whole a1-h8 diagonal. That would be quite unpleasant for Black.

A logical reply would be 19...Qf7 20.Nd5 Bg7 and now 21.Rfe1 forces Black to step carefully. Here’s an example: 21...Rfe8? (21...Rae8 is better when White doesn’t have more than a tiny edge) 22.f4! Ng4 23.Bxg7 Qxg7 (23...Kxg7 24.Qc3+ Nf6 25.e4 Rxe4 26.Rxe4 fxe4 27.g4! c6 28.Qxf6+ Qxf6 29.Nxf6 Kxf6 30.Rxd6+) 24.e4! Rxe4 (24…fxe4 25.Qd4 Rac8 26.h3 Qxd4+ 27.Rxd4 c6 28.hxg4 cxd5 29.Rxd5) 25.h3 Nh6 26.Nxc7 Rc8 27.Nb5 and Black is in bad shape.

Perhaps best was 19...Ng4, but allowing the doubled pawns (even though Black is fine) isn’t to everyone’s taste, especially when it seems that there are other satisfactory defenses.

In the game, Black played the very logical 19...Nd7 intending to exchange bishops and place his knight on f6 with a more or less equal position. However, this obvious and very reasonable looking move actually fell into White’s main trap!

LESSONS:

  • Tactics and positional play go hand in hand. At times tactics help you create the positional advantages you longed for, and at other times tactics are the final blow to an opponent who has been suffering under long-term positional domination. Both are equally important.
  • In this game White’s 20.Nd5 used tactics (i.e., the ramifications that occur after 20...Bxa1) to create a long-term positional advantage (20.Nd5 Rac8 21.Nxf6+ with eternal pressure down the a1-h8 diagonal). After 20.Nd5 it was up to Black to choose which poison pill he wanted to swallow: positional pain down the long diagonal or deep tactical Armageddon after 20...Bxa1.
  • Sometimes the simplest looking positions harbor deep, dark secrets. If you don’t get on top of every position, you’ll find yourself vulnerable to both tactical and positional surprises.

PUZZLE 2:

QUESTION:

After 17.f4 most amateurs would look for a move without really understanding the position. Though the old, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” is still being argued, in chess there is no argument: understanding the position comes before the move.

What key features would you notice in this position? Only after you answer this question should you find a move, making sure that your move caters to those features.

ANSWER:

Though many will point to the isolated pawn on a3, the doubled pawns on c2 and c3, the backward pawn on e6, and the hole on e5 (all things that you need to be aware of!), the most important features in this particular position (at least for the lessons I intend to discuss) are:

  • The hole on e4.
  • Pressure against f4.
  • The f5-square.
  • Black’s “bad” light-squared bishop.

As we know (or should know), when you have a bad bishop you usually want to get it outside the pawn chain where it can become active (of course, sometimes it needs to stay behind the scenes as a defensive piece). Korchnoi’s moves all cater to these imbalances: he prepares to get his bishop on the active b1-h7 diagonal (where it eyes c2 and the juicy e4-hole), he forces the trade of a pair of knights so that White can no longer bring a horse to e5, and he swings his other knight around to the super-flexible square on d6 where it hits f5 and e4.

phpjtvKA6.jpeg
Viktor Korchnoi at 83 | Image courtesy Weihnachts Open

As you can see, the battle isn’t about mate or rapid attacks (though those things might occur at some point), it’s about weak pawns, weak squares, and the eternal battle of the minor pieces.

Let’s see how all this played out:

LESSONS:

  • Understanding a position comes first, the move comes second. This understanding can be instantaneous due to pattern recognition, or it can be found by looking deeply at the position’s pros, cons, and needs (for both sides). My “imbalances” concept is a simple tool that helps you achieve this [In a way, it’s a shortcut to very basic pattern recognition].
  • If you have a bad bishop (i.e., a bishop trapped behind its own pawns, thus making it inactive), getting it outside the pawn chain so it can become more active is often an important consideration.
  • If there’s an advanced hole in the enemy position, the natural desire would be to place a bishop or knight there. Recognizing holes (or even better, creating them in the enemy camp!) is a must-have skill if you want to improve. Going out of your way to maneuver a piece there (even if that piece is far away) is the next step in that skillset.

