Checks and Threats, Should You or Shouldn’t You
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
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!
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.
FAST FORWARD to move 12
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.
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?
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.
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
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!
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!