Tag Archives: tactics

Sacrifice for Beginners

“Sacrifice (definition) = a move that gives up material to gain a positional or tactical advantage”

For a long time my first reaction when someone played a sacrifice against me was to feel shivers down my spine. How could I not see this? The sacrifice must be correct, right? The opponent knows what its doing. This of course put me in a defensive position and because of that the sacrifice was already successful. It did not let me look at it with the right frame of mind. How could I stand a chance to play my best against it? I thought about this as I was preparing my new lesson for the current level 2 group of students. We were covering basic mistakes in the opening and punishing those require more often than not one or more sacrifices. I know that for beginners the value of pieces is like the 10 Commandments and because of that reason alone, seeing sacrifices in their games is very rare. This means no chances to punish basic opening mistakes. Let’s take on the challenge to rectify this situation.

We were looking at the following game (also included in level 2, lesson 2 of our chess app):


The theme for this one is called “Cannot play one against all” and it is a hot topic for beginners. After reaching the position above, I could see their puzzled eyes looking at it and could tell they did not understand what was going on. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to the topic of sacrifice and did my best to make it as simple as possible.

  • Step 1: We looked at the position and observed Black had an extra pawn and with the last move it was threatening to win either a rook or a queen for the knight
  • Step 2: The first try when facing a sacrifice is to see what happens if you accept it. We played the best line we could think of starting with 6. Kxf2 … The conclusion was that accepting the sacrifice was not a good idea
  • Step 3: We started to look for alternatives and one target we have been talking about (the f7-weak spot) was already attacked by our Bc4; with one attacker and one defender (Ke8), we needed to bring into the action another attacker. This is how the move Rh1-f1 was discovered: it attacked Nf2 and once the knight would move away, we could have a second attacker on f7
  • Step 4: At this moment we had a closer look to see if there was a better move also bringing our rook on f1; O-O became evident within seconds
  • Step 5: Bringing the rook on the f-file meant sacrificing the queen. We have a rule of thumb saying “Sacrifice your Queen only if you can checkmate or get the queen back and then some”
  • Step 6: It was easy to see we could not get our queen back, so the class had the pleasure to look for checkmate

Hope you have figured out the solution by now. Enjoy it below and hope our quest to find it has been instructive!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (6)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

Here is some interesting information I found online about the composer behind this week’s puzzle:
“M. Brede (. M. stands for “Mister” Brede’s chess problem were in “M. Brede” began in 1841 in Chess Player’s Chronicle , and from 1843 in the Illustrated London News published), which is Ferdinand Julius Brede (1799 or 1800 Stettin – 15.12.1849 Altona, today a district of Hamburg). Brede was an accountant at Altona’s merchant Georg Friedrich Baur. Baur was the owner of the Baurspark named after him in today’s Hamburg district of Blankenese. Brede also worked as a writer under the pseudonym de Fibre and as a chess composer. Brede was a member of the Hamburg Chess Club ( Chess Player’s Chronicle 1841, page 241 “Problem No. 131 By M. Brede, of the Hamburgh Chess Club.” In 1844, Brede gave the almanac to friends from the chess game, a collection of self-made chess pieces Brede is the author of the variant problem.”
Book: “Chess in 19th century newspapers 210 chess assignments and 200 pictures.”
Author: Elke Rehder
Place of publication: Homburg, Publisher: EDITION JUNG, Publication year: 2014. 340 pages, format DIN A5, binded. ISBN 978-3-933648-54-9.

In those days puzzle solving challenges would sound something like:
“If you find the key to this position in ten minutes, we shall think of you as a very promising aspirant for Caïssa’s honours”
Today we are much stronger/ better as a community and we can solve them a lot faster, don’t we? A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Here it is:

Even if this is about tactics and raw calculations, tactics do not happen out of the blue. They happen when the position is ripe, so the first step needed is to recognize it being as such. We are used to this by now:

