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Ask the Masters
Analyze This Game 1 Game 2
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I know this is a common question, but I've
never seen a good explanation for why amateur players (I'm around
1500) should not study openings. I know I feel more confident
and win more when I can get the game into a defense I have studied
and other times I feel like I was lost after 8-10 moves.
A: When a book
or a coach tells you not to study the openings, that doesn't mean
not to study the opening of the game. Every chess student should
pay particular attention to the first 10 moves in order to have
a fighting chance in the next 50. There is a big difference between
THE openings (Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, Trompowsky) and opening principles
(space, the center, development).
An opening is just a specific sequence with a
name. It can be comforting to memorize a few lines and play
a position that you are familiar with. At the top level of international
chess, Grandmasters must memorize thousands of moves in hundreds
of variations. The problem for a White Belt is that 1) you have
limited study time, 2) you want to get the most kick-butt for your
study time, 3) you want to improve your game for the long run.
There are many other things to study that will earn
you more wins and improve your chess faster than memorizing openings
and trying to play the same few all the time. This means tactics
and endgames in particular. They will be important in every
game you play with both colors and regardless of your opponent's
is important, and playing the same thing all the time does give
you confidence in that line. But you'll feel like a fish out
of water when your opponent plays something different. Plus, what
if your opponent knows the same line better than you do!? Unlike
Kasparov, you don't have time to study every possible move
in every position and you don't have a full-time trainer to help
you. If you use your study time wisely you will feel more comfortable
in EVERY position because you can apply general principles and concrete
This doesn't mean you should be intentionally
ignorant of how others play. Studying master games will teach
you all you need to know. Wait until you are expert level before
filling your shelves with books on the openings.
Let's take an opening loved by amateurs (and
a few GMs!) around the world, the Giuoco Piano. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3
Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5. At this point I can hear a few groans out there because
after easy moves like d3, d6, Nc3, Nf6, etc. it is about as exciting
as a Meg Ryan movie.
you can remember when you found out that you could play 4.c3 with
white! (diagram) Maybe you're seeing it now for
the first time. How cool! Instead of routine symmetrical moves,
white prepares the devastating push d4 in the center, hitting the
c5 bishop and threatening to push to d5.
Black has to react very precisely to combat this
brutally simple plan. Suddenly white has many options, including
various gambits for attacking chances. The most popular line is
4...Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0-0 Bxc3 9.d5!? with
a wild position that is more Terminator 2 than When Harry
No, a 1500 should not be expected to come up
with all of that on his own from scratch. But after you see
the move 4.c3 planning d4 you can apply that powerful concept in
similar positions, with white and black.
If you are losing after the first 10 moves the problem
is with your basics, not your openings. Develop your pieces, fight
for the center, protect your king, and don't get too greedy!
The Cornered King
The story: You see a tempting sacrifice to rip
apart the protection around the enemy king. Your queen will
be able to move in close, there are checks everywhere. What could
possibly go wrong?
Sacrifices against the pawns in front of the
king are often more intuitive than concrete. This doesn't mean
you should crash your bishop into the enemy h-pawn the first chance
you get. If you win, it was a sacrifice, if you lose, it was a blunder.
Some guidelines to help you sacrifice for fun and profit:
1) You should be able to bring more pieces
into the attack than your opponent has pieces available to defend.
2) Can you force a perpetual check at some point? Having
this possibility in reserve allows you to move ahead and then dig
a little deeper to look for a win.
3) Does your opponent have a nasty counterattack or a check
that will allow him to force exchanges? Making sure your own king
is safe before launching into kamikaze mode is a good idea. Sometimes
you don't have time for this, but then you'd better make sure your
opponent won't beat you to the checkmate.
