Strategies, Tactics, and Puzzles

The Relative Pin

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to face a challenging opponent that was visiting the area. As he seemed to be on a time crunch, I didn’t want to record the game. In hindsight, this was a blunder, as I could have learned so much.

The match eventually ended in a draw, but I was able to recreate a position that we were in with white to move.  I recall it very specifically, as I thought I had found the best move in the position.  The position, it seemed, was not very pleasant for white.  Black had just placed a bishop on c3:

White to move

It appeared as if I was going to lose a minor piece in this situation. I had considered Rc1 for a long time, but saw that after the bishop takes my knight on f6, I would have to move my queen to safety giving black time to move their hanging knight on c3 to safety and I’d be a minor piece down.

I considered Nh5 also, taking advantage of the pinned pawn. But after black moved to h8 and the pin was released, I wasn’t sure how to proceed without losing that knight.

I finally landed on Qc1, which I was certain was the best move. This would initiate an exchange where I would remain a pawn up in the end game.  Black’s only good response would be to exchange at that moment. Play was as follows: 1 Qc1 Qxc1 2 Rxc1 Bxf6 3 Bxc6 and white was a pawn up in a challenging endgame.

Can you find a better move using the title of this blog post as a hint?

I was amazed later on analyzing this position with an engine to find the move Qe3! This places a relative pin on the bishop on c3, maintains the defense of my a2 pawn while immobilizing the bishop for at least one move. 

Although I am familiar with relative pins, they are usually something I can think about when I’m on the attack and in an offense mindset. My defensive mindset threw out the possibility of using a relative pin and even considering this move.

A move that seems to be just as good would have been Rb3. Can you find black’s best response to that?

Fried Liver Attack

For the last few weeks, I’ve looked for a game in which we could play the Fried Liver Attack as either white or black. So far, nobody has taken the black line far enough for me to initiate it as white, and when I was black and did take it that far, white didn’t use the attack. Oh well. At least I know it exists and will be a fun game when I get to play it.

The main line begins as follows:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6

Black uses the Two Knight’s Defense

To initiate the Fried Liver Attack, white moves 4. Ng5 threatening to take the f7 pawn on the next move and fork black’s queen and rook. What would black’s best response to this be?

If you found 4. … d5, good job. This block’s the bishop from its attack on f7. After white captures with 5. exd5 we find ourselves in the following position.

Not yet to the Fried Liver Attack. It depends on Black’s next move.

It is suggested by Stockfish not to recapture the pawn right away, but to play 5. … Na5 to attack the bishop. We will not explore this line, as we want to explore the Fried Liver Attack, which means that the knight must recapture the pawn. So, play continues with 5. …Nxd5 and the Fried Liver Attack may commence!

6. Nxf7

After this odd and interesting play, white sacrifices the knight in order to bring out black’s king.

The Fried Liver Attack

Black’s only move here is to capture the knight to protect the queen and rook. But after 6. … Kxf7 white responds with 7. Qf3+. Study the following position and see how you would respond as black before reading on:

Here is where things get interesting if black has not yet seen this position.

With white having two attackers on the knight on d5, and black only having the queen as a defender, the best move for black is to add a defender while getting out of check with 7 … Ke6.

White continues to attack the knight with 8. Nc3. From here we’ll look at two lines that black could initiate, either 8 … Nce7 or 8 … Ncb4. The engine seems to favor the second option. To provide yet another defender for the knight pinned on d5, let’s say black answers with 8 … Nce7.

What is white’s next best move?

In this case, white’s best response is 9. d4. If black takes the bait with 9 … exd4, then white will win back the knight (and possibly a pawn) after 10. Nxd5 Nxd5 11. Qe4+. So, black should answer by providing further defenders to the d5 square with 9. … c6.

Playing it out from here would provide some interesting games!

Let’s back up and explore black’s slightly better move of 8 … Ncb4. Here, black initiates an attack on the c2 pawn while providing a defender for the knight pinned to d5.

