A Guide To Underpromotion

A Guide To Underpromotion

GM DanielNaroditsky
39 | Tactics

The concept of underpromotion epitomizes the beauty of chess. Mathematically speaking, the queen is far and away the most potent force on the board. Yet there are certain situations in which the lady's subordinates are more deserving of reincarnation. 

To be sure, underpromotion is exceedingly rare in tournament practice. In fact, there are only two circumstances under which it makes sense to underpromote:

1. Promoting to a queen (or rook!) allows a stalemating combination. 

2. Promoting to a knight is a better tactical or positional choice based on its unique movement. 

In this article, we will closely examine both of these fascinating scenarios!

1. Promoting to a queen allows a stalemating combination.

The ultra-famous Saavedra position is worth a thousand words. 

Trite though it may be, this study teaches us one crucial lesson: before promoting to a queen, make sure that you are not depriving the enemy king of its remaining squares. 

As we discussed in a previous article, stalemate tricks always lie beneath the surface. Remember that a rook or bishop can fulfill the queen's role while also precluding any stalemate-related monkey business.

As usual, tactical awareness and precise calculation are paramount.

2. Promoting to a knight is a better tactical or positional choice based on its unique movement. 

As a beginner, I simply could not fathom why anyone in his right mind would promote to a knight. Perhaps the following game would have changed my mind:

Amazing. The horse has its limitations, but it is a magical piece nevertheless. In this case, naively promoting to a queen would have allowed a cunning intermezzo, enabling Black to regroup and secure the draw. 

Though its scope is limited, the knight can perform incredible feats on account of its, well, er...knightness (insert apology to my English teacher). Now, it is your turn to unlock its full potential! 

No idea, no matter how absurd or impractical it appears, is off limits. Before promoting, put on your tactical glasses and scan the position for hidden resources. You just might be reaching for the wrong piece. 

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