Trust in Trauma

Trust in Trauma

| 11 | Tactics

(Editor's note: Due to a lengthy tour of European tournaments, GM Bhat will miss a couple weeks in his column. For those interested in his results and some of his games, you may wish to check out his blog, . You should continue to enjoy excellent columns on Tuesday with GM GN Gopal filling in for him during these weeks. We expect GM Bhat will return in May; here is his latest column: )


One of the amusing lines from the GM House trip to France in March was Josh's favorite "Trust in trauma." Josh had a little too much wine that evening and came up with the phrase and repeated it for quite a while. While he probably wasn't thinking of chess at the time, it does have some place in how we think.

I'd like to show two examples in this article, one where "trust in trauma" justifies an attack, and one where we see that "trust in trauma" is a good phrase to keep in mind when defending a bad position.

Question: Black has just played 5...Nb8-d7, 7...Nd7-f8, and now 8...Nf8-d7. How would you continue as White?

Question: White has just played 15.Nc4. Can Black safely take the pawn on d4?

Question: Black has just played 20...Na4, threatening a knight fork on c3. White can take once, but then the other knight on d5 jumps in to replace its colleague. What would you play as White?

This was a game where White was able to leave his king in the center (and actually move it around d1 and e1) because of his much better development and Black's poor king's position. Figuring that White's large lead in development should translate into something concrete, I was able to find 21.Ke1! and keep the attack going. Any blow White was going to land there would be more significant than a threat by Black to the b- or d-pawns.

The "trust in trauma" slogan might also be useful when defending, especially in time pressure. Sometimes you get into a tough situation and you're wondering whether to defend passively and hope to draw, or to try and counterattack to mix things up. There aren't a lot of general position-specific guidelines I can think of to answer that question, but one thing I've found to be useful is to use the process of elimination when considering candidate moves.

Consider the following position from one of my games in January 2009. I had the black pieces, with the initiative on the board and a serious time advantage on the clock. White was faced with a tough defensive decision:

The time control for this game was G/90 minutes with a 30-second increment per move, and my opponent only had 4 minutes left at this point so he was in serious time pressure. Black just played 25...Rd5, preparing to double rooks on the d-file once that file gets opened. If White moves his bishop from c2, then ...d2+ will pick the piece back up. He also can't immediately take on d3 because ...Nxd3+ hits the king and opens a discovered attack on the rook on b5. 

At this point, my opponent considered two moves, each with the same idea. He wants to play Rxc5 and then Bxd3, getting two bishops for my rook. The big difference is whether Black's rook on g8 joins the attack from the d8-square or along the g-file.
   Option 1: 26.Rxc5 Qxc5 27.Bxd3 Rgd8 28.Rxf7
   Option 2: 26.g6 Rxg6 27.Rxc5 Qxc5 28.Bxd3
With the clocking winding down, which one would you play?

If I were defending this position, here's how I would approach it. With a lot of time on the clock, I'd consider both in turn and decide which one gives me a better shot of saving the game. However, if like my opponent here, I was low on the clock, I would turn to the process of elimination. Both of these lines end with Black to play. In the first one, it's not clear what Black's next move should be (as 28...Rd5xd3 fails to 29.Qf3xb7#!); but in the second one, Black's next move is more obvious: 28...Qg1+ followed by capturing the pawn on g3. White's not making any threats in that position, so the entrance of the rook on the g-file is curtains. Thus, even though I don't know what the actual evaluation of Option 1 is, I'd play it.

My opponent, though, did not take this opportunity and his passive defense went down pretty easily. Expanding the move list will show you what should happen after Option 1, and suffice to say that it isn't anywhere near as easy as the game.

What's the moral of this story? Sometimes when you're defending, playing for complications (or "trusting in trauma") is the way to go ...

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