The kings will experience harsh treatment from beginning to end in Hacking Up The King!
Hacking Up The Kingis all about trying to checkmate the enemy king, whether castled or still in the center. There are countless books in this genre, but the 2014 work by English International Master David Eggleston is better than most.
Some readers may groan upon seeing the title of this post, and that’s okay. I get it.
Who, when taking their first steps in chess, dreams of winning wars of attrition? Probably no one. On the contrary, I often fantasized about winning a brilliant game in a tournament hall or chess club with a crowd of people watching in awe. Okay, I admit it … I still do!
Alas, I rarely win beautiful games. Most of my wins border on the tedious side — regularly 50+ moves. When I get away from this — whether because of fatigue, laziness, or delusions of grandeur — the results are usually disastrous. I’m just a grinder, and I’ve finally accepted that.
Fortunately, grinding works.
Easier to Play with Black?
With the White pieces, I feel a burden to “prove something” with my advantage of the first move. This often leads to going for too much, and bad things happen.
Grinders subscribe to the “equalize first” philosophy of playing the Black pieces. There isn’t any pressure to “do” anything. Even draws with peers are acceptable, though we want to win just as much as anyone else!
In the right position types, there will often be chances as Black to turn the tables on your opponent, especially if you’re willing to face a mildly unpleasant initiative. For a great example of this, play through Anatoly Karpov’s win against Gata Kamsky from the 1996 FIDE World Championshp Match.
Now I want to share another classic in a similar vein, also one of my favorite examples:
Three characteristics of an opening line to consider! By my count I am 3-0 in tournament play with the Canal (all against lower-rated players, so take that for what it’s worth).
More important, my students score quite well with it, and always get good positions out of the opening. Since it’s a forgotten line, their scholastic opponents don’t know the subtleties of defending it.
It was the perfect setting for a showdown between two of the most combative players of the 1990s and 2000s: a thematic tournament stipulating every game begin with an Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and, after 2…Nc6, 2…d6, or 2…e6, 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4).
Polgar chose a Paulsen Sicilian, where black places pawns on a6, d6, and e6, and develops the queen knight to c6. Shirov, not surprisingly, decided to tackle it with an early g4 and f4.
This was risky, because it exposed the white king, who had not castled to safety. Decisions like these can create brilliancies — for the player or their opponent!
The Hungarian prodigy was up to the task. One of the first females to earn the Grandmaster title (1991), Judit Polgar broke Bobby Fischer’s record (from 1958!) as youngest GM ever. She is universally recognized as the greatest female player in chess history.
When black answers 1.e4 with the Pirc (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6), things can get weird in a hurry. Defenses like the French can become complex and tactical, but in a “standard” way.
Pirc Defense players fight for more wins, and are willing to risk more losses in the process. Don’t expect a lot of draws! Garry Kasparov’s immortal victory against Veselin Topalov in Wijk aan Zee 1999 also occurred in the Pirc.
The Pirc is somewhat reminiscent of the Sicilian Dragon or Alekhine’s Defense in the e4-universe, and the Modern Benoni in the d4-universe.
I would not have chosen such a risky line against Dragoljub Velimirovic, one of the most imaginative attackers in history! The uncompromising Velimirovic Attack in the Classical Sicilian is named after him.
Dragoljub Velimirovic (1942-2014) in 1966. Photo: Eric Koch/ANeFo
Velimirovic chose the space-gaining Austrian Attack (4.f4), and followed up with the dynamic 6.e5.
Rajkovic initially met this aggression in kind, setting up counterplay in the center. His 8th move was questionable, but probably ok.
He was undone by hesitating after white’s stunning 10th move and struggled for the remainder of the game. A great example of winning by creating more powerful threats than your opponent can muster!
There are some lovely variations in the comments. Please click through them and enjoy!
In contrast, this was the only game the young Francisco Vallejo-Pons won in the 2004 Melody Amber rapid, but what a victory it was! White’s king gets caught in a hurricane in a theoretical mainline of the Najdorf English Attack (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3).
With competing opposite-side castling attacks, Svidler decides to fight off black’s attack before launching an offensive of his own.
He never got the chance. How did Vallejo-Pons respond to 25.Ka1?