  • Black has winning material advantage
  • White still has enough fire power to attack Kg8 and that includes: Nd5, Qf4, Rg2 and the g6-pawn
  • Black’s heavy pieces (queen and both rooks) are away on the queen side for the moment
  • The only Black piece defending its king is Be6; that means White’s attackers outnumber the defenders at least 3 to 1, giving us a first indication the attack has a chance to succeed
  • Both moves 1. Ne7+ … and 1. gxh7+ … look good, so how do we decide which one to go with? To choose correctly, we need to see the difference between the two
  • Looking carefully at each option move, we should see a couple of important details:
    1. Ne7+ … opens the diagonal a2-g8, giving Qa2 a way to come to the defence of its king
    1. gxh7 … eliminates one of the pawns defending their king and still keeps Qa2 away

Conclusion: 1. gxh7 … is the move winning faster; now we can start calculating the moves. The second move is key and I am sure you can see it now. Enjoy the complete solution!

Valer Eugen Demian

“What say you?” The 1 minute challenge (5)

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”
Bruce Lee

A quick reminder about how to do it:

  • Have a look at the position for 1 minute (watch the clock)
  • Think about the choices in front of you and pick the one you feel it is right
  • Verify it in your mind the best you can
  • Compare it with the solution

Are you ready? Below is this week’s position, a rook and pawns endgame between players rated 2400+ FIDE. It is white to move and the quest is to decide if White can play the tactical rook sacrifice or not?

This one feels real because it is from a game instead of a study. Dhopade probably had a better understanding of the position since he played the game; still the 1 minute we have is enough time to evaluate the position and come up with a good answer. Here are my thoughts:

  • Material is equal
  • There are no passed pawns
  • Both Black pieces (king and rook) are very well placed, one attacking Rd4 and the other one the a3-pawn
  • Black is threatening to win a pawn on the queen side and create a passer
  • It becomes obvious Black is better and playing for a win
  • Reading the question again leads me to believe White did not like his position at all and wanted to do something unexpected to surprise his opponent
  • Considering a sacrifice of this magnitude means White was thinking of getting a serious return for it or the game would be lost
  • What serious return could White think of? With only pawns left on the board, the only serious return could be promoting one of them
  • Which pawn is the most likely candidate to promote? A quick glance from left to right identifies the b4-pawn (and the possible b4-b5) plus the c4-pawn (and the possible c4-c5) as options
  • In both cases Black can ignore the sacrifice and choose to deal with the pawn situation created; the difference is after 1. b5 c5 Black is in a better position than after 1. c5 b5
  • The last detail to ponder is if Ra2 can come around and cover the 8th rank in time to stop the promotion; Black would consider using the e-file or h-file for that purpose
  • Kf1 is the only one capable to defend either file, meaning it won’t be able to cover them both

Conclusion: White should not sacrifice its Rook. Please see how the game ended below:

In general a sacrifice like this smells desperation. If anyone tries it against you, the first indication is they are desperate. This should give you confidence because it is an immediate confirmation your position is much better and you should play for a win. What you need to do is figure out if you can accept it (first step) and how you would win in that case; if you are not sure and accepting it feels too risky, see what is the best way to ignore it (second step). Normally the opponent offering the sacrifice has spent a lot of time to come up with it and brushed aside (most of the times) what to do if you simply ignored it. A sacrifice like this one works better for the player offering it with little time on the clock; in the same time the option to ignore it backfires on the same player with little time on the clock because he needs to look for something else, spending time to do it and trying to not forget what he had planned when it all started.

Valer Eugen Demian

Piece activity

Piece activity is a positional aspect of major importance in a game. Hugh Patterson has written a very nice article about it back in 2014. You can review it HERE Our chess app also covers it extensively in level 5, lessons 10-14 by looking at how the activity of each piece influences the outcome of the game. One of my latest online games proved to be a good example in that direction. Here is the beginning of it (turn based, 3 days per move), leading up to an important junction in the game:


Black’s last move is definitely out of the ordinary; when something like this happens, it is a good idea to stop, take a deep breath and analyse the position to the best of your abilities. It is easy to see white cannot capture the rook because it would lose its queen. This is the starting point for your analysis:

  • Material is equal
  • Both sides are castled and so far the White king is in more danger because of Ne5 and Rf3 being in close vicinity
  • There are no other attackers on the White castle
  • There are not a lot of defenders of the White castle either
  • If White does not pay attention, a move such as Qd8-d7 could increase the number of attackers and apply pressure

