Two Players, Two Different Fantasies

  • IM Silman
  • | Mar 7, 2012

Tic-Tac (1361) - freddiebanocia (1448), 2011

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4

When discussing an opening variation, at times I say that one side or the other has tried “everything.” In general, “everything” means 6 to 9 moves, which is a LOT. But after 3.Bc4 I can finally use the word “everything” in a more expansive manner. In my 5 million game database, Black has tried: 3…b5, 3…Qd7, 3…Ne7, 3…a5, 3…d5, 3…b6, 3…f6, 3…a6, 3…Bd7, 3…Nh6 – okay, so far these moves have only been tossed out by very low rated players. But when we up the ante to 2200 and above, we also get: 3…c5, 3…Qf6, 3…Qe7, 3…g6, 3…f5, 3…Nbd7, 3…Be6, 3…c6, 3…Nc6, 3…h6, 3…Bg4, 3…Nf6, and 3…Be7. Clearly, some of the masters must have been drunk when they played these moves, and I can only imagine their horror when they looked at their score-sheet the next day with sober eyes.

To say that I was amazed is an understatement, so I tried a little experiment. I set up the position (on a real board) after 3.Bc4, blindfolded myself, twirled around a few times so I’d be disoriented, felt around for a while until I found the board, and then (I was sitting on the black side) grabbed a piece and moved it. I did this whole routine 30 times and discovered that I had either played something illegal (like …Nb8-d3+) or had played one of the moves listed. Other than the illegal moments, I wasn’t able to do something that hadn’t been played by a sighted opponent!!

As you can see, there’s little I won’t do for science and


The idea of this move is to be able to play …Nf6 without dealing with Ng5. But, as is so common in amateur chess, the cure creates a certain amount of self-inflicted damage. If Black wanted to safely castle, then just 3…Be7 (by far the most common move) followed by …Nf6 and ...0-0 is safe, sound, and logical. As usual, note that 3…Be7 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Ng5? is completely useless due to 5…0-0 when 6.Nxf7? Rxf7 7.Bxf7+ Kxf7, though equal according to point count (6 points to 6 points) is actually very much in black’s favor since the two minor pieces will prove far more useful than white’s Rook and pawn.

Note the differences between 3…h6 and 3…Be7. One (3…h6) weakens black’s kingside and wastes a tempo to play a purely defensive move (thus it’s a negative move), while the other (3…Be7) stops the threat by developing a piece (thus it’s a positive move).

Here’s an example of black’s main move (with a glance at 3…Nf6 thrown in):

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Be7 (Of course, as all of you should know by now, my favorite thing is to ignore perceived enemy threats completely. Thus 3…Nf6!? is interesting when a whole body of theory exists concerning the position after 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 h6 6.Nf3 e4) 4.d4 exd4 (4…Nd7? runs into 5.dxe5! when 5…Nxe5 6.Nxe5 dxe5 7.Qh5 g6 8.Qxe5 picks up a pawn, while 5…dxe5 6.Qd5 is even worse!) 5.Nxd4 Nf6 6.Nc3 0-0 7.Bb3 (7.0-0 a6!? 8.a4 Nxe4 9.Nxe4 d5 10.Bd3 dxe4 11.Bxe4 Bf6 12.Be3 Nd7 13.c3 Re8 14.Qc2 g6 15.Rfe1 Bg7 16.Rad1 c5 17.Ne2 Qc7 18.Nf4 Nf6 19.Nd5 Nxd5 20.Rxd5 b6 21.Rdd1 Rb8 22.h3 Be6, =, L. Yudasin (2610) – M. Adams (2630) [C41], Dos Hermanas 1993) 7…Na6 8.0-0 Nc5 9.Qf3 c6 10.h3 a5 11.Rd1 Qc7 12.a4 Nxb3 13.cxb3 Nd7 14.Bf4 Ne5 15.Qe2 Re8 16.Rac1 Bf8 17.Be3 Nd7 18.Qf3 Nc5 19.Bf4 Qb6 20.Be3 Qc7 21.Rc2 Qe7 22.Bf4 Nxe4 23.Nxe4 Qxe4 24.Qg3 Qg6 25.Qc3 d5 26.Re2 Rxe2 27.Nxe2 Bb4 28.Qe3 Bd7 29.Be5 Re8 30.Nf4 Qc2 31.Rc1 Qf5 32.Nd3 f6 33.g4 Qg6, 0-1, O. Biti (2347) – H. Stevic (2502) [C41], Djakovo 2006.

