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Intermediate Tactics

IM Jeremy Silman Avg Rating: 1545 Tactics

"Intermediate Tactics" presents tactical exercises that are significantly more difficult than those seen up to this point.

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  • Basic Tactics: Undefended piece

    Combinations usually come into existence only if a king is vulnerable in some way or if an opponent's piece is undefended. In this case the Black bishop on g4 is not guarded by another unit and White can take advantage of this in a surprising way.
  • Basic Tactics: Sacrifice gone bad

    White has just sacrificed his bishop on f7 with the move Bc4xf7+ in the hope of picking up the loose Black bishop on g4. Though this is a good idea in similar positions, here it fails, because the Black queen has access to g5.
  • Basic Tactics: Discovered Attack

    Black enjoys a space advantage and pieces which appear to be more aggressively placed than White's. White has a commonly seen trick, however, that completely turns the tables.
  • Basic Tactics: The road to a5

    The Black bishop on a5 appears to be strangely placed yet safe. However, nothing is defending it on a5 and this fact makes it vulnerable to a tactic.
  • Basic Tactic: Counter Threat!

    White has just played the surprising 1.Nf3xd4, hoping to meet 1...exd4? with the double attack 2.Qh5+ followed by 3.Qxa5. This whole thing was poorly thought out, though, because Black has a defense that not only saves the lost pawn but actually wins the game!
  • Basic Tactics: Forks and Pins

    Black would like to capture the White pawn on e4, but things are not as easy as they might appear. Should Black take this pawn? And, if so, do you see the dangers?
  • Blackburne's Mate

    This checkmate shows the power of a knight on g5 combined with the might of a queen. Both join to attack h7, and such assaults must always be taken very seriously. Even worse, though, is the fact that White also has two bishops bearing down on the Black king. All together it just adds up to much too much fighting power.
  • Attacking h7

    When you attack the Black king, the most common points to throw yourself against are f7, g7 and h7. In this example White combines threats against g7 (with his queen and bishop) with threats against h7 (with the queen and knight) to force the collapse of the Black position.
  • Anastasia's Mate

    Black is feeling rather confident, being up a piece and forking the White queen and knight with the pawn on e6. Black also threatens to mate White with ...Qf1+ and ...Qxb2. Is it time for White to resign? No, White has a miraculous way to turn the game around.
  • Field-Tenner, New York 1933

    When you attack the king you usually devote your energies to breaking down f7, g7 and h7, or, from the other side, f2, g2 and h2. In the present position we see Black lashing out at the g2-square in an effort to drag down the White king.
  • Placing g7 and h7 under siege

    This example illustrates a very valuable and common mating pattern. White makes use of the holes on f6, g7 and h6 to penetrate into the Black position and create irresistible threats. This shows the terrible danger a player is in when he allows holes like this to appear in his position.
  • Classic Bishop Sacrifice

    The Classic Bishop Sacrifice is a common tactical motif that must be thoroughly understood so that you can use it if given the chance and avoid it when someone is trying to use it on you. In general, the attacker needs a pawn on e5 (to keep Black defenders off of f6), a bishop on d3 (to sacrifice against h7), a knight on f3 (which will check on g5 after the bishop sacrifices itself) and a queen that can jump into h5 where it will work with the g5-knight in penetrating the Black position via h7.
  • A Flawed Classic Bishop Sacrifice

    The Classic Bishop Sacrifice usually doesn't work if Black can safely land a knight on f6, which he can't do in this example, or place a bishop or queen on the b1-h7 diagonal which would enable Black to calmly defend h7.
  • Toth-Szigeti, Budapest 1946

    There are several nice things that can be said about the White position: His knight is powerfully placed on d6; his bishop is much more active than its Black counterpart; the pawns on d4 and c5 give White an advantage in space, and White's pieces are looking in the direction of the Black king. From Black's point of view, he appears to be fighting back. By attacking the base of White's pawn chain on d4, Black is hoping to destroy the knight's support point on d6 by eradicating the pawn on c5. Black's...
  • Building a mating net

    This problem teaches us that random checks are not always a good idea, because they often simply chase the enemy king to safety. Isn't it better to first cut the king off and only then attempt to deliver the checkmate? If you see the logic of what is being said here, then go to the head of the class. However, if none of this makes sense to you, don't despair! Look through the whole problem, and everything should start falling into place.
  • Creation of a pin

