Sunday, January 4, 2009



The When of Attack

There are many players who know only too well how to attack once they get the opportunity. Knowing when to attack is much more difficult, especially for players at club level.

Amongst the most common faults I have seen in my students' games are an apparent allergy to the exchange of queens and a will to attack from almost every position. This often means violating chess logic which might well demand that queens are exchanged, that you go for quiet positional pressure or try to neutralise your opponent's initiative. Learning this kind of discipline is very difficult, especially if you play for fun. But I should point out that if you want to make better results then you've got to do what the position requires.

Chess literature can be rather misleading in this respect. Everyone writes that you have to play according to an appropriate plan yet the games that tend to get published usually feature dramatic attacking play with material sacrifice and kings getting chased all over the board. I hate to disappoint you but such encounters do not represent the grim reality of the vast majority of chess games. Normally you should struggle for the d5 square or try to weaken your opponent's pawn structure. To try and attack in every game will have mixed results, brilliant success in one game and dismal failure in the next.

The following two games were played by Alan Silver, a player with a definite romantic streak who seems to try and bring off a brilliancy in every game. Sometimes he succeeds in playing a really nice game like this one from a tournament in Italy:

Silver A - Bella F
Sorrento 1997

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cd 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Be3

Let's not worry about the opening too much, neither player played very precisely in this part of the game. Silver is playing for an aggressive plan involving castling queenside; Black could have thrown a spanner in the works by playing ....Bb4 at various moments.

5...Qc7 6.Nc3 b5 7.Bd3 Bb7 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Nb3 d6 10.f4 Nf6 11.h3 Be7 12.Qf2 Nd7

Black is playing rather passively and there seems little reason to prevent 13.Bb6 (13...Qb8 would be a simple reply). He should have castled immediately.

13.O-O-O Na5

After 13... Bf6 White could try 14.Bxb5!? (14...Bxc3 15.Bxf6 Bxb2+ 16.Kxb2 Qxc6 leaves Black with a weak d6 pawn). Another possibility is 14.e5 de 15.Ne4!?, trying to come in on the weakened dark squares.

14.f5 Nxb3+ 15.ab Nf6?!

Black should have put this knight on e5, the square which 14.f5 surrendered.

16.fe fe 17.Qg3 b4

At this point I think Black could simply castle, when once again I see nothing wrong with his position. He had the option of doing this next move too.

18.Na4 g6?

The losing move, leaving his king in the middle one move too long. He should play 18... O-O and meet 19.Nc5 with 19...Bc8.

19.Nc5! Bc8 20.e5! dxc5 21.Bxg6+!! Kf8 22.Bh6+ Kg8 23.Be8+ Ng4 24.Qxg4+ Bg5+ 25.Qxg5+ 1:0

A sharp and attractive finale.

In this game everything went well because brilliant attacking chess was the right thing to do. But Silver's quest for beauty often leads him into trying for brilliancies when it would be better to play a quiet, dull but effective line. This next game shows will show you exactly what I mean:

Silver A - Pearson F
Crewe Congress 1998

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cd 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nxc6 dxc6?! 7.Qxd8+ Kxd8 8.Bf4

I would prefer to take space immediately with 8.e5! (8...Nd5 9.Ne4 intends 10.c4!).

8...Bb4 9.O-O-O+ Ke7 10.f3 Bxc3??

Black probably overlooked the following zwischenzug. He should play something like 10...Rd8 when I don't see any particular problems for him.

11.Bd6+ Ke8 12.bxc3 b6

Over the next few moves Black has trouble forming a plan and eventually he ends up shuffling to and fro without any idea whatsoever. His main problem is the situation of his king which in turn stops his rooks from coordinating so he might have considered 12... Nd7 13.Bc4 Nb6 14.Bb3 f6 intending 15...Kf7.

13.Bc4 Bb7 14.Rhe1 Rd8 15.f4 h6 16.f5 Bc8 17.Bb3 Rg8

Black should have tried something, anything, rather than sit and wait for the axe to fall. 17... Ng4!? might have caused more problems after, for example, 18.h3 Rxd6 19.Rxd6 Ne5 20.fe Ke7 21.Red1 fe. He would have a strong knight on e5 as compensation for the exchange.


Rejecting the first opportunity to cash in. White could win material with 18.Bb8 but this pawn-pinching move is hardly to Silver's taste. In any case it seems that Black can do nothing of consequence.

18...Rh8 19.g4 Rg8 20.c4 Rh8 21.e5 Nh7 22.h4?

An expansive attacking move, typical of White's style. Yet this really wasn't necessary and Black could now have wriggled out.

22...ef 23.Ba4 Bd7??

Yes, 23... fg was perfectly playable. Black gets out after either 24.Bxc6+ Bd7 25.e6 Bxc6 26.ef+ Kxf7; or 24.e6 fe 25.Bxc6+ Kf7. Nf8 25.Bc7!?

