Candidate moves IV

Candidate moves IV

GM jhellsten

In this final part of my article about candidate moves, we will have a look at some situations where the best move cannot be easily found without first having checked another candidate move. The latter will lead us to some kind of secret in the position, which, no matter how trivial, holds the key to success.

Black to move. We are temporarily a rook down (White just took the one on b8), but our attack looks promising. By 1...Qxh6 or 1...Rxb8 we could recover a piece, but first let´s check other options. We soon spot 1...Qg3, a familiar blow from combination books, tactical puzzles etc. Can White prevent the mate? Yes, by 2.Nc6. The bad news here, is that our attack seems to have come to an end. The good news is, that we can exploit what we see in this variation, to find a better 1st move! After 1...Qg3 2.Nc6, the queen was essential on c2 to defend the knight. Thus... what about 1...Re2? Now after 2.Qxe2 Qg3 White can´t avoid mate, while 2.Qc3 Rxf2 is crushing as well.

It cannot be discarded that Svidler, being a world class player, immediately found 1...Re2, and didn´t pass by 1...Qg3 at all. Another theory, is that he saw 1...Qg3 2.Nc6 Re2 (the opposite move order) but wasn´t convinced after 3.Qc3!, and duly switched moves, a subject we came across in the previous part of this article. Anyway, I guess most of us need to check 1...Qg3 before seeing the idea behind 1...Re2!. One thing leads to another, so to speak.

Here is a similar case.

White to move. He has a huge initiative for the minus pawn. A move which many of us will immediately notice, is 1.Bd6. Black´s reply 1...Re8 is forced. We can then look for new candidate moves in that position, starting with 2.Bc4, 2.d5, etc... But we could also utilize the "secret" of the position - the trivial fact that 1.Bd6 is met by 1...Re8 - to look for another 1st move. In doing so, you will soon run into 1.d5 intending 1...cxd5 2.Bd6 Re8 3.Bb5! hitting the rook on e8. Black is helpless here, i.e. 3...Kf8 4.Bxe8 Bxd6 5.Qf7 mate. Neither does 1...exd5 help, in view of 2.Bg4! (not 2.Bd3? Qd7), while any other 1st move allows 2.d6.

Again, it is quite easy to spot 1.d5! if you have checked 1.Bd6 first.

In the endgame, thinking in "secrets" is very useful. Look at the following example.

Black to play. An extra pawn often decides in knight endings, and here White even has the more active pieces. An obvious candidate move is 1...b3, hoping to divert White´s knight from the centre. We would then like to sacrifice the knight for the c-pawn, and finally eliminate White´s kingside pawns with our king. How does this work out concretely? After 1...b3 2.Nd2 b2 3.c6 Nxc6 (3...Na6 4.Kd6 is similar) 4.Kxc6 Ke5 5.Kc5! our king can´t get any further. One idea is 5...b1Q 6.Nxb1 Ke4, but then by 7.Nd2+ White secures his pawns.

What do we see in this variation? That our king has trouble getting into the battle. Let´s go back again. Any other candidate move, in relation to this issue? We notice 1...g4 clearing the g5 square. The reply 2.hxg4 is forced, and after 2...b3 3.Nd2 b2 4.c6 Nxc6 5.Kxc6 Kg5 our king soon completes his mission, securing the draw.

A very good effort by the young Italian GM! Also notice that after 1...b3? 2.Nd2 Black can try g5-g4 on every move, but White will always reply h3-h4! creating a protected passed pawn, something that he can´t do on the first move (i.e. 1...g4!), as his knight is under attack.

Here is a last example.

White to move. In this position from the Sicilian Rossolimo, Black has a problem with his king. In contrast, White has already finished development and is now looking for ways to open the position. An obvious try is 1.e5, but then 1....f5 keeps things closed. There is the thematical Sicilian sacrifice 1.Nd5, but here it fails tactically to 1...cxd5 2.exd5 Rxd5. However, in this latter variation we notice that both the rook on d8 and the knight on f8 are essential in Black´s defence of the d5 and e6 points. How can we exploit this?

Well, most candidate moves are either a) checks; b) captures or c) threats. No checks or (sensible) captures here, so let´s check the threats. The f6 pawn can´t be attacked, since moving the knight on f3 fails to 1...Rxd4. As for the b6 pawn, it could be attacked by the queen. 1.Qa6 is interesting, but we need a heavy piece on the e-file to make Nc3-d5 work. Thus, 1.Qe3 seems logical. Here 1...Nd7 2.Nd5 looks crushing, as does 1...Rb8 2.Nd5, now that White doesn´t lose material anymore, while achieving the strategical goal of opening the position. A third reply to 1.Qe3 is 1...c5, but even then 2.Nd5 works. White might not win material, but strategically he is clearly on top once Black´s king is stranded in the centre, and the e6 bishop leaves the board.

As you can see, the French GM indeed choose the right path in the game. However, it was not easy to navigate in the complications that followed, and the former U20 World Champion finally saved a draw.

I hope you have enjoyed these examples. Here a few related exercises.

1. White to move (3-4 moves).


2. White to move (3-4 moves).


3. Black to move (3-4 moves).


4. White to move (3-4 moves).


And here are the solutions to the exercises in the 3rd part of the article.

1. Neither 1.Nxe7+ Rxe7 2.Ba5 Rxe1+, nor 1.Ba5 Qxa5 2.Nxe7+ Rf8 works for White. But 1.Rxe7! Rxe7 2.Ba5 Qxa5 3.Nxe7 followed by 4.Nxc6 does the trick. (D.Boros - I.Rees 2009)
2. Both 1...Bxb5 2.Bxb5 d3 3.Bxd3 and 1...Qb8+ 2.Kg1 d3 3.cxd3 Bxb5 4.Qb2! let White escape. A better move order is 1...d3! 2.cxd3 (or 2.Bxd3 Qb8+ followed by captures on d3 and b5) 2...Bxb5! 3.Bxb5 Qb8+, winning a piece. (E.Berg - H.Tikkanen 2011)
3. White has a good position. One idea is 1.h4!? to soften up the kingside. In the game, he fell for 1.Bh6?, omitting 1...bxc3 2.Rxc3 Nxd4! and Black wins a pawn in all lines. Notice the role of the white h-pawn - if still on h2, then 3.Nxd4 Bxh6 4.Qxh6 Qxd4 5.Rh3 would win. (D.Pikula - N.Ristic 2014)
4. After 1.g5 h2 White must avoid 2.g6+? Kh6. Correct is 2.Be3! first, and only after 2...h1Q there follows 3.g6+, with mate to come. If instead 2...Bxe5, then 3.g6 Kh8 4.Bf4! overloading the black bishop. After taking the h-pawn, the white bishop goes to f6, and White wins. (L.Prokes 1956)