There are many different skills that need to be cultivated in becoming a competent tournament chess player and most people find the sheer enormity of the task to be overwhelming. The gathering and understanding of chess knowledge comes before anything else. In my current profession of chess teacher and coach, I have found that the student will generally find the road to mastery to be less daunting if this vast chess knowledge is somehow broken down into smaller content areas. Acquiring a solid understanding of even one small aspect of the game generates confidence in one’s abilities and can serve as a springboard for success.
Checkmating Patterns – Rooks & Bishops
By FM Sunil Weeramantry
Executive Director, National Scholastic Chess Foundation
In More Effective Chess Instruction #4, we examined some aspects of the coordination of queen and bishop in conducting a checkmating attack. This time we shall explore the manner in which rooks and bishops interact. Contrary to what one might expect, a rook and bishop can form a dynamic duo that is quite formidable.
Although the rook and bishop are both long-range pieces, they can never form a battery as each follows its own line of movement. The maximum power that this combination of pieces generates is found at the point where the file (or rank) intersects with the diagonal. Consider the following diagram fragment:
The focal point for White’s attack is clearly g7. A forced checkmating sequence is engaged as follows: 1.Rxg7+ Kh8 2.Rxf7+ Kg8 3.Rg7+ Kh8 4.Rg6+ Rf6 5.Bxf6#. This particular operation was conducted in two stages: forcing open the defending king’s position and the use of open lines of attack to corner him. White’s second and third moves form an integral part of this sequence because any defending piece that may be able to block a line of attack must be eliminated. They also illustrate the use of the discovered check as an important tactic within this combination, first paralyzing the king with one of the pieces, then moving away to inflict the greatest amount of damage. This sequence is sometimes referred to as Morphy’s Mate.
When my son, Hikaru Nakamura, was 10 he played at the Chicago Open; the following position was reached after White’s 21st move. His opponent, Senior Master Justin Sarkar, was the 1997 Cadet Champion of the United States. The two young masters kept the audience buzzing with their uncompromising play until Hikaru finally emerged the victor.
White has just played 21.Qf4!, leaving a rook and a knight en prise to Black’s c2-pawn. Black answered with 21...cxd1=Q+ 22.Kxd1 Bd4. White recognized that conditions were right for a possible rook/bishop attack. The open lines leading into Black’s castled position had already been created. All that was now needed was to eliminate the defending bishop that was patrolling the long a1-h8 diagonal. Accordingly, he played 23.e5! preparing to execute a typical Morphy’s Mate should Black reply 23...Bxe5 24.Qxe5! dxe5 25.Bg7+ Kg8 26.Bf6 mate. Black averted this with 23...f5 but lost in short order after 24.Qxd4.
Naturally, once the basic pattern is learned, the player can add a few frills of his own. Consider this position from the game Petrushin-Vlasov, USSR 1970, which is shown in John Littlewood’s very informative book, How to Play The Middle Game in Chess.
White is down a piece, but has ample compensation in the form of a direct assault on Black’s castled king. White must have been gazing at the g7 focal point in eager anticipation. There followed 1.Nd5 Nxd5 2.Rxg7+ Kh8. But what now? White’s bishop on c3 is being attacked. The solution is elegant. 3.Rxd5 Qxd5 4.Bf6! paralyzing Black and making Ne5 irrelevant. Now, even if Black attacks the bishop with 4...Qe6, he cannot avoid getting checkmated after 5.Qg5.
Each example provided so far has featured open lines that already existed or were created without much ado with a direct attack on the focal point. However, opening that diagonal or file to the enemy king may require a creative solution. We turn for inspiration to Akiva Rubinstein, a creative genius if ever there was one. This game was played against Hromadka at Mahrisch-Ostrau in 1923.
Rubinstein now played the brilliant move 1.Qb6!! After all, if you cannot open the file yourself, you can always request that your opponent assist you. Black wisely declined the offer, but resigned a few moves later. Had he taken the white queen with 1...axb6, play would have proceeded as follows: 2.axb6+ Ba7 3.Rxa7+ Kb8 4.Rfxb7+ Kc8 5.Ba6 paralyzes the black king and threatens unstoppable mate.
Perhaps Rubinstein himself was inspired by an earlier effort by the great Paul Morphy. This particularly striking combination features Morphy’s mate and includes two rooks and two bishops for good measure. The diagram position was reached in the sixth game of his match with Louis Paulsen at the First American Chess Congress held in New York in 1857. Morphy, as black, has gained a considerable lead in development and has centralized his pieces well. But how does he break through?
Morphy unleashed a thunderbolt with 17…Qxf3!!. Destructive sacrifices constitute the most direct means of shattering the king’s defenses. The first time I played through this game, I could not help wondering whether I would ever have conceived of this move. The idea of sacrificing the queen with only limited material remaining on the board is a thought that most players would rapidly discard as bordering on the insane. All too often players dismiss options such as this without further consideration. But let us suppose that a player is quite familiar with rook and bishop attacking patterns. He sees the open files and open diagonals leading to a king that has very limited mobility. Wouldn’t he be more likely to entertain the notion of this sacrifice?
Once this idea of a queen sacrifice is formed, calculating the exact sequence of moves that would lead to victory appears to be a simpler task. Many of Black’s subsequent moves leave White with no other alternatives than what was played in the game. A forcing sequence is easier to predict and Black will have no difficulty in dictating the course of the game by continuing to create threats and retaining the initiative.
The game continued: 18.gxf3 Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3.
Note that black is threatening a simple win with Bg2+ and Bxf3 mate. White cannot defend against this threat by protecting the g2-square with 20.Rg1, because Black would answer with 20...Bg2+ 21.Rxg2 Re1+ 22.
Rg1 Rexg1 mate. Since the defense of g2 is impossible, Paulsen creates an escape square for his king.
After 20.Rd1, Morphy employed the forcing sequence 20...Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Kf1, to arrive at a position where his remaining pieces (two rooks and two bishops) have driven the white king into a blind alley. While Morphy did go on to win this game in convincing style, he could have ended the game right here and remained true to the typical rook/ bishop attacking formation with 22.Rg2, threatening Rxh2 and Rh1 mate. If White now chooses to attack the black bishop on f3 with 23.Qd3, for instance, Morphy can execute a forced checkmate with 23...Rxf2+ 24. Kg1 Rg2+ 25.Kh1 Rg1 mate. The intersecting lines of attack with focal points on f2, g2 and g1, along with the tactical ideas of discovered and double check, all blend together harmoniously in victory.
© 2018 Sunil Weeramantry. This article is adapted from an earlier version published by ChessCafe.com.