Topic 26 (Intermediate) – The Opening: Weak Pawns and Flank Attacks

 

In this Topic I’ll be explaining some ideas behind common/popular opening positions.  I am not aiming to give you specific variations or positions to memorize because I think that is counterproductive and boring.  Instead, I will explain the general ideas behind the moves so that you can apply this knowledge to any given opening position. Hopefully, after reading this and future opening Topics, you will never again play your opening moves and then immediately find yourself floundering around like a Roman General trying to defend against a Carthaginian elephant charge.

 

To gain full value from this Topic, you need to be familiar with the EXTREMELY IMPORTANT opening principles that I WROTE ABOUT in Topic 3.

 

The first opening topic I will cover is

 

Taking Advantage of your Opponent’s Weak Pawns

 

For example, let’s consider the opening from game 5 of my Masters Cup Championship Semifinal match against ShadowReaper.

 

Devilant v. ShadowReaper

Masters Cup Championship Semifinals

Game 5

7/30/2007

 

I was white, playing my solid flanked center, and I got my pawn to f4 straight away.  ShadowReaper countered by attacking it with a pawn on g5.  As is usually the case with the flanked center, white really can’t go wrong; pushing to f5, capturing the pawn, and sitting tight are all fine plans.  Due to ShadowReaper’s pawn formation, pushing the pawn is probably best, so I’ll examine that first to show you why.

 

White closes things up, opting for a favorable positional struggle.

 

 

The idea is simple.  White gains space, cramping black’s position, and traps black’s bishop in the corner.  The pawn on f6 (a mistaken move by ShadowReaper) can no longer move, and black’s bishop has no moves!

 

Black’s bishop can do nothing but beat his head against a wall of his own pawns. Watch out for this in your openings. If you fianchetto your bishop, don’t block it in with your own pawns. White’s bishops are far better than black’s in this position.

 

 

The second important idea here is that playing e4 is a mistake:

 

NOOO! A common mistake. This pawn needs to remain on e3—it can always move to e4 later in 1 second if you decide you need it there.

 

 

Now white’s bishop is trapped behind his own pawns too, eliminating any advantage gained by trapping black’s bishop!  Furthermore, black gets to stick his knights into the holes created by the V pawn structure!

 

Black’s position is ok. Two central squares are unassailable by white pawns, free for black to occupy. You haven’t played like this since reading Topic 3, right?

 

 

So pawn to e4 is simply wrong. It must remain on e3 to control the d4 square, keeping black’s knight away.  White also needs to use the e4 square for his other pieces! (See Topic 8b)

 

White uses the e4 square for his bishop and later his knight.  Meanwhile, the pawn sits on e3, stopping black from invading with knight to d4.

 

 

White’s plan now is simple but effective: when black captures the f pawn, he’ll recapture with the bishop and build up an attack against black’s weak, immobile pawns. You don’t want to recapture with the g pawn because you want the path open for your rooks to attack f6:

 

Black doesn’t really have any good options for his e pawn. If he pushes it, he gives white control of the d5 square for a knight or bishop. If he does nothing, white will just capture it with the f pawn and continue as shown, the same way as if black captured the f pawn himself.

 

 

White creates a small threat to black’s weak f pawn.

 

 

White could press the attack now with pawn to h4, and black is going to lose. The a and h pawns are often the key to breaking through your opponent’s defenses. See Topics 9, 20, and 22 for examples of exactly this kind of flank pawn attack.

 

Lastly, you may be thinking black has a nice square for his knight on e5, but you are wrong!

 

 

So much for that knight outpost! White just kicks the knight back out and black obtains an isolated pawn in the center!

 

 

By keeping his pawns flexible (ie. not playing e4), white prevents black from jumping into the center with a knight. Black’s position is worse than an airplane middle seat.

 

So that’s pushing the pawn. It’s perhaps the best option in this case because it freezes black’s pawns onto inconvenient squares, ripe for attacking, while still allowing white to control the key squares in the center with his pawns. Specifically, that pawn on f6 is a major opening mistake by black. It’s unsupported by neighboring pawns and it blocks the path for black’s bishop. White takes complete advantage of black’s poor opening to obtain a dominating position immediately.

 

Now we’ll consider capturing on g5, which is the move I actually played in the game:

 

 

 

There are two ideas behind these pawn moves:

1)   I’m opening the file for my rook on f1—this is the reason I played Rf1 in the opening rather than Re1 (see Topic 8a).

2)   I’m setting up a central outpost for my knight on the highlighted e4 square—see Topics 3 and 8b for more on knight positioning.

 

This opening formation is extremely common in high-level kung fu chess because both sides secure a knight outpost in the center and open lines for the bishops and rooks to exploit, leading to a wide-open, tactical battle. Do not be intimidated! I am about to explain how to play it.

