I had achieved a decisive advantage against my regular opponent in a recent “over the board” game of chess, but he was hanging in there and not resigning, even though I was about to promote my pawn (see diagram, left).
There were just a few minutes left on the clock, so perhaps he was hoping to survive until the flag dropped, but at best it was a forlorn hope.
The game could be easily finished off in a couple of moves by Black promoting the e2 pawn to a queen and then moving the rook to f2, so this game is not really a perfect illustration of the title of this blog post, but what happened in this game did make me think about those occasions when it can actually be better to promote the pawn to a knight instead of a queen.
In this game, which I played on Gameknot against a player rated at the time in the lower 1600s (and with an all-time-high ranking of 1691), my opponent, playing Black, castled into danger on the kingside.
In the illustration, the critical moment has arrived. Black’s kingside pawn structure has been disrupted by an exchange of minor pieces, leaving an undefended Black pawn on g6. Now would not be a good time for Black to castle on the kingside, but that is exactly what Black did!
When it comes to castling in chess, we are usually taught to castle early, after developing some of the minor pieces.
The idea is that it can be dangerous to leave your king stuck in the middle of the back row where he may be exposed to an early attack. Generally speaking, it is more secure to get your king off to one side of the board, behind a barrier of pawns, and perhaps a knight, a rook and/or a bishop.
In the diagram both White and Black have castled early. White’s king is defended by three pawns, a knight and a rook. Black’s king is even more securely defended by three pawns, a rook, knight and bishop.
Quite often, however, other concerns cause one or both players to delay castling, or not to castle at all. In a situation where you have castled and your opponent has not, Jeremy Silman offers a “basic thesis” for you to follow, which is,
If you are playing Black, and White opens with “e4” (also known as the King’s Pawn Opening, or P-K4 in the old notation), one solid response that I prefer is to reply with “e6” – i.e. move your own King’s Pawn one space forward.
White’s second move is typically “d4” – i.e. moving the Queen’s pawn forward two spaces next to the King’s pawn. Black then plays “d5”, advancing his Queen’s pawn two spaces forward. Those are the opening moves of the French Defense (or French Defence in British English):
Stalemate in chess happens when it is your turn to move and your King is not in check, but you cannot move except into check. Here is a photograph of the conclusion of one of my recent games. I am Black and have just managed to secure a draw by inducing stalemate.
Honestly speaking, I was a little surprised that my ruse worked. After all, stalemate in chess is relatively rare. Indeed, I had been about to resign because the situation seemed hopeless. I was left with just the King and a pawn against a promoted Queen and four pawns…