PUZZLE 3:

QUESTION:

In this position Black threatens 22...Qxf3, though there are many ways to prevent it. In the game White played 22.Ne3, ignoring the threat! Was this a blunder? Has White missed something? Should Black take on f3? If not, what should Black do? What in the world is going on? Remember, you’re not playing for either side, you’re trying to discover the position’s depths.

ANSWER:

Black has a few reasonable moves, but we’ll only look at three:

* 22...Nf4!?

Instead of taking the pawn, Black sacrifices a knight! However, that’s an illusion since 23.gxf4?? allows Black to make use of the fact that White’s queen doesn’t have a defender (Undefended pieces often court tactical reprisals!): 23...Rg5+ followed by 24...Qxb2 and Black wins.

* 22...Rae8!?

Black ignores all of White’s threats and just improves the position of his queenside rook.

* 22...Qxf3!?

This was played in the actual game. Like the line after 22...Rae8, Black sacrifices the Exchange for good compensation: 

LESSONS:

There are many lessons in this game. Here’s a list of the three most important ones:

  • Make sure your pieces are defended or something bad might happen to them. If the opponent has left a piece or pieces undefended, always keep your eye out for possible tactical punishment. In this game White’s undefended queen on b2 was the catalyst for some interesting tactical play by Black.
  • Once you fully understand how serious the “undefended piece” can be, you’ll train yourself to always be aware of all undefended pieces on the board (yours and your opponent’s).
  • In my book, How to Reasses Your Chess, 4th Edition, I discuss the “Curse of I Can’t” and the “Curse of I Have To” in the psychology section. This game clearly illustrates these curses in that when Black threatened the f3-pawn many players as White would say, “I have to defend it!” On the other hand, when White ignored the threat to f3 and played 22.Ne3, many players would see that taking the pawn would lose the Exchange and say, “I can’t take on f3 since I’ll lose the Exchange!”
  • These “curses” are ubiquitous in amateur games and sometimes appear in IM and GM games too! If you expect to improve and reach the expert or master level, then you must rid yourself of the “Curse of I Can’t” and the “Curse of I Have To.”
  • In Test Your Chess Understanding, Part 1 we saw a couple examples of positional Exchange sacrifices. In this article we are seeing it again! Since this kind of positional sacrifice is so common, you need to get comfortable with it and, if the chance arises in one of your own games, take a courage pill and give it a try. [WARNING! FIDE has been waging a war on drugs for quite some time (too much coffee, cough medicine, and many other things that make no difference whatsoever to your playing strength). I haven’t look at their “banned substances” list lately, so a courage pill might be illegal and lead to your permanent suspension from international play.] 

PUZZLE 4:

QUESTION:

After only thirteen moves in the King’s Indian Defense, we already have a tense positional/tactical situation. White has access to the d4-hole (note how proud his knight is on that square!), a queenside pawn majority (an eventual a2-a3 followed by b2-b4 would make it quite threatening), and (if things go well) pressure against the isolated pawn on d5.

Why would Black play into this? What does Black have (not only a move, but in general) that would lure him into playing in this manner?

ANSWER:

Black has traded long-term statics for White (the d4-square, play against d5, and the queenside majority) for dynamics! The isolated d5-pawn gains space and covers two important squares (c4 and e4). The c5-pawn might prove to be vulnerable in some lines. The e8-rook is creating heat down the e-file. Black’s g7-bishop, as is so common in the King’s Indian Defense, is scaring White with its baleful glare down the a1-h8 diagonal.