    White has two very nice minor-pieces on b2 and f5 staring at the Black king. However, the well-placed knight on f5 is being attacked, and this creates a problem for White; you can't let Black just take it, but if you withdraw it all hopes of a White attack will vanish in thin air.
  • Fox-Bauer, Washington 1901

    White is down a piece yet has several pieces pointing in the direction of the Black king. Find a way to break down Black's kingside pawn cover so that the king becomes vulnerable to mating threats.
  • Variation of Fox-Bauer, Washington 1901

    White is down a piece but has several pieces pointing in the direction of the Black king. Find a way to break down Black's kingside pawn cover so the king becomes vulnerable to mating threats.
  • Alekhine-Supico, Tenerife 1945

    Alekhine, as White, was playing this as a blindfold game, which means that he was playing without sight of the board.
  • Bernstein-Kotov, Groningen 1946

    Black appears to be better positionally, since he enjoys the superior pawn structure with a protected passed pawn on d5. He also has an immediate threat of ...Rxb2, and the White king looks too open for its own good. All this is meaningless, however, because White starts a counterattack that brings the Black king to its knees. Russian Grandmaster Kotov wrote a fine but somewhat advanced book, Think Like a Grandmaster, which teaches the student how to calculate variations.
  • Variation from Capablanca-Nimzovich, Kissingen 1928

    White would love to get the bishop to e4 where it would join with the queen in a threat of Qxh7 mate. Unfortunately, both White knights are in the way, and even if the bishop did make it to e4, the Black pawn on f6 could just block by pushing to f5. How can White overcome all these problems and force a mate on h7?
  • Shumov-Janisch, St. Petersburg 1849

    Sometimes a defensive piece bites off more than it can chew and it finds itself having to keep a finger in the dike with one hand, while the other hand is expected to fight off a hungry bear. The normal recipe in such instances is to pull the defender away from its most important task with a sacrifice. The newly undefended point will then fall apart quickly.
  • Destruction of Kingside Pawn Cover

    When the pawns disappear from the front of their king, madness and mayhem usually breaks out. These pawns on f2, g2 and h2 (or from Black's point of view, f7, g7 and h7) are so important that the opponent will often sacrifice the house in an effort to bring the king out into the open.
  • Em. Lasker-Bauer, Amsterdam 1889

    Black has just taken a piece on h5 and thought he would be able to defend after White would make a seemingly obligatory recapture. Emanuel Lasker (playing White) was the second official World Champion. Ruling world chess for over 20 years, Lasker also excelled and achieved a certain amount of fame in mathematical and philosophical circles. His skills in business were less developed, as shown by his failure to succeed at pigeon breeding. Buying two pigeons, he patiently waited for them to mate, but...
  • Explosion on f7

    The three main points of attack against Black's kingside are h7, g7 and f7. This example shows how an explosion against f7 can drag the king towards the center. This is not enough in itself. However, if you have a further blow to complement the poor king's position, then nice things can happen for the attacker.
  • Pinning a defensive pawn

    White is a piece down, however, the horrible position of the Black king and the powerful placement of the White rooks enable him to execute the Black king in short order by making use of a pin along the sixth rank.
  • Avoid Trap

    The Black pawn on c3 is attacking the White queen and appears to be completely unprotected. If this is true, then White should capture the pawn. However, White should also look closely for a possible trap. Ultimately, even if you suspect a trap and you don't see why you can't take something, you simply have to take it and force your opponent to prove the point (or admit the mistake!).
  • To fear a skewer or not to fear a skewer?

    White has the better position because his rooks control the important e-file. The real question is should White capture the Black c3-pawn with the queen or move her to a safe post and avoid the confrontation?
  • Pin vs. Pin

    Black has the superior pawn structure and now must decide whether to take the pawn on c6, which appears to be undefended. Is that pawn on c6 edible or is it a trap?
  • Fighting against a full pawn center

    Black owns the two bishops and has a full pawn center. All this is usually something to crow about, but here White has a shot that turns Black's smile into a frown of concern and panic.
  • Never believe what your opponent tells you

    White has just taken a pawn on d5 with a knight that started on c3. The horse looks completely undefended, but White thinks he has seen something that Black may have missed. Which player is mistaken and which one is on top of the action?
  • Indirectly defending a pawn

    When I was twelve years old a friend of mine in his twenties told me that the mark of a good chess player is his ability to indirectly defend pieces and pawns. It's now several lifetimes later and I still don't know if I agree with him. Two skills that are needed if one is to indirectly protect something are the ability to calculate a move or two ahead and a well developed sense of pattern recognition that tells you at a glance whether danger is lurking. Both these things will make you a better...
  • The undefended queen

    White's rook is attacking the Black queen. What is the best way for Black to deal with this threat?
  • Setting up a fork

    Forks don't just happen by themselves; you must have the skill to create them. In this example we see a shocking way to set up a fork.
  • Don't fear shadows!

