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The Art of Combinations

"Chess is 99% tactics" - Teichmann

While there has been many a debate about whether the above proclamation by Richard Teichmann is accurate or not, there can be no denying the importance of tactical play in the game of chess. Without a strong foundation of understanding basic tactical patterns it is impossible to progress far in chess. To advance beyond the level of beginner one must not only recognize common patterns, but also learn how to find and accurately execute tactical opportunities during games.

A true appreciation of chess as an art is born from an understanding of complex combinations. A player can study chess for decades and still be mesmerized by new and unusual ideas. The puzzles below present some rare and beautiful motifs.

In the above puzzle, Black relies on basic knowledge of pins and forks, as well as an awareness of forcing moves, to realize the more complex solution. Though relatively simple, it is a good example of how as chess players we must be willing to think outside the box (placing the bishop en-prise) and go against our natural instincts.

The beauty of a solution strongly correlates with an increase in difficulty:

In the prior position, an impulsive player may simply have captured Black's queen or played a quick check with 1.Qb8. It is critical for chess players must learn to control their initial impulses when presented with a problem.

Any serious chess player will likely recognize this famous example:

How often does one get to place their own queen on a square attacked simultaneously by three enemy pieces, leaving their opponent with no good reply?! A proper initial evaluation and accurate calculation is key when finding the above solution. Often players are too focused on finding a checkmate. If you considered the solution above, but rejected it because of the variation with 2.Qxg3, then you likely either did not calculate far enough to realize you had reached an easily winning endgame or you were not satisfied with the advantage.

After a quick glance at the board it is probably not difficult to realize that Black's king is in trouble. An eager player may jump at the opportunity to play an aggressive move on the kingside, however, the position is not as simple as it seems. Black has defensive resources and White must avoid the false choice. Having the self-control to identify those resources is critical to successfully solving the problem. The beauty here is how the placement of each piece in the position, from the bishop on a2 to the queen on b6, plays an important role in what is happening across the board. Indeed, the first move is about as "far away from the action" as can be, but yet it is critical to the success of the combination. One can only admire the interconnectedness of the pieces in this position.

Combinations and tactics such as the ones examined here are a significant reason that chess players are drawn to the game that the layman will never quite fully understand. There is no greater satisfaction than uncorking a sudden unexpected tactic against an opponent, and conversely there is also no greater feeling of dread when you realize it is refuted (or your opponent uses one against you). Therefore, it is fitting that the art of combinations is the subject of our first workshop coming up on Saturday, September 26th where we will see more beautiful examples, and take a deeper dive into what considerations and strategies players can use to find brilliancies in their own games. I hope to see you there!

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