Solving Complex Positions

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Since the beginning stages of chess development, you've most likely been exposed to solving "tactics" exercises. It seems that, by nature, every chess player innately shares the joy of finding the right solution to a tactical problem to some degree. Luckily for you, tactic-solving is an exercise that can still be performed no matter how erudite you have become. In this article, I'd like to present some complicated tactics and work through them with you, in the hope that you will be able to solve such knotty problems in your future games. Let's go!

While commentating on one of his own games, the former World Champion Anatoly Karpov once explained the reason for his decision in a critical moment: "I was thinking for 20-25 minutes and finally played the obvious move in the position. After the game, my limo driver, in conversation, asked me why I took so long to play the move. Even he saw it instantly! I explained to him that, when playing chess, it is not usually important to see the right move, but rather paramount to foresee the correct follow-up move." This exercise ingeniously demonstrates the wisdom of Karpov's proclamation. 

The correct line is 16.Bc1! Positionally, if Black trades, his defender of the dark squares is gone. The crucial and obvious line is 16...Bd6. The key move is 17.b4! after which the tactics favor White. Black can't take on b4, because then 18.cxd5 exd5 19.Rxc7 wins material, 19...Rb8 20.Nxb6. 17...c5 18.cxd5 exd5 19.Nxb6! Nxb6 20.bxc5 Nxc5 21.dxc5 Bxc5 22.Rxc5 Qxc5 23.Ng5 and Black is losing something. You had to see the follow-up move 17.b4, which isn't easy to consider because at first glance you seem to just be giving up a pawn for free. 

The correct move order usually matters, not only in terms of Opening nuances, but also in cases like here. Chess is really all tactics (or 99%, according to the famous early 20th century master Richard Teichmann), but based on an elusive inner logic. The correct move is 41.Ra2! Why? Let's look at the wrong way. 41.Re2 Nd5 42.Nxd5 Qxd5 43.Qxd5 exd5 44.fxg5 hxg5 45.Rf1 Kg6 46.Re6 Re7 47.Rd6 Re2+ 48.Kg1 Re3 with complications. Now, the other variation: 41.Ra2 Nd5 42.Nxd5 Qxd5 43.Qxd5 exd5 44.fxg5 hxg5 45.Rf2 Kg6 46.Re6 Re7 47.Rd6, and it becomes clear that, because White is covering Black's seventh rank, Black can't play ...Re2+, and with it goes all of Black's counterplay. Black is in a Zugzwang, because the Rook doesn't want to leave the e-file since the White Rook will occupy it. The King obviously, tied to the f5-pawn, can't move, the c8-rook can't either, the Bishop is pinned, and if the Rook moves along the e-file, Na5 comes, winning the c6-pawn and threatening dangerous checks to the pinned Bishop.

Generally as well, knowing famous games can help you find the right solution. Please, take a look at the following position:

The correct move is (and White, a Super GM, didn't find it in the game) 28.Bc7!, which keeps both of Black's Rooks on the 8th rank. White will play f3, e4, and h4-h5 with suffocating pressure - with all major pieces left, the opposite colored Bishops only give White greater attacking chances against the Black King. However, the move would have came into White's head faster if he had studied (or perhaps refreshed himself with) the following game, from the protagonist of our first exercise, which you may even recognize yourself:

The excellent move, both aesthetically and scientifically, is 24.Ba7!. After 24...Ne8 25.Bc2 Nc7 26.Rea1 Qe7 27.Bb1 Be8 28.Ne2 Nd8 29.Nh2 Bg7 30.f4 f6, Black must await his own fate.

In these examples, the correct solution consisted of a forward movement except for the solution to the first puzzle. Frequently a piece moves backwards, and such a move has an even more deadly effect, as a prerequisite to a forward thrust. Consider the following position:

The tempting 28.Rf2 runs into 28...Reh8 (29.fxg6 Rxh4 30.Rxh4 Rxh4 31.Rxf6 Rh1+ winning material). Even the improvement on this idea, 28.Qe3 first (clearing the d2-square as an escape route, fails to shake Black's defenses: 28...b6 29.Rf2 Reh8 still; 30.fxg6 Qxg6! 31.Nxg6 Rxh1+ 32.Kd2 Kxg6 and Black will never lose this position; 33.Ng3 R1h2 and White has no ammunition left). White rather won with the sly move 28.Ng1! Simple, but threatening to trade Black's main defensive blockader on g5 with Ng1-f3. Because of Black's lack of counterplay, White has time for this maneuver. Black quickly capitulated; 28...gxf5 29.gxf5 Kf8 30.Ng6+ and White broke through easily to the 7th and 8th ranks.

I hope that you enjoyed these puzzles and learned some things about solving tactics in general. Tactics are not only for children or for beginners; as the former World Champion Mikhail Tal expressed, we are all chess fans, and thus enjoy a good problem from time to time. Like openings, which should increase in quality as a chess player's overall strength increases, so the tactics you solve should also get proportionally harder.

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