OK, so the conclusion is White must do something to improve the defense of its castle and its piece positioning. Looking at the piece positioning we see:

  • Rf1 and Be3 are in decent position with no better options for the moment
  • Rc1 could be placed better, but doing that won’t help with defending the castle
  • Qd2 could move and have Rf3 in danger of being captured; however a simple look at 18. Qe2 Qd7 19. gxf3?? Qxh3 (see last part of the game below) gives black a winning position
  • Nc3 is capable to get involved and in 2 moves (Nc3-e4-g5) it can spring into action, defending both the f3-square and h3-pawn

On the Black side we have:

  • Qd8 needs at least one move (Qd8-d7) to get into the action
  • Bg7 is very nicely placed, but there are no targets along the a1-h8 diagonal
  • Ra8 is completely out of the game and does not count
  • Ne5 and Rf3 are active but if White chooses the right plan, both could be chased away by pawns

Let’s see how the game continued:

Conclusion: piece activity must be monitored closely at all times. That starts with your own pieces and continues with the opposing ones. At the beginning it could feel like extra burden when the amount of time is so scarce (today’s time controls are a lot less of what they used to be); however if you stick with it, you will get better and realize it helps with planning and decision making. Your games will flow nicely and the moments of blank stares with no ideas in mind will be drastically reduced. Hope you will start looking at it!

Valer Eugen Demian

Sac Or No Sac?

“A sacrifice is best refuted by accepting it”
Wilhelm Steinitz

Tactics decide the game. If you want a simple comparison, tactics are like putting the ball in the net. You need to know what to do when the opportunity is staring you in the face. Do you know what to do? Have you practice enough to firstly recognize it and secondly to take advantage of it? Let’s see how good you are in the following position. The question is: should white sac on h7 or not?

Analyse the position and firstly go with your gut instinct. Gut instinct is most of the times right and it relies heavily on personal experience. Personal experience is based both on the aspects of the game you learned and on direct feedback you got while playing your games. Have you ever looked at this sacrifice from a theoretical point of view? How about playing it or having it played on you? If you did, most certainly your gut instinct gave you the right signal and you got it right. If you did not, it is very likely you got this wrong.

It could be helful to look at position 4 under “Tactics” in my previous article HERE and added below for convenience:


It shows a successful sacrifice on h7. Now what you should do next is compare the two, identifying what aspects in position 4 made the sacrifice successful. Do you also find them in the proposed position 4.1 above? Let’s have a look at them together:
Similarities

  • The pawns defending the castle have not moved
  • Kg8 is the only defender of the h7-pawn
  • Black does not control nor attack the g5-square and allowing 2. Nf3-g5
  • Qd1 could join the attack via the d1-h5 diagonal

Differences

  • White has the e5-pawn (position 4), while the pawn is missing in position 4.1
  • Bd2 controls the c1-h6 diagonal (position 4), while it is blocked for the moment by Nd2 in position 4.1
  • Re1 could come in and help the attack using the 3rd rank (Re1-e3-h3), while Rf1 would require an extra move to do that in position 4.1
  • Bb7 is trapped for the moment by Nc6, while Bc8 has an open c8-h3 diagonal

Now it is time to weigh the above points and formulate a conclusion. Lesson 15 (level 5) of our chess app covers this nicely and if you have gone through it, you will notice rather quickly which one of the 6 needed conditions for the sacrifice to work is not met. That is condition #2:
“#2. The h2/ h7-pawn is defended only by the King and cannot be defended by any other piece in a move”
Kg8 being the only defender of the h7-pawn is met but black can simply defend the h7-square in a move. The sacrifice does not work:

Well, knowing these details makes the difference between winning a game in spectacular fashion and looking like a fool. It is obvious in what category we all want to be, so study these tactics and practice them; your efforts will be rewarded. Hope you liked it and will consider studying tactics closely, possibly using our app.

Valer Eugen Demian

100 Chess Tests, Basic Tactics

“100 Teste de sah, Procedee tactice elementare”/ “100 Chess tests, Basic tactics”, ISBN 978-606-8298-58-0, Editura Unirea – Alba Iulia is the third book in Romanian by MF Marius Ceteras (ROU), a follow up on the previous two very popular ones for beginner and intermediate players. His books are recognized by Romanian Ministry of Education and are officially used for teaching chess in schools across Romania and Republic of Moldova. The success of those books can be measured by the public positive response and desire for more of the same: they asked Marius to help them get more puzzles for practicing all the concepts presented. This third book is in response to that request.

