Look at the whole board!

Look at the whole board!

GM jhellsten

One common reason for tactical failure is the lack of attention to the whole board. In the heat of the battle, we often focus, subconsciously or not, on a specific zone of the board, where the "action" is. Needless to say, this can have disastrous consequences. Let´s see some fresh examples from practice.

White to move. It is easy to see that Black has an active game. What is he planning next? One idea is ...Bf5, but even more appealing is ...Ng4, creating threats on our kingside, which is short of defenders for the moment. We can´t really prevent both ideas, so 1.h3 looks reasonable, e.g. 1...Bf5 2.Bd3, or 1...Qg5 2.Kh2, parrying the threat of 2...Bxh3.

In the game, White instead opted for 1.Qd3. His idea must have been to meet 1...Ng4 (or 1...Bf5) by 2.Qd6!, heading for a pleasant endgame, but Black has a much stronger 1st move. Can you see which?

Very opportune tactical play from the young Iranian star!  Interestingly, it took him almost four minutes to play 1...b5!, which might indicate that he too had his eyes initially on the kingside.

Here is a similar example, from a later stage of the battle.

White to move. Black, the exchange down, has just played the dazzling Rf8-f3, stepping up his attack. How to defend? Our first candidate move is 1.gxf3, alas after 1...Qxh3 the threat of 2...Nxf3+ will cost us the queen. What else? It makes sense to bring pieces to the defence, however 1.Ne4 fails fatally to 1...Ne2+. In view of this, 1.Qd1 looks logical, but after 1...Rxh3! 2.gxh3 Qxh3 White has nothing better than 3.f4 (or 3.f3) allowing 3...Qg3+ with a perpetual. In fact, this is how the game went.

Have we missed some other 1st move for White? If you look carefully at the whole board, I am sure that you will find the answer!

Interestingly, maneuvres with the queen´s rook (Ra3-h3, ...Ra6-h6 etc.) are rather standard in attacking play. In contrast, they are less frequent in a defensive context, which might explain why 1.Ra4! didn´t turn up on White´s "radar" this time.

Oversights of this kind can take place in the endgame as well.

White is under serious pressure in this rook endgame, but by playing 1.b3 he gave his opponent a chance to settle the matter at once. Can you see how?

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Here are a few related exercises.

1. Is it OK to play 1...Bf6 here?

2. Between 1.Qb8 and 1.Nb8, which one should be avoided, and for what reason?

3. Here White played 1.e3. Was that a good decision?

4. Between 1...O-O and 1...Ng6, which one should be avoided, and for what reason?