Most of the positions below are either before
or after a sacrifice to open up the king. Find the best move
for the side to move. Look at the entire line carefully. The answers
are at the end of the page, but don't check them until you've spent
at least a few minutes on each position.
over the positions and solutions online
Yes, we've been hanging out over at Playchess.com
again, peeking at some of the non-GMs in action. Let's see if we
can learn from the mistakes of others instead of from our own mistakes
shamwari (1622) - banditi (1676)
1.Nf3 d6 2.g3 e6 3.d3 What, doesn't anybody
want control of the center? Both sides seem set on playing familiar
moves instead of logical ones. d3 can't be better than d4! 3...Nf6
4.e4 e5 At the start of game black is down one tempo. Now in
only four moves black is down two tempi. It took this pawn two moves
to get to where it could have gone in one. Black is lucky that White
is playing a passive system.
Bg4 6.Nbd2 Still single-mindedly playing the moves from this
system instead of looking at the board. Why not Be3 first? Now the
knight blocks in the bishop. 6...Qd7 7.h3 Be6 Why play the
bishop out there to pin and then retreat it to where White can trade
it off? Be consistent or you waste time.
8.Nf1 Hard to explain this one. Two moves
to get to f1? Maybe White is dreaming of Ne3-f5, or just wanted
to get out of the way of the c1 bishop. Time is of the essence in
the opening. You can't count on your opponent to waste time.
[ 8.Ng5 Getting the knight out of the way
and exchanging off the annoying bishop that is preventing White
from castling due to the attack on the h3 pawn.] 8...Be7 Black
has now developed four pieces to White's two. (I'm not going to
count that f1 knight.)
When you are behind in development you need to get caught up,
not push pawns. This move just creates a huge weakness in the white
camp. 9...h5 10.g5 Nh7 11.h4 f6 Black plays very consistently,
inviting the white pawns forward and then attacking them head-on.
The old saying is that open lines favor the better developed side,
and here that is Black. Still, there was no need to rush this and
getting his b8 knight out and castling queenside first would have
been more solid.
12.Ng3 fxg5 13.hxg5 Augh! The dreaded automatic
recapture. Both players assumed White had to take on g5 and neither
player looked at the strong pawn grab 13.Nxh5, threatening to take
another pawn on g7 with check.
Very few moves in a chess game are completely forced,
look around for a second even after a piece has been captured. [
13.Nxh5] 13...Bg4 Protecting the pawn with ..g6 was logical.
Why give away free pawns? Unless you can generate a stronger counter-threat,
don't give up material.
Bxg5? A major blunder. Black completely
misses the discovered attack on the h-file. His rook is unprotected,
which should have been his first clue. Wouldn't it be nice to have
that b8 knight on c6 and the king on c8 safely castled? 15.Bxg5
White returns the favor with interest. Nf6+
was winning, now the queen captures the free knight and protects
the rook on h8. [ 16.Nf6+! gxf6 17.Rxh8+ Ke7 and White is
16...Qxg7 17.Rxh8+ Qxh8 White has lost
a piece and now the pin on the Nf3 will cost him another one sooner
or later. White prefers sooner. 18.Qd2 Nxf3+ 19.Bxf3 Bxf3 With
two extra pieces there isn't a lot to analyze. 0-1 (Eventually)
MALISEVSCHI (1789) - Schorse (1688)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 a6 Playing the very sharp Sicilian is dangerous
enough. Playing a non-developing move like this one on move two
is asking for a karate chop in the nose. 3.c4 White clamps
down on d5 and b5. It will be hard for Black to develop. 3...Nc6
4.Nc3 e6 Apparently preparing to play ..d5 anyway.
What is this? A completely useless move, a total waste of time.
With a lead in space and development, the position was begging for
d4. Every move should have a clear purpose in the opening, a purpose
YOU can understand. Don't tell me about cryptic pawn pushes in GM
games because THEY know why they are making them. I defy anyone
to explain 5.h3 here!
5...Nge7 Gumming up White's plan with ..Nd4 was the way
to take advantage of 5.h3. 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 d6 8.Be3 g6 A
very slow plan of development. One of the cardinal rules for defending
is to exchange pieces when you have the chance, especially if you
have a cramped position. Capturing on d4 and then playing Nc6 would
have given Black some room to breathe.
