Being a good chess player is not only about following every single chess rule and guideline: it is about understanding that everything in chess is relative.
When we first start learning chess, we are taught that a knight and a bishop are each worth three points. As our knowledge of the game increases, we realize that sometimes bishops are stronger and sometimes knights are stronger.
Even though they both possess the same absolute value, their real value changes depending on the position.
When can we break chess rules?
- When your opponent breaks a rule, you might break one, too. You can learn more about this in my video here
- When the nuances of the position demand it. Chess is not only about learning patterns and applying them in games, but also about learning how small differences in a position can completely change the evaluation of a plan. This is why it is important to understand both players’ plan at all times.
In the following game, we will see how Alekhine breaks opening principles to obtain the upper hand.
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6 3.e3 Bb7 4.Nbd2 c5 5.Bd3 e6 6.c3 Be7 7.Qe2
Black to play
Let’s analyze this position: White has decided to play the Colle system. The flexibility of the Colle is that White can play almost the same moves every time and ignore what Black does.
In this position, white is attempting to play e4. If Black castles, White will reply with e4 and obtain a very scary attack on the kingside. In this case, it is better to leave the king in the center for now. If we castle, we give White an objective. If we don’t, we force White to find another plan. Knowing what White wants to do, what should Black play?
We can see that the move Nd5, which breaks all opening principles, makes a lot of sense. The idea of this move is to stop 8.e4, since Black can answer 8.e4 with …Nf4 and capture the light-squared bishop. We can see that understanding our opponent’s plan is crucial if we want to grasp the nuances of the position.
8.dxc5, bxc5 – White decides to take on c5 himself and prevent Black from capturing on d4. 9.Nf1
This may seem like an odd move at first, but looking closely we can see White’s intention. This move allows White to play e4, since the bishop on c1 is now protecting the f4 square.
Black protects f4, which prevents White’s idea. We can see how both players are defying basic opening rules (castle quickly, don’t move the same piece twice, etc.)
10.Ng3 Nc6 11.Bd2
Black to play
Black must again look for a plan. He could castle on the kingside, queenside, or stay in the center. His play on the queenside is very limited because White’s position on the queenside is solid. We can see that even though Black has great control of the center, he has no real plan.
Black can’t play Nb6, with the idea of playing d5, because White can play e4 or c4. This means that Black should attempt to play on the kingside. Knowing this, what should Black play? 11…g5!
This is the key move in the game. Why did Black make this move? Let’s imagine that Black is allowed to push his pawns forward on the kingside and assess the resulting position.
We can see that pushing the pawns on the kingside is strong for three reasons:
- White’s kingside pawns become targets of attack.
- The long white h1-a8 diagonal becomes very vulnerable for White. The light squared bishop becomes a monster.
- White’s knights become very passive.
We can see that g5 is a strong move. White must do something in order to stop Black from steamrolling ahead on the kingside.
12.c4 Ndb4 13.Bc3 Nxd3+ 14.Qxd3 Nb4 15.Qe2 Rg8 16.h3
Black to play
Black was able to obtain White’s powerful light-squared bishop. We can see that neither player has castled, but this is not a problem because their kings are not in danger in the center. Because they don’t know what they want to do with their kings yet, they are delaying that particular decision as much as they can.
The knight on b4 is not doing anything. Black wants to bring the knight into action. While the knight on c6 is still not very active, it might jump to e5 in the future.
17.Nd2 Ne5 18.Qh5 O-O-O Black has finally castled! He connects his rooks and is preparing to start his attack on the kingside.
19.O-O Unfortunately, White had to castle on the kingside, as his kingside pawns are very vulnerable and his king is the only piece that can protect them.
19…f5 20.Qe2 h5!
White to play
At this point, Black does not care about his kingside pawns. He is looking to open the position on the kingside. This is why g5 was a very strong move. The position would be completely different if Black had castled instead of playing g5.
There are two reasons why White captured the pawn.
- Psychological pressure: taking this pawn, even though it opens the h-file, pressurizes Black into winning. If White can successfully defend or if Black blunders, White wins.
- …h4 would force White to move his knight to the very passive h1 square. Now that the knight is on h5, White can prepare f4 for his knight.
White to play
This is a strong move because it allows Black to bring the other rook into the attack.
The rest of the game does not pertain to the topic of the article; however, it is important to pay attention to how Black assembled a successful attack.
22.f4 gxf4 23.Nxf4 Rh6 24.a3 Rg8 25.Bxe5 Qxe5 26.Nf3 Qg7 27.Rad1 e5 28.Nd5 Rxh3 29.Qd2 Bxd5 30.cxd5
Black to play
30…e4! This is the final nail in the coffin. White’s position crumbles and Black is completely winning.
31.d6 exf3 32.Rxf3 Rxf3 33.dxe7 Qxe7 0-1 White resigns.
- Understand the idea behind every move. This is also true in the opening. Even if you analyzed all possible moves in a variation on the computer, it is important to understand the idea behind every move.
- Don’t be afraid to break chess rules. A player’s most powerful tool is intuition. The first step in every surprising combination or deep positional idea is usually an unexpected move.
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