The Best Moves Never Played - Tactics I
Today's column is about tactics and I would like to concentrate on examples from recent games. Since tactics are a key weapon of any chess player, the topic of tactics in chess is overwhelmingly important, and there are more books and material published on the topic of tactics than any other element of the game. With computers and software available one can become really good at tactics by solving different puzzles. However, most puzzles concentrate on tactics that lead to checkmate or winning material rather than on using tactics to obtain a positional advantage. Therefore, today we will look at a few examples where tactics were used to get one's positional plan accomplished.
Another observation of mine is that amateurs can spot tactical blows as well as masters do, but they often lack a correct follow up. Especially during attacks one tactical idea usually leads to another and one has to make sure to see them all in right order if they want to finish up the attack correctly. Another big problem is not finding the opponent's strongest defense or tactical counter-blow, and unfortunately this is a problem that most chess players suffer from. With this article we will look at examples that illustrate these ideas.
In the following position black could have obtained a solid positional edge with a small tactic. It works because the white rook is misplaced on a2, but it is also needed there to protect the c2-pawn. You can think of this operation as a creation of a second weakness in white's position. The first weakness is c2 but it is not enough to win and therefore black needs to open-up the game to create a second weakness.
Black has the better pawn structure, her rooks are dominating the a-file and if white doesn't find a dynamic solution here, in the long term she will be in trouble. Gunina comes up with a nice combination that objectively should have brought her only equality, but considering that in the initial position she was clearly worse, this is fine. Gu retreats the king to the wrong square and ends up in a losing position, so it is up to Gunina to find the right follow-up:
Generally, most players have trouble with the follow-up to a tactical shot due to there being many candidate moves available and all of those candidates looking good. Unfortunately sometimes it is only one of those moves that is winning, while everything else either leads to a draw or even a loss. It can take a tremendous amount of calculation but more often it takes good tactical vision in order to find the right idea, like the next example illustrates.
With the g3 tactic Bodnaruk starts a combination that will give her a huge attack based on black's underdevelopment of pieces and the misplaced black queen. She finds a series of moves that are of the highest quality but she is unable to find the idea of a queen transfer to the queenside that won on the spot.
Black is missing their dark-squared bishop, therefore it is logical to exploit the dark squares in black's position, especially with the d6-pawn controlling the c7 and e7-squares. By reasoning in this way one could come up with the tactic that Bodnaruk missed, in an otherwise flawless and brilliant game:
This is another example of the importance of a correct follow-up to a tactic. Kovchan did not find the winning 28...Nf4!! possibly because he did not see 31...Kf7!!, moving the king up, which is quite unconventional. We tend to see rook lifts more often than king lifts.
We will conclude with an example where one has to find the best defense for the opponent. In the next example white lost immediately after the tactical blow Bh3, but could have posed serious problems for black with the other king retreat. When I was solving this position, which I found in a book that I highly recommend for advanced players, "Grandmaster Preparation - Calculation" by Jacob Aagaard, I did not find Kh1 because my reasoning was that if Kh1 then I am up a pawn, which should be enough for an advantage. Sometimes, however, it might not be enough, and therefore it is crucial to look at all the defensive moves available for the opponent.
My advice would be that when solving combinations one should try to calculate them to the end. Getting the first move right might be not as important as finding the key 2nd or 3rd move. And in my opinion getting that 2nd move right in a tactical sequence is what differentiates masters from amateurs. Looking for the toughest defense for the opponent is critical too. This is why when training tactical vision you should try to write down all the lines you saw and see which variations you didn't find in the solution section, which would help pinpoint the specific element of tactical training that you should work on. As the first example illustrates tactics that bring a positional advantage can happen in the most boring games, but one needs to see them. In the next article we will address this topic by looking at how classical players used tactics to gain a positional advantage.