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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: Do Strong Chess Players Even Remember Patterns Beginners Learn?

2020-04-01 15:07:53
Do Strong Chess Players Even Remember Patterns Beginners Learn?

It is natural to sometimes question if new information learned is even worth your time. This is especially true with things like chess; results take a long time to show up, but the fruits of your training today may become apparent in a month from now – so keep at it! Every chess player is probably drilled with the mindset that tactics, tactics and more tactics is the way to learn. True, tactics are important – but they offer little to nothing in positional struggles, or in endgames where thematic motifs are what stands as important. What about the checkmates themselves though? Are these important to know? I know many players that memorize the names of checkmating patterns. Can you identify Boden’s Mate, Anastasia’s Mate, or an Arabian Mate? Other players I know are shocked to learn that checkmate patterns have names – they thought that the infamous Backrank Mate was the only one with a name. Are these other checkmates important to know and study as well?

It depends on what one gets from “study.” I don’t believe knowing the names is too important at all; it won’t help your chess in the least if you know the type of checkmate your opponent just played against you – a loss is a loss and any checkmate is still checkmate! Are these things worth learning then? Despite some players knowing the names of checkmating patterns (and others being oblivious), I can guarantee you that every strong chess player can identify these patterns; this is the key. It is important to recognize these patterns in your games (and even be able to anticipate the possibility of them in some cases), but the names themselves aren’t too important. With this said, I have many checkmate patterns memorized by name as well. Was this a waste of time? Absolutely not, just not necessary. Learning the names has merits as well. Most obvious is that it is a way that you can easily describe a chess position to someone and a way to understand a position being described to you.

Here is a chess game that highlights what this knowledge of checkmating patterns can potentially do. This game was played in a chess simul in Peru, in 1934. A “simul” is when a chess player (typically at least a National Master) plays multiple chess players at once. The room is set up with chess boards and tables arranged around the perimeter of the room and with the master standing in the center of the room. The master then plays a move at board number 1, walks over to board number 2 and continues in a circle to play multiple games simultaneously (where “simul” comes from). There are subtle variations in rules based on location and pre-determined guidelines, but typically it is your move when the master comes to your board. This game had International Master (IM) Esteban Canal playing the White pieces and so this is the side we will follow (in simul events, it is common that the master gets the White pieces).

Canal was a strong chess player whose peak years for tournament results were the 1920s and 1930s. However, even by 1948: then world chess champion Max Euwe (Who reigned as World Chess Champion from 1935 through 1937) only had an even record against Canal. In 1977, Canal was awarded the title of “grandmaster” (GM) before passing away in February of 1981. Of course, this is enough history; let us get to this game that became known as the “Peruvian Immortal.”

1. e4 It is important to note that e4 is probably the most common White opening move in simuls; often times even 1. d4 GMs will open with 1. e4, but why? Simple. The player putting on the exhibition must be able to focus on many games at the same time; d4 openings tend to be more positional in nature and e4 openings tend to become more tactical in nature – the master in a simul wants tactical! If they can blow away a few opponent players early, then they can put more energy into the “tougher” games. Also, the goal of a master in a simul isn’t really to win every game – they are playing many games at once and so a non-perfect series isn’t uncommon; the goal of the master is to not embarrass themselves. In fact, playing tactical also gives the added possibility of creating a sparkling game to show off. The “common-folk” attending simuls are usually in respectful awe at the ability of the chess master playing many games at once. They are there to see sacrifices, tactics, and great calculation skill – no one wants to see a closed positional struggle play over the course of hours: it is easy to see how even the master would prefer to begin with 1. e4 and strive for tactics while opening the position up early if they can – they want an exciting show!

d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 This is still in opening theory. The Scandinavian Defense is a well-known opening that needs to be taken seriously. Like Bobby Fischer, I believe the Scandinavian Defense is a bit dubious; Black willingly brings the Queen out early and allows White to develop with tempo (Knight to c3 while kicking the Black Queen). However, I believe that there is deep enough opening theory to confuse the unprepared opponent. Naturally, many players will disagree with my opinion and claim that the Scandinavian Defense is a sound opening at highest level play: that is all right if we disagree – that is half of the fun with chess analysis and games! Most everyone will at least agree that this opening needs to be taken seriously.

4. d4 c6 4. d4 is one of the mainlines here. It is unclear if 4… c6 is the proper way to continue; I think more popular is 4… Nf6 to continue with piece development. An important note to make though: the c6 square isn’t really good for the Knight here. On 4… Nc6?! Then 5. d5 Ne5 has scored well for White. The usual continuation of 6. Bf4 is better for White, but 6. Qd4!? is an interesting alternative that also looks promising for the White pieces. Either way, Black doesn’t want to give White pleasant choices to select from: this is why the Knight seldom goes to c6 in this opening.

