Strategies, Tactics, and Puzzles

A Mate in the Middle

I ran across the following mate-in-4 puzzle for white reading 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Masetti and Messa and had a difficult time with the analysis.

Puzzle 964 in the reference

As always, I encourage you to find the solution before reading on.

The discovered check move 1. c7+ forces black to take the bishop with his rook 1 … Rxf3, as there is no other moves available. When exploring this line, it was difficult to find what was next. Then, I stumbled upon 2. Qe8+. If 2 … Bxe8, then 3. c8=Q# is game over. So, instead, 2 … Rxe8. But , then we have the wonderful resource 3. Rxe8+. Again, same thing, if 3 … Bxe8, we have 4. c8=Q#. Is there anything black can do?

Yes. What if 3. Rxe8+ Kb7? While there is a winning path to checkmate with 4. c8=Q+, there isn’t a checkmate in 4 moves here. This is what made this so interesting to me.

So, instead of starting with the discovered check, let’s end with it!

1. Qe8+ Rxe8 [1 … Bxe8 2. c7+ Rxf3 3. c8=Q#] 2. Rxe8+ Bxe8 3. c7+ Rxf3 4. c8=Q#.

A Little Bit of Calculation – A Brilliant Move

This week, I want to share a few positions/puzzles with you. The first puzzle is one I’m hesitant to call simple, but much easier than I made it out to be. I had to walk away and come back in order to finally see the mate-in-3. The second one I’m very proud of, as I think of this one as a much more difficult puzzle that I worked out rather quickly!

Let’s start with the first. This is puzzle 898, called “Just a little calculation”, in the book 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Masetti & Messa.

White to move – what is the mate-in-3?

I’ll give the second puzzle first, and then some hints and solutions below. This puzzle comes from puzzle 902 in the same book. It is titled “A brilliant move”.

White to move – Can you find the mate-in-3?

In “Just a little calculation”, I calculated too many of the wrong moves. I simply didn’t see the solution as a possible move for a long time. The solution begins with the rook taking the pawn on b6, forcing black to take the white queen with its own queen. Now that it is out of the path of the rook on bottom, that rook sweeps over to take black’s rook and deliver check and mate after the queen interposes. The line: 1. Rxb6 Qxc6 2. Rxa2+ Qa4 3. Rxa4#

By the time I reached the second puzzle, I did already have some practice. However, what made this difficult at first was the number of responses black has after the first move. It was challenging to work through how all of them didn’t stop the inevitable mate. The solution begins with 1. Qc6!!

Let’s look at the line with the obvious response first. 1 … Bxc6 2. Rd8 Qc8 3. Rxd8#

Knowing this, is there anything else black can do? Take the knight instead? No, as that is met with the same exact moves. If black tries instead to defend the back rank with Rg8 or Qg8, then there is a mate in only one more move with 2. Qxb7#. What if the queen rushes down ahead of time with 1 … Qc8?

This is met with the same second move 2. Rd8 leaving a few moves to analyze. Both 2 … bxa5 and 2 … Bxc6 would be met with 3. Rxc8#, and both 2 … Qxd8 or 2 … Rg8 would be met with 3. Qxb7#. This puzzle involved not only a brilliant move, but a brilliant study!

Queen vs Pawn Endgame – Mixed Motif Puzzle

Queen v Pawn

Many of you are capable of finishing most queen vs pawn endgames. A pretty basic tactic is to plant your queen in front of the pawn somewhere and then march your king over to take it.

However, there are a few of these type of endgames worth noting. Specifically, when the opposing pawn is on the seventh rank. Take a look at the following position.

With white to move, white can win.

This can be a very challenging endgame for someone that doesn’t know the trick. The black king will defend the pawn as best he can without stepping in front of it, since doing so gives white the opportunity to move his king one square closer to capturing the pawn. So, white’s goal is to make the black king step in front of his pawn.

Here is a likely sequence to get the job done.

1. Qf4+ Kg2 2. Qe3 Kf1 3. Qf3 Ke1 4. Kb5

We get to move the king closer! Now, let’s do it one more time to get the idea.

