"Underdefended" Pieces

Last time, I gave you a position to think about. In case, you forgot, here it is again:

I've been discussing this position with some of my students this past week: It's Black to play and win. The solution is 1...Rxg3!, eliminating one of the defenders of the rook on e1. To understand this, let's take a step back and think about tactical weaknesses.

Even at the beginning level, many chess players pick up the excellent habit of looking for undefended pieces. It is less common for young players to notice what I call 'underdefended' enemy pieces - those which are only being protected as many times as they are being attacked. Just like undefended pieces, underdefended (or badly defended, if you prefer) pieces contain the seeds of tactics for the opponent.

The rook on e1 is underdefended: It is attacked twice (by the rook on e6 and queen on e7) and protected twice (by the rook on d1 and bishop on g3). If the rook could be attacked again - or if a defender could be eliminated - black would be in business.

This brings us back to the solution. By playing 1...Rxg3, Black eliminates the bishop that was protecting the rook. If White recaptures, 2.hxg3, then 2...Rxe1 takes the newly vulnerable rook and comes out up a piece. The interesting line - and what many young students seem to have trouble with - is what happens if White instead plays 2.Rxe6. This is what is called an intermediate move, or in between move. In between Black playing ...Rxg3 and White recapturing, White tries to exchange the rook that would otherwise be lost. The problem is that 2...fxe6!, attacking the white queen, denies White the time to capture the rook on g3. White is forced to retreat the queen, which gives Black time to retreat the rook. Black stays a piece up, so White resigned the game after 1...Rxg3.

I think I understand why this happened in the game. On the previous move, when the White queen was on c2, the National Master playing White saw that ...Rxg3 was not a threat: He was ready to respond with Rxe6 and then capture on g3. This caused him to lose his sense of danger for a single move and play 1.Qf5. The drawback of this move, as you now know, is that after 1...Rxg3 2.Rxe6 fxe6, the queen comes under attack.

It's amazing how much is going on 'under the surface' in this Step 2 level position! Tomorrow I'll be back with another position for you to think about.