Ncb4 takes the offense away from white

Rather than continue the attack, white now needs to think about defending the c2 pawn. After either 9. Bb3 or 9. Qe4, black can respond with 9 … c6 and interesting games can ensue.

Puzzles from my game last week

The game we played was pretty even for 16 moves. Moving my bishop to h6 was a huge error according to the Stockfish engine. After a few text moves we were in this position with white (my opponent) to play. What was his best move here?

White to move

The only defender to my bishop on h6 is the knight. White should threaten those knights the best he can with 19. e5. In the actual game, however, play continues with 19. Qd2 which kept black in the game.

Later on, we found ourselves in this position. White had just advanced the f pawn, and the black queen came down to take. What is white’s best response here?

White to move

White elected to trade queens here leaving black a bishop up. But look at 40 … Qh7+! The king is now forced to move in line with the queen with Kf8 or Kf7 and then white can now get black’s queen for their rook with 41 … Rf5.

A Chess Riddle

I’m a fan of puzzles and riddles. Last week I came across one involving chess so I wanted to share with the Decorah Sjakklubb.

In the puzzle below, black’s king is invisible and on the board somewhere in a legal square (which would be somewhere in the 6×6 square defined by the c3 to h8 diagonal). It is white’s move.

Black has to follow the rules of chess and cannot move into check. Since black is invisible, however, white is allowed to move into check (that is, the white king can move right next to the black king since white cannot see it, at which point the black king can capture the white king and win the game).  Since black has only the invisible king to work with, black will move into a stalemate situation if one becomes available.

It is white’s move. What series of moves will guarantee a victory without losing a piece?

Black King Invisible. White to move and win.

There are many solutions to this. It is a great exercise in using your pieces together to deliver a checkmate. For one such solution, and the source of riddle itself, visit FiveThirtyEight’s The Riddler, and scroll down to the solutions for last week’s Riddler.

The Englund Gambit

Wednesday, May 18, at 6pm, members of the Decorah Sjakklubb (chess club) will begin to congregate at The Landing in order to challenge one another to some chess matches. Come to learn and/or just to play.

In today’s post, I’m going to cover a small portion of the Englund Gambit, which occurs after a queen pawn opening. The beginning line is 1. d4 e5 and looks like this.

This is an interesting line for somebody who has not studied it, and if white is not careful, can fall behind to black rather quickly.  The appropriate response for white is to take the free pawn. The next few moves that usually occur are as follows:

2. dxe5 Nc6 3. Nf3

Here, a trap can be set by black that isn’t easy to see how to defend for those playing the line for the first time.  Let’s say black continues to put pressure on the e5 pawn with 3. … Qe7. Take a look at the position now and see what you would do with white to move.

If you happened to find either Bf4 or Bg5, both are fine. Moving the bishop to f4 to offer protection to the pawn, or moving the bishop to g5 in order to attack the queen are both decent moves. Let’s say that play continues with 4. Bg5 Qb4+ and produces the following position for white. Look at it and see if you can find the best move for white.

Although it feels like retreat is not the answer (as you just developed your bishop), the correct move here is to either retreat your bishop with Bd2 or put the knight in front with Nc3. When I first played this, I thought trading queens was best with Qd2 (and I’ve seen a surprising number of chess players who have not seen this line resort to this).  Black’s answer?  Black doesn’t want to trade when he can have your rook!  The (incorrect) line continues 5. Qd2 Qxb2

How is white going to keep the rook in this situation? Look at the position above a while and see what you can come up with before reading on. This is a difficult position indeed, as black is winning.

