Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Calculating Forcing Moves: Defensive Idea 5 (Counterattack) - Equal Threats

I am very glad to announce that I have figured out how to embed positions from chess.com into blogger!!  This will be my first post trying this out, so please let me know what you think and bear with me if it doesn't work quite right.

In my last post I gave an overview of the 5th defensive idea, counterattacking.  All counterattacks begin by creating an equal or greater threat (EGT), and there are three distinct goals when conducting a counterattack: to win, draw, or to defend.

In this post I'll  explore the idea of creating equal threats which is important to understanding greater threats, because not all equal threats are actually equal.  There are three elements to understanding an equal threat:  the value of the pieces, whether they are defended/undefended, and tempo (turn to move, capture-checks, or other intermezzos). This all seems very simple until you add all three elements into one position, and suddenly the position becomes exceedingly difficult to calculate. So pay attention...you'll need to know this later!!

First let's consider value.  To create an equal threat you need to consider the value of both pieces involved in the threat.  Let's start simple.  Say a pawn is attacking your queen.  An equal threat would be to attack your opponent's queen with one of your pawns:

So far so good. But now let's look at how the next element impacts value, which is when the piece you are counterattacking against is defended.  Like in the above example, since both queens were undefeneded it actually did not matter what we used to counter-attack.  However, when the target piece is defended the value of piece you use to counterattack becomes VERY important.  Take the following position.

Like the first position, the white queen is attacked by a pawn and white can counterattack against the black queen using his pawns (on f3 or h3) or his knight.  If the black queen was not defended, it wouldn't matter which piece white chooses.  However, since the black queen is defended the value of your counterattacking piece is extremely important!

Now let's add in the final element of tempos.  Here we have three key elements of tempo (time) that impact counterattacks:  turn to move, capture-checks, and intermezzos.

There might be a better way of explaining this (I haven't seen it explained very well anywhere else), but the idea "turn to move" is that after the first set of captures there are more captures on the board, or some sort of tactic.  Here is a simple example:

Again, white's queen was attacked by a pawn and, since the black queen was defended, he counterattacked with the same value piece (pawn, instead of knight).  However, after the queens came off the board it was BLACK's turn to move and he simply captured white's knight!  Always keep this in mind when considering equal counterattacks -- if you're the defender, just remember it will be your OPPONENT's move after the initial captures.  I'm interested in reading Victor Charushin's book The Steeplechase to see how he treats this issue.

The next tempo element is capture-checks.  Capture-checks can occur at any point in a sequence of moves, and it is extremely important to remember that after you (or your opponent) use your move to deal with the check, it goes back to being your opponent's move again.  Use this to your advantage and make a point of noting and prioritizing capture-checks in your calculations.  Here's another simple example to demonstrate the idea:

Here white's queen is attacked by black's knight and, since the black queen is defended, he tries to create an equal threat by attacking black's defended queen with an equal valued piece.  But due to the capture-check, white only has time to deal with the check and has no time to follow through with his own counterattack!

The final element of tempo is intermezzos (also known as "zwischenzug", or in-between moves).  This is when your opponent is able to get out of the threat you created by creating another, more powerful threat, thrown in the middle of your variation.  It is essentially a counterattack.  Here are two simple examples using our topic of equal threats:

Here we have the same position from the beginning of this post where the white queen is attacked by a black pawn, and white creates an equal counterattack against black's queen with his own pawn. But this time black plays the in-between capture check (Qxg2+) winning white's pawn, before capturing the queen. This type of move is also called desperado, which is when you have a piece that is going to be captured and "sacrifice" the piece for the most valuable piece you can.  In this case the important issue is time, so the even though the pawn on g2 is not worth much, the time gained from the check is what is truly valuable.  [Thanks Tomasz for pointing that out!]

This next position shows another simple example of an in-between move:

Here again we have the same position from the beginning of this post where the white queen is attacked by a black pawn, and white creates an equal counterattack with his own pawn...only this time he chose the wrong pawn and black played the in-between check, moving the queen to safety, before taking white's queen.

The last position I'll share combines all three ideas of creating an equal counterattack (value of the pieces, defended targets, and time).  Enjoy!!


  1. Sorry, but for now I do NOT see any embedded diagram or games. There are chess.com screens (private messages) and nothing else. Please try again.

  2. Wow! From now - the LAST second - it finally works (I do not know why, but now it works!!!).

  3. Wow. This post was really well written! I tried to refute it as much as possible, but it was extremally HARD! That's damn good thing to you my friend! :).

    The ONLY improvement I could find is to add the additional description to the before the last diagram (second from the bottom). What do I mean? 1. h3 Qxg2+ (!) 2. Kxg2 axb5 - and this way Black wins a pawn. Why do I emphasize (stress) this? I think it is a very practical approach as most often some "intermezzo" are done with a very simple move with check! I do not know if you use my suggestion, but I am really grateful for your inspiring posts.

    BTW. Would you be able to replace the picture at the previous post (overview of the 5th defensive idea) - as it is quite hard to recognize (read it clearly). I would be grateful for that!

    1. Qxg2+ is a very good point and it demonstrates the intermezzo idea perfectly. Thanks, I'll add that line!

      Yeah, I've been struggling to get that diagram to display properly. I'll give it another shot tomorrow.

    2. Ok, I added a new diagram showing the in-between capture check. Thanks for picking that up!!

      Also, I made some changes to the blogger template and hopefully the diagram looks better now. Let me know what you think...still not perfect, but hopefully better :)

    3. (Answer to your two previous posts):

      Thanks for adding that "in between-check" line. I am not sure if you have ever heard such term as "desperado". It means that the piece that must be lost - sacrifices itself for the biggest possible value (in other words: takes the most valuable opponents piece the following move).

      That's why I noticed missing line (Qxg2+) - simply because I understand this concept (i.e. desperado) very well and I exploited it a dozen of times in my games.

      I am not sure if you know what I mean, but please read carefully the text below (the first sentence is from your post - I simply added another ones to make the text as clear and valuable as possible). Of course you can use it (in any way) to improve your great articles (posts).

      "But this time black plays the in-between capture check (Qxg2+) winning white's pawn, before capturing the queen.... This type of move is called desperado. The simple explanation of such move: it is when you move your attacked piece (that is going to be lost) and capture the most valuable piece (most often - it sacrifices itself for the biggest value)" instead of making another "passive" move.

      Now I think your article will be a really valuable explanation - as there are a few nice examples and all of them are well described. Probably most chess players will be able to understand this idea very well. At least - I cannot find any other drawbacks or "missing text".

      BTW. The diagram (table) looks quite well now - thanks for your correction. And the "interactive diagrams" looks PERFECT! (superb clear). You may think about the size (maybe 25-33% less than now) would look much better. Now the "interactive diagrams" fills about 85-90% of the screen. In my opinion it is too big for optimal reading the text and replaying the examples.

    4. Turns out tweeking the chess.com embed board is a bit trickier than I though, but I'll see what I can do. I am indeed familiar with desperado, great point! I'll add that too. Thanks again Tomasz.

  4. As your proof readear and editor... it is my obligation to point out the mistakes or improvements ;) :). Your posts are worthy to be converted into the book. Of course it is just a starting point, but after about one year of posting and making a decision (to turn these posts into the book) - it will be possible to create a nice chess book. Such a great chess explanations cannot be available only at electronic version!

    BTW. Thanks for taking my corrections into your posts improvement! I am really glad to help you make it better and better! :)