4 … Kd2 5. Qf2 Kd1 6. Qd4+ Kc1 7. Qe3 Kd1 8. Qd3+ Ke1 9. Kc4

Another step! This process continues until black sees that there is no hope and resigns or steps away from his pawn so you can capture and finish the game against the lone king.

OK. Time for a mind-blowing realization if you haven’t seen this yet. Take a look at the following position and notice what is different about the first position given above.

White to move, but black can force a draw!

All we have done is interchanged the king and pawn… and what?!? Black can force a draw?!?

Let’s play our regular series of moves and see why.

1. Qe5+ Kd2 2. Qf4+ Ke2 3. Qe4+ Kd2 4. Qf3 Ke1 5. Qe3+ Kf1 6. Kb5

Our king is on the way to the rescue! Let’s keep this up.

6 … Kg2 7. Qe2 Kg1 8. Qg4+ Kh2 9. Qf3 Kg1 10. Qg3+ Kh1!

The king steps away from the pawn to tempt white into taking it for a stalemate. Black can continue to do this and never step in front of his pawn to allow any more advancement of the white king! What an interesting endgame draw!

To conclude: if black has a protected pawn on the seventh rank in the a, c, f, or h files, black can force a draw (as long as white’s king is sufficiently far away). If black has a pawn on the seventh rank in the b, d, e, or g files, white can win.

Mixed Motifs Mate

White to move

Not sure if it was my tired mind and the end of the night last night, but I couldn’t find the best move here. Study the position and see what comes out as best.

I considered 1. Qg5+ for a long time until I saw the black response 1 … Rg6. That definitely wasn’t the best move. The next paragraph contains a hint, and the following will give the solution.

This puzzle is a mate-in-3 puzzle. If I were given that, I may have been able to find it!

The solution is 1. Rg7+. I’ll leave it to the reader to find the different ways you can mate in 2 more moves if black chooses 1 … Bxg7 or 1 … Kh8.

Tournament Experience

There is an upcoming chess tournament at Iowa State University in Ames, IA that I would like to encourage you to attend. It is the 2022 Iowa Open Reserve (U1600). While it spans 3 days from Friday, September 9 through Sunday, September 11, you have many options to participate however you would like.

Let’s say you choose the 3-day option. You’ll be slated to play five games using 90 minutes per side with 30 second bonus. The games will be played at 7pm Friday, 10am and 3:30pm on Saturday, and then 9am and 2:30pm on Sunday. You have the option of selecting 1/2 point buys for any games you may miss (say you can’t stick around for the 2:30pm game on Sunday or have to miss the Friday night game).

You can also choose the 2-day option. With this choice, you’ll also play five games, but with 60 minutes per side with a 5 second delay. These games will be at 10am, 12:30pm, and 3:30pm on Saturday, and then 9am and 2:30pm on Sunday. Again, you have the option of selecting some 1/2 point buys for any games you have to miss.

What to Expect

There really isn’t any need to show up really early. If you can get there 5-10 minutes early and check-in, you’ll be fine. You’ll also be fine if you show up exactly on time, but I would never recommend that. Allow yourself a little wiggle room for parking, and finding out where in the building you’ll need to be (there will be signs).

You’ll see many players that bring their own board and timers. Boards and pieces will be available at this tournament, but they’re asking to bring your own timer. You’ll probably be fine if you don’t have one (since most other players will have one).

Expect a cell phone policy. You may have to leave it in a box somewhere not on your person.

Do not rely on any snacks being available. I recommend bringing a small cooler with snacks and drinks. You may have time between games to escape the Memorial Union for a while and go down to campus town to grab something, but I would have some food available just in case time gets tight.

Practice ahead of time. Use chess club to play the games as they will be played in the tournament (1 hour 30 minutes per person with 30 second bonus for the 3-day, 60 minutes per person with 5 second delay for the 2-day). You’ll want to practice recording the game by hand on paper. For knight and rook moves, double check if extra notation is necessary (as in which knight or which rook is moving to a square if both can). You’ll also want to practice tournament play: and that is not to touch a piece until you have completely committed to moving it! Get in the habit of moving-hitting clock-recording in that order.

Let your mind wonder during the game when it is not your turn. Breathe. Relax. Look around at other players. Concentrate on relaxing any tension in your muscles.