Pawns are line-opening tools in opposite-side castling attacks
This and other model attacking games are not about finding one or two strong moves. Playing with the initiative means controlling the flow of the game and not letting the opponent breathe. Concentrating on this will transform your play.
“Tactics flow from a superior position.” — Bobby Fischer
Remember: the open or closed nature of the center usually determines how fast or slow you can play! Don’t get caught off-guard.
The chess tactics in Anand — Lautier arise out of a wild struggle where calculation will decide the day. To find the possibilities, we need to look for checks, captures, and threats … and use our imagination. Don’t reject “strange” or “crazy” moves at first sight, because they just might work!
Black has play of his own, which in some ways makes things easier. White knows that if he doesn’t act urgently, the game will turn against him.
What did the future World Champion play, in what would become one of his most famous victories?
Chess computer software is extremely popular, and has been for a long time. A chess engine can analyze your games and give you an idea of how well or poorly you played. With ratings topping the 3400 mark, these monsters are several hundred points stronger than any human chess player, dead or alive.
…that is abused by less experienced players
Beware blindly following the output of a chess computer! An engine does not “understand” chess the same way a human does, and we cannot achieve the near-perfection in play that a computer can. When analyzing tactics the computer sees nearly everything, but what if you want to understand a position where pieces aren’t flying everywhere?
Here’s an example. You enter a game into ChessBase (or open one from a database). Then you open your favorite chess engine to analyze it, such as Fritz or Stockfish. How helpful might this be?
Let’s take the classic game Evans—Opsahl from the 1950 Dubrovnik Olympiad.
Evans-Opsahl, 1950, after 17 moves. I have opened Stockfish 11. How helpful is the engine, really?
The screenshot is not easy to see, so I’ll fill you in on some details. I turned on Stockfish 11 after black’s 17th move and let it analyze for awhile.
At 36 ply (half moves) or 18 full moves, it considers white’s best move to be 18.Rb2 for some strange reason, giving an evaluation of +/=0.68. This suggests white is slightly better. In a real game between humans, I totally disagree!
Situations like this usually arise from the Exchange Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5; other sequences of moves can reach this same position). After both players support their d-pawns, and castle, we get a Karlsbad pawn structure, like this:
Both sides hope to start a minority attack on the flank where they have less pawns! White plays on the queenside, and black on the kingside. The idea is to create weaknesses to attack later. White’s play is quicker and easier, but if black succeeds the reward is a dangerous assault on white’s king.
What the engine can’t tell you
Let’s take another look at the game position:
White is ready to play 18.b5! to break apart black’s queenside. Notice that white’s pieces are in position to pounce. Of course, the future five-time U.S. Champion did just that.
Black has not played in the most accurate manner, and his attack is nowhere near threatening enough to disturb white seriously. Things would look better for him if his knight was on a more threatening post.
But wait, there’s more…
I’d like to mention that if black had the move here, an interesting possibility would be to play 18…b5!? himself. That makes is much harder for white to break through, and black has only one weakness to defend, on c6, though it’s a very serious one. Slowing white’s queenside play would also give black time to organize counterplay against white’s kingside. Either that, or try to land the black knight on c4 where it shields the weak c6-pawn from white’s pieces:
After the computer suggestion 18.Rb2 the move 18…b5 gains even more punch, because if white now follows with 19.axb5 axb5:
You can’t go wrong with this classic by Ludek Pachman.
White’s heavy pieces trip over each other and struggle to fight for the newly-opened a-file!
A chess engine can’t explain all of that to you. You have to either read a middle game textbook (such as Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy), study well-annotated games from a database, or hire a coach. You can also read this blog regularly!
I could have left the engine on even longer, and maybe it would have chosen 18.b5 after all. It was the second-choice move with an evaluation of +/= 0.63. The point is, the computer couldn’t tell an inexperienced player the ideas behind any moves it suggests!
Evans was more than “slightly better” after 18.b5
The second player had to passively defend a weak structure for the rest of the game. In a practical game, this is a nightmare scenario. Opsahl finally succumbed after 81 moves.
Don’t let your guard down…and never assume all the chess tactics in a position have evaporated! A weaker player facing a stronger one might score a knockout because the higher-rated player doesn’t take the opponent seriously enough.
Remember: a player rated 200 points higher than his opponent should statistically score 76% — great, but nowhere near a certainty! Sit there and calculate as best you can, whether you are the favorite or the underdog.