4.Nc3 Nf6 5.h3

Tic-Tac: “Preventing him from pinning my knight. I need it to recapture on d4 if needed.” 

Instead of defending against something that you felt stopped you from pushing your d-pawn to d4, shouldn’t you first explore just doing the move you clearly want to play? Thus, 5.d4 should be the first thing you analyze:

* 5…Bg4?? is actually a mistake since 6.dxe5! Bxf3 (6…dxe5 7.Bxf7+ Ke7 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Nxe5 and, with two extra pawns and a lead in development, Black would be forgiven if he chose to resign) 7.gxf3 dxe5 8.Bxf7+! Ke7 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.Be3 and white’s a pawn up, has two Bishops, and is ahead in development. In other words, he’s winning. As you can see, with 5.h3 you, in effect, wasted a tempo to stop your opponent from losing the game.

* 5…Nc6 6.dxe5 dxe5 7.Qxd8+ Kxd8 8.Bxf7 and, once again, white’s a pawn up.

* 5…exd4 6.Nxd4 and since you took on d4 with the Knight (and you stated that you wanted to play d4 and, if Black took, Nxd4), why was 5.h3 necessary?

* 5…Nbd7 is black’s best reply (along with 5…exd4), but then …Bg4 isn’t possible and, once again, 5.h3 is shown to be unnecessary.


Tic-Tac: “Clearly preparing d5.”

Not a bad move, but since Black played …h6, one would think he would try and prove its usefulness by continuing with 5…Be7 and 6…0-0.

Black’s 5…c6 made the d5-square inaccessible to white’s pieces, but it didn’t necessarily mean that Black intended to play …d6-d5. Not every move has to punch, threaten or defend.

6.d4 b5?















Well, it’s not Tic-Tac’s …d6-d5, but I guess Black agrees that every move DOES indeed have to punch, threaten or defend! Of course, this is completely incorrect, but the PTD mantra seems common enough in amateur chess. If amateurs must embrace PTD, I’d be much happier if they changed that to PTDB (punch, threaten, defend, build), at least the addition of “build” shows a desire to create a plan or induce weaknesses (Black’s 5…c6 was a building move, but Black didn’t view it that way. Instead, he saw it as preparation for a punch!).

This one-move attack to white’s Bishop is not a good idea at all since Black only has one piece developed to white’s three. Attacking when your opponent has far more men in play then you do is rarely a wise thing to do! Instead, 6…Nbd7 followed by 7…Be7 and 8…0-0 was the sane way to play the position, or he could also leap into the dreaded Black Lion via 6…Nbd7, 7…Be7, 8…Qc7, and then …Nd7-f8, …g7-g5, …Ng6, etc. 


Tic-Tac: “Keeping my bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal. I don’t want to lose sight of d5.”

Alas, White makes a perfectly good move, but doesn’t look for a way to punish his opponent for the premature aggression with 6…b5. Instead of saying, “My Bishop is attacked and I have to move it”, which blinds you to everything in the position other than moving your Bishop (saying, “I have to”, which is a huge psychological mistake, is discussed in great detail in my How To Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition), White needed to say, “His …b5 seems a bit fishy. Do I have any way of punishing it?”

As it turns out, White has a strong retort. Try to find it in the problem:
















When I was growing up and becoming acquainted with chess lingo, one of the most instructive was, “Patzer sees check, patzer gives check.” But someone could just as well replace “check” with “threat” and you’d get the same effect. With 7…b5 and 8…b4, Black is showing that he just can’t say no to the act of threatening something.

