As we grow as chess players, our style evolves. This happens naturally as our positional judgement deepens. We gain a better understanding of when and how to attack, of where it makes sense and where we are just using wishful thinking.
For most of my chess development, I’ve been an aggressive player. I started with 1.e4 and 2.Qh5 in more games than I care to admit. The King’s Gambit played a large role in my opening repertoire. My entire chess strategy was 1. Develop pieces, and 2. Throw pieces at the enemy King. Crude, but if your opponent makes one mistake you win in 18 moves, so that’s pretty nice.
Along the way, though, I gained a much stronger positional grasp of the game, and this greatly curtailed my attacking tendencies. When I did attack, they were usually because the position demanded it, not because I felt like it. Here are some examples of my game maturing over the years.
[Note: this is the final part of a four-part series on chess attack. Part One is about attacking the uncastled King. Part Two is on attacking the castled King, and Part Three is about my pet attacking openings.]
Game 1: Brennan – Smithy, 2001
I was rated about 1500 at the time, and I ‘sacrificed’ a piece in the opening. My opponent kept trying to take more and more material afterwards, which gave me a chance to turn my blunder into an attacking gem.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4
I knew very little about opening theory at the time. I’m not sure if I invented the Falkbeer Countergambit by myself or I learned it somewhere. Anyway, count on me to play the most aggressive version possible!
4.Nc4 Nf6 5.Bb5+ c6 6.Ba4 Bc5 7.h3 0-0 8.b3
White tries to find a way to bring his c1-Bishop into the game … instead of, I don’t know, trying to castle. This position is already difficult for White, but don’t worry, I blow it. I can’t look away from the weakened diagonal e1-h4, and I decide to go for a check straight away… instead of, you know, playing b5 and just winning a piece.
8… Nxd5 9.Nxe4 Qh4+ 10.g3 Qh6 11.Nxc5 b5
I’d be lying if I said any of this was planned. I do manage to win my piece back, but White gains a much better position.
12.Bxb5 cxb5 13.Qf3 Rd8 14.c4 bxc4 15.bxc4 Re8+ 16.Ne2 Na6
White saw my uncoordinated pieces and jumped at the opportunity. True, he is set to win a piece … but what about his King?
17.Nxa6 Bxa6 18.Qxd5 Rad8 19.Qg2 Bxc4
Suddenly the tables have turned! Black is a down a piece, but White is undeveloped and all of Black is attacking.
Note that the position is completely open. These are my best positions, especially as a youngster. If the game opened up, I generally won it, and if it remained closed and blocked, I generally lost. Here is no exception. I played poorly during the early middlegame, but once my opponent opened the position for me I was lights out.
20.0-0 Rxe2 21.Rf2 Qb6 22.Kh2 Rxf2 0-1
Poor White. He tried to sidestep one pin only to fall into another. Of course, this game isn’t anything special, as it’s just two low-rated players trading mistakes back and forth. It does show something useful, though. When young me couldn’t attack, I didn’t know what to do … but once the position opened and I had a target, I was pretty darn good.
Game 2: Smithy – Stejam, 2003
This game shows that I wasn’t afraid to make incorrect sacrifices. My play is slightly more sophisticated, but only slightly. I know some positional ideas now, but once I don’t know what else to do, I again rush my pieces at the King.
1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qe5+ 4.Be2 c6 5.d4 Qc7 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.0-0 Bf5
My opponent plays his pet defence to 1.e4. It’s not as bad as it looks. Better, in my opinion, would be 7…e6, then Be7, 0-0, b6, Bb7 and playing it like a Karpov Caro-Kann. Assuming you like the Karpov variation of the Caro-Kann, you get a pretty similar position. Anyway, back to attacking.
8.Re1 e6 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 Nbd7 11.Ne5
I don’t know what to do, so I advance my pieces towards the enemy King. Okay, maybe my positional-sense isn’t that much more developed.
11… Nxe5 12.dxe5 Nd5 13.Nxd5 cxd5 14.Bf4 Rc8 15.c3 a6 16.a4 g6
My opponent makes a poor move, both objectively (Bc5 was better) and psychologically, as I now see a big weakness on his Kingside.
17.Bg5 Bg7 18.Bf6 0-0 19.Re3
Not knowing what else to do, time to start massing pieces near the enemy King again.
19… Qc4 20.Qd2 b5 21.Rh3 h5 22.Rxh5
See? I’m completely not afraid of incorrect sacrifices! To be fair, this does lead to a draw with perfect play, but I thought I was winning. I kept checking and rechecking the variations, because my opponent was something like 200 rating points higher than me, and no one with that high of a rating could overlook something like this, right?
22… gxh5 23.f3??
I saw at the very last second that my planned Qg5 falls for Qg4!, with an X-ray defence of the g7-mating square. Not knowing what else to do, I play f3, preventing Qg4 … and losing instantly to Qc5+, Re8 and then Qf8, defending my threats. Fortunately, Black instead plays …
23… Bxf6 24.exf6 Qh4 25.Qh6 Qxf6 26.Qxf6
And he then resigned in a few moves. Okay, so my attack wasn’t sound, but it was fairly creative. Also, I played 16.a4! at one point, a positional Queenside space grab! I never would have thought of that a year previously! See, I’m evolving as a chess player!
