Outrun your opponent! – Chess.com
For many readers, the title of this article may seem odd. The ability to block your opponent usually means you’re in charge of the game. If you’re in control, why would you settle for a draw? Also, earlier this year I warned less experienced players that when you have a huge material advantage against your opponent’s lone king, the greatest danger to you is a stalemate. So what’s going on here? Well, let me explain.
When we talk about a dead end in chess, we can mean two absolutely different things. One is true stalemate, where a player has absolutely no legal moves on their turn and the game ends in a draw. It’s obviously a bad thing when you have a winning position and block your opponent for real. This is what happens in many games of less experienced players, such as the following:
Even if Black had blundered his queen instead of playing the unfortunate 56…f5??, he would have had a winning position. But a stalemate is the worst that can happen to you in a position like this, and that’s exactly what I was talking about in the article mentioned above.
But there is another meaning for “stalemate” that you can often hear from strong players. When a grandmaster proudly says, “I completely blocked it,” you may even feel a tinge of boastfulness. In this context, a stalemate means that the opponent could barely move and in reality the situation on the board is close to a zugzwang.
Here’s what GM Garry Kasparov wrote in his book Kasparov on Kasparov, part I about his match against GM Svetozar Gligoric: “But then my opponent made a mistake, and in the end I managed to block his pieces.” Here is the part, where Kasparov again mentions a stalemate in his annotations at Black’s 33rd move:
So, using Kasparov’s games as an example, here’s the kind of stalemate to avoid:
And here is a very desirable situation where your opponent’s pieces are “stuck” and therefore can hardly move:
The recent FIDE World Cup 2021 will be remembered for many different things. What comes to mind first is the triumph of GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda or the number of participants who withdrew during the event (and even in the middle of the game!) because of the COVID- 19. However, I will remember this tournament for two masterpieces made by GM Magnus Carlsen. Each of them would be exactly what Kelly Clarkson meant when she sang “Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this.”
The world champion produced these two gems back-to-back in consecutive days! It’s all the more impressive that his opponent, GM Vladimir Fedoseev, is an extremely strong and resourceful player. Yet in both games, the Russian grandmaster’s pieces reminded me of a person leaving a bar at the end of the night. He has to go home, but somehow their legs don’t move. Unfortunately, there are no taxis or Ubers on a chessboard, so Fedoseev’s pieces sat in the bar while their kingdom burned.
Please note Carlsen moves 16 and 18. He sacrificed a pawn and then an exchange on the same f4 square. I loved! About two years ago I wrote an article “The Unfinished Masterpiece of Magnus Carlsen” about his sacrifice on the same f4 square, so I’m happy to see that the world champion has finally finished his leader -work!
The second game of the match was equally impressive:
Games like these are incredibly rare and difficult to produce. However, if you are up to the challenge, the first step would be to get into the habit of asking “what does my opponent want to do?” before making your move.
For beginners, this question would be a good way to notice the hidden threat of their opponent’s checkmate or to avoid hanging pieces. For more experienced players, this question can help them play moves like the 47. Bg4! of Carlsen, preventing the black rook from coming back into play via the h5 square. In many cases, it’s small moves like this that are the building blocks of incredible masterpieces!
In short, avoid “bad” pats and instead block your opponent’s pieces, just like Carlsen did!