The Importance of Tactics Nine: Putting It All Together

Over the last eight articles, we’ve explored basic tactical ideas and have seen how important a role tactics play in the game of chess. Of course, great chess playing requires more than simply being good at tactics. Master level players will incorporate and employ tactics in their overall plan but know that tactics alone don’t solely win games. They know that many other elements contribute to whether or not they win or lose. However, tactics are often the decisive winning element in the games of beginning and intermediate players. Today we’re going to look at a single game in which one player, Boris Spassky, employs tactics impressively. First, we’ll break the game down into two key positions, isolating a two specific examples and looking at the series of moves leading up to each tactical play. Then we’ll see the entire game played out in my game of the week. By looking at some specific tactical examples within the game and then playing through the game in it’s entirety we’ll better understand when and where we should use our new found tactical tools.

We talked about the power of the pin early in this series of articles. Of course, beginners often stumble into an opportunity to employ a pin due to their opponent’s poor handling of his forces on the chessboard. However, at a master level of play, even a simple tactic such as a pin can require a great deal of positional work to set that tactic up. In our first example, we’ll look at the series of moves that led up to the first pin. Boris Spassky, commanding the White pieces (Avtonomov playing Black), demonstrates why he is such a fantastic chess player (he’s also my favorite chess player of all time so pardon my bias). Note that there are more complex and deeper reasons for some of the moves made in this game then I’ll be mentioning. However, this article is written for the beginner so we’re sticking with basic principled tactical reasoning here. Let’s jump right into the action:

Studious beginners and Grandmasters alike know that castling your King to safety is critical. An unsafe King becomes a target for your opponent’s pawns and pieces and an overwhelming number of games have been lost throughout chess’s long history (at all level of play) due to not castling the King. Therefore, Spassky castles his King with 1. O-O. However, there’s more to this move than simply sheltering your King from the opposition’s forces. Activating your King-side Rook (or Queen-side Rook when castling Queen-side) is an added bonus to castling. Beginners have a bad habit of leaving their Rooks dormant throughout the game. Rooks can play a crucial roll during all phases of the game as we shall soon see. Black responds by playing 1…a6. This move prevents Spassky from checking the Black King with his c4 Bishop which might lead to a trade of light squared Bishops (don’t give your opponent an opportunities to check your King, especially when it may lead to an exchange of pieces (such as your light squared Bishop) that include a piece you might need later on. Spassky now plays 2. Qe2. Why play such a move? We’ll find out momentarily. Black plays 2…b5, pushing the Bishop off of the c4 square. One thing you’ll want consider, whenever reasonable and possible, is to push your opponent’s pieces back, away from your King, while moving your pieces forward towards your opponent’s King. Now, the White Bishop simply move to b3 with 3. Bb3.

Master level players make a point of building up their pawn and piece’s activity, methodically moving their forces to specific squares and only then, launching their attack, whereas beginners tend to launch premature attacks which contributes to their losing games. Black plays 3…Nc6, putting pressure on both d4 and e5. Spassky responds with 4. Nc3, bringing his Queen-side Knight into the game and putting pressure on the d5 square. After Black plays 4…cxd4, it looks like Spassky has to either move his Knight on c3 or capture the attacking pawn with exd4. Absolutely not! Spassky plays the wonderful 5. Rd1 and now the d4 pawn is pinned to the Queen. This is the difference between top level players and beginners. The beginner would panic and either move the Knight or capture the pawn. However, Spassky set up a potential pin a few moves back. Remember when he castled and then moved his Queen up a rank? This combination of moves allowed the Rook to move from f1 to d1 where it now pins the Black pawn on d4 to the Black Queen on d8. A nice piece of tactical work by a great tactical artist of the chessboard! Take a look at the next example from our game:

The only different between the first example and this example is that black has moved his light squared Bishop to the long diagonal running from a8 to h1. Take a good look at this position. See if you can spot any potential future pins for White. Really take a look at the position before reading further and write down any moves that could create a pin. The first move that Spassky makes is going to capture the d4 pawn. How would you recapture it, with 1. Nxd4 or exd4? Think in terms of creating a pin! Remember, my friends who are beginners, when given the choice of capturing with a variety of pawns and pieces, we should (unless the position warrants otherwise) capture back with the unit of least value. Therefore, 1. exd4 is the correct move. It’s a better choice than 1. Nxd4 because capturing back with the pawn creates an absolute pin along the e file. Notice that, after the e pawn captures the d4 pawn, the White Queen on e2 is pinning Black’s e6 pawn to the Black King on e8. While the Black e6 pawn is dormant, it’s future use will be limited as long as it’s pinned. Absolute pins can be lethal since the pinned piece cannot be moved. Spassky, of course, plays 1. exd4.

It looks like White’s pawn on d4 is heading towards d5 which is why Black plays 1…Nb4 which does two important things. First, the Black Knight on b4 is attacking the d5 square. This adds another defender to that square (d5). Remember, as long as the Black e6 pawn is pinned, it cannot aid in the defense of d5. Second, it allows the Black Bishop on b7 to also aid in the attack on d5 now that the Black Knight has moved off of c6. Good chess players know how to make moves that don’t block in their pieces. Spassky now plays 2. d5, pushing the pawn forward. While Black would love to capture the White pawn on d5 with his e6 pawn, he can’t because that pawn is absolutely pinned to the Black King. Now we’re seeing the power of pins when employed by a highly skilled Player. Black captures back with 2…Nbxd5. Unfortunately, the black Knight on d5 is now pinned to the Black Queen on d8, thanks to the Rook on d1. White now has two pins going, both involving Black’s most important pieces, the King and Queen. One pin is bad enough, but two? Now Spassky plays 3.Bg5 and an additional pin is added to the mix, the White Bishop on g5 pinning the Black Knight on f6 to the Black Queen on d8! Any casual player would simply tip his King in resignation and go home to tend to his greatly bruised ego. However, Black makes what I consider to be an important move that the beginner should take note of! Black plays 3…Be7! Put yourself in Black’s shoes. You have to deal with three separate pins and since you can only move one piece at a time, you’re facing possibly least three move to break each of the various pins. Take a moment to note each pin before reading on. There’s an absolute pin and two relative pins. Which do you deal with first? The absolute pin comes to mind. However, what if you could stop two of the pins in a single move. Black does so by playing 3. Be7. Bravo! This simple move temporarily stops both the pin involving the Black Knight on f6 and Black Queen on d8 (being pinned by the White Bishop on g5) as well as the pin involving the Black e6 pawn and the Black King on e8 (being pinned by the White Queen on e2). The placement of the Black Bishop on e7 relieves some of the pressure Black is feeling in this position. Moves that do move than one thing are excellent moves to make! However, the Black Bishop on e7 may be feeling a bit overloaded at the moment!

Before I let you loose to play through the game in it’s entirety. We should discuss a few key points regarding tactics employed in the above examples. Notice that not much, in the way of material has been captured. Top level players know that successful attacks require that the attacker build up his position. Also, the more pieces you have in play, the greater the opportunity for tactics. In military terms, this means getting all your troops onto the battlefield, carefully positioning each member of your army where it will do the maximum amount of damage when the fighting starts and be able to exploit an opportunities! You should also note that you have to set tactics up. In the first example, Spassky castled his King to activate the Rook followed by moving his Queen up one rank so the Rook could move from f1 to d1. It’s important to note that Spassky waited until the right moment to bring his Rook over to d1. Timing is extremely important when employing tactics. You have to wait until the right moment to unleash the tactical beast. Here’s the game from start to finish. You’ll find a great example of removing the defender on move 19. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).