Shades of Lasker-Thomas

by admin on April 10, 2011

I have a love-hate relationship with my computer. Analyzing with the computer is a great way to get discouraged and to make unrealistic assessments of positions. (You think that the position is good because the computer says so — but then it turns out that you have to make five “computer moves” in a row, or else your position sucks.)

Nevertheless, every now and then the computer will come up with something that completely blows your mind. Here is a position I was looking at with the computer yesterday. It could have arisen in a game I played six years ago against Jeff Mallett, if I (as White) had played correctly.

White to play.

This is what the position would have been after Black’s move 19 … Qc7. Obviously Black is in a lot of trouble due to his exposed king and White’s superior development, but how does White prove his advantage?

Here Rybka came up with a move that completely dumbfounded me:

20. Na5!!

Black to move.

My first thought was, “Wait, doesn’t this hang the knight in two different ways, and hang a pawn too?”

Well, one of the captures on a5 is obviously bad: If 20. … Nxa5? 21. Rd7+ wins the queen and even though the material is technically still equal, White must be much better.

But what is wrong with the other capture, 20. … Qxa5? If you think White’s first move is obvious, look again. The title of this blog post might serve as a hint.

Now, once you’ve solved that, you can go on to the next question. What if Black snaps off the pawn instead with 20. … Bxc5? This looks as if it could be okay for Black, as 21. Qxc5 is met by 21. … Qxa5. If you’re having trouble, think of Lasker-Thomas again. However, you’ll find it a little bit more challenging this time.

Answers are below. However, to keep you from looking at them, let me just chat a little bit about why I was looking at this game. Recently Brian Wall wrote in his discussion list about a wonderful win he had in the last round of the Colorado Closed championship, where he played a speculative rook sacrifice on e6 against Damian Nash’s Caro-Kann. His move 13. Rxe6! reminded me of this game I played against Jeff Mallett several years ago, which also featured 16. Rxe6+! in a Caro-Kann. It seems to be one of the occupational hazards for a Caro player that your opponents will sometimes smash you with sacrifices on e6.

For several reasons my game is not quite as good an example of this theme as Brian’s. First of all, I didn’t win — it ended up being a draw because of my frightfully bad endgame technique. And second, it turns out that 16. Rxe6+! in my case was “the wrong sacrifice.”

I had an opportunity to sacrifice the exchange, rather than a whole rook, on the previous move, and it turns out that the exchange sacrifice would have been better. It leads, with optimal play for both sides, to the position illustrated above.

This was a case where I let myself get a little bit too carried away by temptation… sacrificing a whole rook seemed ever so much sexier than sacrificing the exchange. But the irony is that the exchange sac could have led to the piece sac 20. Na5!! and then, possibly, to the queen sacrifices in the quiz! It would have been ten times more brilliant.

And so, with that lead-in, here are the answers to my two questions above.

(1) 20. … Qxa5 21. Qxe6+!! forces a mate in seven: 21. … Kxe6 22. Bb3+ Ke5 23. f4+ Ke4 24. Bd5+ Ke3 25. Rd3+ Kd2 26. Bf3+ Ke1 27. Rd1 mate. Isn’t that exquisite? Just like the famous Lasker-Thomas game, Black’s king is hounded all the way to White’s back rank.

(2) If 20. … Bxc5 21. Qxe6+!! still wins, but it’s a little bit more complicated. Black can decline with 21. … Kf8, but after 22. Qxf5+ White is obviously way on top. After 21. … Kxe6 the mate is trickier than in line (1) because White’s f-pawn is pinned. However, this is compensated by the fact that White still has his knight, which is also a very strong attacker. Here is the proof:

20. … Bxc5 21. Qxe6+!! Kxe6 22. Bb3+ Ke5 23. Nc4+! and:

(a) 23. … Ke4 24. Nd2+ Ke5 25. Nf3+ Ke4 26. Bd5 mate; or

(b) 23. … Ke6 24. Ne3+ (mission accomplished, the pin is now broken) Ke5 25. Rd5+ Ke6 26. Rd3+ (second mission accomplished, the knight is now defended) Ke5 27. f4+ Ke4 28. Bd5 mate.

I just love how all of White’s pieces work together. This last line looks like a composition, with the way that White uses the discovered checks (24. Ne3+ and 26. Rd3+) to position his pieces in just the right places.

And they said (30 years ago) that computers would never be able to play beautiful chess! Ironically, for Rybka working out these checkmates is a piece of cake. It takes about a millisecond to find 21. Qxe6!!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo April 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Sometimes, when I look at the games you write about, I wonder if you and I play games with completely different rules. What do you do in order to end up with such fascinating and tactically dynamic positions? My games are generally of a far more technical nature, despite my best attempts to enliven them with sharp openings. (Our game from January was fairly typical of the way my games turn out. Interesting to the players, but not exciting in the way that yours are so often.)