9.Be2 Bg7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qd2 Re8 12.Bf3 A waste of time,
considering Black's response. White should be hammering the weak
spot in Black's position, the d6 pawn. Rad1, for example. [ 12.Rad1
d5 13.exd5 exd5 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15.cxd5 Nxd5 16.Nxd5 cxd5 17.Bf3 Black
will have trouble holding the isolated pawn.] 12...Ne5 13.Be2
Bd7 14.f4 N5c6
Not a bad move, continuing to clamp down on the queenside. But
White should be focusing on the d-file, which he controls and where
the weak black d-pawn is sitting. Nf3 followed by bringing a rook
to the d-file would have been hard to meet. Find the weaknesses
and hit them! 15...Rc8 16.b3 Another wasted move. What is
White protecting? Who is attacking here, White or Black!? This move
makes the Bg7 much stronger.
16...e5 A fine idea. If White isn't going to play in the
center, Black will. 17.Nxc6 Bxc6 18.f5 gxf5 19.exf5 Bf6? The
sudden activity on the kingside makes Black panic. Fearing the f6
fork he gives up on his own counterplay. Remember to look for your
own threats when you are attacked. Black could have fought back
by finally playing the move of his dreams, ..d5! [ 19...d5
20.f6 d4 White should still have an edge, but it's a very complicated
position with chances for both sides. Certainly better than a passive
defense.] 20.Bg5 Bxg5 21.Qxg5+ Kh8 22.Qf6+ Kg8 23.Bh5 Rf8 24.Rad1
Again too passive. If you're going to go down, do it in a blaze
of glory and give your opponent a chance to go wrong. Sitting there
like a target hoping he misses obvious moves isn't going to work.
[ 24...Qb6+ 25.Kh2 Qxb3] 25.Rxd6 White grabs a pawn
instead of going for the quick kill with Rd3 planning Rg3. When
you have the enemy king pinned down, look for ways to finish him
25...Rcd8 26.Rxd8 Qxd8 27.Rd1 Qb6+ 28.Kh2 Qf2 This mate
in one threat is a decent last gasp attempt, but it also leaves
the back-rank wide open! It's mate, but for White.
29.Nd5? Panicked by the attack on his king, White forgets
his own attack. DON'T PANIC!! [Now it's mate: 29.Bxf7+ Rxf7 30.Rd8+
Be8 31.Rxe8+ Rf8 32.Rxf8#]
Allowing another mate (or losing the queen). Black's last chance
to survive was that old favorite: chop wood. Exchanging the attacking
forces with ..Bxd5 was best.
[ 29...Bxd5 30.cxd5 Nxf5 31.Qg5+ Kh8 Black is still alive!
It's not pretty, but at least he survives to battle into an endgame.]
30.Qxf5 [ 30.Ne7+ Nxe7 31.Bxf7+ Rxf7 32.Rd8+ Be8 33.Rxe8+
Rf8 34.Rxf8# Back rank again!]
30...Qxf5 31.Ne7+ Kg7 32.Nxf5+ White chooses a pretty liquidation
into an endgame with an extra piece. 32...Kf6 33.g4 Re8 34.Kg3
Kg5 35.h4+ Kf6 36.a5 e4 Black elects ritual suicide. A cute
mate to finish. 37.Kf4 e3 38.Rd6+ Re6 39.g5# 1-0
(1) Kreiman,B (2493) - Kaidanov,G (2596) [C18]
USA-ch Seattle (2), 06.01.2002
25.Bxh6 Kxh6 26.Qf4+ Kh7 27.Qxd6 Black's
king is open and White has an extra pawn. White went on to win in
54 moves. Even top GMs can miss a simple fork if the position is
complex enough. Keep your eye out of "hanging" pieces.
That is, pieces without any protection. They are very vulnerable
to forks of all kinds. Also note the introductory bishop sacrifice
that lured the black king into the fork. This sort of attraction
sacrifice can be hard to see unless you keep your eye on all the
forking squares and attacking squares all the time. 1-0
(2) Jussupow,A (2630) - Beliavsky,A (2690) [E14]
AUT-chT 9899 AUT, 1999
White has sacrificed a bishop to open up the black
king. Does he have more than a perpetual check draw with Ng6? Remember
that mate is not the only thing! The unprotected status of the black
queen permits a pretty combination that uses a discovered attack
with check. 19.Qg5+ [ 19.Ng6 fxg6 20.Qxg6+ Kh8 21.Qh6+ Kg8
22.Qg6+=] 19...Kh8 20.Qh4+ [ 20.Qh4+ Kg8 21.Qg3+ A beautiful
zigzag to put the queen on the same diagonal as the black queen.
