07 December 2015

Checkmate Patterns

The first thing for the reader to learn is to see every possible mate; this is one of the requirements of a good player.
Renaud and Kahn, The Art of the Checkmate
When David Weinstock recommended The Art of the Checkmate (1953) by Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn, I felt that he was underestimating my skill level. I met David when ChessMate, his company, was a vendor at the 1996 Washington Class Championships. It was my sixth USCF tournament and my first outside the Spokane area. Because I did not know anyone there and am an incurable bibliophile, I spent much of the time between rounds looking at the books ChessMate had available for sale and talking with David. He had several Chess Informants available for sale and he showed me how to read Informant codes. The Informants listed in the USCF sale catalog had piqued my interest. David answered questions, paving the way for my first Informant purchase a few months later (see "Playing by the Book").

I was in my mid-30s and had been pretty serious about chess as a teenager. In my youth I had learned how to checkmate efficiently with queen, rook, and two bishops. I had not mastered checkmate with bishop and knight, nor did I have a solid understanding of the two or three dozen most common checkmate patterns. Nonetheless, I thought that my checkmate skills were a strength as I could discover patterns when the opportunity was present.

In my first rated USCF tournament, I found the checkmate in two from this position.

White to move

My confidence in my ability to checkmate could be backed up with evidence from my games. I had been playing chess for more than two decades before entering rated competition. My transition from clueless beginner to capable novice took place during the rapid improvement that followed from learning to read chess books (see "My First Chess Book"). I developed an aggressive playing style grounded in attacking the king.

Surely there were other weaknesses in my game that should be addressed. Indeed, when I look at those old games now, I see terrible opening moves, egregious middlegame blunders, embarrassing endgame technique and even a few missed checkmates.

Nonetheless, when I saw The Art of the Checkmate in a bookstore a few years later, I pulled it off the shelf and looked inside. It was not the book that I had imagined when David Weinstock first suggested it to me. I bought it and started reading. Within a few weeks, I was checkmating my opponents on the Internet Chess Club with new patterns, such as in the game below.*

Internet Opponent (1415) -- Stripes,J (1439) [A45]
ICC 5 0 Internet Chess Club, 03.04.2001

1.d4 c5 2.dxc5 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 4.c3 Bxc5 5.Nf3

Black to move

5...Ne4 6.Bxd8??

6.Be3 was necessary.

6...Bxf2# 0–1

I began to appreciate the quality of David's advice. The Art of the Checkmate is a terrific book. Renaud and Kahn not only present checkmate patterns that I had not known, or did not know as well as I thought, but much more.

Renaud and Kahn present whole games well-analyzed. They show how positional errors create the conditions for checkmate combinations. They develop each pattern from the basic pattern to more sophisticated examples, and then to the pattern as a threat designed to force positional concessions. The Art of the Checkmate is a simple book, but not quite as simple as I imagined.

The first checkmate pattern presented is dubbed Legal's Pseudo-Sacrifice by the authors, The chapter on this pattern contains seventeen games and not all are king's pawn openings. Some games end in the checkmate pattern, but others lead only to a modest gain of material or positional advantage for the side employing the pattern. Nor does White always prevail.

When I read this book some fifteen years ago, one of the variations presented in the notes to the seventh game stuck with me.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 d6 4.Nc3 Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.Nxe5!

Black to move

Among the games preserved in my database, I've had White in this position ten times. Only once did my opponent play 6...Bxd1 and fall for Legal's Mate. Renaud and Kahn's note suggested that 6...Nxe5 is the "lesser evil" (15).

Play then continues 7.Qxh5 Nxc4 8.Qb5+.

I have had the resulting position in seven of those ten games, twice against one opponent. I have won five of those game. I have also faced 6...dxe5 (I won) and 7...Nf6 (I won). Playing the recommended moves has given me an 80% score from the diagram position even though my opponents do not fall for the queen sacrifice (Legal's pseudo-sacrifice).

*I had been exposed to many of these new patterns in my first chess book, but the intervening decades had erased many details from my memory while leaving general impressions.

No comments:

Post a Comment