I ran across this position in the excellent and useful book ‘Fundamental Checkmates’ by Antonio Gude. It’s a fantastic manual exploring the mechanisms of attack, and I’ll probably use it for more posts in the future.
This position struck me for a few reasons that I wanted to share here. It’s Black to play and win, and the ‘solution’ is one that Gude calls ‘one of the most beautiful moves in chess’. I certainly think it’s one of the coolest combinations I’ve seen, incorporating several useful tactical concepts, as well as being evocative in other more philosophical ways. Let’s check out the tactics first.
You’ll notice that although White is a piece and two pawns up in material, their position is pretty garbage–the queenside rook is completely shut out of play, and the king is just waiting to be mated on the side of the board.
But the way ahead isn’t exactly obvious at first. Somehow White is defending from at least the surface level threats. 1…axb4+ seems tasty, but is met by 2. Bxb4. The knight could deliver checkmate on c2, if not for the watchful gaze of the rook on h2. 1…Qxb4+ fails for the same reason as 1…axb4+, or does it? Let’s look closer.
1…Qxb4+ must be met by 2. Bxb4. Now, 2…axb4+ still fails to produce mate because the white queen is defending the b4-square. Here, we need an in-between move, both in the sense of ‘in-between’ the moves of the checkmating combination, and ‘in-between’ the queen and the b4-square.
2…Rd2! does it, and this is Gude’s ‘beautiful move’. It’s not difficult to see why–there is no response that can save white:
3. Qxd2 fails to 3…Nc2+ 4. Qxc2 axb4# (removing the queen from the e1-a5 diagonal, and therefore the protection of the b4-square)
3. Bxd2 Nc2# (the black rook blocks the view of White’s h2 rook, allowing the black knight free access to c2)
3. Rxd2 axb4# (here White’s own rook blocks the queen’s protection of b4)
It’s a stunning combination, sacrificing (essentially) two heavy pieces and winning by tangling up White’s forces.
Less concretely, this position, and others like it, remind me of the dynamic potential that our chess games can have. As club players, we spend a lot of time ‘in the rules’ of chess: the point value of the pieces, opening principles, theoretical draws, and on and on. Some of these concepts we might not even fully understand, but we know that somehow, knights are better than bishops in closed positions, and that opposite colored bishop endgames are drawn.
I don’t think these are bad concepts, but like most concepts, they’re only useful insofar as they don’t become dogmatic strictures that we adhere to uncritically. In this position, black saw enough to know that there was still something worth playing for, despite the concrete and materialistic evaluation of the board. Or perhaps there are even still deeper principles of chess beyond the ones published in books, or programmed into computers. Perhaps there’s something about the dynamic potential of a chess game that we club players miss when we become too dogmatic about our rating or whatever other easy to memorize saying we’ve just learned.
Play creatively! Look for those ways to make a position wild and scary. Don’t play rules chess. Play like a human (or don’t, these are just suggestions, after all:))