Now the black king cannot avoid the knight check that will put black
queen back into the box. 21...Kh8 22.Ng6+ fxg6 23.Qxc7] 1-0
(3) Markovic,M (2540) - Drasko,M (2515) [C18]
JUG-ch53 Belgrade (5), 18.03.1998
Another destroyed king position after a piece sacrifice.
Black has countered the pressure on the g-file with his rook, and
his queen defends on the 6th rank. White must add another line of
attack in order to break through. 24.e6 A great line-opening
pawn sacrifice. After tossing a full piece, what is one more pawn!?
The keys: the white queen gets the e5 square to attack on the a1-h8
diagonal and the black queen is shut off from the defense. 24...Bxe6
25.Qe5+ [ 25.Qe5+ f6 26.Qxf6+ Rg7 27.Nf7+ The knight gives
itself up to open up the rook's line of attack. This is usually
called a clearance sacrifice. It is particularly deadly here because
it comes with check so Black has no time to put together a defense.
27...Bxf7 28.Qxg7#] 1-0
(4) Portisch,L (2645) - Reshevsky,S (2565) [B36]
Petropolis Interzonal Petropolis (14), 1973
If you want to play aggressive, tactical chess you
have to train yourself to calculate forcing variations. These are
lines with lots of checks and captures, with very few options for
your opponent. This is why "check every check" is so important
for attack AND defense. Checks allow you to calculate lines deeply
because there are so few potential moves. 27.Rxf6 [ 27.Rxf6
White sees that h8 will be open to attack after the bishop is removed.
But you have to calculate at least a perpetual check draw to play
this or you're just going to lose! 27...exf6 28.Qh8+ Kf7 29.Rh7+
Here's the real killer that White had to see beforehand. The queen
and bishop can mate by themselves. 29...Nxh7 30.Qxh7+ Kf8 31.Bh6#
The final check, and it's mate. A good mating position to remember.
Thanks to all those checks, the black pieces are still sitting where
they were when the combination started!] 1-0
(5) Minasian,A (2620) - Kosashvili,Y (2580) [D00]
Elista ol (Men) Elista (6), 04.10.1998
25.Rh5+ Black tried to cover the g7 mating
square with his queen. This only delays checkmate by one move. Open
lines against the king are worth more than a rook! [ 25.Rh5+ gxh5
( 25...Kg8 26.Rh8#) 26.Rg7+ Kh8 27.Qh6#] 1-0
(6) Taimanov,M (2530) - Gheorghiu,F (2545) [E91]
October Revolution 60 Leningrad (10), 07.07.1977
Black has the white king trapped up against the
wall. In these situations your logic should work like this: "If
I can cover the h4 square with something, then ..g4 will be checkmate.
Okay, so I play my bishop to f6 threatening mate in one. The only
way white can cover the g4 square is with the c4 knight to e3. But
then I can play ..h5 and the mate threat with ..g4 is back in action.
White can't check me or to anything else to delay ..g4, so that's
it!" 29...Bf6 [ 29...Bf6 30.Ne3 h5 31.Qe2 g4+ 32.Nxg4
Trial by Trivia #1 We are the Champions (from
White Belt #1)
1. Who was the youngest World Champion ever?
2. Who were the participants in the first world championship match
to finish in a draw? Emanuel Lasker and Carl Schlechter
3. Which World Champion was known as "the chess machine"?
4. How many world championship matches have taken place in Asia?
One (1978, Baguio City, Philippines)
5. Name the three World Champions who died in the USA. Wilhelm
Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Capablanca
Congratulations go out to Joel Hagans, the first
and best with the answers at the Trial by Trivial message
board at ChessNinja.com! He wins a free month extension
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