A Foundation for Beginners Eighty Seven

We’re going to end our brief examination of the fork this week, moving onto the skewer and pin next week. Over the last month, we looked at a fork created by Black. While this fork, which at first glance seemed reasonable, fit the definition of this type of tactic, it fell short in the end. Today, I want to talk specifically about how Black should have viewed the position before considering the employment of the fork. This is important, which is why it warrants its own article. The question that needs to be asked about the initial position is should Black have considered the use of a tactic at this point in the game, given the position at the time of the tactic?

The answer is a resounding no! Set up the following position on the chessboard: The Black King on g8, Black pawns on f7, g7 and h7, a Black Bishop on f6, and a Black Knight on b6. Set up a White King on g1, White pawns on f2, g2, h2, and a7, a White Rook on f4, and a White Knight on d6 (the moves in this game were 1…Be5, 2. a8=Q…Nxa8, 3. Ra4…Nb6, 4. Ra6…Bxd6, 5. Rxb6). The game starts with Black to move.
There are two key pieces to look closely at, the White Rook and Black’s King. Seeing these two pieces and their relationship to the other pawns and pieces on the board would have made something blaringly clear: The Black King is positioned to be hit with a bank rank mate, and White has a piece, the Rook, that can deliver the game winning blow. There’s also the White pawn on a7 that is one square away from promotion. There are too many potential problems for Black that need to be addressed before considering any tactic.

One of the problems with learning tactics, especially with younger players, is the idea that using tactics every chance you get will make for an easy victory. While these young tacticians do win games against less tactics savvy players, all it takes is the discovery of a weakness in the tactician’s position to turn the tables. Beginners go tactics crazy to the point where they’re only analyzing their position in terms of potential tactical plays. While you’d think that it would be easy to notice potential back rank mates or other weaknesses during the endgame, when there are fewer pawns and pieces on the board, players still miss them because they’re too busy looking for a quick tactical strike that will give them a material advantage.

In short, beginners who have just started to have success with tactics become blinded to material elsewhere on the board. Board vision, seeing the relationship between all the pawns and pieces on the board, and their effect on your position, takes time to develop. Time is the initial problem here because you can’t speed it up and become a positional genius overnight. Is there a way to avoid falling victim to back rank mate when you haven’t fully developed your board vision?

One of the things I have my students do is to create an escape square for their King (Black could have played 1…h7 prior to launching the tactic) should they be in a similar position as our example game. I also recommend moving the King from the g file to the f file to avoid a back rank mate on the King-side (Queen-side castled Kings can employ the same ideas). I drill this idea in their heads until they do it automatically. Before launching any tactic, just ask yourself, is my King safe? While the fork we worked through over the last few months didn’t work in the end, the potential back rank mate was the bigger issue. Before considering any tactic, look for weaknesses in your position.

It’s human nature to get so excited about a potential attack and so sure that it won’t go wrong that you’ll miss weaknesses on your side of the board. In fact, it tends to be your side of the board that fails to be examined. When executing a tactic, you’re looking your opponent’s side of the board since that’s where the tactic generally takes place. You look carefully at the enemy pawns and pieces that can stop your piece from landing on the target square where the tactic takes place. However, you probably don’t see those same enemy pieces in terms of attacking your material on your side of the board.

You have to ask yourself, is my side of the board safe? Are there weaknesses that can become a greater threat to me than the threat my tactic poses for my opponent. Because positions can change dramatically from move to move, it appears that a tactic may not be able to be put off for a few moves. However, what good is a tactical play if you get checkmated before delivering it?

This idea of closely examining the board for weaknesses in your position prior to using a tactic is crucial. Not doing so can easily cost you the game. I’ve mentioned that you should look at any position from both sides of the board before committing to a move. This is how you find weaknesses. In our example game, spotting trouble was relatively easy: You had a King in a classic back rank mate position and an enemy piece able to deliver the mate. In the end, the question to ask is this, is my King safe, and is there a bigger threat my opponent can make to counter my tactical idea. Next week we move on to our next tactic. Keep this week’s ideas in mind because you’ll see a similar idea in next week’s position. See you then!

Hugh Patterson

Please follow and like us:
follow subscribe
Hugh Patterson

Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat). View all posts by Hugh Patterson

You May Also Like