# Test Your Chess Understanding, Part 3

• IM Silman
• | Jun 10, 2014
• | 15811 views
• | 13 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. And 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 and Part Two of this series, I’ll be offering something that’s different than 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 three puzzles and only then look at the answers. But, if you don’t have the time for such serious chess study, you can skip 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:

Black’s a pawn down but he is master of the light-squares. This means that, with care, Black can keep White’s d- and e-pawns blockaded. In words (you can mention moves, but no variations please), what do you think White’s proper course of action is and, taking the other side, what do you think Black’s best course of action is?

PUZZLE 2

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 0-0 8.e3 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Ne5 takes us to a well-known position that, in my opinion, is very comfortable for Black.

White has tried just about every reasonable move, the most popular being 10.f3, 10.Be2, 10.Nb5, and 10.Qc2.

10.Nb5 stands out from the other choices. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out the basic plans for both sides as well as why 10.Nb5 stands out from the other three moves (10.f3, 10.Be2, and 10.Qc2). Finally, how should Black deal with 10.Nb5?

PUZZLE 3

White’s e3-bishop is under attack, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that White is easily winning due to his aggressive central pawns (a tactical e5-e6, cracking Black’s kingside pawn structure, is begging to be made at some point), his central space advantage, his far more active pieces (White’s rooks are obviously superior to Black’s, and White’s bishop pair is a real force since the position is wide open), and his ability to make direct threats (whether or not those threats are effective is up to you to decide). White can threaten a mate in one by 22.Ng5, or he can attack Black’s queen with 22.Rcd1 or 22.Rfd1 grabbing the open file with gain of time, or he can simply retreat his dark-squared bishop to f2 since 22...Nxf4 fails to 23.Qxh7 mate.

So Black is dead lost. But... you still have to win the game (you aren’t allowed to scream, “You’re dead lost, I win! Game over!”). When you have so many advantages (listed above) it’s often wise to keep your opponent on a leash and not allow counterplay. Threats are nice, but you have to make sure you have a reply ready for when he counters your threat (for example, 22.Ng5 threatening mate, 22...h6 stopping mate and threatening your knight). Saying, “I hope he doesn’t see the mate” and then cursing when he does isn’t the way the game should be played. Another instant threat is 22.Rcd1 but after 22...Qc8 Black is offering a queen trade while simultaneously threatening your e3-bishop. Do you really want to exchange queens here?

Winning a won game is never easy, and in situations like this it’s hard to know if you should embrace violence or keep complete control (going for a risk free victory). The question here seems basic (How should White deal with Black’s threat against the e3-bishop?), but finding the best solution is often very, very difficult.

ANSWERS

PUZZLE 1:

QUESTION:

Black is a pawn down but he is master of the light-squares. This means that, with care, Black can keep White’s d- and e-pawns blockaded. In words (you can mention moves, but no variations please), what do you think White’s proper course of action is and, taking the other side, what do you think Black’s best course of action is?

ANSWER:

Though it’s nice to be up a pawn, the real battle is taking place on the respective bishops’ domain: Black is king of the a2-g8 diagonal while White rules of the kingside dark-squares. When you realize that White’s extra pawn gives him a spatial plus in the center and on the kingside, and that there’s a dark-square hole on f6, White’s long-term plan is clear: to eventually place his bishop on f6 and crack the kingside open with g2-g4 (allowing White’s queen and rooks to join the party).

Since waiting around for White to accomplish these things is going to lead to certain death for Black, he needs to “bother” White with little things like threatening White’s a3-pawn (though when White’s Bishop moves to g5, attacking a3 will be hard to achieve) and somehow threatening to affect a queen penetration into a2 or b3. However, those things won’t ultimately be able to stem the tide of White’s kingside/dark-square breakthrough. Thus in my opinion Black should stabilize d5 with ...c6 and then march his king across the board to a6 (...Kf7-e8-d7-c8-b7-a6). The kingside break will still occur at some point, but at least Black’s king won’t be there to greet White’s pieces.

In the actual game, Black wasn’t able to put up much resistance:

LESSONS:

• Mastering a color complex is a big deal. You should try and avoid giving the opponent such “color domination” unless you get something as valuable (or more valuable) in return.
• When you rule a color complex you should make maximum use of it. Most people think threats and attack and combinations and a material advantage and other heavy-handed things are what chess is about, but that’s often not the case. “Little things” like squares and diagonal domination etc. are critical tools that break an opponent down and ultimately knock him out.
• Ruling a color complex or diagonal with a super-active bishop is a wonderful thing, but to achieve decisive results, the respective bishops need the rest of their army to help out. In this game, Black’s bishop didn’t get any team support, while White’s bishop was soon joined by the big guns. In other words, chess is a team effort, and the player who makes use of all his bits will usually win the game.