Have fun. There is honestly nothing to be nervous about. Just play your best and learn something.

Max Lange Attack – An “actually quite simple” puzzle – The Philidor Position

Max Lange Attack

This attack is yet another branch off of the Italian Game. From last week, this begins with 1 e4 e5  2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5. As a review, Evans Gambit from a few weeks ago is if 4 b4.  Giuoco Piano from last week is in the case of 4 c3. This week, for the Max Lange Attack, we look at 4 d4.

Max Lange Attack or Rosentreter Gambit

Black usually responds in one of three ways. Seirawan explores the line 4 … exd4 5 0-0 Nf6 (why not 5 … d6?) 6 e5. This brings us to the following postion with black to move.

Black to move.

If black moves the knight, say to g4 here, white has an interesting opportunity to regain a pawn: 6 … Ng4 7 Bxf7+ Kxf7 8 Ng5+ Kg8 9 Qxg4 and the game is pretty even.

White seems to have a better position. With Black to move, the game is even.

Instead, if we follow his main line: 6 … d5 7 exf6 dxc4 8 Re1+ Be6 9 Ng5, this brings us to the following postion.

Here again with black to move

Black’s best responses in this position are either 9… f6 or 9…Qd5. Let’s look at the mistakes 9 … Qxf6 or 9 … 0-0.  The first will lose a bishop with 9 … Qxf6 10 Nxe6 fxe6 11 Qh5+ g6 12 Qxc5 while the second loses even more after 9 … 0-0 10 fxg7 Kxg7 11 Rxe6!, where white wins a bishop that black cannot afford to take without a queen-king fork by the knight.

Castling on the 9th move for black is no good!

There are definitely some mistakes that can be made by black with the Max Lange attack that are worth studying.

It’s actually quite simple

The following puzzle is taken again from 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa.  This one is puzzle 824. It is black to move and win. 

Black to move and win

If you need a hint, you’re looking for a move that will be a major threat that will soon end the game. The chess engine suggests that there is a mate in 7 for black in this position. Once you find the initial move for black, if you want a challenge, try and find how white can stretch the game out for 6 more moves. 

The answer is 1 … Qh3. Since 2 Rxe2 leads to 2 … Qxf1#, white doesn’t want to take the rook with his rook. If 2 Rf2, then 2 … Rxf2 3 Rxe8+ Bf8 and nothing stop the inevitible Qxh2# in time. 

How does white stretch it out? One way is 1 … Qh3 2. Qxe2 Rxe2 3 Rf2 Rxf2 4 Re8+ Bf8 5 Rxf8+ Kxf8 6 Bb4+ Ke8 7 a3 Qxh2#. White cannot do anything on the 7th move to stop Qxh2#.

The Philidor Position

Last week we looked at how to promote a pawn from the Lucena Position. This week we’ll look at the Philidor Position, one in which if you find yourself on the opposing side, you can easily force a draw. Let’s take a look at a classic position. All of this, BTW, is taken from Silman’s Complete Endgame Course.

Black to move and draw

If you put this into an engine, best moves will not always be the easiest to follow.  Silman breaks the method down into a few simple steps.  We first advance our rook to the row in front of the pawn to stop the enemy king from advancing in front of its pawn.  This is what we want to avoid. While on this rank, you’ll move your rook back and forth until white gets bored and pushes the pawn. 

At this point, advance the rook to the first rank with the idea of tormenting the enemy king with an endless supply of checks.  This is how you draw the game.

I just finished a lengthy, boring game playing the level 8 Stockfish engine.  The engine didn’t advance the pawn until the 50th move. I just hung out on the 6th rank moving the rook back and forth making sure it was safe from the enemy king and rook.

As Silman says, after mastering the Philidor Position, you should be able to draw any grandmaster that is playing white with ease.

Giuoco Piano – Back Rank and Pin – The Lucena Position

Openings – Giuoco Piano

We’ll explore four lines that follow the opening called Giuoco Piano. The Giuoco Piano begins with the following moves. 

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5

Giuoco Piano

We’ll look at four paths off of 4 c3 Nf6 today.  All of these are pretty boring in my opinion, as there is little room for really big errors unless they’re blatant. 