    White has placed his rook opposite the Black queen because he sees that 1...Qxd6 will be met by 2.Nf5+, forking the Black king and queen. Is White right about this, or should he get a new pair of glasses?
  • Pins and Forks

    This position doesn't look too exciting. The White knight is under attack by the Black queen. That same Black queen also defends the c5-pawn and keeps the knight out of d7. Has the Black queen bitten off more than it can chew?
  • Overworked piece

    Black was napping here and thought that everything was under control.
  • Better piece coordination pays!

    Black appears to have a solid position, but a tactical nuance gives White the opportunity to win a couple of pawns.
  • Seirawan-Sulsky, Vancouver 1981

    The only piece defending the bishop on f6 is the Black queen. How can the queen be induced to leave its defensive position?
  • Deflecting a defender

    The only thing defending the Black queen is its king. Can White take advantage of this fact?
  • Deflecting the defender

    This game appears completely drawn, and a queen trade by 1.Qxd5 Rxd5 would make that even clearer. A trick exists, however, that turns the game on its ear.
  • From ashes to equality

    White is down material and is about to be mated by ...Qb2 mate or ...Qa1 mate. However, White can save the day by creating a perpetual check of the Black king.
  • Salvation through stalemate

    It looks like it's time to resign for White: He only has the queen left; the Black pieces are about to mate the White king, and the Black king appears to be completely safe. What's the hidden feature of this position?
  • Staying attentive

    White has been getting kicked around the board for a long time and now he is so far behind that Black has fallen asleep, because he thinks the win is easy. Normally Black's position wins itself, but momentary lack of attention allows White a tricky resource.
  • Finding light in the wreckage

    White's e-pawn is about to turn into a queen, however, Black still has one more arrow to shoot.
  • Searching for paralysis

    There is a form of chess in which you try to give away all your pieces faster than your opponent can. It is called giveaway or fairy chess. Sometimes we do this in real chess, too, but we do it for a very odd reason: we give away all our pieces so that our position will be paralyzed. Then we can benefit from this state of helplessness by invoking the old stalemate rule.
  • A common form of perpetual check

    Black is a rook ahead, but White can draw by hounding the Black king. This particular pattern is extremely common and should be committed to memory.
  • Double Rook Mate

    The poor Black king has no legal move. This means that any lasting check will lead to mate.
  • Mating with two Rooks

    Two rooks easily checkmate a king. One cuts the king off along a file and then the other takes the file next to it and forces the king further to the side of the board. This continues, file by file, until the opposing king is out of files to run to.
  • Cracking open the King

    Kings like room to breathe, and the Black monarch is suffocating at the moment. Since any lasting check might be a mate, White will try very hard to make that check a reality.
  • Avoiding panic

    It's clear that White is in charge. The bishop is well posted, and the queen and rook also outperform the Black counterparts. It looks that Black may have to give up a piece to defend the back rank, but things are often not as easy as they seem. Black can put up a tough defense by remaining calm and using all the resources in the position.
  • From the main problem, we arrived at this position after 1...Bd7!! 2.Qxf8+ Rxd8 3.Re7

    A rook on the seventh rank is usually worth a pawn. On the seventh rank a rook cuts off the opposing king and attacks most of the opponent's pawns. Small wonder that Black doesn't want the White rook to stay there, but how does one get rid of the invader?
  • Showing disdain for a premature attack

    White has just attacked the f7-pawn for the second time with Ng5. Is Black in trouble or is there a simple way to deal with the problem? This example warns the student that two minor pieces, though equal in point count to a rook and a pawn, are actually superior to the rook and pawn. Why? Because the pawn won't be able to do much for a long time while the two Black pieces will out-maneuver the lone rook.
  • Seredenko-Belousov, USSR 1972

    Black dreams of promoting the d-pawn or winning material which White will have to give up in order to prevent the pawn's advancement. How can this dream succeed?
  • A common trick with pawns

    Black to move could easily stop the White pawns with ...g7-g6. White to move though, has a way to force the promotion of a White pawn into a queen!
  • Always be aware!