Instead of attacking something and hoping White doesn’t see it, Black should have played 7…Nbd7, developing a new piece, defending e5, and (hopefully) following up with …Be7 and …0-0. I’ve said this hundreds of times here on, and I’m sure that I’ll have to repeat it hundreds of times more: Chess is a team game! If your pieces aren’t working together for the same goal, then you’re doing something wrong.


The habits of both players have become clear: White is easy to push around (he is a victim of “I have to”) and Black lives to attack things, even if he doesn’t have many pieces out. When Black hit White with 6…b5, White “had to” move his Bishop, and he obeyed that lie hook, line, and sinker. Now the pawn moves even further forward, this time attacking a Knight. And, as before, White “has to” move his Knight to safety, and so he does it. Another lie, another demonstration of obedience.

Here’s what White should have done:















I’m making an example of Tic-Tac because:

* He won’t be able to fix this problem if I don’t bash him with its reality.

* The vast majority of amateur’s have this very same problem, so Tic-Tac’s woes will hopefully make the reader look in the mirror and start the long, painful process of undoing the “I have to” brainwashing. 


Another move, another error based on the worship of the great god aggression. Instead, 8…Nbd7 was still indicated.
















And White follows his modus operandi too! If either player had taken a moment to look at the discrepancy in development, Black might have woken up and developed something, and White might have gotten indignant and screamed, “This guy has to die!”

Instead, White said, “I have to regain my pawn” and so he took it, thus ignoring all the wonders his position offered.

White has more than one good move here (9.e5 is particularly tempting), but personally, I would have gotten my King out of Dodge before embarking on a quest for the knockout. Remember: if a battle breaks out, the winner is usually the guy with the safer King. Thus, 9.0-0 just has to be strong (safe King and it also brings the h1-Rook into play):

* 9…c5 10.e5 is crushing.

* 9…Be7 10.e5 dxe5 11.Nxe5 0-0 12.Nxd4 and white’s pieces are chewing Black up.

* 9…Nxe4 10.Re1 Be7 11.Qxd4 Nf6 12.Nf4 0-0 (12…c5 13.Qe3 and Black can’t castle) 13.Ng6 Re8 14.Bf4 d5 15.Nxe7+ Rxe7 16.Qxb4 and White, with two Bishops, the better pawn structure, and a lead in development, has an enormous advantage.


Tic-Tac: “Not sure what the purpose of this move is other than a one move threat. At any rate, this makes d5 look like a great place to be.”

At this point, I would have expected Black to play 9…c5 since it does one of his favorite things: it threatens something. Of course, to white’s credit he points out that the move carries a serious flaw: the d5-square has turned into a hole.


Tic-Tac: “Keeping control of d5. Coincidentally threatens checkmate.”

It’s white’s turn to make a threat, and it turns out to be as effective as black’s earlier threats (meaning it’s not effective at all). Better was 10.Qd3, when the Queen is safe and also performing guard duty towards e4 and d5. A couple possibilities:

* 10…Bb7? 11.e5! Be4 12.Ba4+ Nbd7 13.Qe3 dxe5 14.Nxe5 and black’s getting routed.

* 10…Be7 11.e5 dxe5 12.Nexd5 0-0 (12…Qxd3 13.Bxf7+ Kf8 14.cxd3) 13.Qf3.


Tic-Tac: “Should’ve looked a little further. Didn’t see this coming.”

It’s an odd thing how amateur’s will make a move without fully pondering how the opponent will meet it. When White played 10.Qc4, he threatened mate. This means that Black’s replies are limited (10…Be6, 10…Qc7, 10…Qd7, 10…Qe7, 10…d5), and every one needed to be assessed. Out of all of these, 10…Be6 is the most obvious since it develops (finally!), stops mate, and threatens the Queen all at the same time (it’s a threat, so you know Black is going to play it!). You mentioned that you should have looked further, but it’s half a move away!

Anyone and everyone that wants to get somewhere in chess needs to realize that it is a war between two armies, and two minds. Every move you make will be challenged by the opponent, and if you don’t do your very best to unearth the other side’s replies to everything you do, you’ll almost always be on the receiving end of chess pain.


Tic-Tac: “Getting my queen out of danger. d3 probably would’ve been a better square, as it still controls d5.”