The first is “the old main line which peters out to equality” according to Modern Chess Openings by Nick de Firmian. It goes as follows.

4 c3 Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 cxd4 Bb4+ 7 Bd2 Bxd2+ 8 Nbxd2 d5 9 exd5 Nxd5 10 Qb3 Nce7

The Old Main Line

The Möller attack would be using 7 Nc3 instead.  The game would remain just as equal if black went with the queen attack 10… Na5 here also. Another line off of 4 c3 Nf6 5 d4 exd4 goes as follows.

6 e5 d5 7 Bb5 Ne4 8 cxd4 Bb6 9 Nc3 0-0 10 Be3 Nxc3 11 bxc3

A complex open position that is pretty equal

How about 5 d3 rather than 5 d4?

4 c3 Nf6 5 d3 d6 6 h3 0-0 7 0-0 a5

Battle for the center leaves both sides pretty equal

Finally, let’s look at the unusual 5 b4. This is referred to as Bird’s attack.

4 c3 Nf6 5 b4 Bb6 6 d3 d6 7 0-0 Ne7 8 Nbd2 c6

Bird’s Attack

Modern Chess Openings goes into detail with 65 different lines involving the Giuoco Piano and that is not even close to exhaustive. I prefer Winning Chess Openings by Yasser Seirawan, as that only explores a few different lines of play which is good enough for the beginning to intermediate player.

Puzzle – Back Rank and Pin

My favorite puzzle of the week was puzzle 833 in 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa.  The title of the post is a pretty big hint. In this puzzle, it is black to move, and there is only one good move.  Can you find it?

Black to move

Notice that white is two pawns up currently.  However, this position with black to move gives black a 3 pawn advantage.  There is another big hint!! Solution is next, so continue to try and find the best move if you don’t think you have already.

The solution is Rook to c5. Notice that after this move, if white tries to take the rook with dxc5, then black has queen to d1 checkmate!  And, if white tries to take the queen with Rxd7, then black has rook to e1 checkmate!  So, what is white’s best move after this? 

It is to take the rook.  Yes, white loses a queen, but with a few extra pawns, white could fight their way out with near perfect play and any future mistakes by black.

Endgame – The Lucena Position

The Lucena position is an endgame in which one side has a rook with a non-rook pawn on the 7th rank with its King on the promotion square while the other side has a rook only. Here is an illustration giving the idea of the Lucena Position. This was taken from Silman’s Complete Endgame Course.

The Lucena Position

We start with something like 1 Rf2+ and black answers with either 1 … Kg7 or 1 … Kg6.  The idea to promote the pawn is simple, as we just need to get our king out of the way and then promote the pawn. But, the idea is much more simple than the practice, which is why it is worth the study.

According to Silman, we need to use these winning ideas:

  • Force the opposing king away from the action (which is what we did with the first two moves)
  • Prepare the rook to use what Silman calls a bridge building agent by playing Rf4.
  • Move the king out from behind the pawn.
  • When the time is right, use the rook to block the opponent’s desperate attempts to check.

When playing an engine, you may notice that another strategy may have to unfold that involves allowing an early promotion that will then allow you to steal the rook afterwards. White must be careful to not move the king too far away from the pawn. The goal is to eventually use the rook to build a bridge like the following diagram.

It is over for black now

This leaves nothing more for black to do. The best black can go for in the original Lucena Position (when white knows what they’re doing) is to exchange the pawn (promoted or not) with the rook and leave white with a rook and king. This, as we know, is a losing position.

Evans Gambit – A Brutal Move – Fake Stalemate

This week, we’ll begin a new format on this tab of the Decorah Sjakklubb’s website. We’ll cover an opening, a puzzle, and an endgame with each post.

Evans Gambit

A while ago, I covered the Fried Liver Attack off an Italian Game.  White can also play Evans Gambit off the Italian Game. We first get things going with:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4!?

The idea of Evans Gambit play is to trade the pawn (and/or pawns) for more advanced development (Winning Chess Openings; 2003, Yasser Seirawan). The best move for black is to accept the gambit.

4 … Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4

Main line for Evans Gambit

We could diverge quite a bit from here. The Stockfish engine prefers the following defensive continuation.

6 … d6 7. Qb3 Qd7.