LESSONS:

  • The battle of statics vs. dynamics is an old one, and the victory can go either way. Once you lay claim to one or the other, you need to maximize your static or dynamic plusses or risk being overrun by an opponent who is using his stuff while yours remains in hibernation. 
  • A static advantage is usually a long-term plus, while a dynamic (short-term) advantage can easily dwindle away with each passing move. Thus, the side with the dynamic plus needs to make his mark as quickly and energetically as possible, or find a way to trade in his dynamic plus for a long-term static plus.
  • Yep, yet another Exchange sacrifice for positional and dynamic compensation. By making you see this idea over and over again, pretty soon it will be the most natural thing in the world (Do you see a pattern in my endless desire to make you acquire lots and lots of patterns?) and all of you will start tossing their rooks for a knight or bishop as if it was nothing!  

BONUS GAME

A year later the mighty Boris Gelfand dared Kasparov to repeat his Exchange sacrifice and, sure enough, Kasparov was more than happy to do so. Here’s what happened.

Black’s dynamics continued right into the endgame (notice how Black's pieces calmly found better and better squares as the game went on), demonstrating the long-term positional/dynamic compensation of the Exchange sacrifice.


RELATED STUDY MATERIAL

Comments


  • 2 months ago

    swansong83

    This new series is one of the best I've seen, thank you Mr. Silman.

  • 2 months ago

    unceasinggnome

    Please be relevant, helpful & nice!

  • 2 months ago

    chanuchess

    Interesting article

  • 2 months ago

    kuttyboy

    Cool nice

  • 2 months ago

    Poslek

    excellent article(s), new approach, very useful

  • 2 months ago

    IM Silman

    Kapobianko asked: “how do I see part 1?”

    In the second paragraph it says, “As with Part One of this series…”

    That mention of Part One is linked to the first article. Click on it.

    Or...

    Right above the comments you will see: RELATED STUDY MATERIAL.

    The first thing mentioned is “Read Part 1”.

    Sadly, I understand how you missed it. In my old age I often look directly at something and can’t see it. When I ask where the thing is they look at me strangely and point in front of my nose.

  • 2 months ago

    Kapobianko

    how do I see part 1?

  • 2 months ago

    antisha82

    thanks

  • 2 months ago

    TheMagicianPaul

    Excellent article, tho I disagree with the TEST picture in the beginning. Castling is for weaklings, especially if you do it before move 5!

  • 2 months ago

    arsenchess2001

    awesome

  • 2 months ago

    savantz

    I second the "How to reassess your Chess" sentiments.

    As usual, another example of your outstanding ability to get material across in a thoughtful informative manner.

    Kasparov's play in that New York match was truly amazing; at the height of his powers he was determined to 'thrash' Karpov with his wizardry relative to "dynamic piece play", even giving up his queen in the 3rd game to put his stamp on his intentions for this 24 game match.

    Dynamic piece play was the overriding theme of that match in this struggle between these 2 geniuses that ended 12.5 - 11.5 for Kasparov!

  • 2 months ago

    zenomorphy

    Wow! This article validates the worth of chess.com. Simply outstanding chess instruction IM Silman! I still proudly display my copy of How To Reasses Your Chess, as an essential reading component of my chess library. Here you've displayed the same diligence in breaking down the fundamental elements of chess comprehension, ...positional, tactical, as well as holistic assessment of what's going on in the game, on both sides of the board, emphasizing the critical importance of removing our bad emotional and habitual prejudices & practices, which have thwarted advancement along the way, often unbeknownst to us. There, you excellent at differentiating an objective assessment, ...what & how to view a chess position devoid of bad habits, however they develop. Super chess stuff, as usual and thank you for the excellent effort and fine finished product. It stands out by any measure of excellence in chess instruction!

    zenomorphy

  • 2 months ago

    ichbineinberliner

    Great article, thank you so much!

  • 2 months ago

    nitsujfortwo

    Awesome!

  • 2 months ago

    dilgado007

    Love it,

  • 2 months ago

    LoverSpy

    thnx for the part 2 !

  • 2 months ago

    BlackPeice

    Excellant article Mr. Silman and I am the owner of one of your books so I suspect my rating, will be improving over the course of time.

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