Mike Splane April 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I think White has a faster mate after 20 Na5 Qxa5 21. Qe6+ Ke6 22. Bb3+ Ke5 with 23. Rd5+ Ke6
(If 23. … Ke4 24 f3#)
24. Rd3+ Ke4 25. f4+ Ke3 26. Bd5#

The funny thing is I saw this entire line but after 20. Na5 Na5 I completely missed 21 Rd7+


admin April 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Hi Simon,

Well, this particular game was extraordinary. I was kind of wondering myself, “How did this game go so deliciously berserk?” Here are the initial moves: 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. dc Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Nbd2 e6 7. Nb3 (we’re basically out of book now) Nge7?! 8. Bb5 a6 9. Ba4 Qc7 10. O-O Ng6 11. Re1 Ngxe5 12. Rxe5 Bxf3 13. Qe1 Be4 14. Bf4! (now Black has big problems – where to put his queen?) 14. … Qe7 15. Nd4. Here is where I “swung for the fences,” having in mind the sac on e6 that in fact happened after 15. … Qxc5 16. Rxe6+. More sober and better was the exchange sac 15. Rxe4! de 16. Qxe4 Rc8 17. Rd1! (the move I missed or underestimated) f5 (otherwise White will play Bd6 and Nd4) 18. Qe3 Kf7 19. Bg5 Qc7 (all best moves according to Rybka) and we arrive at the first position.

To answer your general question. First, play sharp variations (the Advance Variation of the Caro is very provocative). Second, look for decent moves that take your opponent out of book. Here 6. Nd2 and 7. Nb3 are not book. Third, develop your pieces rapidly. Finally, try not to get locked into routine thought patterns. I think my opponent’s mistake was that he wasn’t expecting me to play 12. Rxe5, which seemingly gets my rook trapped. Question assumptions! Look for ways to do the impossible.

Also, if you want more dynamic positions, don’t play the Scotch, as you did against me. Play a gambit, any gambit. (I play the King’s Gambit. If you want something Scotch-related, maybe you could try the Belgrade Gambit 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d4 ed 5. Nd5?! Although I’m not sure I really approve of this, because it violates opening principles.)


Brian Wall April 11, 2011 at 12:29 am


Game of the Century

Mjolnir, the Mighty Hammer of Thor, comes down hard on e6

[Event “2011 Colorado Closed”]
[Site “Manitou Springs City Hall, Colorado”]
[Date “2011.03.27”]
[Round “last round 5”]
[White “B-Wall”]
[Black “Damian Nash”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ICCResult “Black checkmated”]
[WhiteElo “2049”]
[BlackElo “2203”]
[Opening “Dunst (Sleipner, Heinrichsen) opening”]
[ECO “A00”]
[NIC “VO.15”]
[Time “2 PM”]
[TimeControl “40/2, no delay then Game/1 hour plus 5 second delay”]

1. Nc3 d5 2. e4 dxe4 3. Nxe4 Bf5 4. Ng3 Bg6 5. h4 h6 6. d4 e6 7. Bc4 Nf6 8.
N1e2 c6 9. Nf4 Bh7 10. O-O Nd5 11. Re1 Be7 12. Ngh5 Rg8 13. Rxe6 fxe6 14.
Nxe6 Qc8 15. Nhxg7+ Kf7 16. Bxh6 Bf6 17. Qf3 Rxg7 18. Nxg7 Qd8 19. Re1 b5
20. Bb3 a5 21. Ne6 Qd7 22. Nf4 Ra7 23. Qh5+ Kg8 24. Re8+ Qxe8 25. Qxe8#



Brian Wall April 11, 2011 at 12:32 am

I used to think that Tal was amazingly lucky to reach those positions until I reached a few Tal positions except I didn’t sacrifice anything. Then I realized Tal wasn’t lucky I was just blind.


Brian Wall April 11, 2011 at 12:38 am

As soon as I saw the first diagram I wanted to sac on e6 so Na5!! was not a shock it was a relief – the Bishop is free. The way my mind works I assume there is a checkmate there somewhere, then I try to confirm it. I don’t see a killer after Na5 Re8.


admin April 11, 2011 at 6:59 am

Yes, the correct way to find Na5 is to realize that e6 is a horrible, horrible weakness. If White just puts his bishop on b3, Black will be in deep trouble. Thus, if you don’t see the heroic 20. Na5, the pedestrian 20. Nc1 will work just fine.

As Brian points out, the best move after either 20. Na5 or 20. Nc1 is 20. … Re8, guarding the weak point. White then plays 20. Nc4 (in the first line) or 20. Nd3 (in the second line) with a beautiful game because the knight is coming to e5 where it will be a tower of strength. In addition, in the 20. Na5 Re8 21. Nc4 line, White has the extra threat of 22. Bxc6 bc 23. Rd7+! setting up a royal fork. That’s not possible in the 21. Nd3 line, because the d-file is blocked. That is the principle reason why 20. Na5 is better than 20. Nc1. Plus, it’s way cooler …


admin April 11, 2011 at 7:11 am

I like Brian’s philosophy. First you learn to sacrifice the knight at e6. Then you graduate to the rook. And finally you realize that you can even do it with the queen! You have truly reached the Zen Master level when you are completely indifferent to what piece you sac at e6; all that matters is the checkmate at the end.


Marc April 12, 2011 at 7:34 am

What a position! Brian, your comments are supremely helpful.


taroak May 7, 2011 at 9:43 am

Hey so whats the deal with the teeny tiny smiley face that used to be on the right side of the page now it is on the bottom of the page?


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: