Saturday, July 17, 2021

Off we go

 We have put a lot of effort in the past in the study of the superficial elements of a tactical position. To mention a few findings:

  • The PoPLoAFun method
  • KITB (king in the box)
  • B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended)
  • Sitting duck
  • tactical elements (bummer, were it themes or motifs? I forgot. Again)
  • duplo attacks
  • war of tempo's
  • double whammy
  • pawns close to promotion


Diagram 1. Black to move


[FEN "3r3r/pp3pk1/2p1b3/6pq/P3Pp2/1P1N1PpN/2P1Q1P1/4RBK1 w - - 0 1"]


First task: find the most salient points in the position.

Diagram 2. KITB. Black to move

 KITB. The king has a wee wriggle room. g1 and h1. (the green squares)

Diagram 3. LoA's. Black to move


LoA's. Follow the arrows.

Diagram 4. Pawns close to promotion. Black to move

Pawns close to promotion. At first glance the pawns seem well blocked.

Diagram 5. Function. Black to move

Fun. Which pieces have a duty to fulfill?

  • Nh3 blocking access to h2 and h1
  • g2 protecting the knight. Blockading g3
  • f3 protecting g4. Blockading f4
  • Ne5 blockading Qc5
  • Qe2 protecting the invasion point d2
Diagram 6. Discovered attack. Black to move

So how can we brew some concepts from these superficial, for everybody to see, salient points. First we must stitch the points together, then we must ask what can be learned from it that is transferable to other positions? I will give you some time to think and will update later in blue.


First we must stitch de points together.

1. ... g4 is a discovered attack. Immediate loss of wood can only be prevented by 2.Nxg4.

2. ... Bxg4 prevents the interference of the white knight on the c5-g1 diagonal

3.fxg4 resolves the block of f4

3. ... Qc5+ 4. Kh1 Qc3 black threatens to invade with Rd2

A steppingstone moment, I guess.

It might depend on what white does here, but he exchange sac Rxh3+ seals the deal.

Which analogies, concepts or categorizations (3 flip-sides of the same coin, yeah I know, bad metaphor ;) are transferable to other positions? I reckon the following:

  • The possibility to unblock the pawns make them extremely powerful
  • All salient points play a role
  • The LoA's reveal the potential coordination of the pieces
  • The Fun shows how whites pieces are tight to duties
  • The shift of the Queen from a LoA to an invasion square (Qc5 - c3) is extremely powerful
  • The exchange sac that unblocks the g pawn is deadly
  • All non salient points need no attention


  1. PART I:

    FWIW: I found the game on ChessTempo.

    FEN: 3r3r/pp3pk1/2p1b3/4N1pq/P3Pp2/1P3PpN/2P1Q1P1/4RBK1 b - - 4 34

    Kobalia, Mikhail (2495) vs Korotylev, Alexey (2435)
    Date: 1996-12-03
    Event: Russia Cup II, Moscow (Russia)
    Round: 6
    Result: ½-½
    Opening: Pirc Defense, Classical Variation, Quiet System, Czech Defense (B08)
    Problems: 173491

    Black has the initiative (can make threats) whereas White has no direct attacking threats per se. White has multiple immobile pieces (WQe2, WBf1, WNh3) which will take time to get into play. The Attacking Motif is present: "Thou shalt not shilly-shally when attacking" - proceed with threats whenever possible.

    Material: Approximately balanced: White has two Knights versus Black's Rook and Pawn.

    Pawn structure: White has the better Pawn structure. Black has two sets of doubled Pawns, which MAY be a problem if (or when) the endgame occurs. This point in the game is the middlegame, so this is not a factor.

    What is the position about?: There does not appear to be any readily available Pawn promotion threat; the advanced Black Pawns are blockaded (at the moment). IF Black can coerce the White Pawns on g2 and f3 to capture on h3 and g4, then the Black Pawns as a phalanx close to the White King could be very threatening. There are no hanging or loose pieces. White is under pressure near his King; his King is confined to the back rank. The White King is (almost) "in the box." White's pieces are all bunched together, blocking in his King.

    Black's pieces are more easily coordinated; there is the open d-file with a Black Rook already on it, and the half-open h-file with the Black Queen and a Black Rook on it. The BBe6 moves along the diagonal leading to the White kingside and the "targets" near the White King which could open up the advance of the Black Pawns.

    It appears that the position is about attacking the King, with either a possible checkmate or gain of material (to avoid checkmate).

  2. PART II:

    Black should strive to open LoAs to the White King. The Attack motif ("Thou shalt not shilly-shally when attacking" - proceed with threats when possible) is applicable.

    The most obvious line of attack is to create a double attack with 1. ... g4.