Playing this for the first time players may try and trade queens again, thinking this time it will surely work with Qc3. It turns out, this is a huge blunder. Why? Black will skewer the queen with the bishop with Bb4.  White is losing horribly on the sixth move of the game! 6. Qc3 Bb4

So, what should have white done? Let’s back up to the position before the fifth move. There are two moves that work. White has either Bd2 or Nc3. If black elects to take the pawn on b2, then white plays the other move (if Bd2 was played first, then Nc3… if Nc3, then Bd2).  So, the fifth and sixth moves could look like this:

5. Nc3 Qxb2 6. Bd2 Bb4

The good response by black is to bring the bishop down to b4 to put two attackers on the knight with only the one defender. If  white answers correctly here with 7. Rb1, then it will be a pretty good game from here with a slight advantage for white.

New Name and Logo

May the fourth be with you tonight as we meet up at The Landing from 6-9pm and then Pulpit Rock Brewery from 9-10pm for some chess games and strategies!

Exciting things are in the works for the Decorah Chess Club! Although we’ll still refer to the club as the Decorah Chess Club, the official name will be in Norwegian: Decorah Sjakklubb (prounounced “shock-lube”). The logo will be as seen on the koozie in the featured image.

Designers went back and forth on what to include in the logo that would both keep it simple and include something distinctively Decorah. Rather than include a graphic, it was decided that using the Norwegian word for chess club was the answer!

We’re still progressing on the logo, and will soon have chess log books and vinyl roll out chess boards (among other items) that will have our logo!

A preview of our logo

A Way to Get Better

When I was training jiu-jitsu in Kansas, one of my mentors encouraged me to record myself as I rolled (what jiu-jitsu practitioners call sparring) and then go over it later. You can discover small adjustments that can vastly improve the game. Likewise in chess. If we want to get over an improvement plateau, we should record our games. Obviously, the act of recording by itself isn’t going to help. We need to go over it later.

A way I get better is to use the free Stockfish engine on the analysis board provided by Take last Wednesday, for example. I played a game in which I offered a draw that was accepted after the 31st move. I was white.

Analyzing a Game

I like to quickly play out the first several moves and then begin thinking about any move that may have been slightly better and then toggle the engine on/off to see what move was better. Moves that don’t move the advantage by 3 or more points I shrug off at our level of play. If I were a national master or something, I may pay more heed to 1 point swings. Here was how the game started.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 c5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 6. dxc5 Bxc5 7. exd5 exd5

White has an advantage in this position

It was at this point I made my first blunder by taking the d5 pawn with my knight. In my mind, I was thinking how he wouldn’t take it with his knight because he would lose his queen. Why I didn’t consider that he would just take my knight with his queen was the blunder.

8. Nxd5?? Qxd5

The game went from white having about a 2.5 pawn advantage to black having a 4.5 pawn advantage here. So, what was the better move to maintain the advantage. In hindsight, it is easy to see that I needed to remove the defending knight with 8. Bxf6 first. Whether black followed with 8 … gxf6 or Qxf6, we could then safely take the pawn with 9. Nxd5 and be a pawn up in material with about a 3 pawn advantage (according to Stockfish). The game continues:

9. Qe2+ Qe6 10. Bxf6 gxf6 11. Qxe6 fxe6 12. g3 Nc6 13. Bh3 Nd4 14. Nxd4 Bxd4 15. c3 Bb6 16. 0-0 Bd7 17. Rfe1 f5

I want to pause here because it was at this point, I thought I found a clever move after the f5 pawn push. The point of black’s f5 move was to provide a layer of protection on his g6 pawn, as white had both the rook and bishop attacking with only his bishop defending. With the g6 pawn pinned, I played 18. Bxf5. It turns out that this was not that great of a move. Black needed to respond with18 …Rf8 with the idea of 19… Bxf2 to follow. Instead, black has a small blunder with a queenside castle 18. …0-0-0. After 19. Bxe6 Bxe6 20. Rxe6 I (white) found myself coming back.

White has a fighting chance!

Black’s best move here to stay on top is 20… Rd2 with a double attack on that f2 pawn along with an attack on the b2 pawn. White will definitely be losing a pawn with whatever move would follow. Instead, black decides on the next small blunder 20…Rhe8 allowing white to get to an even game.

