The Tempo of the Attack

The Tempo of the Attack

22 | Strategy

One chess player said that I have a problem sensing the tempo of the game, that this is my weakness. I don’t know if it was legitimate advice or just an insult, but I found it interesting. True, I have seen, especially when I am in bad form, that I tend to forget the possibility of playing slowly, looking for something forcing in a position that does not require it. Sometimes this causes absurd results, where I look like I am playing frantically. 

Sensing the tempo in chess is one of the most difficult things. You can easily get bogged down in calculating variations and lose touch with reality. When this happens, you need to take a step back and look at the position from the point of view of somebody who is just walking by. Are you looking for a forced mate in a quiet position?

It is also hard to judge how fast an attack needs to be. Can you afford the time to bring up more pieces, or do you need to try to break through immediately? Often this depends on how closed the position is, and how much control over the center you have. When you control the center, you can afford more time for your attack. Similarly, if the position is very closed, it is hard for the defender to bring over his pieces, or create counterplay.

All attacks use up positional value, like a car uses gasoline. When you attack on the kingside, for instance, you move your pieces over there and lose control of the center. It is a matter of time before the counterattack comes. If you use a pawn storm, you create weaknesses and spend time. Thus you need your attack to break through before you run out of gasoline.

The game I am going to show was a King’s Indian where I played black. This is an opening with which I have a love/hate relationship. Most of my favorite games which I played were in the King’s Indian Defense. I think the positions and the types of games which result from it are beautiful. Also the King’s Indian tends not to have so many forcing variations, which you might find in other openings – variations that you need to know, or you could find yourself in an unpleasant situation. This is because it is a closed opening, where the pieces do not clash immediately. Yet despite its closed character, it abounds in sharp tactics as well.

On the negative side, the King’s Indian does not have the solid positional foundations of some other openings, such as the Slav. You cannot get something for nothing! Sometimes it seems to have a sickly nature. There is a danger of falling into a terribly passive position if you do not find counterplay at the right moment. And the main lines have a sort of do-or-die character in which the players can lose control of the game to some extent. Basically, I have had some beautiful wins in the King’s Indian, but I have also had a few bad defeats, and I tend not to choose it in crucial games where I do not want to lose control of the game.

My opponent in this game was GM Larry Kaufman. Kaufman was the world senior champion (in 2009, I believe). I used to play against him a lot when I was a student in college. In those times I was much weaker than I am now, and hence lost a lot of games. But the psychological disadvantage stayed even once I became stronger, and I even lost some games to him as late as 2008. Eventually I managed to get past this psychological block and won the most recent games.


This attack was unusual, in that it proceeded in slow motion. It is strange how the knight maneuver …Nd7-f6-h7-g5 was so devastating – Black’s position could even withstand a few inaccuracies. Another thing to notice is that a crucial element of this attack was in fact prophylactic play – crucial to Black’s success was paying attention to the opponent’s possibilities. In fact, prophylactic thinking – often thought of as “defensive play” or some refined Karpov-style method of reducing counterplay in slightly better positions – is just as crucial when conducting an attack on the king. In order even to decide on the sacrifice I needed to pay the utmost attention to White’s possibilities of escaping with the king, freeing his pieces (in particular, trying to get the rook to h1) or stirring up counterplay.

To those of you who have read my "Travelling Chess Player" articles or enjoy my column - you might know that I currently live in Serbia. However, I am planning to take a trip to the U.S. in the fall, starting from October 17. I plan to stay there for a couple of months. If any clubs or tournaments there are interested in hosting a simultaneous exhibition or a lecture (or some other chess-related activity), please send me a message on here. Additionally, if individuals are interested in chess lessons, please message me here. I will be staying in the Philadelphia area, but I can also travel. I should be there until at least the beginning of December. Thank you very much. :-)

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