    This initiates a direct attack on WNh3 and WPf3, and a discovered attack on WNe5. The apparently reasonable response is 2. Nxg4capturing on g4, simultaneously removing the 'attacker' and moving WNe5 to a protected (but B.A.D.) square. Otherwise, White loses the WNe5 with the number of Pawns now equal, so he is an Exchange down with nothing to compensate for it except slightly better Pawn structure. The WQe2 and WBf1 are particularly ineffective, with no moves at present. It will take at least three moves to free up these two White pieces. The WNh3 is also passively blocking a potential checkmate and going nowhere fast.

    The next Black move is 2. ... Qc5+. Given the tight quarters around the White King, and the immobility of the White pieces, this is a natural continuation.

    All of the foregoing analysis is based on a logical examination of the position (using the diagrams to highlight the importance of each factor). We are now 3 ply closer to understanding what needs to be done.

    The onus is now on White to choose how to respond to this direct threat. There are few viable options: either move the White King (creating an absolute pin on WNh3) or block the check with one of the Knights (giving up material). (It IS possible to block using the White Queen, but I think most players would reject that idea out of hand; losing the Queen without significant material compensation or a direct attack on the enemy King is a disaster.)

    Here is a practical dilemma: do we go ahead and start this sequence without trying to go any further ahead with concrete calculations, or do we try to analyze deeper?

    This is an excellent point at which to use a "stepping stone" (an intermediate point from which to look at White alternatives).

    In reality, IN THIS CASE it does not substantially change the balance of the position to go ahead and make these moves without considering what to do next. There are no alternatives having the same force.

    As GM Jonathan Tisdall wrote in Improve Your Chess NOW:

    "Now what? Hunker down, draw up a list [of candidate moves], and get to the bottom of matters? I don't think so. . . . I think the efficient GM gets on with it. We already know that we are playing without risk and that the sacrifice [. . . on g4] is the most promising continuation. My vote is we smash [. . . that Pawn to g4]. Let's get that critical position on the board so that it is easier to calculate. Let's get his clock running. He's the one who has decisions to make. . ."

    The three White alternatives are:

    3. Kh1

    3. Nf2

    3. Ne3

    At this point, I'm going to stop because this will require considerable analysis to come to any definitive conclusions regarding the best defense and subsequent offense.

    The most important takeaway is that we can use the SALIENT POINTS from the surface analysis to guide our thinking about the ramifications (deeper analysis leading to the essence of the position) as we engage in concrete calculations. Often, getting the first move or two correct is a giant step towards finding the correct overall line of play.

  3. Your updated comment illustrates perfectly that chess SKILL is a combination of several mini-skills, not just one single "magic" skill (or one piece of knowledge, or one single "cliche"). The WHOLE is greater than the sum of its parts. There is no 'silver bullet' for adult chess improvement.

    MdlM was correct about at least one thing - the proper mental attitude during training sessions:

    "Tactics work is HARD WORK. . . . You may feel faint, nauseous, and such. Blood may start dripping from your forehead. But if you have the courage [persistence] to push on, you will be rewarded with a greatly enlarged tactical 'muscle' that will leave your opponents in the dust."

    There is a Buddhist 'saying': "Practice like your hair is on fire!"

    It's hard to lose focus on what is most important when your hair is on fire!

    Gichin Funakoshi, the great Okinawan karate teacher, had a lot to say about the proper approach to training:

    "You must be deadly serious in training."

    If you are merely enjoying the training, you are probably doing it WRONG.

    "What you have been taught by listening to others' words you will forget very quickly; what you have learned with your whole body you will remember for the rest of your life."

    "You must ignore the bad and adopt the good."

    That applies equally to MdlM's (and others') training advice. We have to try it for ourselves. If it works for US, keep at it; if it doesn't work, get rid of it.

  4. Combinative Motifs, M. Blokh, Problem 748, difficulty level 4

    FEN: 3rr1k1/ppq1bp1p/2b1p1pB/3nP1N1/8/7Q/PP3PPP/RB2R1K1 w - - 0 1

    Dely-Glass, Reggio-Emilio, 1960/61

    Another situation in which the surface "clues" point to the direction to proceed.

    White has 4 pieces and a central Pawn (supported by WRe1) in the near vicinity of the Black King. Black has only a single piece (BBe7) that can capture one of the attacking pieces. According to the three piece "rule," White should ATTACK the King!

    I give only one (side) variation, because the proposed "solution" fails badly at the point where that variation is terminated.

    1. Bxg6! fxg6 2. Qxe6+ Kh8 3. Qf7[???]

    While working through this variation, I "saw" that Black has an adequate defense against the double checkmate threats (4. Qxh7# and 4. Qg7#): 3. ... Bf8!!

    The winning alternative that I "saw" is similar to the "windmill" (another one of those "mini-skills"):

    3. Nf7+ Kg8 (forced) 4. Nxd8+ Kh8 5. Nf7+ Kg8 6. Nd6+ Kh8 7. Nxe8 Bxe8 8. Qxd5 and White is winning.

    From this, I assume that the solutions to the combinations in the book have NOT been computer-checked.