Still going for a brilliant and forceful finish when simply 25.Rf1 would leave Black in a truly disgusting position. White has a way to win after the text move with 28.Bxc6!, but relying on involved tactical lines is not an efficient way to bring home the bacon.

25...Rc8 26.e6! fe 27.fe Nxe6 28.Rxe6+??

Going for gold but missing completely. White should have played the mundane 28.Bxc6! after which 28...Rxc7 29.Rxe6+ Kd8 30.Red6 is winning.

28...Bxe6 29.Bxc6+ Kf7 30.Rf1+ Ke7 31.Re1 Rxc7 32.Bd5 Rf8 33.Bxe6 Kd6

Black is winning now but he allows White to escape with the following king march.

34.Bd5 Kc5 35.Re5 Kb4?! 36.Kb2 Rd8 37.c3+ Ka4?

37... Kc5 seems quite playable - there is no way to exploit the discovered check.

38.Be4 Rd2+ 39.Bc2+ Rxc2+ 40.Kxc2 Ka3 41.Kb1 Rf7 42.c5! bc 43.Rxc5 Ka4 44.Rc4+ Kb5 45.Re4 g5 46.hg hg 47.Re5+ Kc4 48.Rxg5 Kxc3 ½-½

In the end a lucky escape for White, which is horrifying when you look at the position after 17 moves.

Like Alan Silver, Gavin Cartwright is another out and out attacking player with an excellent feel for the initiative and ability to see combinations. He also has the same weakness in that he doesn't always choose the right moment to go for the jugular!

The following game is deeply instructive in that Black gets nowhere when he plays for mate on the kingside with 14...Qg5 and the rabid advance of his f-pawn. But when he finally admits that this was inappropriate and settles down to play an endgame, he goes on to win from a slightly worse position.

Carver R - Cartwright G
County Match 1997

1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.e3 e6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Be2 dxc4 7.Bxc4 Bb4?!

The plan I give on my video on this opening is to play for ...e6-e5 by putting the bishop on d6. If you want to prevent either Nb5 or Bb5 (White's two main ideas to counter this plan) you can invest a tempo on 7...a6.

8.Bd2 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 Ne4 10.Be2 Ne7 11.Ne5 Bxe2 12.Qxe2 Nd5 13.Rc1 O-O 14.O-O Qg5?!

The 'will to attack' gets the better of Cartwright and he chooses an inappropriate play. Black should be looking to play on the c-file with something like 14...c5 15.Rfd1 Ndxc3 16.bc Qa5.

15.Bd2 c6 16.Qd3 f5 17.Rfe1 Rf6 18.f3 Nxd2 19.Qxd2 f4!? 20.Ng4

It is better to play 20.e4 Ne3 21.Nc4 Nxc4 22.Rxc4 when Black's queen and rook would wonder what they are doing and the f4-pawn is weak. Now Black should have considered 20... fe 21.Nxf6+ Qxf6 with good compensation for the exchange.

20...Rg6 21.e4 Ne7 22.Rc5 Qh4 23.Qf2 Qxf2+

Finally admitting that there is no attack and going into a bad endgame. But once Black admits this and starts to do what the position requires, his prospects improve dramatically.

24.Nxf2 Rd8 25.Nd3?

Over the next few moves White indulges in a serious of superficial short-term moves which effectively wreck his position. 25.Rd1 b6 26.Rc2 e5 27.Rcd2 ed 28.Rxd4 Rxd4 29.Rxd4 looks better for White because of the usual problem of the badly placed rook on g6.

25...Rf6 26.e5?!

Somehow White should try to do without this. 26.Rc4 b5 27.Rc2 Rxd4 28.Ne5 Rf8 29.Nxc6 Nxc6 30.Rxc6 Rd2 31.Rxe6 should still be ok for him.

26...Rf7 27.Re4 g5 28.Nb4? Nf5 29.Nc2 Rfd7 30.Rc4 Kf7 31.Kf2 Ke7 32.g4?!

This doesn't improve matters it weakens f3.

32...Nh4 33.Rc3 Rd5 34.b4

Had it been played earlier this might well have been a good idea. Now it seems to do nothing more than give Black pressure on the a-file.

34...a5! 35.a3 ab 36.ab Ra8 37.Re2 Ng6 38.Rc5 Kd7 39.Rd2 b6 40.Rxd5+ cd 41.Ke2 Nh4 42.Kf2 Ra2 43.Ke2 Rb2 44.Kd3?

Accelerating his demise but I don't believe White will be able to hold this anyway in the long run.

44...Rb3+ 45.Ke2 Nxf3 46.Rd3 Rxd3 47.Kxd3 Nxh2 0:1

An excellently played endgame on Black's part. It just goes to show that mate is not the only way to win games, technique can be used every bit as effectively.

GM Davies' Chessville Home Page

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