Entries in Tactics (28)
Two of America's finest young players, Conrad Holt and Sam Shankland, squared off in round 7 of the just-completed World Open. Holt is as determined a player as you're likely to face, and after 85 moves he had done well to reach the following position:
He's up a pawn and Black's king looks a little uncomfortable, but the c-pawn doesn't give White much time for finesse. Holt couldn't find anything, and ultimately took the safe route to a draw: 86.Qe2+ Kg6 87.Nf3 c2 88.Ne5+ Kg7 89.Nxc6 c1Q+ 90.Kh2 Qxc6 91.Qe5+ 1/2-1/2. Can you find anything better?
The whole game, including some notes to the last phase of the game and an interesting line found several moves earlier by Ken Regan (who told me about this game) can be replayed here.
One note of local interest about the tournament. High school student Sean Vibbert had been flirting with achieving the top rating in Indiana, but after a very successful event in which he gained 51 points and an IM norm, there's no more flirting: he's wedded to the #1 spot for the foreseeable future - at least until and unless he moves away for college. Congratulations!
In the just-completed World Blitz Championship there was a game between Alexander Grischuk and Ruslan Ponomariov that showed both the best and the worst of blitz chess. Grischuk sprung a near-novelty on Ponomariov in an opening backwater, and it had its effect. Ponomariov spent almost half his time trying to figure out what to do, and came up with an interesting but flawed tactical idea. Grischuk thought for a minute or so and refuted it, and as a result he was up a piece for a pawn and under only the most minimal pressure.
Here's how they reached the crucial position in the diagram:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Be2 Bc5(?!) 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 Bd6 7.dxe5 Bxe5 8.Nb5!+= (the near-novelty) 0-0?! 9.f4 Nxe4 10.Qd5!+/- Bf6 11.Qxe4 Re8 12.Qf3+- a6 13.Nc3 Bxc3 14.bxc3 Qe7
So far, so good for Grischuk. His position is completely winning, and he has only to find an accurate move or two to break the pressure on the e-file and finish his development. It was simple and elegant, and it proved effective: 15.Bd2 d5 16.0-0, and Ponomariov resigned due to 16...Qxe2 17.Rf/ae1.
It was, in addition, an absolute blunder! After the rook goes to e1, Black can play 17...Qb5, saving the queen and protecting the rook, winding up a pawn to the good. It's amazing that players of that caliber could miss such a simple tactic, but what it really shows is that the disease suffered by beginners and club players strikes the elite as well: once you've mentally checked the game as a win - or a loss - all kinds of lapses are possible. You can't afford to relax when you're winning, and if you're losing the game and playing on, you might as well stay alert!
Chess Informant (CI) - the publisher - doesn't just publish the Informant - the book. Case in point: the fourth edition of the Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations. This is an old-style CI book: there's no English (or any other natural language) in the body of the text; all you'll find are diagrams, chess notation, and their standard symbols. (One exception: at the top of the page the theme covered on that page is given in English; non-English readers are likely to find the equivalent in their language in the table of contents.)
Tactics books are a dime a dozen (metaphorically; the literal price is considerably greater), so what's different about this one; what do you get for your $44-51? For starters, you get a lot of puzzles: 3001, to be precise. In general, the positions are challenging. Often knowing the theme will give you a good idea about the first move (you won't be shocked to know that in most cases the first move in the puzzles from the chapter "Demolition of Pawn Structure" will involve sacrificing a piece for a pawn in the general vicinity of the victim's king), but that's almost never enough to fully and properly solve the puzzle. Until you're around 1900 or so, you're probably better off working on other tactics book (or software, or tactics websites).
If you are 1900 and up though, it's worth considering because the puzzles are sorted by themes, which is relatively rare for advanced tactics books. In my view both kinds of tactics books are valuable: those where the puzzles are divided up by themes and those where one has no advance idea of what to look for. There are 10 themes in the book, each further subdivided into three sub-sections: "combinations with attack on the king", "combinations to achieve equality", and "other combinations". The 10 themes, with my occasional explanations and/or comments in parentheses, are:
- Annihilation of Defense [Typically removing a piece that guards another piece or a key square.]
- Blockade [Blocking a line, an escape square, etc. Not to be confused with Nimzowitsch's idea.]
- Clearance [Freeing a square or line for the benefit of another piece.]
- Deflection [Drawing a defender away from another defensive responsibility.]
- Discovered Attack [Not necessarily a discovered check.]
- Demolition of Pawn Structure
- Decoy [Not to be confused with deflection. The idea here is to draw the target piece to a bad square.]
- Interference [A move that forces the defender to block a crucial defensive line.]
- Double Attack
If you're a strong player and already have an impressive collection of (unused) tactics books, I wouldn't claim that this is the book for you, the one that will finally make everything fall into place. If you don't have a lot of advanced tactics books though, and especially if you don't have any that are sorted by theme, then it's worth considering - especially since $44-51 for 3001 puzzles is a good ratio. It's not worth getting if it's your 15th tactics book (meaning an advanced book for an advanced player), but if it's your first or maybe even your fifth, it might be.
Sometime last month IM and computer scientist (and regular reader of this blog) Ken Regan found a little time for tournament chess, and while the result wasn't all he might have hoped he was kind enough to send one of his games, from which I'll present the following excerpt.
IM Kenneth Regan - NM Scott Riester, position after 20...Qxh2+ 21.Kf1
"Now the pin-cutting 21...Bc5! was missed by both players. [DM: That very nice move is best and conclusive, but Black has other moves that also win with a huge margin.] The computer sees instantly that it's "splat!", so my statistical model rates it a near-certainty to be found, but this may qualify as a kind of "Invisible Move" that is hard to suspect let alone see. My opponent's actual 21...Qh1+ 22.Ke2 Qxg2 seemed natural, and now I hallucinated that after 23.Nxa7+ Kd7 24.Rg1 Qe4 I could play 25.Rgd1+ Ke7 26.Bg5 "mate". Seeing nothing else I played 25.Qb5+ and resigned next move. But I could have really mixed things up by playing 23.Bxf5!
