Thursday, September 5, 2013

How to attack: Part 4

It's been a really hectic week, hoping y'all are coping well with the upcoming projects and holiday homework that's coming your way! Really sorry for the long lull; I only managed to find time now to continue on this:

Pawns in the attack on the castled king

In previous articles we have examined how the pieces exploit the occupation of vital squares, ranks, files or diagonals to execute an attack against the castled king. Today, we will look at how pawns can also partake in the assault.

While limited in mobility as compared to the pieces, pawns are equally important as tools in attacking play. They are the ones which can be sacrificed at the least cost to accelerate an attack, perform the menial task of guarding critical squares, and everyone knows about the traditionally destructive role of the passed pawn if well supported by pieces.

Here are some of the many ways pawns can be utilized to form or support an attack:

  • The attacking pawn moves into the castled area (supported by friendly pieces) as a straightforward attacker against the enemy king.
  • The attacking pawn advances into the castled area in order to be promoted, after which it can proceed to attack the enemy king.
  • The advancing pawn is sacrificed to open the file/diagonal for the pieces.
  • The passed pawn on the opposite wing deflects enemy pieces to partake in a blockade, thus draining the defender of pieces needed to protect the king.
  • A well supported pawn in the centre seizes space and controls vital squares needed as jump-off points for the assault
  • Two or three attacking wing pawns partake in a joint offensive against the enemy's king, forming what is known as the pawn avalanche.

And many more.

We have already discussed a few of these ideas-- passed pawns, opening of files, etc.-- in previous articles, so let us take a look at two unique ones: The role of the pawn centre, and the pawn avalanche.

The pawn centre

As we have studied in our series regarding the King's Indian Defense, a pawn centre offers the attacker great space and mobility in the centre. This centre, if well supported, helps to control important central squares which can be used as jumping off points for the attacker's pieces. But on the other hand, if not well supported, the centre can become vulnerable to enemy counterattacks.

Let's take a look at a minature to see how pawn centres play a role in the attacker's plans. The following

1. d4 d6 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 d5 (D)

Tarrasch, Siegbert - Charousek, Rudolf Rezso
Nuremberg 1896
Position after 6... d5
7. e5!

With this move White seizes space in the centre, and deprives Black of the natural developing squares f6 and d6. Note that the pawn centre is also well supported, and not susceptible to attacks by Black.

For the rest of the game, Black's pieces were reduced to passive defence in a cramped position as White launched a kingside attack:

7... Ne8 8. Be3 e6 9. h4 Nc6 10. h5 Ne7 11. g4 f5 12. hxg6 Nxg6 13. Bd3 h6 14. g5 Kh7 15. Qe2 Rh8 16. Qg2 c5 17. gxh6 1-0

Position after 17. gxh6

And just in case you thought the role of setting up the pawn centre traditionally belongs to White... here's another game where Black is the one who attacks with his pawn centre. Ironically, the same player who crushed his opponent with the pawn centre in the first example is now the victim of the centre in this game!

Tarrasch, Siegbert - Alekhine, Alexander
Bad Pistyan 1922
Position after 14. Rfe1
Earlier in the game Black sacrificed a pawn to gain extra mobility in the centre. Now, this has paid off with a well-supported pawn centre...

14... e4!

And now we see the restricting effects of the pawn centre-- not only does it restrict White, it also deprives his knight of the f3 square

15. Nd2 Ne5 16. Nd1

White defends to the best of his efforts, but it isn't enough

17. Bxg4 Nxg4 18. Nf1 Qg5 19. h3 Nh6 20. Kh1 Nf5 21. Nh2 d4! (D)

Position after 21... d4
The pawn centre continues on its destructive advance. Black now plans to play d3, seizing control of the vital e2 square and creating a passed pawn.

22. Bc1 d3

Black eventually led a vigorous attack against the kingside, which, coupled with the threats by his passed pawn, proved too much for White to handle. You can see the entire game here:

The pawn avalanche

So! Think it's gonna be great sending a bunch of your infantry over the hilltop to attack the enemy? Hoping that the human wave attack will be too massive for your enemy to stop?

Keep their heads down!

Well that's what White thinks in many variations of the Sicilian, when he sends his f, g and h pawns over for a pawn storm against Black's kingside. The pawn storm, when well supported by pieces, tend to be quite destructive as they have the capability to drive out the defender's pieces, while pawn trades within the castled position open up files and diagonals for the attacking pieces.

However, one must note that due to the limited mobility of the pawns, a pawn avalanche is much slower as compared to an attack by the pieces. Also, the defender can try to set up a blockade to stem the advance of the pawns. Discretion must thus be exercised when one is contemplating on whether to lead the attack with his pieces or pawns.

The following example is taken from a typical Sicilian game, where White's plans are to launch a pawn storm against Black's castled kingside. Black, on the other hand, plans to strike back with a d5 counterthrust in the centre, thus slowing down White's attack.

Tolush, Alexander V - Kotov, Alexander
USSR Championship 1945
Position after 12... O-O
13. g4 Kh8 14. Ng3 b4 15. axb4 Nxb4 16. g5 Ng8 17. f4 (D)

Position after 17. f4
There is already an avalanche of pawns hanging over Black's castled king

17... Bc6?

THis move only helps White to regroup his forces; better would have been 17... Rfd8! in preparation for 18... d5

18. Nce2 Bb5 19. Bd2 d5 20. Bc3!

Black has indeed managed to play d5, but White has been able to make good use of the delay. Now, in addition to his avalanche of pawns, he has also seized control of the a1-h8 diagonal.

20... dxe4 21. Nh5 f6 22. Nxg7! (D)

Position after 22. Nxg7!
If Black now accepts the sacrifice with 22... Kxg7, then the threat is 23. Nd4! Bc4 24. Bxe4 Rfd8 25. Qh5 Kf8 26. Qxh7 with an unstoppable attack. Thus he decides to take on the e2 knight first before accepting the sacrifice.

22... Bxe2 23. Qxe2 Kxg7 24. Bxe4 Nd5 25. Qh5 Rfd8

But now White persists in his attack.

26. Rg1 Bc5 27. gxf6+ Kf8 28. Rxg8+ Kxg8 29. Bxh7+ (D)

With the help of the pawn avalanche White has successfully broken into the kingside. I will now show the rest of the game here without any commentary:

As such, these are just some of the many methods in which the humble pawn is able to take part in the offensive against the enemy king.

When deciding whether to use one's pawns in the attack, one must analyze carefully the positional features of the game itself. He has to consider the fact that the limited mobility of the pawns makes them slow in attack, and thus vulnerable to blockade. It is thus important to note that an attack by pawns-- be it in the centre or on the wing-- must come with sufficient support, for the pieces must be there to exploit any loopholes which the pawn assault opens up in the enemy position.

Because this is what happens when you send infantry over without the artillery barrage

In our next and final part on this series, we will take a look at a good example of an attacking game and how various features of the position make the attack possible.

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

"Art of Attack in Chess" by Vladimir Vuković

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