 

 

ShadowReaper’s recapture with the f-pawn accomplishes the same two goals, as well as opening the way for his bishop.  I’ve let him off the hook his opening mistakes put him on… intending to rope him instead.

 

The game continues. Both sides fight for control over the center, trying to take advantage of the outpost squares (in yellow above).

 

Devilant v. ShadowReaper   27 seconds

 

This position brings up another common idea:

 

Attacking on the Flanks

 

When your opponent sets up a good outpost in the center, you often should free your center pawns to attack the outpost by launching a flank attack.  Actually, you should always at least consider a flank attack—it’s very strong in kung fu chess.

 

Suppose that we had the same position as above, except there were no c pawns:

 

Without his c pawn, black is in a lot of trouble. White can capture the bishop…

And black cannot recapture with a knight because white can play d4 and catch it!

 

Oops! Black must either lose his knight or double his pawns!

 

The simple threat of playing d4 is enough to force black to double his pawns!

 

See Topics 5 and 9 for more on the weakness of doubled pawns.

 

The game isn’t over, but white has a dominating position.

 

This is the idea behind the flank attack. White wants to get rid of black’s c pawn so he can advance the d pawn in the center. Back to the real game:

 

 

The flank attack! It’s not called the flanked center opening for nothing!

 

 

 

I attack the c pawn with my pawn on b4. If ShadowReaper captures on b4, he no longer has a c pawn and the threat of pawn to d4 will force him to double his pawns in the center, as we just saw! However, if he refrains from capturing on b4, I still threaten to push my pawn to d4!

 

Black’s c pawn no longer defends the d4 square because white can capture it whenever he wants!

 

 

If black tries to capture with a knight, white can catch it with pawn to d4 since he can capture on c5 at the same time!

 

 

So the flank attack succeeds in forcing ShadowReaper to double his pawns.

 

The same idea as the example without c pawns. The flank attack neutralizes black’s c pawn.

 

 

And indeed, ShadowReaper doubled his center pawns in the actual game.

 

When your opponent is caught by a flank attack like this, he basically must respond by counterattacking (or he could just resign, I suppose). There are three options:

 

1. Most common—he accepts the doubled pawns but tries to win white’s b pawn to compensate. This isn’t dangerous because black’s own weak b6 pawn prevents his rooks from supporting the attack. White can bring more pieces to defend the b4 square than black can bring to attack it.

White isn’t afraid to “sacrifice” a rook for a knight on b4 if necessary. Positionally, he is in such good shape that it doesn’t matter.

 

 

2. Less common but very interesting—he elects to sacrifice his knight to avoid the doubled pawns:

Rather than lose his knight on e5 or double his pawns, black can often sacrifice his knight on b4 instead! Be careful; the resulting position is good for white, but it can be difficult to defend!

 

 

Black gets two pawns (one a protected passed pawn) for the knight. The 5 pawns against 3 advantage for black in the center can be very dangerous.

 

 

Black keeps his c pawn and prevents white from pushing to d4 as above. He also threatens to crash through with pawn to b5.

 

 

Of course, this doesn’t work at all in this position because white threatens a combination attack:

 

Tactical battles are great fun when you position your pieces well in the opening and your opponent does not. As we’ve seen, white has a combination to crush black’s hopes and dreams in every variation!

 

 

So black still has to double his pawns or lose a knight! However, this sacrifice is important to consider prior to playing a flank attack because there are positions where it can be quite strong for black. This just isn’t one of them.

 

3. Sometimes the strongest option—black waits to sacrifice his knight on d4 instead of b4.

 

White just sprung his trap and caught black’s e5 knight. When I analyzed this before, I concluded that black has to capture with the pawn instead of the knight to avoid exactly this scenario. However, in similar positions black can intentionally go for it, with the idea of the very dangerous Nxd4!

 

Black loses the knight on his terms. (He can also capture on c5 with the b pawn, but that’s self-explanatorily bad in this position.) This sacrifice doesn’t work here, but it can often result in a very strong counterattack, just like option #2.

 

For completeness, I’m showing why this counterattack fails in this position.

 

 

An easy play for a black belt—the rook on e1 is positioned in advance to defend the e5 knight. (See Topic 8a)

 

And white is up two knights!

 

In the actual game, ShadowReaper played counterattack #1, and I got a completely dominating position. The rest of the game after the opening wasn’t very instructive, so I won’t bother to analyze it.  You can watch the whole game using Epikur's MPlayer if you download the Masters Cup Championship movies from the Masters Cup Website.

 

And that’s a short and sweet analysis of flank attacks and weak pawns in Kung Fu Chess Openings. If this is deemed to be a useful Topic, I’ll probably continue explaining opening strategies in Topic 27.

 

Finally, congratulations to Quickbolt for correctly solving the Topic 25 checkmating puzzles! The prize is immortality—in the form of this recognition in the Strategy Guide itself!

 

Devilant’s Strategy Guide: Topic 26 Official Strategy Puzzle!

 

White to win!