Critical Tactics Training!!

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We all know tactics are important. As the saying goes chess is 99% tactics, 1% strategy. Whether this statement is over exaggerated or right on the money is controversial, but the fact remains: tactics decide chess games. So, it makes sense that the process of finding tactics is also very, very important …

Find the best move!

Answer: 1 … f3! 2. gxf3 Nf4!! 3. fxe4 Qg4+ 5. Kf1 Qg2#

Whoa! A real knockout punch! But, wait a second … how do you even find these combinations?!

Ok. Let’s take a step back and analyze the position. Black is a pawn down but has significant pressure along the e-file. In fact, the pawn on e3 is pinned and black can win it right away with …fxe3. White, on the other hand, has a dangerous rook on the 7th rank and for the moment is up a pawn. Both Kings are protected by intact pawn structures, but the black pawn on f4 along with his more active (and central) pieces could threaten white’s structure. Also, Black’s knight on d5 is supremely placed, ready to jump into action …

So now that we have a feel for the position it’s clear that the position is dynamic with Black on attack. But if we take a look at ways Black can further improve his position even slightly it is hard to find any such way. That means tactics time – we’re at the critical moment of the game. Because there’s very little extra preparation that can be made and pieces are well coordinated, action needs to be taken – now!

This means forcing moves! So the first step is to find some forcing moves to consider (let’s call these our “candidate moves”). These are checks, captures, and threats. Currently, black has no checks but under captures, the e3 pawn can be taken three different ways. Furthermore, black can use his advanced f4 pawn to threaten white’s king safety by pushing it forward to pry open defenses (kamikaze!). Another threatening idea to consider is moving the Queen to g4 with the idea of f3 and checkmate (after all, white can’t take on f4 because the e-pawn is pinned!). Now that we have our “candidate moves” (fxe3, Nxe3, f3, and Qg4), we can take a closer look at each one to determine the best move!

Let’s take a look at 1… fxe3.

After 1…fxe3 2. fxe3 Rxe3 3. Rxe3 Nxe3 Black doesn’t seem to have gained a significant advantage (material is equal). Although black’s position still looks promising, the sequence wasn’t decisive … in fact, white can now play Qe2 and it’s hard to tell how much better black really is. 1… Nxe3, on the other hand just loses a piece (2. fxe3 fxe3 3. Qe2 and if now 3… Rf4, find white’s best move!). I think we can cross that one off.

Now 1… Qg4. If white does nothing, the next move is …f3! and checkmate is inevitable. But what happens if white plays f3 himself?

It looks like Qg4 is just too premature. If only we could stop white from bringing his pieces into the defense in the first place … See! This thinking leads us to another one of our candidate moves: 1… f3!

So you see, the best move allowed black’s centralized pieces to quickly mobilize into decisive positions without allowing white a chance to defend. Using the key details we noticed right from the start, such as the binding pin on the e-file and the advanced f4 pawn, we were able to find and evaluate forcing moves that capitalized these advantages. This thinking, in its entirety, is the process of finding tactics – identifying interesting aspects about the position, determining whether the position is really a critical moment (can you improve your position?), looking for forcing moves, noticing your opponent’s defenses, and finally playing your best move.