You repeat the same mistake as you did on the previous move. Your Queen was attacked, so you threaten something (make a check) and don’t bother looking for black’s reply.


Tic-Tac: “More reason I should’ve gone to d3. Wasted a tempo here.”

No, you wasted two tempi: your Qc4 gave him …Be6 for free, then your 11.Qb5+ gave him …Qd7. If you had played 10.Qd3 right away, black’s light-squared Bishop would still be on c8 and his Queen would still be on d8.

















Another “punching” move by Black, and another mistake. What this lemon does is turn the dead Rook on a1 into an active piece. Moves have ramifications, and both sides in this game are ignoring everything but their own fantasies. Indeed, I’m left wondering what both players were thinking: After 11.Qb5+ did White say to himself, “Now he’s going to let me take his King!” And after 12…Bxb3 did Black say to himself, “White will now play 13.Qxb3 and then I’ll win his e-pawn by 13…Nxe4.”

Instead, White needed to say, “If I played 11.Qb5+ Black will block it with 11…Qd7 or 11…Nbd7. So why am I checking him in the first place?”

And Black, as he ponders whether or not to play 12…Bxb3, should be saying, “He will recapture his Bishop. He won’t play 13.Qxb3 because that hangs his e-pawn. And 13.cxb3 doesn’t make sense either. But 13.axb3 takes the piece back and frees his Rook. What in the world am I doing? Why would I want to free my opponent’s pieces?”


Tic-Tac: “Better than capturing with the queen, as the text opens a file for my rook.”

You should have noted that 13.Qxb3 allowed 13…Nxe4 when 14.Qd5 (hitting a8 and e4 simultaneously) is met by 14…Qc6, simultaneously defending both pieces.


Tic-Tac: “It’d be nice to move my bishop to g5 and trade it off for his knight, but his pawn isn’t letting that happen.”

You could also try Bc1xd7 and see if he notices that it’s completely illegal. To be fair, I actually like your thinking since you’re 100% right to want total domination over d5, and if you could exchange a pair of Knights, then take his remaining Knight with your Bishop, the resulting White Knight vs. Black Bishop battle would clearly favor the Knight, which could take up shop on c4 or d5.

The fact is that White has some good positional ideas. However, he’s a slave to the “I have to” curse, and he doesn’t make a proper effort when trying to figure out what his opponent should do. All his thoughts are about his own goals (unless there’s a threat, when our buddy “I have to” smites him), and he more or less forgets that he’s playing someone who has dreams of his own.


Tic-Tac: “Swinging my knight around to d5. I haven’t bothered developing my bishop because there isn’t much of a way for it to help me control d5.”

You really need to castle. However, the move you played continues to point to the hole on d5, and that’s something far too many players fail to do. Once again, you show that you have very good positional instincts (but poor dynamics).

After 14.0-0 (bringing the final Rook into the battle), 14…d5 doesn’t work: 15.e5 Ne4 16.Nf4 (hammering d5) 16…Rd8 17.Rd1 (still hammering) 17…c4 18.Qe2 Bc5 19.Be3 and black’s busted (all of white’s pieces are in play and his King is safe, while black’s King is in the middle, his h8-Rook isn’t participating, and d5 is falling).


Tic-Tac: “He’s preparing to castle, and doesn’t really put up much of a fight for d5.”

Well, usually it’s a good thing to develop one’s pieces and castle. And black’s playing a quiet developing move is a rarity in this game. But in this instance, he should have played one of his patented punch moves: 14…Ne5 15.Qe2 Be7 when White is still, of course, clearly on top, but black’s game is far better than it was a short while ago since he’s managed to catch up in development (White failed to make use of that extremely important imbalance – when you’re way ahead in development, you need to crack him right away before he catches up).

15.Nd5 Nxd5 16.Qxd5

Tic-Tac: “Success! Got my queen where I wanted it.”


Tic-Tac: “Time to find a new plan. The d6-pawn is backwards and could be a target.”

White continues with his positional dreams, but ignores the fact that his King is sitting in the middle of the board, and his h1-Rook is, quite literally, forgotten.


