When Black Strikes Back!

When chess players first start to develop some basic attacking skills, they often target the weak f7 pawn when commanding the White pieces. The f7 pawn (or f2 pawn for White) is weak because it is only defended by the King. Beginning players are often intoxicated with the power of fast tactical strikes that lead to early checkmates, especially when playing against less experienced opponents. Unfortunately, the player commanding the Black pieces is often on the receiving end of this type of attack. However, Black can offer some dangerous counter attacks early on that can crush White’s plans for a fast victory. We’re going to look at a wild counter attack for Black that leads to a winning game while examining where White went wrong.

The first point to consider is that old chess adage, “don’t move the same piece twice in the opening until you’ve moved your other pieces at least once.” While this is a principle rather than a rule, it is important to consider this idea. Here’s why: The opening phase of a chess game is a race to see who can gain the greatest control of the board’s center first. The player that does this increases his or her chances of going on to play a winning game. We need to deprive our opponent the opportunity to get his or her pieces to active squares. By developing a new piece with each move, we deprive our opponent a safe haven on those squares we control. With this said can we move the same piece twice during the opening and still go on to win our game? The answer depends on how our opponent reacts to the moves we make.

In the game we’re going to examine, White will move his Kingside Knight four times, winning a Rook and pawn for his efforts. However, as White goes about the business of attacking the f7 pawn, Black will launch a counter attack that forces the White King to run until he is mated. In this game, using a variation of the Wilkes Barr counter attack for Black, White gets hit with a vicious attack that stops him dead in his tracks.

The game starts out quite normally. On move one both players bring their e pawns out respectively (1.e4…e5). I recommend opening with an e pawn to my beginning students because it leads to open games in which tactics abound. I purposely save d pawn openings and closed games for later on when the students have some practical basic skills in hand. We see White make an excellent second move, developing his Kingside Knight and Black counters by developing his Queenside Knight to defend the attacked e5 pawn (2.Nf3…Nc6). White’s third move brings his Kingside Bishop to a highly active square while Black develops a second minor piece (3.Bc4…Nf6). Both players have made good moves so far with White now prepared to Castle Kingside. Many young players see Black’s third move (3…Nf6) as a mistake. After all, the Knight on f6 allows White to move his or her Knight to g5 since Black’s Queen no longer controls that square (the Knight on f6 blocks the Queen’s influence on the d8-h4 diagonal). Remember, we’re viewing this game from the perspective of a beginning player not a seasoned veteran! White sees a chance for a big attack on the f7 square. However, Black has a surprise up his or her sleeve which we’ll see shortly! On move four (4.Ng5), it becomes clear that White is going for an attack on the f7 square.

This second move of the same piece brings up the point that you should move each piece once before moving the same piece twice during the opening. White’s third move costs him tempo which allows Black to further develop. Black brings a new minor piece into the game with 4…Bc5. This move will have deadly consequences for White. An alternative, for those players not wanting to enter the wild ensuing battle would be 4…d5. This alternative move (followed by 5.exd5…Nxd5) can equalize things a bit. However, in our game, Black is playing for a ruthless attack.

Another point to consider is the greed factor. Beginners love to capture pieces thinking that a loss in opposition material will lead to a winning game. This isn’t true and White is about to find out that good chess players capture when it improves their position (not to simply grab material). In our game, White moves the Knight for a third time, capturing the f7 pawn (5.Nxf7). This looks like a serious threat since the Knight is protected by the c4 Bishop and it forks Black’s Queen and Rook. White is feeling pretty sure about the position until Black counters with 5…Bxf2+! Now White has to move the King by either capturing the Bishop or moving out of check. Either way, the White King is stranded in the center. White captures the Bishop with 6.Kxf2 only to be hit with another check after 6…Nxe4+. The White King moves again, further away from the protection of his army with 7.Ke3. Black now plays a subtle move which goads White into taking the Rook with the Knight. Black brings the Queen down to h4 (7…Qh4).

White decides that the Knight deserves some reward for all that movement along the Kingside and decides to capture the Rook on h8. What White should have looked at was the Black pawn on e5. That pawn in the lynchpin in Black’s mating attack. While the pawn is only worth one point and the Rook five, pawns can be key components in the deadliest attacks. I tell my students that pawns may be small but they do big things! White captures the Rook with 8.Nxh8 which signals that the end is near (for White that is). Black’s e5 pawn provides the perfect support for the mating attack. Black plays 8…Qf4+! The powerful Queen is backed up by the lowly pawn. The White King is once again, on the run!

If you’re the player of the White pieces, you have to consider where you don’t want to move to when being hit with a nasty check. White decides to move the King as far from the Queen as possible and choose the move 9.Kd3 which allows Black to execute a deadly fork (9…Nf2+) which checks the King and attacks the White Queen and Rook. The White King moves to c3 (10.Kc3). Black decides to avoid getting greedy by capturing the White Queen with his Knight and continue the checks with (10…Qd4+). Beginners tend to get greedy, capturing material when the opportunity arises. However, as we shall see, keeping the Black Knight on f2 is much more important than gaining the White Queen.

White is absolutely lost in this position. The White King is forced to b3 (11.Kb3) and Black continues the checks with 11…Qb6+). Notice how none of White’s pieces can come to the King’s aid. The White King sadly limps back to c3 (12.Kc3) at which point Black finishes his Majesty off with 12…Qb4#. Had Black gotten greedy and captured White’s Queen with his Knight (9…Nf2+), the White King would have had an escape square (d2). Black saw the folly in capturing material for the sake of capturing. After all, look what White got for capturing the Rook with his Knight (8.Nxh8)! While coordinated attacks against the f7 pawn can be effective, always keep an eye out for a counter attack. Black keeps the attack going with check after check, forcing the White King into an early demise. White got greedy and paid the ultimate price! The next time you’re thinking about an assault on f7, remember that Black can sometimes turn the tables around!

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).