Sunday, November 28, 2010

Analysing Difficult Positions

This game is complicated. I am Black. In this online game, White threw everything except the kitchen sink to conjure up an extremely powerful attack on Black's king.

It is Black's turn.

If this was a blitz game, there is no way anyone could see the motifs and the correct move.

If Black can hold on to his position he would win. In razor sharp positions, where a single move can lead to a win or a loss, it is vital to be able to understand the "truth" of the position.

How would you analyse this position? If you were Black, what would you play?

In this game, I lost because I failed to understand the position.

If you do not want to know the answer, STOP READING NOW!! :)


The way to tackle this problem was to first of all, understand how to go about analysing this.

Think for a moment, if this was White's turn, what would White play?

The answer is obvious.

2. f7! Now White is threatening mate on g8 so the next move is forced.
2. ... Bg7 (any other move is instant mate after 3. Qxh6#)

With this in mind, we know that once the h6 pawn falls it is checkmate.

So what would White play as a followup move?
3. Rh2! with the intention of 4. Rxh6 Bxh6 5. Qxh6# (again!)

Ok. So how do I stop the Rook from sacrificing itself on h6? What this means is that Black has only 2 moves to prevent checkmate.

The Black Queen is way offside. The light-squared Bishop on c4 is hindered by the d4 pawn. True, it can temporarily sacrifice itself with Bd3 but after Rxd3, Black can save the situation since it requires 2 moves by White to reposition itself back on the h-file. This can be saved but is there a better solution (remember the axiom "if you find a good move, look for a better one")?

The Rook on a8 takes 3 moves to reposition itself to the h-file. This is far too late.

How about 1.... b5 trying to pin the White Queen and stopping f7? The problem comes again.
2. Rh2 and now preparing 3. Rxh6+ Bxh6 4. Qxh6 Kg8 5. Qg7# (another mate!)

So what is left? It's the Black Queen.

Is there a way to stop the Rook from entering the h-file with the Queen? Well, given that the Black Queen is on a light square, it needs 3 moves to get to the h-file but the problem is that if the Queen retreats to b7 or c8, White will play f7 and the 7th rank is totally cut off for the Black Queen. It's starting to look grim for Black.

What now? Now that we've identified the threats and possible solutions. Let's look at this position now, with a fresh pair of eyes.

So we know that the Queen retreat doesn't work, the Rook takes too long to lift itself and the c4 Bishop (short of sacrificing itself for tempi) cannot go back in time and b5 pawn moves doesn't work either.

Now imagine if White has a chance to play Rh2, where would you put the Black Queen if you have free rein? If the Queen is on the 1st rank to give check to the White king, then after ....Qf1 it is Black who is now giving checkmate. In other words, if we can find a way to get the Queen to f1 in 2 moves, we can stop Rh2.

The solution to this predicament has to be 1. ....Qa4!! intending .... Qd1+ Kg2 and then Qf1# (if White tries Rh2).

So the correct move to stop this is 1.... Qa4!!

Shocking, isn't it? :)


  1. Yes, a brilliant tactical move as the rook is overworked. It seems that another key to this position is to realize that Black is up two bishops, so no need to resort to do anything too desperate, e.g., 1..dxe6?, 2.f7 Bg7, 3.Rh8 Be6, 4.Rxh6 Bxh6, 5.Qxh6+ Bh7, 6.Qc3 mate.

  2. Oops, 6.Qf6 mate, it's those upside-down boards. ;-)

  3. Thanks LinuxGuy for your comments.

    Sorry about the upside down boards. LOL. I thot it might help to see the position better from the view of the defender.

    At first glance, it looks like Black can hold but suddenly, if one doesn't spot the Rh2 and the Rook sac on h6, then Black loses instantly so every Black tempi is so precious.

  4. Tanc, this is a fun position because it's one of those that perfectly illustrate queen maneuvering against a king. I don't see these too often.

    I figure out one possible line after ..Qa4 is Rxd (to avoid a queen trade on e4), Qe8 f7, Qe3+ Kh2, Qf2+ Kh3, Bf1+ Kg4, Bd2+ Kh3 (to avoid Be7 mate), Qf1+ Kh2, Bf3 and mate on next move.

  5. I'm afraid you are quite mistaken in one aspect. Look at the board: Black queen at a4 is on a white diagonal. She cannot go to c1 but d1, which is covered by the white rook. The sequence you outline is impossible.

    However, the move to Qa4 does prevent Rh2, since he now must protect the d1 square to prevent black Qd1+, which would lead to Kg2 then Qf1#. You've neutralised the rook by forcing him into a defensive role instead of supporting an assault, and the white queen alone or with just a pawn cannot force checkmate.

  6. lordzontar90: Thanks for spotting that mistake. I've corrected it.

    LinuxGuy: :) It is extremely fun. This position is a lot more complex than I was initially led to believe. Lots of twists and turns if you're not careful. :)