Tic-Tac: “This develops my bishop and furthers my goal of attacking d6.”

If your King isn’t safe and your whole army isn’t participating, then all the finest positional ideas on Earth are doomed to failure. 


Tic-Tac: “I wasn’t really threatening d6 yet, but I guess he’s trying to stay a step ahead.”

Actually, eventual threats like Ra6 mean that the a8-Rook should stay on the queenside to guard various key points. Instead, 17…Rfd8 was correct, with a completely acceptable position.
















Tic-Tac: “I can further my pressure by moving my knight to d2, then c4, or 0-0 then doubling my rooks. I’ll start with the knight as it takes 2 tempi instead of 3.”

Arrgghhh! Why in the world won’t you castle? The d1-square is a perfect home for the h1-Rook. The a1-Rook is quite happy on the a-file.

Mr. Tic-Tac, if you refuse to protect your King, and if you refuse to use ALL your pieces, you won’t be able to make any progress in chess. However, these things are so very easy to do that fixing them should prove to be a walk in the park.


Tic-Tac: “This works too. I win a pawn.”

What? Black went berserk and gave a pawn away. Why? Black’s almost equal after 18…Rfe8 (preparing counter pressure against e4).

19.Nxd4 cxd4 20.Rxd4 Bf6

Tic-Tac: “Another case of me not looking ahead far enough. It’s not like the b2-pawn is important, but I still have to spend a tempo moving my rook.”

Mr. Tic-Tac, it’s not that you’re not looking far enough ahead (which you're not, of course), it’s that you’re not looking at all. You need to seriously look for black’s best options, and you’re just not doing that.
















Tic-Tac: “But the d6-pawn is pinned! If it captures, I take his queen.”

Another case of looking at fantasy replies and refusing to look for serious retorts. When you make a move, you have to say to yourself, “If I was Black now, how would I play this position?” Instead your saying, “He takes my pawn, and I take his Queen and I win!” Why not go even further and think, “He takes my pawn, I take his Queen, he gives me a check for a million dollars, and life is grand!”

Instead of 21.e5??, just 21.Rxb4 Bxb2 22.0-0 gives you a safe winning position.


Tic-Tac: “Didn’t consider this option. I assumed he would have to take with his pawn or bishop.”

But if he took with the pawn, you would snap off his Queen and you would win. So why would he do that? In chess, you can’t assume anything, you have to know what your opponent should do (not what you want him to do, but what he should do!). 


Tic-Tac: “I didn’t have a good choice of moves here. Maybe 0-0 would’ve been better.”

You asked, “Maybe 0-0 would have been better?” Of course it would have been better! Compare: King dead in the middle OR King safely castled. Rook dead on h1 OR Rook on f1 ready to leap into play on a1 or d1.

The odd thing about 22.Qa5 is that your Queen wasn’t attacked. This kind of move brings up something I always told my students: “Whenever you play a move, you will have to explain what wonderful things that move did for your position. If you can’t answer that question, then why are you making that move?”

After the correct 22.0-0 Bxe5 23.Rxb4 Bxb2 24.Rb7 Qe6 25.Qxe6 Rxe6 26.Rxa7 Re2 27.c4, White’s a pawn up and has very good winning chances.

22…Bxe5 23.Bxe5 Rxe5+, 0-1.

Tic-Tac: “And I resigned here. Somehow, I forgot I had a rook on h1. I thought I was going into the endgame a rook down.”

Wow. You forgot you had a Rook on h1. What can I say about that? Nothing. But I can say that after 24.Qxe5 dxe5 25.Rxd7 Rxd7 26.Ke2 the game should be drawn (though the only player who can dream of winning is White due to his superior King position and better structure).

~ Lessons From This Game ~

* Chess is a team game! If your pieces aren’t working together for the same goal, then you’re doing something wrong.

* Attacking when your opponent has far more men in play then you do is rarely a wise thing to do!

* If a battle breaks out, the winner is usually the guy with the safer King.