For some reason, I did not see that it was best to exchange the rook right away, which would have been in my best interests. Instead, I opted for the 21. Rae1. The game continued

21… Kd7 22. Rxe8 Rxe8 23. Rxe8 Kxe8 and the game was even.

My three extra pawns compensate for black’s bishop

We played this even game until I offered a draw. It turns out, however, that my last move was terrible and black should not have accepted! Take a look at the position after the accepted draw and see if you can find out why.

24. h4 Ke7 25. Kg2 Kf6 26. g4 Kg6 27. f4 h5 28. f5+ Kh6 29. g5+ Kg7 30. Kf3 Bc7 31. b4?? b5.

Black has great opportunities

By opting for b5 instead of something like a5, I establish my left side pawns on the dark squares! The bishop has attacking opportunities on the weak pawns on the third rank. With whatever I decide on my next move, black can begin attacking either the c3 pawn or the h4 pawn or threaten to attack both, and white’s king would be overloaded.

King & Pawn vs King Endgame

Another chess night is upon us, Decorah Chess Club fans and members! Looking forward to seeing many of you out at The Landing tonight (4/13/22, 6-9pm). I’m certain that Pulpit Rock Brewery will see some spillover games along with a few last minute fresh ones from 9-10pm.

King & Pawn vs King Endgame

Sometime tonight, make sure that you get with someone to understand the king & pawn vs king endgame. I’ll give a brief introduction at the beginning of the night. On your own with whoever you’re playing, sneak some practice in.

There are three different set-ups below that you should master as both white and black. Let’s go through them one at a time.

White or Black to move. White should be able to promote.

If it is white’s move, a good move is to gain the “opposition” by playing Kc4. If white were to move the pawn (either one or two spaces), black will then have the capability of drawing the game! This is why you need to practice these situations and learn the rules.

White’s goal here in taking the oppostion is to eventually force black off of the c-file and keep black off the c-file. Then, and only then, advance the pawn!

If it were black to play, they might try something like Kc7 to try tempting white into making a mistake and bringing forward the pawn. If white does so, black can draw by taking the opposition with Kd6

If it is white to play, white can promote. Black to play, black can draw.

Just like the first board, white must gain the opposition with Kc4. If black stays on the c-file with … Kc7, white answers by following black and maintaining the position with Kc5. The first time black steps off the file (say with something like …Kd7) in an attempt to try and go around the king to grab the pawn, the white king can step off in the opposite direction with Kb6.

Again, depending on what black does, white can respond accordingly and promote the pawn and win. If black moves toward the pawn with …Kd6, white can now safely advance the pawn.  If black moves back into the c-file with …Kc8, white needs to immediately take the opposition with Kc6 forcing black to move back off the c-file.

White or Black to move? Doesn’t matter; black can draw.

Equally important to knowing how to promote a pawn with white in these endgames, is to be able to shut white down when you are black and draw the game rather than lose. The general rule to follow is to take the opposition when you can, and if you can’t return to the c-file in such a way white cannot take the opposition back.

By the time pieces move to the back rank, black can eventually make white make the ultimate decision of leaving his pawn unprotected, or placing the game in stalemate.

When you feel comfortable and confident with this particular endgame, your game will have improved significantly!

One Two Three

Puzzles are great for training the mind to see patterns and recognize great opportunities. Here is a puzzle for the week in which I found the second best solution. When I found out it wasn’t the best, it blew my mind. Check it out: it is black to move. Spend some time on it before scrolling below the puzzle to see some solutions.

Puzzle 745 in “1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners”

It didn’t take me long to find the move 1. … Qa4+. White’s only response is 2. Qa2 for an interposition. The line might continue 2. … Nbxa2 3. bxc3 Nxc3+ 4. Kb2 Qxd4 with a clear line to victory for black.

