Queenless but not Hopeless

Queenless but not Hopeless‎

WIM energia
27 | Middlegame

There is so much material in chess where the queen is the super hero of the play. The queen checkmates, the queen puts itself on the altar to finish up a nice attack, the queen does obscure maneuvers to save the game with perpetual etc. We like to think of the queen being omnipotent but it is not always so. Here we will look at examples where one side gives up a queen in return for minor piece, rook and sometimes a pawn. I am interested in positions where giving up the queen is a purely positional operation. It is hard to divide what is positional and what is not, but my criteria is that at least there should be no decisive attack present. I should present a thought taken from a book “Unequal Exchange” by Nesis and L. Shulman written in 1990 (originally in Russian): The side with a rook and a bishop against queen should concentrate on 1. coordinating his pieces, 2. taking over squares of the color of the bishop and 3. paying attention to weak squares in the opponent’s camp. On the other hand the side with a queen should at first create operational space for his queen, then try to damage piece coordination of his opponent. Whoever can first achieve these goals will emerge victorious.

            The examples to show the above saying I took all from recent practice of top players. Recently I read the saying of the great Russian chess journalist and writer I. Odessky. He said that when looking at new tactics books, the authors reuse old examples all the time. He was disgusted with the fact that no one bothered to look at new games, instead it is easier to ‘borrow’ examples from old books. I do not want to use the examples from the past that are widely used already. Instead I looked at recent practice and was surprised to see that giving up the queen for a piece and a rook has occurred mostly either in rapid or blitz. Quite a finding, huh? I think this can be explained by the fact that in rapid or blitz players do not need to worry about their ratings and can play more creatively.

            The first example is from a blitz game between two former World Champions. Although, black has an extra pawn, he is undeveloped and by winning back the pawn on d5 white would have a just dominating position. Black found a creative way of solving his problems. 


You can get the feeling that the queen cannot do much if your pieces are well coordinated with no weaknesses present. In the previous example black at first finished the development, then opened lines for rooks and bishops, and at the end used white’s weak kingside to generate an attack. Looking at Kasparov’s games, I rarely could find positional queen sacrifices; he is a great dynamic player and knows that the queen is a very strong piece when used properly.

The next example is taken from classical play from the World Championship Candidates final. I noticed that Aronian has more examples of queen exchange for rook and a bishop than other top player. Here, white has the initiative. Black has an extra pawn but his pieces are badly placed, white has more active pieces and more space on kingside.


In the end it all comes down to who can better coordinate pieces and use the weaknesses of the opponent. It is easy to overestimate one’s own chances when you have an extra queen. Even top players sometimes do so. I think in the next example black pushed too hard for a win in an equal game which led to the deterioration of black’s position.



The next example is more tactical and exciting. But still it has positional elements to it. Black’s queen is under attack. Where should it go? Try to calculate a few moves ahead; there is quite impressive play by black.



Lets come to a conclusion about queen exchanges. The side with rook and light piece for queen tries to coordinate and launch an attack on the opponent’s weaknesses, like in our first example. Queen exchange for a light piece and a rook can also be a defensive strategy like in Shirov- Aronian example. Instead of passively defending black decided to give up queen for some dynamic chances. The third example featured an attack with the queen but it didn’t work because black did not have enough pieces. Even though the queen is very powerful, alone it cannot do much in attack. The last example showed how pieces in conjunction with passed pawns can be more dangerous than the queen. In all the examples it was clear that the major factor was piece coordination, not material. After studying this topic you will be more open-minded in your games, and will consider queen sacrifices as a powerful positional strategy.


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