5. Nf3 Bg4? A human player will probably say that the Bishop move is a mistake here. Perhaps a computer will claim that Black’s Bishop move is not a flat-out mistake, but positionally a human player will probably assert so. In this position, Black needs to develop and get castled – they have already wasted time moving the Queen. Black should really play 5… Nf6 here and develop the dormant Kingside. In the game, Black was clearly intending castling Queenside instead: yet, I think Black has better prospects castling Kingside after developing the g8 Knight and f8 Bishop.

6. Bf4 e6 7. h3 Bxf3 8. Qxf3 Bb4 As the game continues logically, it is clear that both sides still have play – but I believe it is safe to say that White already has a slight advantage. At the very least, White is slightly ahead in development and White probably has somewhat more central influence.

9. Be2 Nd7 10. a3 As both sides are busy developing, there is an argument to be made that White should simply castle Kingside here and avoid the dangers of keeping the King in the center of the board early in the chess game. The reason that our simul player Esteban Canal plays 10. a3 is likely to clarify the position. Perhaps he wanted to see where the Black Bishop chose to go before he committed to which side of the board to castle towards. If the Bishop were to retreat from b4 to e7, then the Kingside Knight may not be too happy with losing an option. If 10. a3 Bxc3+ 11. bxc3 Ne7 (the computer recommended move by Stockfish here) then perhaps Canal could Play 12. Rb1 to make use of the created b-file opening and discourage Black from Queenside castling. Perhaps this is why 10. a3 was played, Canal wanted to see what Black chose to do before White committed themselves to one of their options.

O-O-O? Black mis-evaluates the dangers of castling Queenside here. Black probably felt clever noticing that axb4 hangs the a1 Rook. What should White play now then? Maybe castling Kingside and just continuing the game? Absolutely not! This lets Black off the hook from castling long dangerously. Strong chess players always seem to calculate just a little bit further than the average club player and Esteban Canal had a chance to show off his calculation ability here – from this exact critical position that made this game famous.

This is a good point to pause the game and see if you can find the game move. The solution is greatly connected with the earlier questions posed. “Do strong chess players even remember patterns beginners learn?” and “Are … checkmates important to know and study as well?” Yes, strong players certainly remember patterns they learned from back when they were beginners too. In fact, they know these patterns even better now because they have had time and experience to build off of these foundations. Yes, this also applies to checkmate patterns. I don’t know if Esteban Canal knew Boden’s Mate by name, but I am certain he could recognize potential for this checkmating pattern if he saw the position allowing it; in fact, that is a core aspect of this position!

Black castled, without sensing the danger, because they thought axb4 tactically fails to Qxa1 with check. What did Canal play?

11. axb4! played anyways!

Qxa1+ as planned, Black probably thinks they are now winning: unknown to them, they are already lost!

12. Kd2 Qxh1 13. Qxc6+! Now it is apparent that Canal must have calculated all of this before playing axb4. The Queen sacrifice has stunning fireworks and can’t be declined. Now …bxc6 is forced, thanks to the amazing scope of the White Bishop from f4 eyeing down range through the b8 square.

bxc6 14. Ba6# Now the game ended with Boden’s Mate; a checkmate pattern even many beginners know. Strong chess players learn these patterns well and then build off of them. There is no way that Canal could sacrifice both Rooks and then a forced Queen sacrifice to win the game: that is, no way that this would happen if he didn’t calculate this entire line out. How could this line be even considered without knowing Boden’s Mate well? What probably happened was that Canal saw the potential for Boden’s Mate and then worked backwards to construct how to reach this position. At least this is how IM Jeremy Silman would have likely approached the position. Memorizing checkmate patterns by name is up to the player, but learning the checkmate patterns by recognition is inevitable if you want to become a formidable chess player. Keep learning these many chess patterns; you will find yourself playing out patterns like Boden’s Mate yourself, but you need to be familiar with these patterns to increase the chance of discovering them in your own games.
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2United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member2020-04-01 15:14:02
For many chess articles, the moves appear under the diagram. In this instance, it is perhaps preferred that the moves are not immediately visible. Pausing thought after 10...O-O-O allows the viewer to calculate for themselves and decide how they would continue the game, without having the game solution revealed prematurely.

(The moves are still revealed by using the arrow functions in the diagram)

3United  neverherebeforeChessHere Gold Member2020-04-04 07:43:41
Made possible by the recognition of the coming mating pattern

4Canada  chef anton2021-02-12 17:14:15
Thanks for your insight Kevin. Just started examining these articles and I'm thoroughly enjoying the details. I tried coming up with the next move, as you suggested. Would never have considered the queen sacrifice. I have a long way to go.

5United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member2021-02-17 14:18:02
Glad you are finding them useful chef anton :)

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