PUZZLE 2:

QUESTION:

White has tried just about every reasonable move, the most popular being 10.f3, 10.Be2, 10.Nb5, and 10.Qc2.

10.Nb5 stands out from the other choices. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out the basic plans for both sides, and why 10.Nb5 stands out from the other three moves (10.f3, 10.Be2, and 10.Qc2). Finally, how should Black deal with 10.Nb5?

ANSWER:

Without going too deeply into this position, here are some ideas for both sides:

White has allowed his pawn structure to be ruptured in exchange for two bishops, chances to eventually advance his e- and f-pawns, pressure down the half open files on b1 and d1, and perhaps there will be an opportunity to turn the “weak” c4-pawn into a dynamic unit via a well-timed c4-c5. It’s not unusual for White to trade his dark-squared bishop in exchange for the time to get his center pawns rolling.

Black needs to break the pin (usually by ...Ng6, and not by ...g5 which weakens the Black king), freeze White’s c4-pawn, and place pressure against that pawn and turn the c5-hole into a home for a Black knight. I should add that in many instances Black can get dynamic play by making use of White’s lack of development.

Here’s a game that shows White’s strategy:

Here are two games that show Black’s strategy:

Not wanting to run into the kind of position Tal had, some players have given 10.Nb5 a try since it threatens Bxf6. Black can then lose a pawn after ...Qxf6 Nxc7 or allow his kingside to be ruined by Bxf6 gxf6.

Mikhail Tal | Image from the Dutch National Archives & Spaarnestad Photo / Wikipedia

Since 10...a6 (daring White to chop on f6) 11.Bxf6 gxf6 is exactly what Black wanted to avoid, and since 10...g5 11.Bg3 leaves Black’s kingside filled with holes (though, after 11...Re8, it’s probably playable due to White’s lack of development), one might think that we’re pretty much left with 10...Ng6 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 (threatening ...Qxc3+) 12.Qd4 when Black can choose between 12...Qc6 and 12...Qd8:

It’s clear that 10...Ng6 leads to interesting, complex positions that haven’t been fully explored yet. However, the move that really put 10.Nb5 out to pasture is 10...d6!, allowing White to make his threat a reality!

Tigran L Petrosian, not to be confused with Tigran V. Petrosian! | Image Wikipedia

Before testing the bold 10...d6 by 11.Bxf6, let’s see if White can get anything if he doesn’t bite at the bait:

So we’re finally ready to see what Black has in store if White tries to punish 10...d6 by chopping on f6 and then eating the pawn on c7:

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 Ne5 9.e3 0-0 10.Nb5 d6 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.Nxc7 Nf3+!!

and suddenly the board has caught on fire! Here are two examples from this position:

LESSONS:

• One of my favorite chess battles is that of “dynamics vs. statics.” In the structure we just explored, White allows his pawn structure to be ruptured (a static advantage for Black) in the hope that a central space advantage, two active bishops, and various dynamic ideas (dynamics for White) will offer more than enough compensation.
• Once the doubled c-pawns are created in this line, Black’s eye immediately turns its glare to the c5-square (freezing the doubled pawns and also giving a Black knight a dream home) and c4 (the lead doubled pawn is almost always the main target).
• I constantly warn students that bowing to enemy threats is, in many ways, psychological surrender. One has to learn to not bow to a supposed threat. In fact, your first reaction should be a laugh of derision – you first think it’s rubbish, and after you take an honest look at the “threat,” you react if it’s a 100% must, or you (ideally) ignore the nonsense and continue with your own agenda.
• White’s 10.Nb5 tries to change the psychological flow of the game. White wants Black to defend against the threat of Bxf6, thereby handing White the initiative. As we saw, 10…d6! ignores the threat (after all, Black’s king is safe while White’s is still in the middle!), ruins White’s plans, and grabs the initiative for himself.
• Moves like 10...d6! and the psychology behind it should be carefully pondered by the chess student if he wishes to reach the master level.

PUZZLE 3:

Not done solving puzzles? Tactics Trainer is waiting!

QUESTION:

White’s e3-bishop is under attack, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that White is easily winning due to his aggressive central pawns (a tactical e5-e6, cracking Black’s kingside pawn structure, is begging to be made at some point), his central space advantage, his far more active pieces (White’s rooks are obviously superior to Black’s, and White’s bishop pair is a real force since the position is wide open), and his ability to make direct threats (whether or not those threats are effective is up to you to decide). White can threaten a mate in one by 22.Ng5, or he can attack Black’s queen with 22.Rcd1 or 22.Rfd1 grabbing the open file with gain of time, or he can simply retreat his dark-squared bishop to f2 since 22...Nxf4 fails to 23.Qxh7 mate.

