The Importance of Tactics Two

As promised, we’re going to continue our examination of tactics for the beginner. Last week, we looked at the power of the Knight fork. Because a Knight cannot be blocked when attacking, the opposition is left with one less choice (the other two being capturing or running/moving out of the attack) when dealing with the Knight. Also the Knight’s “L” shaped movement makes it difficult for the beginner to clearly see this piece’s target squares when compared to the linear movement of the other pieces. Now we’ll look at how the pawn and Bishop can be used in tactical forks to win material. Remember, everyone in your chess army can fork.

As I mentioned last week, forking opportunities rarely just present themselves when you play against an experienced opponent. You have to set them up with a combination of moves which is the hard part of learning how to become a tactician! Some of these combinations require a move or two while some may take three or more moves to set up. With forks involving pieces other than the Knight, the trick to setting up a tactical play is to look for lines (ranks, files or diagonals) on which opposition material sits. We’ll start by looking a a pawn fork. This example is a simple tactical trick employed by many savvy young players and requires setting the tactic up with a combination of moves:

So our game starts off with a typical e pawn opening, 1. e4…e5. No tricks here, just the simple application of opening principles, controlling the board’s center with a pawn. On move two, White attacks the e5 pawn with 2. Nf3 and Black properly defends with 2…Nc6. White plays the Italian Opening with 3. Bc4 and Black responds with 3…Nf6. Both players are employing sound opening moves that fight for the center of the board. White develops another minor piece with 4. Nc3. Now Black looks at the position and spots an opportunity for a fork. Obviously, there’s no immediate fork but, as I mentioned earlier, tactical plays more often than not, have to be set up. Black sees that by advancing the d pawn from d7 to d5, he’d be forking the Bishop on c4 and the e4 pawn. While the Black Queen protects the Black pawn, White’s pawn on e4 that would capture the Black pawn and that would be that. However, Black has an idea. What if there was a White Knight on e4 rather than a pawn? In this case, a Black pawn on d5 (protected by the Queen) would be forking both the c4 Bishop and the e4 Knight. This would be a worthwhile fork since White would lose one of his pieces. How does Black lure the Knight to e4? By temporarily sacrificing his own Knight with 4…Nxe4. White, being inexperienced thinks that Black has blundered by capturing the pawn and happily captures the Knight with 5. Nxe4. Black advances his d pawn, 5…d5, forking the Bishop and Knight, winning a pawn at the end of this tactical exchange!

Note that in the above example, the fork works because the pawn had a defender, the Black Queen, and it was attacking two pieces of greater value. Pawns are excellent at forking because of their low relative value in relationship to the pieces. It’s important to remember that forks are most effective when the unit forking is worth less than the material being forked (unless one of the forked pieces cannot be defended)!

Now let’s look at a Bishop fork. You’ll want to keep in mind that Bishop forks requires more thought when setting up. What do I mean by this? Any attack by a Knight cannot be blocked due to it’s ability to jump over other pieces. The Knight also has the ability to fork up to eight pieces at the same time (in theory as compared to actual positional practice). With the pawn, because of its having the lowest relative value, any pair of pieces (it can only fork two pieces at a time) being forked are at a disadvantage because those pieces are worth more than the pawn. With Bishops, Rooks and especially the Queen, you have additional details to address before forking with these pieces. We’ll look at Rook and Queen forks next week.

At the start of the game, you have two Bishops, one that travels along the light colored squares and one that travels along the dark colored squares. Because of this, a Bishop of one color (square) will only be able to fork pieces that sit on squares of that Bishop’s color. Thus, a dark squared Bishop can only attack or fork pieces on dark colored squares. Now we’re going to look at a series of forks in a single game, employing both Knight and Bishop working together, that leave the player of the White pieces in ruins just ten moves into the game. The key point here is that only a specific combination of coordinated pieces and a carefully thought out series of moves makes this devastating tactical play work. Let’s take a look:

The opening used in the above example is the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Queen’s Gambit is a very solid opening played by many of the world’s top players. However, as we shall see, just because it’s played by top players with ensuing good results doesn’t mean that less experienced players will have successful results employing it. There are a few noteworthy ideas or concepts to consider regarding this example.

First off, we see two well timed Knight and Bishop forks, almost back to back, that have devastating results. Secondly, the minor pieces involved in this tactical slaughter work together, with one minor piece supporting the other. When you seriously study tactics, you’ll find that pieces work with one another in a balanced or harmonious way. One pawn or piece protects the forking piece, which allows that piece to execute the tactical play. Sometimes, a piece will be temporarily sacrificed in order to clear a line (rank, file or diagonal), allowing another piece to deliver the tactical play. Thus, in order to successfully employ a tactic, pawns and pieces must work together. Material harmony is the phrase of the day! Let’s get to our example.

The game starts with a d pawn opening which can lead to a semi-closed or closed game. In closed games, where pawns and pieces tend to render long distance attackers such as the Bishops, Rooks and Queen powerless due to a lack of open squares ( but not completely powerless), the Knights are often the stars of the show. However, in this game, Black uses a combination of a long distance attacker, in this case the Bishop, and the Knight who rules in closed positions harmoniously. After 1. d4…d5, White plays 2. c4, indicating The Queen’s Gambit. Now it’s up to Black to either accept or decline the gambit. When Black plays 2…Bf5, he states that he’s not accepting the gambit. The Black Bishop on f5 is following the opening principles, attacking a central square. White now plants the Queen-side Knight on it’s own active square with 3. Nc3 which attacks the Black d5 pawn. Black defends the pawn with 3…e6. White develops his King-side Knight with 4. Nf3, a principled opening move. Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 4…Nc6. White follows with 5. Qb3. It’s here that White’s game starts to weaken. While the White Queen is targeting the Black pawn on b7, is it a good idea to bring one’s Queen out early to attack a pawn that can easily be defended? In short, the answer is no. The Queen should never be used to hunt down pawns during the opening!

How does Black defend the seemingly hanging pawn? He doesn’t. Instead, Black plays 5…Nb4, literally depositing the Knight on the Queen’s head. The reason this works is because of piece coordination. The f8 Bishop protects the Knight so the Queen cannot capture the b4 Knight! White makes an essentially pointless check with 6. Qa4+. I say pointless because this move actually helps Black’s game, allowing Black to make a move he was already considering, 6…c6. Never makes moves that help your opponent!

White decides to attack Black’s pawn structure with 7. cxd5. Since the Black pawn on c6 is pinned to Black’s King by the White Queen, Black has to capture back with the e pawn, right? Absolutely not! Black instead plays the nasty fork, 7…Nc2+, attacking the White King and Queen-side Rook. Hold on because it gets worse! After White moves his King with 8. Kd1, Black responds with 8…Nxa1. What’s worse than losing the Rook on a1? After White goes about the business of pawn grabbing with 9. dxc6, Black unleashes another devastating fork with 9…Bc2+, forking Queen and King. Needless to say it’s all downhill for White after this. We can learn a few valuable lessons regarding forks from this example.

In the above example, we saw the power of piece coordination when employing a fork. White’s mistake was wasting time by bringing his Queen out early and sniping at Black’s pawns. Had White looked more closely at the Black Knight and Black’s light squared Bishop, he wouldn’t have ended up losing so much material early on. Of course, you’ll rarely get to employ two tactical forks back to back but this example demonstrates the power of a well timed and coordinated tactical play. Next week we’ll end our examination of forks and move on to the mighty pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

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).