Example 3: Smithy – Pushtiu, 2007
This game was played around the time I was giving up chess. I was firmly in the 1800-range, and this game shows a marked contrast in approach. Honestly, it’s one of my favourites.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nf6 3.cxd5 Nxd5 4.e4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nf3 Be7 7.Bc4 0-0 8.0-0 Nc6
I’ve emerged from the opening with a space advantage. I now use that to secure a different positional advantage.
9.e5 Nd5 10.Ne4 f5 11.exf6 Bxf6 12.Nxf6+ Nxf6
I still have my space advantage, but I now have the two Bishops and a big glaring weakness to exploit on e6. True, I have an isolated pawn myself, but I’m not worried about that. In fact, around this time, I loved playing with the IQP. If anything, I thought it was another advantage for me.
13.Re1 Qd6 14.b3 Nd5 15.Ne5 Nxe5 16.dxe5 Qd8
My position continues to improve. Yes, Black has a great Knight on d5, but his Bishop is terrible. By contrast, all my pieces are great. Okay, so my one Rook is passive, but in two moves it will be sitting pretty. That’s pretty obvious. It’s not obvious how Black will continue his development.
Here, I thought for ages, and I came up with a clear plan to put all my pieces on great squares and start a vicious attack. I put more thought into this series of moves than in the first two games I shared combined.
17.Qc2 c6 18.Qe4 Qe7 19.Bd3 g6 20.Bh6
Here we see how I maneuvered my Queen and Bishop to make a powerful battery, forcing the weakness g6, which allowed my other Bishop to get a great square.
21.Qg4 Bd7 22.Rad1 Be8 23.h4!
All of my pieces are great, and now I bring my pawns into play, forging more weaknesses. Notice how I’m using more than Rook lifts to attack now!
23… Qc7 24.h5 Ne7 25.hxg6 hxg6 26.Bxg6
The attack went like clockwork. True, Black didn’t defend with the best moves, but even best play gives me a sizable advantage. What’s interesting to look at here is how, despite thinking attack for the last ten moves, I don’t hesitate to go into an endgame given the chance.
26… Nxg6 27.Qxg6+ Kh8 28.Qxe6 Qe7 29.Qxe7 Rxe7 30.Bg5 Rh7 31.e6 Bg6 32.e7 1-0
I consider this one of my greatest attacking games ever, even though it didn’t lead to mate and I didn’t need to sacrifice any material. It was completely different than my other games, wasn’t it? Instead of blindly throwing my pieces at the King (or hanging them accidentally!), I built up pressure, got some advantages, got Black passive and then launched an easy, foolproof attack in short order.
Years later, when I got back into chess, I honed this style even more. Give me a risk-free space advantage and I go to town.
Game 4: Smithy – Marco, 2014
This game was played right before I decided to come back to chess. Seriously, if I don’t play this game, I might not have returned to chess. I was rusty and my opening was inaccurate as hell, but once I got my space advantage things went happy pretty fast. Once more, notice the complete difference in approach compared to my first few games.
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.Be2 e6 6.0-0 Be7 7.h3 Bh5 8.c4 Nb6
As per usual, I have a space advantage in the Alekhine’s defence. Just as a fun fact, one of my early chess rivals always played the Alekhine, and he usually crushed me quickly. I have a lot of respect for this opening, and perhaps PTSD flashbacks kept me passive over the next few moves.
9.exd6 cxd6 10.b3 0-0 11.Bb2 Bf6 12.Nc3 N8d7 13.Qd2 a6
I calmly finish my development, getting a normal position. My opponent, evidently unsure of how to play against such a slow approach, has misplaced his pieces. I immediately jump on that, seizing Queenside space. How does that lead to a Kingside attack? Just watch.
14.a4 d5? 15.a5 Nc8 16.cxd5 b6 17.Ne5!?
I could have tried to win a pawn with dxe6, but this seemed even better. Black here contorts himself into knots to keep material parity, but watch what happens to our respective positions in the process.
17… Bxe2 18.Qxe2 Bxe5 19.dxe5 exd5 20.Nxd5 bxa5
Black has played somewhat ingeniously to keep material even … unfortuantely, it’s at the cost of a completely losing position. All of his pieces are passive, and all of my pieces have fantastic scope. In fact, he is now helpless to face the coming onslaught. Literally. It only lasts three more moves.
21.Rfd1 Ra7 22.Qg4 Qe8 23.e6 1-0
White has about eight-thousand threats here, including mating on g7, taking the Knight, forking on f6 if the Knight moves, discovered attacks on the Knight-d7, winning the a5-pawn and using the Rook lift (my favourite!) from d3 to g3 to add even more pressure. Yeah, Black is lost.
This game felt so easy and natural, it helped push me back into chess, and the rest is history. A big thank you goes to my coach, GM Smirnov, for without his Youtube videos I don’t even think about playing chess again, and then this game fully sucked me back in.
There are different levels of ‘attacking’ chess. When you look at the first game I show and the final one, you can barely tell they are the same player. Well, for one, I stopped hanging pieces, but the approach was completely different. I went from barbaric attacker, going for checks at all costs, to a much more positionally-sound player, someone that builds a position slowly and then capitalizes when the time is right. It’s also worth comparing these games to my Dutch defence days.
Indeed, I’d say there’s something profoundly different about my new attacking games. I barely want to call them that at all. The focus in my latter two games was ‘get a good position’ first, and only after did the attack actually come. I think that’s the surest sign of my chess maturity.