What I missed, was the mate in 3! Hard to see since it entails sacrificing not one, but two of black’s pieces!

Here is the line: 1. … Qd1+ 2. Rxd1 Nc2+ 3. Nxc2 Rxd1#. White is forced to take our queen and knight in both cases and leaves black with the knight-rook combo for checkmate. Brilliant, yes?

Hope you enjoyed this puzzle as much as I did.

Closed Sicilian

March is a great month for chess as it will bring 5 Wednesdays on which our wonderful club can meet and play and learn some chess. Come on out to The Landing anytime in the 6-9pm window tonight (3/23/22) for some chess games and fun.

In the lastest American Chess Magaizine (Issue #25), the closed Sicilian is explored. The Sicilian is signified by the moves 1. e4 c5, which is initiated by black after white’s king pawn opening. An “Open” Sicilian is signified by the next move 2. Nf3, while the “Closed” Sicilian is signified by 2. Nc3.

Closed Sicilian

While the Sicilian is intiated by black, white can then initiate an open or a closed Sicilian with the second move. Here is one such opening line for the closed Sicilian.

Main Line for a Closed Sicilian

Although the main line is given at the bottom of the picture above, it can also be arrived at through the following:

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 g6 5. d3 Bg7

Yet another alternative:

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. d3 d6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7

As you’ve noticed, we can interchange several moves to arrive at this closed Sicilian position.

So you might be asking what the next best move for white might be. Several options have been explored, with 6. Be3 being the most popular.  Other options include 6. f4 or 6. Nh3.. However, a chess engine would rather see 6. Ngce2 or 6. Nf6 rather than the previous two even though some chess experts disagree.

Mate in 2 Studies

Studying mate in 2 (or 3 or 4) puzzles can reveal many different patterns that the chess student can benefit from analyzing. Let’s look at a few from this last week. All of these are black motifs (black to move) taken from 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners by Franco Masetti & Roberto Messa.

I encourage you to take a long look at each one before reading through the solution to see if you can get it.

1. An “easy” one to start. Black to move.

In the first mate in 2 puzzle above, a deflection theme is involved in which we make a sacrifice in order to draw the king into a dangerous position. After black takes the bishop with the rook (Rxf1) white is forced to take the rook with the king (Kxf1). Then, black can simply move the queen down to the corner for checkmate (Qh1#).

2. Deflection tactic to mate in 2. Black to move.

Here again, a nice deflection is needed to deliver a check mate. We have both our rooks working for us on the g-file. We want to place the knight on f2 to checkmate the king, but white’s pesky rook is in the way.  By first getting it out of the way by moving Rg1+ we force white’s rook on f1 to take our rook on g1 with Rxg1 now providing the space for the knight to deliver checkmate: Nf2#!

3. White just moved their pawn to h7. Black to move with mate in 2.

Just because our rook is under attack and can be taken with the next move, doesn’t mean we can’t just leave him there and use other threats! This type of tactic is a difficult one to master. With the g-file dominated by our piece at the moment, we can deliver a check with Be7+. This forces white’s king to move up the h-file with Kh5. That is far enough to leave space for our rook to come in for the win: Rh3#.

4. With white’s pieces all out of place, they are lost in 2. Can you find it?

If we notice the king’s position, we can see that the king has nowhere to go except to the h1 square. Is there a way to threaten the g1 square and send the king to the corner? That’s right: Nh3+. After checking the king with the knight, white retreats to corner with Kh1, and we follow that up with Bd5#!

5. Yet another deflection themed mate in 2 puzzle for black.

With our knight guarding/attacking the g3 square, it would be nice to move our queen down there for a checkmate. However, white’s pesky queen is protecting it at the moment. With white’s king only move right now is along the f1-h3 diagonal, we can cause a deflection with the move Bf1+. White is forced to take the bishop with the only piece that can do it: Qxf1. With that deflection behind us, we can deliver the checkmate: Qg3#!