Légal and Philidor

I played nine games in last week’s club online blitz tournament. I won one game with Philidor’s Legacy and almost won another with Légal’s Mate.

Here’s the smothered mate, against a strong blitz player whose weakest point is his opening play.

I’d seen this coming a few moves ago but now realised that 15.. Nf2+ 16. Kg1 Nh3+ 17. Kh1 Qg1+?? didn’t work because of 18. Nexg1! when the queen is covering f2. So I played 15.. Bh6 to distract the queen: 16. Qxh6 Nf2+ 17. Kg1 Nh3+ 18. Kh1 Qg1+!, when he resigned.

The Légal’s Mate game was against a young and inexperienced player. I was white and opened:

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 d6
3. Bc4

I like playing this move because there’s always the chance of a queen sacrifice.

3.. Nc6
4. Nc3

Here, I usually encounter 4.. Bg4 when 5. Nxe5 is mate in 2 if Black takes my queen, but loses to Nxg4, defending the bishop. So instead I play 5. h3, hoping for 5.. Bh5? 6. Nxe5! Nxe5! 7. Qxh5 Nxc4 8. Qb5+ when I come out a pawn ahead. If they haven’t seen the idea before, they’ll assume I’ve blundered and take my queen, with Bxf7+ and Nd5# to follow.

In this game I was faced with:

4.. Nd4

Now my best move is probably Nxd4, but I want to keep the mate on the table so played:

5. d3

As anticipated, he replied:

5.. Bg4

Now I belatedly realised that 6. Nxe5? dxe5 7. Qxg4 runs into a fork: 7.. Nxc2+, so gave up on the idea, played 6. h3 instead and was rewarded when my opponent hung a piece a few moves later.

After the game it occurred to me that I should have played 5. 0-0 instead. I’m sure he would still have played 5.. Bg4 in reply, and now 6. Nxe5! is good for me. 6.. Bxd1?? still allows 7. Bxf7+ Ke7 8. Nd5#, while after 6. dxe5 7. Qxg4 Nc2 8. Rb1 White is a lot better. Would he have taken my queen if I’d played this line? I’ll have to ask him and find out.

It’s important for every chess player to recognise standard checkmate patters such as these, but you also have to make sure they work. If you’re going for Légal’s Mate you have to make sure you really do have a mate if your opponent takes your queen, and also work out what’s happening if he takes your knight instead.

While I was writing this article I spotted this position which US National Master Todd Bryant had posted on Twitter, asking for White’s best move.

It looks very tempting to play 1. Qxg7! Kxg7 2. Rg1+ Kf8 3. Rh8#, a fairly standard idea, but unfortunately Black has 2.. Qg5!!, when the king can escape to e7 and Black will remain a piece ahead. White should prefer the simple capture 1. Rxe3, or the more complex 1. Rg1 g6 2. Qf4 threatening Qh6, both of which should win easily.

Two important lessons:

  1. Everyone should know the most common checkmate patterns. There are several books on the market which will help you with this.
  2. If you’ve seen what looks like a brilliant sacrifice, make doubly sure it works before playing it. At club level, more games are lost by unsound combinations than are won by sound combinations.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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