So Black is dead lost. But... you still have to win the game (you aren’t allowed to scream, “You’re dead lost, I win! Game over!”). When you have so many advantages (listed above) it’s often wise to keep your opponent on a leash and not allow counterplay. Threats are nice, but you have to make sure you have a reply ready for when he counters your threat (for example, 22.Ng5 threatening mate, 22...h6 stopping mate and threatening your knight). Saying, “I hope he doesn’t see the mate” and then cursing when he does isn’t the way the game should be played. Another instant threat is 22.Rcd1 but after 22...Qc8 Black is offering a queen trade while simultaneously threatening your e3-bishop. Do you really want to exchange queens here?

Winning a won game is never easy, and in situations like this it’s hard to know if you should embrace violence or keep complete control (going for a risk free victory). The question here seems basic (How should White deal with Black’s threat against the e3-bishop?), but finding the best solution is often very, very difficult.

ANSWER:

A one-move threat can be good or bad, depending on the result of cold, hard, honest calculation. When calculating your opponent’s reply, you have to look for the very best defense – this calls for you being honest with yourself. No matter how pretty your threat/attack might be, if you see that it can be rebuffed then you have to let it go and look for something else.

It turns out that 22.Ng5 forces a brutal win, so it’s the way to go. But if the knight had to run for the hills after 22...h6 then 22.Ng5 would simply be a mistake.

LESSONS:

• Winning a won game is something everyone screws up time and time again. In general, your proper path is dictated by the nature of your advantage: if you’re way up in material, then play safe, trade pieces, and win without muss or fuss. If you’re winning due to dynamic pieces, then you need to make use of those dynamics before they vanish (remember: dynamics tend to be short term, while statics are long term).
• Using dynamics doesn’t mean you’re always going after mate. Quite often your dynamic “burst” will lead to positional or material gains (in other words, your short term dynamic advantage turned into a long term static plus).
• Threats are great if they lead somewhere. Unfortunately I constantly see amateurs make a threat without bothering to look for the opponent’s best defense. This results in: White makes a threat, Black defends, and then White’s attacking piece runs away screaming for its mother.

RELATED STUDY MATERIAL

### Comments

• 14 months ago

Very nice article

• 15 months ago

In puzzle 1 qxe5 after c5 dxc5 is a terrible move. Black should play rd8 and I am not sure if white can win that.

• 15 months ago

PUZZLE #1

Black is in trouble.

-= Bh6 prevents h6 and threatens to lock up black's Kside pawns.

---=Black bishop is misplaced against the white pawns.

--=White has protected passed pawns in the center,

--= black's b5 pawn is a target and crucial to protecting the Qside pawn structure.

In summary, white has control of the Kside, a nice target on the Qside, protected passed pawns, black bishop is basically powerless against the white pawn structurre.

Black has an opportunity to attack white's pawn structure with c5

• 15 months ago

Is Puzzle 2 showing correct/all moves?

That is after 10. Nb5 a6 11. Bxf6 Qxf6 it looks pretty bad for white, as 12. Nxc7 fails to Bxc3+ 13. bxc3 Qxc3+ leaving 12. a3 axb5 13. axb4 Rxa1 14. Qxa1 Nxb4 which also looks horrible for white.

It looks like the later explanations of Nb5 show the exchange on c3 having taken place already.

• 15 months ago

I Like it

• 15 months ago

I got tempted by "It's not a contest" comment and intentionally failed all the tests!

• 15 months ago

thnx @IM Silman

• 15 months ago

In puzzle 3, Ng5 is a winning move, but isn't Be4 also a move that leads to an eventual win? I mean, sure, it's not immediate, but isn't it also winning?

No, absolutely not.  The game is even after 22.Be4 Nxe3.

26 [+0.00]  22.... Nxe3 23.Ng5 h6 24.Qxe3 hxg5 25.Bxg6 fxg6 26.Qb3+ Kh8 27.Qh3+ Kg8 28.Qb3+

(Analysis by Stockfish 5)

• 15 months ago

@Bryan Lol, I get that a lot:) However, I've never lived in texas or canada. My username is a very long (and rather embarassing) story

• 15 months ago

Great series of articles!

• 15 months ago

A TexanCanadian? What does that look like? A hockey playing cowboy? :P

• 15 months ago

By the way, I absolutely love How to Reasses your Chess! It's simply brilliant:)

• 15 months ago

In puzzle 3, Ng5 is a winning move, but isn't Be4 also a move that leads to an eventual win? I mean, sure, it's not immediate, but isn't it also winning?

Back to Top