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Blow up your opponent's position tactically!

Assessing the tactical elements / combinational motifs

Tactical combinations do not just magically appear. They are usually a logical consequence of the position. [However players like Tal have a remarkable habit of pulling combinations out of the air!!] .The tactical elements and questions which can provide useful clues that there may be an advantageous combination at one's disposal include the following:-
Poor King Safety
How can the weak squares around the oppoent's king be exploited?
What manoevers could you play to get attacking these squares?
What are the opponents king's key defensive pieces? Could these be decoyed/deflected?
What lines can be opened against the opponents king?
What are the loose/ Unprotected Pieces?
Could I loosen any pieces? Could I encourage any pieces to be unprotected?
Overloaded pieces
Could I exploit overloaded pieces?
Pinned pieces
Can I exploit the pins? Can I create new pins?
A particular piece arrangement
Is there something remotely silly about the unique placement of the opponents pieces, e.g. do they allow a simple back row mate with a little help from me!
Are there many pieces away from the defence of the king on the other side of the board?

These tactical elements are often interwined with each other. Therefore the following examples generally reflect the exploitation of a number of the above at the same time.

King safety examples


The King is generally the weakest piece on the chessboard in the middlegame (but may prove to be a very valuable resource in the endgame!). If you lose a pawn, it is not the end of the game. Even if you have your whole queenside demolished, it is still not the end of the game. If your king gets mated however, that is terminal.

Grandmasters are generally very very good at ripping open king positions- whether they look weak or not!.

The three Grandmasters Kasparov, Tal and Fischer in particular have completely destroyed their opponents kings from positions where there does not seem to be a danger superficially. Lets look at King safety from the perspectives of the castled king, the king that has moved, and the king in the centre.

Castled king examples

Castling does not automatically guarantee king safety!. Nor does not having any "obvious" weaknesses! This is where the penetrating glance of tactics can reveal beautiful hidden resources in the position.

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Kasparov vs Gelfand Linares 1993

Blacks king does not superficially look very weak. However weaknesses are weaknesses when they can be exploited!. Kasparov ripped open the lines against the opponents King from this position with the following continuation:-

19.Ndxe6!! fxe6 20.Nxe6 Qa7 21.e5 dxe5 22.Nxf8 Bxf8 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Rd8 Nd7 25.Qg4 1-0

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Kasparov vs Kengis, Riga 1995

Here blacks King does not visibly look that weak, but Kasparov finished it off with

20.Bf6!! Qb5 21.Rg3 g6 22.Qd1 exf5 23.Rxf5 Rb6 24.Qxh5 1-0

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Fischer-Addison Palma de Mallorca 1970

Addison's position does not look very well here, espcially considering there is no safe haven for his king. Fischer finished off the game with Rxd5! The game continuation was:-

cxd5 22.Nxd5 Qxb2 23.Rb1 Qxa2 24.Rxb7 1-0

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Tal-Koblents 1965

Tal did not bother moving his queens knight in this position. Instead he played Rd3!! for a full scale tactical assault against the castled king. Black did not last much longer after this move :-

bxc3 17.Bxc3 Qxa2 18.Rh3 Bxe4 19.g6 Bxg6 20.Qxh7+ Bxh7 21.Rxg7+ Kh8 22.Rhxh7# 1-0

The King that has been forced to move

The King that has been forced to move is very unfortunate. The nice luxury of castling has been taken away. The king will be struggling manually to get into a safe position, and one is praying that the opponent is going to give us just one or two extra moves to run your slow running king into a safe position. [It is even more unfortunate when you also happen to be playing against someone over 2700 FIDE! or one of those damn computers!]

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Anand vs Kasparov PCA World Championship match, 1995

Here White's king is visibly weak. Kasparov unleashes a move that fully exploits its precarious position:- Ne4!! 0-1 because of the variation fxe4 Rf6+ Ke1 Rxe4+ Kd1 Rxc4 which leaves Whites king defenceless against threats such as Rd6 winning White's queen.

The uncastled King

The uncastled king provide a time window for exploitation sometimes. One has to move fast to catch an uncastled king!

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Fischer vs Rubinetti, Parma de Mallorca 1970

The black king is still unfortunately in the centre, and fischer exploits this fact to the maximum not giving the opponent much time to do anything with Bd5!! The game continued:-

12..exd5 13.exd5+ Kd7 14.b4 Na4 15.Nxa4 bxa4 16.c4 Kc8 17.Qxa4 Qd7 18.Qb3 g5 19.Bg3 Nh5 20.c5 dxc5 21.bxc5 Qxd5 22.Re8+ Kd7 23.Qa4+ Bc6 24.Nxc6 1-0

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Tal-Onj Jok Hava 1966

This is really impressive considering it still looks like a standard opening position!
The game continued e5! Bb7 11.Qh3 dxe5 12.Nxe6 fxe6 13.Qxe6+ Be7 14.Bxf6 Nxf6 15.Bxb5+ Kf8 16.fxe5 Ba3 17.exf6 1-0

Loose/Unprotected Pieces examples

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Ljubojevic vs Kasparov, Treppner 1990

The Bishop on g2 is unprotected. Kasparov exploits this weakness with Bxa2+ The game continued:-

Bxa2+ 28.Ka1 Qa4 29.Qxa2 Qxa2+ 30.Kxa2 Rxc2+ 31.Kb3 Rxg2 32.Kc4 Rxh2 33.Kd5 f6 34.g5 hxg5 35.Ke6 g4 36.Rd8+ Kh7 37.Kf7 Rh5 0-1

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Uhlmann vs Fischer, Palma de Mallorca 1970

Here Fischer exploits the slight looseness of the two white bishops to snatch a pawn with Nxe4! The game continuation was:- Rxe4 14.Bg5 Qe8 15.Bd3 Bxf3 16.Qxf3 Rb4 and Fischer went on to win comfortably.

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Spassky vs Fischer, Reykjavic 1972 World Championship

Here Fischer exploits the slight looseness of the Bishop on e1 with Bxa4! 0-1 If Qxa4 then Qxe4 double attacks the bishop on e1 and the g2 square.

Pinned pieces

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Bareev vs Kasparov, Paris 1991

The pawn on f2 is pinned against the King. Kasparov used this fact, and finished the game off abruptly with Rg3!

Combinations based on the particular peculiarites of the position

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Timman vs Kasparov, Tilburg 1991

Here Kasparov simultaneously exploits a number of "little factors" in this position:-

The slight weaknesses around the White king- especially f2

The potential looseness of the knight on d4

The pressure on the e file

The latent power of the bishop on g7

He played the following continuation:- Nxf2!! 20.Qxf2 Ng4 21.Qf3 Nxe3 22.Re1 Bxd4 23.Nd5 Ng4+ 24.Bxd4 Qxe1+ 25.Rxe1 Rxe1+ and blacks material proved decisive.

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