Let’s follow a path in which black gobbles up white’s pawns instead.

6 … exd4 7. 0-0 dxc3 8. Qb3 Qf6 9. e5 Qg6 10. Nxc3 Nge7 11. Ba3 0-0 12 Rad1

At this stage, black is two pawns up but the game is even with white in a much better position.

A Brutal Move

The following puzzle comes from puzzle 820 in the book 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa. I’ve been slowly working my way through this delightful book over the last year now and will sometimes find puzzles that I love.  The correct move here took me quite a while to find, but once I landed on it I knew it was the right one. It is, as the title suggests, a brutal move. Before I say more, please take some time to find it. Black to play on this puzzle.

Black to play. Find the only good move.

I have to say, I toiled for a while on this one but it was worth my time finding it.  I’ll provide a few hints in the next paragraph if you need them, and the solution in the paragraph after.

The first hint is that this is not a mate in 2, 3, 4 or more puzzle. The second hint is that the move you are looking for threatens a mate in the next move or few moves if white doesn’t give up pieces. 

The solution is to move the queen to e2.  Observe how huge of a threat this move is to white.  White cannot capture the queen because black has a checkmate on the next move with rook to f1. White cannot capture the rook on f2 because after the queen captures the bishop on f2 for check and backs white’s king into the corner, mate follows when then queen captures the rook on e1. 

The chess engine suggests there is mate in 12 after moving the queen to e2. 

Fake Stalemate

This endgame analysis comes from Joel Benjamin in his July 2022 US Chess magazine article Rook Pawn Magic. Look at the following position for white.

An endgame white can win

With white having a rook pawn and a bishop that is not the same color as the queening square of that rook pawn, it seems for a moment that black has a great opportunity for a stalemate. All black has to do is continually threaten control of the a8 square. However, black’s biggest weakness is the b7 pawn that will have to move in a “fake stalemate”.  Consider the following sequence of moves.

49 … Kh8 50. Bc3+ Kh7 51. Bg7!

Black has no other move than to advance his b-pawn.  This is white’s strategy… to force this move until his rook pawn on the a-file can capture it! Play continues.

51 … b6 52. Bf8 Kh8 53. Bh6 Kh7 54. Bg7!

Again, another “fake stalemate” that makes black advance his b-pawn. If black does not resign, white repeats these moves until he can take black’s b-pawn, and then promotes it while capturing black’s a-pawn with the bishop. 

Saturday Game Analysis

Setting up the clock with a 5 second delay and giving each of us 75 minutes (how the tournament in Des Moines will be timed), I sat down with Jerad for a game at Impact. Jerad was black. After black’s13th move (Be6), we found ourselves in this position. I made a careful calculation and found what I thought to be the best move. See what you would do as white in the following position.

White to move

Seeing the domination of my rook on the e-file, I found 14. Bxc6. This turns out to be a fantastic move if black does not respond accordingly, but a sub-par move to 14. Bxe6. If the bishop takes the knight here with 14. Bxc6, what is black’s best response? Do you retake with the pawn or queen? The best move is to take with the pawn, as taking with the queen is a blunder! By taking with the queen, you leave the bishop hanging on the e-file. So, after 14. Bxc6 Qxc6 15. Nxd4, white comes out a piece ahead.

Why is 14. Bxe6 better? After 14 … Qxe6, white begins an attack on black’s knight with 15. b5. In this situation, if black decides to move the knight to safety, then 16. Nxd4 is next using the relative pin on the e5 pawn. Black’s best response would be 15… Qa2 which attacks white’s rook as well as removes the relative pin on the e5 pawn.

Through several blunders (for both of us) we arrived at this position. In hind-sight, this should be finished every time against the most difficult of computer engines by white.

White to move.

Embarrassingly, with plenty of time on the clock (over 10 minutes), I let the time get to me and did not calculate out the position. While at some point, I would have to sacrifice my bishop for the pawn on the a-file, doing so immediately leads to a draw as there is no way for my king to take out both black’s pawns AND keep him away from the h8 square. In hind-sight, it is easy to see that Bc7 is the correct attacking move to ensure the win.

Bishop and Pawn Endgame

I read a valuable chapter in Jeremy Silman’s Complete Endgame Course last night and wanted to share it today before this evening’s Chess Club meet-up. This endgame involves a bishop and pawn against a lone king. 