The book is divided by 3 levels of difficulty plus one final review chapter and it is suitable for players rated around 1200 to 1600. Although it is written in Romanian, this book can be used by anyone rather easily. In today’s day and age the online free translation services solve decently any language barrier, including here for the rather minimal use of Romanian language in the description of each test. The puzzles are simply illustrated with their item number and either letter A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first). The solutions for all puzzles are located at the end of the book and checking them requires minimum effort even if you don’t know Romanian. The Romanian chess symbols for the pieces are (you can also Google them):
C = Cal (Rou) = Knight (Eng)
N = Nebun (Rou) = Bishop (Eng)
T = Turn (Rou) = Rook (Eng)
D = Dama (Rou) = Queen (Eng)
R = Rege (Rou) = King (Eng)
An English speaking reader might get mixed up at the beginning by the use of “N” or “R” (symbols for different pieces in English), but with a bit of practice things will work out well. I still get mixed up occasionally when translating between Romanian and English; this comes even after using both languages for many years!…

There are 100 tests of 6 puzzles each for a total of 600 puzzles. IMO this is a minimum number of puzzles any club player should solve on their own in order to get better. The puzzles are grouped by the tactical procedure required to solve them, as well as by level of difficulty. This aspect of the level of difficulty cannot be stressed enough! The internet is full with countless puzzles and sites offering puzzle solving; where the majority of them fall short is having those puzzles logically arranged in a meaningful and helpful progression. It is of very little use (sometimes no use at all) to try to solve a puzzle suitable for a 1600 level when you are under 1000. If you don’t even realize the puzzle is not suitable for you, there is a danger of turning an engine on to solve it for you; in that case you would learn nothing.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 have 30 tests for a total of 180 puzzles each, while the final review chapter has 10 final tests for a total of 60 puzzles. Marius personalizes all tests with a couple of nice local touches: all of them are from games played by Romanian players from Romania and Republic of Moldova; also their skill level varies from promising juniors to Grand Masters. There are tests where a tactical procedure is revisited as part of the same or a different level; the distinction between them is made by labeling them with letters such as: (A) for the first test and (B) for the second test.
Example I: level 1, test 6 deals with the “discovered attack” and it is marked (A), while test 7 also deals with the same subject and it is marked (B).
Example II: along the same idea level 2 has test 34 about “Attraction” (A), test 44 “Attraction” (B), while level 3 has test 66 “Attraction” (C) and test 76 “Attraction” (D).
This is a bit confusing and I am sure it could be improved in future. The number of tests per each tactical procedure has been chosen based on a statistical analysis of the frequency each might appear in a game, as well as how complex the procedure is. I believe this also is an important qualitative aspect of the book.

The solution of each puzzle could lead to the following possible outcomes for the side moving first:
– forced checkmate
– winning material advantage
– winning attack on the oppposing King
– won endgame
– winnning position
– draw if that is the best possible outcome
This book also covers the following tactical procedures not included in the previous two books; for each one I have added a sample puzzle to better illustrate what to expect:
1. The X-Ray attack (level 1, test 18)


2. Taking control of a square (level 2, tests 68 and 78)

3. The intermediate move (level 2, tests 69 and 79)

4. The counterattack (level 2, tests 70 and 80)

Other suggestions for improvements could be related to the layout: for each diagram it might be sufficient to have the lines and rows marked only on one side of the board (instead of both) to save space; also instead of using the letters A (if White moves first) or N (if Black moves first), it could be simpler to use an empty circle (if White moves first) or a dark circle (if Black moves first). It would go along the Informator type of layout and make it more appealing to a wider audience. The book can be purchased in local bookstores if you happen to visit Romania or online HERE. Hope you found this short review useful plus the offer interesting chess-wise (quality of material) and price-wise (18 Lei is approx 4.21 USD or 3.98 euro). An interesting interview with Marius will follow up in another article.

Valer Eugen Demian