"According to my Houdini run to high depth, there is only one way for Black to keep the advantage, let alone survive. Can you find the move, unaided?"
I (DM) will give the answer later, in the unlikely event that someone doesn't find it first and include it in the comments. But please, readers, only give what you find with your own thoughts; don't include or hint the solution if you got it from an engine - even if you tried to find it on your own first!
In my review of Informant 113 I noted a new column by Garry Kasparov entitled "Garry's Choice", where he looks at pretty much whatever suits his fancy. I subsequently elaborated on the subject of his first column, where he found a beautiful queen sac that could have arisen in the recent game Paragua-Debashis, New Delhi 2012, but, alas, was missed. He was unable to think of any suitable predecessor, but that's only because the remarkable game MacDonald-Burn, which isn't in the best-known commercial database, had escaped his attention.
What's even more remarkable, perhaps, is that today's action at the U.S. Women's Championship provided a great successor, or at least the potential for one. (A big tip of the lid to Danny Olim for mentioning this game.) Here's the position after White's 34th move in the game Alena Kats - Camilla Baginskaite:
Black's last move was 33...b2-b1Q, to which White replied by smashing the door with 34.Nf4xg6. The door may be smashed, but the doorway is not yet open and the invaders remain outside. Baginskaite couldn't find a solution, and resigned after 34...Qxh2+ 35.Kxh2 Qc2+ 36.Kh1. Alas, she missed her chance. The right move was...well, you've probably already guessed it, based on the previous posts, but try to work out all the details for yourself before checking out the solution. Interestingly, part of the solution itself has a "great predecessor", and I think that predecessor bears some resemblance to the tactic Kasparov highlighted in his column. We've come full circle, and so I'll disembark the merry-go-round here.
In the preceding post I reviewed Informant 113 and mentioned a new column, "Garry's Choice". In the column's initial installment Kasparov features the game Paragua - Debashis, taking special note of a spectacular missed possibility:
Black has enough extra material to win several games, but his king is in a world of trouble. In the game he played 24...Kf8, which allowed a forced mate, but what he missed was 24...Qg4!!, after which the best White can do is play 25.Rxg4+ Kxf7 26.Qxh7+ Ke6 27.Re4+ Kd7 28.Rxe7+ Bxe7 29.h4, with good drawing chances.
An even prettier version of that move was possible a couple of moves before.
Here White played 23.Bxf7+, but 23.Rg1 is more accurate and more frightening, cutting off the enemy king's escape.
The only move, as you've surely surmised by now, is 23...Qg4!! The queen can be taken four different ways, even with check, but in every case Black is at least equal.
Kasparov confesses that this move is unique to him, and the best he can do to come up with a vague predecessor is "Mitrofanov's Deflection", the crowning blow to a deservedly famous composition. The key moment comes here:
White plays the spectacular 1.Qg5!!, pulling Black's queen to a dark square, so that after 1...Qxg5+ 2.Ka6 it can't safely check White's king along the f1-a6 diagonal.
The other predecessor Kasparov suggests is even less compelling, so while I'll provide it in the replayable games section I won't bother with it here.
Nevertheless, while the (missed) ...Qg4 idea is indeed magnificent, it's not entirely unique, and Kasparov missed a far greater predecessor. First of all, it's from an actual game. Second, it wasn't found later on and possibly by a computer; it was found by the player himself and executed in the game. Third, it's far more similar, making it a genuine predecessor.
MacDonald-Burn, Casual Game 1910, position after 33.Bh5
White is down a piece for a pawn, but the bishop on g5 is a goner and Black's king is looking kind of crispy. But once again her majesty comes to the rescue: 33...Qg4!! and all is well (or at least almost all). The same piece, going to the same square, and for at least one of the same reasons - to obstruct the g-file. Another similarity is that all White captures but one give Black an immediately winning advantage.
MacDonald correctly played 34.Rxg4, and after 34...Nf3+ the accurate 35.Kg3 would have maintained some advantage. After 35.Kg2? Nxd2 36.Rxg5+ Kh6 Black was better (in the 35.Kg3 case White would have 37.Kg4) and went on to win.
Here's a little puzzle.
White's a piece and a pawn ahead, but faces a passel of threats including 1...Qxe3+, 1...Qe4 and 1...R5f2. Some of them win, some draw, but White can thwart them all and...well, maybe not win, but keep the game going. How? The solution is here. (Make sure to look for Black's most resilient defense!)
I was watching a three-minute game on ICC between soon-to-be super-GM Dmitry Andreikin and newly minted IM (or rather IM-elect, I guess) Conrad Holt. This is the position after White's 23rd move, Qd4-e5:
Here Holt made two straight serious errors - 23...Qb8? 24.hxg6 fxg6?? - and lost promptly: 25.f7+ Kxf7 26.Rxh7+ Ke8 27.Qxb8+ 1-0.
While I was watching and waiting for Holt's 23rd move, I found a much more interesting idea: 23...Re4 24.Qg5 (not forced, but logical, and in any case Black is better after the alternatives 24.Qd6 and 24.Qc3) 24...Qc7 25.Rc1 (25.Bd3 Qxf4 is clearly better for Black) 25...Re1 26.Rxe1 Qc2+ 27.Ka1 Ra8 with unstoppable mate (e.g. 28.Qh6 Rxa3+ 29.bxa3 Qa2#).
Not a bad idea for 3-5 seconds' thought, but does it hold up? The answer (and the full game) is here.