Let’s say you are in the position of having the lone king. As long as the following three things hold, you can force a draw (stalemate). 

  • The pawn is a rook pawn (on files a or h)
  • The queening square for the rook pawn is the opposite color of the bishop’s squares.
  • Your king can get to the queening square in time.

If any of these things are violated, then the player with the bishop and pawn can win. Let’s first look at a situation in which the lone king can force a stalemate.

WIth white or black to move, black can force a draw.

In the above diagram, with either color to move first, there is no way for white to stop black’s king from moving to the queening square a8. This is where black’s king can hover, and eventually force the draw.

With Black to move, black can force a draw.

With the above diagram, if it were white to play, white can win if he plays his king to f6 and force black’s king away from the queening square. White must be careful in protecting the pawn and bishop on following moves. However, black can force the draw if it is black to move as they can get to the queening square via King to g7.

Now let’s look at a few situations in which one of the laws is broken and white can triumph.

White can promote and win: pawn is not a rook pawn

Although in the above diagram, the queening square is an opposing color as the bishop and the black king can get to that square, because the pawn is not a rook pawn, black cannot force a draw without a mistake on white’s end.

Queening square same color as bishop

In this case, the second rule is broken. With the bishop having the same color as the queening square, white is able to force the king off and away from that square to promote the white pawn.

Black king cannot get to the queening square

In this situation, although white has a rook pawn with a bishop opposite in color to the queening square, the black king simply cannot arrive at the queening square of h8 without white making horrible blunders.

It would be good practice to plug the three positions above into a chess engine and make sure you can promote and win against the strongest of engines.

Given what we have learned, let’s look at the following position.

With either to play, white can win this game. Black, with a knowledge of endgames, knows he cannot win with a lone bishop, so is out to try and force a draw. Black will be ready and willing to sacrifice his bishop for the pawn on the b file (as long as it isn’t protected by the pawn on the a file). White must be aware of this stalemate situation, and offer the utmost protection to the b file pawn. With both pawns in play, white is also ready and willing to exchange bishops.

Real Endgames

Last week I paid attention to an interesting endgame in which I felt that the game was a draw. After analyzing it further, with white to move, it was white to win. Study the game board below and see if you can find the winning move.

Only one move will win for white

There are several possible moves to consider. Let’s throw out a few right away. Pawn to g3 or g4 will allow black to capture (regular or en-passant), with no way for white to stop the promotion. Forget those.

White’s king capturing the pawn on f4 leads to … stalemate!  Black has no legal moves and the game is a draw.  We will forego analyzing king to e6 or king to f6 as we’ll see those moves would lead to the same consequences as other moves. Let’s look at king to e5, king to e4, and king to g6 in that order.

If 1. Ke4, then black has two options. Let’s only look at the threatening 1 … Kg3. The white king will have to step away from the pawn on f4, as the e3 square is protected, or maintain pressure on that pawn by retreating to e5 or f5. Either of which will lead to black taking the pawn on g2. The line could continue 2. Ke5 Kxg2 3. Kxf4 Kf2 and now white has to struggle to maintain defense of the f3 pawn while dealing with the advancement of the h5 pawn. This looks like a stalemate. 

If 1. Ke5, then the same sequence of moves above can occur and stalemate is likely without further huge blunders.

How can there be any hope in moving the king to g6? Well, before we give up for a stalemate, let’s take the patience to analyze before offering that white flag up.

With 1. Kg6 black is forced to move 1 … Kg3, which seems fine with him, as he is attacking the g2 pawn. Now consider what happens after 2. Kxh5 Kxg2.  White has the very effective move 3. Kg4! attacking the black pawn and protecting the f3 pawn! With black having no way of protecting its pawn, white will capture on the next move and carefully bring it down the file for promotioon and the win.

But what if 2 … Kf2 for black?  He opts not to capture the g2 pawn to provide protection to his f4 pawn after 3. Kg4 Ke3. Now white has the weapon of advancing his g pawn.  After 4. g3 fxg3 5. Kxg3, there is no way to stop white from advancing his f pawn for promotion (unless white makes a blunder).