* Anyone and everyone that wants to get somewhere in chess needs to realize that it is a war between two armies, and two minds. Every move you make will be challenged by the opponent, and if you don’t do your very best to unearth the other side’s replies to everything you do, you’ll almost always be on the receiving end of chess pain.

* When you’re way ahead in development, you need to crack him right away before he catches up

* If your King isn’t safe and your whole army isn’t participating, then all the finest positional ideas on Earth are doomed to failure.

* In chess, you can’t assume anything; you have to know what your opponent should do (not what you want him to do, but what he should do!).

* When you’re pondering your plans and moves, it’s very important to also understand (to the best of your abilities - you might not grok what's really going on, but at least you're giving it 112%) your opponent’s correct plans, threats (which isn’t a plan), and the moves that will make them a reality. Being lazy and only looking at silly enemy replies will usually set you up for a painful defeat.

* I always told my students: “Whenever you play a move, you will have to explain what wonderful things that move did for your position. If you can’t answer that question, then why are you making that move?”


  • 5 years ago


    Loved the article. I learn tons from this analysis. I hope Tic-Tac can look at this and be encouraged. Everyone loses, not everyone has the gumption to put themselves out there for the constructive criticism of a Master. 

  • 5 years ago



    Improving your own game comes from realizing the mistakes that you make personally. Analyzing master games has its purpose, as you say, but until you can apply the concepts to your own game, then everything learned from a master game is completely useless information. My point is that you can find master games analyzed anywhere. Mr. Silman has given us the unique opportunity of analyzing games at our level, where players make the same mistakes that we do.

  • 5 years ago



    Its clearly obvious that you have no idea what you are talking about.  You analyze master games to understand the moves they made but the ideas behind them.  If you get to a position and a master makes a move that you don't have any idea why then it is a good idea to try to figure out the plan behind such a move.  The only way to get better in something is to learn from the best plain and simple.  As for the lower rated games lets remember that "higher rated" players make up a small percentage compare to the whole so the choice of a "lower rated" game is actually fitting beacuse most people are "lower rated."

  • 5 years ago


    Talk about a long article..anyways thanks Silman.

  • 5 years ago


    I like this article, because it's a game that I can understand and because the analysis is well explained in words. Thank you!

  • 5 years ago


    You really tore this guy a new one...

  • 5 years ago


    Sometimes, chess is just about 3 ply analysis. Many of us patzers will take a giant leap ahead just by looking at the basics - hangs, checks, responses. But the urge to punch is sometimes just overwhelming (or the urge to produce brilliancies).

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    @ chictomana

    I would have to strongly disagree. How do you learn to correct your mistakes from master level games when masters don't make any of the same mistakes that you do? Master games are instructive to an extent, but unless you analyze games at your level, you'll never be able to understand what is keeping your own game from improving.

  • 5 years ago


    ... another armaments in war OTB.

  • 5 years ago


    For those criticizing the choice of games, because the players are low rated, I simply want to know how you are to understand the games of masters and GMs if you can't understand your own level games. What he's doing is smart. I always learn more from my own low level games than any higher rated game. And I am 1837 uscf and I still learn from these low level games. For instance I just take what I learned from this game and apply it to a higher level. 

    Thank you Silman I think you are doing a great job!

  • 5 years ago


    the petrov defense im sliman what about this opening give us some lesson please

    i give you the line how i want a lesson first line

    the second line is panchenko alexander 2450 vs maki veijo 2380 1984

    memorial A kotov leningrad 1/2  1/2

  • 5 years ago



    games above 2200 are worth comment, not under 1900, and less 1400 !

    and this articles begin with a low rated game.

  • 5 years ago



    You obviously haven't read that many of his articles or you would see that they cover a wide variety of ratings. Also, you're not that much higher rated than the players in this game, so you're not really in any position to talk.

  • 5 years ago


    I dont like your articles for one reason:  the ratings ((1361),(1448),)are so low !

  • 5 years ago



  • 5 years ago


    thank you very match:)

  • 5 years ago


    nice to see an analysis of yours of players of that level. Even though most of your readers might be better one can always learn. And since I am still a beginner there are some valuable lessons here.


  • 5 years ago


    Great article.

  • 5 years ago



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