    White to move can promote the g-pawn immediately, yet Black is inclined to fight until checkmate is delivered, in spite of the evidently hopeless situation. What hopes might Black have in the back of his mind?
  • One move threats with substance

    White can force Black to give away one of his own pieces! How do you get somebody to do this? The code word here is decoy!
  • How to play the opening

    This position comes from a Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense. Black is behind in development with two pieces out versus White's three. Should Black take that pawn on b2 with the queen or make some other move? Which one of the many reasonable looking tries would you choose for Black?
  • Make your pieces work together

    White has one piece developed and now must decide how to develop the kingside pieces. Where would you deploy these pieces?
  • Thinking of the Rooks

    A simple and somewhat dull opening allows White a choice of several plausible moves. Here we are concerned with the development of the knight on b1. Should it be placed on c3, d2 or somewhere else?
  • Development blues

    Black would like to complete kingside development and then castle. He could move his g8-knight to f6 first (called the Two Knights Defense), however, here we are more interested in where the f8-bishop should go. Would you move it to e7, d6, c5 or b4?
  • Typical plan from the Ruy Lopez

    This main line position from the Ruy Lopez can be played in several ways. However, the best method is instructive for its insight into how central play should be started. What would you do as White?
  • Typical Opening Scenario

    White enjoys a small edge, as the bishop on c4 is more active than the Black bishop on e7. Now White must figure out a way to get the c1-bishop into the game. How should this be done?
  • Getting Knights to Nirvana

    How can the White knight on d2 eye the weak squares on d5 and f5?
  • For the World Title

    One of the worst and costliest examples of inattention that I've ever witnessed occurred in a Junior World Championship event. Both players were nine-year old girls, who had long ago lost interest in the game. White, behind by three pawns, had already resigned herself to defeat and was playing on through sheer inertia. Black, who had decided that the game was over, was not even looking at the board. Instead, she was literally dancing in rapture because with this victory came the title of World Champion...
  • Keep things as simple as possible!

    White is two pawns ahead and should win the game without too much trouble. However, the Black rook is a bother, since it can attack the White pawns and check the White king. How can White make the win trivial?
  • Ed. Lasker - Sir George Thomas, London 1911

    Edward Lasker (not to be confused with former World Champion Emanuel Lasker) was a German born engineer who emigrated to the US. In 1923, he narrowly lost a match for the US Championship to Frank Marshall. He lived to the ripe old age of 96. Sir George Thomas was a leading British player who won the British Championship in 1923 and 1934. An avid sportsman, he reached the final sixteen at Wimbledon in 1922, and was a four time All-England badminton champion. This position is from an offhand game...
  • Intelligent Exchanges

    White appears to be a bit better placed in a rather boring position. White's king is castled, and White's bishop is clearly more active than Black's. How can Black solve these problems?
  • Battle between bishop and knight

    What is stronger, the White knight or the Black bishop? How can the knight prove superiority?
  • Dominated Knight

    Usually a knight is better than a bishop if all the pawns stand on one side of the board. However, in this case the knight has strayed too far from home and, since it is not a long range piece, it may never find its way back to Kansas again.
  • A Bit from the Bird's Opening

    White to play would like to find a nice home for the c1-bishop. Where do you think it should go?
  • Creating Luft

    Making luft means you are creating a hole for your king to hide in, in order to prevent any kind of backrank checkmate. Usually this luft is created by the advance of the h-pawn or g-pawn. How should White create luft here?
  • A simple decision

    The game is rather even, but White has a slight lead in development, and the king is safely out of the center. White may also capture the Black knight on f6 by Bxf6. Is this something Black should worry about, or should he just go about solving those other problems that were mentioned earlier?
  • Target Practice

    The e-file is wide open and Black has targets on b6 and d6. Should White attack one or both of these targets or should White fight for control of the open file? Also try to figure out how you would attack b6 and d6, if that's a good idea. The d6-pawn is isolated, which means that only another piece can protect it, since there are no pawns on neighboring files. Note how the b6-pawn could also be called an isolated pawn. Even though there is a pawn further advanced next to it, it cannot be protected...
  • Fighting for a square

    Black's pieces are on active posts, but White has managed to defend all weak points. Now White must decide whether to chop the e6-bishop and double Black's pawns.
  • Protected passed pawn

    White has a protected passed pawn on d5. Does this automatically give White a superior position? How should Black deal with that White pawn?
  • Breaking the blockade

    If a passed pawn reaches the sixth or seventh rank, then it becomes extremely dangerous. In this position the pawn is almost ready to promote. All White has to do is figure out how to break the final blockade, so that he can push it.

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